Date: April 26, 2025 Location: Sydney’s Grill-- San Francisco, California
It was better than he remembered. Free of the drug haze, he remembered the taste of grilled onions, cheese, and milkshakes, but he damn sure didn’t remember it all being so good. Maybe the drugs had killed his taste buds and the rehab had rebirthed and shifted them around. Whatever the reason, he swore to have a milkshake at least once a week if not every other day. Milkshakes were life.
“Slow down,” Jason said across from him, smiling lightly in the light filtering in through the window.
Beyond the glass, the city of San Francisco moved at the easy pace of the west coast. People walked by heading towards the beach, businessmen hurried along agitated and glaring at the sidewalk in front of them. What the hell did they have to be upset about? It was a beautiful day outside. It was amazing how many people took a beautiful day for granted considering how not beautiful a lot of people’s days were no matter the weather.
“There are refills if you want them.”
Jason’s voice pulled him from the distraction of people outside.
“I’ll slow down when you explain to me exactly what the hell is going on,” Roy said, cramming a large onion ring in his mouth, “Spill.”
The crunch is the bass to the party in his mouth. Whatever they fried the rings in sent all sorts of better, cleaner, and safer happy chemicals into his brain than the heroin had. He felt whole for the first time in a long time and he literally had just about nothing to his name. The place where Lian’s grave was still pulsed with a deep ache in his chest, but it wasn’t all-consuming with Jason sitting across the table from him impossibly alive and well. The scars that Roy remembered were all gone, not vanished in his darker complexion, but gone as if they had never been there.
Even when Oliver had died and come back, he’d retained all of his scars. The line through Jason’s eyebrow that he’d had for as long as Roy had known him was gone and that was one of the oldest scars Jason had. He remembered Jason explaining it once as the mark of a fight with a glass coffee table when he was a toddler.
“I’ll explain when you slow down.”
Roy set his shake down as Jason flagged down a waiter. With a smile and a little charm, she scurried off to get them a refill on their shakes. When she was gone and the urgency of shoveling food in his mouth had dissipated, he narrowed his eyes and leaned forward. Jason met his gaze as if he hadn’t been dead for at least ten years. He’d aged, sure, but not as much as he should have considering the time in between then and now.
He was supposed to be twenty-four going to be twenty-five in August, but he looked like a teenager barely out of high school. If he didn’t know for sure that Jason was twenty-four chronologically, and the other wasn’t built like a grown man, he would have swore that he was maybe a well-developed sixteen-year-old.
“So, you found the fountain of youth or some shit?” Roy asked, “Is it still accepting visitors?”
He laughed, “Something like that but the fountain I got dipped isn’t one you want to visit. How are you feeling?”
Lazarus Pit? Roy wondered, but that couldn’t be exactly right. He knew that the Lazarus Pit could rejuvenate and heal people nearly perfectly, maybe even regress people’s age, but there was something different about Jason. It had been as if the marks of his hard life had all been scrubbed clean.
Maybe there were other kinds of pits out there than just the ones that made Ra’s a fucking psycho.
“Alert,” he said, “Somewhat together, I think. Alive like I’ve chosen the right path.”
Jason nodded, “Good.”
“So what the hell happened?”
“I died,” Jason said with a shrug, looking into some distance that only he understood.
Maybe the void, maybe the pit that Jason had crawled out of, maybe it was the grit of Crime Alley, but Roy bet it wasn’t somewhere Jason needed to look. Roy couldn’t know, but he didn’t have to like it. He’d never liked that look on Jason’s face. It was too dark for someone so young even if they had all lived too hard and too fast in their youth. God, if Jason was supposed to be twenty-four that made him thirty.
“And now you’re here. I mean, I know it happens, but what’s the story there?”
Jason shrugged, “Not too sure. It’s all bits and pieces.”
Roy took another sip of his milkshake as Jason’s attention turned beyond their little booth. He knew that look, knew it pretty well considering how often he and Jason had talked before he–
Roy set his elbows on the table and his head in his hands.
“I’m talking to you right now,” Roy said, horrified, “Why–why are we not talking about the obvious?”
The obvious being the one thing they hadn’t brought up by name since Jason had picked him up from the hospital hours ago: the shadows of Gotham. Did they know he was alive? How had they reacted? He knew that Richard would have probably burst into tears and tried to hug him, coddle him, and cling to him in something like a panicked terror. He remembered how Richard had spiraled and crashed hard after Jason’s death, but the rest of them he couldn’t be so sure.
Tim had always come off as a bit of a prick to him and too much like Bruce in ways that made him angry on principle. Then there was Barbara who he hadn’t really figured out since she and Richard had stopped dating. He’d learned while in recovery that she’d married Tim and that had made him want a drink so badly he’d nearly veered off course.
Barbara and Tim–
He hoped she regretted it for the rest of her life and that Richard never fucking looked back. Barbara had always rubbed him a little wrong anyway, but that was beside the matter at hand. Why weren’t they talking about the Bats? Jason wouldn’t have been alive that long and not reached out to them. He’d gone to Africa to find out if his real mother was alive, to try and foster a connection that didn’t make him feel like he was just grasping at straws. What had happened to her? How Jason had actually ended up dead and why he was all the way in California when he should have been being smothered by Richard and Alfred on the east coast were all questions Roy wanted to be answered.
The waiter brought their milkshakes and a new basket of onion rings with a wink in Jason’s direction before sauntering away. There it was again. Jason’s charm and his complete lack of awareness of it. Jason was probably the only kid in the entire history of teenage crime-fighters that had enough game in his civilian life to cop them free food from the colonizers and pale-faces, still get the waiter’s number out of the deal, and be completely oblivious to the fact that it hadn’t just been his looks.
Well, there’s Richard too, Roy thought, but there had always been something about Richard that made game a word that could never sit properly in the same sentence. Richard may have put on a show, but he always put his whole heart into it.
“Because I promised you a cheeseburger, onion rings, and a milkshake if you made it through rehab and that is more important than anything right now,” Jason said, “Hell, I don’t think a cheeseburger is enough.”
Roy licked his lips and met Jason’s gaze. He knew about Jason’s stepmother, knew how many hungry nights Jason spent trying to get her to eat whatever he’d managed to scrape together, remembered the traumas they exchanged smoking peyote or weed or whatever the hell either of them had managed to get into Titan Tower on the rare times that Jason had come to visit. It had usually been cigarettes because those were more easy to acquire and the side effects were a lot easier to manage around a bunch of suspicious, crime-fighting teens.
Richard would have murdered me, Roy thought absently, and it made him smile.
Hell, he even remembered giving Jason the name Blue Bird because of how Jason radiated with the strength of spring and constant rebirth. Jason had been inspiring long after his death. His strength had been a reminder to keep going even after the rest of the Titans had been asses and refused to put him in the Hall of the Fallen. He and Richard’s original team had split after that, each of them carrying their own torch for Jason. The Teen Titans had then been absorbed into the Justice League as the first iteration of…
What the hell did they name that bullshit? Roy wondered. He couldn’t remember, but he bet that in Bruce’s need to try and punish Richard for ditching him and Gotham it had been named something like the Junior Justice League or some shit because he was an asshole like that.
Youth Justice– sending your kid into dangerous situations today, Roy grinned at the thought.
“Sorry, Youth Justice.”
Jason snorted and it was really just that simple. In any case, Roy knew what picking him out of the gutter and taking him to rehab meant to Jason. He also knew that every visit after had probably put Jason in a rough spot with his own memories. He was a fucking asshole for making Jason go through that again.
“Thank you,” Roy said, “I know I’m an asshole.”
Jason snorted, “No reason to thank me, Harper. And you’re only the standard type of asshole. Now, eat. I’m sure you’ve missed the taste of real food since being on that whole rehab diet.”
Roy shuddered, “It was pretty fucking disgusting: a lot of rabbit food.”
Jason grinned, “I bet. So, what’s your plan for now?”
Roy shrugged, “Not sure if there is a plan.”
“Well, have you considered taking up the bow again?”
His lips lifted in a grin, “I considered it. At least for old time’s sake. Can’t be sure if I’m as good as a shot these days though.”
“It’s like riding a bike, I’m sure,” he said and looked up as the waiter returned with another burger and fries.
“Who is this for?”
“An old friend.”
Jason lifted an arm to wave, and Roy turned around. She looked just as he remembered but maybe just a little older. All golden warm skin and body, the constituents watched her saunter in and then float over to them with a gasp.
Jason grinned, “Jason.”
She glowered at him but hugged Roy tightly and pressed a warm kiss to his cheek, “It is good to see you! Where have you been?”
“A long story,” Roy said, scooting over to let her sit down beside him in front of the burger that had just arrived.
She hummed and picked up the bottle of mustard. After nearly drowning the burger, she picked it up and took a bite.
“This looks delicious.”
Jason gave Roy a knowing smirk over the top of his milkshake as Roy continued to look at her.
“What do you think Roy?”
“Very,” he flinched. The flush blossomed over his cheeks, and he growled at Jason. “Fuck you.”
“Only if you ask nicely,” Jason said with a wink as Koriand’r laughed. “What are you even doing in California, Kori’?”
She smirked, licking the mustard off her finger, “You aren’t the only one with a long story to share.”