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Hidden in Bat's Wings

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Imagining sunlit, overheated, sweat-inducing days never worked but still, in the dead winter, Jason still tried it. His breath fanned, white and hot, vanished in one hurried shudder to the next. He needed better shelter but their old apartment had become infested, skeletal thin rats and mold. In this weather, he couldn't afford to be sick – that's how people died – and he'd survived a Gotham winter on the streets once before.

What was another time?

His hands squished underneath armpits, basically bony icicles but it couldn't hurt, right? He needed shelter, a better shelter than between a steel dumpster and a pissed-on brick wall with wet carboard beneath his behind. Options were limited but he just had to think. Think.

Knock on doors?

He outright snorted. That's a death wish, if he was fortunate.

Local orphanage?

His subsequent shudder proved that, at least, he isn't as bad off as he anticipated. Even if he was willing to test it, it was at least a shuttle ride out, and hand to heart, Jason knew he might not survive a walk there. It was over, wasn't it? He'd tried his best to survive, there's that…

No. He had survived a Gotham winter before…

Wait, when did he do it the first time?

He was hit with a sharpened wind, dragging frigid knives through his thin shirt and the exposed skin of his dried face and elbows. He'd freeze here, a life-like popsicle that – once the weather cleared – the neighborhood kids would kick around for lack of ball. Someone should have fun, at least, and he'd be dead then, so it didn't matter.

It didn't hurt, not as much as he'd believed it would, the knowledge that he'd die here. It was a natural progression, natural consequence to the shudder he no longer felt and the tightened clasp around his ribs, the stiff boniness of his limbs. Not altogether human, at this point.

He'd like to be warm but that's won't happen now.

At first, he lifted his head and didn't know why, "Jason…" the shadow breathed, focused from a darkened blob to a humanoid bat. His mouth and jaw visible to the cold. He'd always imagined Batman to be more than human but no, beneath the Bat Costume was a man. A man with stubble and a frown, "Can you hear me?" he breathed.

His large hand burned on Jason's face but he held still, crackling fire over his cheek and throat. Was Batman an angel? To peacefully guide him in death. Maybe, Batman was more than human. He pressed his cheek firmly into the hand, unable to dislodge his hands to hold on.

Batman lowered, furnace heat siphoning off Jason's cold. God, was this death. It hurt. His lids scrunched but Batman was still there, immovable, "…am…a-am I de-ad?" Jason shuddered. The renewed heat forced damp wind painful.

"No," Batman declared. More guttural, deeper than Jason expected. His heart lurched, "Do you...know who I am?" he checked, another hand curled around Jason's back and he stiffened. Because he didn't. His head shook, the heat hurt but Gotham Winter hurt more. He grabbed the cape on Batman's shoulder – if Batman would leave him do die, he'd have to pry his corpse off him – "Let's get you warm," he said.

Thank fuck.

In the next moment, Jason is lifted and fucking hell, in another life Batman was a radiator and Jason shuddered beneath the large, heavy folds of the cape. He feels movement and then darkness descends.


 

He doesn't recognize the room he's in. It's filled, a catalogue preview for a pre-teen if not overly littered by first-hand books and the abundant wealth. It's in everything, the framed window seat, the thick shaggy carpet and silk blankets, and in how there isn't a crack or slice in the wall, ceiling or floor. It makes his skin crawl.

The fact that he's in different clothes make him shudder. It's a thick black, long-sleeved shirt, gray sweatpants and the thickest polka dot socks he's ever seen. His feet feel trapped by a tactile marshmallow. Okay, he likes the socks.

Is this a demented heaven? Or, a beautified hell?

Because despite wealth and warmth, his chest feels barren, emptied and hollowed out. Like, it should’ve been filled. Except nothing fits. There's a creak from the door, "Oh. You're awake, Todd," the kid declared. His mouth is twisted and Jason swallowed, fists clenched in the blanket. "Father wishes to speak to you," the kid informs him. His accent faintly prissy and British, and Jason knows this kid is keen to fight.

But he isn't stupid. Jason doesn't pick fights with older kids.

His throat hurts, "…where am I?" Jason rasped. Quieter than he liked, too much weakness. The older kid arched a winged brow, his left fist flexed and head tilted – offensive intrigue and he shouldn't be worried, not yet, he hasn't offended the kid.

"At home, Todd," the kid declared. Like Jason should've known. This isn't his home.

He shook his head, "I've got to get back." His attempt to shuffle from the sheets is cut short by the kid's scoff, the door creaked wider – basically, an invitation to escape – and Jason's heart thundered. He tried, "Mum's will be worried –" And landed on the carpet.

The kid scoffed, harsher, "You don't have a Mother, Todd. That's why Father took you," he said. Like, Jason was beneath him. Like, Jason should've known. Like, Jason had told anyone about the corpse still beneath the blanket in their apartment.

His lids burned, shook his head and swallowed. Tried to breathe. Refocused on the kid. On who the hell this kid's 'Father' was. He really should’ve noticed it before. The kid's dark black hair, thick and well-kept. The pierced emeralds, practically black behind thick lashes. Even the darkened, russet skin resembled Jason.

He's a knock-off version of this kid. He had black hair, in the right light teal forest stared back, and a persistent tawny tan. Even doubted English was this kid's first language. Ding, ding, ding. And, ding.

His 'Father's' obvious wealth blared and Jason swallowed. Did they know? Do they think he's free-for-all? He wouldn't understand old, rich men and their affinity for little boys. His heart thundered – he wouldn't do it, fuck them, he wouldn't be this – and he stilled, "Where is he?" Jason asked, tone deceptively mild.

It wouldn't fool an unconscious worm.

The kid peered at Jason, thick brows furrowed and mouth worked before he nodded. A mission in sight, "I will find him. Remain here, Todd," the kid ordered. Jason hurriedly nodded. Even though his stomach convulsed. The kid turned right and vanished.

The door abandoned ajar. Was this kid an amateur? It could be a trap; did it really matter if it was? The hallway behind it lit and barren. His heartbeat chimed in his ear drums, a crescendo of upcoming adrenaline and then a little voice in Jason's head burst, 'Now!'

He flat-out bolted. Fled left, down a narrow hall, zoomed its length and turned right towards a wider hall. His heart thundered, ribs and throat strained, feet stampeded and skidded down an unbelievable large staircase and right there were a duo of wide, double-doors. He could actually do this!

Jason latched onto the handle, yanked for zilch – it didn't jostle even – turned the key, unbolted the large chain and yanked again. It was still locked. His temples hurt, sweat tickled his hair but Jason located the security box – he couldn't break that – the windows! He chucked a fat, flowery decorated vase at the window.

It bounced off. He hauled it into the window but with a hollow thump, the vase shattered and the window stilled. Fucking hell, "No, no –" Jason murmured, a mantra unbidden. He had to move, the door wouldn't work, had to find –

"Jason!"

He turn-tailed, charged into the next door but it was a dead-end, and Jason yelped, skidded back out and barely survived swerving beneath a large man's reach. Course in the maneuver he lost balance on the gleaming floorboards and smashed, shoulder first, the air heaved from his ribs.

A shadow fell upon him, "Jason…" the man exhaled.

Jason scrambled back, knocked his head into a wall, and swallowed. His ribs heaved, his body ached, weighed down by the knowledge he'd failed. From the corner of his eye, Jason spotted the kid on the staircase, puzzled but no intervention bound. He's alone in this.

That wasn't new. His jaw clenched, "Whatever you want from me. I ain't giving it," Jason declared. He knew that didn't mean jack-squat but Jason wouldn't perpetuate delusions of happy families to this sicko. Over his dead body. The man shifted closer and Jason snarled, hid his flinch into the wall behind it.

The Kid huffed, "You never told me Todd was an animal at this –" Fuck. Fuck. No. His nerves strained, tightened and fractured – a single prod he'll unravel, lash out. Maybe, he'd be killed for it. There's that.

"Damian," the Man warned. The Kid's mouth shut, he saved face with a nonchalant hum, took the few final stairs and disappeared inside another hall. The Man exhaled and focused on Jason, intent and immovable. It was fucking terrifying, nothing would escape that sight.

He had white skin, a hint of stubble and steel blues shadowed by winged brows, darker than the color insinuated. His form was large and bulky, held himself in absent control. His instinctual belief is that this man will hurt Jason in a way no other really managed. His second is only a faint recollection of that mouth surrounded by that stubble, "You're Batman…" he breathed.

Fuck.

Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.

"I won't tell anyone, I swear – I didn't see, alright," Jason belatedly shut his lids, "Please. I didn't – I'll keep my mouth shut, I can do that, alright. Just let me go, I won't –"

Batman breathed, "Open your eyes, Jason." He snorted at the absurdity of that order. Even Batman is a bastard, it shouldn't've surprised Jason but it did. He shook his head, "Jason, please," Batman said. It was the plead that twitched his resolve, peeking out an eye but only to stare resolutely at the waxed floorboards.

For that Batman hummed, ankles folded to sit, and Jason's eyes widened even though he seriously wasn't looking at Batman. He seemed content to wait Jason out. On the floor. In response, Jason only stressed out further. His voice was small, "…what do you want with me?" Jason murmured.

It was silent for a long while, no faint bustle of wind or engines; an endless silence of a barren desert. It distorted the truth, that in this house Batman roamed with his black haired, light-eyed children. He didn't want Batman to be evil. He would've liked to keep his hero, and the dreams therein connected. But, that wasn't up to Jason.

For once, it should be up to Jason.

Batman's head lowered, "Nothing bad, Jason. I, only –" It sounded difficult, each syllable carefully considered, which meant he's fully aware of how often he repeated his name 'Jason'. Like, ensuring that Jason remained the focus. Except, he didn't want it. He wanted to disappear into darkness, " – want your safety and happiness. If you'll let me, I'll do everything I can to give it to you."

His heart lurched. Weak to kindness. It was dangerous. He scoffed, "You don't know me, ya big boob," Jason declared. If Batman believed he'd roll over for a little affection, he really misjudged Jason's survival instincts. He'd fight this, tooth and nail, blood and sweat.

His mouth twitched, "No, I don't," Batman agreed. There was more to this. Batman lied to him, "But, I'd be willing to find out." Jason shook his head, streaks of torment in his back from the enforced stiffness. Batman didn't know Jason. He wasn't what Batman wanted to divulge time into. He wouldn't be hurt just because Batman didn't know it yet.

"How about a deal," Batman propositioned. His head tilted, upper face relaxed but there's a tension in his jaw that bespeaks of the importance here. Jason glanced at intent steels, "You live here. For a month. And, if you don't like it. I can drop you off wherever you want," Batman noted. He really wouldn't like that last bit though.

He swallowed, "…what do you get of it?" He wanted the catch. It'd cost a lot, this life. In the kitchen or the bedroom or his life. There's only a few things he's willing to sacrifice, and it won't be for a month in unending wealth.

Batman's mouth twitched. Jason doesn't understand it. "Think of it as, an open agreement. One day, I'll ask you for something, you can decline if you want. I'll find something," Batman shrugged. Like, it didn't matter. Well, Batman already had it all.  What could a street rat give Batman.

There'd never be anything Jason could give Batman. Nothing he'd willingly give. He had to hold Batman off and jump ship before Batman became impatient, forced his wish on Jason. His mouth worked, "Two days," Jason offered. It'd be enough to rest and steal food, hold back the worst of the snow storm outside.

Batman frowned, "Three weeks," he countered.

He shook his head, "Two days," Jason insisted.

His steels narrowed, sharpened and glanced out the window, where the storm raged, painting the world frigid white. He expected the chill to bite through his skin but beside a phantom cold, it's warm in the mansion. "One week – when the storm lets out," Batman offered.

Batman's jaw clenched – patience tested, don't push it – and Jason nodded, "Until then," he lied. Two days from now, Jason will flee. He'll take his chances on the streets. Batman nodded and outstretched his hand, a business deal to be shaken upon like in those TV shows.

His mouth twitched – this was Batman's life – and he squeezed Batman's large hand, couldn't wrap around it before he pulled back. "Deal," Jason sniffled. Batman nodded and smiled, stood and offered a hand to rise. He didn't take it, "I'll be back in the room," he murmured.

Jason side-stepped Batman as he hummed, "You can come to the kitchen. Alfred's made lasagna. Double cheese. Extra vegetables," Batman offered. His back already turned, heading towards an arched hall. His stomach gurgled, traitor. And, it had been a while since food. He should definitely find out who this 'Alfred' is.

He nodded and followed Batman. He could do this. A thick waft of cheese, fresh bread and tomato sauce enveloped Jason, and his insides melted a little. It smelled like a home. He wished Mum could've been here to feel it.

Chapter Text

Over the next two weeks Batman's other children found him. After the first five times he'd stopped trying to escape, it was met with disappointment and 'talks' where Jason sweated-out all the fancy clothes they put him and couldn't hear a damn word. It's not that Batman had done something yet, except the odd shoulder touch that literally stopped Jason's heart in his chest.

It was the knowledge that Batman would get around to him when he wasn't busy, when he had time to break in the new kid. He caught that other kid, Damian, leaving Batman's office, all flushed face and with bruises on his jaw last week but when he'd sat down at the breakfast table Jason couldn't see the bruise he knew was there.

Alfred, the strict warden, set eggs on Damian's plate and hurried him off to school.

Jason wasn't allowed at the school yet. Alfred had said it was a 'delicate situation' and his 'education would be dealt with in due course', and Jason knows it's because Batman hadn't the time to break him in yet and Jason didn't want to be broken in.

Despite all that, he actually preferred the nights to the days. In the nights, he knew what'd come and what'd happen, he knew that if it were to happen it'd be between dusk and dawn. In daylight, the entire household was a façade for an unseen observer, going through the motions so that if anyone peered in, all they'd see was rich beyond richness, and not the dirt underneath.

It was a play that Jason didn't know the lines too, and if he broke it or messed it up, what would that mean for the real life in the darkness? When Batman could finally speak his truth, what would that mean for Jason?

He was trapped in a huge, empty old house in a world so far from everything he'd ever known and no one – no one cared. In the streets that'd been his world, it'd been dirty and bad, sickness and blood, and desperation in every word and trembling form, but it wasn't a lie. It was home, and now…

He had been stolen and no good guys would save him, because the bestest hero was the villain of this story. The evil dragon trapping the princess in a white knight's armor, and the wicked witch clutching the poisonous fruit in the guise of a kindly prince.

On the second dusk there, he had tried to hide in a distant room littered in dusty white cloths but he'd been found by another of Batman's kid's. His name was Dick, literally Dick and he smiled a lot, like the world was fine and dandy, he talked more than that, mostly about the façade in the daylight. Like, trying to impeach the rules to Jason without any observer knowing what really occurred.

Dick was an adult, a proper adult, and he'd been with Batman the longest, so long he didn't really remember life before Batman. Tried to understand Jason's thoughts and motivations, his fears while ignoring the elephant in the room. He'd look and look, left and right, up and down but the elephant was right there and Dick couldn't see the truth. It isn't Dick's fault.

It's hard to open your eyes to the truth when you're smiling.

On the sixth night he saw another kid, definitely older than Jason and Damian but not as old as Dick. He had bloodshot skin and ice eyes, dead to the world as they focused on Jason and picked him apart. His shoulders slumped further as if he realized he didn't have to hide the truth from Jason, fingered a plaster on a torn nail and for a second Jason knew there was someone here that wouldn't lie to him.

The boy gave him a sickly smile and disappeared behind a door.

He learnt later that the boy was called Tim. From Damian he later learned that Tim was emancipated, an adult in the eyes of the law, safe to leave but still returned to Batman of his own volition. It hurt, the reconfirmation that he was alone here.

In trying to map out potential escape routes he found a hall littered in pictures, awards and certificates. He ignored the blank space on the walls, knowing he'd rather not understand what had happened to the child that hadn't owned the façade. It was clear as sunlight what Jason had to do to survive here.

There was a structure. It was clearest in a smaller Dick who smiled a lot until he didn't, then returned years later all grins and giggles. Tim had smiles as well, quiet ones that livened the ice that'll settle in his eyes but he didn't smile anymore. He wondered if Tim would disappear soon as well, only to return with eyes-closed in a smile.

There was a girl as well, she looked like Tim a little, except she didn't smile so much as remain relaxed at the camera. Later on, she smiled bright and disarming but he hadn't found her in the house in the two weeks he'd been there. He didn't want to know what happened to her. If he didn't he could imagine that maybe, she'd escaped.

Even if that smile evidenced the lie in that thought.

The only kid who broke structure was Damian. He didn't smile, at all. In any of the pictures or in real life, unless he proclaimed how he'd rip Tim apart for spending time with his father. Later on, Jason learned that Batman really was Damian's dad, so…maybe, it was different for Damian…maybe, Batman was nice to him.

But then he recalled Damian walking out Batman's office, despondent scowl of a cuffed animal and the bruises that'd been hidden the hours later.

It didn't matter, Jason knew the pattern now, he had to be happy and eye-closed smiley to survive and then, maybe it'd break – the brainwashing, the drugs, whatever it was that Batman did – when he'd be Tim's age. If he didn't escape now, then he could escape then.

No matter what, he wouldn't stick around after it broke. Even if he believed he'd die without Batman, no – he'd be better than Dick or Tim – he'd break free, he could hold onto that. He wouldn't die here. Batman wouldn't kill Jason Todd.

His shoulders trembled at another closed escape route, the window had been open only thirty minutes earlier and Damian's cat meowed from a cushion. "Master Jason," Alfred said and Jason swallowed, refused to showcase his terror, "I'd been wondering where you'd occupied yourself. Are you feeling quite well?"

He hurriedly nodded and Alfred swiveled his shoulder to face him, the world swirled for a second and weathered face hummed in disapproval at Jason's expression. "You look positively feverish, Young Master, and I assure you, there is no shame in taking an afternoon nap. Your studies will still be there for you in the morning." His studies would still be there because they were booklets, Alfred-checked; no outside intervention or opinion required.

Alfred checked his temperature and Jason skittered back, unable to stop himself as ice stabbed down his spine. "I-I'm fine," he choked, shook his head and prayed the cold burning him inside out, died down. Damian's cat abruptly hissed at an unknown assailant and Jason flinched, unable to help himself and Alfred took a stance to better observe Jason. He shook his head, "Sor-sorry. I want – I've got –" and Jason fled.

It wasn't subtle. It wasn't by the script. It wasn't the play-by-play, and Alfred had said Jason should take a 'nap'. Did that mean, it'd happen today, or tonight? Was his adjustment period coming to a close here? He'd had plentiful of time but it hadn't been enough and Jason wasn't ready, he wouldn't ever be prepared.

What had Batman's other kid's done for their adjustment period? Had he already failed and made it worse? Had Batman being watching him, designing how best to pick him apart? Batman had cast himself as the fatherly role multiple times, was Jason meant to believe it? Would it make what was to come, easier if he had?

For others it'd been years until the truth cracked the smiles, so maybe he had time? This wouldn't be the end? If he played along, would the inevitable be faster or slower? Maybe Jason would become another kid that was taken out of the hall, because he hadn't fallen for Batman's tricks. Oh god, what had happened to that kid?

How had that kid protected himself from Batman?

"Jason?"

Speak of the devil…, his Ma's voice tutted at him. His back smashed into a decorative old side-table and Jason froze as the vase wiggled dangerously, it halted with relative ease and he nearly barfed as steel-blue fasted on him. Batman arched a winged brow. It was almost innocent like what he'd do to Jason was the norm, natural even. "You don't look well," Batman noted.

No shit is what happens when a person is scared shitless.

Into a crouch Batman nestled, less than a stretched arm out to swipe at Jason. "You haven't had lunch yet," Batman surmised. Oh god, was the brainwashing drug thing inside of the food? His stomach sank further, flagging out beside his thunderous heart. He really might barf on Batman, oh god – oh, god no.

"I'm not -  I'm not hungry," Jason declared.

"Uh-huh." Course Batman wouldn't believe Jason. Jason didn't believe Jason. "Is that why you can't look me in the eye?"

He tried – by heaven, heart and hell, he tried – to look higher, lift his stare, shift sights into Batman's massive direction but he couldn't do it. Out of fear, his defective body refused to do it. "I-I can," Jason belatedly tried to insist, caught a faint frown on a squared jaw and averted to look at his shredded sneakers.

Batman's shifted his humongous shadow, "You're still in those shoes," he said.

Stupid. He had brought attention to them, only for them to be replaced by Batman's tramp-stamp but he didn't want that. His shoes were dirtied, torn and chewed even before Mama found them, and they were fine like that. He was finally starting to fill them out. His Mama would've been proud, happy for him if he'd caught her in an awake moment.

Gods he wanted his Mama.

Like an imminent missile Batman outstretched a hand: "Jason…?" Please, no.

"Bruce?"

Batman stopped and tilted to look at Dick.

Dick frowned, laid a hand on Batman's shoulder and reached for Jason's face: "Little Wing, you alright bud-" And, Jason crumbled.

He flinched and the vase smashed, Batman crowded and Jason flinched into shattered ceramic and Dick hissed, lurched forward and Jason couldn't breathe. "Back off! Don't touch –" he yelled, shuddering like a high fever, "Let me go. You have to let me go!" Except, they're big buff adults, they didn't have to do anything that Jason asked. He can't breathe – he is blind, "Pl-please, let me go." He will die here.

In the mustiness Dick lied: "No one will hurt you here, Jason."

He can't even choke enough to prove that false, a shadow zipped and he tumbled, "Jay!" Batman shouted. The sharp wound blinded in terror and he sobbed, clutched it closer as the world revealed itself and only fear remained. He needed to hide – protect himself – if they can't see him, they can't hit him – make himself smaller – he's too loud!

He flinched at a sudden hand – smaller, rubbed in localized shoulder, scrapped at the raw wounds -and shuddered out, hurt and comforted by it all the same. He still can't breathe. It's almost worse that Tim doesn't talk because all he hears are sobs and " – I w-want my mama," and it drills at the hardened cast of his heart.

He is terrified.

"I know," Tim – with his deadened heart and ice-eyes – murmured, "I know."

He sobbed into a firm chest, and acknowledged the jailcell it'd become.

Chapter Text

He awoke in a large bed. He is fully clothed and the blankets are cold, there's another squeak and Jason stilled before it faded into a mutter. It didn't sound bad so he looked out. He is in a trashed bedroom and it's Tim that hisses at incomprehensible lines on four screens. In the lime glow, he somehow looks sicklier.

It doesn't look like Tim will notice if he sneaks –

A crisp packet crunched in alarm and "Huh," Tim took out an earbud, dimmed three screens and twizzled to find Jason, "You're awake." Well, it's all fucked anyhow.

Jason glared, "No, I isn't."

His dead eyes flashed and the chair squeaked as he leaned back, "…right. You're definitely asleep, right now," Tim indulged. He scratched light stubble and leaned forward, which was a bad sign. It spoke of continued communication and Jason was against that. "Look, I think we should talk about what happened earlier."

"Nuffin 'appened."

"You had a panic attack when Bruce tried to touch you," Tim aimed and fired, and Jason staggered with that hit. He ducked and Tim lowered, indulgent and softer, "You panicked when Dick tried to touch you." Like that was the final nail in a coffin.

His skin crawled, cold spiders making a home inside his bones and checked the locked window, the rare sunlight trapped outside. For a humongous mansion, it felt miniscule. He thumbed the bandage wrapped around his wounded hand, the flare of pain welcome.

"I know you don't believe me," Tim kneeled and breathed, "But, they don't want to hurt you. They won't hurt you." He looked expectant and Jason squirmed, shrugged and nodded, averted his sights. Tim sighed, "Okay. If you want, you can stay in here and I won't let them in – I can't keep Damian out because he's an actual monster, but Bruce and Dick aren't allowed."

His breath shuddered and shoulders deflated, "Seriously?" he checked.

In Tim's deadened stare something prodded back, "I swear." His mouth twisted and Tim huffed, "It's not difficult for me to do. I don't want anything in return. Just –" he shrugged, " – try to be quiet, I guess. You can use what you like," he waved at the heaps of items, thumb-typed something on his phone and shrugged: "It's not like you can really make a mess…" Tim murmured to himself.

For a brainwashed zombie Tim wasn't the worst. He swiveled and vanished back into his sleek screens, and he deflated a little further. Earlier during…whatever had happened, he'd fallen on something sharp, probably the vase come to think of it, and someone had bandaged his hand.

He ripped it off and two black stiches pinched further, it was jagged and smeared in an amber liquid, and he didn't feel it at all. At most, it was a distance pressure and no – it wasn't, he shook his head, double-blinked and fuck. His head felt foggier, was his heartrate slower than usual…?

Guess, he really was being drugged.

Fuck.

His stomach churned, hands skimming his skin – elbows, clean – tongue swept – gums, clean – he dropped, yanked off his socks – between toes, clean – so, where, where the hell had – oh.

On the fat of his hand was a tiny bloodied speck, and violation smashed into him from above, an abundance of fear swarmed like a flock of seagulls on the last few fish, was this the first time or had he only just noticed, he really doubted someone just patched him up and didn't take anything in return, he didn't feel thrashed but who the hell knew he couldn't feel his fucking hand as well!

"Jason –" lashed out. Tim knocked back Jason's fist, "Calm down –"

"You don't own me!"

"I didn't think I did," Tim noted.

"Then what is that!"

"It looks like a wound that should be bandaged," Tim said and caught Jason's wrist, reading his intentions before tilting the hand to reveal the needle's entry point and he exhaled. He released Jason's hand and Jason cradled it to his chest, "It was probably a local anesthesia," he said, like he's sniffing out a leak.

He felt his heart thundered against his hand, "…you ain't know dat for certain," quieter, constructing a temporary retreat. He doesn't know Tim, he shouldn't have yelled – is he trying to off himself here? His streets didn't do it but wealth beyond all mention meant.

"No. I don't." He felt that shift into calculations and Tim added, "Look. We want you to go back home –" and his heart shuddered and Ma flickered, lifelessness a lesson to be learned, " – but you're sick or, more to the point, you will be sick if we don't help you, and we can help you."

"I don't feel sick," he said, but maybe he's so focused on Batman and his kids that he hasn't noticed. Ma hadn't noticed until it was too late. He shook his head as Tim opened his mouth, "I can take care of it." If he is sick, he's sick but he won't owe rich folk. He'd rather be dead than be in their pocket.

His ices rolled, "It isn't about 'taking care of it'. You're contagious, as in, you can get others sick, so we can't let you go until your cured. Everyone in this house is immune but out there…" Tim veered off and okay, he understood. It wouldn't be the first-time wealth bought health.

"I don't want to be here," he stated, hands clenched into biceps and he knew it didn't matter but it had to be said. Tim nodded and leaned back, scratched his stubble and rubbed the upholstery of his chair. He swallowed and –

Tim said, "It's not like we want you here either. You don't think Batman has a lot more he'd rather do than stop one kid from infecting all of Gotham?" He exhaled and shook his head, "It really is a hassle. The reason it's taking so long is because he doesn't want to 'cross any boundaries' or 'make you uncomfortable'," Tim mocked in a pseudo Batman voice, which sounded gravely and practiced.

"I didn't –"

Tim waved that off, "It's not your fault." He rolled his eyes, "But, if it were up to me. It'd be better for all of us if he took you down for the diagnostic tests, and if we were lucky, you could be out of here by tomorrow." Tomorrow. Tomorrow.

Tomorrow.

It sounded way too good to be true and Tim exhaled, "I understand him, I guess." He indulged, "Some of the diagnostic tests can feel invasive, and he doesn't want to 'pressure you' –"

"I'll do it."

If it took a nightmare to rid himself off this waking night-terror, he'd do it and sign on the devil's dotted line. Tim arched a brow, "That's a change. You're sure?" His hand had steadied in marking designs on the chair, "He didn't want to make you uncomfortable," Tim incredulously added.

He quickly nodded, "Yeah. I can – I can deal." He sucked in a huge breath and nails bit into the stitches, it'd be the stuff of nightmares but it was his choice. He could do this to end it all. If he hid, the danger wouldn't walk the next alley up, course it wouldn't, there are no alleyways in a mansion. To survive was different work, here he had to face it.

Jason headed for the door. Tim offered, "He should be in his office. On the first floor. You need a guide?" he checked and Jason shook his head, steadied his heart. He could do this. He wasn't no child and he'd fix it for himself. Even if Batman wouldn't take him home then, at least, he'd know. It wouldn't creep up behind him to attack.

"No. I –" he nodded, lost in his head, "I got it."

Tim twitched, "If you say so." His hands rubbed together and he swiveled back, already clacking about on the keyboard. The door loomed like a buff, vengeful bastard but sometimes, he'd escaped those bastards unmutilated. His hand throbbed as he twisted the handle, stole a final glance at Tim checking his phone and shut the door behind him.

The hall was barren, insofar as a gaudily decorated hall could be, and he heard the faint sound of a bark but couldn't tell from where. It was different from the streets, different rules, and different threat levels. This hall wasn't broad traffic daylight but it definitely isn't Park Row afterhours. He shook his head – focus, for hell's landscape focus – and pattered down the hall and the staircase, hit a left, followed it right, walked the plank and knocked on Batman's office door.

This was the worst idea he'd ever had.

"Come in," Batman called, distracted and Jason could still break for it. His face hardened and the door slid ajar, "Yes –" Batman lifted his head, had to have heard Jason's frantic heartbeat and his hands trembled, he tightened them into fists and shut the door behind him. It was his doing and he was in control. "Jason." Batman's face was unreadable. He lowered his stylus and flicked a hand over his cellphone. His brow furrowed before it smoothed.

"The tests – I can – I want to do the tests," he declared.

He is immovable. Like, a dead-end after a bad escape. "The tests aren't a requirement Jason. We have options before –"

He scowled because sooner or later it would be necessary and he wasn't dragging his heels to stick around until then. "I can do it," Jason insisted. Without a difference, Batman relaxed an infinitesimal amount like he'd passed a test, and Jason's heart shuddered, a downward sensation spiraled because he hadn't expected it. If he made Batman proud, it shouldn't hurt, right? Is that an option?

"I know," Batman said, and Jason traitorously squirmed.

In silent and careful movement, the ancient grandfather clock at Batman's back slid back to reveal a dark expanse ahead. In the faint distant, there's a bluish light illuminating enough to prove the endlessness of the cave. He instinctually fell forward and Batman smiled, "Mind your step," he said, and descended into the darkness, the echo of his footfalls blanketed.

To him Batman had been a hero, knocking bastards off roads and into cell blocks, stopping the world from imploding and walking little old ladies across the street. Except, to a lot of others, Batman was the bane of their existence. Here they stood, working as honest a job as is possible and Batman ascended to break their bones for it. In that manner he had partially seen a hero in Batman due to the fact his stinking bastard father hates Batman.

Except maybe Batman wasn't either. It was possible he was a deranged old cook like others believed, or a bastard like everyone else. Inside the humongous cave the bluish light flickered and he steadied his heart, bent to find out the truth and reclaim control to his survival. In darkness he is swallowed and clock ticked shut at his back.