There was somebody knocking on the door. The whole point of getting a shitty apartment in run-down building in a moldy corner of Crime Alley was so that no one would bother him, and here he was, in broad daylight, listening to three tentative raps on his front door.
Jason looked down at the gun he’d just started disassembling, and slotted the pieces back into place before rising from his couch. It was late afternoon, but Gotham was Gotham, and Crime Alley was Crime Alley and Jason knew too much about the dark corners of the world to assume that his visitor was a friendly.
And then he peered through the peephole and saw a kid.
Jason double-checked the gun before he unlocked the door and leaned against the doorframe, using his height to loom.
Teenager, gangly and fidgeting from foot to foot. Couldn’t be older than sixteen. Black hair. Blue eyes. Looked faintly familiar. The kid had widened his eyes when he met Jason’s gaze, but now he was staring at floor and chewing on his lip. He had a cloth bag in his hand.
“What do you want?” Jason said, flat and rough.
The kid darted another look at him before he thrust the bag out. Jason resisted the automatic urge to take what was handed to him, and arched an eyebrow. “For you,” the kid squeaked, “I didn’t—I mean, I did, but—it wasn’t supposed to be—it’s yours.”
Jason looked at the bag—he could see the edges of folds, fabric of some sort—and back at the kid. “What?” he said.
The kid was slowly turning red. “It’s yours. I came to—to give it back. I didn’t take it—well, I didn’t take this one, it’s yours, I had a different—that’s not what I—I mean—”
Jason took pity on the kid and took the bag from his hands. The fabric was red, and the shade itched at his mind. “Breathe, kid,” Jason ordered, and the kid nearly choked himself complying. “Now, what are you talking about?”
“It’s yours, Jason.”
Jason’s fingers tightened on the gun.
“Excuse me?” His voice wasn’t shaking, but every other part of him was.
The kid looked up at him—black hair, blue eyes, fuck—and said, quiet but determined, “Robin. It’s yours.”
One part of Jason—the part that howled with fury tainted green—demanded he put a bullet between those eyes right now. Another part of Jason was stunned, frozen in shock. Yet another part registered the fabric of the suit wrapped in the bag, Robin-red. And the final part muddled through the kid’s words until they made sense.
Jason ushered the kid inside before closing and bolting the door shut, because this wasn’t a conversation he wanted to have in the hallway wearing no mask.
“What the fuck,” was the first thing he managed to string together.
“I’m sorry,” the kid blurted out, definitely trembling now, “I never meant to take your place—I didn’t mean—if I’d known you were still alive—I’m so sorry—I just—I wanted to tell you—Robin’s yours, Jason, and I’m really, really, really—”
Jason had to holster the gun to slap a hand over the kid’s mouth, and the spluttering died out as the kid froze.
“Sit,” Jason nudged the kid towards the couch, “And breathe.” He got the kid a glass of water before he sank down into the seat opposite.
“Timothy Drake,” he frowned, studying the kid’s face. Now that he knew what he was looking for, the angles were familiar.
The kid nodded, shoulders hunched and hands wrapped around the glass as he stared at Jason.
Jason turned his attention back to the bag, drawing out the uniform—his uniform, the one he hadn’t taken to Ethiopia, the red-and-green-and-yellow suit, the black cape, the domino mask.
“It’s yours,” the kid whispered, “I’ve never touched, I—I thought you were—I’m sorry—”
“Stop apologizing,” Jason snapped.
The kid—Timothy—Robin—Replacement—Jason had dreamt of this very scenario. Of ripping the R off the kid’s chest, of taking the place that had been stolen from him, of watching the kid choke on apologies as Jason took out his frustration—
“Your eyes are glowing.”
Jason shut them and exhaled shakily. He needed to—he had to calm down. This was not how he saw the afternoon going. He’d just gotten back to Gotham, just started making forays into the gangs running Crime Alley after he failed to detonate the bomb under the Batmobile. After he’d had the idea of forcing Batman to confront the Joker, of making the Replacement pay, of cleaning up Crime Alley from within.
Jason had never imagined that he could get it all back. Not after he’d been abandoned the last time, left behind and forgotten.
“Is it the Lazarus Pit?” the kid asked curiously, “Because there was a funeral and everything, and I don’t know how Bruce was tricked—”
“Kid,” Jason bit out, “Shut up.” He didn’t want to hear about Bruce. He didn’t want to hear about his stupid family and his death and everything he’d missed for three years.
“I—oh. Sorry,” the kid winced.
Jason took a couple of deep breaths—until he no longer had the urge to fit his hands around the kid’s scrawny neck and squeeze—and regarded Tim with an even stare, “Why are you here?”
“To give you back the suit,” Tim said, blinking at him in bemusement.
“Did it occur to you that I know exactly where the Manor is, and I could’ve taken it if I wanted it back?” Jason asked, like it had ever occurred to him.
Home. It was right there. He knew the way. He could just…go back. No one was stopping him. Why did it feel like someone was stopping him?
“I just,” the kid fidgeted, and went back to staring at his hands. “You were my Robin,” Tim said, in a tone of voice so low Jason barely heard him, “I didn’t want—I thought you might be…upset. And I just wanted—I didn’t want you to feel like—I wasn’t your replacement. I was just a…placeholder. Because—because Batman needed a Robin and I’m so sorry for stepping into your shoes. It was always going to be temporary. I just—I wanted you to know that.”
Jason stared at him. ‘You were my Robin’ filled his head on a loop. He’d wanted to hurt this kid. He had planned to break his bones and shoot him and leave him terrified and screaming and—
“How did you find me?” Jason croaked out, in lieu of following that particular train of thought.
“There was a security camera,” Tim said, “And you took off your helmet for a second—you had your mask on, but I—I recognized your face. And then I found you.”
“And then you found me,” Jason said flatly, “Just like that.”
Tim shrugged, “I’m good at finding people.”
“I figured out who Batman and Robin were, all by myself,” the kid said, smiling slightly.
“Oh, really?” Jason raised an eyebrow, “When?”
That was definitely a smirk. “I was nine.”
Jason let out a low whistle. He hadn’t found out until he’d literally stumbled upon Bruce climbing out of the Cave.
“Finding you was easier,” Tim said, “With the Batcomputer’s resources. And Oracle, but I didn’t tell her who I was looking for.”
Jason squinted at him, “Who’s Oracle?”
Tim blinked, “Barbara? Didn’t you—”
“Batgirl?” Jason frowned, “Why did she change her name? What happened?”
Tim went pale. Not even slightly pale, but full-on sheet-white and Jason tensed, ready to catch the kid and keep him from cracking his skull open if he fainted. “She got injured,” he said in an airy tone of voice that didn’t match his sudden terror, “I don’t really want to talk about it.”
Jason stared at him, but didn’t press. He dropped his gaze back to the suit in his lap. His suit. He could have Robin back. He could pretend like the past three years had never happened, like Batman had rescued him, like—
Like a clown hadn’t ripped him apart so thoroughly that Jason still hadn’t found all the pieces.
Jason slumped back. He could feel the rage draining out of him, the mindless fury and shrieking wrath. The kid had given it back. Robin was his again. Robin was his but he still felt hollow inside, which meant that the problem had never been them.
The problem had been him the whole time.
He’d been planning to kill and break and make them all suffer and now, with his old costume back, with his old life so close he could taste it, it was like he’d broken through a fog.
He was so angry. He was so furious. At the fifteen-year-old that went running in without backup. At the seventeen-year-old that decided to listen to Talia al Ghul. At the eighteen-year-old that placed a bomb on the Batmobile with every intention of pressing the trigger.
What was he doing?
Jason picked up the domino mask. Plain black. He’d gotten a new one in red, unable to stomach wearing the same mask he’d died in. Or unable to betray a hint of allegiance to the colors he was no longer worthy of.
“I’m sorry,” the kid whispered again, “I’m not your replacement.”
He turned the mask around and leaned forward, pressing it to skin and sealing it down. The kid stared at him, frozen to the spot.
“No,” Jason said, forcing the ghost of a smile on his face, “You’re my successor.”
The kid unsealed the mask easily, pulling it off his face and staring at Jason with wide blue eyes, “Jason, what—”
“Robin is magic, kid,” Jason said, standing up and depositing the bag back in Tim’s lap, “Remember that. Also—stay away from clowns and crowbars.” Until I put a bullet in the fucker’s head, he finished mentally.
Tim flinched at the reminder, but hastily straightened. “Jason, I’m not—Robin is yours, I can’t possibly be—”
“You can. You are. Thanks for the offer, baby bird, but I can’t be Robin again.” Jason gestured to the gun, to the apartment, to the red helmet sitting on a table, “Not after this.”
Not with blood on his hands.
“No, Jason, you’ll always be Robin,” Tim stood up, his eyes flashing, “I’m not really—”
“Robin is light,” Jason said, “The hope in the darkness. The brightness in Batman’s shadow. And that’s what you are.”
Jason stepped forward and gripped the kid’s shoulders—Tim went quiet and still, blinking up at him in surprise. “I’m not brightness, or light, or magic,” Jason said softly, trying hard to keep his fingers from tightening, “Before you showed up at my door, baby bird, I was intending to hurt you.”
The kid didn’t tear himself away from Jason. Didn’t even flinch. He stared up at him in trusting faith and Jason felt something in his heart burn, ripping away from the green that ensnared everything around him.
“I’m a monster, kid,” Jason said softly, willing him to believe it, “I came back wrong. Someone needs to put the terror back into this city, and Batman’s not up for the job. I can’t be Robin.”
Tim’s face scrunched up, eyes narrowing and lips thinning, and Jason let go, stepping back with a pang of fond amusement. Self-righteous and stubborn. He would fit right in.
“Fine,” Tim said, his expression slipping to something more calculating, “But then you have to teach me.”
“Teach you what? How to shoot a gun?”
“How to be Robin.”
Jason laughed. “Go to the Golden Boy for that, Timbo,” he said, shaking his head, “You don’t need lessons from me.”
“I already got lessons from Dick,” Tim said, his expression resolute, “But I don’t care. You said I’m your successor, so I want to learn from you.”
Jason stopped to stare at the kid, who was watching Jason with a determined glare, crossing his arms and standing his ground. Jason had been in Gotham one week before the kid had found him—he was never going to be able to go to ground.
Jason considered just shooting him and dropping him back off at the Cave, and groaned.
Tim’s face split into a grin, the little shit.
The kid stayed to hound him, asking questions so quickly Jason could barely keep up and seemingly unconcerned with Jason’s flare-ups and his eyes pulsing green. By the time it grew dark, Jason was scrambling at an excuse that would allow him to kick the kid out without those blue eyes going wide and teary, and he seized upon the dying light.
“Aren’t you supposed to head out on patrol soon?” Jason asked a little desperately.
Tim cocked his head towards the window, “Um, no, I came here to give you Robin back, remember?”
“Right, but isn’t Batman going to wonder where you are?”
Tim blinked at him, “I told Bruce I was quitting before I came here.”
Jason stared at him. “You told Batman that you were giving Robin back to me?” he asked, raising his eyebrows because he didn’t see that going over well. Batman wouldn’t have left the kid out of his sight.
“No, just that I was leaving. I wanted you to be able to tell him on your own,” Tim said, staring at the floor again, “And I didn’t know if you had a reason for keeping it a secret.”
“And he didn’t ask for an explanation?”
“Oh, I just left a note.”
“You…left a note,” he said, his voice strangled.
“Yes, I told him I was fine and it was okay, I wasn’t going to tell anyone about Batman,” Tim shrugged, still pondering the wood grain like it was a Picasso, “And I left my phone behind, so you don’t have to worry that he’ll track me here.”
Jason sat down suddenly, his legs wobbling.
“Jason?” Tim said, alarmed, hovering over him, “Are you okay?” Jason buried his head in his hands.
“You left him a note,” Jason said, his voice muffled, “Saying that you were leaving. And you left your phone behind. And then you vanished.”
“…I didn’t vanish, Jason, what—”
“You need to call Bruce,” Jason said, because he wanted Batman to suffer, but this was a little too on the nose, even for him. “Before he has a heart attack.”
“Why would he have a heart attack?” Tim asked, confused, “I don’t live at Wayne Manor, Jason, I don’t think he’s—”
Jason made a sharp, inarticulate noise and dug his own phone out, dialing a number he’d been forced to memorize a long time ago. It rang—once, twice, thrice—
“Wayne residence, this is Alfred speaking.”
Jason’s throat had closed up.
He couldn’t breathe.
How could he have forgotten Alfred?
The line ended with a click.
“Jason?” Tim was hovering near him, watching him carefully as his fingers fidgeted with the hem of his hoodie.
Jason hit redial and shoved the phone at Tim. “Tell Bruce you’re safe,” he ordered, “Before the man has a breakdown.”
Tim gave him a strange look before his protests were cut off by the call connecting. “Hi, Alfred,” he said, biting his lip again, “Yes, I’m fine—hi, Bruce—I’m fine—I didn’t—I’m with J—” Jason made a sharp, slicing motion. “I—I’m with no one!” Jason rolled his eyes at the less-than-stellar save. “I borrowed a phone from someone to call. Uh-huh. Yes. I’m fine. Okay. Bye, Bruce.”
Tim ended the call and gave the phone back to him, exasperated. “Happy now?” the kid groused.
“Ecstatic,” Jason said, turning to head towards the kitchen, “Now scram, kid. You’ve been here for hours.”
“You may not have patrol, but I certainly do, and I’m not letting you stay in my safehouse unsupervised.”
“Not much of a safehouse,” the kid grumbled, “Seeing as I found it in two days.”
“You’re a stalker, baby bird,” Jason raised his eyebrows in reproach, “And shoo. Go back to your nest. Tell Bruce it was a mistake and you’re going to be Robin again.”
Tim fidgeted, his gaze dropping back to the floor. Jason followed his stare, unsure of what could keep the kid’s attention there. “Are you sure?” the kid asked in a small voice.
The green swelled, but it wasn’t aimed at the kid and the familiar hiss of fury was almost…warm. “I’m sure, baby bird,” Jason said, dropping his tone to something gentler, “You deserve it.”
Tim looked up, his eyes impossibly wide, and somehow—between one breath and the next—Jason’s ribs were being constricted by a deceptively tight grip. “I’m so glad you’re alive,” the kid breathed out, his voice hoarse, and Jason slowly curled his arms around him.
“Me too?” Jason tried.
Tim choked on a chuckle, and squeezed harder. “You’ll always be my Robin,” he said, his voice barely audible.
Jason felt his heart clench. “Well, then you’ll always be mine,” he said, trying to keep his voice level.