Disclaimer: do not own Red Hood and the Outlaws and any related titles. This fic is for fun, not profit.
Summary: One-shot. No matter who asked him to, Jason can't go back to Gotham, back to the cages and chains and insanity.
Jason had a phone line attached to all of his safe houses. Not that he expected anyone to actually call, but it helped in his cover—a phone number made the occupant look somewhat normal to those on the outside.
Still, there were the random messages on the answering machine, mostly from some passerby who misdialed, some from companies hoping to sell something. Jason played them all, listening to them idly, going through the motions of normal life, as though he wasn't the Red Hood, scourge of Gotham, child of the All-Caste, Batman's greatest failure and all that jazz.
People were allowed their hobbies.
A small red light blinked at him innocently as he opened the door and triple-locked it behind himself. He pressed 'play,' shrugging off his coat as he did so.
"You've reached the Harpers," chirped Roy's voice, and Jason rolled his eyes, suppressing the beginnings of a smile even though there was no one else around. "Leave a message after the beep, and we might get back to you. Well, I will, I mean, I don't know about these other two—."
But the vague amusement Jason derived from this was crushed instantly by the voice on the machine.
"Jason," Dick said in a rush. "I know this is your number. Don't delete the message, please, let us help—"
There was a faint sound of plastic beginning to crack as Jason pressed the 'delete' button. A sickly tone and a smooth voice followed, saying, "Message deleted."
How…how had they found him?
The next message began. "Jason…" The second voice said, and Jason froze by the machine. What could Bruce possibly want?
After an agonizing silence, the Batman finally ordered, "Call. The number is—"
Jason, hands shaking only slightly, thoughts racing only just a little bit, played the last message. "Master Jason," a smooth voice spoke, and Jason snapped his hand away, as though burned.
The panic of how he'd been found suddenly subsided, replaced by an ache, deep inside his heart—or what he had left of one, anyway. The room stopped spinning, and the walls stopped closing in as Jason continued to listen to Alfred's voice. His voice was so calm, as though he wasn't talking to a crazed mass-murderer, and Jason was suddenly hit with just how much he had missed that. The best that he had gotten from the 'bat-family' lately (deservedly or undeservedly, he didn't care anymore) was a wary, yet cajoling tone, as though they were talking to a dangerous wild animal backed into a corner.
"It seems that we are having an impromptu family gathering in two days," continued Alfred. "I would be very glad if you were to clear your schedule for this occasion. I may even be persuaded to serve the atrocity to the culinary arts that you call 'chili-dogs.'"
There was a pause, and Jason was already reaching for the 'replay' button. "This is not related in any way to my previous statements," Alfred continued, "But I am compelled to point out the simple fact that I, and I alone, continue to answer all phone calls to the manor. I wish to hear from you soon, Master Jason."
The message ended, and the silence rang loudly in Jason's ears. He hit replay, just staring at the machine. He didn't know how long he stood there, listening to the digital ghost of a voice sorely missed.
Dick and Bruce were both…not forgotten, just dismissed, if only for the moment. The panic and anger and pain associated with the two were also shoved aside.
Because Alfred had called. Alfred, who still cared about the wayward ex-Robin…who still cared about Jason, even though he had wandered so far from the path that he had no hope of ever finding his way back, even if he wanted to.
And for Alfred, Jason even went so far as to place his hand on the phone, fingers brushing lightly over the familiar numbers. In a daze, he even dialed half of the numbers before he realized what he was doing, hung up the phone only to continue staring at it again.
And then the trance was broken. He disconnected the phone, and then he cleared out his weapons, equipment, and surveillance, covered his tracks and got rid of the safe house. (A little later, a single mother living in the run-down part of the city found herself suddenly bequeathed a gorgeous house from a long-lost relative).
Because Jason even if he wanted to, Jason couldn't go back, not even for Alfred. He couldn't go back to being like Bruce: fighting a battle you couldn't hope to win with the limits you had self-imposed, fighting for the perpetrator while the victim continued to suffer…fighting for the soul of a city who only hurt you in return.
Because that was all that Gotham was good for. It was a city so far gone that not even the combined efforts of many so-called 'heroes' was able to keep it and the monsters it housed from hurting everyone and everything within it, and that list of 'heroes' included Batman, Robin, Batwoman, Nightwing, and everyone in the Birds of Prey.
Jason was free, here, where the world was beautiful in its fragility, and, though tarnished, was still worth living in. Here, outside of Gotham, were Kory and Roy, who were good, beautiful people who cared about him although they knew what he had turned into and although he hadn't yet enough courage to openly care back.
In Gotham, he was nothing. And nothing after nothing kept crushing him, closing him in, like a pathetic little bird robbed of its wings. Sometimes, he had found himself unable to breathe in the cage that was Gotham. Everything was too close, and still closing in.
No, not even for Alfred—the kind, grandfatherly man who, Jason realized, loved him unconditionally—could he go back to Gotham, back to the cages and chains and graves and all the insanity—most of which was his own.
Because he figures he had to have been insane, to care for a city who only hurt him and everyone he cared about in return, and he had to have been insane, to love a 'father' who never saw him as a son.
He couldn't go back, because outside of Gotham, he was finally free from himself.