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Jason's Journey to a Parental Figure

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1) Shakespearean Lessons with an Old Legend

“I’m going after Crane. Keep a lookout for any of Scarecrow’s accomplices, alright? They can’t be too far away.”

 

Jason isn’t actually being asked but rather commanded to stay out of the way. Suited up in his usual Robin costume, he gives his best mock salute. Bruce turns away, shooting his grappling gun into the warehouse rafters to pursue Dr. Crane from the rooftops. Jason rolls his eyes at the dramatics of it all. Crane may be scrappy, but he’s a twig and his supply of chemicals has just run out, so he’s hardly a challenge for a 250-pound kevlar-suited vigilante. Not that Jason cares too terribly, that guy gives him the creeps even without his signature fear gas and associated arsenal of terror. I mean seriously, who wanders around town regularly with a scythe? The city has its eccentricities, but even Gotham doesn’t have a ‘Scythe Lovers Club’ or anything equally as bizarre.

 

Sighing to himself, Jason begins to wander around the warehouse, checking the perimeter for any would-be wrongdoers. After a few worthless laps that failed to turn up a single stray Rogue, he decides it's time to begin working on his homework. No high school teacher is willing to give him a free pass for being a superhero's sidekick, which is pretty lame. 

 

Jason prides himself on his academic performance. Sure, Bruce’s money has helped gloss over the more troubled aspects of his past, but his grades? He earned those himself. He's book-smart and intelligent enough to make it in school. Not that any of these classist snobs are willing to believe him - or believe in him, for that matter. So what if he grew up in the slums of Gotham? So what if he came from a district with a reputation for kids dropping out in junior high? He had the highest GPA at his old school - even if it was severely underfunded and the teachers barely tried. 

 

Jason wants to learn everything he can possibly get his hands on; it’s all he ever really wanted, to be good enough to get out and help pull others up with him. Gotham Prep didn’t give him their time of day when he applied for a scholarship, claiming that his accomplishments were trivial in comparison to the others at their prestigious institution. It isn't his fault that his school had such a poor turn out. It isn’t like those kids didn’t try their best… it just didn’t happen to be the best. Having all A's should be impressive no matter how many other people do or don't have them as well. Too many kids have to leave school to take care of their families. People need to eat, and Jason certainly wasn’t going to blame them for doing what needed to be done; the system failed them but they certainly weren’t failures. 

 

Jason’s just lucky enough to have gotten out without a major criminal record himself. Sure, that's only thanks to Batman giving him a job after getting carjacked but it still counts! Then, as if life couldn't get any stranger, in swooped Bruce and his Wayne family inheritance, and behold the gates have opened. He didn't know at the time the two men were one and the same - a bummer, really, as having two dads would have been cool. 

 

Gotham Prep welcomed him with almost open arms at Bruce's insistence. Jason didn’t have the heart to tell Bruce that he would’ve rather the man lobbied for more funding for his old school, but rich people rarely understood those beneath them so even if he had, he doubted it would have ended well. So he just went along with Bruce's whims. Now here he is, wandering around an abandoned warehouse just outside the slums he was only recently plucked from, on a school night no less! 

 

He really should be practicing his soliloquy for English class right now. If there's one assignment no teacher can claim he cheated on, it's the one to do with the Bard. 

 

Jason rakes a hand through his hair and kicks up a storm of dust off the cement floor. What B-man doesn’t know won’t hurt him. He quickly pulls out a jumbled mess of papers he folded a dozen times over to fit into his utility belt. In these pages is the entirety of Puck’s final speech from Midsummer’s, and he gives it a precursory glance over. Just a few lines, he could totally do this in one night.

 

If Dick had stopped acting like his namesake and went to get his ribs checked earlier this week, perhaps Jason would’ve had the chance to study with Alfred, but no. Dick had to be babied before the broken ribs that he’d treated like simple bruises took him out of commision. Broken ribs are no joke! Seriously when will he and Bruce sit down like fucking adults and admit they’re two different people? Dick is the sunshine guy. He's not suited for this broody bullshit.  

 

Suited, heh. Jason snorts at his unintended pun. Speaking of puns and word plays… Jason turns his attention back to his task at hand. Rolling his shoulders to remove some of the tension there, he begins to recite:

 

  "If we shadows have offended,

Think but this, and all is mended--”

 

Offended by shadows are you? If you don't want kids kicking the crap out of you maybe don't fight Batman? Jason’s train of thought breaks off. Ugh, no - focus, Jason! You have to knock this out of the park. Can't have the teacher call Dad to the office for bs complaints.

 

Closing his eyes and taking a deep breath, Jason tries again: 

 

"If we shadows have offended,

Think but this, and all is mended, 

That you have but slumber'd here

While these visions did appear.

And this weak and idle theme,

No more yielding but a dream,"

 

Jason jolts as he hears a loud round of applause begins behind him. Turning slowly, he comes face to face with a positively elated Clayface. The large reddish-brown blob begins to shrink into the shape of Basil Karlo in his silver screen heyday. Continuing to clap as he draws ever closer, he speaks, "Bravo, son! Tremendous attempt, it's been ages since I last heard the Bard's words. What impressive delivery, too! Thank you for this, truly. Why, if I didn't catch you by surprise just now, I'd think you were trying to lure me out of hiding. I must know, did Scarecrow’s gas inspire this particular artistic choice?"

 

"Uh...thank you, I think? And no, my teacher randomly assigned everyone a piece to memorize and present. I suppose I just got lucky, a neat bit of irony, huh?"

 

"Indeed! What fun-"

 

"Say, why did you decide to work with Crane of all people? Seems like a strange partnership to me."

 

"Oh, the doctor needed a bit of muscle to assist in his endeavor, and I’m never one to pass up an opportunity to act. I missed my true calling after all. You know what, I think the fates have brought us together today for an altogether different purpose. If you agree to let me go, seeing as I technically didn't poison the water supply, then I would be more than happy to help you practice for your presentation tomorrow. What do you say, my burgeoning young thespian?"

 

"You're not going to pull a fast one on me mid-lesson are you?"

 

Throwing a hand to his chest in mock horror, Basil replies, "Absolutely not! The sheer audacity to think that I would squash a fresh talent testing their metaphorical wings. I've grown during my forced exile you know! I'm so terribly bored of the drivel I'm forced to associate with now, this will be a remarkably pleasant change of pace. Now you have my word: I shall teach you what I know, then flee, pursued by a bear."

 

Jason laughs. He loves that quote. Nodding his head in agreement, he begins to right his photocopied pages. Alfred bought him a beautiful hardback collection of Shakespeare's work for his birthday, a treasure he keeps locked away in his room at Wayne Manor. It's been a few months now, and he's still afraid to open the book, lest something damages the nicest gift he's ever received. Maybe this whole adventure is a sign he should embrace the finer things in life? A thought for another time, however; there's homework to do and a villain to appease.

 

He pretends to mull the offer over,  then nods in agreement. "Deal."

 

"Splendid! Let's begin. It's clear that you've practiced the beginning a handful of times; it's still a bit rough, but I find the slight uneasiness of your delivery refreshing. I say we move forward with the piece. Perhaps you can appear to grow more confident in what you're telling the audience as you continue, as if you're trying to convince yourself just as much as them."

 

"Ummm… Ok, I can do that."

 

"Excellent. Please pick up after 'dream' then."

 

"Sounds like a plan." Jason offers a mock bow and readies himself to recite once more. When the nerves in his stomach begin to subside, he speaks:

 

"Gentles, do not reprehend

If you pardon, we will mend".

 

Clasping his hands beseechingly, he continues at Basil's enthusiastic nod,

 

"And, as I am an honest Puck,

If we have unearned luck

Now to 'scape the serpent's tongue,

We will make amends ere long;

Else the Puck a liar call"

 

Jason gives an exaggerated wink, which Basil follows with rapid applause. It's odd how words written so long ago can flow off his tongue as if he wrote them himself. And there's a comfort here, too, that something that once belonged to the masses is now also beloved by the elites of the world. Perhaps with time the same could happen to Jason.

 

"Excellent instincts lad, now for the big finale!"

 

That level of enthusiasm is contagious, Jason can't help but smile in response. With an eager audience to entertain, he concludes with great mirth:

 

"So, good night unto you all.

Give me your hands, if we be friends,

And Robin shall restore amends."

 

"Yes, yes, yes ! Wonderful show! That little riff at the end truly makes the piece your own. Perhaps one day you'll trade this stage and costume for another far grander in scope?"

 

Jason's cheeks flush at this final bout of praise. He scratches his neck in embarrassment. A life outside of Robin? A future in Gotham free of crime? Now that's a real fantasy, a one in a million chance … And not the kind of luck he's accustomed to. 

 

As if sensing his encouragement may have gone a step too far, Basil bows and backs into the shadows. Jason turns away. He won’t technically be lying to Bruce if he says that he doesn't know where Clayface went. Jumping a few times in place to psyche himself up, Jason begins to practice again. He can do this, he just needed a little nudge. 

 

2) Selina Kyle and the Street Kid: Thievery 101

Jason hates galas. He hates attending them, he hates hearing about them, he hates everyone at the galas - there’s nothing good about them. (One of the reasons he hates them maybe because of how out of place he feels, that one of the gala attendees will take one look at him and convince Bruce that Jason doesn’t belong here). 

 

Even Dick - who has gradually proven contrary to his namesake and turned out to be like an actual decent person - fits into the crowd of rich people with the same ease as Bruce. He flits around the room, holding a non-alcoholic drink with an air of nonchalance, laughing with the socialites and generally looking like he belongs there. Jason hates him just a little bit for being able to blend in so perfectly with them when Jason will never be able to do the same himself. These socialites, these rich people, they will always see him as what he is: a street rat. 

 

He scowls at the room at large, checking the time on his phone. 10:30pm. Fuck, he thinks to himself, ninety more minutes. Then the gala will be over, and he can go up to his room and not speak to anyone and have no one speak to him in that high-pitched, saccharine voice, thinking he’s just so cute for trying as hard as he does in school. 

 

“Get that scowl off your face, kid, or it’ll stay that way.” 

 

Jason jumps at the voice that’s piped up behind him. He spins around, preparing to flee, but immediately relaxes when he recognizes the smirking face of one Selina Kyle.

 

She looks beautiful, the way she normally does in her civilian get-up. Tonight, she’s wearing a long, black dress, with a beautiful gold necklace and earrings to match. Her makeup is done to perfection and she, like Dick, blends in perfectly with the high-class crowd. She’s smiling at Jason, but it feels friendly, not like how all the other people have been treating him all night. It’s less of an Aren’t you just the cutest and more of a Hey, I’m here with you. Jason is not sure if he’s comforted by her presence, but the sight of her loosens the tight and hot feeling in his chest just a bit. 

 

She’s still smiling at him when she reaches a hand out as if to ruffle his hair. Jason snaps his hand up immediately to stop her, irritated scowl back in place. At this, Selina’s smile only grows wider. 

 

“It looks like you’re enjoying yourself,” Selina teases, her voice warm and almost comforting. Jason softens his stance slightly, but not by much. He doesn’t mind Selina - though he doesn’t really know her as Selina, he really only knows her as Catwoman. They’ve crossed paths occasionally during patrol, and she has always treated him the way she does now - ruffling his hair, teasing gently. Almost like… she’s his aunt or something. 

 

(Jason, of course, has never had an aunt, but he thinks Selina treats him the way normal aunts would, or how Jason imagines they would, anyway.) 

 

“Totally,” Jason answers, his voice wry and sarcastic, “I love being in a room full of people who believe I should just be mopping the floors.” 

 

Selina snorts and turns to look at said room full of people. Jason follows her gaze.



“You know,” she says thoughtfully, “I don’t fit in here all that well either. I may physically look the part, but that’s all it is. I grew up in the shit part of Gotham, just like you.” 

 

Jason glances up at her, almost ashamed at how quickly the tightness in his chest starts to loosen at her words. She’s like me, he thinks to himself and it’s hard to stop himself from feeling relieved.

Because I’m actually from, you know, the bad part of Gotham, I’m actually quite excellent with the five-finger discount, as I’m sure you know from my nighttime hobby.” She winks at Jason. Then, she gets this look in her eye that’s more Catwoman than Selina Kyle. “Say, why don’t we borrow some stuff from Bruce, make the night a little more interesting, hm?” 

 

Jason gives her a surprised look. Stealing? At the gala? In Bruce’s house?

“Won’t Bruce be mad?” He blurts out before he can stop himself and then immediately scowls. He doesn’t need to come off like a kid who needs Bruce’s approval. He trusts Selina, he doesn’t need Bruce’s permission to do anything. 

 

Selina, though, does nothing but chuckle softly. “Relax, we’ll take it and return it tonight. Find someone with an item that can be easily stolen - a necklace, a bracelet, their purse - steal it without them noticing and return it without them noticing. You’re a Crime Alley kid. I believe in you.” 

 

Jason feels his face flush at the implicit praise, unable to stop the smile stretching across his lips.

“Okay,” he says, looking around the gala, eyes wide and assessing, like he’s on patrol with Bruce. He’s cataloging threats as Bruce taught him without much of a second thought. Then, he’s zeroing in on his target: Miss Daphnel . A relatively new socialite on the scene of Gotham, she’s been desperate to marry into a rich family - specifically the Wayne’s. Unfortunately, Bruce is too old for her, so she’s been trying her luck with Dick, despite the seven-year age gap between them. Clearly, she doesn’t mind being labeled a cougar.

“What about her?” He says to Selina, giving an imperceptible nod in Miss Daphnel’s direction. Selina follows his gaze and smiles slowly once she sees the woman. Tonight, Miss Daphnel is almost perfectly accessorized - except for her bracelet, which is large and gaudy, barely staying on her wrist.

“Go for it, Jay-lad.” She says, smirking, and Jason smiles at the use of Bruce’s nickname for him in her voice. It’s... familial and makes him feel warm. He gives a nod and walks towards her, weaving his way in between people as he makes his way over to her. 

 

With all the ease that only a seasoned thief (or Crime Alley resident) can have, he bumps into the woman, apologizing as he slips the bracelet into his other hand. She accepts his apology, calls him cute, before returning to the conversation she is having with another socialite. Jason makes his way back to Selina, the bracelet sitting in his pocket. Selina grins and ruffles his hair as he comes close.

“Nice job, kid,” she says, taking the bracelet gently out of his hands. She studies it for a moment before handing it back to him.

“This is fake gold, you know?” She says. Jason blinks, shaking his head.

“I don’t know anything about jewelry,” he admits and Selina squeezes his shoulder.

“I’ll teach you,” she promises. “With this one, you can tell because it isn’t shiny. It’s no surprise she’s wearing it, these people rarely wear their best jewelry to galas.” 

 

Jason nods seriously, but his curiosity gets the better of him. “Why don’t they wear the good stuff?” 

 

A dangerous smile forms on her face.  “Because of people like me,” she says, winking. “They’re terrified the mighty Catwoman might steal their jewelry so they bring their second-best in hopes of tricking her. Unfortunately for them, I’m way smarter than that.” 

 

Jason laughs a little at that, shaking his head. “Still seems dumb,” he says. “Why buy the expensive stuff if you’re not going to use it?”

 

Selina shrugs, blowing out a breath. “That’s rich people for you,” she says and Jason wrinkles his nose. They both go quiet for a moment. Before Jason can ask more about the intricacies of rich people etiquette, a hand touches his shoulder.

“Selina.”

 

A baritone voice pipes up - and yeah, that’s Bruce Wayne behind them. Selina’s whole demeanor changes and she smiles slyly at him.

“Bruce,” she says, batting her eyelashes coyly, and Jason rolls his eyes. Bruce chuckles behind him and squeezes Jason’s shoulder. It’s then when Jason realizes Selina has somehow slipped the bracelet back within her grasp and placed it on her own wrist.

“Have you stolen anything tonight?” Bruce says, voice bemused, but with a hint of suspicion underneath. Selina laughs.

“It’s great to see you too, Bruce. And no, I haven’t. That’s not all I do at these parties, you know,” she says with a put-upon moue. “But I’m afraid I have to take my leave now. ‘Til next time.” Speaking, she kisses Bruce’s cheek and ruffles Jason’s hair.

“See you later, Jason,” Selina says, winking and turning to leave, somehow disappearing into the crowd within a matter of minutes. Bruce watches, still standing behind Jason. Jason turns around to glance at Bruce.

 

“Did she make you steal something?” Bruce asks. Jason tenses reflexively and then immediately feigns nonchalance.

“No, but she did keep me entertained for the gala. It’s boring and I hate it,” he says, petulance seeping into his voice. Bruce smiles at him - not one of his Brucie smiles, but a real authentic smile - and ruffles his hair.

“I’m sorry, chum,” he says, “but I’m glad she made it a little bit more fun for you. You can stick by my side for the rest of the night if you want.” 

 

Jason’s eyes widen and he gives a slow nod, fitting himself against Bruce’s side. Jason isn’t - he isn’t a baby, but it’s nice to be comforted by Bruce. 

 

The rest of the gala is somehow more manageable with Bruce’s presence and Selina’s words of I believe in you warm in his chest, the sense of belonging lingering in his mind even hours after the gala is finished and he is lying in bed. 

 

3) Talia Reanimates One Kid and Loses Another

It was through Talia al Ghul that Red Hood learned the Joker was still alive. It was cruel, the way she gifted him a second chance at life only to emotionally sucker punch him with that knowledge, but cruelty is something he had come to know intimately while under her care. It's been two years or so by his count: two long years training deep in the desert not to maim but kill - and still the sound of laughter sends a chill straight to his core. 

 

If he was slightly more paranoid, Red Hood would claim that Talia actively encourages her assassins to gather nearby and laugh loudly at regular intervals to trigger an emotional outburst. Whether it's to keep him on a short leash or just Talia's fucked up idea of exposure therapy, he can't say. He's still sussing out where he's at, mentally and psychologically. He'd died at the hands of a madman with green hair, and then woken up in a green pit, revived with the small side effect of maddening violent outbursts. It seems life and death ends and begins with the color green; it's all he sees now, whenever he closes his eyes.

 

Death before dishonor; no shame can befall the League . Talia drilled the core tenet of their faith into his head from the moment he awoke in the land of the living again. A Kris blade was pressed into his hands, slicing his skin, casting drops of red onto the ground as he was sworn into the League of Assassins - a sign of his commitment to the cause. He may have attempted to negotiate that deal a bit, but reanimation really takes a lot out of a guy. 

 

Cue harsh training with proper weapons - none of the blunt tools the Bat would have him use. His body gained a new coat of scars and bruises as he relearned how to fight. Nothing was ever good enough for his new teachers and they were quick to punish him for his incorrect form, unused to the new fighting style as he was. Long gone were the days where training would end with hugs and cocoa; as of late he was just lucky to escape the ring without acquiring broken bones... or more of them, anyway.  

 

Then, on the first anniversary of his new life, he made his first kill. Thus the Red Hood was born. Talia herself presented him with a stunning red mask to reward his clean kill. There are nights he can still remember that smile, and the hand clapping his back as he drove his blade home. There are no friendships in the League, only the path set out by Ra's al Ghul, the one true ruler of the clan. That was the second rule Talia taught him. That boy, who died at the end of his blade was his friend, or the closest thing to a friend Red Hood had within the League.

 

Red Hood has never had much luck with friendships anyway, he shouldn't have expected anything different this go around. His fellow trainee-turned-corpse shouldn't have been surprised either. He should have parried and gone on the offensive. Talia told Red Hood as much, rubbing a soothing hand across his shaking back; the first and only comfort he had received since he died. She cared in her own way, but favoritism wasn't allowed; and any wiggle room she could squeeze out of her father's teachings thus far went towards her beloved son. But in that moment, she had been proud of Red Hood - she saw potential in him. 

 

Jason Todd couldn't remember the last time someone had told him that, and so he had, as Red Hood, accepted his new blood-stained purpose. Not that Red Hood doesn’t wholeheartedly believe in the cause himself. There are some crimes that just can't be forgiven, some problems that can't be fixed, and some people just don't deserve to live. He would be the hand to tear them from this world and bring about a better dawn. 

 

At least, that was the plan, until he overheard a conversation not meant for his ears. To think mere hours ago, while wandering the League’s training grounds on another post-nightmare sabbatical, he came across a closed-door meeting on the topic of the kid, Damian Wayne. His younger self might have even called the meeting dastardly. It was decided that the prodigy, the alleged spawn of Bruce Wayne, wouldn’t be himself for much longer. The collective League had come to the decision that Ra's al Ghul required a younger, more agile body to inhabit, ideally one unknown by the masses. Seeing as Damian is his own flesh and blood, he's the perfect body to claim. 

 

Talia seemed to play her part and agreed to the whole affair, though Red Hood could have sworn she saw him hiding on the rooftop. The slightest furrow of her brows gave her away as her eyes glanced out a window. She said nothing of the intrusion on elite League affairs, a surprise really, as anyone else would have announced his presence and ordered a swift execution for his insubordination. However, seeing as she allowed the meeting to continue, he decided to take Damian on a little sabbatical of his own. Talia would do anything for her son, even if it meant disobeying her father's orders and possibly becoming an enemy of the League, her own people. Perhaps Red Hood being the one to steal the boy away would divert the attention and lessen her punishment in the wrath to come. A life for a life - he owed her this much.

 

He planned to offer the Bat one last chance to correct his mistake in allowing the Joker to live, a few years down the line when he's hashed out all the clinks in his plan. It’s unfortunate recent developments have pushed his timeline forward so significantly and added new complications to the mix. Or one major complication anyway. No part of him is ready to forgive the Bat for allowing that clown to live after the untimely demise of his old sidekick. Perhaps he isn't fully ready to return to Gotham, yet that's what must be.

 

Something needed to be done, and if Red Hood had to be the adult then so be it! The clown would die, and much sooner than initially anticipated. There would be no time to waste, lest the Bat get in his way before the final moment. But the time for that planning would have to wait until he lands in Gotham and everything becomes real again. The dream, or perhaps nightmare, of returning to Gotham to enact vengeance and seek out justice seemed so far away, but now it's on the horizon. Too many things happened in the last few hours to focus on any finite planning beyond keeping Damian safe, unfortunate but one adapts. Red Hood is good at adapting.

 

Red Hood set off. He's gathered enough information to know sticking around any longer would promise ruin for both himself and the child. The guards on rotation would have to be dealt with and quickly, lest they sound the alarm. The speed and elegance with which he disposed of those unfortunate enough to cross his path would finally make his new teachers' proud. All those who stood between himself and Damian’s private rooms fell under his blade. 

 

--- 

 

Six counts of aggravated assault. Three counts of second degree murder. One count of kidnapping. Not bad for a Tuesday. The week has barely begun and already it's been productive. It certainly isn't the week he planned to have, but keeping kids safe should always be a priority, if not the priority. If a couple of people had to get hurt on the way to ensure Damian Wayne got to experience even an ounce of a normal childhood, then it's certainly worth it.

 

Hopefully the kid would thank him when all is said and done. No one should grow up among the League of Assassins. If you're going to kill people for a living, you should get to choose that as an adult, not endure years of intense grooming for it as a child. Red Hood’s has had a go at life on both sides of the fences, and he’s made his choice for himself - as much of a choice as he could have made with the hand he’s been dealt.

 

When Jason first arrived at the League’s quarters, he was deliberately kept apart from Damian. And whenever Talia did allow them to spend time together, it was usually under the premise of training. But once the kid learned of Red Hood’s past life, he couldn't stop prying with questions about Gotham and Bruce. To this day, how he uncovered this is a mystery in and of itself. 

 

Red Hood couldn't fault his curiosity - after all, a whole section of his life has been kept under wraps, clearly intentionally, and the kid couldn't get enough of whatever scraps he got his hands on. Talia never lied about what activities her ex chose to partake in during the night hours, inspiring a fantastical daydream for Damian that he, the Bat's own flesh and blood, would one day swoop in to the Batcave and take up his rightful place as the heir apparent. 

 

He is clearly mistaken if he thinks Dick or Red Hood himself would fight Damian for his ill begotten throne, but the kid needs a cause to fight for and Red Hood wouldn't deny him. When asked for stories, Jason might have made up some bullshit about Bruce’s love for him - which clearly never existed - but the rage it fueled in Damian, and his subsequent want to escape to the world beyond, is worth it. 

 

Time for Damian to collect on all those daydreams. Red Hood quickly scanned his surroundings for any prying eyes he may have missed before venturing inside the kid's room. Damian is well-trained and picked up on the sound of his door opening immediately. He flung himself out of bed, grinning when he spotted Red Hood fully dressed with a bag slung over his shoulder. Fuck, he even smiles like Bruce.  

 

The kid's clever and knew without words that now is his time to flee to Gotham's crime-ridden shores. Wordlessly, he dug under his bed to retrieve his go-bag. It's cute really, how he already has a bag packed, as if he was going to run away by himself any day now. 

 

Two, maybe three, minutes pass before the pair are out of the room and headed towards the al Ghul private airport located on the grounds. One of the pilots glanced at the pair, and it took only a threat from Red Hood and the promise that they're heading out on Talia's orders for the pilot to scramble to the cockpit. No one wants to upset any of the elite members of the League, especially if they intend to keep on living. A command for radio silence until they near Gotham is also obeyed - which Red Hood justifies with the faux concern that someone would try to snatch the Demon Prince from the League. Of course, it also ensures that no one could call and report that Red Hood himself had done just that.

 

A swift paralyzing nerve strike and a pinch of sedative to Damian’s neck kept him quiet. Red Hood did not want to handle the kid’s usual questioning tirade during the quiet trip. He didn't want to risk accidentally giving his plan away mid-flight; the absolute last thing he wanted is a fight while airborne. He’s already had enough of that as a teenaged sidekick! Deciding to get some rest himself, Red Hood found a comfortable position and readied himself to keep watch on the flight to come. Keeping watch didn't have to mean standing for hours pacing or hunched in a corner after all.

 

___

 

Rich people always have the nicest toys . The flight took significantly less time than what the general populace is used to. This plane is a marvel, ensuring a quick in-and-out to see that the assassin aboard accomplishes their task and returns to the fold before anyone is aware of what had transpired. Red Hood stretches as the pilot mentions over the intercom that they'll be landing soon. He went to awaken the kid, only to find him already conscious.

 

Damian stares out the window at the city below in awe now that his dream is finally nearing fruition. However, the red marks left behind on his palms from hands clenched too tightly gave away his nervous energy. Sighing loudly to drag the kid out of his own thoughts, Red Hood reaches for the Kris blade he had previously strapped to his thigh. When Damian turns towards him, he held out the handle to him as an offering of sorts.

 

"Here, take it. Your mom gave this to me when I started a new chapter in my life; it's only fair I pass it along for the same reason."

 

Damian scoffs, " Don't be absurd ! That blade is a mark of honor amongst the League, it indicates that you are a member. I cannot possibly take it."

 

"Oh knock off the angry old man routine kid, sheesh. It isn't that serious, promise. Seeing as we're both here and not with the rest of the group, I think it's ok. I'm not gonna tell anyone, and you look like you could use a reminder of home right now."

 

"I'm not a child that needs to be coddled!"

 

" Well.. . you are a kid and I'm gonna coddle you anyway, so here."

 

Red Hood began to wave the blade in front of Damian’s face. It's only when the plane begins to make its bumpy descent, and the weapon comes a bit too close for comfort, that Damian finally takes it. A quick nod is the only acknowledgment of the exchange. Neither of them are very good with feeling words, and to them this is sufficient. 

 

Red Hood yells towards the front of the plane, "Hey can you ask for some kind of transport for when we get off? I'm not about to wander the streets with the heir apparent here."

 

The pilot's staticky reply comes from overhead, "On such short notice the only ready vehicle is a motorcycle. Hopefully that will meet your needs. There's only one helmet however, so I'm sure you know who it belongs to."

 

Red Hood rolls his eyes. " Obviously ".

 

Damian huffs in reply. They haven't spent quite enough time together for Red Hood to determine if it's a laugh or a sound of outrage at being treated like a child. The plane makes a very bumpy landing on Gotham proper, and if Damian quickly grasps onto Red Hood’s hand during the final few moments before the plane comes to a stop, neither have any intentions of bringing it up. Hands separate as soon as the plane ceases to move, and whatever that moment of familial comfort had been, ends with it.

 

The pilot hadn't been lying about the lack of time to prepare for their arrival; a single motorcycle sans sidecar is all that awaits them. Red Hood sighs and begins to finagle both of their bags around his back before hopping on the bike. This is gonna suck . Patting the space in front of him, he slid backwards to allow Damian to sit in front of him. It isn't ideal, but with their bulky luggage it would have to do. A little light grumbling on the kid's part, and they were off. 

 

It's as if Red Hood never left the streets, all the routes and landmarks are still easily recognizable for him. He smiles. It's good to be home, even if he isn't entirely sure the city is his home anymore. Zigzagging through the districts and over the bridges is a breeze, he barely has to think about where they're going in order to reach Wayne Manor. All those years on the streets and running along rooftops really help with navigating Gotham.

 

As they near the hill that would take them to the Manor, a sinking feeling hit Red Hood in the stomach. He's here, he's really here again. It's unlikely there would ever be a right time to return, but still the dread of what's to come begins a vicious onslaught throughout his insides. Not now, nerves

 

Red Hood is brought out of what’s sure to be a terrible, negative feedback loop when Damian breathes out a quiet little exclamation, "I'm finally here!" He sounds awestruck. He probably didn’t mean to utter that out loud, and Red Hood chuckles. 

 

This is for the kid; living with Wayne can't be worse than what would’ve happened had he stayed with the League . Red Hood twists his wrist, the bike moves ever upward in their ascent towards Wayne Manor. At the gate, he chuckles as he punches in the old security code half in jest, laughing aloud when it actually works.

 

"Well, I'll be damned. Security really hasn't changed around here."

 

"That's the first thing I'll suggest to change, can't have the riff-raff wandering in whenever they feel like it."

 

"I don't have to take you the rest of the way, you can walk."

 

"Just because I can scale a fence doesn't mean I should. What a terrible first impression that would make, I can't be covered in filth when I first greet my father. Now drive, Todd."

 

Todd. The name of the boy who had died - the boy he had been, before Red Hood had been born. He blinks rapidly in surprise. Beyond the question from their first meeting, 'Are you Jason Todd?' he hasn't been called by that name since. It's odd, like an ill-fitting sweater. Even Talia refrains from using his given name. Whether that's to keep him safe or to conceal the fact that she had begun to form a personal attachment to another person, Red Hood never bothered to ask. Some things are better left unsaid, some names better left unuttered. 

 

But children, even those forced to grow up early, are at heart the people most willing to say what's on their mind. Just how long has this child viewed him as the person he was, rather than the killer he is? How many people still remember the boy, not the martyr the media made him out to be? Those articles stung. Talia could've kept those to herself , he realises.

 

He nips that thought in the bud. Of all the times to consider his past and his personhood... Now is not the time. At least he didn't use my first name again, I don't know if I could handle that right now. Shaking his head to rid it of any other nasty thoughts or memories he doesn't have time for, Red Hood continues their journey and snarks back, "Yeah, yeah, cool it kid. I've taken you this far."

 

"Mother would be disappointed if you failed her mission, you know."

 

"Sure... Let's go with that." Red Hood scratches the side of his face. He’ll cross that bridge when he comes to it.

 

The Manor is before them now. This really is a thing that's happening. It's definitely a mistake, but seeing as most of his life thus far has been a mistake, Red Hood shrugs and hops off the bike. It’s now or never. He begins to remove their bags as Damian readjusts to walking; the kid has clearly never ridden a motorcycle before. Throwing the pack at Damian, Red Hood drops his own near the bike, as he has no intention of staying here any longer than he absolutely has to. Hopefully whatever agent in Gotham loaned their bike isn't expecting it back.

 

As the pair walk towards the front entrance, Damian asks, "Should we knock? Or is a more elaborate entrance better for a first meeting of such importance?"

 

Rather than waiting for the kid to decide, Red Hood grabs his pistol from his hip holster and shoots the locks on the front door in lieu of the usual knocking. As the door swings open, he calls out with a facetious " Daddy, I'm home !" 

 

Heavy footsteps run towards the entrance of the manor. An older gentleman enters the foyer carrying a tea tray, gasping loudly when he spots the intruding pair. At the sound of metal crashing onto the floor, Red Hood flips off his hood, revealing his face. 

 

“Jason!” The man, Alfred Pennyworth, exclaims. Following up with a rapid onslaught of questions, “How is this possible? When did this happen? How did you get here?” All those years with MI6 and later with the Bat have kept his interrogations in tip top shape, as he used to say.

 

Red Hood clears his throat awkwardly. This isn’t quite the welcome he had hoped for, but hope is for children. Expecting open arms to welcome him home is a truly laughable thought. Scratching his head, he attempts to reply, “Talia al Ghul and a Lazarus Pit kept me alive. I’ve been living with the League of Assassins. A plane was needed, obviously I wasn’t about to swim. I think that’s all?”

 

“Prove it.”

 

“What?”

 

“Prove you’re who you appear to be, this is Gotham after all. Anything, good or bad, can happen here. Seeing isn’t always believing.”

 

“For my fourteenth birthday you bought me a Shakespeare folio. It’s still the nicest gift…. well after being reborn anyway… that I’ve ever gotten. When Bruce was acting less like a Father and more like a boss, you’d smack him upside the head with a newspaper and offer me cocoa. You never wanted me to be anyone but myself, not Dick not Bruce, not anyone. Good enough?”

 

A pair of thin arms encircle his chest. Alfred . He truly missed the old man. Almost subconsciously, his arms rise to return the embrace. 

 

Alfred speaks after what feels like an eternity. "I can't believe you're here with me, after the accident I thought you'd been taken from us permanently. Jason Todd, my boy , oh how I've - no, we've missed you!" 

 

Alfred clears his throat as a bout of sniffles attempt to overtake him. Collecting himself, he continues: "Words cannot express my joy that you've returned, and of your own accord at that. To think that I would never see your smiling face deep in a good book again, or to see you grow up as the man before me…" Alfred takes a long breath to steady himself, "Well let's not dwell on such unpleasantness alright. We're all together again, that's what matters! Master Bruce is out right now, but he'll be elated to see you again." 

 

Fuck, of course he isn't here. What a waste of a perfectly good dramatic entrance. A wet splotch is beginning to form on his shoulder where Alfred’s tears fall. The loud clearing of a throat beside him brings Jason back to the present. Alfred’s arms loosen, allowing him to step backwards, and with an exaggerated bow Todd Red Hood presented Damian Wayne, the Blood Son.

 

"Yeah there’s something else you should know, Alfred. This is Damian Wayne, Bruce’s biological son. A gift courtesy of Talia al Ghul."

 

"Talia! My word, this is rather unexpected…"

 

 Too many things need to be relayed before the Bat comes back. Rather than allowing Alfred to fully process the news, he continues with another bombshell, "Careful, she's going to be on the warpath now that I've stolen her son from his secret sacrificial ceremony... which has something to do with keeping her dad young and hip? I don’t know the specifics, didn't want to stick around too long and miss the window to escape.” 

 

" Mother doesn't know I'm here?!" At Damian’s shriek, Todd spins quickly on his heel and leaves the Manor, hopefully for the last time. 

 

It’s like a weight has been lifted. He finally has permission to be a person again. How odd? If Alfred thinks he's Jason Todd, perhaps somewhere deep down he still is. The old man has never been wrong before. It'll be a long time before that name will feel like his again - if it ever will - but maybe a surname could stay. His specifically. He certainly can't walk around during the day going by Red Hood alone. The name 'Todd' still feels like an itchy sweater - but more like a gift from Alfred this time, and he's never been one to turn down a gift.

 

Turning back one last time, Todd calls out, “You have fun now, I'm off to murder a clown!"

 

He has no doubt that Alfred will find a way to notify the Bat of that development in-between interrogating and consoling the newest member of the Bat Family. The odds of successfully killing the Joker today are slim, but it's the thought that counts. Besides, he's already crossed a few things off his to-do list today. Not bad for a Tuesday. 

 

4) Killer Croc and Roy Harper Red Hood He Matters

Jason hates Gotham. He’s always hated Gotham (even though he literally grew up here), but he hates it more especially after he died. It reminds him too much of broken promises and broken families, and always leaves a feeling of awfulness in his gut.

Roy, however, does not have the same qualms about Gotham. He thinks it’s crime-ridden and gross - which are both true - but weirdly, he doesn’t mind it. For the longest time, it had puzzled Jason. What fondness could Roy hold for Gotham? 

 

And then he learned the reason.

Waylon Jones - better known as Killer Croc - had been Roy’s sponsor for his Alcoholics Anonymous meetings at some point.

Waylon Jones. Killer Croc.

 

When Jason originally asked Roy about it - “ Why on Earth is Killer Croc your sponsor?!” - Roy had explained that, at some point, he had run into Waylon and basically asked him to kill him. To Roy’s surprise, Waylon refused and asked him what was wrong, and the rest, according to Roy, was history.

Which is why they are here now in Gotham. A city Jason had sworn he would never return to after what was essentially a disowning from the Bats. These days, he is content to travel the world with Roy and hang out with the Outlaws.

 

“I think this is stupid,” Jason says to Roy as they navigate the underground sewers of Gotham.

Roy grins and laughs. “Your opinion is noted,” he says, “but ignored! Once you properly meet Waylon, trust me, you’ll love him!”

Jason shoots him a dark look. “You know when I was fourteen Waylon tried to eat me? B and I were like hey, stop eating people, and then he tried to eat me. I don’t think that’s really a great way to start a working relationship.”

“Yeah, but weren’t you trying to capture him? I think he was just defending himself,” Roy offers, a note of amusement still in his tone. Jason just sighs angrily. It’s not worth arguing about whether or not Waylon Jones - man-eating crocodile -  is a decent person. It’s a weird argument to be having, anyway.

“I hate you,” Jason says flatly, “I just need you to know that.” 

 

Roy only laughs again. "That's not what you said last night," he teases as he swings an arm around Jason. Roy’s embrace is warm and Jason savors it in spite of his exasperation. They're getting closer to Croc’s hideout, and soon they’ll have to separate and get down to business. 

 

Jason recognises the spot when they come upon Croc's lair - a place he knows from his youth. He doesn’t... freeze, exactly, but every muscle in his body goes taut. He’s ready to either flee or attack, if necessary. He and Roy jump over something large and squishy in the murky water  (Jason does not want to know what’s in the sewer water) and suddenly, they’re here.

The mood shifts abruptly and it seems like shadows appear out of thin air. Jason, of course, knows this to be false. After years of training under Batman and his own brush with death, it’s easy to tell apart a simple trick of the light from real supernatural occurrences - but still, Jason tenses up.

“Hey Waylon!” Roy pipes up in a cheery voice. 


“Harper,” a voice rumbles from the shadows, “who’s that with you?”

“It’s just Red Hood! My, uh-” Roy pauses as he searches for a word that would describe their relationship without giving away too much to someone Jason doesn't yet trust. "He's my teammate!"

Jason turns to the shadows, body tense, as Waylon’s form slithers out. He’s as big as Jason remembers, eyes big and wide, teeth large and sharp. Jason’s a little bit fearful, if he’s honest. But he pushes that feeling down. He’s the Red Hood; he’s not scared of anything.

“I don’t remember allowing you to bring a guest,” Waylon’s voice rumbles. Beady eyes stare at Jason’s. It would be creepier if Jason weren’t wearing a helmet but well. He is wearing one.

Roy laughs, completely unperturbed. “I said I was bringing a friend, Waylon. It’s not my fault that you forgot and don’t know what friends are.” Waylon growls and Roy’s still acting like everything is handy dandy. God, does Jason want to throttle him sometimes.

 

“Look,” Roy says, still smiling, “chill out. The Red Hood is cool, he doesn’t care about what you’re doing in the sewers, right?” He turns to Jason at the last part, eyes hardening into a glare beneath his mask. Fine, Jason will roll with it for now.

“Yeah,” he agrees, “I literally don’t give a shit, Waylon.” He tries to keep his body loose as Waylon’s gaze lingers on him, eyes wide and assessing. After a moment, Waylon must find whatever he’s looking for and his body posture relaxes.

Waylon turns to Roy. “What do you need from me, Harper?”

Roy brightens, which seems almost impossible considering how sunshine-y he already is normally. “Notes on a case,” he says, leaning up against the wall, “have you heard about this new drug going around?”

 

Waylon sneers, the upper jaw of the crocodile curling up slightly, which is something Jason wasn't even aware crocodiles could do. He watches Waylon's reaction carefully regardless.

 

"Why do you care?" Waylon asks after a beat. He tosses a glance at Jason. "Ain’t your buddy here a drug dealer?"

 

Jason rolls his eyes. God, does no one understand the distinction between crime bosses anymore? 

 

"No," he answers, trying not to let annoyance cloud his tone, "I oversaw some drug dealers for a little while, but I was never actually a drug dealer. Also, when I was in charge I made sure they didn't sell to kids. Unfortunately, this guy wasn’t one of mine. He's selling to kids - which I believe you also care about, Waylon." 

 

Waylon simply stares at him, assessing him. Jason doesn't feel comforted by his gaze at all. He watches as Waylon's eyes narrow and then slowly widen. Jason sighs inwardly and resigns himself to his fate. 

 

"You used to run around with the Bats, didn't you?" Waylon says, pointing with one of his weird crocodile fingers, and Jason is ashamed to admit he actually finds it frightening. 

 

"Yeah, he did," Roy says and Jason shoots him a glare. Jason forgets momentarily that he's wearing a helmet and obviously Roy can't see him. The helmet is good for a lot of things, Jason thinks, but glaring at his boyfriend when he runs his mouth is not one of them.

 

Waylon is beginning to look more aggressive, his beady eyes narrowing, and Jason's hand itches to grab his gun. 

 

"But don’t worry!" Roy continues, "He's not hanging around them anymore. Because of the whole former crime boss thing - and, oh, yeah, murder too! Bats don't condone killing but the Red Hood does when it’s necessary. I promise he's cool." 

 

Jason stares as Roy rambles and backpedals. God, this is the last time he’s going into a situation without going over at least eight different scenarios. He does love Roy but God, his tendency to wing it with impromptu quips is going to get them eaten by the crocodile.

 

Except, Waylon's posture immediately shifts, as does his whole aura. His demeanour, which has been downright aggressive, also transforms into something welcoming and warm. 

 

It's weird. Jason doesn't know how to take it.

 

"Hm," Waylon begins, "kicked out of your family too, huh? Just like Roy." Jason shifts uncomfortably at the words. 

 

"Hey, I didn't get kicked out.” Anger colours his tone slightly. “They're not my family. They made that pretty fucking clear." 

 

Jason doesn't really register it, but he hears Roy sigh behind him and say something along the lines of, "Oh, here we go."

 

Waylon looks weirdly sympathetic and almost kind after Jason says those words. 

 

"You sound like Roy," Waylon rumbles and pats the spot next to him with his tail - which appears to be the cleanest spot compared to the sewage waste around them. That’s not saying much, really, but Jason understands the meaning in the gesture. "Come here. I helped Roy when he was kicked out, I'll assist you as well."  Jason whips his head around at Roy, who simply shrugs and gives him a wry smile. A sad pang runs through Jason - he’s forgotten about Roy and Ollie’s relationship. 

 

"It's true," Roy says, "Waylon did help me when I was feeling down. Since you refuse to go to therapy, maybe talking to the man-eating crocodile will help you." Roy says with a hint of a shit-eating grin. Jason flips him off. 

 

"Hood," Waylon starts to say again but Jason cuts him off.

 

"I am a perfectly functioning member of society. I don't need therapy, I don't have family issues, I don't have parental issues, I'm just a vigilante who occasionally shoots people. I don't need fucking Batman to tell me that he's proud of me or that I did a good job. I'm a grown-ass adult." He's breathing hard by the time he finishes and, whoops, he may have said too much. And... his eyes are tearing up? Jason genuinely can't recall the last time he cried, but he recognizes the feeling in his throat. 

 

Nope. Not today. This is not the mood.

 

His brain doesn't seem to be on the same page as the rest of him, though, and he swallows hard, fighting the urge to cry. This is an intel-gathering mission, not a therapy session, he furiously reminds himself. This is not the time to do something stupid like this. Venting about his personal life, and crying about Batman and his complicated relationship with the man, no less. 

 

"Hood," Waylon starts again and his expression looks softer, which is weird, but Jason feels oddly comforted by it. "Come here." 

 

Jason hesitates - talking about his feelings with a man-eating crocodile is a new low, right? Roy, however, gives his shoulder a light shove, pushing him forward.

 

"It'll be good for you," Roy says, his grin softening in sympathy, "promise." 

 

Jason stares at him, but Roy seems to truly mean it. After a beat, Jason sighs and walks over to Waylon. 

 

He’s actually not that far away from where Waylon is standing, but it feels like the distance between them stretches on for miles as he steps up to the crocodile hybrid. Waylon simply stares at him, posture free of judgment, almost inviting. 

 

"So you're no longer talking to the Bats," Waylon rumbles. "How are you feeling about it?" 

 

"Fine," Jason responds, barely able to keep from baring his teeth. "I don't need them. They sure as fuck don't need me." His voice cracks at the last part and he swallows hard. 

 

He hates this, actually. Maybe if he charged at Waylon, Waylon would freak out and eat him. Then he would escape this conversation. 

 

But Waylon looks all the more sympathetic as Jason's voice cracks. "It's alright," Waylon says, "you're allowed to be upset at them. It's okay to make your feelings known." 

 

When was the last time he heard those words? Has he ever been told that at all? He won't cry in front of the man-eating crocodile, that's a low he won't hit. But his breathing feels shaky. Then a hand lands on his shoulder and squeezes. He turns, slightly, eyes slightly blurry from the tears in his eyes, to see Roy.

 

Roy's expression holds no judgment, no sympathy - it's just neutral. He quirks his lips in a small smile, and relief hits Jason so hard he almost feels weak in the knees. 

 

"Love you, Jaybird," Roys says quietly, just for their ears, and Jason lets out a shaky sigh. 

 

"I love you, too, Harper," he says and moves his gloved hand up to where Roy's is still on his shoulder and squeezes it gently. Roy’s thumb rubs over the back of his hand in a circle, a quick moment of intimacy that gives Jason some comfort. Roy knows him well - he knows this isn’t the time to play the part of the doting boyfriend he usually is. Waylon is still standing there, looking on serenely. 

 

"Maybe I should become the rogue therapist," Waylon muses, breaking Jason and Roy out of their moment. "That’s two cases now, and I've got a 100% success rate for helping men admit and process their emotions. I'm better than Quinn, at any rate."

 

Jason simply glares at him, his vulnerability snapping back inside his body. "You are so not my therapist. But," he sighs and adds, albeit a bit grudgingly, "thank you, Waylon. I appreciate the words of encouragement." 

 

Waylon smiles at him, which is incredibly creepy and has the complete opposite effect of the comfort he is going for. "To answer your original question, the new drug dealer is one of Penguin's ex-goons I think," Waylon says, "Unfortunately, I haven't been to the surface in a hot second, so I'm not up to date." 

 

"Thank you," Roy says with a grin, and some of the weird energy from their impromptu vent session dissipates. "I really appreciate it." 

 

Waylon simply shrugs. The smile disappears and his walls seem to be drawn up again. "Is that all, Harper?" He rumbles again and Roy nods. With that, Waylon slithers back into the shadows. 

 

"That was weird as fuck," Jason says after the crocodile is truly gone and out of earshot. "And I still hate Waylon Jones. Fuck his weird probing questions." 

 

Roy laughs behind him and squeezes his shoulder again, a gesture of comfort that Jason relaxes into. "You ready to bounce, then? Put some of that vulnerability behind you and shoot some bad guys?" 

 

Jason snorts, shaking his head and turning around. "Yeah," he says, "let's fucking bounce."

 

5) Harley and Ivy teach Red Hood About Boundaries

Ow . Everything aches and Jason can feel the beginnings of a migraine course its way through his head. Things didn't go according to plan during this evening's patrol, someone got the slip on the infamous Red Hood and now here he is, slumped over with a killer headache. Hopefully Roy, or worse, Dick, won’t be aware of his utter humiliation. He doesn't have the energy to deal with the mayhem their concern would bring. Jason inhales softly, relieved that the remnants of the knockout gas and other nefarious chemicals are not presently coating the inside of his nostrils. It's the little victories that make life worthwhile . His good mood quickly dissipates however, as he opens his eyes and finds something blocking his vision.

 

He feels movement - like he’s in a moving vehicle. The whooshing he’s been hearing in his head appears to come from the engine. Glorious, he's been Batnapped. The padded seat beneath him is a pleasant change from the usual metal truck bed, as kidnappers are wont to go for. There’s something sticky on his left cheek, possibly blood. In an ideal world, the blood would belong to the person who was idiotic enough to try snatching him, but Jason isn't a fool; knowing his luck, it's most likely his.

 

Jason spends a minute or so taking stock of his current predicament. There isn’t much time for a really thorough once-over and, without his suit, he can’t determine which of his aches may be serious and which ones are simply nasty bruises. When he attempts to move, he realizes that something is immobilizing him, likely some sort of drug or chemical. He’s going to need to do some creative thinking to escape, especially if he doesn't regain feeling in his extremities soon.

 

A nauseous feeling overcomes him as the vehicle makes a sharp turn, sending him sprawling across a row of seats. His kidnapper really was idiotic enough to give him a whole row to himself… They better hope their windows are sturdy . It won't be long now before he can escape. Another sharp turn sends at least one tire off the road entirely and, wham, his head slams against the side door. A groan escapes, which would alert his captors to his wakefulness, if they’re listening. Bruce would be disappointed if he could see him now - but that wouldn’t really be anything new.

 

A bout of laughter clashes against the ringing in his ears for a vicious auditory assault. Great, it’s the clown. No, it’s a shrill laughter - make that Mrs Clown then. Fan-fucking-tastic. Harley Quinn of all people snatched him. So she escaped during that mass Arkham breakout a few days ago, then. Jason tries his damnedest to keep track of who’s locked up and who’s out at any given time, but seeing as Arkham is really a criminals’ day-spa with a revolving door, that’s easier said than done. 

 

Ugh. Could this week get any worse? Harley rarely worked alone, so someone else is bound to show up soon, if they aren't also a victim of her GTA-inspired reckless driving. Jason bites his cheek so hard it draws blood as his poor head rams into the vehicle door after another poorly-timed turn. Seems somebody forgot their contacts - or, they just really wanted him to get a concussion. The one day he decides to forgo a full helmet, he ends up in a metal death trap with a one-way ticket to major cranial trauma. The odds are really stacked against him here. This is why I don’t gamble.

 

Jason wriggles his arms as feeling starts to return to them and finds his movements hindered. A coarse cord or rope binds his wrists and arms together - overkill really. A few months ago Roy joked about adding blades onto the wrists of his gloves - somehow that had turned into a rumor among the masked community in Gotham, and now they've got him tied up far too tightly as a precaution. Jason’s never wanted the wrist knives to be real so badly. Knives are sexy and useful in all sorts of situations, such as scarring the faces of potential suspects, or escaping impossible bindings, like now. After this whole mess is taken care of, perhaps Lucius would be open to adding blades to his usual gauntlet designs.

 

Jason struggles a bit to move around the vehicle as he readies himself to act. Another sharp turn threatens to send his body towards the opposite side of the vehicle and, readying himself and angling as best he can for additional leverage to escape, he prepares to shatter the glass. The car lurches, and he hits metal instead. Ricocheting backwards, all Jason can do is gargle in pain as his mouth fills with blood and something cracks in his ankle. Shoes, I'm not wearing shoes!

 

"Shit! Kid, are you alright back there? You're not getting away that easily, but still, yikes… "

 

Poison Ivy is here. Yay . Now Jason’s relieved that he inadvertently did her a favour stopping Firefly from torching the Botanical Gardens last month. Ivy is a misandrist, but she cares even more for the sanctity of plant lives, so she’ll probably go easy on him for that. Whatever is bound to happen now that he's been captured and temporarily incapacitated, is unlikely to result in his imminent death. That's always nice . Jason’s had a 90-day free trial run through death, and it just wasn't for him.

 

"Relax, Red! He's a big boy - or a big Bat? Whatever, it doesn't matter. He'll be fine, right?"

 

"Yup. You know me, if I don't feel red inside and out, I'm just not convinced I'm myself."

 

Peals of laughter ring out from the front of the vehicle, breaking off as it swerves. "Watch it!" At Ivy's sharp reprimand, Harley quickly corrects her driving again. 

 

It seems the only reason she hadn’t spoken up before stemmed from the false belief Jason still hadn’t regained consciousness. The odd combination of lethargy, muscular inhibition and the sticky substance on his cheek, coupled with a complete lack of bleeding wounds on his person, convinces Jason that Ivy used one of her fancy lipstick poisons on him. Harley’s increased focus on keeping the vehicle upright and functional is a nice change of pace from what he awoke to, though; perhaps now is the best time to get some answers before something distracts the two of them?

 

“So… I’m not going to insult either of you by asking why you snatched me outright, I think we’re all better than that… but will someone tell me why I feel like I was run over by a truck? My shattered ankle notwithstanding - that one’s on me.”

 

Ivy snickers as Harley stammers and tries to collect her thoughts. “Yeah Harls, what happened there?”

 

“Oh ummm…. Well you see… I totally thought I could carry you by myself and I almost made it to the truck, but you are seriously so heavy! Like how are you so stocky? And-”

 

“She dropped you on your head. You should probably get that checked out before you have whatever recently converted mob doctor you Bats keep on retainer check on your ankle. I tried to give you a numbing agent but that’s going to wear off soon. Consider the Botanical Garden’s debt repaid.”

 

As if on cue, the ringing comes back in full force as bright colors start to appear behind the blindfold, the tell-tale sign of major cranial trauma. That’s not concerning or anything. Pain. Life is nothing but pain and sadness, and more pain, the saddest oreo cookie. He definitely has a concussion at the very least, the constant ramming of his skull against the truck door’s certainly didn’t help matters.

 

“Fuck me sideways with a chainsaw!” Jason hissed.

 

“Bummer, kid. I guess it wore off early. Tell you what, this whole thing is Harley’s idea, so I’m going to let her clean up this mess. You agree to let us go after you hear her out, and I’ll kiss you again so you can stop the griping going on back there. Deal?”

 

“It’s our anniversary tomorrow… you don’t really want your family to send us back to Arkham do you? They don’t even seem to like you very much, so I doubt that would go well.”

 

Jason attempts a laugh that spins out of control into another gargle of pain as Harley makes another terrible turn. He was beginning to feel convinced she's doing it on purpose.

“For fuck’s sake Harleen, if you can’t keep the tires on the ground you’re losing your driving privileges.”

 

“Sorry! It was an accident, promise! I’m trying to avoid anything vaguely bat-shaped. They’ll totally ruin my intervention, and we’ll go back to Arkham. Everyone loses!”

 

Intervention ? I don’t do drugs ladies, I don’t know where you heard that.”

 

“Not that kind of intervention bub, I’m talking about personal boundaries. But I’m not going to help you unless you agree to help us. Fair is fair.”

 

“Ugh, fine. Make the pain stop and take off my blindfold and you have a deal. You can just drop me off wherever this is done, it’s not like I can really fight back right now.”

 

“Scout’s honor?”

 

“You snatched the wrong Bat, Quinn. Scouting’s not really my style. But I don’t break promises. I’ll hear you out.”

 

A shuffling noise announces movement towards him, then a cold pair of lips kisses his unadorned cheek. Jason sighs as the cooling sensation courses its way through his nervous system. Ah, the sweet relief of pain medication .

 

“The blindfold comes off when we drop you off.”

 

“Fair enough.”

 

“So I’m sure you know Ivy broke out right after Firefly went nuts and tried to burn down the Botanical Gardens, and-”

 

“I told him I’m a happy, committed relationship,” Ivy cuts in, “but that jackass won’t take ‘no’ for an answer.”

“Destroying something you love to get in your pants,” Jason snorts. “Real classy. Now I’m doubly glad I broke his jaw.”

 

Anyway ,” Harley continues, “I left Arkham during that mass breakout so we could spend our anniversary together… It just isn’t the kind of celebration you should spend apart, ya know? Now I missed candy something fierce - not as much as you Red, but it’s up there - those quacks never let me have sugar. So I went to my favorite convenience store to stock up… And that’s when I saw it-”

 

“Where's all this heading? I’m assuming this has something to do with me.”

 

“Hold your horses! I’m getting there, gotta set the scene first, thank you! So Batsy’s gliding into a nearby alleyway, and I thought ‘fuck, I just got out, Red will never forgive me for letting twizzlers come between us’, only he didn’t come for me. Weird, right? Well, I was super curious about what he was actually up to and didn’t want to risk a big swoop if something serious was going down.”

 

“Thanks for that babe, I feel oh so loved.” Jason can hear the eyeroll that accompanied her sarcastic reply.

 

“Awwww I love you too! Anyway, back to my story. So I started to creep towards that alleyway to see what was happening, far enough away I could make a break for it if shit hit the fan, but still close enough to make out conversations. Ideal snooping distance, if I say so myself! Then I heard a loud thump from high up, near the sky, and then wham! Something or someone got slammed against a wall.”

 

“That was me, wasn’t it?”

 

“Yup, your unfortunate entrance to the story. I’d been in Arkham for a hot minute, so I didn’t quite understand everything in the heat of the moment. I hadn’t been caught up on the underworld happenings. All I knew was you shot somebody, and they didn’t end up dying, so you took him out at the hospital, then wham! B-man himself throws you into a wall.”

 

“Into is always better than through.”

 

“Too true Red, too true. That scumbag was snatching kids, he totally deserved a few more wounds before kicking the bucket. I can’t believe your mentor or father figure - or whatever he is - was mad at you! I mean, he was friends with the DA, it’s not like he’d end up in prison or anything…”

 

“No shit. But you try explaining that to Mr. all-criminals-deserve-to-live-even-if-they-murder-my-own-honorary-kids. Some people don’t deserve to live, that bastard included. Since he wasn’t poisoning the water supply or kidnapping the mayor, he definitely would have walked. With him dead, the whole enterprise will be running around like a headless chicken, making all sorts of mistakes so they'll be easier to root out. I did my job and kept the slums safe.” Jason breathes heavily as he finishes his accidental rant.

 

“Don’t you feel better now? You gotta get that stuff off your chest, talk to somebody every so often. I know this issue isn’t new between you and Batman or anything. I may be a bad guy , but even I know you did the right thing. Growing up sucks, especially when your parents don’t want to listen. Just keep doing what you think is right, and maybe he’ll come around? And if not, me, Red and Cat will always be here to listen to you, ‘lina holds you in high regard.”

 

“Oh umm... thanks, I think?” Jason slurs out the beginning of a reply. He feels a bit wobbly. “I don’t-”.

 

“Shit, I used too much lipstick! Raincheck Harls, sorry your time got cut short…”

 

“It’s ok Red, next time he'll come to us!”

 

"Maybe, baby."

 

+1) The Batman Birthday Party

Jason doesn’t know why he’s here. At Wayne Manor, of all places, holding a soft drink and watching everyone walk around. By all accounts, he should be in his apartment, or at Arkham, or anywhere that isn’t Gotham. 

 

By some weird twist of fate, though, he’s at Wayne Manor. Willingly, no less. Roy came with him, though at the moment he’s talking to Dick, laughing about who knows what. The replacement - Tim - is here too, arm around Stephanie, talking to Kate about something. 

 

It’s Bruce’s birthday, of all things, and that fact alone should mean he shouldn’t be here. Not only is he here, though, but he was also invited. By Bruce. A year ago, he and Bruce being in the same room would’ve ended up with one of them severely injured, if not dead. (Actually, that analogy works for him and any member of the Bat Family - with the exception of Stephanie. Stephanie’s cool and loves making fun of Bruce as much as he does.)

 

At the moment, he’s hanging off to the side of the party, feeling a little overwhelmed. It’s been a while since he’s been around so many people and enjoyed himself. There’s an old feeling of anxiety stirring in his gut, a feeling he hasn’t felt since he was about fifteen, and he pushes it down. 

 

The thing is, he’s meant to be here. And the scary part is, he actually wants to be here. He’s actually enjoying seeing everyone mill about and come up to talk to him. And when there’s a lull and no one is talking to him - like right now, that’s okay too. He’s enjoying just surveying the party from the sidelines at the moment.

“Are you enjoying yourself, Jason?” Bruce’s voice pipes up behind him and Jason turns slightly to look at him. It’s weird, making direct eye contact with him, even a couple of months after their reconciliation. It feels like he should have his defenses up and a gun on his hip, ready for anything. It’s nice, however, that he doesn’t have to anymore. He can be comfortable in Bruce’s presence - it’s something he’s missed.

So, instead, he only smiles. “A little bit,” he says, “I forgot how many people you know and actually like to hang out with.” At this, Bruce immediately frowns, and Jason can’t help the chuckle that escapes him. Clearly, the joke about Bruce’s socialization landed. 

 

“Are you enjoying yourself, Bruce?” Jason asks, taking a sip of his diet coke. It’s funny, how a simple question can remove Bruce’s mildly irritated expression. It’s likely due to the easy conversation they’re having and once again, Jason is pleased about the progression of their relationship. 

 

It should be a weird time to have these introspective thoughts about Bruce Wayne but after their long drawn out emotional talks over the last couple of months, it’s almost routine. It’s sometimes an irritating routine, feeling all of these feelings , but the alternative is worse. He’d rather be confronting uncomfortable feelings rather than fighting Bruce.

“Yes, I am,” Bruce replies with a small, private smile on his face, “It’s good, having everyone here. I don’t think we’ve ever managed to have a party like this. Even the Kents managed to show up, which was a surprise,” he shakes his head, “it...it’s nice.”

 

“Yeah, it is nice,” Jason agrees, looking across the large gathering of people. “I’m glad you’re having a good birthday party so far, Bruce,” Jason says. He then watches as Conner Kent throws an angry and shrieking Damian into the pool.  Immediately, Jon Kent body slams Conner into the pool as well. Bruce sighs and sets his drink down.

 

 “Time to intervene?” Jason asks, amused. Bruce only huffs, giving Jason a fond and exasperated look. In the distance,  Dick and Clark have stopped by the pool and are now trying to break the boys apart, before the roughhousing escalates too much.

“Yeah,” Bruce says, “I'll distract my youngest,” as Bruce goes to leave, he squeezes Jason’s arm in parting. “I love you, Jaylad. Enjoy the party.” 

 

The words, which Jason has actually heard quite a lot from Bruce in the last couple of months, somehow still gets Jason misty-eyed. He smiles up at him through his slightly misty eyes. “Love you, too, Dad,” he says quietly and Jason may be imaging, but it looks like Bruce goes slightly misty eyed as well. Jason shakes his head and leans back against the patio doors, and then jumps when he feels a tap on his shoulder.

“Jesus,” he says, turning around to see Steph. “Must you do that?” 

 

Steph’s smiling pleasantly and Jason is immediately concerned. Steph and Jason are alley kids - they don’t smile pleasantly for no reason. 

 

“Steph,” Jason says, “What? What’s wrong?”

Steph only shakes her head, that weirdly warm smile still on her face ,

 

“Steph...” he begins again, warningly, but he doesn’t get much farther than that. A second later, soaking wet arms encircle his waist, lifting him off the ground. He can’t help the shout that escapes him as  he’s carried off, Steph’s cackling loud by his side. Roy’s loud, guffawing laughter fills the air. Jason attempts to squirm out of the grip, though he’s largely unsuccessful. When they reach the edge of the pool, Jason pulls Roy in with him. 

 

The water is warmer than he expected and he comes to the surface quickly, rubbing at his eyes. Roy has already come up for air, and he grins at Jason, swimming closer to him. Jason sticks his tongue out, feeling unusually childish and playful. Roy wraps his arms around his waist and leans in to give him a quick kiss. 


The sun is warm on his face, without a single cloud in the sky. The warmth of the sun pushes any of the annoyance he has from being pushed in, but some of the annoyance lingers.

“Love you,” he says, grinning, and Jason rolls his eyes. He’s smiling, though, so the annoyance doesn’t really land.

“I love you, too,” he says, sighing, and Roy grins, kissing him again. This kiss lasts a little longer, and Jason finds himself holding on to Roy, cupping Roy’s face with a gentle hand. The kiss still doesn’t last that long though, as he’s knocked away by an inflatable beach ball to the face. He recoils, spinning around to find the culprit: Tim, who’s smirking down at him by the poolside.

“No PDA allowed in this pool!” Tim orders. “You’re being gross and there’s children here.” 

 

“Hey!” Damian pipes up, “I am not an innocent child, Drake. I am well aware of the things you may consider ‘adult’.” At this, Tim’s attention swivels to Damian, and he starts arguing with the younger boy instead. 

 

Jason sighs again. He feels old, suddenly, like he’s surrounded by children. Roy throws an arm around Jason’s side to cuddle him closer. 

 

“I hate children,” he says mournfully and Roy chuckles, kissing his cheek. They watch as Tim throws a water gun at Damian’s face in fury. Jon drags Tim into the pool in retaliation. At this, Clark gets involved, stepping in as the peacekeeper once more. 

 

After receiving what is essentially a scolding from Clark, Tim grabs Conner and leaves the pool to find Steph, and Damian heads inside, Jon in tow. 

 

Jason leans into Roy’s side as the party simmers down. The water is warm and his boyfriend’s arms are around him. His and Bruce’s relationship is good and the relationship with the rest of the bats is only improving. He feels happy. 

 

“It’s been a good day, hasn’t it?” Roy asks, grinning. Jason mulls it over, watching various members of Bat Family run around and enjoy themselves. With the rowdier ones gone, the ones left at the pool shift into a mellow mood. He watches as Dick plops into Koriand’r’s lounger, the pair immediately cuddling. Bruce and Selina have also stepped into the pool.

Jason turns to Roy and brings his arms up, draping them around Roy’s neck. “Yeah,” he says, leaning in to kiss  him quickly, “it’s been a really good day.”