Disclaimers: They made it. I'm just screwing around.
Spoilers: Vague, AU-ized ones up through No Man's Land
and a little beyond. References all *kinds* of storylines
Summary: The wrong conversations.
Ratings Note/Warnings: Nothing graphic, but possibly
disturbing to some readers.
Author's Note: Starts a week after the end of
"As the sea develops pearl" and won't make a *lick* of
sense without reading that one first. It *is* a sequel,
but, well, basically? Before I started writing that story --
before I *could* start -- I had to make a whole universe
in my head. What it boils down to is that this is both an
attempt to move things forward and an attempt to set
down more of the *stuff* in my head for this little AU.
You decide whether or not I'm successful, hmm?
Acknowledgments: To LC and Marcelo for audiencing
and encouragement. To Jam for inadvertently giving me
It takes a week to track Cass down, even though Jason
had *started* with the assumption that she'd be
somewhere close to Babs' -- he'll call her Oracle when
he can fucking well say it to her *face* -- little Fortress
of Get-The-Fuck-Awayitude. If Bruce were there, he'd
frown and maybe say something about not talking about
things you don't understand (as if *he* did), or maybe
If Bruce were here right now, he'd be as suited up as Jason
is -- he's still on *his* patrol. Probably he'd just get a little
grimmer-looking or something.
Either way, it's not like Jason *doesn't* get it -- well, as
much as he can. He never got to know Babs all *that*
well before the Joker had shot her (and there are about
nine hundred reasons why he doesn't like to think about
that year, why he kind of skates around the edges of it like
he's sparring with Bruce and his only chance is to stay the
fuck out of *reach*), but he got to know her well
She always had a reason for doing the things she did,
whether it was the way she'd always spar with him
before even making an *effort* to get him to sit down
for the remedial tutoring, or anything else. She hasn't
let any of them -- not even freaking *Dick* -- see her,
or even talk to her for more than a few minutes at a
time (and he fucking *hates* the voice synthesizer so
much he can fucking *taste* it), not since she got well
enough to move out of the Commissioner's house, but
she's Babs, so she has a reason.
Even though she hasn't shared it.
Even though Jason's pretty sure the reason's lame.
Either way, at least they all know *where* she is, and it
gave Jason a place to start, moving out from the
Clocktower in tight spirals until he found the weird little
brownstone. It's just a little too clean for the
neighborhood, or... not clean. *Quiet*. A little too quiet,
and... yeah. It sets off six of his eight e-m proximity
alarms while he's still across the street.
Which is gratifying *and* annoying, because he only
needed to get the eight thousand volt shot from the
Clocktower roof *once*. (Way back in the day, when Dick
still made jokes about Babs' new habit of privacy, like how
if she *really* wanted them to stay away, she'd've kicked
it up to at least ten thousand.) Really. It's four a.m., and
he's got school tomorrow, and yeah, he *is* going to take
the time to make sure he doesn't trip anything nasty.
Which just means that it's almost five by the time he gets
to the window with the 'R' on it, and he's tired and
confused enough to be psyched, because not even Bruce
gets Cass to write anything she doesn't absolutely *have*
to, and it doesn't even register that it's not Cass'
handwriting until he's already broken in on Cass and...
No. Wait. A-something. (Asshole who took Batgirl, his
*sister* away --)
Avatar. Suited-up with the cowl pulled back over his mouth
just enough for him to sip his tea. Avatar drinking tea with
his *sister*, and it doesn't matter that he doesn't actually
have a good reason, he really needs to --
Cass-special hug number three: 'I'm glad to see you, and
now you need to be immobilized.'
She hugs him tighter with her left arm, and folds her
right hand between them in a move he couldn't manage
without breaking his elbow, and which not-coincidentally-
at-all gets her fingers over his solar plexus. Right.
She's not even wearing her *cowl* --
And her fingers are digging in just a *little* now.
"Fucking *fine*, BG, ease off, okay?"
It doesn't matter that she's facing the wrong direction. She
doesn't let go until Jason gets the glare he has on Avatar
toned down. Jason's used to things like that, but it's still
And even more so when she just sits right back down next
(The Robin part of his brain registers that he's White, and
definitely a *he*, judging by the jaw line and the way the
collar of his suit doesn't quite hide the bob of his Adam's
apple. The Robin part of his brain that Cass is totally
responsible for points out that the bobbing means the
kid's terrified. Which helps the other parts of his brain.
Jason folds his arms over his chest and glares at Cass,
instead. "You could've called, you know. You *should've*
Except that it's Cass, so a) really not, and b) her whole
body's drooping because Jason's mad at her, which means
he *can't* be mad at her, and it's also already too late.
Jason makes an effort to shake as much of the tension out
of his body as he can before unfolding his arms and putting
his hands up. "Okay, fine, you know it. Just... don't make
me hunt you *down* again, okay?"
Cass gives him the look which means she -- probably.
maybe. -- gets it, and Jason keeps working on forcing
himself to relax. He's gotten good at that in the year
and change since Cass came to live with them and
Bruce adopted her, too, but that fucking Avatar is
"Hey, where the fuck are you going?"
The kid freezes so hard Jason's pretty sure he wouldn't be
able to see him if they were out in the night instead of in
Cass'... new *apartment*, of all fucking things, and he's
totally allowed to find that gratifying, even though Cass is
glaring at his solar plexus.
"I thought. You might appreciate some... privacy. With
your.... with Batgirl."
Avatar's voice is actually a little weird. Flat, or... atonal?
Something like how someone would sound if they were
mimicking a voice synthesizer. Maybe. Jason dutifully lets
his Robin-brain file that away, and focuses on the fact
that Cass is glaring at *Avatar* now. Hunh.
Avatar clears his throat. "I could just --"
"I *do* want you out of here. I just wanna know where
Movement out of the corner of his eye -- Cass is pointing
at... the wall? What?
"Lives next door," she says, reading his confusion just that
fast, and now Avatar is kind of... well, not *literally*
"That was a secret, I think," Jason says out loud. Mostly
just to get -- yeah. Avatar slumps, a little. Totally a
From *him*, anyway.
And Cass is staring at Avatar like he's a book written in,
like, ancient Etruscan or something. Usually, she only
looks at Bruce that way. Jason switches his
Robin-brain as far *on* as he can and watches the
Avatar straightening up again, Avatar starting to move
and then stopping again, Avatar... tilting his head?
"Talking to Oracle," Cass says, helpfully. "Listening."
Right, there's a comm under there somewhere, though
it has to be even tinier than the Bat-ones. There's not
even a hint of an outline showing under the kid's cowl.
On *either* side. And... shit. Talking to Oracle. Talking
to *Babs*. "What's she --"
"Oracle would appreciate your... discretion," Avatar says,
just exactly like a little boy-computer reciting something.
Which is... no, file it away. Later. "Oh, would she?"
It's kind of freaky to watch Avatar straighten up this time,
watch him turn around and... *be* there, like maybe he
really wasn't before. "My existence..." He shrugs, a little.
"I wouldn't be very useful outside of the shadows."
Which just begs so many questions Jason can't even --
"I do need to leave... Robin. There are --"
"*Wait*. Just --"
Instant Avatar-sicle. Again, only not quite, and... Jesus.
Who the fuck *is* this kid?
"Avatar has *work*," Cass says, and she's actually
*scolding* him, like fucking *Oracle* is the real, important
boss to be considered, here, and --
"Yes. I. I do," Avatar says, and he's actually moving for
the door, backwards and slow like Jason is some kind of
No, he *is* dangerous. He's Robin. "Stay fucking *put*
for a second, kid --"
And there's a moment, a real *moment* where Jason's
totally sure he will, that he can just nail the little freak to
the floor with a threat, whether or *not* they're both fully
aware that Cass can and will beat the shit out of both of
them. But --
"No," he says. And also, "sorry."
And the fake the kid makes for the door is *just* good
enough that Jason's too slow to catch him before he skins
out the window, drops, and flies.
And Cass catches his hand before he can shoot his own
grapple, squeezing just hard enough to remind Jason of
several small, fragile, and important bones. "Missed you,"
she says, and Jason tucks his grapple away and gives
Cass the real hug he's been craving for a damned week.
It's not pathetic if it's your sister.
The apartment is nice enough. Not Wayne manor, but
there's a small, quiet, and just a little desperate part of
Jason which needs to not be *used* to the manor.
It's one of the things that got him *used* to Cass, even
before he realized he actually liked her. She never
settled *in* to the manor, not really. The Cave, yeah,
and a little into her own bedroom -- once Jason stopped
trying to lock their adjoining door -- but never the whole
Not even the *kitchen*, which Jason had given up trying
not to love when Alfred started stocking every last one of
his favorite foods in a way that was too perfectly accurate
to even be creepy. Or too Alfred.
Either way, Cass *got* him. He never had to prove that he
wasn't just *faking* not being to-the-stately-Wayne-manor
born, that he wasn't just sucking off the fucking Wayne
*teat* any way he could.
Both of them have always been a little more comfortable
in the dirty, dangerous, *real* Gotham, and neither of
them were ever really *home*, back home.
Which is kind of the fucking problem.
There's nothing wrong with the couch Cass is all curled up
on, except for the fact that her position, her posture, her...
*self* is no different than the way it would be if they were
back at the manor.
So he knows the answer even though he still has to *ask*,
"when are you coming back?"
And Cass *knows* he knows, and knows why he had to
ask, and so she just looks at him.
"Yeah, okay." And for some reason, saying that out loud
just makes it worse, and, of course, Cass *knows* it
makes it worse --
To the point where she's speaking out loud for no good
*reason* -- "No. *No*. You have to tell me *why*."
She frowns at him like he's crazy. "He doesn't want to...
work with me. Anymore. I *said*."
And he's *not* mad at her. He isn't. "But you didn't say
And the frown gets sad, because of course she knows he's
pissed, and Jason turns around enough that he can grab
her by the arms until she looks at him instead of drooping
like she's done something *wrong*. His fucking *temper*,
and why doesn't Cass *get* that it doesn't matter if he's
"Just tell me, Cass. Please."
Still another frown, but at least this one is just the
I'm-thinking one. "Why... Batman?"
"*Yes*," he says, with as much of himself as he can, even
though saying it is just admitting to something *else*. Like
Bruce -- *Batman* -- actually deserves a say in something
like this, and --
"I killed a man."
"My father sent a... videotape? A videotape." And Cass
nods, like that's.
Like it answers everything. (It does, it really fucking --
Bruce had made them take that woman *in*, even though
all she'd done was kill a serial killer who was trying to kill
*her*, and --)
"I used this hand, and I..." She reaches out, snapping at
his throat with her fingers like they're fucking *scissors*
or something, and --
Another frown, and she waves the hand that isn't hovering
just far enough away from his collar to make the point. "I.
Years. I was..." The frown gets deeper, and Jason gets it.
There could've been seventeen candles on her last cake or
seventy. The numbers didn't really matter to Cass. Not like
that. "You were small."
She nods, smiling in the way she has when he puts into
words something she can't, and then leans back again,
folding her hands in her lap and... The thing about Cass
that no one who sees her with the just the cowl on gets --
or *can* get -- is that she has more smiles than Jason's
ever seen on anyone else.
Mostly, this has been one of his favorite ones. She doesn't
look young, and she doesn't even look particularly *happy*.
Just... she's looking right into his eyes. She's smiling right
into *him*, because he stopped counting the number of
times they've looked at each other and silently reminded
themselves of Bruce -- of *Batman* -- as they stood over
some asshole or another who really deserved to die.
The number of times they haven't, even though they really,
*really* wanted to.
Of course Cass never even tried to get away from *him*.
She'd never have to.
"I knew," she says, tracing a Bat over her chest, "it would
It's almost seven when he gets back, and he's going to be
late for school no matter what, so there's no reason for
him *not* to yank the drapes back in Bruce's bedroom
and make him talk about this, make him *deal* with it the
way he has to.
Except for the fact that he doesn't have clue *one* what
he'd actually *say*.
No, that's a lie. He'd say, "the only reason I didn't kill
Garzonas that day is that he fell before I could push him,
the fucker had the *nerve* to be too high to keep his
balance, and I was too slow to do anything but watch him
die. And you *knew* that. You can't *tell* me you didn't
And it would be completely true, he *knows* it would be
completely true, because he knows how it felt, how *he*
felt that day, with Babs still in the goddamned *hospital*
and Dick mooning around the manor because she
wouldn't let him come see her, and the whole world
being just as fucked up as he always knew it was, only he'd
been stupid enough to start hoping it wasn't.
And after that, Gordon had gotten kidnapped because even
Garzonas' asshole father knew how bad Jason had wanted
his little prick of a son dead, but nothing had *really*
Because Dick had been there to help them take care of
it without anyone else getting dead, and Bruce was too
busy stalking Jim to make sure he was okay to chew Jason
And nothing had happened.
And Jason had maybe, just fucking *maybe* been stupid
Because he thought it was all over, when really...
See, he can *see* it. They don't know much about Cass'
childhood, but they know exactly as much as she's been
able to tell them. He can see it, in his head. How small
she would've had to be to *think* of herself as small.
Just a little *kid*, raised by the kind of goddamned
sociopath who'd make most of the psychos in Arkham
feel a little weak, raised to *be* an assassin. And none
of it matters. Not for *Bruce*.
Cass crossed the line when she was a fucking *baby*, so
Jason never did, no matter how bad he wanted to, no
matter how fucking *accidental* it was that he didn't, so
Just like that.
So, when he gets upstairs, he just keeps walking until
he gets to his *own* bedroom, and puts on his clothes,
and tries really damned hard to think about what it will
feel like the day he *isn't* too slow (and let it be the
Joker. Just -- fucking God, *please* --), because it'll
It *will* happen, and then he'll be gone, too, he guesses.
He's not *the* oldest senior -- this is the kind of school
that gets a lot of legacies and other rich idiots -- but he
always feels like he is.
Then again, he'd felt that way when he was still a
freshman, really. The suit and everything else.
He has a handful of not-quite-girlfriends, and he has the
guys who'll hang around after school to shoot hoops with
him. Friends are for his real life.
It doesn't matter. The faster he manages to graduate, the
more chances he'll have to convince Bruce that college
would be a *colossal* waste of time. If *Dick* couldn't
hack it, he sure as fuck can't. Not without giving up the
suit, and that's...
Yeah. Really not going to happen.
For approximately the millionth time, he misses the *fuck*
out of Babs. The Babs who no one could ever *imagine*
would shut them out, because he's pretty sure she
would've had his back.
She'd probably still make him study, but there'd be sparring,
and the chance to try out his 'Jason Todd, Slightly Slow But
Normal Kid' act on her father a few times a week while
Gordon did his 'Of Course I Don't Recognize You, Even
Though Dominos Don't Hide *That* Much' thing, and it's not
like a degree would get him *more* of an education.
Not with *his* family.
The family he's *supposed* to have, and who the hell is
giving Cass reading lessons now?
The good thing about brooding is that he can't pass out in
class no matter how much he needs to.
He scrapes a pass out of a math quiz, pretends he doesn't
feel like a big lie of a *joke* when he gives his
presentation in English, and generally gets through the
fucking day, bailing on basketball and heading for his bike
so he can get home and *sleep*.
Except for the fact that his bike isn't there and the Rolls
*is*, which means... he doesn't know, other than the fact
that he'll probably be able to start his nap in the back
"Good afternoon, Master Jason. I trust you had a
satisfactorily edifying day."
Jason snorts, surprising himself. He hasn't laughed since...
well, since Cass left.
"Ah. I must admit to a certain degree of curiosity as to
whether I'd hear *that* sound again."
"Certainly, I seem to have found myself positively
surrounded by young men capable of casting veritable
"Yes, Master Jason?"
Let me pass out. Don't make me laugh anymore. Just...
He can't say any of it. Not really.
Alfred is silent, and Jason lets himself lean back against
the door and doze.
And doze for really a long time, considering. Maybe even
*sleep*, because when he opens his eyes --
"We're on the bridge?"
"Ah, Master Jason. How good of you to return to the land
of the nearly entirely conscious."
Jason manages to sniff back the snort and focuses on sitting
up. "We're going to New York? What's up?"
"Master Dick informed me that you had cancelled not one
but *two* dinner arrangements with himself and the rest
of his team, and --"
"Aw, come on, you know Gotham was busy --"
"And it is," Alfred continues, "your night 'off,' as it were,
and -- "
"Hey, it's been, like, three *weeks* since Dick came down
to Gotham --"
"And I thought, perhaps, it would do Master Bruce some
degree of good to relearn the concepts and realities of --
shall we say -- an empty nest."
They're at a red light, and when Jason looks up at the
rearview, Alfred is looking right back at him, eyebrow
raised, unstoppable as a boulder on a hill. Jason lets
himself smile. "New York it is."
There's just something *special* about being kidnapped in
Which is not to say that he actually *feels* like hooking
up with the Titans -- he *likes* them all, and he's
technically a member, but he's really not ever going to
get used to a Kory who *isn't* all over Dick, even
though he knows it's been over between them for a
*while* now -- and even though he knows pretty much
All about that damned Clocktower.
Roy's at least normal -- or what passes for it with him,
and it's always, *always* kind of cool to *be* the
youngest guy in the Tower.
Especially because it's nothing like a hardship to let Gar
play 'Experienced Superhero Mentor Type' at him. It's not
like he doesn't really love doing that with *Cass*.
Didn't love it. Right.
There's pizza, and just enough beer to make him seriously
consider punching Gar if he keeps running interference
between Jason and the case, and it's the Tower.
Just *being* here is like taking a deep breath of cool air,
whether or not he wants to.
And Donna's new uniform is really *fantastically* tight.
Jason lets himself relax a little bit, deflects as many
comments about being 'too quiet' as he can, and lets
himself be kind of mashed between Roy and Donna on
the couch when Vic fucks around with one of the
monitors just enough that it becomes a really, *really*
Donna tells them about her failed attempt to introduce
baseball to Themyscira, and the way most of the Amazons
kept refusing not to sharpen the bats into badly-balanced
spears, and the Mets lose in the most boring, pathetic way
possible, and Roy punches his fist before heading out, Kory
kisses his forehead and yanks on his hair (and it had taken
a really long time to convince his body that things like that
didn't mean *quite* the same when Kory did them) before
doing the same, and Jason doesn't realize he's passed out
on the couch until Dick is halfway to lifting him into a
"Jesus, you could've just woken me up."
"I don't get nearly enough real exercise here, kid. Christ,
what do you *weigh*?"
Jason snorts a little and sleepily wrestles his way out of
Dick's grip and onto the floor. "See, there's this thing
called *muscle* --"
He's way too tired to dodge effectively, but Dick's too nice
to take advantage. Much.
The floor isn't comfortable enough for Jason to spend the
night on it, but the way Dick lays right down next to him
is all the sign he actually needs that Dick has no intention
of letting him *sleep*.
"I know Alfred dropped you off up here, kiddo -- what's the
"Uh... I'm too good for the train?"
Dick laughs and smacks him lightly. "Seriously, Jay -- Bruce
was all *grim* when I called the other day, and you were
*supposed* to bring Cass this time."
Jason blinks. Dick doesn't *know*. Fuck. "Uh... yeah. That
may not be happening. Cass, I mean."
Dick obviously hears *something* in his voice, because he
rolls up onto his side and puts a hand on Jason's chest.
"Something's up with Cass?"
The anger at Bruce is huge and sudden and makes Jason
kind of want to puke. Of *course* he hadn't bothered to
explain things to Dick. Had he even *said* anything to
Cass? Or did he just let her *read* it?
"Cass is out."
"What -- what the hell does *that* mean?"
Jason shoves Dick's hand off before he can hurt his ribs and
sits up. "Cass is *out*. She's... fuck, she's working with..."
Or is it working *for*? "She's with Oracle now, and Bruce
hasn't said word one, but Cass explained it to me --"
"Wait, Cass is a *Bird*? And -- explained *what*?"
Jason bangs the back of his head against the couch a few
times. "Look, I -- I'm tired, so I'm just gonna spit this out,
Dick makes an impatient noise and leans in, and Jason...
Jason doesn't have any *idea* how to explain it. Not to
Dick. Dick's his brother in exactly *not* the way that Cass
is his sister. Dick would probably *agree* with Bruce,
And Jason doesn't think he can deal with that at all. It's
just that, thanks to fucking *Bruce*, he has to. "She
killed someone. When she was a kid with Cain. Bruce --"
"Let me *finish*, all right?"
Dick actually jerks *back* a little, and Jason guesses his
tone was a little off, but...
Fuck it. "Bruce found out about it and... fuck, it gets hazy,
all right? You know how Cass is. You know what she
*does*. She reads people, and, as near I can tell, she read
how fucking... messed-up Bruce was about the... the
murder, decided Bruce didn't want her around anymore,
"I -- she -- she *told* you she --"
"She told me *how* she did it, Dick. She... she *showed*
"Jesus. Jesus, I... but she was only --"
"She was a *kid* when she did it, yeah." Jason closes his
eyes. "Anyway, before you ask, no, Bruce *hasn't* said or
done anything to make Cass think any differently, and
about a week ago Oracle sent her little messenger boy to
*recruit* Cass, and now she's one of them."
Jason hears Dick scrubbing a hand back through his
way-too-fucking-long hair, hears him get up, hears him
*move*. He could probably track him through the room
with his eyes closed. He's *Dick*, but when he's agitated,
he's pretty predictable. No way he's touching the floor.
Not with anything but his hands, anyway.
"I tracked her down last night. That's when we talked,
"Just. Just give me a minute, okay?"
From the sound, Dick's at least fifteen feet northwest. "Heh.
Take your fucking time." And then there's more Dick-style
pacing, and it's almost soothing. Kind of.
Jason snaps back awake. "Wha --"
"B -- Oracle has a messenger *boy*? How... do you know
him? Is he..."
Again, pretty predictable. The only question is whether Dick
was about to say 'Babs' or 'Batgirl.' "Some new kid," Jason
says, emphasizing the word 'kid' just enough to hopefully
make Dick relax a *little*. "I've never seen him before. Calls
himself 'Avatar,' really kind of a freak -- near as I can tell."
"Hn." Dick's still moving. "How old *is* he?"
"Fuck if I know. He's short and small, but he's trained.
When I was chasing him down -- before he got hold of
Cass -- I could recognize some of Canary's moves. And --
he's trained," Jason says, and hopes like hell Dick missed
"And B -- Batgirl's. You recognized her moves, too. Right?"
Dick isn't moving anymore.
From the waist *up*, anyway, and there has to be a reason,
some kind of *reason*, why Jason had ever relaxed even a
little into this life. He'd never even gotten to hear his
mother's fucking *voice* --
"*Yeah*, all right?" His eyes sting when he opens them,
but they don't feel any worse than Dick *looks*. "Yeah,
it's exactly what you're thinking. *Someone* who isn't
Canary or Power Girl or fucking Huntress or fucking *us*
has been close enough to Babs to get trained. Meanwhile --"
What about *Cass*, dammit? What about...
"I just. I don't understand. I mean..."
Sometimes, Dick does this thing where you can't believe
Bruce -- or anyone *else* -- ever let him out on the
street. It's not like Jason's game face is that much better,
but at least he never...
He can't even remember looking that open, that... that
fucking *lost*, eyes squeezed shut and tense enough to
pull his own fucking muscles.
("He's too... he's too *loud*," and Cass had looked at him
until she was sure he got it.)
And then Dick breathes, and kind of glares at the universe
at large until he's no one but Nightwing, and you get it.
"You know where she is. Cass."
He absolutely gets it. "Yeah, but if *I* drive, we'll die fiery
And it's not like he really believes Dick showing up will
change anything. He couldn't get Babs to let them in again
when he came back the first time, the fact that he was
there when Bruce and Jason came back Ethiopia didn't
make his mother any less dead, and Cass is just standing
there bare-assed -- they'd woken her up -- and staring
pure, unadulterated *confusion* into Jason's eyes while
Dick does his best to explain why this whole thing just
doesn't freaking *work*.
At the same time, though...
It *is* different.
Because Jason doesn't have one fucking clue what he and
Bruce would've done with each other if Dick *hadn't* been
there to distract them from the empty spaces where Babs
was supposed to be, and, in the end, no one would expect
Bruce to know how to provide actual grief-counseling. No
one sane, anyway. Whereas Dick...
He's not Jason's brother, but he's Jason's *brother*, and it
makes a difference to have someone else be completely
fucked-up over the fact that Cass isn't one of them
anymore, even if Dick *doesn't* really get it.
It's *not* Cass Dick needs to be talking to, and anyway, it's
other people who get the second chances -- not them.
So he shrugs at Cass and prowls around her apartment
again, and thinks about things he could drag here to make
it look more like her and less like... he doesn't know.
He wouldn't have thought Babs could ever make anything
this fucking *blank*. Her bedroom had old posters and a
messy closet and freaking plaid flannel *sheets*. *Had*
she decorated the place?
And he catches himself staring at the wall, and he doesn't
actually *want* to do anything, or even think about doing
anything -- Dick might *follow* him, and there's really
fucking no telling what the freakboy next door would do
when faced with a Robin *and* a Nightwing. Hell, there's
no telling what *Dick* would do.
Especially since the little fucker would probably *know* it
was Nightwing even though Dick's in civvies. (Did he know
everything? Who *was* he? How could she tell him their
He *doesn't* want to do anything, not without a full
night's sleep and maybe a Bat-standard tranq from his belt,
but he's moving, anyway.
Maybe he won't even be here. (And how often *does* he
get to be in the Clocktower? Why --)
The locks on the kid's door are fairly new and *very* good,
but, in the end, they're just locks. Jason knew how to deal
with those before this kid's balls dropped.
And his apartment is... pretty much identical in set-up to
Cass', except that there's a wall of computers where Cass'
television set is, and... he's not sure. He can't *see* any
other differences -- even their kitchens are identical -- but
there's still *something*.
But there's no time to really *examine* the feeling before
he hears the unmistakable sounds of an escape in
Avatar's bedroom is exactly where Cass' is, and it still only
takes Jason four paces to get from the door to *that*
window and -- got him.
He considers letting the kid just dangle by his ankle for a
while, but that would probably piss Babs off enough to
make the building self-destruct or something. Fuck. Jason
hauls the kid in and pins him against the wall with one
hand while he closes -- and *locks* -- the window with
"Could you *be* any more slippery? You knew that *I*
knew you stayed here at least some of the time."
And the kid -- and what kind of name was *Avatar* for a
good guy, anyway? -- is just staring at him. Possibly.
Probably. Jason's used to reading masked faces, but full
cowls take fucking *effort*. And the kid's still *staring*.
*Oh*. Jason snorts and thumps the kid's chest. "*And*
you already knew my name. I'm supposed to believe
you didn't know my freaking *face*?"
"I... wasn't expecting. Um."
"Well, no *shit*." Jason takes a second to look the kid
over. Suited up except for one of the buckles on his right
boot. "Jesus, do you sleep in that thing?"
No. Okay, fine. "So you... what? Heard me coming and
decided to make a break for it?"
"Something like that."
"Does... *Oracle* beat you if you give answers with more
than three syllables or something?"
"Actually, the last one was four. Um."
Jason blinks. "Did you just make a *joke*?"
And there's that weird thing again, that *pause* that makes
it feel like there's no one there at all, or at least not this
'Avatar.' Of course, he knows what it is now.
"Tell Babs this isn't about her," he says, and it doesn't
matter that it's a lie. Some things just feel *good* to say,
some two fucking years since anybody in *his* family had
gotten to see the woman's *face*.
The kid is tense enough that he's making Jason's most
recent memories of Dick seem *relaxed*, like maybe if
Jason taps hard enough there'll be Avatar chips all over
the clean, empty floor. "And take it fucking *easy*.
We're *on* the same damned side." And why the hell
was *Oracle* awake? Had he called her, somehow? Why
hadn't Jason heard it from the next room?
"I'm... not sure what you want from. Me. Robin."
"Oh, so now you *don't* know my name? I'm in *civvies*,
kid. Where's your protocol?"
"There's protocol, and then there's..."
Nothing. The kid just trails off. "What? *Politeness*?"
"The distinct memory of being strangled the last time I
used your name without permission."
Which... okay, that's fair. "Permission granted."
"All right. Jason. I..." And the kid takes a shaky breath
which is about twice as loud as everything else he's said. "I
still don't know what you want from *me*."
There's actually a freakishly intense kind of *desperation*
in the kid's voice, the kind which usually means it's time to
get the hell away from whoever he's saved from mugging
or assault or whatever, because the vic is *just* that
freaked. It doesn't seem to fit... *anything*. "Hey --"
"I mean. I appreciate the... the visit, but I'm a little.
It shocks a laugh out of Jason, even though it wasn't
exactly funny. Luckily -- or something -- laughing makes
the kid tense up so hard that the laughter dries up in
Jason's fucking *throat*. "Jesus. Just... take it *easy*."
"R -- J -- Jason --"
"I mean, what do you *do* out there if you're this easily
spooked?" And *that* gets a different (*better*) kind of
tension from the kid. Like he's finally *coping*, somewhere
"I told you, Jason. I'm useless outside of the shadows."
There. Game voice, and maybe even game *face* -- as near
as Jason can tell, anyway. That's... that's probably better.
He can roll with it. "Fine, that explains why none of us
knew you from a fucking hole in the ground until last week.
I can go with that -- a little. So why don't you tell me why
the hell you know *us*? Not even *Canary* knows my
name, and you're going to have to give a lot -- *change*
a lot to make me believe there's a reason you rate higher
"Interesting. You believe Oracle *told* me your
Somewhere, Bruce is preparing to bench him for asking
questions he doesn't know the answers to. Jason *knows*
it, but... "She *didn't*?"
"Of course not. I already knew from my own...
Which is... *crazily* fucked-up -- does he know who
*Batman* is? But it's also hard to focus on, because the
kid goes all weird and not-*there* again, and -- "Christ,
did Babs just fucking *forget* the concept of a private
And Avatar's silent for just a *little* too long before saying,
"She seems rather surprised at your vehemence in regards
to her presence. Considering."
And that -- "You know something, kid? Why don't you let
her know that the superior shit doesn't fly when she's too
fucking chickenshit to --"
"-- show her fucking *face*."
And he's fine. He's *fine*. He's got too many other things
to worry about right now to even come *close* to
dealing with *Babs* tonight, and -- and Avatar's not
saying a word. Just staring at the floor, and --
"Well? *Tell* her."
"She. Oracle heard you."
Right. Oracle always was the best at the hardware *and*
software. The pick-up on Avatar's comm is probably light
years better than anything *they're* using. Jason takes a
breath. "Fine. Then just turn your damned communicator
*off*, so we --"
"-- can *talk* -- wait. You *can't*? What are you, her
*slave*? Just take the damned thing *out* --"
"I can't. I'm not..."
"You're not *what*?" But Jason thinks maybe...
"It's not possible for me. To remove the comm."
He thinks maybe he gets it, only it's wrong, it's so fucking
wrong he can't breathe, because what...
"Jesus. What -- what *are* you --" And it's easy enough to
pin Avatar with his arm, especially since he -- it? -- isn't
fighting. Not even when Jason rips the cowl up and off.
And it takes a minute, even after that. It's not like the kid
looks like anything but a *kid* -- dark-haired and
light-eyed and probably way too pale, considering the
way the streetlights are hitting him -- but it's still.
He *has* to yank on the kid's collar, and he *has* to
check his pulse, his body temperature, his *eyes*, again,
and again, and --
"I am still human, Jason."
And there's nothing in his ears but a funky little gold
earring (like Canary's. Huntress'. Power Girl's...) in the
left lobe, and there's no necklace-mic at all. The kid's
neck is --
"I didn't get the chance to put the necklace on before
I... felt the need to leave. But then again..."
"You don't... you don't need it." Jason's voice sounds thick,
strangled to his own ears. Pretty much perfect for... this.
And there's something like fear on the kid's face, but it's
not the same kind of fear as before at *all*, and --
"No. I don't need it, anymore."
And *his* voice is perfectly steady. Even though he
doesn't sound like he's trying to be a computer anymore.
Jason's English teacher would be psyched -- he *completely*
gets dramatic irony now. "She's... in you."
"She -- Babs, what the fuck did you *do*?" And Jason has
just enough time to realize what *he'd* just done, and
just exactly not enough time to figure out how the hell to
take it back before the kid blinks, shifts, and smiles at him
in a way that's tired and rueful and so fucking
Babs-at-dawn that he thinks about pissing himself.
"There's hardware, there's software, there's wetware, and
then there are other things, Jason. Avatar has been
modified with just a few of those... other things. We
"Oh Christ." The voice. The voice is still the kid's, and he
can hold onto that, he *has* to hold onto that, even
though it's Babs' rhythms, Babs' fucking... *tone*. "Oh,
Christ, *don't* --"
"Go home, Robin."
"Needs his rest." He -- she -- cocks her head. "And so do
you, I think. There's nothing I can do about the fact that
you've seen this, now, but then again... maybe it was
time. Go home."
The sad thing... the really fucking *sad* thing is that there
isn't much he wants more than to get the fuck *out* of
"Tell me he's a real person. Just -- I can't even -- Babs --"
But that isn't really what he wants to know, or even see.
Because even looking right at the kid, watching him blink
just a little too slow, watching him tense and --
He thinks it's the eyes, or maybe just *in* the eyes. They
aren't Babs' anymore. He just has to actually make
himself *believe* that --
-- or... or *cope* with that.
"Did you want me to... say something in particular?"
Jason swallows, and stares. He has no fucking *idea*.
"I could..." And the kid stares at the floor. "I'm not sure."
"I. Shit. Cass knows." It's not a question. Not really. She
*would* know, and, he guesses, she'd go ahead and
drink *tea* with... with this --
"Yes. From the beginning, I imagine."
And there's a part of him which is actually a little relieved,
even though most of him is about as far from relieved as
humanly *possible*. Because...
Well, it's Cass. She wouldn't just *pretend* to be fine with
this, even if she *did* think it was her only option. If she's
*acting* like she's just fine with this, then it's because she
*is*, and if she's not exactly the best person to *ask*...
She's also the person whose opinion matters the most right
now. So Jason lets go, and lets himself nod like his neck
has a hinge and a damned spring, and lets himself back
the hell away. "I... good night. Avatar."
"I really *didn't* think it was me you needed to talk to,
but, I -- good night," he says.
And Jason was actually almost to the *door*, and that
was quiet enough that he could pretend he didn't hear it,
but... he has to look back.
Avatar is stroking his neck where Jason hadn't found the
necklace, and watching him go.
Jason doesn't have any words at all.
Next door, Dick is giving Cass a really *pained* look
that's so normal Jason thinks it'll give him whiplash,
even if the circumstances aren't normal at all. Cass
makes Dick -- and everyone else -- surrender all the
Cass, for her part, is drinking tea and looking patient, right
up until she looks at Jason, at which point she just looks
No way she can't read at least most of how freaked he is
Jason shakes his head and nods as slightly as he can
toward the wall she shares with Avatar, but that just
makes the question on her face get loud enough for
Dick to hear it.
"What... hey, were you just with that Avatar kid?"
"Uh... yeah, Dick. I... I need to crash about three hours
"Well, wait, you talked to him --"
"He's right *there*? Jesus, what is this, the Dormitory of
Prey? Never mind, he's up, I can --"
"Dick, don't, he's..."
Thankfully, Cass grabs Dick's arm and squeezes it hard
enough that he either has to stay on the couch or fight
"He needs sleep," she says, calm and matter-of-fact,
and Jason knows if Babs lays a hand on his sister he'll
have to hurt her. More.
*Fuck*. He has to --
"You come back tomorrow," Cass says.
Orders, really, and... yeah. "Count on it, BG." His voice
isn't anywhere good enough to fool Cass, considering
what the rest of his body is still probably screaming at
her, but Dick isn't looking at *him*, so... good
"Look, I'll fill you in when I can think again, man." Or
maybe never. Jason grabs Dick's other arm and pulls
as Cass lets go. "Just let's find me a bed. A flat
surface. A wall to lean on. It's *day*."
It's not, actually. Not quite. His time sense is always
fucked when he's this tired, but it's still dark out when
he and Dick make it back to Dick's bike. And he has
school in... way too short a time.
Dick laughs at the way Jason's just completely failing
to move like someone with a functional nervous system
and pats the bitch seat. "Go ahead and zonk, little wing.
I'll keep it at the speed limit."
We never should've left her alone, Dick. We should've...
but even if he *could* say that out loud right now, he
couldn't actually finish the sentence. Jesus. How is he
going to --
"Fair warning -- if I have to put you *on* the bike,
you're never gonna live it down."
Tomorrow. Just... tomorrow. Yeah. Jason dredges up
something he hopes is his normal voice. "You're a
paragon among --" The yawn breaks in and lasts for
about a year. "Paragon among fucking masked
Dick laughs harder and starts the engine.
Jason says a little prayer to nothing at all that he
.A tighter confinement.