Author's Note: I meant for this to be a much shorter fic than it ended up being... every time I thought I was done I realized there was another scene I wanted to do. And now, having finished this one, I got an idea for yet another! Something happier maybe... with some girls. Because I'm tired of using male pronouns ^_^;; Well, enjoy this one and as always, please review!
Okay, so bullshiting his way through this whole family thing hadn't worked. Baiting Dick, working with Tim, and trying to play big brother to Damian had all come crashing and burning because he was a mental case who was so ready to think the worst of the man who raised him.
A few nights had passed. Bruce didn't call, apparently giving him the space he'd asked for, but he had no such luck with the others. Dick had reached out a few times but stopped on the second day after he refused to pick up his phone. Tim was far more persistent, to the point where Jason had felt guilty enough to answer.
"I'm sorry!" The teenager blurted out before he could get in a single word. "That thing from before..."
"Is not your fault." Jason assured him.
"Kid..." He leaned back into the couch and switched the cell to the other ear. "Seriously, little brother, you have no idea how much not about you that was."
The 'little brother' part seemed to finally make him stop. He could hear Tim take a deep breath on the other end. "Wanna talk about it?"
"Do I ever?"
"Maybe... okay, fine. After all, it's the bat-family way to bury feelings in a deep dark hole and only bring them out to pick at the scabs. Wanna go on patrol with me?"
"From heart to hearts to butt-kicking in one breath. I think you're officially my favorite."
"So we're going? I promise Bruce won't be there. He won't even know."
"He's the goddamn Batman. All seeing, all knowing." He sighed. "Look, it's cute that you're willing to cover up this very illicit affair of ours, but fyi, that never works. He always finds out. And that's not the point. I'm really not up for company, Tim."
He was actually trying to sleep with some degree of success when something buzzed again. A fleeting thought of "Damn, kid just won't give up" crossed his mind before he realized that it wasn't his cell that was buzzing. Swinging both legs over the side of the couch, Jason leaned forward and tapped his laptop to wake it.
"Oh, so I can't hack into your network but you can come into my place whenever you like?"
Barbara's face was far from amused. A look of clear worry lined her features. "Jason, I need your help. It's Dick and Damian..."
She had his attention instantly. "What happened?"
"Tunnel collapse near fifth and west, and they're not answering on any frequencies. I called Tim but I can't get a hold of Bruce, and you're closest..."
"Give me red bird's eta and the dynamic duo's last coordinates." He was moving, reaching for his jacket and discarded domino mask. "I got 'em, Babs. Don't worry."
From the outside everything looked almost normal as Jason surveyed from a rooftop near the entrance to the old abandoned subway station. No fires were certainly a good sign, but he could see dips in the pavement where the support structure below had caved in. The whole thing could collapse even further at the slightest bit of motion.
Some sounds from below caught his attention, and Jason cursed when he saw several squad cars pull up to the scene. Great. Gordon and his people. The commissioner meant well, but explaining his way through a bunch of cops was the last thing Jason needed right now. Another sound of someone landing on the rooftop came behind him, but he'd become accustomed enough to Tim that he didn't even look away from the scene below.
"I did some quick checking." Red Robin was all business as he approached. "Those tunnels were condemned for demolition a few months back, but the support structure was already weak."
"Damn good place for a trap," Jason muttered, more to himself than his brother. He didn't even ask who it had been. It didn't matter now.
Tim nodded. "I figure we can try to go in through the south entrance. It's the most stable..."
"No." Jason cut him off. "I'll go, but I need you to find Bruce and bring better equipment."
"Yeah. We don't know what kind of condition they're in..." He wasn't talking about the tunnels. Jason took a deep breath. "If someone needs to be pulled out, I'm bigger and stronger. How many grappling hooks do you have?"
"Give me two."
"This is a bad idea, Jay." But Red Robin was already unhooking them from his utility belt and handing them over. "Notoriously bad. You…"
"I know what I'm doing." He certainly hoped so. His brothers' lives might very well depend on it. "Don't argue. Just go."
He hopped over the ledge and made his way down to street level before Tim could protest again. Landing a block away from the scene, Jason made his way in quick strides not bothering to keep himself hidden even when half a dozen officers trained their weapons on him. He held up his hands defensively and moved into better view even before any of them had a chance to yell, "Freeze!"
"Relax," Jason scowled. "I'm not looking for a fight."
The commissioner stepped forward, eyes stern behind his glasses. "Red Hood."
"No." The young man shook his head. Not tonight. "The mask's just throwing you off. You probably don't recognize me, but I'm... I was the second Robin."
He didn't recognize any of the other cops on the scenes who eyed him suspiciously. Gordon, of course, had a good idea of who he was, though Jason didn't know just how much the commissioner knew about his death and resurrection. He had a feeling the old man knew a lot more than he ever let on. Either way he didn't seem surprised by the declaration, but it did nothing to thaw the hard look on his face.
"Oracle sent me," Jason tried very pointedly. Gordon frowned, but his expression betrayed very little. "Check for yourself if you like, but you have to let me through. We haven't been able to reach Batman and Robin. There's a pretty good chance they're in trouble down there."
The commissioner's face softened. "We'll bring..."
"Red Robin has it covered," Jason cut him off. "You have to let me go."
Gordon appeared to waver for another half a heart beat, then holstered his gun. "I let you do this," he said in a low voice, "out of respect for your father."
Jason wondered if he really knew or, like many people, just tend to think of Batman as a father to all the Robins. He suspected it was the former. "I know. Thanks."
He went through the south entered as Tim had suggested. The first few steps were fine with the benefit of some added light from the street lamps outside, but as Jason got further in and was forced to switch to a flashlight, he saw that the damage had been extensive. The escalator that went down to the lower levels was almost completely caved in when he stopped at the edge. Pulling a flare out of his pocket, he lit it and dropped the glowing stick into the large blackness. It took a while for it to hit the ground – at least two stories, Jason thought – but when it finally did, he was revealed to hear a high pitched yell from below.
"Robin?" No matter what Gordon might have known, there were other cops outside, and Jason didn't dare use real names. "Hang on. I'm coming."
He looked around and spotted a column that looked like it was still stable enough to support quite a bit of weight. One of the grappling hooks Tim had given him served for the trip down. Below it was almost completely black, and even when he finally landed the ground was still uneven. Jason looked around, allowing a moment for his eyes to adjust.
"You need to talk to me, kid," he shouted. "Give me a hint."
Damian's voice came from somewhere ahead and to the left, and Jason began to make his way across the uneven terrain all the while counting the steps and direction from where he'd released the grappling hook. He suddenly remembered a story Donna had once told him a long time ago before his death. Something from Greek mythology about a labyrinth and a monster and a hero trying to save his friends with a golden thread. He was no hero, but it was something like that.
Jason found the youngest of his brothers a few yards away and lowered the flashlight when the child had to shield his eyes from it. "You okay?"
"Cuts and bruises," the boy waved his hand. "Batman's a lot worse off."
He looked to the right and saw that Dick lay half buried beneath several large chunks of the collapsed wall. Even the utility belt had nothing that could be wedged under something that heavy, and Damian was just not strong enough to lift most of it. He knelt next to Dick.
"How bad is it?"
"Broken left femoral," the elder hissed through gritted teeth. "Maybe a few ribs, but that's the worst of it."
"That's pretty damn bad," Jason noted grimly. "How's the pain?"
"A little anesthetic injection does wonders."
He looked around then, pushing himself up, turned back to Damian. "If I can loosen those chunks for a few seconds, can you drag him out?" The boy nodded. "Okay. We don't know what kind of condition that leg is in, but since he didn't bleed to death yet, I hope that means it hasn't nicked anything major. Still, I don't want to even try to move that thing until we get some help down here."
"Our coms are scrap," Dick said.
"I know. Mine isn't. Red bird's bringing in the big guns."
Dick nodded, taking a few deep breaths through his nose to ease some of the pain, and Jason sat back down trying to move as little as possible. He motioned for Damian to sit as well. The boy huffed, a little annoyed at being ordered around, but did as instructed. Good. He had enough to deal with. Raising his eyes to what remained of the support structure, Jason slowly passed a glance over it, surveying every detail.
"Jay." Dick's voice came out quiet, weak. "Are you okay?"
That snapped him out of his thoughts. "I'm not the one buried under a ton of rubble."
"Jay, your hands..."
He looked down at where they rested on his bent knees and saw that they were shaking. Jason cursed and made two tight firsts. It wouldn't do any good to throw up in front of his brothers.
"It's nothing. I'm fine."
Damian frowned. "What's wrong with you?" The child demanded. "Batman, what's wrong with him?"
Jason was saved from answering when his com-link buzzed. He listened, then nodded, and began to rise. There was a lot of debris, and he had to clear some of the smaller pieces before even attempting to lift the big one that held Dick. With Damian's help and through gritted teeth, the eldest pushed himself out of the rubble while Jason held the largest piece of fallen wall. He let it drop seconds after Dick was clear.
"There's a grappling hook hanging about thirty steps in that direction," he told them, helping Dick up and slinging one of his arms around his shoulders so that his brother could lean most of his weight on him. "Kid, you're going first. Red Robin and Batman should meet you topside. Once you're up, make sure that line's still secure and attach this one," he handed Damian the second grappling hook, "to the same pole. I think that opening is wide enough for us to try and go up together."
He watched the boy ascend, careful not to disturb any of the extremely unstable structure, and breathed a sigh of relief when he made out the silhouettes of Bruce and Tim helping him up. A moments later, two lines were being lowered back down. Jason caught them and held on to one while he handed the second to Dick.
It was more than a little awkward making their way up slowly. Dick held onto the grappling hook, but Jason still had one hand wrapped around his waist. He wasn't about to take the chance that the other man's strength wouldn't hold out. The light from above was getting more and more prominent, but just as they made the half-way point, the whole structure shook. Jason cursed, holding on tighter, and waited for the swinging in their lines to stabilize a bit. Then he looked up. Both lines were still well in tact, but they had been thrown back down at least a meter. That could only mean one thing: the lines were holding, but the column wasn't.
"New plan," he gasped. "You're going alone and you're going first. Think you can hold on?"
Dick nodded, though he clearly didn't like this idea. Jason released him and immediately let go of his own line, dropping back down to the ground. It was a hard landing but not too painful. When Dick was almost to the top, he reached for the abandoned line, anxious to get back up as soon as his brother was clear. Jason never got the chance.
He didn't have time to think, didn't have time to check if Dick had made it, as the ground shook again. A rain of soil and cement descended down on him, and Jason had just enough instinct left to run for cover under a fallen, but solid-looking piece of wall. All the while, all he could think was, Not again!
He opened his eyes to complete darkness. The shaking seemed to have stopped, and he didn't feel injured, but to his utter horror, Jason found himself trapped. Trapped beneath God-knows how many feet of ground within a space so small he could barely curl half-way out of fetal position. Everything that he'd tried to suppress since coming here suddenly washed over him in a flood of terror. There wasn't enough air for it, but Jason's mind was beyond such reasoning.
It kept Bruce up many times when he was trying to get what little sleep he could. The images of Jason waking up in that coffin, digging his way out, all the while wondering where he was, why he wasn't there with him. He was there this time, and it made Bruce realize that what he imagined paled in comparison to reality.
It didn't take long for them to reach him, but he didn't think Jason knew that. He didn't think he was aware of much beyond his own terror. The young man just kept sobbing and screaming, every muscle in his body locked tight with tension. Seeing him like that made Bruce feel like he'd just been stabbed in the gut. Tim and Damian stood by Dick, and he could tell they were distressed to see their brother in such a state.
When all five of them were finally at street level and far enough away from the collapsed station, he made a motion for the other three to get back, and lowered to the pavement, cradling Jason's body against his low.
"Breath," he commanded. "The air is not going to run out."
"Yes, I'm here. I'm not going anywhere. Take a deep breath, son."
Somewhere in the reaches of his lost mind, he must have heard him because after a few short gasps, Jason began to breath somewhat normally again. Bruce pulled off his right glove and pressed a cool palm to Jason's forehead. The flesh to flesh contact seemed to relax him a bit, though his death-grip on Bruce's cape didn't loosen. The man had to maneuver to reach for the sedative in his utility belt. He would be waking up in a panic later, Bruce knew, but there was no reason not to give him some relief from the horrors now.
"Relax," he whispered. "It's going to be okay."
He heard someone coming behind him and glanced away from Jason only for a second. Gordon was approaching, and Bruce didn't need to look to see how grim his friend was. Whether or not the G.C.P.D. knew anything about Jason's real identity was questionable, but they knew the Red Hood was a criminal.
"Batman..." The commissioner began, but he cut him off.
"Jim, please," His tone was sad but even. "He won't cause you any more trouble, I promise. Please let me take my boy home."
There was an intake of breath behind him, but out of his peripheral vision, he could see the older man nodding. "I was just going to suggest that."
No matter how many times he did it, it was a daunting task coming home with one or several of his sons in need of medical attention. Dick's leg needed to be set in a cast, and when the initial light dose had worn off, Jason had woken screaming and had to be sedated again. He and Alfred worked side by side at the two medical beds, while Tim helped Damian clean up his own cuts. The air in the cave was grim at best.
"How bad do you think it is?" he heard the boy ask.
"I don't know," Tim replied. "After what he went through the first time, I can't even imagine... I should have gone with him."
"If you had, I might not have reached them in time," Bruce said. He didn't need the teen to feel guilty about this, even though he was sure he would anyway. "He'll be alright."
Tim's expression clearly screamed, "Yeah? In what universe?" but it was Dick who spoke.
"Bruce." He pushed himself up slightly on the other table where Alfred was still tending to his leg. "I hate to say this, because I know you're right and we can't force him, but something has to be done. You told Gordon he wouldn't be a problem anymore, but this is exactly the kind of thing that usually sends him running for the hills and back into trouble. He's not okay."
"You think I don't know that!" But he instantly regretted snapping at his eldest.
Dick straightened as much as he could and returned the hard look. They'd known each other for too long for him to cower. "I know you know. I know you beat yourself up for it like everything else because you're you. But it's counterproductive. He doesn't talk to us, Bruce. He bullshits his way through every single conversation or just ignores it. You're the only one he really talk to, so do something. Stop walking on eggshells around him. Make him talk about the bad stuff. It's the only way he'll make any kind of movement forward."
Bruce didn't move. "Are you done?"
"That depends: are you going to do something?"
Alfred raised a brow slightly but said nothing. Tim and Damian exchanged a look, no doubt wondering if their brother was about to need more medical care. Bruce said nothing, his hands resting on the edge of the table where Jason lay, still sedated. Then he was moving, scooping up Jason with no effort, and heading towards the stairs that lead up to the manor.
"I'm taking him to his room," he said without turning. "When he wakes up, we'll talk."
He knew Jason had noticed that the room hadn't changed since he'd last been in it as a teen. Neither had said anything about it. When he adopted Tim, he'd offered him Dick's old room. Not that there weren't others at the manor, but he knew Tim would like that and Dick, who'd thought of him as a brother for years, wouldn't mind. He didn't have the heart to touch Jason's things, and Bruce didn't know if it was out of hope that his wayward son – he'd known for a few short weeks then that he was alive – would come back or if he just couldn't let him go. Considering he hadn't touched the room in in all those years, it was probably the later.
It was a little breezy inside with the open window, but still warmer than the cave. Bruce gently placed his son down on the bed, removed his boots, and hung the leather jacket on a chair. He brushed back a few strands that had fallen into Jason's eyes and sat down on the edge of the bed next to him. Asleep like this he looked almost peaceful, save for the slight crease that refused to leave his brow. Bruce only wished he could find a little of that peace when he was awake.
Jason didn't remember much after the cave-in, and what he did remember was broken into a million disjoint peaces. Some were obviously from the past – the Joker, dying, waking up in the coffin – while others he knew had just happened. He remembered crying, but this time his father had come for him. This time he made it.
It didn't stop the nightmare though. He didn't know how many times the it repeated, but he had vague memories of Bruce holding him in the street, then waking up screaming and soaked in sweat in his room at the manor. He barely made it to the bathroom before emptying what little was in his stomach into the toilet. It was another set of long minutes of dry heaving and sobbing with his hand clenched in Bruce's shirt, before he finally regained enough strength to let his father lead him back to bed.
Through all this he payed no attention to anything beyond his immediate surroundings, but when Jason finally awoke for real, his head more or less clear, and found that Bruce was not there, he braved a trip down Wayne Manor's massive staircase. As usual, the mansion was mostly quiet in the morning, but when he ventured into the family room, he saw to his horror that all three of his brothers were there, still asleep. Tim was curled up in one of the massive lazy boy chairs, while Dick lay on the couch, right leg hanging off the edge while the injured left, now encased in a cast, was supported by an extra cushion. Damian was using his big brother as a mattress, no room for pride in his sleep.
Jason was incensed.
"The fuck are you three doing here?"
Tim shot up and was on his feet in seconds, while Damian rather gracelessly hit the floor when his resting place was jolted awake, but the boy bounced back quickly. Dick winced as he pushed himself up and blinked at Jason.
They'd spent the whole night here, Jason realized. There was a good reason he never slept over if even one of them was there. No matter what anyone knew or suspected, Jason never wanted them to witness the night terrors. To know that they must have heard one of the worst yet... He felt vaguely ill again and had to force the bile back down.
"What the hell?"
In response he was bombarded with several variations of "Are you okay?" from Dick and Tim and a "We live here!" from Damian. Dick made a very Bruce-like motion for the other two to be quiet. He reached for the crutches that were resting against the couch and rose with a little effort.
"Jason," his brother said calmly, something in his tone attempting to sooth. "We're worried about you. You suffered a terrible trauma, but it's not your fault. You have nothing to be embarrassed about."
Oh, God, they really had heard everything!
"I saved your miserable life," he hissed, low and dangerous, "and this is the thanks I get? Pity? You can shove it up your ass, Grayson! I hate your fucking guts."
The look of shock then hurt on his brother's face almost made him take it all back. The two younger ones looked mildly horrified at the harsh, bitter words. A hand fell on his shoulder, and Jason spun to face Bruce who must have been drawn buy his yelling. He didn't look angry, just sad and exhausted, but glanced past him for a moment.
"Yeah," the eldest apparently got the unspoken request. "Come on, guys."
That just made Jason angrier. "Don't leave on my account," he spat. "Far be it from me to make you move in your own house."
He pushed past Bruce and began to make his way towards the front door in long strides. How stupid was he to think that he could just come back here as if nothing had ever happened? As if nothing was ever wrong between him and Bruce and he and Dick had always been the best of friends. As if he hadn't died... Maybe it would have been better if he'd stayed dead. At least then he wouldn't have to see their pity.
Bruce intercepted him when he was almost at the door, blocking his way.
"Please do me a favor and go upstairs," he said. Jason snorted in derision. "I know you're a grown man, and this must feel like I'm sending you to your room, but I want us to talk, openly and honestly, but only if you're in a state where you'll listen and actually hear me. I think you need a little more space and rest, but I want your word that you won't leave until we talk. Fair?"
"Why can't you just leave me alone?" He realized how close he sounded to whining but was too tired to care.
"I can't." Bruce shook his head. "You're not just asking me to give you space; you're asking me to give up on you. I won't do that."
Some of the anger left him with those words. Jason's shoulders sagged a little, and he felt overwhelmingly tired all of a sudden, unsustained by the outrage and fury that had filled him seconds before.
"I wish you'd taken me back to my apartment," he said quietly.
"I took you home," Bruce's tone was just as hushed. "I can't help you in that place."
"And them being here? That's not helping!" He must have known how much Jason would hate it. "They could have gone to the Tower, Dick's apartment, a million other places."
"They refused. They're your brothers, Jason. They're worried about you."
"I don't need their pity. I don't want it!"
"It's not pity." Bruce placed both hands on his shoulders and looked him straight in the eyes. "It's something that you have a hard time understanding, but we'll talk about it. After you've rested. Please do this for me, Jason. Not because you have to; because I'm asking you to."
Jason made a face. "You have this guilt trip thing down."
The corner of Bruce's mouth turned slightly. "It's a parent thing. I just haven't had a chance to practice much with you." Jason snorted. "Will you do it?"
He was still in his room hours later – there was no way he was going downstairs again – and doing his best to think of absolutely nothing. Jason was lying atop the covers, hands clasped over his chest, unmoving. He briefly wondered if that's what he'd looked like when they buried him, when Bruce closed the lid, but that thought brought about another wave of nausea, and he quickly got up to at least open the window.
The knock came then. Most likely not Bruce, because he wouldn't have knocked. Jason still didn't feel up for visitors, but he felt guilty enough about his behavior earlier to reply.
The door opened slowly. He both hoped and dreaded that it might be Dick, but instead it was Tim who poked his head through. "Can I come in?"
Jason nodded once. At least the teen didn't make him feel quite so anxious. Tim entered, pushing the door closed behind him, but it didn't click shut. Jason wondered if he should ask him to do that, but the teen spoke before he had a chance.
"I wanted to say thanks. For getting to Dick and Damian."
"Yeah," Jason said somewhat absently.
"Are you staying?" Tim asked, apparently unable to do the whole small-talk thing.
"Kid," Jason ran a hand over his face. "I... I don't know."
"Okay." To his surprise, the teen nodded. "'I don't know' is better than 'no'."
He laughed, shaking his head. "You're a glutton for punishment, Timmy."
"I'm really not. I just... I like having a partner again." Jason looked up at him. "Dick and Damian are off doing their thing, and yeah, I work with Bruce sometimes, but he's pretty busy with Batman Inc.. I don't mind going at it alone, but it's nice having someone else out there."
Ouch! Guilt trip, take two. "I'm a really lousy choice, kiddo. Just ask the old man."
"Are you kidding?" Tim looked honestly surprised. "After what you went through for Dick and Damian, I'm pretty sure there's no one I'd rather have watching my back."
Jason could think of a few people, but he didn't say it. "Thanks, kid. Guess if I had to come back from the dead and find a little brother I never knew I had usurped my place, it could have been worse than you."
"Could have been Damian," Tim asserted without missing a beat. Both laughed.
"I heard that!" The child in question pushed his way into the room through the still-ajar door. Tim might have been content to remain leaning on the wall next to it, but Damian was not nearly as passive. He strode directly up to Jason, then climbed onto the bed next to him. The young man was amused by the bold move.
"You're a hypocrite, Todd."
"What?" He was too surprised to be offended.
"I said you're a hypocrite." The boy repeated, glaring. "You berated me for telling Father I hated him, but you said the same thing to Dick."
"That's different." Jason returned the glared. "You should never tell your dad you hate him."
"He knows I don't mean it."
"It doesn't matter. You never know when or even if you'll get a chance to apologize, especially with our line of work, so you should never say it."
From the corner of his eye, he could see Tim grinning. It was a 'Gotchya!' grin, either because he'd said 'our' or because he could guess what Damian was about to counter with. The boy didn't disappoint. Give him credit, but he was smart and persistent.
"And this is different how exactly? Because he's your brother, not father? Or because you really meant it and you do hate him?"
Jason cursed silently and looked to Tim for help, but the teenager just shrugged as if to say, "He's got a point." He supposed he walked into that one and sighed.
"No, Damian, I don't hate him. You're right: I shouldn't have said it."
"Good." The boy nodded sagely. "Now you can go and apologize. You don't want to be a bad example, do you?"
So freakin' creepy. Jason thought as he headed down the hall. Manipulative little brat. It was downright creepy how much that kid reminded him of himself. Hadn't he just used that same tactic on Dick just a day ago? Maybe it was an instinctive little brother thing...
The door to Dick's room was open, so all he had to do was knock on the frame. The older man looked up from the laptop that was resting on the bed in front of him. He didn't look angry, but Jason detected a sort of even coolness in his expression. Usually talkative, Dick didn't speak, apparently waiting for him to announce why he was there.
"So I've been guilted by the little birds into apologizing," he said without preamble. His brother's expression didn't waver, and he sighed and dropped the facade. "Sorry, man. I really didn't mean it. The only thing I have in my defense is an insanity plea, 'cause... you know I'm pretty fucked in the head."
"Jay," Dick closed the lid of his computer. "I know you don't want to hear this, but you have a pretty bad case of post traumatic stress. And at the risk of getting cursed out again, it's really not your fault. You know I'm more than willing to let you have it when I think you deserve it, but it really isn't."
"So everyone keeps saying."
"Everyone might have a point." His brother shifted on the bed to put the broken leg in a more comfortable position. "Look, I'm not saying none of it's on you. There's a hell of a lot of stuff I think you screwed up, but so did we. Me and Bruce especially. When you came in, we were having a massive pissing contest, and you kind of got caught in the crossfire. And then you... you were murdered, and we never really got a chance to be brothers."
Jason sighed and closed the door behind him. The bed sagged as he sat down next to Dick, hands hanging in his lap. "You would have been a good big brother, I think."
"I still can be."
"You gonna talk to Bruce?"
"Do I have a choice?"
"Good. He loves you, you know."
"We all love you. Even when you're a pain in the ass, we still love you."
"Why does that feel rehearsed?"
"Because I say the same thing to Damian on a daily basis."
"Oh, so that's why you really want me here! The little demon's all on you, man. I told you before I'm not trading Robins."
"Not even on a temporarily basis?"
"Timmy's one of the sanest people here. You think I'm giving that up?"
"Can't blame a me for trying."
"I guess not. 'Sides, you're the only one who can keep that little monster on a leash."
"Hey, Damian's not a bad kid once you get to know him. Hang around and you'll see."
"You're stalling. Go talk to Bruce."
He didn't have to look for his father. When he returned to his room, Jason found that both of his younger brothers were, and Bruce was sitting on the edge of the bed. There was something in his hands, a piece of paper rolled up into a tight cylinder. Jason didn't know what it was, but he could tell by the tattered edges that it must have been pretty old. Bruce must have seen him enter, but he didn't look up. In fact it was Jason who had to look down now. It felt odd; he'd always had to look up to see Bruce.
"I think... I know I would do it differently if I had a second chance." The older man mused. "With you especially, but probably even with Dick. I would teach my sons that being a man isn't about being tougher than someone else. It's about caring, always about caring. I know you care about your brothers. You knew the risk of going down to those tunnels and you went anyway."
"I..." He hadn't really thought about it. "I didn't have a choice."
Bruce smiled slightly. "There's always a choice. You chose to help."
"An instinct instilled in me at an early age." Jason quipped.
"Maybe, but I obviously didn't teach you everything," Bruce finally looked up at him. "Why is it that you can risk life and sanity to help them, but they're not allowed to be there for you?"
Jason was at a loose. He was too tired and too surprised by the question to be angry. "I..."
"I know you have a hard time understanding this concept, but the people who care for you, love you, they also worry about you. It can't be helped. It goes hand in hand. That's not the same as pity."
"It's fucking humiliating!" He finally found enough voice to protest. "For God's sake, the ten-year-old doesn't wake up screaming and crying the middle of the night!"
"Yes," Bruce pushed himself up. "He does. Damian cries for his mother, because she turned him away for choosing a life here. He thinks she doesn't love him; I think she doesn't know how to show it. Tim sometimes cries for his parents, his friends. So does Dick, and he cries for a life with the woman he loves but who thinks she's too badly broken. Demons, Jason; we all have them. Some are worse than others, but all are better fought together."
He looked down at the papers in his hand and slowly unrolled them. "I wanted to show this to you before, but you... you were out of reach."
Bruce held the sheets out to him, and Jason took them with some apprehension. It took him a moment to realize what he was looking at. They were old, but there was no doubt about what they were.
"Adoption papers?" He looked up at Bruce knowing that disbelief must have been written all over his face. "These are from... from before I died."
The older man nodded. "I had them drawn up for a while, but... I don't know what this means to you now – I know you're a grown man – but I want you to know that while I have regrets about both of our actions during your tenure as Robin, I never, not for one moment, regretted taking you in."
"What it means to me..." Jason had no words. He wanted to cry, but a good kind of cry. "Dad, it means everything! Why didn't you ever tell me?"
Bruce sighed a little and gave him a small smile. "I'm not good with words. It was an odd time, legally speaking. Somewhere between Dick and Tim the laws regarding wardship and adoption were changing. Then the issue with your biological mother came up... I didn't know what you would have wanted..."
"Here!" He blurted without a second thought. "I wanted... I want to be here. With you. You... you've always been dad."
His father was smiling in earnest now. Hell, he was practically grinning! "You know, I really like hearing that."
And suddenly Jason found himself pulled into a hug, warm and loving. Nothing in his life had ever felt so good. When he finally pulled back and placed both hands on his shoulders, Bruce was all determination.
"We'll make it happen." He promised. "If that's what you want."
"It is, but... legally? I've been dead!"
"You've been... away." No one else would have believed it, but there was definite mischief in Batman's eyes. "And things get lost in legal overturns, especially old-fashioned paperwork."
Jason laughed. "Why do I get the feeling Babs is about to get a call?"
Bruce chuckled, but his face turned quickly serious once more. "Last question: your name."
"Jason Wayne." The young man declared without hesitation. "Unless... unless you object..."
"No, never, but you do have a choice. Tim concatenated his parents' name with mine."
"That's different." Jason shook his head. "He had parents. Him and Dick both. I... Willis was no kind of father, and don't even get me started on Sheila Haywood."
"What about Catherine Todd?" Bruce asked gently. "She might not have been your biological mother, but..."
"I'll remember her," Jason replied grimly. "But I... I need a fresh start."
"Then you'll stay?" There was hope, but still some uncertain in his father's question and visible relief on his face when he nodded. "Good. It'll be different this time. I swear."
I know. Jason thought proudly when Bruce squeezed his shoulder and left to call Barbara. I have a big name to live up to.
Author's End Note: So I debated the whole 'Jason Todd-Wayne' vs. 'Jason Wayne' thing. Part of it depended on whether or not Catherine Todd died of a drug overdose as Bruce discovered in one of the earliest Jason-related comics or of cancer as it was later stated (or implied?) in 'A Death in the Family'. I would probably be more inclined to have him keep 'Todd' if it was the later. Ultimately I decided to go with just 'Wayne' for the symbolism and fresh start that it would mean. Besides, it might be easier on Babs when it comes to forging records ^_^