“He was alive,” Bruce clarifies, sitting stoically in his chair; besides him is Dick, face pitying and he’s biting his lip. Tim doesn’t look at anyone, but he doesn’t move either. “You were alive before…before the Pit…”
Jason doesn’t say anything; his eyes are glossy, and it makes Damian angry. He had been better, so much better, after they left the manor, when they had gone to watch Joker fall, when they returned. He had been better. But he’s not doing better now; now he’s tired and stressed and Bruce is bringing up painful memories. Damian sucks in a deep breath.
Dick’s eyes water, and Bruce glances at Damian. “And you met him there? At Ra’s compound…”
Damian nods, feels Jason turn to look at him; “I did; he wasn’t…”
“I wasn’t all there.” His voice is hoarse, and he clears his throat. “I…I wasn’t all there and Talia was trying… She was trying to help me?”
“She wanted you to heal by yourself,” Damian says, then shrugs. “At least, I think so; she and Grandfather never told me their plans. But I believe they argued about using the Pit; Mother didn’t want to.”
“You were there,” Jason confirms, though that’s already been revealed. “You…you took me to different rooms. There were books and weapons; and there was a pastry. You talked to me.”
Jason remembers Damian, if only in wispy snippets, and Damian meets Bruce’s gaze. “What else do you want to know?”
“Why didn’t you tell me…?” He glances at Grayson. “Us; why didn’t you tell us?”
“I did not think it was necessary or something you needed to know; would that not just condemn me as you had condemned Jason?”
Bruce rubs his temples, but it’s Drake who speaks up. “That doesn’t make much sense.”
“You did not tell me Red Hood was Jason, and when I found out on my own you told me he was violent and dangerous. You can understand why I may not trust you, and why I may not want you to know my opinion on Jason; he was never dangerous.” Damian thinks for a moment, crosses his arms firmly, and swings one leg. “At least not to me. I could help him, but if you knew what I thought, if you knew what I was planning, if you knew what I would do…you wouldn’t let me.”
No one says anything, and Damian wonders if he didn’t articulate his position well; beyond his fears of being kept from Jason, Damian wanted his memories to stay his, untainted, and he didn’t want to hurt his family with his news. To know Jason had been alive, before the Pit, had gone through so much pain and suffering before this madness took hold…
It pains them, even now, when they’re beginning to reunite and fix things; it pains them to know Jason was unaware, was in danger, was manipulated and kept from them, for so long.
“We thought…” Grayson says, and his voice cracks.
“We thought your body had been stolen,” Drake finishes. “Your grave was caved in, from the inside, but we…we didn’t think it was possible. So…we just…”
“We deducted you had been stolen by Ra’s, not that you were alive.”
For a while, no one says anything; all that sounds is the ticking of the grandfather clock and their breathing, Jason’s heavy and broken.
“I clawed out,” he says quietly, almost only low enough for Damian to hear. “I clawed out and I remember.”
Grayson cries; Bruce doesn’t say anything, but he tiptoes around them after that. He tries to look at Jason with something other than a guarded expression, tries to look at him for longer than a few seconds, but he still can’t; Drake is the only one who doesn’t treat them exceptionally different. In fact, he’s kinder. He talks to them, he tries to get information on what happened when they disappeared from Damian; but Damian is tight lipped and Drake lets it go.
In a way, Damian is glad they know the truth now; he’s glad they see what horrors Jason had to go through, and how far he’s come. And he has come far; he smiles now, little twitches at the corner of his mouth that Damian remembers from the compound, and he’s careful with his weapons. Bruce doesn’t want to let him out on the streets, tries to keep him locked in the manor; Damian has none of it.
He trusts Jason, and his tells Jason so as they suit up. “I trust you not to be too violent tonight.”
It takes Jason a moment before he nods once, firmly; “Ok. I won’t kill tonight.”
Damian presses his domino mask onto his face and goes to leave, then turns back. “Unless absolutely necessary, no killing.”
Jason grins; it’s not quite manic, but there’s some crazy there. “I figured that was obvious, baby bird.”
It’s the first time Jason calls him a nickname, and it takes Damian a full 20 minutes before it registers; when it does, he’s just landed in a crouch on a rooftop and he frowns and stands, turning to glare across the street to where Jason kicks a leg over the side of his roof.
Jason shrugs, as if to ask what’s up, and Tim standing behind the elder teen tips his head to the side as if to ask the same thing. Baby bird? Damian scoffs; he is no baby.
In total, the night is a success; Jason kills two people, and only wounds the thirty-seven others. Damian asks him back at the cave why those two people had to die, and Jason stutters over his words as if he doesn’t want Damian to know what rape is.
“This is why he shouldn’t be allowed out on patrol!” Bruce says, quietly vicious.
“I believe he did his best,” Damian reasons, and he sees Tim take a breath from the corner of his eye.
“I think so too, Bruce; he used to leave bodies on every street. He took down only two this time; he’s doing better.”
“He shouldn’t be allowed out until he’s—”
“Perfect?” Tim barks a laugh. “Bruce, no one’s perfect; he’s trying. He’s doing better; can’t you just accept that? Is it really that hard to tell him your proud?”
Bruce doesn’t say anything for a while, and when he’s winding up for a lecture Jason steps out from the shower room, hair wet and a towel looped around his neck, and before Damian can move or cut Bruce off Tim is up and across the room.
“Leave any hot water for the rest of us?” There’s humor in Tim’s voice, and Damian turns a smug look on his father; they’ve got Drake on their side, at least…
They go out on patrols more, Grayson visits often, and there’s still lots of tension between Bruce and Damian and Jason and Tim. Damian is ready to give up on this family, to move away with Jason and Tim if he wants to come too.
It’s on one particular tense patrol that Damian spots her again.
She wants him too, he knows, because otherwise she wouldn’t have let him see her; or chase her. Or take her down. But she lets him do all that, and she smiles kindly and draws him into a hug. He’s stiff against her.
“What do you want, Mother?”
Talia keeps her hands on his shoulders and looks at him; is that pride in her eyes? “Do you remember what I told you? Back when Jason was with us.”
She has said a lot of things to Damian in the years he’s been with her; he should have known everything was a lesson. Even now, he learns new things from his memories of her; but he can’t think of anything and she must understand because she smiles and gently brushes the back of her hand against his cheek.
“Emotions can be a weapon is used properly,” she reminds him.
His eyes widen. “Or if you learn to use others’ emotions…” A small picture starts to form, of his grandfather’s scheming. “I…”
“You healed Jason,” she states, kneeling. “Your grandfather tried to use him; he…he forced me to use Jason. We wanted to destroy Batman through Jason, so we…we manipulated him, we twisted his emotions into anger and spite and we set him loose on Gotham. And I hated it; I loved Jason, as much as I love you, and I…I am so thankful you helped him.”
Damian doesn’t know what to say, so he doesn’t, and Talia seems alright with that; she has more to say.
“Did you kill Joker?”
He chooses to not speak; he never will speak of that time, and neither will Jason. It’s an unspoken agreement between them.
She doesn’t push further, only drawing Damian in for another hug. “You need to know, your grandfather has been made aware of what’s going on and he’s not happy. He may come for you, come for Jason… You have to watch your back.”
Before Damian can register her words, before he can respond or begin planning, there’s the flutter of a cape and the thud of a body and a gauntleted hand draws him forcefully away from his mother; Batman is there, holding Damian close and under Batman’s cape. Damian can see Talia’s calm face and she raises from her kneeling position.
“Damian and Jason are my sons,” Batman grumbles. “And you and your people should not touch them.”
Talia smiles, ever serenely, and backs into the shadows. “I love them as much as you do, beloved; and I will protect them as fiercely, if not more so.”
And then she is gone, and Damian listens to his father’s heavy breathing; he called both of them his son.
Perhaps this family is not a lost cause just yet.