"Why do you keep stealing my damn suits?" Jason grunted, giving the small figure perched on the back of the couch a gentle shove. Damian slid down into the seat properly, but didn't remove the stolen helmet.
He looked ridiculous in his tiny red sneakers, an over-sized leather jacket, and Jason's helmet.
Jason plopped down at the opposite end of the couch and regarded his very own "mini-me" with bemusement. "Can you even see anything, kid?" There was no way that the eyeholes lined up correctly for the younger boy.
Damian shrugged, curling around his knees as if they made a viable headrest.
Everyone came back different, and the Damian that exploded at there merest implication was long gone. Every once in a while, the right comment would cause the ten year old to bristle, but ultimately Damian would just deflate as if the argument wasn't worth the effort.
Jason was surprised to find he regretted the change; sometimes he wondered if Tiny Tim and Dickie felt the same way.
The tilted gaze of the helmet was disconcerting on such a small frame.
"No suits in the Manor," he chided lightly, ignoring the fact that he had left his stuff tossed casually over the couch in the first place. "C'mere." Jason tugged the kid around to face him, fingers scrabbling briefly at the base before releasing the catch. "There you are," he teased cautiously as blue eyes blinked rapidly to adjust to the change in lighting.
Jason didn't know why he half-expected to find a snotty, sniveling ten year old underneath; Damian greeted pain with stoicism, betrayal with silence, and emotional trauma with some kind of hereditary talent for brooding. Sudden urge for playing dress-up aside, the kid seemed on an alarmingly even keel for a child murdered and resurrected in the space of a few months.
Maybe it was just Jason's personal experience with the security of the unchanging scarlet features. The hood was Jason's scarlet letter—both punishment and triumph in one badass package—and Jason was man enough to admit that he had hidden more than a few meltdowns behind the façade. No matter what other masks or identities he adopted, the Red Hood drew him back time and time again.
Perhaps not the best toy for damaged child heroes.
Jason set it on the floor and nudged it out of sight with his boot. He let the kid keep the jacket though, running his hand through Damian's mussed hair instead, deliberately making the problem worse, and earning a suspicious glance in the process.
"It was my trophy," was the only commentary provided as Damian looked away, scooting back to the other end of the couch again.
"Beat me in a fair fight, and I'll think about giving it back," Jason countered swiftly to hide his wince. He was pissed at Bruce, but it wasn't the kid's fault. Damian's death was the catalyst for a lot of shit that went down in the wake of the Joker's little stunt. None of them had been at their best.
"Not worth the effort," Damian concluded, curling back up. "Not even the same mask."
Jason shrugged. He had half-a-dozen spares, and rotated as upkeep and repair demanded. It could be, but probably wasn't. "I don't know why you always steal my shit. What's wrong with yours?"
"Still behind glass," Damian returned dully.
"So smash the thing," Jason returned a little too sharply, but the answer had struck a nerve. The damn memorials set his teeth on edge every time he set foot in the Cave. No one stayed dead in their line of work, and no one liked to think about the periods of loss. "Cheaper than therapy. Heck, I'll go down with you and we'll go to town. I love property damage."
Damian leveled a scowl at Jason as if the older vigilante had completely missed the point.
Jason reached out to tug hard on the kid's ear. "You really haven't been out once since you got back?" he demanded, because the suit in glass is one of several and therefore largely metaphorical. The Bat believed in being prepared, and Bruce believed in saving everything.
Jason had lost two teeth as Robin—both times at the end of Harley-Quinn's mallet—and Bruce still had them tucked away in his nightstand drawer.
"I can't be Robin," Damian reminded him with a dirty look, "and I can never be Batman." Damian knocked away Jason's hand and started to get up … the defeatist little shit. "What's the point?"
Jason tackled him, both of them flailing off the sofa and narrowly missing the coffee table as they wrestled. The kid was good on his feet, but wrestling was a completely different sport and Jason had the advantage of height, weight, and years of experience. Pinning Damian to the floor and sitting squarely on top of him was hardly a workout.
"Fuck the point," Jason announced, gripping Damian's wrists in one hand and leveling a finger at the younger boy's face. "I keep hearing about this terrible future," he grunted, shifting his weight to keep Damian from kicking him in the head. "I hear that it's the end of the world, and all your fault, and a lot of garbage that sounds like Talia's destiny shtick." Jason glared fiercely into the blue-green eyes that looked more like his than Bruce's these days. "And I think it's bullshit."
Damian went limp, but Jason knew better than to ease up. He liked breathing, thanks.
"It's total bullshit, kid, because Bruce is alive … because Barbara kicked that wheelchair to the curb and because Talia isn't a problem anymore … and because there isn't a soul left in Gotham with the last name McGinnis." Tim was good with creative solutions when people bothered to consult with the too-smart teenager.
Jason caught Damian's chin when the younger vigilante tried to turn away.
"It's bullshit, because you will never ever be alone, Damian. Call it a perk of being the baby Robin." Damian made a bid at reversing their positions, and Jason allowed it, using the momentum to continue rolling until Damian was pinned against the carpet once more. "Even if Bruce died for real, you'd have Alfred and Dick. You'd have Babs, Tim, and the Titans. Probably a dozen allies and friends that I don't even know … and you can't get rid of me. Better assholes have tried, and look where that got them. No, I will haunt you like a Canadian penny, kid, because you are stuck with me."
Jason let go of Damian's wrists and sat back. "So no damn deals with the devil," he decreed by the power invested in older, wiser siblings. "Problem solved."
Damian rolled onto his side as soon as Jason released him, but didn't get up off the floor. He just laid there looking tired, cracked open, and very small. "I'd ruin it anyway," he admitted very quietly. "Everything always goes wrong. Mother and Father …"
"Bruce isn't God and Talia isn't the devil, Damian … no matter how hard they tried to play the roles." Jason shifted to lean back against the couch and stared out the window at the tall spires just barely visible over the hill that marked a pair of empty graves. "They're just two messed up people winding each other up. You can't trust anything they spit at each other in a snit. Ignore 'em. You just be Robin, and you'll be okay."
Just be the Robin that Dick taught you to be, and you'll be okay. Not necessarily stable or even good, but okay … and what else can a vigilante ask for?
Damian sat up slowly, shifting quietly to sit at Jason's side, leaning back against the couch with his feet braced at the base of the coffee table. "I found the police footage of Father's interview with Gordon."
Jason frowned at the change in subject. Of course Damian would find it; the kid had been religiously pouring over every source of information available to him in a desperate attempt to catch up with what he had missed.
"What of it?" Jason finally decided, shrugging loosely and knocking his arm against Damian's companionably.
"I have bad blood," Damian announced out of the blue.
They weren't the kid's words, but Damian wielded them like a bladed weapon. The best defense being a good offense and all that …
"I am a failure."
Jason had heard that one before.
"Join the club," he replied shortly, slinging his arm around Damian's shoulders, "but keep your greedy mitts off my helmet."
It wasn't the right thing to say, but it didn't seem to hurt the kid any. This wasn't Jason's realm of expertise. Hugs and feelings were solely the purview of Gotham's golden boy, but of course this shit would come up during Jason's visit instead of Dick's.
"I gave up everything," Damian insisted tightly instead of starting up the whole trophy debate again. "Everything."
Literally everything, Jason mentally supplied.
"And it's still not good enough …"
"Not true." Jason dragged his free hand down his face to disguise the pained grimace. "You didn't see Bruce while you were gone …"
"Tt—you don't have to defend him," Damian sneered, pulling away. "You're angry with him too. You, Drake, Grayson … you're all mad at Father. I'm not stupid, Todd!" Damian scrambled to his feet in order to better tower over Jason. "I don't know why any of you even bother coming around to the Manor anymore!"
"The same reason that stubborn redheaded tutor of yours keeps showing up," Jason answered simply, "to keep an eye on you."
Damian stilled, already deflating from what could have been a good therapeutic yelling match. "Why?"
Because the line between Batman and Bruce had blurred. Because Bruce didn't care who he was fighting in the thick of things—friend or foe—if a body wasn't with him in the blind quest for his son, he or she was against him. Because the Joker found the cracks in their weird-ass family, but Damian's death shattered it. Because getting Damian back didn't fix all the things that had gone wrong.
"Bruce was a mess. He hurt so bad that he didn't care if he was hurting us too. He just threw everything away."
Jason never had anything against Bruce's mission, just his methods.
"The things he did while you were gone—they don't just disappear. Bruce still did them. He still has to deal with the fall-out."
"That doesn't explain why you keep coming back," Damian grimaced, crossing his arms over his chest defensively. "Drake won't even enter the Cave, but he shows up twice a week to eat dinner and hassle me about rejoining the Titans.
"Tim is Tim," Jason avoided answering for their brother. Tim would hold onto his grudge long after Dick forgot his or Jason gave in; nothing would satisfy Red Robin until Damian was safely stashed in the Tower under big brother's watchful eye. "Bruce is Bruce."
Sage shit right there; Jason should write a book.
He reached out cautiously instead, drawing Damian down to perch on the edge of the coffee table.
"Bruce was grieving. It's not an excuse, just a really ugly fact." They all were in their own way, warily circling Gotham and her drowning dark knight in ever tightening loops. "Whatever he said to Gordon …"
"We had a son. Bad seed. Bad blood," Damian quoted, and that perfect mimicry thing was something else. The kid sounded just like Bruce. "He called me the boy." Jason winced. "Like Gordon doesn't know perfectly well who I am."
Well, shit … even Jason got the possessive indicator in front of the usual three titles.
"What he said to Gordon was downright stupid," Jason agreed, "but he didn't mean it. People say stupid shit when they're grieving—not an excuse!" he held up his hands hastily to ward off childish fury. "You've got every right to be pissed. Bruce screwed up. He does that. He'll do it again."
Because that's what people do to people they love—even the Batman.
"When he does, you call for reinforcements. It's not just Batman and Robin anymore; we're a pretty big family now." Messed up, it was true, but family nonetheless. "Call Dick. Call Tim or me. Call somebody. Got it?"
Damian looked away, tossing his head in an impatient nod when Jason silently threatened to box him in.
"Good." Jason pushed himself to his feet; he was too young to feel this old. "Now let's go get you suited up properly, Robin. Your patrol routes are going to be a chaotic mess, you little slacker."
"Yeah, yeah, you're just lucky that big brother's in town to clean up after you," Jason shoved his brother in the direction of the clock. He hesitated only a moment at the entrance of the Cave. "How did you get into the police servers anyway?"
Last Jason knew, Barbara was unofficially keeping an eye on that system for her father. Getting in there should have tripped every alarm Babs had; Damian wasn't that good.
"Grandfather expedited the process and provided me with several hours of footage in exchange for a chess game next week," Damian explained blandly, standing on tiptoe to alter the clock face.
Jason swore. The Demon's Head was hanging over them all; he had given them Damian for nothing, taking up a residence in Gotham to better bond with his last descendent. Jason didn't have to be as clever or personally involved as Tim to know that endeavor was going to end badly for them all.
"Do me a favor, Damian. If you need reinforcements, do not call Ra's."
Damian snorted as he pushed past. "I am not stupid, Todd."
A/N: So I called Talia's death, the body napping, and Ra's intervention, even if I'm still completely confused regarding Kathy Kane.
This could technically be considered a sequel to the fix-it fic that I'm writing madly to explain how and why Ra's brings Damian back. It seems like I spend all my time fixing the reboot these days, but this seemed time-sensitive and pertinent so it got posted first. I can't put into words how much that line of Bruce's dialogue infuriated me.