Jason is smoking, tucked away against the side of a roof, when he sees a small figure swinging erratically through Crime Alley. His attention caught, he sits up to see better. Yes, that’s Robin, with no sign of Batman. What is Robin doing in Crime Alley? Batman rarely let him in here before Hood moved in, and never since. And to see him alone, behaving so erratically?
As he watches, Robin makes a large circle, seemingly picking points at random. This isn’t what Jason planned, but it will do. He stubs out the cigarette, puts the helmet back on, and swings to a rooftop nearer the kid. Robin doesn’t even seem to see him. He’ll have to be careful, if he doesn’t want the kid to die on impact. That would be a waste. He waits for the right moment, glad he’d picked up a stray batarang last week. He’s had faint plans of incriminating Batman, but this is better.
Suddenly, Robin is swinging by him, and Jason lets the batarang fly. He’s flooded for a moment with memories of being Robin himself, throwing these every night, but shakes them off so he can swing out. He just cut the kid’s grapple line and Jason is betting he’s in no condition to save himself, assuming Bruce still makes Robin carry a backup.
He swings out, and catches Robin, none too gently. The kid latches on, shaking like a leaf, and Jason brings them down on a lower, more private rooftop. Not that anyone in Crime Alley will come investigate screaming.
Robin stumbles backwards and looks up at him. It’s a long way up; Jason hadn’t realized just how tiny he is, not that it matters now. He must recognize him, because he says, “Hood!” in a voice of surprise and relief. Jason is processing the relief when the kid latches back onto him and bursts into tears.
Jason is not quite sure what to do with this, but his muscle memory kicks in and he starts rubbing the kid’s back. He can’t just
. No one with a heart would ignore a sobbing child. And Robin is so small. He ignores the part of him that reminds him that he is planning on ignoring his tears shortly.
But now he’s curious, so he says, “Robin, report,” figuring that will shake the kid out of whatever funk he’s gotten into. It always worked for him when Bruce said it.
The kid turns his head to the side and says, “B - B is out of town, and Agent A is with him and - and I wanted to prove to B that I could handle myself and-” Oh boy, thinks Jason, knowing all too well the desire to prove oneself to Bruce. But you never can meet Bruce’s standards, it’s a losing battle, only this kid hasn’t realized it yet.
“Kid, are you injured?” He tells himself it’s so he knows where to start.
“No. No, but - I saw this group trying to mug this guy, and I - I swung down and they just scattered,” Jason knows, sometimes they do that. The smart ones, anyway. “And I - I went to check on their victim and he -” Robin chokes a little and says, “He grabbed me.”
Jason waits, but nothing else comes. Well, yeah, kid, lots of people try to grab and hurt us on a regular basis. You’re a fucking vigilante, not a candy striper. Jason snorts. What did he think would happen?
“And?” he prompts, impatient.
The kid flinches and says, quietly, “I panicked. I didn’t - it’s never happened as Robin , and usually they can’t know I’m Robin, and - but I am Robin, so when he said,” he shivers a moment and then finishes, “I twisted out of his hold and ran away.”
There’s a lot to process there. It’s never happened as Robin? He’s never been grabbed as Robin, but just as a civilian? There’s a cold feeling growing in the pit of his stomach that he tries desperately to ignore, but he finds himself saying, “Kid, what did he say?”
Robin burrows back into his chest, shaking, and doesn’t say anything. Jason deepens his voice and says, “Robin, report.”
Like magic, the kid bites out, “He said he didn’t think Robin would be this easy, that Batman must have trained me well.”
There’s a long moment while Jason absorbs that, against his will, and then he thrusts the kid out at arm’s length and looks critically at his outfit. It looks intact, thank fuck. He didn’t want to have to pick between heading out immediately to shoot someone and dealing with this mess of a Robin.
It’s never happened as Robin.
Jason knows what that means. He didn’t grow up in fancy houses, with adults ready to listen and care, but apparently it wouldn’t have been a better guarantee of safety. He knew it was sheer luck that kept him safe, like the luck that got him fucking adopted when he tried to steal tires, and the luck that let him crawl back out of the grave to make sure he could clean up after Batman’s fucking mess.
And apparently that’s what he’s doing tonight, cleaning up Bruce’s mess, although not the way he expected. He sets Robin down, and the kid makes a lunge for him, again, so Jason asks, “Kid, don’t you know who I am?”
And Robin looks up at him, his face still rounded with baby fat behind the mask, Jesus fuck Bruce, what the hell are you doing to this kid, and says, “Hood hates pedophiles and doesn’t hurt kids.” And, yeah, that’s true, but this isn’t just a kid, he’s Robin. And Jason’s a murderer, with his newest target right in his hands.
He realizes suddenly the pit is slipping into his mind and he shoves it down. He’s not letting the pit out with a fucking traumatized kid clinging to him, not now and not ever. He’s getting better about pushing it down when it’s not helpful, and bringing it up when it’s needed. He’s a little more hesitant every time he brings it back up, but his plans for Batman feel hollow without a green tinge, and he’s not not sure what he would do without those plans.
For now, Robin is still shaking silently while latched on. Hood is considering the merits of demanding names and cutting a bloody swathe through Gotham’s elite, when the kid lets go and steps back. He uses his sleeve to wipe his nose, he really is a fucking kid, and says, “Sorry about that.” He’s inching backwards, and Jason can tell he’s finally realized he’s alone with Red Hood and no backup in the city. “I can get out of your hair, I didn’t mean to run into you like that.”
He didn’t even realize Jason cut his line. It would be best to just let the kid slink away, and forget this ever happened.
Against his will, his arm shoots and out snags Robin’s arm. Robin freezes, barely breathing, eyes fixed on where Jason’s black glove grips the kid’s green sleeve.
“Kid, who’s been hurting you?” It’s something he’s said more often as Hood than he anticipated; he thought he’d be running a crime empire, setting up for his plans, but he’s never been able to see someone suffering and just look away. Especially a child.
Robin flinches, a full body flinch, and looks down at the ground. This was easier with Alley kids, after the first couple. He got names, he dealt justice, and now sometimes the victims would come find him before he even knew to start looking. He doesn’t know if he’s making a big difference, but giving a victim peace of mind and the ability to sleep at night is something Jason can never stop doing. He doesn’t get that himself, not with Joker on that fucking island. No one dealt out justice for him, so he’s going to make sure no one else feels like he does.
But for now, he gives Robin a gentle shake and the kid says, nearly whining, “I told you, it was a random civilian, and he didn’t even hurt me, I’m fine, I have to go now,” trying to yank his arm free. Jason feels like he’s holding a misbehaving kitten by the scruff of the neck, with how little effect the kid is having.
This is who Bruce replaced him with? This tiny, abused kid? Jason has an awful, awful thought and says, “Kid, it wasn’t B who -” but before he can finish the kid is almost hissing at him.
“No, how could you even ask that? Batman would never .” His struggles intensify with his outrage, but Jason barely notices.
He says, “Kid, a lot of times it’s a parent -” and Robin abruptly stops pulling.
“Batman isn’t my dad.”.
Jason processes this and notes it’s not a denial. He probes, “But your actual dad…?” The kid sighs but doesn’t say anything. Hood says, trying not to sound threatening, “We can wait as long as it takes.” The kid shivers, and uses his free arm to try to tug the cape around himself.
Watching him shiver, Jason feels guilty for holding this baby kitten of a Robin on a rooftop when he should be home, warm, and snuggled up to someone safe. Before he can stop himself he says, “Should we call Nightwing?” Robin shakes his head but still doesn’t look up.
Jason sees where this is going and doesn’t have the energy to fight it any longer. He may be a feared crime lord, but he’s not a monster . He scoops Robin up and grapples off, heading toward a safehouse. Robin struggles for a moment, but stops when they go airborne. Jason can feel him still shivering. He’s not that far from one of his better safehouses, thankfully.
He bundles Robin in through the window, onto a sofa, and throws a blanket over him. Robin looks up at him, but Jason needs to see his eyes. If he’s going to do this, he’s going to do it right. He takes off his helmet and says, “I know you’re Tim Drake, you can take off the damn domino.”
Tim is still shivering, but tries to make a token denial. Jason waits him out and, when Tim trails off, leans forward and peels the domino off himself. It turns his stomach that Tim doesn’t resist, and he’s not surprised to see Tim looking a little glassy-eyed.
Buce is gone, Alfred is gone, the kid doesn’t want Dick, so he says, “Are you linked in to Oracle?”
Tim shakes his head and says, “She’s dark tonight, some event.” The kid really is on his own. A perfect opportunity, and he’s in Jason’s safehouse, and Bruce wouldn’t be back until it was too late, he was going to be too late again, and Jason would be there to watch him break, knowing it was his fault for putting another kid in Robin’s colors, he’d know Tim died screaming, hurting, terrified. Maybe Jason would make a home video, so Bruce would be able to see-
Jason sees the green tinge, realizes the pit is whispering in his head, he missed it worming its way back in, shit. He’s torn between a sick satisfaction at the many ways he could take this kid apart, and the nausea at hurting an abused child. He feels terror that he’s actually undecided , and his terror gives him the strength to shove the pit back down.
Tim hasn’t seemed to notice, thank God. Jason sits down next to him on the sofa, and says, “Can you tell me about it?” Sometimes, shock makes it easier to talk. Kid won’t have to feel everything so intensely. When he stays silent, Jason takes a chance and nudges him and Tim just breaks.
He collapses on Jason, sobbing, clinging to him like Jason is his lifeline. Jason thinks he probably is his lifeline, the first person who noticed, who asked, who cared. And isn’t that depressing, that someone with a five step plan to torture and murder him is somehow the only one who cares.
Jason gathers Tim gently up in his arms and rubs his back, whispering soothing nonsense into his hair. The kid weighs almost nothing, and Jason can’t believe Bruce let such a tiny kid out on the streets.
Tim starts trying to talk, and Jason says, “Shhh, Tim, it’s fine, it can wait until you’re ready.”
But Tim sobs out, “No, no, I have to say it, or I’ll never say it, and I can’t go back, I can’t do it again, I can’t go back, don’t make me go back.” He’s clinging to Jason, harder and harder.
Jason’s heart is breaking wide open and he says, “You’ll never have to go back. I’m going to make sure you’re safe,” because there’s nothing else he could ever say.
And then Tim says, “My dad, he - it wasn’t him, but he brought me - he said I needed to be good, that this was -” and he’s struggling with huge, heaving, hiccuping breaths and Jason is glad he already knows how to break into Drake Manor. “And so I did, I was, but it was never enough and then at parties, they’d pull me aside, and I couldn’t - and then Bruce taught me how to be Robin, but you can’t be Robin as a civilian, you have to just let them -”
But Jason knows damn well Bruce would rather they blow their cover than be hurt, Bruce isn’t that awful, and he says so, and Tim says, “But it doesn’t - doesn’t really hurt , not usually, not anything permanent and then they let me go, so it’s fine, I don’t need to - to show off that I’m Robin. And I don’t,” his sobs are settling down, he’s less frantic, quieter, more resigned. He’s almost inaudible when he says, “I don’t want to disappoint my dad.”
Jason feels his entire body fill with an icy rage. The pit is fire and fury and passion, but you can’t do much with it, other than violence. This remote, icy rage lets him retain all his planning abilities, and he’s idly turning over all the ways he could hurt Jack when Tim says, “But would he even know, if they’re not even home? He’s not going to be back for at least three months,” and gives a yawn, snuggling down into Jason’s lap. “It’s not really that bad, I was just surprised tonight.” He yawns again, and Jason looks down at the oversized kitten in his lap and all at once realizes he doesn’t know what to do from here.
What he really wants to do is call an adult. Jason is 19, but he was dead for a year, so maybe 18? But he was brain-dead until they threw him in the pit, does he even count as an adult? At school, they told you to contact an adult when something scary happened, but Alley kids knew better.
Tim is sleeping in his lap, under Jason’s blanket in a safe house in Crime Alley and Jason doesn’t know how to keep him safe. He doesn’t think he’ll get the names from Tim. He can’t really kidnap Tim, and eventually he’ll be back at those glittering parties full of smiling monsters and Jason won’t know until it’s too late.
He stares at Tim for a long, long moment.
There was no point in asking for help in Crime Alley. It took Bruce over a year before Jason was convinced, was willing to try, and he started with little things. Tests, with Jason waiting for Bruce to refuse to help. But Bruce was always there, for every little and every big thing. Until Jason trusted him, believed in him, knew he'd always be there. Until he wasn’t, and Jason’s faith shattered in a burning warehouse in Ethiopia.
Jason stares down at Tim, limp in his lap. Bruce might have failed Jason, but he doesn’t think he’ll fail Tim. Not for something like this. Some part of him recognizes that’s not entirely logical, but Jason doesn’t care. He digs out a burner, and texts a number he doesn’t think he’ll ever forget, “ Emergency, return to Gotham ASAP.” He doesn’t let himself think about it too much. He gets the expected terse reply demanding his identity. And, well, he knew it was coming, so he sends a photo of his helmet, and a photo of Robin for additional proof.
The phone rings incredibly loudly, and Jason almost drops it on Tim’s head. He answers it, quietly, saying, “Hood here.” The sound of breathing greets him. “Got kind of a situation over here, a little bird said you were out of town, but I think you might need to come on back.”
There’s more silence and then Batman growls out, “I don’t know who you think you are, but if you’ve hurt him-”
Jason feels the stinging justice of that concern but just says, “How quickly can you get here? I’m sure you’ve traced the call but I can give you an address, if you like.”
There’s a pause and Batman growls, “I’ll be there soon.” Jason just hangs up and gets his helmet back on. Then he stands and carries Tim to his bed. The poor kid looks so vulnerable, Jason doesn’t want to leave him. He’s not sure waiting around for Batman is the best idea, but Jason doesn’t have any other good ideas. He sits next to the kid on his bed, and Tim rolls over and curls up around him. So he stays still, watches Tim sleep, and waits.
He’s not sure how he knows, but he turns to look at the doorway and Batman is looming. Jason is glad his helmet is on, glad no one can see his face.
Batman says, “Move away from him,” and his voice is so cold that Jason is taken aback.
“Robin is unharmed, Batman. But he’s kind of clinging to me right now, and I don’t want to wake him just yet.”
“Move away, or I’ll make you.” Batman is moving with menace into the room and Jason rolls his eyes under his helmet. He reaches down and shakes Tim gently.
“Tim, Tim wake up.” He can feel the tension as soon as he uses Robin’s real name, but he ignores it. Tim is burrowing deeper into him and refusing to wake up.
Jason sighs and stands up, rolling Tim partway across the bed. Tim makes a disgruntled sound and opens his eyes a crack. He spots Bruce and his eyes widen and he sits up all the way. “Batman!”
Jason almost feels bad for spilling his secrets, but he knows it’s for the best. Tim looks at him and seems to realize what’s about to happen. “Hood, no, don’t, it’s fine now, I’m fine now, you don’t need to say anything.”
Jason looks at him and hears I can’t do it again, I can’t go back, don’t make me go back , and says, “Little Robin came swinging into Crime Alley, fucking scared out of his mind, and no, it wasn’t Crane. Some asshole civilian groped him, and it sent him into a panic, because apparently his daddy told him to be good for his daddy’s friends, and he never let himself fight back, because he can’t expose Robin’s secret, but it was never supposed to happen as Robin.”
Tim looks stricken and says, “It’s not - it’s not -” but he can’t seem to make himself finish. Batman, Bruce, is frozen in place.
Jason says, lowly, “He can’t go home, Batman. Don’t make me regret calling you in,” and brushes past him on the way out.
Three nights later, Jason is smoking again, tucked up against a roof when he sees someone swinging into Crime Alley. It’s too big to be Robin, and too lithe to be Batman. Nightwing.
Dick hasn’t been in Gotham much, although he’s here far more than when Jason was Robin. Jason has no interest in talking to him, no doubt he’s going be awkwardly thanked and interrogated. NIghtwing might even try to arrest him. Heads in duffle bags make a great statement but don’t exactly go hand in hand with legality. Not that vigilantes do, either.
Nope, Jason stubs out his cigarette and vanishes for the evening.
Soon after that, he wakes up screaming from a nightmare and stares at the ceiling, wondering what he’s really doing. He’s seen the peace of mind his victims get when he kills their abuser. Why isn’t he doing the same for himself?
The idea of making Bruce choose doesn’t give him the same satisfaction the way it once did. Since he saw how quickly Bruce came for Tim, how much he cared, memories keep tricking back in.
Curling up in the library with a book and fire, and Bruce sitting down next to him with a book. His deep voice, reading to Jason for hours when he was miserable with strep throat.
Bruce saying, “Well done, Jaylad,” and ruffling his hair.
Bruce as Batman, taking hits to keep his Robin safe, to keep Jason safe.
The first day he called Bruce dad, with practiced casualness, both of them pretending it wasn’t a big deal.
The day his adoption was finalized, and he knew he’d have a home forever.
Jason will never forget calling for his dad with his last breath, but the pit kept him from remembering that Batman is still just a person. Without the pit, he remembers his dad, remembers his family.
A sense of purpose fills him, and he gets up. He’s done with his grandiose plans, can finally see them as a dramatic cry for attention. He can’t wait for his dad to keep him safe, and Bruce never will do what Jason needs. He shoves the pit anger down, Bruce is who he is, but Jason is going to make himself safe.
And he does, and the pit vanishes.
At first, Jason thought it was quiet, sated with Joker’s blood. But it never rose back up. He can almost feel it, sometimes, but no matter how hard he tries it never comes back up.
And he does try. Faced with the blood on his hands, the plans he’d made and abandoned, he doesn’t like to live with himself without the comfort of the pit.
It’s been a month since he exposed Tim’s secret and Robin hasn’t been back in Gotham. Jason doesn’t want to admit he’s worried, but he doesn’t have a better reason for why he’s peering in the Manor windows when Nightwing and Batman are off on patrol.
When he sees Tim, curled up on a bed by himself, crying, he’s through the window before he has a chance to think about it. The helmet is off and he’s on the bed before Tim realizes someone is there.
“Hey, hey Tim, it’s going to be okay.”
Tim stiffens and looks up at Jason. “You!” he bursts out, “This is all your fault! I can’t go home, and I can’t go out as Robin, and Bruce wants me to testify , which is never going to happen, and he won’t let me do anything .” He starts crying again, angrily this time. and Jason gathers him up into a hug.
Tim shoves at him, as ineffective as before, and angrily sniffs. “Get off me, I hate you! You ruined my life!” Jason doesn’t take it personally, but gives him a bit of space and Tim wipes his nose with his fucking sleeve, again. Kid has lived in two mansions and this is what you get? Unbelievable.
Jason eyes him critically and says, “You look tired, babybird.” Tim is gaping up at him, but Jason tugs him down on the bed and starts to tuck him in.
Tim says, “Wait, what - you can’t, are you tucking me in ? I’m 14, not 5, I can take care of myself.” But he’s yawning under the covers. “I don’t even like you, you murder people and apparently you’re a snitch.” He yawns again and says, “And I’m not a baby .”
Jason mouths the word snitch to himself, but goes to turn off the lights. Tim says, ‘Wait, no, leave them on,” and Jason turns back. His eyes are huge, with dark circles underneath them, and he repeats, “Leave them on, please.”
Jason puts his hands on his hips and cocks his head. “You need to sleep, you were just yawning.” There’s a part of him that doesn’t understand why he is mothering, but Tim clearly needs it.
Tim glances down and says, “I don’t like the dark.” Oh. Jason can understand that. But they’re in the manor, so Tim has an attached bathroom. He flips on the bathroom light, leaves that door open, and turns off the main light. Tim doesn’t say anything else, which Jason thinks means it’s fine.
He sits down on the bed and Tim curls over towards him. Despite Tim claiming to not like him, he seems drawn to Jason. He hears Tim’s voice saying Hood hates pedophiles and doesn’t hurt kids , and lets his hand rest gently on Tim’s head. He’s glad the pit is gone, if it means he’ll never hurt this tiny boy.
Once Tim is asleep, Jason knows he needs to go. Surely they will check on the kid after patrol, or Alfred will come in before. But Tim is curled around him, sweetly trusting, and Jason has nowhere else to go.
He doesn’t think he’s been sitting there long, when footsteps come hurriedly down the hallway. They slow as they get close, seeing the lights are off, but the door still slowly opens. Jason feels sick, nauseous, and his palms are clammy.
What will Bruce think, knowing Jason is Red Hood? Jason has killed so many people.
So he needs to have a plan for what to do, what to say, to figure out how they’ll react. But for some reason, his planning abilities have deserted him. His heart rate has picked up and his mouth feels dry.
It’s Nightwing who walks into the room, still in costume, stopping abruptly at the sight of Hood petting Tim’s head.
Jason says, “I just wanted to be sure he was doing okay,” and realizes how inadequate that is, but Nightwing is staring at him like he’s seen a ghost. Which, Jason realizes, he has.
“Jay?” His voice is stunned, soft, hopeful. Jason peels off his domino, there’s no real point anymore, at the same time Dick is pulling his own off.
They stare at each other in the dim lighting, and Jason can see all the questions on Dick’s face.
“Jason, it’s really you?”
Jason knows it’s a bit of a shock, but he is surprised that Dick isn’t taking Tim away, somewhere safe, so he says, “I think you should be more worried about Tim.”
Dick says, “Is something wrong?” Jason blinks for a moment, because Tim is on a bed with the Red Hood, and DIck isn’t rescuing him.
Jason slowly says, “No.”
Dick asks, “Does he need immediate attention?” His voice is pointed, like he’s expecting Jason to realize something.
“No, not immediate attention.”
“Then you’ll have to excuse me if I’m focused on my resurrected brother for a moment.”
It’s Jason’s turn to stare. He blurts out, “But you never liked me. You didn’t even come to my funeral.” Dick winces and Jason feels guilty, but it’s true.
Dick confesses, “I was off-world, and Bruce didn’t tell me.” That actually seems likely, knowing Bruce. “But Jason, how are you here? Did you actually die? Did Bruce lie about it? Where have you been?”
“I did actually die, yeah. I don’t know how I came back, exactly.” He’s hedging, hoping Bruce shows up and whisks Tim and Dick away and he can get out of this conversation.
Dick is looking at him with painful hope, and takes a step forward, and then another. He’s close enough Jason could touch him, and Jason doesn't know what his face is saying, but Dick sits next to him and hugs him.
Jason is trying to hold it together, but he’s being hugged and the last hug he remembers is literally years ago, before died, and he melts into it, burying his face in Dick’s shoulder. A desperation to be believed, accepted, and wanted is welling up in him. “It is crazy, but crazy things always happen to us.” To his horror, his throat is closing off and his voice is rising. He swallows and says, “I don't even know how it happened and I've done a lot of things -” his voice cracks, emotion overwhelming him.He feels Dick’s shoulders shaking, and realizes they’re both crying. By some miracle, Tim is sleeping through this.
Jason feels warm, safe, loved. He basks in the feeling of comfort he didn’t think he’d ever get again and ruins it by saying, “I was the Red Hood.” Dick’s a detective, not an idiot, the helmet is sitting right there, but Jason had to say it.
Dick just keeps hugging him, and says, “I know, it doesn’t matter.” Jason flinches at that. It doesn’t matter? It sure matters to all those people he killed. Without the pit at his fingertips to ease the guilt, he has to look at all the people he’s murdered. They all deserved it, but he has to carry that weight and he’s not sure he can carry that weight and Dick is saying it doesn’t matter?
“It’s going to matter to Bruce.” Jason sits up, pulling back from Dick. “You can’t tell me it won’t matter. I put heads in a duffle bag. For fuck’s sake, I killed the Joker .” At that, Dick does flinch. Jason feels a hollow satisfaction. Dick wipes his eyes and Jason spares a moment to be grateful that at least he didn’t wipe his nose with his fucking sleeve.
“You think we care about that?” His voice is furious and Jason looks at his face, surprised. “You’re alive , through some miracle, and you think we care that you killed the Joker? He shouldn’t have been allowed to live after he -” Dick falters, “after he killed you. The world is better off without that monster and I’m sure it’s better off without those people you killed. It’s not like he hasn’t been tracking Hood, we know the kind of people you killed.”
Jason doesn’t know what to say. Faced with Dick’s raw fury and grief, he’s speechless. But footsteps sound again in the hallway and Dick says, “Shit, I forgot to check in,” right before Batman pushes the door open.
Jason hurriedly says, “Tim is fine, don’t worry.” Absurdly, he feels guilty, even though he hasn’t done anything. But something about Batman looming, with all his plans in ashes, the weight of the choices he’s made, well, Jason finds he can’t even look at Batman. He draws further away from Dick, into himself, and only Tim’s tiny, clinging hands keep him on the bed.
There’s a whisper of noise, and Jason looks up to see Bruce lifting off his cowl.
Bruce takes a step closer, slowly, like he doesn’t want to spook Jason. He looks between Dick and Jason and says, “Jay? Jay, is it really you?”
“That’s a dumb question, B, if I’m not me, I’m hardly going to tell the truth.” He realizes he’s starting shaking and can’t seem to stop. “You’re not here for me, you’re here for Tim . He’s the one who needs your help.” He’s desperate for one of them to rescue Tim and to go away. He can’t handle their hope, he doesn’t deserve it.
Dick sighs and says, “He said the same thing to me, B, but Tim is actually sleeping for once.”
Bruce says, “You saved Tim, Jason, when we didn’t know anything was wrong.” He pauses and his voice is rough when he continues, “Thank you.”
There’s another long silence and Jason dares to look at him.
The raw longing on his face shocks Jason. He knew Bruce would be surprised, probably angry, that Jason was alive. But the pain etched on his face is telling another story. And Jason doesn’t know what his face says in return, but suddenly Bruce is kneeling on the ground, reaching up to hug him.
And Jason folds, and he’s being hugged by his dad, and his brother, and he’s crying again. He doesn’t want to ever lose this feeling, he’s with his dad, and he thought this was gone forever.
But - “Bruce, I killed the Joker. And a lot of other people.”
Bruce doesn’t let go, doesn’t even seem to have heard him. But then he says wetly, “Jay, Jason. Jaylad, you’re alive, by some miracle I have my son back, you can’t think I care about the Joker or anyone else right now right now.”
And Jason doesn’t, not really, but he sobs, “I killed them, B, I killed them, and you always told me not to kill people, that it's wrong and -”
Bruce is squeezing him so tightly that Jason finds it hard to breathe, let alone explain the problem to Bruce. But Bruce doesn’t care, and Dick didn’t care, and Jason doesn’t really feel like he’s going to be killing any more without the pit rising up, so maybe it really doesn’t matter. He relaxes into Bruce, putting his faith in his dad, letting his older brother keep him safe from behind.
Eventually, the moment has to end. He pulls away from his dad, but Dick stays close. He wipes his eyes, and suddenly realizes why Tim used his sleeve to wipe his nose. It’s very uncomfortable. He sniffs and says, “It really is me. I know you have no reason to believe it. It doesn’t make sense, I know it doesn’t make sense.” He can hear that his voice is shaking, and Dick leans into him. He looks down at his hands, seeing them tremble, and continues, “I don’t know what happened, but at some point after I was alive Talia threw me in a pit.” He can feel Dick’s flinch, but doesn’t look up to see Bruce’s face. “And she - well, a lot happened. And then I came here.”
Bruce is looking up into his face intently, but Jason isn’t sure how to explain his rage and how a tiny, traumatized Robin somehow changed everything. He’s not even sure what happened and it was his brain.
He looks away from Bruce, he can’t take the kindness he sees there. He doesn’t deserve kindness, or love. This isn’t his place anymore, this isn’t his family. He quietly says, “I should go now.”
Dick stiffens and says, “But this is your home, where would you go? We just got you back!” There’s a note of panic in his voice.
Home? This isn’t Jason’s home, not anymore. He looks at Bruce still kneeling on the ground, knowing Bruce won’t want a murderer in his house. He had helped Tim, but that’s not enough to make up for everything. And they don’t even know what he planned to do to Tim, even if the idea now makes him sick. He can’t go home.
He wants to say that, but his throat is tight, his hands are still shaking, and his heart is racing. Bruce’s face is gentle, like Jason remembers. He reaches a hand to cup Jason’s face and Jason feels his eyes fill with tears.
Bruce softly says, “We’ve missed you, Jaylad.”
Jason says, “Dad -” but his voice breaks and he’s crying again.
There’s a noise behind him, and a tiny head pops up and says, “Why is everyone crying?”
Jason jerks away from his dad as everyone turns to look at Tim. Tim says, “What happened?” and then his eyes focus on Jason. “Jason?”
He has the same shocked, hopeful look that Dick had. “Yeah, kid, it’s me, I’m alive.”
“But how? Where - why?” He looks around and all three of them see a realization wash over his face as he quietly says, “Oh, no.”
Then he puts a smile on his face and he says, “This is great! Everyone has really missed you.”
Jason just says, “Tim, what’s wrong?”
“Wrong?” Tim says brightly, “Nothing’s wrong. You’re alive, that’s amazing news.”
Jason and Dick exchange glances, instantly aligned as concerned older brothers, and turn back to Tim. Jason reaches out a hand for him, and Tim flinches back.
“Tim?” That’s Bruce’s soothing voice. “You’re safe, in the Manor. No one is going to hurt you. You’re not going home ever again.” Jason recognizes the same tone of voice that talked him down from panic attacks.
Tim’s eyes suddenly fill with tears and he bursts out, “I’m never going to be Robin again!” and starts sobbing in earnest. Dick moves forward, Jason still frozen from the flinch, and gathers Tim up in his arms. Bruce moves onto the bed, and somehow they’re all practically snuggling on the bed.
Tim sobs, “I’m happy Jason is alive, but now he’s going to be Robin again, and I knew you weren’t going to let me patrol for a while, but now I’ll never be Robin, but I can still help , you don’t have to send me home,” and he’s sobbing into Dick’s chest as Jason’s heart breaks.
“Tim,” Bruce says, still warm and gentle, “No one is ever, ever sending you back to Drake Manor. You don’t need to be useful to be safe.”
“Babybird, I’m never going to be Robin again. Robin isn’t for me, anymore.” It’s hard to get the words out, but Bruce is a warm line on his side and there’s nothing Jason wouldn’t do to try to make Tim feel better.
“Why did you bench him, anyways?” Jason had been wondering.
“I thought he needed time to heal.” All three boys give Bruce a look of deep disgust.
Dicks says, “Are you serious?”
At the same time, Jason says, “Oh my god, you never change!”
And even Tim says, “I told you, taking it away doesn’t help .”
Faced with their ire, Bruce allows, “I may have been mistaken.”
“You think so?” Jason is not exactly angry, because this is what Bruce is like, but he suddenly realizes he can’t leave Tim alone with an idiot like Bruce who thinks grounding a Robin actually helps . “The last time you grounded me, I died .”
Everyone flinches but Jason doesn't care. “OK, I’ve changed my mind. I’m staying here, if only because someone needs to help Tim, since you two are sucking at it. Leaving him to cry alone in his room while you patrol without him, seriously?” Bruce at least looks ashamed, Dick just cuddles Tim closer.
Jason stands up and starts to leave. Dick calls out, “Wait, Jay, where are you going?”
“If I’m staying here, I’m going to see if my old room is still available.” He hears them calling behind him, but doesn’t stop.
He knows staying won’t be easy. Bruce will probably want to run tests, and take samples, and make him explain about Talia and the pit. Shit, Bruce might want to dig up his grave. Eventually, he’ll have to tell them everything.
Tim is damaged, and will need a gentle touch. Jason and Dick will have to manage him very carefully to help him heal without making it worse. Bruce almost certainly won’t let him kill Jack Drake, but he thinks that might be for the best without the pit.
Nothing in Jason’s life has ever been easy, and this will be no different. But as he opens his old bedroom door, and sees it exactly as it was the night he ran away, he realizes coming back is going to be easier than he imagined.