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Jason was used to pain. It was a confidant in his darkest moments. A promise for better times. A constant lingering that he has long accepted.

Pain wasn’t a weakness, it was a weapon. It made him stronger, fiercer, and more numbed to the hardships the world had to offer.

Most importantly, pain was a promise. A promise that he was still alive, that his heart was still beating and that he wasn’t in the warehouse in Ethiopia.

But this…this was different.

This was the story of how Bruce Wayne broke Jason Todd.

~

At the end of the day, I’ve got your six and I know you have mine. – Bruce Wayne.

Bruce should have never called him back. He knew better than to let Jason anywhere near the Joker but it was all hands on deck. It was only supposed to be a onetime deal sort of situation. Jason was still not allowed back into Gotham, but he knew the streets of Crime Alley better than anyone.

It was a call out of desperation, but Bruce made it anyway.

Joker, the bastard, had set gas bombs scattered through Gotham. Bomb after bomb went off and the vigilantes ran around trying to minimise the damage. The police precincts were hit first. With no support, no extra hands on site, Gotham became a warzone of laughter and blood.

It was too clean, too easy. It wasn’t fun enough. Sure, it was chaotic, spreading fear and chaos to every corner of Gotham City, but it was too simple. Bruce should have thought it through, he should have realised what the fanfare was all about.

It was all a distraction.

Joker let the team run around, wearing them down bit by bit, until they operated on willpower and caffeine alone.

Bruce…no, everyone fucked up badly.

It was never about the chaos, it was always about Batman…always Batman. But this time, their game included the Red Hood.

Joker’s greatest achievement. A bird that he personally broke. A bird that came back to life. A bird that he could play with again and again and again. Maybe this time the crowbar would break before Hood did.

Bruce should have known. He should have seen the signs. It was Joker’s M.O and he missed it completely.

So here they were. Waking up in an underground bunker, built specifically for Batman and his brood.

Bruce, Kate and Dick had been placed into their own personal bulletproof glass box, all of which was positioned in a semi-circular formation.

They were an audience to Joker’s show.

Their equipment had been stripped and body armour ripped to shreds. But unlike Dick and Kate’s box, Bruce’s was specially modified. His right hand had been pushed through a hole on the side and was connected to another man kneeling on the ground. He felt the blood drain out of him when he saw his hand was duck tapped to a gun which was strapped to the man’s head.

Whipping his head around, assessing the situation, he paled when his eyes landed on Jason. Suspended in mid-air, Jason’s arms and legs were pulled outwards into an X by rusty chains. He looked horrible. With only his face mask on, his shirt had been ripped open and Bruce felt sick knowing why Jason’s body was bruised and bloodied. Lying on the floor beneath him was a dirty crowbar.

The crowbar.

“Batsy’s awake.” That damn maniacal voice cheered. Prancing towards Bruce’s box, the Joker grinned darkly at the sight. “I do hope you enjoyed my present. It had been a while since we last hung out.”

“Release Hood, Joker.” Bruce demanded in his Batman voice.

“Always skipping the game.” Joker pouted. “That’s why I like you Bats. You know what you want and you know how to get it. I admire that in a man.” He laughed loudly.

Skipping back to Jason, he continued. “While you were out in dreamland, Hoodie and I were reacquainting ourselves.” Joker laughed heartily as he drove one of his fingers into a puncture wound.

Jason hissed and grunted in pain, wriggling with desperation in mid-air which only made Joker laugh even louder.

“What do you want, Joker?” Batman growled out. He needed to buy time. Enough time to get out. Enough time for the others to get here.

Joker huffed at the gruff demand. “Fine…skipping the foreplay as always. Here’s what we…actually, here’s what you are going to do, Bats.” Bruce felt sick already connecting the dots.

“To you side is Antony Dekrov. A slave trader. Hundreds of woman and children go missing each year, forced into a life of slavery at a snap of a finger. My request his simple.” Joker stated expressionlessly.

Dick and Kate grimaced. If Joker isn’t laughing something bad is going to happen. “Kill Antony or…” Snapping his fingers.

5 goons walked towards the centre of the room holding giant steel rods…

Walking up Right. Next. To. Jason.

“Or this time, Hoodie and I finish our little game with you watching.” Loud, eerie laughter erupted from the clown.

Dick and Kate started to scream profanities at Joker, but the only thing the clown did was stare at Bruce with a dark, twisted smile. Bruce’s mind was racing looking for a way out.

No equipment. No outside help. Just Bruce with a gun and a son about to die.

Flicking his head back and forth between Antony, Joker and Jason, Bruce didn’t know what to do. He couldn’t kill, he’ll never kill. Jason knew this. Dick knew this. Kate knew this.

Most importantly of all, Joker knew this.

This time Dick and Kate weren’t yelling at Joker, they were yelling at Bruce. “Just kill him.” At this point they were practically pleading. They knew Joker couldn’t be trusted. They knew killing Antony might not change anything. But it was a chance. A miniscule and insignificant chance that Jason might walk out of this alive and they were taking it.

Bruce couldn’t hear them. His heartbeat was silencing the sounds around him and he just stared at the young man that was his son.

What made it worse…worse than the Joker, worse than his family begging him to kill, worse than the weight on the gun in his hands, was the look of resignation in Jason’s eyes.

No…Don’t look at me like that.

Jason was giving up because he knew Bruce would never pull the trigger. Jason knew Bruce was sentencing him to death.

Bruce Wayne was screaming at him to pull that trigger. Batman and his moral code fought back. Father and Bat waged war in his head and he had no idea what to do.

“B, just kill him.

“Joker, let me kill him.”

Nightwing and Batwoman kept screaming at Bruce to do it and begging Joker to do it themselves, but Joker stayed steadfast, watching Batman with hysterical intensity. Suddenly the clown called out.

“5.”

Bruce’s eyes widened at the sight of Joker’s goons lining up the steel rods.

“4.”

Dick and Kate began banging on the glass, trying to escape. Trying to do anything to save Jason.

“3.”

Bruce’s heart was hammering in his chest and his hands were shaking uncontrollably. But none of it compared to the way Jason looked at him. Sadness. Resignation. Lifeless. Jason’s head and shoulders slumped downwards, relaxing his body…

Waiting for death.

“2.” Joker’s voice screamed with delight.

“Pulling the fucking trigger, B.”

“Shoot him.”

Bruce’s eyes were shut tight, he couldn’t do it. He just couldn’t. It didn’t stop him from hearing the soft, broken voice of his son. “I’m sorry I was never worth it.”

“1.”

Bruce heard the sick sound of flesh being punctured and a breathless gasp. He heard Kate screaming in anger. He heard Dick crying desperately. He heard Joker’s laughter and the sudden bang of a gun going off. Antony’s weight fell down and Bruce forced his eyes open to the sight of Joker holding a smoking gun. That damn laugh rung out once again and Bruce felt sick flicking his eyes to Jason.

Dangling in the air was his son. His boy.

The rods had went clean through and stayed in his body.

He didn’t look away. He couldn’t look away.

Bruce didn’t notice the bunker doors burst open with Red Robin, Robin, Spoiler and Black Bat charging in.

Bruce didn’t notice the firefight between Joker’s gang and his family.

Bruce didn’t notice Joker being taken down by Cass, clearly distraught at the sight of her brother hanging their practically lifeless.

By the time Dick, Kate and himself had been released Robin and Spoiler had already dragged Jason’s body out, desperately to get him to a hospital.

Bruce tried to run after them but was stopped by a solid punch to the face. Kate screamed profanities at him. Words of shitty father, son, family rung out at him and the only reason why Bruce wasn’t massacred right then and there was Tim and Cass barely holding Kate and Dick back.

Bruce could tell Tim and Cass were contemplating letting the two loose on Bruce…and Bruce wouldn’t have disagreed.

He deserved it. He deserved all of it.

~

It might not be a popular thought, but not everyone wants to live. – Jason Todd

Kate never moved from her spot. She sat on a portable chair right next to the lying figure.

Jason was….he looked horrible. Bandages covered his entire body, oxygen mask over his face, IV drips protruding into his veins.

It had been a week.

A week since that nightmare of a mission ended. A week of Jason in a medically induced coma. A week of deadly silence. She had never left her spot next to him. Only leaving to relieve herself in the toilet and wash any grime and dirt off her body. She sat by his bedside, listening to the slow, insanity inducing beeps of the heart rate monitor.

People came by, wanting to see how he was progressing. She answered the same questions over and over again until it sounded like a broken record. Nothing’s changed, we’ll just have to wait, I’ll stay. Apart from Alfred, out of the entire family, Tim came by the most. He was pushing himself into the ground, bringing in paperwork and assignments from college. Every visit he would bring in a new book and read aloud, hoping Jason would wake up and listen. Despite how Tim would almost cry every time, it was a nice change of pace, listening to the strained voice of Jason’s brother rather than the screeching of the bats.

Kate shouldn’t have been surprised that Stephanie visited the second most. Jason and Stephanie didn’t really have a relationship. They hadn’t really met or talked or operated that often to develop a friendship but there was an unspoken bond between the two.

Kids of Crime Alley look after their own.

The first few times, she would just sit beside Kate and watched the breathing figure, also silently pleading him to wake up. She then started visiting with Cass, the two chatted and played aloud filling the empty silence with absurd stories and strained laughter. But none of it compared to when Kate had come back from the bathroom one evening and watched behind a corner, seeing the blonde cry her heart out, holding his hand.

Dick made an appearance every now and again. Sometimes he would come with Barbara, sometimes he would come with Damian and each time he came, he would always stand by the bed, not knowing what to do, or say. Sometimes he would rub the scar on his head, an odd form of comfort or maybe a reminder about what happens in this line of work. But injuries like his were from being hit by the unknown. Danger that came from the unexpected, danger with no chance to escape. Jason had that chance…and he was stuck here because he wasn’t allowed to choose.

Everyone came. But the one that almost sent her off the edge was Bruce. Each time he would visit with a look of shame or guilt and each time she didn’t care. She tried not to look at him. Tried to not snap the fingers that stroked Jason’s hair. Tried not to gouge his eyes out for looking at the young man. Jason wasn’t lying in this bed because of the Joker. He was lying there, an inch away from death because of Bruce. But she restrained herself. There was enough bloodshed…for now.

At had been a week and all she saw, all she remembered was the way he looked. Resignation that a father will never protect him and acceptance that he was going to die. That look, totally devoid of life, hope and fear. Each and every time she remembered that face, she would always remember his body being pierced, riddled with spikes, collapsing onto the ground. No screams of pain, no resistance of any kind. Just the sweet embrace of death.

Fear etched her very being when she heard the heart rate monitor pick up in speed. Everyone present heard it as well and rushed over, wondering what’s wrong. Relief flooded them when they saw Jason flutter his eyes open.

“Jason?” Kate asked with concern.

She flinched when he turned his head towards her. There was that look and his pale face and bandaged body made it so much worse. He didn’t say anything but his lifeless eyes silently screamed at her why am I still alive?

She felt tears threatening to fall, because he didn’t want to be here. Didn’t want to stay in this world. He didn’t want to live. “Jason.” She tried to speak soothingly, stroking his hair. “You’re awake.”

Looking away from her, he scanned the room. His eyes passed Dick, Tim, Barbara, Cass, Damian and Alfred until it fell onto Bruce. The heart rate monitor spiked in high, deafening beeps telling a story of its own. Bruce should not be here.

Laying his head back onto the pillow, staring up into the ceiling, devoid of expression with lifeless eyes. “Get me out of here.” He mumbled.

Nodding at his instructions, Kate began ripping out the IV drips and slowly helped him up. She grimaced at how pale he looked, struggling to stay upright or even awake.

“Kate.” Bruce growled out. Anger coursed through her, how dare he point that tone at her, after everything he did. “He can’t leave. He needs medical attention.”

“He needs to be safe.” She snapped back, because the Cave would be the last place Jason would ever feel safe. A dark, cold room with only bats and Bats to keep him company, security cameras to spy on him at all times and a failure of a father watching his every move. Kate knew Jason would rather slit his own throat than spend another second here. There was a possibility that he might when they go outside the Manor walls, but at least it was better than being here.

She grunted when Jason finally managed to get out of bed, supporting all 200 pounds of muscle falling down on her. He was so weak, laboured breaths struggling to receive oxygen and sweat that spilled down his body. He might not have the willpower to live, but he certainly had enough willpower to get the hell out. He’d rather face death than be here.

Kate ignored the protests directed at her and Jason ignored the logic they all spouted at him. With his arm over her shoulder, she carefully cradled his waist in her arm, trying to not aggravate his injuries. They made a few feet but Kate felt hard tug on her left arm, stopping her in her track.

Both of them didn’t even need to look to know who it was. Without looking at her, Jason slowly nodded his head, his eyes struggling to stay awake. Understanding the message, she let go and watched his body fall down onto the ground before swiftly turning around and sending a brutal kick to Bruce’s leg. He crumbled to his knees and in a split second, Kate pulled the gun on her waistband and pushed it against his skull.

Kate didn’t like it. Family was family but if family doesn’t understand that they were hurting someone they swore to protect and love, then she will remind them with extreme prejudice. Everyone stilled at how swift and precise her moments were.

Bruce kept switching his eyes between Kate and the crumbled son lying on the floor. “He’ll die if he isn’t kept under surveillance.” He tried to reason with her but ending up sounding like a demand.

“He already died under your surveillance.” She spat back. “What exactly do you think you can do to help? I know you know what that lifeless look in his eyes means. So what will you do? Strap him down like an animal? Brainwash him into thinking you care? Show some love and devotion for the briefest of moments until something else crosses your mind?”

“What was I supposed to do, Kate?” He growled back. “I can’t kill. I will never kill.”

“This was never about killing.” She was practically screaming at this point. “This was about whether or not you’ll protect your goddamn son. But you just stood there and watched.” She hissed out. “You effectively told him he wasn’t worth it, that he’ll never be worth it. That this entire family doesn’t have the same value as your moral code.”

“He became a human pin cushion because you couldn’t pull the fucking trigger. I’m not you, Bruce. If you try to contact him, take a step in his general direction or even fucking look at him, I will pull the trigger.”

With her gun pointed at his forehead, everyone heard her intentions loud and clear. It wasn’t her words that scared them, it was the unwavering conviction in her voice and the way her arm was tight, rigid, unshaking. Kate didn’t make a threat. She made a promise. As far as any of them were concerned, if Bruce tries anything, he’ll lose two family members, not one.

The two cousins stared at each other. Kate ignored the sounds of Jason struggling to get up. She ignored the pained glances of those around. She stood there and stared down the barrel of the gun…waiting. Waiting for Bruce to move. Waiting for a reason to pull the trigger. Lucky for him, he didn’t.

An eternity passed and she almost jumped when Jason’s weak hand clasped her shoulder. Slowly pulling back, not breaking eye contact, she resumed her hold of Jason. With slow, deliberate movements, she turned around with Jason in tow and helped him out.

She felt horrible, listening to the pained wheezing coming out of his throat as they slowly made their way up the stairs. She could feel his blood soaking the bandages and dirtying her clothes. He was shivering, desperately holding her closer for warmth.

But he didn’t make any complaints. No remarks. Just pure power of will, running away from everything.

He wanted out and she listened.

~

The silence in the limo was deafening.

With only the heavy beats of her heart keeping her company, Kate stared at the young man in front of her. Lifeless, weak…broken. The night was unbearably tense as he simply leaned his head against the window and stared out into the Gotham night.

How does one come back from this? How does anyone come back from this?

His eyes struggled to stay open and his arms wrapped around his knees, pulling his legs close to his chest. His last defence against the world. He looked so small and vulnerable, nothing like the Red Hood persona that he created. But that was just that. A persona. A mask. Never the truth. He was just a broken boy trying to do some good in the world.

“Jason.” She said slowly, grabbing his attention. “I can’t say that it’s all going to be better from here on out. I can’t say that you won’t get hurt again.” Kate wanted to slap herself at how cliché and sappy she sounded. Heart-to-heart moments were not her forte, then again she was a Bat, it came with the territory. “Bu I just want you to know, whatever you want, whatever you need. I’ll be right here every step of the way….”

He just stared at her. Blank and emotionless, still cradling his legs. It pained her greatly at how long he faced her. Tentatively, he nodded slowly, eyes down casted. It wasn’t much but it was all the confirmation she needed.

“I’m going to take you to one of my bases. The guys there are great. Great food, great company…some fine looking girls as well.” She joked. God, she was going horribly. “It doesn’t matter how long it takes, I’ll be by your side the entire time. I don’t care about Bruce kicking you out of Gotham. Red Hood and Batwoman putting the fear of God into scumbags. Just like the Appleton job.”

Shaking sadly at her words, he spoke with a low, saddened tone. “I don’t think I can be Red Hood anymore….I don’t think I can be Jason Todd anymore.” Alarm bells screamed in her head at his words. Textbook suicidal thoughts. The beginning to the end.

Her heart beat skyrocketed when he pressed the limo intercom and ordered the driver. “Change of destination.” Please not a cliff. Please not a cliff. “64th and 3rd.”

Her mind halted to a stop. Crime Alley? That was the last place he should be right now…oh.

She stayed silent for the rest of the drive. Long winding roads, tight turns and loose gravel. Jason continued to stare out of the window and she saw his breathing quicken when they finally reached their new destination.

Ma Gunn’s Home for Wayward Boys.

She didn’t know why he wanted to come here. Sure, he stayed with the old woman when Bizarro and Artemis was still here, but apart from that fact, she didn’t know why he would come back. There was nothing to indicate Jason had an emotional attachment to the place or person.

Kate didn’t like seeing Jason struggle to get out of his seat, nor did she like the still empty look in his eyes. But this was his life, his choice.

“Kate.” He began, softly. “Thank you….for everything.”

“Of course, Jason.”

The two stood out in on the empty driveway and Jason slowly and hesitantly hugged her. It broke her heart because he believed she would betray him as well. “Like I said before Jason. Whatever you need. Whenever you need it.”

He nodded into her shoulder and slowly let go of the embrace. Kate stared at the young man one last time, accepting that this was his decision. Turning back and opening the limo door, she stopped when he called out to her.

“My memorial case…” He said slowly. “Burn it to the ground.”

She heard his words loud and clear. Destroy the last reminder of my pain.

~

He’s known the entire time. He’s never said it out loud but he knows. Faye Gunn was his grandmother. The woman who birthed his father. The woman who tried to train him into a mindless soldier. The woman who housed the Outlaws in times of need.

She was his grandmother.

He dryly chuckled at the irony of it all. His family, his lineage, his goddamn legacy was always that of a criminal. Jason wasn’t the first of his family to be a crime lord and he felt sick knowing that he might not be the last.

Jason stood at the front patio, feeling the wind hit his heavily bandaged body, he held his hands in front of the doorbell hesitantly. He was a burden, always have been, always will be. But what choice did he have? Kate was great, no doubt about that, but if he stayed with her, every moment, every time he looked at her, all he will see is the Bat, the legacy, the beast, the so-called father who would rather watch his proclaimed son die than break his one rule.

Pushing the button, he heard the chimes echoing inside the decrepit building. Loud, resounding…final. This was his final moment, his final salvation. His journey that was his life had forked into two different paths, either stay as the broken man he was or find and fight for a different purpose.

He flinched when the heavy, wooden doors swung open and felt small and insignificant to the shocked expression on her face. With only the pants he wore and the blood soaked bandages covering his body, never had he ever felt so naked and powerless.

“I don’t…please don’t throw me out…I…I just…I can’t do this anymore…I don’t know where is to go.” He tried to stand strong. Tried to not appear weak and helpless. But each word felt like a death sentence. Each breath was a struggle.

He tried to look into the eyes of his grandmother and he didn’t know what to do. She didn’t want him back then…why would she want him now?

Crumbling to his knees, he felt the tears torturously slide down his cheeks, cementing his heartbreak. Why would anyone want him? Why would anyone care about him? Covering his eyes, he broke down in front of her, releasing all the years of pain, hate and betrayal that he had held in.

He was never just the Red Hood.

He was never just Robin.

He was never just Jason Todd.

He was a boy who wanted to belong. He just wanted to know what it feels like to be appreciated. He just wanted someone to tell him that he mattered. He just wanted someone to hold him close and tell him they loved him.

Soft hands cradled his head, with gentle fingers running through his hair. He cried harder because it felt so foreign and wrong. He had forgotten what affection and comfort felt like. Pain had always been his comfort, anger had always been his affection, but this light, shining and guiding him made him feel worthless. Because he doesn’t know who he is without pain. He doesn’t know what it is like without anger. He wants to know, with all his heart, he wants to know but he doesn’t know how.

She held him close, silently promising to never let him go ever again. She had failed him over and over again. She had failed her own grandson, her own flesh and blood.

She had let this happen. She had missed all of his first for what? Greed? Power? Her own self-inflated ego? She left him without a home, without a family, without safety because all she cared about was herself. No matter how many lifetimes she would spend atoning for her sins, she knew she had failed her grandson one too many times.

“Come home to me, Jason.” She said softly into his ear.

He grasped onto her. His last lifeline. He held onto the last physical anchor in this storm of nothingness. His adoptive father would rather watch him die. His best friend was dead. His Kryptonian clone son was gone. Artemis…his girlfriend was gone.

Jason had nothing, he was nothing. Nothing without the Outlaws, nothing without purpose. Sniffing and hiccupping desperately into her shoulder, he needed his grandmother, more than he had ever imagined. He needed his family. With a broken, desperate voice, he pleaded.

“Help me.”