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happiness like that

Chapter Text

Jason knows he’s fucked up in the head. Despite the Bat’s beliefs, Jason is anything but delusional. He’s well aware of his instabilities, in the compulsive twitch of his hands against imaginary restraints when he hears an alarm clock tick, reminiscent of the bomb at that fateful warehouse years ago. Sometimes, on especially bad nights when he wakes up with the clown’s laughter echoing in his ears, he loses time, hours passed staring at the suspicious brown stain on his off-white ceiling. Sleeplessness was routine, no matter how many of his instructors had emphasized, often painfully, the necessity of rest to be at peak performance. 

The first few months after his dip in the Lazarus Pit, he recalls days spent locking himself within the room Talia had given him. The room was large but modest, with blank walls and limited furnishings. It was impersonal and barely comfortable as the League preferred, but in that room, he found some sort of pathetic safe haven. The cushions Talia had gifted him were soft cotton rather than the velvet lining of his casket. The ceiling, too high for him to reach without clambering on the center table was too high to be six feet of suffocating dirt. In that room, he could wait for the panic to subside, clench his fists against the tremors and the pressure in his chest. More often than not, the violent urges brought about by the coiling green fog of the Pit could be dealt with without hurting anyone. He could break the cabinet and tear at his sheets, and the next day return to find everything replaced and in order. Somehow, Talia always knew when he’d had an episode, even when she was busy halfway across the world, and every time, she would be there, with a tight-lipped smile and a teacup of freshly boiled Jasmine to offer him.

Even now, years later, Jason would have his occasional psychotic break, and with Talia gone more often than not nowadays, he’d started brewing the tea on his own. Bruce, the self-righteous ass, wasn’t even aware of his good soldier's episodes, and Jason could just imagine the man’s grimace if he ever found out, blue eyes filled with that unbearable pity and mouth spewing out his usual rehabilitation speech. "Oh, boohoo Jason. You need help. Let's get you to a nice bed in Arkham across the hall from Joker. Then you can come home once you're all better."  

No, fucking thank you. 

Yes, Jason was fucked up. He was self-aware enough to admit it. But Batman could mind his own goddamn business for once in his life. 

“Tt. Hood, why are you here?” The familiar voice was an unwelcome disruption behind him. 

The Red Hood blinked, turning slowly to face the current Robin. His rifle, tucked carefully to his side, shifted with him off the doorway his target would be exiting. Damian Wayne, or Al Ghul, depending on which parent you chose to acknowledge, had slipped onto the roof at some point to the left of Jason. The Red Hood silently cursed himself for not paying more attention to his surroundings. Sniper 101. Talia would have disapproved, even if it was her aben al-thamina, Damian. 

“Better question, Batbrat,” Jason replied. He re-orientated himself, positioning the rifle back towards where the victim’s head would be. ETA three minutes. “What the hell are you doing here? Slip off without B’s permission? I can’t help but notice that you’re on your own tonight.” 

Damian shifted warily at the corner of his eye. The kid’s sneer was horribly similar to his mother’s. “My business is something an imbecile like yourself should not concern yourself with. Besides, it’s clear you’re about to murder someone. Father, as naive as it is, would disapprove. Who is it?" The kid taunted. "Some nameless thug that injured your fragile masculinity?”

At that comment, Jason couldn’t help but snicker. Even the kid’s bark was like his mother’s. Robin certainly hadn’t gotten all his sophisticated swagger from an emotionally constipated man dressed in a bat suit. 

Another second passed, and Robin shifted closer. Jason guessed the… ten… eleven-year-old (Damn, how old had the kid gotten?) was hoping to disarm him discreetly. The Red Hood exhaled carefully. ETA two minutes. Up ahead, he spotted a flicker of movement three buildings away on a rooftop a level shorter. The door opened, and the first bodyguard stepped out carefully onto the damp cement. Four men later, and if his sources were right, the target would follow. Just behind him, Damian was getting ready to move. 

Jesus, just his luck to get Bat interference on an important night like this. 

The kid had unsurprisingly continued his rant. In at least that aspect, Robin had taken after “holier than thou” Batman. “Really, Father is far too lenient on you. I would expect it of Grayson, but..." 

Ha. ETA one minute and thirty seconds. 

Jason spun around, cocked his rifle back and slammed the butt of his gun into Damian’s abdomen. He applied just enough force to leave a nasty bruise without breaking anything, and Robin let out a breathless oof, staggering back and falling harshly onto the cement. It took the kid only a second to get back on his feet, this time with anger clouding his features. 

With a vicious cry, Damian charged the Red Hood. Jason ducked the first brutal kick (standard League of Assassins training), then twisted to the side to avoid a jab to the stomach. He backed away a few steps as Robin leaped into a truly Grayson-like handspring. He only narrowly dodged the next furious hit, this time aimed at his shoulder. There was enough force behind the blow to shatter Jason’s collarbone. The Red Hood couldn’t help but imagine Bruce’s disapproval of that

Relaxing into a looser defensive stance, with feet shoulders width apart and elbows angled outward, Jason swerved with light footsteps into a complex dance that only a few people these days could master. Robin, with his increasingly impatient fists, was only hitting empty air. Once he’d gotten enough breathing room, the Red Hood took a chance to glance over at the rooftop several adjacent buildings away. He was just in time to spot a familiar figure, his 5’8 half-Latino, half-caucasian target, stride out the doorway. 

Shit. If the Red Hood didn’t finish this quickly, it’d take another month before he had an opportunity like this. Frank Salados was a man who rarely agreed to meetings out in the open. 

Jason scanned his surroundings, allowing himself to be backed towards the edge of the roof by a barrage of blows. Then, spotting an opening, the Red Hood abruptly ducked to the side. He drew his favorite knife, one gifted to him by Talia the night he finally left for Gotham, then slashed upward. Damian was agile enough to dodge it, but the kid was quickly put on the defensive. Within seconds, Jason was able to get the upper hand, and with the flat edge of his blade, clocked the kid on the back of the head. Once again, like at the start of the fight, Robin dropped to the ground. This time, his head lolled and he didn’t get up.

Jason returned the knife to its holster. Over on the faraway rooftop, his target was exchanging parting words with another mob boss, and within seconds would re-enter the building. The Red Hood was running out of time, but with a practiced deep breath, his fingers remained steady. He returned to the shadowed edge of the building, got to his knees, and cocked back the hammer of his rifle. Patiently, he aimed the scope of the gun. Jason rested his finger on the trigger with an inhale like one of his instructors had taught him. An exhale. Fire. 

The bullet reached its target within Salados’ head. The men and women that had accompanied him rushed forward like an upset hive of wasps. The other mob boss, an old-timer by the name of Ted Bones, was hurriedly escorted out of the line of fire. One of the guards, a pimple-faced blonde in his late twenties, would scope out the surrounding buildings for the sniper. He’d see nothing but an empty skyline. Another guard would bitterly proclaim the boss dead a moment later after frantically searching for a pulse. 

Robin, half an hour later, would regain consciousness safely tucked within the confines of the Batcave. Alfred, with furrowed eyebrows and a heavy continence, would pass him a glass of water. The Red Hood, the butler would go on to explain after inquiry, had called in Damian’s location, his statement to Oracle brief and expressionless. When Batman had arrived, he’d found more than just Damian. An empty cartridge had hastily been abandoned at the edge of the roof, and three buildings west, a blood splatter remained. 




Back in one of his safehouses, a musty apartment with a forever malfunctioning sink, Jason dismantled one of his pistols. Reaching toward a worn down coffee table he’d found discarded in the dumpster of one of Gotham’s richer blocks, he picked up a polishing cloth and a set of tools. His instructors had always drilled into him the importance of taking care of his weapons. 

Jason was sore everywhere, and in a moment of weakness, he relaxed enough to lean deeper into the sofa. This particular safehouse was unfrequented enough that a cloud of dust was released at the movement. Jason had to stifle a sneeze. His eyes were watering now, and his day had been shit enough, he couldn’t be sure if the cause was the dust or something less corporeal. 

Like always after a snipe job, his trigger finger twitched, slower than the rest of him when it came to knowing when the deed was done. His dismantled pistol parts had fallen onto his lap, and at some point, he’d dropped his tools like his usual fuck up self. 

Goddamn. Jason bit his lip (a bad habit Ducra hated). 

He almost wished Talia was here at that moment, with her exotic perfume and jasmine tea, her whetted accent, and with the sheen of her swords as she polished them. Jason closed his eyes.  Without much effort, he could envision in excruciating detail as the target from earlier that night collapsed onto the pavement. The blood splatter had been minimal, surprisingly enough. Frank Salados had been egotistical scum, a quickly advancing leader in the mob. The clinical hole in his head would stop him from hurting anyone anymore. 

Jason’s trigger finger twitched again, this time more violently. 

He opened his eyes.

One of his tools, a small steel screwdriver, had rolled partly beneath the sofa. He reached for it. 


The next morning, Jason was surprised to wake up to the overbearing glow of sunlight. He'd been exhausted the night before and had mustered just enough energy to kick off his boots before he'd fallen asleep in a cocoon of wrinkled bed sheets. As always, his entire body ached, but he forced himself to stand and walk toward the low rise cabinet he'd haphazardly shoved against the wall several months ago. A glance at his cell phone told him it was just after 8, a full four and a half hours of sleep without nightmares. A true ass commodity, if there ever was one.

Rubbing the tiredness out of his eyes, Jason exited the room and entered the hallway. Like every other part of the safehouse, the walls were sparsely decorated, and only the barest necessities were present.
Over there was a small, but sturdy table, as well as a large square painting with the ink signature at the corner blotted out. The painting had already been there when he'd first used the apartment, an imprint left behind by previous inhabitants, and for a while, Jason had peered at it and tried out of vague curiosity to figure its story out.

Now, Jason just walked past it toward the kitchen. The pantry was far from well-stocked, but last month, he'd stayed at the apartment for a little more than a week and he recalled buying a box of lucky charms when the need arose. He ate straight out of the box, and after, he returned the cereal back into one of the kitchen's many empty cabinets. As the worn wooden door shut with a loud creak from the hinges, Jason was unwittingly reminded of Dick Grayson.


"Jesus Christ, Goldie. How many cereal boxes can a guy have before he buys out the entire grocery store?" Jason muttered under his breath. They were in Dick's apartment, only the second visit in the last year since Bruce had taken Jason in, and the entire ordeal had been awkward so far, neither of them knowing quite what to say or to do, marionettes on strings contorting into shapes they were unfamiliar with.

"Well, Jaybird," Dick rubbed the back of his neck. "I like cereal."

Jason snorted at that, craning his neck up to stare skeptically at his predecessor. Even now, at fourteen, Jason was a lot shorter than Dick Grayson. When he'd complained about it once, Alfred had told him something about malnutrition and how he'd likely never reach his proper height. The butler had looked so upset about it, Jason had never brought it up again.

"Yeah, ok. I like cereal just fine myself," Jason said. After a brief pause, he considered the stocked cabinet once again. "But I think there's a lot more than liking going on here, Dickiebird. You outright have a raging hard-on for this shit."

There was a second where Dick just stared at him, then, with a strangled gasp, the older boy burst into laughter. Jason was used to the first Robin being all gallant and kind-hearted and professional like all the other heroes described him as, and sometimes, if he was unlucky, he'd catch an angry Grayson after an argument with Bruce. But right then, the Dick Grayson in front of him, laughing at one of Jason's stupid ass comments, was completely unfamiliar to him.

Jason warily cracked a grin, and when Dick eventually stopped laughing, the awkwardness from before had subsided.

"So, besides the weird-ass cereal addiction, how does someone like the great Nightwing spend his time?" Jason, always more comfortable with his back pressed up against something solid, was now leaning against the kitchen wall.

"For one thing, there's really nothing "great" about me, Jason. And as for the cereal thing, it's not weird, and you really should curb your profanity before Alfred actually follows through on his threat to wash your mouth out with a bar of soap."

"As Leslie would say," Jason smirked. He cleared his throat, attempted an imitation of the surly doctor with her blonde hair greying rapidly. "Dick, in order to recover, you must first overcome denial. This cereal addiction is a problem. Acknowledge the problem before," Jason crossed his arms across his chest and lowered his voice into a whisper,"'s too late."

Dick flashed another smile at him, softer this time. Jason noted that the expression looked far more genuine than he'd ever seen it. It was crooked compared to Dick's practiced grins for the news reporters, left upper lip curling upward a little further than the right one.

Dick, standing directly across from him, leaned back against the kitchen counter. "I think Leslie Thompson would object to her words being used as a form of therapy. Not quite the same type of doctor."

"Well... Good thing I'm no doc. Sure as hell is close enough to me."

The two of them shifted in place before awkwardly scooting past him, Dick walked over to the fridge. Jason raised a brow. "Please don't say you have more cereal in there."

Dick's grin grew broader. He opened the freezer to pull out a large container. Jason stared at it suspiciously, before, with a sudden shift in demeanor, his eyes brightened. "Is that Neopolitan ice cream?!" The younger boy, now smiling without reservation, stepped forward to snatch the carton out of Dick's hands.

"Alfred said it was your favorite," The older boy's smile turned wry. "From your reaction, I can tell that he's right."

Jason was beaming. "Can we eat it now?"

"If you want."


Dick and Jason were watching baseball on TV, but neither of them was all that into sports. Vigilantism and school took up too much time for hobbies like it, and even if there had been an obligatory interest, the ice cream took up most of their attention since the game had been uneventful so far. Dick, now wearing one of the hoodies he had scattered on the floor, held the ice cream carton loosely. Together with Jason, who sat on his right, they'd already finished half of the gallon. After a while, a conversation picked up between each bite.

"This is-"


"-awesome, Goldie. Cause like, you know how Bruce and Alfie can be all strict about diet and whatnot. They always going on about shit like how I need to," Jason gestured grandly with his spoon, "efficiently build up muscle to be Robin. And, uh, since I didn't get enough food out on the streets, I need to be more careful compared to others about eating enough and eating healthy."

There was a brief pause as Jason swallowed some more ice cream, then, "It's cool and all since Alfie's food is pretty much always amazing, and there's a hell of a lot of it, but man, I haven't had ice cream in forever! I used to always have it when I was, um, younger. I liked vanilla a lot and that's good cause it was usually the cheapest, but chocolate and strawberry were cool too. And then I learned that Neopolitan exists where you can have all three in layers and stuff. But yeah, I don't like anything fancy on my ice cream. It takes away from the flavor when you have brown lumps of stale chocolate everywhere or whatever toppings you end up with."

The second Robin turned to face his predecessor. "But hey, what about you? You haven't really," he wrinkled his nose, "said anything."

Dick was smirking. Almost instinctively, the man leaned forward to ruffle his little brother's hair. Over the next few months, it'd become a commonly practiced movement that Jason would eventually relent to in silent suffering.

This time around, Jason just ducked out of the way with a scowl. Dick's grin was blinding as he finally spoke. "Holy Batman, if I had known that ice cream would get you talking like a drunk who can't hold his beer, I would've fattened you up with junk food ages ago."

Jason looked like a disgruntled puppy. Dick would later admit to himself that it was only then that he finally completely accepted his little brother as a member of their emotionally dysfunctional family.

"Dick," Jason cried. "I can hold my beer!!!"


"...not even gonna ask."


Chapter Text


The Red Hood clutched at a protruding brick, bracing himself against the wall as he knocked on the window pane. It was a precarious balancing act, the type of thing that had always come more naturally to Dick. As a result, he was more than glad when the window opened to reveal a familiar middle-aged woman. She ushered him in with paranoid eyes, and once Jason had crawled in, wide shoulders brushing against the steel frame, she hurriedly drew the curtains closed.

The woman, Marina Salados, was the gracious widow of Frank Salados as of last night. She'd been essential in providing him with solid intel to bring the man down permanently, and now, the Red Hood was dropping by for one last visit to ensure her safety.

Her involvement had to be kept quiet, or she'd have all sorts of scumbags coming after her. And while Frank may have been a danger to her, an alcoholic wife-beater with a sadistic side, Marina was an attractive woman, with full hips and satin lips, her startling eyes a rare grey color. As Salados' trophy wife, she’d been coveted by many of the lower members of the mob, and without his reputation to keep her protected from all the other, far from well-meaning Gothamite bastards, Marina was just as, if not more vulnerable.

"Do you have it, Red?" Marina asked. There was a hint of desperation to her timid voice. Her lips, usually pink from lipstick the color of cherry blossoms, were pale from being pursed so tightly. There were new worry lines pronounced by her furrowed brows, and in the thirty-six hours or so since Jason had last seen her, it was like the woman had aged years. There was a relieved air about her, finally safe from her husband, but any happiness that freedom could have given her was tainted by fear. This was a woman waiting for the other shoe to drop, and her only consolation was if Jason followed through on his end of the deal.

If there was one thing the Red Hood prided himself for, it was keeping his promises till the end of the line. He'd seen too many broken the twenty-one (alive) years he'd spent on Earth, and he'd be damned if he was the one to break another.

Jason reached into the largest compartment of his utility belt, and with tentative hands, he handed her something he'd carefully crafted throughout the week. While his computer skills were nowhere near on par with Oracle or even the Replacement if the rumors were true, the Red Hood was definitely above proficiency. He'd always had a knack for forgery in particular, and the talent had come in handy over the years. Jason himself had numerous fake identities, and now, condensed into a German passport, driver’s license, and a carefully folded stack of documents, Jason handed one particularly detailed new identity to Marina Salados.

She skimmed the bundle skeptically. Jason knew better than anyone that Gothamites didn't trust easy. "Is this really all I need? I can use this to book a ticket and get the hell away to a different country?" Marina looked up at him. There was a flash of defiance in her gaze, daring him to try to cheat her even as her fingers trembled. Jason felt like he'd found a kindred spirit.

It was hard to believe someone solely based on their word, and harder so when that person was an imposing figure with a mask, especially one with a reputation like the Red Hood. Even Batman, back then, with his more positive rep, had scared twelve-year-old Jason, caught red-handed with his hands on the Batmobile's hubcaps. He sure as hell hadn't trusted Bruce to actually get him the food he promised. He'd outright scoffed at the prospect of Batman following through on his promise to find Jason a safe place to stay. Hell, as he'd entered the car, he'd been 90% certain he was about to be dropped off and sold as a child prostitute. Marina shouldn't have trusted him at all. It was the goddamn city of Gotham.

And yet, Jason knew that she’d risked everything, a series of high-stake choices that could likely get her killed or worse. She’d seen something in him, enough to trust a little, enough to ask for his help. And no matter how much he puzzled over it, Jason still couldn’t understand what he’d done to deserve that trust.

Cause he didn’t deserve it, not by a long shot.

A moment passed, then another, as Jason scrutinized her and she did the same. He searched her grey eyes, the supposed window to the soul as Roman orator, Cicero, had said all those years ago. He saw terror first, then anticipation, and then, in the storm of Marina’s gaze, Jason recognized something that he no longer saw in his own eyes.


Hesitation, common sense, really, froze him in place, then almost unwittingly, Jason found himself reaching for the release button at the back of his helmet. The infamous red hood came off with a soundless hiss of air, and his domino mask, he peeled off soon after.

As his hands fell loosely to the side, he addressed Marina bare face to bare face for the first time. “I keep my promises. It’s all there.”

Another pause of silence, as the woman met his solemn, almost electric blue-green gaze with surprise. Patchy stubble and unwrinkled skin revealed the Red Hood to be far more youthful than the woman had expected. But the scars, small nicks and bumps and more serious wounds everywhere on a pale and tired tapestry, spoke of a hard life. The streak of white hair amongst a messy nest of raven locks was the vigilante’s most striking feature other than his strange eyes, and Marina, for just a moment, couldn’t help but be reminded of her past self, the prostitute covered in bruises and starving on unforgiving streets, in so much pain and so, so young.

She skimmed over the documents one more time, then came to a conclusion and looked her savior in the eye.

"Tell me about myself.”


An hour later, as the Red Hood offered a final goodbye to the woman he’d trusted so irrevocably, Jason could imagine Talia hissing in his ear.

“Idiot, careless child,” she would say. “You think a mob boss’s wife won’t use your identity against you?”

“Whatever, Tals,” he replied.

He felt lighter than he had in awhile, for some reason.


Jason was expecting the visit, but his heart skipped a beat nonetheless when he felt that familiar gauntlet grab him roughly by the arm. The Batman, tense with rage and that rancid misplaced disappointment, was quick to pin the Red Hood against the alley wall when he didn’t fight back. Jason’s adam's apple bobbed, and with a wheezing laugh, he met the stony gaze of the man he’d once considered his father. Back then, in a different time, Jason would have needed to crane upwards to even glimpse Bruce’s pointy-eared mask, but now he was tall enough to look the man in the eye.

Despite its many side effects, the added height, Jason figured, was at least one thing to thank the Lazarus Pit for. Ra’s Al Ghul’s glowing green pool of pain seemed more and more like a glorified medical advertisement the more he thought about it, an ad starting with the promotion of immortality and ending with a warning label five hundred negative consequences long. Jason couldn’t help but wonder if he could write a review on one of the world’s many conspiracy websites.
Damn Pit wouldn’t even get one star.
10/10 would not recommend.

But whatever. He digressed.
“How’s Robi-” .

Batman cut him off. “Frank Salados. I want to know why. You haven’t murdered anyone in months. I thought…”

Jason grimaced. He’d had a long four days since that particular snipe, dealing with the power vacuum his target had left behind, and he was sure it showed in his physical appearance. He could feel sweat damping his forehead and clinging to his matted hair, and when he’d looked in the mirror before patrol that night, he’d looked sick, and probably was sick if his clogged sinuses told him anything. Jason, not for the first time, thanked God that his helmet covered his entire face.

“Took you long enough to hunt me down for that.”

Batman gritted his teeth. “Answer the question. Why?”

The Red Hood slowly and sardonically raised a brow even though the asshole couldn’t see it. At some point, Bruce had relaxed his grip, and Jason took the opportunity to distance himself. He twisted underneath Batman’s arms and after landing a sweeping kick, managed to break free from Bruce’s hold. He came to a stop a few feet away with his fists held up and his teeth bared into a disingenuous grin. Batman didn’t even move to stop him. The man knew him well enough to know he wasn't planning to pull anything serious.
“Well, old man, if it reassures your righteous ass at all, Salados was a total bastard. Scumbag beat his wife, and as a side job to his whole mob boss shindig, he helped run a human trafficking ring.” Jason lowered his fists.

“Frankie deserved it.”

As his grin morphed into a sneer, Jason wondered why he even bothered defending himself anymore. Bruce had such a black and white view of the world, nothing the Red Hood could say would justify his actions. Jason would always be irredeemable, but some traitorous, childish part of him, the mangled thing that had managed to survive even the grave, couldn’t help but hope.

But no, that wasn’t right. He’d learned not to hope, had the cursed thing bred out of him.

Batman being here just left him a little unsteady, a little more unsure of himself. Cause that’s what the asshole always did.

“Can I just leave?” Jason asked, hopefully not sounding as desperate as he felt. “Or are you gonna chase me and waste both your time and mine?”

At that, the man was silent. Instead, he took a step forward, and Jason inadvertently took a step back. He waited for a fist ready to drag him to Arkham, or an angry word filled with both of their broken promises, or broody silence as Jason bitterly watched the man turn his back for the millionth time and walk away from him. Instead, Batman just looked at him, emotions cloaked by his bat-suit but present all the same in his clenched fists and tired composure.

“Hood,” Batman said gruffly. A pause, then hesitantly, he repeated himself, this time as Bruce, the man behind the mask. His voice crackled like a bittersweet gravel road. “Jason.”

Bruce's physical cues screamed discomfort. Once, Jason could read him like one of the Manor’s many books, but over the years, time, change, and lack of interaction had eroded the skill till the Bat’s movements were a near stranger to him. Jason hated it, but he hated times like this one even more, when the man's cues were just as easy to read as they used to be, like it was almost back then again, with Jason naive and so impossibly happy.

He considered leaving, again, if only to save himself from the ensuing onslaught. He was so damn sick of lectures, and just as the sun rose, this was the inevitable moment where Bruce predictably told him off as if the man had any right to anymore.

Despite himself, he stayed, and cursed himself for it. Jason was always the one to seek disappointment, blindly walking into yet another scenario where his heart would lose another piece of itself. Whether it was hunting down his biological mother, or faithfully waiting at a warehouse for a man who wouldn't arrive in time, or even with his killer in tow hoping for that same man to choose him over his rules, it always ended the same. Pain and the inevitable feeling of loss like a mirror shard cutting into his fists when he wished his reflection away, wished for something impossible.

Bruce stepped forward once again. The man looked tired, with his slumped shoulders and arms tensely clamped to his sides as if he didn’t know what to do with them.

“You-“ Bruce cut himself off and abruptly changed the subject.

“How has patrol been?”

Jason blinked. For the first time, out of their few explosive encounters over the past three years since the Red Hood had come into existence, the morality debate had ended before it had even begun. "Uneventful," he replied shortly.

Bruce shifted in place, then added. "Robin has a concussion. If you hit him any harder..."

“That’s why I didn’t hit him any harder.” Jason gritted his teeth.

Bruce said nothing, then in some sort of twisted acceptance (what the hell, Bruce? I hurt your actual, biological son), the man just nodded and stayed at his spot a few feet across from him.

The tension between them that always lurked beneath the surface was suffocating. Jason hated it, and the mostly peaceful exchange was so foreign, his fingers seemed to itch for something to grasp out of habit. He wanted to bare his teeth and say something hurtful, drive Bruce off the wall just so they could bloody their fists and shout at each other, a familiar routine since Jason had been cursed enough to come back from death.

Instead, he felt his own shoulders slump. Jason was tired. So fucking tired of fighting with Bruce and the rest of the Bats, of fighting with everyone, even himself, of sleepless nights and uncontrollable shudders, of a body that didn’t feel like his own cause sometimes, he still felt like that fifteen-year-old with gangly limbs. He still felt like the fearless boy who’d crouched on the rooftops of Gotham decked out in red and green with an R emblazoned across his chest. He still felt like Bruce’s son, who once upon a time had actually smiled and actually trusted people.
He still felt-

Bruce took another step forward, and his hand reached over to grasp the Red Hood’s shoulder. Jason let it happen, even as his mind and its poisonous thoughts screamed wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong.

Jason wasn’t Bruce’s son anymore, welded into something twisted and irreparably out of shape. The Joker had clipped his wings and burned all his feathers, and out of the sky, Robin had plummeted to a death of fire and brimstone. His body, bruised and broken, would stumble out of that grave barely alive, but most of his mind would be lost forever. Talia and the Pit could only revive so much.

Jason angrily shrugged the hand off his shoulder. He sneered, ignored his palpitating heart and the stupid part of him that yearned for, ached for more physical touch. He hadn’t held someone or been held in years, besides the brisk, efficient grip of Talia leading him somewhere, or the violent blows exchanged in training and on patrol. His shoulder was tingling, and it was too much. It was too much. Why was everything always too much for him? Why?

Bruce took a step back, looking even more defeated than before. He opened his mouth as if to say something, but before a word could come out, Jason spun on his heel and fled.

Fled like he should have earlier.

Fled like a fucking coward.

It was too much.

Everything was always too much.


Jason jolted awake.

The burner phone was ringing, and it had never rung before. The Red Hood was a light sleeper, always had been even before Robin and the Pit, thanks to years out on the street in constant danger, and that sound, that ringing, foreign and invasive, was quick to send him tumbling out of bed.

He’d dumped his clothes on the ground the night before, and now, he reached for the phone tucked securely in a small compartment of his utility belt.

It was in the middle of the third ring when he answered. Only one person had this particular phone number.

“Talia?” He asked. His voice sounded rough, and Jason licked his lips and cleared his throat. He tried again. “Talia? What’s up?”

There was a heavy silence. Jason’s hold on the phone was tight enough, his knuckles turned white. Talia never called, and the fact that she had could only mean trouble. Did she need help? Was she in danger? Was she dying? Was she alive? Why was she taking so long to reply?

Abruptly, the woman spoke. Her diction was as precise as ever. “It is three in the afternoon, and you just woke up? I believed you to be more disciplined than this.”

Jason tried to mask his relief, even as his words had a slight tremor. “Patrol ran late.” He bit his lip and awaited her response, most likely a scoff of disgust or a cutting remark.

Right on cue, there was a scoff on the other end, and Jason smirked despite himself. Talia was just as understanding as ever.

Relaxing his grip on the phone, Jason walked over to the edge of the bed and sat down. Even if Talia seemed physically okay, it was still uncharacteristic of her to contact him. Jason said as much. “Not that I’m not delighted to hear your voice, but why the hell are you contacting me? We haven’t talked in months, and this sure as hell ain’t a social call.”

Talia tsked, sounding eerily like her son had five days ago. “Speak properly, Jason. ‘Ain’t’ and ‘hell’ are words ill-fitting of a skilled warrior. And for the matter, I’ve had my spies watching you. There is no need for a so-called social call to ensure to myself your wellbeing.”

Jason muffled his disgruntled grunt with his fist. He wasn’t surprised that Talia had invaded his privacy with surveillance, but he couldn’t help but feel unsettled that he hadn’t noticed anyone following him. He couldn’t help but feel a little irritated as well. He shook his head. “Was stalking me really necessary?”

“Yes,” the woman said curtly. Her accent made the monosyllable sound sharp, akin to her blades and the politely spoken insults she so easily spoke in rapid-fire.

It was so wonderfully familiar, Jason found himself relaxing into a more comfortable position. His shoulders cried in relief as the tension left them.

“But seriously, why are you calling me, Talia? It’s weird.”

There might have been a fond edge to the woman’s voice as she responded, but Jason guessed he imagined it. “There’s nothing ‘weird’ about it. I simply wished to inform you that I have business in Gotham for a week. I’ll arrive in two days time, and as we indeed have not spoken in several months, I will stay at one of your safehouses, likely the one that you are staying at currently.” Talia paused, and in one of the few times since he’d known her, she actually sounded uncertain. “I would like to, as you say it, catch up.”

Jason bit his lip. There was an odd pressure present in his chest, and he couldn’t quite place it. It felt warm where he usually felt empty.

“Sure,” he replied awkwardly, a second too late.

“Very well.”

The phone call ended with a quiet click.


Chapter Text


Talia would expect a well-stocked pantry, and right now, she’d be severely disappointed when she found the opposite to be true.

And so, here Jason was, grocery shopping. Even though what he really wanted to do was go back to sleep since patrol the night before had sucked the life out of him. It’d been the ultimate worst of combinations: falling on his ass, having a run-in with the Bat himself, and to top it all off, getting body-slammed by an overweight bodyguard off a building (which was thankfully only two stories high but which had still hurt like a bitch).

If Jason hadn’t felt like asscrack before, with all the gangs restless and all the thugs making grabs for a promotion now that Salados was gone, he definitely did after that shit.

But whatever. Sleep could wait.

And besides, Jason knew what he needed for his pantry, even had an idea of where most of it would be from long ago shopping trips with Alfred. He just had to concentrate.

Instead of wandering about the store aimlessly like he found himself doing instead.

Should’ve brought a goddamn grocery list.


“Do you need any help?”

Jason started, looked to the right and down to find an absurdly short, elderly Asian woman peering up at him with narrowed eyes. By the question, he’d expected some disgruntled employee, but instead, with her dull t-shirt, baggy pants, worn leather purse, and a gallon of milk in hand, the woman seemed to be a fellow customer. She had deep-set wrinkles, a permanent scowl, and winding down her back was a simple white-haired braid. Jason was horrified to find himself reminded of Ducra.

A civilian version of Ducra.

At a grocery store.

It was both a laughable and terrifying concept.

After far too long of a pause and the increasingly expectant look of the elder in front of him, Jason finally woke his brain up enough to reply. “Um… Nah, I’m just looking around.”

The woman shook her head at the response, like a bobblehead or maybe like a whip depending on how threatening a person found Ducra and by association her civilian clone. Then, rather scathingly, the elder grumbled, “But you were not looking around.”

“In fact, you were not looking at all. You were too busy nearly falling asleep and almost running into things like a fool. So do you need any help? Help not knocking into old women, perhaps?”

Jason glanced around, noticed that at some point, his cart had careened toward the condiments aisle and by extension toward Ducra 2.0.
Who, it seemed, also talked like Ducra.
Except with a different accent.
Singaporean, maybe?

This was bizarre.
And lying down sounded nice.

Jason shook himself out of his thoughts, greeted by Ducra 2.0’s unimpressed raised eyebrow, and sheepishly offered, “I’m a little distracted, sorry.”

“Never would have guessed.”

At the dry response, Jason’s lip twitched upward. He liked the lady and was maybe a little too tired, and because of it, he found himself elaborating even though he really didn’t need to. “My… um… My friend? Family? Someone from my family is visiting, and I don’t really know what I’m doing. It’s been a while...” Jason really didn’t know what to call Talia. She couldn’t be defined. And the real Ducra, if she were still alive, would find the entire situation hilarious cause she’d always found it hilarious when Jason was fumbling around.

As for the civilian Ducra in front of him, she chose that moment to do something even more bizarre.

“Your cart is empty,” she said with a deep scowl. “Young boys like you need sleep to grow. Hurry along home after this.”

Then, almost dramatically as if it pained her, the woman set her gallon of milk on the ground, took out a pen and scrap of paper, and wrote him out a whole goddamn grocery list.

And even helped him find the things on that list before ushering him out the door home with an angry “get rest.”

Gotham never failed to surprise him.


The Red Hood was itching to hit something.

Even with one bad day after another the entire damn week, the Replacement, the little shit, had chosen that night to bless Jason with his presence and intrude on Jason’s stakeout.

They’d bristled like a pair of territorial street cats, Jason resisting the urge to shoot the teen to oblivion on what was supposed to be a quiet night for observation and cramping up his legs, but eventually, the two had calmed down enough to realize they were investigating the same case and were, in fact, not hunting down the other for a fight.
It’d been a battle of wills after that, both too stubborn to leave, and neither stupid enough to force the other to leave lest the commotion gave their existence away to the operation below.

Then finally, with twin grimaces, they’d settled into reluctant compromise.
Well, the cooperation was surprising, given their history.

Once and awhile, Red Robin would shift awkwardly, and every time he did so, Jason was pissed off to find Drake’s searching gaze piercing the small of his back. He felt watched, as closely as a small organism observed by a biologist under a microscope, and every time, his fingers would twitch uneasily on the dual revolvers he had holstered on each thigh. The Replacement clearly had something to say, even if the damn kid couldn’t decide whether he should or not, and Jason was half tempted to leave right then so he didn’t have to deal with Timothy Drake at all.

Fucking bats, he scoffed. The last week had been a series of infuriating encounters after another, and it was actual bullshit.

Below the rooftop they were perched on top of, an ant hill of workers had infested the once abandoned lot. There were around fifty or so men and women cataloging supplies, loading them up into boxes, and then loading those boxes into a dozen or so white cargo trucks. The operation would be your average load-up job, if it weren’t for the late hour and the exact supplies that they were packing. Contained in benign-looking teddy bears, goody bags of heroin were shoved inside along with the stuffing. And the workers, baggy clothed, each tattooed on their shoulders with an inelegant S, and armed with guns and knives, were members of the White Scorpion, a gang who’s figurehead was a bastard called Ramoji.

The Red Hood was tracking one guy in particular, a teenager who’d have blended into the dangerous crowd if it weren’t for his particularly boyish features. The teen, a homeless kid called Scotty by the other street rats, was fifteen, with fair hair, dark eyes, and a new occupation as a dumbass completely in over his head. Two friends of Scotty, a soft-spoken boy named Riley and a more jaded girl called Khalee, had cautiously approached Jason a few days ago. They’d been worried cause “no one in their right mind joined the Scorpions” and Scotty, the “stupid shit” as Khalee had kindly said, had done just that. They’d pleaded with Jason to make sure the teen didn’t get himself killed, and after that...

The Red Hood didn’t even have to think twice about getting involved, maybe cause he used to be fifteen too, and back then, his big dumb decision had gotten him killed. Regardless, he’d used the whole fiasco as an excuse to finally take out the heroin-lugging gang.

It was Jason’s godforsaken luck that the Replacement just happened to decide to do the exact same thing at the exact same time.

And speak of the devil, behind him, Red Robin was shifting around once again like a hyperactive infant. Jason prickled, for real, genuinely, actually prickled, with annoyance as he was scrutinized by the other vigilante for what felt like the hundredth time.

“Jesus. Spit it out already, Red,” Jason bit out through gritted teeth. He considered punching the kid’s lights out and dumping his unconscious body in Gotham River, a thought that absolutely delighted his more Pit-influenced side, but instead, he settled for turning around and shooting a glare, hidden by his hood but hopefully getting the message across nonetheless. Jason was mollified when Red Robin jerkily nodded.

“Since we’re both trying to nail Ramoji, I figured we might as well exchange our intel.”

The Red Hood would rather shoot himself in the foot than help the goddamn Replacement of all people with anything, but as it was, he’d heard the rumor mill when it came to Drake’s “unrivaled besides maybe Batman himself” detective work, and the kid’s intel could be useful. Jason bit his lip.

“What the hell? Sure, Replacement.”

Red Robin relaxed minutely. “What do you have, Hood?” The kid had been crouching, and now, he slowly stood up and stretched his legs out.

Jason grimaced. “Not much, honestly. I just tackled this case, and people are smart enough to keep their mouths shut when it comes to cliques from hell like the Scorpion. However,” the Red Hood added. His own legs were falling asleep.

“I did manage to gather some background info on Ramoji. Bastard went through a lot of trouble to get his past erased, but with some… coercion,” Jason grinned ferally and was disappointed when Drake didn’t so much as twitch, “I got someone loose-lipped.”

“Turns out a few years back, the great Ramoji was just a brown-nosed higher-up in Black Mask’s gang. Idiot got cocky and planned a hostile takeover, and no surprise, he ended up getting his ass handed to him on a platter. Pissed off Black Mask enough that he had to get the hell out of Gotham, and three years ago when Black Mask got incarcerated, Ramoji took the opportunity to come back and start his own thing with heroin distribution. His dope is overpriced, poor quality shit, but he was quick to snuff out any competition, and now the White Scorpions are the only gang selling H.”
Jason clenched his fists. “They’ve been selling to Crime Alley kids, and although the shit is diluted, it’s-

The Red Hood paused, and squinted down at the scene below.

Something indiscernible had shifted. They were still loading up the trucks, but something was off about the workers. Anticipatory. Kind of. A quick glance at Drake showed that Red Robin had noticed the same thing.

“Something’s off,” the Replacement vocalized, and Jason agreed with a grunt. From the looks of the people below, you’d think hell was about to break loose.

And then…

They heard its revving engine before they saw the sleek black car rounding the corner. Where conversations had floated up to the vigilantes in an indistinguishable mass, there was now a collective silence among the workers as the car skidded to a stop. Some of the men and women were standing so still, spines rigid and hands clamped to their sides, Jason could have mistaken them for mannequins from afar.

The driver, a brisk, dark-haired Caucasian woman who was tall only with heels, stepped out of the car. She opened the passenger door, and if possible, the workers tensed even more as a man exited the vehicle. Brown-skinned, average height, tweedy suit, thin legs, big hands, eyes as dark as charcoal from Jason’s vantage point. Ramoji himself.

Jason made a strangled noise, and behind him, Drake seemed just as surprised, his eyebrows rising past what was humanly possible.

“What the fuck,” The Red Hood muttered. The stake out was supposed to be minor, just a look into how the gang operated at a lower level and a quick check-up on the street kid, Scotty. Jason hadn’t expected to see Ramoji in person until far later in the game.

Ha. When did anything ever go as expected?

“Why-“ Drake cut himself off and pressed forward to get a better look. Red Hood was too focused on the shit going down below to acknowledge that Red Robin was now way too close for comfort.

“As you may know, respectable working people like us have always had problems with meddling Bats.” Ramoji’s voice was startlingly deep, and even from this far up, Jason could hear the distinct rasp of a regular smoker. Jason, after all, once had the rasp himself.
“For years, Batman and his cult followers have intercepted shipments, squandered our hard work, taken from us what we gained with our blood, sweat, and tears. They’ve brought down our best leaders, fucked with our business, stopped us from doing what must be done to survive in this godforsaken city.”
The gang leader leaned forward conspiringly. “That ends now.”

Ramoji made a wide gesture with his hands, and with clinical professionalism, the driver from before walked over to the back of the car. She unloaded something heavy out of the trunk. A body bag.

Whoever was in there was alive and kicking, and there was a brief struggle as the woman attempted to maintain her grip.

She dumped the black bag hastily onto the pavement in front of the workers, then stepped back. Ramoji crouched down.

Red Hood leaned forward. So did Red Robin.

As the body bag was unzipped, there was a flurry of motion as a red and black blur stumbled out into the open. Ramoji was knocked down with a brutal palm strike. The figure, costume and cape wrinkled, fell into an instinctive fighting stance. Restraints fell useless to the ground, cut through by a blade hidden in his boot.

“What the fuck,” Jason repeated.

“Shit,” Drake swore passionately.

Below them, Robin bared his teeth. There was a bloody gash on his forehead, a pretty bad head wound if the kid’s swaying was any indication.

All around him, the gang members drew their weapons.


Chapter Text



In a blur of motion, bees upset by the assault to their hive, the White Scorpion members cocked their rifles and shotguns, some with bared teeth and expertise, others with more inexperience. Red Hood spotted the whole reason he was there, Scotty, the goddamn troublesome kid,  fumbling with a shotgun at the back of the assorted crowd. The fifteen-year-old didn’t even know how to hold it right.  

Regretting his life choices more and more by the second, Jason swore religiously under the hood, and his companion, fucking Timothy Drake of all people, who was top three on Jason’s Never Want To Encounter List, seemed equally aggravated if the kid’s posture, like a wire about to snap, was any indication. 

They both knew that if the gang opened fire now, Damian was as good as dead.

And Ramoji, shakily getting to his feet (which damn, the kid must have really been off his game if that palm strike had only kept the guy down for a moment), knew it too. 

“Hey, now,” the man shouted hastily with a grunt as he rose to his full height and his underlings came to a standstill. Blood sluggishly dripped down from his nostrils. “Don’t get all trigger happy. We need the bird alive. We all know…”

 Ramoji grimaced and wiped his nose on the sleeve of his white suit. The outfit probably cost thousands, and it was now covered, rather fittingly, Jason noted with satisfaction, in bloodstains. “We all know that a dead bird accomplishes nothing but an angry Bat and some new kid on the block as his replacement. You can all agree that it’s a shit deal. Angry bats are broken bones and loss of profit. What we want is the security to do our business peacefully. We want…” Ramoji flashed a smile with too much teeth. “... the Batman and all his associates put down like the parasites they are permanently.”

His voice darkened into a command. “Put down your goddamn guns.” 

The gang members did as they were told (something they probably would’ve done without the long ass monologue), lowering or holstering their weaponry. Scotty, the moron, even went the extra mile and dropped his gun on the ground. 

With Damian no longer in danger of immediate death, Jason looked to the Replacement for answers. “Where the hell is B? Or Goldie? I thought the kid wasn’t allowed to patrol without a chaperone, especially when I kicked his ass literal days ago.” 

Red Robin returned the inquiry with a look of intense long suffering, an expression that was probably the most emotive Jason had ever seen on the teen. 

“The brat wasn’t supposed to be on patrol at all after the...” Drake’s tone turned accusatory, “nasty concussion that you gave him.” 

Jason winced minutely at that, but cloaked the reaction with a cursory sweeping glance of the situation below. Ramoji was approaching Damian, hands in a faux soothing gesture as if to calm a wild animal (which, Jason conceded, Damian kind of was). 

He didn’t like the baby Wayne. Hell, some would even argue that he downright hated the kid. But nonetheless, he didn’t want him to die. At least, not anymore. Not now, when the Pit had for the most part faded into the recesses of his mind and the Bats left him well alone in Crime Alley (or at least, they had been until recently, the meddlesome motherfuckers)

Besides, Talia was showing up in two days and he sure as hell didn’t want to welcome her with a “By the way, your beloved son is dead.”

He glanced at the Replacement, who seemed to have recovered from any residual surprise and gone straight to high strung, big brain, Babs-level plotting. Their eyes met and for just a moment, long enough, Jason was reminded of Kori when he saw the steely resolve in Drake’s gaze.

Your help would be nice , the look said, but if you aren’t helping, asshole, stay out of my way or else.  

 “What’s the plan?” He replied. 

The kid had the audacity to smile at him. 




“Ow,” was Jason’s response to a bullet embedding in his suit with enough force to bruise his ribs. 


“Why are you here?” was Damian’s grateful response to Jason shielding him from enemy fire. 


They’d hit hard and fast, dropping smoke pellets, then launching into the fray with night vision and weapons drawn. Red Robin had seemed disapproving of Hood’s dual pistols, but didn’t comment. The Replacement’s concerns were pointless anyway. With the lack of visibility, Jason had switched to aiming for less fatal areas. He didn’t want to be responsible for Scotty’s death when he’d already gone through this much trouble to protect him.

And speaking of going through trouble, here Jason was, protecting a different damn kid, who enjoyed being a complete brat about it. 

“Unhand me,” Damian hissed as Jason led him to safety away from the battle.

“Imbecile!” the kid whined as Jason knocked him to the ground to stop a bullet from tearing through his entitled, pompous shoulder. 

“I don’t want your help,” Robin sneered as Jason fired at a line of opponents amassing in front of them. 

If they somehow survived this, Jason swore he’d kill the kid himself. And the Replacement too, for giving him the sooo fun task of handling the brat. 

By the time they reached the cover of the loading trucks, a few bullets had embedded into Jason’s protective vest. 

A twinge in his leg indicated that he’d actually been shot, although not seriously enough to need immediate medical attention. And the many near misses he’d felt toward the rest of him indicated that if he’d spent some more time under heavy fire, he’d probably have a few bullets in his whole body and another early ticket to his grave. 

Jason shook his head in disbelief at the thought. Dying for a second time for the sake of a mini Al Ghul. Knowing his life, he’d probably be unlucky enough to be shoved into the Pit again. 

Which reminded him. The Replacement was still out there, and as much as he’d love to teach Bruce a lesson about recruiting kids for the fucking fatal job of vigilantism since it seemed he hadn’t learned the first time, Jason wasn’t willing to let Drake die either. Not anymore.

Behind one of the trucks, far from any wayward fire or chance of discovery, he left Damian behind with a pleasant “Stay here, brat, or I’ll find you in the underworld after your death and kill you again myself.” Then, with a slight limp thanks to the bullet in his left leg, he re-entered the battle. 

He picked off those in the perimeter, fired one man in the shoulder who’d been planning to shoot Red Robin from behind. Drake responded with a nod of acknowledgement, before knocking down a goon with a flick of his bo staff and somersaulting over three men ready to let loose a wave of bullets. He sent one to the ground with a crippling kick to the knee, and the other two, he took down in a series of acrobatic movements that Hood recognized from Grayson’s repertoire. For a brief moment, he couldn’t help but feel a little bitter that Goldie had clearly trained the other Robins far more than he’d ever trained Jason. 

But whatever. Dickiebird was a dick. 

He shot one man dead center in the knee cap, another in the shoulder as his first victim collapsed to the floor. Mr. Broken Kneecap reached for his gun, which Jason promptly kicked away, and Mr. Shoulder Wound, he knocked out with a blow to the head. A man tried to ambush him from behind, and he responded by twisting the poor guy’s dominant arm and shattering it. Too brutal for the Bats, not fatal enough for the League. Still goddamn effective in the situation. 

A few meters away, the Replacement made his way toward him and shouted breathlessly over the commotion. “How’s-” An awkward pause as the kid ducked an unarmed goon’s attempt at a side kick. “Robin?” 

“A pain in my ass, but alive.” Jason replied as he sent a splattering of bullets into a group of goons to the right of him. “Thanks a lot for that, by the way. Really loved babysitting.” 


At that, Drake curtly nodded, but as the vigilante came nearer, Hood could’ve sworn he saw a self-satisfied smirk on the teenager’s face. A “thank god he got Damian” expression if there ever was one.






Several minutes later, the White Scorpions were fleeing. Their leader, Ramoji, was long gone, and the few remaining seemed to be following his lead. 

Jason figured that now would be a good time to leave himself, before Bats showed up after finally discovering that the brat went on patrol without him.

“Wait,” the Replacement called out hesitantly as Jason aimed his grapple gun for the rooftops. 

“We never finished exchanging intel.”

Hood was too damn exhausted for this. He rolled his eyes, gave a sardonic wave goodbye to the kid.  “Don’t sweat it, Drake. I won’t hold you to it. Let’s just hope we don’t ever have to team up again.”  

With that, he zipped into the air. As Robin, racing on the rooftops had been exhilarating. Now, the adrenaline worn off for the night, his entire body just ached as he made the painful return to his safehouse.

He needed to deal with his leg before it got infected. And that meant alcohol and stitches and potentially passing out from a combination of pain, exhaustion, and blood loss.



Woo hoo.

Stake out totally went the way it was supposed to.




Damian had unsurprisingly not remained where he was, but this was more because he was almost discovered by fleeing gang members using the trucks as getaways, and not because “I’m completely fine, Drake, and was coming to help you and that dimwit, Todd, dispatch of those brutes.” 


In fact, upon this proclamation of health, Damian promptly collapsed as he had hit his head not once, but twice in the last few hours, only worsening the concussion he already had.


Alfred was not pleased.