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born to run (born to rise)

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This invasion thing had gone to shit really, really quickly. But hey, they won. The downside? Jason Todd was now curled up on the ground, all by his lonesome, facing the brunt of the toxins that had been released into the air. 

Whatever it had been, it was ridiculously potent. He felt parts of himself crumbling, dissolving into nothingness and leaving behind his beaten, ragged core. Leaving behind the rotting corpse of a bird with broken wings, who had been on the wrong side of a rusty crowbar and a maniac’s ire.

A strangled gasp left his lips, heart clenching in a desperate attempt to will him back to existence, to will him to keep fighting, keep living. To cling to some small part of him, however pathetic it was.

He was himself. He was…more than a symbol, more than a fallen solider, more than a cautionary tale. He was Jason Peter Todd, and he would keep fucking fighting, damn it! 

(Or would he?)

Letting loose a soft snarl, he pushed himself up on shaky arms, staving off the prickly pain the toxin brought him. All the little heroes milling about had gas masks on at this point, but the one he had found was long gone. Given to some old lady, too slow to escape before the initial wave hit the city. The stupid, hopeful fool in him hoped she made it out alright.

(Hoped she might remember him as a good person. Not a hero, not a saviour, just…good. Another part of his battered heart shattered, shards of desperation carving wounds in his soul. All he wanted…someone to think he was good.)

Every bone in his body protesting, he managed to rise onto shaking limbs, clumsily pulling his jacket closer around him. There was a chill in the air, gray clouds blocking out any chance of sunshine. The cold was certainly helping the havoc the toxin was wreaking on his body, only strengthening the hallucinations and dark despair.

He would just have to make it to a safe-house, make it somewhere quiet, alone, and there he could pass out—die—peacefully. Idly, he wondered if Talia would keep her promise, in the face of his second death. 

(“Cremate me. Cremate me and spread my ashes in that dessert, over the broken remains of that damned warehouse. That’s where Jason Todd died.”

“Are you sure?”

“…Yeah. That way, we can all pretend this second life, this…hah, this tragedy…didn’t happen. Let him pretend it didn’t happen. Let him keep the memory of his faithful little sidekick; that’ll be my last present to the old man.”)

A strained smile made its way onto his lips at the recollection, and some long-gone part of his mind vaguely remembered Talia’s sorrow. She had been…undeniably good to him, now that he thought about it. Harsh, relentless, and recklessly selfish…but he owed her for everything. What started off as a gift for her beloved had turned into a pet project and then evolved into…affection. Tenderness. She was his son, all his son, unlike Damian, who was wholly his father’s.

A pang of guilt echoed through him. Talia…would be distraught, he knew, but he offered her all he could. His loyalty, his affection, his trust. Hopefully she would remember him as he had been, a damaged bird she nursed back to health.

(She held his shaking body in her arms, characteristically quiet even as sobs shook his scrawny form.

Across the room, on the floor, were pictures. Dozens of pictures, of the Dark Knight and his new Robin. His new son. Almost adjacent to the pictures was a bloodied knife, laying pitifully in a pool of the offending liquid.

“Does it ever get easier? Any of it?” 

A pause. 

“…The firsts are always the hardest, my son. First kills, first betrayals…it gets easier. If you let it.”)

It would have to be enough. Whatever this toxin was, whatever it was doing to him…there would be no antidote in time. Jason didn’t think anyone had been working on one, anyways, because a full-scale alien invasion was an all hands on deck kind of thing.

Even if there was an antidote, he doubted any of it would be spared for him. Not when there were civilians, heroes…a criminal was not high up on their list of priorities.

He slammed into the corner of a wall, recognizing the beginnings of Crime Alley. His streets had been left thankfully undisturbed, but nonetheless there wasn’t a soul in sight. Street kids and the poor alike…had strong survival skills. They could smell trouble like it was their sixth sense, and he knew, deep down, they had evacuated with the others, even if nobody came for them. 

I’m sorry, he wanted to say, as a jolt of realization shot through him, coupled with a burning sense of shame. I’m sorry I didn’t come, like I swore I always would. 

Soon. He had a safe-house, deep in the heart of the sprawling streets, but it was only a five-minute walk from where he currently was. He could make it there in a good—

“Jason.”

Superman. Well, shit.

“Here to take me in, Supes?” Jason snarled, turning around to glare at the brightly-dressed icon. The man in question frowned as he descended, parental concern taking over at the disastrous sight of his best friend’s second son. The boy had clearly inhaled much more of the toxin than he could take, and was clearly fighting off hallucinations… 

“The rest of your family is back in the center of the attack, why aren’t you with them?”

Jason let loose a startled laugh, genuinely shocked. The boy scout actually thought…oh, boy.

“They’re not my family. I don’t have a family. Now, could you answer my question? I need to know whether or not I have to scrounge up a gun or run or something.”

Clark shook his head at the callous response, finally setting himself down on the ground in front of Jason. He knew the boy had taken on the title of the Red Hood, had murdered and terrorized his siblings…but he could hear the sincerity buried deep in the bitterness. He truly thought he didn’t have a place with the Bats of Gotham.

“Does your father know you were the reason we were able to overpower the Krux?” He asks gently, and accepts the surprised look Jason throws him. His heart pangs when he realizes it’s the most innocent look he’s ever received from the boy.

“Why would he? All I am to him is a constant reminder of his biggest mistake,” Jason spits out. He hated talking to Clark, despite the fact that he meant well. It was just…infuriating, how the man exuded hope. There was no hope in Crime Alley unless it was beaten in the thugs and rapists that haunted the streets. Unless each and every street kid had somewhere to sleep for the night. “Besides, they were too close to my streets, my people. I don’t let anybody hurt the people I’ve sworn to protect.”

“Yeah, that old lady you gave your gas mask to? She’s fine by the way,” Clark informed him, a small, tired smile gracing the Man of Steel’s face. He pretended not to notice the small huff of relief Jason released. Clark knew that Metropolis oozed hope, practically drowned in it, while Gotham had to give its blood, sweat, and tears for even a shred of false courage. Had given its blood, sweet, and tears to its caped protectors, who stood tall atop all the broken promises and hollow memories for everyone who couldn’t. 

But Jason was the exception. 

Jason was…unconventional. He wasn’t supported by the life force of the city; he was the city. He was the dirty streets, marred with grime and age-old bloodstains. He was the weeping children, abandoned to the streets by drug-addict parents and abusive caretakers. He was the acidic air, heaving and snarling and fighting tooth and nail to see another day. 

He was Gotham’s heir, her son. Her true-born prodigy, who burned himself away to get the job done.

But murder was murder, and Bruce was steadfast and solid in his beliefs. 

“Jason,” Clark’s voice was soft, cajoling. “You’re hurt. Let us help you.”

This was bad. Clark was being serious, and really wanted—expected—him to go back with him. Back to the League. Back to the Bats. 

He needed to get out of there. Fast. 

“Seriously? No thanks, Supes, I’d rather not be arrested today, thanks,” he rolled his eyes, despite the fact that Clark couldn’t see his eyes. There was a faint buzzing in his ears, getting louder and louder by the second, and he could tell it was one of the side effects of the drugs the Krux had used.

“You won’t be harmed,” Clark promises, tone firm and made of steel and ice and everything that he hoped screamed ‘protection’. “Not while I’m around.”

“Heard that before,” Jason mumbled before he can stop himself. Clark feels a swell of pain rise within him at the reminder of the fact that Jason Todd had suffered more than he deserved to. Was the personification of suffering, really; he was made up of death and agony.

Jason, however subtle it may be, began to feel a cold numbness spreading throughout his body, starting from the tips of his toes and moving upwards at an alarming rate. What was going on? The next phase of the toxin? He couldn’t afford to stay here and keep up a conversation, however enlightening the other may find it, damn it, he— 

Suddenly, Jason lurched forwards.

Before the boy could hit the ground, Clark had him in his arms and was up in the air, wild eyes searching the boy’s face for a hint of how much pain he was in. Jason’s mouth was wide open, chest heaving in an effort to bring in enough air to sustain his body. Accelerated stages? 

As Clark began to fly in the direction of the others, mindful of the vigilante in his arms, he listened carefully to the other heartbeats in the city, and with a sinking heart confirmed what he already knew; no one else’s heartbeats were as erratic as Jason.

“Hang on, Jason,” he murmured over the roar of the wind, wondering if he could even hear him. “Hang in there.”

He touched down mere moments later, the sudden weight cracking the asphalt beneath his feet. Diana and Bruce both lifted their heads to nod in greeting, but the latter froze at the body in Clark’s arms.

“No…” Clark heard his best friend breathe out, the single syllable drenched in horror. Now there was another heartbeat as erratic as Jason’s. 

His father’s.

Diana and the other Leaguers watched on, concerned, as Bruce forgot everything he was doing and strode towards his best friend. Jason was doing his best to breathe, to grant himself some level of comfort, but it was impossible; Clark wondered if his lungs were closing, or collapsing, or—

“Hey, Clark,” the ex-Robin rasped. “If I don’t make it, make sure…make sure Talia Al Ghul gets my body, alright?”

“Stop that,” the Man of Steel admonished quietly, eyes burning. “You’re not dying today, Jason.”

“We don’t have an antidote,” Bruce was finally at his side, and behind him, Clark could see the other Bats staring, Nightwing already beginning to run in their direction, his teeth gritted. “Damn it, Superman, we don’t have an—” 

“I know,” Jason cuts in, voice hoarse. “Don’t sweat it, you ol’ geezer, I know.”

Bruce reached out, trembling fingers checking his son’s pulse. Too slow, too erratic, too…abnormal. Jason was watching him, he realized, watching his reactions to see how bad it was.

“Where was your mask? Where was your mask, Jason?” He finds himself asking, voice harsh as fear overtook his senses. He was going to lose his boy all over again, he was going to lose Jason again before they could mend things, before they could fix it— 

“Unbelievable…I’m fucking dying and you’re choosing now to lecture me? You asshole,” Jason throws back, somewhat good-naturedly, though Clark could hear the undercurrent of anger. Bruce’s fingers had found his damp hair, and were gently pushing the thick locks out of his face. “Lecture that glass case you have in the cave.” 

“Jay,” and then Nightwing was there, hands reaching and searching and stroking. Jason didn’t have the strength to push him away. “Little Wing…no, no no no no no.”

“I got a piggyback ride from Supes before you did, Goldie, how do ya feel about that?” Jason manages a feeble smile, and Clark found himself wondering how Gotham’s son could have so much warmth left in him. A sob tore itself from Nightwing, who clung to his little brother’s shaking fists in vain. “Chin up, the batbrats need your ass. I…look—” 

The sound of heavy motors cut him off, and a strange look crossed the man’s face. They all looked up, and watched as a sleek, midnight-coloured jet descended onto the ground. Why did it look…familiar? Almost as if Clark had seen it before, seen it in use…but it wasn’t from anywhere around here—

Before the wheels hit the ground, the grounding door was open and Talia Al Ghul, heir to the Demon, was racing down the platform, a vial in her hands and naked fear on her face.

“Heh,” Jason chuckled. Bruce was watching wildly, eyes going back and forth between the duo in a way that most would deem undetectable. “Didn’t think she would make it.”

“You fool,” Talia snaps as soon as she’s in hearing distance. Clark watches in wonder as she races right up to his side, despite her status as a wanted criminal, and began to check Jason’s pulse frantically. “You damn fool, fighting wars that not yours to fight, getting hurt…”

“Already got a lecture,” Jason cuts in dryly, weakly tilting his head in Bruce’s direction. “Tell me you brought two of those vials.”

“Of course I did!” Talia glares at him, and Clark takes in the sheepish look that suddenly appeared on Jason’s face. “You and your damn hero complex would not have let me do my duty otherwise.” 

“Save it for when I’m not dying, mom.”

At that, Bruce visibly flinches. Mother and son spare the man a fleeting glance, but then Clark had all of Talia’s attention.

“Put him down on the ground,” she instructed, eyes daring for a contradiction. They had none to offer. “He needs space. I will care for Hood while you and Batman get the antidote replicated. It’s of a weaker concentration than the one I prepared for him, but it should be enough.” 

Clark glanced at his best friend, and found the man’s jaw clenched so tight he was worried his teeth would crack. But…Jason had asked him to bring his body back to Talia. Talia had brought the antidote to them, only because of Jason. 

He set Jason down on the ground and accepted the second vial from the woman, stepping away and letting her get to work.

“Go,” Bruce growls, voice low. “I’m staying right here.”

Clark, expecting no less, hurtled away with the antidote clutched in his hands, throwing a final look back at Jason. He would be okay.

He would have to be okay. 

Jason was starting to feel the fatigue that was no doubt the last stage of the toxin, and could barely keep his eyes open. Nevertheless, Talia worked fast, taking his jacket off and cutting off the sleeve of his undershirt.

“Sorry,” he manages to whisper. “I didn’t mean to worry you.” 

Finally, Talia’s eyes warmed, and she offered him a crooked smile that he knew she reserved for those quiet moments she could steal from the League. Moments for her sons. “You never do, but I worry every time you are in your father’s city. He is the only one capable of truly hurting you.”

Jason quiets down at that, and somewhere above him he could hear Bruce take in a shaky breath, as if the realization had just dawned on him. He can see Dick, his hand on Bruce’s shoulder, and the rest of the crew behind them. The Demon Brat was staring at his mother, arms crossed and posture stiff. Batgirl and Spoiler were watching on, the latter wringing her hands in what his brain perceived as worry. Replacement stood beside them, shoulders tense but nonetheless waiting for the man to pull through. 

A family. 

Jason ignored the odd pang in his heart and turned his attention back to Talia, who was emptying the vial’s contents into a syringe. It was odd, the colour of the antidote, and seemed to catch in the light. In fact, it looked familiar…oh.

Oh no.

“I’m sorry, my son,” Talia murmured, voice strained. “It was the only way we could think to bypass the toxin’s gene structure. The normal antidote wouldn’t have worked on you, given your resistance to drugs, so we had to.”

With that, she emptied the Lazarus Pit-infused antidote into his veins, and everything went green. 

A weak gasp left his lips, and Jason arched his back off the ground as a jolt of current shot through his entire being. Talia stayed right there with him, as she always had, and watched on as Jason writhe on the ground, his body accepting the long forgone substance in a desperate attempt to heal itself.

“You pr-promised,” he managed to snarl through the pain, through the hazy nothingness that had enveloped him. “You sa-said…n-ne-never again. You said never again!”

“Talia!” Bruce all but roared, but before he could intervene, Dick stopped him with a solemn look. “Dick—”

“Stop, there’s obviously more to this than we know, and Talia…I hate to admit it, but she knows more than we know about Hood’s circumstances.” 

Bruce opened and closed his mouth, chest tightening as he was forced to accept defeat and watch his son suffer on the floor of a broken street, at the mercy of one of the deadliest assassins to ever walk the planet.

Jason, on the other hand, was having a hard time keeping his body complacent and staving off overheating his sensory muscles. Everything was louder, brighter, too much, and there wasn’t anything he could do about it. It was eerily similar to the first time he had experience the Pit’s magic, had drowned in its glowing throes.

Had risen, born again, and collapsed into Talia’s awaiting arms with his cry for Bruce dying on his lips.

It took a total of five minutes and forty-five seconds for the tremors to settle down. They knew because all of them had been keeping count.

By the end of it, Jason looked even worse than he had looked to begin with, but he was breathing normally and his skin wasn’t as pale as before. Talia smoothed back his now dripping hair, and allowed herself a chaste kiss to his forehead.

“You’re okay,” she murmured, a small smile gracing her lips. He gave her a wolfish grin, but she could see the affection beneath the fake bravado. She stood, eyes still watching Jason’s shifting form, but her words were addressed to Bruce. 

“Get him into the jet, my beloved, he needs somewhere to rest, so I’m taking him back with me.”

“Absolutely not,” Bruce glared at her, eyes burning with sheer determination. “I am taking him back to Gotham where he belongs, and he will rest up in the Manor where we can monitor his status.”

“And throw him back into a cell as soon as he’s back on his feet?” Talia challenged, her own anger simmering just under the surface. “I thought we all decided you weren’t the best for him anymore, had we not?” 

“I am his father,” Bruce scowled, unwilling to lose this fight. He would not, not when Jason was watching him so intently. “He…doesn’t belong in a cell. But he is a son of Gotham, first and foremost, and I daresay he’d want to keep himself updated on the state of his sectors.”

There was a pause, in which Talia glanced back down at her son’s sprawling form. They locked eyes, and it pained Bruce to see them have a silent conversation. He and Jason had lost that ability long ago. 

(Had they ever had it? They had to have, for him to have heard Jason’s phantom goodbyes all those nights after Ethiopia.)

“Fine,” she finally replies after a hefty silence. She shoots Bruce a venomous look, coupled with a lethal smile. “I’ll be in touch with him, though, and at the first notice of anything going awry, I will bring the League’s entire wrath down upon you and your own.”

Bruce, acknowledging the weight of her promise, nodded. He bent down and picked up his wayward son, shifting him in his arms gently as he followed Talia towards the jet. Behind him, Dick herded the others together, quietly handing out instructions. Though the other leaguers were busy with handing out the antidote, Clark turned and watched them go, his eyes on Jason’s prone form the entire time.

Bruce only held him closer. 

Today had not been the day he had lost his son. That day would not come for a long, long time if he had anything to say about it.


Jason woke up in a bed, in a room somewhere in Wayne Manor. He also woke up with Bruce’s hulking form right beside the bed, the man slumped over and asleep. Once Jason let loose an instinctual groan, however, the man shot out of his seat, eyes frantically searching his son’s face for any sign of discomfort.

“Feels like someone ran me over with a truck, and made sure to back up over me,” Jason muttered, shooting Bruce a squinty glance. “What are you doing here?”

“I was waiting for you to wake up,” Bruce said it like it was obvious, and even if he had trained the reactions out of him, Jason still found himself flustered.

“For answers?”

“To make sure you were okay, Jason.”

They lapsed into a silence, neither knowing how to carry on with a conversation. Jason knew what the older man wanted to ask, wanted to know, but he didn’t…he didn’t know how he would word it. How to put it into words, his gratefulness for Talia. 

“You were brought back through the Lazarus Pit,” Bruce finally started, the question coming out as a statement.

Jason shook his head slowly, turning his head to look out the window. Though his memories of…then were hazy, he remembered enough. Too much, on those nights he woke up screaming and crying and sobbing for Batman, Bruce, to save him.

“No,” he finally manages to whisper. “I woke up in my coffin still screaming for you. I, erm, scratched and clawed my way out, and then it’s all a mess. I remember…I remember Talia finding me, I vaguely remember some time at the League…but not much before the Pit.” 

“They took your memories?” Bruce sounded angry. Jason would have to clarify, even if he didn’t want the man to know. For both their sakes, really, because the truth was not an easy pill to swallow.

“Nah, I…still had brain damage. From the Joker’s beating. When I was on the streets, I survived on muscle memory, but when Talia brought me back and hoped for me to regain all my senses, I…couldn’t. So she threw me into the Pit, while Ra’s was in there, and I came out crying and sobbing for you.” 

He could hear the small gasp Bruce took. He could feel it, almost as if it was a tangible thing. He could feel the despair, the pain, and uncontainable self-loathing…and, for some reason, he felt guilty. 

“But I’m here now, and I’m okay, thanks to Talia. She nursed me back to health, trained me, kept an eye on me while I traveled the world training…and she checked up on me after I came back to Gotham,” he felt the need to say. I’m okay. I’m okay.

“I’m sorry,” Bruce finally says, the words choked and strained and sounding nothing like the man Jason knew. “I’m sorry I failed you, I’m sorry I continued to fail you even after you came back.”

Jason was stunned into silence. Bruce…apologizing? 

“Hey, B, you only get like 10 apologies for your entire lifespan, don’t waste them on me,” he felt inclined to joke, even if it fell completely flat and came out stilted. “I ain’t worth it.”

“You are,” Bruce cuts in, voice still not sounding like himself. “God, Jason, you are. You’re worth an apology and so, so much more.”

Jason blinked. There was a familiar burning in his eyes, his throat closing. He swallowed down his sobs, his tears, and instead regarded the man who was now holding his hands tightly between his own.

“I’m glad you’re alive, Jay,” Bruce murmurs, a heartbreaking smile on his face. For him. Jason heard, and felt, a quiet whimper escaped him. “I’m glad I got a second chance to fix this.”

“You’ve…you’ve never said that before,” he sounded dazed, and he pretty much was. Maybe he had died. “You…I’m a mistake. I’m everything you never wanted to be, that was the entire gimmick I built my legacy on!”

“I know I haven’t, and I should have. And no, Jason, you are not a mistake. You were one of the best things to ever happen to me. You were my Robin, but above all else, you were my son. You are my son. And I am determined to fix things, if you give me the chance.”

He was floored. Bruce…oh, damn, the old man was asking for another chance. Could he…could he really? Did he want to? Jason stared hard at the man he once considered his father. Saw the hope, shining in those eyes of his. Those same eyes that had seen Gotham at her lowest, had seen his parents die. Had witnessed tragedy after tragedy after tragedy, and yet…had he done that? Put that light in Bruce’s eyes?

Did he want this?

(“You were always meant for great things, my son. Everyone you’ve ever met has known that.”

“I don’t…I didn’t ask for that. You know I didn’t. I just…”

“So what did you ask for?”)

“Okay,” Jason says. “Okay.”

Next thing he knew, he was in Bruce’s arms, a few tears slipping down his cheeks. He felt…fuck, he felt like he was finally home. He felt Bruce squeeze tightly, a shudder running through the Dark Knight’s body, and Jason pretended not to notice the rattling breath the man took. 

“Thank you, Jason,” he heard his father murmur into his hair. “And welcome home, lad.”

Home.

He was home.


 

Later that week, Bruce tossed a newspaper at him. Jason nearly dropped his cup of tea in his haste to catch it and shot Bruce an annoyed glare in response, but the man only smirked and gestured to the paper.

There he was on the front page, helmet on and facing down one of the Krux generals from the invasion. In the background was old Gotham, and the outer edges of Crime Alley. True Gotham as Gothamites knew it, and where he had been born and bred.

The article outlined the Red Hood’s heroism and his dedication to protecting his city, written by one Clark Kent.

Chapter Text

He punched the wall, a strangled, soundless yell falling from his lips and a steady stream of rubble bouncing off his helmet. The red headgear was in shambles, just barely holding together; he had put it on after the initial blast had brought down the building, despite its deteriorated state. 

He had willingly...Batman had...

"Fuck," the word came from Jason Todd's lips, sounding more like a sob than a curse. A dull reminder of the broken promise built on the holiest bond, somewhere a long, long time ago. Another life, really, if he were to be technical. "Fuck!"

His entire body was aching, and he probably had more broken bones and bruises than he could count. His neck and the top of his shirt, though...they were a warm, bloody mess, the incriminating liquid still pouring from the wound across the column of his throat. 

Batman had slit his throat, in an attempt to save the Joker. 

Bruce had chosen the Joker over his own...

When the first sob came, he let it out, trying and failing to not catalogue it as a dying sound. And then it was followed by another, and another, and suddenly Jason felt like the little boy who had died in that abandoned warehouse. Hot tears mixed with grime and blood, leaving him feeling dirtier than he had before. 

Wasn't even worth something as a person? A human? 

(But are you a human? Or are you a ghost, left to wander the world in a mortal body?

Let go, boy.

Let go.)

Here, on his knees in the ruins of the building he had led Batman to earlier on in the night, Jason considered turning the gun on himself and pulling the trigger.

He was a logical person; you had to be, to survived the streets of Gotham. With his goal unrecognized, the Joker gone, Batman...Batman turning his back on him, what was left for him? 

(Fight it, some distant voice begged him. Begged with steel in their voice, a firm edge that led him to believe they were a figure of authority.

Fight, win...thrive, and survive.)

"I'm tired," he murmured out loud, head bowed as shining droplets splattered onto the tarmac, water mixing with the blood. "I'm...I'm so tired. He fucking...I'm so tired!"

Only the wind whistled in return, a melancholic rhythm of apologies and memories. His only friend, in his desolate, pathetic second life. Maybe he deserved it.

Maybe this was karma. For being born, for ruining Catherine Todd's life, for...for disobeying orders. For being. Was that an act, punishable by death and betrayal? Was he not allowed to make mistakes? 

(Was he not allowed to be a child?)

A strangled hybrid of a sound left him, halfway between a sob and a scream, and the monstrous noise echoed through the dead of night. Whatever had been left of his barely beating heart, his shrewd consciousness...Bruce had cut it loose with his batarang. Had cut it loose and let it burn away into nothingness, leaving behind a worthless shell of a human.

This...this thing. A feeble excuse of a human being. 

(Fight, for you must.

I'm tired.)

The pain of death, the pain of knowing...suffering at the Joker's hands was a blessing in comparison to suffering at Bruce's hands. He would...fuck, he would choose the clown's beating over his fucking father's dismissal any day of the week. It had hurt less, being beaten with a crowbar. The physical act of the batarang slicing his throat, too, had hurt less than Bruce's actual decision. 

How fucked was that?

His gun was lost in the debris, but he had a few spare bullets on him still. Maybe if he...maybe if he could find the gun...he could finish what the Joker and Batman had started. Maybe taking himself out of the equation, letting Bruce believe he ended Jason's life...maybe it would compel the man to do something. To break, suffer, anything.

He just...he just wanted to mean something.

("This is the best day of my life!"

He's not here.

He's not coming. 

He's not coming.

I'm sorry, dad!)

His eyes shuttered close, fingers pressed up against his throat in a feeble attempt to stifle the blood loss. To prolong this mess of a life he had been given without asking, from a man who was to blame for his initial demise. 

(Cold steel broke through his scratched skin, sending rivulets of warm blood down the side of his face. His fingers, broken and bruised, shook as struggled to contain another scream. He was weak. A coward. Unworthy of the Robin mantle.

He screamed for the madman.

But where the Joker normally stood over him was now...Batman.)

Jason forced a shuddering breath through his lungs, feeling a burn echo throughout his entire body. Please, he wanted to say. Not here, not now.

But he knew the start of the a panic attack when he felt one; it was second nature now. He knew there was little he could do to prolong it, to stop it, other than to let it run its course. 

(A moment passed. 

Maybe that should've been Jason's warning. 

The next thing he knew, he felt the ice-cold touch of metal, a phantom slice across the exposed flesh of his neck.

He let a startled gasp slip past his lips; somewhere in the background, the Joker was cackling.

Then the world exploded in a blinding kaleidoscope of colour, but all Jason could feel was the broken rhythm of his heartbeat, and the tangible bitterness of betrayal in his mouth. The scalding heat coating his throat. 

A single thought cut through the static in his mind, broken enough to bring tears to his eyes under the domino mask that hid his emotions from the man now darting away.

Dad...?)

Somehow, he had his head pressed against the ground, tears still sliding down his cheeks as he choked back a sob. Followed by another, and another; soon, he reduced his outburst to a messy session of hiccups. 

He pictured himself, standing proud and wearing the Robin uniform, staring down at his failing, dying elder. Picture the younger boy scoffing, and offering him a hand.

In one variation of his hallucination, he doesn't take the hand offered to him. He instead lays on the ground, alabaster skin stained pink by his own blood and clothes tattered, as the obsidian skies melts away into dawn and Jason Peter Todd dies for a second and final time.

In the other variation...he takes his own hand, he helps himself onto his feet, and he gives Robin a small nod of gratitude. He pulls the ripped remains of his jacket closer, breathes deeply, and trudges back to a safehouse as light emerges from beyond the skyline. 

Choosing death was the coward's way out of a hard life. That was the unspoken motto that the impoverished streets lived by, and it was a code he promised to himself he would live by until his dying days. Nothing about his circumstances would change that, be it death or disappointment or soul-shattering betrayal thrown at him time and time again. 

He could die. He wanted to, really, wanted to give into the sweet temptation of falling asleep, of letting that all powerful dark consume him for the last time, but...but he wouldn't

Pain was temporary. A legacy was eternal.

And he promised himself, all those months ago when he had been named Robin, that he would become a legend. He had no intentions of letting himself down, even if he had managed to let down every other person to ever come in contact with him.

Love was a poison, and he was a curse.

A choked sob left him, but that was all he would allow the broken child inside of him. He locked up the pain, all that anguish and suffering, and he stared forward. A lesser man would have let it end him; he would have let the darkness choke the life from his lungs, let Gotham tear him to pieces. But Jason was a street rat. And if there was anything street rats could do...it was getting back up and living. 

Love was a poison, and he was a curse. He was death and suffering and the grime that covered Gotham's streets. He was every mistake, every regret, every heartbreak.

He was Jason Peter Todd, and he would live.

Chapter Text

Bruce is in his apartment, and it’s as awkward as ever.

Jason had been with the Outlaws, cleaning up the tail end of their mess in Qurac when the signal went out from Gotham; Alfred, calling a ‘all hands-on deck’ mission. Arkham was in ruins, and its horrors were loose.

The part of him that gave a shit won out. For all his existing disagreements with his family, he had hotwired the first plane he could get his hands on and arrived in Gotham as the sun was setting and its citizens were screaming, raving. Fear gas? Joker venom? 

That was only the start. 

It had taken most of the night to round up everyone, and in the end…Jason was the one racing through Arkham’s halls, the first to realize the root of the entire catastrophe was the fucking Joker. As most things were, but this…

Deep in the labyrinthine building, he had faced off against the formidable duo of Scarecrow and Joker, holding off the terror of his inner demons until Batman and the cavalry got there to finish things off. 

Just as the screams began to rip through his throat, Bruce and his batarang flashing in his mind, Cass found him. Despite being able to hear her, sense her, all he could see was a ratty apartment and Batman, a timer counting down and laughter in his ears. A phantom pain warmed the skin of his throat as she thankfully, blessedly, knocked him out.

He’d woken up in his bed, and by the time he’d managed to take a quick shower and eat some leftovers, the Bat came back. Back, because someone had to have dragged him here and given him the antidote to the fear toxin.

Not a word is spoken, and somehow, tonight, it hurts more than it usually does. Like an acid-covered batarang, entrenched in his bleeding heart, and Jason had to stop himself from clawing at the skin of his chest. Jason lounges in his favourite chair, utterly drained from both the night’s events and the mess in Qurac. It had dredged up too many memories, too many pains he thought he had buried. 

Maybe it was the drugs in his system. Maybe it was the light-headedness he’s feeling, an almost euphoric high enveloping his subconscious. 

Batman is ready to leave, and with final glance at Jason, he turns on his heel.

Jason interrupts his movement, staring out into the darkness of the night, listening to the sirens in the distance. "Do you ever think about how happy we were?"

Bruce pauses, gloved hand on the handle. This was a conversation they had never dared to have, outside their dreams and their quiet hours of contemplation just before dawn.

"You were the light of my life," he admits quietly, fearful of where Jason’s going with the conversation. These words…these words strip him bare of all his walls and his shields and defenses, leaving him vulnerable to attack. Jason could choose to laugh in his face, right now, and Bruce wasn’t sure how he would recover.

It would be humiliating, and shameful, but Bruce is resigned to that fate. Jason will never come home. Bruce has failed him one too many times. 

Jason closes his eyes, infinitely tired; he knows how Bruce feels. In the deepest parts of his heart, he knows his father loves him. Knows what he means to the Dark Knight. The grown-up part of him knows that much like how Bruce lost a part of himself with his parents that night in Crime Alley, Batman lost just as much in Qurac. 

"You were the light of my life, but no one hurt you the way I did," Bruce continues, and Jason would have thought his tone emotionless if not for the slight catch, a whisper of a tremor under the gravel. 

It only makes it worse.

"You loved me," Jason murmurs, voice cracking on the cursed word. His eyes travel skywards, watches the stars sparkle and blink out. He was hollowed out too, this night in Arkham heaving up too many destructive memories for him to censor what he was spilling to Bruce. He knows the sour taste of regret, of self-hatred. But now, his mouth is dry and he feels nothing. "You loved me, and I loved you, and how...how did we get like this?" 

Bruce feels a tremor echo through him, long and unforgiving; the truth, in its tangible form. It was...surprising, to realize that Jason didn't figure out what Bruce knew since the day he was confronted with Jason’s second life. Jason, normally so astute, hadn’t figured out the harsh reality they were fighting against, day in and day out. 

"You realized you deserved better than me." 

Silence. Jason is staring at him, and Bruce has a shaky smile on his face. It was just the corners of his mouth turned upwards, really; but for Batman…it was his equivalent of grinning. And it’s painful to look at. 

And true, Jason spent a long time trying to cause Bruce’s pain, but there was something undeniably uncharacteristic burning its way through his body, and it takes him a moment to recognize it. Guilt

“You realized there was nothing more I could give you. Nothing more that you wanted.” 

Suddenly, Jason is on his feet, striding towards Bruce; he’s soon standing right in front of his father, their noses brushing. Jason’s eyes are strangely bright, but the expression on his face is all fury. 

"Shut up," he snarls, his voice snagging on a long-forgone emotion. "Shut the fuck up."

Bruce drops his gaze. He might be Batman, but now, he can't look Jason in the eye. His truest fear, the most damning realization...watching all his boys, one by one, realize they deserved better than him. First Dick, all those years ago, then Tim and Jason. Stephanie, even; Damian would follow them soon enough, his hero worship of his father fading into nothingness. It was too much for Bruce Wayne, for the man who had lost everything but the family he had chosen, to stand by and watch all his children leave. 

Batman can take the sacrifice. Batman is infallible. So, Bruce tucks away the aching loss, under the cold metal of the suit, and pretends like it doesn’t bother him, seeing them go. 

"You don't get to...that's not...fuck!" Jason sounds dangerously close to tears as he runs his fingers through his tangled mess of dark curls. He’s falling apart. Somehow, stupidly, he had never looked past his own suffering to see Bruce’s, and now they were both paying for it in tears. "Bruce. Bruce." 

Bruce feels his eyes burning, and suddenly he is the child who had died in Crime Alley with his parents, as if he were being scolded for a mistake. He can’t do this again. How many times has he dreamed of Jason’s soft whisper, void of anger and bitterness, only to wake up to a world where his son couldn’t stand to be in the same room as him?

A sudden grip brought him out of his reverie, however; Jason was...grappling...him? No, he realized; Jason was hugging him. 

"You fucking idiot," Jason murmurs into the soft touch of the cape, forehead pressed into the junction between Bruce’s shoulder and neck. "Jesus Christ...you really have your head that far up your ass? All of us, me included, would be nothing without you, B." 

Bruce doesn't say anything; he just holds his son, the only one he had lost for good. He would cherish every moment he had with Jason, for every moment he lost. Every day he spent wondering if Jason was safe, uninjured, happy…every hug, every tender touch, was worth both of their weights combined in gold. It’s all he has left of his boy, apart from a cold case and a tattered uniform tucked away into a dark corner of both his heart and his home. 

"You're such an idiot," Jason mumbles, voice suspiciously tight and tone void of bite. "How could you not know..."

Bruce closes his eyes, lets the traitorous tears slide down his cheeks. Jason is warm against him, so alive. The last time they were this close, without the guns and the blood and the shouting, Jason had been 15 and growing colder by the second.

"I was happier with you," Jason Todd whispers, his eyes shining in the darkness of the room. Bruce is suddenly reminded of the first day Jason put on the Robin suit, remembers the glimmer of disbelief in the very same eyes he’s staring into right now. “The happiest days of my life were when I could call you dad.”

God. God.

Is he dreaming? 

“Jason…” Bruce tries, and fails, to find his words, rendered speechless by a true and real expression of…of what, exactly? 

“You gave all of us a fighting chance,” Jason soldiers on, though his voice has dropped to a quiet murmur. It’s almost as if he fears the words coming out of his mouth, the truth he sets out in the open for Bruce to see and feel. For years, he had denied them both a happy ending, had held onto his pain and rage and tragedy, had rubbed it into all their faces. And after years of it, years of running…there’s nothing left in his tank. “I mean, it kinda backfired on some of us, but…you were home, B. To all of us.” 

It sounds too much like the end of their age-old fight, and suddenly Bruce feels the weight of it hit him, feels it shake his bones. 

Jason watches Batman—his father—and feels the words bubble up from within him, damning and freeing in the same breath. 

“You’re still my dad, even if I…even if we…you’re dad. There’s no changing that, and I…I realize that now. Done trying to run away from it.” 

Bruce closes his eyes, a tender smile on his face and his son—his boy, his Jason—held tight within his arms. Home. 

Jason feels the burning batarang dissipate into nothingness. 

Dawn rises, and with it comes a new beginning. 

Chapter Text

i. death is a lover who never calls

He heaved, and spluttered, and spilled warm blood all over the bathroom floor, the red staining the alabaster tiles with a nasty pink. Jason could tell he had been hit, bad, but there was little he could do but manage to stitch up the wound and wait for Fate to play its hand.

Death could be coming and he wouldn’t be surprised.

A wet sigh fell from his lips as he pulled out the first aid kit with clumsy fingers, pulling out the spool of thread and a sterile needle. Painkillers didn’t mix well with the magic of the Pit, rendered him useless whenever he took them, so he ignored the small bottle and instead grabbed the rubbing alcohol.

Death could be hugging him, running her fingers through his hair and murmuring sweet promises of rest into his ears.

Jason poured the clear liquid out over the skin of his torso, barely feeling the sting as the alcohol washed over damaged skin. It was a clean wound, the bullet exiting out without any complications. It had clipped his side, so he wasn’t too concerned about internal damage; without thinking about it any further, he began to sew up the bullet holes.

Death is the warmth of a nice bed; death is the warmth of fresh blood, spilling down and staining alabaster red.

He finished cleaning himself up in under twenty minutes, managing to slap some gauze over the stitches and take a quick shower to rid himself of the blood and gore. For the first time in days, Jason wanted to sleep.

Death is the promise of a grand finale, but is also the promise of a soft epilogue. Death is everything anyone had ever wanted. 

Jason crawled into his bed, thoroughly exhausted, and collapsed into a fitful sleep. Dawn peeked out over the sprawling skyline, wisps of soft colours mixed into the sapphire of the night sky. Jason didn’t see the rare beauty, his back turned to the window and his eyes fixed on the bloodstains on the bathroom floor. 

Jason waits for the day Death comes back to take him home.

ii. you look happier and it hurts like a lonely death

Jason Todd was no fool.

He buried his hands deep in his pockets, watching from his vantage point as Alfred moved around the kitchen, putting platters of various sizes onto the table. The Bat Clan was seated among the table, Spoiler and Barbara included.

Everyone but him, really. Which was fine. He didn’t care.

Bruce smiled at Damian, a soft and cruel gesture of parental love.

He didn’t care.

Jason remembered Bruce’s anger, his desperation as he punched his second eldest across the face. His total lack of compassion, the burning skies of Ethiopia enveloping them as they fought, bitterly, over a truth Jason had no control over. 

He remembered walking away, angry tears spilling down his face.

He wasn’t jealous of a ten-year-old; hell, he agreed with the things Bruce had said. Damian did deserve the chance to live, and Bruce should want to give it to him.

He said those things to you as if you didn’t die a tragic death like Damian, a voice that sounded suspiciously like his fifteen-year-old self echoed through his mind. You weren’t worth those things. You weren’t his real son, were you? A pathetic street rat he pulled out of the gutter.

Bruce doesn’t love you.

Jason closed his eyes, turning his head and walking back towards his bike. He would disappear; he would leave Gotham to the Bats. For the first time in years, he truly felt like…he lost. Red Hood had finally bent to the self-imposed rules of the Dark Knight.

Batman would get his wish; it was clear what he thought. He would stop being a problem.

It was time for him to leave.

And with the cold winds of November blowing around him in a melancholic tune, Jason Todd rode off into the darkness, the painstaking image of Bruce’s smiling face burned onto the back of his eyelids.

 

iii. a mother who protects

Sometimes, it’s hard to believe how hard he’s fallen.

Jason’s hands are covered in blood, slick with the incriminating liquid as he ducks into the nearest alleyway, ignoring the shouts of both Nightwing and Robin.

They weren’t…he wasn’t supposed to see them. Not yet. Not while he was still recovering from his Arkham Asylum tenure, wounds so fresh he still couldn’t pull a trigger.

Selina was going to have his head for this. 

He raced through the winding darkness of the cracks between the buildings, pouncing up onto the fire escape and using it to vault over the fencing.

Dick had thrown him into Arkham. Dick had let him rot. 

Bruce had left him in Arkham.

Arkham had broken Jason.

Gritting his teeth to keep the ragged sob at bay, he continues weaving a path through the buildings, all too aware of the Batmobile and the Bats chasing after him. He had to shake them, lose them before heading home. If he led them to Selina, if he led them to who had broken him out of that hellhole… 

A familiar sound of rustling leaves broke through his reverie, and with all the wildness of a cornered animal, Jason twisted around. 

Ivy and Harley, blocking the Batmobile from coming any closer.

“Hey Kid!” Harley greeted, looking every inch a warrior, her rough grin only amplifying the sparkling promise of violence in her eyes. “You’re in a bit of a doozy, aren’t cha?”

For all of Harley’s feverishness, there existed an equal amount of Ivy’s fury, and Jason had never felt more grateful before in his life.

“They’ve done enough to you,” the botanist snarled, possessive in a nearly maternal way. She remembered, just as well as he did, the suffering he underwent at the hands of the Joker while locked up in Arkham. A few months was not enough to make any of them forget. “Get back to Selina, we’ll deal with them.” 

“This is my fight,” he tried to argue, even if he knew it was futile. This was not a war he was going to win; they simply wouldn’t allow it. All three of them knew he was in no condition to fight off an army of Bats.

“Ivy, Harley, do not get involved.”

Batman. He had gotten out of the car and moved closer, close enough for Jason to notice his jaw was clenched, but far enough that Ivy’s snapping vines couldn’t grab onto him. 

“We’re already involved, you sanctimonious asshole,” Harley pipes up, voice deceptively cheerful. “More involved than you, anyways.”

“He’s mine—”

“He’s ours,” a lithe figure lands in front of him. Selina Kyle rose to her feet, eyes blazing as she lay a gentle hand on Jason’s shoulder. “Not yours. Not after what you did.”

Batman growled, low and foreboding; it was clear to everyone in the general vicinity that the caped crusader was furious. Nightwing moved closer, placing a hand on his father’s shoulder. “Hood was proclaimed dead. By you.”

“Wouldn’t the first time you let it happen, so stop acting like it matter, you fucking ass,” Jason scoffed, more to himself than anything. Harley and Ivy were already moving beyond him, Selina stepping forward to deal with Bruce. A distraction.

Jason turned without so much a glance, and slipped off with the Sirens that weren’t occupying a Bat. Behind him, he could hear Selina’s voice rising in volume, could pick out ‘torture’ and ‘shitty father’ from the curse words she was slinging at her on-again-off-again plaything.

He tried to ignore the stab of warmth that echoed through his chest as his mother clawed into Bat on his behalf, but it was impossible with Selina’s yelling still echoing from the distance, Harley and Ivy’s smirks coupled with his own. 

It was the first time in forever that someone had stepped up to shield him from harm, and it…it felt nice

It felt like love.

iv. and you stand on our burning bridge, a torch in your hands

Jason Todd closed his eyes, tears spilling down his cheeks and forehead pressed up against the bulletin board he had set up. Clippings of every size had been pinned to the brown corkboard, all concerning Batman and his newest toy. Of the Joker, who was still breathing and living and a success, really, the madness to Batman’s justice.

It was an all-consuming fire, the knowledge of worthlessness. To know the person holding your heart, your love, in their hands would willingly throw it away without a second thought…

A messy sob tore from his throat, and Jason couldn’t stop himself from banging his fist against the board, the world rattling as he slides off the bed and onto the floor. All the suffering, all the hard work, only to have it thrown in his face in the worst way possible.

The pinnacle of his journey, the climax…finding out about Timothy Drake. Robin, a better Robin, Bruce’s—

God. God.

Another scream ripped through him, battering past his defences and leaving him feeling bruised and broken. A familiar feeling, a welcomed feeling, and less painful than the knowledge he now possessed.

He didn’t want to know. He didn’t want to know that the memories he’d given Bruce, given Alfred, had been meaningless.

He wanted to mean something, to someone—his dad—family—fuck.

Jason Todd is in his second life and knows what death is. Death is a father turning his back, leaving his son in the shadows of a burning warehouse and engulfed in maniacal laughter.

Tears streamed down his face, and Jason stares up at the largest image—a smiling Batman and a cheerful Robin, swinging down from the skyscrapers of Gotham City. Saving people. Instilling hope.

The crowbar had hurt less than those smiles.

The truth of the matter burned its way through his soul, and all Jason can do is try and breath beyond the choking realization.

His father—no, Bruce—Batman—replaced him. 

Bruce Wayne killed Jason Todd.

Chapter Text

The first time Kyle witnesses Jason’s nightmares is two months, one week, and five days into their relationship. 

They are curled up next to each other, under the same sheets albeit not touching. Jason always cautions against touching, tersely explains all the ways he could hurt Kyle if he forgets he’s sharing the bed with his boyfriend and not an intruder. It’s a cumbersome rule only when Kyle comes home from space and wants nothing more than to curl up into his boyfriend and sleep for a week, but he would choose death over disrespecting Jason’s boundaries.

Which is why he’s only mildly surprised when he’s jolted awake by a sharp scream and the sound of the mattress protesting from too much movement. 

He doesn’t think much of it, instinctively rolling off the bed and rounding the entire thing to lean over the curled up body of his boyfriend. 

Kyle feels a part of his heart break at the agonized way those green eyes blink up at him, unshed tears glistening in the corner of his eyes. 

Jason, wild-eyed and feverish, pants as he stares up at the sight of his boyfriend looming over his body, moonlight painting his skin with soft light. 

“Jay,” Kyle whispers, voice barely audible over Jason’s harsh breathing. “Jay, it was just a dream.”

No, he wants to say, wants to sob, really. Bad memories. 

Instead, what comes out is “don’t leave.”

Kyle feels himself soften, reaching out to smooth out the ruffled curls stuck to Jason’s forehead. He shivers in response, stiffening against the touch before leaning in closer. 

“I’m right here,” he finds himself saying. “I know you’re scared, but I’m right here and I’m not going anywhere.”

Jason’s eyes flutter close, and Kyle takes it as a sign he can climb back into the bed. He carefully tucks Jason’s body against his side, noting how damp the bare skin of his torso felt and feels a spike of worry. The sweat, coupled with the harsh December weather, will inevitably lead to a cold down the road. But for now…there is more pressing matters at hand.

He returns his attention back to Jason, and finds him gazing at him with tired eyes. He knows this raw vulnerability isn’t something he was comfortable sharing, knows Jason thinks of it as a burden. 

Tonight, he is going to change that. 

“You’ll never be alone,” Kyle’s eyes are fierce, incandescent in the darkness. Jason finds himself drowning again, but it feels good; the loss of breath had nothing to do with death and torture, nothing to do with shitty memories that will not fade. 

Kyle is throwing out a lifeline, and Jason wants to grab it. Anchor himself back to reality, someone constant, someone here

They’re standing at the edge of something beautiful, and Jason leaps. 

He pulls Kyle down, steals a desperate kiss. He feels the wandering fingers, the gentle kiss of the silk sheets settling back over their tangled legs. He wonders if it’s normal, the perfect way their bodies fit together. 

He finds himself not caring. 

They break for air, Jason’s lungs burning as their heavy breaths warm up the air between them. He has no words to share, none of the witty remarks he knows Kyle is used to. But he is sure he got his point across, his silent plea and gratitude rolled up into one action. 

“I’ll be with you from now ‘till the end,” Kyle promises softly, carding his fingers through Jason’s damp curls. He leans down, slants his lips across Jason’s again, tries his hardest to drive out the demons. “Be here ‘till you’re sick of me.”

His heart wrenches at the way Jason melts into his touch, a shudder running through his body as he pressed upwards and into Kyle’s embrace. 

“I’ll never get sick of you,” Jason rasps, his first smile of the night making its way onto his face. “I might get sick of Gardner, but not you. Hell, you’ll get sick of me first.”

“I think not,” Kyle snorts, flopping down onto the pillows and turning his head to grin at his boyfriend. “And in Guy’s defense, he has nothing on Batman. I was sick of that dude before I met him.”

Jason lets loose a bark of laughter, shoulders shaking as they both remember Bruce’s reaction to them dating; more specifically, the sight of Hal Jordan himself in Bruce’s study, breaking the news.

Through peals of laughter, Hal had informed them that a hefty bottle of vodka was involved. 

“I bet you’ll get sick of me before I get sick of you,” Jason shoots Kyle a dangerous smile. “Winner gets to choose how to piss off Batman the next time we’re being stupid.” 

Kyle feels a spike of affection shoot through him like a burst of flame, all warmth and happiness, at the unspoken promise of ‘even when we’re sick of each other, we’ll be together’. It sounds like forever, and forever sounds perfectly fine to him. Even if it meant pissing off the scariest man on Earth every other week. 

“Deal,” he says just as the first streaks of dawn colour the midnight sky. 

Chapter Text

i. poor icarus, locked in a dirty cell in the darkness

He hates this, he decides.

With a rough swallow, Jason presses himself against the wall, eyes screwed shut and hands over his ears in a futile attempt to keep the laughter at bay. Still, it echoes, filling the dead silence of the wing with its wrongness and sheer volume.

He hates this.

He hates this so fucking much, hates Batman for doing this to him, hates Dickandhimselfandeverythinginbetween-

"Hey. Junior."

His eyes crack open immediately, searching the darkness for a few wild moments before settling on the hand stretching through the bars of his cell. Hands tinted green, sharp nails painted bloody red.

There is a pair of earplugs sitting snug in her palm.

"The asshole's loud and obnoxious because he knows you're here," Poison Ivy informs him, tone suggesting how unamused she truly is. He can barely make out her form in the darkness of the hall, nothing suggesting she, too, is a prisoner here. "I hate men."

He takes the earplugs from her with a wet look, and he is embarrassed by the tears in the corner of his eyes. She sees them anyways, sees how young the infamous Red Hood really is.

She swears. "Selina wasn't kidding. What are you, 16?"

He doesn't respond; Jason shoves the plugs into his ears and nearly sobs at the peace they offer, all noise dulled down to something akin to a gentle throb. Pamela feels some foregone part of her heart ache at the sight; such a powerhouse player, reduced to shambles.

No.

A kid, left to rot in Arkham, of all places.

Jason doesn't raise his head from the floor to offer her a 'thank you', and Pamela doesn't wait for one. After another moment of staring at his fallen form, she walks off, melting back into the darkness.

He sleeps for the first time that night.

 

ii. sweet little baby in a world full of pain

He needs to eat. He knows this, knows what it's like to starve, to be able to feel your ribs under paper thin layers of skin.

Yet he can't trust anything being put out by the kitchen staff, by the people waiting on the Joker's every beck and call. The man likes the hunt, likes bringing physical pain, but wasn't above petty things like poisoning.

Jason isn't going to give him the satisfaction.

Or, well, that's what he thinks, even as he lays motionless on his flimsy mattress, no energy to move. He hasn't felt like this since he was a child, fighting in the streets for table scraps and rotten leftovers. He resists the urge to cry.

He finds himself doing that a lot, lately.

"I'm going to kill him."

He doesn't have the strength to startle at the familiar voice, instead melting into the soft hand that's pushing his matted hair out of his face. Selina Kyle looms over him, eyebrows drawn together and a look of worry marring her features.

"Oh, Kitten ," her soft words propel him into her arms, and for the first time in a long time, Jason finds solace in another human being holding him close. He grits his teeth, ignores the dampness of his cheeks; it felt...good, to be held like a child.

Selina, for her part, is seeing the red glaze of anger, shaking fingers pressed against Jason's bruised skin with a tragic tenderness. She curses Bruce, and Dick, and the whole lot of them for doing this to Jason. Her soft spot for the second Robin has never faded, and it shows in the why she brings him close and presses a gentle kiss against the crown of his head.

"You...when did you get caught?" He asks, voice hoarse and cracking from disuse. "You weren't in here when they brought me in."

"Pamela made a call," she tells him, voice curt. "Said something about a kitten being locked up; figured it had to be you, so I came to see for myself. God, Jay, when was the last time you ate?"

"Can handle it," he mumbles, face pressed against the curve of her collarbone. "You know. Can't...can't eat anything here. Joker."

He speaks in broken phrases and muted syllables, but she hears what he's saying under the curt responses. The man who murdered me is here with me and he wants me dead again and I'm so, so scared.

Selina keeps her own tears at bay. There would be time for that later.

She reaches down and grabs at a bag that he hadn't seen earlier, pulling out a loaf of bread and a container of what seemed to be soup. His stomach reacted painfully to the sight of safe substance, and when she broke off a piece of the bread and dipped it into the soup for him, he didn't complain when she gently fed it to him.

"I heard about what happened between you lot," she starts, after a few minutes of her hand-feeding him soaked bread. "I can't say I approve, but...you don't deserve this. Did he even consider what he'd be doing to you, throwing you in here with that psychotic asshole?"

"Nah," Jason looks up at her, the bags under his eyes as dark as fresh bruises. "Not like...I. I deserve it, for...I shot, God, Selina..."

She pauses, observing in the violent shivering that had overtaken Jason's body. She would drop it for the night, she decides, pulling him impossibly close and shushing him.

He already understood, anyways.

 

iii. hero of my heart

Harley glances into the cell, sees the figure on the bed laying motionless. Selina had said he was young, but this

She frowns. In the distance, the Joker laughs and laughs and laughs and she wishes she could bash his head in.

She could. She should. She would...but there was someone else to take care of first.

“Hey, Junior, get ya ass up.”

Jason startles, and glances over his shoulder to see the villain standing outside his cell. She’s dressed like a doctor, a stack of papers clutched in her hands.

Slowly, warily, he rises.

“Our mutual Cat friend gave me a call and cashed in like...six favours,” she explains, waving the papers around with one hand while opening the lock with the other. “These are your release papers, Hood! Congratulations!”

There is a pause.

“I’m...getting out?”

Harley thinks she feels pity at how childish the vigilante sounds. Like a kid about to see the light of day for the first time. But this is Gotham and it’s nighttime and cold and unforgiving in a way that makes you grow up.

“Yessir! Now get a move on,” she finally pulls the door open. The Clown isn’t laughing anymore.

Jason moves so fast he stumbles, and Harley catches his arm to keep him from tumbling to the ground. The relief is so strong it steals the breath from his lungs, and he forgets how to inhale for a few seconds.

“Thank you,” he manages to say as they walk through the corridors. “Tha...thank you.”

“Don’t thank me, thank your mom. Word on the street is she organized this whole thing.”

“Selina?” Jason asks, and his tone is coloured with gratefulness. “I figured.”

Harley smiles, and its a real thing. The clown is screaming, now.

“Wrong mom, Junior.”

 

iv. a prelude to war

Harley leads him out a side entrance and there, waiting by a small jet, are Selina and Talia al Ghul.

At the sound of the heavy door shutting, they both turn towards the two of them, and Talia’s mouth opens at the sight of the deteriorating boy in front of her. He’s pale, shivering, and covered in bruises; nothing like the son she had raised.

“Oh, my boy,” she breathes, and every syllable is wrapped in horror. “What have they done to you?”

“Mom,” he says, and its a knee-jerk response to the sight of the woman who saved his life. “Mom.”

She is a world-class assassin.

She’s the Demon’s Heir.

She’s a mother and she is rushing forward, drawing the boy into her arms and pressing him close. He crumples into the embrace, a soundless sob escaping his mouth.

He’s empty. He’s so empty . It’s something akin to the braindead state the car crash had left him in, and it’s terrifying to witness. A second time, in Talia’s case.

“You’re coming with me,” she whispers fiercely, carding her fingers through Jason’s curls. Tufts of hair come loose, and she fights the primal rage in her heart that screams at her to find Batman and make him suffer. “We’re going to go home and heal you.”

“Talia,” and Jason’s chin is wobbling, and he’s shaking, shaking, shaking. “Mom. I shot...I shot him.”

She knows. She aches.

“We’ll talk about it when you’re better,” she soothes, and together they move towards the jet. In the distance, the sun is rising; the sight of it puts a smile on Harley’s face.

“What?” Selina asks, surprised at the rare look on her friend’s face.

“Kid’s getting his new day,” Harley shrugs, and behind her, Pamela approaches. “Kinda makes you feel good, you know?”

Selina smiles as she walks to where Jason is being helped into the jet; she does know, the rewarding feeling of helping someone. It’s priceless.

“Take care,” she tells Jason, voice playfully stern. “Don’t get caught again, silly boy.”

Jason stares at her, gaze tearful. Her heart stops for a moment; it’s agony and heartbreak wrapped into a set of teal-coloured irises. She wants to cry.

“Selina,” he murmurs finally, voice cracking. “Thank you. Thank you.

She reaches out to place her hand over his heart; a simple gesture, one of love and fondness. He nods, and disappears into the shadows of the plane.

Talia lingers. “You know...there is an art form called kintsugi, which translates to golden joinery. It’s a Japanese technique of fixing broken pottery with lacquer, usually mixed with gold.”

Selina watches her, notes the affection in the other woman’s eyes. She feels safe in their mutual decision to send the boy off with the assassin. Especially now, after seeing her with Jason.

“Our boy is broken,” Talia continues, voice deceptively soft. “But I will find the gold to make him whole again, no matter what it takes. And I will succeed . This is a promise."

The sun casts a soft glow across the waters, casts a backlight on Talia; in this lighting, the woman looks ethereal.

Selina smiles. A new day indeed.

“I believe you.”

 

v. you are half a heart

The months pass.

A man once dead returns.

On a cold Wednesday night, he finds her standing on the edge of a rooftop, staring out across the bay. Towards Arkham.

Towards phantom memories.

"Selina," Bruce says, voice strained. "Where is he?"

She contemplates all the ways this could go wrong, all the ways it could blow up in her face if he ever finds out the truth. Thinks about what Bruce would do if he found out Jason was with his ex-lover, somewhere in far off lands. What he would do if he knew Jason may never return to Gotham.

She then remembers Jason's deathly pale skin, his dull eyes and broken spirit. Remembers all the way Arkham broke him.

"Dead," she spits, turning away. "He's dead."

With the wind howling around her, she jumps into the nothingness of the night and swings her way home, pretending she hadn't seen his tears.

Chapter Text

A fool would say Jason Todd’s strongest emotion is his anger.

Very few know the truth is Jason Todd’s strongest emotion is his empathy.

 

i. the chosen heir of gotham

His father’s eyes are dark, furious. Jason feels his gut tighten, a bolt of anxiety shooting through him, familiar, unwanted.

“You shot him,” Bruce is saying, but it sounds like they’re underwater, sounds like they’re back in the pier and Bruce is dying in front of him again. Maybe he is. Maybe something is dying tonight, something precious, loved, cherished .

It’s not him, though. It always feels like it’ll never be him again, despite how much he wants it sometimes.

“I did,” and his response is mechanical, cold, precise. He cuts Bruce exactly where he knows it’ll hurt, because it’s better to do this now than to drag it out. Their long arguments always left them cut open and bleeding. He loves the man in front of him too much to do that to him willingly; not tonight. Maybe not ever again. “I’d do it again.”

“I never should’ve believed in you,” Bruce sounds disappointed in him, and it’s the same old story, the same old hurts. Jason is tired of being too much for the one man who promised he’d always be enough.

I still am.

The words get stuck in his throat, and suddenly he’s fifteen and being benched and feels angry and tired and overwhelmed and it’s all too much, all over again. He’s fifteen and being beaten to death by a clown with a crowbar, trying to save a mother he wanted but who never wanted him. He’s fifteen and dead before seeing his father, crying and holding a body going cold.

He’s nineteen, and everything is very much the same.

He’s nineteen, and gives up the idea of going home. Instead, he throws a punch at his once father, tucking the gun away. He’s nineteen, barely grown, trading blows with his father in the darkest alley in Gotham.

“You don’t even hit the Joker this hard,” he finds himself saying, but Bruce ignores him and hits him harder. Bruce always ignores him, always ignore the cold empty space that sits between them. His vision momentarily blacks out.

He’s nineteen, tired, disappointed, and being thrown out of the city he was born and raised in by a father who’s been tired of him and his ghosts for years.

 

ii. they say “you’re a little much for me”

Roy gets him to Metropolis, and manages to spend a few days with him before being called away by Oliver for something important. Jason lets him go with a lingering kiss and a promise to return.

After that, it’s just silence.

He’s lost track of time, cooped up in the apartment. In the second week, Superman finds him, but at the sorry state Jason is in, the man only pulls a promise of weekly dinner before departing.

***

Dinner, predictably, becomes a weekly affair.

Lois and Clark welcome him into their home with open arms, and Jon takes a liking to him almost immediately. It’s like the exact opposite of his own family, the broken one left behind in Gotham, full of secrets and misery. The acceptance scares him, makes him meek and quiet; still, he plays with Jon and helps Lois with her articles, even if he knows she doesn’t need it.

It’s on one of these nights that Lois sits him down, his calloused hands between her own, slender pair, and offers him a tender smile.

“You have a real knack for giving a voice to the voiceless,” she says, and he could cry; in just a few months Lois Lane had figured out the truth about him, the truth not even his father could understand. “Have you ever considered journalism?”

“I, um...I never really…” now that he has to say it out loud, it seems so much worse. He knows how Lois will react. “I never really thought to rebuild a life for myself after, um...coming back.”

Her brow furrows. His anxiety grows. “Why not?”

He shrugs helplessly. “I didn’t...I lived and breathed my vigilantism, Lois. I just...I…”

And then he’s crying and he’s fifteen again, but instead of a burning warehouse and a dying mother there’s a guiding light and someone offering him a helping hand. Someone who wants him to get up.

“There was nothing else,” he whispers, as Lois shushes him and wipes his tears away. “Red Hood was all I had. It was all I needed . I just wanted to help my city, and now...I have nothing left.”

There is a pause, a silence broken only by the telltale sound of splintering wood. They look up find Clark standing in the doorway, broken pieces of wood on the floor, his fingers still tightly gripping the frame.

“Jason,” Clark says, and its fierce and protective and Jason can only cry harder, cry for all those nights he couldn’t cry. He’s still young and a ghost with nothing to his name, nothing but the phantom memories and a glass case. “Just say the word, and I’ll take you home and have a word with him. You just need to tell me, son, and I promise I’ll get you home.”

It’s more than anyone has ever offered; more than Dick, with his false bravado and the cold Arkham cell. More than Bruce, with his endless disappointments and morals and standards. More than heavy hits in a dark alleyway.

“You don’t even hit the Joker this hard.”

“Thank you,” he finally manages; in the time it’s taken him to calm down, Jon had come down the stairs and insisted on settling down in Jason’s lap. Clark had gone and changed out of his uniform. “All of you...thank you.”

***

“Clark, I need your help finding him, he...I don’t know where he went.”

“Well maybe you shouldn’t have let him go in the first place, Bruce.”

 

iii. you’re a liability

Stephanie and Duke come to him, one night, dressed in civvies and looking worse for wear. He lets them in, nervous, and it’s a solid five minutes before anyone speaks.

“You need to come home,” Stephanie begins with, calloused fingers clasped together tightly. He feels her anxiety like a tangible force, and reaches out to hold her hands. “You...Gotham misses you, Jay.”

His throat closes.

Duke jumps in. “There’s like...memorials everywhere for you. Um...Gotham Gazette caught wind of Batman chasing you out of town and he’s had to cut back on patrols because of angry Gothamites giving him hell.”

“So you both want me back because Batman’s in trouble,” his voice is flat, and for that he’s proud. It’s weird, he thinks, knowing people miss him. Knowing he gave them something to miss. Somedays...no, most days. Most days, he feels like nothing. Today is not one of those days.

Stephanie snorts, and its a familiar sound; Jason finds himself smiling. “Of course not. We want you back because it was wrong of Bruce to throw you out. We want you back because…”

She trails off, and both boys wait for her to find her courage.

“Because someone who’s been well off his whole life doesn’t...doesn’t get it. Sometimes prison and Arkham and beatings don’t work. And we...I get it. Even if Batman doesn’t.”

Street rats, the two of them. Robins that were mistakes, that died because they did something wrong. Not the man who dressed them up as heroes and gave up on them.

“I can’t come back,” he eventually says, pulling his hands away. The two watch him sadly, almost as if they had expected this. He’s grateful they tried anyways. “I...not yet. He doesn’t want me there, and I’m not...I’m not anything yet. I need some time.”

He doesn’t tell them how heavy Bruce’s blows were. He doesn’t tell them anything at all.

For what, exactly, he’s not sure. Outside his tiny apartment, the world continues to sleep; he suddenly misses Roy with something fierce.

“I need time,” he repeats.

 

iv. and even though I tried, it all fell apart

Months pass.

It happens while he’s making dinner.

The TV is on, background noise as he kneads dough. He pays no mind until he hears ‘Gotham’, and then his involuntary attention is on the news report.

“In other news, the crime rates in Gotham City have risen to record highs since the banishing of the Red Hood, and citizens have been crafting memorials in honour of their lost vigilante.”

His eyes burn.

The newscaster’s chin wobbles. “Red Hood...if you’re out there, we just want you to know...your city wants you to come home.”

Ah.

That’s right.

No matter what Bruce did, Gotham would never love him the same way it loves Jason. No matter how much Batman bleeds, dies, fights for the city...he belongs to the world. The universe. Gotham has no claim on him.

Jason, however, is wholly and unashamedly Gotham’s son. A goddamned prince. His mother’s heir.

How foolish he had been, letting Bruce convince him otherwise. How foolish he had been to leave his home in the hands of a man high on morals.

It’s an almost tangible thing, he thinks idly. Gotham had let him stray far, but the strings she had on him...not even Death had cut loose her hold. Not the mindless months, not the Pit, not the years of training.

Gotham was the mother who birthed him. Tragedy was the father who shaped him.

He would not falter ever again. The months of solitude, quiet time spent with the Kents, and the bitterness of the truth of his new scars...it is time for it all to come to a gentle end. Jason Todd takes a deep breath and reaches for the gun tucked into his couch.

And for the first time in a long time, he finds the weight comforting.

 

v. same old song but broken records glued together

Clark calls at the same time Roy bursts through the door. An alien invasion, starting with Gotham; an all hands on deck situation.

Though it’s obvious they don’t have time to spare, the duo steal a couple minutes to hold each other close, and Jason drinks up the tender silence before he’s throwing on his gear and his helmet and following Roy outside.

In the jet that awaits them are the Titans, many of most who startle at the sight of the long forgotten Red Hood.

Donna gives him a fierce hug.

“I’m glad you’re okay,” she says, and when she pulls back the plane is already moving and Dick is expressionless. Jason ignores him, instead settling in between Roy and Donna and letting the two of them carry the conversation.

They are in Gotham before he registers it.

“C’mon,” Dick says, gesturing at the group as a whole. “We’re with...Batman and Superman.”

It’s not his city , Jason thinks as the hangar door opens. And I am not his son.

The Titans walk out first; Roy goes with them, after squeezing Jason’s hand. He takes one breath, two breaths, and then puts on his helmet. A sense of tranquility washes over him at the familiarity, and it grounds him. Moves him.

Jason Todd steps out into Gotham for the first time in months to the sight of his city on fire.

Clark turns to him just as Batman does, the former offering him a warm smile that Jason waves for. Batman is staring, Jason knows he is, but it is startlingly easy to ignore the man he once considered his father.

“Thank you all for coming,” Clark then addresses the group, haste winning out over formalities and greetings. “We’re a bit swamped and have lost contact with Wonder Woman’s group. We need to clear out Park Row before anything else can get done, but…”

“But?” Dick prompts, as Clark trails off. The man’s eyes are on Jason, and he knows whatever comes next can’t be good.

“They hit Arkham Asylum first. The Joker is somewhere in the city; more specifically, Park Row.”

The Joker. On his stomping grounds. His Gotham, being burnt to the ground. His people being murdered and terrorized.

He’s running before he even knows it. Gotham, his mother, guides him through her wartorn streets, past the fallen civilians and the broken buildings. As he runs, people look up to him, and he can barely breathe at the hope in their eyes.

He did that. He gave it to them.

He grips his gun tighter. He’ll never abandon his people again. Closer to the heart of Park Row, he picks up on maniacal laughter; it’s a familiar noise. It’s a hated noise. The Lazarus in his veins sings and calls for bloodshed, and his heart does the same.

He can see the Joker, now. The man is ringed by aliens, but Jason only has eyes for him.

“Ohohoho! Look who it is! The lost babybird, finally home again!” The pasty bitch laughs, but instead of anger rising inside of him, Jason goes deathly calm. “Daddy let you back into his city?”

Jason thinks of all the people the man in front of him has hurt. Barbara, confined to a wheelchair. Gothamites, forced to live a life of fear, knowing the Joker will never die. Thousands of unmarked graves filled with victim after victim, all collateral in the war between Batman and his one, true foe.

The second Robin, in a warehouse far away.

The bond between a father and his son.

Too many victims. Too many deaths.

Never again.

“This is not his city,” Jason Todd, son of Gotham, says. “And I am not his son.”

He aims the gun. He pulls the trigger. The clown prince of Gotham falls to the ground, lifeless, a permanent grin on his face.

And Jason, for what may be the first time in his second life, feels a true sense of relief. He should’ve done that years ago; asking Bruce had been a mistake. Ending the Joker’s era with his own hands had been cathartic.

Behind him, Clark and Batman land, and there is silence.

“Batman,” he says, finally addressing the man who had all but killed him months ago. Maybe they were better like this, strangers guarding the same city. Maybe someday in the future they’ll mend the bridge they so desperately burn down every so often and leave it whole.

But today...today, Jason belongs to Gotham. Then, now, forever . Maybe someday he’ll be Bruce’s again. The child in him yearns for it, but the grown tragedy knows better.

He lets himself hope, though.

“Jason,” Batman... Bruce . Bruce says his name with reverence, like a man seeing the sun for the first time. A man seeing a ghost, or...maybe a living being. Seeing his son, for the first time in years.

Jason has a long way to go, he knows. He knows he’s broken, knows he glues together the pieces of two lives lived differently. But here, in his city, protecting the people who need a hero willing to go the distance…

It’s a start.

Chapter Text

It has been months since Batman had chased the Red Hood out of Gotham. Months since a mission gone awry, loved heroes lost. The world is still mourning, in a way, still struggling to get up in the morning.

Which is why when she gets the news that Red Hood is back in town and on a vengeful streak, she’s all too grateful for the distraction.

Kate Kane, known to Gotham as Batwoman, follows the trail mapped out by GCPD and finds herself entering a deserted parking level, high above ground. The eerie scene is punctuated by the telltale sounds of metal hitting flesh.

She moves.

There, in the back corner of the lot, is Jason Peter Todd himself, donning a new costume and a bloodied crowbar in his hand. Kate winces at the irony.

“Hood,” she says, and her voice is sharp. “What are you doing back in town?”

He stops. The henchman, who had been screaming on the ground, manages to evade the final swing and gets up running; in seconds, they are alone, with a few bodies.

“What, am I not allowed to come and check up on my flowers from time to time?” He asks, but there’s something...strange about his tone. This isn’t the snarky nephew she’d come to know in their short, overlapping stint with the other Bats, but rather…

“Aren’t you even slightly ashamed?” She asks, frowning. “People heroes knew died a few months ago. The community is still mourning; hell, you probably knew some of the names we lost!”

Jason turns to her then, and Kate nearly takes a startled step back at frenzied anger in his eyes.

“How dare you,” he says, and the temper in his voice is so controlled, so monotone, that Kate feels a flicker of apprehension. This is a Red Hood she doesn’t know how to deal with. “Of course I f ucking knew the people who died !”

“Then why are you doing this?”

"Because he's dead!" Jason screams, bloodied crowbar hitting the concrete with a deafening clatter. It's tactless, it's jarring, and it's nothing like what she had come to expect from the infamous Red Hood. "Because he's dead and I'm left with my worthless life!"

Kate stills.

These are words she is familiar with.

She knows that heartache, knows of the bone-deep loss that brings forth such primal rage; she lowers her fists. Love is a twisted thing, the very line between tranquility and madness, and it wouldn't take a genius to see how badly Jason careened off into the latter.

"He?" She asks, voice quiet.

"Roy Harper," Jason manages to say, his voice cracking so precariously, as if it pains him to say the name of his beloved. His hurt is palpable, is as fresh as it can be, and Kate aches along with him. This is the man that Bruce feared? This is no man; Jason is a boy. A child . "The best damn person to ever walk this Earth."

Oh, Kate thinks. Oh .

Jason lets himself hit the floor, head bowed as if in prayer and hands pressed to the cold floor. She resists the urge to wrap him in her cape, resists the urge to tuck this broken boy into a world that would stop hurting him. Outside, rain begins to fall, melancholic and cold and quiet.

She thinks it’s rather fitting.

"We were done wasting time," Jason whispers, so softly Kate barely catches it. "We were ready to move forward."

"Oh, kid," Kate murmurs, kneeling down next to him. "I'm so sorry."

For her efforts, she is rewarded a bitter smile edged with blood. "Yeah? So am I. You gonna spit that 'it gets better' rhetoric at me? Life never gets better. I've taken on the Joker, I’ve taken on Death, the Lazarus Pit, Ra's Al Ghul, and the Bats. And I'd do it all over again if it meant even five more minutes with him. Funny how that works, huh? All the worst things in my life, all the broken pieces that have cut me open time and time again, and I would...fuck, I'd do it all again for him. Down to that warehouse in Ethiopia. Down to loving Bruce to be let down. Down to drowning and rebirthing in that fucking Pit. For him. I'd do it for him. That’s what I’m sorry about, Batwoman; that I’d do all that and it still wouldn’t bring him home."

Kate stays silent. She isn't sure what she could even say, in the face of such a proclamation. Suddenly she wishes that Roy Harper could be here, if even as a ghost, to hear Jason speak about him. Love is as cruel as it is kind, and here is a broken boy willing to pay the ultimate price just for a final taste of it.

She has to help .

"I can't say it'll get better because...honestly? Your life is a tragedy and you...You didn't deserve this. Roy didn't deserve this. But...what's important is you take that love, that burning, fiery thing in your heart, and you use it to move forward. You keep living life not because you want to, or because you have a mission, but because it’s what he would want for you. To keep loving, because you can , not because you have to. It won’t get better but by God I hope it’ll get easier, Jason.”

There is a pause. Kate gets up to her feet and holds out a hand, inviting; a promise.

She waits.

Slowly, but surely, Jason lifts his head and eyes her. He takes one, two, three shuddering breaths, form rattling.

Still, she waits.

Jason Todd takes her hand, and rises to his feet.