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Take Two

Chapter Text

 

Jason waited until one in the morning for the Bat to leave his territory.  He was sniffing around more than usual – which meant that Jason had probably been noticed tailing Robin – the Replacement around the city.

 

The World’s Greatest Detective.  Jason was never going to hide from him for long.

 

But the point wasn’t to hide from him.  The point was to make it exceedingly, obviously clear that Batman didn’t get to have a Robin.  Not anymore.  And Jason was going to make that point by piling dead masks in front of his front door.

 

Starting with the Replacement.

 

Batman finally left when the Bat signal shone into the sky, and Jason left Crime Alley to go Robin hunting.  He’d been planning on extending this particular murder – Bruce had replaced him, yes, but this kid had took up his uniform before his body had even been cold in the grave and Jason would not be satisfied with a quick and clean headshot.

 

No, he planned stalking, ominous lurking on rooftops, and finally a slow, satisfying, and gruesome death.

 

But if the Bat had begun to figure it out, Jason didn’t have much time left.  He headed straight for Robin’s patrol route – perhaps not today, but the baby bird’s days were numbered.  Who knows – maybe he could loom out of the darkness when the kid was mid-swing, startle him enough to botch the landing and break a couple of bones.

 

The only problem was that Robin was nowhere to be seen.  Jason scowled behind the helmet, prowling around a couple of rooftops as if the caped sidekick would magically appear, but nothing.

 

Had Robin changed his patrol route?  Had the Bat taken him to deal with whatever the GCPD was calling for?  Had he never made it out on patrol in the first place?

 

Now severely pissed off, Jason growled and took off to backtrack through the rest of Robin’s route.  The Pit did not help with patience and he had the itching desire to break some bones.  If they were bird bones, all the better.

 

Zip.  Zilch.  Nada.  Jason stopped a mugging by shooting the would-be mugger and still no righteous caped crusader came swinging from the darkness.

 

Exceedingly irritated, Jason stomped his way to a gang hideout that had been getting quite active over the past few days.  Leaving a warehouse full of bodies would both make him feel better and piss off Batman.  Win-win.

 

He was skulking around near one of the entrances, watching for any sign of movement, when he heard the scream.

 

Heard a kid’s scream.

 

Jason checked his ammunition with slow care as he made his way to the warehouse, silent and thrumming with rage.  There was a skylight on the roof – when would these idiot criminals learn – and Jason was carefully prying one open when he heard the scream again.

 

Desperate, pained, terrified.

 

And then the laughter.

 

The ha-ha-HA that still haunted his nightmares and every other waking moment, the electric green smile and crazed eyes and he should’ve killed him when he had the chance

 

Jason froze, half in the skylight, and choked down the sob.  It wasn’t real.  The Joker was in Arkham, his mind was playing tricks on him, and he needed to get the kid out and destroy this gang before Batman found him wandering somewhere that wasn’t Crime Alley.

 

Jason dropped onto the skywalk and headed for the center of the warehouse, where a light was swinging above a – above –

 

Jason stared as a man in a purple suit swung a crowbar.  It connected with a sickening crack and the boy tried to suppress a scream.

 

No.

 

“You know, the other one was stronger,” the Joker laughed – ha-ha-HA – leaning the crowbar against one shoulder.  “He never cried.”

 

The boy wasn’t struggling.  His arms were twisted behind him and his legs looked wrong.  The cape had been ripped off.

 

No.

 

“But maybe you’re smarter,” the Joker grinned, ear to ear, and Jason couldn’t suppress his shudder.  “Maybe you’ll find your way out!”

 

There was a bomb.  There was always a bomb.  This was Jason’s nightmare and there was always a bomb.

 

The timer blinked at him.  Five minutes.

 

No!

 

“Break a leg!” the Joker laughed and the crowbar swung down.

 

Another snap – an agonizing scream that died to choked whimpers.  “See you in the next life, birdie!”

 

The warehouse door slammed shut with an echoing thud.

 

Jason couldn’t move.  Jason couldn’t breathe.

 

Four minutes, the timer blinked.

 

The whimpering had faded to soft, hitched sobs.  The boy was trying to move, trying to inch towards the door, but he hissed and shuddered with every little movement.

 

The door was too far away.  The boy had several broken bones.  He was never going to make it.

 

This was a dream.  A nightmare.  This wasn’t real.  Jason was going to open his eyes and he’d be back in his safehouse and there would be no Joker and no bomb and no Robin desperately clawing their way to the door –

 

The boy let out a strangled scream as he accidentally put too much pressure on his broken legs.  He tried to curl up, but the ropes had no give.  He lay there, shuddering, for a long moment before he tried again.

 

Three minutes.

 

And again.  And again, out of desperation that Jason could feel, that Jason knew – the last, panicked instinct to survive, pushing past searing pain and fiery agony in a frantic hope that he could reach the door, that he could get out, that…

 

That Batman would come.

 

But Batman wasn’t coming.  Batman was nowhere in sight and there were only two minutes left on the clock.  Robin – the Replacement – Robin had only managed to move about ten feet.

 

Jason was terrified.  Jason was furious.  Jason was not going to watch another Robin die in another warehouse, beaten and bloody, their life snuffed out in a flash of searing agony.

 

He should’ve killed the Joker when he had the chance.

 

Jason moved on instinct, rappelling down to the warehouse floor.  Robin flinched at the thud, trying to twist around as Jason spared a second to check out the bomb – the many-wired thing was beyond his ability to defuse.

 

One and a half minutes left.

 

“Who’s – who’s there?” the kid said, his tone utterly failing to hide his terror.  “Batman?”

 

“Not the Batman,” Jason growled, scooping up the kid and trying his best to ignore the way the bones shifted.  The Replacement cut off a startled shriek, his eyes squeezing shut as he inhaled shakily, tears dripping down his face.

 

Jason aimed the grapple gun at the rooftop and swung up, trying to jostle the kid as little as he could.  Despite his best efforts, the kid was breathing harshly by the time they made it out, his face pinched and pale behind the domino mask.

 

The Replacement squinted his eyes when he felt the fresh air, and promptly turned two shades whiter when he caught sight of Jason’s helmet.

 

“Who are you?” the kid breathed out, eyes wide.

 

“Take a wild fucking guess, Replacement,” Jason snarled, already leaping for the next rooftop.  The kid suppressed a whimper at the movement, but blinked up at Jason with confused eyes.

 

“What?” he asked, clearly disoriented, but Jason wasn’t answering any more questions.  The kid stifled a scream as Jason misjudged the landing on the next roof – the kid was thinner and taller than Jason had expected – and he dropped them into a crouch, curling over the kid as his internal timer wound down to zero.

 

Behind them, the warehouse exploded in a sudden, fiery blast.

 

Jason tried to tell himself that he was imagining the laughter, the smoke filling his lungs, the fire burning every part of him that wasn’t broken, the ringing in his eyes, the laughter

 

The kid moaned and Jason tightened his grip.  They needed to get out of here before Batman came looking.

 


 

Tim hazily blinked open his eyes, confused to see faded wallpaper and a scuffed coffee table, but not yet sure why he was confused.  There was humming coming from somewhere nearby, and the smell of something garlicky simmering on the stove.  He felt cocooned in warmth, like a dream of being tucked into bed by his parents.

 

Something was aching.  Several somethings were aching.  And Alfred would’ve never left the coffee table in such a condition.

 

The patrol.  The trap.  The Joker.

 

Tim bolted upright and bit down on the scream as the throbbing aches flared into sudden agony.  The Joker had – he – there was a bomb – someone – red?  He remembered red –

 

“Whoa there, baby bird.”  Hands enveloped his shoulders and pushed him back on something soft.  Tim was too weak to resist the strong grip.  “You’re going to undo all my hard work.”

 

Tim’s legs were throbbing, little spasms of agony, and he squeezed his eyes shut tight as he remembered the crowbar crashing down – remembered feeling it crack inside of him – remembered the searing pain as he tried to drag himself to the door –

 

But he hadn’t made it to the door.  Someone had come – someone – Batman?

 

“Not the Batman.”  And the voice had sounded furious, like it was an accusation.

 

He wasn’t safe, he didn’t know where he was – Tim lashed out and screamed when the punch connected, his broken arm shrieking in agony.  Someone caught his arm and Tim shuddered at the too-tight grip, he was being pressed back, pinned down, he was –

 

“Calm down, Replacement –”

 

Who – what was he being called?  Tim squinted up, catching light glinting off a…red helmet.

 

The Red Hood.  Who’d gotten into an altercation with Batman that had actually left the man shaken.  Who Bruce had very specifically and very firmly warned Tim to stay away from.  Who left a bloody trail of bodies behind as he stalked through Crime Alley.

 

“Get off of me, get off, stop –” Tim accidentally knocked the side of his own head and froze.

 

He didn’t have his mask on.  He didn’t have his mask on.

 

Hood used the moment to grab his other hand and push him back against the couch.

 

“I’m not attacking you, stay still!”

 

Tim stared blankly, stuck somewhere between shock and horror.  The mask wasn’t supposed to come off.  Bruce had assured him.  The glue was a special formula.  The mask wasn’t supposed to come off.  The Red Hood knew who he was.  The mask wasn’t supposed to come off.

 

Tim’s cover was blown.  He was done.  Robin was done.

 

“Holy shit, kid, breathe!  I’m not attacking you!”

 

Tim couldn’t breathe.  There was no air in the room.  How could he breathe there was no air Hood knew who he was Robin was over Robin was done Tim was done

 

A heavy hand on his ribs, pressing down firmly and Tim squeaked as the pain built up.  “Breathe,” a voice growled in his ear and Tim tried to obey, stuttering on an inhale as Hood grabbed his other hand.

 

His hand pressed against a hard chest, a heartbeat thrumming against his fingers with the steady pressure of expansion and contraction.

 

Once Tim’s shuddering breaths had returned to something approaching stability, Hood let go and stepped back.  Tim tried to curl away, pressing back further into the couch and covering his face with his hand as he peered at the Red Hood between his fingers.

 

The man was wearing dark jeans and a hoodie and was standing at apparent ease in the apartment.  If it hadn’t been for the helmet, Tim would not have pegged this guy as a villain.

 

“What are you doing?” Hood asked, sounding bemused.

 

“You – you saw my face,” Tim stuttered.  He needed to get out of here.  He needed to tell Batman.  He needed to – Tim scrambled for his comms and realized with dawning horror that the Red Hood had gotten rid of the majority of his costume.  The mask, the suit, the boots, the comms – all Tim was left with was an unfamiliar button-up sweater over the dark leggings he wore under the suit.

 

“I don’t care who you are, Replacement,” Hood scoffed, shaking his head and heading to where the garlicky smell was coming from.

 

Tim must’ve made a sound to indicate his incredulity, because the Hood paused mid-step before slowly turning back to him.  Tim flinched and attempted to hide under the blanket.

 

“What was that?”  Hood’s voice was flat and toneless and Tim couldn’t help the shiver down his spine.

 

“You – you’re going to tell someone,” Tim said, unsure of how to stop him.  His chest was seizing painfully with every breath and fire was blooming in his legs.  It hurt, it hurt so much but Tim was losing Robin and that hurt even more.

 

Tim shuddered, remembering the Joker, the crowbar, that awful laugh and the chilling certainty that had dropped into the pit of his stomach when he’d seen the timer.

 

He remembered wondering if this was how Jason had died – alone and hurting and so, so scared.

 

He remembered the awful terror that this was what was going to break Batman, that Tim’s stupid insistence on being Robin was going to get him killed the same way Jason had, and there was no one to bring Batman back this time.

 

But he was alive but he lost Robin but –

 

“Who do you think I’m going to tell?” Hood drawled, stepping closer.  Tim stayed very still, tracking Hood’s movements – the man was built like a tank and Tim could see the coiled danger in his limbs.  “The Black Mask?  The Penguin?  The Joker?”  His voice hit a particular note on the name, twisting somewhere in between rage and fear.  “I’ve got a bullet to pick with every villain in this godforsaken city, baby bird, so who am I going to tell?”

 

Tim had not failed to notice that the carnage that the Red Hood left in his wake had been directed at very particular targets – but it was difficult to reconcile the idea of a vigilante with the sheer number of bodies Hood left behind.

 

“A reporter?” Tim squeaked out.

 

Hood laughed, rusty and hoarse.  “What about this getup makes you think I’m looking for fame?” he asked, gesturing to the concealing helmet and the dark clothes.

 

Tim had noticed the distinct lack of grandstanding from Crime Alley’s resident vigilante-villain – until Bruce had an actual encounter with the man, Tim had been half-convinced he wasn’t real.  The Red Hood didn’t leave a whole lot of witnesses behind.

 

“Then why did you take off my mask?”

 

The Red Hood motioned around the visor of his helmet.  Tom copied the movement, confused, and winced as he felt the edges of an impressive set of black eyes.  The mask would’ve cut painfully into the swelling.

 

“You’re welcome,” Hood said, the tone distinctly sardonic.

 

“Thank you,” Tim responded automatically to the bite – and he didn’t remember much beyond panicked terror and pain and awful, curling dread, but the Red Hood had gotten him out.  “I mean – thank you.  For rescuing me.”

 

Hood made a soft scoffing noise again and turned away, disappearing into the other room.

 

Tim swallowed against a dry throat and catalogued his injuries.  His legs felt like they were being stabbed with splinters and his broken arm was still angry about the earlier punch, but his wounds had been wrapped and his broken bones splinted.  He wasn’t tied or chained or restrained as far as he could see.

 

There was a window ten steps from the couch and the Gotham skyline beyond it.  It was getting dark out – Tim had lost nearly an entire day – and if he could make it to the rooftop, then maybe Batman would find him.

 

Tim couldn’t make it back home by himself.  His legs protested at the thought of bearing his weight and his arms weren’t too happy about his plan either, but they held, trembling as Tim eased off of the couch, trying not to make a single sound.

 

His arm – the broken one – slipped as he tried to carefully lower himself down and Tim fell the remaining two inches with a painful thud.  Tim bit down on the scream, his eyes watering, and waited, frozen still, for any sign of movement.

 

There was nothing but the sound of sauce burbling and a narrow-eyed scan confirmed that Hood hadn’t come out of the kitchen.

 

Tim clenched his jaw and eased forward on the carpet.  It was slow, painful going – made worse as pressure ground into his definitely-broken ribs and caught every time his toes snagged on the carpet.

 

But Tim persevered.  He just had to get to the window.  There was no bomb this time, so Tim could move slowly, carefully, pushing back the panic to clutch desperately to logic.  Once he got to the roof, he could figure out where he was.  He didn’t have his comms, but he could figure out something.  He could.  He had to.

 

Tim clawed forward another inch, nearly to the windowsill, and froze at the prickling sensation running down his spine.

 

He choked down the sob and twisted enough to aim a glare in the right direction.

 

Hood was leaning against the wall, arms crossed, watching him silently.  He had made no attempt to approach but Tim curled up defensively anyway.  “What are you doing?” Tim snapped as the silence stretched.

 

“Wondering if you actually believe you can reach the window, or if you’re stupid enough to try anyway.”

 

Tim gritted his teeth as his eyes burned at the casual, dismissive tone.  “Did you expect me to stay like a good little abductee?” he retorted.

 

Hood didn’t shift as far as Tim could track, but his posture was definitely radiating more fury.  “Thank you for rescuing me,” Hood mocked in a high-pitched voice and Tim winced.

 

“You kidnapped me!” Tim said, feeling a burn in his lungs as panic began to claw back control.

 

“Would you rather I left you in that warehouse?” Hood growled.

 

“That’s not an excuse for abducting me!”

 

“I didn’t abduct you, Replacement,” Hood snapped, “And I’m certainly not keeping you here.  If you want to leave, go.”  He flicked his fingers in the approximation of a shoo.

 

Tim’s breath caught in his throat.  Leave.  He was well-familiar with it.  He’d seen it from his parents every time he dared to get too close.  He’d seen it flicker on Batman’s face when he first put on the suit to take to the skies – and with decreasing frequency after, but the expression still crossed his face whenever he turned to Robin and remembered that it was Tim behind the mask.

 

Tim turned away from Hood, ignoring the obstruction in his throat and the burning wetness in his eyes and the prickling down his spine, and clawed forward another inch.  He set his jaw and inched forward a little more, until his fingers could brush the wall.

 

Just a little further.  Tim pushed himself forward until he was curled up under the window and reached out one trembling, shaking hand to grasp the windowsill.

 

His first attempt resulted in shrieking agony as the movement pulled at his broken ribs and Tim hissed as he readjusted his grip and braced his broken arm against his chest before he tried again.

 

The second attempt went better as Tim’s white-knuckled grip on the sill held as he did a one-armed pull-up, shifting his grasp as he rested his chin on the sill.  Both his legs were shooting prickling, warning spasms as he tested the splints, trying to reach for the latch on the window –

 

His left leg gave a sudden, searing wrench and Tim lost his grip – his broken arm slammed against the wall and Tim wasn’t entirely able to strangle the scream as he had a painful reintroduction with the floor.

 

“Okay, this is getting physically painful to watch,” Hood said from somewhere near him and Tim choked on a sob as strong arms encircled him, careful not to jostle his injuries.

 

He was deposited back on the couch and Tim buried his face in the blanket as he tried to suppress the hitched sobs.  He wasn’t going to cry.  Not here.  Not in front of the Red Hood.

 

Batman needed a Robin.  Needed him.  And Tim couldn’t even manage to get out the window.  He knew he’d forced his way into the suit, knew he wasn’t as good as Dick, as good as Jason, but nothing had hammered the point home quite as well as this.

 

Tim dropped the blanket and ignored the suspicious wet patch – Hood had disappeared back into the kitchen and Tim raised his voice to be heard over the sound of something sizzling.  “Can I get a phone?”

 

“No,” was the brusque and not entirely unexpected reply.

 

“Please?” Tim cleared his throat, “I can call someone and get out of your way.”  No response.  “You said you weren’t keeping me here!”

 

The Red Hood appeared in the doorway.  “Do I look like an idiot?  You’re not getting your hands on my phone.”  He went back inside the kitchen.

 

“My comms –”

 

“And your tracker?  No.”

 

“You can get a burner if you’re worried about –”

 

No.”

 

“Please, I just want to call –”

 

“Who?” Hood reappeared in the doorway, coiled up like he was ready to lunge.  “Call who, Replacement?  The Big, Bad Bat?”  There had been rage when he’d talked about the Joker but this?  This was hate.  “I.  Said.  No.”

 

Tim swallowed and dared to speak, “But Batman –”

 

Hood started forward so violently that Tim flinched back, banging his head on the arm of the couch as he tried to get away.  The man was furious and Tim pressed back further as Hood stalked forward and curled a tight fist into the sweater collar.

 

“Listen to me and listen to me well, baby bird,” Hood said, seething rage and pain and hurt all tangled up in vicious hate, “Batman isn’t going to save you.  Get that through your thick skull before you end up just like –”

 

Hood cut off abruptly.  Tim stared up at him, his heart pounding – just like who?  Like the previous Robin?

 

Hood let go and stomped away, every motion bleeding stark, thrumming fury.  Tim watched him leave, feeling the edges of a puzzle swimming tantalizingly just out of reach.

 

Who was the Red Hood?

 

Because Tim could’ve sworn he was going to end that statement ‘just like me.’

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Tim controlled his flinch as the Red Hood set down dinner, but Hood’s general aura of disgruntlement bristled.  Tim took the bowl he was handed, but made no attempt to eat.

 

“It’s not poisoned,” Hood said, but didn’t remove his helmet and join the meal.  Tim eyed him suspiciously.

 

“I’m not going to hurt you, kid,” he said, and Tim got the feeling he was rolling his eyes behind the helmet.

 

Logically, if Hood wanted to poison him, he could hold him down and force-feed it to him.  Tim took a cautious bite.

 

The chili was good.  No, it was delicious.  Made the way Alfred liked, with slow-cooked garlic and onions and green pepper.

 

Tim scarfed down the entire bowl to a palpable sense of bewildered amusement.

 

Tim waited until Hood had taken the bowl back – hopefully the other man had already eaten, hopefully he was in a better mood – before he spoke up again.  “Could you take me to the roof?”

 

Hood stopped and turned to stare at him.

 

“The roof,” Tim continued, “I can get help from there, I just…”  His voice trailed off as Hood tensed.

 

“Help?” Hood repeated, “Help from who?”

 

Tim didn’t want to say Batman, well aware that it had set the man off the last time.

 

“Or outside,” Tim changed tack, “I can get a taxi, or –”

 

“A taxi to where?” Hood pressed.

 

“Home.”

 

“And where’s that, baby bird?”

 

Tim snapped his mouth shut.  Hood looked satisfied.

 

“Or…if you just help me down to the streets,” Tim tried, desperate, “I can find my own way –”

 

“In Crime Alley,” Hood drawled, “You’re petitioning me to push you out on the streets in Crime Alley.”


Tim darted a quick glance at the windows, which had gone dark.  Hood followed his gaze, and reached the same conclusion.

 

“So you can go running back to the Bat,” Hood said, his voice dropping to a growl.

 

“I – I’m very grateful for the rescue, Hood, but I –”

 

“You’re going to go back to throw your life away on his useless crusade,” Hood said flatly.

 

“Look, I know you don’t like Batman but –”

 

“Don’t like?” Hood laughed, grating and painful, “Oh, baby bird, I once thought he could do no wrong.”  His voice dropped, deeper and angrier.  “And then I realized I meant nothing to him.”

 

Tim winced – so this guy was one of the crazier ones.  “Look, I just –”

 

“You’re not going back to him.”

 

“Batman needs a Robin,” Tim said, trying to make him understand, because Batman without a Robin would quickly succumb to a self-destructive spiral.

 

“Batman doesn’t get to have a Robin,” Hood said slowly, his hands curling into fists, “Not when he throws them away like tissue paper.”

 

“He didn’t throw anyone away!” Tim snapped back, indignant, because this guy knew nothing about Jason, knew nothing about how Bruce had buckled under the weight of his death, knew nothing of Robin and keeping Batman sane.

 

“You’re not going back to him,” Hood repeated, and this time Tim heard the threat.  Tracked the slow saunter as Hood made his way to him, clutched the couch cushions as he went very still.

 

“You said you won’t hurt me,” Tim pointed out, his voice wavering.

 

“Maybe I lied.”

 

Tim scrambled off the couch and even the painful jarring wasn’t enough to detract from his panic.  The Red Hood stalked forward silently, bleeding murderous rage with every step.

 

“You – you rescued me –”

 

“Perhaps I wanted to kill you myself, Replacement,” he hissed and Tim doubled his frantic crawl away, pushing himself back, staring up at Hood with a horror he couldn’t hide.

 

“Why do you keep calling me that?” Tim tried to deflect, tried to change the conversation, but apparently all it did was make the man angrier.

 

“I thought you were supposed to be the smart one,” Hood laughed, an awful, grating sound.  Tim tried to inch away surreptitiously but Hood was looming over him and Tim didn’t know what he did to this guy – what Batman did – but it was becoming apparent that the Red Hood was going to take it out of his hide, ignorant or not.

 

“You’re not going to kill me,” Tim tried – but his voice cracked in the middle as Hood dropped into a crouch, his hands on either side of Tim’s very breakable head.

 

“Are you sure about that, Replacement?” Hood said softly, dangerously.

 

Why do you keep –” Tim cut off hastily as Hood’s hands moved, clicking open the clasps on the helmet and pulling it off.

 

Helmet-tousled sweaty black hair with a shocking streak of white, a domino mask – was the helmet not enough? – and then Tim’s breath caught in his throat because he recognized that face.

 

“Robin?”

 

Jason Todd’s face went from zero to murder in less than a second and Tim flinched back, drawing his hands up instinctively.

 

“Not anymore, Replacement,” Jason snarled – and Tim got it now, the anger, the rage, the – wait what was going on

 

“You’re dead,” Tim said, blinking up at Jason.  “You’re – they buried you.  You’re dead.”

 

Jason Todd was dead.  That was the whole reason Tim was Robin.  Jason was beaten to death by the Joker and trapped in a warehouse that exploded and –

 

Oh.  Oh no.  Jason was dead.  Tim was dead.  This whole thing was a dying dream that Tim’s mind had concocted to block out the pain, latching onto the closest Robin to give Tim some semblance of peace.

 

“Am I dead?” Tim croaked out, his breaths stuttering.  Would it fall apart around him now that he knew?  Was he going to end up back in the Joker’s clutches, with that crowbar, with –

 

“You’re not dead, Replacement.”  Jason was still glaring – Jason who was alive, who was here – Jason was alive.

 

Tim’s mind wasn’t computing on all cylinders at the moment but the pieces finally combined to give a spark.

 

“You’re alive,” Tim said.  Jason was alive.  Robin was alive.  “You’re alive.”  Jason was here.  Batman didn’t fail, he didn’t – “We need to call Bruce!”

 

No.”  The murderous growl was enough to shock Tim out of his stupor.

 

Jason was still looming over him, trapping him against the ground, his face shadowed and furious.

 

“Jason,” Tim said softly, “Bruce needs to know you’re alive.”  Batman needed his Robin back.

 

Jason’s face twisted into an expression Tim couldn’t recognize.  “Batman already knows I’m alive.”

 

What?  Tim stared up at Jason, certain that he misheard.  Bruce couldn’t know that Jason was alive.  Bruce would’ve found him.  Got him home.  Bruce wouldn’t –

 

Batman had been afraid of the Red Hood.

 

“No,” Tim said, unwilling to believe it, “No, he didn’t –”

 

“I put a gun to the Joker’s head,” Jason drew a gun to demonstrate, his voice soft, “And I told him that he could kill the Joker.  Or he could kill me.  And do you know what he did?”

 

The gun was wavering very close to Tim.

 

“Do you know what he did, Replacement?”

 

“He didn’t kill the Joker,” Tim said quietly.  The gun came to a stop on Tim’s head.

 

“No, baby bird, he attacked me instead,” Jason said softly, “And the Joker escaped, as he always does, and then you ended up exactly where I was – the crowbar, the bomb, everything.  And yet again, Batman failed to save the day.”

 

Tim swallowed.  Cold, hard metal was pressing right above his ear.

 

“He doesn’t deserve a Robin,” Jason said, his voice achingly hollow.  His blue eyes were swimming with tears.  “He never did.”

 

“He –”

 

“Don’t,” Jason choked out, “Don’t you dare try to defend him.  You’re going to die here and your precious Batman will be too late again.”

 

Tim stared up at the boy he’d always idolized, the boy whose suit he’d tried so desperately to fill, the boy whose death had nearly torn Batman apart and this city with it.

 

“You’re not going to kill me,” Tim said softly.

 

Jason’s expression twisted, aiming for fury but staying at hurt.  Teardrops were splattering on Tim’s face.  “You sure about that, Replacement?”

 

“Yes,” Tim said, going limp.  Putting all his faith into those wounded blue eyes.  Because – “You’re Robin.”

 

“No, I’m not –”

 

“You’re Robin,” Tim repeated, “You saved me.  Batman can’t be everywhere – that’s why he needs a Robin.  You saved me.”

 

“I’m holding a gun to your head, baby bird, I think you’re getting ahead of yourself.”

 

Tim exhaled, and believed with all of a thirteen-year-old’s unconscious arrogance.  “You’re not going to hurt me,” Tim repeated, “You’re Robin.”

 

“You –” Jason’s face twisted, smoothing out into anger, “Are a little shit.”  The gun thudded against the floor and Tim took the breath he didn’t realize he’d been holding.

 

Jason was crying now, deep, shuddering sobs wracking his body and Tim could see his anguished face from where he was still curled over Tim.  He swallowed, and stretched out a careful hand.

 

Jason froze when Tim grasped his shoulder, and Tim didn’t give him the time to react.  He lunged, wrapped his arms around Jason and burying his head in the older boy’s shoulder, hoping he wasn’t going to get a startled knife in the gut or a surprised sucker punch.

 

Jason was tense, his body thrumming, but slowly his arms crept around Tim and Tim squeezed tighter.  Jason was alive.  Robin was alive.

 

Nothing else mattered.

 


 

“I wasn’t your replacement,” the kid said around his cup of tea.

 

Jason tensed.  Of course the idiot had waited until Jason had joined him on the couch – propping his broken legs up on a cushion in Jason’s lap, and while Jason wasn’t exactly trapped, he had to make the unsubtle attempt to extricate himself if he wanted to flee this conversation.

 

“I think I remember the cape well enough,” Jason said irritably, drinking his own tea.  The kid seemed to be clinging to the mistaken impression that Jason wasn’t going to shove him off.  Or shoot him.

 

You’re Robin.  Not a statement.  Not recognition.  Just deep, unshakeable faith.

 

Jason could’ve done it.  Could’ve finished the job he’d planned, taken the shot, bang.  The Replacement would be dead.

 

Dead, looking up at Jason with wide, trusting, blank eyes.  Dead, without ever realizing that his faith had been shattered.  Dead.

 

And that had made something in Jason’s heart clench.

 

You’re Robin.  Robin didn’t shoot innocent kids in the face.

 

“I mean, he didn’t replace you,” the kid said, quieter, like he was aware he was treading on shaky ground, “I – I did.  I’m sorry.”

 

“What do you mean, you did?”

 

“You – Batman was…losing himself,” the kid said softly.  His shoulders were hunched as he rubbed the edge of the cup.  “He was – Jason, it was bad.  He put nearly every criminal he met in the hospital.”

 

Jason scoffed.  He didn’t care about criminals.  Batman should’ve put them in the ground.

 

“He was trying to kill himself.”

 

Jason choked on his next sip, spluttering at the matter-of-fact delivery.  The kid looked haunted.

 

Batman hadn’t – wouldn’t kill himself.  Not over Jason.  The kid didn’t know what he was talking about.  Batman hadn’t even killed the Joker.  Had attacked Jason instead of killing the Joker.  Clearly, he didn’t care.

 

“I saw it and I tried to stop it,” the kid said quietly, “I tried to get Dick to come back, but he wouldn’t.  I tried to get Batman to take me on as Robin, and he wouldn’t.  So I made myself a suit and went out there anyway.”

 

Jason raised an eyebrow, reluctantly impressed.  “And B allowed that?”

 

“He couldn’t stop me,” the kid shrugged, “So he agreed to train me.”  The kid looked at him with round eyes.  “I didn’t mean to take your place.  I didn’t know you were alive.  I’m sorry, Jason.”

 

Jason narrowed his eyes and looked away.  “And I suppose you forced him to adopt you too?”

 

“What?” the kid choked and Jason looked over to see red blotches rising on his cheeks.  “No, he didn’t adopt me!  I didn’t – he didn’t replace you, Jason, I swear.  I’m not – my parents are alive, there was no adopting of any kind!”

 

That was…not what Jason was expecting.  “Your parents are alive?” Jason frowned, and checked the clock.  It was coming up on twenty hours since Jason had found the kid.  “Aren’t they going to report you missing?”

 

The kid smiled tightly.  “They’re on a trip.  They won’t know I’m gone.”

 

“And they won’t even notice?” Jason’s frown deepened.  He was sure there was something wrong in that.  “Don’t you have to check in or something?”

 

“No, they trust me to stay safe.”  If the kid was running around as a vigilante, clearly that trust was misplaced.

 

“So Bruce made you Robin without adopting you?” Jason squinted.  He hadn’t known that that was a possibility.

 

“I didn’t really give him a choice,” the kid said sheepishly, “I figured out who he was ages ago.”

 

Jason squinted harder.  The black eyes were throwing him off, but the features definitely looked familiar.  “You’re that photo stalker,” he said as the memory clicked.  “The Drake kid!”

 

The kid looked deeply flustered by the description, sinking further into the cushions.  “I – yes – I’m sorry about that,” he stuttered, and Jason clearly remembered a few times when he had to rescue the kid off of some ridiculous perch with that stupidly expensive camera and –

 

You’re Robin.  Oh.

 

“Tim, right?” Jason said, tilting his head to one side to observe him better.  He didn’t know a whole lot about the Drakes, other than that they lived next to Wayne Manor, because they were never in town.

 

Clearly the baby bird had taken full advantage of the parental neglect.

 

Jason, on his part, was merely surprised Bruce had been able to resist adopting this one.  He looked like a ruffled little chick once he was out of uniform, with gangly limbs and round, wide blue eyes.

 

“Yes, I’m Tim Drake,” the kid set the empty tea cup aside and extended his hand, “It’s nice to meet you.”

 

Jason shook his hand, bemused, before finally extricating himself from the couch and picking up the cups.  Tim tracked him into the kitchen and watched with wary eyes as he headed for the bedroom.  “Where are you going?” he called out.

 

“Patrol,” Jason replied, clipped.  He was shrugging into the leather jacket by the time the kid replied.

 

“Can I call Bruce?”

 

No,” Jason snarled immediately, grabbing his helmet and stalking out.  “I don’t care what you say, this isn’t a happy family reunion and I don’t want to see him.”

 

“But,” Tim started, and then bit his lip, watching Jason as he got ready to leave.  Blinking slowly as he sunk back into the cushions, probably calculating all the different ways he could get a signal out after Jason left.

 

Jason allowed himself a smile as he slid the helmet on.

 

The color drained from Tim’s face.  “What did you do?” he whispered.

 

“Sleep tight, baby bird,” Jason said, retrieving the blanket and tucking him in as the kid’s blinks became longer and slower.

 

By the time Jason locked the window behind him, the kid was out like a light.

 


 

Jason’s mood soured almost immediately.  Sirens were out in full force.  The Joker still hadn’t been caught.  And Batman was scouring the city like he had a beef with every brick.

 

At least it gave him an opportunity to finally put a bullet in that fucking clown’s head.

 

But retracing the Joker’s steps took a significant amount of patience and even more hiding as Jason ducked out of sight whenever he saw the hint of a cape.  Batman wasn’t going to stop him.  Not today.  He’d gotten one Robin killed, and nearly got another as well.  If Batman wasn’t going to solve the problem, Jason would.

 

You’re Robin, Tim had said.  Jason wasn’t, but that was better.  Robin didn’t kill.

 

Jason swung to the roof of the third warehouse he’d tracked down, certain it would be as empty as the others, but having learned a painful lesson on leaping before he looked.  He shimmied in through a skylight and froze at the sound of that damned laugh.

 

“You play Whack-A-Mole at the circus, don’t you?” Joker asked, his voice echoing around the warehouse in funny ways.

 

For a moment, he sounded like he was right next to Jason – but his gun had nothing to aim at but shadows and Jason had to take a moment to remember how to breathe.

 

“Keep hitting robins and they keep popping up!” Joker sounded delighted, his words punctuated by the dull smack of metal on flesh.

 

A harder swing, and something cracked.

 

“How long will it take Batsy to replace you I wonder?” the Joker cackled – ha-ha-HA – and Jason had to pause to cover his ears as the maniacal laughter reverberated in his skull.  He needed to find a good vantage point.  He needed to put a bullet in the fucker’s skull.  He needed it all to stop.  “The original model!”

 

Jason froze.

 

The sound of metal slicing through air and a dull thunk.

 

“Give my regards to the other birds!”  The voice was fading, taking the laughter with it.  “Let me know how this one feels when you come back!”

 

Jason scrambled forward – he was getting away, Jason wouldn’t let him, he was –

 

The bomb looked bigger this time.  Something chemical was wafting up from it.  1:02 the timer proclaimed.

 

A twisted pile of blue and black lay underneath it.

 

Jason fixed his eyes on the other door.  Nightwing was going to be fine.  How many times had Jason revisited that warehouse, how many times had he struggled against his bonds with the aching certainty that Dick was stronger, Dick was faster, Dick was better – Dick would’ve gotten himself out.

 

Jason was going to find the Joker and end this mad game once and for all and –

 

Nightwing wasn’t moving.

 

Jason dropped down to the ground floor, wary, but black-and-blue was still and silent.  Jason found a nearby scrap of metal and threw it at the lump.

 

Nightwing didn’t even twitch.

 

“Fuck.”

 

0:34 the timer blinked.

 

Jason grabbed Nightwing – not gently, because he had no time to be gentle, and Dick was heavy where the kid had been light.  The grapple almost groaned under their weight, but Jason made it to the roof and crossed to the next one as fast as he could, and then the one after that, and then –

 

An explosion, bright and intense and burning and Jason swore as he shoved Dick into a corner and curled up over him as best as he could.  That had been ten seconds too early.

 

A piece of debris seared across his shoulder blades as it glanced off of him and Jason gritted his teeth as flames hissed and sparked nearby.  He didn’t lift his head until he heard the sirens.

 

First Jason.  Then Tim.  Now Dick.

 

Jason scoured the hazy skyline, but saw no trace of a cape or cowl.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

The hurt was a deep ache, deeper than his bones, and Dick couldn’t help the soft gasp as he tried to shift.  Everything hurt, everything throbbed, and even lying still wasn’t enough to dull the sharp spikes.

 

“Dick?” a soft voice asked carefully.  Tim, Dick’s mind supplied, the new Robin, and something about that spelled danger, there was something off, something he was missing.  “Dick, it’s okay, you’re safe.”

 

Dick pushed weakly against the hand on his shoulder – he wanted to believe Tim but there was something itching at him, something wrong – the pain was clawing at him, dragging him back down and dulling the faint conversation happening over his head.

 

Dick tried to crack his eyes open and caught a glimpse of broad shoulders and dark hair.

 

Oh, he thought, slipping back under, if Bruce was here then everything was fine.

 


 

He drifted back to awareness like he was floating down a river – the pain was dulled this time, he thought he could faintly remember swallowing some pills – and the aches drifted back in with strong afternoon light and someone reading a book out loud.

 

It was Tim, Dick recognized his voice, but for a moment his breath caught because Jason had been the one who snuck down and read his books aloud whenever Dick was laid up in the Cave and a part of him missed his brother so badly it hurt worse than all his wounds.

 

Dick shifted, feeling the loss slice through him, and then his thoughts slipped into sudden clarity.

 

Jason.  The Joker.  Tim was missing, a warehouse had exploded, bomb because there was always a bomb

 

“Tim!” Dick gasped, twisting towards the kid’s voice – and Tim’s face swam blurrily into view, his forehead creased.

 

“I’m here,” Tim patted his shoulder, “It’s okay, we’re safe.”

 

Dick wanted to relax, to slip back into the floating feeling because Tim said it was safe, and he trusted Tim, but.

 

But the angle of the light was wrong.

 

The wallpaper was peeling.

 

He didn’t recognize the scent of detergent on the sheets.

 

Tim had two black eyes.

 

And there was a Red Hood helmet on the bedside table.

 

“Tim,” Dick swallowed.  He could tell that the mask was gone, that his uniform was gone, that his comms were gone.  “Where are we?”

 

Tim’s gaze flickered to the doorway.  Dick didn’t follow it.  “Somewhere in Crime Alley, I think,” he said slowly.

 

“A safehouse?” Dick pressed, as if both of them didn’t know full well that Batman’s safehouses would never look like this.

 

“Depends on your definition of safe,” someone said in the doorway, low and rough.

 

Dick acted.  He managed to untangle the bedsheet and twist over to the bedside table – ribs, wrenched elbow, ow, ow, ow – and flung the helmet in Hood’s direction, catching a brief glimpse of black hair and a scowl as he rolled – his hip was throbbing painfully – to the edge of the bed.

 

“Dick – Dick, stop, calm down –”

 

The helmet clattered against the floor.  “You’re worse than Tim,” Hood said, aggrieved.

 

“Where are we?” Dick demanded, pushing himself up despite the screaming agony.  His eyes were watering, the room washed out into a blur as the black-haired, broad-shouldered man stalked closer – Dick could’ve almost mistaken him for Bruce if not for that rough, scraped-gravel voice.  “Why did you take us?”

 

“Dick, please, he saved us –”

 

“Did you want me to leave you with the Joker?” Hood snarled, easily catching Dick’s fist and pushing him back against the bed.  Dick let him do it, slumped back down with the momentum and waited for the grip to loosen before snapping back up –

 

A strangled cry tore itself from Dick’s throat as broken fingers made contact with a hard jaw, but the man was stumbling back and Dick pressed the advantage, lunging forward, off the bed, and attempting to get an arm around Hood’s throat –

 

The man twisted out of the hold and took another step back.  Dick unbalanced and crashed hard.

 

The pain whited out everything.

 

“Dick!  Dick, can you hear me?  Dick!”

 

Dick came back to the sound of his own ragged breathing.  His throat was dry and his cheeks wet.  His ribs were screaming at him the loudest, followed by a broken leg and a massive, ringing headache.  He could see a pair of heavy duty boots two steps away, just barely out of reach.

 

Dick.”  Tim, worried and frantic.  “Come on, are you okay, you –”

 

“He’s fine,” Hood growled, “Stay on the bed.”

 

“I –”

 

Stay.”

 

“Dick?”  Tim’s voice was much closer, like he was hanging off of the bed.

 

“I’m going to shoot you,” Hood threatened, low and menacing.

 

“No,” Dick croaked out, stretching out his arm no matter how badly it hurt, “No, don’t – Tim – please –”

 

“Baby bird is fine,” Hood huffed, dropping into a crouch, “Now are you going to try to punch me again, or can I get you back on the bed?”

 

Dick curled the fingers of his unbroken hand.  “Why did you save me from the Joker?” he asked.  He could see Hood’s hands draped over his knees and watched as they tightened into fists.

 

Dick didn’t understand.  He thought the Red Hood was one of Joker’s previous aliases.  Why – who would –

 

“I don’t know, Dickiebird,” said a voice that was too low and too rough and too dead to be saying those words.  “Why do you think?”

 

Dick twisted, looking up at the man looming over Dick with a faint scowl.

 

There was a streak of white shooting through dark hair.

 

“Jason?” Dick asked, half of his mind torn in painful heartbreak, the other half screaming that this wasn’t possible.

 

The Joker.  The bomb, or the broken bones, or the hit to the head.  Dick was dreaming.  Dick was hallucinating.

 

“I’m dead, aren’t I?” Dick asked, staring up at his little brother.

 

Jason looked at the ceiling like he was praying for patience.  “Why is that everybody’s first reaction?”

 

“Possibly because you’re supposed to be dead,” Tim said, half-hanging off the bed.  “Probably because we’ve recently been in stressful, traumatic situations.  Most definitely because you look…murdery.”

 

“Well, you’re not dead, Dickface,” Jason scowled, reaching down to haul Dick back onto the bed.  Dick hissed as the movement sent several flares of pain skittering up his limbs, but Jason arranged his legs to reduce the ache to a dull throb.

 

“Jason,” Dick said, his brain still stuck on the thought.  “You’re alive.”  Dick can’t believe it.  They buried Jason.  Dick saw him.  Saw what the explosion had done to his younger brother.

 

They buried him.

 

“So the old man didn’t tell you either,” Jason said quietly as he stepped back.

 

Dick blanked on that, because he had to have misheard, he didn’t just –

 

“Bruce knows?”

 

“Oh yeah,” Jason said darkly, “He’s known for a month.”

 

“What,” Dick said flatly, unable to tear his gaze from Jason.  This was his little brother.  This was his little brother back from the dead.

 

This was his little brother back from the dead and Bruce didn’t tell him.

 

Jason was older.  Taller.  The scowl that had looked vaguely amusing on a sixteen-year-old’s face had turned into a threat.  He looked…angry.

 

Angry, like his family had abandoned him and left him for dead.

 

“Jay,” Dick said, reaching a hand out because he still couldn’t believe this and he needed to feel Jason’s pulse with his own hand.  “You’re alive.”

 

“You seem stuck on that point, Dickhead,” Jason grumbled, but outstretched his hand far enough for Dick to snag his wrist.

 

It was warm.  He was alive.

 

“My baby brother is alive, damn right I’m stuck on that point.”  Dick slowly pulled Jason closer, careful not to tug.  Like Jason was an injured cat that would spook if he moved too fast.

 

Dick bit back the smile at that mental image as Jason finally stepped next to the bed.  “What – I don’t even know where to start,” Dick shook his head.  He had so many questions.  He was so very confused.  And his brain was still stuck on Jason was alive.  “I thought we buried you.”

 

“You did,” Jason said.

 

Dick felt like his blood turn to ice.  “What,” he croaked out, followed by Tim’s equally frantic, “Excuse me?”

 

“I woke up in my coffin,” Jason shrugged, as if it was no big deal that he’d been buried alive.

 

“You what.”  This was worse than everything Dick had imagined.  This was – how – had Bruce not checked

 

“That’s what Talia told me, anyway,” Jason said.

 

“Talia?” Dick repeated.  He was finding it difficult to breathe.  “Talia al Ghul?”

 

“You know someone else named Talia?” Jason scowled.  He tugged at Dick’s grip, like he was going to step away, but the thing about wrangling little injured kittens was to get them close enough before you attacked.

 

Dick lunged – this time the hold was gentler, wrapping around Jason’s shoulders rather than going for his throat, and he really hoped Jason didn’t attack him because his broken ribs were already screaming.

 

But Jason didn’t move.  He stayed as still as a statue as Dick hugged him – Dick wasn’t even sure he was still breathing – for a long, stretching moment before Dick felt hands carefully wrap around his back.

 

“The League of Assassins?” Dick choked out, feeling his brother’s heartbeat pounding, reassuring him that he was here and alive and here.  “You were taken by the League?”

 

There was a muffled sound Dick took as agreement.

 

“The Pit?”

 

Another mumbled agreement.

 

“How long?” Dick’s voice cracked, because he didn’t want to consider it, didn’t want to know how many times he’d failed his little brother, how many nights he slept in his bed, safe and warm, without a thought to Jason who’d still been alive

 

“A couple of years,” Jason said quietly.  Dick’s grip tightened.

 

Years.  Years his brother had been alive and Dick had never even noticed.

 

“Came back to Gotham a month or so ago,” Jason said, and his voice dropped.  “I thought – the Joker.  Batman.  I thought – well, I was wrong anyway, so it doesn’t matter what I thought.”

 

Batman had met the Red Hood.  Dick had asked him for his impression, but Bruce had snapped at him and Dick had left because he hadn’t thought it important enough.

 

Dick was well on his way to win Worst Brother of the Decade.

 

“It matters,” Dick said softly, “It matters to me.”

 

Jason didn’t say anything, but he tightened his grip.

 

“I’m glad you’re here, Little Wing,” Dick said softly.  I’m glad you’re alive.

 


 

The trouble started after dinner.  Jason didn’t drug the tea this time, mainly because he thought Dick would be the reasonable one – mistake number one – and Tim was watching him like a hawk and refusing to touch anything until Jason had sampled it first.  But neither of them were in any condition to leave, and Dick hadn’t even mentioned contacting Bruce, so Jason stacked some supplies for easy access on the bedside table, ignored their curious looks – mistake number two – and got ready to leave.

 

“Where are you going?” Dick asked, his eyes narrowing with every piece of gear Jason strapped on.

 

“Patrol,” Jason responded simply.  It was the truth.  If he failed to mention that the patrol was less geographically based and more focused on a certain clown-faced asshole, well, that wasn’t really a lie.

 

His third mistake was thinking that Dick would let it drop.

 

“No,” Dick said, flat.

 

“You can’t stop me,” Jason said, not at all trying to be pleasant.  Dick didn’t get to dictate Jason’s life – not back when he’d been Robin, when Dick had considered him little more than an intruder – and definitely not now.

 

“You’re not going on patrol,” Dick said and Jason bristled.  “You’re going after the Joker.”

 

Less an order and more an observation, then.  Jason shrugged as he checked his holsters, not meeting Dick’s gaze.  “Someone has to put the fucker down,” he said.

 

His body was tense.  If Dick even tried to defend the clown, Jason was going to – Jason was – Jason was going to leave.

 

“Jay,” Dick said.

 

Jason paused before pulling on his helmet and looked up.


The kid had the sense to bury his head in one of Jason’s books and pretend like he wasn’t paying attention to the conversation.  Dick was staring at him, his hands twisting in the sheets – Jason inwardly winced as broken fingers curled.

 

And, as Jason watched, Dick’s expression cracked.  Jason froze.

 

“Please don’t go.”

 

“Sorry, Dick,” Jason shrugged, “Gotham calls.”

 

Jason.  Don’t.  Not after him.  Please.”

 

“If you’re going to tell me he doesn’t deserve it –”

 

“No!  God, Jay, of course he deserves it!  But he killed you.”

 

“This time, I have a gun,” Jason pointed out.  Tim was peering over the edge of the book, watching them with wide eyes.  “I have many guns.  And I know how to use them.”

 

Jason watched, tracking for any hint of disgust on Dick’s face, any sign of displeasure, any mention of that fucking ‘no-killing’ rule.

 

Instead, he saw Dick’s face crumple completely.

 

“Don’t,” his big brother gasped out and Jason automatically took two steps closer – Tim’s eyes went wide but he wasn’t moving and Jason was not qualified to deal with a panic attack.  “Please, Jay, this is – it’s a dream and if you leave – I don’t – I can’t wake up to see you gone, Jay, please –”

 

“Calm down, Dick,” Jason said harshly, reaching out to help Dick track his breaths and stop hyperventilating.  Dick seized his wrist like a drowning man and Jason leaned over, making sure he wasn’t choking from a deflated lung.

 

In retrospect, he shouldn’t have taken his eyes off the baby bird.

 

Dick’s grip tightened, and shifted – he went for a stranglehold and Jason tipped rather than break the hold and Dick’s arm with it, but determined hands grabbed the edge of his jacket and tugged him down.

 

Jason fell onto the bed, mostly bewildered.  Dick was trapping one of his arms and Tim was sprawled along his back. 

 

Logically, this was an attack, but Jason was a bit too confused to categorize it as such.  “I, uh.  What are you guys doing?”

 

“You can’t go,” Tim said to his shoulder blades, like his hundred pounds soaking wet was going to stop Jason from anything.

 

“I’m not watching you die,” Dick said, hoarse.  Tears were dripping slowly from his eyes.  “I’m not burying you again.”

 

“This time probably leave me with a cellphone so I don’t have to crawl my way out,” Jason snarked and then swallowed as the tears turned into sobs.

 

“Jay.”  Dick’s voice was what broke him.  Pleading, desperate, terrified.

 

Jason took a deep breath and held it.  He wanted – he needed to put a bullet in the Joker’s skull.

 

“Don’t, Jaybird,” Dick choked out, “I can’t lose you.  I just got you back.”

 

But the only people Jason cared about protecting were right here.  The Joker would keep.

 


 

Jason carefully wiped the excess oil off with a rag as he wiped down every individual piece of the gun, all laid out on the large towel on the bed.  He was careful to sit still, moving only his arms – Tim had curled his fingers through the loops in Jason’s jeans and Dick had an arm slung around his waist as he pressed his face into the pillow.  Both of them were still and silent, but Jason didn’t trust them to stay that way if he moved.

 

They needed the sleep.  Jason needed to do something with his hands if he couldn’t pull a trigger, and cleaning his guns was a slow, methodical task.

 

Something scratched at the window in the other room.  Jason stilled his movements, and it felt like the whole room was holding its breath.

 

More scratching.  The click of the lock.  A long pause – more than enough time to dismantle the rudimentary shock wire connected to the window.

 

There were no footsteps, but Jason could feel a familiar prickle on the back of his neck as he put the rag down.

 

He picked up the other gun and levelled it straight at the intruder.

 

Batman was looming in the doorway.  He was a still and silent shadow – his head didn’t turn, but Jason knew he was scanning the room, observing as Tim’s chest rose and fell, scrutinizing the contorted position Dick somehow found comfortable, cataloguing their injuries.

 

Watching Jason, and the loaded gun aimed at his head.

 

“Joker’s in Arkham,” Batman offered, like it was supposed to be a comfort.

 

Jason didn’t even bother to scoff.  His finger curled around the trigger.  “Shall we take bets on who he comes after next?  Or how about which one of us will manage to stay dead?”

 

Batman was silent for a long time.  “How are they?” he asked finally.

 

“Sleeping,” Jason growled.  Batman shifted, like he was intending to come inside, and Jason’s hand tightened on the gun.  Batman wisely decided not to push his luck.  “Turns out being tortured and nearly blown up is exhausting work.”

 

Batman regarded him for a long moment.  “How are you?” he asked, his voice softer, more Bruce than Batman.

 

Jason was tempted to shoot him on principle.

 

“You don’t get to ask that question,” he snarled instead, rough and low.

 

Because he was back in that warehouse, hearing his bones snap, wishing desperately for his father to come save him until the timer ran down and everything became fire and – and Batman hadn’t saved him.

 

And Jason had to live with that.

 

Batman didn’t press and didn’t move.  The silence stretched and Jason clenched his hand into a fist before clicking the safety back on and dropping the gun.

 

He got back to cleaning, wiping down the next piece and trying not to let his fingers tremble.  “When did you know?” he asked, quietly, dispassionately.  He flicked a glance up at the shadowed cowl.  “When did you figure out they were here?”

 

“Last night,” Batman answered easily.  “Oracle picked you and Tim up on a security camera.  I was going to check in when…”

 

So that was where Batman had been when the warehouse had blown up.  Jason scowled at the rag, at the faint sense of ‘your fault’ he could feel, and waited for the lecture.  For taking Tim and Dick.  For not checking in.  For letting Batman run around the city believing they were missing while there were criminals to catch.

 

“And you just left them here?” Jason sneered.

 

Batman shifted.  His voice was weary when he replied.  Weary and sad.  “They’re safe here.”

 

Jason couldn’t help the growl.

 

He could almost imagine the raised eyebrow.  He wanted to refute the point, preferably by lunging at Batman’s stupid face, but then he’d wake them up.

 

“I’m sorry,” Batman offered, like it was supposed to mean something.  Like it even mattered in the face of Joker’s continued survival.

 

“For what?” Jason replied, tired.

 

“I’m sorry,” Batman repeated instead of answering the question, and slunk out because he apparently got hives from any form of straightforward communication.

 

Jason made a face, used all of his considerable self-control to resist shooting him in the back, and aggressively put his gun back together as he waited for the window to close again.

 

It closed, but the prickling sensation didn’t fade.

 

“I know you’re still out there,” Jason muttered irritably.

 

“Lurking is not a replacement for talking about your feelings, Bruce!” Dick snarled, curling his hand into Jason’s hoodie before he subsided into disgruntled grumbling.

 

“I’m surprised you didn’t ask to go back to the Manor,” Jason hummed, leaning back against the headboard.

 

“I think it would be better if B and I weren’t in the same house at the moment,” Dick said darkly.  There was a long pause.  “You’re alive.”

 

“I believe we established that, yes.”

 

“No, Jay, I mean – is there paperwork to come back from the dead?” Dick was frowning now.  “We probably have to talk to some W.E. lawyers to look into bringing you back legally.”

 

“I’d rather not come back as Jason Todd-Wayne,” Jason said softly to all listening ears, “Haven’t had the best run with fathers.”

 

Dick’s grip tightened.  There was no sound from the window.

 

“I could adopt you!” Dick chirped, but when Jason twisted to look down at him, his expression was dead serious.  “Jason Grayson.  I like it.”

 

“I’m an adult, I don’t need to be adopted, and I’m perfectly fine without legal paperwork.”

 

“But who will teach you how to do taxes?”

 

“You seem to be operating under the mistaken assumption that I intend to be a lawful citizen.”  A pause.  “Do you even do your own taxes?”

 

“Come oooon, Jay.  Your new name rhymes and everything!  I promise I won’t set a bedtime.”

 

“You know that I can still shoot you, right?  That it’s still on the table?”

 

“Jay Gray.  Gray Jay?  Ooh, your new name could be the Grayjay!”

 

“What the fuck is that supposed to be.”

 

“Better than the Red Hood, certainly.”

 

“Shut up and go to sleep, Dickface.”

 

“Not until you agree to be adopted!”

 

“No.”

 

Jay.”

 

“No.”

 

Please.”

 

“No, and you’re going to wake up Tim.”  Tim cracked his eyes open and grinned.

 

“Pretty, pretty please with strawberries and cranberries and sprinkles and choco chips and raspberry syrup and walnuts and –”

 

Jason slumped back and groaned, “Fucking hell.”

 

“– And cookie crumbs and whipped cream and vanilla bean and hazelnuts and blueberries and caramel syrup and –”

 

“On one condition.”

 

Dick narrowed his eyes.  Tim looked anxious, like he thought Jason was going to ask for the Joker’s head on a platter.  Dick, who knew him better, looked wary, like he thought Jason was going to ask for a horse.

 

“You adopt the baby bird too.”

 

There was loud squawking from the other side of the bed.  “Deal,” Dick grinned.  Jason smiled, and ignored the shadow outside the window.