Just to reiterate, this fic comes with the warning of multiple major character deaths, which you will see start to come to fruition in this chapter. This is not a happy story!
Chapter 1 – Not Quite Home
Jason's return to the superhero community was interesting in and of itself. This 'home' he returned to was so drastically different to what he remembered, not to mention that the team and the League were surprisingly doing quite well for themselves in the midst of an alien invasion. They may have been suffering from the loss of various team mates, both those who left for Rimbor, and others whom Jason chose not to ask about, but Earth's heroes had stuck together and they were fighting back. They had taken to calling themselves the rebellion, rather than the team and the Justice League, perhaps to paint a picture of a united front.
Reactions to Jason's sudden and unexpected return were varied. The question of whether he could be a clone was tossed around, and hey, the argument was well founded. But before too many heroes could give him the stink eye, Jason simply volunteered to undergo any necessary tests to find out the truth. And although he'd never admit it, the thought had crossed his mind when he'd come back – the 'pit madness shaping his thoughts' excuse was just a little too suspicious.
To varying degrees of collective relief and surprise, the tests proved that Jason was 100% Jason, and not some cheap copy. With their minds at ease, those who had known Jason before his untimely demise welcomed him back with open arms. To his frustration, the newer crowd, including the replacement, stared at him in awe as though he was a bright ray of hope in their darkest days. He didn't really have the heart to tell them he was anything but.
Jason had to wonder if word of the Red Hood's exploits simply hadn't reached this far, but he figured the more likely scenario was that the older heroes knew and were electing to ignore his penchant for guns and a more permanent solution for the criminals of the world. The Reach included. Not even once did he hear a word of complaint, and if that didn't tell you the state of the world, nothing would.
For Jason, the most confounding part of everything that happened upon his return, was the large amount of animosity being sent Dick's way. He couldn't understand why, but that was before he witnessed one of Dick and Wally's explosive arguments. He caught the tail end of it; the tail being Wally punching Dick in the face then walking away.
"What the hell was that about?" Jason's question startled Dick, who had been rubbing his cheek and watching Wally's retreating form.
"Nothing important," Dick claimed as he tried to brush past Jason, but the latter was having none of it, and quickly grabbed his older brother's arm.
"Yeah I'm not buying that. Spill."
"There's nothing to spill, okay?" Dick snapped as pulled his arm back, "We've just had some… disagreements."
"Right. Because I'm supposed to believe that you and carrot top, who have been best friends since you laid eyes on each other, have reached the point where you'd rather finish an argument with your fists than by talking it out? Over a couple of 'disagreements'?"
"No. You don't get to keep things from me. Either you tell me what happened, or I'll ask around until I find out."
Jason really didn't want to dish out an ultimatum, but it worked, so he really couldn't complain. That was how he found out about the disaster of a plan that was Kaldur's infiltration of the Light. It was also how he found out that Wally and Artemis had actually quit the hero business not long after his death. And then Dick apparently just had to ask her to come back. And if Jason hadn't already thrown his arms in the air in disbelief at his brother's stupidity, he surely would have when Dick told him that Jason was now the only other person apart from Wally who knew that Kaldur hadn't actually betrayed them. It was for Artemis's sake, because after a whole lot of everything going to crap that ended with both Kaldur, M'gann, and a many others on all sides dead, the love of Wally's life had gone MIA. They kept the ruse of Kaldur's betrayal going in the unlikelihood that her cover was still intact, but the more realistic thesis was that she had been discovered and killed.
Truth be told, Jason hadn't dared to ask where all the missing Team and League members were – he wasn't sure if the answers were ones he wanted to hear. But somehow he ended up with three of those unwanted answers, and he honestly couldn't say if he was better off with or without them. At least he could understand why the two best friends were at odds, and why that particular damage could never be undone. It also gave some sort of explanation to why Dick was no longer the world's favourite person. Too many lives had been lost under his watch, but Jason knew his brother well enough to see how it ate at him. Dick doubted his capability as a leader especially standing in Bruce's impossible to fill shoes, and who could blame him?
Jason wasn't sure when it happened, but at some point he'd started caring for the kid. His replacement. The one he'd sworn to hate for all time. Maybe it was when he realised the kid was actually a fanboy, not just of Dick, but also of Jason when he was Robin. Or maybe it was when Tim had referred to him as his brother – now that had thrown Jason for a loop. Regardless of the exact point in time when he'd started to care, the important moment was when Jason realised he did. That happened almost a year after he'd joined the rebellion, on the night Tim almost died, the night Jason was willing to risk everything to save him.
If he were asked to define that night, Jason would undoubtedly refer to it as a tragedy. Jason, Tim, and several other League and Team members were on a high stakes, supposedly low risk mission. If they had succeeded, the odds in their ongoing battle against the Reach would have turned in their favour, however things turned dire quickly. Superboy had been stationed outside, and ended up in a fist fight with a Reach operative, which sent him flying through the building they were in and somehow managed to make it cave in. It was only a small, two story block, but Roy (the clone), Cheshire, Rocket and Garfield never stood a chance on the ground floor. And while Jason, Tim and Zatanna technically had a fighting chance, they weren't all the much better off. Jason was actually the luckiest, though at the time he definitely didn't see it that way. When Conner had come flying through, he slammed straight into Jason and flung the two of them out the other side of the building before it all came tumbling down. Tim and Zatanna had to deal with the combination of the floor falling out from beneath their feet, and the ceiling caving in on top of them. Zatanna, to her credit, tried desperately to save everyone, but time was not on her side. Her efforts nearly saved Tim, but she lost her life in the attempt.
Outside, Jason had screamed in anguish as he watched the building fall. Conner beside him just stared in horror before he spoke a sentence that sent a chill down Jason's spine.
"I-I can only hear one heartbeat," Conner's voice wavered in what Jason could only assume was grief.
Like a frenzied animal, Jason sprinted towards the wreckage, and vaguely heard Conner yelling at him about the Reach – probably telling him not to be reckless while their enemies were still nearby. All Jason could think about was Tim. The small boy who thought of him as a brother, and worshipped him as a hero, when Jason felt undeserving of either title. In desperation he attempted to tear through steel and concrete while trying to estimate where Tim could possibly be amongst all the debris. If Conner hadn't been there, it could have taken hours to find him, and by then it would have been far too late. Fortunately the clone ran straight past Jason, lifted up a slab of concrete like it was a pebble, and revealed a bruised, but breathing Tim. However, all Jason could see was the shard of glass stuck in Tim's abdomen and the blood that was oozing out over his already red costume.
"We have to get him out of here," Jason rasped.
Conner's response was to lift another slab of concrete and throw it at a Reach soldier Jason hadn't even realised was there.
"MOVE!" Conner yelled and Jason was all too happy to oblige as he gingerly scooped Tim into his arms.
Jason didn't stop to think about how lucky they were that the bioship was nearby, or that they were only a 10 minute flight from the nearest safe house where Tim could get medical help. All he could think as he laid Tim down in the bioship, and tried to stop the wound from bleeding, was that he couldn't lose his little brother.
After the deaths of Roy, Cheshire, Garfield, Rocket and Zatanna, all the heroes suddenly caught the paranoia of the Bats. Jason would've found that amusing if it wasn't so sad. Everyone always seemed to be on edge, waiting for the next tragedy to strike. Dick rarely let Tim out of his sight and tried to do the same to Jason, but that hadn't worked in the past and Jason wasn't going to let it work now.
While Tim was recovering, Jason tried to subtly get to know his 'little brother' better – emphasis on tried. He could tell Dick knew from the dopey look he got on his face whenever he saw Jason talking with Tim. At the end of the day, Jason was glad he had finally accepted that Tim was family, and he became proud to call Tim his brother. The kid was ridiculously smart; a detective on par with Bruce, and his fighting wasn't too shabby at all. As time wore on, Jason realised he had somehow managed to become as close to Tim as he was with Dick, even possibly closer. Whenever there was a mission, the pair stuck together and were a formidable force that worked like a well-oiled machine. Jason had Tim's back and Tim had his. But like all good things that had ever happened in Jason's life, it didn't last.
The downfall of Earth's heroes started with the death of Wally West who went down fighting in a blaze of glory. Jason hadn't been there, but what he could gather from a grief struck Dick was that they had finally discovered what had happened to Artemis. It was unexpectedly Ra's Al Ghul who was to blame. Wally and Dick had been infiltrating one of his known headquarters and found a lot more than they'd bargained for. For starters, the place had not been abandoned as they had originally thought, it was actually Ra's's main headquarters.
When the ancient man discovered the intruding heroes, he had been quick to show them her corpse, or well, her bones. They were still in her Tigress costume, but her head was missing. Wally must have seen Red and attacked Ra's head on, but the assassin gave as good as he got. While the battle was brutal and drawn out, neither could be said to have come out on top. They took their last breaths in a pool of mixed blood. It was all Dick could do to escape to tell the tale.
With the death of their leader, the League of Assassins quickly split into factions. They had been a powerhouse against the Reach, stopping them from gaining complete control of the globe simply due to their size and ability to coordinate attacks. Within days, it was clear that the door had been opened for the Reach to attain world domination.
When Batman returned and delivered the sombre news to his comrades, the fear could almost be felt as it began to bubble through their ranks. The collective hope of the rebellion was beginning to flicker, like a candle on a stormy night – it was now simply a matter of time.
The next chapter will be called "Vini, Vidi, Vici" and will hopefully be out in roughly a month, maybe a bit more. I'm currently neck deep in assessment, so we shall see how we go.
Drop a review if you're feeling it (and by 'it' I mean 'emotionally traumatised') x