Death In The Family
Jason's adoption hits a bump when he finds out he has a biological mother that's still alive. Prequel to my HS AU series and a retelling of the Batman storyline "A Death In The Family" for a world without costumed heroes.
Bruce called Jason into his office. "I need to speak to you about the adoption."
Jason refused to sit. He stood behind one of the high-backed leather chairs and leaned on the back. "What is it? Something wrong? Can't you adopt me?" Don't you still want to?
"Does the name Sheila Haywood mean anything to you?"
Jason thought about it and shook his head. "No. Should it?"
"It appears that she is your biological mother," Bruce said.
Jason felt like the floor had been yanked from under him. His biological mother? Wasn't Catherine Todd his biological mother? If not, why hadn't anyone ever told him? Why hadn't he ever met this woman? Did his father know - oh, that was a stupid question, of course he knew. Jason tried to find a way to vocalize all these questions, but all he managed to say was, "Oh."
"I've checked up on her and run a DNA test and she appears to be legitimate," Bruce set aside a folder on his desk. "As biological parent, she'd have to sign off on any adoption. She has indicated a willingness to do this, but she wants to meet you first. She was unaware that Willis and Catherine Todd had passed away."
"Okay," Jason said. "Yeah. I want to meet her, too." He had questions to ask. Like, oh, say, if she was really his mother, why hadn't she ever tried to contact him?
Bruce looked at him for a long moment, then said in a quiet voice, "Jason, it is possible that she would like you to live with her. If this is the case, then there are two things I want you to know for certain. One, if you decide to live with your biological mother, I will do nothing to fight it. I care for you deeply, but this is an opportunity to connect with a long-lost parent and few of us ever get that chance."
Jason nodded. Yeah, he got that. Bruce was amazing, but if Sheila was really his mother, how could he turn her down? "Okay. What's the second thing?"
"That you will always have a home here. No matter under what circumstances you leave here, you are always a part of this family and you will always be welcome." Bruce stepped out from behind the desk and walked over to take Jason in his arms for a hug. Jason clung to his father-figure for a few moments, then went upstairs to his room to pack.
Sheila was a doctor who operated a clinic in Northern Vermont. Jason flew into the airport with just a suitcase and a backpack. If he decided to stay in Vermont, Bruce promised his stuff would get shipped to him. Jason took a cab out to Sheila's place.
He'd changed three times before going on the plane. First he'd gotten Alfred to pick out an outfit for him, then he worried that he'd look like a snob in designer pants. So he'd pulled out his favorite jeans and a Radiohead t-shirt, which then had him worried he'd look like a slob. Finally Dick and Tim had caught him stressing over his clothes and helped him choose inexpensive khaki pants and a button-down shirt.
"She's your mother," Tim had said. "If she doesn't like what you're wearing, she'll just make you get new clothes."
"You're amazing, Jason. She'll love you," Dick had said.
As the cab drew closer, Jason wondered if he should have gone with Alfred's choice after all. Could he get the cabbie to pull over and give him a chance to change? But he'd need to find an iron and - too late. The cab pulled into the driveway of Sheila's house and there he was.
He paid the cabbie and knocked on the front door. It opened immediately and a woman, probably in her early thirties, stood in the doorway. She wore a neatly tailored shirt, a vest and a long, straight skirt. A cigarette dangled from one hand.
"Hi," Jason said. "I- I think I'm your son."
"Jason," she said, looking him over. "Come on in. I'm Sheila. I mean, I suppose you can call me 'mom' if you want, but Sheila's fine, too, since we barely know each other."
"Sheila, then, since you don't mind," Jason said. "Maybe when we know each other better..." He picked up his suitcase and backpack. "Uh, where should I put my stuff?"
"This way," she said, leading him through the house. It was a one-story building with lots of windows - plenty of light and air. She lead him to a room in the back, an office with a large desk and filing cabinets, with a cot set up along one wall. "I'm afraid I haven't had time to redecorate," she said. "But now that you're here, we can find a bed you like and get the furniture you need - I'm not up on the decor for teenage rooms these days, but we can paint it however you like. I'll move my office stuff to the other room."
"It's fine," Jason said. "I've slept on worse." He wasn't sure if he intended it as a guilt trip, but she didn't flinch.
"Well, that's in the past, isn't it. And you've done pretty well for yourself. Bruce Wayne's ward! I'd like to know how you managed that trick." She laughed and took a drag from her cigarette.
"He caught me trying to steal the tires off his car," Jason admitted.
"And decided to bring you home?" She gave him a skeptical look.
"I guess I looked hungry," he said.
Sheila looked him over with a critical eye, but the phone rang before she responded.
"Hang on, I'll just be a minute," she said to Jason. She took the phone into the other room. She probably didn't mean for him to overhear, and he tried not to listen in, but he didn't have anything else to focus on and bits of the conversation trickled his way. "No, no, next week, I promise... the money's coming in..."
Jason took this to mean she was behind on some debts. Well, not everyone was Bruce Wayne. He'd have to get a job if he stayed, show her that he could earn his own keep and help out around the house. He wasn't a freeloader.
"Sorry about that," she said, when she returned. "Jason, I know I'm not a great mother." She pulled out the chair from the desk and sat down. Jason took that as a cue and sat down on the cot. "Your father and I split up while I was pregnant with you. I was young and scared and when he asked for full custody, I didn't object." She stubbed out her cigarette in an ashtray on the desk. "I've regretted that for a long time, but I didn't know how to approach you."
"You could have just called," Jason said, letting his resentment slip out in his voice. He took a cigarette out of the package on the desk.
"I should have," she agreed. "I thought you were happy with your family, though, and I didn't want to disrupt that." She leaned forward with a lighter for his cigarette, then stopped when she realized what she was doing. "Oh, hell, you're too young to smoke, aren't you? I need to set a good example."
Jason took the lighter from her hand and lit his own cigarette. "I've been smoking for years, now," he said, only exaggerating a little. "I'm almost fourteen. I've done a lot of stuff."
"I suppose you have," Sheila said softly. "I've missed so much of your life. I don't want to miss any more. Will you stay here with me?"
Jason thought of his home back at Wayne Manor, of Bruce, Dick and Alfred who had formed a small family and invited him to join. He even thought of annoying little Tim, who'd stuck himself to that family like a barnacle. Did he want to give that all up for a woman who'd never even sent him a birthday card?
But she was family, blood family, his mother, something he thought he'd never have again. She couldn't replace Catherine Todd; she'd never be the woman who raised him, the one who used to come into his room and tuck him in after she'd worked a late night shift. He'd always woken up when his mom - Catherine - came in, no matter how late, but he'd pretend to be asleep so she wouldn't feel guilty and stop coming in. He liked knowing that she'd come home safely every night.
Sheila wouldn't be that woman. But maybe she'd be a different kind of mother, one who take pictures of him before he went to Prom and cry at his wedding when he married Donna.
He studied the glowing tip of the cigarette. "Yeah," he said. "I'll stay."
They visited the junior high the next afternoon to get paperwork started for the transfer. He didn't have to go to classes yet, at least. Transferring to a new school just a couple of months before the end of the year wasn't going to be fun. At least in the fall he'd be starting high school and everyone would be new; he'd be on much more even footing then.
They called Bruce after that. Jason told him what he'd decided and Bruce took it stoically. "We'll miss you," he said, "but I understand your choice." Jason thought of the family he was losing and something twisted in his chest. He shoved the phone at Sheila so she could deal with the practical arrangements and he walked out of the house.
He wanted a cigarette, but he'd left them back in the house. He stuck his hands in his pockets and hunched up his shoulders as he walked down the street; not heading anywhere in particular, just needing to keep moving. Bruce and Dick and Alfred weren't really his family, so why should it matter if he lost them? He didn't belong in that huge, expensive mansion. Last time Bruce had a party, Jason had knocked a bowl of mashed potatoes into the lap of a Senator's cousin and then sworn like a sailor while trying to apologize. Better this way, to end it now before they got tired of him and tossed him out. Sheila was family, real family, and you couldn't break bonds like that.
When he got back to the house, Sheila was off the phone and had ordered Chinese takeout. She didn't seem pleased at his abrupt departure, but didn't call him on it, either. She offered to take him to a movie after dinner, but he waved her off, and went back to "his" room to play video games.
Dick called just before Jason was going to go to bed. Jason ignored the call the first two times, but picked it up when Dick called the third time. "What?" he asked, his temper worn.
"He lives!" Dick exclaimed. "Hey, little brother, how's the wild North?"
"I'm not your brother," Jason said sullenly. "What do you want?"
"For you to pick up the phone the first time I call, but hey, we can't have everything," Dick said. "How's Vermont? Spot any moose yet? How's your... your mother?"
"Dick, if you want to know something, just ask," Jason said. He stuck the phone on speaker and picked up his PSP.
Dick was silent for a long moment, long enough that Jason checked that he had switched to speaker and not hung up on the other boy. Finally he said, "Maybe I'll come visit you this weekend. Check out the new digs."
"You're not invited," Jason said. "What's going on?"
"Just tell him," a voice said in the background.
"Is that Tim?" Jason asked. "Would you just tell me?"
"Take me off speaker," Dick said. Jason picked up the phone again and switched off the speaker setting. "We - Tim and I - we accidentally overheard some stuff today in Bruce's office." Which meant they'd been in the west wing guest suite, flat on their bellies, pressing their ears to the vent next to the dresser to try and listen to what was happening in Bruce's office. "I don't know if it'll matter, but I thought you should know."
"Dick, if you don't spit it out, I'm coming down there to kick your ass," Jason growled.
"You could not - okay, look," Dick said. "Sheila said Bruce could have you back if he paid her a million dollars. Otherwise, he'd never see you again."
Jason's stomach clenched. "She tried to sell me? What did Bruce say?"
"He said you'd stay with whoever you chose to stay with and if you weren't happy there, he'd make her life hell. He was pretty angry." Dick paused, then said, "Are you happy there? Are you safe?"
"'Safe'?" Jason asked. "Dick, she's my m-mother!" But the word stuck in his mouth.
"I know," Dick said quietly. "I know. I shouldn't have said anything. Bruce didn't want you to know."
"Yeah," Jason said bitterly. "Then I might change my mind and he'd never be rid of me."
"He doesn't want to get rid of you, Jason," Dick said.
"But I'm not worth a million bucks, either," Jason said.
"Jay-" Dick began, but Jason cut in.
"Thanks for telling me. I gotta go," Jason cut off the call without waiting for a response. He listened to the house for a few moments, but Sheila was either being very quiet or she had already gone to bed. Jason slipped into the bathroom to be quietly sick.
He stayed on the cold bathroom floor even after his stomach had settled. He pulled his knees to his chest and wrapped his arms around them, wishing he could fold in on himself tight enough to disappear altogether. No wonder Sheila'd finally wanted to meet him after ignoring him his whole life. It was Bruce Wayne's money she loved, not him. Now he was trapped here, with a woman who didn't want him. Too late to go back to Wayne Manor; Sheila would want payment and Bruce never would, not at that price tag. He supposed he could run away, live on the streets again, but he'd gotten used to regular meals and a warm bed. Maybe he could put up with Sheila for a couple of years, just until he was old enough to get a real job and place of his own.
Jason finally washed up and dragged himself back to the little office/bedroom to try and get some sleep. He flung himself down on the camping cot and one of the leg joints snapped, spilling him onto the floor. He grabbed the pillow and blanket off the cot and curled up on the floor where he'd fallen. He didn't think he could sleep, but the long day had taken its toll on him and he finally dozed off.
Sheila frowned in disapproval when she saw the cot, but only said, "Well, we need to get you a bed anyway." Jason just nodded, resolved to speak to her as little as possible.
Dick tried to call again. Jason ignored his calls, and when they didn't stop coming, he blocked Dick's number.
Bruce called, next, later in the day. Jason stared at the phone when the number appeared on the screen, deciding whether or not to answer it. He debated for long enough that the choice was taken from him. Then he stared at the phone, wondering if he should try calling Bruce back. He was interrupted from his brooding at last when the house phone rang and Sheila thrust the cordless handset into his hands.
"Hi," Jason said, cautiously.
"I understand you spoke to Dick last night," Bruce said, skipping the formalities. "It seems I need to get a better lock on the door of the west wing guest suite."
"Yeah, he told me that my mother wanted to sell me to you," Jason said, looking Sheila right in the eye. "'Least someone had the balls to."
"Jason, you don't understand, I owe money to people who -" Sheila began, but Jason turned away, not wanting to hear the lies he could see her forming.
"What do you want, Bruce?" Jason asked.
"To tell you that if you want to come back to Gotham and live with us, I'll make whatever arrangements are necessary," Bruce said.
That Jason hadn't been expecting. "You - you'd pay her the money? A million dollars?"
"You're worth much more than that to me," Bruce said.
Jason looked sharply back at Sheila, wondering if she'd heard that, and if she'd raise the price. And then he was just sick and tired of the whole damned thing. "Yeah? Well, maybe I ain't for sale," he said. He turned to face Sheila, wanting her to be sure to hear every word. "I got offers before this, you know, when I was on the streets. Maybe the price tag's bigger now, but I said no then and I'm saying no now. Because I don't need ANY OF YOU!" On his last word, he threw the handset against the wall, just barely missing Sheila. The handset shattered, but Jason didn't stand there to watch the pieces hit the floor. He stormed out of the house and didn't look back to see if he was being followed.
Jason spend the night curled up behind the bushes in a small park a few blocks from the house. Fortunately it was warm enough that he didn't need more than his jacket, since he hadn't thought to storm out of the house with any blankets. Either he'd picked a good hiding spot or the police didn't patrol like they did in Gotham; in any case, he wasn't disturbed until the morning, when he woke to find Sheila standing over him.
"Come on back," she said wearily. "I'm taking you back to Gotham."
Jason sat up and ran a hand through his hair, brushing away the leaves that had caught there. "Bruce wired you the money already?" he asked bitterly.
"No," she said. "I told him to forget it. It was a stupid idea, Jason, and I'm sorry." She held out a hand to help him up. He eyed her suspiciously for a moment, then accepted the hand up.
They trudged back to the house in silence. Jason felt like he ought to tell her that it was okay, he wasn't mad and everything would be fine. Except it wasn't okay, he was mad and when had anything been fine?
Sheila let Jason back into the house long enough to gather up his things. "I've got you booked on a flight to Gotham at 11:30," she said. "We can stop and get you some food on the way, or I can give you some cash and you can get something yourself."
Jason shrugged. "Whatever," he said. He went around to throw his stuff in the trunk while she slid into the driver's seat. He came around to the passenger side and opened the door, but froze when she spoke again.
"I want to visit you in Gotham," Sheila said. She turned the key in the car's ignition. "I know you're upset, but -" The world exploded. Jason tasted fire and blood and then everything went black.
Jason woke up somewhere bright and blurry. His tongue felt thick and his chest heavy. He turned his head, trying to force his eyes to focus and suddenly Bruce's face was above him.
"Jason! Oh, thank God, Jason," Bruce said. His voice faded in and out. "... in a hospital, you're going to be... need to rest... "
Jason just nodded weakly and closed his eyes. When he finally opened them again, it was Dick above him. "Hey, little brother..."
He stayed like that for a while, drifting in and out, with no way to tell time or know if it was all happening in a single day or over a period of years. Usually it was Bruce there, or else strange faces he didn't recognize. He guessed they were hospital staff and hoped they weren't friends he couldn't remember.
He saw Dick frequently, and Bruce's on-again, off-again girlfriend, Talia al Ghul was often there. Donna showed up a few times, and he caught a glimpse of Tim now and then. They were usually reading or watching TV, though they dropped what they were doing when he woke up. One time, Bruce had been intently focused on the TV news; something about a plane crash and Haiti, but he'd switched it to mute when he saw that Jason was awake.
Jason never saw Sheila, but he supposed she must be in another hospital bed and not up to visiting him any more than he was up to visiting her.
His periods of consciousness grew longer and less blurry, and finally he was allowed to sit up and watch TV and eat real hospital food instead of living off the IV. It was bland and mushy and everything required a spoon, but he was hungry enough that it tasted like a feast. For the first meal, at least; he got bored of it by the third time and requested a chilidog. Chilidogs, as it turned out, were absolutely off limits, but after much persistence, they brought him a hot dog - no bun or toppings, boiled soft until no flavor remained and cut into pieces so tiny it might as well have been pre-chewed. He took it as a victory anyway and ate it gleefully. Bruce smiled to see him gobble it down and promised Jason a trip to Manny's Diner once the doctors gave him the all-clear.
He'd been in the hospital for weeks, apparently, and along with a lovely collection of broken bones and battered skin, he had had a particular kind of brain injury that had swelled up and nearly killed him. Fortunately, Talia knew a team of surgeons in India who specialized in this particular kind of injury; she'd flown them in the minute she heard of his situation and they'd saved his life.
Jason noticed, after a time, that no one mentioned Sheila's name. Once he started paying attention, he could hear the conversational detours used to avoid mentioning her. Or sometimes, sudden verbal swerves or sharp subject turns. He finally worked up the courage to ask Bruce directly.
"Sheila's dead, isn't she?" he asked Bruce bluntly, at the very start of their visit one day.
Bruce didn't hesitate before answering, and Jason knew he'd been waiting for the question. "Yes," he said. "She died instantly when the bomb went off. I'm very sorry, Jason."
"S'okay," Jason said. He didn't have to fight very hard to keep his expression neutral, and he wondered if he'd grown cold, if he only had it in himself to grieve for two parents and nothing was left for Sheila. "I didn't know her very well."
But that night, after Bruce and left and the graveyard shift of nurses arrived, as he laid alone in a dark, sterile room smelling of antiseptic and plastic, he thought of all the things he'd never get to ask Sheila and all the things he'd never get to tell her and all the possibilities that went with having a living mother that were once again lost to him and he cried for her and for himself. He directed his sobs into his pillow to keep quiet and keep the nurses from checking on him. He still had a damp spot on his pillow in the morning but the cheerful, brown-eyed girl on the dawn shift offered him a fresh one without asking any questions.
Bruce gave Jason a little background a few days later. Sheila had owed money to a crime boss named Kerr and when she fell too far behind on payments, he decided to make her a colorful example for his other clients. Bruce sent his own PI, an ex-cop, to Vermont to assist in the investigation and make sure nothing fell through the cracks. "She's good at asking questions," was all Bruce would say.
The day finally came when Jason could leave the hospital. They rolled him out in a wheelchair and he still had plenty of physical therapy to look forward to, but at least he got to go home. Wayne Manor had elevators, fortunately. Jason could walk a bit, with help from a cane, but he didn't have a chance of making it up the grand staircase by himself. The elevators had been built with the mansion and were the first elevators ever installed in Gotham. Jason took in this historical fact with a skeptical look, but Bruce smiled and assured him that the elevators had regular maintenance and any worn parts were immediately replaced with new ones. Jason accepted this with a grunt and hoped he wouldn't be stuck appreciating the historical value of Gotham's first domestic vertical transport system from the inside for any extended length of time.
It wasn't until Bruce was pushing him down the old familiar hallway that he dropped the big news. "That's Tim's room, now," he said, waving at the door across from Jason's bedroom.
Jason swiveled in his seat so abruptly that he rocked the chair. "Tim's room? He has a room here, now?"
"Didn't I tell you?" A guilty look flashed over Bruce's face and Jason wondered if he'd "forgotten" to mention it until now intentionally, but the guilt was replaced by concern so quickly that Jason wasn't sure he hadn't imagined it. "Tim's parents were killed in a plane crash. He's staying with us now."
"Doesn't he have family?" Jason asked, aware he was being petulant, but not caring because dammit, now he would never be rid of Tim the tag-a-long, that annoying little know-it-all.
"He has us," Bruce said firmly and Jason read the message within those three words. No, Tim didn't have anyone else and yes, Jason had better damn well get used to having the kid around or else Bruce was going to have words with him.
"Lucky us," Jason muttered, but Bruce let that pass. Jason lifted himself carefully out of the wheelchair and picked up his cane from the rack on the side.
Bruce opened the door to his room. Alfred had been here just recently, as a tray with a cold bottle of soda and a selection of Jason's favorite processed snacks had been left on the desk.
"Welcome home, son," Bruce said.
Dick stopped by after he got out of school. Jason was propped up in bed, scowling at the study list his new tutor had just dropped off. Even near-death couldn't get him out of homework when Bruce was around.
"Glad to be back home?" Dick asked.
"No, I'd rather have people waking me up at six every morning to stick needles into me," Jason retorted.
"Dumb question," Dick admitted. "Good to have you back. You have no idea how worried Bruce has been. We've all been worried."
"Yeah, I see you ran out and got yourself a replacement just in case," Jason said, shooting a pointed look in the direction of Tim's bedroom.
"Jay," Dick said, a warning note in his voice. "Don't give Tim a rough time. He's been through a lot."
"He's been through a lot?" Jason asked. His hand clenched, accidentally crumpling the study list.
"He just lost both his parents," Dick said sharply. "Don't make this into a competition."
Jason tried to smooth out the study sheet on his math text. "I got a bunch of schoolwork to make up if I wanna start high school in the fall, so we'll have to discuss this another time." He opened his math book to a random page and held it up in front of his face until he heard Dick give up and leave the room.
Jason woke up late that night with an empty stomach. He laid in bed, annoyed by his hunger, until he remembered he didn't have to wait for the morning shift to get something to eat. Bruce had left the wheelchair by his door, but he ignored that and used the cane to support himself as he limped down to the kitchen.
Even using the elevator, the journey downstairs was longer and more painful than it used to be, so he was already in a bad mood even before he saw that someone else was already raiding the fridge. Someone too short to be anyone but his new neighbor.
Why can't that kid just stay out of my way? Jason had himself geared up to tell Tim just that when the boy turned around and Jason could see that Tim's eyes and nose were red and swollen and tears still wet on his cheeks.
Tim swiped the arm of his blue monogrammed robe across his face and gave Jason a weak almost-smile. "Hi," he said.
"Hi," Jason said. He didn't try to smile back.
They stood looking at each other for a long, silent moment. Tim finally grabbed a juice box from the fridge and closed the door. "It's all yours. I'm not hungry."
The words burst out of him before he could stop them. "I'm sorry about your parents," Jason said.
"Thanks," Tim said softly, and rubbed his sleeve across his face again. "I'm sorry about your mother."
"She wasn't-" Jason began, but found he couldn't actually deny her out loud. "Thanks," he said instead.
The silence between them stretched out again. Tim turned to go, but this time it was Jason who spoke.
"I was gonna make a sandwich," he said. "Easy enough to make two at once, if you want some?"
"If it's not any trouble," Tim said warily.
"Nah, no big deal," Jason said. "'Sides, it's about time I introduced the family to my peanut butter and Doritos masterpiece. It's a classic."
This time, the tiny smile Tim gave Jason was genuine. And this time, Jason smiled back.