Enough To Hope

There are some lines even Red Hood won't cross, and this is one of them: Crime Alley is off-limits for crime.

Jason tells himself he doesn't know why he cares. He knows.

He and Bruce meet there once a month in that alley. Religiously, on the third of each month, rain or gloom, crazies to catch or crooks to kill. A truce is in effect while they're there; no weapons, just words.

Jason tells himself he doesn't know why he comes. He's always been good at lying – to himself, especially.

It isn't enough.

At first it was the most uncomfortable situation he'd ever been in – even counting some of the chewing outs Batman had given him back in his Robin days. Bruce would show up dressed as Batman, Jason would show up wearing his red helmet, only to remove it minutes later to reveal his old green domino mask. They'd stand there, at opposite ends of the alley – Batman lurking in the shadows, Jason silhouetted by the light leaking from the lamppost one block over – stealing looks at each other, before Bruce would finally ask him to stop what he was doing and come home. Jason's answer always varied – "No way." "Fuck that." "Hell no!" – but it was always a negative.

But, eventually, the tension in the air got to be too much for him and he blurted out, "Why can't you understand that it isn't enough anymore to just lock them up?" Especially because they kept getting out. He hadn't run into the Joker – yet – and he told himself he wasn't fearing the day that would happen.

That was another lie.

There was a rustle of Kevlar in the darkened corner and Batman stepped forward. "Because I have to believe that there's another way besides killing," Bruce replied. "Otherwise, I'll second guess every single decision I made from the moment I became Batman."

"Including me?" Jason couldn't keep himself from asking.

He shouldn't be able to tell in this light – rather, lack of – with Batman wrapping the shadows around him like a second cape, but…he could always see Bruce better than anyone else. Bruce's eyes soften and he says in that low voice that always made Jason hard whenever he'd purr in his ear, "You were never a mistake, Jays."

Red Hood can't believe that. If he does, he'll start second-guessing every decision he made since he put on the ski mask.

From then on, they'd talk. Never details about 'work' – that was taboo – but about other things. Day to day stuff that they'd rarely ever talked about before – but then, they hadn't had to ask, then. Bruce asked whether he got enough to eat, whether he had a safe place to sleep. Jason shot back, "Unless you've drastically changed your personal habits in the three years I've been dead, I'm taking better care of myself than you ever did of yourself."

Bruce's response? "Touché, Jays."

Jason tells himself he doesn't care if Bruce is taking good care of himself; it doesn't feel like a lie, but only because he knows Alfred is doing it for him – for all of them.

They talked about how the others were doing. Jason asked what Bruce was thinking giving Azrael the cowl; Bruce replied that he probably wasn't thinking. Bruce asked why Jason had never gone to see Barbara; he'd visited the other members of the Batclan he knew before, and even the new Robin.

Jason's answer? "Even I'm not heartless enough to gloat about my new lease on life to her, Bruce."

They slide around to gossiping as an attempt at equal footing, since it was something neither of them really did well. They talk about whether or not Dick and Babs were ever going to get back together. Whether or not Robin would ever admit that he liked that Spoiler chick as more than a friend. Whether or not Poison Ivy was a real redhead, if Catwoman would ever go straight and quite stealing for good, if Huntress was meaner when she was PMSing or not, if Black Canary would ever wise up and leave Green Arrow…

Jason wonders what would happen if he said yes when Bruce next asked him to come home. If Dick would still call him Little Wing. If he'd get to call the new Robin Littlest Wing. If he'd flirt with Spoiler enough to make Robin jealous and get him to make a move. If Alfred would still be all grandfatherly and try to get him to stop swearing, and keep him from drinking coffee.

He doesn't ask Bruce that. What he does ask is, "You don't honestly think things can ever be the way they were before, do you?" He's curious to see how much Bruce has deluded himself about this. He doesn't think there's a chance; but if there was…

No. He doesn't let himself hope anymore. There isn't any hope in Hell.

He's not lying to himself about that.

Bruce says, "No…but that doesn't mean we can't be a family again."

Jason wonders what Bruce means by family; he doesn't think he could ever go back to being Bruce Wayne's son, even if the legalities of him rising from the dead aren't more complicated than the Riddler's rhymes. He shoves aside the thoughts that if Bruce didn't love him, he would have taken him down long ago. He knows that even if Bruce taught him all he knows, Batman would still be better, but he tells himself he's just good enough with all the morbid death quips to keep Bruce mentally off-balance, and that's why their 'fights' keep ending in draws.

He doesn't (want to) care if Bruce still loves him; Bruce replaced him, after all. There's a new Robin. But with the advent of these weekly meetings, Jason realizes that maybe Batman's Robin isn't the same thing as Bruce's Jason.

While Jason was dead, all the anger he'd felt his whole life, and all the helplessness he'd felt as the Joker beat him festered. When he was alive again, he started unleashing all that rage on the world. The anger was enough to keep him going for a while, but…it's not anymore. Since he started talking with Bruce, his anger started ebbing. He still thinks there are people who the phrase, "He needed killing," was invented for, but…

Your garden variety rapists and murders aren't them. But if he ever runs into the Joker…

Jason tells himself he'll kill him. He knows he wouldn't be able to face him (alone).

By the time they've been talking for a year, they've started meeting twice a month, and Jason takes his domino mask off, too. Sometimes, when things are quiet enough, Bruce pulls down the cowl. It's as close as they've been to themselves in years.

Jason's almost stopped killing. It didn't seem to do any good, make Gotham any safer. There were always more corrupt crazies to take the place of whoever he'd offed. He knows a lot of ways to permanently incapacitate someone, though, and he uses all of them, starting with the nastiest.

He never uses bullets to leave people paralyzed from the waist down.

Bruce has already stopped asking, "Come home with me, Jays." He thinks…pretty soon, Bruce will start saying, "Let me come with you."

Jason can't allow that. Gotham needs Batman. What it doesn't need…is yet another killer on the streets.

Red Hood was his way of mocking everything that Batman stood for. But that was back when he was still lying to himself about Batman's way not being enough. If Bruce had just killed the Joker when he had the chance… But he still agrees with Batman about Harvey Dent being sick, even after Two-Face killed his dad. And he knows that if he hadn't gone off on his own to Ethiopia, without backup…

It still makes him angry, though.

The next night, he catches a pair of child rapists about to act, and all the pent-up rage at his own ability to deal with his issues boils over. He breaks all four of their arms, strikes a series of pressure points which will leave them feeling 'limp' for quite a while, tacks their rap sheets to their chests, and leaves them tied up in front of the GCPD.

He and Bruce have always had more in common than people think, and not liking to admit when they're wrong is near the top of the list. Red Hood had been working on pure, unadulterated rage for so long…it was hard to admit that he'd been doing it solely to avoid examining his own motives. And now that the rage is mostly gone…he doesn't have anything else left (except Bruce).

Maybe Batman's way wasn't the best way…but it was better than Red Hood's.

He just wasn't sure what Jason's way was.

But Bruce told him to trust him if he couldn't trust himself…

The next week, Bruce hugs him before he leaves, and it's awkward as all fuck…just like it was back when they were… Jason impulsively kisses his cheek. He doesn't stay around long enough to see Bruce's expression; if things work out, he'll know next week. If they don't…

He won't care. He tells himself that wasn't a lie, either, just pragmatism. If life wasn't worth living, then maybe he shouldn't.

He tells himself he could do it if it came down to that. He wasn't sure whether that was a lie or not.

Jason's had the idea for the costume and its identity in the back of his mind for longer than he cares to admit to himself. It's black as pitch, where it isn't blood red. He's got a cowl like Batman's that covers up his hair – he isn't going to start dyeing it again, for many reasons – and no cape. He tells himself that it isn't a bat emblazoned on his chest and knows it for another lie.

When Bruce shows up the next week and sees him…his look was both like Batman's the first time he went up against Red Hood and like Bruce's when he first realized that Jason was alive; caught between refusal to believe and soaring hope.

"Call me Mockingbird," Jason says, and wonders if Bruce will understand. If he let himself hope for anything, that would be it.

Bruce looks at him, a guarded light in his own eyes and asks tremulously, "Are you sure?"

No, he wasn't. But… "I love you," Jason says. That's the only thing he's sure of.

It'll have to be enough.