The invitation comes in a thick, cream-colored envelope, and the thing is embossed and water-marked and on acid-free paper, archival quality. It even smells expensive, a pleasant mix of sandalwood and orange blossoms. There’s no way in hell this is the work of anyone but Alfred Pennyworth, though why he would send a birthday invitation to these three -- well, outlaws --hunkered down in the middle of nowhere is anyone’s guess.
What’s more, it’s an invitation to Dick -- sorry, Richard -- Grayson’s birthday party.
That highly bendable fucker is turning twenty-eight. When Jason says this aloud, both Roy and Kory give him the stink-eye, which is all right by him.
He’s come to expect it, hanging with Grayson’s discards like this.
No. That’s needlessly mean.
Even if Grayson no long has anything to do with these two, they are, for lack of better options, Jason’s friends, and since Jason hadn't actually had friends before (so he learned late that it wasn’t a great idea to sleep with them, especially at the same time), he’s not at all certain how to proceed. They have -- to everyone’s surprise, become good for eachother -- tackling Roy’s dangerously low self-esteem, Kory’s increasing detachment from humanity (“I don’t know why I should be attached to humanity, I’m not human,” she says, and they can’t really disagree) and with Jason’s murder habit.
He takes a deep breath. Let’s do this again. “It’s obviously a joke.”
They all examine the invitation again. It’s an expensive joke, if true.
“But maybe we ought to go?" says Roy, his voice rising into a question. This earns him a freezing glare from Jason, the kind Roy’s gotten good at ignoring.
Kory stares at the card so hard that -- Jason could swear that it starts to smoke just a little -- and then she says, “Roy is -- right, actually. We should go.”
Jason splutters -- and remembers that he’s supposed to be playing it cool these days -- so he resorts to sighing very loudly. “I hate to break it to you guys, but even if we wanted to go -- which, by the way, we shouldn’t --we can’t. Since we’re all kind of wanted for murder. Well, I am. Definitely. This is probably a trap. Which, as rational --” he glares at Roy, before continuing, “As mostly rational beings, we should avoid.”
He pauses for a breath. “End of discussion.”
“You cannot wear a trucker cap with a suit- which by the way is so early ‘00s that I cannot believe you have such a huge collection of them -- what are you anyway, Ashton Kutcher? God, your choices, Roy.”
“Fine. But your hat is stupid and you should feel stupid, wearing it.”
“Boys.” Kory is barely dialed up, but there’s definitely a threat in her voice that no one, not even Jason, is willing to take her up on.
Jason gives the seat in front of him a disconsolate kick.
He really resents the fact these two weirdos are totally fine with seeing Dick again and he’s... Well. He thought he could count on these two.
(To be more fucked up than him.)
(He’s fooling himself, but Jason is comfortable with that.)
But look, they’re fine, they’re good, dressed to impress and all. (In trucker caps and halter tops. And yes, March is too early for halter tops, Starfire.) They’re acting like adults -- chatting quite normally about their flight and who’d they like to see at the party...
And he is.
Okay, maybe he’s acting like a child, yeah, like a child he never was, not really. And all the while, they’re drawing closer and closer to to Wayne Manor, and he feels... Dread. Mostly dread. Anger. Sadness. Mostly anger. But that’s a background emotion for Jason. What else? He feels like a kid going … Not home, because Wayne Manor was never home (no way), but it’s weird (there’s no better word for it) going back there.
He feels himself shrinking with every mile.
Roy Harper and Kory Anders are announced with great fanfare and applause. Kory immediately swans off to see Donna Troy, who is not dead this week, and Roy... Roy has his own issues to deal with. Let’s leave him alone.
That leaves only Jason Todd, formerly known to the public as Robin (as in “Batman and --”) , presently known to the authorities as the Red Hood, currently hiding in the cloakroom on the first floor of the stately Wayne Manor, wanting a cigarette kinda desperately.
(He’s quit, but now he’d chew off his own leg for a smoke.)
Thanks to a promise to Kory to behave (nothing gets blown up, nothing gets shot, nothing gets fatally stabbed), he’s got no toys to play with. Nothing to distract him.
It would be stupid to spend the Dickmeister’s party in a cloakroom. Who the fuck had cloakrooms, anyway?
(Besides Bruce Wayne, who obviously does.)
Who the fuck had cloaks?
He can’t stay here the whole evening.
He opens the door cautiously, only to have his arms suddenly filled with coats. “Hang that up for me,” says some rich asshole.
“Of course sir, right away, please take a number,” replies Jason smoothly, before turning around and dumping his burden on the floor. He makes sure to step over them on his way out. really grind his heel into the fur.
The party’s a mix of capes in suits and dresses and the public, mostly oblivious to the fact that they were in the presence of -- fuck, how to describe them? Superassholes? Gods of dickery? He sees a pretty brunette reject Booster Gold’s advances, which cheers him up a lot.
(And really, if Booster Gold was invited, Jason’s pretty sure he couldn’t been at the very bottom of the guest-list.)
A passing waiter hands him a flute of champagne, which he considers carefully before gulping it down. Bruce knows he’s here of course, though none of them bothered to RSVP (gotta keep up your outlaw image somehow), and Jason knows he’s been spotted by Bruce and Alfred, as well Dick and Tim and that little al Ghul-Wayne hellspawn, Damian.
None of them approach him, obviously, because it’s much easier to glare at a distance -- project a “We are watching your ass, Todd, one step out of line and it’s goodbye canapés and free booze and hello Blackgate prison slop” air that makes Jason just totally confident about just how much his family cares about him.
The pretty brunette bumps into him and he almost spills his champagne on her and she almost spills over and falls into his arms and after all that meet-cute shit is dealt with he learns that her name is Jesse and she’s not in the know about anything at all. Jesse’s just moved here from Minneapolis.
She’s the sister of Gotham’s newest city planner (“Gotham has a city planner? Gotham’s planned?”) and he brought her here to get to meet some new and interesting people.
Jason has to tell her, “I’m probably not the kind of person your brother would like you to meet.” And Jesse laughs -- it’s a nice laugh and she’s a nice girl, too nice for Gotham, but Jason’s not the kind of guy to warn people off from whatever fate’s got in store for them.
Not usually, that is.
(Still. He does make a note of it, to follow up on Jesse and her city-planner brother.)
“Do you know Mr. Grayson?” he asks her.
She shakes her head, and confesses that she’s pretty overwhelmed by the whole place, and she wouldn’t want to to embarrass herself by approaching him. As the band strikes up -- a waltz because Bruce -- and it is Bruce, not Dick, who’s footing the bill and running the show, and Bruce wants waltzes and that’s what he gets.
With a flourish, Jason asks Jesse if she would like to dance.
“Uh, I don’t know...” She bites her lip, unsure.
“It’s okay,” Jason leans in close, “I’ll be just like the real thing. This isn't the first time I've had to fill in for Mr. Grayson."
She takes his arm. “So you know them?”
Jason shrugs, doesn’t bother to keep the bitterness from his voice. “Used to.”
Her eyes round, Jesse exclaims, “They’re all, like. I mean. You know. Bruce Wayne.”
“He’s like Don Draper, my god.”
Jason drawls, “Babe, Bruce Wayne makes Don Draper seem like emotional seven year old.”
She gives him an appraising look. “Wow. Are you an ex?”
He stiffens. “No. Why would you assume that?”
“I’m sorry!” She ducks in embarrassment. “You just sound like...”
“I’m not his ex.”
They dance and it’s strained, but nice, to dance. It puts to use the ancient dance lessons he had to learn when he was first adopted by Bruce, since every Wayne son-ward-castoff could be expected to know how to waltz, two-step, fox trot, and do the Charleston.
(Jason could never get his knees right for the Charleston, but then again, it’s the Charleston, so who the fuck cares? Dead flappers care, obviously, but are they really in a position to judge?)
Jessie pipes up. “You’re pretty good at this!” And she’s pretty bad at this, her eyes are trained on her feel the entire time.
“Thanks, hey uh Jesse, so, I was think you know, Minneapolis, it’s not bad town I’ve heard, lots of bicyclers ---”
Jason never gets to finish that thought, because they’ve somehow drifted into the orbit of Bruce Wayne, and he’s coming at them in like a - bat - ha! Out of hell.
“Jason! You made it!”’ Bruce booms, all bright, toothy mega-watt smiles and a monster grip that threatens to crush Jason’s hand if he wasn’t exerting pressure of his own. He gives Jason a brief, unreadable look before turning his attention to Jesse, rattling out general comments about how Gotham needs optimistic new people from stupider parts of country -- Bruce says wholesomer -- to prove that you don’t have to be crazy to live here.
Bruce has a bright grin plastered on his face that’s downright creepy, god help the people who can find him reassuring. (Or -- seductive. Wait, where did that come from?)
“But it helps, doesn’t it, Bruce?”
“Ha ha, that joke’s older than you are, chum. Miss Roberts, if I may borrow your partner? Mr. Londin here would be happy to dance with you...” And Jason is guided away. He waves Jesse goodbye, and if her luck holds, she’ll never have to see him again.
They’re headed somewhere, and Jason has to say, “I haven’t done anything wrong.”
“If you’re going to give me a lecture on my many failings, I’ll have to pass.”
The last thing he needs is for Bruce to act fatherly with him. Bruce adopted Jason when he was fourteen, for inscrutable reasons of his own. But Jason remembers his father, and what a loser that he was, and yeah, Bruce was never it.
And now they’re in the cloakroom again, and fuck, he can’t seem to escape this place. The door locks from the inside. He can hear someone rattling the door knob, and saying to someone else -- Alfred, most likely, “Your cloakroom’s out of order.”
“Yes,” Alfred comments with alacrity that’s discernible through walls and thick wooden doors, “I’ll put up a sign.”
The thing about Jason, the problem with Jason, was that he was Bruce’s.
Dick had the Teen Titans and Tim had his own Robining to do, and then the Titans too, but not Jason. He never got to be a part of any outside team, not for long anyway, and he never, ever got out the shadow of the bat. Jason was always Bruce’s and no one else’s and that was always the problem.
Now that he’s back and no longer unhinged (that’s a matter of opinion, though that’s his-- heads still roll but not literally) Jason does everything to get out Bruce’s shadow. If only because he wants to eclipse him one day.
(Hey, it’s good to have goals in life.)
Does that make sense? Not a lot of things do these days, right now that ties are impatiently pulled apart (god, how they choke) and buttons are rapidly popping ( this is not Wayne money bought tailoring, that's for sure), and Bruce’s hands are everywhere, squeezing his ass like he owns it, the heartless plutocrat.
Bruce breathes in and says, “You’ve quit smoking.”
(The world’s greatest detective, everybody.)
“Uh, yeah. Don’t want to cut short my lifespan now, do I?”
Their kiss is surprisingly gentle, touched with something like regret.
“Bruce.” He doesn’t want it to stop, not exactly, but he’s got to have some answers.
“Jason.” And the way he says his name, there’s layers of meaning that Jason can’t puzzle out. It’s like Bruce practises in front of mirror, just to get the tone right. To get the timber of his voice right, to make sure the loss and fuck it, the love come out.
As if it’s only for him, it’s only for him.
(And it is. All of it.)
“Why are you doing this?”
Not just right now, but generally.
“Because. I want to.” Which is surprising, since Bruce is all about denial. Denial for him and for everyone else.
“If you’re trying to redeem me through sex, I have to say -- “
“Jay, shut up --”
“It’s going to to work just as well as it did with --”
The alarm goes off just at the moment one would expect it to, and not a moment later. Jason sinks down to the floor, muttering about idiots who would crash this dumb party before he came. Bruce is gone before he finishes that sentence, leaving Jason to pull on his trousers and button up his shirt as best as a he can.
With growing unhappiness, he realizes that none of the buttons line up as they should.
“Fuck it,” he says, finally, and ventures forth into the chaos in a state of some undress.
It’s chaos, outside. People are leaving in drove, spilling out of the entrance to the ballroom like a flood. Jason can hardly find his feet, much less navigate through the crowd to the ballroom, where the action was surely taking place.
When he does make it there, of course, Batman and his people are taking care of things, wiping the floor with the gatecrashers. But still, there’s one loud asshole who is waving his gun around, like he doesn’t see Batman punch his way through the others. Jason is, regretfully, unarmed but not without means. The means being the monstrously big birthday cake (blue piping, chocolate frosting), which he pushes on top of the gunman. He goes down with a surprised yell, and Jason picks up his weapon with a happy sigh.
He’s occupied with the heft of the weapon, the feel of it, and when he looks up, everyone (still standing) is staring at him.
“Jason, put that down.” Bruce’s mouth is set into a grim line. Dick looks upset at the fate of his birthday cake. A blond girl, dressed in the weirdest shade of purple he’d ever seen, looks like she wants to laugh. Jason shoves the rifle into the cake -- just between ‘Happy’ and ‘Dick’.
“This is not my fault,” he says loudly, to no one in particular.
It’s not entirely unexpected when the guy under the cake surges out his sweet prison and grabs Jason by the legs and pulls him down. The gun, of course, goes off and dings a chandelier.
It takes a long, hot shower to rinse the frosting out of his hair, and even then his hair feels stiff and unnatural. When he comes out of the bathroom, Jason roots in the wardrobe for something to wear, and finds one of Bruce’s old dressing gowns. It’s red satin and goes half-way to his knees.
(On Bruce, it must go even shorter.)
The walk to Bruce’s room is shorter than it used to be.
Purple Girl is laughing at him again. Her name’s Steph, she goes hand-in-hand with slight woman, with black hair and a watchful demeanor. She tenses when Jason comes in, and he doesn’t need an introduction to her. He’s read all about her. Cassandra Cain, Bruce's daughter. Stephanie Brown. Batgirls, the lot of them.
He’s read their files.
Batgirl, the original flavor, is also here, drinking coffee and giving him the evil eye. Well, she’s definitely frowning, looking pissed off at the sight of him, which isn’t a surprise. But she’s also standing, which should be, except his intelligence in Gotham had informed him that there there had been reports of not one but two redheaded female crime-fighters with a bat-theme operating in the city.
(Gotham was uniquely blessed in that area.)
Jason sidles up to her, and say, “Batwoman was taken, huh? You snooze, you lose, Gordon.”
She says, cooly, “Fuck off, Todd.”
Jason settles down at the breakfast nook. “This is just like old times.”
And she gives him a smile that’s all sharp edges. Just like old times.
Breakfast devolves into a de facto family meeting, with blocs of (ex)Robins and (ex)Batgirls on one end of the kitchen and on the other. Steph and Cass are sitting with Babs and facing Dick, Damian and Tim.
Jason is, as always, all by his lonesome. Not that he minds, or anything.
Alfred flits between them, distributing syrup for pancakes, and dry bouts of advice for the obviously hungover.
And Bruce is … Not here. With all of his family gathered up like this, it’s probably his worst nightmare.
Idly, Jason wonders where Roy and Kory have gone off to. He’s pretty sure he saw Kory fly off with Donna, and Roy is … Probably passed out somewhere. Which isn’t actually his problem, but he pats around for his cell anyway. It’s not there, of course. It was in the pockets of his pants, which are … God knows where.
“Uh, happy birthday,” he offers, just to cut through the tension. He isn’t, actually, that good at releasing tension in a non-violent way, but he is trying, and Dick rewards him with a glowing smile that makes Jason sink further into his seat.
“Thanks,” Dick says. “And thanks for coming, it meant a lot to me.”
At the same time, Damian asks, “Why are you even here, Todd?”
He’s got a familiar scowl that makes Jason think of apples and trees and how far they fall (or don’t).
Jason says brightly, “I got an invite! Well, Roy, Kory and I did.”
It might be just his imagination, but Dick gets a little hunted look on his face at the mention of his old girl and best friend, which isn’t Jason’s problem, so he prolongs the silence as long as he can. He sips his coffee and gives Dick a bland look.
There is a tiny cough behind them. Alfred says, in a smooth voice that brooks no dissent, “I sent that invitation to Master Jason, as well as Mister Harper and Miss Anders. I thought it would be for the best.”
“It wasn’t!” The little dude looks mad enough to spit. “He ruined Grayson’s birthday party!”
“No, I didn’t.”
“No, he didn’t.” And there’s Bruce, settling two heavy arms on Jason’s shoulders. And Jason knows he probably has the most obnoxious, shit-eating grin on his face.
Tim speaks, finally. “Please explain, Bruce.”
“No need, replacement goldfish! Bruce and I just wanted to tell you that we are, in fact, lovers. Have been for several years -- not when I was Robin, though there was definitely sexual tension there -- Bruce always did seem to enjoy those floor-mat tussles a lot. But afterwards, when I was legal and when it wasn't technically necrophilia."
And with that, Jason Todd really did ruin Dick Grayson’s birthday.
Well, he didn’t really. He ruined the day after Dick Grayson’s birthday.
And just like that, everyone bolts out the door. That is to say, Damian runs out, yelling, “This is a farce! Jason Todd? Jason Todd? That psychopath! That no-name bastard! … Both of my parents! He’s slept with both of my parents!”
The last bit of Damian’s speech trailed off into a shriek.
And Dick is proud, he really is, that Damian now feels comfortable enough to vocalize his emotions in a such significant way. Only a few years ago, Jason would probably be missing a chunk or two of his throat by now.
But still, he can’t hit a wince as the young teen’s wavering voice hits an especially harsh note. Puberty is hard enough without rage spirals, Dick is sure of this.
“Easy, Damian.” Which is better than there, there, but not by much.
Damian bares his teeth. “Don’t patronize me, Grayson. You think this is funny!”
Dick bites his lip. God no. Not funny at all. “I - no. I don’t.”
Looking around for some kind of distraction, he sees that Babs has followed him from the parlor. He turns to her, pleadingly. Do something, help me! But Barbara does think it’s funny, and she’s
quietly snickering to herself.
“You knew about this,” he says. It’s not a question.
She shrugs with exaggerated indifference. “Well, they weren’t exactly discreet, and the Oracle sees all. Records all too.”
“It wasn’t that exciting, really. Not saying it wasn’t hot, but...” She’s interrupted by an anguished wail from Damian, who is hurling towards his room, yelling that he will never come out again.
(Or he’ll come out when everyone stops being so embarrassing, which means he’ll never come out again.)
She shrugs and sobers up. “Hey, I didn’t ask to be the secret-keeper around here.”
Dick looks like he wants to protest further. But then he breaks out into a grin. “Don’t you miss it? Having your fingers in every pie?”
“Who says my fingers are free?”
Dick’s mouth is a perfect little oval. “Oh.”
“I’m an excellent multi-tasker, Mr. Grayson.”
He nods. “Good to know. But, you know, I probably shouldn’t be standing around, flirting, when the kid is going through such emotional turmoil.”
She waves her hand, dismissively. “He’s a teenager. They always think it’s about them.”
“Still, Damian is...”
She sobers up. “Yeah, you better check on him. I wonder how Tim’s taking it?”
Tim is not. Taking it. Well.
Okay, so it does clear up some the discrepancies in the surveillance of the cave that he’s noticed for a while, but now he really wishes that Bruce did have a secret coke habit. It would have been less embarrassing than this.
His head hits the kitchen table. He’s trying to expunge some of the more persistent images from his head, and so far, nothing is working. Everything is the worst. This cannot be happening.
And why the hell is Steph laughing?
She slaps the table with an open palm. “Because it’s funny, Tim.”
“It really isn’t.” His voice is muffled. He stares hard at the scarred surface of the table.
He raises his head up slowly and continues, “It’s incestuous.”
Steph gives him an unreadable look. Incest? In this family? No way! She then makes an exaggerated shrug.
Tim shoots Steph a pained look. He doesn’t want to think about Bruce fathering anyone.
Think about Damian, for god’s sake.
(And Tim, as a general rule, tries not to.)
Steph is snickering.
“Does adoption count after you die --” Steph looks slightly green, merriment lost, momentarily. “And come back?”
Cass who has been silent, practically the whole night, gives the fair-haired girl’s shoulder a brief squeeze. “Things happen.”
“Family shouldn't hook up with family, it’s wrong.”
And Cass gives Steph a sly look, which she returns.
Great, more secrets.
(Actually, it’s not much of a secret, but Tim isn’t in the mood to parse it out.)
Sometimes Tim feels like he’s the only sane man around here, and other times he knew he is. There’s a pounding in Tim’s head that has nothing do with Bruce and Jason’s deplorable sex lives.
“I have an headache.” This head falls back on to the kitchen table with a bang. “Ouch.”
“They cleared out of here really quickly.”
Bruce gave him a narrow look. “You need to put on pants.”
“Aww, and here I am, all shaved and everything.”
(It's not fine, but Jason feels better than he has for a long, long time.)