Jason Todd sat in a visiting room, curious, despite his best efforts. He licked his lips, staring at the empty expanse of glass on the other side of him.
He was handcuffed to the table, handcuffed well enough that he couldn't just slip the cuffs. Which sucked, since his nose itched. A lot. He shook his head slightly, his hair (bright red-the dye he'd "convinced" a prison guard to smuggle in for him was useful) falling into his face. He blew it away, irritated. The guards were gone, having left him alone, which meant that someone had hacked the system to tell them to do that. It had happened before, whenever...
The lights flickered off. Then on again. No one was there. Or so it seemed.
An arrogant smirk played on the edge of Jason's mouth. "Which one?" He called out, knowing they could hear him. He tried to think of anything he'd been doing lately that could have attracted their attention. It's not like this would be a social call-none of them ever visited for the sake of visiting. He didn't think breaking Dent's leg in the yard the other day was enough to qualify a visit, and there wasn't anything else that he'd been doing lately... unless they figured out something he'd done ages ago?
Maybe it was a birthday.
"You the Red Hood?" A voice he couldn't quite place asked. It was quiet, but it was still identifiably a prepubescent boy. Not the al Ghul brat, though. Hmmmm...
"What's it to you?" he asked, eyes darting around the room, searching for the other speaker.
The lights flickered again, and when the light returned, someone was standing in the middle of the room.
Jason shot to his feet, pulling at the handcuffs as hard as he could, the metal digging into the flesh of his wrists.
The boy who stood in the center of the room had long dark hair and wore a hauntingly familiar outfit. His hands were on his hips, and he looked terrified and furious at the same time.
"You." Jason snarled, his nostrils flaring. "What's this, some sort of fucking trick? Did Bruce put you up to this?" He yanked the handcuffs again, but they stayed firm, forcing him to stay hunched over as he glared at the image of his younger self.
The kid stared at him. "You are me," he muttered, his voice low. He took in Jason, with his orange jumpsuit and his scars and his hair with masked eyes. Something broke on his face, although Jason couldn't place what it was for the life of him.
Jason laughed. He threw his head back and laughed, shoulders shaking as he stood there, hunched over and handcuffed, faced with a vision of his past. "Bet Bruce loved this, that bastard," he rasped when he finally could breathe again.
The young Jason clenched his fists tightly, looking like he wanted to hit Jason, despite the bulletproof glass that separated them.
Steph raced along the skyline of Gotham, laughing as Cass skimmed the rooftops beside her. They leapt across the gap between the buildings in unison, Steph tucking into a somersault to prevent a sprained ankle, while Cass plunged forward recklessly.
Cass suddenly lunged forward, her bandaged hand clasping around Steph's gloved wrist. Steph paused, turning towards her friend.
There was a pause when they looked at each other.
A familiar, mischievous grin stole onto Cass's face. "Tag." She released Steph's wrist and ran away, cape flowing in the dramatic wind.
Steph beamed, tearing after her best friend with a light heart. "Oh no you didn't!" She yelled. They hadn't done this in years. Not since before Black Mask. She leapt forward, her own cape flying out.
Her combat boots pounded the roofs as she raced after Cass, feeling the familiar joyful buzz flowing through her veins. So much had changed since Cass had been Batgirl and she had been Spoiler, but some things still felt right.
She lunged forward, tackling Cass and sending the two of them sprawling across the roof, laughing.
"I've missed this," Steph said.
"Hong Kong... not the same," Cass said quietly. "Family feels right."
Steph nodded in agreement. Suddenly she froze, hearing a crashing sound in the alley below. She and Cass exchanged conspiratorial glances, and then crept to the edge of the roof.
Sure enough, some thick-headed thug had decided that tonight was a good night to try to commit some crime. Steph and Cass shared an evil grin, and then leapt off the edge.
The night sky was cloudy but dark, lit up by the faint glow of the Batsignal, alerting the entire city to the fact that the Batman walked the streets. The alley's concrete pavement was cracked and stained, the walls ancient and worn bricks. The alley smelled of human waste and the rather large dumpster that was pressed against the wall.
A Gotham Police officer threw another punch. The child, a thin, ragged looking kid of less than thirteen years old, fell to the ground, spitting blood onto the pavement. "I don't got-" She tried to say, dark eyes wide in fear as the officer swung his foot back, the toes of his boots connecting with her midriff. She curled up, trying to protect her stomach, gasping for breath as tears started to appear in her eyes. "Please," she rasped.
"You little-" The officer said, preparing to kick her again. A hand grabbed his foot suddenly, stopping him in his tracks. He turned around, furious. "Mind your own damn-" He froze, panic flashing across his face, blanching his skin and making his eyes bulge. His mouth hung open, giving him the rather unpleasant appearance of a very pale fish that was in dire need of water. Also, who was balding.
"Bad," Black Bat said, glaring. She twisted her hand, and his whole body flipped, his face colliding with the concrete ground. Batgirl landed on the other side of the police officer, her cape flaring out, shielding the girl from his view.
"You might want to run," Batgirl added helpfully over her shoulder. "Go to Doctor Leslie. She'll look after you."
The little girl scrambled to her feet and ran away, her thin sneakers loud as she dashed towards what would hopefully be Doctor Leslie's Clinic.
"Now look," Batgirl crouched to where the officer was laying on the ground. "We don't want any trouble. It looks bad to be beating on cops."
The man made a garbled noise that probably translated to something unprintable. Cass stepped on his hand casually. He let out a yelp of pain and yanked his hand back.
"Consider this your warning!" Batgirl grinned manically, her eyes gleaming brightly behind her mask. "If we catch you again, we tell Poison Ivy that you've been screwing around with kids." She leaned close to the officer, as if confiding a close and personal secret. She dropped her voice to a stage whisper, her eyes darting back and forth dramatically. The man stared up at her in shock, still white as a sheet. "And between you and me..." She patted the officer on the shoulder, still grinning. "I don't think she'll give you a warning."
The two of them took off into the night, capes fluttering in the breeze.
"Good one," Steph said, holding out her hand for a high five. Cass examined it briefly, before reaching out and tentatively slapping it with her own bandaged hand.
"Fist bumps better?" Steph asked, grinning crookedly. Cass rolled her eyes, taking a step away. Steph laughed, throwing her arm over Cass's shoulders. She shook her head, long blonde hair tumbling over her shoulder.
"Miss Cassandra? Miss Brown?" Alfred's voice was in their ears, and they leapt to attention, instantly on alert.
The Oxford man sounded tense, which instantly made Cass raise her hackles in preparation.
"We're here, Alfred. What's wrong?" Steph asked, mouth a thin, worried line. Alfred rarely went on the communication lines during patrol. He was their field medic-he knew better than anybody how dangerous being distracted in the field could be.
"Young Master Jason is missing," Alfred said. "You two are the closest to the cave, would you mind..."
"Not at all," Steph said, shooting Cass a concerned look. Cass nodded solemnly, concern etched on her features. If Jason was missing... "We'll be there."
The journey back to the cave was quick, but stressful. A thousand scenarios ran through Steph's head, and each one was worse than the last. Steph leaned forward on her motorcycle, her hair pulled tightly into the purple helmet that she wore, her cape flying out behind her as she and Cass zipped along the winding road that lead to Wayne Manor.
Steph pressed the button on the handle of her bike as they approached the entrance, holding her breath as she did every time. The door swung open, and they slowed down. Steph parked her bike next to one of the older cars.
Alfred was waiting for them, frowning. "Master Jason told me he would be in the library. But I believe he might have snuck into the cave."
"Did you check his spot?" Cass asked, tilting her head slightly. "In the attic."
Steph and Alfred stared at her. Cass shrugged. "I found it once. I was bored."
"I will search the attics," Alfred said, his worry lines stark on his face. "Please check the security log though. I'll let you know if he's not there."
"Thanks Alfred," Steph said, nodding. The elderly Englishman left at a slightly-faster than normal pace, leaving the two girls alone in the cave.
"Can you log in?" Steph asked Cass. "I bet we can see what Jason was looking at. Also, we need the security feed."
"Can't you...?" Cass trailed off, gesturing to the keyboard and computer, her brow furrowing as she looked at Steph.
Steph shrugged awkwardly, pulling her cowl off as she did so. Her hair, caught by the static electricity of the movement, frizzed, random strands standing up in all directions. She looked away from Cass, looking blankly over her shoulder instead. "Ah, I..." She cleared her throat. "That is, I, uh. Don't have a login."
Cass stared, eyes almost comically wide. "What?"
"Henevergavemeone," Steph said rapidly, heat rising to her cheeks and ears in embarrassment. "Look, I just count myself lucky my code for the Cave is still valid. I'm not about to go pushing..." Not again. It went unsaid, but it hung in the room. Cass looked away, ashamed, remembering her own behavior during that time.
"You think he's right, don't you?" Steph had asked, the old Spoiler costume fluttering in the Gotham Wind. Hurt, pain, betrayal, fear, loneliness were all clear in Steph's body language.
"Steph..." Cass began.
"Not now, Cass," Steph said quickly, waving away her concerns with a literal wave of her hand. "Right now, we've got a lost kid to find."
Why didn't Babs give you a login? Cass wanted to ask, but she didn't. Steph's wounds were still fresh, despite the years that had passed, despite the amendments that had been made. A new costume, a now open door... none of that really made up for the anger, the bite, the rejection that had patterned the past. It might balance out in the future, but it had still been wrong. Cass could see that now.
Cass quickly typed her username and passcode.
"He didn't exit out," Steph breathed, staring up at the screen.
"That's..." Cass began, looking in horror at what she was seeing.
"B's profile on him. Yeah."
"Shit." Cass said simply.
"Well said, Cass," Steph said. "Pull up the security feed, we need to see how he reacted."
Cass navigated to the necessary feed quickly, grateful for Babs' lessons. "Here," she said.
They watched the video together. Steph breathed out. "You thinking what I'm thinking?" She asked.
"Arkham?" Cass said.
"You bastard!" The younger Jason yelled. "You ruined everything, you broke-"
"There was nothing left to break!" Jason threw his head back and laughed again, tugging on his handcuffs uselessly. The ghost of himself shook furiously, on the verge of breaking. Jason imagined what it would be like to hit him; that warped mirrored version of himself, that illusion of his past. Already, the kid was stretched thin, the broken monster within peeping up between the cracks in the armor, peering out. Jason wondered how long the kid could keep pretending that he was whole, that those cracks weren't there, that everything was alright. Jesus, how old had he been, back when he could still pretend?
Suddenly, the ghost was there, pounding on the glass barrier that separated them. He was crying, sobs heaving his tiny chest as he punched the only thing that separated him from his older counterpart. "We had a family, we had a home. We had a chance. Bruce-"
"He didn't care!" Jason screamed, the words ripping at his throat. He had to stop this. That awful version of himself, the one that still believed, still had hope, those buried thoughts, personified in this hallucination. He needed to stop this. That fucking belief in people and Bruce had gotten him killed. He could not afford this again. He yanked at the manacles on his wrists once more, finally noticing that he was bleeding, that his hands were stained red again. He pushed on, anyways, shoving the pain into a corner of his brain. "He never did! He's a liar and a coward and-"
"Shut up!" The younger boy yelled, livid, punching the glass furiously as he punctuated his furious shouting, tears streaming down his face. "Shut up shut up shut up-"
There was a shatter of glass, and the boy's fist broke through the pane, glass shards cutting at his skin like a thousand tiny knives. The boy yelled in pain, jerking backwards, away from Jason and the glass. He fell to the ground, his furious sobs shaking his whole body. He curled in on himself, his cape covering him like a blanket. There was silence for a moment.
Then with a mighty crack, Jason dislocated his thumb. With a familiar twist, assisted by the blood on his hands, the handcuffs fell away, clattering on the counter. Jason swung his feet up onto the counter, before leaping through the now broken barrier, with one intention in mind.
The boy spotted him and tried to get to his feet, his arm still bleeding due to the shards of glass, but Jason was faster. He punched the younger boy in the face, sending him sprawling on the floor again. The boy tried to push himself up, his face showing the early signs of bruising. His lip was split open.
"He never cared!" Jason yelled, grabbing him by the colorful tunic and hauling him upright. The boy grabbed at Jason's hands and tried to get free, but Jason was bigger, stronger, and more trained than him, and his grip was firm. "He wouldn't even avenge us! Did they tell you that? Did they tell you how you'd die, with the blood in your eyes and a collapsed lung, and thinking that Bruce would save you?" He slammed the brat into the floor, raising his fist and punching him in the face again.
The boy slammed his foot into Jason's solar-plexus, sending Jason flying off him, crashing into the remains of the barrier. The glass tore at Jason's skin and clothes, blood dripping into his eye from the gash on his eyebrow. Suddenly the brat was on top of him, crying and punching Jason's face. "We could have been good!" The boy yelled, slamming his fist into Jason's face. There was a white explosion of pain and Jason let out an unwilling grunt-the brat had broken his nose. Jason reached up and grabbed Robin's throat, his fingers digging into the boy's skin.
"We never had a chance," he hissed, standing up. The boy tried to struggle, but Jason only tightened his grip. He tried to kick Jason, but Jason held the boy out at arm's length, out of his reach. "And Bruce never gave us a chance." He threw the boy across the room, where he slammed into the wall and crumpled on the ground, gasping for breath. Jason moved forward, each step slow and purposeful as he walked toward the younger self.
The boy got to his feet and tried to run away, but Jason knew every trick that boy knew, had had them beaten out of him by dozens of mentors over the years, and he knew how to stop them. His foot snaked out, curling around the boy's ankles, and sent him crashing to the floor again. The boy let out a cry of pain, and Jason wondered how long he had left until the guards heard and came to stop him. Then he remembered where he was. He had time.
"He replaced us!" He said, stalking towards the other boy. He shook with rage, blood smeared across his face.. The cuts on his wrists were deep, the blood dripping onto his hands. Tiny cuts patterned his arms and face, although none of them were bleeding heavily. "He didn't care, he just buried us, and then went off and found a replacement before we were even cold in the ground!" His foot collided with the boy's ribs. The prison shoes weren't particularly good for fighting, but Jason could pack lot of weight behind it. The boy let out a whimper of pain, eyes tightly closed. Jason grabbed the fabric of the cape and dragged the boy upwards. He hung there limply, his feet dragging on the ground.
"You're... wrong..." the boy whispered. "He loves us. He's... he's our dad."
Jason laughed, shaking his head. The sound was eerie, and Jason reflected, for a moment, just how unhinged he actually was. He comforted himself with the fact that this was probably just a dream. After all, he was fighting a younger version of himself. "You're wrong kid. If he 'loved us', would he leave me in here to rot? Would he have cut my throat to save to Joker?"
The boy froze, masked eyes wide. "No," he whispered, but his eyes went to Jason's throat, where the scar was visible. A clean, thick line, made by a Batarang. A final gift from Bruce.
"Yeah. That's right. In his mind, I'm just the fuck-up from Crime Alley. The greatest mistake of his life. Once he realized I wasn't Dick Grayson, that I was broken," his voice dropped low, and he knew that his words were causing more damage than anything he could possibly do to the kid physically. "He dropped us. He already knows you're broken, kid. He's seen what I've become. He knows what's going to happen to you. You're just like me."
The ghost-child shook his head, although he was crying again. "No. No. Nononononononono."
"Hey asshole!" A purple glove punched him in the face. Jason stumbled back, losing his grip on the Robin's cape. Something swung into his stomach and he doubled over. Steel toed-boots hurt.
He looked up, his vision swimming. But he could easily make out two distinct figures. One a blonde in a purple Batgirl costume... the other a dark haired woman with bandaged hands and a scary expression. The scary one was checking up on the brat, cradling his head in her hands and saying something that Jason couldn't quite hear over the pounding of his blood in his ears.
His vision focused for a second.
This was real. Jason felt as if the ground was trying to swallow him up. He couldn't breathe. The boy was real. Everything was real.
He straightened up slowly, staring at the girls. He towered over both of them, the blonde being about five-foot-six and the dark haired one even shorter than that.
In the background, he could hear the Joker laughing, taunting him. He clenched his fists, broken fingernails digging into the calloused skin of his palms. The world swum in his vision, warping faces within his mind. He watched, fascinated and horrified, as the color drained away from everything. The purple seeped out of the new Batgirl's outfit, leaving behind greys and blacks. He glanced down at his own hands, but the crimson blood remained, staining his skin. He returned his attention to Batgirl, whose hair was rapidly becoming paler and paler. He breathed through his nose, trying to keep his grip on reality. He was slipping again, the world becoming dangerously close to falling to pieces. He'd thought this was a dream. What was even real anymore?
Jason noticed that one of them was Batgirl. He wondered what Babs thought about that blonde wearing her costume, whether it ate at her the way Tim wearing the outfit had eaten at him. He wondered if she was even there, or if she was another product of his imagination.
"Take him home," the dark haired girl said quietly, staring at Jason. He had the unusual feeling that he was being x-rayed-that somehow, this girl could see right through him and all of his barriers. He didn't like it.
The blonde turned her head to look at her friend, frowning. "But-"
"Take him home," she repeated. "I'll deal with Red Hood."
Purple looked like she was about to protest, but the other shook her head, eyes not leaving Jason. The blonde scooped up the not-ghost in her arms and walked away, sending Jason one last glare before she exited the room. Jason let them leave, sinking to the floor.
The dark haired girl walked over to him, kicked him lightly, and frowned. "You need help," she said. There was something on her face that fell just short of kindness. It was concern, more like, and it felt out of place to Jason. He didn't deserve her concern. He'd just... he'd just hurt a kid. He'd nearly killed a kid.
An image, unbidden, came to Jason's mind-the al Ghul brat in a hooded version of the Robin costume, bleeding. But that had just been a nightmare, hadn't it? He wouldn't have hurt a kid... he was better than that... wasn't he? Jason clutched at his hair, trying to remember. It had been after Bruce... nothing had been clear then. Reality was fluid for him, blurring with dreams and nightmares and hallucinations. Talia, the last time she had visited, had commented on how his mental state was deteriorating. He wondered how long he had until there was no difference between reality and nightmares.
"Tell me something I don't know," he whispered, holding his head in his hands.
That was real. He felt sick, his gorge rising. He'd just... that kid... what had he done.
The girl knelt beside him. She actually looked concerned. Jason turned his head away, not wanting to look at her.
"The pills make it worse," Jason finally said, staring at the floor. "It... everything... it helps with the nightmares, but reality is..."
"Not clear," the girl said. "You thought... he was a nightmare."
"Not the first time I've met the ghost of Christmas past," Jason said quietly. "I'm not right. I haven't been in a while. But..."
She touched his arm gently. Her eyes were kind. "Why... attack?"
"Robin's hope," he said. "I'm in Arkham. There isn't hope here."
She frowned, and she looked dangerous when she did so. Jason wondered if she'd finally attack him, and stop acting like he deserved her concern. He was in Arkham. He was broken, he was a monster. Why else would Bruce have just left him here? Surely, if he actually cared about Jason, he would have at least come to try to talk. But the only visits were business, and they usually ended up with more bruises and scars on Jason's part. Jason tried not to lie to himself anymore.
"There's always hope," she said. "You... fixable."
Jason laughed weakly. "I'm too broken," he said. "Besides, they've all given up on me. Might as well do the same."
She glared at him. "No!" She leaned in, glaring. "He never gave up on you. He just... bad at talking."
Jason found himself laughing, a real genuine laugh, for the first time in months. His shoulders shook with mirth, shaking his head as he tried to stop laughing, but he found that he couldn't. He just kept laughing, and she joined in, her small giggle an undertone to his own booming laughter. "Understatement," he gasped, and wow, he was crying with laughter, "Of. The. Century."
The younger-Jason was light, Steph wondered, carrying the boy in her arms. He was crying faintly, tiny sobs audible. He'd started supporting himself finally, his arms around her neck, his face buried into the crook of her neck. She was grateful for the protection of her cape, since it protected her from tears and snot.
"Batgirl, report," Bruce's voice growled in her ear. Oops. Looked like Bruce had finally figured out that Steph and Cass had left patrol.
"Jason was at Arkham," she said quietly. "Got him out but... well, he and the Hood did some damage to each other before Black Bat and I got there."
There was a pause. "Injury report," He snapped, but Steph had been around long enough to hear the concern in his voice.
"All superficial. Cuts and bruises. Nothing serious. But I think he broke Hood's nose." She shifted Jason's weight slightly as she approached her motorcycle. "He's upset, but I think he'll recover."
"You sure?" Bruce asked, and it was definitely Bruce, not Batman, who was asking.
"He's a tough kid," Steph said. "Besides. Crime Alley kids are made of tough stuff." She shut off the comm line. "Hey kid. I'm gonna have to put you down. We're going back to the cave."
Reluctantly, Jason loosened his grip on her, and she set him down on the ground gently. The boy swayed slightly, but it looked like Steph's diagnosis had been accurate. His injuries were light, and five minutes with Alfred would be more than enough to patch him up. The bruising would be bad, that was true-Steph could identify finger marks on his throat and a blossoming shiner on his jaw, but Steph had seen much worse.
"Why didn't you tell me?" He asked, eyes red and the skin around them puffy. Steph reached out and stroked his hair, making soothing noises.
"We didn't know how," she admitted. "It's... complicated."
The kid crumpled onto the ground, looking up at her. He didn't cry, but he looked completely miserable. "I screwed up didn't I?" He asked quietly.
"No." Steph said firmly. "Look, kid..." She knelt beside him, wrapping her arms around him tightly. "Yeah, you made mistakes, but we all do. That doesn't mean it's your fault."
Jason clenched the fabric of his cape tightly. "They always said I'd be no good," he whispered brokenly.
Steph reared up, anger filling the pit in her stomach. "No. No. Kid," she grabbed his chin and made him look at her. "No. You don't listen to people like that. Where you come from doesn't define you. Me? I was a screw-up from Crime Alley with a villain for a dad and a junkie for a mom. Bruce told me I would never be a hero. That I didn't have what it took."
He stared at her, confused. "But... you're Batgirl."
"I wasn't then. Everybody piled shit on me. Expectations, rules, tests... but I never let it stop me. I never let myself think, even for a moment, that I was doomed. The minute you think you're destined to be a bad guy, that's the minute you stop caring and start being a bad guy. So fight. Prove them wrong. And when you've won, rub it in their faces until they acknowledge that they're wrong. You can be good. Just 'cause that version of you ended up in Arkham doesn't mean you will."
He looked up at her. "You think so?"
"Nobody's that broken, kid," she said. "Even the Joker's gotta have a universe or two in which he ends up a good guy. And you?" She poked him on the chest, right on the Robin badge. "You're a lot better than him. Bruce wouldn't have given you the costume if you weren't."
Jason threw himself forward, hugging her tightly. She patted his head. "Now. Let's get back home, and then you can explain to Alfred where you've been."
Jason blanched. "Can't we just tell him I got kidnapped or something?" He asked hopefully.
""You wanna try to lie to Alfred? Be my guest," Steph said, mounting her motorcycle. Jason got on behind her, wrapping his arms around her waist.
Jason sighed loudly. "I'm going to be in a lot of trouble, aren't I?"
"Probably!" Steph said.
Everybody was waiting for them in the Batcave. Bruce was most visible, wearing the full Batsuit and radiating disapproval and worry, arms crossed.
"You didn't tell me," he said to Steph, glaring.
Steph crossed her arms. Jason was hiding behind her, grateful for the protection that her cape provided. "Cass and I handled it."
"You could have said something."
Steph raised an eyebrow. "And then you'd have screwed it up."
Everybody froze, staring at Steph as if she'd dropped a bomb.
She threw her hands up in the air. "Seriously? Are we really going to pretend that Bruce handles confrontations well now?"
Bruce held his chin high. "What are you trying to say, Stephanie?" His voice was icy and deep, the kind of Batman growl that made muggers wet their pants and supervillains yell for more mooks.
Steph crossed her arms, unperturbed by the expression and the voice. "I'm saying that you're shit with people. I'm saying that you have the tact of a brick. I'm saying that you're crap with emotions, and that when confronted with two Jasons, you would not handle it well! What I'm saying, Bruce, is that you're not always the right person for the job!" Her hands moved to her hips.
"A little harsh, wouldn't you say?" Dick asked, although he looked like he'd really enjoyed hearing that.
"Hey, I could have called him an emotionally-constipated asshole, but I figured I'd overused that when I was in Africa and cursing his existence," Steph said with a shrug and a grin. Bruce's glower deepened.
"Accurate though," Tim muttered under his breath. "You okay Jason?"
"Fine," Jason stuck his head out from behind Steph, revealing the cuts, scrapes, and bruises to the extended family.
Tim let out a low noise that was almost a growl, but also sounded vaguely like a hiss. Steph raised an eyebrow at him. "C'mon kid," she said to Jason. "Let's get you to bed." She placed a firm hand on his back and propelled him out of the cave before the inevitable emotional conflict began. Alfred followed her, medical kit in hand and a grim expression on his face.
She steered Jason into the first bathroom outside of the cave. She scooped him up and deposited him on the counter, his long, bare legs dangling over the side. (Really, what had Bruce, Dick, and Alfred been thinking, designing a costume like that?) Alfred then opened the medical kit and began to dig out supplies, mouth a thin, disapproving line.
"Sorry Alfred," Jason muttered, while the elderly butler began to pour rubbing alcohol onto a swab. Alfred passed it to Steph, who began rigorously cleaning the cuts on Jason's face. "Ow!" He whined, but didn't move away. He'd undergone this routine often enough to know not to struggle.
Alfred let out the sigh of the long-suffering man who dealt with the Bat Clan's issues on a day-to-day basis. "It's quite alright, Master Jason," he said. "Although, in the future, you might wish to reconsider breaking in to Arkham Asylum whenever you're upset."
"Noted," Jason said, while Alfred inspected his ribs. "I don't think they're broken," he said. "Just bruised."
"I believe I will be the judge of that, Master Jason. Miss Stephanie, can you find the medical tape?"
Steph found it easily enough. Alfred kept his first-aid kits very well organized.
Luckily, Jason didn't require too much attention. Once his cuts were clean and his ribs taped up, all that remained were bruises. "Alfred, do I have a change of clothes around here?" Steph asked.
"Indeed, Miss Brown," Alfred said. "Your Gotham Knights T-Shirt, two pairs of jeans, and those canvas shoes you are so found of."
"Good," Steph said, although she'd had hope that she'd left a jacket at the Manor, but when she had stopped by the apartment that morning she had dropped it off, along with her laundry. It was a cold night, and it was a long ride home. She didn't want to make the trip home tonight, but she knew better than to expect Bruce being okay with her presence in the Manor after those comments. "They in the guest room?"
"Indeed, Miss Brown."
"Thanks Alfred." Impulsively, she stood on her tiptoes and kissed him on the cheek. She grinned at him and dashed off.
The guest room was one of many, many, many spare rooms in the Manor. It was near Cass's, so it was the one where Steph slept in whenever she crashed there. She pushed open the door, fiddling with the clasp of her cape.
She changed quickly, wondering if she could borrow Tim's jacket for the motorcycle ride home. He'd probably agree-he was always worried about road rash and things like that. She smiled to herself as she tied up the laces of her purple Converse shoes. Her smile faded as she thought about making her way through the Cave again to get to her bike. Maybe she would get lucky, and Bruce would have gone out again to take his frustrations out on unsuspecting muggers. She could hope.
She pulled the door open, only to freeze. Jason was there, wearing what appeared to be flannel pajamas, a concerned look on his face.
"Hey kiddo!" Steph said cautiously, wondering what he was doing. "What's up?"
"Alfred said you were leaving?" He asked, looking upset.
She nodded, feeling at lost for what to say or do. She was not about to explain her and Bruce's issues to Jason. She was not up for rehashing all of that bullshit, and she also didn't want to insult the closest thing Jason had to a father any more than she had to. It was one thing to point out that Bruce, due to a combination of PTSD and pure stubbornness, had the emotional maturity of an eight year old. It was another entirely to inform Jason that Bruce was also a stubborn asshole and control freak who manipulated anyone and everyone around him. Mostly because Jason ought to be smart enough to figure that out himself. And also because he'd want specifics and Steph was too tired to explain her entire history.
"I don't actually live here," she said instead. "My mom wants me home tonight."
Jason visibly deflated at that. "Oh." His voice was small. She knelt down and hugged him. "I'll be back tomorrow," she promised, hoping Bruce wouldn't lock her out of the Batcave. "But I really need to go."
Jason nodded. "Okay."
The Red Hood had been replaced in his cell already. Arkham's less-than-stellar hospital ward had patched him up-his hands were wrapped in bandages and there was tape on his nose. He was sprawled on the cot in his cell, staring up at the ceiling blankly. He didn't stir from his position as Bruce entered the cell, his arm tucked beneath his head.
"Bet you're thrilled," Jason finally said to Bruce, who was looming menacingly in the corner. "You finally get the version of me that you actually cared about. Maybe you won't fuck up this time." He let out a harsh, dry bark of laughter. "But I doubt it."
"You could have killed him," Bruce growled. No, that wasn't Bruce, was it? It was Batman. The shadows in the room seemed longer, somehow, in his presence.
He wasn't about to tell Batman about his slip-up. Even if Cain-that was the girl's name, he had remembered it finally-told Batman, Jason wouldn't.
"What, like you would care?" He asked instead, pretending it was rhetorical. Would Bruce care if he'd killed that version of himself that hadn't been broken? Bruce didn't want him, didn't want this cracked and broken model, but maybe he could care about the younger one, the one whose scars ran less deep and carried less anger-anger that Bruce never could understand, never even tried to. Bruce couldn't understand Jason, he never had. He didn't understand what it was like, to see the effects of crimes up close and personal. He'd never watched someone he loved spiral into addiction-never had to know, deep down, that it was his fault, if he hadn't listened and just stopped buying the medicine, she would never have died. He'd never seen his neighbors get kicked out of their home because a mugger had taken the only money they had. He'd never seen a whole building evicted because the rich men were at war with each other. He'd never seen the hungry kids so desperate they'd do anything for a meal. Bruce never understood the consequences; he never saw the human cost.
"I still care," Batman said quietly, his voice almost gentle.
Jason laughed again, shaking his head, grateful for the pain in his arms that kept him grounded to reality. His head was clearer than it had been in ages, but for once he wished it wasn't. "Do you tell yourself that to help you sleep?"
"Get out." Jason hissed, finally sitting up. He glared at Bruce, hating him. Hating that he'd left him there to rot, only visiting when Jason had fucked up, never caring. "Get out of here. I've got nothing to say to you."
Suddenly, Batman was there, hauling Jason up by the scruff of his collar. "You attacked a child tonight," he snarled, his teeth bared in a familiar terrifying expression.
"Fuck you," Jason growled, shoving Batman away with all his might. Batman released his grip but remained close. Jason stood up fully, his full height even taller than Bruce. "You've made it clear you don't want anything to do with me-"
"Shut up!" Jason yelled. "Stop lying to me!"
Because Bruce had to be lying. There was no other explanation.
Suddenly, just four cells down, the Joker began to laugh.
Four cells separated the Red Hood and the Joker, two of Gotham City's most dangerous criminals. Jason began to breathe faster, the world spinning as the familiar laughter began to echo through the halls of Arkham Asylum. So tell me pumpkin-
The cell seemed to shrink, the sounds bouncing around, crashing against his ears, deafening him to everything else. He stumbled backward, crashing against the bed painfully, and he threw up his hands to protect himself from whatever was coming.
He fell to the floor, struggling to breathe, phantom pain shooting across his limbs, the Joker's laughter ringing in his ears. His eyes were shut, but the Joker was there too, laughing as he beat him, the crowbar crashing against him, breaking bones and-
"Jason!" Suddenly, Bruce was there in the nightmare. Jason's world twisted horribly, and then, he was no longer in the warehouse. He was in Arkham, and he wasn't dying, the Joker wasn't killing him, he was safe.
Bruce's face was pale beneath the cowl, and he gripped Jason's shoulders slightly too tight. He looked terrified, in a way Jason had never seen Bruce. He studied Jason's face intensely, trying to see if Jason had broken free of the nightmare.
Jason gasped for air, filling his lungs desperately. He clutched at Bruce's arms, not pushing him away for once. He was on his knees, face turned towards the floor. His prison garment was soaked in sweat, and his hands were cold and clammy. He was even paler than Bruce, every vein in his arms and face visible, stark blue beneath his translucent skin. He swallowed desperately as soon as he was able, hoping that he wouldn't throw up. The salty taste of bile filled his mouth, but he held it down, the Joker's laughter fading as looked up at Bruce.
"Every night?" Bruce asked quietly. There was something wrong about his face, about his voice, but it was still definitely Bruce. Jason wondered what was wrong, what Bruce had seen to change his expression like that. Had the reminder of just how broken
Jason finally let go of Bruce, pushing himself against the nearest wall. He leaned his head back, resting it against the cold stone. He closed his eyes, hoping that when he opened them, Bruce would be gone. "Every night. Every morning. Sometimes more often."
There was a long, awful pause, and Jason thought that Bruce had left. A strange feeling filled his stomach, weighing it down. Part of him, despite everything, wanted Bruce to stay. He bit down on the instinct to call out, and kept his eyes firmly shut. He wouldn't give Bruce anything. Not after the bastard had left him here in the first place.
Suddenly, there was a presence beside him. "I didn't know." Bruce's voice was barely a hoarse whisper.
"Yeah well, it's not like you ever checked up on me to find out." Bruce winced. It was barely perceptible, but it was there. Jason felt strangely guilty about that, but he shoved it down. It was true. Bruce had never checked on him in person-unless something was happening in his precious city that could be linked back to the Red Hood.
Jason was tired. He just wanted to sleep. The anger, the bitterness, the fear were all drained away, leaving him feeling like an empty shell. He didn't care about anything anymore, he found. He just wanted it to be over.
Suddenly, there was a hand on Jason's arm. He looked up; straight into Bruce's masked eyes. He glared half-heartedly, wondering what Bruce was thinking.
"I'm..." Bruce paused, and Jason realized, with a perverse sense of delight, that Bruce was lot for words. "I know I haven't been a good parent."
Jason felt like laughing again. No shit. What had been Bruce's first clue? But Jason said nothing, waiting for Bruce to get to the point.
"I... I'm sorry Jason," Bruce said quietly. "For everything. None of this... this isn't what I wanted for you."
Jason remained silent, seeing as that bit was a little obvious. The silence hung in the room, heavy and painful and terse.
"You need help, Jason," Bruce finally said, his words soft and final sounding. They reminded Jason of the slamming of a door, of an end. Help could mean anything, really. But knowing Bruce... Jason tensed up, every inch of him screaming to get away while he still could. His eyes darted around the room, searching for a weapon, an escape, anything.
"I don't need your help," he snarled, pushing away Bruce's hand and glaring. "You left me in here! With him!" Bruce flat out flinched, as if Jason had struck him. Fuck him. He didn't get to act like that.
"Real help, Jason," Bruce pled, his voice almost gentle, but Jason didn't believe him for a second. Bruce lied. Everything about him was secrets and lies. Bruce reached out for him, for what purpose, Jason couldn't imagine.
Jason got up, striding away from Bruce. "Leave me alone," he hissed through his teeth, not wanting to look at Bruce and the damned Bat on his chest. The Joker started laughing again, and Jason felt the walls of his cell start to collapse on him, shrinking down to resemble the inside of a coffin. He stumbled, breathing heavily, trying not to fall apart again. Suddenly, there was a hand was on his shoulder. Instinctively, he punched, which would have sent anyone short of a Bat or a Superman sprawling on the ground.
"Fuck you!" Jason screamed, his voice hoarse and his chest tight. At least the walls were no longer closing in, and the Joker's maniacal giggling was drowned out by Bruce's presence. His face was wet. Bruce grabbed him, pulling him... was that supposed to be a hug? Jason tried to push him away, but Bruce's grip was strong and Jason was shaking like a leaf, tremors wrecking his entire body. His knees gave out, and he collapsed into the awkward embrace. He let out a single sob, then weakly punched Bruce's chest. His fist struck at the symbol. "Fuck you," he repeated, his voice broken and small.
"I've got you," Bruce said, cradling his son in his arms. "I've got you Jason."
"You left me," Jason whispered brokenly.
"I know and-and I'm-I'm sorry."
Cass perched on the window-sill carefully, her weight shifted onto her toes. She crouched, peering through the glass into the room. She could see the younger Jason curled up on his bed, clearly still awake. She rapped on the window gently. His head snapped up, eyes widening when he saw her. He rolled off the bed, landing on his feet, then ran to the window. He grabbed the bottom of the window and threw it open, stepping aside for Cass to enter.
Cass examined Jason. His eyes were red and puffy, but his face was dry and his nose was no longer running. He'd changed out of his Robin costume, wearing what appeared to be red flannel pajamas instead. Cass spotted the uniform discarded in one corner, the mask tossed across the room. Cass hugged Jason, lifting the small boy off his feet as she did so.
He hugged her back, hands balling up the material of her blue turtleneck. She set him down after a few seconds. He grinned up at her.
"Feeling better?" She asked him.
He looked down at the ground, smile fading away. "A bit," he muttered.
Cass ruffled his hair. "Ice cream?" She suggested, smiling at him.
Slowly, Jason looked up. "Really?"
"Neapolitan?" She asked, holding out her hand.
Carefully, Jason took it.
Bruce returned to the Manor at four in the morning.
He crept through the hallways of the manor, not wanting to disturb the sleep of his children. He paused, hearing something from the living room.
"You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it does." He heard Jason's voice. In the background, he heard the noise of a movie playing. He pushed open the door to the living room, expecting to see Jason alone.
Cass and Jason froze, Jason snuggled up against Cass, both of them with ice cream containers on their laps. Cass had a spoon in her mouth, and she stared at Bruce with huge eyes. The big screen TV in front of them played a movie that he vaguely remembered being one of Dick's favorites.
"Hi?" Cass asked around the spoon of chocolate ice cream.
Jason shrunk against Cass, as if he thought Bruce would attack him. Cass's arm went out across his shoulders, hugging him protectively. She glared at Bruce, as if she thought he was a threat. Bruce sighed, squaring his shoulders. "Cassandra, do you mind if I talked with Jason?" Cass simply remained where she was, posture firm. Bruce sighed. Cass was normally sweet and easy going, but when she was protective, she went all the way. "Alone?"
Glaring daggers at him, she cocooned Jason in blankets before getting to her feet, stalking out of the room dramatically. She threw Bruce one last, threatening glance before she slammed the door shut, leaving Bruce and Jason alone.
Bruce sat next to Jason. Jason stared at his melting multi-colored ice cream, not meeting Bruce's glance.
"I'm sorry," Bruce finally said. Jason's head snapped up, eyes wide with surprise. "I shouldn't have lied to you."
"Who are you and what have you done with Bruce?" Bruce wasn't entirely sure if his son was being sarcastic or not, and it stung. He shifted positions slightly, wishing that, just once, he could have a conversation with Jason that didn't make him feel so ridiculously unprepared. He was Batman. He was supposed to be prepared for anything.
"Jason." He reached out, hoping that this conversation wouldn't end with quite as much punching or crying as the previous one. Jason flinched, but allowed the contact, which was nearly as painful as the older Jason's blows. "I didn't want to hurt you."
Jason drew his knees up to his chest, a difficult task in his cocoon of blankets.
Bruce took a deep breath. "Look, I... I know you're upset."
"World's greatest detective."
Bruce did not groan, roll his eyes, or wish for someone to take him out of his misery. He did not. "I... I make mistakes Jason. And when it comes to you... I make a lot of them. I try to protect you, and usually end up hurting you more. Sometimes I wonder if I should have let you be Robin, since it just seems to have given me even more opportunity to hurt you." Bruce took a deep breath, not looking away from Jason. "And I'm not very good at admitting that. And when I do, I... I usually..." Screw that up too. "Don't say it well. But the one thing I know I did right with you... was taking you in. And giving you a chance. And you did well with that chance."
Jason turned to Bruce finally, eyes watery. He threw himself towards Bruce, leaving the blankets in his wake, wrapping his arms around Bruce's torso and squeezing tightly. "Thanks Dad," he whispered against Bruce's chest. Bruce hugged his son back, and for a moment, he felt at peace.
"The data just finished processing," Tim told Dick, down in the Batcave. Tim wore his overly large Superboy shirt. Dark circles surrounded his eyes, revealing to Dick just how badly his younger brother needed sleep. "I've identified where and when Jason came from."
"And?" Dick asked, leaning against the console of the computer, stretching conspicuously so that his white undershirt rode up. Babs, who was involved in the conversation via a video-link, smirked at him. Dick smirked back.
"Alternate universe for sure," Tim said, rubbing his forehead. "So him finding out about everything won't disrupt the time stream."
Tension evaporated from Dick. "We don't need a mind wipe," he said, relief dripping from his words. Babs sighed, clearly thankful.
"I'll let Zatanna know," she said, tapping her desk.
"I hate mind wipes," Dick muttered, running his hands through his hair, causing it to stick up in all directions. The effect was somewhat similar to a porcupine.
"You need a haircut," Babs told him absently. "We all do, Dick. That's why the League doesn't do them anymore."
"We were willing to," Tim said quietly, sinking back into the chair.
"No one was willing to risk a repetition of the Flashpoint incident," Babs said, sounding like she was choking, in a way. There was the sound of metal hitting something, and Dick realized she'd hit her wheelchair.
Dick slumped, remembering how much they had nearly lost for good. "Go to bed, Tim," he said.
"But I need to finish the calculations," Tim groaned. "We need to get Jason home-"
"Shoo," Babs waved her hands at Tim. "I'll figure it out. Shoo. Sleep. Now."
Tim stifled a yawn. Dick poked him in the side. "Sleeeeeep, Timmy. Sleep is good. Go find some."
"Not tired," Tim muttered, yawning again.
"Move it or I'm cancelling all your meetings tomorrow," Babs ordered, a maniacal gleam in her eyes and a smirk on her lips.
"Hate you," Tim grumbled, voice thick with sleep. He stumbled to his feet and exited the cave, dragging his feet and mumbling about interfering oracles and overprotective bats. Dick turned to Babs, shining his widest, brightest smile.
"Mind if I come over tomorrow?" Dick asked, waggling his eyebrows.
Babs smiled at him, one eyebrow of her own lifting. "Proxy and I have an appointment with Doctor Leslie."
"Aren't you coming over to see Jason?" Dick asked.
Babs' smile faltered. "He doesn't know, Dick," she said softly.
"He doesn't know-" Dick's brow furrowed, confused.
"That I'm in a chair. He'd-he'd try to change it."
"Wouldn't you want him to?"
Babs looked away, eyes bright with tears."...No. I wouldn't."
Dick took a deep breath, leaning forward. His fingers brushed her face on the screen, and he wished desperately that he was actually with her, not separated by miles and miles of Gotham. "Babs..."
She swallowed, lowering her head. "Sometimes I do wish-but-but being Oracle... founding the Birds of Prey... mentoring Cass and Steph and Wendy and Charlie..." she looked up, and met his eyes directly. "Being with you... I wouldn't trade that for anything. And... I don't need my legs to be a hero."
"You're the best hero out of all of us," Dick said honestly.
She ducked her head, wiping her face surreptitiously as she could while having to move her glasses to do so. "Don't tell the others," she said firmly. "They don't need to know."
"I won't," Dick promised. He blew her a kiss. She returned the gesture, smiling softly at him.
"You should go check on Jason," she said. "When he was that age he thought you hated him. You should probably fix that."
A weight appeared in Dick's stomach. "Yeah, um. Probably."
She rolled her eyes. "See you soon," she said, smiling. She cut the connection.
Dick took a deep breath, and went up to see Jason. He was so preoccupied with his thoughts that he missed Tim sneaking back into the cave.
"Go away," Jason grumbled when Dick came into his room. (Without knocking either-that bastard.)
"Hey Little Wing!" Dick said cheerfully. Jason didn't need to open his eyes to know that Dick was wearing that scary-cheerful smile of his.
"Go away Dickface," Jason rolled over onto his side, burying his face in his pillow and drawing the blankets up over him. He let out a yelp as Dick jumped onto the bed, dislodging him from his comfortably warm spot on the bed. He flailed at Dick, hoping to push him off the bed. Dick laughed, ignoring Jason's efforts to both get rid of him and sleep, and remained where he was. "Eff you," he mumbled into the mattress.
"Ahh, don't be like that, Jay!" Dick ruffled his hair. Jason groaned, hoping this was a nightmare. "What kind of big brother would I be if I didn't invade your privacy and annoy you once in a while?"
"Please go back to hating me and leave me alone," Jason mumbled.
"Never!" Dick flopped down, tucking his arms beneath his head and staring up at Jason's ceiling. "Hey, did you do the constellations? That's really cool."
"Why is this my life?" Jason grumbled, trying to pull the covers over his face again, but Dick's bulk prevented that from being possible.
"You're Robin, Little Wing," Dick reminded him, kicking him lightly. Jason threatened the namesake part of his anatomy. Dick laughed. "You don't really mean it!" He grinned.
"Yes I do," Jason said into his pillow. He infinitely preferred Cass's version of sibling bonding. Or even Damian's. At least fights didn't happen when sleep should be occurring.
Dick laughed again. Jason groaned.
"Sorry I'm such a jerk back home," Dick finally said. "Work on it, okay?"
Jason finally rolled over, facing Dick. "So I can go home?" He asked. His voice was desperate, and small, and it finally sunk in that, as far as Jason knew, he was stuck here. That he'd thought he'd never see his Bruce, his Babs, his Alfred, again. Dick flinched, mentally cursing the entire family for not thinking of this.
"Yeah." Dick said. "Tim and Babs are working on it."
Jason finally smiled. Then he knocked Dick out of the bed with a well-placed kick. "Scram, Dickface," he ordered. "Sleep."
"Gotcha," Dick said from the floor. "Sleep."
Tim knocked on Jason's door, later that night. "Jason?" He called.
"Go the fuck to sleep we can bond in the morning."
Luckily, Steph thought, Bruce either forgot to lock her out, or someone talked him out of it. Judging from the package full of cookies that arrived at her apartment during lunch, she thought it might be Alfred. It seemed that the old butler enjoyed having someone beside him call out Bruce on his bullshit.
She walked into the Batcave, shedding her gloves as she went. She saw Cass, Tim and Dick gathered around a computer, talking in quiet voices. She walked toward them, whistling as loudly as she could to alert them of her presence. They didn't turn around. Steph kept moving forward, hoping that since none of them had tried to signal her, Bruce was not about to rain his wrath down upon her.
"Sneak attack!" Suddenly, a small child fell onto her back, nearly causing her to fall over backwards. She caught herself, sticking her arms back to support the boy in a piggy-back position.
"Hey kiddo!" She craned her head just enough to see Jason's brilliant smile. She grinned back, shifting him further up. He wrapped his legs around her waist, supporting himself. Steph heard Cass laugh, proving that she had been in on the sneak attack all along.
"So what's up?" Steph asked, moving toward the group again, Jason still hanging on her back like a baby koala. (What were those called? Koala-lites? Oh wait no, it was a name. Tylers? Jacks? Eh, she'd think of it later.)
"We figured out how to get Jason back home." Tim said, not looking at her.
Steph smiled. "That's great,' she said. And she meant it. She loved having the kid around, but he probably really needed to get back to his family so he could hug pre-super-angst Bruce a lot. "When?"
"Soon," Cass said. "Just... need to say good bye." Cass's smile was sad.
"Where's Bruce?" Steph asked, eyes scanning the room, half expecting him to emerge from the shadows. He didn't.
"He said he needed to talk with Black Canary about something," Dick said with a frown. "He didn't say what."
Steph gasped. "Bruce? Keeping secrets? Never! He is an imposter!"
Jason laughed, letting go of her. "He'll be back soon, though, right?"
"Should be," Tim said, typing a few things into the computer.
"Don't worry, Little Wing!" Dick said, swooping in and grabbing Jason into a hug.
"Gah! Let go of me!" Jason flailed in Dick's grip, but he still looked remarkably happy. Steph wondered how often he got hugs back home, and she frowned to herself.
"Nope!" Dick hugged Jason tighter, which caused Jason to make a face. Cass giggled, clearly amused.
"Let go of me, Dickface!" Jason yelled, but he was grinning and laughing.
"Dickface?" Steph asked, an evil smirk appearing on her face. She exchanged a glance with Cass.
"Bruce," Dinah said, looking at him. "Are you sure this is what's best?"
"Arkham is destroying his psyche," Bruce said grimly. "The proximity to the Joker causes him to have panic attacks multiple times a day. From what Cassandra said to me, reality and nightmare have been blurring for some time. He needs help."
Dinah sighed. "I'm not sure if I'm qualified for this."
"You're one of the few people I trust enough to handle this," Bruce said with honesty. Dinah blinked, leaning back in her chair.
"You do realize he tried to hurt Mia?" She asked, frowning.
"I didn't say he wasn't dangerous."
Dinah couldn't help but smiling. "How good is he?"
"Not as good as you at straight hand to hand combat."
"Keep him away from guns then?" Dinah shook her head ruefully. "Fine. You'll have him transferred then?"
"As quietly as possible," Bruce confirmed. "I have contacts that will help."
"You mean Oracle does," Dinah said with a short laugh.
Bruce stood up to go.
"Bruce?" She called at his retreating back. "If he's as bad as you say... I can't promise a miracle."
"I know," Bruce said quietly. "But I have to try."
Dinah stared after him as he left. "Well I'll be damned," she said to herself, smiling.
Bruce was back. Tim quietly calibrated the machine (Steph had no idea where he'd gotten it from, but she just went with it). Jason hugged Cass tightly, wondering how long it would be before he met a version of her, or if he'd even get to. "Goodbye," he said to her, trying not to cry. He was going home, dammit. He should be happy.
Steph was next, pulling him into another hug. "Look Jason," she said, her signature smile not present for once. "I know you're worried, okay? But it's going to be fine."
"How're you so sure?" He asked quietly, hoping the others didn't here. "I mean... you've got this great big family and back home it's..." He looked down. "What if I screw everything up?"
"You can't worry about that," she said. "Look, you have a family back home. Sure, it's not the same yet, but it's family. It's not about genetics or blood or any of that. You can build your family, and make it better than ours. We're screwed up, kiddo. We've made mistakes. You've got an opportunity. Find Cass. Find Tim. Find me, even, if you want to put up with me. Get Dick and Bruce to stop being assholes to each other." She paused. "Also, be nice to Alfred. We put him through a lot."
Jason let out a laugh, and hugged her again. "I'll find you," he promised.
"Good," she whispered in his ear. "Now go hug your dad."
Jason walked over to Bruce, feeling awkward. Ah well. Hopefully all the speeches were done. "Bye Bruce," he said quietly, hugging him quickly.
"See ya, Little Wing!" Dick said, scooping him up for another hug. Jason tolerated it briefly, then pushed him away.
"Bye Dickface," he said, sticking out his tongue.
He nodded at Damian. He leaned in and whispered. "Remember, being Robin? It gives you magic."
"What nonsense are you spouting, Todd?" Damian demanded, crossing his arms and scowling.
"You'll work it out one day," Jason said, grinning. He turned to Tim.
"You still look like Doctor Midnight."
Tim groaned. "Goodbye Jason."
Jason hugged Tim quickly. "Bye!"
"We're ready then?" Bruce asked, standing by the computer.
"Bye everyone!" Jason waved at the room at large.
"Stay safe Jason!" Babs waved from the video screen. He grinned at her.
"Bye!" Steph waved, grabbing Damian's hand and forcing him to wave as well. Damian glared at her, and she knew she would pay for it later. She grinned.
The portal opened, large and bright and golden in color. Slowly, tentatively, Jason took a step through it. He looked back, and smiled at them one last time. He stepped the rest of the way through it, and the last thing they saw was him charging towards a different Batman, shouting for joy.
Three Years Later
Jason ran across the rooftops of Gotham, Tim trailing behind him. "Keep up!" He yelled over his shoulder, and he could feel Tim's glare. He launched a grappling hook and flew across the gap. "C'mon, Boy Wonder!"
He landed on the next roof, and started running again, when a small caped body tackled him, sending him crashing painfully to the ground. "Tag!" Cass grinned down at him. Or at least he assumed she was smiling. Her Batgirl mask made it hard to tell.
"My ribs," he groaned.
"Wuss," Steph announced, sitting on a nearby chimney.
"Shut up Spoiler." Jason got to his feet, rubbing his head.
Cass giggled. "You're it," she reminded him.
"Yeah, yeah, yeah," he grumbled.
"Red Robin?" Oracle's voice crackled inside his ear. He held up a finger to signal the others.
"Penguin's active tonight. You four up to it?"
Jason Peter Todd, age fifteen, looked at his family, and grinned.
"I think we can handle it."