(i – bruce)
Jason was dozing on the couch when Batman climbed in his bedroom window. He could hear the lock and the creak of the sash and had to force himself awake, feeling distinctly grumpy. He’d spent the week syphoning some of his more ill-gotten gains into buying up properties around Crime Alley and surrounding areas, and Tim had been spectacularly pissed when he realised half his Neon Knights Foundation offices were now Jason’s brand-new tenants.
Fun times, but exhausting. Jason was beginning to think Tam Fox had sold her soul to Trigon for her negotiating tricks.
“Whadda you waaaaant,” he said into the couch cushions. “The Demonspawn hasn’t been over in three days, Dick, leave me alone.”
The quality of the silence that followed suggested rather strongly that the Batman who had just broken into his apartment was not, in fact, Dick Grayson.
Jason sat up. Bruce loomed at him. The slant of his mouth was minutely off, indicating surprise and disapproval. Jason said, “Oh, it’s you.” Jason hadn’t even known he was back in town.
He was somewhat surprised to realise that this was because he hadn’t cared if Bruce was back in town or not.
It had been a very long time since Jason Todd hadn’t cared about something Bruce Wayne did.
Bruce actually went and crossed his arms over his chest. “You’ve been branching out into real estate,” he said.
“You’ve gained a brand new and astonishing gift for stating the obvious,” said Jason. “Well done. I’m really proud.”
Bruce loomed at him some more.
“Use your words, B,” said Jason patronisingly. “Go to your happy place. If you have one.”
Bruce’s mouth grew pinched. Nobody not raised by him would’ve understood this to be an attempt at holding back a smile.
“Your happy place?”
“The sudden interest in real estate.”
“Oh, it pisses Tim off,” said Jason. This was… well, it was true. But so were a lot of other things, like the renovation crews he’d hired and the rents he’d lowered and the plans he had for a halfway house and a shelter and offices for free legal advice. That last had been Tim’s idea, but Jason had exactly zero qualms about co-opting it and passing it off as his own.
“You’ve almost completely divested yourself of your interest in the city’s drug trade in order to put money into an enormous project the sole purpose of which is to annoy your brother,” said Bruce.
It was amazing how he could turn even the most incredulous of questions into the flattest of statements.
“I have divested myself of nothing,” said Jason easily. “I’m simply… diversifying. Hey, d’you mind if I ask why you’re breaking and entering in my apartment at ten to midnight on a Saturday?”
If you could redefine diversifying as recycling drug money into diverse projects some of which were intended to help people get off drugs. Jason was eliminating his own client base – and everyone else’s – and he knew it. When everyone else figured it out… well, there might be a gang war, but Jason was leaning more towards the belief that a large number of people would try and assassinate him, and he would get to chop the heads off a snake or two. Or three. Or four. Jason wasn’t picky. He would take what he could get.
(He also hadn’t decided just how literally he really meant to take the chopping heads part of the equation, but he wasn’t about to admit that to anyone, least of all Bruce.)
“The shell companies,” said Bruce, glowering relentlessly. One day the wind would change and his face would get stuck that way even out of the cowl, and then the whole world would know Batman’s secret identity. “The fake ID.”
Jason widened his eyes. “What’s your problem with Peter Todd? Babs and I thought it sounded good.”
Bruce’s expression didn’t even twitch, which was how Jason knew he’d floored him. If the fate of the world had depended on it he couldn’t have stopped himself from grinning.
“You’re welcome to use the door when you leave,” he said.
“We’re not done,” his father snapped. “I don’t know what you’re up to with this little scheme in uptown, but I will find out, and I won’t tolerate any kind of scam. Furthermore, the next time you feel like indulging your urges to be an instructor of the young I’d appreciate it if you’d refrain from teaching your eleven-year-old brother and his friends to poker.”
“How much did you lose?” Jason asked.
Bruce’s mouth curled angrily, but he stomped out without saying anything further. Jason was childishly tempted to stick his tongue out at the Batman’s retreating back, but he settled for texting Dick instead.
-how much did he lose
Dick texted back in seconds, which convinced Jason he’d been waiting for the question since Bruce had left Wayne Tower.
-seven tubes of smarties and just about all his dignity
Jason laughed so much he fell off the couch.
(ii – talia)
“Has He spoken to you about the poker incident?” Talia demanded.
“It’s a useful skill, T,” said Jason.
“He kills people. Age-appropriate doesn’t really apply anymore.”
“Don’t change the subject,” Talia said. “Are you still – why are you still living in that dump in the Bowery? You’ve just bought up half of uptown Gotham.”
“Why are you tracing this call?”
“I trace all your and Damian’s calls,” said Talia.
Jason considered the implications of that for a second; then he considered the last time they’d seen each other in person, some three years ago now, which had involved nakedness and condoms and Talia saying then let me teach you this as well.
Suddenly he thought he understood why people started drinking.
“… right,” he said.
“The real estate?” Talia asked.
“I – wanted to shake things up.”
I don’t give a damn about the world, he’d told her once. Now Gotham was forcing him to face the fact that this just wasn’t true anymore. It had been, briefly – Bruce, or the thought of Bruce, had a way of sucking all the feeling out of Jason and leaving him hollow and angry; in that mood, only violence brought him back to himself, only pain filled him back up and made him whole.
But that red anger hadn’t touched Jason since before Bruce had died.
“I see,” said Talia.
“Is it wearing off?” Jason asked her suddenly. “Does it wear off?”
She was silent, bewildered. He took the plunge.
Sharp indrawn breath.
“I thought we were agreed you weren’t affected.”
“Please,” said Jason. He was playing with the knife she’d given him, scratching lines into the table. The light from his reading lamp on the table by the couch slid along the curves of it, stabbing at his eyes. “You stalled me so long cause you were afraid of me. You’re not afraid of anyone but Ra’s.”
“Hmm,” she said. He waited for her to be ready to answer.
“I don’t know,” she said at last. “Perhaps it stabilises, after a while. Perhaps you’ve simply gone some way towards healing.”
Talia hadn’t hung up; he could still hear her breathing, wherever she was, miles and continents apart from him, and remembered, as if in a dream, the touch of her hand in his, and the green glow on the walls around them.
“I don’t know,” she said flatly. And again, soft and broken. “I don’t know.”
Jason sighed. He leaned forwards in his chair and propped his chin on his arm, outflung across the table, knife blade flat to the surface, hilt smooth in his palm. He’d put his mug of tea down on his book when she’d called him, holding the pages open. She waited for him. She’d always waited for him, and sometimes Jason thought she might be the only one who ever really had.
She’d been afraid of him and she’d used him and she’d manipulated – or thought she was manipulating – him. Jason couldn’t tell anymore if he was what she had made him, or if she’d simply opened a door and watched him run.
Not that it mattered either way. Jason had decided a long time ago that it was the end result you had to live with. The journey there was incidental.
“He’d like Fox’s biography of Alexander the Great,” he said.
Talia smiled. He could hear it in her voice. “Who?”
“I’ll take that as an apology,” she said. “For teaching him poker.”
Jason laughed softly. She hung up on him then, as she always did, and he uncurled his fingers from around the knife hilt; touched the blade with the tip of his forefinger. He could still live with this, he knew.
Coulda woulda shoulda. He tapped the knife blade twice, dropped the phone beside it; picked up his mug again and went back to his book.
(iii – alfred)
“Ah,” said Alfred, and eyed him up suspiciously. “Greeks bearing gifts?”
“I’m Irish,” Jason said with aplomb.
“I shall take your word for it.” Alfred took the package off him curiously.
“It’s for Damian,” said Jason. “From his Mom.”
Alfred blinked. “I had not realised you were in touch.”
“Hadn’t you?” Jason was surprised himself. “Your reputation for omniscience is taking a knocking, Alfie.”
“Clearly,” said Alfred. “Will you come in?”
Jason tucked his hands into the pockets of his jeans and smiled. “If you invite me.”
“Alas,” said Alfred, watching him steadily. “Your standing invitation remains unrevoked, despite Master Damian’s best efforts.”
Something about the straightforward way he said it made Jason’s chest wrench apart. He cleared his throat. “I call that gratitude. Teach a kid to poker, and what does he do?”
Thin, firm fingers wrapped around his upper arm. “Master Jason,” said Alfred.
“All that time you kept coming by when my leg was broken,” said Jason. He dug the nails of his right hand into his upper thigh through the cloth of his pocket. They had hardly spoken in those weeks. Jason had been too afraid. “Did I tell you I lived in London for a while?”
“You did not,” said Alfred quietly. His hand didn’t move.
“Gotta taste for those Christmas mince pie things,” said Jason. “How come you never fed me any of those?”
He took Talia’s package away from Alfred again and ushered him further into the penthouse, letting the door swing shut behind him. Damian was at school. Jason had watched Dick and Bruce leave the Tower together with Cass twenty minutes ago.
“Master Bruce has an irrational dislike of them,” said Alfred. “I’m afraid I rather lost the habit.”
“That’s a shame,” said Jason cheerfully. “They’re delicious. Cuppa tea?”
“Yes,” said Alfred. “Yes, they are. Thank you, my boy, you know where the teapot is.”
Jason was already aiming for the cupboard over the microwave. “I do,” he said, smiling.