Once Tim and Steph were huddled together in his quarters, both still tied up in knots over what had played out on that feed from Gotham when they were exiled so far from home but at least together —still under Cassie’s watchful eye as she sat at Comm monitoring the situation for them with Dinah—there was something Jason had to do. He had wanted to call her, but felt too twisted up to even manage the words if he spoke to her. There was nothing more he could do without breaking than pace the roof of Titans Tower until she landed, coming all the way out here the way he knew she would, and then he swept Kala into a hug. He had to clench his jaw to keep from bawling like a kid, Tim’s words from earlier striking deep, deeper than he’d acknowledged in a long time. Seeing her soothed the memory that had been called up: his twin sister’s quirky grin, the candy scent of her shampoo, and the sound of her voice all the opposite of the one fear that hadn’t left him since all this began.
Tim had been understandably upset, and he’d vented to Jason. The Bats were notorious for their secrets and their clannishness, but there were even secrets amongst them, as he had learned over the years he and Tim had been good friends. Fears they never even shared with each other. Jason had the feeling that he was the first to hear a lot of what he had tonight when he’d separated the two of them from the girls, so much confusion in the usually stoic Red Robin, so much pain and anger and hurt bound uneasily together. Red Hood had quite literally turned Tim’s world upside down and he was struggling not to lose control.
And there was absolutely nothing right now that Jason could do beyond listen. But the only part that had truly scared him had been when Tim, his voice breaking, had snarled, “He should’ve been my brother! I admired him, you know that? When he was Robin, I admired him just like I admired Dick! I wanted to be his friend; I could’ve been his brother. We could’ve helped him, but he comes back and tries to kill me and burns down my city and tries to kill Bruce…!”
That had chilled Jason’s blood. He remembered catching sight of Kala in Nevada, of seeing a stranger behind his twin’s eyes. He remembered seeing her come into the fight—on Zod’s side, shouting at their dad to leave him alone. Fighting him, though she’d snapped out of it enough to save him.
Enough to save them all, but very nearly at the cost of her own life. Tim had no idea how much he’d affected Jason; at the moment he’d needed a shoulder to lean on, and Jason had been that, not showing how much Tim’s tirade had rocked him. After, though, he needed to see his sister. He needed to remind himself that she was weird and goofy and funny and so full of herself she was about to burst at the seams; that she was okay, she hadn’t gone dark on them, she’d always be there for him.
The hug helped. Kala was real, she was safe, and she was here, right where she belonged. Of course, she had no idea, so Jason had to fill her in on the things she’d missed. Not all of them, of course. An overview was fine, but Kala didn’t need all the painful details of how badly this had hurt everyone. That Red Hood had been the second Robin was a shocking enough piece of info for someone not actively part of the cape and cowl crowd to know.
“…and from what I heard last, he got away somehow,” Jason finished. “Dad and Diana are out there trying to scour the city and talk some sense into Uncle Bruce. Tim and Steph are here. Everyone’s just played out.”
Kala looked guilty at that, what she was thinking about all too obvious in her brother’s eyes, and Jason gave her a tiny shake. “Don’t even think about it, Kal. You didn’t know. Plus Gotham has been completely locked down. You couldn’t have gotten in to help even if you did. You can’t feel guilty when you have a real life out there and none of us told you. Kala, there’s nothing you could have done. Period.”
Her lower lip pouted stubbornly. “I could have done something. Tim’s my friend, too, remember? Uncle Bruce was the main one helping the family … back then.” Jason saw the cloud that passed over her face, both of them thinking of the same day three years ago for a moment, a day that they barely talked about. “I owe them, and Diana, for helping me back then. You and Dad should have called me. I was singing earlier, and then I was just relaxing in my hotel room, and there’s this huge crisis going down with you guys while I’m eating popcorn in bed with Dustin….”
“Kal, stop it. We said I’d hit the caped scene first so no one suspects we’re twins.”
“We both know that’s not why it’s like this, Jase. I told you to do it for a reason and we both know you were the better choice for the Mission. It doesn’t mean I don’t feel responsible, too,” she interrupted with a sad smile, one that broke his heart. Kala was right; they both knew who had been the better student for Jor-El, the one that could still quote half the teachings they had learned verbatim. Kala had been the front-runner for the legacy despite Jor-El’s protestations, the one who was the most well-versed, but nothing had been the same after those days after New Years’ in Nevada. Since then, Kala had barely visited the Fortress and had made a decision to follow a completely different path, a slightly more mundane path.
He sighed and leaned his forehead against hers. “You’re right, it’s not the reason why. But that’s what I tell people because you’re full of it about not being right for the family legacy. Kala, I know you’re one of the good guys, no matter what you’re scared of. That’s not all you are. I also know you’ve got to do this in your own time and in your own way. I know you’ll do it because it’s part of who you are. And until you do, it’s not fair to expect you to hold my hand all the time. If you ever come into this, it’ll be as the hero you are in your own right, not as my sidekick.”
Jason saw her open her mouth to protest, already shaking her head. He caught her chin then, making her look him in the eyes. She couldn’t keep blaming herself for what she saw in herself as ultimate darkness and betrayal; none of it had been her fault. “Don’t even bother to say it. I know what I know and I know you better than anyone on this planet. You will be here with me someday. I know it, you know it. Because you’re my sister and you are a hero, Kala. No matter what you think you did that day, whatever you think you did wrong, it was you that saved us. The entire planet, even, if Zod had been able to go forward with his plans. You did it. So stop doing this to yourself, okay? I believe in you.”
She had started crying half-way through his speech, but his sister stayed silent. And then Kala moved back forward and hugged him tight, her eyes shut and moisture dampening the shoulder of his suit. Jason returned it just as tight. “Maybe … maybe one day. I’m sorry it’s like this. I’m sorry I’m like this.”
Jason hugged her back. “Don’t be. You’re the best twin sister a half-alien teenage superhero could ask for.”
That, finally, got a weak chuckle out of her. “And you’re biggest dork of a twin brother that a rockstar could want.”
A beat of silence as they held each other, comfortable in their togetherness. “I miss you like hell,” Kala finally said.
“Me, too,” Jason admitted. That was all that needed to be said between them—the rest was understood. Life might be taking them down different roads, but as long as one of them could fly at supersonic speeds, they’d never really be too far apart.
Jason Todd—former Robin, current Red Hood—was trapped in a nightmare. For him, despair had a distinctive sound, the cruel declarative thwang!CRUNCH of metal meeting bone. He’d survived that, traversed so many unsuspected levels of pain to a place of weary numbness, and everything before that, only to end up here. Broken, beaten, bloody, and so very lost.
He couldn’t remember how he’d wound up like this again. The world was vague and distant. All that existed was the splitting headache (crowbar to the skull) pounding at his brain, and the salt-and-iron taste of blood (failure) in his mouth. Jay drifted in and out of consciousness, haunted by ghosts and the knowledge that he wasn’t, hadn’t been, would never be, good enough.
Sometime later, as he was floating toward wakefulness again, something real entered his awareness: a hand at his neck. Jay reacted instantly, instinct and training honed to deadly efficiency. One hand under the pillow his head rested on, finding his gun and bringing it out. The other shot out to grab his assailant, catching a fistful of cloth, and he had the muzzle of the gun socked into the hollow of his attacker’s throat before he even opened his eyes. When he did so, his vision wavered, and he blinked and shook his head, trying to clear it.
“Jason. This is quite unnecessary.” He knew that voice; it was a voice he trusted, in spite of all evidence to the contrary. Still, his hands tightened on the shirt … and the trigger. The hand at his throat had never moved.
His eyes finally focused, revealing a well-known face and eyes that held not a trace of fear. Talia al Ghul. She looked at him patiently, waiting for him to withdraw the gun, her fingertips still on his pulse.
He felt … like seventeen kinds of shit, honestly. Eyes gritty, muscles aching, head throbbing, throat parched. “You,” he growled.
“Of course, dearest. Lie back and rest, for now. You’ve lost a great deal of blood, and sudden movement must be making it worse.” Her cool fingers skimmed his brow. She still hadn’t said word one about the damn loaded gun at her throat, and honestly he was starting to feel like an ass for holding it on her.
Memory was coming back, in fits and starts. The final confrontation—all three of them—that insane laugh, the one he heard even in silence—Bruce walking away, fucking walking away like it was nothing, like he was nothing, and then….
Jay let go of Talia, his hand flying to his neck, and he winced at the fresh ache there. “Sonofabitch. Fucking batarang to the jugular.” No wonder he felt like shit. He must’ve lost a ton of blood. Jay vaguely remembered slapping a military-grade wound sealing patch on his neck and staggering out after the big bang, but then … nothing.
He let the gun drop beside him, letting his eyes fall shut. “So what happened?” he asked hoarsely. “And how’d I get here?”
Talia clicked her tongue softly. “I’ve been keeping watch, but I was not an eyewitness to every moment of it. From what I did see, someone detonated a completely unnecessary amount of C4, and yet you escaped the blast more or less intact. You made it into the next building before you collapsed from blood loss and shock. I picked you up from there, and brought you here to recuperate.”
“So where’s here, T?” Every time he blinked, it felt like his eyeballs were grating in their sockets.
“My safehouse. London. You’ve been unconscious for almost two days.” He could hear her moving something around to one side of him, and then blessed coolness started running down his arm. An IV, he realized, and she’d just hung a new bag of fluids. Nothing you’d find in a hospital, knowing Talia, but he wasn’t worried about poison. Or sedatives, for that matter.
Jay had bigger things in mind. “What about him? And the fucking clown?”
She hesitated, and Jay opened one eye to glare at her. He tilted the gun up, not quite a threat, just a reminder that he had it. She looked disappointed, but he didn’t care. At last she sighed. “The Detective lives, of course. As for the Joker … you will learn this eventually. He is back in Arkham. In a full-body cast.”
Bruce won. Batman won. All that planning, all that time, all that effort … and the fucker still won. Jay didn’t realize he’d snarled it aloud until Talia caught his chin and made him look at her. “He didn’t win, Jason.”
“Oh yeah? This was supposed to end with Joker dead, or me dead. And if all else failed, with all three of us dead. That goddamn pointy-eared bastard managed to work it out his way. His fucking stupid, blind, holier-than-thou way!” Shouting made his throat even rawer, and Jay winced.
“We’ve both underestimated his resolve,” Talia said quietly. “He will not kill. Not for me, not for you, not for my father, not for himself. It is the one line he will not cross. The line you crossed, and showed him what he is and what he could have been, had he been less fearful of taking that final step. You won, Jason.”
“Funny, I don’t feel like I won a goddamn thing,” he muttered, finally lying back down, but keeping the gun close at hand. Talia stroked his sweat-matted hair off his forehead, and he sighed. Despair was starting to overtake anger. What had made him think, even with everything he knew, that he could control Bruce? That he could force Bruce into choosing between a son—no, a soldier—and a psychotic? “I should’ve just offed them both.”
“Would it have given you peace to have them lying dead at your feet?” Talia asked, her voice neutral.
“Probably not. Besides, you’d do me in for killing your ‘beloved’.” He couldn’t help the sneer at the end. Jay knew—or thought he did—where her loyalties lay, regardless of who Talia herself happened to be laying at the time.
He heard her take a breath. “Jason. Murder does not confer peace. That is something I learned a very long time ago, and it was a hard lesson. Killing either of them would not silence your nightmares or soothe your soul.”
He laughed bitterly. “Oh shit, the assassin—the one who trained me to kill—is telling me not to kill people. What the fuck has the world come to?”
Unperturbed, she answered, “Vengeance, now, that is another matter. And vengeance is yours. You brought him to his knees, Jason. You wounded him as no other has or could. The son he mourned is now his foe—and it is his fault. Better to let him live with that, than to grant him the oblivion of death.”
That, finally, brought him a small measure of relief for the burning ache in his chest, and Jay even managed a lopsided smile. “You’re one vindictive woman, Talia.”
“Quite.” With that she leaned in and kissed his temple, her long hair brushing his cheek. “Sleep, dearest. Sleep and heal.”Even as he let himself drift toward hopefully-dreamless slumber, Jay knew he wouldn’t—couldn’t—stay here for long.