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knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend

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Jason's passing through Baltimore on his way to Gotham and looking for a fight. Of course he is; gotta keep in shape for what's gonna go down when he gets home.

He gets a beer at the bar and then heads for the corner, where he can study the room at his leisure and pick the mark for tonight.

That’s when he sees the guy at the end of the bar, hunched in on himself, with a drunk girl trying to pick him up. The guy’s pretty, no doubt about that, and also absolutely broken – Jason can tell, having been completely broken himself. (And still is, he can admit only very early in the morning when he hasn’t slept in about a week.)

The guy – Jason knows that body language. He’s about to snap and he’s trying so hard not to, for whatever reason. And maybe this could be his fight, but…

He sighs and then stealthily makes his way to the bar, where he carefully comes up beside the guy and says, “Dude, where’ve you been? I’ve been waitin’ forever!” He barely leans in, whispering, “Don’t kill me,” before he puts an arm around the guy’s shoulder and kisses his cheek.

The girl pouts but moves on and Jason slides onto the stool next to the guy. The guy immediately relaxes just a hair but he’s still primed for what looks like it’d be a shitload of violence. The guy doesn’t say anything, but ice-cold eyes pin him in place.

Jason says, “Hi, I’m Jason” and tries his most winning smile, the one that hasn’t actually worked since he died.

The guy still says nothing.

“Okay,” Jason says. “Well, I’m planning on starting a barfight later. What are the chances of you being involved and not killing everyone in a three block radius?”

The guy’s lips quirk a little and he tilts his head to the side.

“Not great, okay,” Jason interprets. “Huh.”

A fight and beating the shit out of someone is one thing; wholesale slaughter? Nah, not yet. Not until –

He taps his fingers on the bar and orders another beer. He still wants a fight, and this guy could definitely give it to him… but for all that he’s probably as dangerous as Talia and Bruce, it feels too much like beating up on a kid. This guy is even more broken than him, holy shit, that takes work.

“Do you have somewhere to go for the night?” he asks. A guy this dangerous – he either needs a keeper or someone to watch his back, and Jason’s pretty sure keepers are what got him into this mess. You don’t get this broken unless someone did their damned best to break you.

The guy’s eyes flick to him before back down at the counter.

“Alright,” Jason says. “Mind if I tag along?”

He gets an actual shrugs this time. “Awesome,” Jason says.

What the fuck is he doing? He’s got a schedule to keep. He can’t go around picking up strays.

The guy murmurs, “Jimmy.”

“Jimmy? That your name?” Jason asks.

The guy nods, the tiniest incline of his head.

Fuck. Fine then. Gotham can wait. Not like it won’t still be there.

Jimmy finishes his beer and slips silently off the stool; Jason leaves his half empty on the bar, putting down enough money for them both. They slip through the crowd together, keeping each other in sight and moving in sync like Jason hasn’t since he left the League.

“I’ve got a place for the night,” Jason says. “If I promise not to try anything, you wanna come with me?”

The look Jimmy gives him rivals any stare from Bruce, and Jason waits until Jimmy finishes studying him. The smile he gets – fuck, whoever this guy is or was, Jason knows he’s in trouble. The smile is tiny but it’s so beautiful… god, Jason wonders what it’d take to get it again, get it bigger. Jimmy has a face made for smiling.

“C’mon, then,” Jason says. “Everything’ll keep for the mornin’.”

Jimmy looks underweight but he’s clean so he must have some care for bodily needs, good. The clothes are old and probably stolen or picked up at a shelter. About the only thing worth anything that he’s wearing are the boots – they look like serious business, the kind Jason wears when he goes out at night, looking for criminals to terrorize.

This could either be one of the best things Jason’s ever done, or the stupidest. He’ll make it work – he always does.

Chapter Text

He chose Jimmy three days after leaving the site of the failed mission behind entirely, one day after watching his own face (not his face) laugh with the failed mission in archived footage. The failed mission gave him two names: James Buchanan Barnes and Bucky. He is not Bucky, and James Buchanan Barnes is entirely too noticeable for a ghost trying to disappear. Jimmy is a version of James and so he chooses it.

He also chooses “he” because he is no longer the asset. No longer anyone’s weapon except his own.

He wanders around for a while before settling in Baltimore. He doesn’t how long it’s been, and doesn’t care. His mission is simply to live and that is what he does. He bathes as needed, eats when he can no longer stand the hunger, sleeps when he can go no further without rest.

The failed mission, according to the blaring TVs that are everywhere, has vanished from the public eye and the public is both worried and outraged. He knows that he should be concerned about that – the Bucky Barnes that lives in his memories is screaming – but Jimmy… Jimmy is not Bucky Barnes. Jimmy is not the asset.

Jimmy is… he has yet to determine who Jimmy is, but Jimmy has no crusade, no vendetta.

Jimmy is sitting in a bar and there is an inebriated woman trying to get his attention. He bathed this morning, trimming away the hair that grows on his face, and the clothes he stole yesterday actually fit, and he knows that Bucky Barnes was quite the charmer, but Jimmy is not, Jimmy doesn’t like to be noticed or touched, but he also doesn’t like hurting people, and –

A man says, “Dude, where’ve you been? I’ve been waitin’ forever!” and leans in, muttering, “Don’t kill me,” before he puts an arm around Jimmy’s shoulder and kisses his cheek. It is enough to deter the woman and Jimmy has to lock every muscle in place so that he doesn’t slaughter the man and then go after the rest of the bar patrons.

The man immediately removes the arm and slouches onto the stool beside Jimmy. He says, “Hi, I’m Jason” and smiles. Jimmy ignores him, hoping he’ll go away. He has been studying civilians, trying to relearn how to be one, which is the only reason he is currently sitting in this place with all the helpless people who have no idea what he has been.

“Okay,” Jason says. “Well, I’m planning on starting a barfight later. What are the chances of you being involved and not killing everyone in a three block radius?”

That… there are no good chances, there. Jimmy can’t help the smile that tries to come out and glances over at Jason, who correctly deduces, “Not great, okay. Huh.”

Jason sits quietly beside him for a few minutes. Jimmy keeps drinking his beer and watching the patrons arrive, argue, flirt, leave. Once, he knows, Bucky Barnes had been able to read people like they were reports. That part of him, though, was stolen with the memories, and will be far harder to get back. If he wants it back. Maybe Jimmy isn’t a people person.

“Do you have somewhere to go for the night?” Jason asks.

Yes, Jimmy does. He glances at Jason before back down at the bar, at his not-hand in its glove. Why does Jason care? Has he come to collect the asset?

Jimmy will not let him, if he has.

Jason just says, “Alright. Mind if I tag along?” He does not mutter any of the phrases that would blank the asset (Jimmy has stayed far away from any of the cities with those facilities and their handlers).

Maybe… maybe Jason is like Steve? Steve had loved Bucky Barnes, had saved him and kept him safe, had called him friend and brother and maybe something more, though Jimmy does not know if those are Bucky Barnes’ memories or fantasies, and has no way of determining without talking to Steve.

So he shrugs at Jason, the non-violent body language still a marvel. Jason says, “Awesome” and Jimmy does not know how to read the look on his face. It is nothing like the handlers or techs.

Jimmy decides that must be good, so he tells Jason his name. They sit in silence for a few more minutes while Jimmy finishes his beer. He has been in this crowded place for as long as he can handle, so he chooses to withdraw. Jason follows and Jimmy allows him to.

Outside, while Jimmy stretches because unnecessary motion is still a pleasure, Jason says, “I’ve got a place for the night. If I promise not to try anything, you wanna come with me?”

Jimmy turns his head to assess this stranger who has both given aid and offered no threat so far. Jason keeps still, calmly watching him. Few have withstood the Winter Soldier’s gaze – but he is not the Winter Soldier. He is Jimmy. So he tries a smile and Jason smiles back.

“C’mon, then,” Jason says. “Everything’ll keep for the mornin’.” He moves towards the west. Jimmy follows.

James Buchanan Barnes became Bucky Barnes became the Winter Soldier (the asset, Hydra’s steady fist) became… Jimmy. Jimmy listens to Jason’s chatter, recording it all but not responding, even when Jason leaves a few places where he could.

Jason finally pauses outside a condemned building; it was once an office building, Jimmy sees, but now it is simply taking up space. “It’s not much,” Jason says, “but I wasn’t plannin’ on hangin’ around. C’mon up. Someone forgot to turn off the water, so the sinks all work.”

The fourth floor has been turned into Jason’s living space for however long. He has enough supplies to allow Jimmy to bed down, as well.

“Do you have any plans?” Jason asks. Neither of them is going to sleep, but resting the body is important, whether or not the mind does.

“My mission is to live,” Jimmy answers.

“That’s a good mission,” Jason says. “Mind if I help?”

Jimmy… people have friends. His research has shown this. People have families and they have friends. Bucky Barnes had friends. The asset…

“No,” he says.

“No, you mind or no, you don’t mind?” Jason clarifies.

In the dark, staring at the ceiling, Jimmy smiles. “No, I do not mind.”

“Awesome,” Jason says. “I know this kickass place to get breakfast and we’ll decide on things from there.”

Jason must be like Steve, Jimmy decides. He is lucky, then. (And if Jason eventually reveals himself to be a threat… the asset is no one’s weapon but Jimmy’s now.)

Chapter Text

Three days after he starts tagging along with Jimmy (who seems to honestly have no larger goal than waking up every morning and wandering around looking at random shit), they get attacked by goons.

Before Jason can take them out, all four of them are down for good and Jimmy is looking at him with wide eyes like he's about to be punished or something.

“You know how to get rid of bodies?” Jason asks.

Jimmy shrugs. He usually says about a total of 5 words a day.

“Okay,” Jason says, “well, you’re about to learn.”

He doesn’t know Jimmy’s story beyond the obvious, and he doesn’t care. Jimmy’s like a kid, looking around in wonder, like everything’s new and it’s miraculous. Whoever broke him, though, wants him back because the goons keep coming.

Jason doesn’t see the arm until a week in. Oh, shit, he thinks, but he doesn’t react and he knows Jimmy notices that he’s seen it but he acts like he doesn’t care. Maybe he doesn’t know what it means.

(But he has been keeping it hidden.)

Jimmy is that guy who tore up DC awhile back. Even in the ass-end of Nowhere, Europe, Jason saw the news.

Which means Hydra is after them. Hydra, which is bigger than anything he’s got planned in Gotham, and more important than his revenge.

Because he apparently still has morals. Who knew?

He asks after they’re bedded down for the night, “Do you know who’s after you?”

Jimmy answers, “Yes.”

Jason licks his lips. “You wanna… you wanna go after them first?”

If Hydra gets their hands on Jimmy again… it’s been five days and he’s realizing he was a goner when he saw Jimmy trying to melt into that dirty countertop.

“They won’t give up,” Jimmy says softly. “I was too much of an asset.” He pauses; Jason listens to him breathe, and then Jimmy confesses, “I don’t want to be an asset anymore.”

“Then let’s burn those fuckers down,” Jason says.

Bruce might even approve, not that Jason gives a shit. But Jimmy needs him because at some point, Hydra is going to send too many for even him to beat in a fight. Jimmy’s just been reacting. He needs to go on the offensive, and he needs time to heal, which means he needs someone to watch his back.

“Burn them down?” Jimmy asks in the smallest voice Jason has ever heard.

It makes him want to stab someone in the eye.

“Yeah,” Jason says. “A little bit of research, a little bit of planning – and then we take the fight to them and we tear them down and we set them on fire and we salt the earth, after, and then we do it again and again until the message sticks.”

“And you…” Jimmy’s voice trails off, and he tries again, “You will… help me?”

Jason nods, saying, “Yeah. It’ll be fun.”

“Fun?” Jimmy sounds disbelieving and Jason laughs.

“I was planning some mayhem anyway, Jimmy,” he explains, rolling over to look at Jimmy, mostly just a shape in the dark. “At least this involves eradicating a Nazi death cult.” A Nazi death cult whose kill list he was probably on, based on what the talking heads said Project Insight was. A little above his paygrade, though.

But this? Those fuckers trying to get Jimmy back so they can turn him into an asset -- that’s personal.

“I know where the bases are,” Jimmy says. “I know where all the bases are.”

In the dark, Jason smiles. He figures Jimmy’s doing the same.

Chapter Text

In the morning, Jason procures them food from a local diner and they eat as they plan. Jimmy knows where all the bases are, but he does not know how to get there; Jason, though, has ideas for transportation.

"Okay," Jason says, handing Jimmy a printout of the United States map. "Mark everywhere there's a base or a safehouse or anything Hydra at all. We'll see what's still operating despite the fallout and go from there."

Jimmy turns to the map, straining what memories he has, and Jason makes phone-calls on three different phones, in two languages that are not English (Arabic and Spanish, which Jimmy knows, but he does not listen, merely recording everything in his mind for later review) and also emails various people.

When Jason returns to Jimmy and the map, there are 43 locations marked.

"It's a place to start," Jason says. "Watch and learn, kiddo."

.

Half of the locations are no longer in operation. Of the remaining 21, 11 have been comprised and picked over by various authorities or Captain America. “We’ll leave those alone,” Jason says, so they focus on the 10 that are still unknown to the world at large.

“These two,” Jimmy says, placing stars by them, “have the recalibration chair and the cryotube.” His voice shakes; he cannot control it.

“We’ll stay away from those,” Jason says; had Jimmy the word for kindness, he would know the look in Jason’s eye, on his face. But he does not yet have that word.

“This one is a training facility,” Jimmy says, putting a T beside it. “I taught Hydra’s favorites there.”

“So let’s hit it,” Jason suggests. Jimmy nods.

.

They are in Raleigh, North Carolina; the training facility is in Dayton, Ohio. “That’s a day’s travel,” Jason says, “so now we need a car. Supplies, too.”

Jason decides to procure the food and water, entrusting the weapons to Jimmy. It is almost like having a handler again – except that Jason does not hurt him. Jason asks questions about what Jimmy likes, wants, hopes. Jimmy is relearning kindness, though that word itself is still beyond him.

“We’ll make a plan while we drive,” Jason says. “You know how to steal a car?”

Jimmy nods.

“Good,” Jason says. “Let’s go get one.”

.

Jimmy tries to ask half a dozen times why Jason is helping him. He cannot find the words; he does not want to question this good thing.

But as they are leaving lunch, halfway to their destination, Jason says, “So, I died once.” He pauses but Jimmy stays silent, so he huffs a laugh and continues, “And this guy tried to make it right by bringing me back. And shit happens, I know you get that, and well, I probably shoulda stayed dead.” He glances at Jimmy. “But I’m not dead,” he says, and then turns back to the road.

“I’m not dead,” he repeats. “And I know that things are screwed up in my head, but you – fuck, Jimmy, someone needs to do right by you.” He laughs and there are layers of emotions in it that Jimmy still lacks the vocabulary to understand. “I had this grand idea, you know? Go home and punish the fucker who killed me and the fucker who let him live, after. But this…” He nods. “They’re not gonna stop until they’re dead so we’re gonna kill them.”

“After,” Jimmy says when Jason falls silent. “The fucker who killed you – I will help you, as you are helping me.”

Jason gives him a grin. “I’d like that, Jimmy.”

.

They leave the car an hour’s walk from anywhere and head into Dayton on foot. “We need the lay of the land,” Jason says, “and they know what you look like, right?”

“Yes,” Jimmy confirms.

“So we’ll bed down for the night and I’ll start reconnaissance in the morning.” Jason procures a motel room that will act as their base of operations and then goes to pick up a pizza for dinner.

Jimmy checks on the weapons and settles on his chosen bed, waiting.

He does not want to hurt people; he has hurt too many people. But Hydra will not stop. The choice is between his life or Hydra. Self-termination would be easy and quick.

But he wants to live. He wants to live. And he knows… if they recalibrate him, he will hurt people again because he will not know he does not want to.

He does not want to hurt people. Hydra is not people.

Jimmy nods, having decided.

Chapter Text

“Well, isn’t this wonderful?” Jason asks as an entire room of Hydra goons turn to look at him. It’s after midnight; what the fuck are they still doing here?

One of them hits a button that starts an alarm blaring. That’s fuckin’ swell.

.

By the end of it, Jason’s got a fractured wrist, a sorta-sprained ankle, and he’s pretty sure a concussion, too. Definitely wearing the mask for the next night of quiet recon.

On the plus side, there’s a lot of dead and dying Hydra goons and a shit-ton of intel to go through.

He pulls out his phone and sends Jimmy a text because the entire place needs to be cleared and the room is swimming around him.

Jason manages to keep his eyes open ‘til Jimmy is kneeling next to him. “Hey,” he slurs out. “Gonna crash now, ‘kay?”

The last thing he sees is Jimmy’s expression, somewhere between furious and worried, and then Jimmy’s hands are gently on him, and he blacks out with Jimmy’s voice following him down: “I’ve got ya – it’s gonna be fine.”

.

Jason wakes up in the motel room. “The site is secure,” Jimmy tells him first thing, glancing over from the map. He holds it up to show Jason the giant red slash through the T. “We will remain here for a few days to allow you recovery time,” Jimmy says.

“Sounds good,” Jason mumbles. His wrist is wrapped and his ankle is elevated.

“Should you begin to deteriorate due to the head wound,” Jimmy continues, “I will procure a doctor.”

… that would not end well, Jason thinks. He damn well better not deteriorate. “I’m feelin’ a lot better,” he says. “What intel did you recover?”

Jimmy gives him a long look. “You should eat now,” he says. “The data can wait for the morning.”

Jason just stares at him. Who knew a mother hen to rival Alfred was hiding inside the most dangerous guy Jason’s ever met?

Standing, Jimmy goes over to the dresser. “I obtained sandwiches from the gas station three blocks to the east,” he says. He carries two to Jason, along with a bottle of water. “Eat.”

There is no way Jason’s in shape to win this fight. “Fine,” he mutters, taking the sandwiches and water.

Chapter Text

“I fucked up,” Jason says three days after the mission to eradicate the Dayton facility. “They got a message out; Hydra knows we’re after ‘em now.”

Jimmy looks up from the tablet. “Does that change the mission?” he asks. He hopes it does not and keeps his face expressionless to hide it.

Jason looks at him for a long moment; Jimmy holds his breath, maintaining the eye contact even though everything he knows is screaming at him to look down.

“Nah,” Jason finally says, glancing away. “They know someone’s after ‘em, but not that it’s you.” He chuckles. “We’re still gonna burn it all, Jimmy. Guaranteed.”

.

They move from Dayton to a facility in Topeka. This one is abandoned with no data. Jimmy remembers that the asset spent the months after a failed mission, when he nearly escaped, being retrained here.

When he asks, Jason helps him blow it to pieces.

.

The safehouse in Dallas is being used by a splinter cell that plans to take advantage and become the dominant force in world-wide terrorism.

“Well, they’re arrogant dickwads,” Jason says. “How do you wanna play this?”

Jimmy studies their leader through the scope. “You to the north,” he says. “I’ll stay here. Pick off the heads and then destroy the hands.”

Jason laughs. “You’re getting’ downright poetic, kiddo,” he says. “I’ll let you know when I’m in position.”

.

The next two facilities are in the process of moving. It is clear that the word has indeed gotten out: someone is hunting down Hydra. He and Jason monitor their communications and they never use the phrases to blank the asset. They do not know it is him.

He’ll take advantage of that as long as he can.

.

There is a recalibration chair in Monroe, Louisiana. “Let me go take care of it,” Jason says. “You don’t have to go with me. But if – look, I’ll demolish it, okay? I’ll destroy the data, I’ll see where else they’re keepin’ it. But you’re not safe as long as that knowledge is out there.”

Jason keeps his hands by his side, his eyes on Jimmy, and he waits.

Jimmy’s hand and the not-hand are clasped together, his arms wrapped around his knees, and he cannot – “Okay,” he finally mumbles, eyes closed.

“I’ll be back,” Jason says. “I’ll let you know when I’m done.”

.

Jason leaves on Sunday.

On Monday, Jason texts that he’s arrived.

On Wednesday, Jason texts that Jimmy should check Monroe’s local news.

On Thursday, Jason returns to the warehouse they’ve taken for their use and he grins at Jimmy. “I called in a favor,” he says. “Pretty soon, that data’s gonna be eaten by a virus and then it won’t be anywhere.”

On Saturday, they head out. “On to LA,” Jason says. “I hear it’s insane.” He laughs. “Can’t be worse than Gotham, though.”

“Tell me about Gotham,” Jimmy requests.

“Well, okay,” Jason says. “You know who Batman is?”

Jimmy nods. “I’ve read the reports.”

“Okay, so, when I was a kid, I mighta kinda stolen the tires to his car,” Jason starts. As they leave Texas behind, Jason relates the story of his life.

Jimmy wishes he could do the same.

Chapter Text

In LA, their usual approach won’t work. Too many eyes everywhere, and while Jason’s face is still unknown (and legally dead), Jimmy’s – isn’t. From what Jimmy has said, and what Jason inferred, very few of the goons knew what the asset was. But the bosses? Yeah, they all knew. And there are special handlers with codes that’ll knock Jimmy right out, turn him into little more than a robot.

Jason’s going to take great pleasure in putting bullet into each of their eyes.

In LA, there are two targets: one research facility and one recalibration chamber. (The last recalibration chamber in North America, in fact. There were three, Jimmy told him, in that small voice. One in Monroe, one in Los Angeles, and one in Washington DC. Captain America found the one in DC and it doesn’t need to be worried about anymore.)

(What, exactly, is going on between Captain America and Jimmy? Jason has no idea. But some of the Hydra goons keep chattering about Captain America tearing his way through the old bases in Europe and he’s apparently fucking pissed as hell about something.)

Watching Jimmy fight – he’s pretty sure Jimmy could beat Bruce with ease and then go on to Dickie. He’d beat anyone in the League. Sometimes, their missions are just letting Jimmy rage his way through a location and Jason watches his back, picking off the ones how try to escape. And rage is the wrong word – Jimmy’s emotionless the whole time. Jason calls it “mission mode.” It’s utterly terrifying and merciless.

(And hot, so very hot, but he promised not to try anything and Jimmy’s in no way ready.)

And to think of Jimmy helping him in Gotham, with the Joker and Bruce –

“Jason?” Jimmy asks as the Greyhound pulls into the station.

“Yeah, let’s go,” Jason says.

.

“Okay, so, I think we’ll have to split up,” Jason says as they hunch over the schematics of the two targets. “If we don’t, whichever one we don’t hit is gonna batten down the hatches, if they don’t scatter. But a coordinated attack…” He shrugs.

Jimmy nods. How assertive he is seems to depend on the day, and Jason still hasn’t figured out all the triggers.

“I’ll take the recalibration chamber,” Jason says, because there’s no fucking way he’s letting Jimmy anywhere near it.

.

They spend a week on recon, making sure all the intel is accurate, planning things down to the smallest detail. They have to strike at exactly the same time because the two locations are in constant contact.

“Ready?” he asks before they separate.

“Yes,” Jimmy says, smiling before wiping all expression from his face.

“See you on the other side,” Jason tells him, sliding his helmet into place.

Red Hood’s getting quite the workout before heading home. He wonders if Bruce has caught wind yet.

.

They’re ready for him.

.

He first becomes aware of the explosions when the room shakes around him. It takes him a minute to realize it’s not in his head. Everything hurts and they’ve stripped him completely down, taking everything.

He wonders where the Joker is, if Bruce is coming for him –

No, no, that was years ago. Jimmy’s coming for him.

Unless they got Jimmy, too.

No. Things are exploding. That’s Jimmy. But everything hurts, and he hears the tick tick tick, and –

The door is torn open and Jimmy, covered in blood, is staring down at him, that arm glinting in the light where his shirt was torn by something.

Everything hurts but the relief is so sharp as Jason lets himself sag down.

“Can you walk?” Jimmy asks.

Jason can’t even string the words together to answer.

Jimmy vanishes from sight; a scream and three gunshots later, he’s back, with pants and a shirt. “You’re a fuckin’ moron,” he informs Jason as he pulls Jason’s limbs into the clothes. “Goddamned idiot, thinkin’ you’re all invincible now. What would’ya do without me, huh?” He stands and pulls Jason to his feet, and then swings him across his shoulders.

“We’ve got 58 seconds till the place goes up,” Jimmy says. And Jason’s in and out, knowing he’s getting things wrong – Bruce isn’t waiting for them, they’re not running from Joker, he’s not a kid anymore…

Right?

There are bodies everywhere. Some of them are still moaning or crying. Some of them are in pieces. Jason decides he’s too tired to be awake anymore.

.

When Jason wakes up, there’s a trembling doctor stitching him up. Jimmy is looming from the corner, one knife plain on the small table next to him and a gun in his hand.

The doctor is saying, “He’s going to be fine, it’ll just take a few days for the drugs to work out of his system. Please don’t kill me, I won’t tell anyone ever, I have two kids, please don’t kill me.”

“No loose ends,” Jimmy says, and this is mission mode, full stop.

The doctor sobs once and cuts the thread.

This guy is a civilian. Jason – if Jason hadn’t been such a dumbass, he wouldn’t even be involved. And when Jimmy slips out of mission mode and remembers this…

“If you tell anyone, we’ll find you,” he says. He raises his voice to add, “Let him go.”

Jimmy nods once. The doctor sobs again but packs up his kit and flees.

“The missions were successful,” Jimmy reports without moving. “All known locations and agents of Hydra have been eliminated.” There is the slightest thread of satisfaction in the words, which means Jimmy’s coming out of it.

“That’s good,” Jason says. He’s feeling floaty. And still tired. “We should… should go somewhere else,” he mumbles.

“Go back to sleep,” Jimmy tells him. “I’ll take care of everything.”

“’kay,” Jason mutters, eyelids fluttering before staying closed.

Chapter Text

Jimmy gets them out of Los Angeles and goes to ground. His panic is only calmed by walking the perimeter every five minutes while Jason sleeps. He does so for six hours before settling just outside the building.

Her approach is silent but she cannot hide her breath; he grabs her and has her down, the not-hand tight on her neck, and she says, “Hey, easy, easy – I’m a friend of Cap’s.” She doesn’t struggle.

The asset, never far away but especially not after the past two days, recognizes her from the failed mission; she herself is a failed mission.

“Why are you here?” he asks softly, without loosening the not-hand.

“Steve heard about what was going on here,” she says calmly. “I told him I’d check it out. You do good work.”

He stares down at her. The asset wants to kill her to ensure his and Jason’s safety. But she was with the fa—with Steve. She fought Hydra.

Jimmy releases the not-hand and moves off her, standing. She remains still for one moment before rolling to her feet.

“Do you want me to tell Steve?” she asks.

“No,” Jimmy says.

She nods. “I’ll let him know it’s handled, then.” She turns to go.

“You are his – ally,” Jimmy says. She glances back and he continues, choosing each word with care, trying to phrase it in a way that made sense. So little makes sense. “Why would you -- not tell him?”

She smiles at him. “I know about having to find yourself. You’re doing good here, there’s a guy you trust at your back. If you don’t mind, I’ll let Steve know you’re not dead but nothing beyond that.”

He considers that. She waits. “I do not mind,” he says.

This time, when she turns to go, he does not say anything.

Chapter Text

Jason wakes up to Jimmy curled up in the corner, scrolling through a tablet. “I have been researching Gotham,” Jimmy says without glancing at him.

Jason groans. “How long’ve I been out?”

“You awakened sporadically over three days,” Jimmy informs him. Shit. Is mission mode still in play? “We are in Burbank and no one followed us from the target.” He does glance at Jason for a moment before looking back at the tablet. “One of Captain America’s allies did find us. She said she would tell no one our location.”

“Do you believe her?” Jason asks, rolling onto his side. He’s achy but nothing actually hurts. Those Hydra fuckers weren’t really focused on him; they wanted Jimmy.

Shit. He’s gotta get better than this if he wants to watch Jimmy’s back. The League – maybe he should’ve stayed longer, picked more up from them. But if he hadn’t been in Baltimore…

Fuck what ifs. What’s done is done.

“I do,” Jimmy says. “She fought Hydra. And Captain America trusts her.”

Seriously, what the fuck is the deal between Jimmy and Captain America?

“I have also begun researching the target known as ‘Joker,’” Jimmy says.

Jason can’t help the flinch.

“We will take a few weeks for you to fully heal,” Jimmy tells him, setting the tablet down and rising to his feet. He walks over, more quietly even than Bruce, and studies Jason.

“I need to pick up some new moves, too,” Jason says, trying to sit up. Jimmy steadies him as he swings his legs over the side of the bed. “I haven’t felt like this much of a liability since –” He laughs bitterly. “Since the Joker killed me, actually.”

Jimmy nods. “I trained Hydra’s best,” he says, smiling a tiny little smile. “I can teach you. We’ll be driving and it’s 3000 miles; we’ve got time.”

.

If Jason had thought Jimmy a mother hen before, he takes it to new heights. Jason’s not allowed to do anything for two days after he finally fully wakes up except eat, shit, and sleep. It’s worse even than Alfred, Jason’s only actual experience with a caring authority figure. And he can’t even complain about it (much) because it’s his own damn fault and Jimmy is clearly delighted to be able to help. And he’s acting more and more like a person, actually disagreeing with Jason, offering his own opinions. It’s fuckin’ awesome.

Whoever he was before Hydra was a damned good man, Jason decides. Definitely an older brother or father.

On the third day, Jimmy says, “I’ve procured a car. We’ll move out tonight.”

“Okay,” Jason says. “I’ll pack up our gear. You’ve gotten other supplies?” Jimmy nods. “Good. I don’t suppose we can go out for lunch?”

He gets Jimmy’s assessing stare, from the top his head to his feet. “Fine,” Jimmy says after a moment.

.

Jimmy drives as they leave Burbank. Jason figures he won’t be allowed behind the wheel for at least ten states.

He doesn’t want to talk about the Joker or Bruce or Hydra or either of their pasts. Instead, he gives Jimmy the rundown on the entire Star Wars universe and it takes until mid-morning, when they finally stop to stretch their legs.

After lunch, Jason starts telling him about Star Trek.

.

They take their time, stopping for a couple of days here and there so that Jason can keep in practice, not let himself get out of shape. Jimmy critiques him and even complains about what Bruce and the League had taught him.

“I wasn’t the best student,” he says.

Jimmy gives him a raised eyebrow. “And are you now?”

Jason nods. “I’ve gotta be able to watch your back and not make you worry about me,” he says, rubbing the back of his neck.

Sighing, Jimmy says, “Let’s take a break. I wanna cover another hundred miles before nightfall.”

.

They spend a week in Nebraska, going over everything Jason knows about combat.

It starts with Jimmy creating a space in an old farmhouse and then telling Jason, “Try to take me down.”

Jason blinks at him. “What?”

Jimmy is goddamned smirking as he repeats, “Try. To. Take. Me. Down.”

Jason tries. He fails.

Once he’s gasping on the floor, Jimmy kneeling over him, Jimmy asks, “Would you like to know what you did wrong?”

“Lay it on me,” Jason says, head flopping back. “Shit. Haven’t been taken down that quick since Talia.”

Jimmy versus Talia -- that is something Jason wants to see. Except, it’d end with one of them dead. Shit.

“Up,” Jimmy says, rolling off Jason and offering him a hand. “You bulldoze your way against a target; you need more finesse.”

“Okay,” Jason says. “Show me.”

.

Jason gets to drive again in Illinois while Jimmy keeps researching. He asks questions about Gotham that Jason tries to answer; he’d had a lot of things set up but he’d planned to spend a month undercover to finalize it all.

“Tell me what your plan was,” Jimmy says as they drive across Indiana.

After he’s done, Jimmy just stares at him in silence for almost five miles. “What?” Jason finally demands, glaring at him.

“I’ve heard worse plans,” Jimmy says after a moment. “Most of them were in a warzone, though.”

Jason clenches his jaw. “What’s wrong with the plan?”

Jimmy sighs. “Think about what we just finished,” he says. “Do you still think your original plan is the best way to do things?”

They sit in silence until Jason finally pulls up to a motel in Indianapolis. “Okay, so it might’ve been a little complicated,” Jason admits. “Let’s table it until after dinner.”

.

After dinner, Jimmy asks, “Do you want the Joker dead?”

Jason nods. “Not just for me, either,” he says. “He’s… he’s never gonna change, it doesn’t matter how long he’s locked away. He always gets out. And Bruce…” Jason sighs. “He’s got this thing against killing. He’s never gonna do it. And the Joker terrifies everyone, even assassins.”

Jimmy smiles at him, slow and sweet. “He doesn’t terrify me.”

After a minute, Jason smiles back. “No, I guess he wouldn’t.”

Chapter Text

Sometimes, Jimmy looks at Jason and sees someone much smaller, blond, sickly and frail, and he knows that he must guard him and protect him no matter what.

He blinks and Jason is Jason, as big as Jimmy but not as strong, not as fast. Jason is still someone to protect. He is Jimmy's friend.

He knows the blond is Steve. Captain America. Bucky Barnes and Steve Rogers had been friends all their lives. Bucky Barnes died for him.

Jimmy is not Bucky.

.

He stills dreams about Steve. He still sees things – are they memories or fantasies? He remembers a great deal without context; he knows many things without knowing how or why. He doesn’t remember his father’s voice or his mother’s laugh, but he knows what his fifteenth birthday present from them was. He remembers his littlest sister’s favorite song and his middle sister’s first sweetheart and that the oldest used to help him prank Steve, but he doesn’t know any of their birthdays.

Hydra’s presence in North America has been eradicated. They relocated their Mexican bases 34 years ago and never made inroads into Canada – why, he is not sure. Probably because staying in the United States was easier from a logistics perspective.

With his mission satisfied, it is time to turn to Jason’s. Jason, who was murdered and resurrected and had a plan to extract his vengeance that was just –

Steve has had better plans.

Jimmy knew it could’ve worked, that plan, but so much would be left to chance.

The Joker will die, no matter what else happens with Jason’s ex-guardian. (And if Bruce Wayne ever crosses Jimmy’s path… children should be children. Not soldiers.) The Joker will die very badly.

There is still much to discuss, though.

“C’mon, let’s go!” Jason calls from outside. Jimmy sets down his glass of water. “You need to come beat my ass again!” Jason shouts. “I bet I can almost take you this time!”

Jimmy rolls his eyes.

.

Whether they were lovers or not, Bucky Barnes loved Steve Rogers more than anything else in the world. More than his parents; more than his sisters.

Jimmy – Captain America is an idea to him. Steve Rogers is a ghost.

Bucky Barnes died. The asset is no more than a weapon that Jimmy can use when he needs to. And Jimmy… Jimmy is alive.

Jimmy is alive and he has two goals: keep Jason safe and ensure the Joker’s demise.

If Natalia Romanova has delivered his message, Steve knows he’s doing fine.

Steve is from another life.

.

He slams Jason into the floor and grins. “You’re getting better,” he says.

Jason sighs, wincing. “You’re in another league entirely,” he mutters.

“I had no other choice,” Jimmy tells him, standing. “We should make sure everything is packed.”

Nodding, Jason rolls over and slowly climbs to his feet. He is not injured; he merely wants to evoke an emotional response that will have Jimmy preparing dinner.

It won’t work.

Chapter Text

As they pull away from the Pennsylvania welcome center, Jimmy says, “Before I was Hydra’s, I was James Buchanan Barnes.”

Jason says, “What.”

.

Of course he knows who that was. Before Batman, Captain America was every Gotham kid’s hero, especially the ones on the streets. And Bucky Barnes, he was Captain America’s sidekick. He was a kid like them, like Robin.

Then, when kids grew up, they realized Bucky Barnes wasn’t Cap’s kid sidekick; he was Cap’s brother. And he was still just as awesome.

Hydra took Captain America’s brother and turned him into the scariest weapon Jason’s ever seen.

… it explains Captain America’s rampage, though.

.

“You have told me your story,” Jimmy says. It sounds like there’s glass in his throat. “I… I should tell you mine. Make us even.”

“Jimmy,” Jason says after a moment. “Jimmy, I took out the recalibration site in Monroe, remember? Everything after they got you, I already know most of it. All that was missing was whoever you were before, and you just told me that. We’re more than even, dude.”

Jimmy’s hands are tight on the wheel; it creaks beneath the metal one before Jimmy loosens his grip. “Are you sure?”

“Yes.” Jason wishes he had the words for comfort, but that was Dick’s thing.

He can’t stand the silence. “Do you know about Sherlock Holmes?” he asks.

Jimmy shakes his head.

“Okay, well, Alfred’s a bit of a fanboy so I can tell you all about it,” Jason says cheerfully, and does all the way through Pennsylvania.

.

Fucking Bucky Barnes, man. He’s a bona fide American hero.

Jason’d wondered about Jimmy’s life before Hydra; of course he had. But not that much. He had Jimmy and that was more than enough. And knowing about Bucky doesn’t change anything, not really.

Jimmy seems a little more at peace, though. That’s good.

Bucky Barnes died on a mission in the Alps. That’s all history knows about it. Jason missed out on a lot of school, and it’s not like the League cared that much about American history. But Captain America and Sergeant Barnes -- he and the boys used to play at being Howling Commandos when they weren’t Batman and criminals.

Bucky Barnes died on a mission in the Alps in 1944. That’s 70 years in Hydra’s control and it makes Jason want to set things on fire.

But Jimmy’s out. Jimmy’s out and he’s free and they wiped Hydra off the map in the USA while Cap’s off tearing his way through Europe and Asia. He’ll have to be satisfied with that. Jimmy is.

.

They stop in Allentown. “Gotham tomorrow,” Jimmy says. “You ready?”

Jason nods firmly. “I am.”

Chapter Text

Jason had already purchased a safehouse to be his base of operations; they move in just after midnight and Jason primes all of his alarms and cameras.

“It’s gonna a battle on three fronts,” he says. “Against the various bosses, the cops, and Batman. And that’s before we even get to the Joker.”

Jimmy shrugs. “There’ve been worse odds.”

Jason laughs. “You really are somethin’ else.”

.

They rest for two days, going back over every piece of intel Jason has.

Getting to the Joker will actually be the simplest part, if it is planned to the last detail.

“Do you still want to confront Wayne and the Joker together?” Jimmy asks. He thinks that is an inefficient way, but this is Jason’s mission. Whatever he wants is what Jimmy will ensure happens.

Jason sighs, leaning back in the chair. “No,” he finally says. “I just want the bastard dead.”

Jimmy asks, “Do you want to be the one to kill him?”

After a very long silence, Jason says, “As long as he’s dead, I don’t care who pulls the trigger.”

“There are slower ways to die,” Jimmy tells him. “If you like, I can make it last.”

He watches as Jason shoves the chair back, getting up to pace. “I’ve been plannin’ this for so long, Jimmy, so fuckin’ long. I don’t even – he beat me till I was almost dead and then he blew me the fuck up, can you believe that? And I, I was actually dead! And Ra’s dumped me in that goddamned pool and –” He covers his face in his hands, mumbling, “What’s dead should stay dead.”

Jimmy stands and goes to him; Jason turns to face him and Jimmy thinks, You are so young. And Jason is: he must be barely 20, if that. Jimmy doesn’t look much older, but he is. He, too, should have been dead long ago.

“I just want him dead,” Jason says.

Placing a hand on Jason’s shoulder, Jimmy replies, “He will die.”

.

That night, Jason has numerous nightmares. Jimmy remembers – Steve used to get nightmares after his ma died. Bucky would hold him to ward them off.

“Jason,” he whispers from his spot across the room after Jason wakes for the fourth time. “I might know a way to help you sleep.”

“Is it the good drugs?” Jason mumbles. “Fuck, m’so tired.”

Jimmy silently walks to Jason’s bed and slips under the thin sheet. They are roughly the same size so he cannot wrap around Jason the way Bucky wrapped around Steve, but perhaps touch will be an anchor nonetheless.

“Uh, dude,” Jason says, “what are you doing?”

“Holding you,” Jimmy says.

“Right.” Jason scoffs. “Whatever.” But he moves in a little closer, closing his eyes as his head rests on Jimmy’s shoulder.

Jason has one more nightmare but it does not wake him up.

Jimmy spends the rest of the night planning ways to get into Arkham.

.

Jason’s original idea involved him taking over the drug trade in Gotham. Their new plan does not. Because the Joker will not be removed from Arkham, Jason and Jimmy do not need to trick any criminals.

Instead, they begin hunting down the heads of the criminal organizations and executing them. It is much easier than eradicating Hydra.

.

The police had no place in Jason’s original plan.

In the new plan, the corrupt police officers are treated as the symptom of a disease and executed like the criminals they are. And as the police begin to die, a manhunt is started.

.

And then there is Batman.

Chapter Text

“Bruce has got to be going out of his mind,” Jason laughs as he watches the headless chickens run around the GCPD HQ. Eighty-one criminals dead in three weeks; fifteen cops, too. No civilian casualties because he and Jimmy had both agreed that this had to be clean. Jimmy thought he already had too much innocent blood on his hands (he didn’t, because it wasn’t his hands, it was Hydra’s, but that was an argument that never went anywhere), and Jason – Gotham is his. He was born on these streets. And the people of Gotham are his, too. So unless they’ve done something unforgivable, he’s not gonna judge and execute them.

No civilians.

That still leaves a lot of people.

Three weeks of waging guerrilla warfare; a month of recon before that. Five months on the road and burning Hydra – has it really been almost seven months since he met Jimmy? It feels like a lifetime ago.

“Okay, so this is better,” he admits, snickering as he changes the videofeed to what’s left of the Black Mask’s organization. Originally, Black Mask was going to be his in – his way to the Joker.

Black Mask died with a bullet in his brain and a knife to the jugular, along with most of his professional competition. And all the infighting as others try to take his place? Proving to be the perfect distraction for Batman.

He doesn’t want Bruce dead. He just wants Bruce to realize that his no-killing-anybody-ever rule is fucking stupid. And he wants –

He wants Bruce to feel how he felt when he learned the Joker was still alive. He felt –

Well, probably how what was left of Bucky Barnes felt when he realized Hydra’d been using him for over half a century.

In 72 hours, Jimmy is going to break into Arkham.

“How do you want him to die?” Jimmy asked, three nights into their recon. Jason was down in the Narrows, watching over the working girls while Jimmy swept his way through Uptown. They had earbuds to keep in contact and they were each marking a mental map that they’d transfer to a hardcopy in the morning.

“Painfully,” Jason answered, getting ready to step in when a pimp was rough with one of the girls.

The pimp backed off because a john stepped around the corner, but Jason memorized the man’s face for later.

“Radio silence,” Jimmy said; Jason heard the Batmobile through the earbud. The night continued.

Painfully, Jason said. Jimmy has given him several alternatives and he’s still not sure. Jimmy will be constrained by the time limit, by not being seen, by having to improvise because no plan survives unbent.

In 72 hours, the Joker is going to die. It’s entirely possible he won’t know why, if Jimmy has to move quickly, if something goes wrong.

Jason’s job is to be a distraction on the other side of Gotham. He’s left a few big fish just for that, a couple of wanna-be drug lords, a mafioso, and the Riddler, all primed to start a war out by the docks. It’s going to be the first time Jason wears the hood in Gotham.

And while he’s winding up Batman, Jimmy is going to kill the Joker.

.

“I’ll let you know when it’s done,” Jimmy says as they part, the setting sun lighting up downtown Gotham.

Jason nods, mouth dry. It’s – apprehension, excitement, rage and fear and hope, and he feels like a kid, like that kid mouthing off while the Joker swung a crowbar, like that boy who saw the countdown and knew it was all over.

But it wasn’t over. And Jimmy’s eyes are calm, resolute, his voice warm when he says, “He will know why, Jason.” He reaches out to chuck Jason gently on the chin. “He’s going to die badly and he’s going to know exactly why.”

“Okay,” Jason mumbles. He stands up tall. “And I’m gonna go start a fight.”

.

The fight goes off without a hitch. About ten minutes into the shootout, Batman shows up to try and stop it. Red Hood watches from the shadows, setting off a few of the charges.

He doesn’t engage until the call that Arkham’s power just blinked and then went out.

Red Hood is still not quite a match for Batman in a straight-up fight, but he doesn’t need to be. He just needs to keep Batman’s attention.

Two minutes in, five clicks sound through the earbud and Jason –

Jason damn near howls, but he can’t, he’s Red Hood. So instead he makes some inane quip, drops a hint or three that Batman’s too rich for anyone’s good, and then departs, leaving five dead men, six fatally wounded, and a dozen fires that need to be put out before all the cargo goes up in flames.

Batman has to choose: chase him or save lives. It’s no contest.

.

All the way back to base, Jason chants in his mind: he’s dead he’s dead he’s dead.

Jimmy gets there two minutes after Jason. “It’s done,” he says, satisfaction threading the words.

Every muscle in Jason’s body is shaking. So is his voice when he begs, “Tell me.”

So Jimmy does.

Chapter Text

Getting into Arkham is easy. Cutting the power is easier still. Jimmy knows exactly where the Joker’s cell is located and the asset gets them there without interacting with any of the guards panicking over the loss of electricity. The backup generator is powering the locks on the cells but everything else has gone dark. Exactly as intended.

The Joker is laughing; Jimmy can hear it from three halls over. He supposes it must be a frightening sound, for those who were never the Winter Soldier.

It’s the sound Jason heard just before his death. It’s the sound many children have heard before their deaths and yet the murderous sack of shit is still breathing. Some hero Batman is.

Jimmy steps up to the door and uses the not-arm to rip it open.

.

The Joker looks at him and laughs. Jimmy pulls out his favorite knife and the Joker cackles about Batsy and heroes.

“There are no heroes here,” Jimmy tells him.

The Joker blinks at him before asking, “And what are you?”

There is madness in his eyes, but also brilliance. He is not to be underestimated but mindgames no longer work on Jimmy.

Jimmy smiles at him, the smile Bucky Barnes used to give the fuckers beating on Steve, the prisoners he interrogated, the techs at the last recalibration site.

The Joker can still feel fear; it’s written plainly on his face. Jimmy’s smile widens. “I spent 55 years as the greatest assassin in the world,” he says. “Do you remember Robin?”

“The Boy Blunder?” Joker says. “Of course I do. Do you mean the first one or the one that died so ignobly?” He backs up, raising his fists. “Are we gonna fight, Mr. Assassin Sir?”

“No,” Jimmy says. “We’re not gonna fight.”

He wishes he could draw like Steve, just so he could show Jason that even the Joker feels terror when faced with the inevitably of his death.

.

It doesn’t even take five minutes. Thanks to the not-arm, the Joker is left in pieces, scattered throughout his cell. He dies laughing but there isn’t much humor in the sound. Jimmy turns his earbud on, taps it five times, and then changes into the clean clothes he brought, bags the blood- and gore-stained shirt, pants, and shoes, and slips out of Arkham.

.

After he tells Jason, Jason’s knees buckle. Jimmy catches him before he hits the ground and guides him to the nearest bed.

“He’s really dead?” Jason asks.

“Yes,” Jimmy says.

Jason just stares blankly ahead. “I never actually… he’s dead. Holy fuck.”

Jimmy lets him sit for a few minutes; he takes a shower, checks the news and the video-feeds, and then returns to Jason, who has not moved at all.

“Jason,” he says, gently squeezing Jason’s shoulder. “Take a shower and go to bed. We still have things to do, remember? The mission isn’t done yet.” Jason doesn’t respond so Jimmy physically turns him, leaning down to look him right in the eye. “Jason,” he says again, in the tone Bucky Barnes had perfected in the alleys of Brooklyn, guaranteed to make even Steve fuckin’ Rogers listen.

Jason jerks away from him and Jimmy lets him go, quickly stepping out of reach. “I’m fine, I’m fine,” Jason says. “What’s goin’ on?”

“Take a shower,” Jimmy tells him. “And then try to sleep.”

“Right, yeah, good idea.” Jason distractedly gets up and goes to the bathroom; the shower starts up almost immediately.

Jason is never that agreeable; Jimmy will clearly need to keep a closer eye on him in the coming days.

.

That night, Jason crawls into Jimmy’s nest in the corner and wraps the not-arm around himself. Jimmy rests his chin on Jason’s head and murmurs the lullaby Bucky remembers Steve’s ma singing to them both, back when they were small and the world still seemed like it could be a good place.

Jason’s sleep is fraught with nightmares; Jimmy doesn’t sleep at all.

The Joker’s last words were a begging cry -- Who are you?

The failed mission gave him two names. He chose another for himself. Hydra called him both asset and soldier. The intelligence community called him Winter Soldier.

Who are you? the Joker screamed as Jimmy tore the lower half of his jaw away.

Jimmy watches Jason breathe, chest rising and falling beneath the not-arm.

“I am Jimmy,” he says. All of the other men (and not-men) he has been are dead. Jimmy is what is left, and he thinks – Jimmy might even be a good man.

.

In the morning, Jason sits across from him at the breakfast table, eyes wide, smiling, and he asks, “Tell me again.”

Long ago, Bucky Barnes could spin a yarn that had entire roomfuls of people holding their breath. That is not a skill Jimmy retained, but he’s pretty sure Jason doesn’t breathe until the end.

Chapter Text

The Joker is dead.

He and Jimmy take a day off from terrorizing the dregs of Gotham and go see a movie, eat a nice lunch, walk around just to see Gotham. Jason smiles all day and the sun is brighter, and he knows the world is a much better place.

They don’t discuss their plans for Gotham at all; they just live, like the first days Jason began tagging along with Jimmy.

Every TV they pass is blaring about what happened last night at the docks and in Arkham; everyone’s talking about it, and wondering what Batman is going to do, what the police will be doing to find out who’s raining terror down on Gotham. Jason keeps catching Jimmy’s eye and they share a smirk, but they don’t talk about it aloud.

Today is just for living in a Jokerless world; tomorrow is for what comes next.

He sees Bruce getting into his car down the street; Bruce looks tired.

Good.

Chapter Text

“And now,” Jason says after Jimmy leaves the bathroom with his hair dripping wet, towel on his shoulders, wearing an old pair of sweatpants, “now we move into Phase Two.” He’s grinning, practically bouncing in place.

Phase Two is possibly more dangerous than Phase One, and a bit more complex. It will take longer and require far more interaction than Jimmy is perhaps comfortable with – but it’s also exciting.

“There’s at least two empires we can take over,” Jason says, pulling out his notebook with all their intel jotted down in shorthand. “And we can consolidate two more into one, if we can convince the new boss it’s in his best interest.”

“We can,” Jimmy says and Jason laughs, flipping to the last page in the notebook.

“We should put off catching the old man’s attention for as long as possible,” Jason mutters, hunching over the notebook and making notes.

Jimmy goes to his bag, where his clothes still reside. He hasn’t put anything in the dresser or closet, though Jason has arranged all his own belongings neatly, everything in its own place. But Jimmy likes keeping all of his things in one place, together; having things at all is still novel. He grabs one of the colorful shirts he acquired from a secondhand store and pulls it on, replacing the towel to keep the shirt dry.

“Okay, so,” Jason says, “let’s go over this again, make sure there aren’t any wrinkles.”

“Yes,” Jimmy agrees, sitting on the edge of the bed and waiting.

Phase Two is where Jason takes over Gotham’s criminal enterprises. Jimmy has nothing better to do, and this is Jason’s mission, the second half of it. Gotham is his, the way Brooklyn was once Bucky Barnes’. He was born on Gotham’s streets and the people themselves need his protection. The best way to keep them safe is to eliminate the criminals entirely, but that is impossible. Should all the criminals die or be removed, more will simply take their place.

So instead, Jason will ensure the crime is controlled. It will be difficult, far harder than the asset’s missions –

But that is no matter. Jason needs his help.

They spend all morning discussing the plan and decide to enact it in three days, when a new shipment comes in for what’s left of the mob. Jason, in his Red Hood guise, will be the spokesperson and Jimmy will loom in a mask of his own that is not the Winter Soldier’s muzzle, as the Red Hood’s partner. The three days gives them time to fabricate or procure something suitable.

“We’re fuckin’ doin’ this!” Jason crows. “The Joker’s dead! Fuck, I haven’t been this happy since I died, Jimmy!”

His smile is bright and wide and Jimmy can’t help smiling back.

Chapter Text

For the meet, Jason wears his hood. Jimmy slips into mission mood and lurks out of sight, something similar to Jason’s hood covering his face. It’s different enough from Hydra’s asset that it doesn’t fuck with his head.

The Inzerillo family is trying to muscle their way to the top, so it’s their goons that Jason and Jimmy are going to fuck with tonight. While Jason terrorizes them a little, Jimmy watches the perimeter in case Batman decides to pop in.

Finally, Jason gets tired of beating on goons, so he grabs the guy in charge, pulls him in close, and says, “Tell your boss that the Red Hood wants to talk to him. He’ll get his shit then.” He drops the guy and the idiot hits the ground hard. All of them have at least one broken bone; no challenge at all.

One of the goons asks, “How’s he ‘sposed to contact you?”

In the hood, Jason grins. “Be here in a week. If he doesn’t show, I’ll take that as him declining my invitation.” He leans in and says conspiratorially, “He really doesn’t want to decline my invitation.”

.

Two nights later, Jason has the exact same confrontation with goons from the Ghost Dragons and gives their leader the same message.

By that point, Arkham couldn’t hide the Joker’s death any longer: because of how high profile the sadistic fucker had been, it made the front page around the country, and even got a mention in the international news.

Jason read every single article, watched every broadcast, and laughed and laughed.

.

For the meet with Inzerillo and Ghost Dragon, Jason and Jimmy hang back, waiting. Jason watches the two groups while Jimmy watches the perimeter; Jimmy finally murmurs, “Clear,” so Jason nods and Jimmy drops down.

A dozen guns are immediately pointed at him but he stands there silently. Finally, Enrico scoffs and steps forward. “Where are the goods?” he demands, pointing at Jimmy. “Where is this Red Hood?”

“He’ll be here,” Jimmy says in that monotone of mission mode.

King Snake speaks up now, drawling, “And when exactly will that be? I am a busy man.”

Jimmy just says, “If you leave, you will regret it.” It doesn’t even sound like a threat, just an unalterable fact, and all the scarier for it.

Jason takes that as his cue. “Yes, you will,” he announces, swinging down from a line, landing next to Jimmy, who immediately melts back into the night as all eyes focus on Jason. “There’s a change coming to Gotham,” Jason tells them. “There’s a void to fill and I’m gonna fill it. You can either work for me or die tonight.” He spreads his hands. “Your call.”

King Snake laughs, loud and disbelieving. “You’re delusional.”

“Am I?” Jason smirks and it’s in his voice, though they can’t see it. “Tell that to the Joker.”

At that – oh, their faces are a fucking picture. He continues, “Tell that to the Black Mask, to all the families that are nothin’ now, to the gangs torn apart by infighting ‘cause their leaders were executed like trash.”

“That… that was you?” Enrico asks, taking an almost unconscious step back.

“Me and my business partner, yes,” Jason says. “You have until dawn. And then each of you, Enrico and Edmund, you’re gonna call this number,” he brandishes a post-it and uses a knife to stick it to one of the containers, “and tell me your answer.”

He fires the grappling gun and flies upward, vanishing from their sight, but Jimmy pulls him in and together they crouch down to watch how the Inzerillos and Ghost Dragons handle it: all eight of them look somewhere between paralyzed with fear and pissed as all hell, and then they get the fuck out without even trying to fight each other, after one of the Dragons grabs the post-it. Jason lets the laugh out, leaning against Jimmy.

Jimmy says, “Batman approaching.”

“Okay,” Jason chortles, “Let’s hit the road, kiddo.”

.

Just after dawn, King Snake calls and agrees to work for Red Hood. Two minutes later, Enrico Inzerillo calls and says the exact same thing.

Jason crosses two names off the list and then turns to the division of labor. “What should we ban first?” he asks Jimmy, who is people-watching through the window and drinking chocolate milk.

“Human trafficking,” Jimmy replies promptly.

Putting a check by that, Jason nods. “Let’s get to it, then.”

Chapter Text

Bucky Barnes died in the mountains. He died cold, alone, and terrified, and his last thought was, At least it wasn’t you.

He didn’t stay dead, and it took him years to die for good, and then the asset stood on his feet, breathed with his lungs, killed with his remaining hand and the not-hand his masters gave him.

The asset killed its way through the decades, slept when it wasn’t needed, and was unbeatable, unstoppable – unless the codewords that blanked it were said. It obeyed without question (except those times it didn’t) and never challenged its handlers (except those times it did). It survived things humans couldn’t and made impossible shots – it was the perfect weapon, the deadliest man in the world – except it was no man. It was a ghost.

Bucky Barnes never left that ravine.

.

After their initial meeting and the agreements to work for Red Hood, Jimmy stalks Enrico Inzerillo and Edmund Dorrance. He plants bugs in every room of their respective HQs, memorizes every face and name, and notes down who does not entirely agree with what Inzerillo and Dorrance have done.

He also leaves a note in both Inzerillo and Dorrance’s bedrooms with their first order from Red Hood: cease trafficking in humans. He has already determined where they keep their victims.

While Jason is contacting various people (a woman named Talia and members of something he only ever calls The League), Jimmy goes to the holding pens, slaughters the keepers, and then delivers the women and children to a clinic for the poor.

“It’s done,” he says when Jason answers the phone.

“Good,” Jason replies. “You should probably know that Captain America’s back in New York.”

Shit, Jimmy thinks. Aloud, he just says, “Headed back.”

.

Bucky Barnes loved Steve Rogers more than anything else. But Bucky Barnes died in the mountains.

The asset pulled Captain America out of the river and ensured he lived before retreating. The asset knew nothing, not even that it had a name – but Captain America refused to fight, and those words… I’m with you ‘til the end of the line should have meant nothing, but they resonated inside the asset and so it saved the mission’s life.

And Jimmy… Jimmy doesn’t know Steve Rogers. Has never met him. Jimmy is with Jason; Jason needs him the way Steve Rogers once needed Bucky Barnes. What Jason’s planning is just as hare-brained as some of Steve’s plans when they were hunting Hydra, and Jason has nobody watching his back the way the Commandos watched Steve’s.

“It doesn’t change the mission,” he tells Jason when he gets back to their loft.

“If you’re sure,” Jason says after a moment. Jimmy identifies his expression and tone as worried.

“I am.” He removes his armor, pulling on one of his bright shirts and soft sweatpants in place of the leather. “How did your calls go?”

“Pretty good,” Jason says. “Everything’s in place for Part B of Phase Two. Wanna get dinner out? Bruce Wayne’s making an appearance tonight.”

“Sure.” Jimmy grabs a glass and fills it with water, then goes to his nest, where The Black Stallion is waiting. Bucky Barnes had never gotten around to reading it.

“We’re gonna need to get spiffed up,” Jason says, turning back to his computer.

Jimmy chuckles. “I can do that.”

Chapter Text

As part of their supply run, back when they first moved into the loft, Jason made sure they each got at least one fancy suit just because you never know when you might need one. Jason used to have to dress up when he was Bruce Wayne’s ward; neither of their suits is as nice as even Bruce’s worst, but it’ll do fine.

Jimmy’s a fuckin’ picture all dolled up. His hair is maybe a bit long but that doesn’t matter when he bites his lip and looks at Jason through his eyelashes.

“… fuck,” Jason mutters.

Jimmy smirks, bright and wide. “Will this do?” he asks.

“Yeah, I think so,” Jason says. “C’mon, our reservation’s for 8:30. Bruce should be there at 9 with some heiress or the other on his arm.”

.

Jason knows he’s attractive but he never really learned to use it before he died, and then he was busy with Talia and the League. He remembers watching Bruce, though, so he emulates that as they approach the maitre’d. And Jimmy –

History knows that Bucky Barnes was a charmer. Jimmy hasn’t really shown much of that in the months they’ve been running together, but tonight, he pulls that part of Bucky Barnes on like a mask and it is flawless. Jason lets him take over the op and he has the maitre’d eating out of the palm of his hand, the servers all trying to get and keep his attention, the eye of every trophy wife and closeted man in the room.

But Jimmy has eyes only for him and they keep up a lively conversation of Jay Smith’s Ph.D. in biomechanics, the oil empire Jim Banks is going to inherit soon, that astrophysicist he’s got his eye on – they’re just two old friends who haven’t seen each other since they were boys and this is as much fun as beating the shit out of criminals.

And then Bruce walks in, pretending to already be soused and his date for the evening is so unimpressed. He takes in the room at a glance and his eye goes right over Jay and Jim; Jim, who’s slouched down, body loose and relaxed because Bucky Barnes could always finish a fight but he never started them, and Jay, who is leaning forward and listening to Jim drawl because he’s been dreaming about Jim since his parents sent him away to boarding school and they lost touch.

Bruce must be so tired because Jason knows they should earn at least a second look. (He wonders how often Bruce had seen his face, in the months after the Joker – does he just not look anymore?)

They linger over dessert, Jason watching Bruce and his date in the mirror behind Jimmy. Bruce’s date keeps looking at Jimmy; Bruce’s game is off tonight. Jason has never seen him so unbalanced before.

Finally, the date gets tired of Bruce’s halfhearted act and flounces over to Jason’s table, eyes only on Jimmy. “Hello,” she purrs, leaning in to give him a look at her ample chest. “Wanna have some fun, handsome?”

This is where the Bucky Barnes charade cracks for just a moment; he gives Jason one panicked look before grinning up at the woman. “Thank you but no,” he says, reaching out to rub her arm. “I’ve already got plans tonight, you see,” he whispers as she leans down, “and he doesn’t like to share.”

The woman swallows heavily, eyes going to Jason, and then she straightens back up. “Well, the two of you have fun,” she says, and then drops a card next to Jimmy’s glass. “And give me a call.”

She stalks out, head held high, and Jason almost laughs at Bruce’s gobsmacked expression.

“Ready to get out of here, Jay?” Jimmy asks, placing the card on the plate with the last bite of his cake.

“Yeah, Jim, let’s go,” he says.

As they pass Bruce’s table, where he’s waiting for the check, Jason makes sure to catch his eye and wink.

.

Jason doesn’t want to just punish Batman. He forgave Batman for his death a long time ago.

But he wants Bruce to feel afraid, to wonder what’s going on, to be at a loss. Bruce was always eighteen steps ahead and he took Jason in, let him feel hope for the first time – pointless, heartbreaking hope.

Jason Todd died at fifteen years old. He wasn’t done growing; he was just a kid, really. He still isn’t done growing and his 21st birthday is in a month, if he chooses to keep the same one.

.

“That was amazing!” Jason shouts, throwing his jacket onto the bed. “Did you see his face?” He finally lets the laughter out, almost falling over as he pulls the suit off.

“Definitely a successful mission,” Jimmy agrees, something soft in his voice.

Jason glances over; Jimmy’s eyes are on him as he slowly undresses.

“… oh,” Jason says.

“The first night I stayed with you,” Jimmy says, standing bare, the metal arm glinting, “you said you would not try anything.”

“Yeah.” Jason nods. “It woulda felt wrong.”

Jimmy’s smile is slow and heated. “And now?” He’s looking at Jason through his lashes again, and then – the cheater – he bites at his bottom lip.

Jason moves in because he’s not a saint and he has been wanting since that first night in the bar.

“Say stop at any point and I will, I promise,” he mutters into Jimmy’s mouth as he pushes him down on the bed, on top of both of their fancy-ass suits.

“Same,” Jimmy says, flipping them so he’s sprawled across Jason and leaning down.

Chapter Text

Jimmy wakes up to Jason curled around the not-arm and sleeping deeply. He does not understand the comfort Jason derives from the not-arm but he is pleased, nonetheless.

He wants to press a kiss to Jason’s forehead, so he does. He then carefully extracts the not-arm from Jason’s grip and goes to relieve and then bathe himself.

.

Inzerillo calls around mid-morning to ask why five of his men were executed. Jason is sprawled across the bed having a skype chat with Talia while Jimmy, sitting at the table, reads up on the United States federal laws before he narrows in on New Jersey’s state laws.

“You didn’t get my message?” Jason says to Inzerillo. They are on speaker, not that Jimmy needed that to hear Inzerillo’s side; the asset was given superhuman hearing by Zola.

“You mean… the paper on my desk inside my locked office inside my mansion, the note about human trafficking?” Inerzillo asks. “That was from you?” He sounds frightened. Good.

“Yup, that was me,” Jason says cheerfully. “And then to really drive the point home, we dealt with the men who had a shipment. Win-win all around.”

“Yes, of course,” Inzerillo agrees, trying to sound like he’s not afraid. “I’ll let my men know.”

“You do that,” Jason says, grinning. He hangs up and lets the phone fall.

“Jason,” Talia says on the screen, “do try not to fuck up.”

“I’ll do my best, babe. You gonna send any of the League?” He looks over the screen at Jimmy but Jimmy stays focused on his tablet.

“No, I think not,” Talia says. “The situation in Laos is quite tenuous and needs a full reckoning. You surely have everything in hand…?”

“Yeah, it’s all going swimmingly so far.” He smiles at Talia.

“Let me know how Wayne reacts,” she requests and then cuts the connection.

“I owe her a lot,” Jason says into the silence. “And she’s important. But I don’t trust her to have my back the way I do you.”

Jimmy looks up to meet his eyes. Jason slips off the bed and walks over, pulling the tablet from Jimmy’s grip to set it on the table. “I don’t trust anyone the way I do you.” He leans in for a kiss and then while Jimmy is distracted, lets himself fall into Jimmy’s lap, settling his legs on either side.

Kissing is nice; Jimmy had never known it, and Talia taught Jason well. Jimmy rests the not-hand at the small of Jason’s back, and his true hand helps Jason remove his shirt, since one of Jason’s hands is cupping Jimmy’s jaw. “How am I gonna start an empire with you distractin’ me all the time?” Jason mumbles, staring down at Jimmy.

Jimmy shrugs. Jason shakes his head, laughing, and then goes in for Jimmy’s neck, kissing his way down.

.

The three remaining gangs fall into line swiftly after the Lords of the Avenue lose half their members to a sniper. The mob families take only a few days longer.

It isn’t smooth sailing, of course; but Red Hood (and his nameless, utterly terrifying partner) are known as the Joker’s Killer and that is a title to fear.

It isn’t long until the GCPD have the name Red Hood. It doesn’t take a genius to realize, either, that the Red Hood must’ve been behind the spate of cop killings. Red Hood is suddenly the most wanted man in Gotham, and they don’t even know what he looks like.

And Batman – oh, Batman is furious. But no one is going to give up the Red Hood to him because, as everyone knows, Batman doesn’t kill.

Red Hood and his shadow do.

Just ask the Joker.

.

It takes four months to consolidate power, with a few cullings here and there. Red Hood hands down mandates – no selling to kids, no pimps taking advantage of their girls or boys, no wiping out families who can’t honor deals, and no wars between the respective mobs or gangs. Second offenses are fatal.

Three times, Jay and Jim have been where Bruce Wayne was, dressed like rich boys and all over each other. Violence is down, the crime rate is steady, and it might be time…

“Phase Three is a go,” Jason says, watching the Batsignal light up the sky.

Time to catch Batman’s attention.

Chapter Text

At mid-morning on a Wednesday, Jay and Jim go to Crime Alley, to where a boy once stole the Batmobile’s tires. They’re wearing frat boy clothes and neither has shaved. On a burner phone, Jim calls the Wayne Manor’s home number.

“Wayne Manor, Alfred Pennyworth speaking,” Alfred says. It doesn’t sound like he’s changed at all.

Jason can’t breathe. Jimmy, with his mission mode voice, replies, “Give Batman a message.”

“I beg your pardon,” Alfred says, sounding puzzled. “Give who a message?”

“Batman,” Jimmy repeats. “If he wants the Red Hood, he should be at the site of his first great failure at midnight tomorrow.” He ends the call and drops the phone.

Jay and Jim wander away, hands in each other’s pockets, two idiots on the wrong side of town.

.

“Oh, fuck, they must both be panicking,” Jason says as they eat at a hole in the wall diner. He used to love this place; the owner would give away food to kids who cleaned the floor and tables. “Man, I wish we coulda seen the old man’s face.”

Bruce, he means. Not Alfred. Alfred was awesome. Jason never got the sense he was being compared to Dick from Alfred. Alfred’s what he imagines granddads to be like.

The Red Hood’s phone rings. King Snake is calling and Jason sighs. “Yes?” he says, rolling his eyes at Jimmy.

Jimmy steals a handful of fries off his plate so Jason moves the plate closer to him while King Snake says, “Four of my boys were making a run to Blüdhaven last night; they’ve been picked up by Nightwing.”

“And you expect me to do what, exactly?” he asks, pouting as Jimmy takes more of the fries.

“Well, one of them was new,” King Snake says. The man sounds very nervous. “So new he hasn’t been initiated in yet. If he has to face Batman, the boy will break.”

Jason goes still; Jimmy meets his gaze. “Edmund,” Jason says softly, “what did I say about children?”

“He’s nineteen!” King Snake protests. “He’s the younger brother of one of my best men!”

“And what does he know?” Jason’s voice is still too soft, and he focuses on keeping his breath steady. They are in public; he cannot rage here.

“Billy’s been showing him the ropes,” King Snake says. “He knows a lot.”

“What does he know, Edmund,” Jason asks, borrowing Ra’s al Ghul’s coldest tone, “about me?”

King Snake sighs heavily. “He knows this phone number.”

“Expect a visit,” Jason says, ending the call.

Jimmy pays the bill, though they’re not even halfway through eating. Once they’re outside, Jimmy takes the phone from Jason and crushes it with his metal hand, as ever hidden inside a black glove. When it is powder, he opens his hand and lets the wind scatter it.

“Shitting fucking hell,” Jason mutters, running through various scenarios. “We need to find out if the kid broke, if Night—if Dickie even called the old man in, when he might’ve given up the phone number…” He pulls at his hair, wanting to light something on fire.

“When do you want that visit paid?” Jimmy asks, putting his metal arm around Jason’s shoulders and guiding him down the street, easing through the crowds without touching anyone. He’s so amazing. Jason doesn’t even know what would’ve happened if they hadn’t met in Baltimore. They’d both probably be dead now.

“Right now,” Jason says. “I’ll head to Blüdhaven, see if I can get in to see the kid. You, go deal with Eddie; it’s time for him to retire.”

Jimmy nods and presses a quick kiss to Jason’s lips. “Lynx?” he asks as he unwinds his arm from Jason’s shoulders.

“Lynx,” Jason agrees. “Deliver the good news after Eddie’s dealt with.”

.

Why the fuck, Jason wonders as he strolls into Blüdhaven’s main police station, would you give sensitive information to a newbie? No matter how promising he was, no matter who vouched for him. It was stupid.

So is this a trap? But why would King Snake be trying it? He had to know that Batman would see him in jail and that Red Hood would kill him – unless there’s someone else who scared him more than Red Hood?

Charles Hue, younger brother of William Hue, King Snake’s right hand man, has no prior record and the Blüdhaven cops don't like Nightwing all that much. So Jay Smith smiles and says, “I’m here to pay Charlie Hue’s bail?”

.

Charlie is quiet until they’re in the car. Then he asks, “Are you here to kill me?”

“Red Hood sent me, but not for that,” Jay tells him, starting the car and sedately driving away from the cops. “Did you give them anything?”

Charlie’s arms are wrapped around his middle, and he shakes his head. “Chen told Nightwing about a major drug trade between Escabedo and one of the Five Finger’s in Blüdhaven.”

“Red Hood will be glad to hear it.” Jay follows every single traffic law all the way out of Blüdhaven. “And he will definitely want to talk to you himself, kiddo, but if you didn’t do anything, you don’t have anything to be afraid of.”

“What about Chen?” Charlie asks. “And Dave, and Kai? Is the Red Hood gonna get them out, too?”

“Probably,” Jay says. “But King Snake told him you were the weak link.” He shrugs. “Don’t worry, kid. Everything’ll be fine.”

Charlie sags back in his seat and mumbles, “I’m dead.”

He looks really young. Jay repeats, “Don’t worry.”

.

When Jay drops Charlie off at his family’s apartment, Charlie just watches him, flabbergasted. It’d be funny if it weren’t so sad.

“You know that phone number King Snake or your brother told you?” Jay asks. Charlie nods. “Forget it. Anything they told you about Red Hood – forget it. It was their fuck-up, not yours, but this is the only second chance you’ll be getting.”

“I understand, sir,” Charlie says, nodding firmly. “Thank the Red Hood for me.”

Jason leaves the car close to a chop shop and heads back to their base on foot. Jimmy’s not back yet, so he pulls out his notebook and crosses off Edmund Durrance, writing Ling Huang in its place.

He’ll pay her a visit tonight, after Jimmy tells him how it went with King Snake.

Chapter Text

None of Durrance’s security knows Jimmy is there even after he breaks the man’s neck. Durrance is alone in his home office; he keeps the gang well away from his home. His wife is downstairs; his children are playing in the backyard. Jimmy must keep them away from the scene so he swings Durrance’s body across his shoulders and departs as silently as he arrived.

.

The warehouse the Ghost Dragons have claimed has only a dozen individuals present. Jimmy lets Durrance’s body fall into the middle of the floor and then lands beside it. Ling Huang and Billy Hue are the highest members present and it is Huang who steps forward to ask, “Is that King Snake?”

None of them have raised a weapon toward him; that shows they are learning.

“Yes,” Jimmy tells them. Beneath the mask, he smiles. “Lynx, Red Hood has promoted you.”

Huang gapes at him.

“Expect to see us tonight,” he says and then he stalks out, leaving Durrance’s body. How they dispose of it is not important.

.

He ghosts around to the other organizations Red Hood controls. All seems well.

Durrance was not a fool, which means there is something more to this ‘mistake.’ But why the man would be trying to trap them… no matter. Whatever it is, they will be ready.

He patrols until late afternoon and then returns to base to report. Jason is waiting.

After they both update each other, and Jason says, “We really should just start wearin’ the earbuds 24/7, it’d be so much more convenient,” they decide to visit Lynx and explain the terms of her promotion between 11 and midnight. They also try to brainstorm what Durrance could have possibly been attempting to do before Jason gets too agitated to continue.

“And the day started so good, too,” Jason complains, pulling Jimmy towards the bed. “Ugh, I hate people.”

Jimmy laughs softly, letting Jason arrange him as he pleases. He’s pretty sure this is what happiness feels like.

Chapter Text

The day before the meet with Batman is spent getting Lynx settled in as the new boss of the Ghost Dragons. Billy Hue is still second-in-command and anyone who would protest – well, one look at Jimmy’s masked face, lurking in the shadows of the warehouse, hushes them right up.

Jimmy really is fucking terrifying when he wants to be. It’s awesome.

“Here’s the new number,” Jason says, handing Ling a post-it. “Memorize it. You and Billy are the only people in the Ghost Dragons who get to know it. Understood?”

“Yes, sir,” she says.

“And get those three out of lock-up,” he adds, turning away. “Chen’s impressive; see if there’s anywhere for him to move up to.”

“Sir,” Billy says. Jason looks back at him. “Thank you for not – thank you for bringing Charlie home.”

“He’s a good kid,” Jason says. “But he’s a kid. Nineteen is cutting it very close.”

“Of course.” Billy nods. “He’ll be the youngest recruit, I swear.”

“He better be.” Jason turns sharply, nodding at Jimmy. They have other places to be, other minions to give the new number to.

.

“Any new insights into what the fuck Durrance was trying to pull?” Jason asks Jimmy as they suit up for the meet.

“No,” Jimmy says. “Perhaps it died with him.”

Jason laughs. “Yeah, here’s hoping.”

.

When they planned the first encounter with Batman, Jason was careful to stress that Jimmy needed to be non-fatal. Batman might try to beat the shit out of them, but they’d still be breathing, after.

Jimmy nodded and said, “I won’t kill him, even if he is –” and here he smiled that adorable little boy smile and finished with relish, “a dickweasel.”

Jason had choked on his water, spluttering as he sat up to stare at Jimmy. “Did you really just say that?” he’d asked.

His face empty of all expression, Jimmy had just looked at him. “Did I really just say what?”

“You’re a goddamned menace,” Jason told him and Jimmy smiled again.

So as they head out, Jason doesn’t remind him again that Batman should still be alive at the end of the night. Jimmy already knows that. And Jason trusts him.

.

The one problem might be if Bruce didn’t figure out the clue.

But no: they get to that warehouse an hour early and it’s already been wired with a sensor.

Because Jimmy is the superhuman one, he drops down onto the walkway first and looks directly into the camera. “I’m waiting,” he says, not quite in mission mode yet. Mission mode is for when people might die.

And Batman drops down, his cape epically swirling around him. “You’re not the Red Hood,” Batman growls in that ridiculous voice. “You’re his attack dog.”

Jimmy doesn’t react but Jason’s offended for him; Jimmy is nobody’s weapon anymore. He’s a full on partner.

“We’ve been doing your work for you,” Jimmy says, clearly unafraid and not faking it. “You should thank us.”

“You’re just criminals killing criminals,” Batman pronounces, like he’s not a criminal himself, even if he doesn’t kill.

“I’d say we’re more than just criminals.” Jason strolls up behind Jimmy. “After all – we know your name. Don’t we?”

“Yes,” Jimmy agrees. Jason hears the smirk. “We do.”

Bruce keeps the reaction from the half of his face that’s visible, but Jason sees his shoulders twitch. “Are you here to blackmail me?” he demands. “You’ll spread that information if I don’t let you keep your empire?”

Jason laughs. “We’re not gonna tell anyone,” he says. “We just wanted you to know we know. ‘cause I know you – you’re gonna go back to your cave, sit at your computer, and spend hours and hours and hours wondering where you fucked up.”

He lets all levity drop. “’cause you did, Bruce. You fucked up.”

Batman attacks. Jimmy grabs him and slams him into the walkway, holding him there while Batman struggles. “Calm down,” Jimmy orders, and yup, he’s slipping into mission-mode.

And that’s when Nightwing decides to get involved.

.

Dick Grayson had always been the golden child, the standard Jason never could meet. And he did try. He tried for years.

Jimmy’s busy keeping Batman down, so Jason tussles with Nightwing. The only edge Jason has is that he’s been sparring with Jimmy, who’s hella fast and really fucking strong. It’s not enough – it would be, if Jason actually wanted Dickie-boy dead, but he doesn’t. And that handicap is what has him slammed headfirst into the railing. The railing shatters beneath the hood and Nightwing doesn’t manage to catch him before he falls over.

But Jimmy is really hella fast, and he’s up off Batman and grabbing Jason’s boot, swinging him back onto the walkway. Batman and Nightwing give him time to get Jason settled safely; his head is ringing and everything’s blurry, and when he can focus again, Batman and Nightwing are slumped together, unmoving.

“They’re alive,” Jimmy announces.

“Oh, good,” Jason slurs. “Shit, Dickie’s got even better. He’ll always be better.”

Jimmy crouches in front of him. “You have a head injury.”

Jason tries to nod and almost pukes.

Sighing, Jimmy scoops him up.

.

Jimmy deposits him at the fall-back location while he disposes of the trackers Batman was able to place on their bodies. Jason just leans against the wall, his legs folded up and arms wrapped around his knees.

He remembers – god, he was such an angry kid. And he knows Bruce wanted to save him, to focus that rage into something productive. Bruce didn’t want him to end up… well, exactly how he’s ended up. Fuck.

“Jason.” Jimmy’s voice is soft, his hands gentle, and he picks Jason up like Jason’s precious.

Jason’s not precious. He never has been. He’s a fuckin’ nightmare. He should’ve stayed dead. Maybe he is still dead? He never did a single thing that would’ve earned him Jimmy.

Jimmy maneuvers them into the loft and sets him carefully on the bed. Jason tries to roll over and almost pukes again. “Jason,” Jimmy says firmly, “stay still.” His hands are gentle as he unlocks the hood and pulls it off, disarming it. His metal hand is cool on Jason’s forehead. “Rest,” he murmurs, brushing a kiss to Jason’s lips. “Let me take care of you.”

“’kay,” Jason mumbles. “’r’some, ‘immy.”

“Thank you,” Jimmy says. “You’re a punk.”

Jason wants to argue but his head is swimming so he just lets himself lie there while Jimmy undresses him and tucks him in.

There’s blood on his face; Jimmy washes it off and kisses him once more, and then Jason’s waking up to a darkened apartment.

“How long was I out?” he asks.

“Eighteen hours,” Jimmy says. “How’s your head?”

“Better.” Jason actually manages to sit up and turn to face Jimmy, who is – surprise surprise – slouched in the corner and reading a book. “I guess we won?” Last thing he remembers – Nightwing getting involved. Shit.

“Yes.” Jimmy sounds immensely satisfied. “We won.”

Chapter Text

After he gently places Jason in the far corner of the fallback position, he goes to dispose of Batman’s tracking devices. Five were placed on them, all told: three on Jason, two on Jimmy. One is put in the undercarriage of Batman’s ridiculous vehicle, one in the tailpipe. Two he leaves in the “Batcave” (he can hear Bucky Barnes complaining in the background at the ridiculousness, but Bucky Barnes ran around in Europe with a man dressed as a flag) and the last one is placed in the room he determines to be Bruce Wayne’s.

What better way to make Jason’s point?

.

He settles Jason into their bed and does a quick medical check after Jason passes out. He’s got a good-sized lump on the side of his head but that is his only injury. Nightwing’s fighting reminded Jimmy of Natalia’s – elegant and fast.

Natalia is better, of course. But Jason did very well.

And as to Batman… he is quite formidable. Given a few decades, he might be able to give Jimmy a challenge.

Jimmy shakes his head, scoffing. He strips and curls around Jason, placing his real hand over Jason’s pulse.

.

At 0900, Jimmy wakes Jason up just to be sure he can. Jason almost immediately falls back asleep. Jimmy does a quick internet search and decides to wait a little long before procuring a doctor.

At 1500, he wakes Jason again. Jason grumbles at him but holds an intelligible conversation, so when he falls back asleep, Jimmy does not panic.

Jason finally wakes up himself at 1800.

.

They spend the remainder of Friday and all of Saturday lounging around. Jason tells him he needs to actually watch the Star Wars films, even the “suckass” prequels. Jimmy orders half a dozen pizzas and they eat three of them for dinner and the rest for breakfast.

On Sunday, Jimmy makes Jason stay recuperating while he checks in on the various groups. One of the Sullivan lieutenants is trying to strike out on his own but Mickey Sullivan promises to take care of it.

Under the Red Hood, everyone is given a single chance. Jimmy ensures that Sullivan is aware of that and then continues on.

.

Now they have confronted Batman, Phase Three requires that they do not confront him again for a sufficient amount of time to drive him out of his mind with worry and fear. They spend days as Jay and Jim, and then Jason goes out as Red Hood only if he must make an appearance for the minions, as he calls them.

“We need to give you a name,” Jason tells Jimmy as they wait for the Inzerillo gun-runners to arrive. “Something as terrifying as you.”

“I don’t need a name,” Jimmy sighs. He thinks it might even be scarier that he goes without one. When he shares that thought, Jason clicks his tongue.

“But I’m getting all the credit!” he protests. “You’re doing half the work.”

That is not a new paradigm, Jimmy thinks. And it bothers him as little now as it did when he was Bucky Barnes. “We’ll discuss this later,” he says. “Inzerillo has arrived.”

.

For a month, they let Batman stew. They stay quiet, though they put down an attempted insurrection that results in the entirety of the Street Demonz eliminated. Jimmy spends the downtime sparring with Jason, showing him tricks that will work on anyone who is not a genetically-altered supersoldier or one of those mutants always in the news.

Batman is doing his best, but with the Street Demonz gone, there is no one who will dare speak about Joker’s Killer.

“I’m gonna come up with a name for you!” Jason swears.

“I don’t need a name,” Jimmy tells him. “I really don’t.”

Jason looks at him over the computer screen. “It… it doesn’t feel right, everyone knowing about me and not you.”

“The gangs are calling me your shadow,” Jimmy says. “That’s enough for me, Jason, truly.”

Jason sighs. “Fine,” he mutters, looking back at the screen.

Jimmy puts his book down and walks over, crawling onto the bed and curving himself along Jason’s back. “I am not your asset,” he murmurs into Jason’s ear. “I am not your weapon. I am your partner. The less known of me, the greater my advantage. Do you understand?”

“Yeah.” Jason nods and then leans back, his head resting on Jimmy’s shoulder. Jimmy brings up his real hand to gently span across Jason’s throat.

Jason lets himself slump over and Jimmy goes with him, until they’re sprawled together, with Jimmy’s ear pressed against Jason’s steady heartbeat.

“What is your kink with my pulse?” Jason asks, his fingers petting along the crown of Jimmy’s head.

“I knew someone once,” Jimmy replies. “His heart wasn’t that great.”

Jason’s quiet for a few minutes before asking, “What happened to him?”

Jimmy laughs, stroking the not-hand along Jason’s arm. “He became Captain America.”

Chapter Text

Batman’s greatest strength has always been fear.

His greatest weakness is that he leaves his enemies alive.

Red Hood has that same strength – but not that weakness. He learned that lesson well beneath a crowbar while a madman laughed.

It was a question he’d never thought to ask as Robin: What do you do with the ones who aren’t afraid?

As Red Hood, he knows the answer: You kill them.

.

Batman thinks of Gotham in its entirety as his territory. Red Hood considers only the slums his, where those without silver spoons and butlers and a fleet of cars live. The working girls and the hungry kids, the mothers with three jobs and the fathers with broken backs doing their best – even the criminals.

They’re terrified of him, every last one of them, but give it time. Everyone was scared of Batman in the beginning, too.

.

Jason always believed in Bruce’s crusade. But Bruce is only scooping water out of sinking boat.

Red Hood believes in second chances. What he doesn’t allow is thirds.

.

Part B of Phase Three means letting Batman catch Red Hood. Jimmy hates it. But even Jimmy has to admit that Bruce isn’t going to rough him up too badly, and besides, Jimmy’ll be lurking by with a modified rifle for a wingshot if he feels that Bruce goes too far.

If Jimmy actually vetoed it, Jason would come up with something else. But he finally sighs and mutters, “Fine.”

The condition, of course, is that if Jimmy feels he needs to, Batman will die. So Jason’ll have to remember that.

.

Red Hood lets himself be spotted by a police cruiser going into a known brothel. Two pimps who like to sample the goods are arguing with the madam and Red Hood takes offense to that. And also their faces.

He takes out the trash and Batman is waiting.

.

Jason goes quietly. He lets Batman cuff his hands, lets Batman shove him into an out-of-the-way alley. And when Batman finally has him up against the wall, glaring at the hood, Jason says, “Figured it out yet?”

“What’s your endgame?” Batman demands. “Why are you consolidating power?”

Jason shrugs. “Seemed like the thing to do.”

“All of the cops you killed were dirty,” Batman says. “All of the criminals were quick executions, except for the Joker. With him, it was personal. Why?”

“Aww, rich boy,” Jason drawls, “what’s the fun in me givin’ you all the answers?”

Batman slams him against the wall. Jason laughs, low and dark. “Give it time,” he says. “It’ll come to you.” Then he headbutts him.

.

Batman gives chase, of course. But this, this part of Gotham – it belongs to the Red Hood. The tracker is dropped from the roof of a ramshackle apartment building and he vanishes into the night.

Jimmy meets up with him on top of the GCPD and together they watch Commissioner Gordon summon Batman.

“It’s quite the show,” Jimmy murmurs before Batman arrives.

“And it’s just getting started,” Jason replies.

Chapter Text

When Steve Rogers arrives in Gotham, everyone knows.

It is only surprising, Jimmy thinks, that it took him so long. They’ve been in Gotham for seven months, and were together on the road, burning down Hydra, for five months before that. It’s been a year and a half – he thinks – since the asset left Captain America on the riverbank. He’s been Jimmy for a year and a half.

Jason asks, “What are you going to do?”

Jimmy says, “I don’t know.”

.

Bruce Wayne, of course, makes a grand spectacle of meeting Captain America, even though Captain America is dressed as Steve Rogers and isn’t carrying the shield. Wayne takes Steve on a tour of Gotham’s most-hoity toity place; Jimmy knows that Steve must be hating it.

But all the pictures show Steve’s wide, gorgeous smile – his USO smile. Bucky Barnes hated that smile. Jimmy has no opinion either way.

But --

“He’s here for you,” Jason says. He looks solemn. A little sad. “Are you gonna let him see you?”

Jimmy finally nods. If nothing else, it might lay Bucky Barnes to rest.

.

Steve graciously declined Wayne’s offer of his mansion to stay in while he was in Gotham; Jimmy knows that they were both secretly relieved. (Of course, if Natalia is supplying Steve with intel, he probably already knows that Wayne is Batman.)

If Steve could’ve gotten away with it, he’d gone to some rat-trap motel but his face is famous all over the world. So instead he chose the fifth-ritziest hotel in town and quietly stonewalled anyone who tried to convince him to go somewhere better.

It doesn’t matter where he stays; Jimmy can get in no problem.

It helps, of course, that Steve wants him to.

.

Jimmy knows what Jason fears. But he watches Steve watch him and he knows that the fear is unnecessary.

“Bucky,” Steve says.

Shaking his head, Jimmy says, “Bucky Barnes is dead. I’m Jimmy.”

Steve nods. “Jimmy, then,” he says. “I hope – I just.” He chews at his lip, scratching the back of his head. “I had all these things I was gonna say. I miss you. I hope you’re happy. I’m so glad you’re alive but I hate how.”

There are tears in his eyes. He says again, “I miss you.”

Bucky Barnes would pull him in close and hold him. Kiss his face. Take him to bed and never let go.

“I cannot be the man you remember,” Jimmy tells him as gently as he can. “But – ”

Steve’s face crumples but he nods again.

And Jimmy – Jimmy steps forward to place the real hand on his shoulder and squeeze, just a little. “Let me finish, punk,” he says softly. “I’m never gonna be that man again. But I can still be your friend.”

“I’d, I’d like that,” Steve says through the tears.

Jimmy pulls him in close with a muttered, “C’mere.”

.

They spend all night talking – about the movies they’ve caught up on, about the best ways to blow Hydra to hell and back, about Steve’s new team and Jason.

“Can I meet him?” Steve asks.

Jimmy says, “I’ll ask him when I head back.” He knows that Jason wants to meet Captain America – it’d fulfill one of his childhood dreams. But to meet Steve Rogers

They don’t talk about what Jimmy and Jason are doing in Gotham. Steve just says, “Be careful.”

Jimmy nods. He then recites a phone number and says, “Call me around lunchtime; I’ll let you know if Jason wants to get together.”

“Alright, Jimmy,” Steve says. “It… it was so good to meet you.”

Jimmy smiles at him. “You, too, Steve.”

.

“How’d it go?” Jason asks without looking up from his tablet.

“Steve’s a good friend,” Jimmy says, sliding the tablet out of Jason’s hand. “And that’s all he’ll be.” Jason lets out a small sigh of relief and Jimmy tilts his chin up with the not-hand. “He’d like to meet you.”

Jason surges up, kissing him fiercely, and it’s a long time before he pulls back far enough to say, “Meet Captain America? Fuck yeah.”

.

When Jimmy’s phone rings, he answers with, “I don’t remember – what’s your favorite food?”

“Um,” Steve says. “Anything’s good, honestly.”

“Okay,” Jimmy says. “Me and Jason’ll be there in an hour with pizza.”

“Oh, good,” Steve says, sounding relieved.

Jimmy laughs. “He used to hero-worship you,” Jimmy tells him. “Before Batman.”

Steve chuckles. “That is just so weird. I don’t – you remember King Arthur? Sometimes, I feel like that’s how people see me. I’ll never get used to it.”

“Oh, Stevie,” Jimmy murmurs fondly. “You really are the best guy, aren’t you?”

He hears Steve’s breath catch but Steve only says, “Can one of the pizzas have pineapple?”

“Sure,” Jimmy says. “See you soon.”

.

They show up with seven pizzas and it is still barely enough. Jason asks Steve about superheroing (especially that incident in New York) and Steve, bemused, answers far more honestly than he did when journalists asked the same questions.

In-between Jason’s endless barrage, Steve slips in a heartfelt, “Thank you, Jason.” Jason just blinks at him. Steve smiles his sincere smile, the one Bucky Barnes fell in love with when they were boys in Brooklyn.

Jason shrugs. “It was fun,” is all he says.

“You should both know,” Steve says seriously, even setting down his last piece of pizza, “that if you need my help with anything, you can call me. No matter what.”

“That could be dangerous,” Jimmy says. “Haven’t you heard? We ain’t exactly saints.”

Steve looks him right in the eye. “I don’t care.”

Jimmy nods. “Thank you, Steve.”

Jason looks from Steve to Jimmy. “Okay!” he says after a long moment of silence. “Favorite Jedi: go.”

Steve smiles, glancing away from Jimmy. “I liked Yoda, myself. But I think Chewbacca should’ve been a Jedi.”

“You will find no argument from me there,” Jason tells him. “Jimmy?”

“Mara Jade,” he says.

Steve frowns. “She wasn’t in the movies. Was she?”

Jimmy shook his head. “Jason told me about her; I just started the books with her a couple weeks ago.”

“I’ll research her,” Steve says, pulling out a little book and jotting something down.

Jason laughs. “The two’a are adorable.”

“And who’s your favorite?” Steve asks, closing the notebook and slipping it back into his pocket.

“Qui-Gon Jinn, for sure,” Jason says.

From there, the conversation meanders all over the place; Steve and Jason have quite a lot in common, and Jimmy is just… happy. He can see how Bucky Barnes fell in love and part of him wants to ask Steve to stay, help them complete the mission.

But Steve has a life and he would never be happy living as a crime lord. He would stay, if Jimmy asked. For that reason, Jimmy won’t.

.

Steve Rogers spends a week in Gotham. The gossip sites have numerous reasons why.

Every night, Jimmy (with or without Jason) visits him. They don’t talk about their boyhood in Brooklyn or the war, or Hydra and their respective crusades against it.

Instead, they talk of the future. Jimmy tells him the plan in full; Steve shows him the final choices in his apartment hunt since he wants to move out of Stark’s opulent tower.

On his last night in Gotham, Steve grabs Jimmy’s hand on his way towards the door, and when Jimmy looks at him, Steve says, “I meant it. No matter what. I’m your friend, Jimmy. And I will help you with anything.”

“You too, Steve,” he replies. “No matter what.”

Steve’s smile is wobbly and there are tears in his eyes. He opens his hand, slowly pulls away.

Jimmy says, “Steve. I’m glad… I’m glad we’re both here. Now.”

Steve nods. “Me, too.”

.

Steve Rogers leaves Gotham after a lavish lunch with Bruce Wayne and every eligible woman in 50 miles. Jimmy watches the footage and laughs. “Aw, Stevie, don’t look so miserable!” he tells the screen.

Jason drapes himself along Jimmy’s back. “He does look really fuckin’ miserable,” Jason says. “God, I always hated Brucie. He’s such a clueless dick.”

When the program ends, Jason says, “Billy Hue and Lynx called. They want to meet.”

“Why?” Jimmy asks, standing up and stretching.

“They found something in King Snake’s files,” Jason tells him. “I’ve set up the meet for one tonight.”

Chapter Text

So, Captain America is actually pretty fucking awesome, like, holy fuck. And Jimmy – Jimmy could’ve had him back just by snapping his fingers, but instead he’s curled up under the covers on Jason’s bed, and he’s helping Jason bring Gotham’s criminals to heel, and it’s just –

“Come. To. Bed.” Jimmy tugs the blanket down a little.

Jason goes to bed.

.

The alarm clock is set for midnight; the meet is at the Ghost Dragons’ warehouse. As ever, Jimmy takes point, ghosting into the warehouse while Jason stays on the roof. Jason keeps his eyes peeled for Batman or an ambush while Jimmy waits for Lynx and Billy.

But it honestly just seems to be a meet. Lynx and Billy carefully approach, hands in plain sight, and they’re the only ones present, so Jason decides to join them.

“Sir,” Lynx says once he has, “I believe that King Snake was attempting to contact Lex Luthor in an effort to get rid of you.” She holds out a USB drive; Jimmy takes it before Jason can even reach forward. “Everything from his files is here. Luthor had yet to return contact, but he was in Bludhaven the same day Nightwing apprehended our men.”

“Dave Jenkins,” Billy says, “he was supposed to meet one of Luthor’s goons at a strip club but never made it because of Nightwing.”

“And where is Jenkins now?” Jimmy asks, rolling the USB drive along the knuckles of his metal hand. It’s very distracting.

“He’s in my office,” Lynx says.

“Alone or with a guard?” Jimmy asks. “I hear no heartbeats beyond this room.”

“What?” Billy says. “We just left him there ten minutes ago.” He hurries toward the hallway furthest away from the entrance.

.

Dave Jenkins is dead, of course. Suicide by way of ballpoint pen to the jugular.

“Write down everything he told you,” Jimmy orders. Lynx and Billy do. It’s not much; Jason hopes there’s more on the USB drive, but Durrance wasn’t an idiot. He wouldn’t leave evidence.

“We had a good thing goin’,” Jason pouts, plugging the USB into one of their extra laptops. All it’s got is the internet and the basics, nothing sensitive, and it’s never been used for anything. If the USB has a virus or something, it’ll be stuck. “Why would Durrance go sniveling to Luthor?”

Did they really scare the man that badly? It just… the whole thing seems off.

“He was attempting to attract Luthor’s attention,” Jimmy says as he scans his way along the files, way faster than Jason could read and comprehend. “But it had nothing to do with us.” He chuckles. “Durrance had an imbecilic idea to eliminate Superman and wanted Luthor to buy it from him.”

Jason snorts. “So Durrance was a dead man walking no matter who got there first.”

Jimmy nods. “We should still keep an eye on Luthor for a little while, just to be sure.”

“Well, yeah,” Jason says. “C’mon, let’s go back to bed.”

.

Three nights later, Red Hood leads Batman on a merry chase after sniping the three errand boys he was trying to interrogate; they were dregs that Inzerillo was going to cull, anyway. At least Jason gave them a clean death.

Batman hates guns. Killing three men in front of him just pissed him off even more.

This is the last part of Phase Three – time to give Batman the first real clue.

So when Red Hood jumps from one building to the next and Batman fires a bola line after him that snags on his boots…

Red Hood twists midair to cut it and lands neatly on the roof.

Batman pauses for one second in shock but then he’s after Red Hood again, following him through the labyrinthine maze that is Gotham.

At the very end, where Red Hood has a motorcycle waiting and one of Sullivan’s lieutenants chained to the train track, he pauses to see what Batman will do.

Just before gunning the bike, he calls, “You really haven’t lost your touch, old man. Be seeing you.”

.
The next morning, while they’re each getting their breakfast, Jimmy says, “Let’s get out of Gotham. Just for a day.”

“And go where?” Jason asks, dropping the last three eggs into the pan. Jimmy’s finishing off the cheerios.

“Atlantic City?” Jimmy offers. “It doesn’t matter.”

“I’ll do you one better,” Jason says, leaving the eggs to fry and going to Jimmy, who pushes back from the table so Jason can straddle him. “Let’s make a week of it, go be the reckless dickheads guys our age should be.”

Yeah, he knows Jimmy’s pushing a hundred – but he’s only been awake and functioning for maybe 30 of it, and that’s being generous. He only looks about 25, anyway.

“How’s that sound?” he asks, leaning in to nibble at Jimmy’s throat.

“Sounds perfect,” Jimmy says, tilting his neck to give Jason better access. “Also, your eggs are burning.”

Jason laughs and stays right where he is.

.

So they make a week of it. It’ll give Bruce time to stew and figure everything out, and it’ll give Jason and Jimmy a break from being criminal overlords. They gamble and drink (and Jimmy never manages to get drunk, which is good, because that means he’s the designated driver) and see the sights, and Jimmy smiles and laughs way more than is his usual, and they’re walking along the street and the sunlight hits Jimmy just right for his eyes to pop, and Jason thinks, Oh. Fuck.

He nearly chokes on the water Jimmy’s making him drink so he doesn’t get dehydrated.

It isn’t until their last night in Atlantic City that Jason blurts out, “So, I’m pretty sure I love you? Like. A lot. Pretty sure.”

Jimmy smiles at him. “Pretty sure I love you, too.”

“Good,” Jason says. “That’s good. Awesome.”

Jimmy’s smile widens. “Yes, it is.”

.

Once they’re back in Gotham, they take separate sides of the city and work their way to the middle, checking in on the various groups. Everything’s all fine and dandy so Jason says, “I’ll go track down the bat. Wanna head back home or shadow me?”

Jimmy just gives him a look he can’t actually see due to the mask, but he knows what it is from the way Jimmy tilts his head.

“Yeah, I figured,” he grins.

.

Batman is very easy to find: he’s in Crime Alley. Waiting, it seems like. Jason hangs back for a minute, letting Jimmy get situated how he likes, and then he stalks forward. “You’re not being very stealthy, rich boy,” he calls.

“I knew you were back,” Batman replies, voice softer than it’s been in any previous confrontation. “You visited each of your criminals and moved on. I decided to be here if you wanted to find me.”

It almost sounds like –

“When’d you realize we’d left?” Jason asks. No one else had noticed; they just figured he’d been lurking around someone else. Of course Batman would’ve known, though.

“The second day neither of you put in an appearance somewhere,” Batman answers. “I even interrogated Enrico Inzerillo – he was the first you recruited, right? But he wouldn’t talk and I have nothing solid.”

Jason just stares at him. Batman stares back.

And finally, he demands, “Figured it out yet?”

And Batman whispers, “Jason.”

Chapter Text

Jimmy knows that whatever Jason is expecting, it is not what he will get. His need for vengeance was satisfied with the Joker’s execution – what he’s doing in Gotham, the way he taunts Batman…

What Jason desires is less-clear, here. He wants Batman to suffer but to live with it. He wants Batman to see him, acknowledge him –and what?

Phase Four has never been detailed out beyond a single word: Win.

And because it was Jason’s mission, Jimmy had simply nodded. He will keep Jason safe. From what or who doesn’t matter.

.

Batman whispers, “Jason.”

Red Hood flinches back.

“Jason,” Batman says, “what happened to you?” He stumbles forward, the least-precise motion Jimmy has seen from him, and Jimmy aims at his mouth, unprotected by armor or mask. “Ra’s put you in the Pit – but where did you go?”

Jason laughs, moving away, out of reach. “Of course you went and talked to Ra’s. Did he tell you it fucked me up, that I, I came back wrong? This is me, Bruce!” he shouts, gesturing at the hood. “This is what I’ve always been.”

Batman says, “Jason, come home with me. You can get help. This – this empire you’re trying to build, it isn’t –”

And Jason’s entire body goes still, taut. “No,” he says. “The Joker’s dead. Gotham’s safer than it’s ever been ‘cause all those fuckers answer to me. You try to keep order through fear, Bruce, but it never goes anywhere because you never make the lesson stick.”

“You’re killing people!” Batman roars, lunging forward.

“Don’t!” Jason shouts at the same moment, dodging Batman’s grasp. Jimmy doesn’t pull the trigger till he’s aiming at Batman’s left shoulder.

It won’t go through his armor, but it’ll sting like fuck, and it knocks him into the wall, where he just tries to breathe, stunned.

Jason jumps up to grab a fire-escape and once he’s high enough, fires a grappling line. “Watch and see!” he calls down to Batman. “I’m showing you how it’s done!”

Jimmy waits until Batman pushes off the wall to drop down in front of him. “You did this, didn’t you?” Batman asks. He sounds tired. Worn out.

“No,” Jimmy answers. “I’m just ensuring he lives, no matter what idiocy he tries.”

Batman tries to lunge at him; Jimmy shoves him back into the wall and holds him there, the gloved not-hand tight on his windpipe. “Keep to your madmen and psychopaths, Mr. Wayne,” Jimmy commands. “The rest of Gotham’s underworld is ours. Civilians and non-combatants will be protected.”

When Batman tries to say something, Jimmy tightens his grip. “Your way isn’t working. It never will. Like Red Hood said – you rule through fear. But there are many who will never be afraid because you hold back.”

Jimmy drags him forward and then slams him back into the wall. “You let the Joker live – you let him live no matter what he did and he killed Jason.”

He wants to tear off the mask. Wants to see Bruce Wayne realize the cost.

Instead he lets go, backs up. Instead, he says, “Gotham is Jason’s. He wants it, and he’s more than earned it.”

“Who…” Batman coughs a little, reaching up to touch his neck. “Who are you?”

Jimmy laughs. “Way above your pay grade, rich boy.”

He turns his back and leaps, using the not-hand to scale the wall. He feels Batman’s eyes all the way to the roof, where he leaves three trackers next to the pile Jason already removed from himself.

.

Jason is in the shower, just standing beneath the spray, head down. Jimmy slips in next to him and pulls him close.

“Do you think he’s ever gonna get it?” Jason asks softly.

“I think… I think he’s afraid of death,” Jimmy says. “My research into Bruce Wayne – he watched his parents die and he never wants to cause death.”

“But me and you,” Jason says, “we’ve both died and come back.”

“Yeah.” Jimmy presses a kiss to his temple. “We’re not afraid of dying,” he murmurs, chuckling sadly. “We’re afraid of not staying dead.”

.

Batman’s mission is commendable, his methods less so.

Red Hood’s mission is the same, his methods – well.

“What’s the rule, Carter?” Red Hood asks. The Lords of the Avenues, what remains of them, are ringed around Red Hood and their leader, Carter Yates.

“Don’t… don’t deal to kids,” Yates answers.

“And what did you do, Carter?” Red Hood asks, louder.

The gang is entirely silent, not making a single move to protect Yates. They know Jimmy is present; they don’t know where, or what weapon he has.

Jason thinks they should both be known, both get the credit, both have a name that people fear.

Jimmy – Jimmy is a shadow. That is more terrifying than any name.

“I – he was fifteen!” Yates protests, his terror turning to anger. “That’s old enough!”

Red Hood’s chin tilts up and his fists clench. Jimmy goes still.

Jason died at fifteen.

“Marco,” Red Hood says.

Yates’ second-in-command, Marco Silva, steps out of the circle. “Yes, sir?”

Red Hood asks, “You want a job?”

Silva nods. “Yes, sir.”

“You gonna deal to anyone still high-school age?” Red Hood hasn’t turned away from Yates, who has paled, who is trembling so much it’s surprising he’s still on his feet.

“No, sir,” Silva says.

Red Hood pulls his gun from his shoulder holster and shoots Yates in the head. “Good.”

.

Batman gives innumerable second chances.

Red Hood gives only one.

.

While Jason sleeps, Jimmy heads up to the roof. It is a pleasant night, the quiet hours before dawn. He knows – Bucky Barnes used to sit outside and pray though he didn’t truly believe. But he prayed for Steve.

Jimmy doesn’t pray. Instead he calls Steve and asks, “Am I good man?”

“Yes,” Steve answers immediately without hesitation.

“I mean me,” Jimmy clarifies. “Not Bucky Barnes.”

“I know,” Steve says.

“I am a criminal,” Jimmy adds. “I’ve killed – hundreds of people.”

“Were any of them good people?” Steve asks. “’cause if we’re counting Hydra – well, I’ve killed quite a few myself.”

Steve is quiet while Jimmy thinks back. He finally says, “No. None of them were good people.”

“You’re a good man, Jimmy,” Steve says firmly. “Would I be your friend otherwise? You remember, don’t you? I always was a picky little snot.”

Steve is perhaps the best man Jimmy, the asset, or Bucky Barnes has ever known.

“Okay,” he breathes out, sighing and sagging down. “We’ve got only Phase Four left.”

“How’s Jason?” Steve asks.

“He’ll be fine,” Jimmy says. “I’m looking out for him.”

Steve laughs. “You were always so terrifying when you had someone to look out for.”

Jimmy – doesn’t reply for a minute, and he hears Steve’s breath catch when he realizes. But as Steve begins apologizing, Jimmy says, “All I wanted was for you to be happy. And you never… never seemed like you were. Picking fights. Always looking for something better. I just wanted… we had it good, didn’t we?”

Bucky Barnes wanted a better life for Steve and his sisters and his parents, but he was also content for himself.

“Yeah, Jimmy,” Steve says softly. “We had it good.”

Jimmy stares out over Gotham and he and Steve listen to each other breathe. Finally, Jimmy says, “We’re gonna be fine, Stevie. Go back to sleep, y’hear? You looked awfully tired in that interview this morning.”

“Alright, Jimmy,” Steve says. “You go to bed, too. Crime lords gotta be well rested, don’t they?”

“Night, Steve,” Jimmy murmurs, waiting for Steve’s, “Night, Jimmy,” before hanging up.

.

Jimmy carefully pulls Jason in, wrapping around him. His not-hand rests against Jason’s throat and his real hand stays over Jason’s heart.

“You’re a good man,” Jimmy tells him. “I just wish you believed it.”

Chapter Text

“When will you be satisfied?” Jimmy asks after another confrontation with Batman.

“I don’t know,” Jason finally replies, icing his right shoulder. He doesn’t look up at Jimmy, can’t bear to see whatever expression is on his face. “I just… I don’t know,” he admits again, softly.

“Alright,” Jimmy says. “Then we’ll keep doin’ what we’re doin’.”

.

Sometimes, Jason just walks around Gotham. He doesn’t go as Red Hood or as Jay Smith – he just walks, like Jason Todd used to, back when he was a kid who thought everything would get better.

And it did, for a while. With Alfred and Bruce, as Robin… things were so much better.

Till they weren’t.

So he walks around because he loves Gotham, and he knows that Jimmy shadows him sometimes. Jimmy’s issues are even bigger than Jason’s, and Jason’s okay with that. They wear the earbuds 24/7 now, both for convenience and safety, but whenever Jason wanders around, Jimmy maintains silence unless Jason breaks it.

Gotham in sunlight is so different from Gotham at night.

Gotham in sunlight isn’t his but he likes seeing it, anyway.

.

“Dick Grayson is approaching you,” Jimmy murmurs.

Jason pauses midstep but immediately resumes walking because he’s in the middle of a crosswalk.

“He is incognito,” Jimmy adds.

“Don’t shoot him,” Jason murmurs under his breath, looking down to hide the movement of his lips.

“He just entered the crosswalk behind you,” Jimmy says.

Jason fortifies himself with a deep breath and calmly walks toward a less crowded place than Gotham downtown at lunchtime.

Dick never approaches; Jimmy keeps him updated, though, that Dick maintains a distance of half a block. Finally, Jason slips into a small office building that’s been completely unused since the time Two Face launched an offensive from it.

“He’s examining the building from all angles,” Jimmy says as Jason gets comfortable at the front desk. “Entering from the third floor. I’ve lost visual.”

“Don’t worry,” Jason says. “He won’t hurt me.”

“I’m staying out here.” Jimmy’s voice is firm. “At the first sign of distress –”

“Okay,” Jason agrees.

He can’t hear Dick’s movements any more than he can hear Batman’s or Jimmy’s (or Steve’s, when Steve forgets to move loudly on purpose) but he knows the moment Dick enters the lobby because Dick says, “Jason” like his heart is breaking.

“Hey, Dick,” he says, feet kicked up on the desk, arms crossed behind his head.

“You…” Dick’s voice trails off. “How…”

“Didn’t the old man tell you?” Jason asks, trying to keep the smirk on his face. It shouldn’t hurt this much. It’s not like he and Dick ever got along.

Dick shakes his head. “Alfred told me and Babs. She tracked you down.” He takes a few steps forward. “I’m so sorry.”

Jason laughs. “You got something to be sorry for?”

Nodding, Dick says earnestly, “I should’ve tried harder with you.”

Sitting up and narrowing his eyes, Jason demands, “You think that might’ve kept this from happening? No, Dickie-boy, this is all because the Joker wasn’t executed like trash after – ” He takes a deep breath. “After what he did to Batgirl, actually.” He slowly stands up, hands clenched into fists, carefully inhaling and exhaling. “It all could’ve been avoided if he’d died then. Or maybe, if Batman had just killed the scum earlier. Then your girl would still have her legs. I’d still have my soul.”

“Jason,” Dick says again. “Please. Just come home with me.”

God, he’s about to cry. Jason – feels kind of sad, actually. He remembers Dick being untouchable. Golden.

Perfect.

“It’s not my home anymore,” he says softly. “I can’t go back. I don’t want to, not anymore.”

Dick raises his chin and challenges, “What do you want, then?”

Jason smiles. “Gotham’s the safest it’s been since Joker first rolled into town. You’ve got Barbara in your ear, right?” He raises his voice slightly. “Can you hear me? Look at the stats since I’ve been here.”

“You think that – Jason!” Dick says, flinging his arms around. “What you’re doing, it’s not –” He visibly calms himself down. “I didn’t come here to fight. I wanted you to know that I’m glad you’re alive. That… I’d like to get to know you. I missed out before.”

Jason eyes him, tilting his head. “Are you really glad I’m alive?” he asks. “Things would’ve been simpler if Ra’s just left me in that coffin to rot.”

In the earbud, Jimmy snarls, “Never say that again.”

Dick just looks horrified. “Of course I’m glad! It doesn’t matter what you do – you’re my brother.”

Jason snorts. “Right.” He rolls his eyes, turning away. “Well, it’s been fun, brother, but I’ve gotta head out now.”

“Wait!” Dick lunges for him and Jason ducks, muttering, “Don’t!” so that Jimmy won’t put a bullet into Dick’s skull. “Okay, I’m sorry,” Dick says, holding his hands up and taking a large step back. “But, please… let me give you my number. If you ever need me, or just want to talk, or whatever. Please.”

“Tell me the number,” Jason says after a moment. “I’ll remember.”

Dick rattles it off. Jason nods and leaves, and Dick doesn’t follow. Jimmy confirms it.

.

He doesn’t go back to the loft. Jimmy lets him stew in silence as he wanders through the bad parts of town, just… looking.

“I’m glad you’re alive,” Jimmy says, just suddenly beside him.

Jason doesn’t even bother to startle.

“If you should’ve stayed dead, then I should never have been found in that ravine,” Jimmy continues. “Or maybe, Steve should’ve left Bucky Barnes to die in that factory.”

“I get the point,” Jason says, leaning into Jimmy’s bulk for just a moment. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.” Jimmy kisses his forehead. “Let’s get a pizza and go home.”

.

After they eat and shower together, Jason sprawls across the bed while Jimmy chooses a book. “They’re gonna have your face now,” Jason says.

Jimmy shrugs, choosing the next book in one of the Star Wars expanded universe series. Mara Jade’s probably in it. He loves her. “Let them. I’m in none of the files Natalia released.”

Jason scoots over and waits until Jimmy is situated to shifts his sprawl across him. “Read to me?” he asks. “Just until I fall asleep. I don’t – I don’t want him in my dreams tonight.”

The metal hand is cool on his throat and Jason tilts his head back, further into Jimmy’s torso. Jimmy begins to read; Jason tries to focus on the words, to quiet his mind.

He dreams of a woman with red hair fighting next to Jimmy, unmasked with his hair wild and long, tearing the Joker apart.

.

It’s a week before he texts Dick, with a burner phone, leaning against a wall in Crime Alley. If you don’t talk about the old man or my plans, he sends, wanna spar?

He gets a reply immediately. When and where?

Chapter Text

While Jason is meeting Dick Grayson at a rundown gym, Jimmy visits their various holdings to check in on the minions. He feels his private phone, the one only Jason and Steve have the number to, buzz in its compartment in his armor, but he’s too busy with what’s left of Falcone’s boys. Five minutes later, he checks it: Steve has texted, Stark said someone's poking around, looking for you. Everything ok?

Jimmy sends back, One of Jason's former allies saw my face via cameras.

He kneels down next to one of the groaning men, the highest ranked present. “Hey,” he says, patting the man gently on the face. “Tell Falcone that he has squandered the first chance. To do so with the second will be fatal.”

The man just whimpers; Jimmy didn’t even hit him that hard. He grabs the man’s chin and turns his face, leaning down. “Do you understand?” he enunciates carefully.

“Yes, yes,” the man sobs.

Pathetic. Jimmy lets go and rises.

His phone buzzes again: I had Stark erase the asset from the internet. While I was looking for you. Destroying Hydra. The stuff I found, Jimmy, it burned me. Anything that's left is from before.

Jimmy stares down at the phone. Steve did that before -- Thank you, he replies after a moment.

He leaves the men on the floor and sneaks his way into a building three blocks away, where he removes the armor for a pair of jeans and a loose, plain shirt. His hair, he pulls up into a messy ponytail. He wanders, just seeing the sights, and settles on Jason’s favorite diner for lunch.

James Buchanan Barnes died 70 years ago. He knows that Stark could not have gotten everything about the asset, but any paper files were probably destroyed between his and Steve’s respective missions. And the favor Jason called in, to erase all data on the recalibration procedure… what intel might be left on the asset? And whoever Dick Grayson had on the other end of his com, this Barbara – could she be equal to Stark?

He rolls his eyes, using a French fry to scoop up the last bit of ketchup. Of course she could be. But the data has been gone for months.

It does not matter. Whether they find the asset or Barnes, it will change nothing.

A tap on the earbud signals that Jason is done with Dick, so Jimmy drops a $20 on the table and departs.

.

“We just talked about Star Wars vs Star Trek and beat the shit out of each other,” Jason says, a bright grin on his face. “It was – what I wanted when I was kid.” The grin dims to something older, something a bit sad. “But we might… we might make it a standing appointment, you know?” He laughs. “Dick said he didn’t want to lose touch. He’ll probably try to save me at some point.” He does the finger quotes on save.

“But until then?” Jimmy asks because he understands the longing on Jason’s face.

“Yeah,” Jason sighs. “Until then it’s almost like we’re actual good brothers. The kind who like each other.” He chuckles, shaking his head. “He’s probably reporting back to Bruce, definitely to Barbara and Alfred…” Jason shrugs. “But I’ll let that pass.”

Jason’s good mood is gone, and Jimmy wishes he had Bucky Barnes’ way with words. But all he can think to say is, “Let’s go see a movie.”

“Is there anything good playing?” Jason asks.

Jimmy does a quick search. “A French king hoping to gain immortality by draining the life force of a mermaid?” he offers.

He looks up to meet Jason’s stare and raised eyebrow. “… really?”

Jimmy nods. “Really.”

“What the fuck,” Jason says. “Why not. Lemme take a shower and then we’ll make a date of it.” He goes into the bathroom, stripping his gym clothes as he walks, muttering, “French kings and mermaids, what the hell.”

.

The movie, of course, is awful. They laugh about it all through dinner and Jimmy is glad to see that Jason gives their vigilante-shaped shadow no more than a cursory glare. But tonight they are nothing more than young men on a date and Batman leaves them be, if only for the night.

.

That night, neither of them awakens from bloody memories. The next day, Red Hood and his nameless shadow make the rounds and all is well with their empire.

It is… peaceful.

Chapter Text

On their way up the stairs to the loft, they both notice the abandoned box at the same time. Jimmy grabs Jason’s arm, stopping him in place so that Jimmy’s out ahead, and then Jimmy approaches the box cautiously. Jason’s hand rests on the one gun he’d allowed himself for their date, watching Jimmy as closely as he can while also keeping alert for anything else.

Jimmy opens the box. A voice shouts, “That’s where it went!” and Jason very nearly shoots a civilian in the face.

.

Her name is Debra Cotz and she just moved to Gotham with her two twin boys and newborn daughter. She’s two flights below Jay Smith and Jim Banks. The moving company (her brother-in-law’s) misplaced one of the boxes; how it got left in the stairwell is a mystery for the ages but Debra simply thanks God that it was found because it contains all of her own childhood mementos.

Jason thinks that means she should have taken better care with it, but he’s distracted by Billy and Devon trying to climb him like a jungle gym so he keeps the thought to himself. Jimmy, meanwhile, is rocking Joy to sleep so that Debra can get started on the boys’ bedtime ritual.

It’s only their second night in Gotham. Her husband, Vincent, is finishing up one last tour in the marines before the honorable discharge will let him come home to her and their babies.

“Why Gotham?” Jason asks after the boys are down for the count and Joy is snoozing in Jimmy’s arms. Debra is in the rocking chair, her feet on the stool, and Jason has no idea why she’s so at ease in their company. He and Jimmy are both big, obviously dangerous guys. But she’s trusted them with her children and he wants her to know how stupid that is. Especially in Gotham, where there are crazies on every street corner.

“I’m from here originally,” she says. “I left on my own when I was fifteen, with just the contents of that box.” She points at the one Jimmy had carried in from the stairwell, left by the mostly-empty bookcase. “My mom did the best she could but Dad pissed off Dimitrov, and so I got out before I got killed.” She sighs, tilting her head back. “I thought about going to Batman – he had just started showing up, but none of us knew if he was good or bad, yet. So I left instead.”

“So why did you come back?” Jason asks into the silence.

She shrugs, sitting back up and then standing. “It’s home,” she says. “Plus, on the news they mentioned that Dimitrov’s entire organization had been wiped out.”

Well, that is true. Dimitrov and his boys died during the first wave, in the jockeying for position after Black Mask’s death.

Debra walks over to Jimmy, who carefully hands her Joy. Jimmy’s face is the softest Jason has ever seen it as he watches the baby sleep. “You’re good with her,” Debra tells him. “She doesn’t like most people.”

“I had baby sisters,” Jimmy replies. He reaches out to stroke Joy’s cheek with his right hand.

Jason wants to light things on fire because of what was taken from Jimmy; instead, he counts his breaths until the urge passes and watches Jimmy watch Debra walk out of the room.

When Debra comes back in without the baby, Jimmy stands, pulling Jim Banks on like a mask, all of Bucky Barnes’ charm. “Thank you for allowing us to meet your children,” he tells her. “They’re delightful.”

“It was no problem,” she says.

“You shouldn’t be so trusting, though,” he says apologetically. “Not everyone’s so trustworthy.” He glances around the half-unpacked room, at the toys scattered everywhere. “Especially not with your children, Ms. Cotz.”

She nods. “I know that. I know a lot of things.” Debra bites her lip, gaze going from Jimmy to Jason. Finally, she says, “I’m a mutant. It’s not much of a power, but I know who to trust and who not. And I can shield, too – that part is actually pretty cool.” She smiles at Jason and then back at Jimmy. “So if you were actively dangerous to me or my kids, you wouldn’t have been able to find my apartment.”

Jason stands and walks over to lean into Jimmy’s side. “That’s good to hear. Like he said, it’s nice to meet you.” He pokes Jimmy’s arm. “It’s been a long day, babe.”

Debra follows them to the door. Just before Jason opens it, she says, “What you’re doing – thank you.”

He can feel Jimmy tense up. Debra continues, “I know that Gotham is the safest it’s been in decades because of you. Thank you both.”

Jimmy exhales into Jason’s back, all the tension draining out. “You’re welcome,” he says and then the door is open and Debra closes and locks it behind them.

“Holy shit,” Jason mutters. “Let’s go the fuck to bed.”

Chapter Text

”C’mon, Buck, what’re you waitin’ for?” the little blond boy says. “You know what you have to do.”

There are bodies on the ground, children, with dark hair and blue eyes staring sightlessly at a bleeding sky.

“You gotta keep goin’,” the little blond boy orders. “Do it, soldier!”

There is a gun in one hand, a knife in the other. It is snowing.

“Soldier!” the little blond boy snaps, suddenly a grown man with gray hair and the same blue eyes. “You have your mission! Confirmed kill in 12 hours.”

The mission –

The dead little girls are crying, begging for someone named Bucky to come save them. There is no one named Bucky – Bucky died.

There is snow falling.

The asset is falling

“Jimmy!”

.

His eyes snap open. He jerks away from the body next to his and rolls off the bed, tucking himself into the corner, making his body as small as possible.

His left arm hurts. No, it can’t hurt – it feels pressure, temperature – his real arm is long gone. He doesn’t remember how it felt.

He is breathing shallowly. His head aches.

There are tears on his face.

A man peers at him from over the side of the bed. “Jimmy?” he asks softly. “You okay down there?”

The words aren’t there. Nothing is there.

“Jimmy?” the man asks again. “Should I – do I need to call Steve?”

Who is Jimmy? Who is Steve?

He closes his eyes and the man lets him be, silent and still, until –

“Jason,” he whispers, lifting his head and opening his eyes.

He is Jimmy. He is Jimmy, they are in Gotham, it is 2015, and it is not snowing. He flexes the not-arm, listening to its little whirrs. “Rebecca,” he murmurs. “Olivia. Julia.” Bucky Barnes’ little sisters. Girls he knows he loved once, and whose faces he does not recognize in pictures. Girls very much like girls the asset killed when ordered.

Girls he held, once. A long time ago.

“Jimmy?” Jason asks softly. “Can I come down there?”

He cannot find the words, but he nods. When Jason crouches in front of him, he unwraps so that he can tuck himself against Jason, instead.

“Rebecca,” he says into Jason’s skin. “Olivia. Julia. Rebecca, Olivia, Julia.”

Becca, Livy, Jules.

“I need to call Steve,” he says, “Please, he can tell me –”

Jason’s phone is pressed into his hand, already ringing. And then Steve’s voice, strong and sure, says, “What’s wrong?”

He begs, “My sisters.”

And with Jason holding him, they listen together as Steve talks about three little girls who lived, grew old, and died before Jimmy ever awoke inside the asset.

Jimmy cries silently the whole time.

Chapter Text

They spend the day in bed. Jimmy is curled up beneath the blankets because he can’t stop shivering and Jason only leaves to grab food and water, which he has to beg Jimmy to eat and drink. Twice, he almost calls Cap but doesn’t because Jimmy hasn’t asked for him since the middle of the night – which, fuck, that was terrifying.

He should have known Jimmy wasn’t doing as well as it seemed. Fuck. Seventy years as a weapon for the enemy – and not just any enemy, either. Bucky Barnes died fighting Hydra. Shit. It’d be like…

Jason shudders as he thinks, Being what Joker used to kill people.

Hydra’s dead. For good, this time.

Except… he closes his eyes, resting his cheek on the top of Jimmy’s head. There will always be people like that fucker Red Skull, like Zola, like Pierce and Joker and all the rest. And… fuck. It’s too big. All of it is too big, and it isn’t fair. None of this is fair, Jimmy being turned into the asset and Jason being blown to hell for Joker’s twisted game.

It’s too big. So maybe… He whispers to Jimmy, “Let’s stay in Gotham. Me and you, let’s make this ours. Safe. The world is too big for us, but Gotham… Gotham we can protect.”

“Modify Phase Four?” Jimmy asks, barely a sound at all. His metal hand clutches at Jason’s, and Jason wraps around him tighter.

“Yeah,” he says. “I never even knew what I meant by Win. Win what? Against who? But now…” It’s all in place. Secure. Time to settle in for the long haul.

Jimmy’s voice is firm when he says, “Mission accepted.”

Jason leans over to kiss his lips, thinking, They died too easy.

Chapter Text

It takes Jimmy almost a week to feel normal again. For those days, he either stays in their loft or roams Gotham as Jim Banks; Jason doesn’t ask him to shadow the two meets or put on the mask. He calls Steve every day and each time Steve offers to drive over. Jimmy tells him not to.

Bucky Barnes is dead. The asset is dead. Despite their deaths, Jimmy knows they are still in his head, that they will always be in his head – and it is time to make peace with that. He uses both their skills. He has both their memories (what was left, after Hydra).

… perhaps, then, they are not dead. He can never be them again, does not want to – but that sounds right. Jimmy is the asset is Bucky Barnes is Jim Banks is Jimmy.

Yes.

.

“How’s it going, Jim?” Debra asks as she steps off the elevator, Joy in her arms and Billy and Devon tumbling after.

“Good,” he answers, glad that is honesty. He is doing much better. “Where are you goin’?”

“To visit the local elementary school for these rascals,” Debra says as – Devon? Jimmy studies closely and yes, that one’s Devon – tackles Billy onto the floor. “Boys!” Debra leans down to grab the back of Devon’s shirt and Joy starts whining.

“Would it be easier if I kept Joy?” he surprises himself by asking.

“Oh, would you?” Debra lets go of Devon (who pounces immediately back onto Billy) and turns to hand the baby off, along with the diaper bag. “She’s already been fed lunch and we’ll be back long before dinnertime. She should be good to nap but if she wakes up, just walk around. Thank you so much, Jim!”

With both arms now free, she hurries back to the boys, scooping them both up, and then she’s out of the building.

Jimmy blinks down at Joy, who is already mostly asleep again. “Huh.”

.

Unlike what Jimmy remembers of Olivia and Julia (he was too young when Rebecca was born to remember), Joy is a quiet baby. She makes a little fussy noise when she needs to be changed, but slips right back into sleep.

He holds her tucked up against his chest, protected by the not-arm, and it is a relief to know that the not-arm does more than hurt. Jason derives some sort of comfort from it, though Jimmy has not asked how or why, and that Joy can sleep while being cradled by it… some hurt in what remains of Bucky Barnes’ soul is soothed.

Debra and the twins are back before Jason and Jimmy returns Joy to her mother, feeling a little lost without her warmth close by.

Whatever expression is on his face causes Debra to raise her eyebrow. “Jim,” she says, “would you like to become my daughter’s sitter?”

He blinks at her. “… can I?” he asks.

Debra nods firmly. “I’ll pay you in food,” she says. “I already make enough for an army to keep the rascals fed. Any day you watch Joy, you can expect a dinner that night. Sound good?”

“Yeah,” he says faintly.

She smiles at him, then down at Joy, and orders the boys, “C’mon, you two, time for The Simpsons.” Over her shoulder, she explains, “The Simpsons is a compromise.”

He has no idea who the Simpsons are, or why they’re a compromise, but she’s gone before he can ask.

Two hours later, she delivers a platter of lasagna, pats him on the not-shoulder, and leaves without a word.

.

Jason gets back from the meeting with Marco Silva, the newly-installed leader of the Lords of the Avenues and announces, “So far, so good,” letting all his gear fall in the middle of the room. “What smells amazing?”

“Debra made us lasagna,” Jimmy says. He’s been reading The Protector of the Small since the librarian suggested it; Kel reminds him so much of Steve it aches, a little.

“Why did Debra make us lasagna?” Jason fills and drains a glass of water twice before Jimmy can answer.

“You should take more care to remain hydrated throughout the day,” he says. “And I babysat Joy.”

Jason pauses, glances over his shoulder at Jimmy, shakes his head, and then refills the glass again. “C’mon, kiddo, let’s eat,” he says.

As they work their way through the food, Jason shares everything about the meet and all the other intel he gathered; in turn, Jimmy explains the plot of his most recent book.

“Sounds pretty good,” Jason says. “Wanna read that aloud tonight?”

The reading aloud is one of Jimmy’s favorite parts. Jason doesn’t often ask, and Jimmy has not dared to request it. “If you’d like,” he says, smiling down at his plate.

.

Though Jimmy has come to terms with Bucky Barnes and the asset’s lives and deaths (and their resurrections in him), he cannot help but wonder if Jason has done the same. Bucky Barnes would’ve been able to ask in some unobtrusive, smooth way but Jimmy – Jimmy waits until they have just woken up tangled in each other, Jason holding the not-arm across his chest, and he asks, “Would it bother you if I visited the grave Wayne placed for you?”

What he wants is for Jason to come with him. But that, he dare not say.

It is a very long moment before Jason answers, “No. I don’t mind.” If he truly does, it is not in his voice.

“Day or night?” Jason says when the silence grows too long for him to bear.

“Day,” Jimmy decides. The night is for ghosts and they are both alive.

.

Jason goes with him. They dress as Jay Smith and Jim Banks but do not act like two carefree men in the prime of their lives. Jason’s grave is in the Wayne family plot in the heart of Batman’s territory. It is a chilly winter day, early in the morning, and once they start walking through the cemetery, Jason reaches for Jimmy’s not-hand, threading their fingers together.

“He’s gonna know we’re here,” Jason says softly. “Probably Al, too.”

Neither of them slow down. They read every headstone, dropping their heads in respect as they pass, and finally, they stand in front of Jason’s. “I wonder what he buried,” Jason murmurs, “if he buried anything at all.”

Jimmy has no words. He hears footsteps approaching but nothing is said so he stands quietly beside Jason until Jason finally says, “Okay. Okay, let’s go.”

Alfred Pennyworth is staring at them but Jason does not pause. Further on, Bruce Wayne is watching, too. As they leave, Pennyworth calls, “Master Jason! Should you like to come for a meal, all of your favorites will be made available.”

Jason pivots mid-step and calls back, “Really, Al? Didn’t he tell you what I’m doing?”

Pennyworth nods firmly. “Any time, Master Jason. And your young man is invited as well.”

The smile that blooms on Jason’s face is perhaps the loveliest thing Jimmy has seen. Jason ducks his head and turns back, gently tugging on Jimmy’s not-hand.

Wayne says nothing; Jimmy feels both their gazes long after they’ve climbed onto Jason’s motorcycle and driven away.

He rests his head on Jason’s back, his hand and not-hand linked around Jason’s waist, and he thinks, We’re alive, Jason. We’re alive.

Chapter Text

Five years of his life and a pointless, painful death reduced down to four words on a stone:

Jason Todd
Ally&Friend

What the fuck does that even mean? Is that all anyone could think to say? He lays awake, listening to Jimmy breathing, and he tries to think of what else they might have chosen. There’s nothing, though. Maybe the dates of his birth and death – fuck, he was so young. Ally sounds so cold, and Friend… he’d thought he was more than that. Almost a son, maybe.

Clearly, though, Bruce didn’t think so.

But that’s fine. It’s all good. At least Al -- Master Jason, like they saw each other five minutes ago. Like Al doesn’t think he’s a failure, trash.

Never, not once, did Alfred make Jason feel like a street kid wasn’t good enough for Wayne Manor. Sometimes, he’d even explain how he’d made whatever that delicious thing was dinner. A few times, he’d call Jason when he was about to start preparing and Jason would help. He told Jason a couple secret ingredients.

If Jason had secretly pretended Bruce was his actual dad, in his mind, he called Al Grandpa. He never had a real family, and he’d hoped –

The Joker took care of that, though. And now, all that he had reduced to four cold words on a stone…

Jason Todd died. He was brought back, yeah, but Jason died and was dead. How long was it between the explosion and the pit?

Maybe he shouldn’t have been brought back (actually, he almost definitely shouldn’t have been) but he was. And here he is.

Here he is, the overlord of all of Gotham’s crime with the boogeyman for spooks as his partner.

If he and Bruce hadn’t followed the Joker, if Jason had never died… who would he be, now? Where would he be, that dumb kid who stole the Batmobile’s tires?

And if he hadn’t been in Baltimore – where would Jimmy be?

Four words on a cold stone don’t explain him, don’t encapsulate him, don’t define him. But he’s glad he saw them.

He’s not Batman’s ally. And he’s not Bruce’s friend.

He’s the Red Hood and Gotham is his.

Chapter Text

In the days following their visit to his grave, Jason turns to planning the modified Phase Four with a vigor he has not displayed since their plan for Joker’s demise. “The first thing,” he says, “is we’ll need to have a meet with every single boss, same time, same place, so that they get they’re all workin’ for us. So we need a time and a place everyone is available for and can get to without much trouble.” He taps the pen against his lips. “And we’ll need to get a message to ‘em all, too, and have Batman distracted somewhere else.”

Jimmy leaves him to it because Debra has requested he watch Joy this afternoon while she takes the twins to the pediatrician for a checkup.

.

Of course, meeting with their minions is only the first step. After that comes communicating with the distributors in other places, controlling access to Gotham, hundreds of tiny details that no one Jimmy has been has had to worry about before.

A few times, Jason will turn to Jimmy with a problem and ask his opinion, try to work through it with him; each time, Jimmy arrives at a solution, earning Jason’s bright grin.

“You want the east half?” Jason asks, offering Jimmy a USB.

“To rule or to plan?” Jimmy reaches for the USB but does not take it.

“Either,” Jason says. “Up to you.”

“To plan,” Jimmy decides. For now.

.

It’s a month before the various gang leaders, heads of Families, the madams and pimps, everyone who’s anyone can all meet. But they each RSVP and they each show up, and Jason’s in the middle of the warehouse waiting while Jimmy lurks, in mission mode for the first time in weeks.

“It’s time we all had a chat,” Red Hood announces into the silence.

.

Jimmy prowls around the warehouse for the entire meet. He only makes himself visible once, when one of the pimps tries to attack Red Hood in a fit of rage-induced stupidity. Red Hood turns in time to see Jimmy drop onto the pimp, bringing the man to the ground and then picking him back up by the neck.

“Well,” Red Hood drawls, “guess it’s time for a lesson. Everyone paying attention?”

.

By dawn, everything is hammered out. The rules are laid down, the punishments outlined, and Red Hood says, “You all get a single second chance. Only Batman believes in thirds.”

They trickle out, leaving Red Hood and his shadow alone in the warehouse.

“Phase Four is a go,” Red Hood says. “Let’s get home.”

Chapter Text

Jimmy and Jason are out walking as Jim and Jay, and Jason notices when Jimmy’s muscles go tense. “What is it?” he murmurs under his breath.

The sun set ten minutes ago. This is their break before going after the idiot trying to move his product into Gotham without talking to the Red Hood.

“We’re being followed,” Jimmy tells him, tilting his head so that his hair covers his lips.

Huh. Well ain’t that something.

They have protocol for this, of course. If it was Batman, Jimmy would’ve said, and Dick’s trying to play nice right now. Jimmy made plans for every eventuality a month ago.

So Jason doesn’t say, You go high, I’ll go low because he doesn’t need to. Instead, they reach a corner and both go a different way.

Whoever it is, Jason doesn’t spot them – which means either they’re better than Jimmy (not likely) or they followed Jimmy instead.

Which. Well. That’s just stupid. At least against Jason, they might have a shot.

.

He backtracks and finds Jimmy staring at a kid, maybe 15 years old, and the kid staring back with the widest eyes Jason’s ever seen on a human. Christ, the kid looks like one of those creepy, long-fingered things from that island. And then the kid looks at Jason and eyes go even wider.

Jimmy glances at Jason, clearly out of his depth, and Jason sighs. “Kid,” he says, “why’re you following us?”

The kid breathes, “You’re Bucky Barnes and Jason Todd.”

And that, yeah. Shit.

“Kid,” Jason says, “Come with us.”

.

They don’t take the kid to the loft, of course. Instead, they very gently deposit him in one of their boltholes and the kid resumes staring at Jimmy. Jimmy stares back.

It’s really fucking boring.

“Okay!” Jason finally says. “How’d you figure it out?”

The kid gives him the best are you fucking serious? look he’s ever received, and he once palled around with Batman.

“Yeah, that was a stupid question,” Jason admits. “About Jimmy, at least. But what about me?”

“I should preface this by saying I figured it out a long time ago and have never told anyone,” the kid says.

Jason orders, “Get on with it.”

“Okay,” the kid says, taking a deep breath. “Bruce Wayne. Dick Grayson.” He looks Jason right in the eye and finishes, “Jason Todd.”

“How could you possibly –” Jason starts but Jimmy puts a hand on his arm.

“Let him talk,” he says. Jason nods.

The kid takes another breath. “I saw the Flying Graysons the night they died. Dick did a move that – well, it was memorable. And then I saw Robin do it years later.” He smiles a little. “If Robin was Dick Grayson, then that meant there was only one person Batman could be. And then Bruce Wayne took in another kid, and there was a different Robin.” He shrugs.

“That still doesn’t explain why you’re followin’ us,” Jason says when the kid doesn’t keep talking.

“Right.” The kid grimaces. “Um, well. When you were Robin, there were a few moves you did? And I saw Red Hood do them. A few months ago.”

Jimmy snorts, shaking his head. “What are ya, kid, some kind of genius?” he asks, sounding more like Jim than he has in a while.

“Um, yeah,” the kid says. “A little. So, I started following Red Hood instead of Batman, and then I was wondering about Red Hood’s shadow, and tonight was the first time I saw you out instead of Red Hood, and – ” His eyes go back to Jimmy. “You’re Bucky Barnes,” he says. “How?”

Jimmy doesn’t answer, of course. He just says, “Who are you?”

The kid says, “Tim Drake.” He’s got hero-worship all over his face, those big blue eyes staring at Jimmy.

“Well, Tim Drake,” Jason muses, “what the fuck are we gonna do with you?”

They can’t kill him, of course. Jason doesn’t want to, and even if he did, Jimmy wouldn’t let him. But the kid has known about Batman’s identity for – shit, how long?

“Kid, how old are you?” he asks.

“I just turned 17 last month,” he answers without looking away from Jimmy. Jimmy’s starting to look a bit frazzled at the attention.

“When’d you figure out Dickie-boy?” Jason asks, walking behind Jimmy and lightly touching his back. The tension in his frame eases slightly.

“When I was 9,” Drake says.

Eight years. The kid’s been sitting on the information for eight goddamned years. Shit. It’s a good thing he worships Batman or he might’ve gone to the highest bidder.

“Okay,” Jason says. “Well, that’s just awesome.” Fuck, what time is it?

“We have two hours remaining in our window,” Jimmy says because of course he read Jason’s mind. “I’ll escort Drake home. You, start the mission. I’ll be there within half an hour.”

“Okay, yeah, good idea,” Jason says. He goes to Drake and leans down, getting right in the kid’s face. “Me, I don’t care about,” he says. “Most days, I don’t care about Bruce or Dick either. But if you do anything to compromise Jimmy’s safety, your age won’t save you. You understand?”

The kid nods frantically, paling, eyes widening even more, shit, how was that possible.

“Good,” he says, backing up. “See you in a bit, babe. Kid, be good now.”

He pulls the extra Hood clothes from their stash, and the hood itself, and then he goes up, taking to the roofs.

.

After it’s done, and there’s one more criminal not making inroads into Gotham, Jason asks, “How’d it go with the kid?”

“Fine,” Jimmy says. “But I don’t like the thought of a child following Batman around. It’s dangerous.”

“He’s 17,” Jason points out. “Barely a kid.”

Jimmy just looks at him.

“Urgh, fine,” Jason groans. “How about we use that invitation Al gave us and bring the kid, too? He’s Bruce’s problem anyway.”

“Yes,” Jimmy says.

“Fine.” Jason grabs at him, pulling him down onto the bed. “Now, let’s stop thinking about the kid, okay?” he murmurs, slowly unlatching Jimmy’s belt.

“Well, I suppose we could,” Jimmy says, laying back with a smile.

Chapter Text

“Friday,” Jason announces. “Dinner at Wayne Manor. 6:30 on the dot. Bruce, Al, Dickie-boy, possibly Barbara, me, you, and the kid. Fuck, won’t it be fun.”

The funny thing is, Jimmy thinks, watching Jason pull off his clothes and head to the shower, Jason doesn’t actually look annoyed or apprehensive. He looks excited.

“You comin’ or what?” Jason shouts over the water.

The words are out before he understands them: “Not yet.” He strips off his sweatpants to the sound of Jason’s shocked laughter and joins him in the shower.

.

Friday is in three days. Jason spends most of it somewhere between panicked and exhilarated. On Wednesday, Jimmy says, “I’ll inform Tim Drake of the mission.” Jason nods without looking up from his territory map, the one with all the sectors marked.

“Okay,” he says. “Also, I think Ramirez might be trying to make a move into Donatello’s territory. I should visit him tonight.”

Jimmy leaves him to it.

.

Tim Drake’s home is next door to Wayne Manor. For a given value of ‘next door.’ Regardless, it is the closest.

Jimmy bypasses the alarm system entirely, enters the mansion through a guest room window, silently makes his way down the hall, and knocks on Drake’s bedroom door.

He hears the boy startle, which is not shocking: Drake is meant to be alone today, with his parents away on a trip and the maid having the week off. The boy grabs something (probably a baseball bat) and asks in a loud voice, “Who’s there?”

“A ghost,” he answers with a faint smile.

Drake’s sigh of relief would be audible even to someone without enhanced hearing. “Bucky Barnes,” he mutters.

“No,” Jimmy corrects as the boy opens the door. “I’m Jimmy.”

“Jimmy, then,” Drake says. “And I’m Tim. Would you like to come in?”

“Maybe later, kid,” he says. “Just deliverin’ a message.”

Tim looks a little wounded but if Jason’s planning a mission, Jimmy needs to be there. Jason’s head isn’t on quite straight, not with the dinner looming. So Jimmy says, “You’re invited to dinner at Wayne’s on Friday with me and Jason.”

The kid stops breathing, eyes gone so wide it hurts to look at. “Dick Grayson and Barbara Gordon may be present as well,” Jimmy adds. The kid squeaks.

Message delivered, Jimmy turns to go.

“Wa-wait!” the kid shouts, so he looks back. “What, what time? What do I wear?”

“6:30,” he answers. “And clothes.”

The kid’s look of shock quickly becomes a glare and he chuckles all the way out.

.

On Thursday, Diego Ramirez wastes his second chance and is summarily executed. His lieutenant Jesus Rivera is promoted.

That evening, Debra needs a babysitter for all three of her children and Jimmy takes great delight in Jason’s terrified expression for the first twenty minutes before Devon and Billy pull him into a game and Jason realizes that kids aren’t all that breakable. Jimmy spends an hour rocking Joy to sleep and continues to hold her for the rest of the night, until the boys are sacked out on the couch, Jason’s collapsed on the bed, and Debra texts she’s on the way back.

She then sends the phrase that means she’s in danger.

Jimmy glances from Joy to Jason. “Jason,” he says, striding over and gently shoving the infant into Jason’s arms. Instinctively, Jason clutches her before he’s even fully awake.

“What’s wrong?” he demands.

“Debra needs help. Guard the children.” He pulls on his mask, grabs three weapons, and departs.

.

Debra is yelling at the would-be muggers when the Red Hood’s shadow drops out of the sky into their midst.

“… fuck,” one of them says.

He doesn’t even shoot them. He just breaks their necks.

“I panicked,” Debra admits after the last one falls. “I was trying – if they had just left like I said to.” There are tears in her eyes. “They’d already seen me,” she says, “so my useless fucking mutation didn’t do any good, and now they’re dead.”

Hesitantly, he reaches for her, certain she’ll reject the touch. Instead, she burrows against him. “Let me get you home,” he says softly. “Don’t worry about them anymore. Your children are safely upstairs. C’mon, Debra.”

She keeps her face tucked into his chest all the way into the building.

.

As soon as Debra is with Jason and the children, Jimmy returns downstairs to deal with the trash.

.

“Three of them,” he whispers into Jason’s neck after Debra is in her apartment with the door locked. Under the covers in their own apartment, in their own bed, wrapped up safely in Jason’s arms – “Three of them,” he says again.

Not civilians. Not innocents. One of them had a gun pointed at Debra; he was the first to die. None of them got the chance to run. He knows they all would have taken it.

“You did good, kiddo,” Jason says.

.

Friday at 6:30, Jason knocks sharply on the front door of Wayne Manor. Jimmy is beside him, wearing Jim Banks like a suit (and a suit that Jim Banks would love), and Tim is hiding behind them, looking as nervous as Steve did on the first date Bucky Barnes ever took him on. (They didn’t call it a date, but they both knew it was.)

The kid’s breathing too shallowly.

Jimmy turns, grabs him by the shoulders, and leans in. “Breathe with me,” he says. “In, out, in, out. C’mon, kid. This ain’t a big deal. In, out.”

Tim calms slowly, eyes focused on Jimmy, and by the time Jimmy turns back around, Jason’s inside, hugging Pennyworth. Wayne, Grayson, and Barbara Gordon are further in, Gordon’s gaze assessing.

“C’mon, kid,” Jimmy says again.

Tim takes a deep breath and follows him in.

Chapter Text

The door closes behind Jimmy and the kid, and Jason finally looks away from Bruce. “So, Jimmy, kid,” he says, “this is Bruce, Dickie, Babs, and Al. Al, Babs, Dickie, and Bruce, these are Jimmy and the kid.”

Jimmy sighs. The kid is staring at Bruce, Dick, and Barbara in turn. “I’m Jimmy,” Jimmy says, offering his hand to Alfred. Alfred shakes perfunctorily. Jimmy nods to Dick and Barbara, then Bruce.

“Tim Drake,” the kid says.

Bruce straightens a little, gaze leaving Jason for the kid. “Drake?” he repeats.

Tim nods. Bruce says, “Interesting.”

“Perhaps we should move to the dining room?” Alfred requests in the way that’s actually an order. “Master Jason, I have prepared all of your favorites.”

“Thanks, Al,” Jason says, stepping back to Jimmy’s side. He wants to take Jimmy’s hand but he also doesn’t want to appear weak. This is… he’s in Wayne Manor. With Batman and Nightwing and Oracle. This isn’t his family, not anymore. If it ever really was.

Jimmy’s metal hand closes gently around his. He calms a little. “C’mon, kid,” he calls over his shoulder. “Chow time with the Batfam.”

Tim catches up to them and they all follow Alfred, and Jason catalogs the difference five years makes in a house. (Not much, as it turns out.)

“Master Bruce, of course, will sit at the head of the table,” Alfred says. “Master Richard will sit at his right, and Miss Barbara beside him. Master Jason, you will sit at Master Bruce’s left, your young man beside you, and young Mr. Drake.” Jason looks at Jimmy, then at Bruce. Alfred says, “Sit and dinner will be served.”

“Okay, whatever,” Jason says, pulling out his chair and slumping down into it. Barbara wheels into her spot and Dick settles beside her. The kid is clearly geeking out as he takes his seat, and then only Jimmy and Bruce are still standing, eyeing each other.

They sit at the exact some moment. Jason rolls his eyes.

.

By silent agreement, Dick, Jason, and Barbara carry the conversation well away from Gotham. They discuss Star Wars, which it turns out Tim has strong feelings about, so he jumps in. Jimmy even makes a comment about Mara Jade, causing Barbara to smile at him.

As the first course winds down, Bruce asks, “What is your endgame, Jason?”

Clearly, he didn’t silently agree.

Before Jason can decide what to say, Jimmy asks, “Why do you go after blue collar criminals?” He turns to look Bruce in the eye, and Jason leans back in his chair so they can glare at each other.

“What do you mean?” Bruce says, clenching his jaw.

Jason catches Barbara’s gaze and they both roll their eyes.

“Well, you’re Bruce Wayne,” Jimmy says in a tone so patronizing Jason almost laughs. “You’ve more money than God, social power, prestige… and you dress up like a bat to go fight thugs and mobsters.” He’s slouching in the chair, smirking, and Jason wants to kiss him so bad. “Why not go after the corrupt elite, the ones who make the blue collar criminals? You’re fighting the symptom, Mr. Wayne. Not the cause.”

Bruce’s glare once caused the Joker (may he rest in torment) to flinch back. (Jason heard about it later. He was already dead at that point.) Jimmy just grins at him.

“When I see those situations, I reveal them to the proper authorities,” Bruce grits out.

“I know something about vengeance,” Jimmy says. “And that’s what you’re doing. It was a common thug, a mugger that killed your parents – so you focus on that kind.”

Dick’s hand is over his face, Barbara’s wide-eyed gaze is going from Jimmy to Bruce, Tim’s staring at the table, and Jason – Jason watches each word hit like a bullet. “You don’t want another child to ever lose their parents so senselessly… and you lose the bigger picture.” Jimmy actually sounds kind, gentling the words just a little. “What’s the point in cleaning up the streets if the 1% keep stealing from everyone else just to pad their pockets a little more?”

“And you?” Bruce shoots back. “Is that what you’re doing?” He looks like he wants to lunge across the table and go for Jimmy’s throat. “You’ve taken over everything except the white collar criminals – what makes them so special?”

And Jimmy smiles. “We have taken over,” he agrees. “And Jason will keep the mob, the drug empires, the pimps and brothels. But me, Mr. Wayne?” He spreads his hands, tilting his head rakishly. “You’ve got a point. I’ll start paying visits in the dead of night, blackmail, sabotage.” His smile widens. “Nothing more terrifying than a shadow.”

Bruce scoffs. “Why not just kill them where they stand?” His glare shifts from Jimmy to Jason. “Not like you’ve spared anyone else.”

Jason flinches, unable to help it. Dick says, “Hey!”

Jimmy’s voice whips out. “We offer a single second chance, you hypocritical asshat. What we don’t give are thirds, fourths, eighteenths, and hundredths. If they don’t learn, they die.”

Barbara asks, “Did he die afraid?” and everyone turns to look at her. Her eyes are on Jimmy and she asks it again: “Did he die afraid?”

“Yes,” Jimmy says. “He died screaming and in agony. He thought I’d come to rough him up and he was utterly terrified when he realized I hadn’t.”

“Good,” Barbara says firmly. Dick reaches for her hand. Bruce looks utterly gobsmacked.

“If this argument is quite finished?” Alfred says, glancing into the room. “I shall begin delivering the second course.”

“Thanks, Al,” Jason says. “We’ll find something new to talk about.”

.

They all eat in silence for a few minutes. Bruce is glaring stonily at his plate as he picks at the food. Dick and Barbara keep exchanging looks. Jimmy’s right hand is holding Jason’s left under the table and Jason… wants to go home. Back to their loft.

“Tim,” Jimmy murmurs under his breath. Jason nods.

“Hey, kid,” he says, leaning back to look at him. “Why don’t you tell everyone how you figured out Batman’s identity when you were – what, nine? Nine years old.”

Barbara chuckles and Dick’s eyes widen. Even Bruce looks stunned for a moment before hiding it away.

“Okay,” the kid says. “So, um, I guess it’s because I saw The Flying Graysons?” And he stumbles his way through the whole story, voice getting stronger as he goes.

When he finally finishes, Jason says, “So, he’s your problem, Bruce.”

Bruce looks at him and Jason holds up a hand. “Nope. He’s gonna keep following you around like a moron no matter what I say. He’s been followin’ you around for almost a goddamned decade. How could you not notice?”

“What do you expect me to do with him?” Bruce demands.

Jason looks at Dick, at Barbara, then at Tim, who has shrunk back in his chair, head down. Jimmy’s leaning in close, murmuring something Jason doesn’t quite hear.

“You’ve had sidekicks before.” Jason can’t even believe he’s saying it as he says it.

“Yeah,” Bruce says coldly. “And it ended so well.”

Jason doesn’t react, though Dick eyes widen and Barbara’s lips turn white. But it’s Jimmy he’s really worried about – Jimmy who slowly turns away from Tim to just stare at Bruce.

“Fine,” Jimmy says quietly after the silence stretches for a long, torturous while. “Tim, Jason, it is time for us to take our leave.” They both stand immediately and Jimmy slowly rises between them. He nods at Dick and Barbara, saying, “It was nice to meet you both.” He completely ignores Bruce, herding Jason and Tim in front of him. “Mr. Pennyworth,” he says at the door, where Alfred’s waiting, “thank you for dinner. It was quite lovely.”

“I am glad you enjoyed it, Mr. Barnes,” Alfred says. “Master Jason – please be aware your welcome here has not ended.”

“Thanks, Al,” Jason mutters, twisting past him.

“And Mr. Drake,” Alfred calls, “that goes for you as well.”

Once they’re outside, Tim says, “Please don’t send me home.”

“Kid,” Jason says with a trembling laugh, “I’m not gonna be good company tonight.”

“Please,” Tim repeats, sounding weary and resigned.

“Your parents are still gone,” Jimmy states instead of asks. “If we do send you home, you won’t stay there.” Tim shakes his head.

Jason sighs. “Oh, what the fuck.”

.

Jimmy and Jason rode over on Jason’s motorcycle. Jimmy orders, “Take him; I’ll find my own way.”

Jason’s rage is a quick, vicious thing, when he’s not planning something. Jimmy’s… isn’t.

“Okay, babe,” Jason says, handing Tim the helmet. “Hold on tight, kid.”

The drive has never seemed so long. Jason pointedly doesn’t notice the kid wiping at his eyes as he pulls off the helmet.

When they’re inside the loft, the kid says, “I thought about going to him. Telling him I knew. Arguing that he needed a Robin again.” He shudders, looking at his hands. Jason gives him time, putting the teapot on for hot chocolate. It’s Jimmy’s comfort food. “I was hoping he’d get Dick back. The months after… after you were gone, they were bad, Jason. Batman was – he was more violent than he’d ever been. Spiraling.” Jason doesn’t look at him, and Tim continues, “But I couldn’t work up the courage. Not to go to him, or to Dick, and I wasn’t sure Barbara Gordon was Batgirl, so I chose not to risk it. And I felt – felt like such a coward.”

“Hey,” Jason says, turning to face him. “You were, what, 12? 13? When I died. You weren’t a coward. You were a kid. And even if you had gone to him – ” He laughs ruefully, shaking his head. “It wouldn’t’a done much good, Tim.”

“But it might’ve done some good,” Tim argues sadly.

Jason sighs, shaking his head. “Look, it’s been a long evening. Let’s kick back and watch some mindless TV, yeah?”

“Okay,” Tim says, going to the couch and falling back onto it. “Can you… how’d you meet Jimmy? Can you tell me?”

“Yeah, kid, I can tell you.” He collapses next to Tim. “Wanna hear what the original plan was?”

He talks and the kid asks intelligent questions (of course he does) and the teapot shrieks so he makes them both some cocoa, and when the kid falls asleep, he tugs a blanket over him, and he sits there, trying so hard not to cry, until Jimmy finally comes home.

Chapter Text

More than once, Bucky Barnes beat a man into the ground for making Steve Rogers bleed. He quit counting all the men he killed in Europe – they were mostly Hydra, and Hydra never counted as people. The asset – those kills don’t count as his. (A gun doesn’t keep track of its bullets, or a knife how many throats its slit.) And Jimmy has gone after Hydra and people who spurned their second chance. He’s kept track in Gotham though he never notes it down.

He cannot take out his rage on its source: unless Jason is in imminent danger of harm, Bruce Wayne cannot be touched. And Jason wouldn’t count his feelings being hurt as harm. (Jimmy does, but – killing Bruce Wayne wouldn’t fix the problem. Unfortunately.)

He told Wayne he’d be taking the white collar criminals, the blackmailers and corrupt CEOs, and he’s been gathering intel on them. But he shouldn’t – he is seething with rage, trembling in anger, and anyone he approaches like this will die.

How lucky he is, then, that Scarecrow chooses tonight to attack Gotham with some bullshit called ‘fear toxin.’

.

Scarecrow doesn’t even get the chance to start his attack before Jimmy strikes. Eighteen goons, one leader – all dead in under five minutes. He knows the moment Nightwing arrives but ignores him to keep beating Scarecrow’s face into a bloody pulp; the body is hardly recognizable as human.

“Batman’s dismantling the bioweapon,” Nightwing tells him as he straightens up. “I convinced him to do that instead of finding Crane.”

“Wise of you,” the Red Hood’s shadow says, completely monotone. If he’d seen Batman – but Nightwing does not cause such a reaction.

“Look,” Nightwing says, carefully staying out of reach as the Red Hood’s shadow scales the wall to the overhang, “he’s a bastard, okay? But you blindsided him. He didn’t mean it.”

Jimmy snarls, “I don’t care if he meant it – he fucking said it, and now it’s in –” He looks at Nightwing. “It’s in his head,” Jimmy finishes softly.

“Yeah,” Nightwing chuckles bitterly. “It’s in all of our heads.”

Nightwing follows him to the roof. “Hey, what do I call you when you’re wearing the mask?” he asks as Jimmy is preparing to leap to the next building over.

“I have no name,” Jimmy says. He’s not wearing the mask tonight, but only dead men saw him. Dead men and Nightwing, who might become an ally.

“That’s… kinda sad,” Nightwing observes without judgment.

Jimmy grins at him. “I’m the Red Hood’s shadow,” he says. “And tell the rich boy that if he approaches me in the next week or so, I will beat him into the ground.”

Nightwing winces. “I’ll make sure he gets the message,” he promises.

Jimmy is still brimming with rage – but he pushes it down. He has control of it again. And Jason and Tim are waiting for him.

.

“Holy fuck,” Jason says when Jimmy slips in the window. “Holy fuck, Jimmy, what did you do?” He grabs one of the grocery sacks and brings it over, holding it as Jimmy strips off his bloody clothes.

“I dealt with one of Batman’s psychopathic supervillains,” Jimmy tells him.

“Which one?” Jason asks as he sets the bag on the floor and goes to grab a couple towels, which he dampens before bringing them to Jimmy. “Get your face,” he orders, grabbing the not-arm to clean.

“Scarecrow,” Jimmy says.

“Oh, good,” Jason murmurs, gently wiping at the not-arm. No one had ever been gentle with it before he met Jason. He pauses, lowering his right arm to watch Jason.

“I’m sorry dinner didn’t go well,” he says.

Jason shrugs. “It went better than I expected, actually.” He maneuvers the not-hand, spreading the fingers, and carefully runs the towel between them. Jimmy doesn’t quite feel it; there is slight pressure but nothing else. Once the last speck of blood is removed from the pinky, Jason brings the not-hand to his lips and kisses the palm.

Jimmy doesn’t feel it but he wishes he did. He knows there’s still blood on his face as he reels Jason in, and Jason grins at him, muttering, “The kid’s on the couch.” He presses a kiss to Jason’s lips anyway and says, “Let’s go to bed.”

On the way, Jimmy deposits the bag of bloody clothes and steps into the bathroom to get the rest of the blood off his face. He doesn’t look in the mirror.

Chapter Text

In the morning, Jason wakes wrapped up in Jimmy’s arms. He doesn’t remember dreaming and he feels rested and alert and alive – not at all what he was expecting after the utter SNAFU that was dinner.

Like he told Jimmy, though… it actually went so much better than expected. No one got maimed or dead.

And something smells delicious. “What is that?” he mutters against Jimmy’s throat.

“Tim has prepared omelets,” Jimmy says.

Right, the kid. What the fuck was he thinking, trying to give the kid to Bruce? Dick was clearly the exception to the rule and he wants Tim to – not become him, basically. “Do we have to give him back?”

“He’s seventeen,” Jimmy says, loosening his hold so Jason can pull back if he chooses. Jason doesn’t choose to. “As long as he is safe, everything is up to him.”

“Alright.” Jason kisses his throat and bounces out of bed. “Breakfast time!”

.

“Kid,” Jason says, “this is the best thing I’ve ever had.” There’s not much omelet left on any of their plates and Jimmy ‘covertly’ slips what remains on his to Jason. Jason scarfs it down. “Fuck,” he mutters when everything’s gone, pouting down at the empty plate.

Tim’s red as a lobster, but grinning, too.

“So.” Jason looks at him expectantly. “What do you want, kid?”

Jimmy looks at him, too. He hunches down in the chair. “I’ve been using my allowance to buy judo lessons,” he says. “And researching fight techniques.”

“And stalking Batman,” Jason adds.

Tim nods. “And stalking Batman.”

“You will no longer do that,” Jimmy says. Tim lifts his head, mouth open, but at Jimmy’s raised eyebrow he subsides. “If you decide to wander around Gotham at night, we will not stop you. But we will be informed of your presence so that we can protect you if necessary.”

“Also,” Jason adds brightly, “Jimmy here’s gonna give you some lessons.” He leans in to whisper conspiratorially, “Did you know he kicked Batman and Nightwing’s asses at the same time?

“What?!” Tim shouts, looking back at Jimmy.

Jimmy shrugs. “Wasn’t that hard.”

“Holy fuck,” Tim mutters.

.

That afternoon, after a quiet day of loafing around for the three of them, and setting up a schedule for Tim’s lessons, Tim groans and says, “I guess I should head home.”

“I’ll give you a ride,” Jason offers.

Jimmy’s curled up in his nest, reading Prisoner of Azkaban even though Jason had warned him that Harry Potter might not be his speed. (Jason himself had never gotten around to reading any of ‘em, but Barbara used to rave about their awesomeness.) Jason leans down to kiss him with a, “Later, babe.”

“Tim,” Jimmy says just before Jason opens the door. “I’ll see you in two days.”

The kid nods. “And if I decide to wander around, I’ll text you.”

“Good.” Jimmy looks back down at the book.

Jason shakes his head. “Hey, kid,” he asks, “is Harry Potter any good?”

.

Tim’s lecture on the pointlessness of Sorting at 11 is (thankfully) interrupted by the necessity of helmets. The minute the motorcycle stops outside his mansion, though, he resumes his rant.

Because of how awful last night was for the kid, Jason decides to listen anyway.

.

“So, you’re a Hufflepuff,” Jason announces as he closes the door behind him. “And I’m a Gryffindor.”

“Dumbledore pisses me off,” Jimmy announces in reply. He’s already halfway through Goblet of Fire.

Jason laughs. “I’ll order pizza,” he says. “Let’s have a night in. I’ve got stuff to research anyway, and you can finish the books.”

“How’d Tim Sort himself?” Jimmy asks, turning the page and glaring down at whatever’s happening in the scene.

“Ravenclaw.” Jason boots up his laptop and pulls up their favorite pizza place’s website to order their usual

.

Chapter Text

While Jason checks in on the Ghost Dragons, Jimmy decides to visit the most senior partner at Ulrich and Simon, Gotham's most prestigious law firm. It is just after midnight, but the light is still on in Daniel Ulrich’s Gotham Heights house; the house isn’t as big as Wayne Manor, of course, or as opulent as Tim’s – but it is quite ritzy.

For the right price, Ulrich has been bribing judges and hiring thugs to intimidate juries. What Jimmy needs is a list of those judges.

Ulrich’s wife and granddaughter are asleep upstairs, so Jimmy will keep this conversation as quiet as possible.

He lets himself in through the window in the entertainment room, offers pets and treats to the Doberman Pinscher meant to be guarding the property, and then sits down across the desk from Ulrich.

It takes the man nearly five minutes to realize he’s not alone, and then only because the dog is whining for more treats, which Jimmy gives to her with a smile, as well as ear rubs.

Before Ulrich can make a sound, Jimmy says, “Samantha and Josephine are upstairs, Mr. Ulrich.” Ulrich pales and his hand drops away from his cellphone. “Do you know about the Red Hood?” Jimmy asks. Ulrich nods, paling even more. He’s on the verge of a panic attack. Jimmy does not want to have to calm him down. “Breathe, old man,” he orders. “I’m not here to kill you.”

“Then,” Ulrich says, straightening in his chair and taking deep, even breaths, “why are you here?”

“You’re going to tell me every judge that’s bribable in this city.” Jimmy tilts his head, smiling beneath the mask as Ulrich’s eyes widen. “You’re gonna tell me who loaned you those goons that broke Frank Smith’s legs last week.” He leans in, setting both of his hands on Ulrich’s desk. “And then you’re not gonna bribe any more judges or intimidate any more juries if you wanna keep breathing. Understand, Mr. Ulrich?”

“Who are you?” Ulrich demands, either so angry he’s gotten stupid or so scared he can’t think. “The Red Hood goes after, after common criminals!”

“Yes,” Jimmy says, “he does. But I’m not the Red Hood, I’m his shadow.” He leans back in his chair as the dog rests her head on his knee. “We’ve got the common criminals well in hand,” Jimmy says, petting the dog’s neck. “Which means it’s time to bring the rest to heel.”

Ulrich is spitting mad. “You’re gonna give me that list, Mr. Ulrich,” Jimmy tells him, “and know that you get a single chance after. You fuck up again, and I’ll be back.”

“I’m not gonna give you anything!” Ulrich shouts, shoving his chair back as he stands, grabbing a large figurine from the shelf behind him and swinging it at Jimmy.

Jimmy catches it with the not-hand, crushing it. He looks down at the dog, who is also on her feet. “You might wanna get out of here, sweetheart,” he says.

“Jade, attack!” Ulrich orders, but the dog whines, dropping her head.

“Jade, is it?” Jimmy asks. “Go to Josephine.”

At the girl’s name, the dog perks up and hurries out. Jimmy grabs Ulrich by the throat. “You will give me those names,” he says.

.

The next night, Jimmy wakes Judge Michael Timmons. He knows that Ulrich has contacted no one, and that Timmons lives alone, his wife having died in a boating accident five years ago and his children all leaving Gotham at the earliest opportunity. He is not bribable with money, according to Ulrich’s disgusting confession.

Before grabbing Timmons by the throat, Jimmy had investigated his penthouse apartment most thoroughly and found evidence that Ulrich’s intel was entirely accurate.

Timmons likes little girls with dark brown hair and blue eyes. He will be given no second chances. But before his execution, he has information that Jimmy needs.

Jimmy removes the glove from his not-hand before closing it around Timmons’ throat. The man is not Hydra, but he is fascinated with ghost stories and the Winter Soldier is the greatest ghost story of all. “Wake up, Judge Timmons,” Jimmy says. “I’d like a word with you.”

.

Mayor Armand Krol is enjoying a late night swim in his indoor pool when Jimmy grabs his arm and pulls him out. Krol tries to scream for help but Jimmy incapacitated every guard. “Don’t worry, Mayor,” Jimmy tells him, “I’m not here to hurt you.” He smiles, though of course Krol can’t see it. “Not yet.”

“Do you know who I am!” Krol shouts. “Do you know who my friends are!”

“Yes,” Jimmy says. “But I’m just here for a conversation, Mayor.”

Krol is shivering; Jimmy offers him the towel lying on a nearby chair.

“Who are you?” Krol asks after looking at the towel in disbelief and taking it.

“I’m a ghost,” Jimmy says. “And I’m warnin’ you that I’m watching. I’m giving you a chance to clean up the corruption in Gotham before I start cleaning it up for you.” He turns to go, adding over his shoulder, “And my way is fatal, Mr. Mayor. This is your second chance. You won’t get a third.”

As Jimmy vacates the premises, he hears the state-of-the-art alarm belatedly go off and laughs.

.

“How’s it goin’?” Jason asks after Jimmy’s got himself situated in bed, wrapped around him.

“Pretty good,” Jimmy answers. “You?”

Jason chuckles. “Well, Sullivan wants to know why we’re terrorizing the politicians ‘cause he thinks they had a good thing goin’, but his daughter Aileen gets it. We should make sure she takes over; she’s smart.”

“Okay,” Jimmy mumbles, letting himself go still.

“Get some sleep,” Jason tells him. “Don’t worry.”

Three nights of intensive work – as the asset, he had gone for weeks without rest. But he is not the asset. He is Jimmy, and he is nestled against Jason, and he is on a mission he chose himself.

So he sleeps.

Chapter Text

As they’re going their separate ways, Dick says, “Babs wants you to have her number,” and he rattles off the digits. “Call her.”

Jason stares after him as Dick saunters down the block.

.

Back before, Dick was always off being busy somewhere, and even though Jason knew if he called needing help, Dick would’ve been there, he never called. Dick was the favorite child he could never live up to.

Barbara, though, she was cool. Sometimes, in the middle, he’d go out with Batgirl on patrol instead of Batman, usually because Batman was needed somewhere he didn’t want to bring Robin. If Dick was the unattainable older brother, Barbara was the awesome friend that Jason might’ve had a slight crush on.

And then the Joker shot her on his way to Sarajevo. As Jason began his recon on Gotham, he figured out pretty quick who Oracle was. Barbara had always been good at the tech stuff.

He heads back to the loft, where Jimmy is babysitting Joy, gently dancing around the den with her. Jason watches with a grin for a few minutes before asking, “What’re your plans for tonight?”

“Tim was unavailable this morning so his lesson has been moved to this evening,” Jimmy says. “Debra will be back for Joy around 3.”

“Okay, cool. I’m…” He sighs. “I’m gonna call Barbara at some point today. May get dinner with her. Or something. I don’t know yet.”

Jimmy turns to face him, though he still rocks side to side for Joy’s benefit. “Do you need me?”

Jason shakes his head. “I want you there, but I gotta do this on my own.” He pushes off the wall, saying, “Gonna go shower.” He doesn’t look back as he goes to the bathroom.

.

He waits until after Jimmy’s gone to dial the number Dick gave him. After the call picks up, there is a long silence while Jason listens to her breathe. He finally says, “Hi, Barbara.”

She says back, “Hi, Jason.”

.

Talking on the phone is awkward, so about a minute into it, Barbara tells him her address and hangs up. It’s the middle of the afternoon so he goes as Jay Smith instead of Red Hood and doesn’t drag his feet on purpose – it just sort of happens. He pushes the buzzer and the lock clicks and he takes his time going up eight flights of stairs.

When he knocks on the door, she shouts, “It’s open!” so he goes in, locking it behind him.

“That’s dangerous,” he calls, winding his way through the hall. “Never know what freaks might pop in.”

“I’ve been tracking your progress across town,” she calls back. “I knew it was you.”

He turns a corner and there she is, waiting in the doorway to what looks like a room full of computers. He was too overwhelmed to really notice that night at dinner, but her hair is still as vibrant, her eyes as sharp. Her body doesn’t look weak at all in the high-tech chair he’s pretty sure she designed and built herself. For all that the world praises Tony Stark, Jason would bet on Barbara any day.

“Oh, Jason,” she says, pulling off her glasses to wipe at her eyes.

“Hey, Babs,” he says. “Wanna hear how the Joker died?”

“Yeah,” she says. “C’mon, I’ve prepared some snacks.” She rolls toward him and he steps to the side, following her through another doorway into a kitchen smaller than the loft’s but still pretty good-sized. There’s a plate with crackers, lunchmeat, and cheese sitting on the table and Barbara tells him, “Pick a spot.”

He sits and starts assembling a sandwich, deciding to let Barbara restart the conversation, which she does after a few minutes by asking, “So, the Joker?”

Jason will never forget a single thing Jimmy told him about that night, and he repeats it all for Barbara.

.

He stays till after sundown, helps her make dinner, and their conversation ranges from the places Jason’s been to the technology classes at Gotham’s community college Barbara’s teaching to how crazy the past few years have been, what with all the alien invasions and Hydra.

“Jason,” she says while he’s getting seconds, “I know what I’ve pieced together, and I know what Bruce has told me. But I’d like to hear it from you, if you don’t mind. What are you doing in Gotham?”

“At first, it was about revenge, punish Joker and Bruce, both.” She nods because that is terribly obvious. “But now, it’s about making Gotham safe enough to call home.” She smiles a little at that.

“And what about Bucky Barnes?” she asks. “That is who Jimmy really is, right? The dead World War II hero?”

Jason shakes his head. “Not my story to tell, Babs. But I trust him more than I do anyone else.”

“You more than trust him, Jason,” she says, her smile widening. “You love him.”

“Well, yeah.” He shrugs. “Anyway, what about you and Dickie-boy?”

They stay away from hard topics after that, and Jason gives her shit for not making an honest man of Dick yet, and it’s -- good. Feels like what family might.

As he’s about to leave, Barbara pulls him down to kiss his cheek and says, “My door is always open for you, Jason. And bring Jimmy by sometime – I’d love to hear that story.”

“Yeah,” he says softly. “And if you ever need help, well, you have my number now.”

He takes the long way home, checking in on his town. There are still idiot muggers, but most everything else is quiet. There’s a drug shipment coming in tonight that Batman may or may not be trying to stop, and a forgery ring that’s going to replace one of the paintings at Gotham’s premier art museum.

There will also be an execution of a city councilman that Jason needs to get ready for, so he speeds up his pace.

Chapter Text

Three weeks into their lessons, while Tim is trying to catch his breath on the floor, he asks, “Why are you bothering with me?”

Jimmy stares down at him for a few minutes but Tim seems content to wait him out.

.

When Bucky Barnes was 17, he was working two jobs and dividing his paychecks between Steve’s ma and his own parents. Becca was 14, Livy was 11, and Jules had just turned 6, and their pa’s hours had just been cut, and Ma got paid barely anything to wash other folks’ clothes when they could afford to pay her.

Steve would’ve been furious if he’d known, but Steve’s ma understood. And Pa used to rage about Bucky giving Steve’s ma anything, but it didn’t matter to Bucky how loud Pa hollered or how hard he hit. They needed the money for Steve’s medicines and all of the Barnes’ were healthy.

.

When Jason Todd was 17, Jimmy knows, he was learning all sorts of things with the League of Assassins. He was supposed to be dead.

.

Tim Drake is 17 with too much time on his hands and too little to do. The fact that nobody in the world realized he was wandering around Gotham at night, trailing Batman… the kid is lucky to be alive.

.

“I’m bothering with you,” Jimmy finally says, helping Tim to his feet, “because someone needs to.”

Jimmy knows the kind of man Tim’s going to be – he died for that kind of man once. He loves that kind of man now.

“You’re a good kid,” Jimmy says, handing Tim a bottle of water. “I’d like to see you live to be a good man.”

Tim blushes a little, ducking his head.

.

Tim Drake is 17 and lives alone in his parents’ home. He attends a prestigious academy because he wants to and his hobbies include reading everything ever written and stalking vigilantes.

Since beginning Jimmy’s training sessions, though, Tim has not once contacted either Jimmy or Jason to inform them he is going out. Because Jimmy had worried, Jason swung by on the fifth night after the dinner at Wayne’s and then texted him, Kid’s safely in bed. Looks like a pretty deep sleep. The twelfth night, Jimmy checked himself and Tim was swaddled in his blankets.

Jimmy knows that Tim will catch on eventually – the lessons are designed to be just exhausting enough to knock him out all night, but not so hard the kid injures himself. If he has his way, Tim will find something else soon, maybe get out of Gotham and go to a good college and start doing good in the world. (If they hadn’t grown up during the Depression; if there hadn’t been a war. There are so many things Bucky Barnes used to dream about for Steve Rogers. There are so many things Jimmy wants for Jason.)

But… the kid’s been stalking Batman and his partners for almost half his life and has yet to grow bored or move on.

Jimmy mainly focuses on self-defense, using an attacker’s strength against them, and the best way to escape. He reiterates that calling Jimmy is to be the first thing Tim does after finding somewhere safe to hole up and Tim promises.

.

Bucky Barnes was 26 when he fell off a train and died alone in the mountains (how old was he when Hydra finally broke him and the asset was born inside him? there is no way of knowing). The asset had no age but it died dragging Captain America onto shore. Jimmy – Jimmy’s maybe 27, but he doubts it, most days. Most days he either feels ancient or brand-new, with little in-between.

Jason Todd was 15 when the Joker murdered him. He’s 21 now, but he feels every year like a decade, and when he puts on the hood (and the Hood), he knows he’ll live forever. (Jimmy will do everything he can to ensure that, and the day Jason dies…)

.

“You comin’ to dinner, kid?” Jimmy asks while Tim is stretched out on the floor, trying to remember how to breathe. “Debra’s made meatloaf. The twins have been very inquisitive about you.”

If Jimmy didn’t know that Alfred visits Tim every other day, he might invite the kid to just move into the loft. But it is far too early for that, and not safe, besides. He sometimes still wakes up confused, and Jason’s nightmares occasionally get violent.

“I… I’d be welcome?” Tim asks, eyes wide, turning his head to look at Jimmy.

“You are always welcome,” Jimmy tells him.

Tim’s smile is wide and bright. “Then I’d love to come to dinner.”

Chapter Text

Dudes, I had SO MUCH planned for this 'verse - but none of it has been/will be written down. I'm sorry to say I am most likely never coming back to this fic. If anyone has a question about what would've happened, please ask.