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It's not too late to leave your burdens behind

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He is feverish, sweat beading his brow, pulse a sluggish stutter against his cracked ribs, tattered uniform no protection against the chills that rack his aching joints. The feeling has gone out of his hands and feet, except for the throbbing pain in his broken ankle. He's in too much pain to cry; that takes energy he doesn't have. It's all been wrung from him. He has nothing more to give.

He wishes they'd kill him already, but the clown has made it clear his objective for him is a different one. It does not include death. Not yet, at least.

If only Jason had the means to kill himself, as a last act of defiance; if only he could give up, succumb to the pain and let his body's illness waste him away completely. That would show him: don't mess with Robin. He'll find a way to thwart your plan.

But he couldn't. He couldn't give up. Not when Batman might still be out there looking for him. He had to hold out, if only for Bruce, to give meaning to the suffering they had both endured so far.

Surely he is going to come.

Footsteps are descending the stone stairs, and for a painful, fleeting moment, hope thrills through Jason. Could it be Bruce? Has he finally found him?

It's only one set, but they're too light and might as well be his imagination. It wouldn't be the first time his mind had been playing tricks on him. Once, he heard his mother whisper to him, about what a useless boy he was, that all he could do was get himself captured and wait for help to show up.

Help hasn't showed up yet.

He's beginning to think it never will, as the clown has been trying to tell him from the beginning, but he can't let him have it.

There is no telling the time in this darkness. In the beginning he had tried to keep track by counting every visit from the clown, which must have been during the night shift, when a corrupt guard would let him out of his cell to play with Jason. He had lost count sometime after the tenth visit, delirious with pain and the lack of sleep.

A sliver of light cuts into the blackness of his little prison cell and burns his eyes.

The naked lightbulb hanging from the ceiling flicks on. He turns his face away, just enough so his greasy bangs would shield his eyes from the glare.

It's her, she's brought a bowl of hot water, its rising into his face. His body tenses against the onslaught of heat at first, but when she scrubs a flannel over his brow and nose, warmth is warring with the chill in his bones. He shivers violently and it upsets his wounds.

She ignores it and continues cleaning his face and neck, hooking the flannel over the inside of his collar. His left cheek is still tender. So is the swelling around his eye.

Without her make-up, she looks more serious, though at the same time somehow still as childish. Petulantly so. As if he was making her do something she didn't want to do. He didn't ask her to come here and raise his awareness of just how grimy he is beneath his clothes. The mere thought of it makes him itch.

She smooths his bangs from his forehead and frowns at him. It makes him sick that part of him has come to think of her as safe when she's alone, that she doesn't pose a threat. In the beginning he used to taunt her about her relationship with the clown, her complicity, her willingness to let him abuse her too.

He lacks control of his speech tract these days.

She's also brought warm gruel and feeds it to him as if he's an invalid. Correction: he is an invalid. He wouldn't be able to close his fingers around the spoon, much less lift it.

He hates her for doing this, for cleaning his wounds and giving him sustenance, thus improving his chances of survival and prolonging his suffering; he hates himself too for accepting it. He must be insane for trusting her.

What has he got to lose? They've taken his dignity, his will to live – even his sanity is slipping.

He wishes she'd let him lie down. He wishes she'd kill him and make it quick, ram the handle of the spoon through his ear into his brain. He'd take suffocation too, if it were guaranteed. His slumped posture has been staunching the air flow into his lungs. His capacity has taken a plunge, even if his ribs would allow him to take in more than tentative, shallow breaths.

God, to rest for only five minutes. What wouldn't he give for five minutes free from this pain.

No, he can't think that way. He can't play into Joker's hand.

If he had a self beyond this battered and bruised body, he'd probably organize a pool and bet on what would kill him first. Exposure? blood poisoning? the clown in a fit of rage? The possibilities are endless.

Harley, however, seems bent on striking hunger off that list, as if it would change anything. Showing him this crumb of unsolicited kindness is not going to absolve her of her crimes.

He wants to throw that in her face, hoping it would twist up with pain or anger, but his smart mouth no longer works. Even swallowing has become an impossibility. Gruel dribbles from his split lip to his filthy uniform.

"I want to help you," she says, and although she whispers it, her voice sounds loud. "Really, I do. Just give my puddin' what he wants."

What he wants? For Jason to become his Robin and renounce the Batman?

Never.

He'd rather die forgotten and unloved than betray the one person that matters to him.

The one person who cared. Even if he no longer does.