Chapter Seven - Jason Todd's Interlude

Jason Todd's life is not easy. It's hard. It's hard in the beginning, the middle, and the end. And after the end too. And most times, it feels like there is nothing he can do about it.

There are some nice things in his life, though. There's his mother - Catherine Todd. Although she's high on drugs most of the time. There's school, English is his favorite subject and he's a sucker for Shakespeare. And there's the food he sometimes gets to eat at home.

Still, most things in life suck.

The first time he meets Annie Simon, he thinks she's a stupid little girl who has everything a kid could ever want in life. She has a loving mother and father that always drop her off at school and never has a day where she doesn't have lunch. She has the nicest school supplies, clean and new, her brown hair is always carefully up in pigtails and her clothes are clean and perfectly pressed. And she always has a smile on her face. And he hates her. He really hates her.

He hates how happy she is and how easy everything is for her, except for maybe homework, because she's mediocre at that at best.

On the first day of kindergarten, she has a long line of multicolored pens on her desk when the teacher calls out, "Pencils only, please. We're taking a quick quiz."

Jason eyes her pens as everyone clears their desks and he takes out two pencils. Because she may have fancy pens, but he has two pencils, which is more than she has. She's staring at her desk.

"Annie Simon?" the teacher asks and then he sees her glance up.

"Yes, Mrs. Walker?"

"I said pencils only."

Annie nods, but makes no move to get anything out of her bag. Everyone's whispering now, and Jason finds himself glancing around. He's not the only one who dislikes her, it seems, if he's hearing the others right. Which he is.

"If you don't have a pencil, Annie, I won't grade your work. This was on the list of supplies. It was the number one item. Where are your pencils?"

She mutters something Jason can only barely understand - but he thinks she says they're at home.

"I thought the pens were prettier."

"Well, ask one of your classmates if they'll let you borrow one of their pencils."

She asks the girls next to her, who sneer, and she looks so pathetic, when all the people in her immediate vicinity tell her no - they only have one.

And then she asks him and he just hands one of his to her - grimacing and insisting she give it back at the end of the day. He couldn't say he didn't have another because it was there on his desk. And then he'd look unnecessarily like a jerk. But, what did she expect? Special treatment?

He pushes down the jealousy at the thought of multicolored pens.

He hears she could have gone to Gotham Academy - School for the Privileged, but ended up in his school because her father thought it would be "good for her."

And he doesn't bother keeping the anger off his face when he discovers at the end of the day his pencil is broken. But she looks like she's about to cry, so he doesn't do anything except roll his eyes and hunch his shoulders. It was his only other pencil.

She comes back to school the next day with ten pencils and hands him five.

"Sorry for breaking your pencil," she says, and he notices the quality of these pencils are better - they're stronger and they write and erase better.

He decides he hates her then.

He doesn't stop hating her through Kindergarten, when she's tripped as she walks to the front of the class with everyone's homework, though he does help her get up and gather up the flying sheets of paper - because his homework is there and he wants a good grade damnit. He doesn't stop hating her in first grade in Mrs. Richard's class when he sees the boys from his apartment building filling her desk with sludge and bugs. He hates her a little more when her smile doesn't really fade away when she opens her desk and finds her homework ruined. Mrs. Richard lets her redo it, even if she's scolding Annie for the mess she 'made.' Because of course the idiot doesn't tell on the boys.

He doesn't stop hating her when, in second grade, Mrs. Morales' class, her brand new blue hair ribbons are pulled from her head and ripped to shreds by the class bully who then proceeds to stick gum into her long hair - right in between her two pigtails, practically on her scalp. She comes to school the next day with very short hair because she's too stupid to know about peanut butter.

But then, in third grade, he sees the same guys that had been bothering her for years pushing her around in the playground - pulling her hair which by that point is down to her shoulders again, aiming kicks at her as she lies on the ground, curled up into a ball.

And yes, he hates her then too, but that doesn't mean she deserves to get beat up. It reminds him too much of the thugs and police officers from his neighborhood and the drug dealer hitting his mom demanding his pay.

It reminds Jason of his dad beating him up because he made too much noise coming in and doesn't have enough money for his poker game - pickpocketing has been hard recently.

So he walks up to those bullies and shouts, "Hey! Leave her alone!"

"Yeah Todd? What are you going to do about it?"

And he glares - doesn't even look at her, cause he still hates her - as he takes on the three boys - fists flying and elbows meeting faces. He ends up with a black eye, but it gets the teachers to come over and put a stop to the fight.

"Boys! Stop! What do you think you're doing?!"

It gives Annie Simon a way out.

He still doesn't like her after that, mostly because he gets suspended for a week - "This behavior will not be tolerated in this school, young man." - and he ends up having to stay at home with his dad for a week, even as, when he comes back, he notices her staring at him, and blushing, and whispering with her friends.

She even gives him a Christmas present the next year (he doesn't throw it away, because it's a book, and how does she know he likes Shakespeare?).

And then shortly after he gets the present, halfway through the fourth grade, she stops coming to school. The class finds out later that week that she's had an accident and is in a coma. Her dad "didn't make it."

"She won't be coming back to class anytime soon, but we have a card we're sending along. Everyone write in it."

Mrs. Williams, their teacher, doesn't like Annie, Jason knows, and she also knows Annie has a grand total of two friends in this class. But they all write something down. His message is short, and he doesn't even sign his name.

He tries not to think too much about her or feel guilty. He has his own problems to worry about after all. He stops completely hating her, though, because maybe she doesn't have so perfect a life after all. And because she's practically dead, anyway - what good is it hating a dead girl?

It's shortly after the Winter Holidays the next year - his father's been arrested again for drug possession and involvement in one of Two-face's hair-brained plans, and it was a meager holiday celebration with his mom - when she comes back. It's being hailed as some kind of Christmas miracle and it's all anyone can talk about at school for a whole week and then there she is.

And she's not smiling.

Jason doesn't know how to feel about her not smiling. It always used to annoy him, but now . . . It looks wrong, to see her face so blank and almost dead. She goes back to class looking like she doesn't recognize anyone, and Mrs. Ramirez sits her down next to her friends - he almost thinks it's a terrible idea, because sitting with friends means gossipping and not paying attention in class, but she doesn't say anything to them and behaves like a model student. She doesn't say anything at all, actually.

Her supplies - while definitely good quality - are all sensible. And somehow she's keeping up with them all, which is weird because she's missed so much school and she used to be so average.

At lunch, she still doesn't smile. He finds out she can't remember anything, from the conversation her friends Emma and Sarah are making, but he supposes it makes a little sense, why she's acting so different.

She doesn't know any of them.

And that - that's terrible. Because her family used to be so perfect, and now she can't even remember it?

He knows when she starts leaving five dollar bills in his backpack that it's her. He just can't figure out why or how. He always finds the money right after recess, and he begins to actually get to eat a bite to eat at lunch. It also makes it easier to put money away for when his mom or dad needs it.

But it bothers him that he can never catch her doing it and that he doesn't understand her motives - after all, she's not supposed to remember anything. What's different now? And while a large part of him is angry that he's receiving charity, the other part of him can't bring it in him to throw the bill away. Not when his stomach grumbles and his mom begs for more release from this prison she considers life.

So he takes the money and sometimes uses it for food while also sometimes using it to get the drugs his mom so desperately needs from the corner drug dealer.

He gets the birthday invitation to her party that March, but between trying to scrape up enough money to keep his mom present, the electricity going for the heater, and food in his stomach he doesn't have the time or money to go to her stupid party.

What could he even give her? He's not showing up empty handed and he doesn't have anything to spare (he's not giving up his Shakespeare). He feels bad about it though, taking her money and not giving her anything back for her birthday.

He continues to struggle through - Summer is the worst - and he's relieved to go back to school in the Fall. After two months of relying on Annie's lunch money, and three months of trying on his own, Jason definitely prefers the former.

So when sometime in seventh grade, after his dad's been put in prison again, the 'lunch money' stops being left everyday, Jason is left confused. What did he do wrong? Is she trying to get even more attention from him? Curiosity, and not a small amount of anger, gets the better of him by Christmas.

He hangs back, watching the other kids rushing through the hall - she's straggling behind. And it gives him the perfect opportunity to drag her into the Janitor's closet.

He watches her face scrunched up in confusion and she looks like she's disgusted - with him? - well he doesn't like her either -

And then she says it smells, and he's left feeling off-center, because what? He shakes his head, because that's not why he's here. He's not here for her to make faces at him or - ugh.

"What's your deal?"

She doesn't answer. Instead she asks her own question. "Why am I in a broom closet?"

Which, if she won't answer his question, that's fine. He won't answer hers.

"I know it's been you. You've been the one leaving your lunch money in my bag and under my chair. Why? Is it because you like me or something?"

He knows she liked him - before the coma. He knows he's one of the better looking kids in school. But if she thinks -

She snorts. And tries to leave.

So he grabs her arm - only for her to freeze and - and her stomach growls. And it dawns on him - she's not eating so he can eat, and why? Why the fuck would she -

"Why are you doing it? Why would you give up your lunch for me?"

She almost looks trapped when she looks at him - straight in the eyes - and his breath catches in his throat, because he's never actually seen what her eyes look like and they remind him of honey and cinnamon and -

"Look, you're an obnoxious person and you don't like people."

Yeah, well she's not a ray of sunshine either. He's not scowling.

"And I get that, people can be annoying, I don't pity you or like you or anything. We're just . . . We're kids. And kids should have balanced meals. Kids shouldn't go home hungry. And it sucks that you do - don't even deny it, I've seen you not eating - and if there's something I can do . . . Even if you are obnoxious and rude..."

He can't believe it. After all the bullying and the hurt and the fucking coma - she - she's a fucking idealist. He tells her. And he warns her, because - because yeah, he hated her, and he still doesn't like her all that much, but she still - she still wants to help people. And that's dangerous in this town.

"Gotham eats people like you alive."

But his words don't seem to have much impact except make her shoulders square up.

"Gotham's going to have to try really hard, then."

Her answer, he decides, is not what he expects. She has a backbone. And as she leaves, he finds he definitely doesn't dislike her anymore.

Jason stays away from her after that, but he watches her. He notices her on the news in February. She runs out of a bank that is surrounded by cop cars and - miraculously no one is hurt.

The year passes and before he knows it, it's summer and it's harder than ever to keep his mom stocked up on her drugs. He does it because he just wants her to not be in pain. He does it because maybe she'll stay with him if he does.

He ends up in Juvie for a week before the case is dropped.

And then one day he gives his mom too much, he thinks. And she dies. And it's his fault.

Jason refuses to be sent to the Foster Care system, so he runs before his mom's body can even cool. He stays on the streets that summer, struggling to survive.

He only makes it by the skin of his teeth and by learning to jack cars.

At thirteen, almost fourteen years old, living on the streets is harder than he expects. Food is hard as hell to find, and even harder to buy, since he's out of cash, and Jason swears he's getting thinner and thinner by the day - with his ribs becoming more and more defined, he honestly can't wait for school to start, for Annie to continue leaving her lunch money when she can. He takes up smoking cigarette butts people toss out because it's stressful and smoking helps him destress. It's a bad idea because it just becomes harder to use the cash he does find for food, since most of the time he wants cigarettes, and cigarettes help with the gnawing hunger in his stomach.

And then he finds it.

The goldmine that is the batmobile is his for the taking - because who leaves a nice car like that in Crime Alley? The Bat is practically asking for the wheels to be taken.

And he doesn't care if Batman beats the shit out of him, because on the off chance that he doesn't it'll be worth it. Jason will have enough money to last him until school starts up again. Until Annie can help him - as pathetic as that sounds.

He doesn't expect the Batman to give him food and then proceed to take him to his home and -

Jason doesn't expect the Batman to turn out to be Gotham's resident playboy billionaire Bruce Wayne.

Jason doesn't expect to not be able to say goodbye.

Gotham Academy is stupid.

He just wants to get out there and beat up the bad guys, but the old man refuses to let him go out in costume until he's "fully trained." And in the meantime, Jason's expected to keep up appearances.

He doesn't need this school with their stuck up brats and kids with trust funds. He doesn't need it because he's learning ten times as much from the tutor who teaches him foreign languages and from Alfred who discusses Shakespeare.

And the girls are the worst. They're stuck up and entitled, and yeah, he kisses them because he's curious and they're willing and there, but they just use it as a way to brag to their friends - they made out with "Bruce Wayne's adopted son." And it's frustrating.

Because they're not Annie. Annie wouldn't brag about kissing him in corners of school. He tries not to let the thought take root but it does. And she's still living near the bad parts of Gotham - Maybe that's why he despises the girls at Gotham Academy. They're way too entitled - like he thought Annie was supposed to be, seeing as she was the richest girl in the school before.

And she wasn't and they are. And he feels unreasonably angry about it.

He takes his aggression out on his training with Bruce and learns as much as he can. Because he's ready to get out there. He's itching to get out there, and maybe he can see Annie again - see how she's doing.

He's fifteen when they take the graduation photo and he's finally considered ready to join the Bat on patrol. Jason can't help thinking about how cool this is. He's Robin now.

Barbara - Batgirl has spent most of the evening at the computer, working on a case and declines to join them - "this is your night, Jay-bird."

So he has fun and goes on patrol with Batman. It's surreal.

He joins the Teen Titans right when school starts up again and while he tries to fit in, he's not sure how well he's doing at it. Dick doesn't like him, he can tell. Either he's butt hurt about being replaced or criticizing Jason for his performance as Robin.

It's frustrating as fuck.

Because Jason's never been good enough. Sometimes, he likes to think of Dick as his big brother, but whenever Jason calls him "bro" Dick flinches, or glares and -

Jason starts to just call him Dick - because he's certainly acting like one.

He tries not to let it bother him, but there's a part of him - a very large part of him - that does not feel like he belongs.

And it hurts. Because he sees Dick as a brother and he just - ugh. He just wants a family.

It's when he's on patrol with Bruce on Christmas that he finally sees her. It's really early in the night - eight o'clock. And Jason almost thinks Bruce was following her, because he found her much too easily.

There are two guys cornering a girl, he almost immediately recognizes as Annie, and herding her to an alley.

And even as she raises her hands, as if to protect herself, Batman tells him to "Wait."

Which, fuck that. Jason's not waiting for Annie to get hurt - not when she's already done so much for him.

Jason dives right in and starts beating them up because - she's a kid. She's a kid and they're all like twice her age or more. It's disgusting - and he keeps punching, even as his arms get a little tired until Batman pulls him off of the guy - he might have dealt more damage than he expected and the guy is definitely going to need medical attention.

"Robin! I told you to wait."

It's condescending and - and - and Bruce just doesn't understand! She's - she was the little girl who gave him her food. She was the little girl that smiled even when the bullies made her life miserable.

"And watch them attack her?"

But instead of Bruce answering, it's her.

"Yeah, I'm with the Boy Wonder on this one, why the fuck would you do that?"

And - what? She curses? Since when? And he can't get her words out of his mind - she just called him the 'boy wonder.'

"You know what, forget it. I'm tired, I knew this was a terrible idea, mom told me she could get the food and I didn't let her. I've learned my lesson. No going out at night. Got it."

He wants to tell her it's okay. She can go out at night, with him around, but he doesn't. Because that wouldn't make sense - to tell her. And he's still trying to get over the fact she just cursed at Batman. So he smirks, smiles a bit, and winks. Because he knows she liked him and he's high on feeling like a hero.

"Be careful, yeah? This is Gotham, you don't know what creeps are lurking about. Do you need an escort home, Annie?"

Batman just elbowed him. And crap - he let her name slip, didn't he?

"Nope. Thanks. Bye."

And wait, what? Why would she say no and - then she's walking away and he insists they follow her to make sure she makes it back okay.

This wasn't supposed to happen. She was supposed to swoon and - she just walks away confidently. Jason has to admit he's kind of turned on by that.

"Why did you want me to wait?" He asks Bruce the question that's been burning in his mind all night - since Annie made it safely back home when they make it back to the Batcave. He thinks he's done a good job, obeyed every order that evening afterward for three whole hours. So when they're back in the cave, Jason feels like he can finally relax and try to get some answers.

Bruce stares at him for a moment before he goes to the Batcomputer and brings up a big file - full of pictures and newspaper articles - all about Annie. It dredges up memories Jason remembers vaguely about the accident and even the bank thing Annie was involved in.

"If I'm right, she's a metahuman."

Jason's not sure he understands, though. Because what the hell?

"This is footage of an incident at a bank a couple of years ago."

Jason stares at the batcomputer's screen and narrows his eyes. He's reminded of that one Valentine's day - when he was still watching her after the Janitor's closet. Before he was Robin. But the angle's all off - and the footage he watched once upon a time was only from the outside.

"I remember that -"

Bruce raises his eyebrows even as Jason stops himself.

"I noticed you knew her name. Care to share?"

No. But Bruce probably already knows.

"I went to school with her."

Bruce is still staring at him, waiting for more of an answer. It's frustrating as heck.

"And I might have sort of . . . she had a crush on me before she went into a coma after this car accident where her dad died."

"This one?"

There's another news article on the screen now - an article Jason never read because he was ten back then and this wasn't important for him.

"Yeah, how did you -"

"I've had an eye on her for a while. Since the accident if I'm being truly honest. If you had waited back in the alley like I told you to, I could have seen if she really does have powers. Did you see how she raised her hands before you stepped in? Almost like she was about to push them back. And look at this footage here."

Bruce plays the surveillance footage from the bank and it looks like the robbers barely have enough time to yell at everyone to "put your hands up where I can see them" when every single person except Annie, who seems to stumble a bit, seems to be pushed back by this sonic wave. Annie then runs away, but there's too many people to know without a doubt it was her because other people make it out too. She seemed to stumble a bit at the first wave, after all.

"She was the first one out too, and I was able to get a hold of the footage before the cops, but as you can see, it's not definitive proof. And I haven't seen her do anything since."

Jason nods, but thinks more on why Bruce would be watching her - because of course Bruce would do that. Was it even a coincidence Bruce had taken him in?

"I saw that on the news, when it happened, but that doesn't . . ." Jason wants to give more information but he's still stuck on the thought she may be a metahuman. If she's a metahuman her life is going to be hell. It always is for them. "She didn't remember anything from before her coma."

"And yet she still was able to keep up with school." Bruce seems to be muttering to himself at this point, but Jason doesn't give a shit.

"Yeah, she was always a bit of a teacher's pet, but she was smart too."

"You sure she lost her memory?"

"That's what the story around school was. She didn't recognize her best friends. Or her crush, I suppose. And she acted different. Didn't really smile as much."

Bruce raises an eyebrow at him and Jason feels his cheeks burn with embarrassment.

"You sure you weren't the one with a crush?"

Jason rolls his eyes, but the burn in his cheeks doesn't disappear. Tonight was the first time he'd seen her in over a year and she looked good. Bruce seems to sense that. "Anyway, she's harmless. She -"

"Her parents used to work for Falcone, you know?"

No. No he didn't know, but Jason supposes that makes sense. They were always better off than anyone else.

"Her mom was Falcone's attorney and her dad ran one of Falcone's most lucrative chop shops. Anyway, I'm keeping an eye on her for the time being. If she wants to live here, that's fine. But I don't like Metas in my town. So she needs to follow the rules."

Jason scoffs, but reviews the large file Bruce already has on her.

"Lex Luthor was the one that was driving the car by the way."

Jason raises an eyebrow at Bruce and can't help the incredulity that crosses his face.

"How'd they keep that out of the papers?"

Bruce looks at him for a second, and Jason again feels nervous.

"Money can buy lots of stuff. Including silence."

Jason can't help the anger that rises up in him at that thought. Because Annie deserves better than that.

He digs into the file Bruce has on Annie that whole week, trying to find something, even if he doesn't quite know what it is.

Working with the Bat is difficult at times, and working with Bruce is even harder. He meets the Justice League though, and really starts to get into the mix of the superhero business, but even with Dick not outright hating him after a while - and taking the name Nightwing - he still feels like an Outsider. The Replacement - that's what he is.

When he finds out his mother is not, in fact, dead, a part of him hopes more than ever before. He loves his mom. But she was gone. And now he finds out she's alive and - and he wants to find her. So he runs - he doesn't listen to Bruce when Bruce tracks him down and tells him to wait for him. And then he sees the Joker.

And it's just so fucking messed up - all of it. Because Joker tells him about how he orchestrated everything from Jason's becoming Robin to - to Jason's death. All to mess with Batman. To mess with Bruce.

There's a crowbar and pain and Jason just wants it to be over - where is Bruce? Why isn't he here saving him?

After what feels like hours of hurt and torture, Jason is locked and alone in the warehouse with his mother - his mother who sold him out and yet, Jason can't help but still love her. He wants to protect her still and he can't. There are bombs everywhere and -

Jason dies trying and failing to shield his mother from the blast and wishing he could tell Bruce he's sorry.

He doesn't expect to be alive. He distinctly remembers dying. And he's crawling out of the water and -

He's just so angry. He's never felt this overwhelming anger before.

He stays away from Gotham for four years. He stays with Ra's for a long time, not being able to find words for the longest time.

But he 'recovers.'

When he's nineteen, curiosity about what it is to be with a woman and anger at Bruce for not avenging his death, for letting that scumbag live, sees him fucking Talia al Ghul - the mother of that little shit Damian who is all of eight years old and training to be a little monster assasin - Bruce's real son, he hears. For a few seconds, he imagines it's Annie instead that he's fucking, and not Talia - that's underneath him moaning and willing. Annie who was sassy and had a crush on him, at least once upon a time, and who is back in Gotham. It's with her face in mind that he finds his release.

He feels guilty afterward, that instead of Talia, he was thinking about another girl - about Annie. He feels guilty that he uses Annie's memory to jack off even later. So he trains even harder in that last year and punishes his body even more. After all, he's died once already, right? Nothing can hurt him more than he's already been hurt.

It doesn't stop him from going to the brothels near Nanda Parbat every weekend and fucking the prostitutes while imagining they're Annie. He goes through most of the condoms at the base.

When he returns to Gotham, he aims to bring his full fury on Bruce, just like Talia told him to.

He takes over some of the smaller establishments around Gotham first, getting money, stockpiling his weapons cache, building his network.

He unfortunately doesn't have time to visit the red light district for anything other than business - and besides, he doesn't want anyone to see under his musk until he's ready.

On the night he plans to begin setting things in motion, he follows one of the lieutenants of Black Mask - for his head - and he sees a woman on the street being accosted by the lieutenant who's waving a folder in her face.

"What the fuck is this?"

The woman says nothing, backing away from the raving lunatic.

"I said what the fuck is this?"

"I don't know what you're talking about."What little Jason can see of her face in the dark looks confused and scared and Jason almost goes to step in, especially when the thug grabs her arm, pulling her into an alley and getting really close to her face.

"You - bitch. The boss - he - you fucking bitch!"

Jason's curious about what this is. He doesn't understand much about the altercation, but he does understand that the two of them are probably in the same line of work. So Jason sits back. They're part of the scum he's trying to take over, and he doesn't even flinch when the thug pulls his fist back, aiming a punch to her face.

He's mildly surprised when she redirects the blow away from her body and begins fighting back.

"What the fuck?" the thug seems surprised by her skill, and Jason thinks maybe she's not a thug. Maybe she's a police informer. Maybe that's what the folder is about.

He's amused but also slightly sympathetic when she kicks the thug between the legs and connects, but that only seems to make the thug angrier as he grabs her hair - and at this point, Jason's had enough. He aims his guns and shoots.

Blood and brain matter is everywhere - on her face and - Jason winces at her scream - she's got a set of lungs on her.

Well, he's spent enough time watching. Jason jumps down into the alley and brings out his knife - the long beautiful knife that's perfect for cutting off heads. As he stuffs the head into his duffel bag, he turns to the girl, helmet still in place and asks "You alright?"

She nods, head staying close to her chest. "I could have taken care of him myself."

Her hands are covering her face, probably trying to brush away the blood and brain matter, and it betrays her fear even if her words are strong and steady.

"I'm sure." Jason's quite certain she would have been in trouble if he hadn't shown up, and she's the one on the floor anyway. "Up you get," he says, kneeling toward her and pulling her hands away.

He sees her face then and almost tenses. Almost. She speaks before he can.

"You're the Red Hood."

"Heard about me?" He's almost pleased. She looks like Annie did - he's quite certain this is Annie - and she recognizes him, even if it's not the him he's pretty sure she knows. It's been five years - they've been good to her. And maybe it's because it's been a hot second since he's had a good fuck, or maybe it's because every time he had imagined her, but the blood and brains on her face doesn't stop his pants from feeling tighter. Which terrifies him.

"You killed Eric."

"Was that his name? You knew him."

He feels a constriction in his chest at that. She knew this attacker. What was she thinking going out late at night associating with thugs?

"He's - he was . . . "

Jason almost thinks she's about to tell him this Eric guy was her boyfriend, so he turns away. He can't look at her knowing he's fantasized about that face in rapture as he's pushed into other women, and he can't look at her if she's about to tell him he just killed her boyfriend. That would be just too fucking messed up, especially after all the times he's imagined fucking her.

He's searching the body, grabbing the envelope the thug was waving in her face and as he turns back, because she hasn't answered yet, he sees her backing away and he can only stare. He supposes that's why he lets her run away. Because he's still imagining fucking her into a wall and -

He doesn't deserve her. He never has.

The file he takes off the dead body is interesting. It's a report about Black Mask's moves and is a veritable gold mine for Jason. For the next week he uses the information to verify the validity and then he has to wonder - how the fuck did Annie, if that's really who she was because she's certainly grown up, get this? She'd only ever had ties to Lex Luthor and Falcone.

That's when he starts his search for her - not that it's particularly difficult. He finds there are two apartments in Annie Simon's name - but after watching the first apartment for a solid three hours, and just seeing an old lady, he heads to the other one. He figures she must be a landlord or let her grandmother live in her other place.

As he steps into the second apartment through the window he forces open he stares around. It's cozy, has plenty of furniture and appliances. Some pictures, and he confirms it's almost definitely her. Not what you would expect of a struggling college student, though he supposes, if she were a struggling college student she wouldn't exactly have access to this information on Black Mask, would she?

As he snoops around and finds two different rooms, he comes to the conclusion that Annie lives alone. The other room looks like it hasn't been touched in years.

And then he sees the papers scattered all over the kitchen table - about Mrs. Simon's murder.

Which explains why Annie lives alone - if both her mother and father are dead . . .

He snorts when he sees the pile of bills - some that are marked paid with a confirmation number and others simply open but blank - due in the next week or so. He's so focused perusing her papers, he doesn't hear the door open.

"What the fuck are you doing in my house."

He doesn't even look up, but he notices it's the same voice so he's almost definitely found the girl from last night. Especially if she's recognized him.

"Just wanted to know what this is."

He pulls out the manilla envelope he's been using all week - it looks slightly battered.

"It's none of your fucking business."

Definitely the right place.

He looks up this time to see Annie there again, and the hormonal side of him can't help noticing her tight leggings and long brown hair - he could get his hands lost in that hair. And he really doesn't want to think about his 'fucking business' because a part of him just wants to say she is his fucking business. His pants are already becoming uncomfortable in her presence again. At least there's no blood and brains, this time.

"I mean I could always take this to Blackie."

"And I could always make it so you could never walk or have children ever again, but that's impolite. So I'll give you the benefit of the doubt."

Jason can't help it, he laughs. Here he is thinking about pushing her against the wall and having his way with her and she's threatening him!

"You've got spunk, I'll give you that. But seriously." He waves the folder up high, standing up and staring at her. "You're a spy. That's a dangerous profession, you know?"

"You need to leave."

"What? You got a boyfriend you don't want seeing me?" The thought makes his skin crawl.

"And if I did?"

Jason shrugs, and responds "Worth it." Because it would be worth it. She would probably fit in his hands perfectly and make all the noises he's imagined her making as he bites her neck claiming her as his and fucking her so she can't walk -

"Fine. What do you want?"

He's pulled from his thoughts by her words and finds himself needing to get back to business before the tightness in his pants becomes too much and he ends up telling her he wants her.

"I already told you," and he waves the folder in her face again.

"And I already answered, it's none of your business. Next question."

"See, I think this is a report. So who do you work for?"

He needs to know. For his plans. Not because of anything else. Not because he wants to make sure she's not in league with the Bat. He doesn't know if he can handle her working for the Bat.

And if he comes close enough for him to breathe her in and smell her shampoo well - he almost doesn't respond fast enough when she makes a grab for one of his glocks.

And then he's got her on the ground, his thighs near her face and he's momentarily distracted by that thought before he swears. The next second, he's sent flying into the wall - back slamming into the pictures and breaking the frames. He almost doesn't even understand how except this is what happened to those robbers on Valentines Day. It registers in the back of his mind - this is good. This means she'll be safe.

Doesn't change the fact that he's on the floor and winded. He gets up slowly, patting his leather jacket for no other reason than to have something to do while he stares at her. She's still on the ground looking as fuckable as ever, but he tries not to think of that.

She just threw him across the room after all, and that's without knowing where his thoughts have been throughout the conversation.

"Well, that was interesting." The room shakes a bit at his words, and he holds his arms up in surrender. "Woah, woah, I get it. No need to bring down the whole building."

He watches as she gets up and heads to her kitchen grabbing a granola bar and he laughs.

"Quaker Oats? That's the food you go for?"

"What can I do to make you go away?"

He leans over the counter, his body tuned into every movement she makes, and responds, "You could go on a date with me?" She does not look impressed, and Jason hurries to add, before she actually takes his words seriously and tells him no, "or you could just give me this information. I mean sure - send it to whoever you have to, but I want in on it."

"Or what?"

"How many people know about your habits 'quaker.'"

"Why the fuck did you just call me quaker?"

"Quaker Oats, earthquake . . . it's better than vibe."

Vibe would totally murder him - if he hadn't already died once - if he knew Jason had just made fun of his name.

She's opening and closing her mouth as if about to say something and keeps changing her mind until she finally decides on "Whatever."

"What you don't like the name?"

"I'm tired and hungry. And I have work in the morning," she responds leaving to the room he assumed was hers when he first checked out her apartment.

"You didn't answer my question!" he calls through the door. He wants to know if she liked the name he gave her. Annie. Who had a crush on him and turned out to be a badass. And he wants to know if she'll work with him - give him this info, because so far it's been gold.

He decides in that moment he wants her. More than he's wanted anyone. She grew up well. He's going to need a cold shower or a good long appointment with his hand, he decides, as he grabs a pen and paper from her pile of stuff on the table and leaves his burner phone number taped to the fridge.

And then for good measure he slips a bug into her school bag. He wants to know if he has any competition, after all.

He's reviewing the surveillance on her from that morning when he hears him - Dickiebird - and an unreasonable amount of jealousy rises in his chest. The bastard is telling her about this team and - why won't they leave Annie alone?

"I'm not going to join any of your fucking teams."

Jason mechanically nods along with her words before shutting off the recording after he hears her call Dick "Big Bird."

He decides he is jealous, but maybe he's got it all wrong, maybe they're nothing to each other. But what the fuck does Big Bird mean? Does it have something to do with - he frowns. Dick wouldn't. She wouldn't. What about Babs? Or Star Fire, even!

Except Jason's been "dead" for almost five years at this point and anything could have happened in that time. They seemed to know each other and sounded quite comfortable - especially Dick.

He's sitting on her couch when she comes in and drops her many grocery bags on the floor with a groan. She doesn't even notice him as she moves to the kitchen, her hips swaying and grabbing another granola bar - he succeeds in smothering a laugh. And she doesn't notice him when she opens her laptop on her dining room table.

He decides, as he watches her take a bite of the granola bar, this is the perfect time to speak up.

"So. Big Bird?"

He can't help the smirk that makes its way onto his face as she flinches. She spins around slowly, her granola bar falling away from her face and a glare in her eyes. And he swears if he could kiss her and get away with it, he would. He gets up and walks nearer to her - just to be close to her.

"Are you spying on me?"

"You never answered my question," he responds, enjoying the way she glares and purses her lips.

"Which question? I dodged a lot of them, and - hey, don't change the subject! How did you know -"

He touches her shoulder then, because he wants contact and she seems to stare at his gloved hand. The last time he touched her he was a kid - dragging her into the janitor's closet. He wishes he'd had enough self-awareness back then, he might have tried to kiss her if he had. He grins as the bug - his bug, remotely powered, in the shape of a roach - crawls over her shoulder from out of her bag.

"Say hello to my best friend - the bug."

She freaks the fuck out, jumping and brushing her arm and - the bug is crushed by what looks like air.

Jason is mildly terrified that she just crushed the bug, because if she could do that - how is he still alive? She -

"What the hell, you just - that was expensive."

She glares at him, and he's still feeling intimidated that she crushed the bug with a thought and can do the same to him, so he just mutters"Whatever. It's not the only one I have," while making a mental note to slip a few more listening bugs into her apartment and bags.

He continues talking, though, because the jealousy is eating at him, "So, you never said, why'd you call that guy Big Bird?"

Because if she mentions anything about Dickiebird's dick, Jason will throw a fit.

She surprises him with her answer, which interestingly enough she takes a moment to think about. "It was a funny nickname I got from his younger brother, and I felt like being obnoxious."

She turns back to her laptop without waiting for his response and brings up a word document - already filled with words and quotes and - it looks well organized, at least for a first draft.

He's slightly relieved at her answer, and scolds himself. Big Bird - older robin. Of course Tim - the fucking replacement - would come up with a nickname like that.

As he stares at her, he thinks it's cute, her focusing on her homework while he stands in her dining room. He's not stupid. He knows he cuts a good figure in the outfit and the prostitutes were always happy to see him. And he wants her attention.

"So, that date -" he begins, but she cuts him off.

"I'm not going to date you."

He tries to cover his disappointment. He's not sure it would have been as effective if he hadn't been wearing his helmet.

"So, you'll be my spy?"

He doesn't want to leave her alone, after all. And he'll need an excuse for that.

"I didn't say that either."

"Well, it's one or the other. Consider it a thank you for saving your life when that guy -"

"His name's Eric, and I told you, I had it handled."

He answers, "It didn't look like it," while trying to cover his frustration. He really hopes this 'Eric' guy wasn't her boyfriend, though he has a feeling he'd be crushed (like the bug) if he had been.

"Well, I did. Why are you even doing this? What does it matter? Aren't you a psycho killer or something? Why the fuck do you care about information on the Black Mask's organization?"

Thinking on her words, she probably did have it handled. She was keeping up with the guy physically. And threw Jason across the room a few days later. He might not have even been needed. But her words bother him. "I'm not a psycho killer. I'm just doing what needs to be done to clean up this town."

She scoffs. "By getting information on Black Mask? To do what?"

"See, the thing Batman doesn't understand is - you can't stop crime. And I'm not going to. I'm going to control it."

He needs her to understand. He needs her to agree - because he doesn't know what he'll do if she says he's delusional - a psycho killer - again because those words are for the Joker. Not him. If she accepts him, maybe there's a chance Bruce will -

"And how are you going to do that?" She's skeptical, but she's hearing him out, which is a good sign.

"I'm going to take over and make sure they don't sell to kids. I'm going to be the one protecting the layman."

"You say that now, but you basically just want things to stay the same and be the one in charge."

She doesn't get it. "I don't want things to stay the same. I don't want them dealing to kids and my punishments aren't a slap on the wrist. I'm willing to do what needs to be done to clean up this city and if that means killing the ones that go against my orders, I will."

"Just the ones that go against your orders?"

"I mean, I wouldn't be opposed to killing psychos like Two-Face, or -"

"And the Joker?"

Why is she bringing up the Joker? Just the word leaving her lips makes his blood boil and one part of him want to throw her on her bed and fuck her and the other wants to throw a chair out the window and go hunting the Joker down, ignoring all his carefully laid plans.

No one's said the Joker's name aloud in his presence since his death.

He swallows and tries to reign in his anger.

"The Joker's at the top of my list."

He hopes she's not one of those misguided idiots who just thinks the Joker is ill and belongs in Arkham - where he can escape and hurt more people and -

She nods and says, "Okay. I'll help you. What kind of information are you looking for?"

He thinks he should just throw her on her bed and fuck her already anyway.

"Just like that?"

"I don't agree with a lot of the things Batman does - or rather doesn't do. Even if you killed Eric, I can get on board with getting drugs away from kids. So what do you need?"

He leans back in his chair and eyes her for a moment - her laptop and paper seem to be ignored for the time being. He has all her attention, and there's one question that's been bothering him.

"Well, first of all, who do you work for? Besides Black Mask, that is."

This time she answers without hesitation.


He leans forward a bit, after having just leaned back, because he was not expecting that. He was expecting the GCPD. Maybe even the Bat - because he had an eye on her way back when and she was literally just talking to Dickiebird.


"I've worked for him since I was sixteen."

"Why?" He can't believe this. He dies and everything goes to shit. Nevermind. He can totally believe it, he thinks as he watches her roll her eyes and respond.

"Well my mom had just died and I didn't want to move in with Lex Luthor in Metropolis, so I didn't have that many options."

Right, her mom died. But, "Why would you move in with Lex Luthor?"

Isn't that the guy that killed her dad and put her in a coma?

"Because he's a meddlesome businessman that thinks he owns me because I'm a science experiment gone wrong? I don't know."

Science experiment gone wrong? What does that mean? Does it mean Luthor is the one that made her meta? Does it mean she's been meta since her coma?

She looks nervous the longer he says nothing. "I mean, you saw what I can do."

"How long have you been like that?"

"A few years? Probably since I was nine - but I couldn't really control it for a while and didn't even know about it until I was twelve - I think ."

When she was twelve. Before he dragged her into the broom closet then? Or after? He mentally shakes his head and heads to the one question he really wants to know, because he really wants to just drag her to her room already. He's definitely having an appointment with his hand tonight.

"So, you never answered - you got a boyfriend?"

She rolls her eyes, and he's certain she thinks he's just messing with her because she smiles and says, "Wouldn't you like to know?"

"No seriously!" He wants to know how likely she is to let him fuck her, after all.

"I have a paper to write, so if you're going to be so obnoxious, you're going to have to leave."

He laughs, because she looks so fucking adorable and just done and he wants to stay in her presence forever. So he holds up his hands in surrender and says, "Okay, okay, what's the paper about?"

That whole night, it gets more and more difficult to focus on helping her with her paper. Because though Jason loves English and misses this type of work, she smells fantastic, and he keeps having to lean over her shoulder to show her where this sentence would fit better.

He leaves with her number and her telling him she'll leave a report across the street from where he first "met" her every other Saturday night.

And when he gets back to his hideout, he takes himself in hand and imagines her in front of him as he cums. It's one of his most intense orgasms ever.

He sees her again on Thanksgiving because as he listens to some of his routine surveillance to make sure his plans are falling into place and Black Mask's empire falls away piece by piece, and he hears her voice speaking to what sounds like the old woman he'd watched for three hours when he was still looking for her.

Her laugh's nice, not like anything he's heard in a long time. It's happy. And then she tells the old woman, who's asking for grandkids, "I don't even have a boyfriend, I doubt grandkids are anywhere near in the future."

And it's the best thing he's heard all year.

He leaves his hideout making his way to the first apartment and spends the holiday watching them - eating and laughing. And when she leaves, he follows her.

"Nice night," he says, dropping next to her and she doesn't tense up, though she pauses for a moment on the pavement.

"Hello, Red."

"So, you can tell your grandma you don't have a boyfriend, but not me?"

He wants to get to the topic at hand - the one he wants to talk about.

She glares, and asks "Where's the bug this time."

He chuckles because of course she'd understand, and then he reaches for her purse, hand barely brushing past her breasts - and she doesn't seem to notice anyway, and pulls out the circular listening device.

Only for it to fall apart in his hand.

"Hey!" He's mildly terrified once more that she was able to do that with such precision and he sees her lips twitch as he keeps looking from his palm now filled with trash to her face and back again.

"That's what you get for spying on me."

"You can't see it, because of the mask, but I'm glaring at you." He's not really glaring, but telling her he wants to fuck her cause he was turned on by what she just did would probably make her want to run away. Or do t o him what she just did to the bug.

And she laughs at his words, so he decides it was a good decision, as she hands him the pie plates.

"Here, make yourself useful."

He can think of ten different ways he can make himself useful, and while some of them involve the pie, all of them involve him with his lips against her skin. "You sure this is how you want me to be useful? You could just tell her I'm your boyfriend, it'll get her to stop bothering you about grandkids."

He's only half-joking, but it figures she'd think he was just messing around because she doesn't even acknowledge his offer.

"She's not really my grandma."

"She's not?"

"We just sort of found each other. She lost her home because of Falcone and was asking him for help and I - I had this condo just sitting empty from . . . and anyway, I wanted to help."

She found her own family. He finds himself smiling and a small part of him wonders if Jason had been a part of her makeshift family once upon a time. If maybe the Red Hood can be a part of it now.

It's when she turns to face him that he says, "You can't see it, because of the mask, but I'm smiling."

She stops at her apartment building, but he's not ready to leave her just yet, so he heads on in.


"So, when are we going to have that date?"

She rolls her eyes - brown with flecks of gold and he could stare into them for hours.

"I don't date masked morons."

He tries not to let that hurt. "Ouch. I'm insulted."

"You should be. It was an insult."

"Alright, give me one good reason why you won't." It's fun this banterring, but while he's pretty sure she's just making conversation and isn't taking it seriously, he wants to know. He hands her the pies.

"One: I've never seen your face and don't even know your name."

Which he can totally fix in two seconds, and in all honesty, she has seen his face and she does know his name. So he throws that reason out as invalid.

"Two: I'm vain and superficial, and without seeing your face I can't make an informed decision."

Also irrelevant. Jason's face was good enough for her before.

"Three: You're one of Gotham's criminals, technically, and I'm certain Batman is going to come after you sooner or later. I have enough problems getting him to leave me alone without adding this to the list."

And damn - that's a valid reason. Except -

"Wait, what? Why would Batman-"

"I don't know, ask him."

That - that doesn't sound right. Is the Bat still bothering her about her meta powers? Does he still have a watch on her? Is he watching her now? Are the replacement and Dickiebird her friends - or stalking her? And doesn't she work for Falcone? And Black Mask?

He will need to ask Bruce about this, he decides. But not until his plans have come to fruition. Not until their final showdown.

He gets very close to her face, trying to affect her the way she affects him all the fucking time, and says, "Maybe I will. See you later, Annie!"

He's going to need another cold shower, his hand is getting tired and he needs it to be in top shape to pull the triggers. Which is unfortunate.

Things aren't going as well as it should be when the Holidays roll around - the Christmas and New Years ones, that is. Because yes, he's taken over a good portion of the crime business, but Batman still hasn't seemed to become any more interested in finding him.

And he's bored. Everyone - even most of the thugs and his minions - is staying home with their families. It makes him think about the fact that he doesn't have a family anymore.

Bruce is probably celebrating with Dickiebird and his replacement.

The only person he even remotely knows well enough in this city, and who just so happens to not have much family either, is Annie.

A selfish part of him hopes the old lady - Mrs. Janet - is busy for the New Year. So he makes his way to her place on New Years Eve and he makes his way into her apartment via the fire escape.

It's the middle of the day, but she's not in the living area. He's not even sure she's home. So he lounges by her kitchen table and peruses her files.

He almost jumps when he hears her say,"Maybe I should just give you a key."

Now there's an idea. But she's here, and he needs some kind of human contact for the holidays. He asks her if she has plans for the holiday and she talks about how the old lady has plans and -

"So that's a no?"

"I didn't say that."

He smiles and he starts telling her "under the mask I'm smiling," but she interrupts and lightly smacks his shoulder - it's so light, and he knows she's capable of so much worse. And it makes him happy that she's physically comfortable enough to touch him so casually.

"Oh, shut up," she says and then she's walking to the refrigerator and offers him pie. And damn. She's teasing him about the mask, which was probably her intent. It's too deliberate; there's no way she doesn't know how badly he wants the pie.

"No! I want pie!"

So she brings two plates instead of just one and begins eating, leaving the plate in front of him. And he's faced with a dilemma.

He could take off his helmet, but he's not wearing a domino mask underneath at the moment. It's not necessary and he's not been planning on letting anyone see him without the mask until the Bat comes after him.

But he's worried. He doesn't want her to know who he is yet. He's not certain she'll recognize him, but . . .

She eats for a solid minute, not even glancing at him much, and - he really wants to try that pie, it looks good.

And then she's getting up, heading to the room she never goes in - her mom's room, and she's back with an eye mask.

He can't help the warmth that rises in his chest. It's almost difficult to breathe, he thinks as she puts the eye mask on and blindly stabs her fork into her pie - barely making the mark.

"There. Eat."

He pauses, staring at her for a moment and then - he reaches up to take the helmet off.

And her pies remind him of Alfred and home cooking, and he wonders if the taste of this pie is what most people think of when they think of home.

When he's done, he notices she still has some, but he wants it. So he takes her plate and she doesn't protest. He finds out she's made pie with her mom and she shared her pie with him. He writes a quick note to her and -

He can't help it, when he bends down, pie pan in hand, and presses his lips to her forehead. It's the first time he's been without his mask in her presence, and - he's not thinking much about fucking her, surprisingly. But, he's definitely thinking about just staying here in her presence. For maybe forever.

He hightails it out of there the second after he kisses her because she's reaching up for the face mask and - he can't face her.

He thinks that if he's not careful, he'll give up his murder plans just to spend more holidays with her.

The New Year passes and then before he can even blink, it's the end of April - nearing the anniversary of his death.

He's been able to ignore it. The fifth year anniversary, by going to Annie's apartment at least once a week, but more often than not every other day. He bothers her with questions about Blackie and asks her to go on dates with him. He's only slightly hurt when she laughs it off, but he figures every night she hangs out with him is practically a date anyway. And time she spends with him is time she isn't spending with any potential boyfriends.

She also feeds him pie every single fucking time he asks for it.

The year is flying by, with him spending more and more time with her. Jason almost feels he's losing sight of his end goal, sometimes though. So when the anniversary of his death gets so close and she starts talking about a shipment with a piece of technology coming in to Blackie from LexCorp, he knows it's time.

And fuck it all - but she wants to be involved in this one.

He tries telling her it's not a good idea, but she wants a piece of it and he can't figure out why.

"Why do you need it again?"

"It's tech that's been in close proximity with LexCorp."

"So the only reason you need it is to get into LexCorp's systems?"


He doesn't know how much good it would do her. But it's a relief knowing she's not against his taking over the crime world. And while a part of him is relieved this will force some of his plans forward - because something tells him the Bat isn't going to leave this shipment alone, he's also a bit sad. And worried.

"I just . . . I guess I'll just have to put my plans into motion a little sooner than I'd liked."

"You haven't even done that much with the intel I've given you," she says a pout on her face and he can't help but think - she has no idea, does she?

Last week he used the information about how many of Blackie's men were involved in this one club - very popular among Gotham University students - to blackmail and turn some of Blackie's men. And through her he's been able to sneak in bugs!

He almost tells her this.

But even though she's seen him hack a guy's head off and even though he knows she is aware of his reputation and his questionable actions, he doesn't want to tell her. He likes the fact that he can talk about things other than just work.

Even though he's told her his plans and she's seen his methods, he's afraid she'll run away screaming at any second. Calling him a psycho. Like that one time.

Then she says, "It's okay. Whatever. I'll just. I'll see you Saturday."

And he can't breathe because - because all this time he's spent with her and - it dawns on him that she's become something like family to him. And he needs to breathe and he's having trouble doing that with her here.

So he leaves. And he promises himself he'll see her Saturday if nothing else.

Batman is chasing him and he couldn't have planned this better if he'd tried. Annie stayed hidden by the docks while he shot his minions who gave him away - because Red Hood doesn't tolerate snitches. They gave him up to the Bat. And yes, that was the plan, but they got what they had coming.

He doesn't see where Annie ends up because he's too busy outrunning the Bat in his car and of fucking course Bruce is already here in his own personal jet. Jason doesn't even try to drive safely, swerving and making it to the tunnel.

And fuck. There's a grapple on his car, so Jason opens the hatch to the convertible. That's going to be an expensive fix, he acknowledges as the top is ripped off. Or it would be, except Jason doesn't really care about the car, and just crashes it into a warehouse.

He's in there now, staring at Bruce as he relives the past.

This was where the Joker was born.

"Hard to forget that night, huh? In a way, Batman, this was the site of your first failure. Maybe your greatest, but certainly not your last, right? Ah, memories." He shoots the car and the spark ignites the flammable chemicals.

And then he's running again, trying to get away.

He almost flinches when the bat almost falls into a vat. He's trying to punish Bruce, but he doesn't necessarily want him to die.

And then he's gone, slightly relieved to see Batman on the roof of the other building.

Alive to fight another day.

That other day comes precisely ten hours later when he listens in on one of his bugs - that made its way into Black Mask's office through Annie's bag - and discovers another shipment to Black Mask.

That's how Jason finds himself in a helicopter - hijacking it and - right on cue. Batman showed up.

And Dickiebird and The Replacement! This is starting to look like a party!

Jason dives down with the copter - and yeah, people might get hurt, but Batman's here. He's got it. He won't let anyone die. Not like with Jason.

And then Jason's running again. He couldn't have planned it better himself. He dodges a batarang, and jumps out a window throwing a can of oxygen up that he'd grabbed as he was running out of the building and shooting it.

This is exhilarating, fantastic. Just like the old days.

Jumping from building to building. It's poetic, the skills Batman gave him, helping him escape and wreak havoc.

He shoots - and misses, on purpose, because he doesn't want to kill Bruce. Not because he has shit aim.

And then he's twisting, cutting Bruce's cable and falling into the train station.

Right where he wanted them.

He revs his motorcycle to get their attention after the bomb goes off and shouts "You haven't lost your touch, Bruce" - because he's that much of a tease. He wants Bruce to figure it out. He wants Bruce to know.

Such a shame the train was so loud.

He gets the text from her about how Black Mask is sending assassins after him and he has to smile at that. She's always going on about how texting isn't safe and - "the NSA could be watching!"

He's sure they are. And she still thinks his safety is important enough to break her own rules and possibly expose her whole undercover thing she's got going on.

He's not too terribly concerned, mostly acknowledging to himself that this is where his plans are really going to start falling into place - he'll be able to face the Joker and Bruce and finally get an answer. He'll finally get justice.

He finds some of Black Mask's thugs shooting up one of the bars formerly run by the crime lord that now holds allegiance to him. And at first he's grinning because this is it - he's certain Bruce will be here again. But then he sees three girls - Emma and Sarah - the girls who used to be Annie's friends in school, he didn't know they still hung out - and Annie.

How stupid can they be?

His heart is stuck in his throat as he watches the bullets rain into the bar and he sees Annie cover her friends and he swears. He'll kill them. He'll kill every single one of the ones that shot her - because he sees where those bullets are aimed and he's certain some of them hit her. He turns his face away because he can't watch her die and he can't shield her like he once tried with his mother. He's too far away.

He doesn't think he can lose her. It hurts even thinking about it. And he just has, hasn't he?

He follows the thugs who drag the bartender - his fucking bartender - to an alley and shoots the flaming bottle, knowing the guy won't survive. The guy deserves so much worse, in Jason's opinion. He'll go after the others later, though.

Because then it's four against one because the Fearsome Hand of Four have arrived and he stalls until Bruce gets there.

And then he is, and Jason quips back, "What the hell took you so long?" because he's late. Annie's dead because Bruce is always so fucking late.

When he kills the guy with a taser to the face, Jason doesn't feel bad, and is in fact angry as hell that Bruce is admonishing him.

"Just be happy I only killed one of them. They're all assassins."

He'll kill all of them later - he'll track them down and get justice. Because they killed Annie, not that he's about to tell Bruce any of this.

"And what are you?"

"I'm cleaning up Gotham! More than you ever did."

"You're stealing territory from Black Mask and killing anyone who gets in your way."

"Black Mask is just a part of a plan."

"Plan? You're becoming a crime lord."

"Yes! You can't stop crime! That's what you never understood. I'm controlling it!" It's the same words he gave to Annie - the same explanation, and it hurts repeating the words because she's gone and she was the only one who understood. "You want to rule them by fear. But what do you do to the ones who aren't afraid? I'm doing what you won't! I'm taking them out!"

"Tell me what happened to you. Let me help."

Fuck you, Bruce. Fuck you and your help.

"It's too late. You had your chance." He throws a smoke bomb. "And I'm just getting started."

He gets back to her apartment at five in the morning because he just wants to soak up what's left of her presence in this world. Mourn her. Maybe he can move on, but he doubts it. Maybe wallowing in his sadness will give him enough motivation to get through the next few days.

But he finds her curled up in her bed and can't help the relief that sweeps through him - because she's not dead and how? How is she not dead? He saw her get shot! The second he cracks the window open, she's sitting up and has a glock in her hands - and crap. He didn't know she had guns too.

It's a bit of a relief to be honest. And definitely a turn on. Because she's alive and - fuck. He was worried he would never get to see her again.

He puts his hands up in surrender and is relieved to see her drop the gun.

"Morning to you too."

"Red? What the fuck are you doing here?"

He was mostly just coming here to mourn, but she's still alive, and that's such a relief. She looks a little shaken, if the gun in her hand is anything to go by. A large part of him is feeling possessive and protective. She can't get hurt like that again. He can't let her get hurt again.

"Can I crash here for the night?"

She stares at him and then mutters to herself, turning back around.

But, she doesn't say 'no.' So he finds himself climbing into her bed, pulling her into his arms, and pulling his helmet off.

He tells her to go to sleep, but she wants to fucking talk. And then she's trying to turn around, and - he panics a bit and covers her eyes.

She promises she won't open her eyes so he lets her turn around and her face is so close to his and she keeps talking. And then she's talking about trust and how she understands why he doesn't trust her and fuck. He just wants to hold her and make sure they're still alive - that she's still alive. He put her in danger tonight, and she doesn't even - and she's getting angry at him and -

He does it to shut her up, because she's talking and he just wants to hug her and make sure she's alive and he's alive, at least for now - and she won't stop talking. And he doesn't want to think about Bruce and his plans. He just wants to remind himself that he's still alive.

He doesn't mean to sleep with her when he kisses her. He just kisses her to shut her up - and then he can't get enough of her. All the times he's imagined fucking her are nothing compared to this. Her lips are softer than he thought they would be and she's actually kissing him back.

She had always just brushed it off, his flirting, but now her hands are in his hair and his hands are reaching down to her waist, pulling at her shirt and -

And she's not stopping him. He knows she's more than capable of throwing him to the other side of the room with barely a thought, like she did that one time when he pinned her to the floor after she tried to take his gun, but she's letting him touch her and sink his tongue into her mouth and do all these things he only ever entertained as mere fantasy.

In fact, she's eagerly pulling at his own jacket, eyes shut most of the time but still fluttering open, like she wants this so much she forgets she's not supposed to see him. At the moment, he can't find it in him to care about that. He doesn't care if she knows who he is anymore. He kind of wants her to find out - he's the boy she gave her food to, that she used to have a crush on, that -

He should have kissed her long ago, and he would have if he'd known she'd respond this way.

And as he pushes into her, feeling her around him and his forearms keeping his weight from crushing her, he stares into her eyes - her dark brown eyes that are half closed and then wide open a second later, he can't help but think this is what he's been missing his whole life. And it feels fucking amazing.

Her gasps - the noises she makes as she approximates his moniker "Red" - just spur him on with them taking turns on top and with his own efforts bringing gasps from his own mouth because - this is different from other times he's done this, more overwhelming. Maybe it's because he knows she's more than capable of taking care of herself and - and he wouldn't be able to do this if she didn't want him to - and she does.

Maybe it's because he's wanted this - her - for so long.

It occurs to him, at the last moment, when she's shaking against him - it almost feels like everything's shaking - and tense and feeling so absolutely fucking wonderful around him that he should have probably gotten a condom, but it's not like he planned to sleep with her when he stopped by her apartment, he thought she was dead, and he hasn't been carrying condoms since Nanda Parbat anyway, and in the next second it's too late and - and he's exhausted with her lying against his chest, still enveloped around him.

She feels like home.

She falls asleep almost immediately, but he stays awake, one of his hands still in her hair and - and fuck. He hadn't meant to do that. Any of that.

He can't bring it in him to regret it though.

And he was right. He can get his hands lost in her hair.

He wakes up at eight o'clock in the morning to find Annie curled into his side and sirens blaring throughout the city. He mutters under his breath because he's only gotten two hours of sleep and that's not nearly enough, but he needs to get moving. He needs to make sure everything is still in place for his final showdown.

He's slow as he turns to the side and detangles his limbs from Annie's - Annie who stays asleep and looks amazing with her hair splayed across her pillow. He tries not to feel too proud that he wore her out so much - because she was up late. And it might not have been his doing - two hours of sleep would make anyone sleep like the dead.

And shit. He needs to get out of here. Because last night is when his plans really started to fall into place and - and every time he's with her he finds it difficult to concentrate on his end goal - revenge on the Batman and Joker and -

He makes coffee in her kitchen, not being able to bring himself to leave just yet, taking a big mug of it, before he leaves, but can't stop himself from leaving a note - warning her to stay away from Black Mask for the next few days. He's going to blow up that building and he can't if he knows she's in there.

He has to do the rest of this alone, and as much as he doesn't want her to get hurt, he knows she'll distract him if she's there. She's always distracted him, after all.

He promises himself he'll see her again after this is all over.

He makes his way back to his hideout, keeping out of sight of the streets because he can hear sirens everywhere - he swears, there's more rubble in these alleys than he remembers - and watches the computers as he brings up the news. Instead of seeing news about the clubs that were shot up, as he expected, there is an emergency alert about an earthquake that happened early that morning - at around 5:30 in the fucking morning.

He frowns and thinks back. He was with Annie at 5:30 and they were -

He stiffens, and it dawns on him - he thought everything was shaking. Was that - did Annie - he feels a smirk stretch across his lips and almost wishes he were still in her bed.

He made Annie lose so much control, she made a fucking earthquake when she came.

He wishes they could do it again, but as he watches the news and hears about the destruction they caused, he has to shake his head.


She's powerful. And dangerous, and while government officials are currently having a hard time finding the epicenter of the Earthquake, it shouldn't be long now.

He can't make her do that again until he's sure she won't cause the whole world to fucking shake.

But man, was it worth it. They'll just have to practice, he decides.

He makes sure his bugs verify her presence at home - she's humming in the kitchen, and isn't that a surprise? He didn't think she was musically inclined - before he aims the bazooka at Black Mask's face - Black Mask who's ranting and punching his men. Never Ms. Li though, and he's lucky he's not violent with women - Annie was in his presence after all. Otherwise, Jason really would kill him.

The moment Black Mask sees the bazooka, Jason waves.

And then, "Wow. He sure can move when he wants to."

He fires and there's fire everywhere and Jason knows that after this Black Mask will be desperate.

It works. There Joker is on top of a truck. And when Bruce picks Joker up with the grapple hook - Jason drags him into the river.

"I've got him. You want him? Meet me in Crime Alley."

And then he finally has the Joker alone, and all the hurt and anger that is so easy to ignore in her presence comes back full force and he takes a sick delight in beating the shit out of the Joker. With a crowbar.

Jason loves poetry. This is some Shakespeare-level shit.

And the look on Joker's face when Jason takes out the crowbar is so fucking satisfying.

Not too long later, Batman's in Crime Alley. And Jason calls out to grab his attention.

"This ends tonight. All of it." Bruce tells him and he knows that. He's been planning this.

"Nobody knows that better than me."

And then everything's moving fast and - that's a dumpster flying toward him. And shit. Even with him jumping out of the way, his feet are tied up and Jason falls to the ground hard.

Well, whatever. It's not like it wasn't bound to happen at some point.

"Huh. Oh, you and your gadgets." And then he cuts the wire and sends an electric current through. "You're not the only one with toys. Crap."

Because those are bombs on the floor. And Jason doesn't have time to get away before he's being blasted to the wall.

He makes it to a fire escape (somehow) and Bruce is hot on his heels.

It's while they're exchanging blows, with Jason being able to cut off Bruce's utility belt, that at some point, falling to another rooftop, he finally gets Bruce's cowl off by playing dead - flipping back and laughing.

"Look at you. I guess we should keep it even."

He takes off the red helmet and there's no flash of sudden recognition, just resignation.



"I don't wanna fight you."

"All evidence to the contrary."

"Please. I can help you. I know what happened."

"Oh, you got to talking to Ra's huh? But does it make it easier for you to think that my little dip in his fountain of youth turned me rabid? Or is this just the real me?"

He kicks the helmet over, and can't help the smile that comes to his face as he pulls out the detonator. And then they're fighting some more as the explosion causes one of the pillars to fall and Jason's able to get Bruce in a headlock.

"Tell me, what bothers you more? That your greatest failure has returned from the grave? Or that I've become a better Batman than you?"

"You're ruling through intimidation and murder. You're just another criminal."

"I'm what this city needs!"

They fight over Jason's favorite knife for a second, before Jason sinks it into the roof - such a great knife, what a shame, and spinning to get behind Bruce - grapple hook in hand.

He makes Batman fly and then climbs up and starts punching.

Bruce wasn't considered a possible successor for the head of the league of assassins for nothing, though. He breaks out of the hold and punches Jason - holding him back and reaching for something under his glove.

"Hidden goodies all over, huh? We're both just a couple of walking armories."

"Maybe so, but let's see how you do without your toys."

And then Bruce lights Jason's favorite leather jacket on fire - falling back and hanging from the ledge.

Jason manages to throw the jacket off before grappling away, running along the buildings and jumping into the bathroom of the abandoned apartment where he stashed the Joker.

Bruce's kick sees Jason breaking the porcelein, and fuck!

"Enough! It's over!"

But Jason's not done fighting. He keeps fighting, taking a punishment as he crashes into the toilet, the walls.

"You say you want to be better than me, but it won't happen. Not like this!"

With that last word, Jason is pushed through the fucking wall.

"I know I failed you, but I tried to save you, Jason. I'm - I'm trying to save you now. There are options - people who still miss you - like your old classmate - I know we talked about -"

Jason grabs his gun and aims it at Bruce - Bruce needs to stop talking - now.

"Is that what you think this is about? That you let me die? I don't know what clouds your judgement worse. Your guilt? Or your antiquated sense of morality. Bruce I forgive you - for not saving me. But why? Why on God's earth," he kicks the closet door away revealing the Joker, "is he still alive?"

Joker laughs - that horrible, terrifying laugh and Bruce looks sick.

"Gotta give the boy points! He came all the way back from the dead to make this shindig happen. So, who's got a camera? Ooh, ooh! Get one of me and the kid, first! Then you and me. Then the three of us. And then one with the crow bar. Then-"

Jason has enough at the last one and hits Joker over the head.

"You be as quiet as possible, or I'll put one in your lap first."

"Party pooper. No cake for you."

That's fine, Jason thinks as he tosses the psycho to the floor. I prefer pie anyway.

"Ignoring what he's done in the past, blindly, stupidly disregarding the entire graveyards he's filled, the thousands who have suffered, the friends he's crippled! You know I thought - I thought I'd be the last person you'd ever let him hurt. If it had been you that he'd beat to a bloody pulp, if he had taken you from this world, I would have done nothing but searched the planet for this pathetic pile of evil death worshiping garbage! And sent him off to hell!"

"You don't understand. I don't think you've ever understood."

And it's not him that doesn't understand. Annie understood, but she had her own problems to deal with - like money and school and fucking Luthor. Jason has seen those bills. Sometimes, Annie has put off paying them until the last second. He can forgive Annie for not avenging him - because she doesn't even know how he died. Bruce has never had that problem. But he can't bring Annie up, not in front of Joker.

"What? What your moral code just won't allow for that? It's too hard to cross that line?"

"NO! God Almighty no! It'd be too damned easy. All I've ever wanted to do was kill him. A day doesn't go by when I dont think about subjecting him to every horrendous torture he's dealt out to others. And then - end him."

"Aw. So you do think about me!"

Joker had better shut up soon.

"But if I do that, if I allow myself to go down into that place, I'll never come back."

And - that's bull.

"Why? I'm not talking about killing Penguin, or Scarecrow, or Dent. I'm talking about him. Just him. And doing it because - because he took me away from you."

"I can't. I'm sorry."

"That is so sweet."

"Well you won't have a choice." He throws Bruce one of his guns.

"I won't-"

"This is what it's all been about - you and me and him! Now is the time you decide. If you won't kill this psychotic piece of filth, I will. If you want to stop me, you're going to have to kill me."

He needs Bruce to choose him. Because this isn't fair. None of it. He knows Annie would - Annie did choose him. And he just wants his father to choose him too.

"You know I won't-"

"I'm going to blow his deranged brains out. And if you wanna stop it, you are going to have to shoot me - right in my face!"

"This is turning out even better than I'd hoped."

Bruce drops the gun.

"It's him or me - you have to decide. Decide now! Do it. Him or me. Decide!" And Jason isn't even aiming the gun at Joker anymore. He's pointing the gun at Bruce and he shoots him.

And Bruce dodges, and his batarang makes Jason's gun misfire.

And then Joker's laughing again. And talking too loud, and Jason's in a bit of a shock.

He thinks to himself, he wishes he had more time with Annie, as he sets the bombs and sits because it hurts too much to move. He should have at least told her goodbye.

And then - when there's only six seconds left, Bruce gets up, finally throwing Joker off him and grabs him - Bruce grabs him and throws him away from the blast.

And a part of Jason is relieved - Bruce chose to save Jason instead of Joker.

But he hides as Bruce goes through the rubble - he hides and - Joker just laughs and starts asking about - "What was that about that old classmate of the boy? Anyone I know?"

Cold dread pools in Jason's stomach as he hobbles away from the smoking burning building.

He stays away from her because he can't face her. He stays away because he failed and Joker is still alive. He stays away because Joker knows there's someone.

He can't let Joker find out about her.

He stays away, but he doesn't really because he listens in on her day, on her conversations.

"I don't have time for a relationship" he hears her tell the old lady and he wants to be sad because what does that mean? But at the same time he's happy because that means there's been no one else. He had turned to other women after Talia because he loved sex, and he was a little scared she'd be the same. Though he supposes, if there had, he would have heard about the earthquakes.

He stays away.

But then one day, about a month and a half later as he's listening to her live on his surveillance feed, he hears a knock and then Joker's voice and he panics.

Because fuck, Joker found her. And although Jason knows she's strong and badass, Joker's a maniac, and Jason's not about to make the same mistake Bruce made. He grabs his closest guns and his portable listening devices.

He hears Jokers words and knows he's the one who put her in danger.

"Do you know the moron who masquerades as Red Hood?"

Say 'no' - Jason thinks. She just needs to say 'no' and maybe Joker will -


Thank God, Jason thinks as he makes his way out of his base and gets onto his motorcycle.

Joker just keeps talking and Jason thinks he might not make it in time.

"Well, what am I supposed to do now. This was supposed to be the place."

"Why? Are you looking for him?"

Yeah, Annie - keep the psycho talking. He turns a corner.

"Well, Bats mentioned a girl when he was talking to the boy wonder. And I figured I'd figure out who she was and pay her a visit. It was something about a childhood friend or lover or whatever. I've been tracking everyone in his elementary class down. I already stopped at the other place that has an Annie Simon in property records - I'm going in alphabetical order of the first names, you see."

Fuck, fuck, fuck! This is all Bruce's fault!

"What the fuck did you do to Ms. Janet?"

No, he thinks, zooming through Gotham. Just keep the psycho talking, Annie.

"Well, now what makes you think I did anything to - Ms. Janet you said?"

Gotham's still recovering from the earthquake makes traveling through the city harder.

"What the fuck did you do to Ms. Janet?!"

Hold on, Annie. Just hold out a little bit longer.

"Now, don't you think you should watch your language?"

Yeah, Annie, just keep stalling.

"What do you want?"

Keep stalling.

"Well, I want to know what you know about Red Hood."

Pretend you don't know.

"Go fuck yourself."

And then a gunshot and Jason almost crashes the motorcycle, as he stops and breaks and - she can't be dead. She can't be dead. He's still three miles away!

"What happened?" The Joker is asking the question and -

That's - that's good, right?

He hears a slight clanging and he doesn't move his motorcycle because he still needs to hear her voice - and what if he misses it because the motorcycle is making too much noise and - and what if she's dead?

"There's nothing wrong with your gun."

Thank God Annie's still alive.

Jason revs the motorcycle and takes off again.

"What did you do? You're getting more and more interesting." A pause, then "Ooh, what are you going to do? Are you going to shoot lasers from your hands or are you going to -"

"Get out of my apartment, and I'll let you live."

No, just kill him Annie - he doesn't deserve - he'll -

"You know, it's impolite to interrupt people.

"It's also impolite to kill people, but I'm feeling rude today."

And Joker laughs, but Jason just needs to reach her and he applauds her ability to quip back.

"We should have come here first."

So there's more than just the Joker? Damn.

"That way we could have had fun with her instead of the old lady. This girl would have been able to handle it."

Jason is going to rip that bastard to shreds! He's -

"Fuck you."

"And she has such a colorful vocabulary. And it would be poetic! I killed him, he comes back, he tries to kill me, and I kill his girlfriend. Instead, I just got the grandma of the girlfriend."

"You have three seconds."

"You're no fun."

And then all Jason hears is crunching and in the distance he can see her building shaking a little. Then -

"What -"

"I warned you."

Jason hears a couple of sounds and just when he's a mile out - he checks his tracker and Annie's on the move - thank goodness.

He makes his way into Falcone's main office shortly before the building starts shaking and he struggles to dodge the falling debris. And then he hears the gunshot, and Jason's heart stops in his chest again, before he rushes up the stairs only to see another girl enter the office - Falcone's daughter. Maybe. Possibly. He has no fucking clue.

"Annie? Annie, what happened?"

Jason's still trying to get closer - he needs confirmation Annie's still alive - with the amount of times Jason has thought she was dead this past month though . . .

"Annie, help me!"

Jason creeps closer to the door.

"She's the one that did this."

"What? Dad? What are you saying?"

A cough. "She's the one that -" a couple more coughs "- that brought the building down on us."

"What? Annie? What is dad saying?"

"I brought the building down."

Annie's alive, but why would she bring the building down, he looks into the room, staying hidden from Falcone's daughter's eyes in the shadows.


"I brought the building down."

And then the mobster's daughter has a gun pointed at Annie's face, and Jason is not about to stand by while Annie is shot. Not again.

Jason shoots Sofia Falcone between the eyes.

"Annie?" he asks, lowering his gun, but she stares at him blankly - Jason's terrified as he looks into her eyes and then she starts crying. "Annie, what happened."

He's only ever seen Annie cry once - when they were in third grade and she was being beat up. He's certain it was because she was in pain, but afterwards she just cried even louder and hid her face as she sat next to him waiting to talk to the principal.

"He killed my mom for Luthor. And Mrs. Janet's - she's - Joker, he -" she starts hyperventilating at the end of her sentence, tears still streaming down her face, and the building starts shaking even more.

And he can't let her take the blame for this. Batman will figure it out and - He pulls a couple of wires out and sticking some of his C-4 he always has stashed in his second favorite leather jacket at the corners of the room - where there are already cracks from Annie's earthquakes.

"Let's go, Annie." She doesn't seem to move for a second, so he adds more strongly, "Come on!" holding his hand out - because the clock is ticking and -

She takes his hand and follows him wordlessly, wiping her eyes and asking, "Where are we going?"

He doesn't know where he's taking her, so he just tells her it'll be safe. He won't take her anywhere near Joker.

And then she goes limp, and if Jason had not been holding onto her hand, she would have hit the ground hard and would have possibly broken her nose.

And he panics a bit, and ends up taking her to the only safe place he knows right now - his.

He doesn't know why she won't wake up or why she's running such a high fever. Was it a side effect of using her powers so much? Did the same thing happen after their night together? He should have stayed with her - he should have made sure she was okay.

He tries to play it cool when her eyes flutter open, but as he tries to get her to stay awake, he knows there's some panic in his voice. It's been sixteen hours since she fainted, after all.

When her stomach growls, he hurries to his "kitchen" area and nukes a can of generic chicken soup (out of the can of course - he's not trying to start a fire, after all).

However, the second he brings the soup, she grimaces, turns slightly green and starts to get up - heading out the door. A part of him almost thinks she's trying to run from him and worries. Did she figure something out? Has she decided he's not right in the head?

But when he follows her, helmet on, he finds her up-chucking in a corner just outside.

"You okay?"


"Right, stupid question."

Of course she's not okay. She practically brought down a building - she found out her boss killed her mom - she was attacked by the Joker - she was unconcious for sixteen fucking hours with a fever - she just threw up bile, which means she hasn't eaten anything to throw up.

Of course she's not okay.

"Red?" She's looking at him with bleary eyes, and then she stiffens.

"Did you have to blow up another building? What did Falcone ever do to you? You never even did that to Black Mask!"

First of all, yes he did - or did they miss the bazooka? Second of all, fuck. Batman's here with the replacement and Dickiebird. But at least it sounds like they think he did it so -

"Yeah, so?"

"You can't just - there were people in there! And you shot two of them! They're dead and -"

He only shot one of them, thank you very much, but he doesn't want them to know about Annie's involvement, so he asks instead, "What do you want?"

"You can't just do that!"

He throws a glare they can't see at the Replacement as Dickiebird exclaims, "And why are you even still wearing the mask right now? It's not like we don't know who you -"

And no. Dickiebird doesn't get to out his identity to Annie.

"Because it makes me look cool."

He glances at Annie as she bursts into laughter, bringing the other's attention to her and then - damn. She's throwing up again.

"Annie." Of course the Replacement knows her.

"Why are you here, Annie? You know he's -" Dickiebird's talking now and -

"It's none of your business. Replacement." He throws the insult at the new robin because he's about to speak up and it's more of a warning than anything else.

Her stomach grumbles again and she tries to get up, asking,"Where are we?"

And then Batman asks if he fucking kidnapped her - of course he didn't! - and uses his name. His real one. And Jason panics, because he hasn't had the chance to tell her yet and -

"I'm going back inside."

Jason freezes, because - because she didn't even acknowledge it.

He stares at the bats and they stare back and just as he turns around to head back inside, he hears her phone go off behind him.

He waits for her to answer, but it just keeps ringing and ringing and then it goes dead.

He's at the entrance when it starts up again and the Replacement asks if she's going to answer.

"No." She's just staring at the phone while it rings and Jason can't help the laugh that escapes him at her answer. The third time the phone goes off, she answers with a frown, sitting back.

"Hello? . . . That's me. . . And this is . . ." she sits up abruptly. "O-of course, um. I'm not exactly feeling the best right at the moment. Do I need to be there now? . . . Oh. I-I'll try to be there soon."

She lowers the phone and then Dickiebird is talking again and Jason doesn't even give a shit anymore.

"What's she even doing here?"

"None of your fucking business."

Because it's not. They didn't care when Joker - and - why the fuck is she grabbing her backpack and getting up?

"Going to the hospital. I have papers to sign."

"You're not healthy enough to go anywhere. I mean, you were just throwing up. You fainted! In the middle of the street!"

And she's been unconscious all day.

She's trying to give him a heart attack, isn't she?

"I'm fine."

He's certain she's not fine.

"Is fainting a normal occurrence for you?"


Oh please - that - that's bullcrap. And even if it's normal for her, that's not okay! That's not healthy.

"What about throwing up - what about any of that makes you think you're fine?"

"I didn't eat enough - that's why I fainted. And I'm feeling fine now."

That - that makes no fucking sense. She brought a building down with her mind and yet it was 'not eating enough" that did her in?

"You didn't answer my question. And you haven't been able to eat yet either! It's been sixteen hours! She shouldn't be up yet."

She's not listening to him, and that's frustrating, because she's obviously not well, and maybe the bats can be good for something for once.

"Really. I'm fine."

And they're staring at him as if - as if they had no idea she knew he's alive again. He's not certain she does though.

"And anyway, we still need to talk about what the fuck you were thinking last month."

He folds his arms in front of his chest because now the bats are staring at him as if they don't know him and it's frustrating - they have to know some of what he was up to the week before.

"I'll go with her!"

And fuck no, the Replacement is not going anywhere near her.

"Try to stop me and see where that gets you, Red. I'm not a damsel in distress. Besides, I'm going to a hospital. If anything goes wrong, I'm in the right place."

And damn, he thinks as he sees her leave - and none of the other bats tries to stop her.

She does stop, though, at the door, and says, "He only shot Sofia by the way. And blew up the building. The rest was all me."

And as she leaves he rolls his eyes and the Replacement follows her.

He's left staring at Bruce and Dickiebird and they're frowning at him, until at last Dick says, "Will you just take off the helmet, Jason?"

He rolls his eyes, but takes it off - no mask this time, though, and Bruce takes off the cowl.

"What did she mean just then?"

"She was making shit up."

"So you knew she still -"

"You put her in danger by bringing her up like that. With Joker in the room."

"I was trying to remind you that you still have options - there are people who care about you. I was trying to remind you that what you're doing - it's madness. All of it, being a crime lord - that's what made Annie Simon's life hard. You don't honestly think if she knew what you were really doing, who you really are, she'd be okay with it?

"She's the one that helped me get to where I was that night."

Man, the shock on Bruce's face is priceless and it's Dick that steps forward.

"How long have you been in contact with her?"

He doesn't want them to know, but he figues they'll try to figure it out on their own and he doesn't need them snooping in his love life.

"I don't know - about a year."

"A year?"

"Yeah, well. She's been -"

"You've been in Gotham and waited a full year to finally see us, but you immediately go and see your girlfriend?"

"She's been working for Black Mask. I needed her. And she wasn't my girlfriend. She's still not officially my girlfriend."

They scoff.

"And she makes great pie, so there's that."

"Alfred could give you pie."

"That would mean going back to the manor. And you obviously didn't care enough -"

Dickiebird is scowling at him as he exclaims, "That's bullcrap. You didn't see Bruce after you died! He was a wreck."

"Yeah. Such a wreck - he replaced me within a year."

Dick rolls his eyes and Bruce steps forward a bit.

"Jason - I'm sorry."

"Yeah, well - sorry doesn't really cut it. You know why I'm angry. You didn't care enough. I don't know if you ever did. You know I always wanted to ask - is the reason you picked me up off the streets because of Annie?"

"What? No!"

Jason finds that hard to believe.


"You were the one who took the wheels off the batmobile. You showed spunk - and - I didn't research everyone in her classes."

Jason stares but shrugs, turning away and setting the helmet by his computer.

"Joker went after her yesterday."

Behind him, he can hear Dick suck in his breath, but Bruce doesn't say a word. Bastard probably already knows.

"I heard the audio and didn't make it in time -" he presses a couple of buttons and the Joker's voice rings out - the whole conversation Joker had with Annie.

He pauses the audio after the sound of the gunshot.

"If she wasn't a meta, she would be dead. I don't know how she does it, but she can stop bullets. And she got away. But if she hadn't -" he glares at Bruce again, "Her death would have been on you, Bruce. That piece of garbage should be dead already. I could have killed him and you stopped me."

Her death would be on Bruce and Jason - because Jason didn't kill Joker. Because Jason put her in danger in the first place. Because Jason cared more about what Bruce thought.

"You didn't kill him because you were too busy trying to get me to do it."

"You think I don't know that?"

"You decided to shoot me because I was walking away. You could have just as easily shot the Joker instead of me. That whole thing you did - that was a show."

"And you still didn't pick me." The two are staring at him, and Jason sits down. "You didn't pick me. You know, Annie asked me some of the same questions you asked me, Bruce. Why am I doing what I'm doing? What makes me different from Falcone or Black Mask? And she said okay, but only after I said I wouldn't let psychos like the Joker live. And she gets me. She decided and you - you wouldn't. So yeah, fuck you Bruce."

Jason's just - he's done. He's done trying to get Bruce to care.

"Does she know who you are? Really?"

"Well I haven't told her, but she didn't seem shocked just now when you used my name, so who can say?"

Because fuck. He'd slept with her and hadn't told her - and she - does she know?

"You look hungry. Let's get you something to eat."

And of course, Jason is hungry because he's spent the last sixteen hours watching Annie and hasn't had much in the way of food, but - why the fuck is Bruce taking him to get something to eat?

A domino mask is thrown in his direction, and against his better judgement, he follows.

They have dinner, masks on, in a Big Belly Burger in downtown Gotham, and Jason almost has to smother a laugh at the faces of some of the other patrons when they realize Batman and Nightwing are eating in with "an unknown."

Jason has the odd feeling Bruce and Dick are regulars to this place in costume.

They seem to know Bruce and Dick's orders by heart and just smile, waving away payment.

"You guys come here often?" he asks as they slide into a booth as they wait for the burgers to arrive.

"On and off," Dick answers waving away his question and then Bruce is staring at him and they're all silent until the burgers and fries come out.

"So. What are you planning on doing from here on out?"

Jason shakes his head as he bites the burger. "Haven't decided yet, I suppose. I mean I am a Crime Lord, so -"

"You're also legally dead."

Jason shoots a glare at his once-older-brother and takes another big bite out of his burger.

"We could see about restoring your legal status if you would just come home."

He doesn't want to fucking come home with these losers. He just wants to stay with Annie.

"Why would I want to do that?"

"Because then -"

Bruce stops Dick from continuing by holding his arm out.

"Look, son -"

"I'm not your son. Your son died in that explosion."

"Look!" Oh, he made Bruce angry? Well there's a first. "You and I, I think, are always going to have our differences."

"No shit, Sherlock."

"I'm Batman, not Sherlock."


"We have our differences, but that doesn't mean I don't want to have anything to do with you - I still think of you as my son."

"Yeah, really feeling the love."

"Jay-Red. Look, you -"

"I don't know why you two are bothering so much. Is that your thing? Keep offering until eventually they give in?"

"You have a place with us. That's all I want you to know."

"Even though I'm a crime lord?"

Jason can't help the smirk that crosses his face at that and he smiles to himself as the two look so torn.

Jason's breath hitches as Bruce nods.

"Even though you're a crime lord."

He wasn't expecting that.

Jason spends the rest of the meal watching Dick and Bruce talk about patrol and how Robin - they throw a glance his way at this and add "the third" - has this huge drawing board where he figured out just how the Iceberg lounge has been getting its drug supply.

As much as Jason doesn't want to pay attention, he finds himself smiling and taking notes.

It's when Jason, Bruce, and Dick are making their way back to his base three hours later that both Bruce and Dick stiffen.

"What? What is it?"

"Annie's fainted again."

And crap.


"Tim said he was going to take her back to the cave. Jason - don't do anything rash."

And fuck.

"Jason, she'll be fine!"

He makes it to the cave just behind Bruce and Dick and there Tim is with his fucking hands on her. And how fucking dare he?

"Jason, get back here. We aren't finished talking, yet."

But Jason is done. He's done talking and so he grabs Tim by the collar of his shirt and only stops because Annie talks. And she sounds hungry and why the fuck is she getting up? She just fainted again - the second time in the past day! Is she okay?

And then she's defending Tim and - ugh.

"You should rest here tonight."

"Why the hell should she?"

And fucking Tim answers. "Her house is under investigation because the Joker was found there. And let's face it, your little hideout is no safe house, it's barely a headquarters."

Fuck you too, Replacement.

"I'm not leaving without her, Bruce."

"You can stay here too, you know."

Jason tries not to scoff at that, but doesn't succeed. Did they fucking plan it? Ask him to come home, then kidnap Annie to get him to stay? He doesn't want to stay.

They don't want him anyway. He ignores his old suit in the corner - memorialized - and tries not to wince when he feels Alfred's eyes on him as Alfred offers Annie tea and crackers.

And then Dick is asking Annie questions and Jason really needs to talk to her first and -

"He's been around for a while. But he's right. It's really none of your business."

And Jason could kiss Annie right now.

"But you - what did you mean you did the rest at Falcone's?"

Jason's had it with all the third degree. "I already told you, she was making shit up. We've been over this. For a couple of hours already. We're done. You coming with me?"

"Jason, I - Just please . . . stay the night. We can talk about this in the morning. And this way, she can sleep somewhere comfortable."

Jason glares at Bruce, but can't -

"Master Jason, would your old room suffice?"

He can't deny Annie would probably recover faster in a feather bed than his lumpy futon. And Alfred - Jason has never been angry at him.

"Yeah, sure that sounds fine Alfred."

And because this is the first time Annie's been here with him, Jason offers to give her a tour.

Mostly he just shows her his old room - the room where he jacked off for the first time ever and imagined Annie and now he has her here, this was a bad idea -

He's almost touched his room was left like a memorial for the five years.

Almost, because just down the hall is Tim's room.

He finds Dick while Annie takes a shower and almost walks by without a word, but then it occurs to him, Annie doesn't have any clothes other than the ones she was wearing earlier and - as much as Jason would love having her naked in his bed, he doesn't think he should risk the temptation. Wayne Manor is old and he doesn't think it would survive the earthquake.

So he asks Dick, "Are any of Babs's clothes still here she wouldn't mind Annie using?"

And Dick gets some clothes - says it's his girlfriend's and that she won't mind - Jason doesn't ask who the girlfriend is because it's Dick.

And when Jason goes to sleep that night he holds Annie tight and wishes he could stay like this forever.

It's only the second time he's woken up with her in his arms, but he decides then and there he wants everyday to be like this.

Since she's trying to get up, he holds her closer. The only reason he lets her up at all is because she says she's hungry - and she's already fainted twice.

He wants to get out of Wayne Manor as quickly as possible, though. He doesn't want to get comfortable, because he doesn't belong here. He never has - not when he was a gutter rat, and definitely not now that he's a 'crime lord.'

When Annie tells him she'd rather go back to his place and doesn't want to stay here, he can't help the slight skip that he gets in his steps.

And after an awkward breakfast where Jason mostly just glares at the Replacement and Dickiebird, they leave.

Since her apartment is apparently under investigation, and since she doesn't seem to want to stay in the fucking mansion, he takes her back to his place.

And she calls it a lair. A fucking lair.

And then she remembers she forgot stuff at the manor some stupid groceries and her backpack with - how long has she had Amazo's leg?! Jason doesn't want her to go back there. He doesn't want her going back because he knows if she spends more time with them - the Bats - she's going to want to do that more - the bats are all so fucking annoying with their clinginess.

And she looks like she's panicking, so he heads out again and -

Tim doesn't even look up when Jason gets to the Batcave, motorcycle roaring.

"What happened?" Bruce is the only one that seems alarmed to see him. Jason's insulted.

"I'm insulted. I thought I was welcome."

"You are, but you said you didn't want to be here. So, why the sudden change of heart?"

"No change, just Annie forgot her groceries and her backpack. I've seen her bills. She's a penny pincher out of necessity, not just because. And she's hungry."

"It's in that corner over there!" Tim shouts as he types away on the Batcomputer.

As he moves to leave, Bruce calls out for him "visit again soon."

When he gets back to his hideout, with two sandwiches, her backpack, and her groceries, she's not there and all the trackers he had on her are in her purse - which is in his hands.

There was no sign of a struggle, so Jason waits. And waits. He drinks slowly out of a bottle of cheap beer. He goes through half a case.

He figures if she's run - she's smart. If she comes back, he's never going to let her go again. Jason acknowledges he's possessive and this is probably not healthy.

The next day, around noon, she comes back in looking fine and - he's a bit angry at her, but also relieved she came back at all.

And even if he can't fuck her just yet for fear of shaking the whole city - and isn't that a turn on - he has other skills to keep her with him. Like hacking machines.

He feels like he's living in a dream for the next week. He wakes up with Annie in his arms every day and even though every night he doesn't take it any further than fondling and making out she seems to sigh and gasp - just like that night.

When she goes off to the police station he jokingly asks her if she'll need him to break her out.

It was a joke.

And then she's gone for four fucking hours and he knows somethings wrong when he hears, "You've reached the phone of Annie Simon."

It's a guy. A guy has Annie's phone.

"Where the fuck is Annie? And who the fuck are you?"

"This is the GCPD, who is this?"

He hangs up immediately and doesn't call. He heads straight to the Batcave.

"The Police are morons and they need to let Annie go. Now."

Bruce doesn't even look up from his computer.

"Did you hear me? The GCPD won't let Annie leave - they have her phone."

Bruce slowly turns around and Jason has to fight to keep eye contact.

"Did she do anything to warrant being questioned?"

"She went there voluntarily to answer questions about what Joker was doing in her apartment." And that's Jason's fault. And Bruce's. "If you ever cared about me, you'll help her. Get her out of there. Please."

Bruce looks Jason in the eye and gets up - donning his Bruce Wayne clothes and leaving.

Jason tries going back to his hideout, hoping she'll show up. Instead, his bugs (that somehow survived the police sweep of her apartment) pick up the sound of movement.

And she's home, he thinks.

"Were you not going to call and let me know you weren't coming back?"

"I was hungry. And all this stuff is crap and useless at this point. Thanks for bringing the groceries."

He's thinking while she sorts through her food and makes some semblance of a meal. And - all of this is his fault. Him and his vendetta against Joker. She's been great about it, but with the way she's been acting lately, Jason's pretty sure she's upset.

She's upset with him, and he doesn't know how to fix this. He wants to tell her everything - explain why Joker came after her, explain why Batman has such an interest in her and -

"Why are you so upset, Jason?"

He doesn't say anything again while she shovels food into her mouth. And he stares at her lips and her spoon. He needs to tell her - maybe not all of it. He doesn't want to tell her about the fantasies he's had about her dating as far back as the ninth grade or sleeping with Talia and the prostitutes in the brothel. But the Joker and Bruce? Yeah, Jason wants to tell her about that.

He needs her to understand - he's not safe to be around. He couldn't save himself. He needs Bruce's help to save her. She's not safe with him. It was his fault. She needs to know and he needs her to stay with him despite it all.

And while Annie is great at understanding him most of the time, this time, he thinks, she's got it wrong. He doesn't want to fight with her though, so he talks and talks and-

He doesn't know how to continue this story. By all rights, his death should be the end of the cautionary tale of Robin - the kid that died.

Annie seems to sense that he also doesn't want to continue, and then she says, "I should have killed Joker when he was here last week."

But that's his fault too. "He shouldn't have even been here in the first place."

And then he tells her about the League of Assassins and he tells her about how he always has this rage and how he's angry that Bruce let the Joker live and -

"I think anyone would be upset about that. I know I sure as hell would."

He doesn't dare tell her about all the women he slept with in Nanda Parbat, but he gets to the part where he came to Gotham and how he was jealous of Dick and the nickname - Big Bird - and how he can't leave her alone. None of them can, and he's sorry. He doesn't want her to die. He's sorry.


She can't mean that, she can't be okay with any of this, but as he stares at her that whole evening, he decides even if she isn't he doesn't care. He doesn't want to keep going without her.

And if she says okay now, then that's it. He's going to find a way to keep her with him for as long as he can.

That night as he climbs into her bed, he holds her tight and kisses her like his life depends on it. He makes a mental note to get some condoms and leave them by her bedside so they can get to practicing, so they can cum together without bringing down half the city.

He starts to suspect she might be pregnant when she mentions the old lady wanting grandkids.

He'd found her filling out paperwork in the hospital and looking like she was having a hard time breathing.

"She was a stubborn old woman with no children. Always telling me I had to give her grandkids."

Annie says this and then starts crying and - fuck. Jason remembers that brief thought of his that night, about a condom and realizes this is the second time he's seen her cry in the past year. And both times have been in the past week.

He tells her they should get some food, because - fuck. The vomiting, the hunger, the crying.

And he's not sure if she's being deliberately obtuse or if she just doesn't realize her symptoms point to her being pregnant. He's certain he's staring at her as she eats, buthe just doesn't get it.

How hasn't she noticed? How long has it been already? Two months, almost? Which means - seven months left?

Jason tries not to panic, but then he thinks - she must have been pregnant when Joker found her and he starts overthinking everything again.

And does she even want his kid?

Fuck, he messed all this up for want of a condom and because he couldn't keep his dick in his pants.

He spends the rest of the week freaking out and sticking a tracker in every one of her hair pieces and in her phone, and in her jeans' pockets. He can't lose track of her again.

Because she's pregnant and - he's going to be a terrible dad. He doesn't mention it to her, because he doesn't want to make any assumptions about her cycle, but he makes sure she eats and sleeps enough. He tries to keep her in bed for as long as possible and takes to cooking a lot.

He even calls Alfred for healthy recipes that are easy to make - that sure made Alfred's day because Dick sends Jason a text later telling him Alfred's been in a happy mood the whole afternoon.

Jason does all that even though he's terrified he's going to mess this kid up, because if he's going to mess this kid up it's not going to be because Annie was malnourished.

And then she gets kidnapped by Aliens just outside of her apartment. Because that's the only explanation for why - and how - she disappears from just outside the door moments after she steps out and ends up in Space.

Jason panics. Jason panics because she's pregnant and she's been kidnapped and fuck.

He doesn't even have a choice. He drives to the batcave and asks for help. He tries not to take it personally when they tell him to stay put - he's not a child! - because he's still technically dead and - can he even be the baby's legal father if he's dead?

Three fucking hours later, he's yelling at Dick who's trying to stop him again when he hears a bike - a bike and Annie is there and Tim needs to get his hands off of Annie.

He quickly pulls her into a hug and finally takes a deep breath. She's safe.

"I can't fucking let you go anywhere can I?"

"It's been a crazy week, I'll give you that. Can you let go of me, now?"

He realizes then just how tightly he's holding on to her and quickly lets go - he doesn't want to hurt her, her or the baby, and it still blows his mind that she's either not yet connected the dots or told him if she has.

She turns to talk to the Replacement then and despite the fact that she asked him to let go of her, he still needs to touch her - she was gone. In space. And he just needs to reassure himself she's still here with him.

He ignores Dick's smirk because Dick doesn't know shit. He didn't just almost lose his not-girlfriend.

He really should get that stuff sorted out before the kid arrives.

"So aliens abducted you?" He asks because they need to know what they're up against and if this happens again -

"Nah, it wasn't aliens. Just the Justice League."


Dick and Jason speak at the same time and she fucking smiles. Why is she smiling? And why the fuck is she okay with this?

"Jinx. You both owe me a soda. What? It'll help with the throwing up too. You know, Ginger Ale, I'm told, really helps settle the stomach."

She's trying to make him laugh, but he's still stuck on the fact that -

"What do you mean it was the Justice League?"

The Replacement answers instead of her. "They were questioning her about the orgasm-induced earthquake."

Jason really wants to punch The Replacement because Tim knows Annie was thoroughly fucked - and when. But Annie's here and he doesn't want her to get mad at him. Annie needs something from Tim and she probably won't be happy with him if he lets out his rage. So he just glares.

"That's all?" The annoyance on Tim's face is priceless. "They could have just asked, they didn't have to kidnap her. And why the hell wasn't Bruce involved? He -"

Because nothing excuses the Justice League from kidnapping a pregnant girl.

He turns his head to the sound of Bruce entering the cave and Jason's confused why Bruce is staring at Annie.

"They should be leaving you alone now. I explained some things."

While Annie answers her phone, ringing in his pocket, Jason stares at Bruce until Annie looks at him and tells him it's Luthor. Because fuck - does Luthor know she's pregnant?

She asks for a plus one, and tells him they'll see him on Saturday and Jason just - Jason doesn't want her to go anywhere near Luthor.

"Why was Luthor calling you?"

Bruce is asking Annie one question, but Jason knows Bruce. There's another question there and -

She explains a good chunk - what Bruce had already suspected and then some, focusing on the time before Jason died. She talks about how Lex Luthor paid Falcone to kill her mom and when Bruce asks her if she wants Luthor dead, Jason finds himself getting closer to Annie - more than he already is.

He's surprised to hear she doesn't want Luthor dead. She just wants to ruin his life.

It's when Alfred brings out the tea, Jason can see her eyeing it - she's hungry.

Before Jason can take her home though, Bruce tells him to take the Jaguar. The car. Not the bike.

He doesn't need charity.

But Bruce just says it's not for him. "A car is safer than a motorcycle." The whole time he stares at Annie.

Of course, Annie was in the watchtower for a while with other Leaguers - with Superman who has X-ray vision. Does Bruce know -

Bruce is right - a car is safer.

They make it back somehow - and he can't believe he didn't think about how dangerous a motorcycle is - by trying to distract himself with how embarrassed Annie must be because she caused a fucking earthquake by -

But the main thing on his mind is how dangerous her going to Luthor's charity ball is. And he wants to protect her. He wants - he wants to be legally alive again.

He's relieved when she asks him to be her plus one. That she didn't even think of asking anyone else.

It takes a week for the papers to come through, because money can get anything done. And when Bruce asks him why he's doing this, with no one else around, he responds, "Annie's . . . probably -"

"She's pregnant. Yeah, J'on J'onzz sensed that."

Bruce is fucking smirking at him.

"Didn't I warn you enough about using a condom when you were fourteen?"

"I ran out of them in Nanda Parbat and it didn't seem so important when I got back to Gotham."

"Well, what does that have to do with you being legally dead?"

"I wouldn't be able to be the dad if I'm dead, would I? Legally. I haven't talked to her about it. She hasn't even told me she's pregnant, I just guessed and -"

"J'on tried to tell her, by the way, but she seemed to misunderstand."

Jason snorts - she's definitely being obtuse about this, then. It's now even part of the reason he's trying to keep his hands off of her as much as possible - he has no idea how her powers work and what if they hurt the baby because she doesn't know or -

"Yeah, sounds like her. Anyway, can it be done? Really? You mentioned it could."

"If you came home."

Jason tries not to frown.

"I have to live in the manor?"

"No. It just means you can't go killing people left and right like you have been."

Well, what the Bat doesn't know won't kill him.


"Also, Dick and Tim are going to Metropolis too - you'll probably see them there. They'll be representing the Wayne Foundation. You could too, if you want - once you're legally alive again that is."

"Whatever. Sounds like a job. And I have one of those. Anyway, this is your first grandchild, isn't it? How old does that make you feel?"

Bruce laughs - he actually laughs, and smiles, and Jason thinks someone must have replaced Bruce because it's so weird to see.

He gets the certificate on Friday and can't help the giddiness, staring at it. It almost makes him feel normal.

When he shows it to Annie, she doesn't seem to understand what the big deal is. He's almost amused just thinking about what her reaction to being pregnant will be. But, he's not about to suggest it to her.

Drake and Dick are both there, but he almost finds he appreciates it - their presence, because it's another set of eyes on her.

Especially since Lex Luthor seems interested in how Jason and Annie got together, even if Jason doesn't tell him much, because he notices she's a mess during the whole duration of the charity convention. From the onset, she's got shifty eyes, and telling him she needs a drink - for a second he panics, thinking she wants alcohol.

He's all for her learning how to take Luthor down on her own, but if she thinks he'll let her consume alcohol while pregnant, knowingly or not - but she doesn't fight him on the water. She looks like she appreciates it.

He tries not to become too anxious when she leaves his sight, finding himself staring into the familiar eyes of Clark Kent - Superman, and thinks this charity thing was too much. He doesn't want to be a part of any of this and Annie's the only reason he was here in the first place.

He'd rather be at home running his drug empire.

"Hello, Jason. I heard you were . . . back."

Jason almost sighs, because this is Superman, and Jason cannot easily blow him off.

"Yep. I'm not dead anymore. Can't tell you how great that is."

"Would you happen to have a quote for the Daily Planet?"

It's Lois, and Jason's tempted to give her one after Cat Grant's invasive questions. Still, there's something odd in Clark's eye - as if he's not quite present in the conversation.

"Not particularly," Jason responds.

She also gives Clark Kent this look and Jason internally laughs, because of course she figured it out again.

If only she could figure out she was pregnant as easily as she figured out the secret identities of superheroes.

He has a minor freak out when she starts bleeding everywhere - but it's just her foot - and fuck. 'Just her foot' is still pretty bad.

And he tries not to be too annoyed when Dick stitches up her foot. He could have done it himself.

On Monday when she wakes up throwing up again, he decides he's done with her obliviousness.

He tells her she needs to see a doctor, because what if this isn't normal and she needs to be hospitalized.

It's when she says "I don't need a doctor - it's probably just hormones and in a few days my period will -" that he knows she's about to figure it out.

He takes her to the only doctor he trusts anyway.

He doesn't need his bugs to tell him where Annie goes off to when she runs off on her own. He knows now that she has a few familiar haunts: her apartment, the pickle aisle of the supermarket, his place, or Janet Smith's hospital room.

The bugs just... make it faster to find her, that's all.

He stands just outside the old lady's doorway, bag of vitamins in hand, just listening. It warms his heart to hear her call him her best friend - even though she won't use the word "boyfriend" yet - and in the next second, when Annie says she'd be a terrible mom, his heart twists and wrenches so bad that he's surprised she doesn't notice it, what with how she can hear those now. He announces himself quietly with a cough and a 'hey' and lets himself in when she doesn't shoo him out.

He sees her brush her eyes and sniff, not even looking up as she apologizes for disappearing again on him.

"S'okay. I'm getting used to you going off on your own."

He walks forward, sitting next to her and leaning back on the chair. But he's not letting her leave him forever anymore.

"Does Bruce know?"

He almost laughs at that, "Yeah, Martian Manhunter told him his suspicions."

"And does everyone know or is it -"

'Cause that would definitely be awkward. "I'm honestly surprised you didn't realize. I thought you were being deliberately obtuse."

She seems lost for a moment before she curses. And when he asks what it is, her answer has him freezing.

"Luthor saw me throwing up."


"Yeah, it was right before that whole mess with my foot and - my blood was all over the floor."

This is bad.

But, before he can properly panic, the whole building starts to shake and he sees her having trouble breathing and focuses on her.

"Breathe, Annie. It's going to be okay." She's crying and "You're going to be a great mom."

"No I'm not - just by existing, I'm putting this kid in Luthor's sights."

"Never figured you were one to let a billionaire walk all over you."

"I'm not." And how dare he?

"Then don't let him. You're going to do great."

He's more likely to screw up than her anyway. In the meantime, he can focus on her.

Besides, the more he thinks about it, the more he thinks he'll like being a dad. Maybe it'll be a little girl just as sweet as the Annie from his memories.

It's almost his birthday, while he's going by all his henchmen's offices, he's barely able to stop the - is that a sword?

That's a sword.

"Watch it, gremlin."

He's - he's dressed like -

"Robin. I told you to wait."

And isn't that familiar.

"You got another one?"

And wait - he knows that glare, that's . . . shit.

"So you found out about your kid with Talia?"

Bruce is glaring, Tim is staring dismayed, and Dick pouts.

"You knew?"



"Still alive, I see."

"Still a brat." Jason stops talking to the shrimp and turns to Dick. "I spent years with the League, you thought I didn't know about his highness?"

Jason dodges the swipe the brat makes and almost laughs. Almost, because he knows if he does, the brat will just do it again.

"Yeah, well a warning would have been nice."

"And when was I supposed to put that into casual conversation?"

The Replacement snorts.

"Happy Birthday, Red Hood."

Jason turns to see Bruce in full Batman regalia.

"It's not until the day after tomorrow."

But he's touched by Bruce remembering anyway.

"Yes. We're actually here following a lead about -"

"Why are we telling the criminal what we're doing?"

Bruce sighs and begins massaging the bridge of his nose.

"Robin -"

"I can't believe you got another one."

"Meet Red Hood. The second Robin."

"You mean the one that died."

His minions are shaking behind him and Jason just needs them gone.

"Fantastic, but what does that have to do with me?"

"Boss was the second robin?" The words behind him are spoken in awe, and he just knows this is going to be a problem for him.

Later, when he gets back to her apartment - their apartment? - and starts telling her about the little shit that is Damian Wayne, he notices she seems despondent. And he doesn't know how to comfort her.

Trying to distract her by telling her about how Bruce basically crashed his drug heist against Penguin doesn't seem to pull her out of it, either, so he tries distracting her with kisses.

The next morning, though, before she's even awake, Bruce sends him a text message.

Because Jason's turning twenty-two.

And he's right, she hadn't been listening.

"I mean, I got that you were upset, but I didn't really understand what you were talking about."

"Bruce has a kid."

"He adopted someone else?" He tries not to laugh at her unimpressed expression.

"No. I mean he has a biological kid with Talia Al Ghul."

"Al Ghul as in the League of Assassins?"

Right. She remembered when he talked about - fuck. He never even told her he'd -

"Yeah. You know I stayed with them for a while?"

"Yeah. You knew them, and the kid?"

"Yeah, this is going to be fucking awkward."

"Why would it -" She understands in a moment, and looks so disgusted. "You slept with his mother?"

Fuck, when she says it like that - and he's certain if he tells her it had been her he'd imagined -

"I definitely want to meet this kid then."

Fuck. This is - Damian will kill him. Maybe even Bruce.

"You can't tell anyone."

"Oh? Can't even hint at -"

And fuck, just thinking about the one time he'd been with Talia, and knowning Annie's in his arms. He begins kissing her neck to distract her - it always seems to work.

He almost loses himself to the sensation, but remembers just before his hands reach the elastic of her underwear. He pulls away and tries to stare at her face instead of her chest.

"Please don't tell anyone."


She rolls her eyes and he scrambles to get off her and take a cold shower. He really needs to talk about her powers at some point.

They stop at the front of Wayne Manor, in all its glory and is surprised when she tells him she's been at this door before. He tries to think back to when - and then it occurs to him. That first Halloween after she woke up from the coma. Alfred had opened the door then, too.

"Ah, Master Jason. Ms. Simon. Pleased to see you."

"Great to see you too, Alfred. You got any cookies?"

"Of course, Master Jason. Would you like tea to go with that? I can have it brought to the library. Master Richard and Master Tim are there right now, if you wanted to see them."

"And the little demon brat?"

"He should be coming along shortly. Dinner will be served at seven, so try not to eat too many biscuits."

As he leads Annie to the sitting room, he thinks back to that night. He'd been dressed up in a Superman shirt. Not the fanciest of costumes, but sufficient enough. There'd been a really well dressed batgirl and and -

"Hey, Annie."

Jason's thoughts are interrupted by Drake and Dick.

"Annie! How are you feeling?"

"I'm fine."

"The foot okay, then?"

She rolls her eyes and makes a grab for coffee. But since it's six in the evening and she's already had her espresso this morning, he pulls it away. She needs sleep. And too much coffee is bad for her and the baby.

"Give me my fucking coffee."

He drinks the mug instead.

"Why can't she have any more coffee?"

"Leslie told me she shouldn't have more than a cup of coffee a day."

"I've had coffee every day since I was five. Give me my damn coffee!"

Wait, what? Since she was five? Jason supposes that would explain her naive happiness all the time, but then - she had forgotten everything. Her friends. Her -

"Well, that explains why you were always unnaturally chipper."

He says the first though that had come to his mind, trying to play it off.

And then the gremlin arrives.

"Who the hell are you?"

"Hey, brat."

"Grayson. Drake. Todd. Slut."

That little shit is going to get it -

"Not as much as your mom, apparently."

Jason freezes as her words register and then the brat roars out a battle cry and - he has a knife. He has a knife and he's going after Annie and -

"Woah, there. No stabbing the guests. Let's get you to the dining room before you insult anyone else."

Damian's lucky Dick got him first, because had he gotten any closer, Jason would have killed him. He doesn't care if he's just a child.

"Let me at her! How dare you even insinuate - I'll kill you!"

And then Tim is touching her shoulder and Jason can't help it.

"Get your hands off her."

"Maybe you shouldn't have antagonized him, Annie."

"Don't fucking ignore me, replacement!"

"He started it!"

And then Dick calls over his shoulder. "Maybe, but like - we just got him a few days ago and he's still learning basic manners. What you said isn't really helping."

And everyone's ignoring him, so he he walks off on his own, keeping a hand on her wrist and dragging her along with him. She really looks like she fits in, and it brings a small, bitter smile to his face.

He stops when he sees the others. Babs he recognizes right away, with her red hair. The other two, he's only known briefly from the times he's stopped by the cave and the few times he's met them on patrol.

"Babs, Cassie, Steph, this is Annie."

"Hey! I remember you! So you know our resident gangster, huh?"

Of course they know Annie.

"I mean - I suppose?"

"How'd you meet him?"

Jason loves how Annie just stares.

"Come on, Steph. That's a little rude, don't you think -"

Bruce interrupts The Replacement with "Dick, why is Damian tied to his chair?"

"He was threatening Annie with a knife."

"I'm pregnant, not helpless. I could have taken him."

And. Well. That's one way to announce it.

"Ummm. Congratulations?"

"You hear that, Damian? No stabbing the pregnant woman. That's going to be your niece or nephew."

"Wait - is that why Jason said you can't have more coffee?"

Right. The coffee. And the odd statement about how when she was five.

"Jason's a killjoy. That's why he won't let me have more coffee."

"You're lucky I let you have any at all, the way you were throwing it all up last month."

Tim nods and says, "Yeah, I totally get that. Jason can be very unreasonable."

"I'll fucking kill you, replacement."

He tries not to think about it and instead focuses on bandying out insults and comebacks.

"So, Ms. Simon, when can we welcome the happy bundle?"

He's happy to see Alfred pouring water for her and finds himself answering. "Apparently she's at like seventeen weeks and due sometime in mid to late January."

"First Bruce, now Jason. After all Bruce's lectures about using protection -"

And then she chokes on her water.

"Are you okay?"

She keeps coughing, tears leaking out of her eyes.

"Seriously - is she going to be alright?"

"Dinner is served."

He doesn't keep his eyes off her all dinner.

He doesn't know how to bring it up. The coffee. The five year old Annie. So he starts with a bit of an apology.

"Sorry dinner was a mess."

"Sure you are."

"No really."

"You drank my coffee. I see how fucking sorry you are."

Oh thank God, she brought it up first.

"Coffee's not good for you right now. At least not in the quantities you drink it in.".

"Coffee is life."

And apparently, she's trying to make more. At ten o'clock at night. She's so fucking adorable.

"Hey! What are you -"

"Look, can't you just believe I'm just trying to look out for you?"


"Because I l-"

"How can you - you don't even really know who I am!"

What is she on about? "Who are you, then?"

He tells her what he knows and then she starts calling herself a fraud. Which is worrying.

Is this about the memory from being five years old? "Just because you don't remember anything from before you were nine -"

"I'm not Annie. I do remember. That's the problem. I just don't remember Annie."

He lets her grab the coffee at that. Becuase he;s not quite sure he understands. What is she talking about? Is this - "You mentioned you've had coffee every day since you were five, earlier."

And then she's telling him this story he can barely understand. He steps back to get a better look at her.

"This is what Luthor was trying to do. He was trying to kill Annie Simon for good. All the other subjects were failures. Except for me."

He finds himself staring at her laptop - at files from the trojan horse she'd planted on LexCorp's mainframe. And this - this is what BRuce was looking for. This is why Annie's the way she is.

He keeps looking through everything. The other experiments, the genetic material for this seru. It explains everything - even her powers, he supposes. Because Vibe can go between universes, can't he?

When he's done reading - and he's pretty certain it's been a while, he looks back at her.

"All this stuff Luthor did to you - it doesn't change who you are."

"You don't know that. You don't know who I am."

"Who do you think I think you are?"

He thinks Annie might be more messed up than him.

"You think I'm Annie - the girl who had a crush on you in elementary school."

Wouldn't it be so easy? But isn't that the thing? He hadn't liked that Annie all that much. He'd hated her, even if she was starting to grow on him. Does he even know Annie that well?

"Are you the Annie from fifth grade - or sixth - or seventh, whatever - who gave me lunch money?"

"What does that have to do with -"

"That's - Are you the Annie I helped with English papers and who makes amazing pie and -?"

Because maybe he didn't know Annie before, but he knows her now. Maybe he doesn't know everything about her other life, but he knows who she is at her core.

"What does this have to do with anything?"

"If you are that Annie - you're my Annie and I don't care what -"

"I'm a fraud! You think it was just by chance that I figured out Bruce Wayne is Batman? That you were robin? I mean not that you yourself would be robin, I only figured it out after you died because I didn't pay attention when you got adopted, and I wasn't that big a fan of the Batman comics but -"

He supposes it makes sense, now. How she knew Bruce's secret identity. He's heard stories about the Justice League meeting alternate versions of themselves.

She interrupts him when he tries explaining that it's normal.

"You don't understand! It wasn't just - there were two publishing companies - Marvel and DC and I read Marvel comics. Because I liked the movies - I grew up on the movies. They started when I was five. So I read the comics. I thought it was fake! Gotham never existed in my world! It was just a story. And I was a fan of - of the competition. I knew practically nothing coming into this world."

That's . . . interesting. But it just means she doesn't have an advantage over anyone.

"No I'm not like the rest of you. Because I know enough to get myself into trouble. And I'm not Annie. I've never really been Annie."

She's really starting to piss him off. Is she trying to push him away?

"You want me to call you something else, then?"

"Fuck! No! That's not the point! The point is I'm - I'm not so certain Annie's as dead as I thought she was? What if this baby is - is Annie and -"

Is that what this was all about?

He tries to reassure her, but she keeps freaking out and sayin these things about what Martian Manhunter sensed and - he supposes he understands why Jon's attempt to tell her didn't work, now.

There's a mind already? His kid's already conscious?

But he can't focus on this. He needs to reassure her. Let her know she belongs here. He doesn't even really know who Annie was before the accident. Not really.

So he tells her he loves her.

Because all the rest? It's irrelevant.

She cries some more. He gets her a glass of water and she retreats to her bedroom and shuts the door. He can hear her breath hitch even through the door.

He spends the night on her couch, trying not to get overwhelmed by the thoughts running through his mind. He makes a copy of the files she has on her computer. In the morning, once he's made her coffee, he knocks on the door.

She leans on him as she drinks the coffee, but he can tell her mind's elsewhere. And once, she's left for work, he finds himself on the top floor of Wayne Enterprises.

"Bruce," he says, hoping his green eyes can remind the man of the kid he used to be. "I need your help."

"What is it this time."

"I know why Annie's a meta. I know what Luthor is after. And Luthor knows Annie's pregnant."

The look on Bruce's face is almost worth the worry Jason feels about all of this.

With Covid-19 effectively being a buzzkill on life, I had time to finish this (finally). As you can tell it's much longer than all the other chapters at 26000 words give or take a few.

On the brightside, I'm being paid for the next week and a half while I don't work.


Anyway. The next chapter is nowhere near completion, but I'll be working on it.