Author's Note: I like Jason, even when he was a tearaway. At least he wasn't scared of Bruce in the same way Dick and Tim were. And he was, regardless of opinion, a good Robin. Anyone who's read Batman: The Cult will know how kick-ass Jason can be when Batman needs him. To that end, I wrote my own origin story on Jason and Bruce's meeting. If liked, there will be more to follow in the vein of Meeting in Darkness, although they will be radically different because this is Jason, not Dick. Enjoy
Intelligence is a measure of intellect. It is a method of ascertaining whether or not individuals possess the cognitive function required to carry out the tasks demanded of them and how efficiently. Intelligence comes in many forms. It exists in all walks of life and can be obtained from experience, birth or merely instinct. My own intelligence is a combination of all these things. It is required to function at the highest level due to the nature of my work. It therefore surprises me that my supposedly superior intellect, harnessed by decades of experience and practice, has been outwitted by a child.
It is an odd feeling as I stand before my car and find it no longer has its wheels. If the boy responsible for liberating them had not returned, it might have taken me days to find him. Despite this amateur thief making a somewhat simplistic error in returning to the scene of the crime, I cannot help but feel I am on the losing side. Regardless of my catching him in the act - he was still brandishing a tire iron - the boy has succeeded in accomplishing his mission. I wager he did not stumble across my vehicle by chance; I have only been gone half-an-hour. This child, barely a teenager, had planned this particular operation. That means reconnaissance. He was probably watching me from a high vantage point as I parked up in the alleyway. The fact that he was able to remove and store the tyres in such a short amount of time points to a very high skill level where this work is concerned and appropriate arrangements negotiated for securing the merchandise. He must also have somehow been aware of the car's security systems being partially inactive. It suggests he may have been observing my movements for weeks in anticipation. The whole scenario is interesting to say the least.
The boy in question is evidently a resident of these streets given his immediate reaction to being caught. He flees down the back alleyway towards Amusement Mile, where the innumerable condemned tenements and flooded tunnels make losing track of him a very real possibility. As he runs, I note his running gait. He runs like a sprinter should with his head down and his upper body bent forward at a forty-five degree angle. He pushes directly off his toes and drives himself forward with very sharp arm movements. In making sure he adheres to these principles, the boy has already covered almost two hundred meters before I gave chase. I am aware that pursuing him on foot is not advisable. With his lead and knowledge of the city infrastructure, it is almost impossible to secure capture. So I take to the rooftops utilizing my grapnel.
In spite of the dark and poor light conditions, I manage to keep track of the boy. Even after running hard for the best part of a mile, he is still not satisfied of having eluded me. I watch him slip into a condemned factory just off the main bridge. I know this area as well. That particular factory used to be home to an army of vagrants and homeless individuals until they were forced out under health and safety legislation. The foundations are unsound. The whole building could collapse under slightest fluctuation in weight. It would therefore be unwise to follow him into such a structure. This boy is very intelligent. Fortunately, I have gathered sufficient information on this child to deduce where he has hidden the tyres. I return to the car. I then retrace the boy's escape route, stopping when I arrive at the back entrance of what was once a pizza parlour. As expected, the door has a padlock attached to it. But again, as expected, the door is in fact open; the padlock is just there for show. As soon as I step inside, I locate the tyres. They are stacked neatly against the far wall with all their relevant components laid out in front of them. They are not alone here; there are literally dozens of tyres in the room in similar condition. This is not unlike a display room. Perhaps the boy has clients. Perhaps not. In any case, I will soon find out regardless.
I wait for hours. The boy will be coming back here soon. Hidden under a floorboard directly beneath the door is a box of provisions. It is mostly candy, but also carries a torn blanket and a small roll of dollar bills amounting to just over one-hundred dollars. I imagine this place will also serve as shelter for a more secure night's sleep. Shortly after three in the morning, the boy returns. He is breathless and wet. It has been raining. He shivers violently before hurriedly shutting the door. The night air is cold. I watch from my vantage point as he removes the floorboard and secures his valuables. He wraps the blanket tightly round his shoulders, shoves the money in his jacket pocket and eats some of the candy. He then sits with his back firmly against the door. He performs all these movements in the dark and without difficulty. He is comfortable surviving in such austere conditions; he is already half-asleep by the time I stand up and cross the room.
"Impressive." I say, watching the boy's head jerk up with startling speed, followed by the rest of his body in rapid succession. He is once more preparing to run. "I wouldn't." I tell him.
"Your right sneaker is missing its shoelace; given the weather conditions outside and your current exhaustion, you would lose your shoe in the first few minutes and I would catch you regardless."
"So what's the difference if I run or not?"
I hear him smirk. "I didn't know you had a sense of humour." The boy sits back down again. "Light switch is…"
"Yes, I am aware." I reach above him and flick the switch. A harsh, fluorescent light floods the room. It buzzes as we regard one another. The boy is no older than twelve or thirteen, very fresh-faced and quite slight. His T-shirt and jacket are several sizes too big for his frame as are his sneakers, making his evasion of me even more impressive. His hair, although damp, is recently cut. It is strawberry-blond. His jeans are ripped at the knee. Blood has dried around the holes. He grins at me, displaying remarkably white teeth. He is, in short, very pleasing to look at. It is worrying given the type of scum who frequent this neighbourhood.
"Y'know, in the light, you look kinda stupid. With the ears and the tights and everything." His remark, although undoubtedly intended as facetious, is accurate. My uniform is of far greater effect when away from the light.
"I will take your comments under consideration. Right now I have some questions." The boy's reaction is to slouch back against the door and shrug his shoulders.
"I don't do questions, big guy."
"I see. Well, in that case, I will simply take my tyres and leave you to it." I say turning towards the tyres. The boy sneers.
"Yeah, reverse-psychology isn't going to work on me. I'm not scared of being alone in the dark here." I continue towards the tyres, not looking back.
"I never had any expectations it would." I grab two tyres and begin walking back to the door. The boy watches me in silence. I stop in front of him. "Please move." He does as instructed. Outside it is still raining heavily. In a short while I have re-attached the two front tyres and secured them from further theft. I return to collect the other tyres only to find the boy already stood in the doorway holding them. He offers them to me in silence. "Thank you." I say relieving him of the burden; they are quite heavy for someone of his size to transit. I am grateful for his assistance. Less than ten minutes later, all four tyres are in place and I am ready to depart. By this stage, the boy has turned off the light and closed the door again. However, he is on the wrong side of the door.
"You should go back inside. The temperature is still falling." I call to him over the sound of rainfall.
"Do you still want to ask those questions, big man?" He shouts back, hugging his body.
"I might. Why?"
"Give me a ride and I'll give you answers." I do not take passengers. However, the boy is now hopelessly cold and wet. I do feel a certain degree of pity for this youth, his apparent situation and problems. So I humour him.
"Where do you want to go?"
"Nowhere. Just for a drive. Your car's pretty sweet, y'know." It is not unreasonable to assume he is lonely and wants companionship. Either that or he is simply bored of his lifestyle and would like a more unusual memory to comfort himself with in future. I gesture with my hand.
The boy wanders over. By now, he is completely soaked through and, even if he were to go back inside at this juncture, the chances of hypothermia setting in are quite high. I open the car and watch him scramble inside. I join him a moment later. As I fire up the engine, I watch him begin to experiment with the centre console's various functions. He quickly finds the heating system and adjusts it to his own tastes. Remarkably, he then sits back in his seat, puts on the seatbelt and waits. I am surprised at his restraint. We begin to drive onto the road. He watches my movements intently, no doubt figuring out how the car is operated. When I look at him, he looks away.
"What do you wanna know?"
"Your full name."
"Jason Peter Todd."
"Enter that into the screen please."
"It will help us avoid some more obvious lines of questioning."
The boy is reluctant but complies with my instructions. The computer is able to produce a criminal record in seconds. The charges are unsettling. Aside from the anticipated counts of petty theft, grand theft auto and illegal sales of stolen goods, there are also far more disturbing counts. This boy has been arrested twice for prostitution and public indecency in the past three months. I expected a difficult life…but not this. Jason has seen this information too and is studying my reaction. When I say nothing for minutes after, he decides he needs to justify his actions.
"Two-Face killed my dad, okay? They wanted to shove me in foster care because my mom's pushing up daisies too. I didn't want that shit so I stayed on the streets. Stuff gets harder to steal every day because of guys like you on every corner. I needed money to eat so I did what I had to, okay? I did what I had to." For some strange reason, this boy wants my respect. His eyes are looking at me in desperation for acceptance even if his voice is tough. He does not know me. He has no reason to trust me, especially given his current circumstances. But he wants my respect. He has it.
"I am in no position to judge you, Jason." I offer as a reply. Jason looks away again. He grows very quiet. Since he is clearly not in a conversational mood, given what has just been exposed, I scrutinize the database further. His father, Peter Todd, is listed amongst those individuals Dent murdered last August. He has his own criminal record with a string of petty crimes pointing to a less than gifted thief and enforcer. His last listed address was a one room apartment above Jerry's Pizza Shack in Park Row. It is the same building I found Jason using earlier. It has been closed for over a year. His mother, Catherine Todd, died of breast cancer some four years prior to his father's murder. It all adds up to a very unhappy childhood.
"How long have you been stealing tyres and hub caps?"
"About a month. I used to steal cars, but people notice more when they go missing. So I went smaller."
"Who were you intending to sell them to?"
"Does it matter? I doubt you're just gonna let me sell them now."
"Why do you think that?"
"Because you're the good guy. Good guys don't let criminals get away with stuff; they fucking come down on them, hard." The boy bangs his fist down on an open hand to emphasize his point. He still has yet to look at me again. He does not need to be ashamed of his past actions. He acted out of a need for survival. It is not my place to say whether or not I would have done the same; our lives are very different.
"What would you suggest I do with you now?"
"I don't know: take me to a social worker or something."
"Do you think they might be able to help you?"
"No. That's just what good guys do to bad kids. They take them to see social workers."
"What if I don't feel that would be in your best interests?" The boy seems to find my inquiries humorous. He is laughing.
"Jesus Christ. Do criminals really fear you? You obviously must keep your mouth shut when you smash their skulls because no-one would give a crap about you if counseling was your weapon of choice." I am unsure whether Jason is attempting to rattle me deliberately or merely due to his nature. His derisive remarks against me are not ill-deserved; perhaps I do have a tendency to 'preach' too much.
"How am I doing?"
"You're fucking awful at it. Stick to the shadows." The boy's coarse language has increased in its frequency. He is either upset or angry with me; he does not need to curse if he does not wish to. I try a more direct approach with him.
"I want to help you."
"Like you helped that other kid? The one you let run around in his skivvies and a cape?" It is always interesting to have an outsider's point of view on my activities. Jason's perspective of mine and Dick's relationship is clearly one of deviancy, given the manner in which he said it. As soon as I give my answer, I am already prepared for his retort.
"I don't need another partner."
"Good 'cause I'm not gonna let you fuck me." Yes, I was correct in my assumption. He is not alone in his conclusions; many people, Jim Gordon included, found Dick's recruitment somewhat suspect.
"Not that particular definition of 'partner'."
Jason is looking at me again. He frowns. "Does nothing I say make you mad?"
"Anger is counter-productive." The boy hesitates with his next question, but manages to articulate it.
"Do you like me?"
"Because you have potential."
"I don't know what that means."
"It means you deserve more than what you have."
"I don't want your help."
"Because I don't know who you are. I know you're 'Batman', but that's just a mask. Even criminals don't run with guys in masks. No names are fine if we can see your face, but no names and no face? Forget it."
"Who do you think I am?"
Jason's reaction to this question is to puff out his cheeks, slump back in his head and fold his arms. He considers it briefly before shaking his head. "I don't know…Bruce Wayne?" I am not so much astonished as intrigued. The dismissive manner in which he just spoke, tells me he does not really believe his answer. He laughs and shrugs his shoulders. "Yeah, why not? The guy's got enough money, he's built like you and I think his playboy thing is an act; he's trying too hard to make it work." Jason looks over at me with a smile. "So, are you Bruce Wayne?" He thinks he is wrong and is expecting me to tell him as such. I meet his gaze, but say nothing. He shrugs his shoulders again.
"Even if you are him, nobody's gonna believe me. I'm just a street kid, after all; we're lower than garbage in this city." Although he is still smiling when finishing that sentence, it begins to fade the longer a silence between us goes on. Soon it is gone completely. He looks at me with real concentration, focusing intently on my face. After a while, he speaks.
"You are Bruce Wayne, aren't you? Wow that's messed up. A guy like you, all the money in the world, doing this every night of the week? Did your parents dying really screw with you that badly?" I stop the car. I do not slam on the brakes; I merely bring the car to a halt. I look at him, deciding whether or not my relationship with him ends here. What I say next is important, perhaps even defining for how long my career as Batman will last. This boy knows who I am. It really does not take a genius to deduce a mystery of this scale, as I always feared.
"And hasn't losing your parents affected you too? Didn't losing your mother change your entire life? And didn't losing your father change it yet again?"
"Don't analyze me, rich boy. You don't know how I feel about the past."
"Only because you haven't told me. Do you want revenge on Two-Face?"
"What kind of stupid question is that? Of course I want revenge. I want to kill him. I want him to know how my dad felt. I want him to beg for mercy, plead with me not to kill him. Then I will. I dream about it at night…" Jason trails off, closing his eyes and taking a deep breath. "I can hear the screams he'll make when I come to end him. It's like music…" I tap him lightly in the chest to snap him out of it. We look at one another without saying a word. It lasts for almost ten minutes. The boy is thinking about everything that has transpired tonight. I am the same.
Jason is not Dick. Jason Peter Todd is an angry and confused teenager who has suffered horrible abuse on the streets just to survive. He is suffering from multiple traumas, the biggest of which may not necessarily be the death of his father. His sexual abuse is a particularly difficult sticking point. But he has potential. The boy is smart, resourceful and fearless. He is a proven survivor, regardless of circumstance. I could train him using the same methods I used on Dick; teach him to use his anger for a good cause. I know that, without help of any description, Jason will lapse into an inescapable life of crime. Even should he receive help from social workers or foster parents, I do not feel it would be beneficial for him. More than likely, he will turn back to the streets and petty crime. I know I can help him. It is only his stubbornness halting my progress. Perhaps, given time to think his situation over, Jason has warmed to the idea.
"Bruce?" The boy asks. I do not bother to conceal the fact from him anymore by refusing to answer. This displays trust. If he were to accept the offer, we would need plenty of trust.
"If I were to go with you, would I get to live in your house?"
"I can make such an arrangement if that is to your liking."
"Do I have to become Robin?"
"Not if you do not wish it."
"Even though I know who you are?"
"When I said I wanted to help you, I meant it. I can work without a partner if you do not wish to."
"But, if I did, you could train me to the same standard as the other kid? I could do all that cool acrobatic stuff and beat-up dozens of scumbags without any trouble like he did?"
"If you were willing to try, I would train you to be like him, perhaps even better."
Jason is considering very carefully. He knows this will change his life either way, should he accept any form of help from me. The boy is reckless and stubborn, angry and hurt, but he has potential. I would like him to at least attempt the training.
"I want to be good. But what if I'm not good enough?" He asks looking anxious, the first time I have seen such an expression of fear from him.
"We won't know if you don't try." Jason nods his head.
"I want to try. This isn't asking for help though." Even though it blatantly is exactly that, I do not demean him by saying so. This way, he thinks he has won. It is important for his self-esteem. I offer the right reply:
"No, this is going to be an audition." Jason smiles at me, nodding his head.
"Audition; I like that."
As we continue to drive, now heading back to the cave, I am under no illusion. This entire venture could end in tears. This new boy could die. All of this now could be a huge mistake. But I must have faith. This boy is not Dick and things are not guaranteed to end on the same sour note. Jason could turn out to be a better Robin than he was. And, while I may not need a partner, I find myself wanting one desperately. If Jason is good enough, he will become Robin. If he is not, I will still keep him; as much as I want a partner, another son to share the house with would also be welcome. So I will try to keep this boy. I will try to make him the Robin Dick should have been. I will try…