A sense of obligation
by Te
August 6, 2005

Disclaimers: Nothing here belongs to me.

Spoilers: Vague ones for current Batverse canon, also takes
a great *deal* of toonverse into account -- including
Return of the Joker -- and rather a lot of older Jason

Summary: "All over you. Like a stain. You smell it on me,
too, right?"

Ratings Note/Warnings: Not explicit, but not for the kinder,
either. Content some readers may find disturbing.

Author's Note: Yeah, uh... Mary made a roomful of Robins.
This one grabbed my brain and wouldn't let go. And this
story won't make a *lick* of sense without reading that
snippet -- and its frame -- first. Assuming it does,
anyway. *snort*

Acknowledgments: To Jack, Mary, LC, and Zee for
audiencing and encouragement. To Betty for forcing me to
do this as right as I could.

He doesn't know where he is, other than Jersey.

He thinks it should probably sound profound in his head,
but it just kind of sounds like what it is -- lost and a little
pathetic. The kid in the passenger seat is muttering and
moaning, which means he's asleep. He hasn't tried to
nerve-strike him in an hour or so, which means that it's
either an okay dream or a really bad one.

Probably, he should wake the kid -- Timmy, heh, and
how's *that* for a joke? -- up, but then again, maybe he

He drives.


It's a roadside inn, but they're still in Jersey, so it's really
more of an "inn." The potted plants are fake and smell like
piss, and the bad art is all forest scenes out of the kind of
crappy fantasy books which were all over the library at the
school Bruce had sent him to, once.

No elves, though. That's something.

The kid has been in the shower for about twenty minutes
longer than he needs, even considering the fact that they'd
just spent a few days (years? hours? seconds? Fucking
*hypertime*) mixing it up with an army of Robins.

Somewhere -- maybe a lot of somewheres -- Bruce is
creaming his fucking jock, and he doesn't know why.

That's a joke, too. It's just not a funny one.

Not like... Timmy. Heh.

Jason pushes open the bathroom door, unsurprised to find
that the lock was already broken -- and broken *well* --
and pulls back the curtain.

The kid flinches once and keeps scrubbing, like there's
something so fucking dirty on him, so fucking *wrong* --

"Get outta there," Jason hears himself say, and it's the voice
he'd perfected for himself before he ever went back to
Gotham, which means it's the wrong one, but the kid just
nods and moves.

Jason has to plant a hand on his chest and let the
just-this-close-to-boiling water sluice them both a little.
There's still soap.

When he lets go again, the kid just stands there and waits.
He's... *passive*.

Just like a damned Timmy.

Jason feels his left hand tighten into the choke hold he's
*not* using and turns his back. "Get dressed. We're
headed out."

Sleep is for day, anyway.


It takes about twenty minutes to find the people he needs
to beat to replace the guns that other Batman (*Timmy*)
had taken off him before he'd known what was going on.

He offers one to the kid, but that just makes him quiver
like a damned leaf, and Jason's just this close to saying
'fuck it' and ditching the kid in an alley when the
whicker-flash of metal and a light kind of *tug* lets him
see that the kid had stolen his Bowie.

Jason raises an eyebrow. "*Really*."

The smile on the kid's face looks like his nightmares,

It's good enough.


It's not like there's anything out here, anything *real* --
they need (Gotham) a city for that -- but there are always
punks and assholes.

Dealers, dealers everywhere, and not a...

No, it's too good to be a prick about it, even in his head.

He wasn't really expecting backup, but he gets it anyway.
The kid moves to back every play he's got, and...

And he uses his hands to do it.

And his legs and his feet and all that other good Bat-shit,
yeah, he could've seen *that* coming, but.

He uses his *hands*.

He looks like he's small enough to fit in the thigh of Jason's
jeans, and he hits like it, too -- like he's fighting for his
damned life and knows it, feels it.

*Owns* it.

It's so good Jason never pulls the trigger on either of his

It's better when they get separated for long enough for a
couple of kids with fucking baseball bats to corner the kid
and Jason can't see a damned thing, can't *know* anything
until the screams start.

By the time he's close enough to get a look, the punks are
down and there's blood all over the kid's face and hands.
Probably in his hair, too, but it's too dark to see.

The knife is point down, but his wrist is tensed just like
*that* and his eyes are moving side to side to side. His
feet are planted like he's wearing trainers instead of the
boots some other Robin had found for him.


Bruce never taught him this. Bruce...

He's got the kid against the wall before he can think about
it, up off his toes and fighting-struggling-stopping.

The kid makes a sound in his throat that sounds like it
wants to be a code-name and stares at him, like maybe
there'd be a question there if he actually gave enough of
a fuck to ask.

*Timmy*. But.


"Who the fuck are you," Jason says. "*Tell* me."

"You tell me."

Robin. Junior. Fucking... fucking *Jay* --

Jason drops him and moves, blind until he can feel the
bike they *didn't* wreck under his hands. Good enough.
Good enough.

The kid smears Jason's t-shirt with other people's blood
when he reaches around to hold on.

There's nothing in the damned motel they *need*,
anyway. Not with bodies on the ground.

And... even if he *hadn't* planned on playing it this way --
he doesn't even know who those punks had *worked*
for -- it also kind of answers a question.


They almost wreck once when the kid stops being a silent
weight against Jason's back and starts screaming -- fucking
*keening* -- and it knocks Jason out of the driving haze.

Almost doesn't count, though, so Jason just pulls off onto
the shoulder where there are a few trees and about a
hundred thousand cigarette butts and used condoms and
dumps the kid on the ground hard enough to wake him

The first thing he does is kick Jason in the shin.

The second thing he does is go limp and stare up at him.

"I'm not the fucking Batman --"


"And I'm not whoever did this..." No, he knows. "I'm *not*
the fucking Joker, so you can just --"

"No. I shot him. K-killed him. Dead, dead, dead, dead,
dead --"

"Wait --"

"Said it wasn't funny. Said --
hahahahahaHAHAHAHAHAHAAA --"

Jason kicks him in the thigh and breathes. Breathes.

The kid groans and curls up on himself a little -- *after*
edging back into the shade a little. The shadows.

Killed. He... "*What* did you -- you killed the fucking

There's nothing showing of the kid except for huge eyes,
white teeth, and the slick of not-quite-dried blood under
the arc-sodiums. "Yes."

"You... you --"

"*Yes*," the kid says, and then, just as if he hadn't broken
Jason's head *enough*, he starts crying.

Big, hitching sobs like it's okay, or something. Like Jason
wasn't gonna... like the *world* wasn't --

"I -- he was going to -- he wanted me to -- and
B-B-B-Bruce --"

Jason grabs the kid by the hair and yanks him out of the
shadows and close. Several of the short-ish black hairs let
go, but Jason's got a good grip. And.

He's hanging from Jason's hand like dirty laundry that
learned how to hug itself.

*He'd* killed the Joker. A Joker. A fucking *Timmy*. He --
"Fucking *cope*," he says, to both of them, and it's so
loud and ridiculous that the road-sounds behind them
sound like laughter and screams.

"F-f-fuck *you*," the kid says right back, and looks shocked
for about a second. Two.

And then he starts snickering.

Right. That's just...

At least it explains the gun thing. Well.

A *better* explanation.

After a moment of pretty much nothing -- and it's been a
while since those were standard, but it's not like coming
back from the dead is an *exact* science -- Jason becomes
aware of a grip on his wrist.

The kid isn't trying to get him to let go so much as holding
on to make Jason's grip less painful.

Jason lets him go and the kid drops from his arms into a
careful little crouch (Tim).

His knuckles ached, anyway.


They bust up a sporting goods store in a dark and creepy
little strip mall and change. If it were his clothes that were
too fucked-up for public consumption, Jason would just
leave them where they dropped, but...


He rips off a camping torch along with everything else and
sets a nice little fire.

He tries to.

The kid adds way too much lighter fluid, and then it's not
so much 'nice' and 'little' as 'good-bye sporting goods

And he has to admit...

Well, it'd never been *his* thing, and it was kind of
pointless, besides, but the kid looks hectic and alive and
lit *up* in the firelight, and Jason has to fight himself to
keep from staying too long.

He grabs another -- *red* -- hoodie for the kid from the
rack as they run, and then it's back on the bike.


"... on you."

Jason wakes up with his heart pounding and his head full
of too much and keeps his eyes closed reflexively. He
doesn't remember where he *is*, and --

"All over you. Like a stain. You smell it on me, too, right?"

And the kid is a shadow over him he can *feel* and bony
knees digging into his sides. The kid is on him, and the
coverlet is scratchy and a little rank beneath him,
and --

"That's why, right? That's why you grabbed me."

Motel. They're in a motel, and they're in... he doesn't know
where they are --


There are cool and sweaty-damp fingers on his face, and
Jason opens his eyes to find the kid staring down at him.

For a minute, Jason can't figure out why he isn't naked
(screaming) and wet (screaming) and hurting (screaming)
and just-new-alive. But there hadn't been anyone to lean
over him and creep his shit out when he did, and it's
been a while.

A while. "Yeah, what is it?"

"Did you kill the Joker, too?"

No. He hadn't. Jason feels himself wanting to frown,
wanting to --

"I... please?"

"Not yet," he growls, and waits for the kid to call him on
whatever (shame, fear, jealousy, *shame*) fucking shit
is in his eyes. But.

All the kid does is frown, and... sort of *push* at Jason's
face like there's a mask that needs to be pulled off.

To the point that Jason almost -- almost -- has to check
for himself that there isn't. It's in his jacket pocket, for
now. Until they get back to (Gotham) a city, anyway.

"Who *did* you kill?"

Oh. Jason shrugs and catches the kid's hands, pulling them
away from himself for long enough that he can sit up. The
position makes the kid sprawl over Jason's lap like --

("Oh, Jay, *yes* --")

Jason pushes the kid back to his thighs and works on not
frowning any more than he has to. "Some dealers, mostly.

The kid keeps frowning. "Not..."

He gets it. "Not anyone real, no. Not yet."

The look on the kid's face is pretty much nothing but

Jason gets that, too.


There are maps at the gas station, which is more than
enough reason for Jason to fucking deal and figure out
where (Gotham) he's going.

It's not Gotham, though. Not... not while he has the kid.

He could -- he should -- ask himself why he's changing
everything he's planned just because he's acquired a
goddamned *passenger* -- currently creeping the fuck
out of the gas jockey, but...

In the end, it makes *enough* sense.

Like maybe there was a space for Robins-who-weren't, for
fuckups and killers and...

No, he can't. It's not like that. It's *more* than that.
Because Batman is still *Bruce* -- in this world, anyway --
and that means Batman isn't enough, and can't ever be.

It's more.

The kid takes the dead-eye stare off the jockey and turns it
on him.

For a minute, Jason thinks about turning his back and just
getting back on *program*, but, in the end, he'd *chosen*
to grab this kid. Whether or not he should've. He also
thinks about asking the kid where *he* wants to go, but
it's not really like that, either. Maybe it can't be.

It's not like this is the *kid's* world, anyway.

(Is it his? Really? How will he know until he gets to
Gotham? Will he know even...?)

Jason jerks his head toward the bike.

"West," he says, to the complete lack of question on the
kid's face.

His voice sounds sure enough to his own ears.


He isn't sure how long it's been since he's had a meal.

For a lot of reasons, really, none of which he cares to think
about. His teeth and tongue kind of freak a bit at the fact
that there's something *not* an energy bar in his mouth,
but once he swallows it's okay.

Reasonably okay.

There's no way he's going to manage to choke down this
entire cheeseburger, no matter how many times he tells
himself that it's actually food, and that, for a roadside
diner, it's actually pretty fresh.

He steels himself to look up and find the kid glaring (or
staring, terrified) at his own plate, and... blinks.

There's nothing left on the kid's plate but a few of the
limper fries and a piece of dead-looking lettuce.

Even the damned toothpick looks chewed.

Jason forces himself to take one more bite and then pushes
his own plate across the table.

The kid actually growls before he catches himself, and then
there's one of those moments that Jason's actually getting
a little used to. The blank, greyed-out expanse of
*wounded* that's the kid's standard expression, followed
by the world's most fucked-up stop-motion film of *actual*
expression being born.

Tenseness in the forehead, twitching jaw, and the spread
of dry, chapped lips into a smile that's only a *little* too
wide. "Sorry. And thank you."

Jason nods. Thinks about it. And raises an eyebrow.

"Liquid diet. In... the hospital."

He doesn't know why he's surprised that the kid had been
institutionalized when that *other* Batman (fucking
*Timmy*) had yanked him in with the rest. Except for how
Robins don't usually get the hospital treatment.

Jason leans back in the booth and chews his own toothpick.
If the kid minds that he's being examined, he doesn't show


He lets the kid set fire to the bike for them.

It seems only fair, since there'd only been the one courier
in the car Jason found for them, and Jason hadn't really
been able to share, just then.

It stops feeling pointless when you've got a car full of
cash and blow. It stops *being* pointless, as far as
Jason's concerned.

When the fire's spread about as far as it's likely to, Jason
scatters the drugs around the edges. Let the locals try to
figure it out. If they can.

He watches, a little helplessly, and --

And gets snapped out of the nothing by the sound of the
kid grunting with effort.

Jason had forgotten the courier by the side of the road,
and just because he was small enough that the kid
probably *would've* been able to take him out, himself...

It's like watching a puppy try to drag a dogsled across the
fucking Arctic.

Jason takes over and dumps the body on the fire, and
watches the kid stare at his own arms like he wants to
rip them off and start over.

He yanks the kid back to the car before he can get lost


Jason knows he's in the country, but he doesn't *know*
it until he actually has to come up with something to say
to the motel manager about the fact that he's traveling
with a skinny, crazy looking little kid.

And it takes a while.

He hasn't bothered with explanations...

Explanations were for *Bruce*, and it's not like *he* was
ever any good at them.

He shrugs, and pulls on a smile which probably --
probably -- doesn't look *too* much like "I might have
to just kill you if this doesn't work," and puts an arm
around the kid's bony little shoulders.

"Don't wanna rush you or anything, man, but little brother
here needs a nap like *bad*."

The kid actually manages to yawn pretty much on cue,
and Jason's so startled that he ruffles his hair. It's kind of
lank, now that he feels it. He's going to have to get the
kid some real shampoo or something.

Maybe it was a universal constant -- Timmies require
fucking *product*.

The manager's face softens just enough, and he hands
over a key.

The kid waves, so Jason doesn't bother trying to say
anything else that sounds right.


They take turns puking in the bathroom.

It's actually kind of companionable, and reminds Jason of
his mother. The fake one, anyway.

After, Jason orders them a plain cheese pizza.

The kid eats the cheese, and Jason eats the bread.


Jason pisses by the side of the road and thinks, idly, about
whether it'd be worth it to take *this* car's police scanner
with him whenever he finds something else suitable.
There's nothing really *anything* on there, probably
because it's been about two hundred miles since there's
been anything for *them* to do, but --

"There's nothing here."

The voice comes from a little too high for Jason to credit
until he looks back over his shoulder to find the kid
crouching on *top* of the car.


Jason snorts, shakes off, and tucks himself away. "No

"It's not... there's nothing *here*."

Jason shrugs. "You'd think a kid like you would be able to

"What. What do you mean. By that?"

Did he really want to get into this?


Was there really a choice? Jason grits his teeth and joins
the kid at the car, catching him by the jaw and stroking
over the oh-so-fucking-familiar sharp cheekbones, the
thin little mouth, the not-quite snub of a nose. "You're
Tim. You were never a *real* city boy. I mean..." He
shrugs again. "You took to it well enough, near as *I*
could tell, but you were... I don't have to tell you this,
man. You used to patrol a fucking private *boy's* school
of all things."

They're a little too far away from the lights for Jason to be
able to *see* the kid's face, but he can feel it tense up
under his hand.


"I'm not. I'm. That's not. I don't think. I. I. I. I --"

Shit. Jason gives the kid a shake. "Don't freak on me
again, I'm not in the fucking --"

"Who the fuck are you *talking* about?"

"-- mood. Wait."

"I'm not. I'm... I'm *Tim*. Aren't I?"

Jason hears the sound of joints popping and uses his free
hand to check -- yeah. The kid has got the kind of grip on
the car's roof that would actually be a little challenging for
him to break. Regroup time, apparently. "Okay. Who are
your parents? No. When did they *die*?"

"My... my Mom... I don't really remember. I was a kid."

Oh --

"Two-Face killed my Dad a few years ago."


"Jason --"


"Jason, if you break my jaw I'm going to start laughing

Shit, shit, *shit* --

"It's just... you don't seem to -- heh heh ha ha heh --
appreciate it --"

Jason shoves the kid *back* and manages to turn fast
enough to avoid spattering the car with puke.


Too much.

"Heh ha heh. Surprise?"


He spends the day staring, feeling like a fucking asshole,
a fucking *idiot* --

He spends the day staring at the kid, and getting
not-quite-stared at in return, until the kid passes out and
starts his usual cycle of
coma-twitch like a dog-scream-whimper-coma.

He spends the day staring.


"We're coming up on a city," the kid says, quiet and

It's the first thing he's said since the side of that highway,
whichever it was. It actually takes a second for Jason to
realize it's not just the radio.

The radio isn't on. "I just --"

"What's your point?"

"I'm good at cities. You can... you should leave me."

"I *should* fucking send you back to your own fucked-up

The kid makes breathing sounds beside him, and Jason...
he doesn't know. He doesn't have a fucking clue.

"Is that where you *want* to be?"

More breathing sounds, getting a little higher and jagged
as Jason listens --

"Keep it *together*, you little freak --"

It's a pretty good punch, as these things go. The sparks
light up the night some, red and gold, when Jason can't
keep the car from screaming along the barrier.

He can't take both hands off the wheel, though, and he
can't catch *both* of the kid's with one.

Jason has enough time to wonder what it'll be like to die
*this* time before he can translate the sounds the kid's
making --

"Not the same it's not the *same* they won't let me out
they don't they won't let me *out* --"

Jason pulls over onto the shoulder -- and up onto the grass.
This is all just a little too damned *obvious*, but he can't
do anything about it until the kid gets quiet again, so...

The first punch rocks the kid's head back and to the side,
but it doesn't stop the strikes and pinches that are making
Jason's chest feel somewhere between numb and on fire.

He grits his teeth, and the next punch makes blood and
snot hit the window, and the kid's arm jerks in Jason's own.
The punch *would've* sent him flying. Dammit.

Jason grabs the kid's other wrist and holds on. "Are you
with me?"

The kid spits more blood and snot at the dashboard.

Jason waits, though he isn't sure what he's waiting *for*...
until he is. There's no apology. Hunh. "So that's a *no* on
'send you home,' then?"

The kid looks at him like he's thinking about biting off
Jason's face with his teeth (why hadn't he seen the crooked
ones?), before *his* face starts twitching.

"Shit, kid, if I have to fuck you up too much it's gonna be
a *problem* --"

But it's just a snicker.

After a moment, Jason snickers some, too.


The thing about cities which aren't Gotham is that they're
mostly kinda soft, even around the edges.

The warehouse is rank and they have to beat a few
squatters and junkies to get them to leave, but there's
actually still glass in some of the windows and there's all
kinds of metal left. Bars and railways and shit.

High enough for the casual junkies to have left it for a
loss, but still.

This place should be gutted. Should've *been* gutted.

The way the kid is shaking his head and sneering a little
tells Jason they're on the same page.

"Start clearing up a little," Jason says, and kicks a fucking
scary-looking needle out of the way. "Try not to give
yourself AIDS, or anything."

The kid snorts and nods. "Supplies?"

Jason grins at him. "The good-boy way, kid. Don't worry,
I'm not gonna be having any fun without you."

There's a part of him which wants to ask something else,
to look *into* the kid just to make sure he can trust him,
that he won't bolt or anything -- no. That isn't, really, what
he wants to know about a kid who could take the Joker
out, even if he did have a breakdown after.

And if he starts counting the number of people the kid's
offed just since he's been with *Jason*...

Really, he already knows what he needs to.

The voice sounds like Bruce, anyway. And Jason doesn't
have a Batgirl to step in and do his thinking for him.


He doesn't remember sleeping, or waking up. Not really.

It's just not-there and *there*, and it doesn't really matter.
He's here.

And the kid is... there.

A shadow over the lantern Jason had brought back and
the flash of... a knife?

No. Mirror and scissors.

"Are you seriously fixing your *hair*? I'd planned to get
us a place *with* running water in a day or so, man --"

"Just cutting it."

And Jason's close enough now that he can see that that's...
kind of the understatement of the century. "Jesus. What
the fuck? Are you trying to look *more* like an escaped
mental patient?"

The look he gets for that is hollow and shadowed and still...
nothing like the Tim he knows. "I kept wanting to... I kept
looking for dye."

"Oh." Shit.

"I..." The shrug is shaky and young-looking, and then the
kid goes back to chopping.

"Gimme those."

"Jason --"

"Easy, kid. I also... I've got some clippers." He hadn't put
them in the share pile. It's not like the kid needed a shave,
after all.

Jason snips off the last few tufts and runs a hand over
the rest.

"You feel like you've got fucking mange."

"Hm. Unclean, unclean."

Jason snorts and gets the clippers. They're cheap and
battery-operated, and if the kid's head was any bigger
they wouldn't be hardcore enough for this.

But it isn't, and they are.

"Buzz good enough?" Say yes, because otherwise I need a
damned razor and maybe an excuse not to... not to take
you somewhere people know how to cope and --

"Yeah. I... yeah."

Jason grabs the lantern and holds it up, checking out his


"How much can you eat before you puke again, do you

The look on the kid's face makes him look almost exactly
like... like that other Tim. Almost still doesn't count, though.
"Concentration camp chic?"

"Hottest underaged catamite in Auschwitz, freakboy."

The kid jerks and folds in on himself, and...

It's not a good laugh at all.

It's just that it takes Jason way too long to be able to
smack him out of it again, and then... and then he can't
really let go.

He drags the kid back to his bedroll -- the kid's own is
deep enough in the shadows that Jason can't even see it --
squeezing the air out of him when he puts up the
obligatory fight.

And when Jason throws him down, he gets...


"You think I'm gonna fuck you?"

The shrug is almost casual, the hands grabbing at the
bedroll and tugging really aren't.

Jason scrubs a hand over his face, breathes, drops to his
knees -- between the kid's spread thighs -- and grabs the
kid's shoulders, pressing him down. "I'm still not the
Joker, you know."

A twitch under the eye. That's it.

Jason squeezes his eyes shut, not caring that the kid can
see it. "I'm still not Batman, either."


"Kid --"

He doesn't make a sound, not even after he's yanked Jason
down hard enough to knock the breath out of his own
body again.

As hugs go, it's kind of fucked-up -- especially since Jason's
pretty sure there's gonna be a bruise on the kid's head
from Jason's chin -- but it works.


It takes a while -- Jason actually needs to find and check a
damned phonebook -- but it's a city, and it's a normal
enough universe, so there's a body-mod shop with way too
many superhero logos in the window and way too much
krudge on the floors and walls for comfort.

He'll dunk them both in disinfectant later.

"Whaddaya need?" The boy behind the counter is either
queer or working the look for chicks. Tough call. He doesn't
bother to look up from his magazine, either.

"Ear piercing," he says.

"One or two?"

Jason looks at the kid and frowns, pushing back the hood,
and... yeah. It was bad enough in the daylight. Under the
fluorescents, the kid looks too obvious to deal with. "Two,"
he says.

"Twenty," the counter-boy says and *then* looks up.
"Whoa, wait, how old --"

"Eighteen," the kid says, and the smirk is enough to make
counter-boy flinch.

"Yeah," Jason says. "It's his *birthday*."


The studs are little, gold, and really just not right. It'll be a
while before the holes are healed enough for hoops,
though, and the overall look is an improvement.

Especially when he puts just enough eyeliner on the kid to
make the shadows and hollows look purposeful, as
opposed to just fucking damaged.

Maybe he'll get the kid inked a little, too.

Maybe some other new clothes.


Jason's not sure.

There's something pretty nasty about doing this, when he
thinks about it. It's too much like... it's too much like
everything that had gotten them both here in the first
place. If the kid wants a mask or a suit, he can ask for
one. Jason won't -- he won't.

It's just that he stops being able to tell himself that it's good
enough when the kid starts working out.

Up the walls like a rat, over to the railing of the crumbling
old catwalk...

He's light enough -- and trained enough -- that it doesn't
look suicidal from down here. Not even when he stops
doing the chin-ups and starts acting like the rusted-out
old metal is just a particularly fucked-up trapeze.

He doesn't move like this world's Tim.

He doesn't move like Jason, either, though, so... so.

Jason turns his back and cleans the guns.


There's a trick to living well in a city, even a fake one.

Step one -- find out who's running things enough to have
more property than he (or she) can keep a close eye on.

Step two -- pick the property you want.

Step three -- take it, but don't get comfortable. No matter
how good your new Boy Killer looks when he's passed out
and not-really-moaning-a-lot on a bed.

Step four -- figure out how many of the big boss' underlings
are both important enough to mean something and
expendable enough not to start a damned war. No matter
how good your new Boy Killer looks when he's using the
muscle he's built up to drive your knife -- *yours* --
through the thinner bones of hands and feet.

Step five -- let the kid out to play.

Step six -- yank the leash tight when the kid starts
looking like he wants to start playing with explosives,

Step seven -- get rid of the boss' bodyguards so that when
you make him piss himself and cry, he doesn't feel the
need to go all vendetta on your ass.

"All this for a fucking *house*?"

Jason gives the guy his best Red Hood smile and reaches
down to where the kid is crouching on some snoring --
bleeding -- bodyguard's back, and strokes the buzz. The
kid still isn't wearing a mask, but he'd used up most of
the eyeliner. The effect is more Goth nightmare than mask,
but it works. "A boy needs a backyard." And the kid needs
them to stop moving, at least for long enough to get his
full strength back.

Step eight -- make sure you know, for sure, which
territories to let slide while you're hanging out in your
fake new city.

No matter how much it stings.


The gym in their new place is filled with the kind of wussy
equipment that yuppies use to tell themselves they're still

The kid dismantles the ones he can't get any use of, and
uses the torch Jason buys him to build other things.

Acrobat's toys.

"Dick trained you."

"And Babs. Bruce only... only the... weapons. And even
then..." The kid shrugs and flips up onto his hands, doing
the kind of push-ups that no one *but* Dick does.

Jason frowns and tries to figure out a way *he* can use
the equipment, and... no, he's really just trying not to
look at the kid. "So they were all there? For you."

"Yeah," the kid says. "Jason... that's not really what you
want to talk about."

It really isn't. He checks his watch, but he knows it's still
only twenty minutes or so since the last time. And hours
before sundown. This *isn't* his city, but that doesn't
mean they can't do at least a little good.

"Does he... does he really look like me?"

Jason snorts. "That's not what *you* want to talk about,
either, kid. And anyway... you saw."


There'd been more Tims than any of the others. Even the
fucking *Dicks*. Hell, even that *Batman* --

"Why do you hate him?"

"Two-Face never killed -- anyone. Of his. Or even gave him
a good beating. Joker never..." Jason shrugs, and tries a
smile. He knows it's weak. "I don't fucking know, kid. He
gets to wear *pants*."

"So did I."

Jason blinks and stares at the kid. He's still upside down,
legs locked and back straight. He thinks about it. "The
red ones."

"Yes. It was... it was mine."

He replaced me. Or maybe that should be 'us.' Or...


("I *love* you. Oh, I -- I need you so much, Jay...")


Jason knocks his head back against the wall. And then he
does it again, and again, until he can look at the kid again.
He's still upside-down, but his arms are starting to shake.
"Ease it up. I'm gonna want you tonight."

The kid flips down and under his new makeshift bars,
twisting until he's upside-down the *other* way, hanging
from his legs. "Are you gonna tell me?"

"You're kind of the fortunate son, kid."

A blink. Another.

"I'm not joking."

("How'd you manage to nab the ones who are -- still --
dead, anyway?"

"Hypertime is forgiving. Jason.")

The kid is still just staring.

"Nobody ever *gets* to you. Not really. Because even when
they do..." Jason shrugs. "You never get benched. You
never, *never* get fired. You quit by *choice*, and then
just... come right fucking back. And when you *do* get

"The girl. The... the blonde one."

Jason nods. "You just replace her right back."

"Heh. Ha ha heh --"

"*Kid* --"

Jason winces, but he has to admit, as solutions go,
watching the kid bite his own arm hard enough to draw
blood is better than the alternatives. He's fucking tired of
hurting the kid.

"I'm okay," the kid says, and licks the blood off his own

"Yeah. You're fucking charmed."

"Please don't make me feel the need to stab you in your
sleep. You sleep very, very deeply, you know."

Jason stretches until his back pops and smiles down at
the kid. There's something almost reassuring about the
fact that he knows that wasn't even remotely an *empty*
threat. "Like the dead, even."


Junkyards have always been kind of cool, especially the
ones where the old cars get stacked up like buildings and
you can't smell any cordite but your own.

After the first clip, he doesn't have to keep holding on to
the kid's shoulder with his free hand to keep him from

After the second, the kid pukes, but aims it well enough
that Jason doesn't have to move.

After the third, the kid lets out a shaky little sigh and looks
at him.

Jason reloads before he looks back.

"My turn?"

Yes. Maybe -- Jason shakes his head. "I'm gonna need a
gun for some things. Which means you're going to *have*
to be able to cope with the sound, again."

The kid nods, and snakes the other gun off Jason's hip
before he can move. He really is quick. And... Jason
closes his eyes.

"You don't have to." Please don't fucking change. Don't
make me be --

The kid squeezes off the first shot like he thinks the gun
is going to turn around and shoot *him*. But the rest of
the clip goes easy and right.

It would've been Bruce who taught him this. Jason knows
it in his bones, and in the way his back still remembers
Bruce's chest molded against it, moving --


Jason hands it over.


The bedroom almost doesn't smell like rich-criminal cologne
anymore. The bed itself is pretty much right, especially
since the kid has stopped going for his dick with that
fucked-up little reflex of his.

("Jason, don't -- oh, Jay...")


The kid is actually kind of a cuddler, in a way. Bony elbows
and knees out of the way, skin against the places where
Jason doesn't have the right scars, anymore.

Jason strokes the kid's buzz and looks up at the ceiling. He
knows the kid's awake.

"You were fucking him."

It's not a question, and it doesn't have to be. "You, too."
He tugs at the kid's ear -- no swelling, good sign -- and
rubs the stud there with his thumb.

The kid doesn't say a word.

"Did you want to talk about it?"

"It was... there was this thing. With Scarecrow."

"How long... how long had you been Robin?"

"About a month."

Jason laughs, a little.


"I guess you're Tim enough that he could show a *little*
restraint, hunh?"

The kid twitches against Jason's side before settling.

Jason rubs the stud in the kid's ear in something that could
be, maybe, an apology. For them.

"Maybe he thought I wasn't ready, yet."

Jason snorts. "Or something."

Another twitch, like maybe the kid can't decide if they
should try for a real hug or not. Or...

He doesn't know. "What?"

"I love him, Jason. I... that's why I killed Joker.
Because --"

"Don't --"

"He's *Batman*, and he was bleeding out and Joker *had*
him, and I had a gun and I knew I wasn't supposed to, I
knew it was wrong when I tried to kill Clayface, but I --
I --"

Fucking *Clayface*, too? Jason pulls the kid into a hug,
squeezing hard enough to --

"But Robins don't kill."

Not hard enough. Jason closes his eyes and sighs, and
strokes the kid's back. He's filling out again, at least.

He won't have that other Tim's body for a while, if he ever
does, but still.

Still. "*Batman* doesn't kill."


"Even when he should."

"I... Jason..."

Jason grabs the kid by the back of the neck with one hand
and flips the lamp on with the other. It looks weird with
the daylight coming through the shades, but they can look
at each other, now.

They can see each other.

"Do you know what Babs is like in *this* universe? She's
paralyzed from the waist down."

Flinch. "Joker."

"She's *never* gonna walk again. Or dance, or *kick*.
She's still doing her thing, still *fighting*, but just fucking
imagine what *your* world would've been like without
Babs on the street to watch your asses. And..." Jason
sighs. "You know I'm not... not really human, anymore.
Not really."

The kid nods.

"You *know* why."

"He killed you," the kid says, steady and even. And then
he strokes over Jason's blank, unscarred chest. "Because
Batman didn't..." The kid swallows. "Jason --"

Jason nods slowly, and waits until the kid is meeting his
eyes again. "I can't use you if you're too busy hating
yourself to cope."

"Jason, please --"

"And *he's* never gonna use you again. Never gonna
*want* you again, never..." Jason laughs, again. "The hot
blonde isn't from your world. Did you ever figure out
which of the other ones were?"

"B-Batman *needs* a Robin, Jason."

He pulls the kid back in, holding on hard until he relaxes
again. "Yeah, but he doesn't need *us*. Not like that,

The kid's breath hitches once. Just once.

"Not anymore."


The kid would look better in leather or denim or something,
but he actually needs the nomex in order to be effective.


He didn't want red and black again, and Jason's probably
gonna listen to him about that *one* day, but...

It works on him. Nice and sleek, and even the kid admits
he looks good. And the fact that he's still working the
makeup thing -- black and red on his mouth, making it look
like the aftermath of a Bat-fuck, if he's being honest with
himself -- is probably the kid's revenge for all the eyeliner
from before.

Fuck it, it works -- especially since the hair's grown back in.
Fly, Blackbird, fly.

He watches the kid stare at himself in a mirror, watches him
checking his reaction times for pulling knife, sap, other
knife, gun.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

"I'm not sure about the earrings, Red."

Red. Heh. "Yeah, you're kinda askin' for it, *Black*, but..."
Jason shrugs. "Like you actually give a shit about the
possibility of getting new scars."

"Hmm," the kid says, and gives Jason a *look* from over
his shoulder. "Maybe you should get *yours* pierced."

Maybe the kid'll do it for him with his damned *hair*.
Fucking Timmies. Jason snorts and shakes his head.
"Maybe later. Strip."

"What, no playtime?" There's just a little bit of a twitch on
the kid's face, just a hint of all the laughing he doesn't do,


"Anybody ever tell you you're kind of a cocktease?"

Jason folds his arms over his chest and leans back against
the wall, casual as he can pretend to be. "One word,
Black: Gotham."

The kid tenses once, all over. And then shivers.

Jason raises an eyebrow, and tries to keep everything else
inside. Everything he's so fucking afraid of now that he
could just fucking *kill* the goddamned Bat-Tim for letting
him get away with stealing... this one. Because he's not
sure what he'll do...

They were never supposed to do this alone -- whichever
way it was going to be done. That shit was for the bad
guys. Hell, it was part of how they *beat* the bad guys.
Even if they never beat them thoroughly enough.

("You don't know how badly I *need* you, Jay --")

And the kid... didn't it *have* to be someone like that, for
him? Wasn't that always the fucking point -- to *find*
someone you could understand? He can't wait for the kid
to take his own time. Not for this. "Well?"

"Gotham," the kid says, finally. And strokes the holster on
his hip.

Jason lets himself breathe. And hope.

("Always, Jay. I promise you.")

A little.


Note: You know, in the end, it comes down to this: If you
tell me there's a new Red Hood in Gotham with major
issues revolving around Bruce and the Mission, and then
you tell me that person doesn't just *look* like Jason,
but *is* Jason, really and for true...

Then you damned well better *go* with that.

Title from:

A man said to the universe:
"Sir, I exist!
"However," replied the universe,
"The fact has not created in me
A sense of obligation."
-- Stephen Crane (thanks, Betty!)

.Sing for a moment.