Chapter 1: Mist
The rain was pounding down, making his shirt cling to him. His jacket would be ruined. Oh well. There would always be another one. He scanned the city from the rooftop, watching, waiting for something to go wrong. Because something always had to go wrong, didn’t it?
He’d rode nearly every damned night for a week. Had to get away from Gotham. Had to get away from the Bat. Not that it mattered. He’d seen the manner explode from a television set hanging in a window in the less shitty part of Crime Alley. With any luck, Bruce would be gone for good.
Even if he doubted it.
Bruce always had a plan.
A flash of red caught his attention from the corner of his eye. “Someone’s far from home,” a voice said, and Jason watched as the archer set his bow down and sat cross-legged on the rooftop. He must have been out for awhile, if the darker than usual red hair already starting to go gray clinging to his face was anything to go by.
“Needed a change of scenery,” Jason responded and hesitantly took his helmet off. No point in secret identities anymore. “Nice prosthetic. When’d that happen?”
“While you were gone,” Roy answered, voice cold in a way Jason had never heard it before. When was the last time he’d heard Roy speak? It had to have been months before Jason had disappeared. God, they had both been so young back then, even if Roy had been in his mid twenties, Jason only fifteen.
“You’re out late for you. Don’t you got a kid to take care of?” Jason crossed his arms and frowned when he saw a flash of raw anger in Roy’s eyes. Okay, so maybe it wasn’t the time for unsolicited parenting advice, but come on.
“She’s dead,” he said, voice cold and even, and Jason felt his blood run cold.
How much had he missed in six years?
Jason sighed and sat next to him, dangling his legs off the edge of the building. What was the harm in flirting with death? He’d already cheated it more than his fair share of times. “Listen,” he said as he fumbled in his pocket for a pack of cigarettes he’d swiped from a convenience store. You could take the kid out of Crime Alley… “I need a place to stay for awhile. Away from the others.”
He watched Roy nod and move so he was sat beside him. “I’m not exactly the guy you remember, Jason.”
“Yeah, well neither am I,” Jason covered the cigarette with his hand and lit it, taking a long drag. It was stupid, coming there. Roy would turn him away. He was a good guy. Good guys didn’t associate themselves with the monsters who brought a city to its knees. “I just…” he took a shaky breath and another long drag. “I didn’t know where else to go.”
“It’s really fucking weird,” Roy commented, and Jason frowned and turned to face him, studying his face, already covered in worry and frown lines. “I thought you were dead. We all thought you were dead. Bruce said you went on a trip or something? Plane went down?”
"That's not even close to what happened," Jason shook his head. He knew Roy would want more. God, he hoped he wouldn't press it then and there. He didn't think he could handle it. He didn't think he could ever handle talking about it.
"So what happened to your face?" Roy asked, and Jason felt his blood boil. It was fair, he tried to tell himself. He'd made a comment about Roy's arm, or lack thereof rather. Can we keep him, Daddy? Oh please, please, please. He shut his eyes tightly, tried not to remember the burning iron on his skin. Needed to stay focused. Needed to remember where he was. Not back there. Never back there. He heard Roy take a shaky breath, and tried to focus on being grounded back into reality. "You don't have to answer that. If you don't want."
"Joker happened," Jason said, staring back out over the ledge of the building. God, it would be so easy to just slip and fall right off the edge. Then he'd never have to deal with any of that shit ever again. Wouldn't have to come to grips with what happened. Would never have to relive it. Death was peaceful, he hoped.
Anything had to be better than the hell he was living in.
Sometimes, if he thought about it, and sometimes even if he didn't, he could still hear that God forsaken laugh ringing in his ears. It's been six months, Jason.
"Shit, man," Roy breathed, and Jason watched as he lit up his own cigarette. Since when did Roy smoke? Ollie would've killed him if he saw. "I didn't know."
"It's fine," Jason blew out a ring of smoke, watched it disappear into the drizzle. None of it was fine. None of it ever would be. God, if the Joker weren't already dead...
"I saw what happened," Roy commented after a long moment. "With Bruce." Jason shut his eyes. Who cared if Bruce Wayne's dirty little secret got out? Who cared if he might be dead? He didn't have to take Alfred with him. It was only a matter of time before they connected Dick and Nightwing, though. Prettyboy didn't deserve it.
How long had Dick spent looking before giving up?
Because he must have given up too.
Everyone always would.
"You can have my couch," Roy said after a moment, and Jason could have hugged him then and there. It wasn't much, but anything was better than trying to blend in back home. Too obvious. Too risky.
Even here, the scarred 'J' on his face would make him stand out like a sore thumb. A constant reminder he'd never be able to get rid of. He made a mental note to thank the Joker for that one. Really, it must have been one of his better acts.
We don't want him to end up back here, do we?
And for a moment, he wasn't sitting on a rooftop with Roy. He was in the dark, bound to a wheelchair with barbed wire that pulled at his skin as he tried to get out. Because he had to get out. Because it had been nine months and Bruce wasn't coming and Bruce had replaced him and no one was going to save him and he was going to be stuck there for the rest of his Goddamned life being tortured while doctors were held at gunpoint to save him and it was never going to end.
"Jason?" a voice asked, soft and gentle, not harsh and maniacal, and Jason had to take several shaky breaths to remember where he was and who he was with. Just Roy, he tried to tell himself. Just Roy. Just Roy. "Jaybird, what's wrong?"
He wanted to laugh. Jaybird. It was a lifetime ago he'd let people call him that. Now there was too much mileage. He could never go back to being the dorky kid who got bullied in school. He could never be young again.
Was he ever really young to begin with?
He shook his head again, trying to clear it. "Can we just go?" he asked, voice small, broken. And he could have cried with relief when Roy nodded and stood, holding a hand out toward Jason.
Jason stared at it.
How long had it been since he'd touched someone? Months, at least. Maybe even years. The idea felt strange. Alien. He hated it and loved it at the same time. He reached and took the older man's hand, letting Roy pull him to his feet. "Come on," the redhead sighed and squeezed his hand. "Let's get you home."
Shitty didn't begin to describe Roy's apartment. It was falling apart, paint peeling on the walls, and carpeting that had definitely seen better days. It was sparsely furnished, a couch that looked straight out of the seventies and a card table with a lawn chair next to it. What had happened to the trust fund Ollie had set up for him?
Jason wasn't so sure he wanted to know.
At least it was clean, even if the roaches he'd seen in the hall leading to Roy's door had suggested it would be anything but. "It's not much," Roy said and shut the door, deadbolting it behind him. "But it's mine."
"Thanks again," Jason muttered and glanced around. It almost reminded him of home, back before Bruce. Back before Robin. Back before his life had completely gone to hell and stayed there. Something about shitty apartments in shitty parts of town brought him comfort in a way that nothing else really ever could.
"Any time," Roy replied and set his bow down on the counter. No need to hide weapons without a kid to get into them, Jason supposed. What the hell had happened to Lian? What the hell had happened to Roy? "Make yourself at home. I'll go see if I can find something for you to change into."
Jason nodded and watched him leave. He hesitated before sitting down on the couch, flinching when it groaned under his weight. At least he had a roof over his head. Something was better than nothing.
Nothing was better than anything.
The light above him was flickering, and Jason wondered why Roy hadn't called the landlord about it. Or maybe he had and they just hadn't done anything about it. Figured.
Everything was bare, and that unsettled him in a way that nothing else could have. No pictures of friends, family, of anything... Just blank walls and empty space. The place Jason remembered had been filled with little personal touches. Drawings Lian made at daycare. Pictures of Roy and the Titans.
"Okay, so I don't think any of my shit's going to fit you," Roy said as he emerged from what Jason assumed was the bedroom. He tossed Jason a pillow and blanket, and Jason caught them with ease. "Bathroom's through my room. Eat whatever, but there isn't much."
Jason stood up and tried to stay focused on turning the couch into something resembling a bed. His stomach growled, but he ignored it. Knowing Roy, there was probably just leftover take out in the fridge. When was the last time Jason had eaten a proper meal? He didn't remember. "Thanks again. For everything."
"No problem," Roy responded. "I'll be in my room. If you need anything."
Jason nodded and watched him leave before lying down on the couch, not bothering with the blanket, not wanting to be restrained in case he had to make a quick get away. He needed to sleep. He knew that.
But sleep was something easier said than done when nights were filled with nothing but horrific nightmares and memories he'd rather forget.
He tossed and turned, trying to get comfortable on a couch that was liable to fall apart under him.
And damned if it wasn’t the best night’s sleep he’d had in years.
Chapter 2: Twenty Minutes
There is mention of torture and Lian's death in this chapter.
He shut the door behind him, trying not to flinch when he heard it click shut. Daddy, help me... Jason was back. Had sought Roy out no less. God, he should have just left Jason there, told him to figure it out on his own. The last thing he needed was someone else's drama added on top of his own. Like he could even be a help to him. I'm not the guy you remember, Jay.
It had seemed so long ago, a lifetime ago, when Jason had been Robin. A mouthy little teenager who was going to get himself killed or captured one day. Well, Roy figured he'd been right about one of those things.
God he wished he had been wrong.
He pulled out his phone and scrolled through his contacts, hoping to God that Dick's number hadn't changed. Jason would hate Roy for contacting him. Roy knew that. He didn't care. Jason needed help, and Roy was in no position to give it to him.
Everyone around him got hurt.
Found something that belongs to you,' he texted Dick, breathing a sigh of relief when he saw a delivered receipt pop up under the speech bubble. He locked the phone and tossed it to the side before all but collapsing onto his bed. He stared up at the water-stained ceiling and tried not to think about how he ended up in the situation. I can quit any time I want, Ollie.
Anything to drown out the thoughts and the memories. Anything to drown out her screams. He knew it was no use though. He'd never be able to un-hear them. God he should have been able to save her. He should have been able to save all of them... But he'd been too drugged up and paralyzed to do anything but watch in horror as his everything was taken from him right before his eyes.
Twenty minutes later Ollie had come to rescue them.
Twenty minutes too late.
Fuck you, Ollie, he'd screamed, God he had screamed. She's gone. And you were too late and just stay the fuck away from me. This is your fault. This is all your fault.
He frowned when he heard thrashing and strangled cries coming from the living room. He shut his eyes, debating between staying in bed or going to check on Jason.
He hadn't been able to do anything the last time he'd been a room away.
He wasn't going to make the same mistakes twice.
He got out of bed and padded over to the door, pressing his ear against the cheap laminate. Whatever Jason was seeing, it couldn't have been anything good based on the muffled cries and the strangled 'please'. He clicked the door open and moved over to the couch, sighing when he saw Jason tangled up in a mess of blanket, tossing and turning, face twisted in nothing short of agony. "Jaybird?" he asked softly to no avail.
"Please, no," Jason's voice broke, and God Roy should have just left him on that damned rooftop. Or called Dinah. Or called Bruce for fuck's sake... No. Bruce wasn't an option anymore he had to remind himself.
Roy took a shaky breath and shook Jason's shoulder, jumping back when the younger man shot awake, a cold sweat dripping down his face. "It's okay," he soothed as he watched Jason's eyes dart around, as if trying to remember where he was. "Just me, Jaybird." He felt his phone buzz in his pocket, but ignored it. Ollie or Dick or whoever the hell it was could wait. Jason needed him.
Lian had needed him. Daddy, make it stop.
You killed her, you sick son of a bitch!
Jason nodded and clung to him, actually clung to him. Roy sighed and pushed Jason’s hair out of his face in an almost fatherly gesture. “Make him stop,” Jason said, voice fragile, terrified even if Roy didn’t know any better.
“I can’t do that,” Roy sighed and kept holding him tightly, like he never wanted to let go. God, he wished he could have done that for her… “I’m not in your head, Jaybird. I can’t make the bad things go away.” God, for a moment, Jason looked as young as he was. He has to be 21, the voice in the back of his head told him. Too young to have gone through all this shit, whatever it was.
“I just want it to stop.” Jason’s voice broke, and Roy held him tighter still.
Why should I give you a quick death? Hers was slow. Painful. Yours should be too.
“I know, Jay,” Roy sighed and gently rocked him back and forth. And God, he could feel his blood pressure rising. This was supposed to be Bruce’s job, not his. But Bruce was gone. And Dick was on the other side of the country, and Jason needed someone and Roy was there. “I know. I’ve got you.”
Jason moved so he was lay down, curled up beside Roy, and Roy carefully adjusted, trying not to disturb him. His phone buzzed again. He pulled it out of his pocket and glanced. Two missed texts. ‘Got H if you want.’ God he needed to delete that fucking number.
It was the second one that he was more concerned about. ‘Figured he’d show up there sooner or later.’ God, Dick must have been tired if he wasn’t even trying for a snippy remark.
“He’s dead now, right?” Jason asked, voice small and scared, and Roy had no clue what to say or what to do other than nod and keep holding him. He’d done the same thing, back when Lian had had nightmares that left her screaming in her sleep. He’d hold her close, whisper that everything was okay, even though he knew it was a lie. He’d told the same lie to her thousands and thousands of times before. Daddy, help me.
“He’s gone, Jaybird,” he kissed the top of Jason’s head, a platonic gesture that he hoped would bring some comfort to the boy. Man, he had to correct himself. “No one’s ever going to hurt you again.”
He woke with a start, pulse racing and heart pounding, and his first thought was that he didn’t remember falling asleep in the first place. Three hard raps hit the other side of the apartment door, and Roy had to carefully untangle himself from Jason to get up. He swore under his breath when Jason stirred, but let out a breath when Roy saw him settle back down. God knew the kid needed some sleep after the hell his life had been the past however many years.
“Who is it?” he called and checked through the peephole, breathing a sigh of relief when he saw Dick standing on the other side. He must have caught a red-eye to be there that early in the mor… He glanced at the stovetop clock from the corner of his eye. Afternoon.
“Your favorite person,” Dick answered, and Roy opened the door to let him in. “Where is he?” Roy nodded toward the couch and watched Dick move over to Jason’s sleeping form. Good to see you too.
“Don’t wake him up,” Roy crossed his arms and watched Dick nod before sitting down on the lawn chair across from the couch. “You got here fast.”
“Yeah, well I was worried sick,” Dick sighed and pulled a knee to his chest, and Roy couldn’t help but wonder how he didn’t fall over, taking the chair down with him. He would’ve killed to have half of Dick’s coordination and grace. “How is he?”
“Not good,” Roy answered and sat cross-legged on the floor, trying to ignore whatever the hell it was that made the cheap linoleum sticky. Life was easier if he didn’t think too much about it.
“I should get him home,” Dick ran a hand through his hair, and Roy’s eyebrow immediately shot up.
“No offense, Dickiebird,” he began. “But I can think of no worse place for him to be right now.”
He watched Dick nod and shift so his other leg was folded up beneath him, eyes glancing anywhere but Jason and the scarred over ‘J’ on his cheek. God, Roy wished he could revive the Joker just to kill him himself. No one deserves to go through the hell Jason had gone through. Roy would know. And now they both had permanent reminders of the people that ruined their lives.
“How are you holding up?” Dick asked, and Roy just shook his head in response. How he felt wasn’t important, not when they had a man who had all but lost his mind sleeping on Roy’s couch. Not when they were the only two who had any possibility of helping him. Jason had to come first, at least for the time being. “Does he know? About Li…”
“Don’t say it,” Roy cut him off, shooting him a death glare. Such a shame. Your little brat’s dead and it’s all your fault. What will the others think? You aren’t a real hero, now are you? Couldn’t even save a little girl.
Daddy help me.
“Okay,” Dick responded, voice resigned in a way Roy rarely heard it. “We really need to get you out of this place though.”
“With what money?” Roy responded.
“I can pa…”
“I don’t need to be your fucking charity case, Dick.”
“Okay,” Dick sighed again, and Roy glanced back over at the still sleeping Jason. It was amazing. He looked so young when he was asleep, young like he was supposed to look. To be twenty-one and to have gone through so much already… Hell, all of them had been through and seen more than they should have.
The superheroes should have never dragged kids into their messes.
Chapter 3: Reckoning
Do you like being alone, Dick?
Months later, and the words still echoed in his head, driving him insane. But now wasn't the time to think about that. Jason had run off to Star City. Roy was a mess as always. Someone had to be the sane one. Someone had to be the adult. And it seemed like no matter what life threw out, it was always Dick that had to go and pick up the pieces.
He wasn't even the oldest in this case.
You won't be able to shake someone's hand without marking them for death.
He shook his head, trying to clear it. The last thing he needed to remember was the past several months. He needed to focus on Jason and Roy’s lives going to hell, not on how his own life almost did. He couldn’t afford to lose focus. He couldn’t afford to lose them again. Never again.
Blockbuster was gone. He could never hurt Dick or his friends or his family ever again. He was gone and he wasn't coming back. Dick had made damn sure of that. But at what cost?
Would Bruce still have wanted Dick to succeed him if he knew?
Sometimes Dick doubted it.
They had one rule. Everyone knew the damned rule. And he had broken it... Hadn't he?
It sure as hell felt like it.
I killed him.
No, I did.
No. He couldn't think about things like that. Jason and Roy needed him.
He still couldn't believe Jason was alive.
He couldn't believe he'd stopped looking.
Jason had been in the damned asylum for Christ's sake...
"B really dead?" Dick jumped when he heard that familiar voice behind him. Damn Jason and his quiet feet.
Was Bruce really dead? Dick didn't know. He just knew the manor was gone. Alfred was gone. Nothing could have survived that explosion. "I guess," he answered and turned to face Jason, trying not to flinch when he saw the branded 'J' in the younger boy... no, man's... face.
Jason had been a good kid.
He didn't deserve any of that.
“Good,” Jason moved so he was sat up on the counter. Dick wanted to argue that it wasn’t good. Horrific was the word that came to mind, actually. Gotham was damned without a bat to protect her. And he didn’t have it in him to be that bat… “Shouldn’t you be out under a cowl somewhere?”
“Azrael’s handling it for now,” Dick answered. That had been the agreement. ‘For now.’ Long enough for Dick to get away and find Jason and bring him back home. That was, at least, if Jason even wanted to come back home. Dick doubted he would have, had the positions been reversed. Why go back to the place that brought back nothing but suffering.
“You shouldn’t have come.”
“Roy asked me to.”
“I know,” Jason sighed and ran a hand through his hair. “I never asked him to do that.”
“I know,” Dick sighed and glanced Jason over again. God, so much had changed in six years. “I want to be here, Jay.”
“Yeah, well maybe I don’t want you to be here,” Jason responded. “Did you ever think of that?” Dick had thought about it. He’d thought about it time and time again. How would Jason react when he saw Dick? Would it be the tearful, heart-felt reunion Dick had been foolish enough to believe could happen? Honestly, he didn’t know what he’d expected. “You stopped looking too.”
“I looked longer than he ever did,” Dick corrected. Bruce had called him a madman for it. You saw the video, Dick. He’s gone. “I was against it,” he added when an awkward silence filled the gap between them. “Against bringing Tim in as Robin… It didn’t feel right.”
“Because it wasn’t,” Jason glared. “How long did he wait? A week? A day?” Dick could see the blood rising to the younger man’s face, could see his fists clenched at his sides.
“Jay, you need to calm down…”
“You don’t get to tell me what to do anymore, Dick,” Jason growled, and Dick recoiled as though he’d been slapped. He may as well have been. But it had been stupid to try and tell Jason what to do. He wasn’t the dewey-eyed kid enamored with the idea of being a sidekick that Dick had remembered. The man before him was changed. Had seen too much.
“Yeah, well you’re a little late for that.”
And wasn’t that just the story of his damned life? Always too late, be it by seconds, hours, or in Jason’s case, years.
I killed him.
“What’s going on?” Roy asked from the doorway, and Dick glanced over to look at him. At least Roy looked better than the last time Dick had seen him, fresh out of the Zimbardo Institute for the Criminally Insane. Fresh off a drug detox, still reeling from the death of his daughter… So much tragedy in so little time.
“Nothing,” Jason muttered. “Everything’s great.”
“Okay,” Roy said, and Dick breathed a sigh of relief when the older man didn’t push it further. For a moment, Dick wondered how much Jason had told Roy, how much he could have figured out in the span of only a day and a half.
He wondered if Jason told Roy just how much he hated Dick.
Because surely to God Jason hated Dick. Dick had stopped looking. Dick had stood by and watched as Bruce went off and replaced him, sending another soul spiraling into their fucked up lives. Are you out of your mind, Bruce?
It’s for the greater good.
Fuck the greater good.
Coming there was a mistake. He wasn’t doing anything but making the situation thousands of times worse. The last thing Jason needed was a constant reminder of the family that had left him alone in that abandoned wing of Arkham. He never would have stopped looking for you, the little voice in the back of his head told him, and Dick tried to push it out of his head. Now wasn’t the time to think about that.
Do you like being alone, Dick?
Dick watched as Roy crossed the kitchen, opening the fridge and grabbing a carton of eggs. It was hard not to stare at the prosthetic. Years later, and it still felt wrong knowing that Roy had lost his arm.
It hurt knowing that someone had bothered finding Roy, even if Ollie had been a few minutes too late.
What would have happened if Dick had kept looking for Jason?
You would have driven yourself insane.
And he hated that he knew it was true. But he hated himself more knowing that Jason was alive. Jason was alive, and Dick had stopped looking.
He’d been so sure. He’d heard the gunshot. He’d seen the bullet rip through Jason’s body. Never could stand a tattle-tale…
Dick watched as Jason shifted his body language so he was leaned more toward Roy.
Dick had been an idiot for showing up. Roy understood Jason in a way that Dick never would. In a way Dick never could. He should have left. He should have let them be so they could wallow in misery together… No. They needed him. Roy had asked him over for a reason.
And he was bound and determined to see that reason through.
“Thanks again for coming, Dick,” Roy said over his shoulder, and Dick smiled slightly. At least someone was glad he was there. Was Dick even glad to be there? He was glad Jason was alive, certainly. But he had no clue how to help him. No clue at all.
What if he ended up making everything tens of thousands of times worse?
“Any time,” Dick replied. He would have gone to the ends of the earth for either of them. And like it or not, they needed him. Even if neither of them would admit to it.
Come hell or high water, he would be there for them.
Someone had to be.