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Sometimes Goodbye's the Only Way

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“You want to work for me?” Amanda Waller massaged her temples, not really paying Jason any attention.

“You heard me, lady.” The sickening trembling hadn’t left his body yet and only the hysteric need to puke kept him from bolting out of the room, out of the country, and off the continent.

He knew none of that would be enough. The only other way to escape was joining the Lanterns in space.

He felt her piercing eyes settle on his face, like those of a sniper waiting for a clear shot. She was a predator and, right now, Jason was presenting himself as very willing prey.

“Why?”

What he liked about Waller, if he was forced to choose something, it was her innate ability to bargain and accept which could be a promising deal.

“You are the only one able to keep him away.” He had to focus, make the fog plaguing his mind disperse so he would be able to negotiate.

“The Joker?” Amanda crossed her arms, leaning back against her armchair.

Their eyes met and Jason saw realization flare in them like lightning in the middle of a storm, thoughts raging behind them and building new outcomes to the unexpected.

“So the red sheep of the family has completely fallen from grace.” Her head cocked to the side much like the way birds do it. It was unnatural and creepy. “What happened, Red Hood?”

“It doesn’t matter, really. I’m offering you a great deal. You get a trained Bat and assassin with connections in the underworld as well as in the Leagues and all I ask is a decent salary and the agreement that you won’t let any Bat come near me.” The lump in his throat eased a little, like a snake letting the captured prey breathe so she will have more time to play with it.

“It matters when I’m agreeing to shelter you from the most dangerous vigilantes amongst the superhero community.” Her eyebrow arched disapprovingly when he huffed.

“One would think the danger you should be afraid of would be meta-human or alien powers beyond your resources.” His tensed back hit the chair, the sound echoing in the frigid atmosphere in the office.

“See, that is what makes you Bats so dangerous.” She leaned over her desk in a cobra-like movement, stalking her victim “Give me a meta and I’ll find a liability, a weakness, a vice. Give me Superman and I’ll shove that green rock up his ass. But you…” she pointed accusingly and grimaced “your family has morals and a strong leader; you rule your lives by laws so unavoidable…”

Jason knew he had fucked up when her scrutiny sharpened. He was so unsettled he had given vital information away to his opponent.

“So that’s it, isn’t it?” her razor-sharp smirk couldn’t bother him now, he knew the consequences waiting for him if his family found him. This was not the time to put pride before survival “Little Red Riding Hood chose wrong and the woodcutter hasn’t come to aid but to punish” Jason would never see her as plethoric as in that moment, he was sure. He had to bare his neck if he aspired to get something.

“And you can’t even begin to imagine how sharp the edge of his axe is.” The only thing Jason learned and other Bats didn’t was that the emotions could be used as a powerful weapon, sometimes cut deeper than a blade and were connected to the core of the human species.

So he bared his soul for a moment. He stopped trying to control his trembling hands or the tears welling at the edges of his eyes. He made sure Waller saw the utter terror he felt thinking about his family right now, thinking about Batman and what he would do to him this time. The anxiety and fear that had been piling up with every day, every year, every punishment.

He remembered the cold indifference when he stumbled when he was Robin, how he got benched, how unimportant he was periodically reminded he was. How unreasonable. How uncontrollable and dangerous.

Unwanted.

He remembered being replaced by a younger, richer and less controversial version of himself. He remembered the feeling cutting through his heart like blunt knives tearing and ripping his world apart. He remembered the hope that maybe he meant something to his father, even after being turned into a horror tale to following Robins, his legacy twisted into a compilation of what must not be done.

He remembered the feeling of a batarang slitting his throat, the warm blood racing down his neck as he saw his father carrying his murderer to safety. He remembered the pit taking over his mind and making him walk and stitch himself when all he wanted was to die in that gutter.

He remembered pain burning holes in his soul when he found out Batman had died, the helpless rage at the final message left for him as a last fuck you; more proof of unreturned love. He remembered his vocal chords bleeding with his screams at being held captive five cells down from his murderer in Arkham, knowing his brother had thrown him there and never looked back.

He felt the phantom of the feeling that attacked him with every word of hatred, mistrust and disdain. Damian’s words putting him on his place.

The absence of calls or invitations to the family portrait sitting and those movie nights he had discovered the one time he had thought of visiting Alfred. The sight was worse form the window.

Amanda Waller, commonly known as everyone’s worse nightmare, was the only living person capable of shielding Jason from the Bats. Jason knew he never stood a chance. Any kind word or helping hand had been a tribute to that fallen kid, the idealized version of his murdered younger self.

To them, he was merely a murderer wearing the face of a memory. They would not have mercy.

Waller’s creased brow told him she understood and now she knew why everyone should be afraid of his family.

“He really fucked you up, kid.” Both knew that was good news for her.

“There’s an ever-growing club. Hope you never have to sign up.”

 

 

The sweat-soaked sheets tied him to the unknown bed, circling his limbs like poisonous vines; the vision in front of him was the same as in his nightmare. Every night for the past four months he had been working for the United States of America under the unwavering puppeteer hands of Amanda Waller.

Each night he would see his blood-stained gloved hands not really knowing how he had come to that position.

That night in Gotham had been calm and eerie, a light breeze sending chills down Jason’s spine while he waited for something to happen. Calm meant trouble in their city; it meant the monsters were hidden plotting their next massacre. He was just about to reach to the inside pocket of his leather jacket to grab his vaping device instead of cigarettes when the screams filled the air.

They weren’t angry like those of a robbery victim but deeply afraid. A violent crime.

The girl wasn’t even twelve. The sight of that scumbag above her, fumbling with his belt while he kept her pinned to the ground was worse than the crowbar beating him to death. It triggered something inside him, reminding him of that episode he never talked about, that time one of mommy’s friends wouldn’t go. How that man had put him down, just like the little girl in front of him, and kept whispering and covering his mouth and ignoring the tears and bites. Mommy had been too drugged to notice.

The next thing he knew he had him pinned down and the butt of his gun kept smashing down against the flesh, blood and bone that had been that dude’s face. He didn’t know how long he had been doing that, he didn’t know why he hadn’t shot his gun or why he couldn’t stop the repetitive aggressive motions until he saw brain tissue splattering against the dirty concrete. He realized tears had been running down his cheeks and that an alert sign stood accusingly in electronic screen inside his helmet. He was sure that Oracle had him hacked. She probably had seen it all and would have called the others by now. He had no escape. He didn’t need a trial to know he had already been sentenced. The knowledge weighed on his shoulders like the world on Atlas’.

He was hyperventilating too and he had to try four times until he was able to remove the helmet from his head, followed by his leather gloves. He slicked his hair back trying to remember how to breathe. His hands came out black because of the temporary dye for his white streak. He could have stared down at his fingers for hours if a pair of arms hadn’t circled his neck, a thin body clashing against his and knocking the air out of him.

The sobbing girl refused to let him go, mumbling nonsense against the fabric covering the Kevlar, attaching herself to Jason like a koala with a bruising grip. He knew what he had to do. He put his arms around her in a comforting way and got up, walking fast but paying attention to not lose balance and let the girl fall.  He finally spoke when they were two blocks away from Leslie’s.

“What’s your name?” He made sure his voice came out strong and not like the crying little boy who was plaguing his mind.

“Tara.” Those teary eyes watched him from under a blonde mass of tangled hair.

“Okay. Do you know what’s happened, Tara?” He kept rubbing soothing circles on her back. She nodded.

“Mom’s friend is a working girl.” She sniffled “Candy.”

“I know Candy.” He nodded in encouragement. Candy helped him giving away information about some johns. “Was she supposed to watch over you?”

“She got a client. She can’t say no because she needs the money. I don’t like waiting there so I walked around the block and I got lost.” She sobbed.

Fucking Crime Alley.

“That man is never gonna do that again, okay? I stopped him in time.” He hugged her closer when she started wailing again “I’m sorry you had to see that. I wish you could forgive me.”

“F-f-forgi-v-ve y-you? You s-saved me.” She bit her lip when he lowered her to the ground, in front of Leslie’s clinic “Mom said you were the only Bat who watched over us.” Tara smiled a little and grabbed his hand while entering the clinic.

Leslie stopped whatever she was saying to her assistant and eyed them. He knew what she saw, the Red Hood covered in blood and a little girl holding his hand, equally blood-stained and clearly traumatized. Leslie closed her eyes for three long seconds and sighed. She gestured for them to follow her into one of the examination rooms.

“Attempted sexual assault.” He whispered to her when Tara had sat down. Leslie turned to him, looked him from head to toe, then to the girl. She nodded at him “I’m being chased. I need you to lie to them.”

“Back exit. I’ll tell them I saw you run south to your turf once you dropped the girl.” That was as much as he could ask from her.

“Thanks.” He was about to leave when he looked over his shoulder “You’ve been one of the best people I’ve ever known”

He left the clinic and went down into the sewer. The only way to escape flying rodents was doing it underground.

He just had to avoid being captured until he contacted Waller.

 

 

The nightmares had followed him during those months in the government facilities. Sometimes they were about him. Sometimes they were about Tara. Sometimes he couldn’t do anything, watching how the two children in front of him were raped. He couldn’t even close his eyes.

Jason shuddered and looked at the flame dagger in his hand, the weapon he always hid under the pillow for safety, as well as his .9 mm. He needed to focus on every little action on his daily routine so he would not think about it. He would behave like he was expected. He would survive another day.

Jason got up and showered, brushed his teeth and touched his white streak with a sad little smile. He put on training clothes showing every scar like a war trophy and slipped on his favorite combat boots, metal toecap for the idiots who would dare spar with him today.

Every little soldier within the building was both his babysitter and his apprentice. Waller wanted to see everything he was capable of before letting him go on solo missions. Meanwhile, she used him as a tool to sharpen her men’s capacities with both his training as a Bat and a member of the League of Assassins.

The day he was sent to that secret facility he had felt thousands of eyes set on him, watching him, commenting on his origins and reputation. He heard one of them say he belonged to the Suicide Squad with the other psychos. Jason had enjoyed throwing one of his numerous daggers at him, the blade sinking and cutting the flesh on his chest and just millimeters away from puncturing the lung.

"Bats have enhanced hearing" he hissed in the guy's ear as he proceeded to stitch him up with his own portable first-aid kit in the middle of the building entrance.

He had enjoyed not applying any anesthetic.

Jason sparred every day with at least ten of them. He supposed Waller wanted to see how far Jason could go because she kept sending her best assets. He remained undefeated though he gave them credit for the few bruises he had to patch in the intimacy of his room. He was sure Waller had him wired, or even had placed CCTV in his room, like some psycho pseudo Big Brother.

He reached the training mats and started stretching, his playlist on the training room’s speakers. Heavydirtysoul playing at high volume.

Gangsters don’t cry

Therefore, therefore I’m

Mr. Misty-eyed, therefore I’m

Can you save, can you save my-

Can you save my heayvdirtysoul?

“A good psychiatrist would’ve volumes ta say about ya music choices, hoodie boy.” a sweet serial killer voice spoke.

“So Waller finally sent the big shots my way.” Jason straightened and observed the Suicide Squad members. Just three, hmm.

Harley? Lethal in one-to-one combat and his murderer’s ex. Killer Croc? Meta. Enchantress? Magic user.

Two of the bats’ weaknesses: magic and no preparation time. Waller was a smart bitch.

He could see how Croc leaned towards the witch in a protective way and that was good because the advantage was that Jason was a better strategist than he and Croc had a liability. Of course, Jason would have wished it hadn’t been an ancient witch but, hey, who was he to complain?

“Music volume up” he ordered to the system, he had programmed it himself. Not as good as something Barbara or Tim could have done, but decent. He had always been way better at creating chaos “Execute shutdown” he told to the system.

And so chaos ensued. He had memorized every centimeter and object filling that room. He drew the gun on his right thigh holster and dove towards Croc. His shoulder screamed in protest at being smashed against the hard scales but Jason smiled when he heard Harley protesting at being crushed under Croc’s bulk. Jason took his opportunity and shot three times in Harley's direction, high enough for a headshot. The first shot’s flash let him know where he had to aim, the second landed right in the middle of her forehead and the third was just to make a point, landing in the exact same spot than the previous one. It was a terrible shame they were rubber bullets. But if he was honest with himself he actually liked Harley for freeing herself from that pasty-white fucker.

Commotion didn’t last once Enchantress cast a spell to light her way to him not even sparing a glance for her teammate, placing herself between Croc and him. So mutual love it was. Hmm. Jason could work with that. He let her come, the smirk on her face triumphant. Just when the burning tingling in his hands started to be unbearable, he released the All-Blades.

The powerful flames caressed his skin, recognizing him as their master and last heir to the Order of the All-Caste. The blades Ducra left him fed on his very soul like an insatiable entity. They could fight any magical evil and/or Amazon, so he didn’t complain. He was living on borrowed time anyway, and he didn’t care about his soul or the time he had left because the Pit blurred the lines of morality and mortality.

He wrote poetry on the air with every blazing trace of his weapons, keeping the witch at bay. He was an impeccable swordsman, or had been, back when he cared about practicing with the blades Talia gave him as presents. He was doing fine but Croc would soon discover how to get back up. Jason had acted too quickly for them to be anything but confused. He was also sure Waller would be recording every second. He attacked in an arc. Enchantress was shocked by Jason’s hidden capabilities and avoided the edge of the fiery blade like the plague. Jason used those precious seconds to somersault not-so-elegantly, landing behind her and bringing the blade to her throat, holding her in place.

He saw Croc baring his teeth at him above Enchantress’ head. Jason drew his other gun and pointed it at Croc, the motion making the woman in his hands hiss when the flames got too close to her, black smoke dancing up from her clothes and skin creating an unpleasant smell.

“You have two options” Jason started “One, you try to attack and I shoot you several times on your way here, which would probably lead to the accidental beheading of your girlfriend. I have nothing against her” he cocked his head, paying attention at Croc’s reptile pupils stretching and widening “Two, you both surrender and I win. No one gets murdered”

Four tense seconds passed until Enchantress nodded at Croc and he held his hands up in surrender.

“Let me go” Jason wouldn’t comment on her harshness just because he knew she was desperate to get away from him and the sacred fire.

“Ugh” Harley groaned from the floor finally regaining consciousness, watching how Enchantress walked hurriedly to Croc’s side.

“Move and I’ll shoot you again” Jason threatened. He saw the giant bruise forming on her forehead. There was even a thin blood trail running down her nose and lip. Jason grimaced. That had to hurt. But Harley didn’t seem bothered by that, instead, she groped her left breast with a pout directed at him.

“You shot my boob!” Jason fidgeted uncomfortably under her accusing eyes.

So that was where the first shot landed…

 

 

After the Suicide Squad fiasco, Waller finally let him go on a mission, but not before having a two-hour interrogation about his meta abilities and the All-Caste. She also told him he had a babysitter. Yay.

The mission was simple: reach the subject, negotiate, threaten if necessary. Weaknesses: a daughter. Abilities: meta, marksman, hitman. Affiliations: League of Assassins, otherwise neutral.

Alias: Deathstroke.

That was the reason why Jason wore a mask to the encounter. Not that he and Deathstroke had bad blood or anything but it was always for the better, having the fact that he had slept with his daughter. Being a Bat and all that. Unnecessarily dangerous possible outcomes, if you asked him. Better to have the upper hand and element of surprise.

Agent Seul was the one talking; Jason had to observe the procedures and ways of Waller’s men and stay in the shadows, leaning against the wall. He could intervene just in case of threat or unavoidable fight.

His black helmet didn’t have the fancy designs of his Red Hood helmets, just a voice modulator, and a night vision mode. His comm chirped in his right ear, some nameless agent barking the message.

“Agent Seul, we need to retreat. There are complications.” Jason said, uninterested but still focused on Deathstroke’s katanas. He was prepared for a fight, in the falsely relaxed position every Robin learned to be in around Batman and his rogues, just in case the villain would attack the little birds.

Deathstroke fixed his eye on him, suddenly interested in the previously unimportant newbie who needed to learn from his superiors’ procedures. Jason tensed and his fingers itched and clenched for guns that weren’t there, for thigh holsters that had to be left behind in the base. He even wished for some stupid escrima sticks. Or shurikens.

Waller had insisted this mission was not to turn violent. Ha.

That single eye seemed to pierce his soul. There was sudden movement and Agent Seul was on the ground unconscious. At least Jason hoped the guy was unconscious.

“And who are you supposed to be, helmet boy?” He was being sized up “You seem familiar.”

“Doubt it.” Jason shrugged his shoulder “Haven’t been around that long.”

Deathstroke lunged at him with a katana, not even at high speed. Jason jumped and somersaulted his way above him, using the wall to push off from. He grabbed the handle of the other katana at Deathstroke’s back and pushed himself further into the room kicking at the assassin’s shoulders.

His opponent growled and barked a laugh.

“I knew there was something about you” Deathstroke cocked his head to the side “How did the League even let you out?”

“Look, dude, we’re here just to offer you a job.” Jason relaxed his stance a little. “I would take the offer because Waller is a bitch. She won’t hesitate to threaten Rose.”

He expected a blow, but not a flying katana aimed at his throat. He ducked and jumped in Deathstroke’s direction just to have a hand clenching at his throat, keeping him a foot above the ground. He wrapped his hands around the assassin’s wrist and kicked his legs at Deathstroke's head, trapping it between his thighs bringing them both to the ground.

The assassin huffed between his thighs, amused for a second and then all Hell broke loose. There was an explosion through the opposite wall and rubble flying towards them, a giant piece of it hitting Jason in the head, shattering the side of his helmet and sending shards biting into his skin painfully.

Deathstroke tried to get from under him, unbalancing Jason and sending him flying through the room. Jason grunted when he hit his back, the blood on his face blinding the only eye that hadn’t got the helmet in its way. He fought with the latch on his helmet and the pain to get it out, almost missing what the shouting voice was saying.

“Stop it, Deathstroke. We are the Teen Titans and you are under arrest.”

The worst thing? Demon Spawn’s tone was too recognizable to be mistaken. He tried to sink and hide under some rubble while Starfire blasted Deathstroke with her starbursts and Raven cast a spell on him that made him look like he was asleep. Jason was praying to every god he knew for the whiny titans to get going and forget about him. He would chew Waller for this, none of the Bats were supposed to get near him. Ever. That was the deal.

When Starfire's eyes set on him Jason knew he was fucked. He sighed and gestured her to keep quiet and leave. He even made the pleading face. Her eyes lit and she smiled flying towards him.

“No, no. Kori, shoo.” He waved his hand and whispered. She lifted him up like a cat and enveloped him in a hug a few feet above ground, her skin gleaming with content.

“Jason!” She smiled and looked him over, holding him a little further from her body, still levitating. Jason waved his legs in the air hoping she would just drop him. “You look unwell, Jason Todd.”

“You exploded a wall in my face, Kori. How am I supposed to look?” He rolled his eyes and huffed.

“Apologies, my friend. We didn’t know there was anyone else. We received a call telling us where the Assassin would be.” She hugged him again.

“Starfire! You cannot share vital information with…” Robin fell silent and Jason avoided eye contact. “You.”

Jason would break several teeth if he kept clenching his jaw. He saw Damian raising his hand to his comm.

“Don’t you dare, Damian.” He bared his teeth and hissed. The kid gave him an irritated look.

“No names in the field, Hood.” He scrunched up his nose.

“I’m not in the fucking field anymore, you twerp.” He thrasted in Kori’s hold, attempting to antagonize the kid a bit more. She secured her hold around him.

“Jason, there are children present, I’ve been told it’s not good to swear in front of them” she furrowed her brow, eyeing them both “You should speak more nicely to each other. It’s what brothers would do.”

“He’s not my brother,” Damian said at the same time the green kid said 'Dude, they’re brothers?'

“He’s a burden and a failure. He abandoned his part of the city and fled like a scared infant. He doesn’t deserve the honor to be part of my family.” Damian spat.

“I’ve never been part of that fucked up family” and okay, those words had hurt Jason.

“You will always be that street rat, running away from everyone. Father has been fixated on finding you and he has called everyone to the city because Crime Alley is out of control.” Robin clenched his jaw “People there do not trust us because you’ve convinced them we are the enemy.” He pointed a finger in Jason’s direction.

“They think you are the enemy because your dear Daddy didn’t give a fuck about them. I was the only one who set foot there and started cleaning the area. Batman just visited once a year to cry like a baby in that alley.” Jason clenched his fists “No one has ever given a fuck about Crime Alley.”

“Not even you, apparently.” Robin smirked when Jason gave him his deadliest stare. Even some of the kids behind him backed a few steps “You have left your people alone. You are weak. So weak that you embarrass me.”

“You know what?” A tear fell down Jason’s cheek, leaving a burning trail when it came in contact with the cuts on his face “I gave my life for a city that’s never given me anything good. I died a hero, trying to protect a mother who had sold me out to Joker. I died and my last thought was how I wanted my Dad to hug me one last time.”

I still wish he would. Jason heaved, holding onto Koriand’r like a lifeline. His eyes met Robin’s cold white lenses

“I risked my life so many times after that, trying to set the record straight for the Pit madness and I… I can’t. What happened that night- I know I broke the deal. I left. What do you want from me now, Damian?” He was still crying and it felt like he couldn’t ever stop “I’ve erased myself from your lives, from my city. I will leave the country if I need to but I can’t- I won’t go back to Arkham. I won’t suffer that just because Batman feels it’s a fair punishment. I was five cells away from my murderer the last time Dick threw me in that gutter. Not even the Pit could fuck me up as that did.”

“Jason,” Koriand’r touched his cheek, looking concerned, Jason didn’t want that, he wanted to finish this.

“So yeah,” he looked at Damian again. The kid looked tense, all the other ‘teens’ around looking at him with astonished faces “I have the right to be weak. I’ve earned it” he placed his hand on his chest and finally convinced Starfire to let him on the ground “You don’t need to worry, you’ll never see me again. Give the memo to the fam.”

In that moment the ruined door was open, not without difficulty, and one of Amanda’s men came through it, eyeing Jason and ignoring the rest. A second one came too and went to the still unconscious Agent Seul to pick him up and leave.

“Agent Todd,” the first one spoke pointedly “Waller’s waiting for us back in the base.” He nodded his head towards the door.

Jason ignored the shocked face of his so-called little brother and proceeded to leave. He hesitated as he was about to cross the threshold, looking back for a moment.

“Tell Alfred I miss him” Jason set his shoulders straight and left.

Todd-“ that was the last thing he heard before closing the door rather dramatically in Robin’s face.

Chapter Text

Jason was still stomping down the street, his pixie boots making him uncomfortable that specific night. Bru- Batman had ordered him to get the children out of the warehouse. But Dick Grayson’s words still lingered on his mind when he opened the giant metal door and got inside, looking for the kids spending the night.

“We both know you’ve dragged that kid to this life just to get back at me for leaving, Bruce.”

No one had noticed Jason hiding in the cave, hurt and hostility burning in his eyes. He just wanted to tear that stupid mullet off Dick’s head like he had seen some women do in the building he and his mom used to live in. Dick scrunched up his nose and met Bruce’s eyes with real concern

“You can’t even deny it, can you?”

Bruce had punched Dick in the face and when Alfred had run down the stairs to seize the situation Dick was long gone. Jason had waited a few minutes and then he had run to his room, where he could read and forget about what had happened.

And right now he was putting on a show, leading the children out of the warehouse and giving them confidential information about what other buildings they could spend the night in. It may have been Jason exaggerating his Crime Alley accent or just the suit but they actually listened to him. They were almost out when one of the little girls turned around and looked at him with teary eyes, a couple of tears trailing down her dirty face.

“I left my teddy b-bear.” She fisted her little hand on his sleeve. And, God, Jason knew he was little for his age, but that hand was really, really tiny. He sighed and closed his eyes. He nodded at her and led her out of the building.

“Take care of her, I’ll be right back.”

The older girl, who seemed to be in charge, nodded at him with a solemn expression. He had to be fast. Batman had been adamant in that aspect.

He trotted back inside and glanced around. The bear was in one of the corners where they had set some blankets and cartons for the night. Jason grabbed the deteriorated bear and ran toward the entrance, already smiling because he had successfully completed his task.

The little girl squealed when she saw him come out, bear in hand. Jason’s chest filled with a warm sensation and started to walk towards her grabby hands. But at that moment, as usual, life stabbed him in the back.

He heard the explosion behind him and was just turning around to assess the situation when he saw that huge metal door flying towards him. Everything went black.

 

 

The pounding behind his eyes got worse when he felt hands on his body, looking for bruises and injuries. He heard a little girl crying inconsolably near him and then he started to understand the words directed at him.

“Robin!”

He had never heard Batman use that tone when he had the cowl on. It was wrong, it was too afraid to belong to the caped crusader. Jason must have scrunched up his face or something because suddenly Bruce’s hand was cupping his chin gently.

“Jay, Jaylad, can you hear me?”

Jason hissed at the sudden pain on the side of his face and tried to open his eyes to look at him. He could only open his left one. The door must have hit him really hard on the right side. Jason groaned in pain, leaning into Bruce’s touch for comfort.

“It’s okay, son, we’ll get home soon. I promise.”

Jason could have sworn Bruce’s voice wavered. Maybe he was afraid after all.

He didn’t remember driving back home or being tucked into one of the infirmary beds where they had connected him to various devices that controlled his vitals.

“I’ve never been so scared in my life, Alfred.” Bruce said anxiously somewhere in the Batcave.

“I believe that is how one should feel whenever their child gets involved in an explosion, Master Bruce.” Alfie might have sounded somehow tense but Jason didn’t care at all.

He smiled in his semi-conscious state because Bruce had called him son. And that meant he had helped his Dad, not just Batman. That meant he had a family.

Because that’s what fathers did, right? They fed you, they worried when you got hurt. They called you son and lad and Jay.

“Call the school and tell them he’s caught a cold.”

“Immediately, Sir.” There was silence for a couple of seconds and Jason was almost asleep again when Alfred spoke again “The young Master will be most disappointed, we had planned to start reading 'The Great Gatsby' tomorrow.” The old man sighed.

“It’s okay, Alfred. I’ll read to him.”

Had Jason not been already half asleep he would have teared up. The wounds and bruises didn’t matter now. He had a Dad.

 

 

 

 

“I won’t tolerate such behavior from a teenager.”

Waller’s icy stare burned holes in his back. He needed nicotine like a baby would a pacifier. He had been smoking more and more these past few months, not having to dread Bruce’s biannual checkups.

“You broke our deal.” Jason turned around with almost superhuman speed.  His hands gripped the back of the chair he was supposed to be sitting on, nearly breaking it. “You knew they’d come. You orchestrated that.

“I didn’t plan it,” she shrugged one of her shoulders, unimpressed. “But I didn’t stop it, either”

“You’re telling me this was a coincidence, Mandy?” He hissed. He was seething. He had assumed he wouldn’t have to ever worry again about his… the Bats.

“Don’t play the victim here, boy.” She replied. “You could have used your new charge and get out of there in a blink. But you love drama too much. Walking away wasn’t enough for the great Jason Peter Todd. You had to shout at Robin’s face for three minutes till you were satisfied.” She slammed her palm on the surface of the wooden desk “Because you still seek recognition like a little kid, even if it’s just by walking away from them.”

Jason kicked the chair, sending it flying across the room and watching it shatter against the right wall. His nostrils flared, his fists clenched, his heartbeat pounded at his throat like a war drum. He felt the Pit hissing at the back of his head, telling him to give into it once again. The sensation circling his nerves like the silk of Death, calling him to his place.

Waller must have seen the flicker of green within his eyes because her gaze sharpened and her head cocked to the side, taking him in.

Jason turned his back on her again and punched his way through her office door out of pettiness and frustration. He made his way through the compound like a man about to start a war, making sure no one dared get in his way. He smelled blood. Jason looked down and discovered it came from his own hands where his nails had dug their way through the flesh, creating angry marks. The red droplets followed him through the corridors.

He was such a mess. He couldn’t keep his shit together for a second. Even in the solace of his bedroom, he felt restless and uneasy. Bruce’s voice in his head ordering him to sleep didn’t help either. On the contrary, he now was set to have no sleep at all.

He was a child. Waller was right. He was a stupid kid who thought he could defy the universe.

Fuck.

Fuck.

He wasn’t even twenty yet. He was supposed to be getting wasted at some frat party, not in a government facility hiding away from his father. He should have been able to be a kid. He should… he should have never been a soldier. That wasn’t a weight any kid should bear.

That wasn’t something a real father would put his son through.

Jason covered his face with trembling hands and tried to breathe steadily. Because that was it, wasn’t it? Bruce had never loved him back. Jason had been just a cheap replacement for the real kid Bruce missed. And that was why whenever Jason stepped out from Bruce’s idea of what a Robin should be like…

He had been stupid. Jason had always known Dick was the favorite but that street kid had been so eager to please and get affection he’d never considered not being even part of the game. Alfred had been the only one checking on him. Probably just wanted to make sure Bruce wouldn’t get sued by social services. That would have been unfortunate.

It hurt. It fucking hurt. So much that Jason felt the need to claw at his chest and take it out, that vicious serpent strangling his heart, the sensation making him want to puke.

He walked through the room and searched fhis drawers for cigarettes, grabbing them and the lighter with familiarity. He looked around the room and decided to go for the window, climbing his way to the rooftop easily.

He sat with his legs dangling off the edge, rapidly lighting the first cigarette and taking the first drag. Jason let the smoke travel down his throat and then out again through his nose, burning its way through his nostrils. The first drag was always otherworldly, seeming to sink him into a momentary trance.

The cigarette was gone much too soon. A second one followed. And a third.

He looked at the designs the smoke drew on the night air, reminding him of a dark city filled with gas and shadows where the silhouettes in the night sky had once meant protection. The tightness on his chest returned with force, almost knocking him on his back against the hard rooftop.

Jason looked ahead where the void faced him, the numbness enveloping him like a second skin. It was okay. He preferred it to the heartache.

He saw his feet stepping into the nothingness, imagining how easy it would be to slip. How many times had he seen the same image, seated on his favorite gargoyle? Back then he had had a purpose. He had been sure Bruce would come and take him home where Alfred would be waiting with a mug filled to the brim with hot chocolate.

What did he have now? He'd traded one prison for another. One colder and stranger, without any British accent or cowls or pixie boots that gave him magic.

He was Jason. He was alone. And he wasn’t enough.

“I do hope you aren’t considering the jump, my love.”

The British accent wasn’t the one he had been wishing for, but it wasn’t unwelcomed.

“Not after how the world and I myself have worked so hard to keep you amongst the living.”

“Talia.” Jason snorted. The sudden strangled noise that came out of him making him notice he had been crying. Great.

 

 

 

 

Jason ran and jumped and swung across the city to his favorite gargoyle.

He shouldn’t, he knew he was having a panic attack. He knew he should be somewhere safe trying to calm down.  But he couldn’t get back to the manor. Not now. Not being like this. Not after what Bruce… what Batman had said.

He wanted a way out.

Maybe he hadn’t meant what he said, right? Bruce wasn’t the best with words, less when he was frustrated. No, he couldn’t have possibly meant that.

Right?

They had been arguing. Again. It wasn’t even something huge. Bruce was being unreasonable. Jason could handle a case alone. It was just a drugs case and yeah, okay, the drug was Venom, but Jason knew how to handle those kinds of situations.

But Bruce had brought up a thing that had happened six months ago when Jason had broken some thug’s arm after he had tried to shot him. Repeatedly. It was more than justified.

The fight had escalated quickly, both of them getting angrier and nastier by the second and then Bruce had lost it and shouted right in Jason’s face.

“Goddammit, Jason. I’m not your father. I don’t need teenage rebellion!” Bruce had pinched his nose and tried to steady himself. He hadn’t noticed how Jason had paled “I don’t know what’s gotten into you”

Jason had turned around so he couldn’t see his face “Whatever” he had spat through gritted teeth. 

He ran.

His heaving chest distracted him a little because he had to focus on not hyperventilating. He needed to calm down or he would pass out. While sitting on a gargoyle.

Fuck. He'd promised Alfred he wouldn’t smoke again but right now he would feel so much better with just one drag. He let himself hang in a precarious position around the gargoyle's legs and reached for where the statue met the building façade. He had hidden his last cigarette stash there.

He took one of the cigarettes out and fumbled a little with the lighter, trying a couple of times until it worked. He almost swallowed the smoke of that first drag. It was stronger than he remembered but that might be because he hadn’t smoked in years. Or because the cigarettes had been there for three years.

He would not cry.

It was crazy. He had been in the manor for years. He had signed the adoption papers. They had watched movies. Bruce had even managed to go to one of Jason’s plays for school.

He couldn’t have meant that.

I’m not your father.

Little did Jason know that not long after that night he would be watching Felipe Garzonas fall to his death. And he would be fired from his job. His job. Because that’s what he was to Bruce: an employee. A soldier.

When he had discovered his mother was alive he hadn’t even looked back because it had been on Bruce’s files and if he had been fired, then his boss would surely send him to her anyway.

Because who would put up with a rebellious teenager who couldn’t do his job right if his mother was alive? It was the perfect excuse to get rid of him.

Jason just hadn’t wanted to give Bruce the satisfaction of doing it himself.

 

 

 

 

“What are you doing here, T?” Jason cleared his throat, not even bothering to look at her.

“Is a mother not allowed to care for her son?” Talia said pointedly.

“I didn’t do anything to Damian if that’s what you're worried about.”

He somehow managed to feel more miserable. He thought Talia understood he wouldn’t do anything like that. Not after the Pit madness.

“Oh, my dear,” She sounded amused. “Your brother is not the son for whom I worry.”

He frowned and she let a delicate laugh escape her lips. Her elegant but deadly fingers rested on the back of his neck, moving in soothing circles.

“I’ve taken care of you, I’ve fed you, I’ve betrayed my own blood for you and provided for anything you might need in your crusade against your father, my love.” She got serious “I can’t imagine you would assume I wouldn’t claim you as mine, hmm?”

“Maybe you just used me like everyone else.” He sounded petty even to himself.

“Why, of course I did, Jason.” She flipped her hair to her back “That doesn’t mean I love you any less”

The worst thing? He believed her.

“And in regards to your question,” He then looked at her, “I keep a close eye on both you and your brother like any mother would. When my men informed me of your… terrible episode that night.” Jason tensed. They had seen it and they'd done nothing. “Naturally, I traveled here. But imagine my surprise when I learned that not only you had abandoned your family but also had given yourself willingly to that government viper.” She arched a brow.

“I…” He closed his mouth and tried again. “You know he would have found me anywhere else.” He toyed with his hands, not looking at her. Jason felt her nails pressing against the tender flesh of his chin. She turned his head in her direction.

“And why, my dearest love,” He had fucked up. Yup. She was using her sweet tone. He was a dead man. “Didn’t you call me for help?”

“Honestly?” He scratched the back of his neck.

“Yes.”

“Because I don’t know where you’d stand if it was between me and Bruce.” He swallowed when her eyes sharpened.

“I apologize if my feelings have not been clear enough for you, Jason.” She folded her hands neatly on her thighs, seating beside him. “While I love your father deeply, I would never ignore how he has failed as a parent to the point of driving his son to consider committing suicide. I saw how he neglected you and estranged you from your family. I kept my distance as both Damian and you asked but I’ve seen everything.” She looked at him and the intensity in her gaze made Jason gasp. “It pains me. Of course, you can’t believe I will keep my distance any longer after these last months, my dear.”

“So, what? You’ve come to stay? Here?” He gestured to their surroundings and snorted.

“Were it necessary.” She nodded. “But the main reason for my arrival is to give you a choice, Jason. I know you came here out of necessity but if you come with me you wouldn’t be alone.”

“To the League?” He shook his head. “My ninja days ended a long time ago.”

“Of course, you wouldn’t be under my father’s hand.” She looked at her nails, seemingly uninterested “You are the last member of the All-Caste and, should you want it, a life with the privileges of the League but without the blind devotion to my father could be given to you”

“What aren’t you telling me, Talia?” He knew her. He knew there was more to this conversation that she was giving away.

“Nothing you need to worry about.” She caressed his cheek. “But know that under my watch nothing would ever happen to you. The choice is yours.”

She got up and offered him her hand to get up as well.  She made a t.t noise, much like her son, stealing his cigarettes and hiding them somewhere in her clothes.

“You will not smoke anymore, Jason.” And, okay, that really sounded like a mother would. Her eyes softened momentarily while looking at him, obviously a mess after everything that had happened.

A thought surfaced in his mind.

“You were the one who called them.” She raised both eyebrows, waiting for more. “The Titans.”

“Oh,” She waved her hand dismissing the subject. “Yes, it was one of my men. I couldn’t make a real assessment of the situation if I couldn’t comprehend your current situation in regards to the relationship with your family.”

“You have Damian wired?” He said with incredulity.

“Don’t be absurd.” She patted his chest “I hacked every electronic device both of you carry” Jason snorted.

“You’re just like-“ He cut himself midsentence, the weight of the whole situation falling on his shoulders again. She sighed.

“My offer still stands. I will be near, should you need me.”

She nodded at him curtly and turned to the cliff, ready to jump. She stopped and looked over her shoulder.

“Jason?”

“Yes?”

“Your father is here.” And she jumped, leaving a gaping Jason unable to move.

 

 

 

 

Blood filled his lungs as Jason tried to free Sheila from the ropes. But he knew.

He knew he wouldn’t make it out alive, not with his injuries. He knew half of them were lethal but at least he could save his mom, right? It didn’t matter that she had betrayed him. He would still save a person even after fucking up so bad. Maybe Bruce would be proud after all?

He moaned trying not to cry because that would stop him from untying the knots. Bruce. He would never see him again. He wouldn’t see Alfred. Or Barbara. Or Gordon. Not even stupid Dickface.

He missed his Dad.  Even if Bruce didn’t consider himself his Dad, he was. He had to be.  And Jason… Jason needed him. He wanted Bruce to hug him. He wanted to say he was sorry for running away and letting him down and disappointing him.

He wanted to say to Bruce that he had been the best Dad.

Even if he wasn’t his son.

 

 

 

 

In the end, like Bruce predicted when he caught Jason with a cigarette between his lips, smoke had killed him.

Just not the way they’d thought it would.

Jason gave into the panic. He climbed down to his room hoping he could gather some of his things and get out of there. He could manage to get on a plane and survive for a couple of months wherever it led him. He could get out of the country when the Bats gave up on finding him. He was good like that. For God’s sake, he had been hiding for almost a year under Bruce’s nose and he had been none the wiser.

Well, he hadn’t exactly been looking for him either.

Jason didn’t even know why he cared now. It was ridiculous. He should be relieved Jason had committed to the forces of law and order. He wondered if it was possible to be tired of living when you hadn’t even reached twenty. And had already died.

He suspected it might be karma for those severed heads in a duffle bag back in the days when he was interested in ruling Gotham’s underworld.

Shifting his thoughts to an entirely different duffle bag, he started stuffing it with underwear and guns. A couple of jeans and some shirts. He was wearing his favorite boots and the red hoodie. Jason was just climbing on the bed to take a pack of cigarettes and his flame dagger when he heard something in the corridor. Anyone else might have thought it had been someone stumbling. Jason had spent enough time with Bruce to know that had been a person falling unconscious after a well-aimed blow from the Bat.

“No, no, no, no, no.” He moved faster than ever in his short second life “Fuck.”

He heard nothing. Then someone broke down his door. Before Batman could glance around the room, Jason was jumping out the window with the filled duffle bag over his shoulder like a fugitive and very emo Santa Claus.

He couldn’t even believe people made deals with Waller. Seriously.

He realized much too soon that he hadn’t planned anything after jumping to a certain second death. He didn’t even have a grapple gun. That was panic right there, ladies and gentlemen. Because that’s what you did when your father kicked open the door of your government bedroom. You jumped. Through a window on the seventh floor of the building. Had he not been so furious about his approaching death, Jason would have groaned. Something inside him rebelled and made him latch on one of the numerous windowsills. Which was not a great idea if you weighed 205 lbs, had a bag full of things and you had only one hand available.

“Ahhh! Fuck!” He felt the muscle break. He was sure he had heard it tear. Jason was heating up, and his shoulder could dislocate any minute. The good thing was he was just two stories away from the ground.

Jason!” Batman barked toward him. Jason couldn’t focus on what he was saying. Everything hurt up and down his right arm. He thanked all that could be hailed when he saw cars parked below him.

He inhaled and exhaled two times before he decided to jump again. He could fall from a second floor. It would be okay. Batman may have shouted something. Fuck him. He wouldn’t catch him tonight.

Jason rolled across the car’s hood and if he howled like a damn loser when his arm hit the surface, well, no one could blame him. He was profusely sweating and his arm likely dislocated by now. He started running when he heard the hiss of a cape cutting the air.

He had to think. He had to plan. He had to stop thinking about chopping off his arm.

There was high security here, nothing he couldn’t handle any day of the week but with his the arm like this… he needed to reassess. He needed a vehicle.

No. There were three different controls to get in or out of the compund. What was he thinking, coming at a place like this? He should have realized this was a trap.

Unless he stole the batmobile.

But anyone with access to that program (aka Barbara) could control the vehicle from outer space if they wanted.

“C’mon, Todd, think.” He lifted his left hand to wipe the sweat from his face while running, his carotid could have popped out of his neck and he wouldn’t had been surprised.

He could hear Batman gaining speed. Jason thought he might be saying something but, since his defeat when he tried to make Bruce kill the Joker, Jason had learned that Batman’s words were just a distraction. He couldn’t afford to get distracted right now.

He just needed to survive.

He ran as fast as his legs let him, the pain in his right arm letting the survival instincts hit and take control. He should have taken his phone, that way he could have called Waller. Or Talia.

Wait, wasn’t Talia there like fifteen minutes ago? Had she left yet? Why hadn’t she stayed?

The fever was already affecting his brain. He needed allies.

Or a bunker.

Yeah.

A cozy and silent bunker with air conditioning and Alfred’s cookies. And some books. Those were important. Maybe cigarettes. No one would bother him. He could invite Alfred and Talia over to talk and have tea. They both loved tea and questioning Jason’s life decisions. Yeah, they would get along. Why wouldn’t they? They both talked British.

Jason came back to reality when he saw a silhouette in front of him, just standing on the first control. He let himself feel hope. That could be one of Waller’s men. They all knew him They could contact their boss and kick the Bat out. Hopefully. Jason spent the rest of his energy to run in that direction.

And, just when he was a few feet from there, he saw who it was. Bruce had brought the cavalry with him. Cassandra stood firm and observant, her eyes following his every action and five unconscious guards at her feet. She made a funny face when she saw his face and looked past him with accusation blaring in her eyes.

Jason tripped over something and fell, screaming in frustration. Why did they do this to him? Why was Cassandra doing this to him? He punched the ground and regretted it soon when he discovered he had used the right hand. He howled again.

Hurt.” Cassandra spat at Batman while pointing at him.

“He jumped from a seventh floor without any way of stopping the fall.” Batman informed, though Jason perceived a tinge of incredulity at being accused of hurting Jason. He barked a laugh at his own thought.

“Sad.” Cassandra scrunched up her nose, seeming to try and decipher whatever happened in Jason’s head with that hawk-like look. She wouldn’t like it. “Afraid.” She concluded with worried eyes.

“As I said be-“ Batman started.

No.” Cassandra stopped him with a hiss .“Afraid of you.

Everyone fell silent, the tension palpable in the air.

And Jason blacked out.

Chapter Text

If someone had asked Jason what he expected when he opened his eyes he would have answered Arkham.

What he got was way worse.

The heaviness in his body told him he had been drugged. The touch under his fingers was one of bed sheets. He felt humidity. Water droplets collided with rock ground somewhere near him. He looked up and saw a group of bats hanging from the cave ceiling.

His breath quickened. The hammering of his heart threatened to break up his ribcage from the inside out. And Jason was just so tired. Tired of being afraid, of being hurt, of running and hiding and making deals with lesser horrors that those that plagued his mind and dreams and home. He had been crying so much lately that he felt hollow. The tears perpetually waiting behind his eyelids now long gone.

He was tired of being tired.

He laid there focusing on his breath, pretending to be asleep again. Maybe he was having another nightmare; maybe he had died again, never avoided that stupid fall. He heard something moving close to him and stopped himself from tensing up. A sharp finger poked him in the ribs.

“Awake.” Cassandra’s voice was delicate yet irrefutable. He clenched his jaw before turning his gaze to her, gulping. “I protect. No harm.” She put a strand of his hair out of his face.

“You don’t know what you’re talking about, Cass.” He smiled bitterly. He would cut his wrists and give all his blood up to Trigon if it meant he could get out of that place.

No, he didn’t fear physical pain; he was fairly acquainted with it. He feared what his mind and heart knew. The truth. He would take Death by the hand again to escape the sorrow that would drag him to that obscure corner of his mind where monsters with the shapes of loved ones awaited to have their feast.

He looked at himself. Someone (Alfred, most likely) had tended to his right arm and had secured it against Jason’s chest. The puncture in his left arm showed him what he already knew, he had been injected something. He didn’t like drugs. They knew that.

“Jason.”

Every muscle in his body tensed like a guitar string. His injuries started hurting once more. His breath stopped working altogether instead of growing faster.

No.

Every time. Every goddamned time he heard that voice calling his name in that disapproving and strained way his head went back to him being fourteen and a disappointment. It was like those dreams when you dream you’re dreaming and you wake up, but don’t know if you’re still dreaming or back in the real world. Because you can’t be sure, you can’t ever be sure you escaped that dream because, oh, how many times have you dreamt such real scenarios. And then something happens and your dream turns to a nightmare, clawing at you, holding you down for so long you aren’t so sure you will ever be awake again.

He realized that there was indeed a part of him still desperate for affection, for attention, for whatever that kid thought he had deserved. He still dreamed. And your deepest desires often tore you with sharp claws, destroyed your soul and hopes, because we’re all masochists and sometimes we crave whatever’s killing us.

Jason knew that there were certain times when you either had to kill the dream or kill yourself.

No.

He wasn’t sure he could kill the former.

“Little Wing.”

Maybe Talia was right to be worried after all.

His bottom lip was trembling, as well as his hands. Cass’ fingers tried to steady him when he was getting up. He managed to cover his face with the cruelest smirk he could manage.

“You brought the Golden Boy.” He sneered through the lump in his throat. “You’re getting really old if you need backup to beat a drugged guy.”

“No one is going to fight you, Jay.” Dick sounded so pacifying he wanted to punch him. Hard. Jason wasn’t any kind of stray kitten you wanted to carry home with you.

“Yeah, sure.”

“Jason.” He couldn’t look at Dick. He wasn’t prepared for that shit. Not now, not ever.

“I’m Special Agent Todd, now. And you face charges of abduction and aggression.” He set his jaw, eyeing the cave floor. “You better leave me alone or you’ll have Amanda biting your ass.”

“Master Jason.”

That elderly voice, full of love and forgiveness, traveled to his ears. He almost got whiplash as he turned. He covered his mouth to stifle a whimper.

“Alfred.”

It had been barely a whisper but he was sure the man heard it. He welcomed him with a gentle smile.

“My dear boy.” He could have sworn he heard a tremor in his voice.

“Did you check the results, Alfred?” He-who-should-not-be-named spoke at his left.

“Indeed, Sir.” Alfred spoke coldly, a brow arching way up his forehead. “Barely a hint of nicotine, nothing more.”

Now the cold eyes turned to Jason.

But something inside him told him that was wrong.

“How long have I beenout?” He started to panic.

“Not more than an hour, maybe two or three while B and Cass were bringing you here.” Dick answered. Jason looked at Alfred for confirmation. He nodded, completely sure.

But that couldn’t-

“You owe us an explanation.” The Brooding Champion all but barked.

“I owe you nothing.” The vein in his neck was surely working hard by that point. “I broke the deal, I left your city. Found a legal job. What do you want me to explain, uh?”

“Master Jason, what your father means,” Alfred paused at how Jason clenched his fists for a moment. Jason wondered if Bruce was having a similar reaction. “Is that you are working now for a woman with a reputation, something you had not seemed to be inclined to do before. Not to mention that according to Oracle’s images you looked rather, ah, influenced, that night.”

“Influenced.”

He snorted.

“Jay.” Dick approached him.

“You’d love that, wouldn’t you? Blaming it all on an influence. The Pit, the madness, whatever you need to not accept the truth.”

“What truth?” Bruce’s voice was frail.

“I didn’t-“ He cleared his throat. “I wanted to kill that guy. I did it. But I wasn’t aware that I was doing it”

“Was someone…?"

“No, it was me. But I… I wouldn’t have done it if I was conscious.” He rubbed his face with his hand, sighing.

Silence fell upon the cave, all eyes trained on him and Jason just wished he could vanish into the air.

That was exactly why he had to leave. The judgment. The stares. The feeling of vindication emanating from the members of his so-called family. There just couldn’t be enough motives for them to be wary of him. And he knew what would follow.

Let us help you.

You need medical attention, Jason.

You’re not alone.

But he was. And they were making things worse. He needed peace and he sure as hell wasn’t getting any in that household. They would stalk him like falcons and make him feel unreliable and he would doubt himself and try and escape.

“You need therapy” Bruce choked on his words. Jason knew exactly what he was thinking about when their eyes met.

When a much tinier Jason wore pixie boots – which Alfred had to alter because they were too big for him- and a green domino. When a much tinier Jason was crying his soul out barricaded in his brand new room at the manor. It had been that time of the year, too hot for the villains to stay at home, and of course, someone had kidnapped Jason in order to lure the Bat into a trap. They didn’t do anything to him, it was just that they had grabbed him and tossed him above their shoulders and their hands had fallen at the upper back of his thighs to steady him and Jason…

He’d gone rabid.

Riddler, Ivy, the goons- they'd all been staring at him. A pin could have dropped and it would have made a deafening sound among the sea of silence. Jason’s breathing was exhausting him and Ivy had seemed to be a fraction away from approaching him and try to comfort him.

Bruce had decided that was the moment to break a window and make his entrance. Jason had bolted out of the building and hadn’t stopped swinging and running till he was safely hidden in his bedroom. Alfred had knocked on his door while he wept, rocking his body and huddled with his arms around his knees in the furthest corner of the big room.

He’d slept like that, waking up with sore muscles and a feeling of hollowness. Alfred hadn’t said anything when Jason walked into the kitchen and started munching some food.

Bruce never mentioned it.

Ivy had.

He hadn’t needed to tell her the story, she just figured it out. She hadn’t attacked him again, retreating to her lab and telling him they could meet sometime in her greenhouse if he ever had questions about biology.

Jason wondered how different it all could have been if he had ever taken on her offer, too afraid to face the one person he had talked to about his worst nightmare. Maybe Robinson Park would have been nicer than the loneliness the empty hallways of Wayne Manor offered. Nicer than Bruce’s absence.

Only Alfred as a lifeline.

“I needed a father, not a therapist.” It slipped from his mouth. He hated himself for it.

He set his shoulders straight and turned around, prepared to get the fuck out of that haunting place.

Jason.

And just one word, spoken by that bastard, made him crumble.

He was so tired of arguing and resenting and caring for people who just couldn’t help but hurt him time and time again.

And how sad it was, to realize the only people who ever cared about you were the ones slowly destroying you.

But there was something liberating there, too.

“I get why you did it.” He turned to face Bruce, though his eyes didn’t get past the bat on the man’s chest. He traced the scar on his throat, the reason why he hardly ever looked at his reflection in the mirror. “The kid you loved wasn’t me. You wanted the get rid of the monster staining the memory.” The low chirping of the bats in the cave was all that could be heard. “It’s okay, I won’t hold an adoption paper against you. I know I’m not your Jay.” He shrugged.

He saw Bruce’s hands turn into fists. Jason braced himself for a blow that never came, grimacing.

“Master-“ Alfred interrupted when Bruce inhaled sharply.

And I-” Jason needed to let them know. At least Alfred would need to know. “I love you. All of you. And it’s so hard. It never stops hurting, loving you. And I need to stop.” He looked helplessly at Alfred as if he could answer the sudden urge to be heard. “Everyone here has an idea of me inside their heads: the bad Robin, the failed son, the shitty brother, the reckless one, the street rat...“

“That’s not fair, Jay.” Dick looked pleadingly at him.

“You all try to make me fit in your mental versions and I’m not them.” Jason sighed. “I don’t even know why you all act so offended. No one has ever wanted me here.”

“That’s absolutely false.” Alfred said sharply, eyes of iron trained in his direction.

“I know you do, Alfred.” Jason reassured. “But they only see a familiar vessel. Something broken they need to fix. I’m just a glass case and a bunch of lies about how I did everything wrong as Robin.”

He gulped, seeing how Alfred’s hands were shaking, mouth drawing a firm line where his lips would otherwise be trembling. Alfred would always be his greatest regret.

But everyone knew Jason never stood a chance competing against Bruce for Alfred’s loyalty. It was okay, at least his love didn’t hurt, it rather was a warm blanket that helped Jason defeating the horrors haunting his mind at night.

“If I could have had a say on my resurrection, I would have given these wasted years to you. Because you deserve happiness, Alfred, and I wish you were immortal because a world without you in it is not one worth living in.” Jason smiled a little. “ It wouldn’t be fair to put you in a position where you would feel bad for choosing Bruce. He’s your kid, I know. God, Alfred I know. And I wish I could put up with all this and stay by your side but I’ve never been that strong.” His voice was trembling then. “I may not believe it yet, Alf, but I’ve been told I deserve better.”

“You do, indeed.” Alfred drew a deep breath and nodded at an astonished Jason just before turning and leaving the cave in a rush.

Jason saw Cassandra following, fast and silent.

He took several steps back, wanting to create some distance between him and, well, the others.

Jason finally allowed himself to look at Bruce, cowl on place, muscles tense. His face was colder than ever before.

Jason was disappointed in some way. A pang of pain knocked at his heart’s door, reminding him of everything he wasn’t. All that he could never reach.

Dick was staring at him with a heartbroken expression.

Dick hadn’t even blinked when Jason was pleading and shouting for him to let him out of Arkham.

A soft thud sounded behind him. The weight of steps he knew all too well. Her hand fell on his shoulder delicately, comforting yet firm. Jason opened his eyes in shock when he felt the ghost of her lips on his cheek. So fast he could have imagined it.

“Talia.” Bruce spat. Teeth clenched and body ready for an attack.

“Are you alright, my dear?” Her hand made Jason’s face turn to hers, her eyes searching for… something. She seemed satisfied.

Take me out of here.” the Arabic felt like the memory of something old and safe in his mouth, bringing memories of training and lessons and his peaceful focus while sparring in the league. He wasn’t aware his brain was capable of remembering a language he dropped many years ago.

“As you wish.” Talia looked fierce. Like a goddess of vengeance just about to rip her enemies apart and feast on their cries. “There’s nothing for you here, anymore.”

No.” Bruce stepped forward, hate visible on the curve of his mouth.

“You've heard what the boy said, beloved. You are not worthy of being Jason’s father.” Talia’s words froze the air between them all. “You cannot even tell where our Damian is half of the time. I am the one who has stopped four assassination attempts against him in the last two months. And I won’t let you harm Jason any longer.” She hissed and set her shoulders straight “From now on, Jason is my son. He’s mine to protect, to take care of, to be proud of.”

“This is just a way to get back to Bruce.” Dick said with disdain.

“Oh, believe me,” She scoffed arrogantly “I won't have anything to do with a man,“ She scrunched up her nose. “Who drives the children he swore to protect and love nearly to suicide.”

Talia.” Jason tensed.

“You forfeited the right to claim him as yours the very moment you had your child within arm’s reach and chose to slit his throat instead of killing his murderer.” She turned to Dick. “And you, Richard, so mighty and heroic,” She looked like a wild animal about to strike. “You didn’t hear his cries when you threw him in that hellhole. When you knew he wasn’t mentally unstable. When you had him trapped with his killer. The same psychopath his own father had chosen over him.”

“How dare you speak of-“

“Tals, c’mon, they aren’t worth this.” Jason sighed tiredly. There was a lump threatening to choke him.

Please, take me away from here. Wherever. ‘Cause home will never be an option.

Her beautiful eyes pierced his soul and cleansed the doubt in his heart. She would be with him through this.

Jason would be lying if he said he didn’t feel the excitement of the possibility of a new beginning.

 

 

 

 

“Are you hungry?” Talia’s fingers drummed on the steering wheel, glancing at him from time to time.

“No.”

“Water?”

“Nuh-uh.”

She sighed.

“Are you alright?”

“No.”

“Do you want-?”

“Talia, please.

“What do you want me to do, then?” Her brow furrowed in concentration as if she was stopping herself from looking at his slouched figure.

“Just- drive.”

“You are aware we are not Thelma and Louise, do you?”

He snorted a little despite the dark turmoil in his head. He swore he saw Talia smirk. Jason leaned back once again to admire the world he was leaving behind at high speed, streetlights projecting shadows on his face and the hand he dangled out the window. At that distance, the police sirens were almost forgotten and he could hear the calming whistle of the wind in his hair, the white streak dancing before his eyes in rebellion. He almost wished he had a cigarette to match the aesthetic.

Jason paused and looked at the stars, almost invisible due to the contamination, before training his eyes on the woman beside him.

“Hey, Talia?”

“Yes, my dear?” She was paying attention the lane she had to take to head towards Metropolis.

It was almost a miracle, not being followed by any bat. Things had gotten bad in the cave, so much so that Jason believed they would chain him to the wall to hold him down. It had been Alfred, the saint, who had stepped up to defend Jason’s wishes to go. And if his eyes had been redder that when he had left the cave, no one dared to comment on it.

Least of all Jason.

“Can I trust you?”

“Yes.” Her right eyebrow rose to the line of her dark hair.

“It’s time you be honest with me, Tals.” He said pointedly.

“Whatever do you mean?” Her expression betrayed nothing, which was as much as Jason needed to make his point.

“It’s funny, you know.” He spoke slowly –deliberately- absorbing the city that saw him grow up and fall and do it all again. “Because Alfred made some tests, taking a sample of my blood.”

He turned and saw her stone-like expression.

“Imagine my surprise when he told me I had but a small trace of nicotine,” He hummed, his heart pumping on his ribcage like the fluttering of a bird’s wings. “When you know that nicotine takes at least a week to fade out of one’s system, and I’ve been smoking like a truck driver.”

The sharp edges of her face seemed to cut the night apart as her jaw clenched and her long hair moved in the wind from the open windows.

“I always knew you hid things from me, but if this is what I think…” He wiped his face with his right hand in frustration. “This is enhanced regeneration, metahuman capabilities, Talia.”

He increased the volume of his voice with each word. How could she not have told him before?

“Talia.” She finally looked at him. “Am I ever going to die?” He opened his eyes at the sudden epiphany. “Am I ever going to age?”

The silence fell on the night, driving them apart, pushing them into their most troubling trains of thoughts.

It wasn’t until they were reaching the outskirts of Metropolis that Talia replied in a soft voice.

“We are not sure, my love.”