Jason couldn’t remember anything. He’d get glimpses, images of streets, a feeling of deja vu and familiarity when certain subjects came up. They were there, on the edge of his mind, he knew they were, but beyond waking up in the Lazarus Pit, there was nothing.
The lady, Talia, she said it would be better this way. Something about hurt and putting himself in danger if he did remember. Saying the people before didn’t deserve him. He understood the words, what she meant, but that didn’t stop him from wanting to know, from hoping she was wrong, that whatever ills had befallen him before could be remedied.
Talia didn’t like it, this hope of his. When it was directed towards other things, towards Damian or humanity or himself she loved it, encouraged it even. But for meeting his “family”? For diving into his past, who he was before ? Never.
That didn’t stop her from funding his trips and education. It didn’t stop her from sending him to some of the most prestigious schools and tutors she could find, rounding out his skills and knowledge to what it should be.
But that didn’t stop her from asking if he was sure more times than necessary. It didn’t stop her from holding back what information she held. He couldn’t blame her. Not really.
The day he returned from a trip to find Damian gone and the compound he and Talia had been in reduced to smoke had to be the worst day of this new life. He had no way of knowing what had happened, where they’d gone, if they’d made it out. But he hoped they did, believed that wherever Talia had gone with his brother they were safe. He hoped that wherever they’d gone, Damian was being given a chance at a better life, a new one away from all the death and destruction of the League of Shadows. Yes, that’s where they’d be. And come hell or high water Jason would find them.
It was as he’d made that decision, as he was leaving the compound and its surrounding villages, that a blue light came to him, speaking of hope. A ring, it felt familiar in a way, that same way that looking at Damian elicited a feeling of familiarity, that Jason had seen a similar hairline before, the same determined glint to his eyes. Just like with Damian, Jason couldn’t be sure if that feeling of familiarity attached to this ring could be trusted.
But the ring could help him. It might be able to help him rediscover who he was, or at the very least to find his family. Accepting the ring was a no brainer, and when he felt the blue light wash over him, amplifying the hope within, it felt right.
When he finally saw Talia again, it was with no Damian in sight. The chairs beside her stood empty, the small tea shop he found her in devoid of any sign of his brother.
“Where’s Damian?” were the first words out of his mouth.
She just sighed and set down her tea. “You can’t even spare a greeting first habibi? Surely I’ve taught you better manners than that.” He lowered his head in apology, receiving yet another sigh at the gesture, this one of exasperation. “He is in America with his father.”
America. Jason had been there plenty of times. If it weren’t for his fluency in so many languages and the odd mixing of his accent from years of travel, he’d assume he was from there too. It was familiar, and it felt like there was something important there, but he couldn’t be sure.
“Is he safe there?” Jason asked as he tried to remember what he’d heard of the man who’d fathered his brother.
“Safer than he is with me or the Shadows at the moment,” Talia admitted.
She reached across the table, cupping his hand in hers. She barely gave notice of the ring on his finger, merely raised one of her perfectly sculpted brows before she continued. “You have your own path Jason, one that is yours and yours alone.”
“I’ll be able to see him though. He’s my brother, you can’t keep us apart.”
“When he is outside of Gotham, yes.”
Gotham. The name sounded familiar, felt like, like, home but not. He could remember something, dirty streets, fluorescent lights reflecting off of puddles of filthy water, cold, worry, an old bathroom, a woman’s voice. He tried to reach out, to grab it and hold it and not let it go. But it slipped through his fingers and slipped into nothingness.
“You are not to enter that god forsaken city,” Talia ordered, squeezing his hand ever tighter. “I will not lose you to its darkness.”
“I worry for Damian, I always will, but he does not have the history there that you possess. I can’t bear the thought of you being hurt again, whether by them or your own mind.”
He understood that, he really did, but… “We must have hope Mom,” he said, holding her hand back. “You wouldn’t have sent Damian there if you didn’t have any for the city or its inhabitants.”
She sighed again, in that way all mothers seemed to. The kind of sigh that said she didn’t want to agree, but she didn’t want to crush his dreams either. “Blue is for hope then,” she stated as her eyes flicked down to his ring. “I’d hoped to keep you away from that life.”
“It’s going to be okay Mom, I promise.”
“You are lucky I love you.”
“I love you too.”
She asked him to wait before heading to Gotham, to give her time to prepare. So he waited. He followed the signs of despair wherever he saw it, worked to help those he could in whatever way he knew how. He made sure to keep a low profile, the last thing he wanted was to gain attention after all. He knew of the various heroes of Earth, knew Talia had strong feelings about them. So he stayed away. He kept to himself, using the skills and knowledge he had to help.
Then the day came.
“You must be sure about this,” Talia told him. “You must be sure you can handle the pain associated with your previous life.”
“I’m sure,” he said without a hint of hesitation.
“I am sending you coordinates,” Talia said after a pause. “Wait for me there. I should arrive within roughly two or three hours.”
He looked at her message, surprised at the numbers on his phone screen. Those weren’t in Gotham, they weren’t even in the same hemisphere. “Where—“
“Just wait for me Jason. I will explain when we get there.”
The phone went dead, Talia’s voice no longer present, and he had to wonder what was wrong. She’d sounded pained, hurt. Maybe it was for the best if he didn’t go through with this. Maybe it really was as bad as she said.
But he couldn’t let himself think like that, no. This would be fine. He was getting answers, he was learning who he was. Or rather, who he had been. Doubt was one of the worst things a Blue Lantern could be consumed by. It had been one of the many things Saint Walker had taught him during his training. Doubt was the enemy, hope could not live if one lived in the shade of doubt and fear. Clear your mind, let yourself breathe, and then think about the future and what it could bring.
Releasing his breath, he let the blue light wash over him, changing his jeans, boots, and shirt into the blue and black material that made up all of the Blue Lanterns’ suits. The scarf and hood around his neck was a comforting weight, one he enjoyed far more than he probably should, but he wasn’t going to change it, nor the mask covering the top half of his face. The ensemble fit him like a glove, and he wasn’t about to lose it.
The wind blew through his hair as he flew, kicking that white streak of his back and forth, in and out of his vision. It was one of those things he just couldn’t explain, and something Talia wasn’t willing to comment on. Nevertheless, it was a part of him now, for better or worse.
Apprehension set in as he got closer, the feeling of something being off, as though there was something at the back of his mind, clawing for a way to get free.
By the time he set down the feeling was at a roar, getting louder and louder with every step he took. There was something here, he could feel it. He just needed to follow the feeling, the muscle memory, follow the path it led him down. He knew he shouldn’t, Talia had told him to wait, but whatever this was, it was here, somewhere in the sand riddled distance.
He didn’t bother flying, that would give him away, possibly get him attacked. It would be quicker, would let him return so much easier, but he had to know.
The farther he got the more the images began to make sense, fitting together like some fucked up puzzle. The feeling of hope and longing intermingling with abandonment, an orange Jeep and feeling alone even with someone right next to him. But who? The figure’s voice was garbled, his face a blank slate. Jason couldn’t tell who he was, even as he felt so important. There was blonde hair and a cigarette, the color purple, horrible laughter, a crowbar…
There was an explosion, oh so loud, and it takes him far too long to realize that it’s not in his hacked up memories. A building nearby, abandoned by the looks of it, and he almost stopped himself from going, too shaken up by those images, what they could mean. But no, he had to go, he had to be sure everyone was okay. He rushed forward, his blue light soothing the flames that were kicking up around him. The smoke barely reached him, his ring keeping his airways clear, but even so it felt like he was choking, like his brain was playing tricks on him. He needed to get out, but he couldn’t, not yet. He was barely through the wreckage, he had to—
Wailing pierced the air, high pitched and seeming to echo from within the flames. He leapt ahead, hunting for the source. He couldn’t hear any more voices, even as he called out for them. But the wailing sounded like it was from a baby. Surely no one would leave a baby in a building such as this alone.
But then he found it, and it all made sense.
Some sort of pod laid in the wreckage, part of it crushed and another part shattered. The wailing only got louder, the fire growing high around it. A name came to him, Kent, and a place, Smallville, but he pushed it away, too busy forcing the pod open.
“Ring, anyway to salvage this thing?” he demanded as he tried to force the broken glass to crack further.
The ring dinged at him, its blue light flowing over the vessel before disappearing.
“Negative,” the feminine voice replied. “All systems at forty-six percent functionality or lower. No system left intact.”
“Any kind of memory bank? Hard drive?” The glass finally started to crack under his efforts, forcing whatever locking mechanism held the door shut open.
“System storage at an estimated thirty-two percent survival.”
“Then get it, and what’s with it out,” he ordered, pointing the ring into the wreck.
The glass door finally lifted, what he assumed to be the pod’s memory banks rising in a pool of blue light towards him. And then there was the baby. He assumed that’s what it was anyway, just his luck it’d be one of those alien species that looked like human infants. It didn’t escape his notice how the child’s wailing had stopped, their big eyes trained on the blue light surrounding them.
“Status report,” Jason commanded even as he took the child into his arms. Up close like this he could see the minute differences between the child and a human, the lines crossing its face, the ones running down its arms that seemed to separate, how much bigger its irises were. The ring read off a report to him of the child’s life signs, not that he was paying attention.
A baby, he just saved an alien baby. He expected this sort of thing to happen eventually, but not here, not on Earth. What was he supposed to do with this? He shook his head, pushing the thoughts away as he flew out of the building. He could worry about that later. For now, he needed to get them out of here.
“You know dear,” Talia began when they finally met up again later. “I expected you to wander off ahead of me. I even expected you to find what we are here for before I could arrive. But this,” she gestured to the bundle in his arms, wrapped tight in a bright blue construct blanket, “how did you ever manage this Jason?”
He shrugged to the best of his abilities, mindful of the being he was cradling within his grasp. “Just special I guess.”
She sighed, a familiar sound between them by now. She had that look in her eyes, the one that said she was remembering something, reminiscing on a time he couldn’t remember. “That you are, that you are.”
She stirred her drink, eyes staring at the baby yet looking into the past. They weren’t going to the warehouse, not that they needed to. The glimpses Jason got of it, of the man in purple, the woman with the blonde hair, the terror and the pain and the fire, they were enough for now. Maybe later he’d be willing to revisit it, to learn more, to find out exactly what happened, who those people were, what happened to him, who that faceless man was. But for now he had other questions to ask.
“What is Smallville?”
Her hands stopped, her gaze snapping to his, sharp as a knife.
“Where did you learn that name?” she asked without a hint of emotion.
He reached down, checking to see that the baby was asleep before he murmured, “I don’t know. I just… remembered it when I found him.”
Her eyes remained trained on him, shoulders tensed. “Did you remember anything else?”
He pondered, thumb running over a plump cheek as he ran through the memories again, the fire and the laughter, the sadness and pain, until he got to the child and to Smallville. “Kent,” he said slowly. “The name Kent.”
“Interesting.” She finally leaned back, stirring her drink before taking another sip. All the tension seemed to have drained out of her. “Any ideas why you might be remembering that now dear?”
For the life of him Jason didn’t know. All he had were these names. Smallville he could guess was a town, maybe a village, in an English speaking country. That narrowed it down, but not by much. And Kent, well, that was even trickier. Kent could be a given name or a family name, it could even be a nickname for all he knew. For fuck’s sake, wasn’t there a school or a university or something called Kent? That didn’t narrow anything down. Except…
Except he remembered those names when he found the baby. So Kent and Smallville must be related to alien babies then, right? Why else would his mind remind him of that?
“Was Kent like him?” he asked, gesturing to the baby. “And Smallville, that’s where it happened?”
She smiled, reached for her bag, and he knew he’d hit a hole in one. Even before she handed him her tablet, the screen lighting up to let him search for whatever he could ever want, he knew he was right. But did he really want to know? Should he? Maybe it’d be better if he didn’t. Whoever this Kent was, they deserved some privacy, deserved to not have their peace interrupted by some ghost of the past.
But hadn’t he wanted to learn about who he was before? Wasn’t that the whole reason he was here? To figure out who he was? And even if he put Gotham and that warehouse on the back burner, figuring out who Kent was, what happened to them, maybe that would help Jason and by extension the baby in his care.
Talia’s voice had a faint hint of worry to it, concern coating her features when he looked back up.
“You don’t have to if you don’t want to,” she said. “It is your choice what you do, not mine, not theirs.”
He looked to his mother, with her jade eyes of worry, to the sleeping alien curled into his arms, thoughts of the brother hidden away in America running through his mind, and made his decision.
Space always had a way of calming his head. That was truer now more than ever. Being away from Earth, with all its seeming familiarity, with the people and the places that felt like they should be familiar even if they aren’t, with all his memories locked within its grasp, it could be suffocating. Having all these memories surface at once, without a clear direction or relationship between most, and with so many details left out, it was easily the worst memory dump yet.
Normally he’d just hole up in one of Talia’s bases, pick the one that was closest, least crowded, and just barricade himself in there for a few days until his brain was back in working order. He had half a mind to do it again, but that wasn’t really an option.
He looked down to the bundle strapped to his chest, the wide eyes that looked back at him. Talia had offered to watch him while Jason left to clear his head, said it wouldn’t be a problem. Alien or not, a baby was still a baby.
For some reason the idea of it felt wrong. He didn’t know what it was that caused this feeling, the fact he was the one to find the child, that so many of his own memories had resurfaced when they’d arrived, that he’d been the one to name them. The name given by the pod’s memory bank was corrupted, as was most other files stored on it. He did the best he could with what the pod gave him, settling on Ray as an easy enough name for the infant. Talia had snickered at his decision all the same.
Whatever it was he couldn’t stand the thought of leaving the child behind. That feeling of abandonment from earlier hit him, that black, featureless face appearing behind his eyes when he thought about leaving the baby. He had to take Ray with him.
At least with the baby on his person he might find some information that could help determine where they came from.
But first, to cool his head.
Ray cooed as they set down on Mogo, little arms stretched out towards the trees lining the opening.
“Pretty, isn’t it?” Jason cooed back.
Pretty really wasn’t a good enough word for Mogo and his surface, not at all. Not with his miles of forests, his lakes that sparkled no matter the time of day. Even that odd crater in his side, the ground carved away in some kind of blast, was astounding. And that wasn’t even considering the personality that glowed beneath.
“Jason Todd, it has been some time since you visited.” The voice rumbled through the air, resonating from all around him. Ray looked around in awe, trying to locate the source of the voice. “You have brought someone with you I see. Is all well brother?”
Now that was the question, wasn’t it? “I’m not entirely sure,” he admitted. He settled next to a shallow pond, the water just deep enough for him to put his hand in but barely going past mid-shin if he were to stand in it. He removed the straps keeping Ray tied to him, allowing the child to crawl over and inspecting everything he could find. With Ray thoroughly distracted but in no harm, he continued. “Had some more memories pop up, some not so good ones from what I could tell.”
“Do you regret these memories?” Mogo asked.
“No, but it feels like there’s, there’s something else there, something that I’m missing. Context, a name, a face, something. But it all came at me so fast… And then I found Ray and, well, priorities, you know?”
“The mind is a fragile thing.”
“Heh, you don’t have to tell me twice.”
“Your mind has suffered more than others brother. It is fractured and some pieces might even be gone. You must be patient with yourself, just as you are with others.”
Jason hummed, turning to watch as Ray reached for a butterfly. The limbs on his arms seemed to split for a second before rejoining, still stretched out in excitement.
“What will become of the child?” Mogo asked a few moments later.
Jason shook his head, his other worry coming to light. “I don’t know. I literally just found him out in the middle of nowhere. The memory bank from his pod’s fragmented, could hardly get anything off of it. I can’t even pull where Ray or the thing originated from.”
“Are you hoping to send him back to his family and homeworld?”
“I…” he trailed off, eyes looking into the distance. That might’ve been the hope at first, sure, but after finding out how corrupted that drive was, and spending over a week caring for Ray as his own, he couldn’t be so sure. Yeah, an alien baby might be a handful, but could he honestly say he was okay with just giving him up now?
“No,” he settled on, accepting what he knew to be true. “I don’t think I could do that. I just wish I could know about where he comes from, his species or race or whatever, make sure I’m not poisoning him or something.”
“You wish to keep him as your own.”
It wasn’t a question, not really, even though it really should be. Mogo knew him well enough by now, knew how he thought. He didn’t need to ask, because he already knew.
“Brother Stewart mentioned a planetary collapse in Sector 2392, a planet by the name of Ashla. Perhaps the answers lie there.”
The name, Stewart, rang a bell in his head, yet another name that felt like it should be familiar even if he didn’t know why. The same thing had happened at the mention of a Gardner and Jordan, and just like with those two, he remained as confused as before. At least with these ones he could convince himself it was nothing. There were so many Stewarts and Jordans in the world, Gardners with a big G and a little one. Just because the names were familiar didn’t mean the people were.
He felt a patting on his arm and looked down to see Ray’s bright eyes staring back. He yawned, big and wide, patting Jason’s thigh as he mumbled something. Jason chuckled, lifting him up into his lap, not at all surprised when Ray curled into him and promptly fell asleep.
“Stay a while brother,” Mogo offered. “You are tired, as is your child. You are safe here, rest.”
Jason smiled at the remark, letting himself lay down on the soft grass below. Yeah, maybe he could do that, just for a little while. Then he could have his ring research Ashla, find out what happened, then get back to Earth and figure out what to do about Kent and Smallville, and about Gotham and the faceless man there.
As so often happened, his plans were put on hold and any chance he had at looking into Gotham or Smallville was lost. He instead found himself going toe to toe with a giant lizard, or as he was referring to it: some asshole’s wannabe-Godzilla. He was grateful for Talia’s presence, her ability to disappear in the blink of an eye much appreciated when it came to keeping Ray safe. He knew how much she wanted to be there with him, letting off some steam, making sure he was careful, but at the end of the day keeping her grandson safe was more important to both of them. And wasn’t that a weird thought?
Normally this wasn’t a problem. After all, there were heroes seemingly everywhere anymore. It was just unfortunate that today of all days none seemed to be around.
He saw a hand coming at him, large and scaled, followed up by a massive spiked tail. He spun away from the hand, slipping between the fingers, and shot a line around the tail. The monster roared at the indignation, twisting and pulling in its attempt to remove the blue light encasing its limb. It tried to swat at Jason again, only for more restraints to appear.
‘They really don’t make monsters like they used to’ Jason thought bitterly. He froze for half a second, wondering where that came from, what monster he could have possibly ever seen, before he shook himself out of it. Now wasn’t the time, he could question himself later.
Unfortunately for him, that half a second was enough time for the creature to attack. He watched as the clawed hand came at him, far too fast for him to evade or catch while keeping up the concentration needed for his other constructs. He summoned his blue light, saw as it creeped up around him, forming and solidifying as it went, the hand getting ever closer. He wasn’t going to be fast enough, not at all, he wasn’t—
A streak of red and blue slammed into the monster’s hand, eliciting an earth shaking screech. Surprise hit him first, the familiar form of Superman floating before him while holding the monster’s hand not one he’d expected to see. Maybe that was a lie, he’d expected to see it earlier, back when the monster had first appeared on the horizon, looking ready to rush the city, as cries for Superman rang out across the city, but certainly not now. But with the surprise came that weird feeling again, the feeling that he knew this person. And then the man turned around and it only got worse.
“Are you alright Lantern?”
The voice rocked through him, that whisper of familiarity turning into a scream. He didn’t just know of this man, he knew him, or at least he did once. A city appeared in his mind, bright and beautiful and full of hope, then fields, a small house with a wrap around porch, a man with glasses and a curl to his hair. Kent blared in his head so loud he wanted to throw up. But he couldn’t. Not right now.
“Fine,” Jason shot back, forcing himself to concentrate on the restraints and make up for the slack they’d gained. “We can talk later.”
Superman nodded his agreement and they were off.
Jason’s blue overtook the scene, creating a larger area between the three of them and any nearby civilians. He held tight to the tail and hand in his grasp, refusing to let go even as Superman attacked the monster, punching and throwing the beast away from the city. It was a process getting the monster a reasonable distance away, but when they did it gave Superman enough space to freeze the thing.
The frozen beast was truly a sight to behold, a Godzilla-sicle floating in the bay. He snapped a few pictures, sending them off to Talia with a few choice emojis. She was never one to send them herself, far too proper for such things, but she always seemed happy whenever he and Damian sent them.
With a final picture sent, he let himself look back at the mess before him, tried to reign in the weird flashes of memory even as he sought them out. This man, Superman, Kent, Jason knew him before , he must have. But who was he? What did he know?
Superman waved to him, gesturing to the monster. “We need to take this thing somewhere.”
“Did you have anywhere in mind?”
“Yes. I was hoping you’d be free to join me.” He smiled, all bright and hopeful, and Jason had to wonder why he was the one with the ring and not this beacon of light. It’d make much more sense based on everything he’d heard and witnessed.
Then again, the universe didn’t seem too keen on following its own logic sometimes.
“Sure, absolutely,” Jason said, doing his best to respond to that smile as he reached for his phone again. “Just need to let Mom know I’ll be gone longer than intended.”
Superman startled at that, eyes wide as he looked Jason over. “Are you a teenager? The rings have been picking younger and younger folks as of late, but—“
“No no not at all.” With a quick message to Talia he felt that little bit better. “I’m twenty-one, that much I know for sure.”
“She’s just watching my son right now, that’s all,” he said and that was another thing wasn’t it? Normally he was so worried about giving away information like that, but he didn’t feel that right now. “She gets worried when I don’t check in for a while. I was kind of gone for a few days recently, no way to contact her in space, you know how it is.”
Jason threw a construct net over their icy catch, hoisting it up and out of the bay as Superman watched in confusion. Jason laughed, enjoying the moment far more than he should. “Which way?”
Superman shook his head, that curl of his flopping this way and that, before he flew up to lead the way. Jason followed, a sense of calm overtaking him as they started to chat. Superman avoided asking about the child or mom he’d mentioned, keeping the talk strict to mask business. Jason could work with that. He could work up to the Kent and Smallville questions later. No rush.
It wasn’t until they reached the facility and dropped off the monster that Superman finally broached any kind of semi-personal subject. Even then he kept it at a distance, nothing too personal or intimate. Bloody mid-western hospitality rumbled through his head, a voice low and deep and oddly soothing, even if he didn’t remember who it belonged to.
“How long have you had your ring?” Superman asked once they reached Metropolis. “None of the Green Lanterns mentioned having a Blue around.”
Jason chuckled at the remark. Between him and Talia the chance of anyone finding him had been slim to none up until this point. He mostly stuck to smaller disasters, or just every day helping. While his abilities as a Blue Lantern were helpful, the various skills he’d picked up thanks to Talia’s insistence on schooling was just as useful in helping people. The medical knowledge in particular had been the most useful he’d found, that and the various psychological and sociological teachings she’d been adamant he partake in. As a result, the monster today was the first semi-large scale problem he’d dealt with in a while.
“About a year and a half,” Jason said after doing some quick math. “I tend to keep to myself, don’t want to attract too much attention, you know?”
“Intimately.” A look came over the man’s face, one of introspection, and Jason could only guess that he was thinking of what his life could have been like without the cape, or even just a more limited role. “You said you’re twenty-one—“
“—so you’ve been a Lantern since you were what, nineteen then?”
The look sent his way was one that held way more concern than it should. Jason knew enough to be aware of the younger heroes, the teenagers and child sidekicks that worked with the Justice League. A bit hypocritical to be concerned over a nineteen year old who stayed away from the more dangerous disasters when he was supporting even younger individuals with much less if any training doing the exact same thing, most of them without a fancy ring to protect them. He didn’t say that of course, he didn’t want to ruffle any feathers before he got his answers after all, but it swirled around in his mind nonetheless.
“That sounds about right,” Jason said, not letting the little bit of annoyance seep into his voice. “Though with my memories all screwed up, we aren’t entirely sure as far as age and stuff goes.”
They touched down atop a diner, the big sign on top hiding them perfectly from the pedestrians below. “Do you know what happened?” Superman asked, motioning towards his head. “Is it just some memories or…”
“All. Can’t really remember anything from before I was sixteen. Got quite a bit of muscle memory, remember how to do things even if my mind doesn’t. And I’ve been getting flashes lately, sensations, nothing really helpful though.”
“You’ve spoken to a doctor right? I know doctors and hospitals are expensive here, but if it’s something that serious…”
“Mom got the best and then some, I’ve got a ring that can heal just about anything so long as the person on the receiving end has hope. If my memories were gonna come racing back they would’ve done it by now.”
“Are you okay with that? With not knowing?”
“Meh,” he shrugged. “Some days it sucks, like I just have this need to know what happened before, why I am who I am, but lately not so much. I want to know who I was, where I came from, but that’s more so for the closure of that life, knowing what old me knew. That and I just really like a good mystery,” he ended with a laugh. “What’s a better case than figuring out your entire life story, you know?”
Superman just shook his head with a fond smile. “I know a group you’d fit right in with. Though they’re a lot more brooding than you.”
“That’s only because you don’t know me yet. Give it time.”
With his laughter and his quick departure with promises of pie, Jason knew he’d won the man’s trust. That’s not to say Superman wasn’t great or anything, but suffice to say, it’d be easier to get answers from someone who actually liked him.
That, and pie sounded really nice.
Of all the people Jason expected to see at the Kent family farm, Damian was most certainly not one of them.
“Akhi?!” came the indignant shout, and Jason had just enough time to readjust his hold on Ray before Damian was upon him, the normally stoic pre-teen pressing into his side as he wrapped his arms around Jason as tight as his arms would let him. Jason returned the hug as best he could with his free arm. That didn’t stop him from holding Damian close, or from pressing a kiss to the top of his head.
“Hello my little prince,” Jason said into his hairline. “It’s been far too long.”
“That would be the largest understatement you have ever made,” Damian huffed. “It has been over two years brother, could you not spare any time to send a letter at the very least?”
Jason sighed, thinking back to all the conversations with Talia, her concerns over him following Damian, her worries that something could go wrong. He wondered if she’d have felt any better knowing this was how they would be reunited.
“Mom doesn’t want me going to Gotham, not without her.”
“Because of your memories,” Damian concluded, finally pulling away. There were eyes watching, more than he was sure Damian was comfortable with, but he paid them no mind, clearly believing his time with his brother to be more important.
“I’ve also had some other… commitments,” Jason added waving his hand and shifting Ray again.
“Yes, Mother made mention of your status as a Blue Lantern.” Damian looked him over, those eyes that were far too old for a thirteen year old tracking over him. “The ring has made an admirable choice.”
“Aww, Dami,” Jason pulled him close again, ruffling his hair as he did so. “I love you too buddy.”
By now the youngest of the Kents was downright gawking, the young boy apparently taken aback at the displays of affection. Jason wouldn’t be surprised. Damian was like his mother after all, wanting so much to show his love but keeping it locked away. Things like hugs and embraces were only meant for a sparse few. Jason could only hope that number had gotten larger since he last saw Damian.
“Well, there’s something else too.”
He let go of Damian, moving everyone around so Ray was once again in both arms though now facing Damian. “Meet your nephew, Ray.”
Damian looked at the alien with hesitation, reaching out to let him take one of his fingers. “Nephew?” he asked with a raised brow. “Brother, I think you have been using your ring for nefarious purposes.”
Jason laughed, which was enough of an indicator for Damian that Jason had not in fact been using his ring in that way, not that Damian actually believed he would. “Was going to figure out some memory stuff with Mom, found Ray here instead.”
“Interesting.” Damian turned his hand slightly, studying the lines of separation that were visible on Ray’s forearm. “Will you be taking him home? Surely it would be wrong to keep a child from their rightful parents.”
“Ashla, his homeworld, it’s not really available anymore. The Greens are investigating, but something big happened there, something big enough that they sent Ray and others out in the hopes of a better life.”
Understanding crossed Damian’s features, his eyes moving to the old barn. “The reason you are here with Kent is in relation to that then.”
“Half and half,” Jason said. “We met a few weeks ago, had a few memory flashes hit when it happened. He offered to help, show me some stuff, see if it’ll jog something up there. And with his situation being similar to Ray’s, may as well.”
Damian’s gaze sharpened, running over to the three watching them. “You have not given them your name, have you?” Damian whispered with an urgency Jason hadn’t seen in a while.
“They’ve just been calling me Jay,” he explained, hoping it was enough. “Why?”
Damian shook his head, eyes darting over again, and Jason understood. Super hearing, they’d know what they said. Damian’s question was already going to raise some eyebrows, best not to make it any worse. “Either way, be careful. Mother wants you to stay out of Gotham for a reason, and I am in agreement with her.”
Okay, now that was concerning.
“Why? My past can’t be that bad.”
“Brother, please, do you trust me?”
“Of course I do.”
“Then trust me when I tell you, do not go without Mother there to catch you.”
“Promise me Brother, please.”
Looking into those jade eyes, so much like their mother’s, he could never say no. “Of course Damian. I promise.”
“Thank you Brother,” Damian said with a tilt to his head.
Jason nodded, pulling Damian close again. Whatever it was, whoever he’d found in Gotham that related to Jason, it wasn’t good. Damian wasn’t squeamish, he’d seen his own fair share of atrocities, had no problems with addressing them. If he was this panicked, this adamant that Jason stay away…
What the hell did he find?
He wasn’t to go into Gotham. He’d made a promise and he wasn’t one to go back on those; however, that didn’t stop him from researching or following other leads when he could.
Damian was in that city. If he was that worried for Jason, then Jason couldn’t be too sure if he trusted that city with his brother.
After a brief search through different news sites, and then through some local message boards and groups, he had half a mind to march through that city and take Damian, his father be damned. And if Talia wanted to stop him she’d have to get to space to do it.
Knowing her she probably would.
The thing is, Jason knew about Batman, who didn’t at this point? He knew of the acquaintances, Nightwing and Oracle, Batgirl and the like. But when he got to Robin, to the web of wrongness there, well he knew where that new scar on Damian’s shoulder had come from.
But it wasn’t just Damian. No, there was at least four others before him, all children, all turned nighttime sidekick-vigilante-soldier. The first was Nightwing, that much was agreed upon. The acrobatics, the snarking, the timing, it all lined up. The third had become Red Robin, again another obvious one, and the fourth, the only girl, was believed to have had a run as Batgirl as well as Spoiler. But the second one, the second one was inconclusive. No one was quite sure what to make of it. A young boy, extremely small but packing quite a punch. He’d worked alongside Batman for an estimated two or three years, then he just disappeared without a trace. There were speculations of course, but nothing that seemed definitive. And then someone in the board’s history had dropped a name, Garzonas, and the memories and images came roaring back. A woman, terrified and abused, a man far too proud of himself, diplomatic immunity, a phone call, a body hanging, anger and rage and despair, a man’s wide eyes before he fell over a balcony railing, the man without a face demanding to know if he’d pushed him.
He lurched for the nearest trash can, any lunch he’d had making a quick exit as he struggled through the bombardment of memories, incomplete as they were.
Later, after far too long, when all that was left was dry heaves and the usual tears that came with such an episode, he could barely bring himself to close his laptop. It was too much, far too much. Had he been, he knew who, Damian was—
The voice broke through the silence, joining Jason’s labored breathing as Ray waddled into the room.
Jason wiped his mouth with his sleeve, hoping Ray wouldn’t notice what had just happened. For only being one or two Earth years old, he was far more perceptive than he had any right being.
Jason forced himself up onto his own wobbly legs, forcing the slight tremors to cease so he could go to his son. “Ally-oop,” he sing songed as he lifted Ray into his arms, swinging ever so slightly as he basked in Ray’s giggles. “What are you doing up?” he asked. “It’s nap time buster.”
Ray just giggled some more, reaching for Jason’s face. “Na’ tie fo’ Dada,” he chanted as he squished Jason’s cheek. “Dada sleep too.”
“Oh, is that what you want?”
Ray nodded vigorously, those large eyes of his never leaving Jason.
“ Fine , if that’s what you want.”
Ray threw his arms up, a happy chirping sound filling the air as his arms tried to split again. Jason would need to look into that, figure out what it meant, what he could do to help his son develop properly.
Ray patted his cheek again, pointing towards Jason’s room with more excited sounds. Jason had no choice but to follow orders, even if those orders involved a quick pit stop to get that horrible taste out of his mouth.
When they finally settled, with Ray curled up on his father’s chest, Jason felt much more at ease. Images of a falling man, a man without a face, and shades of red, yellow, and green danced across his vision, but they were easier to ignore like this. With Ray’s weight against his chest, and his soft purr like snores filling Jason’s ears, he could slip into sleep without fear of what his memories might try to come up with next. He reached down, kissing Ray’s head one last time, letting him grab a few of Jason’s fingers, and finally let himself drift away.
“So you and Damian know each other,” Clark said at their next bimonthly lunch.
“We’re brothers,” Jason stated plainly. “I’m adopted.”
“So your mother is—“
“Talia, yes.” Ray started bouncing in his seat, the sound of his grandma’s name exciting him. Jason got a spoonful of scrambled eggs, lifting it up to Ray. The child ate it up greedily, fighting to keep the spoon even once the food was gone.
“You’re okay with her watching Ray? You know what she does right? Who she is?”
“Of course I do, that’s how she found me.”
Clark stared at him, confusion and shock screaming out of every pore as his eyes darted between Jason, his ring, and Ray. He was trying to figure something out, trying to make sense of the situation.
“Don’t think about it too much,” Jason reassured with a wave of his hand.
“Loves me, Damian, and Ray, and that’s what matters.” Jason turned to Ray, poking one of his squishy cheeks. “Isn’t that right Ray Ray?”
“Yeah, Mah-maw wuvs us!”
Jason patted his head fondly, offering up another spoonful as reward. “Good job buddy.”
Clark nodded, seemingly putting the conversation to the side, but not fully away if that expression of his was anything to go by. He stared down at his meal, taking his steaming coffee like a champ, and Jason had to wonder how long he could keep up this charade of normalcy. Even after months of knowing each other Clark still didn’t know his real name. While he trusted Clark to know about Ray, he didn’t trust him enough to let him know any details about his memory flashes. He might know him as a friend, but he couldn’t trust him as a true friend, let alone family.
“You said you were adopted?” Clark asked awkwardly. “How old were you? If you don’t mind me asking.”
“I’m not even sure to be honest,” he said, no concern in his voice. “You remember what I said about my memories, how they just kind of stop about five or six years back?”
“Yes, you said you don’t remember anything from before you were sixteen.”
“Bingo. Well, mom found me during the time I can’t remember. Apparently I was in a bad spot, really screwed up. She got me healthy again, offered to let me stick around once I was cognizant and stuff.” He stirred his drink, watching as the cubes moved through the water. “I’m not actually adopted, not legally anyway, but I don’t need to be. The existence of some piece of paper isn’t going to affect whether I’m her son or not, and it isn’t going to change whether or not Damian is my brother.”
“Hmm.” Clark was still struggling to understand it all, to look at what he knew about Talia and combine it with what Jason was saying. Add in the dynamics with Damian, and Ray on top of that, and Jason could see where the confusion only got worse.
“Damian never mentioned having a brother,” Clark explained. “With how much he seemed to hate Tim when he first got to Gotham, I’d think he would have brought you up at some point, say something about Tim and the others being 'inferior siblings' or something, that’s all.”
How the hell was he even supposed to answer that? Oh, yeah well you see, apparently whatever happened to my memories has something to do with Gotham and maybe even the people Damian is around. No cause for concern though, I’m sure it was nothing.
“We’re a bit paranoid, that’s all,” he settled on. Not untrue, but certainly not the best of explanations. “Who’s Tim?”
“He’s one of Bruce’s other sons. Damian didn’t like him much when he got here, but he seems to have warmed up to him a bit.”
“And Bruce?” Jason asked, a strange feeling forming in his gut. The name felt familiar, like he’d said it before, like it should mean something.
Something seemed to click into place in his head. The images of the newest Robin next to a large, menacing figure. It had been obvious enough to Jason that whoever this Batman character was, he was the father Talia had left Damian with. But now he had a name, he could find a face. Gotham might be a large city, but there could only be so many Bruces and of those Bruce’s how many had multiple children? Or even just the income required to lead that nightly lifestyle?
He could have the man’s address within the hour.
“He’d love to meet you,” Clark said with a smile.
...Well that was one way to do it.
“I don’t know…” he reached over to Ray, pulling him out of the baby seat to set him on his lap. On one hand it’d be a good opportunity, get in, stake the place out, make his threats known and heard. He might be a Blue Lantern, might carry hope around like a puppy, that didn’t stop him from being terrifying when he needed to be. Talia hadn’t spent all those months teaching him how to fight for nothing. But on the other hand, she and Damian had both asked him to stay away. As curious as he might be, he couldn’t just ignore those kind of warnings and ignore his family’s concerns.
“Just think about it, no pressure,” Clark reassured him. “He’d love to meet you, but he also understands needing your privacy.”
“I’ll think about it,” Jason promised, noting Clark’s remarks down for later. If this Bruce would love to meet him then Clark’s already informed him about Jason and Damian’s interaction. Which means Damian had most likely been questioned already. A twinge of fear slipped through the cracks, that worry for his brother, before he forced it back in a wave of blue. Damian was strong, with a good head on his shoulders. Whatever he told his father it would be the best option either of them had.
“Speaking of first meetings,” Clark continued, eyes shifting around the diner. “There are some other people who would be interested in meeting you too.”
Jason sighed, which was quickly copied by Ray. “Clark, I told you, I’m not interested in being a part of… that .”
“I know, I know, but just hear me out. Wouldn’t it be nice to just know some folks? Even if you’re not part of the, uh, big projects like they are, they’re great people, good connections to have.”
“And if I don’t go to them chances are they’ll come to me,” Jason finished, rolling his eyes.
Clark chuckled sheepishly, shoulders hunching up even more than usual. “Yeah, you could say that.”
That begs the question of who exactly would deem him important enough to track down, let alone confront. Whoever it was would need tech, it’s not like he used his actual identity for anything, and with how much he moved around and jumped on and off the grid, any chance someone would have of finding him would be so much slimmer. He knew it was still possible, whether by magic or a Lantern ring, or even that obsessive nature of the bats, but still.
“It’s still a no Clark.”
Clark hummed in response, clearly having known the answer was coming. “That’s alright. It’s no rush.” He opened his mouth, words starting to form, but then he looked over Jason’s shoulder as the bell rang above the entrance and a look of guilt crossed his face. He snapped his jaws shut, a mix of confusion and frustration joining the guilt. “Gosh, I’m so sorry Jay,” he apologized as he rose to leave. “Big boss is here, seems I’m needed back at the office.” He threw a couple twenties down, more than enough to cover their meal and a large tip. “Same time?” he asked, leaning down to ruffle Ray’s hair and kiss his cheek.
“Yeah, so long as nothing comes up,” Jason said with a raised brow.
“That too,” Clark chuckled again. “You’ve got my number, don’t be afraid to call if you change your mind.”
“Or if I just want more of Lois’s cooking.”
“Fine, fine, I see how it is.”
Jason smiled, rolling his eyes and shooing Clark away. “We’ll see. Now scram one of us has a job to do and it certainly isn’t me.”
Clark left with one last kiss to Ray’s cheek and a ruffle to Jason’s hair, darting towards the door in a hurry. Jason followed him with his eyes, picking up the “What in tarnation are you doing here Bruce? We agreed you’d stay away,” said to the man waiting for him. But Clark didn’t get an answer. When Jason looked over to the man Clark was talking to, he found him staring right back, eyes wide in disbelief. An older man in an immaculate suit, gray hairs starting to peek out at his temples. The look of shock didn’t leave his face until Clark pushed him out of the dinner and even then Jason could still see it.
The scene was odd, only made weirder by the man’s silence. And then Jason realized what Clark had said, what he’d called the man. Bruce.
Losing a tail was never a problem for Jason. A natural at blending into the background, he knew how to slip away and not be found. Between the weird muscle memory of his past life and everything Talia had taught him, he was practically an expert by now. But that wasn’t the problem.
He knew how to get off the grid, where to go, what to do. That wasn’t the issue. The issue was who was looking for him.
It was probably paranoia talking, that strange panic of his bubbling up at the sight of Bruce, the pain blazing through his head when he made eye contact. But he couldn’t put it past the man.
Clark said Bruce wanted to meet him, and then he’d said Batman wanted to meet him as well. No doubt the man had connected Clark’s friend Jay to the Blue Lantern he’d met a few months ago. Bruce showing up at the diner wasn’t some coincidence, it wasn’t an accident, it had been a calculated move to figure out who this new Lantern was, get a face for the man claiming to be Damian’s brother.
Fuck he had his face.
Knowing the paranoia of the bat he’d probably bugged Clark too, got into the diner’s camera system to get his face from all sides, run facial recognition, voice recognition, everything. This wasn’t good, not at all.
Was there anywhere he could disappear to where he couldn’t be found? Where the Bat or his friends wouldn’t be able to find him? Space ran through his head but that was shot down as well. The Bat had enough allies who could travel through space, the Green Lanterns, the Martians, the Kryptonians, it would only be a matter of time before—
Ray patted his hand, ripping him from his spiraling thoughts. “Dada okay?”
Shit, fuck, that’s right, he couldn’t, he needed to focus, not panic, focus. Everything would be alright, all would be well, it was going to be okay.
With a final calming breath he looked back to his son with a smile. “Daddy’s okay, worried but okay.”
“Why?” Ray asked with a tilt to his little head.
“The man Mr. Clark left with, he reminded me of someone, that’s all.”
“Someone not nice?”
Jason shook his head, reaching for his bag. “I’m not sure buddy.”
Leaving the diner felt like walking into a firing squad, the feeling of eyes on him only getting worse. He knew it was absurd, knew his paranoia was hitting new heights. Metropolis was so full of people right now, the sun shining over all the buildings, no one was going to get him here, and certainly not some guy in a decked out furry suit.
Although, he knew how easy it was to grab someone on a busy street, so the furry suit didn’t really change anything.
He slipped behind the diner, keeping a lookout for any cameras or eyes still watching before he let his suit form around him. He felt that familiar, calming sensation as he did so, that worry diminishing the longer the blue light surrounded him. He’d be fine, everything would be fine, this was okay.
“Let’s go see Grandma,” he told Ray, the usual baby harness appearing around them, strapping Ray to his chest. “She’ll know what to do.”
“Mah-ma knows bes’,” Ray agreed, chirping along happily with his words.
“That she does,” he agreed, lifting up into the sky. The feeling of being watched wasn’t as bad anymore, just that slight pin prick at the back of his neck, but it was barely noticeable now.
Just like the man watching from the roof of the Daily Planet, frozen in his explanation to his caped companion.
Racing over the ocean always felt freeing, that gentle mist that would kick up when he flew low, how his hair and hood flew with him, the way Ray would giggle and stretch out his arms. It didn’t matter how long the flight took or that he could go faster. This was perfect the way it was, he didn’t want it any shorter. Out here, surrounded by water, without a single eye on them, he was free.
But the time always came when the land would approach and he’d need to get his bearings, figure out where he was, where he needed to go.
And Talia never made it easy to figure out where she was. Not that he could blame her.
Two hours and numerous riddles later, he finally found her in some small country town in the middle of nowhere. She sat out on the porch of the little cottage, watching his approach with a keen eye. He could see her men nearby, patrolling through the tall grass in order to keep any unwanted visitors away. But they knew Jason, had been there when Talia had fled Nanda Parbat with him so long ago. They were the loyal few, the ones who hadn’t been Ra’s’s blind followers.
“Mom,” he greeted as he touched down before her.
“Jason,” she returned, allowing him to kiss her cheek.
“Mah-ma!” Ray cried, arms outstretched.
“And my most beautiful Ray of sunshine.” She reached out, taking Ray out of Jason’s arms so he could take the seat next to her. “How are you my dear?”
Ray launched into his explanation, arms swinging to and fro as he babbled about whatever he could wrap his little brain around. Talia watched with a smile, oohing and awing at all the right notes, asking in an excited voice, “And then what happened?”
Jason chuckled at the scene, content to just sit and watch the two as they exchanged stories. He loved seeing them like this, so excited and full of life, like nothing could ever touch them. The sun had long since set, leaving only the sounds of their voices and the rustling of the grass.
Finally feeling completely safe, with his mother and son next to him, Jason drifted into sleep.
“Are you going to tell me what brought about this sudden trip?” Talia asked later, once Ray was tucked away into a bed and the two of them were seated around the kitchen table.
“What? Am I not allowed to see my own mother?” She rolled her eyes, staring him down, and he crumbled like he always did. “I messed up.”
She placed a teacup before him, the kettle working up to a boil behind her. “Does this have anything to do with Clark Kent or his friends? Damian mentioned seeing you at his farm a few weeks ago.”
He nodded, burying his head within his arms on the table. “Clark told Damian’s dad about it,” he told her. Her movements slowed, the looseness of her shoulders disappearing as she looked back. “He went to the diner where Clark and I have brunch. I think it was to get a good look at me, get a face and a name.”
“And did he see you?” she asked, far quieter than it should be.
He clenched his fists, an odd feeling of shame coming over him. This should have never happened. He knew better than to let this happen, knew not to let his guard down, knew it could be the difference between life and death. And yet he’d still done it.
“He saw me,” he admitted with a shake of his head. “He saw me and I can only guess he’s scrubbed that diner and any nearby buildings for cameras with my face in ‘em.” He looked up, trying to gauge what she was thinking, what she might say, but came up blank. “I’m sorry Mom.”
Talia dropped into the seat beside him, pulling him against her shoulder as she held him tight. “There is nothing for you to apologize for,” she murmured into his ear.
“No, you have done nothing that is worthy of remorse. Nothing at all.” As he rose to contradict her, she pulled him back even tighter, swaying them to an unknown rhythm as she rubbed patterns across his back and head. “I knew this day would come eventually,” she admitted sometime later. “I only wish I had been able to prepare you for it.”
He didn’t know what she meant, what she could have possibly prepared him for. That Damian’s father was Batman? He already knew that, a quick internet search made that quite obvious. The fact the man would go so far to see him? Halfway expected with the Batman thing. That the man would look so shaken upon seeing Jason?
“Is it because of what happened before?” he whispered.
The silence dragged on, their swaying continuing on for god knows how long, giving Jason even more time to stop and think and process what had happened. And then another thought hit him, one he’d had months before.
He pulled back, taking Talia’s hand as he went, knowing what he had to ask. Memories of a body, a falling man, and a faceless figure dashed across his vision, another of the inside of a car, the feeling of loneliness, the faceless man sitting next to him.
“Please, be honest with me,” he said, forcing himself to look into Talia’s eyes. “The Robin that disappeared, the second one, was that me?”
She squeezed his hand tight, caressing it with her other. Softly she answered, “Yes.”
Things clicked into place, the faceless man growing features, a scowl, a look of disappointment and regret. That feeling of being abandoned flared up again, of being left behind like he always seemed to be. There was a feeling of paper against his fingers, old and used, a hope and determination filling him, plans running through his head, the hope of finding someone, someone who wouldn’t make him feel all those horrible things.
“I was his son,” he continued, voice losing emotion with every second.
“You said I was hurt, catatonic, comatose before you found me. He didn’t—“
“No,” she said, quickly cutting him off.
“If he didn’t, then why wasn’t he there to help me?”
She sighed, full of sadness and regret for her son. “He didn’t know.”
“How? I was a teenager when I woke up, a kid, how could a father not—“
“There was no way for him to know.”
Ideas swirled around in his head, ideas of what that could mean. Only one came to mind, but there was no way that was possible, none. It couldn’t be possible, never. He’d know if he’d, if he had been, it just wasn’t possible.
But how many things had he seen that were considered impossible? He’d seen magic, he had a ring that could do whatever he wanted, he’d met aliens, hell he was on good terms with Superman of all people, one of his most trusted friends was a talking planet . Surely that wasn’t the craziest thing he’d ever heard of.
He leaned back, suddenly feeling far more exhausted than he had thirty minutes ago. Talia patted his knee and rose to fetch the kettle. She poured the tea, setting the pot before them as she retook her seat.
“Drink habibi,” she said, lifting her own cup, “it will help you sleep.”
He took his cup, taking in the aroma her teas always gave off, basking in the warmth it provided, before finally taking a sip. Yes, that’s all he needed. Some nice tea and a good night’s rest, that’s what was needed, everything would be fine tomorrow. And if it wasn’t he’d find a way to make it so.
All would be well, even if he had to work a little harder for it.
The emptiness of space was almost as needed as the comforting forests that occupied Mogo’s surface. Thoughts still conflicted and needing time to process what he knew, Jason had taken Talia up on her offer of watching Ray, allowing him to make the familiar pilgrimage to Sector 2261. He wanted to stay, to make sure his son knew everything would be alright, but he knew he would only last so long like that.
“You will be more of a reassurance once you have calmed the turmoil in your mind,” Talia reasoned. “You need time, time you will not get here. Go visit your friends in the stars, calm your mind. When you return, I will tell you whatever else you need to know.”
“And if Bruce comes?” he’d asked, holding his arms just little bit tighter.
“Humor me for a moment, please. If he comes…”
“We will be gone.”
“He’ll be able to find you again, he’s—“
“Jason.” She touched his cheek, bringing him to a stop. “Who do you think taught him?”
“You can’t be serious.”
She shrugged, a hint of mischief in her eye. “Maybe, maybe not.” She reached up, tilting his head down so she could kiss his forehead one last time. “Be safe Jason. We will be here upon your return.”
He hadn’t really had anymore excuses after that, now did he?
The ground rumbled beneath his feet, Mogo’s way of acknowledging his presence. Jason smiled, patting a nearby tree trunk in greeting before he began walking.
When he’d first been introduced to the planet he’d found himself wandering the surface, expecting to find something there. Saint Walker had laughed, merely following as he’d trekked across the landscape, joking about Jason's determination and will to find something, saying perhaps he’d been meant for a green ring but the spots were all filled. Jason had just rolled his eyes, continuing on his journey ahead.
Much like that first time, he found himself wandering, looking for any secret nooks and crannies he hadn’t seen before. It was a great way to calm himself, that feeling of being close to someone he trusted without needing to say anything, looking for things without needing to find anything. He could stay like this forever, or at least for a few hours.
Because he couldn’t stay here forever. At some point he’d need to go home. He’d need to face the noise, face the past, whatever that might be. Face the fact that he was Bruce Wayne’s… He couldn’t even bring himself to think the words, it all felt too extreme, all too much. He’d avoided looking too deep in Wayne’s family. Between the flashbacks with Gonzolas and his belief that the family deserved some level of privacy, even if the news media disagreed, he’d put an end to his digging. While he didn’t necessarily regret that decision, it still left him in the dark on a lot of information.
“Are you well Brother Todd?” Mogo asked patiently, a nearby leaf touching his leg.
“I don’t know Mo,” Jason admitted, sliding to the ground with a tree to his back. “It’s been one of those weeks again.”
“Your memories are afflicting you once more?”
“Kind of? Sort of? God, it’s just. One of the big guys back on Earth, I saw him yesterday, no mask.”
“You did not wish to see him.”
“No, not yet. It was a stupid mistake and I, fuck, I saw my brother a few weeks back, his son. Seeing as I’ve stayed away from the other masks, I guess he decided to take matters into his own hands.”
“And this upsets you.”
“Yeah, but more like freaked me out, you know? Took Ray and ran to Mom, figure if anyone would know what to do it’d be her. Later I kind of… Mom told me some stuff, about what happened before.”
“Did that help with your memories?”
“It made ‘em make sense, some of ‘em anyway. Explained why Mom and Damian wanted me to stay out of Gotham.” He leaned back, tilting his head up to the sky, taking in the familiar green that he could see radiating from Mogo. “I died. I’m not entirely sure how or why, but I… and then I came back somehow and that makes even less sense.”
“The point of your rebirth is the point at which your current memories begin,” Mogo stated, his nearby roots and vines creeping ever closer to Jason.
“Yeah.” He sighed, leaning into his friend’s hold. “I don’t know what to do. That’s a separate life, a different person, but it still feels like I have a responsibility there. And with Damian’s connection to the people, I can’t act like there isn’t.”
A gentle breeze swept through, the sign of Mogo thinking. Jason didn’t mind, it gave him more time to think, and to bask in the presence of Mogo around him. This was good, this was great.
“One of the Green Lanterns from your planet, Lantern Jordan, shared a similar fate,” Mogo said. “While his memory is still intact, his death and rebirth are no less real. Perhaps he could be of some assistance to you.”
Jason shook. his head, rebuttals already on his tongue. “From what you’ve told me before, he’s kept far too busy for me to come in and try to take even more of his time.”
“He is a valuable ally. Even if you do not reach out to him for assistance in this matter, a connection could still be valuable. As would making contact with the other Green Lanterns of your sector.”
“Aw Mo, are you trying to get me to socialize?” Jason joked. “I know my social life hasn’t been as popping since I took in Ray, but you don’t have to be that conniving about it.”
Mogo rumbled again, his laughter running through the ground beneath Jason, and. he had to admit Mogo probably had the best laugh of anyone he’d ever met.
“I promise you friend, I do not need to be conniving to get what I want.”
“Ooh, is that a threat?”
“Take it for what you will.”
Jason laughed at the words, leaning that little bit further into the greenery surrounding him. He had to smile at Mogo’s attempt, the planet had been trying to introduce him to the other Earth Lanterns for god knows how long, but Jason wasn’t going to bite. It was bad enough he’d gotten close to Clark, if he got close to others there’s no telling what would happen.
He closed his eyes, turning to curl up on his side. The nearby sun was shining down on him just enough to give a nice warmth, the perfect temperature to fall asleep at. That was of course when Mogo decided to speak up.
“How is your partner?” the planet asked out of nowhere, calm as ever. Jason was most definitely not.
He shot up, eyes crazed as he blurted, “What? I don’t, I don’t even. I don’t know who told you what, but I am very much not involved with anyone. We had the sexuality talk years ago Mo.”
The earth shook beneath him as Mogo laughed, vines reaching up to offer comfort. “Not that kind of partner my friend. Your sector partner. Saint Walker informed me of a new Blue Lantern within Sector 2814.”
“What?” Well that was news to him.
“They left for Earth shortly before your arrival. I am surprised they did not cross your path.”
“I was a bit, uh, occupied,” Jason admitted. “They could’ve tried hailing me via ring and I wouldn’t have known to be honest.”
“You will meet them soon enough. There is no rush.”
“You sure? ‘Cause if they’re going to look for me on Earth…”
“It will be fine. It is better for you to meet them when you are ready than to rush off and do it before. There are enough Green Lanterns on Earth, they will be occupied.”
“True.” There were six of those fuckers after all, though he’d heard rumors of at least two or three more. Plus the Star Sapphire, the Red Lantern that he’d met that one time, the cat, Earth had too many damn Lanterns. Not that he was about to give up his ring, he’d worked for the thing.
“You will be fine,” Mogo said. “Rest, calm your mind. Your future is getting brighter Brother, let it be.”
“Even if that means I have to meet people?”
“Yes, even if you must meet people.”
He rolled his eyes, one last time, letting the feeling of leaves and vines soothe him.
Even with Mogo’s warning, nothing could have prepared Jason for the dog waiting for him back on Earth.
“What the hell?”
It was a corgi from the looks of it, white furred, blue eyed, but what really caught his eye was the blue and black wrapped around the corgi’s chest.
“You are Jason?” the thing barked, moving right up into his face to sniff around.
“That’d be me,” he grunted, trying not to flinch at the feeling of the wet nose. “You must be the new Blue I’ve been hearing about.”
“Yes.” The corgi flew around him playfully, tail wagging up a storm. “I am Hope.”
“You do not like my name?”
“No, no, it’s fine, it’s great, just, poetic irony that’s all.”
She smiled, well, did what constituted as a smile before reaching for his hand. “Home?”
Realization came over him, what having a dog for a sector partner could mean. “You don’t have one?”
“Gone? Like missing? We can find them, when did you last see—“
She bonked his chin with her head, calm voice still radiating through his mind. “No. Gone to the happy place.”
“Oh.” The happy place, the place he was only now coming to terms with leaving, the place most still believed him to be. “There’s no one…”
She shook her head, working her way into his arms.
“Are you sure? I’m not exactly a people person.”
“I am not a people.”
He huffed at the remark, letting himself resume his flight. “That would be true, wouldn’t it?”
The weight in his arms was reassuring in an odd way. After his three day sabbatical to Mogo and beyond, largely spent alone, returning home with another in tow was what he needed. And, well, it helped that he could remember wanting a dog and never getting one. Suppose he should probably tell Damian, though from what he heard Damian had gotten a dog and a cat since moving in with his father. The lucky bastard.
The familiar cottage came into view, the lights on telling him all he needed to know about whether Talia and Ray were in or not. He retracted his suit, the blue light fading as it did so, leaving him in his jeans, boots, shirt, and the jacket Talia had gotten for him two birthdays ago. Hope likewise let her suit drift away, jumping from his arms to land softly in the grass. She turned to him, tilting his head.
“Hear me?” her voice said in his head.
“Yup. I can hear you. Others might not though.”
She turned, leading the way towards the porch steps. By the time they reached the front door Talia was already there.
“First a child, now a dog. I cannot leave you alone for two seconds, can I?” she asked with a pointed look towards Hope.
Jason shrugged, moving in for the hug she offered. “Not my fault these rings seem to be attracted to Earth.”
“Regardless, they couldn’t pick someone who would...shed less?”
He shook his head, moving inside to find Ray seated in the living room, tv forgotten as he played with his toys instead.
“Hey buddy,” Jason greeted as he dropped down beside him. “Whatcha doing?”
Ray positively beamed at him, shoving a toy in his face. “Rocke’ man,” he lifted another toy, this one more monstrous, “fight the evil dragoon. PRGH!” The toys clashed together, Ray’s eyes going wide as he repeated the action.
He heard Talia enter, the door shutting behind her. She took the seat to the side, humming a soft tune as she watched them play. Hope followed, taking her spot by Talia’s feet, curling up and resting. The sounds of the tv were forgotten behind Ray’s excited noises.
“You’re going to have to talk eventually dear,” Talia murmured, “it would be best if we dealt with them now.”
For how stressful the question was, how much anxiety he felt at her words, Jason could at least be thankful for small mercies.
She’d allowed him the majority of the day to get reaclimated to Earth’s surface and to spend time with Ray. He knew he shouldn’t use his ring for personal things, but he couldn’t stop himself from giving his son a show, creating constructs to play out the young boy’s fantasies. Talia had allowed it, watching from the side as she dealt with whatever paperwork she’d somehow acquired. Apparently she was running some company, collecting its secrets and all the dirt she could along the way with a clear end goal in mind. He thought that suited her quite well.
There was nothing quite like the mental games of chess his mother could arrange with her opponents.
But she was right. He’d left to clear his mind, to think through everything he’d learned, to process what he could, connect the dots between the information he was given and the memories he had begun to recall. While it hadn’t left him with nearly as much as he’d hoped for, it’d left him with enough. It gave him the information he needed to ask questions, to know what to ask.
“How old am I? Really, like actual date of birth, year and all, to now. How old?” he asked.
She said the number so frankly, so apathetically, that he almost missed it. But he didn’t, he couldn’t, because that number couldn’t be right, it couldn’t be.
“Three year difference, yes,” she finished for him.
Three years. Why would she hide three years from him? What possible reason could she possibly…
“Was it to keep me around?” he asked, struggling to put his thoughts to words. “So I wouldn’t leave?”
She closed her eyes, a hint of sadness taking over. “No,” she admitted. “I do admit I feared you leaving, but that is not the reason for it. I had hoped your memories would return naturally, quicker, with more cohesion.”
“After the Pit.”
“Yes. While you couldn’t remember then, I had believed you would some day, perhaps sooner than you have, but someday.”
“I knew even once your memories returned you would never get those three years back.” She looked at him long and hard, gauging if he was ready, if he could handle whatever information she held. “You died at fifteen, less than four months before your sixteenth birthday.”
Fifteen, he’d been fifteen when he’d gone, when the laughing man hurt him, left him to die alongside the blonde woman. Almost ten years had passed, only a few more months and he’d have been dead for a decade.
“Based on what I could dig up, you revived sometime mid-October, when you would have been sixteen years old. You wandered, were hit by a car, spent a year in a hospital then a home, either in a coma or a vegetative state. One day you woke up, walked out, and spent another year on the streets before my men found you.”
“So I was—“
“And Bruce didn’t know? Two years and he never heard or saw anything?”
“He was in mourning,” she explained. “If he had seen you he would have likely convinced himself it was a guilt ridden hallucination.”
“I spent a year trying to heal you. I brought in the best doctors from around the world. None were able to help.”
“So you put me in the Lazarus Pit.”
“It was my last chance. My father was going to send you away. I could not risk it.”
They fell silent, the only sounds heard were the wind howling in the night. Three years. Even if he could remember everything, he’d lost three years of his life, three years to death, brain damage, and failed attempts at healing.
He couldn’t be mad at Talia, her reasoning made sense, even if it would have eventually fallen apart under scrutiny. But knowing her that had probably been the plan. It was his brain that had been stupid, going on five years —and likely would have been more had he not started digging— without giving him anything on his past. But had he remembered after the Pit, had he remembered how he’d been brutalized and murdered, finding out he’d lost over three years could have been devastating, yet another thing for his broken mind to try and comprehend. Being told it was less than one? It would have still freaked him out, but not to the same extent.
He leaned forward on the table, resting his face in his hands. “No wonder he looked so freaked when he saw me. Nearly ten years and you’re seeing a grown doppelgänger of your dead son? Shit is traumatizing.”
“Language.” She hummed, tapping the table as she watched him sink somehow even lower to the table’s surface. “He has been rather, frazzled since he saw you. Damian tells me he has been running himself ragged trying to solve the riddle that is your appearance.”
“Is that so?” Jason murmured.
“Your friend, Superman, has had his suspicions for some time from what Damian could tell. Having seen your face, and knowing of his friend’s concerns thereafter, Bruce has begun the approval process to have your grave exhumed. If it is approved, it will be unburied and investigated by Monday.”
“That’s—“ crazy is what he meant to say, the only word that seemed to fit. Surely that wouldn’t be somebody’s first reaction, would it? But he didn’t say any of that. Instead he asked, “Can you take me there?”
“Please just, I’ve stayed out of Gotham just as you and Damian requested, but this, I need to see it.”
“Bruce will be watching,” she warned. “If not him then Richard, Timothy, Barbara, any of the others. Someone will be watching that grave.”
He looked back up to her, finding the genuine concern written on her face. He grinned, voice finally pulling out of its darkness. “You think I couldn’t take ‘em? I’m hurt.”
She rolled her eyes, concern morphing into fondness even as she threw a nearby place mat at him. “With that ring on your finger and my training in your blood, you better.”
“Then it won’t be a problem.”
“No, I suppose not.” She sighed once more, tone going back to something more serious to end the conversation. “I realize some memories you might recount do not show it, especially those closer to the end, but he always loved you Jason.”
He didn’t try to respond.
It didn’t take long for the memories to start coming, this time quicker, more defined. Earlier memories of smoke and fire, of crowbars and laughter, of men without face started to make sense in a twisted sort of way. It all seemed to culminate with that one night, when Talia snuck him into Gotham, a warning on her lips as they breached the cement army.
“Bruce has a low tolerance for metas, mystics, aliens, or Lanterns.” Her eyes darted between him, Ray, and Hope.
Jason’s hands tightened where they held Ray, and Hope drifted the few inches back down to the ground. “He wouldn’t…”
“I doubt it, but it is best not to advertise yourselves,” she said as she directed them through the rows of graves and headstones. “He is prone to losing his rational thinking to his emotions, especially where pain is concerned.”
He didn’t say anything, although he doubted his need to. Bruce had looked not just shocked when he’d seen Jason, he’d looked frantic, like if it weren’t for Clark dragging him out he would have run for Jason, would have created a scene in his bid to know who he was, why he looked like his long dead son.
Though, he had to wonder what would happen when they inevitably did meet. Would Bruce be happy? Tears of joys, hugs and kisses, words of ‘I missed you so much’? Would it be sadness? With tears of loss and pain, realizing Jason was no longer his son, that while his body might be alive his son as a person had died in that warehouse long ago, that Jason came back as a blank slate? Anger? Shouting and yelling, accusations of deceit or of Talia keeping them apart, of him daring to come here?
Or would he show nothing? Fall into himself, emotional less and visibly uncaring? Wanting to do something but not aware of what that was.
Would he even care?
He saw a figure standing in the path, shorter than Talia, and with the build he knew exactly who was waiting for him. Damian dashed forward, careful of Ray as he pulled Jason into a hug. They didn’t need a greeting, not when Damian was holding him that tight, or when he could rest his face in the boy’s hair, smell the expensive shampoo he’d been using. It couldn’t last, not with this city or the colors Damian was wearing. It was only a matter of time before he’d have to leave, before others would come looking.
“I realize it has been some time since we have seen each other,” Damian said as he pulled away, leaning forward to kiss Ray’s head and letting the toddler hold a few of his fingers. “But how dare you get a dog and not inform me.”
Jason looked back to where Hope was standing next to Talia, her little tail wagging at the attention.
“It’s, uh, complicated,” Jason said, scratching his neck in an effort to hide the goosebumps running up his arms. The longer he stayed there surrounded by all those grave, the more the memories were poking at him.
“Hope is Jason’s partner,” Talia explained.
Damian raised his brow at Jason, the mask covering his eyes moving just slightly along with it. “Original as always, aren’t you?”
“She came with the name,” Jason grumbled with a roll of his eyes.
“Sure she did Brother, sure she did.”
He watched as Damian approached the dog, chuckling at his surprise when she could speak through her ring. Nevertheless, the boy took no time in getting on her level and gaining her affection.
Ray laughed with him, saying a cheerful, “Dami funny,” as he did. Damian just sent him an offended look, exaggerating his features as he tutted.
Talia moved to Jason’s side, her hand covering his where it held Ray. “How are you dear?” she whispered.
Her keen eye had caught onto what was happening, the slight tremors in his hand, the raised skin along his arms. It might be a cold night in Gotham, but he normally wasn’t affected like this.
“Anxious, that’s all,” he murmured, hiking Ray up higher on his chest.
Talia’s eyes drifted to the side, catching on the shadows that seemed to dance across the cemetery. He followed her gaze, having to pull it back as the shadows morphed, figures shifting in and out of his vision, the feeling of brick and rooftop against his skin, wind rushing past his face in a completely different way from when he would fly. He squeezed his eyes shut, only opening them again when he felt Ray being pulled from his arms. Damian held the young alien, gesturing behind Jason with a tilt of his head.
Jason’s voice caught at the direction, looking back and then to Damian again. “Don’t you have to—“
“It will be fine,” Damian said.
“The longer you argue now, the sooner I will be called back.”
Jason nodded, the weight of Damian’s eyes and Talia’s hand making him crumble. Hope came up, nudging his leg with her nose, the ring on her collar lighting up.
“All will be well,” she promised. “I will keep safe.”
He could only nod, looking up one last time to meet Damian’s eyes, the juxtaposition of how serious he looked against Ray’s split arms cradling his face was not lost on Jason.
“We’ll be back soon,” he said, allowing Talia to pull him along.
“Take as long as you need,” Damian said. “We will be here.”
Their walk was much shorter this time. Talia’s hand tightened on his back, eyes darting around as they walked past grave after grave. She tried to keep her pace quick, straight, to the point, but Jason could tell she was hesitating, even more so once they started moving down a row. He tried not to think too much on it, to not let the late night atmosphere affect him. He’d asked to see this after all. Surely he shouldn’t be this freaked out.
They stopped before an angel, the figure standing guard atop a headstone, watching over the grave below. The grave Jason knew to be empty. Because that was his name engraved in stone, his birthday written for all to see, and what he could only assume to be his date of death. April 27th, almost ten years ago. Only a few more months and it would be.
Talia’s hand tightened once more, moving to his shoulder before stepping forward. She crouched down, placing the flowers she’d brought on the grave, something specific that only she and Bruce would know, their own odd back and forth continuing even now. But that wasn’t what they were here for, which is why she didn’t dwell on them.
She’d given him details the night before, mentions of a grave, digging himself out, wandering for miles before being struck by a car. It came into focus as he stood there, muddled as the memories might be, no doubt a result of the massive head trauma and the months long death leaving his brain with barely enough oxygen to function, let alone create new memories. The feeling of panic, of being caged in a space far too small for his already small body, came to him. His fingers ached, the feeling of digging through dirt and mud, of it filling his mouth as the Earth tried to hold him down. A familiar name itched on his lips, one he remembered crying out for amongst the rain and the thunder.
It clicked into place with what Talia told him, knowing the miles of travel even if he couldn’t remember it, the car, the hospital, how the purple man with the hideous laugh and the woman with the smoke led to a grave with his name on it.
He stepped away from the plot, his feet working without him as he wandered the cemetery, heading for a familiar grave. Talia followed, ever the quiet shadow.
He found himself before a headstone, one much plainer than his own, only sporting a name and a series of dates, all in some basic, generic font. That didn’t matter, not when the sound of her voice filled his head, telling him how proud she was, singing a lullaby, telling him she loved him. But then it was gone, a new pain filling its place, the image of lifeless hands and used needles flashing before his eyes. He wanted to throw up, or at the very least run away.
“That’s enough for now,” he whispered, voice harsh and scratchy. “Let’s go.”
The hand on his back did well to ground him, a speck of warmth amongst the cemetery’s cold. As they returned to Damian, Hope, and Ray, out of the corner of his eye, Jason could see the shadows moving, no longer tricks of his eyes, tracking their retreat.
With his brother and mother at his sides, canine partner at his feet, son —alien as he may be— in his arms, and questions finally answered, he paid the shadows no more mind. He still had concerns, memories that needed context, a tire iron, a bright blue, a man with an English accent, but that could wait ‘til later.
In the meantime, maybe it was time Clark and Mogo set up those introductions they’d been talking about.