The first time Jason kisses a boy he’s fifteen and immortal.
It’s not a very good kiss, even with his complete lack of experience he can tell that much. But it is a kiss. This boy is kissing Jason because he wanted to kiss Jason. The feeling of being wanted more than weighs up for the clacking teeth and nervous energy thrumming through the other boy’s body.
He doesn’t even really know the guy’s name, just that he’s on the football team and fairly popular, something Jason is not. The other kids at school think he’s a weirdo and a no-life nerd, and that suits him just fine. Keeps him out of the spotlights well enough, and even if someone were to disagree with Jason’s whatever, no one would dare to start anything because of the Wayne name he uses a s a shield. Bruce wouldn’t let him be bullied or anything.
Not that Jason is out to Bruce. Or to anyone at all, the jock-face who currently has his tongue in Jason’s mouth included. Jason’s not even entirely sure how they got into this situation. Jockster had asked for a drag off of Jason’s cigarette, which Jason had allowed, and the next moment, well…
It’s nice while it lasts, but once it’s over it’s over, jock-boy makes sure to clarify that part.
“If you tell anyone about this, I’ll hurt you,” he threatens as he pulls back, eyes flickering around nervously, barely waiting for Jason’s nod of assent before jogging away, disappearing around the corner of the building. Back to a life of being normal, Jason supposes. Best of luck. Jason isn’t afraid of him.
To this day he can’t for the life of him recall that boy’s name.
He wants to kiss Dick the next time he comes to visit at the manor.
On Dick’s insistence they’re doing twenty questions over dinner, pasta with Jason’s homemade tomato sauce. Dick has been telling Jason how tasty it is all evening and Jason finds himself driven to distraction by all that focus and attention.
Dick’s been trying very hard to form some sort of brotherly camaraderie lately, but Jason can’t help but notice that he only ever tries when he knows Bruce won’t be around. It makes it hard to accept at face value, but Dick has this way of drawing people in like moths to a flame that even when he tries Jason can’t quite resist.
Suddenly Dick snaps his fingers in front of Jason’s face.
“Wake up, little wing! Don’t you want to tell me what your favorite book as a kid was?” he teases, and his grin is infectious. He twirls his fork between his dexterous fingers as Jason tries to gather himself in the face of that damn smile. “You’re staring at me. Do I have sauce on my face?”
“Yeah, you do, you big goober,” Jason lies and leans forward, brushing his thumb across Dick’s cheek. He’s warm, and his skin so very soft. “Damn, who raised ya?”
Dick laughs and shoves Jason’s shoulder, and he’s as handsome as Marlon Brando, or James Dean, or any of the other old timey movie stars Jason likes so much.
The skin on Jason’s hand tingles, and his shoulder feels warm where Dick touched it, and Jason thinks, “oh shit.”
His favorite book had been Where the Wild Things Are. It had resonated with him as his mom got sicker.
Jason looks at Dick with his open affection, so freely given, and thinks, “And Max, the king of all wild things, was lonely and wanted to be where someone loved him best of all.”
His name is Jack. It sounds funny, when you say them together, Jack-and-Jay. Like something out of a cartoon. They laugh about it, while there’s still something to laugh about.
Jason is eighteen and some change, studying capoeira under one senhor Silva in Rio de Janeiro, and he meets Jack at a shady Chinese restaurant Silva has requested that he check out. The food is delicious enough that the place is packed, and Jason leaves with a full belly, the number of the guy he had had to share a table with, and enough intel to take down a small drug operation.
“It’s a shame that restaurant had to close so suddenly,” Jack laments the third time they see each other. “It would’ve been nice to go there again, you know? On a real date, this time.”
Jason laughs and tries not to wince as that aggravates the bruise on his jaw. The nice waitress had known a fair amount of martial arts and left him no choice but to hit her over the head with the butt of a gun in order to knock her out. Jason changes the subject.
Jack is out and proud and Jason envies him for it sometimes, even though he doesn’t exactly have anyone to be out to. His teacher is a surly man with a fondness for very young women, so there’s no love lost there. Jason plans on taking him out before leaving, Talia’s requests be damned. And Talia herself? Would she even give a shit? Jason doubts it. It’s something that’s got very little relevance to his training, and even less to whatever it is she’s planning on using him for.
As the months pass Jason gets increasingly accomplished at the techniques his teacher is passing onto him, and increasingly antsy. He thinks what he needs is something concrete and real, something that isn’t his quest for vengeance.
With a puppy-ish kind of hopefulness he starts dropping hints that he wouldn’t mind meeting Jack’s parents at some point but Jack avoids giving him a straight answer for the longest time. Eventually Jason loses his patience and asks outright.
“It’s nothing personal,” Jack has the gall to shrug awkwardly, eyes not quite meeting Jason’s.
What Jason hears is, “this isn’t important to me. You’re just a temporary thing. I’ll move on to something better sooner or later.”
What Jason hears is, “it’s definitely personal.”
So, Jason meeting the parents had never figured into Jack’s plans. That’s that. He leaves without a word, and Jack says nothing either, the bastard. After a quick stop to pick up his things, he’s on a plane back to Talia’s latest bolthole before Silva’s corpse has had time to cool.
His name is André, and it’s not as serious this time. Jason likes to think that he has learned that particular lesson.
He’s staying in Tunis for five months to learn about poisons, and takes the opportunity to brush up on his French and Arabic while he’s in the area. He’s a big boy now, all of twenty-five, one quarter to a hundred and eons away from crawling out of his grave. He can handle a cute boy who thinks the world of him.
André is a professional ballet dancer, and the way he jumps effortlessly through the air makes Jason’s heart twist in his chest with nostalgia. That’s all it is, he tells himself. So what if André has dark hair, sun-kissed skin, and a tendency to bend himself into a number of impressive positions? Who wouldn’t enjoy that?
He soaks up the attention he’s given and broadens his skills on as many fronts as he has available to him, including the ones André has to offer (and no, those aren’t quite dance-related, as such). Still, he keeps André at arm’s length while not letting on that that’s what he’s doing. It’s yet another skill to sharpen. He won’t let himself get hurt again.
So he finds himself surprised at how much it stings when he finds André in bed with another man, only two weeks before he’s due back with Talia. He’s too embarrassed to move up the schedule because what if Talia asks why? Instead he just holes himself up in his room for those last couple of weeks and studies intently, trying to shut everything else out.
He’s never taken too well to betrayal.
Everything finally culminates – the wild rumpus starts, if you will – and out of all the things he has to do, seeing Dick again is somehow one of the hardest parts.
At the end of it all Dick knows. Knows what Jason has been doing all this time and while Bruce’s disappointment was expected, almost desired, Jason can’t bring himself to face Dick at all, once all is said and done. So he just… doesn’t.
(The easy camaraderie Dick has with the new Robin helps to keep Jason away.)
It stays that way for months, and then the world almost ends, and Jason can’t very well stay away from that so he goes where he’s needed as creatures descend from the sky and Hal Jordan almost has to marry an alien princess.
(“Again,” Flash sighs. “That was one time!” Jordan exclaims.)
In the ruckus he comes across the bats once, twice, several times, and after that it’s like the whole Bat collective tries really hard to pretend like Jason belongs with, has always belonged with them. It weirds Jason out, so after a long talk involving him, tea, scones, Bruce, and Alfred in the manor kitchen, Jason is used mostly as an auxiliary member of the Bat-clan, acting as Bruce’s longest reach beyond Gotham, relieving a grateful Cassandra.
After a while it becomes the new normal. Jason communicates mostly over text with the family, save for the occasional all-hands-on-deck event where he’s close enough to pop in, be of use, and then vanish again. Or the occasional wedding, as he finds out when Bruce admits over the phone that he has proposed to Selina and that she has accepted.
At the ceremony he’s happy to realise that he can manage politeness with the hero community, and even enjoy their company. It’s contentment, that feeling lurking in his chest as he returns Red Robin’s nod with a friendly grin. Things are looking up.
Jason Todd is thirty-six years old, and Pit juice or no, the constant toll on his body is starting to make itself known. How Bruce kept going as long as he did is a mystery to him, but retirement seems to be suiting him well enough. Selina steals things around the house to keep things interesting, she assures Jason when he calls. He’s always liked that woman.
He hasn’t seen the family in a while now, except for the occasional happenstance. Like two months ago in Mombasa when he happened to cross paths with Damian. Alfred is getting on in his years, Damian had mentioned as they were dodging bullets. He’s not as healthy as he was even a year ago, he had said.
And so, here he is. Alfred is frail and bedridden, but overjoyed to see Jason and they talk for hours, about literature and politics and movies, and eventually Jason manages to mention his string of failed relationships. He’s nervous but he pretends not to be, even though he has a hard time meeting Alfred’s eyes, and he knows the man can read the best of them like open books. He’s never told anyone in the family before about his inclinations. Being “accepting” doesn’t necessarily mean people won’t look at him differently after they know.
“My dear boy,” is all Alfred says with a wobbly smile, tears gathering in the corners of his eyes, still sharp and unclouded, and oh.
Jason had never known.
Alfred holds Jason’s hand in one of his own and they sit in comfortable silence for a while. With the benefit of hindsight, Jason wishes that he had told Alfred about that boy at the very start, or about Dick, even. He realises that he can, now, and so he does.
As Alfred listens without condemnation, he doesn’t think that he’s ever felt lighter.
The Gotham Pride Parade is possibly the safest day of the year in the city. Messing with it is extremely inadvisable, not just because of the unspoken hero presence but also because of the villains. Jason spies a poorly disguised Harley Quinn dancing with Poison Ivy – who didn’t bother with a disguise at all – in the crowd following one of the trucks blasting pop music. He spotted Harvey Dent earlier, and exchanged a few friendly words with a dressed-down Riddler at a concession stand, but that’s not to say that there aren’t any Bats present.
He literally runs into Dick in the crowd.
“Jason! Hi! I didn’t know you were back!” Dick grins so wide it scrunches up the flags painted on his cheeks, pink and purple and blue, and Jason thinks about Alfred, thinks about different names, some that meant little and some that meant a lot. He thinks about a fifteen year old boy who never had the time to say what he felt.
His name is Dick Grayson, Robin, Nightwing, and this time Jason kisses him. When he pulls back Dick is still grinning, still as handsome as any movie star of old, and he grabs Jason’s hand, presses up close.
Jason thinks, “I’ll eat you up, I love you so.”
Jason Todd is happy.