Robin is perched on the edge of the stone roof when he hears the barely audible crunch of somebody landing on the roof behind him. He doesn’t turn, continuing to gaze out at the city. Anybody who wished him harm wasn’t able to be that quiet.
“Robin,” Hood says from where he’s standing behind him. He’s wearing his signature red hoodie and leather jacket combo. Hood hadn’t intended to have his patrol veer in this direction, but one of his informants had reported a Robin sighting and he’d decided to check for himself why the kid was out so late.
“Hood,” Robin replies, still gazing out. It had rained earlier in the day, and the water had dragged the smog out of the air and left everything damp and shiny under the streetlights. It's clear tonight, but you still can’t see the stars from central Gotham. Out here the stars are the lit windows of apartments and office buildings.
“Isn’t it a little late for you to be out? After all, it is a school night.”
Robin scoffs, “You sound like Batman.”
“Well, the guys not always wrong.” Red Hood sounds amused.
It’s weird, Robin thinks, one moment he’ll be going on about doing what needs to be done and that if Batman can't do it he will, the next he’ll be saying something that sounds almost fond.
“Don’t you need to sleep too?” With all the mystery that surrounded the Red Hood, most of Gotham would consider it a genuine question about his mortality. However he’d seen the man passed out on a couch or wolfing down stir fry too many times to think he was anything but human.
“Not as much as you do. Go home, you don’t want to end up falling asleep in class tomorrow,” He sounds genuinely concerned about his well being, and so Robin responds in the only way he knows how, snark.
“Sure Dad, ” He replies, rolling his eyes. He actually probably should get some sleep, Hood’s right about it being a school night. He has a spanish quiz the next morning that will require him to be more than half awake, and at this rate he might really fall asleep.
Hood just shakes his head amused, “I’m serious, go home, get some rest, I’ll make sure to keep an eye on your patrol area,” It’s approaching those early hours where everything is still and not even the lowlifes of the city are out making trouble. Robin will be lucky to catch a few hours of shuteye, but it’s better than nothing.
Robin thinks about it, weighing the pro’s and con’s. Pro: if he goes home now he may get enough sleep to actually pass the quiz and keep his GPA in the green. Con: Hood might shoot someone if left to his own devices and Batman might blame him, “Fine, but promise not to shoot anyone on my turf.”
Hood chuckles as though he’s heard what Jason was thinking, the sound distorted by the helmet he’s wearing, “I promise.”
From most people Robin wouldn’t accept a promise that easily, but it’s Hood. So he gets up with a bat-trained grace and salutes Hood goodbye, getting out his grapple gun before he starts swinging off in the direction of the manor.
It’s a few weeks later, and Robin is in the middle of tying up some goons when he sees the Red Hood again. It had been a quick and easy fight with a couple of wannabe muggers, and Robin had been able to take them out with no difficulty. Now all he needed to do was secure them and wait for the authorities to arrive.
“You need a haircut,” Hood says from where he’s leaning against the grimey alley wall, arms crossed over his chest. Robin tries not to look surprised at his sudden appearance. Sometimes he swears that Red Hood is sneakier than Batman.
“What?” He asks, confused and wondering if he’d heard wrong, because there’s no way that Gotham's infamous mob boss - even if Robin knows he’s secretly a softie - is giving him hair advice.
“You need a haircut, it’s starting to get in your eyes. That or you need to start tying it up,” He’s just wearing a domino today and Robin can clearly see his smirk.
Robin rolls his eyes, “Whatever Dad, ” he says, his voice dripping with sarcasm.
He’s been growing it out, if he styles it right he thinks he could make it look like Dick’s. Even if Dick’s mullet - you can argue all you want, it’s a mullet - looks a bit ridiculous in his opinion.
“I’m serious, either it’s going to distract you, or it’s going to get it stuck in your domino glue and that’s a bitch to get out,” He pauses, “Don’t tell Batman I said that.” Hood know’s this Robin has definitely said and heard way worse, but it’s nice to pretend he’s at least being a good example in this one thing - all the shooting and mafia business definitely ruined his chance of being a role model, but at least he keeps cursing in front of kids to a minimum.
“What would you know about long hair?” He says gesturing at Hood’s cropped and neat hairstyle.
Hood gives him a look. He knows Robin remembers that before the wardrobe change his hair had been well on it’s way to touching his shoulders. But between the helmet hair and the way man buns undermined his intimidation factor, it had to go. Just another thing separating the now from then.
“Just think about it,” He says, leaving Robin to consider his words as he quickly scales the rusty fire escape leading to the roof of the building he was just leaning on, heading off into the night. Probably to scare some unfortunate mugger shitless.
The next time they see each other Robin’s hair is shorter. The moment he sees the smug look on Hood's face he glares at him, “Shut up.”
He doesn’t know how he feels about the haircut. On one hand he thinks it suits him way more and it really was starting to get in his eyes. But on the other it’s just one more way he’s different from the first Robin.
Hood puts his hands up in mock defense, but the corner of his lips are still twitching in the way that means he’s holding back a laugh, “I didn’t say anything.”
“I could see you thinking it,” Robin says glaring at him, “I didn’t cut it because you told me to, I just decided it needed a change” He sounds almost haughty.
“Sure you did,” Hood says. He looks Robin over assessingly, making sure he isn’t injured in some way and hiding it, a thing he knows this Robin does - he can’t judge, he does it too - and notice’s he looks slimmer than usual, “Are you eating enough? You look skinny.”
“I’m eating plenty! It’s just because of my growth spurt,” Robin exclaims defensively. Robin knows hunger, knows starvation. He knows not being sure when your next meal will be or if you’ll live long enough to get it. It’s not like that anymore. Not since he’d been caught jacking those tires and his whole world had been flipped upside down.
Hood raises a disbelieving eyebrow, “Growth spurt?” Now that he’s looking it’s possible that the second Robin has gotten a bit taller. Hood doesn’t know whether to grin or groan. At this pace the kid’s going to overtake him within the next year.
Robin huffs offended, “Yes growth spurt, I’ve grown 2 centimeters in the last 2 months.” He can’t help the smug tone that slips into his voice. Now that he’s actually eating enough he’s growing like a bean sprout, at least that’s what Batman says when he jokes about having to get Robin a bigger uniform to accommodate all the new length.
“Which is all the more reason to be eating more, you need the nutrients,” Hood insists.
“Fine Dad, ” Robin replies with an eye roll so exaggerated it comes across clearly despite his eyes being concealed by his domino.
Hood reaches into one of his many pockets - really, why does the guy have so many, and what the hell is he keeping in them - and pulls out a granola bar offering it to him. “Eat. I don’t want to have to come scrape you off a sidewalk cause you passed out during patrol,” He says trying to disguise the fact that he cares with the small jibe.
Robin huffs but takes the bar. He is actually kind of hungry, and it’s the good type that is covered in chocolate, but no way in hell he’s telling Hood that.
“Holy fucking shit,” Robin exclaims in awe, running his hand along Hoods new bike. It’s sleek and black, and Robin would die to ride it. He probably shouldn’t use that expression in his line of work, he doesn't want to accidentally jinx himself.
“Watch your language,” Hood chides as he watches the boy fawn over the new bike. He’d splurged and gotten it after an incident that resulted in a motorbike chase which reminded him just how much he likes speed and the surge of adrenaline that comes with it. Sometimes he can almost imagine that the wind pulling at his clothes is him flying with Kon, but he always shuts those thoughts down before they can really take root.
“Sorry Dad, ” He says sarcastically, but doesn’t actually pull his eyes away from the vehicle. He continues to examine the bike, circling it. ”What's the horsepower on this thing?” Robin asks
“1200, she’s a beast.” Hood answers, smugness obvious despite the helmet that hides his expression.
“I think I’m in love,” Robin say’s dreamily, then looks up at Hood, “Who do I have to punch to get to ride this thing.”
“No punching necessary. I already thought you might want to,” He pulls out a matte black bike helmet with red accents and passes it to Robin, “Here.”
“You’re going to let me drive her!” Robin exclaims ecstatically. He’s practically bouncing in place just thinking about it.
But Hood all but crushes that when he laughs, “No way. I’m going to let you sit behind me while I drive her,” For one he doesn’t think Robin is actually ready to control a bike this powerful, and secondly there's no way he’s putting his new bike in the hands of a teenager.
Robin slumps disappointed, but is mollified by the fact he’s going to get to ride it at all, “Fine, but I’m driving next time!” He says and puts on the helmet.
“Sure you are kid,” Hood gets onto the bike, swinging his leg over the seat. Robin does the same a moment later, wrapping his arms around him.
“Hold on tight,” Hood says, his grin clear in his voice. Robin tightens his grip, and then they’re off, weaving through the chaos of Gotham traffic way above the speed limit.
When they reach the less busy city limits he twists the accelerator and they go impossibly faster down the long, straight road. Going so fast that it feels like they’re flying. Speeding through the night, like nothing can stop them. Freedom is theirs to have, and all the responsibilities they’ve been forced to shoulder fall away. Robin is clinging on tight and laughing in delight, grinning almost manically with joy.
By the time they get back to the city Robin's heart is pounding with adrenaline, and his cheeks hurt from smiling.
It’s autumn, and they’ve somehow ended up standing on the same roof together and staring out at the city. The leaves are starting to change hues. Bits of brilliant oranges and flaming reds fall to the pavement, only to be trampled upon by bustling citizens.
“You should really consider getting some pants for that uniform,” Hood says as they continue to look over the city. The sun has already set and the air is dropping in temperature rapidly.
“Hey!” Robin says, offended, “What’s wrong with how it is now?” There’s no need to admit his costume doesn’t feel like it’s his own. It’s as if he’s borrowing someone else's clothes and just waiting for them to return and demand them back.
“Other than the fact that you’re basically wearing panties?” Robin glares at him, but Hood continues, completely undeterred, “Gotham winter is freezing. You don’t need to get hypothermia or catch a cold.”
“Anything else you want to complain about, Dad, ” he says with clear exasperation.
He always uses the word ‘Dad’ ironically. Both of them know he’s mocking Hood rather than actually thinking of him as a father. Jason hasn’t called anyone ‘Dad’ and meant it in a long time. Willis Todd was never really one, and although Bruce is everything he imagines a father to be, he's scared to say the words for fear of rejection.
Hood tilts his head looking at him, “Long sleeves would be a good idea too.” He would know. He had spent many cold Gotham nights wishing he had something to cover the freezing exposed bits of his arms, even with the tights his version of the costume possessed.
Robin just groans in frustration, “I don’t need to change the uniform.” He doesn’t need Red Hood telling him this. He is perfectly aware of how dumb an idea a pants-less leotard is for crime fighting, but if Dick could do it, so can he.
Hood looks over at him and says softly, “You say that now, but just wait until you can’t feel your legs, they're so cold.” He’s silent for a moment trying to think how to put this in a way that won’t have the second Robin totally misinterpreting him. “You don’t need to be the same as the first Robin, you know. You’re different from him, and that’s okay. It doesn’t mean you’re any less worthy of the title.”
Even though Robin doesn’t say anything, Hood can tell he’s heard him by the way he’s holding himself stiffly, as though preparing for a blow, waiting for the ‘but’. He’s staring intently at the horizon, avoiding looking at Hood.
“He’s not going to hate you just because you’re not him. He loves you for who you are, not who you aren’t.” Hood doesn’t say his name, but both know who he’s talking about.
In his mind Tim reflects on his own words. He May be saying these words to Jason, but they’re also the words he wishes someone had told him when he’d first got the cape.
Robin still doesn’t reply. After a while Hood leaves silently, leaving the boy to stare out at the lights of the city and think about what he’d said, about what it meant.
Jason is passed out on the couch surrounded by textbooks and homework when Bruce gets home. He’d been studying for a math test and catching up on some english assignments when he’d drifted off. The constant late nights spent as Robin have left him in dire need of sleep.
Bruce sees him lying there curled up on the couch, an arm flung over his face and an open book resting on his chest. He doesn’t even think about it before he scoops the boy up and starts carrying him to his room.
He walks carefully through the manor so as not to wake the boy. He uses his skills to keep his walking smooth and avoid any squeaky floor boards.
Bruce nudges open Jason's door with his shoulder and carefully puts him on the bed. Unlike Dick’s room, Jason’s one is clean and orderly. Bruce doesn’t have to watch out for tripping hazards in the form of laundry, exercise equipment, or pillows. He gently pulls the thick down duvet over the sleeping boy, and tucks him in. He makes sure he is covered right up to his chin so he won’t get cold. Bruce deliberates for a moment, and then gives in to his deep desire to show this boy that he is welcomed and loved, even if he won’t remember it this time. He places a gentle kiss on his son's forehead before he walks away slowly, as though reluctant to leave the room and the person in it.
He’s just reached the door and is grasping the door handle when he hears it.
“Goodnight, Dad,” Jason says softly from behind him, his voice soft with drowsiness.
Bruce whirls around to look at the boy. If it wasn’t for the smile on the boy’s face he’d think he had wishfully imagined the whole thing.
“Goodnight Jaylad, sleep well,” Jason doesn’t reply and his eyes stay shut. So with a parting affectionate smile, Bruce walks out closing the door quietly behind him. He can feel himself beaming, but couldn’t stop even if he tried.
He’s returning to the parlor when he runs into Alfred. The man looks him over and raises an eyebrow at his expression, he probably looks like he’s been hit by Joker gas.
“Did something happen master Bruce?” he asks bemused.
“He called me ‘Dad,’” Bruce says, his voice laced with awe. He had the exact same reaction when Dick had first said the words. In that instance Dick was thanking him for passing the eggs of all things. Even though he’s experienced it before, it doesn’t make it any less special.
As stoic as Alfred is, even he can’t help the way his lips twitch upwards and his heart swells with affection. “Congratulations sir, I’ll make a celebratory cup of tea.”
Jason Todd hasn’t called anyone dad and meant it in a long time, but he just may start.