All I ever wanted
Secrets that you keep
All you ever wanted
The truth I couldn't speak
'Cause I can't see forgiveness
And you can't see the crime
And we both keep on waiting
For what we left behind
- Final Masquerade, Linkin Park
Chapter 23: The Ocean of Divergence
The letter was a single piece of plain printer paper but it weighed like a cement brick in his hands. Jason tried to calm himself by smoothing down the creases where he folded it into thirds to take care and avoid smudging the name. Explaining why the nerves were eating at him required greater introspection than he wanted to undertake. It wasn't a confession or a love letter so he shouldn't be so panicked.
The past couple of months had been so hard. He could sleep for hours but would still be tired from the tip of his hair right down to his bones. His books weren't entertaining anymore and school became an exhausting bore. He was angry all the time and there was no clear explanation why. Everything got his blood boiling. Someone typing too loud in the school library or a girl sniffling through a cold behind him would make his temper flare. Everyone told him to chill out but how could he chill out if he didn't know why everything irritated him?
Then Bruce had benched him from private patrol. The Batman's exact complaint referenced him acting too reckless and getting too violent. Sure he broke a few bones, but the dealers had tried to deal to kids. Batman broke bones and dislocated arms nightly but when Robin did it once or twice he was out of control.
The sound of crinkling paper brought Jason back to the present. He exhaled and relaxed his grip on the paper.
So that left him stuck at Mount Justice for almost a week while Bruce brooded in London with Alfred tying up some Wayne deal. A year ago he would've been shaking with excitement. Now he knew better. The Team - especially the original teens - only tolerated him. He wasn't as good as Dick at anything and the disappointment in their eyes was like an anchor pulling him to the bottom of the ocean. As for Dick… he was hot and cold so Jason would rather just avoid the guy. Better to be a wallflower than the focus of Dick Grayson's temper.
He didn't have many friends at school or on the Team. Billy was his friend. Unfortunately, Captain Marvel didn't work with the Team, being a full member of the Justice League regardless of his real age. Mary and Freddy had become Team members, and they were nice even if he always felt like the third wheel. Garfield was all right, but the kid couldn't officially join the Team being so young.
Jason often wondered how such a crowded room would be so lonely when Donna took the chance of speaking with him. She was older, like the original Team members, but she seemed to like talking with him and he liked that she saw him and wanted to learn more about him. Lately she had volunteered to pair up with him on their last few missions. No one ever volunteered to pair with Jason before.
Then, just today, she sat beside him on the bed in the room he normally slept in and asked him what was wrong. She noticed he didn't really eat his lunch and seemed distracted. Like a warm summer sun after months of cold, gloomy grays, she was so warm and friendly and kind that he just blurted it out. He told he about finding his birth certificate and learning that the woman he thought was his mother, wasn't actually his birth mother. He told her how confused he was since the woman lived and worked in Africa and what should he do?
Donna listened and rubbed his back. She hugged him and said that everything will be fine. She promised she wouldn't tell anyone until he was ready to talk about it.
Jason always hoped that Donna liked him - as a friend of course. He didn't know much about friendship, being rather inexperienced. Billy was his closest friend, but he wasn't Billy's closest friend and the Fawcett City hero could be an oblivious idiot. But Donna noticed, and she cared enough to listen.
So he wrote her a letter.
For all his talent at swearing in five different languages, Jason struggled to express himself with speech. Growing up in Crime Alley certainly affected his speech and had him saying the wrong things at the wrong time. Except he was really good with the written word. He won the state junior poetry championships three months ago, so he had proof of his skill with the written word. Therefore, he figured the best way to tell her how thankful he was for her friendship would best come through a letter.
He glanced around the hallway again and wondered at the silence. With so many people living in Mount Justice, at least one person made a racket after dinner on average. He headed from the library towards the Zeta Tubes. The bedrooms were on the other side and hopefully he'd catch Donna alone because he didn't need anyone else seeing him and telling Dick.
Giggling echoed from the Atrium and Jason quickly pulled out his phone and pretended to read a non-existent text.
"Come on, Donna!"
Jason smoothly leaned against the wall with his phone out and head ducked down. He wasn't ready yet. Especially not in a public place!
"Should we be leaving? This doesn't feel appropriate," Donna's voice travelled to where Jason had practiced the ninja art of merging with the wall.
Raquel was the one to answer. "Relax, girl! It's celebrating university admissions. Not like we're hijacking cars and drag racing. It's just a club."
"That's not what I meant. We shouldn't leave Garfield and Robin behind by themselves."
"You can relax Donna, Robin is old enough to look after him. They'll be fine." That was Zatanna.
"I meant that they'll be upset they weren't invited. I don't think Robin's been terribly happy as of late and bringing him and Garfield along might cheer him up."
"It's seventeen and older admission. Even with fake IDs neither one can pass for a few years older. And you know if Robin gets caught Batman will blame Nightwing who will get all pissy." Zatanna was definitely raising her eyebrows. He hated when she got that expression. It was the expression she wore when forced to interact with her boyfriend's bratty little brother. "Look, if we tell them they'll definitely try to crash the club. It's best to just leave a note."
"Anyways, the kids will ruin the mood. None of the Marvel kids are coming," Raquel said.
Jason's knuckles were white from the tight grip he had on his phone. They were having a party and not only didn't invite him but were sneaking out so he wouldn't be able to follow them. The Team didn't have the guts to tell him face-to-face they didn't want him at their party.
"I still don't feel comfortable with this."
Raquel huffed. "You can stay if you want and sit around all night with the boy who has the biggest crush on you. It won't be awkward at all."
The blood drained from his face, leaving him light-headed and nauseous.
"Are... you talking about Robin?"
"It was cute for a while," Zatanna laughed. "But after so long it's gotten a little tiring."
"I-I… I didn't know."
"So are you coming or ditching us for the kid?"
Jason clenched his eyes closed and gritted his teeth. He wanted to get angry and rage over them telling her he was crushing and calling him a kid. He wanted for Donna to stay and pick him over them. He wanted her to stay and chase away the darkness. All he needed was someone to show him how much he meant to them.
"All right… I'll go."
The words barely registered, but they were enough. His chest hurt. It hurt like when his mom died. Why did he keep doing this to himself?
The Zeta Tube fired up and silence settled across the Cave but he hardly noticed. He put the phone back in his pocket and walked across the empty Atrium. He passed the empty kitchen and living room, the silent game room. The bedrooms were all empty except for Garfield's. He heard the TV playing an episode of Hello Megan and didn't even consider knocking.
His own room was empty. Just a guest room for Team members to stay after a late mission. The papers on his desk pulled his eyes towards the information he had already memorized. An old idea wormed itself back into his brain and he didn't stop to consider the consequences or reconsider.
His backpack was easy to pack. All his Robin stuff and a change of clothes. He hesitated for a short moment before shoving Looking For Alaska next to his jeans and put his passport next to it with the papers shoved haphazardly in. His wallet still had the credit card Bruce gave him years ago, but he rarely used. The Zeta Tubes would take him close but he'd need an airplane the rest of the way.
He shoved all his other clothes and an extra pillow under the duvet. The cellphone went inside the bedside table as did the tracker Bruce kept sewn in the tongue of his shoes. Although he normally couldn't stand destroying perfectly good clothing, Jason just shrugged at the ruined shoe. The numbness spreading through him had terrified him at first, but then became a relief. Being numb meant the emotions didn't crush his heart.
He glanced around the room. It looked like he was sleeping peacefully in bed. Perhaps leaving would be much easier than he imagined.
The letter rested at the edge of the desk. He stared at it and debated what to do. A flash of the familiar anger made him crumple the letter into a ball and dump it in the trash. He closed the door and walked through a Zeta Tube and out of the Cave. No one was there to stop him.
Jason blinked and shook off the remnants of the memory. He came back to the present strapped to the interrogation chair with his gloves and belt removed. They hadn't touch the mask yet over worries of booby traps.
There was no one else in the room but their eyes burned into his skull from the other side of the two-way mirror. It didn't matter how long they took their sweet time. He had patience. The rage from earlier was gone, buried deep beneath his skin. His heart rate had calmed knowing he accomplished what others couldn't or wouldn't do.
He did it to protect others.
He did it to protect himself.
The door slid open and Jason quietly exhaled. He was ready.
January 10; 00:46 EDT
Red X sat strapped to a chair in the Watchtower's largest interrogation room. Thick leather bindings wrapped tightly across his chest. Heavy metal cuffs held down his bare hands and feet. The chair itself lacked all manner of comfort. It was a cold, inflexible metal that was in no way designed for long term sitting. Except the heroes left the thief strapped to the chair for over an hour before the interrogation could begin as information from Jump City came in.
The interrogation was finally underway. Martian Manhunter and Batman stood side by side in front of the criminal. Their faces appeared carved from stone into a permanent poker face. Nightwing, Aqualad, Superman, and Black Canary hid from view behind the one-way glass window. The viewing room was chilly, but the humans ignored the cold seeping into their skin.
The thief titled his head and observed the two men in front of him. "You don't need to read my mind. I'm willing to talk now, you have to ask the right questions."
Manhunter glanced at his teammate and Batman nodded in return. The Martian stepped aside and let the Dark Knight take over the interrogation. "What do you need the Xenothium for?"
"To power my suit. This thing doesn't run on rainbows and unicorn shit," Red X laughed. The sound of his laugh with the voice modifier was malicious. "Arsenal uses it too. His arm is a power-sucking glutton."
"Why would Talia let you handle Xenothium?"
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"If she is your mother, she wouldn't let her flesh and blood near such an unstable substance," Batman elaborated.
Nightwing could imagine the thief rolling his eyes under his mask by his tone of voice. "First, maybe because she's not. Second, how about the possibility she trusts me?"
"Talia identified you as her son. The al Ghuls don't lie about family."
"I am not her biological son. But neither do I work for the League of Shadows." Red X's voice trembled slightly under the pressure of maintaining his cool tone. At least, that's what Nightwing suspected. "An employee of the League is expendable. The Demon's Head would never get rid of me."
"The League has never shied away from killing one of their own."
"I said I wasn't her biological son."
"The al Ghuls only believe in flesh and blood as family."
"The new Demon's Head has a different idea of family from her father. She accepted me as her son and will do anything to protect me. Not that you know much about it."
Behind the glass, Nightwing narrowed his eyes and exhaled heavily. The maliciousness in Red X's tone spoke volumes of his opinion of Batman. The Dark Knight himself was immoveable but Dick knew the man underneath was fuming with guilt and anger. "He knows too much."
"Of what?" Superman raised an eyebrow.
"Of Batman's personal life. Talia probably told him everything she knows. This just makes things more complicated. He's got ammunition."
Back in the interrogation room, Red X was waiting patiently for the next question. Batman seemed to be weighing his words carefully.
"The Joker." Red X stilled at the mention of the psychopath's name. "Why?"
The thief snorted in disdain. "You're welcome, by the way. I saved your sidekick's life."
"Yes, but you also murdered a man," Batman growled. "Furthermore, you hacked off Harley Quinn's hands with a butcher knife."
"And you rushed me. I planned to kill him a different way." The man's voice had gone frosty even through the emotionless distortion that morphed his voice.
"You murdered him."
"I didn't murder him. I put the reptile down. You can't tell me the world isn't better off."
"It's still killing."
"At least I'm willing to do something about that monster," Red X hissed. He leaned forward slightly in his chair as far as the leather straps across his chest would let him. "Your inaction makes you just as bad as him."
"That statement is incorrect," Manhunter interrupted for the first time. "The Batman is a hero. He adheres to a moral code criminal will not."
"You can tell that to all the victims waiting for justice. Tell me, how many people have died since the first time you put the Joker in Arkham?"
The Batman was silent. Nightwing didn't like where the conversation was headed. The thief was playing off Batman's guilt for being unable to stop Gotham's psychopaths
"Too many to count, huh?"
"The Joker needs psychiatric help."
"Like a regular human who dresses up in a bat suit doesn't? I suppose that you presume to be the local expert on the clown? I think I'm a little more familiar with him than you."
"Why would you suppose that?"
"I know not to treat him lightly and not write him off as simply insane. It's not that simple." Batman froze, he looked like he wasn't even breathing. "Joker's not like the others. He has no code. He can't be predicted. He can't be reasoned with."
The mask tilted again to the side, white eyes staring blankly up at the Batman. "And if you're careless with him… you'll die. I learned that from personal experience."
The room was silent and Batman refused to move or speak. Aqualad glanced at his teammate. "What is going on?"
Red X's voice was soft and mocking. "Some men just want to watch the world burn."
"I don't know - " Nightwing cut off when Batman moved.
The Dark Knight swooped down on the thief and grabbed his face on both sides. "Who are you?" Batman's voice was nearing a thick, suffocating tone that Nightwing had not heard in years. Manhunter reached out an arm to pull the man back if the situation escalated anymore.
"Why don't you take my mask off and find out?" The thief rasped out. His calloused fingers trembled on the armrest, but whether in fear or anticipation, Nightwing couldn't tell. "But I warn you, you might not like what you see."
Batman stepped back and grabbed the hard skull shaped part of the mask and yanked it off the man's head.
Nightwing felt the air rush out of him, leaving him breathless. Strapped to their interrogation chair was a young man who looked very much like his dead little brother. Except he wasn't so dead or so little anymore. All baby fat had disappeared from his face, leaving hard angles and sharp edges. His hair was longer with a shaggy curl and a streak of white hair falling just over his right eye. Even his eyes had changed, no longer just the cool steel blue he remembered but a slight hint of green had turned his eyes teal. Dick had no logical explanation for such a realistic ghost of the past sitting on the other side.
"You look like you've seen a ghost."
"Oh god," Batman whispered, faced with the ghost of his dead son. Manhunter stretched an arm forward as if to rest it on Batman's shoulder but paused and pulled back. In the viewing room, Nightwing was being supported by Superman and Aqualad, their hands holding him up. His breathing grew quick and shallow as a familiar twist crossed the ghost's lips.
"No," the ghost smirked. "Wanna guess again?"
Nightwing clenched his hands so tightly around the back of a chair that he would have snapped it in two if it wasn't made of metal. He waited for Batman to say the name he so desperately wanted to hear.
The same know-it-all, smart aleck smirk that pissed off so many enemies and allies alike spread across the young man's face. "Yes."
Dick flew pass Aqualad and out the door before anyone but Superman could stop him. But Superman wouldn't stop him. The Flash gave a surprised start when Nightwing appeared at the interrogation door. The speedster's mouth moved but Dick didn't pause to listen, the blood was pounding loudly in his ears. He so close to slipping up on punching in the door code but got it right the first time.
All three occupants glanced towards the door when it opened but Dick's focus was only on one person. Someone moved to reach for him but Dick was faster, sidestepping the arm and moving straight for the chair.
He grasped the face in between his hands and held the young man still. "Jaybird?" His voice sounded hoarse to his ears as if he had been screaming all night. "Is it really you?"
The face that glared back at him looked so very much like Jason Todd had already convinced Dick of the young man's identity. However, Dick observed too many features that were different.
"Don't touch me," he snarled and tried to jerk his head out of Dick's grasp. It wasn't: "Lemme go, Dickface" or "What the hell is your problem, asshole?" The tone of voice sounded all wrong, not a hint of the friendly annoyance Dick was used to hearing when he found time to harass his little brother. Dick could always tell that no matter how much he annoyed, bothered, or yelled at Jason, the teenager always had an undercurrent of warmth that let Dick know they were still family. That warmth had disappeared. This Jason was ice cold.
Dick looked closer at the Jason Todd in front of him. The scar on his chin from Two-Face was gone as was the thin scar across his forehead from Killer Croc. His nose, twice broken, was straight as an arrow. Finally, his eyes were different. In the viewing room Dick could see the colour had changed. But now the green glared out at him from beneath his furrowed eyebrows. Dick released him as if burned.
Nightwing glanced back at Batman who had done the same observations. "A Cadmus clone? How would Luthor or the others know where to get his DNA?"
"I'm not a clone," growled the young man. He rolled his head and smirked when his neck cracked. "I distinctly remember crawling out of my grave. Thanks for noticing. It makes me feel so loved."
Dick stepped back and let out a shaky breath. This was real. This was really happening.
"How is this possible?" Batman whispered. Perhaps it was a rhetorical question, but Jason saw the need to answer anyways.
"I guess heaven and hell both rejected me," Jason shrugged with a smug smirk on his face. "So life had no choice but to take me back."
"Batman, I was unaware that humans have the ability to return from the dead," Martian Manhunter slowly walked around the chair they strapped Jason into.
"They don't. And nothing known to mankind can bring them back to life," Batman, to the shock of Nightwing, removed his mask. Bruce Wayne stared down at his son. His eyes held so much turmoil and guilt it made Dick's heart ache. Following his mentor's lead, Nightwing removed his own mask. Jason looked away. Bruce's voice softened with the next words. "Tell me what happened to you. Help me understand."
"Fine," Jason sighed and looked up at the plain white ceiling. "Let's ask Jason about his death and resurrection. No big deal."
Dick glanced at his mentor for cues. Bruce knew Jason better than Dick ever did. "You don't have to if you don't want to."
"Of course I have to. Otherwise I'll be stuck in this chair." The teenager's calloused fingers clenched into a tight fist. "So first the Joker tortured and murdered me. That was fun."
Bruce's hand twitched, and he lifted it up as if to reach for the boy in front of him. However, Jason glared at the hand disdainfully and continued.
"Next thing I remember is waking up in my coffin and having to dig myself out. But apparently I suffocated for too long down there which deprived my brain of oxygen. That was besides getting my skull bashed in by a crowbar which my resurrection didn't deem worthy of repair," Jason rolled his head before he made eye contact with Bruce. "And that's where Talia appears in this lovely story."
Bruce narrowed his eyes at the mention of his ex's name. The woman who had kept Jason from them all this time and somehow managed to become an important figure in his life.
"She found me wandering the streets of Gotham, brain-damaged and alone. She took me in and tried to help me get better. Gathered the best doctors and scientist to see if she could fix me." Jason's voice had become softer, less rough around the edges. His eyes wandered as if lost in a memory. "She tried."
The room was silent for a moment. Jason swallowed and continued his story. His eyes hard and frosty again.
"But Ra's had other plans. His interest in my miraculous resurrection waned, and he eventually gave up trying to get answers and instead stole my DNA to clone me. He would never get my memories transferred to the clone but he could still use it to throw you off. After which he would kill me. Talia didn't know about the clone. All she knew was that he would remove me from the fortress. So she made her move.
"An ally ended the clone before it finished growing and informed her of Ra's lies. She quickly got me away from Ra's and to one of his Lazarus Pits. I assume you can figure out what happened."
Jason stopped speaking and looked down at the floor, his shaggy hair shadowing his green eyes from view. It wasn't too difficult to figure out the Lazarus Pit was used.
"Then what happened?" Bruce's voice was still gentle, like he was speaking to a terrified street mutt.
Jason clicked his tongue and sat back up with a deep breath. "Then she took me back to Gotham. Ra's was on our tail the entire way. She risked everything to take me back. We were driving up the road to the manor late at night when she got a message on her phone. Opened it."
Jason's jaw twitched, and he snapped his teeth together. Dick could see the anger and rage washing over the teenager's face. There was some similarity to his previous teenaged anger, but so much more aggressive and violent than Dick remembered.
"It was a picture from one of her spies in Gotham. The picture was of Batman… and his new Robin."
Dick covered his mouth and looked away. Of course Jason would be furious. Being Robin was everything to him as it was everything to Dick. But unlike Dick who willingly moved on from the uniform, Jason had it ripped away from him along with his life. Bruce lowered his eyes.
"I told her to turn around," Jason closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the chair. "There was nothing left for me there."
"Why would you think that?" Dick gasped. "You're part of our family! We need you!"
Jason's eyes snapped open wide and Dick flinched back from what he saw. Rage was brewing beneath the surface. There was much more anger than before Jason's untimely death. "You fucking replaced me! It didn't even take you six months to find a new Robin!"
"Jason… you weren't replaced. No one could ever replace you," Bruce choked and blinked hard. It was the first time Dick could truly see how much the situation affected him.
Dick jumped in when he noticed Bruce struggling with his words. "Batman was losing it after you… uh, you know ... The current Robin came to us. He said Batman needed someone to watch his back."
"He stole it from me! Over my dead body!" The second Robin shouted and strained against his bindings.
Dick took a step back in shock. Jason always had a short-fuse, but this anger was beyond anything he'd ever seen before. Whenever he blew up in anger, there was always something that held him back. Maybe it was his morality or his sense of guilt. That barrier must have vanished because the Jason Todd in front of him showed no sign of holding back his rage. Dick suspected the Pit had a hand in his brother's change judging by the way his eyes flashed green as he raged.
"Jason, you need to calm down," Bruce raised his hands in a pacifying gesture.
"Don't you fucking tell me to calm down," but he did lower his voice to nothing short of a growl. But Dick wouldn't consider the rage gone. Instead he seemed more focused. This was the Jason that worried Bruce all those years ago. The part of Jason that could make him dangerous. A Jason who focused his rage.
"I tried to save you," Bruce's voice shook and Dick swallowed a lump in his throat. He hadn't seen this side of Bruce since the day they buried Jason. But it differed slightly from that time. Years ago, all the hope had vanished into the coffin. But just like his physical return, Jason brought back a glimmer of hope. "I'm trying to save you now."
"Is that what you think this is about? You letting me die?" Jason's voice was flat and his eyes icy cold with hatred. "I don't know what clouds your judgement more: your guilt or your antiquated sense of morality. Bruce… I forgive you for not saving me. But why was he still alive?!"
Martian Manhunter anxiously tried to cut in. "Batman, perhaps we should - "
But Jason didn't even notice the interruption. "Ignoring what he's done in the past. Blindly, stupidly disregarding the entire graveyards he's filled, the thousands who have suffered. You know, I thought... I thought I'd be the last person you'd ever let him hurt. If it had been you that he beat to a bloody pulp, if he had taken you from this world, I would've done nothing but search the planet for that pathetic pile of evil, death-worshiping garbage and then send him off to hell!"
"You don't understand. I don't think you ever understood," Bruce seemed to regain control over himself.
"What? Your moral code just won't allow it? It's just too hard to cross that line…"
"No! No… It'd be too damned easy," Bruce's voice was rough with emotion. Dick let his mentor speak. This was mostly between Jason and Bruce. "All I've ever wanted to do is kill him. A day doesn't go by when I don't think of subjecting him to every horrendous torture he's dealt out to others and then… end him." Bruce tightly clenched his hands, and they shook with his anger. "But if I do that, if I allow myself to go down into that place, I'll never come back."
"Why?" Jason choked out. "I'm not talking about killing Penguin or Scarecrow or Dent. I'm talking about him, just him. And doing it because… because he took me away from you."
Dick's heart broke at the loneliness he in Jason's voice.
"I can't," Bruce whispered. "I'm sorry."
Jason's face hardened and he glared at Bruce, completely ignoring everyone else in the room. "And that's why I'm here, alive. I had to do what you wouldn't."
The statement seemed to confuse everyone listening to the conversation. Martian Manhunter, perhaps the most controlled person in the room, gently tried to pry more information from Jason.
"I don't understand," the alien tried to make his face appear more gentle than usual as if speaking to a young child. "You have discovered the reasoning for your revival?"
At first, Dick was convinced the younger man was ignoring Martian Manhunter. His eyes didn't waver from Bruce's form.
"Do you want to know what went through my mind, when I watched that bomb tick down?" Dick felt his stomach turn over. He often wondered what his little brother's last thoughts were, never imagining he'd have an opportunity to hear them. Bruce didn't seem particularly thrilled about the change in conversation. Perhaps he - like Dick - suspected he wouldn't like what Jason would say next.
"There was a lot of fear. It hit me like a train wreck all in one shot. But then came acceptance," Jason's gaze moved past them, as if trapped in his own memories. His eyes unfocused and his face relaxing into a tranquil expression. Never had Dick seen such an expression on Jason's face. "I knew I would die. If you haven't watched your life tick down by each second, you can't possibly understand. My mind went blank. All I could think about was the people I would leave behind."
Dick's eyes watered and he tried to hide the tears threatening to fall down his face. It wouldn't do any good.
"I lay there and wondered why I thought leaving was better. So now I want to ask you a question."
Jason's eyes were bright with suppressed emotion as he searched Bruce's face. A tense jaw muscle twitched under Jason's searching gaze. Dick wanted to turn away. Something in his gut told him the question would have no satisfying answer.
"Why didn't you give me a reason to stay?"
So the responses for last chapter were so much fun to read. Seems everyone got a kick out of the Joker dying for once. This chapter was a lot of dialogue but it was an emotional roller coaster to write - in a good way.
Big thanks to 2Ilena, Lord-of-Change, SeptarSenior, lime green lily, Unknown Variable, FroreEnchantress, a-really-angry-sorceress, Tz342, KodiakWolfe13, Terra-Fair, OBSERVER01, FoxFan88, Arkham Knight, Ccain45, Shadow91259, stuffedcrust, fan girl 666, those red rimmed eyes, glowingcheat, Boomer1125, Cobwebbs, Unknown Being, Rageful Jewel, TonyStarkGirl, Red, R.C., Saevitis, ganke, risedragon0009, StyxxandBethany, Anon, Anarky'sGreatBeast, darklight66, niccoola006, Stranger Danger, just another PJO fan, Random reader, Cian De Artemisa, Tom2011, Crystal Blue Butterfly, danceman, tpowe15, Bronzewing, and 12 anonymous Guests for being so kind and patient when you all left reviews (If I missed anyone I apologize!). I'm so happy to read your enthusiastic comments but I was very touched by your patience and understanding.
Lord-of-Change: thank you for those tasteless (yet funny) puns! I inappropriately snickered at my phone in public.
KodiakWolfe13: I doubt most people opened Chapter 22 thinking the Joker would kick the bucket (with a little help). Tim in YJ is so different from the confident Tim I'm used to reading in the comics. It's so much fun to write his POV!
those red rimmed eyes: Thanks for taking a chance on this story! It was completely born out of my frustration from YJ's timeskip glossing over Jason, love for Red Hood and the Outlaws, and a lack of Teen Titans. Thank you for the show of support for Benji! I understand your disappointment in OCs so I try hard to make Benji a good supporting character.
glowingcheat: Batman fanfiction is the place to be! Welcome to the club!
Cobwebbs: I think you are completely justified in being super relieved the Joker is dead. This chapter probably doesn't answer your question on how the batfam plans to work it out. Maybe we'll get there in the future. 0_0 That will take forever at my current pace.
TonyStarkGirl: I understand the gravitational pull towards completed stories and avoidance of slowly updated stories (of which I am a major offender). I'm glad you took the chance on this story!
Red: Thank you for your appreciation of brutal Jason. I think he's the guy who can read Victorian literature one day and stuff eight heads in a duffel bag the next. Doesn't mean he's always brutal. He's just a driven guy.
R.C.: I'm glad you've enjoyed this story so much. Also, thank you very much for being so considerate to the other readers and avoiding spoilers. There's no need to worry, if my situation changes I don't plan to leave my readers hanging without answers.
Random reader: Nice to hear from someone else loving the mother/son relationship. I highly recommend Silver Spider's Deluge in the Wasteland for some more. You can find it under my favourite stories tab.
I've read everyone's comments and I appreciate them very much. If you'd like me to reply to your comment or question before the next update, you can send me a PM or write "please RSVP" at the bottom of your review (and remember to sign in before reviewing because otherwise I can't reply!). I'll try to respond when time allows me.
If you're here reading chapter 23 you must be enjoying this story so thank you so much for sticking with me. I understand you want to see the end and I want to see the end too. I've invested way too much time to just quit.
However, I am in graduate studies and I will be doing a full course load with an internship over the next few months. Sometimes I write in between essays (like right now) but other times I'm just too stressed to be creative even with free time. So I sincerely appreciate your understanding and patience while waiting for the next chapter.