Author's Note: Fifth Wayne brothers centric fic, tied to 'The Choice of Family', 'Father's Day', 'Antidote for the Poison', and 'Separation Anxiety'. Written alternatingly from Jason's and Bruce's points of view and definitely the longest thus far, so I decided to split it into two parts and considering the first line in the story, I think it works out pretty well. Don't worry, part two is almost done and will be up in a day or so. Also see author's end note for some Batman history mentioned in this part. Hope you like it and as always, please review!
In Father's Honor
By Silver Spider
As well as the integration back into his family was going, there were two things Jason still refused to do.
The first was that he made it a point not to be in the same space with more than one or two of them at the same time. Out on the streets it was usually Tim or Dick and Damian, whoever turned up. Even when Bruce wasn't too busy with Batman Inc., Jason just felt like he couldn't handle working with the original Batman again. Too many memories and too much pain for both of them. Then there was the whole 'no killing' rule. So far he'd held back. Not because he suddenly believed it, but for his father, he was trying. Jason couldn't deny that he was having issues with that one.
The second – stranger of the two – was that he never slept at the manor if he knew even a single one of his brothers – anyone but Bruce and Alfred, really – was going to be there. Dick understood and didn't question it. Tim got it to a certain extent, though Jason could tell the teen didn't quite understand why it was so hard for him to just move back into his old room. Damian kept asking him about it until Bruce had to pointedly tell the boy to leave him alone. Jason had scowled at the interference, but silently he was grateful.
However, he found that he could be a brother. Not always a very good one – he was pretty sure that neither Tim nor Damian had used this kind of language this often before he'd come along – but he could work and talk to them. It was still somewhat difficult not to feel defensive around Dick. His elder brother seemed to think that just because he wore a Batman mantel that he was suddenly Bruce and thus in a position to dish out completely unrequested advice, however well-meaning. Must be hard to be so fuckin' perfect, Jason thought wryly, but he didn't take it too personally. It was just the way Dick was. Maybe he'd always been meant for the big brother role. Jason wasn't sure how applicable that was for himself, but for all the hurt he'd first felt when he saw the Robin costume on someone else, he discovered he actually liked Tim and even Damian.
And away from the masks and uniforms, he could be a son. Never out in the streets, but at the manor he and Bruce could co-exist. Most of their topics were 'safe': civilian life was fair game, as were the other former and current Robins and more extended members of the bat clan. They never spoke about the past or what Jason was doing with his second life. After the first few times that Bruce had tried, Jason pointedly disappeared for a week altogether and didn't come to the manor for another.
The one person who Jason let get away with it for some mysterious reason was Tim. A perfect example was one fairly quiet night – just two muggings and a robbery – when they returned to the cave. Red Robin had pushed away his cowl and sat behind the large computer to file an update while Jason removed the red domino mask that surrounded his eyes. He casually strode around the cave, idly noting all the new additions, but he was close enough that he heard it when Tim stopped typing.
"You need a new secret identity," the teen declared suddenly.
"What brought this on?" Jason had a feeling that Tim often said about a third of what he meant to and expected people to read his mind for the other parts. He wondered if it was a habit he'd acquired from Bruce.
"Your current one sucks." His brother gave him a look. "I know you're kind of masochistic..."
"Of course you are," The teen rolled his eyes a little as if it was the most obvious thing in the world, and Jason couldn't help but feel a little annoyed at being talked down to by a boy more than half a decade his junior. "Everyone in this family is masochistic to some extent, but especially you. No, but really. The Joker's old gig? I get that you were trying to make a point before, but it's way unhealthy. Nightwing's open, you know. I'm sure Dick won't mind."
"Been there, tried that." The young man waved his hand dismissively. He was fairly certain that their brother would very much mind. "I don't think I'm ever doing uniform thing again."
"What's wrong with uniforms?" Tim looked down at his own.
"Nothing, but your friend Superboy has the right idea," Jason crossed his arms. "No capes, no tights, no thanks."
"Conner's bulletproof," the teen pointed out reasonably.
"So am I," Jason grinned and tapped his chest. "Ah, the wonder of kevlar. You done here or what? Those weren't exactly high-profile baddies."
His brother took a glance at the computer and pushed the button to hibernate it. On the way up from the cave half a step behind Tim, Jason stopped and glanced back over his shoulder. Of all the souvenirs and trophies, it was still there: his old Robin suit locked inside the glass case. Tim must have heard him stop.
"I don't know why he still keeps it like that," he said a bit resentfully. "I mean, I kind of got it before, but now..."
"His son died," Jason replied quietly. "What came back was... different."
"People change, Jay." He felt a hand on his shoulder.
"Not always for the better."
"Yeah, it was kind of bumpy," Tim admitted. "But you're here now."
Later back in his apartment – Damian and Tim were both spending the night at the manor – Jason wondered how much of him was really there. He knew he didn't have access to even a fraction of the resources the others did. That was fine with him, as Jason was perfectly capable of going low-tech, but he was curious about other things. So, armed with a beer and bag of chips, he plopped down into the old sofa, propped his feet up on the coffee table and began typing.
He'd heard of this new super-secret superhero network thing Bruce was creating, now Jason figured it was time to check it out. However after two and a half hours of hacking, he'd barely broken past the first fire wall. A little annoyed but willing to admit that hacking had never been his forte, Jason set the computer down and went to do other things.
He'd almost forgotten about the computer until it started beeping and a synthetic voice came out of the speakers.
"This is Oracle. Identify yourself immediately"
He took a dive for the coffee table, almost bumping into it in the process, and grabbed the laptop. "Babs? That you?"
"Jason?" There was a momentary pause, then Barbara Gordon's image appeared on his screen. "What are you doing hacking into the Web?"
"Just poking around for the hell of it." He held up his hands. "Sorry if I freaked you out."
"You set off half of my alarms," Barbara chastised. "I thought the Calculator was trying to hack in."
"That good, huh?" Jason grinned. "What are you doing up at these ungodly hours?"
"Who sleeps anymore?" She visibly relaxed a little. "I haven't talked to you in a while. How are you doing?"
"Okay." He pulled the laptop onto his knees and leaned back against the couch cushions. "What are you up to? Still spying on all of us, I see. Must be one hell of an ego boost."
"Whatever works." She tilted her head and seemed to be trying to look at his surroundings. "Where are you, exactly? Not at the manor."
"No, I'm at my apartment. I thought you had us all tracked. Or is it just Dickie bird you have a 24/7 vid feed on?"
Jason threw back his head and laughed. "Tim told me about the 'Grayson cam'. Honestly, when I came back, I fully expected to hear that you two had taken the plunge."
It didn't need to be spelled out what those things had been. There were many, but mainly it was the same monster that haunted them both. They had never been really close before his death. Jason was too busy trying to keep up with Bruce, and Barbara was, like the Teen Titans, more part of Dick's world than his. The tragedies that were her shooting and Jason's death had come on each others heels. Having their lives torn apart by the same madman wasn't exactly something either wanted to bond over, but there was an undeniable kinship there. Of everyone, Jason thought that maybe Barbara could understand the pain.
"So I'm trying out this new philosophy." He finally broke the silence. "It's called 'that shit's not worth my time'. What do you think?"
"I think it's a fantastically mentally healthy approach." The red-head smiled. "So healthy that I don't think it works for either of us for too long."
"Yeah, Timmy seems to think I'm a masochistic."
"Aren't we all?"
"Apparently. Alright, I'll let you go back to playing Big Sister to the world."
"Okay. Don't give me any more heart attacks like this. Please stay out of the Web."
"Or what?" Jason challenged, more out of habit than anything else.
"Or else. Don't make me call your dad."
"Yikes. And here I thought we were pals." He mocked hurt.
In truth Jason was only slightly annoyed that she hadn't offered to give him access. Not even every member of the bat clan had access, and he could understand that he wasn't exactly considered the most trustworthy person. He didn't have to pretend not to feel hurt about it, but he could understand it.
"We are." Barbara smiled. "But this isn't a toy for you to play with. Try to get some sleep. It'll be a much better application of your time."
"Hey, I said 'play Big Sister to the world', not me," he protested.
"Yeah, well, try to curb them. I know there's a lot of us these days, but last time I checked I don't have any sisters. At least not until you and Dick make it official."
"Subtle. Good night, Jason."
He slept most of the morning, so by the late afternoon Jason felt halfway to being a human being again. It was pretty much the most he hoped for anyway, so he figured it was as good a time as any to do some recon on that new drugs and prostitution ring that had come into town within the last few weeks. He didn't like all of his efforts going to waste, after all.
Now the dilemma: go in alone or not.
He knew Dick and Damian were up to their eyeballs in casework as it was. Anyway, if he worked with anyone these days, it was most likely going to be Tim. Some part of those underdeveloped big brother instincts demanded that he leave the teen out of the seediness that was Gotham's underworld, but it was pointless. Tim had been involved in more than his fare share of horrors, and he could probably use a hand.
"Just drop by and let's go from here," his brother's voice came from the other end of the line.
"We're gonna end up here anyway," Jason argued.
He didn't want to go to the manor when there was a very good chance not only Tim, but Dick, Damian, Alfred, and maybe even Bruce were all there at this hour. It was just too early for anyone to have left on patrol. Was there such a thing as family interaction anxiety disorder? If there was, Jason was sure he had it.
"We won't be able to go out for hours," Tim pointed out. "So come over and help me with the research."
"I thought you were the little detective. Since when do you need help with that?"
"A second pair of eyes never hurts. Stop being an ass and help. There are some shiny new bat grenades in it for you."
"Wow, did you really just bribe me with explosives? What would Dad say?"
It was only after he'd said it that Jason realized that this was the second time in a twenty four hour time span that he or someone else had refereed to Bruce as his father. Oh, he'd done it plenty of times before, but usually in the context of a sarcastic remark mid-battle or during some kind of emotional breakdown. To hear it used so casually was... good. Tim didn't seem to notice.
"Nothing." He could almost hear the teen shrug. "But our big brother would point out that I'm a lot more manipulative than anyone gives me credit for."
"Oh, I have no doubt about that. You wormed your way into the short pants, didn't you?"
"I never wore those pants. Guess I'm just not as secure in my masculinity as you or Dick."
"I'm not sure if I should be faltered or insulted." He paused. "Nope, gonna go with insulted."
"Great. Just do it over here."
He could do it, Jason though as he walked up the long path to the front door of Wayne Manor. He didn't know why this time he'd taken the main entrance instead of coming in through the cave, except that maybe he thought he could avoid anyone who might be there. The exact opposite occurred when he saw Dick coming down the main staircase only seconds after he closed the door behind himself.
The original Robin appeared exasperated, wiping a palm over his face. He looked up and met Jason's eyes when he was only a few steps from the bottom. The second raised a brow.
"You look like you had either a really good or really bad night," Jason ventured a guess.
"I had a fun afternoon." The elder sighed.
"I thought you were the one he liked. What'd you do?"
Dick let out a puff of air and rubbed his temple. "Nothing. I just... sometimes I'd..."
"...like to have a life without a homicidal ten-year-old attached to it?" Jason looked bemused.
Dick blinked. "I was going to say 'sometimes I'd like to not be everyone's big brother', but sure, that works."
"Ah, hate to break it to you, but you are everyone's big brother," Jason grinned. "Even those of us who don't need it."
"You and Tim never exhausted me like this."
"That's because you weren't..." He paused for half a heartbeat. "You weren't our Batman."
"I guess. Don't suppose you want to trade Robins?"
Jason almost asked what he meant, but then realized that for all the times he'd worked with him recently, he'd almost come to consider Tim as a partner. Not in a Batman and Robin sense; the dynamic was completely different, but there was something there. And Tim's new identity still had 'Robin' in the name… He liked Damian well enough, but trade?
"Not on your life, Grayson." He began to make his way past him then stopped short. "Oh, speaking of your booming social life outside our baby brothers and the scum of Gotham…" Dick raised both brows. "Guess who I spent all of last night chatting with?"
"I wish! No: Babs."
If he didn't know better, Jason could have sworn that the slight frown that creased his brother's forehead was a very explicit, very loud, "Stay away from my girlfriend... solemate... Just stay away from her!"
He laughed. "Relax, Big Bird. We were just talking about how I think of Babs as a... a big sister. Get the hint?"
"Hey, I proposed. She said… well, basically she said 'maybe later'."
"So point out that it's later. You'll figure it out, and if not, you're a bigger moron than I gave you credit for, and I'll be very disappointed in my big brother. It might even traumatize me for life. You know how I've always looked up you."
Dick glared at him. "Please don't take this the wrong way, but you're a dipshit."
"Love you, too." Jason grinned, and everything was back to as normal as it got between them. "Now, if you can tell me where my Robin is…"
It figured the one time he decided to use the front door, Tim would be down in the cave. Passing through the kitchen he saw that Damian and Alfred were there. The butler acknowledged him with a nod and smile, and Jason almost continued walking, but then thought better of it and stopped suddenly.
"Hey," he pointed. "You. The short one." Damian raised his head and graced the man with his customary scowl. "Ease up on Dick. I know he's an easy target, but be gentle; he's fragile."
The boy snorted and went back to the electronic gadget in his hand, and Jason continued on to the cave, smirking when he was well out of the way of the doorway. He'd covered everyone but Bruce and it hadn't sent him running for the hills yet. Maybe it wasn't too bad to interact with them more often.
Growing up after his parents' deaths, Bruce had never given any thought to being a father himself. He just assumed it wouldn't happen. So consumed by grief that he'd never allowed to heal, it was exhausting enough spending his days pretending to be a normal person at work functions and his nights as Batman, that he'd never considered trying to have a normal life that might have involved children.
Then Dick came. And yes, there were the normal – as normal as possible – growing pains and fights, but as he later realized, all things considered, Dick had been an easy child. Despite the tragedies that marred his young life, he was a generally happy and optimistic person. No mater how often they clashed, he always knew he would be alright.
Then came Jason, different from Dick as night from day. The young aerialist had been a ward, a student, a younger brother, but the orphan from the streets of Gotham was something else. Maybe it was because he was older when he'd taken him in, maybe it was because Jason needed just a little extra love, but before his death, the boy become a son. It was then that Bruce had learned just how true the old saying was:
No parent should ever have to bury his child.
The death of his son had nearly destroyed him.
His return almost did the same.
But now Jason was back. Really back, though not yet quite as with them as he might have hoped. It was still something, though. The fact that he was, however unofficially, working with Tim was a step in the right direction as far as Bruce was concerned. A short time ago he'd been worried about the youngest of his adopted sons as well, but Tim had apparently bounced back remarkably well. It was a good team up, and he was happy that neither had to be alone out there.
None of that meant that, when moment allowed, the original Batman was above checking up on them. But no need for the boys to know that, of course. He knew the pair was working on gathering intelligence on a new cartel that was trying to muscle its way into Gotham's underworld, so they weren't difficult to track down. The task was made easier by the sound of gunfire coming from a particular rooftop in the slums.
Bullets flying at his children... No matter how well trained they were or how many times they'd faced threats far worse than a couple of thugs, the thought made Bruce's stomach turn every time. The sound of someone screaming then hitting the pavement with a sickening sound of crushed bones didn't help the matter.
He was on the scene seconds later and saw with immeasurable relief that it wasn't Jason or Tim but one of the thugs lying on the ground. Batman knelt to check for a pulse. Still alive, though the damage from nearly a three story fall was extensive. He put in an anonymous call for an ambulance before making his way to the rooftop.
Whatever fight had taken place, it was over. Several other men and various weapons lay scattered around. Red Robin and Jason – he refused to even think of him as the Red Hood now – were standing at the edge where the man must have fallen. They were arguing about something, but by the time Bruce was close enough to make it out, both must have heard him.
As a father, his first words should have been, "Are you both alright?"
As Batman, they were, "What happened?"
Jason whirled, eyes clearly wide behind the red domino mask. His mouth opened then closed wordlessly. Fists balled at his sides, and he straightened. The shock on the young man's face was replaced by a hard coldness that frightened Bruce.
"It was me," he blurted.
Red Robin all but reeled. "Jas..."
"I shoved that dirt bag." The young man cut him off, his eyes locked with Bruce. "I told you before I don't play by these stupid rules of yours."
He was gone before either could utter another word. Red Robin was obviously more than a little startled, and Batman tore his eyes away from Jason's retreating form to look at his younger son. The question from earlier remained unrepeated, but there was no doubt that it hung in the air between them.
"I..." Tim pushed back his cowl as if it might help clear his head. The teen's blue eyes were wide and confused. "I think one of the other guys I punched backed into him, and he fell. I'm..."
"The man's still alive," Bruce assured him, and his son released a sigh of relief.
"I'm sorry. They were better than we thought. But..." He shook his head. "I don't get why Jason freaked out like that. Is it... is it something I did? Why would he say it was his fault?"
Bruce suspected he knew, but it wasn't something he was about to share. Instead he said, "I need to go find him, talk to him. I want you to go home or, if you're up for it, find the others and see if you can help with whatever they're working on. Don't peruse this anymore tonight. Understand?"
Tim nodded, and Bruce knew that at least he didn't have to worry about that. He had to focus on Jason now. Finding the young man wasn't hard. Like most people, he ran to a place he knew best, a place that represented safety. It spoke volumes that for him it was a dirty apartment in Crime Alley rather than Wayne Manor. Again, he considered it a personal failure that Jason couldn't feel safe in a place should have been a haven.
He landed quietly on the fire escape in front of Jason's window. The site that greeted him when he peaked inside was discouraging at best. The young man was pacing in the small room, cursing, and almost compulsively running his hands through his hair, his distress evident. Bruce was almost at a loss, but he couldn't ignore this, couldn't just give him room.
"Jason." He spoke his name without anger, but the young man whirled on him.
"Are you deaf!" He spat. "I already told you what happened. What more do you want?"
Something was severely wrong. Bruce's brow creased under the cowl, then he removed the cover and looked his son straight in the eyes unimpeded by lenses.
"I want to know why you're lying to me. Tim said..."
"Leave him out of it!" Jason's face twisted in fury. "He didn't do anything, okay? You can't... you can't take this away from him. You won't!"
And there it was. Bruce had had his suspicions, but now he knew. His expression softened, and he took a step forward, which, to his sadness, made Jason instantly step back. Was that how it always had to be with them?
"I'm not taking anything away," he held up his hands in a calming gesture.
"Right." The snort was full of derision. " 'Cause none of them can do any wrong. It's just me. I'm the bastard child. Figures."
With no small amount of horror, he could see it; his son slipping away, being swallowed up by the pain yet again. He wanted to grab him and shake some sense into the man or hug him, he didn't know which. Neither of them were very good at conveying emotions through touch. In their world, it was too often a gateway to pain rather than comfort.
"That man who fell? He's not dead, and either way, I know you didn't push him. I understand you're trying to protect your brother, but there's no need. I don't want you to ever feel that you have to protect one another from me. If you do, it's my fault."
The young man blinked, some clarity returning to his eyes. "He's not dead?"
"But if he were... you would have..."
"This isn't like before," Bruce shook his head. "Not like..."
"Like when I let that piece of shit from years back have a close and personal encounter with the sidewalk?" He demanded bitterly. "Because you think that after all the women he's raped, after one of them committed suicide, he still didn't deserve it."
"It's not about what any of them deserve! It's about you, Jason. What you deserve. And it's not this, son. You don't deserve to be in this... this darkness."
How could he explain it? How could he get through to this poor lost child?
"I was born here." No matter how quietly he said them, it hurt to hear those words. "Maybe it's just where I belong."
"You belong with your family, with us." Bruce insisted. "I want you home. And your brothers... Tim is wondering what's going on. He doesn't know what this was for you. He thinks it was something he did."
The young man's head snapped up. "No! You'll tell him it's not, right?"
"I think it'll be better coming from you."
Jason wiped a hand over his face, his exhaustion apparent. His eyes were shining in the dim light. "Can I do it later? I... I don't want to go back tonight. Don't want them to see me like this. Dad, please..."
"Alright," Bruce nodded.
At least some of the anxiety ebbed away. Despite the fact that it usually came out at times of extreme stress, he liked being 'Dad'. Maybe he should mention it to Jason at some point... but not now. Now was not the time.
He left without another word, but remained on the rooftop across the street and watched through the still-open window as his son paced for a little while longer, then sat on the old couch with his head in his hands, and finally lay down on the mattress on the floor. He didn't know if Jason slept at all, but Bruce remained there for most of the night.
When he finally forced himself to return to the manor, he found the rest of his children gathered in the kitchen. All three were busy pretending to work on breakfast. Dick quietly handed out plates to his brothers, while Tim pointedly took away a butter knife Damian had been fiddling with. The boy huffed and jumped up to sit on the marble counter. Bruce took a deep breath and cleared his throat before entering.
"Did anyone sleep?" he questioned, knowing full well it was unnecessary.
"Overate," Damian sniffed. The proclamation was somewhat weekend by the yawn the boy tried to stifle. Bruce smiled a little and wrapped an arm around his youngest. For once the ten-year-old didn't protest; there was no way he could have spent so much time with Dick and not learn to tolerate at least a limited amount of affection.
"Tim told us what happened." Dick said. "Is Jason okay? Where is he?"
"He..." Bruce chose his words carefully. "He needs some time."
"That's bull!" Tim protested. "He needs to be here. He's better when he's here."
"I completely agree with you, but I can't force him."
"Of course you can." Damian scowled indignantly. "You're Batman."
Author's End Note: As some of my long-time readers know, I like to throw in Easter eggs and make connections to the canon whenever possible. In the case of this story, Jason and Bruce are talking about the events of Batman #424, almost immediately before Jason's death in the 'A Death in the Family' saga. In that story there was a man who got away with raping and terrorizing women – even when one of his victims committed suicide – because he was a diplomat's son. Outraged by the injustice, Jason went to see him in his apartment, and after his arrival, all we get is a shot of the man falling. Batman arrives a few seconds later and questions Jason on whether or not he pushed the man. Jason claims that he just 'spooked him', but we never really know. These events prompt Bruce to strongly consider taking away Robin from Jason as he was already troubled by his anger issues. Jason overhearing this is one of the things that leads to the events of 'A Death in the Family'.