Jason observed with dull eyes as Damian and Drake swung the excited little circus brat between them. On a whim, he’d decided to visit the zoo, just to remember one of the few places he’d ever had fun with his mom before she became addicted.
And it was fun, even after all these years. He went to nearly every exhibit and saved the elephant one for last, since they were all the way at the end. Jason ended up buying a few souvenirs including, but not limited to, a tiger key chain and a T-shirt.
It was one of the best days of his life, right under the original day.
But, of course, the universe loathes Jason Todd.
At the elephant exhibit, he spotted his former ‘brothers’ (could he even call them that? They hated his guts when he was ‘alive’) with the new kid, also the new Shadow, Grayson. All three wore smiles, even the emotionless bastard, Damian. Drake looked happy and stress-free for once.
He should’ve known that he could never have anything nice. He didn’t deserve anything nice.
His iota of contentment drained away, as if someone pulled a plug. They passed him without even noticing who he was. He even heard part of their conversation.
“You’ll come to my play, right? Right?!” he heard Grayson yell excitedly.
They both gave him soft smiles and confirmed that they would.
And by God, did that hurt. He remembered always trying so hard to make the two acknowledge him and even resorted to begging to have them come to his school play, even peeking out the curtain on his play day every minute or so to check if they were there.
They never showed.
He never asked them for anything again.
He wondered how Grayson was different from him. Was it because he was from the circus while Jason hailed from the dirty streets? Or was it because he made friends wherever he went, while Jason only ever managed to make everyone hate him?
Something slithered from Jason’s guts to his throat. It squeezed him before caressing his jugular almost gently. ‘It’s because you’re you. You were never good enough, and you never will be.’
‘I know,’ he agreed. ‘I’m not good enough for anyone.’
The green purred.
Jason’s shoulders slumped as he crossed the zoo off his mental ‘Places I actually like’ list. It was getting shorter and shorter as time passed.
Why was it so wrong for him to enjoy life? Why was everyone else entitled to a happy and carefree existence while he was condemned to being miserable and having no one?
Even as Shadow, the only thing he ever received was hatred. Hatred from Damian. Hatred from Drake. Hatred from Stephanie. Hatred from the Titans. Hatred from his schoolmates.
His only good memories were books, his mom, Alfred, Talia’s very, very rare mom moments, and the one smile Bruce had ever given him. Even that was just a quirk of lips.
That was it.
Those were what he held on to fiercely when he woke up gasping, and screaming from nightmares every night.
He hadn’t seen Alfred in a while. The last time was when he was Shadow. As much as he was certain the old man loved him, he was just as certain that no one cared about his death. Bruce replaced him easily enough. Damian, Drake, and Stephanie gave exactly zero shits about him. The titans couldn’t care less that he had died. He watched their security feeds a few times, and barely recognized them when they were around Grayson. When they were with him, they were cold, distant, rude, and sometimes downright bullies. With Grayson, they were warmth, sunshine, and everything a hero was.
He didn’t understand. He never did anything to any of the people who hated him.
The first time he was introduced to Damian, he was so excited that he could barely contain it. When he expected at least a greeting, he was met with a cold sneer instead.
The first time he met Tim, he was given a face of ice and hardened stone.
The first time he met the Titans, he was ignored, and met with eyes of hate.
The first time he went to Gotham Academy, he was given dirty looks because he was from the Alley.
The first time he met Stephanie and tried to call her by her nickname, she told him, “Only my friends call me Steph.”
Was it wrong for him to wish that someone would pick him up instead of shoving his face to the dirt?
It probably was. No one cared about Jason Todd. It was his mantra, as well as a fact. The sky was blue, the grass was green, and no one gave a crap about Jason Todd.
Talia might, but she would always choose Damian, her blood son, over him. Jason knew that she manipulated him, but couldn’t help but wish for her caring about him. Bruce would pick any of the others. Alfred would always choose Bruce. Damian and Drake would never pick him. Stephanie made it very clear that she despised him. He didn’t know Cassandra at all. The Titans found him despicable.
Even Catherine chose drugs over him.
It wasn’t fair.
It wasn’t fair that he died. It wasn’t fair he came back to life. It wasn’t fair that his mom died. It wasn’t fair that his biological mom sold him out to his murderer. It wasn’t fair that he lived in the heart of Gotham. It wasn’t fair that everyone hated him. It wasn’t fair that he clawed his way out of the grave, showed himself to the bats, and not one single one of them gave a damn.
Not that whining would help. Nothing was fair for him.
Nothing would change that.
Jason’s shoulders slumped, as if they were carrying the weight of the world. He tucked his souvenirs away and walked out of the zoo.
He didn’t know that Damian’s eyes locked onto his figure.
Jason’s breath was knocked out of his chest as he was slammed against the wall. Ghoul stood in front of him, glowering as he gripped a gauntleted hand on Jason’s throat while using the other to immobilize him.
“What were you doing at the zoo?”
“You saw me?” he asked incredulously.
“Of course I did. I am the Ghoul. Nothing gets past me, Red Hood. Nothing.” He slammed Jason again, clasping his neck so tightly that Jason was sure there’d be bruises later. “Now, what were you doing at the zoo? Were you trying to target Shadow?”
“Can’t a guy just enjoy the zoo?”
Damian’s hand squeezed tighter.
“I really was just enjoying the zoo,” he gasped out.
Damian scoffed loudly. “Try again.”
“Or what? You’ll kill me?”
“No. I’ll just break all the bones in your body,” he growled.
“Pretty sure I’d die from that.”
He grabbed Jason’s wrist with his other hand and twisted harshly Jason groaned when he heard a snap. Pain flared like a swirling fire from his wrist. Alright, time to put an end to this.
“I don’t get why you don’t believe me. I even bought souvenirs.”
Damian moved to grasp his other wrist.
“It reminded me of my mom, okay?!” he spat, as if the words were a curse. And in a way, they were. “One of the only places my mom took me to was the zoo. I didn’t expect to see you and your family there.”
His hand and throat were dropped. Damian’s face hadn’t changed, but he could detect a hint of something akin to shame or regret. Jason was probably reading it wrong.
Damian al Ghul Wayne never regretted anything.
Least of all anything that hurt him.
“Red Hood,” he said, as if whatever he was going to say next would physically pain him. “I… apolo—”
“Save it,” Jason cut in sharply, his voice hoarse from being choked. He didn’t need some fake apology from Damian-I’m-superior-Wayne. “Just keep yourself and your family far away from me.”
Ghoul’s voice came out slightly hesitant. “They are your family as well.”
Jason snorted as he rubbed his throat. “What bullshit. What kind of ‘older brother’ breaks his ‘little brother’s’ wrist and tries to strangle him? I don’t have a family.”
He pulled his grappling hook from his side and ignored the throb in his wrist and throat. He didn’t even have to think about his aim before firing and swinging away, leaving Ghoul standing alone on the roof.
He was surprised. He’d honestly expected more broken bones, but it was great that he didn’t receive any more. One was enough, thank you very much. He’d have to suspend his outdoor Red Hood activities for a day or so, though. He couldn’t go out with a broken wrist. Black Mask was planning something, though, so he could spend the days taking a look at that and planning accordingly.
He knew he and Damian weren’t family.
But why did his heart burn whenever he saw him?
Why do people have emotions?
Jason had no damn clue. They were a pain in the butt to deal with, and he would be so much more efficient without them. He wouldn’t feel a prick in his heart every time he saw the Grayson kid with the people who he used to want to be his older brothers. He wouldn’t feel a bone deep ache inside when he saw Bruce see him as a mere criminal. He wouldn’t be sitting upside down on his ratty stained old couch lamenting his life.
But unfortunately for him, people had emotions.
Why couldn’t he have been born as a wild animal? All they worried about was food, shelter, and survival.
Funnily enough, that was pretty much all he worried about too. With the exception of being a vigilante. But details.
Jason shouldn’t even be out in the field alone. He knew that. For one, he was a minor. He was sixteen (almost seventeen) for god’s sake. Even he knew that he should be in school, worrying about grades, friends, and stuff like that. He wasn’t actually sure what people worried about in school. He only went for three years before he had to drop out to collect money for rent himself. He was home-schooled with Bruce.
He had no idea why people whined about why they hated it. Studying was the best thing in the world. If he could go back to school, he would return in a heartbeat, but if he tried, Drake would catch him. So instead, he was legally dead, busy taking down entire gang operations, and keeping the crime low in the Alley.
Something no sixteen year old should be doing.
Yet, here he was.
And second, he had no support system. He didn’t have a guy in the chair, nor did he have any backup he could call upon when things turned ugly. He would always limp away to lick his own wounds, and even on the very, very, very rare occasions that he worked with the bats, like during an alien invasion that they actually needed help with rare, they wouldn’t care one way or the other when he got injured.
They were all occupied with Grayson , he thought bitterly.
Why did Grayson get everything he desperately wanted? And for free, too. What he wouldn’t give to have even one percent of what Grayson did. He had love, family, friends, a dad, and absolutely no one hated him. Jason knew because he had spent more than a few nights watching from afar.
Bruce had, at one point, had treated him like a son. Or so Jason believed. He wasn’t sure if he had loved him, but Jason loved him. He loved running around the manor, reading books, and just being the kid that he never got the chance to be.
It was all an act for Jason. An act that he wished with all his heart was real.
But it wasn’t.
He was a rotten alley rat through and through. Damian, Drake, and Stephanie had made sure that he knew and didn’t forget.
When he was with Talia, he remembered sobbing when she showed him his replacement’s picture, and she held him close, murmuring arabic in his ear. She read to him during the cold nights, when the hurt ran too deep and the frost chilled his bones. Her warm voice still echoed in his brain sometimes, when he shot up thrashing from nightmares.
But all the time he spent at Nanda Parbat was pointless.
He wanted revenge on Bruce.
But how do you get revenge on someone who never really cared in the first place?