Chapter 1: Faith
Sitting with his knees to his chest on the windowsill, Jason didn't know how long that spot on the wall had held his attention. Hours... or was it days? He had no sense of time anymore, every day, every night, they melted together into one big mess of colour and unremarkable nonsensical routines the blurry-faced people coming and going filled their lives with. While they tried talking to him and doing other things he hardly noticed, Jason stared at the patch of a creamier shade of white on the already too-white wall, painted over from the last time it was streaked with blood. Was it from when he punched the bricks? Or was it because he was trying to quieten the orchestra of voices by caving his skull in? Jason didn't remember, pain was so every day that it wouldn't be his life to go for an hour without it.
Blinking the strain in his eyes back rapidly, Jason lowered his head to stare dully at his hands in his lap, or what was left of them. Scars crisscrossed his palms and fingers, some tiny and fading while others stuck out like a warning light. He wasn't sure which ones were self-inflicted. And he couldn't remember who cut the indexes off.... he just knew it had been like this for a while now. To keep him from hurting himself or others, those people who wouldn't let him go had his wrists restrained with cuffs that didn't run him raw when he jerked them, and he supposed that was because they were padded with some foamy stuff that was softer than he could stand.
Sighing under his breath, Jason returned his gaze to the window, narrowing his eyes against the light shining through. What time of year it was escaped him but it was gloomy and ugly outside, brisk also, as far as he could tell. Leaves from the tree had fallen after turning russet brown and different shades of orange and vibrant yellow, so he wagered it was between autumn and winter. He thinks this is the second season like that since those people captured him.
He heard the door creak, behind him but he didn't pay it any attention, not even to look when someone stepped quietly in through the parting, fabric of their clothes softly ruffling against the frame. With a tiny inhale through his nose, Jason knew who it was just by their cold minty scent.
"Jason?" The tall man with the black eyes quietly said, dressed in one of those suits that were so damn familiar but unplaceable in his scrambled brain. He came carefully closer and it wasn't until he was a meter away that Jason finally let his dark gaze flit cautiously to him.
"Son, I came to see how you were feeling today." Was Jason expected to answer? He couldn't, even if he wanted to, not since a month ago he almost bit through his tongue and they wired his jaw shut. He tripped when his teeth clamped shut on him, it was an accident but they didn't believe him. When they did it, it burned like hell, he'd tasted blood for weeks, there were scars on the inside of his mouth from those times he nearly undid it and got the screws out, but now the wire felt normal to ghost his tongue over. For the life of him, he couldn't place what his own voice sounded like anymore.
"Does it still hurt?" The man who was calling himself Bruce asked, gesturing to where Jason last bruised himself, the big black and purple blotch on his neck. He didn't know how he did that but no, it didn't hurt. Not really. Next, to everything else, it felt like the gentle loving kiss of an angel.
And angel with devil's teeth.
"I spoke to Leslie, Jay," Bruce went on, not considering Jason continued forgetting who all these names that kept being thrown around belonged to. There was a Leslie now?
"She said we can take the wire out soon, but you gotta promise not to hurt yourself again." He knelt, at Jason's level now, one hand on his shoulder to interlock his downcast gaze. Jason no longer minded his touch, not since he gradually learned it wasn't intended to harm him. It annoyed him now.
"Can you promise me that?" The man urged and Jason responded with a noise muffled by his clamped teeth, turning in disinterest to the one-sided conversation back to the window. He wondered how hard the glass was to break after they reinforced it from the last time he shattered it...
"Jason, son, can you nod if you won't try it please?" Grinding his jaw what tiny bit he could, to spite this man he'd begun to hate, Jason violently shook his head, dishevelling his hair. He wanted this stupid fucking man to leave him alone. He wanted to be alone. Interacting with these human-things was a constant reminder that he wasn't like them. He was wrong and fucked up and not the least bit mentally intact. Something came up from behind and shattered him to pieces but a damper in his head was stopping him from knowing what happened that lead to this. Ever since that woman laid her hands on his temples, he was forgetting more and more about his past.
The scars he gave himself was the only constant.
"We can't take the wire out until you promise." Promises meant nothing. Absolutely nothing. All a promise spells is an expiry date where it goes invalid and everyone's back is a knife's target.
"Jason, are you listening?" Only since he had to. Unlike his voice, his hearing worked just peachy. Giving him a venomous side-eye, Jason growled from a deep place in his belly, low and rumbling, the only warning he could now give to stay away from him. He couldn't do anything if Bruce chose not to listen, of course, but he didn't have to give him an invitation. Seeing his reaction, Bruce sighed quietly, shoulders lowering from the tight line they were always drawn into.
"Not gonna listen today, huh?" He asked, quieter now, and Jason couldn't tear his gaze off the barely visible pump of his jugular under his skin. That beat of life fascinated him.
"I'll be back later then, Jason." He said, rising, hand at last falling off Jason's shoulder and with a lasting look to him, he was soon gone. Jason glared at the door until it shut, then some after, until he turned back to the window, resting his head against the glass. He didn't really see anyone except Bruce nowadays, this big house was so quiet, unlike it used to be, but the creaking timbers of a settling building and the brush of wind outside was still way too loud.
Watching a raven fly by, Jason wished and not for the first time that day, for everything to drop dead. At least then he'd have some company.
Bruce ghosted through the dark abandoned hallways of his family home, heart hanging heavy as the full moon. Even after Zatanna erased every bit of Jason's memory that tied him to what Sionis did to him, almost two years ago, his son was showing no signs of recovery. Unless you counted instead of being terrified of anything that moved, he became aggressive. So much so that now Bruce lived alone in fear that Jason would hurt somebody beyond repair. Not so long since, Stephanie got the stitches across her middle out, reminiscent of the last and final time Bruce let the family near Jason.
Not again. There was an uproar of protests and people trying to fight him on it, but it was for their safety. Damian was away at a boarding school, Tim with the Titans, the girls dotted around Gotham, Alfred visiting his daughter for an extended period in England, and Dick... well, quite honestly, Bruce didn't know where his eldest was. He hadn't seen Dick for nine... eleven months. But everyone was looking for him, the FBI, CIA, and Interpol included. Rogue Killer they were calling him, or Redwing, the unholy combination of the Red Hood and Nightwing that Dick took on when, as it were, he went psychotic. Gruesome murders left and right, killing like Jason used to but wearing the face of Bludhaven's former defender.
Dick needed to be brought down but Bruce wouldn't be the one to do it, not since he was killing every single rogue piece-of-shit who laid a finger on Jason or whipped a knife across him. He couldn't begin to understand how Dick knew which were the right ones or who gave him the list he was ticking names off, but he had only a few to go. Firefly, Harley Quinn, Bane, a few others, and the Joker himself. Two years, countless deaths, Bruce wasn't sure which son concerned him more.
It was too much to see Jason torn up and tearing himself up by memories of that awful night where all of Gotham's villains united to break him, and break him they did, to shattered pieces where every inch bore a scar of some sort, and Bruce had been backed into an invisible corner. He picked Zatanna, had her erase everything, including Jason's remembrance of his family but it had been a side effect Bruce almost didn't hesitate to go along with. It had seemed like the best idea, but hindsight was 20/20 and.... well... maybe if Jason remembered they loved him, or who they were, it would be a foundation to start rebuilding him upon. Zatanna had said all or nothing and she'd meant it. All Jason's memories for nothing, more like it.
And still he kept on doing it.
Wayne Tech had fallen under new management after Bruce couldn't focus on running a business anymore, not with everything going on, and why he bothered dressing in a suit every morning was beyond him. Maybe to hold onto one little piece of past normalcy before that too dwindled to nothing. Nothing sort of how Roy's updates with the family had remained. He broke it off with Jason, broke off their at that point, non-existent relationship but Bruce hadn't heard from him since. He cut off all communication and left the city to god knows where, taking his daughter and vanishing. Not even Oliver knew where Roy was, he'd confirmed that after all the times Bruce asked for Jason's sake. But that wasn't relevant to do, not since Jason didn't care about the redhead who used to be so primary to him.
Or... he just didn't remember Roy ever existed. But with how absent the archer was, he may as well not. Sionis hurt Roy too, cut through his arm, took it and made Jason burn letters into his face. BM. Bruce didn't blame Roy for going underground the way he did. It meant he and Lian were safe. Or so he hoped. God, they never should have been dragged into this.
But he could think about that while he went out this evening, something he only did nowadays if it was absolutely necessary. He didn't like to leave Jason but there were places this week that he had to go to.
A few more days go past and Bruce didn't keep his promise... Jason thought about it while running his tongue over the wire and screws in his gums. He could still speak but it was muffled and required a lot of effort, it made him feel less human than the cuffs, restraints, straight jacket, and that he wasn't allowed out of this damn room. The windows didn't open without considerable effort and the door had bolts on the outside. He had a dream last night, about fresh air smelling of rain, about trees, birds chirping, freedom... But that's how he knew it was only a dream. One of those subconscious torments that haunted him and made sure he wouldn't forget the world outside these four walls, a world he had no access to.
He sighed deeply, resting his head against the window and shutting his eyes. Small waves of chilliness made it through the glass but it was welcome next to the constantly comfortable heat the AC provided. Everything was so contained he hated it.
For a little while now, Jason's mind's eye had been forming an image. He wasn't quite sure what it was yet... But it kinda looked like a mask. A black leather mask. He was tryna pin where he'd seen it and why it kept coming back, it might be important. He thinks he used to ask Bruce when these scraps of memories flitted back, ask him for a clue as to what they meant, but he'd long since stopped doing that. Anything he'd regained and told Bruce about, the Zatanna woman would come later and take it all away, never mind he'd beg her not to. He needed to keep it to himself if he wanted to keep it at all.
A black mask.... made of leather, with... amber tinted lenses, he thinks, or murky gold. Something like that. There was no mouth on it, either that or it was sewn or zippered shut. Jason must have spent a whole lot of time trying to recount in detail why that image wouldn't stop popping to mind because when he again opened his eyes, it wasn't to the white glare of the room or winter sun. It was to darkness. He blinked, confused for moments, had night really come so soon? Jason stared at the back garden of Wayne Manor, the outlines of trees and tall stone wall surrounding it, covered entirely in ivy vines with evergreen leaves. A dead cracked marble fountain and topiaries shedding their mantles dotted the inner yard, the courtyard if you will. By now, with nothing else to look at, he was familiar with all the bushes and shrubs, even naming them all things that he liked or just picked one from the sea of names swimming around his head.
There was Cass, Kate, Stephanie, Alfred, Damian, Tim, Dick, and his favourite one, a red maple tree that he called Roy. The intense burning hue of its leaves just made Jason think the title suited for a reason he was yet to understand. He didn't think twice to call it Roy, though. Sometimes, he spoke to the trees through the glass and he was sure they whispered things back to him. Little incoherent breathy whispers that's meanings were lost to him, but it was something to do to work on decoding what they were saying. It sounded like his name today.
Jason... Jason... Jason....
Whimpering, Jason pressed himself harder against the cold window and he just wished he knew what was real. He wanted to remember, no matter how harrowing the details of what happened to him. Who were Bruce and Zatanna to deny him his past? Jason yearned to bleed them.
A flicker-fast burst of movement in the inky black garden garnered his attention, taking away from his ruminating and he stared at where it had been, expecting nothing more than a rabbit or other animal to have been there. He waited but it didn't come back, leaving him feeling almost disappointed. But then he saw it again, almost before he slumped a bit, and this time, it was closer, close enough for him to make out its humanoid shape. It was a... a person? Besides Bruce and his witch friend, Jason hadn't seen one of those for a while. He was intrigued.
It got nearer and nearer until it had scaled up the wall on was on the windowsill, looking at Jason and Jason looked back at it - him. It was a man, a young one it seemed, but older than himself. And he was gorgeous. His hair was raven black, the blackest Jason had ever seen with natural highlights shifting between green and blue, depending on how the light hit it. It was messy, feathery, but not unattractively so. Considering his lithe but strong ballerina body, the softness of his features wasn't out of place, delicately defined and effortlessly alluring to both sexes, but the centrepiece was unquestionably the dazing pastel blue eyes rimmed with dark whispy lashes that now regarded him intently. No hostility and a little bit of warmth that Jason didn't quite understand. Smiling, the stranger raised a finger to his lips. Jason frowned but didn't raise alarm when he drew something sharp from his belt, from a single of the many pouches it had, and jammed it under the window, wiggling it in deeper and before Jason really saw what he did, he let himself in.
The blast of fresh air hit Jason harder than the intruder or visitor, as sweet as it was brisk, an instant wave of bliss accompanying it. Groaning, Jason tipped his head back, the wind on his face and ruffling his hair the most amazing feeling, twentyfold what he could have imagined. Lost in the tingly sensation, he almost didn't remember the beautiful stranger, now sitting opposite him on the sill with his legs crossed.
"Long time, Jay," he said, his voice a pleasant change to the never changing ones Jason was forced to become accustomed to. He wanted to say something in response, but it would be a stupid muffled mess of words that wouldn't make sense.
"Your hair's gotten longer," the stranger smiled warmly, reaching out to take a lock of it and rubbing it between his fingers with care like it was strands of gold or another valuable thing.
"I love this colour. Suits you better than black, I think." He went on to say and up until then, Jason hadn't really been aware of how the passing of time had seen his hair change from ebony to a deep shade of copper, what he presumed was its true colour. The tips of it reached his chin, which was quite annoying but he'd not bothered enough with it to be too bothered, plus Bruce didn't let anything sharp near him so he couldn't cut it.
"You remember me?" He asked and Jason shook his head, a little hesitant to admit he had no idea who this was. His response incited from the other what looked like a tinge of heartache as if it hurt him that Jason didn't know him. But he brushed it off with a nod and smile, pain still sparkling in his eyes.
"That's alright, Jason. I'm Dick, you've known me for years and.... why aren't you talking?" Dick's brows knit as if he'd only noticed then that Jason was restraining from vocalising himself but it didn't take long for him to catch onto the problem.
"Can I?" Dick asked, Jason nodded despite being unsure what he was asking permission for, but quickly realised it was to lay his hands onto either side of Jason's face. He didn't feel threatened by Dick, not with how reassuring he came off as, and therefore allowed him to carefully part his lips to see.
"Oh my god..." Dick's breath shuddered with the rapid inhale, eyes widening, horrified by the gleaming titanium wire that fixed Jason's jaws shut, drilled into his gums, right between the bones of his teeth and the messes of thin scars.
"The fuck's that prick done to you, Jay?" Letting go, Dick glared in a direction that wasn't Jason's, seemingly at nothing, grinding his teeth hard enough for tiny bits to chip off. Dick muttered something aggressive to himself but rabbit-fast, he was on his feet with a determination for an unknown task burning in his chest. Jason yearned to ask him what he was doing but again, there was no need, the bolt cutters he brought outta nowhere were quite self-explanatory. With a single snip, the chain of the cuffs around Jason's wrists was severed and for the first time in months, he could move his arms more than a foot apart. He was fixated by that, watching in shameless amazement as he spread them out to his sides. He'd forgotten completely how it felt to have free range of movement, for the most part at least, and this and the fresh air he was granted made Jason believe Dick must be an angel sent by a god who finally realised he existed.
"You wanna come with me, little wing?" Dick extended his hand to Jason, not even understanding the trust that sparked in Jason with the pet name. Jason didn't really understand it either, it was a new but familiar lifelong thing. He could trust Dick, he knew he could without knowing why.
"I ain't staying here an' you shouldn't either. Bruce isn't good for you, clearly." Intending to ask him why he thought that later, if he could speak properly then, Jason hesitated for a heartbeat but he wanted to get out. God knows what going with Dick entailed, but it couldn't be worse. He reminded himself of that before taking the hand Dick extended, and it closed around him securely. He was pulled to his feet, muscles and unused limbs aching under the sudden strain of being called upon, and Dick soothed his whimper with a shush.
"Shh. It's alright, Jason." Dick supported him against his body, arm around his waist, a not unwelcome brace when he would have fallen without it. Dick let him stay there for the minutes that he needed before he was strong enough to stand alone. He pushed away from Dick a foot and watched him, waiting for what he wanted next.
"Think you can walk?" Dick inquired, Jason bobbed his head, yes, and then they both heard a vehicle rolling into the driveway outside. Bruce was back and Jason came to terms with that knowledge with a pang of dread. Would Bruce hurt Dick? No one but Bruce was allowed near him, that had been made more than clear. But the other wasn't worried.
Cocking a brow, Dick met his gaze from across the bit of distance, serious now.
"Think you can run?"
The air was one thing but next to true freedom? Next to being able to run, sprint, jump wherever he so chose, it wasn't shit. Jason was exhilarated in every sense and definition of the word. His heart hadn't raced like this for reasons outside of fear for as long as memory served and he thought it might burst soon but he didn't care. He really didn't care, he didn't want this to end. He sped up his pace until steps became leaps, and he forced himself harder still. In the corners of his vision, cars and buildings and trees darted past him. Soon enough, there was nothing left but the thuds of his footfalls, coming closer to one another with each bound forward. His body ached from months of neglect but he sensed he was smiling. Why was he smiling? He wasn't certain but it might be related to why electric was buzzing through him.
This was amazing.
"Head's up, lil' wing!" Dick yelled when he leapt off a building, landing gracefully on his feet. There was the light of laughter to his voice, as if he experienced every bit of joy Jason did. Jason followed him down, though less sure of himself on the jump and Dick seemed to be aware of that, waiting for him to catch up. They ran a while more but Dick slowed to a halt near the city line.
"We're far enough now." He said, turning and smiling starrily to Jason when he stopped at his heels. Dick was so unbelievably confident in himself.
"No need to keep running. I don't think Bruce is behind us but that doesn't mean it's safe to stay here." As he explained, Dick walked to a car parked on the abandoned sidewalk, under a streetlight and curious, Jason followed him.
It wasn't a minute before they were hitting metal outta Gotham, the engine of the stolen vehicle roaring under the hood. Dick drove like he'd never touched the brakes and Jason watched him, observed his fingers tighten around the wheel and how a grin stretched across his face when he pushed his foot harder on the accelerator, revealing his inner adrenaline junkie. Why was he doing this? In less than an hour, Dick freed Jason and gave him those small things he'd yearned for, but why? Hopefully, he'd answer that question too at some point.
But Jason was relieved. He couldn't believe he was finally out of that house and away from Bruce but he was worried at any moment he would wake up and find himself there again. To prevent it, Jason forced himself to keep his eyes to stay wide open. Shutting them might mean waking up.
Minutes turned to hours and they must be far from Gotham by now, there was snow here. Dawn breaking, they arrived at a secluded cabin with dark vacant windows, on the end of a winding dirt road that Dick had carefully navigated down, thick pine forest on both sides.
"Nearly there, Jay." Dick told him, assuring when he did, except Jason wasn't sure where 'there' was. The car's brakes creaked when motion died, the handbrake making a loud noise of its own that startled Jason when Dick pulled it back, plunging them into a silence that didn't last long, not since Dick had something to say about it.
"Wanna go in?" He turned to Jason, opening his seatbelt, the poor rewind mechanism of it meaning it sagged around his dainty pixie frame.
"It's safe, Jason. I swear." He promised when he noticed Jason didn't look 100% on this. But he could take his saviour's word as it was, and left the car with him. They were a few meters from the cabin door when a shock of pain went through his whole body, white-hot, crippling, and he went to his knees with a shrill scream through his shut teeth.
"Little wing?" Reacting at once, Dick's hands were on his back while kneeling, Jason tried curling around himself while he shuddered, shivering from the torrents of livewire twisting throughout him for no reason.
"What's wrong? What hurts?" Dick worriedly fussed and Jason didn't know what to tell him, but the agony appeared to originate from his right leg, namely the joints, burning hellishly. Hand shaking like a leaf, Jason gestured to the limb he couldn't now move, laying there deadweight. He bit down on a whimper when Dick touched it, brushing fingers along it in an examination. He pressed down on certain points, rubbing in a way that somehow lessened the pain.
"It's nerve damage, Jay." Nerve damage? Why the fuck did he have nerve damage? Another thing about himself that he couldn't remember.
"Must have gotten triggered by all that running, but you're okay. Nothing serious." It felt pretty fucking serious, how bad it stung, but Dick helped him up and it got a bit better. He leaned against Dick at his allowance, using him as a crutch to support his limp, every step sending a jolt through that made him hurt. He didn't like it but it still beat anything to do with Bruce.
Dick lead him indoors and sat him on the scruffy beaten pleather couch, almost immediately lessening the pain of standing and walking.
"Hang on one sec, Jason, I'll be right back and we'll take that goddamn wire out." Take it out? The prospect alone was enough to make Jason perk up and look forward to just the promise, a promise that unlike when Bruce made it, he might see fulfilled. Dick hadn't lead him astray thus far and headed into a neighbouring room to retrieve something, pliers Jason hoped. Or anything similar to wrench the wire out.
He didn't think he'd ever loved anyone more when Dick came back with a number of instruments that looked surgical. One was a syringe, a tiny screwdriver and wire cutters, as well as some disinfectant alcohol and paper towels, all on a tray he was carrying.
"Okie-doke, Jay," He sat next to Jason, shifting through his things and taking out the syringe. It scared Jason. He didn't know why, just the idea brought up a past phobia he might have had about being injected with mysterious substances.
"It's just anaesthesia, don't worry. I don't want you to feel it when I take those screws out, 'cause it's bound to sting like a bitch." Dick explained when he noted Jason's uncertainty, succeeding once again to rest his worried mind to ease. He was a little anxious but he allowed Dick to slide the needle past his lips and press the point into his gums with a tiny prick of pain, upper and lower, portioning the cold medicine equally. Jason licked at the unpleasant flavour that spilt over, scowling at its bitter tang, to which Dick smiled.
"Don't like it, huh?" He chuckled. "We gotta wait a minute or so for it to take effect." And so they did, one or two minutes before Dick was carefully cutting the wire away, each thin piece giving away with a faint, barely audible snip, and soon Jason could actually push the tip of his tongue between his teeth. Dick encouraged him not to try it out, however, not until the whole damned contraption Bruce forced into him was gone.
"I'm sorry it took me so long to come back." Dick started saying while his eyes were narrowed in concentration and his tongue was poking out the side of his mouth comically.
"This was the first time Bruce let up his guard in months and... and I was making sure it was safe." Jason wished he could ask him what was safe now? "I've killed most the rogues now. There are only a couple left and they're hiding, but I'll make sure they don't come anywhere near you. That's a promise, Jason." The rogues Dick spoke of, the name rang a bell that's chime he didn't recognise, but he was certain he'd heard it before. He hoped Dick could answer some of his questions soon.
"Jesus, Bruce, why the fuck did you do this?" Dick grumbled to himself, silently seething while he worked the tiny screws loose and thank god for the anesthesia, as Jason was almost certain this part would burn like Hades. He could taste copper and swallowed it as quick as he could, disliking the flavour.
"Jay, did he hurt you when he did this?"
Stiffly, Jason nodded. It had hurt like nothing he could remember like lightning was ripping his skull to pieces, but that might have been because someone slammed his head against a surface when he wouldn't stop thrashing. Was he so strange for resisting having his jaw wired shut? Most would.
"Fuck him..." Dick hissed that, eyes glazed over with vengeful rage that's intensity was enough to scare, and he may have frightened Jason until he took the last horrible screw out between a pair of pincers and dropped it onto one of the paper towels he had out. It was turning wet and red with more bloody screws than he could count.
Experimentally, Jason worked his jaw up and down, tiny gestures that didn't yet hurt, but overdoing mobility might. It felt good, though, worth it and fucking good. But blood was beginning to pool in his mouth, leaking out of the ragged holes left in his gums and Dick started mopping it up with a paper towel. He dabbed at a crimson trail down Jason's chin while Jason looked up at him.
"It's gonna bleed for a while, little wing, but don't worry. It's to be expected." Dick was so gentle and kind with his wording and explanations that it was surreal. Everything he did was with silken mitts but there could be no doubt that he was capable of damage. There were plenty of scars on his knuckles that served as a testimony to that.
Jason licked his lips nervously, cautious to try speaking but he so wanted to say this one thing to the beautiful person who freed him.
"D - Dick?" Ouch. That hurt but he tried to push it aside while surprised that he spoke up, Dick arched an inquisitive brow, turning his attention to Jason again.
"Yes, little wing?"
"Th - thanks."
A lone drone hummed above a town too small to be named on the map and it could be assumed that such a sleepy place would be the ideal spot to hide. Dick is quite sure that's what Garfield Lynns, Firefly, was thinking when he picked it to lay low in but it wasn't a waterproof plan he had. If it was, hundreds of miles away, Dick wouldn't be guiding the drone's built-in weapons system to lock on him. Lynns was so oblivious for a man responsible for the litany of gruesome crimes he committed, carefree almost. Dick wondered if that was the case when Lynns burned Jason under an open flame.
The tip of his tongue popped out the side of his mouth in concentration while he perfected his aim on his target, guiding the drone along with the joysticks on what looked like a modified game controller, eyes remaining fixed on the screen. A little to the left... Two meters down... Lean to the right and....
A halo of red mist exploded around Lynns' head and the body on the screen fell into a crowd of alarmed people, yet to realise what happened. They only heard the noise but when they saw the body, screams erupted and everyone was running like frightened cattle.
Dick watched the chaos unfold for the least amount of minutes before he shut off his equipment and rose out his chair, stretching his stiff limbs and arms above his head with a long yawn. He did usually like to get a bit more work done in concern to tracking the remaining rogues down, but he had left Jason alone for a couple hours now, which was around the exact amount of time that he didn't want his little wing to be on his own for. Sure, he'd been asleep when last Dick checked but....
Passing the various bits of rogue paraphernalia he'd kept as tokens and nailed to the walls, Dick went up the old creaking wood ladder that doubled as a staircase, needing both hands to push up the heavy trapdoor. It had once fallen on him and broken his wrist, so Dick took the utmost caution with it thereafter. The hinges whined when he climbed out the basement, back onto the solid flooring of the first level and kicked the rug back over the hatch, placing it quite nicely out of view. Jason didn't need to know about his basement and what went on there just yet. Or ever.
The basement was only his and the rogues' little secret.
With the whole superhero community and law enforcement on his tail, thirsting for the clout boost slapping a pair of cuffs around his wrists would give them, Dick like the rogues, needed a place to lay low too, and what better place than an abandoned ranger's cabin in the middle of an uncharted part of New England's hundreds of acres of wilderness? As long as he'd been here, no one had come within ten miles of the spot. Not even those wandering tourists and trekkers who passed their lives exploring locations that were none of their business. There were a lot of interesting things in the New England forests, ancient ritual sites of no known origin, mysterious stone structures, tombs... Dick's HQ was not the most fascinating look-and-seek.
"Jay?" Dick frowned to himself, catching no glimpse of his little brother as he scoured the house, all rooms and top to bottom until he caved and went outside. It was somewhere in the early AMs and without the light pollution of the city, every constellation shone brilliantly down, granting enough illumination for Dick to make out Jason, laying on the frostbitten and overgrown lawn. The hell was he doing out here? It was freezing.
"Jason, you okay?" Sceptically, Dick approached him and although Jason didn't reply, he seemed alright. No, not alright, not with everything, but the current situation didn't appear to be causing him any distress. He was looking at stars, eyes tracking the constellations and mouthing their names in silence. Smiling to himself when he realised what Jason was doing, Dick laid next to him and crossed his hands over his abdomen. Waves of cold radiated into him off the frozen ground, chilling to the marrow and it was a conscious effort to tough it out. If Jason, the notorious frigophobe, could stand it then so could he.
"It still hurt?" Dick turned his head to look at Jason, to which his response was a stiff nod and a heavy swallow. The incisions would be painful for a while to come. Dick had discovered a couple of the screws had begun to rust and could have resulted in blood poisoning, which god only knows how escaped Bruce's vigil. But then, he did think it was a good idea to wire Jason mute, to begin with. If the problem was serious enough, there were less painful, more humane ways to keep his jaws shut, such as muzzling him, for example.
Right about the time Dick was cast out of the mansion for scaring Jason with videos of what he did to the rogues (in hindsight, that was a terrible move on his part), Bruce had explained some reverse psychology bullshit of his and the family agreed that they needed to recreate the environment Sionis built around Jason and slowly wean him off it by removing one element at a time. And why wouldn't that work? Dick had a chopping block for each of their heads since they were as bad as the rogues. Or were they worse, since Jason was supposed to be able to trust them? Dick didn't want to know how far Bruce's little recreation went. He'd sworn hurting Jason wouldn't be part of the plan but that end of the bargain obviously hadn't been held up, so what other sickness did he twist? Dick didn't like that bruise he'd seen on Jason's hip that looked like the purpling imprints of fingers.
There could be any number of reasonable-ish explanations for it but he didn't like those either. Of course, it also bothered him how thin Jason was as if he'd starved. Dick was convinced he was the stronger one now.
"I - is Br - Bruce gonna f - find us?" Jason quietly, cautiously inquired and Dick did his best to look past his splintering speech. He never did speak so well after Sionis but Bruce sure as hell didn't help by screwing his mouth shut. Damn, Dick hated him for that. Why the fuck did he think that would do anything positive?
"No, Jason. I'm gonna make sure he doesn't." Come hell or high water, that was a promise he intended to keep.
"I - is he g - gonna h - hurt you?" His tongue flitted in and out his mouth, barely leaving a trail of moisture. He was trembling. Was it the cold or anxiety?
"Nah. Not if he can't catch me." Assuring him as convincingly as he could, Dick pillowed his head on his folded arm and redirected his gaze to the skies so he could hide that he was unsure what Bruce would do if he caught him. His former father had completely lost touch with reality so undoubtedly, it wouldn't end well.
"C - c - can I tr - trust you, D - Dick?"
Dick rolled over onto his side, a foot from Jason and his live-and-learned wariness.
"Course you can." With an affirming nod, he confirmed without hesitation but Jason wasn't done questioning his integrity
" Wh - why? I - I don't know who y - you are."
I'm your brother Dick almost let slip out, but he stifled the sentence with his teeth because he didn't want that out there. Bruce undoubtedly forced the family thing onto Jason and the family didn't deserve his trust with everything they did and allowed to be done.
"I used to be your friend. We were on this team together, called the Titans, d'you remember that?"
Of course not and appropriately, Jason shook his head, frowning as if he was trying to recall it when the information no longer existed. Becoming a Titan, it had been no small thing. In Dick's head, it was clear as yesterday how psyched his baby brother had been to join the team. He'd practically trembled from excitement, nothing in his hands able to keep from vibrating and Bruce took all that from him. Just because Jason was easier to deal with if he didn't have his traumas fucking with his brain. No matter what excuses or false mercy Bruce could give for the induced amnesia, the cold hard truth is that it's the easy way out. The path of least resistance is the most travelled down.
"Wh - why d - does Br - w - w- want t - t - ke-" Huffing, Jason snarled to himself in frustration when he couldn't get the words out, his fist tightening around a clump of frozen grass. Dick watched him struggling to speak and it was torturous to see him so worked up over it.
"Think about what you wanna say, little wing. Form the sentence in your head first."
Jason glared at him murderously for the piece of advice, finally like himself because the Jason that Dick remembered so fondly hated anyone telling him how to do something but that wasn't an obstacle, apparently, not since the moment of quiet suggested Jason tried it, but he spoke through his teeth extremely forcibly, an incredulous amount of effort going into the words.
"Why. Does. Bruce. Want. To keep. Me. In. Th - that. H - house?"
Dick wanted to, but he refrained from telling Jason 'good job' for managing that phrase almost without stammering since it wasn't his goal to make his little brother feel like a talking parrot being rewarded for performing well.
"Because he thinks he's protecting you."
"F - from what?"
"Nothing anymore. I've taken care of anything that you needed to be kept safe from but Bruce doesn't seem to be aware of that." Dick's forehead furrowed as he tried to understand what that was about. Bruce knew the majority of the rogues were dead but he wouldn't allow Jason out the mansion, not even into the walled-in backyard. Why? It was straight up torture to confine him the way Bruce did.
"Th - those p - people who y - you k - killed. Th - they d - did this?" Jason raised his hands, palms out against the dark sky canvas, the stars behind them shining their light through his parted fingers, making it oh-so-obvious that not only the indexes were missing, but also the right ring finger was cut to the second knuckle.
"Yeah," Dick nodded, grim, nipping the corner of his lip. "They did that to you. And other things..."
"Wh - what ot - her things?" Jason asked, lowering his arms back to his sides and that wanting-to-know look he gave Dick made his canines cut deeper into his lip until tangy copper appeared. How much was too much information?
"Like this," Dick brushed Jason's hair back, fingerpads grazing lightly over his skin, and traced the white scar trailing his temple. If Dick recalled correctly, Bane did this when he fractured Jason's skull in his massive fist. The bastard.....
"Th - they d - did all the sc - scars?"
"Most of them." And then Jason had caused over a couple scars and Bruce, Dick wagered, did the rest. Lord knows what fucked up shit he thought would be helpful.
Sighing, Jason sat up, drawing his knees and Dick wasn't far behind him on that.
"Th - there's so much I d - don't remember." Miserable, he stared at the forest, it's black floors that no light could make it through and if he looked hard enough, he'd see the mounds of dirt that were the only indication Dick had a cemetery back there.
"Trust me, Jay," Dick slid his hand onto his little brother's shoulder and he tried ignoring with how thin Jason now was, he could feel the bone sticking through his skin.
"You don't wanna remember all of it. But I'll help you if you do." Dick would never tell him the extent of it, not the parts that gave him nightmares just to recall happened, but whatever he could do, he would.
"Wh - why're you h - helping me s - so much?" Jason glanced at him from the corner of his eye, this the question he appeared to want an answer to the most.
"I told you; we're friends."
Motionless and quiet, Jason nodded to himself, hugging his knees to his chest tighter until he could put his chin to rest on them. He wasn't quite happy with that answer, that was evident, but Dick couldn't understand why not. What else did he expect?
Dick leaned closer to him.
"Let's head in, Jason. We're gonna catch our death of cold out here."
Jason murmured near insensible agreement but didn't seem too thrilled about it. He hesitated to go in through the door and Dick hated to think he knew why. It had to be to do with Bruce's insane ineffective isolation rehab.
All of the next day was spent with Jason studying his various scars on any reflective surface in Dick's safe house. Dick watched him frown in confusion, trying to remember what caused them while he traced the white and purplish-pink lines and thick restrictive casts of old burns. In this instance, Jason had rolled the hem of his shirt high enough to reveal the disturbingly tidy BM carved via knife over his very visible ribs with an Italic slant, the only tidy thing among the messy marrings. There were letters taking up the space between Jason's shoulders, cut there by Zsasz but their meaning was undecipherable after Joker burned them off, leaving only bits of the W and the R.
Dick could still guess what it had said.
Grimly, lower lip bitten to a bloody swollen mess, Dick observed Jason and what he was doing with a lump of bitterness festering in him. The aftermath was as painful to see as the tapes of what happened but with a fine-toothed comb, Dick still went over the recordings to this day, picking out every face he could make out in the crowds and the unfamiliar ones went through IAFIS.
Some of the people there that night weren't even major criminals, just small-timers passing the night with Sionis' horror show. The fucking bastards were as dead as anyone there, no exception was the only one he was taking.
To himself, beneath his breath, Jason was muttering something too low to hear, repeatedly the same thing, over and over, and it took Dick reading his lips from the reflection of him that was on display to realise what it was. Black Mask.... Black Mask.... Black Mask.... Jason's fingers were gliding over the letters BM, but his eyes didn't say he knew what he was saying, only that he couldn't get the cursed words out his head and they were playing pinball with him.
Sighing, Dick adjusted himself on the couch, arm slung over the back, his movement immediately catching Jason's eye. He looked startled, breathing quick for a beat, until it appeared to click again that Dick wasn't a threat to him when he motioned him over. Jason came, apprehensively, but what matters is he came and sat a little distance from Dick, waiting for him to make known what he wanted.
Dick waited, too, a second or ten of eye contact for Jason to settle properly and release some of the tension in his muscles.
"You gotta stop focusin' on those scars for a bit, little wing. You're gonna give yourself a breakdown tryna remember everything at once."
Jason shrugged one shoulder. "C - can't th - think of a - anything e - else."
Dick's gaze travelled the room in search of anything that could distract his little brother from his thoughts. Bruce would be searching high and low for them, it wasn't a good idea to show up in public for a tick, so going out wasn't even a question. And Jason's leg was under a lot of strain since that parkour of theirs the other day, taking a walk in the forest was also a no-no.
"Jay, lemme tell you something-"
"Wh - what is it?"
"It's a story about a kid I knew a while ago. Good kid, but a little difficult. He was.... Overconfident, to say the least. He had this mindset that no one could touch him, even the bigger guys who hit a lot harder than him. He thought cops only came in two types; corrupt and useless."
"He s - sounds retarded."
"You think? Sounds like something he'd say." Dick smiled to himself, an unhappy smile but a smile regardless. A moment of reminiscence, going over those memories, and he could again go on.
"Once, when he was about thirteen, he snuck up on this armoured vehicle and stole its hubcaps. The owner, the sorta guy you don't fuck with, showed up and caught the little squirt."
Jason blinked at him dully when he paused and Dick waited for something about the story to ring a bell with him, but.... Nothing. He didn't recognise his own fucking origin. Jesus, how could Bruce do this?
"And th - then what happened?" Jason asked him whilst Dick bit back a defeated exhale.
"Then.... Never mind, Jay." Dick had really hoped and thought Jason would know his roots, at least, or it'd click or anything! It wasn't even familiar to Jason. Brain in overdrive, Dick was turning the inside of his cheek into mince with his molars, quite into his troubled thoughts when Jason leaned forward and kissed him. WHAT. THE. FUCK.
Dick's breath caught in his throat, heart stopping somewhere thereafter but he couldn't pull back. It was wrong. It was so fucking wrong to not stop Jason and Dick never had a shudder of doubt concerning that. His little brother wasn't himself, he didn't know what their relationship was and if he did, he wouldn't want this. Dick could have, should have stopped them both. He didn't. Without thinking of all the things he should have, Dick applied pressure of his own against Jason, into his mouth, shutting his eyes with a blissful sigh or moan, cupping the back of his head and almost lost himself in how soft Jason's hair felt. It was like carding red silk.
And then Jason pulled back with a wet pop, much sooner than Dick guiltily wanted him to. His hand reluctantly fell from around Jason's neck. Dumbstruck as to what just happened, Dick stared at him with saucer eyes, lips parted, trying to say something. Anything.
He just made out with his amnesiac little brother. Lord, this one's gonna press on his conscious for a while.
Brows knit intently, Jason's gaze was fixed hard on nothing, never explaining why he just did that.
"No..... Th - that's not it." He murmured and as quickly as he'd moved before, Jason got off the couch and wandered away again, down the hall, Dick's confused eyes tracking in his wake. Jason continued repeating that sentence to himself over and over while Dick lowered his head heavily into his hands, breathing out an exasperated,
"What the hell?"
Dick. Of course, it was Dick who would do something this utterly stupid! Bruce was combing Gotham within the same hour that Jason left the mansion then after that, he expanded the search radius into neighbouring States but Dick was good at hiding. And he had Jason with him. Jason who wasn't nearly stable enough to be out in the real world.
He hadn't even known Dick had returned to Gotham, much less for this and what the hell did he want Jason for? Jason who was constantly in the throes of severe panic attacks and Dick was psychopathic, this would end with a nuclear blast.
Bruce needed Jason back and Jason needed that too, being around Dick was the worst thing for him. They'd feed into one another's insanity until one cracked and it wouldn't be Dick.
Now, Dick thought he was smarter than the man who trained him. He had this mentality where he was untouchable since he'd been avoiding punishment for his crimes thus far. Wrong. Extremely wrong because, thanks to precautions, Bruce knew exactly where they were. A small New England town wasn't a bad place to hide but they should have gone further.
Rubbing at the side of his neck until the first layers of skin wore away, Jason came into the kitchen to find Dick preparing something in a frying pan. It was soft yellowish and watery, there were broken eggshells on the counter, so maybe scrambled eggs? There was something he hadn't seen in ages and the rich smell made him queasy but he tried pushing it aside. It was the well-mannered thing to do.
Hearing him approach, Dick regarded him with that pleasant smile befitting his features so nicely but it didn't go unnoticed that he was really unsure about something. Almost uncomfortable.
"Hey, little wing." Dick greeted and didn't stay looking at Jason very long, his cooking appeared to be the most interesting thing in the world to him. He was flustered and nervous, Jason didn't like seeing that on him. It didn't fit. Could this odd behaviour have anything to do with Jason checking earlier? Dick was harmless but he couldn't figure out who he was. They didn't seem like they were just friends, as claim lay, but kissing him didn't feel familiar either.
In pieces, he thinks he'd kissed a guy before, repeatedly, but it wasn't Dick....
"You alright?" Dick asked, stirring the eggs with a wooden spatula. Jason murmured a yes, or a no, or a muddled up phrase between the two, and he kept rubbing the soft skin above his artery. That patch of skin, it was really irritating him today. He turned from kneading to using his nails.
Eyebrow rising, Dick took notice of his steadily fastening scratching.
"What's wrong? Got a rash or something?" No. That wasn't it. It was another thing that caused it. It was...
Abruptly, Jason stopped everything he was doing when his fingerpads came upon the subtle abnormal bump in his skin, barely rising above it. It had been there long while but.....
"Dick....." Jason's ring finger circled the thin white scar by the redness he caused.
"I - I think I remember wh - where I got th - this one."
"You do?" Maybe he thought that meant something good because Dick got hopeful at that, putting the spatula down and pushing the pan onto the cool hotplates at the back.
"B - Bruce gave me it t - to know wh - where I am."
At the drop of a hat, Dick's hope and expression fell, his skin went to white from tan, immediately understanding what Jason meant. He'd been cutting up frankfurters with a knife, a knife he snatched off the chopping board.
"Jay, I'm not gonna hurt you," Dick came closer, reassuring hand raised like Jason was a cornered animal with bared teeth.
"But I need you to trust me-"
"Just take the fucking thing out, Dick." Jason rolled his eyes in irritation and Dick paused, a thought flitted through his head, but he shook it away and took Jason's chin in his hand, carefully turning his head to give him a clear view of the afflicted area. He ran his fingers over, feeling until he found what Jason had been telling him about, that artificial bump that shouldn't be there.
"It's right next to your jugular, Jay, gonna be tricky to take out." Dick muttered something to himself about Bruce's positioning being a deliberate precaution to stop them taking the tracker out since one slip meant death to Jason. It was nestled against an artery, a dangerous spot, indeed.
"He fucking did this here on purpose." Dick could be described as pissed off when he spoke, feeling the chip out, the pinch of his nails on Jason a sting of pain. He hid it with the ease of practice since this thing had to come out now, before Bruce tracked its beacon to them. The idea of being dragged back to the house was motivational for Jason to let Dick near him with the dagger.
"Do not move. This is gonna hurt a little." Jason held his breath, he heard Dick do it too when he slowly pushed the tip of the blade in. It was faultlessly sharp but it still burned, something it wouldn't have immediately done if the incision had been fast. It wasn't, it inched at the speed a snail wouldn't blink to overtake and Jason was quickly getting impatient. He almost grabbed the knife to speed up the process but thrusting it all the way wouldn't be helpful. A steady warm spill was sliding down his neck, coming fast with the increased rhythm of his heart but Jason obligated staying calm. Dick wouldn't slit his throat despite the opportunity. Unlike everything, that he had no doubt of.
For the most part.
Dick pushed the knife to the side, widening the parting, Jason winced, hissing a whimpery breath.
"Sorry, little wing," Dick was throughoutly, truly apologetic, pausing to let Jason regain his brace against the steel.
"C - can you get the damn th - thing out already?" Jason urged, patience dwindling nearer to nil with every second that Dick had a kitchen knife in his throat. Nodding, Dick angled the blade's edge, catching the tracker and began pulling. Jason was quite aware he was a stray millimetre from a severed jugular but Dick had a steady hand. Quickly, it was close enough to the surface for him to remove it entirely, holding the tiny blood covered chip between two fingers, examining it with a scowl. The thing he held, it was circular and flat, like a miniature hockey puck, the sort of thing you stuck into dogs.
The longer he dwelled on it, the clearer the image in Jason's head became of Bruce's vice hand holding the back of his neck, bruising around the spine, and inserting the tracking device in case he ever got out. That's what Bruce said. It's in case you ever get out. Mind vacant for that matter, Jason readily accepted the bunch of kitchen towel Dick handed him and pressed it against his neck, soaking up the trickle of blood.
"Aren't y - you gonna br - break it?" Jason inquired when Dick still kept possession of the thing, intact.
"No..." Dick pursed his lips, eyes narrowing to capture the device in a sliver stare of consideration.
"Jason, you gonna be alright if I go out for an hour?"
"I - I guess." Jason shrugged and Dick was already heading to the front door with the tracker before he was replied to. Jason went after him, hoping he'd share where he was going and not just abandon him.
"Wh - where-"
"Just the town. It's about an hour's drive away but I'll make it back before dark." He was already thrusting his arms through his coat and zipping it up, except the zipper got caught halfway and he yanked it up and down with a frown to no avail. Sighing, Jason grabbed him by the front of his jacket, dragged him a stumbling step forward until they touched at the chests and with a single firm tug, closed the thing for him.
"Uh, th - thanks." Dick looked nervous again at their close quarters, brushing his hair behind his ear and manoeuvring past Jason to get to the door. Jason rotated very slowly on his heel to track the movement.
"I'll get back as soon as I can." He said over his shoulder and the door opened, closed, the draft slamming it. Jason stared at it, heard the car start and the rumble of its engine grow distant, and then stared at the door for a few more minutes before he wandered back into the kitchen. Where was Dick going?
The scrambled eggs were still in the pan, cooling and grossly wet, not fluffy the way they should be. It was orangey.... somehow Dick managed to make it look orange like he cooked only be yolks. And cook was a giving word.
Biting his lip, Jason didn't really know what he was doing when he slid the pan back to the hot plate the scatterbrain never switched off and got milk out the fridge. He added a generous dollop and stirred it in with the spatula. The eggs were adopting a more natural soft yellow colour with the addition of dairy. Next, he went for some spices, pepper, salt, and a little bit of cumin. He tossed in those frankfurters Dick chopped up, mixed it all together, and let it simmer on low heat. While it did its thing, Jason went into the bathroom and threw his guts up. The rich smell, remember? It didn't agree with him.
Dick pulled up at the gas station of this tiny town, population 500, and he got out the vehicle. He shut the door and leaned against it, looking down both sides of the empty road. He didn't give it long before Bruce got here, not with all the time he'd had to locate them. While he waited, Dick moved around to the trunk, popped it, and started stripping his coat, hoodie, tee and switched it for the top half Nightwing's kevlar padded suit. The eagle on the chest was red now, the outlines sharper. He no longer wore a domino because his victims, as they were, were mostly afraid of him and he relished that and wanted them to see that in his eyes. But other than that, the differences in his gear weren't as drastic as the media was painting it.
Clipping shut the buckles and pulling tight every belt and holster, he didn't care if anyone could see him changing. No one in the town of Murry Glen cared for who they'd think was nothing but an advanced cosplayer who was really committed to whatever role they saw him as.
Humming to himself, Dick smoothened the getup down. There was a wet red patch on his pant's pocket, where he had the tracker, still transmitting the signal. He wished he could say he didn't believe Bruce could put the device in Jason but after the wire thing, nothing was beyond him. Robins got trackers but that was in the arm (Dick long since took it out) and not in the neck like some sort of animal.
He spun his escrima sticks in his hands, twirling them singing through the air around him experimentally. An engine and the crunching of gravel lead Dick's eyes to shift to the side and lock hard onto the approaching vehicle. Matte black car, dark tinted windows but Dick didn't need clear ones to glare directly at Bruce. The expression was met with one of the same when Bruce got out and got closer.
"Dick, what did you do with Jason?" He was fucking pissed, Dick had never heard his voice come out past his teeth that dark before. He'd also never cared less.
"What did you do to Jason?" Dick glowered back, upper lip curled a fraction, spinning the iron batons around his hands.
"Being around you is going to make him worse." There was an undertone of accusation to Bruce, as if Dick was the sole bad thing to ever come across Jason. He wasn't even in the top one-hundred.
"Jason is already talking better, Bruce, we took the fucking wire out. He's doing things independently, because wants to, and he's remembering pieces." Dick tipped his head, seeing how Jason's improving memory made Bruce's eyes go wider.
"All that and I've had him for two days. You had him for two years."
"You're hurting him by letting him remember." That was outrageous, Bruce seemed to believe it and Dick responded with a slow shake of his head, gaze dropping degrees below carbonite.
"Oh no, unlike you, I'm not hurting Jason. That's what got me any mileage with him." In mid-axis the sticks stopped and were rigid in his fists, quivering millimetres up the shafts.
"But that doesn't mean I can't hurt people."
I know no one wants to know this and it's got nothing to do with anything we saw here, but I have to tell someone and who better than my captive audience? Today, when I got home from campus, I prepared scrambled eggs in a microwave but substituted milk with red bull and it was actually delicious. I did this because I wanted to and not 'cause someone's got a gun to my head, believe me or not.
The slam careered a shockwave of pain through Dick's entire body - Bruce knew as well as he did that putting him through the gas station window was gonna sting. Gasping involuntarily hard with no breath in his lungs, Dick scrambled to his feet, stance unsteady but he made it to the tyre-iron display and grabbed the biggest one, swinging it at Bruce but he caught it deftly, ripping it from Dick's grasp and bringing it into his side with a bone-breaking crash that sent him stumbling, into a wall had his father not seized his arm to yank him into another fist to his middle. Winded, Dick hoarsely choked up speckles of blood, staining Bruce's shirt, a notion that went missed by the larger, stronger man when for a moment their breathing mingled - Bruce's heavy and his son's ragged, panting as if a lung had collapsed - their gazes met in the middle. They'd been doing this for half an hour, Bruce had taken a number on him while he'd succeeded only in bruising his opponent, at best.
"This isn't what I raised you to be." Bruce darkly muttered in a low growl, straight before Dick was hurled into a shelf of window cleaner and other similar products, the whole thing crashing down on him and heavy containers pelting him like a hale of stones. Limbs trembling from the crushing weight and the pain of it, Dick tried to straighten himself but the seeming tonne of debris heavy on him meant he fell back down, chin striking the cold linoleum floor with a dull thwap. Half a weak groan passed his lips before Bruce was kneeling down and grabbing his face roughly, fingers burrowing into his cheek and digging bruises into him.
"Where is your brother?" He demanded and he pressed harder until Dick could taste the sharp tang of copper against the edges of his teeth. Blinking his dilated eyes up at Bruce, hazy from how much he hurt, Dick spat a glob of blood at him.
"Go to hell." He glowered and was regarded with an expression twice as dark as his own, lasting only seconds that felt like hours in the anticipation for Bruce to do something to him now that he was helpless and he never did disappoint; Dick thought his head split when it was smashed against the floor by a fistful of his hair. His vision exploded into stars and then spread red.
Uncaring heavy footsteps walked away.
He barely heard Bruce snatch the GPS from Dick's car, a device that'd allow him to retrace his steps to Jason and with that horrifying prospect in his fuzzy mind, Dick tried dragging himself free but he couldn't. Everything went black too fast.
Don't ask him why, but Jason was perched in the branches of a spruce at the far end of the cabin's garden. He'd already been outside, naming trees after his friends at the manor - he missed his friends - when he heard the rumble of an unfamiliar car approaching. Dick's car had a bust cylinder, it affected the frequency of how the engine rotated and to Jason, the difference beside the practically purring engine was easy to differentiate.
When he saw who it was, Jason's arm around the tree trunk tightened to the point where the rough bark cut him and with eyes wide from fear, he watched from amidst the bushy branches concealing him how Bruce kicked the cabin's door down, violently and barked out his name.
The sound made Jason shudder and he pressed himself harder into the tree, praying that Bruce just goes away and leaves him alone. Please just leave me alone. He might not know who Dick was exactly - other than the kindest person alive and a fucking angel - and his company was rays of gold next to the mansion and Jason would rather choke on a rock than go back there. He'd choke himself with a rock before he took the second option.
By the sounds of things falling and breaking like thunder inside four walls, Bruce was searching for Jason without sparing force. Why was he so relentless, anyway? Jason didn't like him - he hated him - and by the way he was treated, he would assume that went both ways.
He started picking at the bark, pulling off small dry bits that fell into his lap. It was keep himself distracted or he'd panic over what happened next and where Dick was. He'd had the tracker, did it lead Bruce to him first? If so, he might be really hurt despite how he'd promised that wouldn't happen. Jason understood some promises were broken by force and he needed to find Dick but with Bruce patrolling the grounds like a prowling animal, how?
As the bits descended, a thought began to formulate in his head and Jason started slowly realising it wasn't a mere thought, it was something he was premeditating. He straightened, frowning confusion when he wasn't confused. He knew what he was going to do and it didn't involve being huddled here, afraid to move.
Jason muted the sound of snapping a stick above his head with his hands and gaining a steadfast from the surface of the tree, motionless say for the gentle sway of the wind, he rose and climbed a meter or so down to a safer altitude, waiting in absolute silence until Bruce came out of the house and searched the surrounding grounds. When he got to the foot of the forest, Jason hurled his stick into the branches of the opposite tree. As expected, the sudden rustling noise caught Bruce's attention and with quick strides, he headed for the place it came from.
It was anxious torture to wait for when he passed under Jason's perch but it was well worth it when he stepped off it, instantly engulfed by the wild rush of wind and the jolt of his boots hitting Bruce. The blow was crippling, devastating, enough to crumble Bruce level with the floor at once. Jason wasn't sure he was knocked out - no matter how hard the forest floor greeted his face, and he wasn't taking a chance. The nearest thing - a rock - he snatched it up and whacked the person he hated with a vengeance and a wet smack. That definitely whipped the stupid consciousness out of him and Jason was - he was going to kill Bruce. Now that he was literally in a position to do it, it was the perfect opportunity to bash his sadistic brains out for everything he did.
But then that plan hit a brick wall when Jason noticed the speckles of blood dotting Bruce's shirt. It was dry, far too dry to be his.
It frustrated Jason that he didn't have the time to murder Bruce since every second he spent on that was a percentage to the chances of Dick being dead. And he needed him to not be dead.
Jason rolled a heavy rock onto Bruce's arm to keep him trapped in the hopes of returning here to finish him at some point and finding a spare fuel canister in the trunk of the car, he sloshed it throughout the rooms of the cabin while grabbing a few things and stuffing them into a duffel bag as he made his way through. This protocol was familiar despite him not being able to remember it, so maybe it was muscle memory from his past life that told him how to act in this situation. Bruce knew of this place now so by no means was it secure anymore. Staying was no option.
Although it had only been a short time period he was here for, Jason felt grim while he worked to destroy the cabin as it was the first place in two years that had seemed safe. But then it wasn't the same without Dick so maybe it was his presence that brought the safety element. Which is why Jason had to find where he was but also leave as few leads for Bruce to track them with behind, hence the lighter he tossed into the doorway when he was outside again.
The place was old oiled wood, it needed only the gasoline and a spark to go up like a bonfire. The heat burned his skin, focusing on his back as he speed-walked to the car, threw the duffel bag in, and hotwired the vehicle, not by thinking but allowing his body to do what came most naturally. He had no idea how he knew how to do this but he wasn't ungrateful for the insight.
He also didn't recall how to drive but like everything thus far, it came back to him through action. Jason floored it outta there, the evening sky shining orangey-yellow with the ever-growing blaze reaching towards it with flailing tongues and columns of thick grey smoke and he could yet feel its warmth on him, despite how quickly it grew distant. The car had a navigation system and one hand on the wheel, his gaze intermittently flitted from the road to what he was trying to do, Jason selected the option that redirected the route back to where it'd last been parked. The wonder of modern technology... It made it a cakewalk for him to find his way back down the winding dirt road until it became an asphalt one, the satnav telling him to take a right and he did, ignoring the speed limit urging him to stay below 60 mph all the way until the wrecked roadside gas station came within view. Dick's car was parked outside and there was blood scuffed across the cracked parking lot. Not a worrying quantity but certainly enough to notice.
Jason left the engine running and he didn't wait for the car to be completely motionless before he got out and briskly surveyed the scene.
"Dick?" He called his name out but it rang across the silence without a response. Tentatively, the tip of his tongue darted across his lip, over the forming scars left by the wire. His heart beat to an unsteady rhythm like a needle on a skipping record. It was important to find Dick but he was equally terrified that when he did, he might be dead.
Please don't let him be dead.
Jason hadn't known him long at all but he was already 100% certain he couldn't take it if Bruce had killed him.
There were boot-prints coming from the wrecked gas station, heavyset ones visible only because they'd walked through blood without a care for the trail they left. Hurrying his own steps to a brisk sprint, Jason retraced the red stains into the building. Everything was either tipped over or smashed to bits. The drywalls had holes in them, shelves were hurled across the room, and glass was shattered to fragments. The front display window had drying brownish-crimson running the length of the pointed shards, easy to dip in and out of flesh.
Jason didn't like the blood. He didn't like it at all. It made him anxious, made his chest constrict around his lungs and feel too tight to breathe but he wouldn't let the feeling take control and shoved it out the way.
After rounding into the next aisle in all its carnage, it didn't take Jason all that long to find Dick. Jesus. Christ. What the hell did Bruce do to him? An entire shelf of chemicals had tipped over onto him, crushing him into the ground with its incredulous weight, linoleum floor a mess with not only his own drying life-fluid but also whatever antifreeze and window cleaner those broken bottles had contained. Across Dick's forehead, stretching from his hairline to the corner of his brow ran a deep gash that turned half of his ordinarily beautiful face redder than Carrie on prom night and all together just nightmarish. Judging by the blood streaks on either side of him, he'd tried to drag himself free when still awake.
With the head injury, it wasn't a shock that Dick was completely out of it yet small twitches were pulling at his muscles intermittently and feeble whimpers were escaping his split lips as if he could feel every fibre of pain with his mind disconnected from his body. There were open wounds, plenty of them and the spilt substances were intermingling in them, stemming the blood flow somewhat but chemical burns stung like a bitch.
Suppose anyone else would have been frozen in horror at what Bruce had done but Jason bore the scars on his body that proved he could do far worse. He didn't stay gaping and questioning if what he was seeing was true when it was; Jason shoved the remaining canisters and bottles filled with bright liquids off the shelf before he made any attempt to lift it. He did not want any falling on Dick and hurting him any more than he'd already been. With a grunt of effort, Jason managed to get the stupid thing up, weighing more with its iron frame and solid wood shelves than he'd expected, but he managed to throw it back as far as he could. The abandoned building exploded into a crash of sound, echoing across the flattened space.
That out the way, Jason managed to get his arms underneath Dick's and pull him from beneath the rest of the debris. Understandably, the sheeting pain that moving him brought with it caused him to whine, a noise that died to a muffled one quickly.
"Shh. G - gonna get you outta here, okay? Y - you're fine." Despite soothing his unhearing form, Jason honestly wasn't quite sure if that was true, there might be internal damage which he kept praying against but just in case, he needed to figure out what to do. He had a couple ideas swimming laps around his head but no solid plan.
When Jason had Dick suitably far from the carnage, he laid him back down to properly examine his injuries and while they didn't far exceed his initial observations, it bothered him to see how those aforementioned chemicals meant Dick's tan skin was not only reddish from the contents of his veins but also first-degree burns scattered in patches of varying sizes. The fluids were soaked into the material of his Kevlar, across his chest, his arms, his neck, the lightest touch leading to it sopping out.
No.... That wouldn't do.
After some searching and patting him down, Jason found the fasteners and buckles that held the suit together and went about opening them. Fumbling with his mangled hands, it took Jason a little while longer than it should have to work the locks, frustrated, biting down on his lip, but when finally the damn things gave way, he propped Dick up against his arm enough to pull the stupid vest off him and discard it without a thought. With a quiet hitch, Jason's breath caught but he told himself it was because of the blotches of fist-shaped bruises and not since Dick was incredibly good looking when only half dressed.
Which is not a thought he should be entertaining at this moment. Even if Dick really was all that hot... No. Stop it.
It surprised Jason that it took some effort to gather Dick off the ground and into his arms. He didn't know why a nameless part of him had expected it to be easy or for there to be more strength in his muscles. Maybe he used to be stronger than he was now. It wasn't important if he did, he focused everything on being extremely careful, manoeuvring Dick's head against his shoulder. He groaned, scrunching his features up, pushing the untarnished side of his face deeper into Jason. The chemicals were beginning to transfer from Dick and tingle on his own skin. He needed to get that off both of them.
Taking him outside, Jason located an old rusted waterline tracing the wall, leaking droplets seemingly at every joint and seam, and he mumbled a quiet apology in advance to breaking the tap with a solid kick. The jet of icy water was wickedly cold, drawn directly from the veins of water beneath the bedrock that was the foundation of this area, soaking the both of them to the bone with the blast. Jason was used to the cold, discomfort, all of this but it made Dick gasp sharply and jerk, the sudden movement making it a challenge juggling not to drop him.
"S - stay still," Jason told him while he tightened his arms, holding Dick in place while streams of corrosive substances and blood washed off them. Whimpering, Dick fussed and moved around a bit more but didn't come around, say for the weak coughing and light flutter of his eyelashes that made Jason's heart tighten since Bruce hurt the beautiful angel who saved him because of that act of mercy.
When the water quickly ran off their bodies as clear and not murky and the damn chemicals weren't burning Dick anymore, Jason carried him to the car, laying him across the backseats. The keys were left in the ignition and with very little idea where to go, Jason reversed into Bruce's car quite deliberately, whatever damage he caused little comfort next to everything. Had he had an hour to spare, he'd have gone back to the cabin and killed the bastard but couldn't risk being recaptured. He couldn't risk that for himself or for Dick.
Picking the first direction that sprung to mind at the T-junction, Jason took a left, gaze lingering on the rearview mirror that showed the gas station steadily distancing. He wasn't looking at that, though. He was paying attention to Bruce showing up in the reflection, no matter how impossible that currently was. Despite that lack of actuality, he needed to get away from this damn town before he could treat any of Dick's injuries.... but he couldn't leave it too long. None of those were mortal wounds but they sure as hell must hurt.
The first gas station that doubled as a convenience store to hit their path for miles and the fuel dar he'd been watching for a while now, steadily indicating toward the red convinced Jason to pull over. It was well into the night at this point and Dick had come around though he was groggy, completely miserable, and every jolt or bump in the road made him whimper or grit his teeth to stifle noises. There'd been a half-empty packet of antiseptic wipes in the glove compartment that in a joined effort, they'd cleaned up the blood that hadn't yet flaked off. Among those things Jason grabbed from the cabin before he set it alight was the kit Dick had used to take out the wire. It had been an effort on Jason's part particularly when his hands shook but he managed to stitch the bigger lesions shut.
Turning the keys, Jason shifted in his seat to look at Dick.
"What're you doing?" Dick quietly asked, raising his hand to sweep his bangs aside and as he did, his fingers brushed over the gash and no matter how light the contact was, it made him wince hard and draw a hissing breath through his teeth. Certainly, he had a concussion but enough pain drugs and it hardly showed. He was drowsy, though. It was... cute, almost.
"We g - gotta refuel." Jason explained, already taking an uncoordinated handful of dollars out the glove compartment while he pulled the door handle and pushed it open against his forearm. Dick climbed through the backseats and followed Jason out the same door.
Watching what he was doing in silence, Jason allowed him free but when Dick's intentions had been to stand and never to put any weight on Jason, he swayed violently, into his side where he was immediately caught and stabilised. He was still worse for wear after what Bruce did, so this didn't come as a surprise.
"Th - thanks," Dick grunted, his breathing imbalanced from the spiking pain he steeled himself against. Fuck Bruce. At least it wasn't just Jason he didn't refrain from injuring, proved it wasn't subjective treatment.
"Maybe y - you should st - stay in the c - car?" Jason suggested, adjusting his hands on Dick when he straightened to take his own weight. He exhaled past the pain, deep from his lungs while he smoothed his crumbled shirt, sliding both palms down it. He was standing on his own, that was good since they'd both feared something was broken. But, as luck would finally have it, most his injuries were superficial. The chemical burns hadn't died down but rich dark scabs had formed over the open cuts.
"No, I'm fine." He insisted. "I'll refuel, can you go in and pay?"
Jason's eyes widened to deer-proportions when that came up since he didn't think he wanted to pay. Sure, yes, he'd intended to initially but realised a little later - now - that it'd involve possibly having to talk to someone who wasn't Dick. Jason didn't wanna talk to a stranger.
"C - can't you?" He cautiously inquired and Dick gestured to just a couple of his various very visible injuries.
"I'm beat up pretty bad. We can't draw attention to ourselves." Right. That made sense but it didn't make Jason eager or any less reluctant when he stepped indoors, hunched and the hood of his sweatshirt pulled far over his head, allowing only for his lower face and tendrils of red hair to show. The glaring white artificial light of the gas station made him narrow his eyes, not used to this level of exposure just yet when fresh from the midnight gloom. The late hour did have its advantages, however, the place was deserted say for a cross-country trucker buying provisions and a tired woman carrying a baby in a car seat. She looked dead on her feet.
The cashier glanced at him; Jason pushed his hands deeper into his pockets, kept his head down and with brisk paces, he made his way behind a shelf that hid him from the guy's direct view. He was quite aware that he looked like a shoplifter and the owner was undoubtedly watching his actions through the security camera he'd noticed was mounted by the door the instant he came in. Once more, it was instinct Jason didn't quite understand gripping him when he scouted every camera and turned his face carefully in the other direction when passing, so as not to be caught in a full frontal view.
With all these things he knew how to do but didn't remember learning them or what for, Jason was beginning to think the life he formerly lead didn't involve the straight and narrow. Or not straight, at least, if the fragments of memories were reliable and he had kissed a guy on more than one occasion. Jason couldn't help the desire to know who the man was but every time he tried to pry his face from the dark distant reaches of his brain, sound appeared in place of images. Two sounds, a grotesque sizzling like meat cooking and the screams that came with it. Tortured, pained screams and he's sure he kept hearing his own name among the noise, again and again, in the form of a plea.
Jason hurt that person. He knew he did.
But he wished he hadn't... even without being able to place his face, name, or anything about him, Jason regretted it with every fibre and inch of his being.
Sighing quietly underneath his breath, Jason grabbed a few idle things off the non-perishables isle - protein bars, mostly - since he was quite sure Dick was starving by now. He himself was a little hungry, he'd admit. For Jason, it took real effort to hold the few things he was carrying. Until you had it, you never really noticed how much harder lacking a couple of fingers could make the most basic of things. Juggling the items, Jason didn't look where he was going and accidentally, his shoulder hit that trucker he'd seen when coming in.
Alarmed, Jason's eyes instantly snapped to him and he already had a leer on his face.
"Watch it." He spat, aggressive and looming threateningly near. He was taller by a foot and considerably bigger in body mass.
"S - s - sorry," Jason mumbled and he tried to weave around the man only to have his arm viciously snatched and he was dragged right back.
"S - s - sorry?" He sneered, tobacco-stained teeth showing. "Cantcha fucking talk, you damn retard?"
"I - I need t - to go." Anxious, Jason tried to pull free from his grasp but fingers curled tighter into his bicep.
"Oh, you're not going anywhere just yet, sweetheart."
"L - let g - go of m - me." The things Jason had with him fell with a clatter when trying to yank his arm from the man's rough hand became more desperate.
The trucker laughed cruelly. "You really can't talk, can you? God, you're fucking stupid." His spare hand grabbed Jason's face and forcefully turned his head despite every muscle pulling in protest against him.
"No matter. Bet words aren't what that mouth's for." He tipped his head while sinful eyes slowly licked Jason up and down, his tongue ghosting over his lip like there was something delicious to taste there.
"Only reason a pretty thing like you'd be out at this hour is to get a little something in you, isn't it?"
"N - n - no. I - I g - gotta g - g - go." It was this man's presence, that overwhelming sense of menace and the things he was saying that made something immensely uncomfortable and frightened twist in Jason's gut. But it was no unfamiliar thing. Jason had felt this before but when? And why?
"The only place you're going is out back with me. I ain't had a bitch as pretty as you in a while but don't worry, I'll toss a couple dollars at you - argh!" Jason jumped in fright when Dick came outta nowhere and smashed his boot into the trucker's unprotected side. The kick was hate-filled and sent him crashing into a row of shelving. Smack. Thud.
"You alright, Jason?" Dick checked with him and Jason nodded shakily, his muscles quivering and his fearful gaze locked on the man. He was like someone Jason knew. Not Bruce but a man like him.
"Knew this little-redheaded bitch couldn't have been alone," the trucker's vile grin spread ever wider when he picked himself up, gaze now locked on Dick.
"You faggots together?"
"Together is something you're not gonna be in one minute." Dick sounded murderous, sheerly murderous and despite his poor condition, he was about to tear this guy to bits.
"Try it, pretty boy. There'll be plenty of cock for you once I'm done with the retard."
"The fuck you just call him?" Dick raised a fist fast but Jason caught it faster before it came down. Dick was hurt, he could get even more so by engaging this guy and Jason wouldn't allow it, certainly not for his sake. Not again.
"D - don't. Y - you're g - gonna g - get-"
"Oh, for god's sake. Stop fucking talking." Irritated, the trucker huffed. "And keep that fucking mouth shut if you ain't on your knees with a prick down your throat."
The spike of rage incited in Dick's eyes by those words was the start to a very ugly murder that would have taken place right then and there if the cashier hadn't finally paid attention to them and stepped in.
"Break it up or I'm calling the cops." The man was holding a gun, pointed at the three of them. It wasn't a big weapon, a ten round pistol with a revolving barrel, but it could leave a serious mark. On instinct, Dick raised his arm across Jason's chest as if it could protect him from a bullet.
"There's no need for that, sir." Dick calmly told him, although Jason could see he was angry behind the pretence. Extremely angry.
"Get the hell outta my store." He jerked his head in the direction of the door and Dick's hand found Jason's; the sudden warm touch giving him a start but quickly, it came to light it was nothing he should fear. It was just his beautiful guardian angel making sure he was safe.
"Let's go, Jason." He wanted to kill the trucker but his self-control was without comparison, Dick started heading away and Jason more than willingly followed after. The trucker was smarter than to instigate further, not even as Dick spat at him on the way out.
Dick didn't let go of Jason's hand even when they were outside. He wanted to question that but didn't, not while Dick guided him around back, away from the car.
"Wh - where are w - we-?"
"We can't keep using the same car. Bruce can track the licence if he hasn't already. I found another set of wheels while you were gone." So he had. An unremarkable ford sat waiting where Dick had picked the lock and already transferred the duffel bag and few whatnots into it.
Dick still had a concussion and aside for that impressive show with the asshole indoors, he was woozy but managed to make it a struggle for Jason to convince him to not drive. He'd wrap them around a streetlight and kill them both.
Jason was learning that he liked driving. Had he always liked it? He wasn't sure but having something bigger and stronger like a car do his bidding was addictive. He didn't feel tired at all, not when hours passed and not when the sun was beginning to peek golden rays over the horizon.
It was nice.
Almost nice enough for Jason to forget about the trucker and the strange, unlikable sensation he set off. He was familiar with feeling that way, like an object, a toy, and it could well tie into everything he didn't remember. The black leather mask came to mind, though.
Interesting how some people argued that Dick wasn't a psychopath or a serial killer. Barbara didn't believe it and neither did Damian. Bruce did wonder how they could continue with their 'he's justified, not psychopathic' nonsense if they saw the basement hidden under the burned-out cabin.
Rogue items Dick had kept as keepsakes lined the walls; Sionis' mask, Riddler's bright green and violet overcoat, Penguin's top hat with his monocle hanging by its thin gold chain, and other things like that. Thick iron nails were driven through to keep them in place, the sort of nails you might expect present at a crucifixion.
These were trophies. Textbook serial murderer behaviour.
In the corner stood a mannequin draped in Red Hood's uniform. The suit was suffered, patches were torn and crudely sewn shut. In more than one spot, the kevlar was singed black, crispy and flaking away at any touch. A crack ran down the helmet, from the temple to the eye socket, the result of extreme blunt force the metal couldn't stand. It caved into its wearer's face. No mind for all the washes and chemicals scrubbed into it, not even steel wool could clean out the old bloodstains.
How sentimental. Bruce watched the suit for half a beat before he moved onto the computer equipment. Majority of it was melted, fried from the fire Jason decided would be a good idea to start, but whatever was recoverable from the hard drives was pulled onto a drive. Video files. A lot of video files he'd look over once he got back to the cave.
Dick rarely carried his killings out under the public eye. He murdered far from civilisation or with what was a favourite of his, drones. Just yesterday he shot Firefly. Hopefully that beating he was dealt would make his brain function the way he was brought up. This was about catching him as much as it was Jason.
They both needed a little rehabilitation.
Oh, Bruce... I'm not even gonna try to justify the old bastard in this. I'm tired of justifying bad parenting in my writing for a bit.
Also, dudes, the fabulous charlies_not_here has magicked up some mind-blowing art inspired by this fic (thanks again!) and I'd love for you to go check it out. My fabulous new avatar is one of her works.
"Dick, wh - where are we going?" Tired, Jason leaned his head against the window as the scenery of the approaching town zipped by, the quiet sigh that escaped his lips misting the glass. Dick glanced from the road to his little brother, his little brother who was so exhausted that he could hardly keep his eyes open but refused to sleep even when almost forcibly, Dick pried the wheel off him so he could grab some shuteye. Which he didn't.
"To see a friend of mine." Dick vaguely explained. Had he added details, it wouldn't have mattered since Jason wouldn't know who he was talking about, not with his Bruce-induced amnesia and not with how jumbled up seventy-two hours of no rest made his brain. Seriously, why the fuck would Jason just not do himself a favour and take a nap?
"I - is it a g - guy or a girl?" Jason mumbled, pawing at his eyes, the yawn pushing his tongue out his mouth. Dick was briefly distracted from driving to think over how adorable Jason unintentionally made himself. Mother of Christ, he looked like a sleepy kitten....
"Is he n - nice?"
"You'll like him." Sweeping his bangs behind his ear, giving that graze some air, Dick shifted his hands on the wheel, its leather cover creaking. The wonders of modern medicine, he hardly felt the aftermath of his father's fists on him anymore.
Grimly recounting it, Dick took a left into the upcoming town's heart. They needed provisions.
"My friend can help us lay low for a bit, Jay. He's a master at it."
"He - he's a c - carpet?"
Dick choked on a laugh he was quick to swallow down since Jason regarded him with a completely serious expression - serious albeit exhausted out his wits.
"Why - why d'you think he's a carpet?" Dick asked with a whole lotta restraint to keep the amusement out his voice.
"C - carpets lay r - really low... on the... on the g - ground." Jason gestured to the carpeted car floor, slumping over as he did. Biting back the smile, Dick leaned over to pull him properly back onto the seat by a handful of his hoodie and tightened his belt, the vehicle swaying to stay in its lane.
"They sure do, Jason." After that, Jason remained so quiet with his head leaned up against the window that, for a spell, Dick genuinely believed he was asleep until he suddenly sat up straight with a long breath.
"I h - hit him with a r - rock." Jason mumbled, rubbing at his eyes with the heels of his hands and it took a second to make out what he said.
"Bruce?" Dick glanced over at him. "Yeah, you told me about that, remember?"
"Sh - shoulda hit him harder. K - killed him...."
"You wouldn't have saved me then." Dick interjected with his notorious optimism alight but Jason's response was a half-hearted shrug of one shoulder and another hopeless exhale.
"W - wouldn't be r - running away if he w - was dead."
"I might be dead if you'd stopped to kill Bruce." Surely, this point had occurred to Jason at least once but hearing Dick bring it up made his brow fall into a deep furrow.
"I w - wouldn't like th - that."
"Me neither." Dick admitted with a tip of his head, right about the moment he pulled up at a convenience store. Jason went rigid the moment he yanked the handbrake and the key came out.
"Wh - what are w - we doing here?"
"We gotta grab some food, water - cause I don't know about you, but I'm starving. You're probably hungry too?"
Fumbling with the seat belt across his torso, chin tucked into his chest, Jason shook his head. He was doing anything but meeting Dick's gaze, which is something Dick had learned meant he was lying. Funny, before two years, Jason was up there with the best pathologicals and able to create a believable alternate dimension without blinking.
"You don't gotta come in, Jay." Dick was sure this reaction was to do with that fucking trucker from the other night. Oh, if only he'd had a minute alone with that man....
"I - I'll come." He nodded rapidly, already clicked the belt lock open and he got out before Dick could say a further word. He went after, Jason was waiting by the other side of the car, busying himself by smoothing wayward strands of his hair down. The way the sun hit it made the already bold natural red colour two shades deeper. Jesus, it was making Dick's redhead fetish go all kinds of crazy.
"I don't mind if you wanna stay at the car, Jason," Dick said but Jason was already heading indoors.
"It - it's fine." He assured but had no confidence in his tone to back it up with.
"If you're sure..." He wasn't. No question but Dick wasn't about to push his own thoughts onto Jason. He was just redeveloping some ounces of willpower.
As a convenience store, this place had everything from groceries to cleaning supplies and DIY home renovation gear. It was pretty busy which was perfect, no one paid them a lot of attention. And Dick wouldn't have it any other way.
"Sandwiches sound okay?" Dick asked and Jason only shrugged with a considerable lack in opinion, hands shoved deep into his pockets and head lowered. Sighing, Dick turned slowly around and raised Jason's face gently with both hands, lethargic teal eyes fixed tiredly on him.
"You'll blend in a lot better if you're not so bunched up."
Jason shrugged again, looking somewhere else, at someone else and Dick left him and his bettered posture alone. He tried asking what kind of sandwich Jason wanted, or thought about it, but knew he wouldn't get a response. Jason could only stomach bland things, anyway, so that didn't leave a whole lotta option.
"You boys new in town?" The cashier asked when she was checking off items with the scanner.
"Just passing through," Dick explained with a polite smile and people-pleasing tone.
"Where ya headed?"
"New York. We're on a little road trip."
"Helluva road trip." The clerk remarked, Dick agreeing with a nod and a hum. From behind him, he felt Jason wandering off somewhere and caught his wrist deftly, tugging him back without the woman noticing a thing.
"You brothers?" She went on to ask and there was a cutthroat question that had Dick hesitant to answer. Yeah, they were brothers but... no, he didn't really want them to be. They didn't look anywhere near distantly related, which made it curious for her to ask that.
"Friends." He finally got out and it sounded a little forced, enough so to make the clerk glance up at him, eyeing them now. God, Dick prayed she wasn't thinking about how Jason was clearly younger than him and always looked disoriented. They both had their share of defensive wounds visual and he was doing all the talking while Jason lingered by without a word, only moving when Dick did. The way this looked all kinds of wrong was suddenly hitting him all at once.
But then the clerk shrugged and finished packing everything away into a bag. Inwardly, Dick exhaled in relief while he started counting dollars out his pocket and onto his palm.
"You alright, sugar?" The clerk asked and Dick almost answered the question, when he realised it was directed past him at Jason. Jason looked horrified when she paid attention to him.
"Uh, y - yeah. 'M - 'm f - fine." He stammered, glancing to Dick with worry obvious in his eyes and a silent help me.
"Sure? You're shaking." Oh... he was, badly. Like the was when the trucker grabbed his arm.
"Jay's got a severe case of social anxiety." Dick tried to explain away only to be scowled at by the woman. Oh, so she did find this bizarre. Yay, faith in humanity... Nay, this wasn't good for them.
"Sweetheart, if you need-"
"I - I s - said I'm f - fine." Jason made to take the bag off the counter and the brief glance the clerk gave his hand turned into a gape whether or not she meant to react that way.
"Wh - what happened to your hands there, sugar?"
"Nothing." Jason snapped at her this time when he snatched the bag then Dick's wrist, all but dragging him out, nearly before he managed to pay the woman.
Outside, he shoved Dick in the direction of the car, more roughly than he intended. He stumbled a few feet but caught himself, glancing to Jason. Jason was looking around him like a paranoid loon but he did make like a gentleman and open the door, gesturing for Dick to get in.
"Jason, everything is alright," Dick said, feeling like he needed to as he stepped into the car and Jason slammed the door, a vibration going through the vehicle's entire frame. Looks like he's driving.
"Sh - she was a - asking." Jason was vicious when he turned the keys and drove them outta there. From the corner of his eye, Dick watched him and that overwhelming paranoia.
"She was concerned about you, Jason. That's all."
"S - it's none of h - her business." Jason's hands tightened around the wheel, tightened until Dick thinks he might be strangling someone in his head.
"No, it's not but she probably thought I hurt you."
"Th - that's fucking stupid."
"But it happens." Dick tipped his head with a grimness. "People hurt people. Domestic violence exists, she may have come off strong but she did what any decent person would have."
Jason had nothing to say to that.
Soon, a song came onto the radio. A Nickelback track; the singer had a gravelly voice, grating like a ghost rattling chains in Dick's head, still tender from the concussion dad gave him. He tried to take it but it became unbearable quick and he made to turn the radio off.
"N - no. Leave i - it on."
"Why? You like this?" Dick frowned. Jason used to go ballistic if anyone made him listen to this band. He was up there with the most vocal Nickelback haters. Was.
"No." Jason sounded confused with himself there. "I - I hate this."
"But you want it on?" Dick inquired and his answer was a nod. Curious... There was something that made sense about this but it may be a stretch.... Roy was among those of a few number, he actually liked Nickelback. This particular song that was playing, it was one of his favourites and he'd endlessly make Jason suffer by playing it. Again. And again. And again....
Dick turned it down a few decibels and let Jason continue with whatever he was thinking back on. Or trying to. More power to him if he wanted to ruminate over an ex he had no idea existed.
After god knows how many hours on the road, Dick would die if he didn't get to stretch his legs and walk around a bit. With much persisting behind him, he had to force Jason to pull over at a roadside stop winding through the mountains. Sheer cliff side to the left, a lookout point with a rail to the right, overseeing acres and acres of thick dark woodland; perfect peace and absolute solitude. A great place to plan explanations to his friend.
The fresh night air - this far from a city - felt incredible. Spreading his arms apart, Dick exhaled deeply then breathed out a content sigh, lungs happily brimming with the clean oxygen that was so rare nowadays. Almost as lovely as the soft velvety sky stretching for millions of miles overhead, dotted with clear silvery stars and galaxies that looked tiny from where they stood.
Smiling, Dick turned on his heel to face Jason, leaning lightly against the side of the car with his arms folded. He was watching with those pretty teal eyes in absolute silence but he refused to come to enjoy the scenery.
"You rooted to that car?" Dick teasingly asked and Jason pushed away from the vehicle begrudgingly with a low 'no'. Taking his time, he joined Dick by the railing overlooking miles of forested canyons and peaks and rivers that ran with rich fresh water.
Now that he got around to it, he was instantly intent, keen. Jason studied the landscape as if he'd never seen anything like it.... actually, he hadn't, at least not that he'd recall. Dick couldn't help it when his smile broadened by Jason's reaction.
"Wh - where are we?" He quietly asked, utterly awestruck by the scenery surrounding them on all sides. His lips were slightly parted, gaze gone wide with the childlike wonder.
"Ontario; Canada. My friend lives an hour or so away."
"Your c - carpet friend?"
"Yeah," Amused, Dick nodded and he put his arm around Jason, pulling him into his side in this first moment he'd actually had the time to hug his little brother.
"My carpet friend." Oh, he freshly remembered the days Jason'd jump out of his skin if anyone touched him but he nestled quite comfortably underneath Dick's arm, resting his head on his shoulder and gazing at the mountains that looked like dark blue ridges against the tarry horizon. God, this was nice. Just him and his brother, safe for a heartbeat from all the carnage and shit the world threw at them.
There was never any ulterior motive to what was an entirely innocent gesture, Dick just wanted to savour this moment when he planted a purely platonic kiss onto the top of Jason's head, into that sea of silken red, but he must've sent the wrong message or social cue since Jason responded by pressing their lips together when he looked up. Crap. Dick's heart skipped a beat and every instinct on the side of the angels screamed at him to do anything except what he did; wind his arms around Jason's waist and draw him in closer until their chests touched. Flashbacks attacked Dick's mind's eye with every breath. Flashbacks of all the reasons to stop but yielding to the soft brush of Jason on him, engulfing him, Dick knew he'd never have the strength to say no.
A moment of tongue-tying and Jason was kissing his jawline, his neck, the crook of his shoulder, working his way down Dick's body until he was on his knees. Fumbling with his dismembered hands, it took Jason a little while to work the belt buckle open, and by then, Dick snapped out of the rose-tinted haze.
"No, Jay, stop," Carefully, he took his little brother's face and tipped it up, interlocking their gazes and Jason's was wide teal with a big why not? He looked confused that Dick stopped him, dejected almost.
"Jason, I don't want you to hurt yourself. The wire only just came out." While he spoke carefully, lovingly, Dick lowered himself to Jason's level and gazed into his eyes, long and deep, as if he could drown in them. These last two years he spent killing everyone who took advantage of Jason, hurt him, it gave him a lot of time to come to terms with exactly why he was doing it and why he never liked seeing Roy with Jason.
"Th - then wh - what?"
"Lemme lead." Drawing them both back to his feet, Dick was very lacking for force when he gripped the back of Jason's neck, pulling him against his lips. Jason exhaled on him, relieved, and worked symbiotic to Dick's body when delicately, he pushed Jason against the hood of the car, guiding his every move, stopping at all the instants he had any inkling he was hurting his little wing.
Dick breathed in the lovely warm scent, face buried in Jason's neck, filling his lungs and the cavern of his chest with it and.... No, he couldn't do it. It was a task to push off Jason with how he was preening beneath him and ripe for the taking, except Dick wouldn't use him when Jason didn't remember anything, not even if he wanted this.
"Wh - what are y - you doing?" Jason's eyes widened with worry when he took the step back and sitting up on the hood, he pulled in on himself, one knee meeting his chest. He couldn't understand why Dick was refusing him.
"Jason, you aren't yourself, I don't want to-"
"It's th - the scars, isn't it?" Biting the inside of his cheek bruisingly deep, Jason looked away, upset and Dick couldn't help the gnaw of guilt over causing it.
"You th - think I'm ugly." A dribble of blood was breaking free from the meat of his lip but his canines sunk ever harder in like he didn't feel the pain.
"No, Jay, it isn't that." Dick took his face in both hands, running his thumbs back and forth over his cheekbones.
"You're fucking beautiful, okay? With or without the scars but..." His tongue flitted across his teeth, searching for words. "You don't know me. You don't remember who I am to you. You wouldn't want this if you did."
"I d - didn't w - want any of this." Jason gestured to nothing around him, the fire of life gone from him again and in its place came that haunted grey void that Sionis, the rogues, and Bruce... were responsible for putting in him.
"Y - you think I w - wanted to be l - like this?" It was difficult to catch, there was a near-silent hitch of imbalanced emotion to Jason's voice but Dick caught it when he pushed off the car hood and walked a little distance away.
"I - I don't remember any - anything but th - that doesn't mean I - I can't hate this." At some point, Jason's fists became entangled with his hair, tug, tug, tugging at it with each pull becoming rougher until Dick was afraid he was pulling it out his scalp. It was like Jason was trying to rip locked away memories from his skull.
"Jason, stop that." Solemn, Dick told him, moving closer to coax him if he didn't listen but the foot of distance gained was one Jason shoved him back, stumbling until his hands found the car behind him.
"Do not t - touch me." Jason's fingers were wrapped tight around clumps of his hair, forearms falling to partly hide his face but Dick saw the glint of aggression in the way his little brother was staring at him and grinding his teeth together like they owed him money. From this angle with the sleeve of his hoodie sliding down, Dick had a clear frontal view of the thick ragged scar running straight down the soft underside of Jason's wrist, the mark left behind by the last few conversations Dick would have with Jason before he was cast from the family's inner circle.
He did that. That scar on Jason was his fault.
"Jay, what can I do to make this better?" Dick quietly asked, so quiet he almost couldn't hear his own words but Jason sure as hell did. And he knew what he wanted.
"J - just tell me." He half pleaded, half whimpered, caving in on himself as much as he could get and he really needed this from Dick. Jason needed him to tell but... trying to find the right wording to say even as little as to how this all began, Dick couldn't because there was no soft cottony way to explain it and no silver lining to pick at. The last time he revealed anything of this nature - what he did to the rogues - that didn't end so well...
"I.... I can't." He whispered, casting his gaze down since he couldn't hold the weight of Jason's. Seconds felt like hours, he wasn't sure what kind of reaction he was anticipating from the other, but certainly, it wasn't the silence of speech that transformed into the crunch of gravel approaching him. Dick couldn't get his eyes up off the ground before Jason's mouth was on his again. He didn't understand it, why Jason initiated this but the way he cupped the back of Dick's head to pull him in deeper made him think he wanted it. Say no. Say no. Say no...
"You w - wanna protect me, d - don't you?" Jason asked when he pulled back the bare minimum, lips hovering above Dick's.
"Th - that's why you w - won't tell m - me?"
Pulse hammering, Dick nodded rapidly, their proximity lighting up every tissue cell like a live wire. Floating awkwardly by, Dick didn't know where to put his hands so he placed them lightly on Jason's hips, applying no pressure.
Say no. Push him away. He doesn't know what he wants.
"I'm still gonna find out." Jason quietly said, shocking Dick with his real voice coming out from the depths to support words that would usually fracture. He cocked his head, unsure he heard that right and he couldn't confirm it before Jason gave him a final peck on the mouth then stepped back, out of his arms.
"I w - wanna drive." He stated, circling the car, running his hand over the hood until he got in. Dick stared after, slowly lowering his hands to his sides with a gaping hole in his understanding.... What? Did Jason just kiss him, shove him into a car, then kiss him again?
"G - get in th - the car, Richard." Winding the window down, Jason told him when he was stalling, trying to figure out what just happened.
"I'm coming, Jay."
Crap. He shouldn't have indulged Jason in that. He really shouldn't have.
At Dick's instructions and Jason's refusal to let him drive, they found their way to his friend's house, located in a rural Ontario town that was mostly farmlands and forests and those red and white barns. There was one store that doubled as a gas station in this town, one bar and one school. The population was a meagre thousand strong, practically a dot on the map but the perfect place to go off the grid.
"Y - you're sure y - your friend wants t - to see us?" Jason asked while he turned the keys with a weary sigh. Jesus, he really needed to sleep; groceries could be carried in the bags beneath his eyes.
"I hope so." Dick murmured, eyeing the light shining through the windows of the house. It was four am but he was awake....? Out of character, for sure.
"Jay," Dick turned in his seat, ripping his attention away from the house. Jason was already looking at Dick before he faced him.
"There's one thing we gotta discuss first. My friend.... Can't know about the kissing, alright? Don't say anything." That matter, letting Jason do that, the quilt was gnawing at him, devouring him from the inside out. Lord, how could he be so stupid that he wouldn't say no? He was scarcely better than any rogue piece of scum.
"Why?" Jason's brow furrowed. "H - he a homophobe o - or s - something?"
"No. He's not. Not at all but..." Dick's tongue ran along his lip when he trailed off, finding no way to put it before his hand tightened around the door handle and pulled it open. With a quiet sigh, Dick got out of the car to stop Jason having the time to ask questions any more. There wasn't really an explanation that would make sense.
Jason followed after, confused but he didn't ask anything in the duration it took for them to cross the front yard and hesitantly, Dick knocked on the door. The doorbell was broken, old pieces of sun-faded duck tape and wires hanging freely from it. How hillbilly. Now that was in character.
Dick braced himself when he heard the steps approach from inside and a silhouette appear behind the stained glass of the door. There was a moment of no movement - just a split second - then the person opened up, frowning when he saw them.
Dick took a breath.
"What the fuck, Dick? Like, why the actual fuck did you bring Jason here?" Hopefully, Roy didn't mean to come off as aggressive as he did while he held a conference with Dick, in the kitchen with Jason excluded.
"Roy, we need to lay low," Dick calmly explained. "Bruce is picking America apart for us."
"Yeah, and I'd love to help you but you brought my ex here, my ex who tried to murder my daughter." Roy gestured with his hand in exasperation.
"Lian is on a class trip. You think I didn't check she wasn't here?"
"That - that doesn't matter."
"Look, I know you're pissed," Dick took his friend by the shoulders, focusing eyes on his green ones and not the BM burned into his cheek. Yeah, Roy had a multitude of reasons to never wanna see Jason but he couldn't hide it; he still cared about him. A lot.
"You got every right to be but a couple nights is all I'm asking. We'll be long gone before Lian gets back."
Conflicted, Roy's gaze said he both wanted to help them and do anything but. The latter was the side of caution speaking.
".... Why's Bruce hunting you?" Roy allowed himself to ask and Dick took it as a sign he was creeping to coming around. So it was a good idea to keep tabs on the archer during the time no one else knew where he was.
"He's gone completely nuts, Roy. He's kept Jason locked up in the mansion for two years, completely wiped his memory clean; Jay doesn't remember me or you, and he wi... wired his fucking jaw shut." Dick hadn't properly gotten over his disbelief of that last part, although he should have and by the shifting expression on Roy's face, that wire thing did the trick. Really hit the spot with that one.
Running his hand over his face, Roy sighed when he caved.
"Fine. Until Lian gets back."
Well, this is gonna get interesting...
The outskirts of Ontario truly were a lovely place to not only live but also disappear. Green fields at summertime and brilliant crystal sky stretched far beyond what the naked eye could perceive, making every living thing an unnoticeable black dot of movement. It was free, no one paid attention and no one fact-checked stories, and most importantly, it was far, far away from Gotham. Far enough for Roy to breathe without fear that the exhale would guide another rifle's scope onto his daughter. But it still felt too close to that damn city where nightmares and monsters posed as people. Fuck, he hated all those people.
But he didn't hate the two people who swept in last night. How could he? Acting peeved let up quick and since Dick had gone somewhere, Roy was left minding his ex. It had been a struggle to convince Jason to let Dick go alone, he didn't trust Roy even a little without his brother present. That, of course, meant that Jason refused to stay in the house with Roy. He was outside. He was outside, talking to a fucking tree.
Hand gripping the counter's edge tight, Roy watched him from the window. Ordinarily, he would be able to read Jason's lips to know what he was saying but the constant stammering made it impossible. He'd honestly thought the stammering at least would be gone, given how it had been a symptom of fear or panic. But it appeared to be worse than ever. Oh, and he was chatting up the oak tree in the backyard.
Roy hadn't swapped a word with Jason and hardly more than a glance. There wasn't anything to say and Jason didn't seem like he wanted to communicate. That was fine. All he needed to do was make sure Jason didn't get hit by a truck or tractor or something that could potentially kill him.
Roy left his lookout post by the window only to grab a glass of water and when he came back, almost choked on it since fuck him, Jason had gone somewhere. Dammit. So Jay still pertained his vanishing skills? Fucking wonderful.
The archer hurried along outside, sweeping his gaze across the thin covering of snow that blades of late autumn grass were peeking through. If Jason went further, then he'd have left tracks but lo and behold, none. Nothing. Where the hell did he go? Roy blew his cheeks out, frustrated since Dick had every right to lose it if he'd just gone and lost Jason.
At the root of the tree, sunlight that bore no warmth glinted off something and it took coming a foot away from it for Roy to realise it was a fragment of mirror.... had Jason been surveying him with that? From this angle, it would be easy to see the reflection of the kitchen window and what Roy was doing, including the moment he dropped his guard.
That premeditating little....
It's not a myth and it's not for comedic effect that people add 'oof' to the speech bubble of a person who's subject to sudden impact. That's the noise Roy made when a heavy mass dropped down onto him from the branches above his head, flattening him level with the ground in an instant.
Roy didn't need the familiar rhythm of breath or the mapped criss-crosses of scars he could barely see on Jason's forearms to know it was him. Heck, not even when he was roughly rolled onto his back to face the other did it come as a surprise.
"Jason, I swear to god," Roy began through forced patience, so set it didn't sound natural. "If you don't get off me..."
"You'll wh - what?" Jason dared, features tensed to glare at him. He'd had trapped Roy's arms - all one and a half of them - to his sides with his legs, seated on his abdomen and while he didn't weigh anywhere close to what he used to, this wasn't comfortable. The archer couldn't free himself without a struggle. So vanishing skills in check and Jason remembered how to straddle someone effectively? Sweet...
"What do you want?" Aggressive... Roy was aware he sounded aggressive which was something he'd never done with Jason before, there'd never been a need to and much as he still cared for the man in some sense, it was difficult to tap into that emotion with the daily reminders of what Jason's stubbornness had cost him. It never had to get to this point, not if Jason had just reached out for help in the early days when he still had his mind.
His tone made Jason stiffen and that expression of his intensify.
"D - Dick lied..." He growled, canines flashing. "I don't like you."
"Cool - 'cause I might hate you." Would it help if Roy didn't think before that came out? He didn't, he just said it and the rolling fireball of anger in his chest was doused the instant he did, turning bitter cold. Crap. The impact that had on Jason was visible in his eyes yet he stayed mum, like a tree falling but making no sound.
Jason kicked off him and didn't wait to watch him get up, he jumped the fence and he dropped into a moody slump by the roadside, glaring at the ground while he waited. He wanted Dick to get back now.
Gripping his head in both hands, his fingers burrowed relentlessly into his temples and twisted around long strands of hair. He ignored the sound of that stupid, stupid Roy rising, much as he tried to ignore the chemical reaction knowing he was hated caused. It twisted and it was painful, despite that he'd never met this person and therefore his opinions meant nothing to Jason.
But it still hurt like hell.
"Jason..." Roy had come closer and he was quieter this time, almost apologetic but Jason didn't want to acknowledge him, he pulled his knees tighter to his chest and leaned against the fence to his back. Here in the frost and shadow of said fence, the temperature was considerably less than what was comfortable but he'd not move until Dick came back. He didn't want to.
Roy - that name stealing freak - didn't give talking to him a second go and he left, heading back indoors but remained watching Jason through the window like it was his God-given duty. Fuck him.
Dick couldn't have gotten back sooner and immediately tuned in on the tenseness, but neither redhead would tell him a thing despite the obvious implications of questions. He didn't directly ask but clearly, he wanted to know.
Just like Dick, nighttime couldn't have hurried the fuck up any more. Jason liked the dark, it made going unnoticed easier.
Roy rarely came awake gradually but in the middle of the night, he jolted into awareness with a frightening start. The pitch black room felt wrong and he needed only to glance above him to know why that was.
Jason was here. Jason was here, crouched on the edge of the headboard, staring at him, his eyes eerily luminescent. In the dark, the flecks of Lazarus green circling Jason's irises came out more than ever and emitted a peculiar dull glow much like the Pit itself, not quite shining but making them stand out and absolutely terrifying.
All the questions from how long had he been there, why was he there, and how the hell was he balancing there flooded Roy at once. With the frown of confusion... the twitch in his facial muscles reminded him of the brand and how tight it was, making every expression lopsided. He hated Sionis.
"... I like your name, Roy. I used to have a friend named Roy... he was a tree." Never blinking while he whispered that, Jason's gaze was fixed unnervingly intently on him.
"Jay..." Roy let out a quiet sigh under his breath, angling himself to the side so that he could sit up without smacking his head into Jason's. He shifted around and faced the former love of his life, crossing his legs beneath the cover.
"I didn't mean what I said... About me hating you."
Jason's glittering nightlight eyes narrowed on him, lips pulling taut and he made no move to leave the perch he was balancing perfectly on with the fronts of his feet.
"Bold of you to assume I care whether or not you hate me."
Ouch. Why did that leave such a stinging wound in its wake?
"You used to care."
"I also used to have all my fingers and I'm almost sure I wasn't born with all these scars."
Wait. Hold up - Jason wasn't stammering nor was he trailing off mid-sentence and when at first, Roy could have chalked it up to his drowsiness playing tricks on him, every minute he listened to Jason talk it became more and more evident that he was having no problem keeping his voice balanced.... had he been pretending he had some speech impediment - no. That was fucking ridiculous. Jason had done this a couple of times before, spoken with perfect fluidity when he was dead set serious.
"Even if you don't care, I'm sorry." And he really, truly, meant that. Roy didn't have an emotion remote to hatred in his body for Jason but the heat of the moment and all that jazz.
"Well, I didn't lie. I don't like you." Jason growled and then all of a sudden, he straightened, climbed down, and swept out of the room without another word of any sort.
Staring after, Roy's unease ensured he didn't get any more shuteye that night. He would have gone after if he'd been even ten per cent sure that wouldn't end with a knife in his throat. If Jaybird was of a less chilling mind-state in the morning, they'd talk then. How was it that after everything that happened, Jason was still the scariest thing about himself?
This place of Roy's was misleading, a kinda decrepit farmhouse he must've bought cheap and fixed up to function to the extent he needed it to. It was misleading because, upon first glance, you'd think it belonged to a big family due to the number of rooms and that the owner worked the fields fenced off out back. But no, the land may have once come with the property but that wasn't the case any longer, which lowered the value of the house itself to close to nothing on the market. But it was ideal for a guy who didn't want to be noticed.
Aged as they were, the timbers seemed to be settling into a new position constantly, like the house had a life of its own and was in deep discomfort. Listening to it for hours, you could almost make out a rhythm if your focus was intent enough.
Laying on his back, hand over his belly and head pillowed on his folded arm, Dick's eyes were big as he stared at the roof in the night, tracing the dark shape of the ceiling fan. It had held his attention for hours and not a crumb of sleep had yet come. It was past midnight and all he could do was think. Thinking about so many different things that his skull was filled with an uproar of jumbled sentences and scenarios. What would he do if Bruce caught them? Where to go next? What if Jason remembered they were legally brothers? All these what ifs and no direct answer.
Tick, tock, tick, tock...
At some point, later on, a stir of movement caught his attention and the springs of the bed creaked when more weight was added to it, mattress sinking. Unalarmed, Dick watched the figure grow closer and worm its way under the blanket, nuzzling up to him without an inch of space. Jason.
"What's going on, little wing?" Dick quietly asked, rolling over to his side to face his brother.
"T - tired," Jason grumbled into Dick's side, pushing his face into his ribs with a tiny exhale. Of course, he was tired, he was going on day four of no sleep.
Dick didn't say anything, his hand dropped to card Jason's silky hair back and his little brother took the invitation quite readily, arms snaking around Dick's middle to cling to him like he was a plush animal. There was no brush of Jason's lips on his skin, no wandering hands and it appeared he was only here to sleep. Dick couldn't word how relieved that made him. Rejecting Jason may have all kinds of unforeseeable consequences, some of which were worse than indulging him.
But there wasn't need for either thing right now.
They both settled with a sigh, Dick's arm looping around Jason, his shoulder blades sharp through his flesh but Dick did what he could to ignore it. It wasn't a minute until Jason had gone still enough to be asleep, finally, blessedly, but Dick didn't stop combing his fingers through the fine red tresses, it was as comforting to him as it was to Jason.
The heat radiating off Jason was solid, pleasant, intermingling with Dick the likes of which he couldn't complain about, not with the caress of gentle breathing against him. In the past, whenever a sibling would crawl beside him in bed during a storm or after a nightmare, he'd plant them a kiss on the forehead or something like that, but Dick didn't feel safe even looking at Jason right now. He was so pretty and vulnerable, nestled up to him like that, it caused an awakening to so many instincts Dick didn't think he should have.
No. There was no grey area - he should not have these.... urges. Not being related by blood but a binding contract was no excuse. And fuck him if he ever tried to use it as one.
Jason came here after days of no rest, something that Dick suspected was tied to him being afraid all this was a dream and waking up would end it. He came here and he fully, utterly trusted Dick when he did, such a show of confidence in another person something he'd not displayed even in his past life. Even with Roy. Dick would be damned if he used that to his advantage.
He left Jason's hair alone and moved onto running comforting strokes down his back, tracing his spine. Dick didn't feel remotely tired, he might be here for a while to come.
And wasn't that the truth?
Dawn came peeking its hideous face much sooner than Dick wagered and he couldn't help the pang of irritation when it did. Fucking sun. Couldn't it mind its own business and go shine somewhere else? Intrusive blinding golden rays managed it through the curtains, casting across his face and Dick glared at the glare.
A low groan and shift of movement to his side and his mind was refreshed that Jason was still there, still asleep, underneath his arm. Cute, his features were completely lax, no tension of the resident frown. Dick could make out constellations in the freckles peppering Jason's cheekbones and the bridge of his nose, connecting them so intently he didn't hear Roy come and only noticed him when he caught the smudge of red in his peripheral.
Dick slid his arm out from beneath Jason's head, flexing his fingers against the pins and needles as he sat up, meeting the archer's gaze. Bone-weary, Roy was leaning on the door frame, watching them with an unreadable expression. It was a continuous struggle to get used to Roy not grinning or being his goofy scatterbrained self.
"Everything alright?" Dick inquired, quiet so as not to wake Jason.
"Yeah," Roy dipped his head, "just coming to check if Jason was with you."
"... Why'd you think he'd be with me?" In the same room.... in bed... cuddled up to him? The tight teetering on the edge feeling was like hands closing around his throat that only let go when Roy replied.
"Cause I couldn't find him anywhere else." Roy shrugged, apparently thinking nothing of it and all the better. Dick was quite sure he'd blow his stack if he found out the nitty-gritty, no matter he and Jason were no longer an item. And who could blame him? If Dick despised himself for being weak then everyone else had a right to as well.
Kissing Jason was the sort of rare thing he regretted not regretting to its entirety.
"I've put some coffee on." Roy informed him before he brushed out of sight and taking every precaution to not wake Jason, Dick untangled himself from him and climbed out of bed, going after Roy with strides that were quick as staying quiet would allow.
"Wait up." Dick fell into step beside his friend... or who he hoped had remained his friend after everything. Roy didn't look at him even when he spoke, his hand was in his pocket and it didn't go by unnoticed that that was Red Hood's worn-out jacket he was draped in, creased brown leather loose around his frame. Did he really keep that to sleep in? Or did he just put it on? It had been lost ages ago.
"Roy, what's wrong?" Dick's hand falling onto his shoulder stopped him in mid-step and hesitantly, Roy turned to meet his gaze.
"You've been off since yesterday. Did something happen with Jason?" Dick asked, being 100% sure it did. The previous day, Jason hadn't been himself either. They didn't have an argument, did they? They were both so tense, circling each other on eggshells.
"I said something stupid, Dick." Gaze falling to his feet, Roy confessed with a quiet, hopeless sigh.
"I snapped at Jay.... I told him I hate him." That came out difficult like he'd rather not relive it and for good reason.
"Ah, shit." Dick exhaled as well, running his hand back through his hair. Yeah, that'd do it. That'd trip a switch with Jason despite that he didn't remember Roy.
"But you don't... do you?" That shouldn't be something Dick needed to ask.
"No. Of course not. I... I don't know why I said it." His tongue flitted over his lower lip, tightening the arm he was holding himself with. His eyes were wandering anywhere that weren't Dick's.
"Roy," Dick's other hand came onto his shoulder, holding him at a length. "You have every right to hate Jason. He's the only reason you and Lian ever got hurt by Mask.... but Jason isn't the culprit. He did everything he could to keep Sionis away from you. Everything for as long as he could."
"I - I know but-"
"When Sionis captured you," Dick went on, not letting Roy speak. "Jason abandoned any regard for himself, risked hell and high water to save you, and he got hell." Sionis having a grudge on Jason for leaving, Sionis forcing Roy to beat him, Sionis handing him to the rogues... in a word, hell.
"Jesus, Dick - I know." Roy removed his hands, stepping out of his reach for safe measures. "You don't gotta guilt trip me and I said I don't hate Jason. I don't blame him - I don't."
"Good. Didn't think so, I was just making sure." For a moment, their gazes interlocked, both trying to make sense of the other before Roy broke the tension by clearing his throat and going off-topic one-eighty style.
"I have some stuff of Jason's, left over from our place... you should go through it, see if you can find anything useful." He headed down the hall, motioning for Dick to follow over his shoulder. Nice aversion tactic, Roy. A+.
The archer pulled the trap door to the attic by its draw string and went up the folding ladder, Dick in his wake and soon, Roy was presenting him with a moving box that was jam-packed with random items that used to belong to Jason. Kneeling by it, Dick started slowly sorting through a couple of books as well as small bits of Hood's gear, an abundance of helix earrings he remembered Jason obsessing over during one of his identity phases, only to forget them within a month. There were bracelets also, strings through macaroni and plastic beads, tied to loops, Lian's and Jason's handiwork one afternoon almost three years ago. He never threw a single out.
Dick sensed Roy watching from afar for seconds before he quietly returned back down the ladder, leaving him with all the silence his heart may desire to get a handle on everything that was here. Say for sentimental value, most of it was junk.
From amongst the books, a photo album stuffed with polaroids slid out and fell open. They were pictures of Jason, Lian, Roy, them together as a family but several individually. Frowning, curious, Dick began flipping through them and quickly made note that every snap Jason had been captured in, he was oblivious to being photographed, such was the case with the photo where he was caught passed out on the couch, wearing his uniform so one could make the assumption he'd just come back from patrol. There was a bruise under his already dark circled eyes.... Dick wondered if Sionis punched his little brother.
Lips drawing taut, Dick was past grim when he noticed the date stamp on the bottom corner. That was just months before everything went to hell in a handbasket. Inwardly, Jason had already begun unravelling at that point but he'd hidden it so deeply, out of the reach of anyone who could help.
After that, the last polaroid was of Roy, having snared Jason in both arms and kissing him sloppily on the cheek while Jason squirmed to get free. That made Dick feel especially dreary, bleak... because he took the photo. It had been Jason's and Roy's second anniversary. They'd joked that the first year was the rough patch and it'd be smooth-sailing after. Yeah... how'd that work out?
An aged note sat sandwiched in the final plastic pocket. Dick took it out, unfolding it to read. The ink was smudged by droplets of liquid, teardrops, it looked like but what was written was distinguishable despite it.
"Sorry to leave without saying goodbye, ginger. Have something important to do but I'll be back soon and we'll go beaching like you wanted. Tell Lian that Jay loves her.
This must have been written on the very last day when this situation could have been salvaged before Sionis stabbed Jason and decided to beat him into his obedient little pet, soldier, sex doll.... Jason had intended on killing his abuser and coming back home, too bad he didn't know the chain of nightmares he'd put into motion by trying to fix everything by himself.
"Why didn't you ask for help, little wing?" Dick asked himself in a whisper, voice under strain with the question that by now, was overused for him. He'd spent the better part of two years repeating it.
"Didn't know I still had that note." Roy came back, carrying two mugs of coffee, an impressive fete considering he had only the one hand Sionis let him keep but he made do the way only Roy Harper could. Dick took a mug off him when he extended it and made some space, his friend settling down next to him. Roy sighed when he saw the pictures, his attention lingering lastingly on their anniversary photo for undisturbed minutes before he spoke.
"I used to love him so much."
Dick glanced at him, at the amount of conviction behind that statement that was somehow far-off as well.
"He loved you too." Dick wasn't sure if that helped but it was the truth; Jason gave up everything from his sanity to his identity for Roy. Sacrifice like that shouldn't come easy but Jason did it without a second of hesitant thought.
"Does... does Jay remember anything about me and him?... About us?" The cautious inquiry came with the unmissable undertow of Roy not wanting an answer in fear that it would come back negative. Seeing the pain this already caused, Dick couldn't tell him no.
"Kinda. He remembers Nickelback, he hates it but he endures it the way he used to whenever you played it. An' you remember that red maple tree outside the mansion? The one with the dark crimson leaves?" Roy nodded. "He's named it after you because of the colour. Jason tells me about it weirdly often." Dick was still getting used to a tree having pronouns, much less being talked to about a tree but that tidbit of information tugged a little smile onto Roy's face. It wasn't happy, it wasn't pleased but it was the first smile out of him.
"Glad to know he's still a weirdo."
"Oh, nothing can break that part of him." Dick tipped his head with a smile of his own, a smile like Roy's, born of no genuine emotion outside the bitter-sweet.
"Thanks for taking care of him, Dick. Killing those fucking rogues and being that barrier between him and Bruce. I... I had no idea the sick shit the old man was doing to Jay. If I had... I wouldn't have left." Roy shrugged on that last part. Clearly, he was ashamed for what some might consider abandoning his then-partner, even if he did what was best for his daughter.
"You did what Jason would have wanted you to, Roy," Dick assured him. "He never wanted you and Lian to get mixed up in this, so leaving was the best thing you coulda done for everyone."
"I hope so. Hindsight's 20/20, I don't wanna wake up one day and realise I missed something that was hurting Jason right in front of me."
Was.... was that supposed to sound so knowing? Roy didn't show any signs at all that he knew about Dick's and Jason's secret but the way he said that.... maybe Dick was perceiving it that way since he himself felt guilt and shame over what he did and he was projecting that onto what Roy was saying.
He didn't answer. He nodded.
Well, that was upsetting. The tapes salvaged from Dick's mainframes were nothing but hours of the rogues on Jason, in him, around him, doing grotesque shit Bruce already knew happened so while it was painstaking to watch, it was very repetitive. Instead of what was unfolding on the screen, Bruce focused on the elephant in the room question, why the hell did Dick have these? If he didn't think his son was sick before then this proved it.
How many hours, Bruce wondered, did Dick spend rewatching his brother getting tortured and raped while he brooded in the basement, surrounded by memorabilia of his victims? It was terrifying how many points he scored on the Levenson test.
This is what Dick thought was so cruel picking from Jason's head? These vivid memories of what made his scars? Protecting Jason from this wasn't wrong and Dick was demented.
But.... Despite Dick being what he was, Bruce was looking at options of how to fix him, revert him back to how he was supposed to be.
There wasn't a cure for psychopathy but there were ways Bruce could control Dick. He just had to catch him first.
Dick would mess up soon and make his location known. They always did.
Roy was... ugh, how was one person so hateful? Jason brooded by the attic ladder, listening to the conversation Dick and that stupid friend of his were having whilst they thought he was asleep. Their voices didn't carry far but he could still make out the parts, '... loved you too' and 'If I'd known I wouldn't have left...'. Hell no. Those two? Jason should have known Dick wasn't 'just friend's' with his non-homophobic compadre who wasn't allowed to know that Dick's lips had ever touched him. God - it made so much sense.
Jason didn't know why he knew this or where from, but Dick had a thing for redheads and lo and behold, what was Roy? He could see himself cutting that other arm of it it went anywhere near his angel. There was a point he needed to get across to Roy. Dick couldn't help who he attracted - he was drop dead gorgeous but Roy could do with a crash-course on keeping his stupid advances to himself.
Argh, Christ, the angst, the jealousy... if your heart desires anything non-angsty, *insert shameless plug* please go check out my new fic "A Practise In Accountability", it'd mean a lot to me if you did.
Jason had always been a bizarre individual. It wasn't a new thing for him to act irrationally or like a complete maniac but today was exceptional, even for the person who'd befriended trees he knew by name. He started the day by bending every piece of silverware in the kitchen, something he busied himself with while Dick tried to discuss a matter with Roy in private. They stepped into the kitchen to meet a seething cold glare while Jason twisted the last surviving fork's head back with his thumb, balled hand shaking though not from effort.
The question came up but he didn't say what was wrong, he stropped off and camped out in the car, the driver's seat adjusted far enough for him to kick the wheel. The horn was blaring a constant beep-beep-beep, a noise that made Dick jump from fright the first eight or so times before he adjusted to the vibrations against his eardrums.
"I think he's pissed at us." Roy dully observed, the living room window giving them a clear view of Jason slamming his boot into the horn quite furiously. Angrily. Dick watched too, teeth pinching the inside of his cheek. Now what?
"I snapped at him yesterday but what's your sin?"
"I honestly have no idea what's tripped him." Dick murmured, more fixated on what was wrong with his little brother than replying properly. He thought back on everything that happened yesterday but nothing he did should have gotten on Jason's nerves to this extent. All he did was go out to collect license plates from the scrapyard to switch the car's with and night didn't come long after that, Jason crawled up next to him and nothing had been the matter with him then.
Except he woke up on the wrong side of the bed or something since those subtle things he did were nothing short of vengefully aggressive. Jason didn't need to say he was in a terrible mood for the world to know. He was like a seether under the skin. Dick was a little afraid of him since it wasn't just Roy who was the subject of his scorn; no, that leer didn't get any less bitter when it hit him.
"I better go talk to him." Dick didn't want to, his reluctance showing in how slowly he got up but they'd already let Jason sulk for four hours consecutively without bothering him. If the bad mood would fade without an intervention it would have already.
"Careful," Roy called after, not foolish enough to provide back-up. "Hell hath no fury like your little brother."
Oh boy, if that wasn't the truth.
Jason sent him the evillest side-eye known to man when Dick came into his view, making sure Dick could see him lock the car doors. He quit waking the dead with the horn, though, so that was a smidge of progress.
Dick stopped a foot from the vehicle and knocked on the window with his knuckles, awaiting a response Jason's glare told him he wasn't getting. Sigh.
"What's wrong with you?" He warily inquired, too many sleepless nights adding up to this being unwelcome. Jason turned his head away and he might be pretending not to, but he could damn well hear Dick in there.
"Jason, I know you can hear me."
He switched the radio on. Jason switched the radio on and turned the music high enough to vibrate the car to its very core, a volume that must be giving him a headache but he'd rather cause himself pain than listen. Or talk. Or give any kind of indicator as to what had him brooding.
Jason looked him dead in the eye and mouthed a strong no.
Dick was prematurely aware he had no hope of getting through to his little brother when whatever had ticked him off was still festering. No hope whatsoever, he resorted to leaving him alone to calm down at his own leisure. Whenever that might be. Probably not any time soon, Jason kept kicking the hell out of the horn before Dick was even inside.
"Good thing my closest neighbor lives three miles away." Roy remarked dryly while Dick helped around the house. While he was here, he may as well be of use while Jason put his all into garnering noise complaints from the people the next state over.
It was interesting to see how the archer, previously reliant on both his arms and precise motor skills, had adapted to being the subject of amputation. The way he went about doing things, even small things like shutting doors, sometimes you could tell he tried to do it with the limb he no longer had until his brain remembered it wasn't at his disposal. On several occasions, Dick caught the flicker of frustration dart over his features. But Roy never said it allowed that these minor things still got to him after two years.
"You got any plans on where to go next?" Roy asked, washing carrots in a sink of water and dirt that came off from the vegetables he'd already rinsed, now sitting in a colander on the counter.
"I was thinking somewhere near Mexico. It's easiest to lay low in a partially developing country." Dick explained while he diced a potato and dropped the slices into a simmering pot on the stove.
"Won't Bruce expect that?"
"He's paranoid. He's expecting everything."
"It's funny...." Roy began, a new topic it sounded like, and he was coming off as distant before he got going. "I spoke to Bruce a little bit before I left Gotham and he was... adamant that time would heal everything. Nothing he said or did made me think he could do what came after."
From the corner of his eye, Dick glanced over at Roy, now staring at his hand as it floated in the cooling sandy water, ripples moving across its surface. The former archer exhaled beneath his breath, quietly, sadly.
"He lost it, Roy. He just... lost it. Two years of trying everything he could think of to help Jason, to no avail woulda driven me nuts too." Dick gave a shrug there, watching the vegetable he was slicing through.
"Think of it as a... like a coconut. Bruce is trying to get to the center - the root of the problem - without cracking the shell, the shell being that Jason is petrified to the point where he can't think clearly. I took care of the people who made him that way, I made him feel safe, which is how we can - bit by bit - get to the source of everything that's wrong with him and stem it."
"Your analogies are really weird," The other let him know, "but I agree with you there. The rogues crossed every boundary and line with what they did, I'm glad at least one bat had the gall to push back."
"Not a bat," With his index, Dick tapped the space on his chest where Nightwing's logo should be.
"Bird. And I didn't push back, I fucking shoved them all into a woodchipper - alive. Or a vat of acid." 'Push' was a severe understatement, it made it sound like the impact was equal - nothing he was capable of would be equal to the rogues unleashing hell on Jason, but he did his all to help them understand the issue. Jigsaw would be proud of him.
Nodding, Roy hummed in understanding, agreement, things like that.
"The more Jason adjusts to feeling safe with the people around him, the closer we get to him getting better. I don't think he'll ever totally be fine, but Jason makes-do like I've never seen anyone." Roy smiled wistfully at the nice memory coming into his head at that moment. Dick wondered what it was but had no doubt it was to do with Jason.
He wasn't jealous. He wasn't even a little green-eyed when thinking back on Jason and Roy being an item that was allowed to be just that.
Quiet as a whisper, neither one of them realised Jason had quit it with the car horn and come in, come to stand behind them, until he was a meter away. Noticing him, Dick was about to ask if he felt any better, or was ready to explain the problem, but apparently, he wasn't here with olive-branch intentions since he was lightning fast to snatch the pot off the lit stove and before he could be stopped, hurled it at Roy. The heated water splashed everywhere, all over him, the cast iron struck him to a gasping yelp of pain or surprise (both?) and cut-up vegetables thudded to the ground.
There was a split heart-stopping second where Dick was terrified Jason had just given Roy third-degree burns on his face, chest, shoulders, but he didn't scream like he should have if that was the case and the simple reason why not was the water had only been simmering. Ten degrees more and it would be scalding, enough to burn the flesh off Roy's bones. Jason had intended on that, the realisation of the incorrect assumption obvious in the way he leered.
Coughing in wet bursts, Roy pawed at the droplets obscuring his vision and blinked it back as rapidly as he could, staring in confusion at his remorseless ex. Jason's lower lip stiffened when the damage was disappointingly non-existent, not nearly what he'd wanted. His desire had been to melt that fucking face off so Dick wouldn't find him attractive anymore.
"Jason - what the hell?!" Outraged, Dick yelled at him and no lie, the pitch of his voice was frightening but Jason pretended it wasn't when he turned to him with a stoic expression. But he didn't say anything, not while he slowly, deliberately pulled the kitchen knife off the counter where one of them had left it, never breaking eye contact. Scrraappeee it went across the surface until it was hanging from his hand.
He was about to sink the blade into Roy's stupid face, right between the freckles, but he couldn't with how quickly Dick snatched his wrist - then his wrists, holding them together as if he suddenly turned into a vice. The relentless squeeze forced Jason's hands to uncurl and drop the knife, much to his annoyance.
"L - leggo of me." He growled, jerking, yanking, trying what he could to release himself but Dick was as unyielding as the glare his features formed.
"What the fuck are you doing, Jason?"
"H - hurting him." Bitter, Jason cast a death leer to the person he didn't realise he could detest this much. Harmless cooling water dripping off him, Roy was as confused as he was soaked, not writhing in agony the way Jason had wanted to make him. He did wonder what Roy and Dick had been discussing during his absence, their undying love for one another, perhaps? Or about how much they enjoyed their alone time?
"Why? What's come over you?" Dick sounded less heat of the moment this time around, back to his controlled calm and Roy had stopped standing around like an idiot to circle to Dick's side, both now eyeing Jason for questions while his arms remained trapped. His gaze darted between them. Were they.... ganging up on him?
"Is this to do with what was bugging you this morn - mnh-" Dick stopped talking in response to Jason capturing his lips against his own, the brief brush with warmth a blow that widened Roy's eyes in the second before Dick jerked back, away from Jason, letting him go free.
And now Roy and Dick both looked horrified with him.
Slowly, very slowly, Jason ran his tongue along his teeth and he tried to understand the problem. For Roy, it was obvious but Dick? Really? Why was he mortified? Oh, right, he was supposed to be all secretive. Too bad he forgot.
"M - mine," Jason seethed in Roy's direction, angry enough to kill him. "Not yours."
With the statement, he went back outside, outside to brood in his safe haven; the car. He enjoyed how he could see in all four directions around him, lock the doors, and just mull it all over in his head until it bore some semblance of sense.
Nothing in his life made a shred of coherency to his scrambled head, except that he liked Dick. He liked Dick, he wanted the feeling to be mutual and he'd be damned before he let some stupid one-armed idiot come between that.
"Dick, what the hell was that?" Roy demanded, following Dick through the house as he tried to get some distance between them while he collected items into a duffel bag slung over his shoulder.
"That was Jason not being right in the head. You know he isn't." Dick tried to play it dumb, act like he didn't know what the archer was entitled to know. He wouldn't have to explain because no part of him intended to stay here any longer. This had been apprehensive and a bad idea from the get-go. Jason tried to burn Roy, kill him and proceeded to potentially ruin whatever friendship was still between them.
And there's no assurance at all that Jason wouldn't try all of that again. Why was he being so damn possessive? It's not like they were a married couple of twenty years - or a couple at all, for that matter.
"Not that." Roy caught his arm, spun him around, and somehow, he was trapped with the wall to his back and he wasn't sure it was unintentional, not with how hard fingers dug into his muscle. "Jason kissed you. Why did he kiss you?"
Dick shifted his stance, tongue darting over his lip, at a loss. How to word this....?
"He's.... confused, Roy. He doesn't remember us-"
"Did you let him?" Oh, the viciousness. The spite. Roy was practically hissing at him by this point and Dick could almost be sure the water Jason drenched him in was steaming with the heat of those emotions. For better or worse, Dick didn't reply, exhaling hopelessly between his teeth when he looked away. That was pretty much a confirmation.
"Jesus Christ, Dick," Roy's hand raked roughly through his hair. "He's your brother! He's your amnesiac mentally unstable little brother!"
"It's not like I'm initiating it." That was the weakest defence in him and not even entirely the truth. Roy was apparently quite aware of that.
"Jason understands the word no. You know if there's one thing he respects, it's a person's consent. Are you saying you told him no and he didn't listen?" Dick was well and truly, perfectly and completely screwed. And he knew it. He had absolutely zero justification for any of these accusations, given how they were all true. Jason would have listened if he said no.
"I can't fucking believe you..." Growling, Roy let him go with a jerk, his anger turned to visible hatred that Dick couldn't stomach seeing from the last person from his past who didn't write him off as a deranged psychopath.
"Roy, I-" The name had barely left his lips when Roy slapped him across the face, into the wall and the floor came next. He caught himself only just, the shock hurting more than the sting of the blow.
"How the hell are you better than the rogues?! Or Bruce? You sleep with him, too?" Dick wanted to say no, of course not and he'd never but Roy dragged him to his feet by a handful of his hair, the noise of pain muffling any words he could say.
"You realise this is exactly what Sionis did, huh?" Roy shook him, tearing out numerous strands. Good to know he pertained the strength in his remaining arm. "He used Jason when his mind was scrambled and he didn't remember half the shit he should. Used him any way that he fucking wanted!"
"I - I didn't-" The fist in his hair released him and he was shoved back, the thud of the wall hitting echoing through his chest. A handful of black locks was in Roy's balled hand, torn from the burning path of Dick's scalp.
"Just - just get the hell away from me before I really hurt you." Roy's voice wavered between anger and its struggled with restraint.
Leaning on the car, busy sharpening an axe Jason was quite sure could cut Roy's head off in one swing, his gaze only snapped up from the task when he heard Dick come outside. He recognised the light step as belonging to him immediately.
"Are y - you alright?" Jason inquired, worried by the obvious signs in Dick that something was wrong. His hair was covering one eye, his arms were around himself tight like he needed the security, and he didn't say anything when he opened the car door and got in. Frowning, concerned, Jason left the axe where it was - maybe he'd finish up later - and followed Dick, which is good because he turned the keys with a jerk that ran through his entire arm and the intentions of leaving.
"D - Dick?" He was so much more cautious that time, leaning a little closer.
"What. Jason?" The way he snapped was a whole new way he'd never addressed Jason before. Jason didn't like it... quite honestly, it was a little scary. The engine sounded unhappy too when it roared to life and Dick reversed with a reckless U, nearly taking the fence down. There was bitter violence in the way he turned the wheel with both hands, slamming the accelerator to the metal.
Jason watched him. His breathing wasn't quite healthy, a bit faster than it should be, shuddering with the exhales. Tiny tremors were reverberating through him. He clearly wasn't fine. The black bangs covering his face like Frankenstein's bride's veil was damp, he could tell from this distance. Jason's jaw grew tense when he noticed the purpling surrounding Dick's eye, the unmistakable outlines of a bruise that he tried to hide with his hair.
Did Roy dare to fucking hurt his angel?
He needed this car turned around, his axe and fifty seconds alone with Roy.
"He hit you..." Jason brushed the matted hair aside with his fingertips and Dick flinched even by that tender touch, though not entirely out of pain. Strands of black were plastered to his cheeks. Jason hadn't ever seen him actually upset and he wasn't sure what to do. He'd seen angry Dick Grayson and the mostly always present cheerful one but this was new. His fingers hovering this close to Dick were rejected when Dick put up his hand to stop himself from being touched and pushed Jason back, away from him.
He didn't explain why he did that and left Jason to be confused, worried he'd done something that contributed to this mood. Had he hurt Dick somehow? Jason thought back on everything he did that day, and yesterday, and nothing stood out to him. Sure, he was planning on cutting Roy into little itty-bitty pieces but....
Dick didn't speak to him for a good while, Jason was sure his voice would be raw if he did, and he went about pretending Jason wasn't there when he asked what the matter was routinely at hourly intervals. They pulled up at a gas station and Jason didn't ask before he went in to pay for the refuel they badly needed, avoiding trouble this time so he wouldn't bother Dick. When he came back, his angel was holding the top of the wheel in both fists, face pressed up against it when his fight with composure was lost.
There were no romanticizing descriptions but he was crying. Crying so hard it shook him. Oh god, what was wrong?
It was physically painful for Jason to see him so clearly hurting and to just stand by, but he wasn't sure if Dick wanted him to try anything potentially comforting. It might be the last thing in the world that he wanted and yet Jason still put an arm around his shaking shoulders when he returned.
"Wh - what happened, Dick? You c - can tell me."
"What happened, Jason," Holding the wheel harder, Dick straightened abruptly and he glared at Jason, the misplaced anger only made his welling eyes more torturous when they locked on him.
"Is that I fucked up with the last person in the world who didn't think I was a psychopath and now he fucking hates me. We've been friends since were fucking eight! And I managed to ruin everything." So there was the problem. Of course, it was stupid Roy who caused it. Jason had gotten the sense that it mattered to Dick how other people viewed him, no matter he might deny it.
"I d - don't think you're a-"
"Yes, but you don't know anything, Jason!" He struck the wheel. "You don't know me and you don't know you or Bruce or even Roy, who - by the way - you used to give anything for." Yeah, anything in the form of sharp objects and blunt force trauma. The hell was Dick speaking about? The way he worded it and yelled at him, it gave Jason a start. A touch frightened, he pressed himself deeper into the unwelcoming backrest of the seat, letting his arm fall from around Dick when he couldn't have made it any more obvious he didn't want it there.
"It's n - not like I n - nev - never asked y - you to tell m - me." Turning away, Jason leaned his head on his hand, looking at the dark nothingness through the window, the glass steaming up by his breath. As quick as the flash flood of anger had come, it evaporated from the car. Dick exhaled, regretfully as if he hadn't meant the outburst. Jason knew he hadn't and that he wasn't angry at him, since he was quite sure he'd die if he pissed Dick off.
"I know, Jay. I... I'm sorry." And he really sounded like he was. It was a marvel how quickly he realised and admitted to his wrongs.
"It's just that...." He sighed again and Jason took his trailing off as a cue to look at him again. He'd composed himself remarkably fast, stopped choking the wheel like it owed him money and was sitting with his head tipped back, utterly unsure what to say or to do. It showed on his features.
"... I don't know where to go from here." Something told Jason that wasn't a statement concerning which location would be the next. How vulnerable Dick sounded there didn't have a matching comparison but in a word, he was raw.
"Cause we can run around the country for only so long," Dick went on, already a world less teary but his voice was still under stain "And what it boils down to is when? When does someone catch us? When do they give me capital punishment and when do they let Bruce have you back?"
That idea made a knot of dread tighten in Jason's stomach, though not for his own sake. Unwillingly, he pictured a masked executioner electrocuting Dick until the lightning tore the life out of him or men in lab coats filling his veins with poison. And for what? For protecting Jason from people no one else would.
"I don't mean to scare you, little wing, but for all I know, Roy might let Bruce know we're in Ontario. I can't beat B in a fight and neither can you. We wouldn't be able to do anything to him that he can't do a thousand times worse to us."
"Th - then we kill him." Jason stated, dead serious. Dick glanced at him, saw he wasn't joking and smirked wryly.
"Trust me, I'd love nothing more but that's too risky. The League is already looking for me, offing their lord commander will just be fuel to the fire. We ain't no match for Supes, Wonder Woman, or the rest of them."
"We c - can't just let B - Bruce chase us around until h - he catches us."
"I don't see a way out, Jay. I really don't." Dick leaned back against the seat and palmed away the remaining tears, sniffing. He seemed better now, like he needed that scream-rant to feel more stable. Letting Jason know what he was afraid of, being all vulnerable like that, it made Jason think that the extent he trusted Dick was reciprocated. And he'd not dared to dream that.
Jason nibbled at his lip in thought, brow furrowing as he tried to find a loophole in this situation that Dick seen. That would prove tricky, given how Dick happened to be the smartest individual he'd had the pleasure of knowing.... But he wanted to help. Jason would not be the reason that Dick was killed. He'd be dead before he let Dick be.
"Th - the Justice L - l - League, why are th - they l - looking for y - you?"
"Cause they don't like what I became." Dick started the car, again, while he explained. He'd gathered himself enough to drive.
"And because they think I'm going to hurt you. Which is totally stupid. Bruce is the one who...." A frown creased his forehead since maybe he was realising what Jason was hoping he would understand, which was relieving since he didn't think his stammering would allow a coherent explanation if it had to be lengthy.
"Bruce hurt you." Dick stupidly said in a new light like he'd not had that realisation before. Jason bobbed his head up and down, humming.
"If th - the League ac - actually c - c - cares about m - me, th - then won't they d - do s - something a - about Br - Bruce?"
"The loyalists won't.... They think Batman can't do a thing wrong...." Dick kept leaving sentences unfinished, running calculations through his head so rapidly that Jason could almost hear the jumble.
"But people like Diana won't stand for it. She's had a soft spot for you since your Robin days." Robin days? Diana? Yeah, neither of those things made sense to Jason but he didn't interrupt to ask, not since Dick was presently on a roll.
"And she can confirm your accounts with her lasso." Her lasso? What, she'd threaten to hang them until they spilled the beans? Jason wasn't so confident about what he was leading to but Dick sounded certain, so Jason would trust his judgment.
"... That could work, Jason." Bless, Dick sounded hopeful, a new energy taking over the previous misery in his pretty blue eyes. The expression almost made it possible for Jason to overlook the bruise Roy gave him.
"That could actually work."
That stupid redhead was going to lose his head for that, by the way, the instant Jason saw him again.
He watched Dick get chattier the more he planned things out and wanted to let Jason know everything he was thinking. Honestly? It was fucking cute. Dick was good at arranging possible incidents in his head long before they ever actually happened, if they did, and he was going over every scenario he could foresee.
"Diana lives in Gateway City, California," Dick was talking about something again, which Jason was barely in tune to over enjoying how pretty he was without that pesky hopelessness from before.
".... That's over three thousand miles from here but if I managed to radio her and ask for a private conversa-"
"Won't sh - she just call Bruce and t - tell on us?" Jason asked for sake of caution, rubbing circles into his temples when Dick's constant talking snapped him out of that trance.
"Not if I can convince her we need to talk. She's really very reasonable, I'm confident she'll listen but just in case, we'll take precautions." Huh. Dick sure seemed to trust this Diana-lady could help them. Jason hoped that was the case, not so much for the obvious reason but he couldn't bear to see Dick crushed if she turned out to be a back-stabber.
"Sh - she won't mind y - you killed all th - th - those p - people?"
When that came up, Dick lost some of his enthusiasm. The smile faded when he got back in touch with reality.
"I'll think of something."
We love a good emotional breakdown. Let us not forget Dick's an emotional person, no?
Chapter 7: Hope
Alright, for reference purposes, I reread a few scenes from Irrecoverable and after an hour of nothing but gagging, I would like to formally apologise for everything I put you people through. Looking at some of the shit I wrote in, I seriously don't know what the hell was wrong with me.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
What happened to Red Hood..... it was no secret among the League nor was the way it impacted Batman. They understood why he appeared less at meetings and missions until gradually, his presence was completely withdrawn.
No one raised an argument, he had two sons who required his full attention, both past a brink of their own.
Given the extent of violence Jason was subject to, his mental break made sense. It was awful and tragic, but it made sense. Dick, however.... less so. No question, he was the strongest member of the Bat Clan, everyone's shoulder to cry on and there wasn't an evil bone in his body. Diana should know, she'd watched him grow up from an eight-year-old child who spent several holidays with his auntie Diana in Gateway City.
She knew him.
Diana didn't believe he just became a psychopathic serial killer like Bruce would have them think, when it was obvious Dick was reacting to what the rogues did to his brother, and that spoke of love, protectiveness, and righteous anger while psychopaths generally didn't experience those things and if they did, then definitely not intensely enough to throw their entire life and reputation into the wind. Disowned, disgraced, wanted internationally and turned on by nearly everyone in his life and he continued to push his ideology of justice. All for Jason.
But no, Dick was an evil serial killer removed from emotion who should be hunted down and tried capitally. Yeah, right, the tale made Diana roll her eyes each time she heard it but while she may agree with Dick and his reasoning, she couldn't do anything for him for a number of reasons. One, she didn't want to lead her team to him and two, she was most useful for humanity as a founding member of the League, a position she would lose if she aided an alleged serial murderer.
So she left him be and kept her opinions regarding the rogue killer to herself, which didn't explain why she was on her way to meet up with him right now. Diana had said 'no' in her head but 'I'm on my way' into the line. Stupid of her. So stupid. She was well aware of that for the whole hour it took her to fly to Dick's given location.
He didn't say exactly why he wanted to meet but after two years of no contact, the fact that he chose to reach out now must be of considerable significance. Part of her hoped Dick was finally willing to turn himself in since while she didn't believe he was psychotic, she did want him process what happened in a healthy, safe way.
Dick was going to get himself seriously hurt one day very soon, if not by a surviving rogue then by the people who sought to capture him. She didn't doubt that he knew that.
"Dick?" Diana called out, landing at the edge of the city that fell into the coordinates sent to her, looking both ways through the darkness. She sensed he was here but like every bat there had been, he was cautious over trusting, no matter he reached out to her first. It took a minute of what she presumed was reconnaissance on his part before she caught any glimpse of him, appearing skeptically from behind a tree barely five meters away.
After so much time, actually seeing him in person drew a silent gasp from between Diana's lips. His face seemed to be in a constant state of bruising, over his eye particularly, which happened to be beneath an ageing wound held together with stitches. Dick was tired, that was obvious, with years worth of better days behind him but that didn't do a thing to falter him after his initial bit of uncertainty in her.
"... Hi." Dick sighed when he came a foot away from her, lowering his gaze as if he were a naughty dog returning to its owner's feet. He didn't know what she would say or think... or react. Truth be told, up until now, she'd been partially in the dark about those things too but taking him in, she wanted to hug him.
A surprised yelp escaped Dick when Diana's arms came around him and she hoisted him off the ground, his slender body easy to hold up and although she did want to properly squeeze him, she'd long since learned that humans were far too easy to hurt for her to do anything like that.
Diana was about to say something or maybe Dick was going to, but the second in which she was about to was put into swinging her arm up to deflect the surprise bullet against her bracelet, lead ricocheting off with a burst of sparks.
"Jason-!" Dick exclaimed, eyes wide from fright when he struggled down and turned on his heel to face the tree Diana now saw glittering luminescent green eyes staring at them from, high up in the top branches where a ray of moonlight caught the barrel of the gun just right to reflect. Whatever animal or creature was up there, it hissed viciously at her proximity to Dick.
"I'm so sorry, Diana," Dick rapidly apologised, "Jason hides in trees now and he doesn't like anyone touching me and - Jason, get down!" He turned and he snapped but his reply was winter dried branches clacking together as Jason climbed up higher. Despite every question and circumstance, Diana smiled to herself.
"I'll get him." Diana's feet lifted and she carefully glided through the air, to where the feral snarling originated from. It got deeper the nearer she was. She hadn't actually thought people growled like that, like dogs, but apparently, she was wrong.
"Jason, sweetheart, would you come out of there?" Diana kindly requested, hovering by at a distance from where she could get her hands on him with ease but she'd play it safe and let him come to her. During his Robin days, Jason had been abnormally devoted to her, as opposed to his successors and predecessor who'd been all about Superman and Batman and although time had passed, she presumed they were still in good terms, the shot he took at her aside.
"Diana, he's really not in a chatty mood." Dick warned her from below.
"Is he alright?" She drifted back a few meters when she was close enough to Jason to see the awkward way he was holding the gun, his ring finger through the trigger, his clumsy grip severely impairing his aim. Jason was shaking though she couldn't tell why. He didn't look even a little afraid of her. With everything, she's sort of expected he would be.
"No, he's really not and you should probably leave him alone. He'll come down when he wants to."
Nipping at her lip, Diana nodded and heeded Dick's advice, returning to ground level. Red Hood was extremely dangerous when he felt threatened or cornered, she didn't doubt that whatever Jason was now was even more so.
"What have you boys gotten into? Why is Jason with you?" The last time she checked, Bruce had Jason and according to the man, he was getting better but that was another thing she took with a pinch of salt, given how he wouldn't let anybody near Jason out of one pretense or another. Certainly didn't look like the League's fearless leader told the truth there either. Diana had wanted to believe him.
"It's a really long story but luckily," Dick glanced to the tree Jason was perched in, "we've got time while we wait for him to get down. Assuming you wanna hear me out, that is?"
"Dick," she exhaled, her hands sat on her hips, "I'm not here to arrest you or anything like that. I want to know whatever you wanted to tell me." And honest to the gods, Diana did want to. She needed to discover his madness had a method beyond what she could speculate. Since that's all she could do on her own; speculate.
And as it turns out, Dick had quite a lot to tell her, particularly concerning Bruce's sickening treatment of Jason, as well as some snippets as to how willing his adoptive father was to beat him. It all came together to form a grave reality when Dick retold it and she hated it, but his alignment of happenings made sense.
Despite the fact that Diana assured Dick she took him for his word, he insisted she use the lasso on him, which she begrudgingly did after his urging. She tossed it around his shoulders and pulled it taut when it fell to his arms, the rope glowing golden as she had him repeat everything and to a T, he did. There was absolutely no chance he was lying.
Diana didn't know if she preferred that or not.
Seemingly fascinated by what was going on, Jason was lured from his hideout to watch. Diana found it bordering on cute how wide his eyes got when her weapon lit up.
"Wh - what's th - that?" He cautiously inquired while Dick monotonously retold everything so far.
"It's called the Lasso of Hestia, Jason," Diana explained, inwardly smiling when he came to talk to her. "It's impossible for anyone trapped by it to lie to its wielder."
Puzzled though humming as an indicator that he understood, Jason nodded slowly, silent but the rage of his thoughts was not. Something was going through his head but wasn't that most often the case? Jason was always planning, he was a bat, wasn't he?
"You got everything you need?" Dick panted, a frown of effort creasing his forehead. The lasso had a certain toll on its subjects, namely draining stamina record fast the likes an intense workout could.
"Yes, thank you." She nodded, releasing him with a twist of her wrist that saw the rope come undone and she began winding it onto her belt. Or she tried to, Jason took it carefully and considering he used to play with it when he was twelve, she saw no harm in letting him hold it. She didn't protest to his hand closing around it and retracting back to himself.
"Dick, I'm taking this to the League." She stated, her mind already made up with the first sentence out of his mouth.
"Bruce isn't getting away with what he did to both of you."
"They're going t - to throw Dick in j - jail." Jason unhelpfully interjected, the majority of his attention span not even residing on the conversation but rather the lasso he was slowly turning in his clutches. Now that he was close enough, Dick took the gun off him but Jason was too distracted to care.
"Not necessarily," Diana frowned in thought. "If I can negotiate with Clark and the others, get us all on the same page, then I can make sure you get immunity in exchange for your accounts. Clark, Oliver, Barry, they won't overlook Bruce's doings."
Dick's brows rose all the way up to his hairline, his expression forming the manifestation of taken aback. Apparently, it had not occurred to him that his crimes - very justified in her opinion - could have a halfway point that served them both well.
"You'd.... you'd do that?"
"Yes. Bruce once pardoned the Joker for his services." Something the entire League still scowled on but he was the goddamn Batman so whatever, right? Not this time.
"And you didn't do anything wrong, Dick. You were protecting your family." Diana, unlike most members of her organization of heroes, did condone murder for the correct reasons and Dick certainly had his. She would have done the same if anyone ever harmed her sisters remotely to how the rogues did Jason.
"You mean.... this thing actually has an end?" Dick marveled, astounded to think that. Hadn't he thought there was one?
"In sight, yes." Diana bobbed her head in confirmation and the sigh of disbelieving relief from Dick was audible. She smiled when he did, beside herself to be able to help them despite the challenge that was going to bring. Bruce would not go down without a fight but he was one man with gadgets and a handful of schemes, Diana and the Leaguers? Some of them were gods.
They'd get him, she was sure. They'd get him because she wasn't about to allow anyone to do what he had to the children who grew up getting piggy-backs from her, no matter that Bruce adopted them. Actually, that made him tenfold worse since he was no villain by traditional standards, he was supposed to be their mentor and their father, someone to protect them from the very thing that he was.
"Thank you so much, Diana." Dick breathed with a great amount of gratitude to back his words up with. It showed in his eyes the way she would bet hope hadn't in a good amount of time.
"It's nothing, Dick. I wish you'd come to me earlier but better late than never, I'll take it from here. Due to the urgency of this matter, I'm going to go call Clark and Ollie to set up an off-the-record conference Bruce won't find out about." She could imagine that while Clark would be as disgusted as she was, Oliver would be livid. Jason meant a lot to Roy so he meant something to Oliver too, whether or not that was just because he desperately wanted his adoptive son to not hate him. But that whole subject was a kettle of fish for another day.
Diana took her leave to a small distance where she could discuss everything she needed to in private and left the brothers to wait for her to come back with the parting instructions of 'don't go anywhere'.
"She's n - nice. I like her." Jason stated when Diana was out of earshot. Having not paid his little brother much attention outside of scolding him earlier, Dick glanced over at him and he hadn't stopped examining the lasso Diana let him hold.
"She's one of the true good guys."
"Y - you really think she's gonna help?"
"She will." Dick didn't have an ounce of doubt in him, knowing Diana's levels of integrity and quite frankly, she had no reason to be lying to them. If she wanted to turn them in, she wouldn't have just given them the opportunity to vanish into the night, not when she had the power in her right arm to defeat an army. Diana could be a quad-amputee and be able to take both of them down.
"I g - guess everything's okay n - now?" Oh Jason. What an understatement. No, it was not okay and this was not the finish line, it was a foothold but there was still a whole damn mountain to face off to. But it was one step closer to ending a three-year insanity.
"Everything will be okay."
"That's a n - nice thought." Jason came closer to him and Dick, while not knowing what he wanted, didn't suspect he was up to anything until the rough coil of Diana's lasso was thrown over him and yanked back, instantly pinning his arms to his sides. He was pulled into Jason's chest and while he held the rope closed with one hand, his spare arm tightened around Dick's throat.
"J - Jay, what are you-?" Dick panicked a little by the sudden shift in his demeanor, confused for the second before it came together, what Jason was doing.
"Tell me what the hell happened to me." He grit, right into Dick's ear, so close the hiss of his breath ruffled his hair. He tried to bite down on his tongue but the lasso's ancient powers dragged the answers out of him against his fighting, no matter what he did to try to protect his brother from reality.
"... Your cover was busted and you were conditioned, tortured, beaten, by Black Mask."
Black Mask? Black Mask..... The name was familiar and without trying, it matched the image Jason's mind had been conjuring up for the last months, of the leather face covering that had been bugging him but.... He thinks it was why they called the man Black Mask. The man who-
Jason's heart rate started to increase when his head recreated distorted imagery to match what Dick was telling him and with it, dread and anxiety built within him.
He remembered some of it. He remembered bits to do with Black Mask, pain and guilt and misery. Not much but the fleeting fragments were terrifying.
That on its own was enough to strike panic into him along with the regret of ever wanting to know. Jason shoved Dick to the ground, he fell onto his hands and he knew it wasn't the solution, but he kicked Dick to shut him up, snapping his jaws closed almost on his tongue.
As quickly as the scraps of memories had come, Jason tried to shove them out of his mind when he swore he felt weight around his wrists, weight like hands closing tight and holding him down.
"When I have no more use for you, I'll kill you."
His fingers threaded through his hair, shaking from the over stimuli caused by his own shambled thoughts. And breathing hurt all of a sudden, too heavy on his ribs until it felt like his lungs were trying to push through the frail cage of bone.
And then the hands came back and reflexively, he tried to hit them away before they hurt him. But they didn't, they closed gently around his arms, Jason was pulled into those of another's, a person it took him a second longer than justifiable to recognise was Dick. Who else would it be? They were the only two here, never mind the nightmarish flashbacks made it seem otherwise.
"Jay - Jason, hey, look at me," Dick took his chin carefully and directed Jason's frightened eyes to him. He was shaking, violently, so much so that it was a struggle to keep his line of sight on Dick and not all the things he thought he was seeing.
"Listen to me, little wing; you're safe. You're safe with me, yeah?" Dick succeeded in being so sincere it was almost enough on its own to reassure Jason but he'd be lying if this didn't sound deceptively familiar.... maybe Dick once promised that to him before and it didn't work out the way it should have?
Jason didn't want to believe that even when the distrustful side of him knew he should.
"I - I'm s - sorry, D - Dick," Jason stammered, hopeless, ashamed he was stupid enough to think he'd be as strong as he needed to handle any shred of the truth. Just what he remembered now, the mask, the man who it belonged to and what he could imagine was only a handful of the things he did, it was too much, too fast.
"I sh - should - god, I - I'm so stupid! I d - don't k - know wh - why.. I - uh.." Losing his train of thought or his ability to speak completely, Jason buried half of his face into Dick with a miserable whimper, emotion building up behind his eyes when it hit him that whatever caused all these scars still had a destructive hold on him, passing of time be damned. It was like fighting a war blindfolded.
"Those people won't hurt you anymore, little wing." Dick reassured him and he must think that Jason remembered more than the odd details concerning one man in a business suit and gimp mask but already that felt overwhelming.
Despite how Dick was so comforting and so secure, Jason couldn't keep from panicking and the only thing that helped, what he really needed, was the subtle kiss Dick drew him into. It was somewhere in a bizarre place between platonic and romantic, intended to comfort him, he could tell.
Sobbing by now, Jason didn't intend to fill up Dick's mouth with trembling breaths, nearing hyperventilation. But Dick wasn't put off by that, he focused his breathing to be calm, stable, guiding Jason along until he unwittingly began to succumb to the evened out inhales. It was a new form of first aid.
"That's it, Jay," Dick lulled him, lips hovering barely an inch away but it was too far for Jason's liking. Dick brushed his hair through his fingers, his touch feather light.
"You're okay." Jason wasn't quite in the 'believing him' role but he wanted to be so bad. He wanted Dick to tell him things would work out then take him for his word.
Jason also tried to not agonize over the tang of blood that stayed on his lips from Dick's, courtesy of him kicking his angel. He regretted that much more than the pain his little influx of genius caused himself.
Then they heard Diana's step behind them, signalling her return, but instead of unwinding Jason from his embrace as fast as humanly possible, Dick glanced over at her, uncaring that she'd witnessed that whole thing.
But neither of them could feel judgment in her eyes, just.... sympathy. Compassion? Nothing like Roy.
"Jason, sweetheart, are you alright?"
"Panic attack." Dick explained, still holding Jason to his chest, stroking comforting lines into his back. Diana regarded them with worry amidst those other things, biting the inside of her lip.
"Let's go find a motel somewhere, boys. You two look like you could use some time out of the cold."
"Is he asleep?" Diana asked, sitting on the edge of an old chair by the window, her fingers laced together in front of her. Dick shifted to check on Jason, burrowed into his side, arms around him the way he always seemed to want them to be. His brow was furrowed, small trembles going through him, focusing on his lower lip as if he was having a tear-jerking dream. Made sense, drying tear-streaks ran down his ashen cheeks, reminiscent of whatever he remembered.
"Yeah, he is."
Diana nodded, drawn into her thoughts. They both wanted to know what memory caused what they saw earlier but the option of asking wasn't on the table.
"I think you're good for him, Dick. Whatever you two have, Jason needs it."
"You think?" Dick wasn't so sure, not after Roy's two cents on the matter. But the man did have an undeniable bias.
"Roy thinks I'm using him."
Diana frowned when the missing archer's name came up, Oliver included, no one in the League had seen him for almost two years.
For better or worse, she didn't ask about him.
"Dick, I won't lie, Jason, as he used to be, would never want this relationship with you. But he's dead. Gone and for good." Dick tensed up with the severity of her prediction, which part of him had always known was the case. It hurt to admit. Hurt worse to hear.
"Whatever Jason is now, he needs you to be more than his brother."
"So.... You don't think it's wrong?"
"I'm Greek, Richard." Of course. How could he forget the incestuous ways of the gods from whom she hailed? And it wasn't really incest for him and for Jason. It was just.... Something. He wasn't sure what they were but brothers didn't fit the bill anymore.
"Thanks, Diana." Dick said, another wave of relief it worked out with her rolling over him. She could have done so many other things.
"It's nothing, Dick. You know you can come to me for anything."
Dick nodded, his arm tightening to pull Jason closer to him. Stirring, Jason breathed a small exhale that shuddered on the end part. But he didn't wake.
Tensing in the silence, Diana rose with the glance to the digital clock on the nightstand, ticking five minutes behind.
"I need to go meet with Oliver and Barry. I couldn't reach Clark, he's off-planet but as soon as he gets back-"
"Yes, thank you, you'll call him."
"I'll get back to you tomorrow morning at the very latest, don't go anywhere from here. I need to be able to find you."
"Don't worry, we don't got anywhere else to be." As he spoke, Dick reluctantly unwound himself from around Jason and laid him on the bed he'd been sitting on.
"I'll see you out." He walked with Diana, onto the second-floor porch overlooking the parking lot and a few dingy vending machines, leaving the door adjacent.
"Whatever happens, we need to keep Jason away from Bruce. I don't even want that monster to see Jay, alright?"
Diana agreed silently, so ready she may have decided already that nothing good could come from those two interacting.
Brushing his bangs back, Diana craned her neck to peck him on the forehead.
"Gods be with you, Dick."
He watched her take off, somewhere into the night sky, wondering how aware she was that now, with her help, there was a god with him, literally. Dick stared off after her past the point of sight lock, hands shoved into his pockets while he tried to wrap his head around what the day had brought with it. This... this thing might actually end in some other way except Bruce's wrath and their suffering.
The buzz of his phone, vibrating next to the hand in his pocket, brought him out of his thoughts with a start. He turned it on and checked the screen for what it was notifying him of, an update or a text, but no, his eyes landed upon an alert sent out by the local police department, calling the nearby officers to a bank being held up by a woman with a large wooden hammer, clad in a red and black jester outfit...
Harley Quinn, Dick realised with grim clarity. He had his phone wired in tune to every piece of chatter on the air regarding a member of the rogues' gallery to aid his quest in finding them and Harley was one who'd escaped his clutches thus far.
The location was five blocks down from here, he heard sirens in the distance.
A tug of war started in Dick, debating whether or not to stay here like Diana instructed or to go kill the woman who aided in Jason's torture now that this rare opportunity presented itself. It wasn't so much a choice as it was how long did it take him to grab his gear and make sure Jason was asleep. He was, right where he'd been left and Dick planted him a kiss on the lips with the promise he'd be back soon before he went out, closing his utility belt while he jogged.
Harley was involved in everything Joker did to Jason, burning him and all manner of disgusting things Dick didn't want to remember happened. He'd like to take his time dismantling her but everything considered, he might have to go for the old quick kill and vanish. It sucked but it was better than leaving that sadistic bitch alive.
His jog became a run. It didn't take long for him to arrive at the trio of squad cars sitting outside a bank, red and blue lights flashing and cops talking up people from indoors but... there was no panic and no chaos, as you could expect if the Joker's girlfriend was on the premises. Actually, there didn't appear to be an emergency of any scale here. Had he gotten the wrong address? No. Dick double checked this was the place and anxiety began creeping up his spine.
Unnoticed, he slipped quietly back into the alley shadows from whence he came, intending he'd take a long detour around the city just in case this was a lure. It shouldn't be, no one knew he was here and likely, this didn't have a thing to do with him but assumption was the mother of all failure.
Then Dick caught the scrape of boots and immediately swung a kick behind him, his foot meeting the rough surface of Kevlar that didn't so much as shift under the whack of impact. That on its own was a terrible sign. Dick had sworn in every language he knew by the time Bruce's hands shut around his ankle and spun him onto the ground.
He winced with the burst of pain, chest meeting the asphalt, arms wrenched nearly out their sockets, pinned against his spine when the crushing weight of the larger man piled atop him all at once.
"You called Diana to save you?" Bruce growled, low, one hand around Dick's wrists while his other found its way into his hair, twisting around the ebony locks while he pulled his head back to meet his eyes, glaring black, angry like a spitfire. That description went for both of them.
"You'd be surprised how easy it is to monitor everything the League does, Dick. You really would."
Dun, dun, dun. What - you really thought everything would be okay? Apologising once doesn't mean I've learned the error of mah ways.
Chapter 8: Wrath
Warning, Bruce's creep factor goes sky high. If creepy middle-aged men aren't your thing, I'd.... I dunno, maybe go grab a coffee and sit this one out?
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Jason woke up afraid and blindly fumbling for Dick was the first thing he did. Dick wasn't there. He panicked before his eyes opened, fidgeting with the worst bout of abandonment to date. With the shambled mindstate he fell asleep in, he'd really needed Dick's solid warmth and the softness of his lips to keep his breath from stumbling.
Except he wasn't here. And he wasn't over there or outside. Jason had checked everywhere within reason before ten minutes was up but his panic levels were off the charts long before that.
Okay. Okay, he needed to think. No Diana. No Dick. He didn't know where either one of them was and it was a conscious effort to repeat to himself that they didn't just walk off on him. He didn't know how long he'd been asleep for so he didn't know if he'd been alone for minutes or hours.
Jason's back slid down the wall he didn't realise he was leaning on, pulling his knees to his chest when he was on the floor. He needed to calm his breathing or he'd hyperventilate, his chest was beginning to ache on top of that. No, calm down. Calm down. Dick was going to come back.
One tortuously long minute ticked by where he counted every second. Then two. Three and now it had been ten. Twenty. Thirty.
Goddammit, where was he? Jason shoved himself off the ground and paced a necessary amount for any potential onlooker to catch onto his distressed mindstate. He might have accidentally punched a hole in the wall when waiting around got too much and he was about to go search the city, as pointless as that would be considering its size, when he recalled a certain detail that made him want to hit himself for forgetting.
In the event they got separated, Dick gave him a device that would help find him by locating the signal of the tracker he'd put into his own arm. He dug the thing out from the depths of his hoodie's pockets, switching it on and to his relief, the small beeping dot on the screen that marked Dick's location was less than a half kilometer from here. He could get there in ten minutes.
Dick had this strange belt thing he said was called a utility belt, it had pouches, pockets and throwing stars and things like that on it. Jason saw he'd taken it with him but forgotten some holsters, which he took upon himself to bring along. Just in case.
"So you tracked Diana to this town but you had to already be in Canada or you wouldn't have gotten here so fast. How?"
Bruce looked up from strapping Dick down onto a table. He didn't know where they were but above him, there was a skylight and items of dusty furniture surrounded them. Wherever it was, he had to get away.
"You were stupid enough to cause a scene at a gas station, the clergy reported it to the police. Two young men, one a stammering redhead and the other looked fresh off a catwalk." With the final letter of the explanation, Bruce jerked the last knot and made Dick's breath catch with the suddenness of it.
".... And Roy helped me with the rest."
"Roy?" Dick glared. He'd feared the archer would pull something like that but after what he knew Bruce did? Unlikely. If he went to anyone, it would not be the Bat.
"If it makes you feel better, Dick, he didn't want to tell me anything."
"I swear to God, Bruce if you hurt him-"
"He knowingly aided you, a fugitive and a serial killer. He got what he deserved."
"What did you fucking do?" Dick would kill him. He would fucking murder Bruce if he laid a hand on Roy, who had nothing to do with this feud between them. Anger - no, rage built for every second that this monster left him guessing.
Bruce regarded him coldly, considering whether or not to tell him.
"We've got more important things to dwell on. Roy Harper doesn't matter any more." On that eerie note, a batarang came off Bruce's belt with a fluid swish and started slicing at the hem of Dick's shirt. He twisted and squirmed against his bindings which meant more than once, he was cut. Cold though it was, the metal of the blade burned when it grazed through the first layers of his skin but he refused to give Bruce so much as a whine. Ribbons of blood ran down his torso by the time the garment was ripped off and thrown carelessly away.
Stripped to his waist, Dick didn't let up the hate-filled leer at Bruce but it went without regard this time. Through half-lidded and dull eyes, Bruce stared at him for a disturbing period, but not at his face or his eyes; he was transfixed by something else entirely. Then all of a sudden, his hands had moved from his sides to Dick's, slowly gliding down him. Involuntarily, goosebumps pricked his flesh under Bruce's sincerely uncomfortable touch, so unnervingly gentle. The man's tongue ghosted over his lip.
"Get your fucking hands off me," Dick growled a warning when the caressing stopped at his hips and fingers tightened to hold onto him. Dick jerked against the straps as if to warn him about something he couldn't go through with as of right now.
Bruce looked away from his body to meet his sight finally.
"Imagine how much more the rogues would have enjoyed you." What? What kind of a sick fucking thing to say was that?
"Nice to know how you really feel, dad." Dick spat when those prying hands left his waist and positioned themselves atop his wrists, closing around them.
"Stop that. You stopped being my son after you broke every rule I wrote out." Controlling crazy bastard. Did he hear a word that he spoke?
"So what am I to you now?"
"Someone who is going to be my son again." His tone was no different to how it was before but he made Dick inwardly shiver all the way to his marrow. Bruce had always had dark eyes but he could swear they were jet black now as he pulled away to collect something that was out of Dick's line of sight. He took this second to try pulling his wrists free but the knots only strained tighter.
"Something went wrong in your head, Dick." Bruce kindly let him know upon his return, carrying a handful of wires attached to a small plastic box. On the ends of the wires were silicone patches like the sort that were used as conductors. Recognizing the device, Dick was well aware at once that Bruce intended to electrocute him and he steeled himself for it.
But the man he once considered a father had other plans, it seemed, as he put the battery down and instead cupped the back of Dick's head, holding the batarang hovering just inches from his face.
"You're too confident, Richard. You always were but it's never been a problem until now. It's sad to think how astray that confidence has lead you."
"Cry me a river, you fucker. Confidence hasn't got a fucking thing to do with what lead me astray." Dick ground out, yearning to punch this man to hell.
At his retort, Bruce's gaze narrowed.
"Your physical appeal is undeniable, I wonder if you would find humility then obedience without it."
Bruce scowled, fist tensing around the batarang. He was irritated now.
"If you want to be a serial killer, like Joker, you can look like him too."
Dick frowned, about to demand what the hell he was cracking on about when Bruce shoved the knife past his teeth and in the same fast movement, dragged it to the side, instantly replacing the metallic flavor of the blade with the overbearing tang of blood. Dick writhed in the livewire of sudden pain, a scream escaping his mouth but it was muffled, nearly inaudible by the hot gush of pooling blood. He gasped and swallowed too much of it, horror-stricken when the batarang pulled out the side of his face, glistening with red.
"Now I'm sorry about that, Dick, but you need consequences or you won't learn." Bruce said, almost apologetic while Dick's chest heaved with painfully hard breaths, his whole face alight in fiery agony. After the wire and Jason, he shouldn't be but he was stunned, stunned Bruce would actually do that to him. And this was before he registered exactly what happened.
His tongue, when moving through his mouth, hit a ragged tear instead of the wall of his cheek and it went all the way through. Dick's already too rapid breathing turned to hyperventilation, drowning out the voice in him that ordered him to remain calm.
Bruce reapproached and Dick tried kicking him away or escaping, only he was tied down too securely. Wiping the blade on his sleeve, Bruce made to put it in his mouth again, slit the other cheek, and at this point, tears streamed from Dick's eyes, intermingling with the oil-slick mess. He flinched from Bruce's hand, cruelly careful fingers threading through his hair only to wrap tightly around and pull. A choked cry tore from Dick's throat, turning to a sob on the dying end.
"N - no-" Dick whimpered. It hurt to talk, hurt to move, to breathe and to think. For a moment, Bruce regarded him in twisted sympathy, releasing his hair to stroke his hand through it comfortingly.
"I think that's enough for now."
Dick shook without meaning to, it was out of his control. The locks of the straps jingled together. The burning was unbearable, wildfire spreading through his face. The cut, the slash, it was curving upward from the corner of his mouth, almost touching his cheekbone. It was a clean cut through, he could feel the cold brush of air on his teeth and nothing had ever been worse.
"Shh. Don't cry," Bruce soothed him, brushing his matted hair away from where it was stuck to his cheek.
"It won't hurt much longer." What? Did Dick miss the part where his slashed face would magically heal in the next few minutes? He was dizzy off the pain, head swimming laps when Bruce leaned over him to plant a kiss into the crook of his neck.
"That's it, son," he murmured. "You don't like being Joker, do you?"
"I - I'm n - not Joker!" Dick shouldn't have yelled, it made everything worse. A shrill cry crippled him and he was trying to pull into himself against the straps.
"No, I won't let you be. You're too perfect." At some point, while he spoke, Bruce's hand brushed up against Dick's sensitive inner thigh, tightening around the bend of his knee. He shuddered violently.
"There isn't a cure for psychopathy, I'm afraid," he spoke without regard for Dick barely processing it over the invisible knives spearing him from all sides, driving deep enough to grind bone. He was, however, aware then relieved when Bruce took his unwanted hands off him but that feeling was short-lived when he came back with the battery.
"But doctors and psychologists once believed electroshock therapy could correct most all mental ailments. It's worth trying, I think. Don't you? I know you don't want to be like this."
Regaining his second wind, Dick wrenched his hardest to get loose and by some miracle of a god who pretended to care, the knot around his leg slipped just in time to instinctively kick the man away from him. The battery cracked when it fell, smacking the floor hard enough to split its plastic encasing but outside of stumbling, Bruce wasn't deterred.
Violently, he snatched Dick's face and made him scream with the torturous way the partings of flesh were moved, distracting him enough to barely be aware of the remaining binds being ripped away. He did notice that when he was hurled onto the floor, though. A hollow thud went through his chest, sickening to hear but it mixed with the breathless groan when Dick tried to gather his arms beneath himself to rise.
Bruce wouldn't let him. A heavy boot slammed onto the small of his back, dragging a new scream past his bloodstained teeth and crushing him into the ground.
"Ngh - get the f - fuck off m - me." Dick grit when Bruce's seemingly incredulous weight appeared atop him, pushing the last half-breaths from his lungs, pinning his wrists in one hand, above his head.
"I gave you your last chance, Dick." The growl from above him was from a deep angry black place in Bruce, mirrored in the shaking way the knife pressed into the other corner of his mouth, sharp enough to glide through layers of skin without being pulled.
"I supposed there are other ways I can remind you that you aren't in charge here." The rough way he kissed Dick's bare shoulder and ground into him made it clear exactly what he meant. Dick was past the point of shock when it came to what Bruce would do to keep all his little soldiers in their ranks but the very imminent possibility of having the other side of his face cut wide made the other threat seem less important for the meanwhile.
"You're r - really gonna f - fuck me unless I do what you want?"
"It's entirely up to you what happens." Oh, it was? Well, good to know. Dick spat blood and a vile profanity at him to make sure he knew exactly what his feelings on this matter were.
Bruce yanked his head back by his hair and tested the batarang on the corner of his lip, in which Dick had nothing in him but the glare that was pure, undiluted hatred. At some point, he realised he hated this man.
"Do it." Dick spat past the thick copper in his mouth and excruciating movement of his jaw because at this point, he was past accepting anything from Bruce but pain and suffering.
"But you better kill me, too." That wasn't a threat and it wasn't a warning, it was a promise, one Bruce sealed with both his and Jason's blood. If he lived then he would fucking murder Bruce like he did the rogues.
The look on Bruce's face said his mind was made up, already dragging the knife back towards Dick's ear when the skylight above them burst inward all of a sudden, fragments of shattered glass falling like rain around them but what did not land with such poetic grace was Jason, barely on the ground before he gave Bruce history's most rage-filled kick to the rib cage.
Instantly, the crushing weight on Dick was thrown off and he slumped back onto the floor without his sayso, cursing himself for not being able to spring up right away. He needed to get up because he needed to help Jason. Bruce would hurt him.
Bruce might kill him.
But Dick was utterly powerless. Maybe the pain finally got too much when he couldn't rise.
"Wh - what did you do to him?!" Jason demanded of Bruce when he glanced over his shoulder to his angel, collapsed on to his belly with his face drenched in red pooling on the ground beneath him. A ragged wicked-looking smile crept up his features, touching his cheekbone. Oh fucking God.
During the second in which Jason allowed himself to be distracted, Bruce's fingers wrapped around his throat and forced him to bend backward over the table behind him.
"I really didn't want to do this to you, Jason." Crushing him flat into the table top, Bruce raised a shard of glass and whipped it across Jason's throat, or tried; Jason just managed to block it on his forearm. The shard split his skin wide but he wouldn't give Bruce a scream, not after everything.
"I'm gonna fucking k - kill you!" Jason swore past the hand squeezing the life out of him while he kicked and thrashed.
"I'm sure you'd like to," Bruce growled, forcing Jason onto his stomach by his arm and a fistful of hair, practically laying over him to keep him down. He was superior in strength by half, rendering Jason inept to break free. But that didn't mean he didn't struggle like hell.
"But you're going to be in too much pain to do that." Whatever sickness Bruce intended, Jason couldn't let him go through with it. He'd learned it from someone once upon a time, that blood was slick like oil when it was fresh. It was the lubricant and sheer murder-lust that made it possible for him to hastily slip his arm from Bruce's hand where he'd been pinning it to his back.
Jason didn't just show up here expecting them to talk over their issues and hug it out. No, he'd expected there to be death when he took with the knife he was yanking from his holster one minute and driving it into Bruce's neck the next. The hot spray didn't hit before the blade was out and in again.
Jason struck him with every bit of hate in him. Once, twice, thrice, four times, five - ten? The wet smacks of the blade going into Bruce brought back with it a splash of red that would drench Jason every time without fail, all the way until the man he so passionately loathed teetered on his heels for a second then crashed onto the ground.
Panting so hard his lungs hurt, Jason stood over the twitching, writhing man with a glare on his face. Beads of blood rolled down his features and stained his clothes, the knife gripped painfully tightly in his fist, knuckles whitening and popping. He could have loomed there all day but like before, he was quickly reminded that his angel needed him.
He shoved the blade that did this back into the holster and rushed over to Dick, on his knees with a jolt and rolling him onto his back carefully. Dick winced, groaned, eyelashes fluttering to show the dull blue of his irises, glazed over by a haze of hurting. Jesus Christ. That sick bastard Jason punched full of holes had cut Dick's face on either side, the right slashed from the corner of his lip to the hinge of his jaw while the other was only an inch long, the process interrupted when Jason burst in.
Too late. He was too fucking late.
"Hey. Hey, w - wake up," Urgent, Jason pulled his upper body into his lap, lightly shaking him by his shoulder. In response to his efforts, Dick pushed his lids apart a millimeter or two, making a feeble whimper, barely audible past his ruby red lips.
"Y - you gotta stay awake," Jason instructed him, the last thing they needed was for Dick to go into shock, which was a dangerous possibility with the agony he must be in.
"Jay, you g - gotta call Diana," Dick struggled to say, pushing out words like they were bricks. Hand trembling uncontrollably, he slid a burner phone out of his pocket, dropping it into Jason's palm. There was a crack down the side but it still lit up when he switched it on. But then one major obstacle came to light.
"Dick, I - I don't know her number. Dick? Dick?" Jason shook him when he slipped into feverish senselessness again. Biting his lip bloody, Jason looked from him to the phone. The device was familiar in his hand, weight and size. Maybe....
Shutting his eyes, he took a breath and started dialing, hesitantly at first but somehow, his fingers knew what number pads to press. Did he know this number from before? It was muscle memory as if he'd called it several times in the past and soon, it was ringing.
"Dick? Is something-"
"He - he hurt him, Diana. He hurt Dick."
"Jason. What happened? Who hurt Dick?"
"Bruce did," Jason glanced towards the still body, laying in its own blood.
"C - cut his face."
"Where are you? I'm already on my way."
"Uhm, there's a - a building near th - the outside th - the city with a br - broken skylight."
"Alright. Jason, keep Dick awake and I'll be right there. Ten minutes, okay, sweetheart?"
"O - okay." He nodded with a jerk, lowering the phone from his ear and laying it down without care when he returned his attention to Dick.
"D - Diana's g - gonna be mad if - if you don't wake up." He planted both hands onto Dick's side, shaking him. The effort was so loud he didn't hear the approach from over his shoulder then all at once, more weight than he could stay upright against fell over him. Jason choked, eyes flying wide with surprise, struggling when Bruce caught his arms. Why was he not dead? How the fuck was he not dead?!
He dragged Jason back like it was nothing, blood gushing down them both, blood that proved the knife had cut true. It didn't make any sense that Bruce wasn't lifeless but he wasn't at his full strength when he manhandled Jason into a wall.
"I should have just p - put you down two y - years ago." Bruce snarled, voice thick with pain, eyes black as ink. Pushing Jason into the rough brickwork harder than he could push back, he yanked the knife off Jason's waist - wet with his own blood - and lined it up with his throat.
"It's for your own g - good, Jay. Rabid animals shouldn't be l - left suffering."
Breathing in quick bursts, unable to break free, Jason braced for the searing sharp pain of having his throat cut. Except it didn't come, not when Dick had gathered the strength to join them and while he did, slammed a shard of glass into Bruce's skull.
For seconds, Bruce's gaze met Jason's head on, a stunted connection they formed before the man fell, finally dead.
And then everything except his and Dick's combined panting turned to silence, maybe both of them were stunned he actually did that. It was necessary, either Bruce or Jason but... somehow Jason hadn't thought his sweet compassionate angel was actually capable of murder, no matter how many stories said otherwise.
But he couldn't stall in that notion when Dick swayed and it was only Jason's hands appearing around him that kept him from collapsing.
"D - Diana's c - coming." Jason told him, adjusting his arm around Dick's middle to hold him upright. Dick leaned so heavily on him, slumping against him and the drip-drip-dripping of blood rolling down his chin was deafening.
"You h.... hurt?" Dick mumbled into his shoulder. How did he find the energy to be worried about Jason with what was wrong with him?
"N - no." Just a couple of bruises and the cut on his arm, nothing he couldn't walk away from. Although if Bruce had gotten it his way, Jason would have his arteries and airways sliced open. Didn't that crazy bastard say he wanted to help him in the beginning? Where was the transition from that to where they were at now?
Diana couldn't have come any sooner and to say she was horrified was the understatement of the century. Clearly, she hadn't expected this level of inhumanity from Bruce either, and that says a lot considering she had no expectations left for him.
"Did he hurt you, Jason?" She demanded while she picked Dick up with the utmost ease. With all the blood Jason was covered in - Dick's, Bruce's, his own - there was no way Diana would be able to distinguish if it came from his wounds or not. Pulling his sleeve further over the cut, Jason shook his head no. He didn't want to distract her with his own injuries, which weren't anywhere near bad.
"Sweetheart, I'm taking you and Dick with me to the Watchtower, there's a zeta tube ten minutes from here, my friends can help." She hastily explained, snatching Jason off the ground and into her spare arm with a yelp of surprise from him. God, she was strong.
"Wh - what a - about-" Jason gestured to the corpse and got a dismissive huff as a response.
"He can stay here and rot until I send someone to pick him up."
Sitting on the edge of a bed in the med bay, Jason watched the blond man work as he finished pulling the last stitch through Dick's cheek, adding to the cross stitch he'd made of his face. Jason tried not to look at him or meet his eyes, he couldn't stand the pain he saw in them. Despite the medicine they pumped into him that made him groggy, Dick was still aware of himself enough to swap a couple of words with the blond.
His name was Oliver, apparently, and he did look hella familiar but again, Jason wasn't sure where he knew him from. The amount of green he wore was very distracting and left one wondering what the practicality of that colour was in an urban environment.
"Ol, I need you to go to Ontario," Dick told him, mumbling with how little he could open his mouth without hurting himself.
"I'm worried that Bruce... that he might have done something to Roy." He stared at his hands in his lap. Why did he care if anything had happened to that idiotic redhead? Jason couldn't if he tried, given how he hurt Dick for absolutely no reason. Oliver seemed to share in Dick's notion of crippling concern, though. Oh, how comforting to know one of the earth's defenders was delusional.
"What? He - he hurt Roy?"
Dick nodded dully. "I'm afraid that he may have."
Up until then, the big man with the kiss curl and impossibly broad stature had stood quietly by, arms crossed over the big red S blaring out of his chest but the weight of his presence hit when he detached from the spot he'd been rooted to. Jason watched him in silence, asking himself if such a colossus had any natural enemies.
"Oliver, I'm going to go check on Roy. Dick," he turned to the injured Romani, "the address?"
"He's my son, Clark," Oliver protested, "I should-"
"No." Stern, Clark took the archer by his shoulders, dwarfing him. Jason didn't doubt Clark could crush him like he was nothing.
"I can get there faster than you and...." He looked away momentarily, biting his lip. "If Bruce did.... something, then you don't need to see it."
Oliver's gaze hit the floor, his dismay, crippling worry and something fearful all too obvious. Chewing the inside of his cheek to bits, he nodded once, stiffly, seeing the logic behind the other's thought process.
Jason found it fascinating how so many different emotions could be blatant all at once.
Clark took his leave quick and Oliver went somewhere too, probably to gather his composure without ever losing it that badly. Maybe he just needed a moment to accept that someone he considered a friend may have done what no one could be surprised about.
With just the two of them now, Jason looked over to Dick and was relieved and disappointed in equal parts that he was asleep. The medicine must work like a knockout drug with how fast it put him to sleep. Sleep was good, it would help him heal faster.
Grim, Jason's eyes traced the stitches as they curved upward, hoping and praying that wouldn't scar too visibly. The stitches were nice and tidy, close together and as small as they could be to minimize scarring but...
He took a quiet breath, trying to wrap his head around everything that happened.
I despise characters being happy.
Clark didn't find anything in Ontario, or nothing as far as Roy went, only blood droplets at his house. Not enough to be fatal, thank goodness, but proof that Bruce was there and did some damage.... And scared Roy off again. Clark said it was like the place was packed up in a hurry, necessities taken, car gone, no sign of who lived there. They could only presume Roy took Lian somewhere the League couldn't find them and who could blame him when all the shit he'd tried to protect his daughter from came cannonballing back?
Dick wished he never reinvolved Roy in this. The painful cuts in his face didn't make him feel sorry for himself, he deserved it. He only hoped Roy was alright and Lian, that they went somewhere they could finally be left in peace. The hope was the reason Dick told the League not to look for Roy. Just leave him alone. He wanted and needed to be alone.
Only half unexpected, Ollie didn't listen. Lord knows where he was now but maybe it was best if it was him who went if anyone did at all. Dick was fifty/fifty on whether or not he wanted the Emerald Archer to be successful. On one hand, he wanted to know Roy was alright. On the other..... If he'd been left unbothered to begin with, they wouldn't be here.
Sitting with his legs crossed on the windowsill, Dick stared out at Gateway City while he thought, a port-based metropolis, late rays of evening sunlight illuminating a quivering path across the surface of the ocean strip in the distance. The wispy clouds were bathed in pastel colours, dying the clean white buildings in many soft hues.
It was beautiful here, in this place Diana called home, more beautiful than any city Dick had been in a while. He was again grateful that she insisted he and Jason stay with her a while, rest and recover. Yeah, they needed a shit tonne of that but mostly, Dick wanted to forget all of it. He wanted the bliss Jason was privy to, to just not know the significance the man they killed once had to them.
Bruce, the person who signed Dick's adoption certificate and used to tuck him into bed left a smile carved onto his cheeks and tried to murder his little brother. And the things he said he would do.... Dick couldn't get any of that rest he was supposed to as he thought about how cripplingly afraid he'd felt when he couldn't breathe or move against Bruce's weight on him.
"I supposed there are other ways I can remind you that you aren't in charge here."
To himself, he shivered violently and was reminded that he needed to stop replaying that through his head. It didn't help him to think what if Jason hadn't shown up? It didn't bear to entertain if Bruce would have actually gone through with his threats but the bruise Dick had seen on Jason's hip didn't make him too confident.
Did Bruce do something terrible to his little wing? Jason never said anything but considering how this whole Black Mask mess got its start, it wouldn't be unlike him to keep quiet about bad things.
"H - here, D - Dick." Speak of the angelic devil, Jason appeared out of the kitchen, smiling cautiously and extending a mug of herbal tea to him. It was supposed to help him calm down, Diana said, it was medicinal as well, from Themyscira. Apparently, it had natural healing properties in it but what it was healing, he wasn't sure.
"Thanks, Jay." Dick nodded his gratitude, accepting the ceramic cup in both hands. For the past week since they came here, Jason had been bringing him things like this tea, almost as if they were offerings and he was some sort of deity. He wondered if it was his little brother trying to keep his mind off the knife Bruce pulled through his mouth.
Not quite doing the trick.
"W - won't work if you d - don't drink it." Jason pointed out when Dick didn't do anything but hold the cup. This time, he didn't even have the excuse of it being too hot to swallow, not since Jason had let the brew cool before bringing it over. Truth be told, Dick really didn't want to drink it. Some magic fruit juice from the Amazon Isles wasn't going to help.
"I'll have it in a bit, little wing. I promise." To go with the lie, Dick wished he could muster an assuring smile for Jason but it was easier said than done when talking was almost too painful. Every tiny movement of his jaw pulled the stitches. He tried not to look in the mirror and be faced with a smile that defied how he felt. Dick didn't feel like smiling.
Jason didn't go anywhere, just stood by and studied him, something that got unnerving after a moment and in the hopes of snapping his attention, Dick set the cup aside and took his arm, rolling his sleeve up to expose his own set of black stitches poking out of his skin from where Bruce cut him.
"It's healing well." Dick quietly commented, with his finger gently tracing the dark pink outlines of a forming scar. Jason seemed to hear what he was thinking, taking Dick by his chin and tipped his head up a fraction.
"Y - your cuts will h - heal fast, too. Bet you w - won't even know they're th - there." Bless him, he tried to give comfort with the brave face he pushed, the reassuring tug of a smile, just Dick couldn't take it for what he intended. He'd seen Joker's face, Joker's scars, they were as obvious as sin.
"Jason, you don't have to lie to me."
A frown formed on Jason's face, knitting his brows together.
"I - I'm not-"
"Look, it's sweet that you're tryna be nice but I know my face is fucked up, okay? Your damn pity isn't helping me." Of course, Dick didn't intend to come off as so ill-tempered to Jason, no matter how he was every bit that unhappy. Exhaling, he turned back to the window and the peaceful ocean, yearning for a crumb of its otherworldly tranquillity.
He expected Jason to leave after that mini outburst, just ghost away to ask himself what he did to deserve getting snapped at, but he didn't. He did stand in utter silence for a spell but recovered and leaned down to lay a light kiss onto his temple. Dick didn't treat it as unwelcome but definitely undeserved.
"Y - you said my sc - scars didn't make me ugly," Jason's fingers threaded carefully through his hair, Dick watched him from the corner of his eye, still turned away.
"I d - don't think y - yours do eit - either."
Dick finally faced him.
"Well, thank you but it's not about looking ugly."
"It - it isn't?"
He sighed. "No. It-" That sentence couldn't come to a close before the front door opened, the creak of hinges enough to make Jason jump in fright when it was just Diana. Wide green eyes riveted on her as she entered. Forgetting the previous conversation, Dick took Jason's hand and carefully kissed it, the start his little wing got making small trembles go through him and the colour to drain from his face.
Dick had noticed Jason was afraid of doors opening, no matter who was on the other side. He wasn't sure why or what that meant.
Clear as day, Dick felt the too-quick beat of Jason's pulse through his wrist, it didn't look like Diana coming in with her keys in her mouth and bags hanging off her arms settled his nerves at all. To clarify, this wasn't a normal reaction.
Dick stood, walking Jason over to Diana by the hand in the attempt to drive home the point she wasn't a threat. He should know that by now but in his defence, his brain was most comparable to a bowl of scrambled eggs.
"Why didn't you ask us to come help?" Dick asked, eyeing all the stuff she hauled with her. Super strength aside, she made him feel like the worst house guest by doing everything. She literally would not let them help with a thing.
Setting the bags down, Diana spat her keys into her hand and kicked the door shut behind her. Her glasses were pushed up onto her head, her sleek black hair tossed by the wind like salad.
"Dick, I'm an Amazon. I don't need you boys carrying groceries for me." Wow. That was a very nice way of declining help from men. Pride of the warrior women and all that. More power to her and her army of badass feminazis. Or then she didn't want to overexert either of them.
Banter aside, Diana noticed Jason was jumpy as well and gave him a warm smile, sweeping his black hair back to plant a kiss on his forehead. Yes, it was black now, black and trimmed back to signature length. Apparently, according to Jason, his natural hair colour was hideous and he couldn't live with it. Couldn't be anything to do with how it resembled Roy's, Dick was sure. If you ignored all the circumstances, it bordered on comedic how much Jason despised his ex.
"Jason, I need your help making dinner tonight, okay, sweetheart?" Diana requested and Jason gave a slightly less stiff nod than he would have before, managing a small smile. Some things memory loss couldn't change, Jason loved cooking. Diana had been making a point to make that their 'thing'. They used to do it years ago, Dick had numerous memories of the tall and proud Amazon warrior princess baking cookies with a four-foot-tall Robin who couldn't say his S's right. At least, Jason recovered from that mild lisp they used to tease him about, right?
Dick would take the lisp over all this.
Jason followed Diana into the kitchen and Dick trailed after with less life to his step, shoulders drawn in and hands in his pockets. Every reflective surface he passed made him turn his face away. Maybe it was a little bit about being ugly. Or scary. Dick always made a point to not be scary if he could help it, not that the ragged half grin of stitches and newly forming scaring made it possible.
"Wh - what's this?" Holding a circular fruit with a hard waxy skin he found in one of the bags at a distance, Jason frowned at it, turning it in both hands. It was a honeydew melon.
"Mella cumis, Jason. It's a melon." Diana explained but Jason had seen melons before. He knew what they were. Dick could not stretch that enough.
"Can we put it in s - some salad?" Jason asked Diana quite sweetly, hope alight in his eyes that she couldn't say no to. That was a notorious Jason tactic with people who had a soft spot for him; turn into an adorable child to get his way.
Smiling, Diana threaded her fingers back through Jason's hair, he tipped his head back with a smile. Oh, he was loving this.
"Of course, sweetheart."
Diana often took a walk down the beach when she needed to think, it reminded her of the shores of her homeland, only this time she got to enjoy Jason's company as he trailed along after her.
Dick didn't come with, he made it a point to completely isolate himself from the outside world and she understood why, given the state he was in. It was more than the physical marks, she knew the mental ones were the bigger problem. Dick may claim he could care less about Bruce's actions and threats but at the end of the day, that was his father who he had loved at one point.
It would take time to get over. From what Diana heard from Jason (Dick hardly spoke about it), Bruce threatened truly sick things onto his eldest. Twisted sick things she wanted to believe he wouldn't do but she couldn't be sure anymore.
Chin rested on her hand, Diana sat on a rock and stared out at the sun setting behind the ocean, deep in thought while Jason did some push-ups in the sand. He'd started doing small exercises like that, working to regain his strength now that he could do whatever he wanted. Over this week, Jason excelled in practising free will, such as announcing he would join Diana on her evening stroll. She was delighted to indulge him, of course, and the time alone did Dick well. Lately, on some occasions, he'd been unnecessarily harsh on Jason, rejecting almost every attempt of comfort or sympathy. Dick had always been like that, though, smothering everyone else if they needed comforting but unable to take it himself. He translated it to pity and Dick, for all of his good traits, wasn't without his pride.
Diana trailed out of her thinking long enough to notice Jason had stopped working out to intently stare at a crab walking sideways towards the water. The wicked golden eyes of nearby gulls boring holes into the small shelled animal. What the birds intended was quite obvious, Jason saw it too and was quick to pick the crab up, avoiding the claws it swung wildly at him.
Diana smiled to herself while she watched Jason walk along the jagged rock formations dotting the beach, to the waterline and lowered the crab into the meek waves. The gulls cast him filthy looks for taking their meal away and she swore she saw them smirk when Jason rose, turned too quickly on his heel, lost his balance and fell head-over-heels right after the crab. Splash.
They were utterly alone out here, Diana was in civvies and at Barry's speed, she flew over to where Jason had fallen, arm surging under the waves and in seconds, she dragged a spluttering, choking creature out.
Coughing out bursts of misty sea water, Jason pawed at his eyes, salt stinging in them. He was soaked to the marrow, water cascading down from him as Diana held him under his arms, a foot above the waves.
"Did you get hurt?" Her eyes automatically swept him over for cuts or bruises the sharp rocks may have given him but blessedly, nothing. Good, this boy had seen enough harm done to him, he didn't need a damn beach stone to wound him.
"I d - don't think so." Jason let her know with a final cough and miserable eyes drifting to her. He was shaking, whether that was from the rush of cold or the fright he got.
"Okay, hang on. I'll get you dry." He gave an inquisitive face when she secured him to her chest with both arms, taking a breath before she spun, turning into an Amazon (and Jason) tornado in seconds, blurring everything around them. Droplets of ocean flew in all directions, spin drying Jason in a heartbeat and she stopped the moment she could since too much of this and she'd tear his insides from the walls of his muscle.
Humans were such fragile little things.
Damp but no longer soaking, Jason stumbled dangerously when Diana put him down, onto the safety of dry sand, dizzy out of his head. He swayed, almost fell, looked like he might be sick, and sort of flopped onto all fours. At least he wasn't wet anymore.
"Breathe, sweetheart." Diana landed beside him, hand falling onto his back comfortingly.
"Breathe properly or you'll make yourself throw up." Her caring instructions were met with a glare that blamed her for the motion sickness. Would he rather be soaked and freezing? It seemed so.
"Yet a lightweight, little one?"
The voice from the shadow cast over them immediately seized Jason's attention while Diana's eyes drifted somewhat slower to the imposing redheaded Amazon standing a meter away, regarding them with her usual serious face but the teeter of a small smile on the corner of her lips was welcome.
"A - Artemis?" Jason gaped, shocked more by her name coming to him at once than her sudden appearance. Diana sent him a rapid glance while he picked himself up. How did he remember her?
Artemis laughed when Jason hugged her so fast, wrapping her far more powerful arms around his visibly smaller body, a strong embrace it was but careful not to hurt him.
"Greetings, Artemis," Diana nodded to her and as if only remembering she was there then, Artemis released Jason and gave an immediate dutiful bow, forearm crossed over her chest.
"My liege," Perhaps she intended to say another sentence after the initial acknowledgement but Jason was at her side again, distracting her and Diana could tell it wasn't unpleasant to her.
"Wh - what are you doing here, 'Mis?" He asked, head tipped back to meet her line of sight and there was something so renewed and fresh about the way he looked at Artemis, so close to how he regarded friends and allies in the past. He remembered her. Diana didn't think it was much other than her name that he knew but this was... something. Development?
"I heard you were here, little one. For the longest time, I have not been able to reach you but-"
"Red-him!" The earth itself shook when the big white Superman clone landed beside them from god knows what altitude he was flying overhead at and the wave of impact was harmless to the Amazons but nearly threw Jason off his feet had Bizarro's massive hand not wrapped around him just in time. Poor Jason, the hug he was all but yanked into was enough to kill a man and Artemis had to remind the clone to be extremely gentle.
"Red-her and Bizarro look um every place for Red-him." Bizarro half-insensibly blurted out. He was enthusiastic and overjoyed, it was clear. He held Jason to his chest, pinning his arms to his sides, rendering him completely unable to escape and it was debatable whether or not he could breathe.
It took a few moments of searching the dark nooks of his head for Jason to have any idea who or what this monster that grabbed him was called but the harder he focused on it, he was quite sure Artemis and Black Mask and.... Bizarro all had something to do with one another. There had been no doubt to him what the redhead's name was and the Superman lookalike's identity came almost as certainly.
"Hey, big guy," Jason smiled when he was confident he remembered it right, barely able to speak past how hard he was being squashed but it wasn't a bad sort of restriction. He'd had those, this wasn't it.
"Red-him gotten am smaller." Bizarro observed with an undertow of concern when he held Jason at arm's length above the ground, hands fitting around his ribcage and then some. Yeah, he figured he'd probably lost a little weight since... whatever happened.
"It - it's n - nothing."
"Red-him am speaking strange, too." The clone's pronounced brow creased with the frown and at this point, Artemis stepped in.
"Jason's been a slightly ill lately, Bizarro." She explained, so patient with him. "He has acquired a cold that makes his voice tremble."
As if it made perfect sense, Bizarro nodded seriously, taking her for her word without question and Jason wondered if she felt bad for lying to him. Maybe not, if he could trust the scraps of memories then Artemis wasn't prone to feelings.
"Red-him must stay am warm." Bizarro determined before he took Jason to his chest again and wrapped his cape around him, too tightly to move but any protest he may have wanted to put up was silenced by the warning look from Artemis. He got the feeling that rejecting Bizarro's 'help' was off limits. He stayed mum but with the chill of the ocean still lingering in his bones, he'd be lying if he said the warmth coming off Bizarro was entirely unwelcome. It was like being held up to a radiator or other heating element.
How, he didn't know, but Jason knew these were two more people he could trust. They'd done something to earn that from him in the past.
"Where's Jay?" Dick was immediately on his guard when Diana returned from her walk without his little brother clinging to her heels like he'd started doing almost literally.
"He's with Artemis and Bizarro." She explained, shutting the door behind her and her cool voice was able to douse some of the worry that didn't take three seconds to sink its roots deep.
"They wanted to go somewhere. I made Artemis take a blood oath and swear on the life of her firstborn that she'd return Jason before dark. Don't worry, Dick." Don't worry? Easier said than done. It was already bad enough he couldn't keep Jason under constant supervision but now he wasn't even in the same building? It made a very unpleasant sense of impending dread to brew withing Dick and seep into his marrow, never mind that if he was with his Outlaw friends than nothing could possibly happen to him. No one could get through a protective wall of Amazon and Kryptonian.
"Wait. What are Artemis and Bizarro doing here? Why did Jason go with them? He doesn't know th-"
"He does remember them." Diana cut him off. "Partly. Just their names and that he can trust them." What? Oh no. Call him selfish, call him crazy, Dick didn't want Jason to regain any of his past if it meant him remembering it all. He'd actually been happy, be it guiltily, when it started to look like the amnesia wouldn't pass. Jason already had frail recollections of Black Mask and now Artemis and Bizarro? Shit.
"And... why are they here?" Dick asked that to keep in the uproar of reasons why Jason shouldn't be remembering them. It could trigger... other memories. Diana might not agree with his thoughts as she wanted Jason to have his past while Dick's only desire was to keep him safe from it. It was as harmful now as it was then.
"I asked them to come. Jason needs the people he can trust."
"He has you and me."
"The more people around him who can keep him safe and who he's not afraid of, the less squirrely and scared of everything he's going to get. He needs to know it's not just us he's safe around." Diana was very patient while she made her reasoning known and yes, in a certain light, he supposed it made sense. She was right, Dick just didn't want to admit it. He trusted her judgement over his own since for the moment, he didn't think he was acting reasonably enough to add any opinions to the subject matter. He simply nodded and agreed in silence.
Diana watched him, completely silent as well, her eyes searching him for something that had nothing to do with what they discussed. Briefly, he knew she was focusing on the ugly cuts he couldn't stomach thinking about. It made him physically ill to touch them and know what put them there. Who.
"How are you holding up, Dick?" She finally let go of the quiet she caused and slowly approached him from where she had remained by the door. Instead of saying 'great' or 'alright' or any other lie, he shrugged his shoulders before they slumped in.
"I'm tired." He sighed, staring at the floor and the rug with its modern art design. He didn't even look up when Diana kissed the crown of his head as lightly as she did with Jason.
"Then rest." She said and it wasn't a bad idea at all but he just couldn't. After two years of this shitstorm where it was nothing but 'run, run as fast as you can' it wasn't physically possible for him to just... not. He was constantly on the edge, anticipating a surprise attack or... Bruce. As impossible as that was.
"And stop being snappy with Jason," Diana said over her shoulder on her way to the kitchen.
"He may have two Amazons and a Kryptonian clone but he'll keel over and die if his human is crabby with him much longer." Yeah.... she wasn't wrong about that either. Dick had already made it a point to apologise to Jason when he came back. It wasn't him who Dick was mad at, it was Bruce for making a situation that could get no worse somehow more so, his little brother just.... got a little irritating when he tried to help make him feel better when what he really needed was headspace. Like, a lot of headspace.
Dick sighed when he turned back to the window. He just needed to get used to the new normal and everything would be fine.
I don't know. I'm so uncomfortable writing calm and nice-ish chapters where no one dies.
Jason frowned when Bizarro presented him with flowers. He'd been sitting on the platform, looking at gulls as they bobbed on the calm ocean surface, when the big white clone flew back from the shore and shoved a bouquet into his face. It was nothing fancy or even well made, it was a clump of woody long weeds with sparse leaves and splotchy white petals falling free. Sand and roots were attached to the base, reminiscent of being torn out of the ground, bits of dirt falling onto Jason's jeans when the bunch was offered to him.
Blinking in confusion, he stared up at the clone towering over him.
"Wh - wh - what is th - this?" Jason didn't mean to be frightened when Bizarro dropped the flowers - if they could be called that - into his lap. He tried to keep the start he got to a minimum physical reaction.
"Bizarro um bring Red-him pretty flowers," Bizarro explained while he plunked himself down beside Jason, his weight sending a shock of vibration through the jetty. Jason needed to steel himself not to fall. One dunk in the ocean was enough, thank you.
"Bizarro like um flowers. Make Bizarro feel better when sad."
"O - oh, well," Jason set the flowers aside while he brushed sand and small rocks off himself. "Th - thanks. Th - they're so n - nice."
"Bizarro am collect many am flowers when Red-him missing. It make Bizarro very sad that Red-him am goned." The clone finished with a small unhappy sigh, gazing out at the meek waves turning inky black with the setting sun plunging the city into utter darkness.
"I... Uh, I - I'm sorry. I - I didn't mean to be g - gone." Not like he could have done a thing to avoid that fate, however.... or maybe he could have but he couldn't remember. He preferred not to linger on the what-ifs of his situation. There were probably a lot of them, anyway.
"Red-her am miss Red-him, too." Bizarro went on and Jason nodded, mostly to himself. He'd already pieced it together that he and Artemis and the Superman clone had been tight once. Speaking of...
"Where is Artemis?"
"Here, little one." They both turned to look toward the origin of the voice, Artemis was coming down the platform with a small smile. She'd been gone for a little while now but not far, just to get some glass bottles with bright orange liquid inside.
She handed them each a bottle and sat between them with a quiet pleasant exhale, content.
"I trust you pertain the ability to open a bottle, Jason?" Artemis teased while she popped the fanta's cap off for Bizarro and gave it back to him. The clone gave her a big thankful smile.
"Y - yeah." Jason nodded, slightly puzzled while he opened the drink. Why wouldn't he be able to open it? Having his hands mutilated only made it a little bit harder to do things, not impossible.
"So wh - where've you g - guys been?" He took a careful sip, not ready for how fizzy it was or the way the bubbles attacked his tongue. But it tasted amazing, like oranges and exotic places. God, he hadn't realised how much he'd missed the small things like this.
"We stayed at Themyscira for a spell, but for the most part, we travelled from land to land." There was a note of grimness to Artemis' voice and Jason felt it, a certain amount of displeasure that they weren't the trinity he supposed they once were. Why did they break up? He had a feeling that if he stuck with them, he'd have fewer scars.
"How l - l - long are y - you here f - for?"
"However long you need, little one." She promised when she leaned in just close enough to drop a gentle kiss into Jason's hair. She threaded her fingers through it and ruffled the strands, comfortingly the way your big sister might.
As nice as this was, Jason couldn't fully enjoy the moment when he had Dick to worry about. He'd been so unlike himself lately, ill-tempered and impatient, he didn't want any sympathy or comfort. It was hard - impossible to leave him to brood alone on all the shit that happened.
Artemis sensed something was bothering Jason, almost at once.
"Bizarro, would you go retrieve my red stone from the beach?"
At the sound of her voice, Bizarro's head snapped to the Amazon, giving her his full attention.
"Red-her have um lost stone?"
"Indeed," Artemis nodded gravely. "It is a terrible tragedy that I have lost such a precious possession. I am deeply ashamed."
"Bizarro am find rock for Red-her." And just like that, Superman's clone darted off like an arrow launched from a bow, flying in a blur of red and blue to the shoreline. Jason was beginning to wonder if there was anything Bizarro wouldn't do for the people he cared about or did he just not see he was being played?
"What is pressing on your heart, Jason?" Artemis asked when she turned to him, her drink was forgotten in her hand.
"It - it's Dick." Jason exhaled under his breath.
"Richard?" She knit her brows.
"I - I guess th - that's probably his r - real name. He - he got hurt by Br - Bruce and he w - won't stop thinking about it."
Artemis pursed her lips in thought, taking a moment to weigh her options of how she would go about replying.
"He holds meaning to you, does he not?"
"Y - yes. A lot."
"Then you shall come to terms with this. He simply requires you not to be put off by his current distasteful mannerism." She said that like it was a statement, crossing one leg over the other and lacing her fingers around the bottle.
"He has serviced you when you most needed it, given up everything for you without ever asking for anything in return," Artemis' pure green eyes met Jason's head on, set with sincerity.
"But he does require the same in return. He doesn't know how to ask but he shouldn't have to. After everything that has happened, he needs you the way you need him."
Jason considered what she said and for all intents and purposes, it wasn't illogical. He nipped at his lip, thinking it over but before a conclusion came, Bizarro landed behind them with an earth-shaking thud. Without looking at Jason, Artemis caught him by his scruff and saved him falling off the jetty.
"Bizarro am find Red-her's stone!"
It was past the curfew Diana set when Jason got back. Like, way past. But Wonder Woman had a mission with the League that meant she wasn't waiting to see if he got back in time but if he fucked up like this again he wouldn't be so lucky.
But the same didn't go for Dick. He was very much awake, sitting on the window sill, knees half drawn and watching the door through the dark. With the cuts making that garish forced smile, distorted by blackness, he looked scary. The moment Jason came in, his shoulders visibly let up from the tense line and he relaxed some.
Jason felt like a teenager sneaking back in after a non-approved high school party.
"Diana is on Tamaran. Kori needed a hand with something." Dick let him know while he rose and headed off somewhere. Jason asked himself who Kori was while he went after, trailing Dick into the guest bedroom. The Romani was tired, of that, there was no question and the way he slumped into bed was to be expected.
Dick turned onto his side, curled in on himself and awkwardly pulled his T-shirt off. He rolled the garment up into a crumpled ball in his hand and tossed it off the bed, wrapping his arms around his bare chest. He stared at nothing, completely ignoring Jason's presence. He wasn't sending a dismissive or irritated vibe, just one that suggested he was way too in his head to talk.
"St - stop thinking about Bruce." Jason distributed his weight carefully when he climbed into bed next to Dick, all to no reaction. For a moment, he unwittingly allowed his eyes to linger on the big black and blue blotches Bruce left on his angel's back, splayed out like wings. Even after days had passed the bruises didn't seem to be fading.
Dick pulled tighter into the ball, feeling the other's gaze on him. Jason sat back on his legs when Dick rolled ever so slightly to look at him.
"Jay, I really don't need you giving me pep talks. Please just leave me alone."
That sense of disheartedness was coming back to haunt him but Jason considered respecting his wishes for only a second before he remembered Artemis' advice. Dick was doing that thing she said he would. He got a strange look when he lowered himself onto his side and snaked his arms around Dick, over the ones he'd been hugging himself with.
He wasn't paid attention to, Jason just held onto him harder and pretended he very vocally wanted him there. Well, he wasn't vocal but he didn't tell Jason to go away again or make a move to detach him from his side. He just laid there and continued staring at nothingness.
And nothing else happened that night. Nothing noteworthy, at least. Time went by as it tends to do, dawn reared its ugly unwanted head sooner than Jason would have preferred, reaching through the blinds with long fingers of light and assaulting his eyes, no matter how much he narrowed them against the glare. A pointless endeavour, he bared his teeth at the sunlight but it wasn't frightened away, surprisingly.
Dick was asleep. Jason didn't remember when exactly he dropped off but he didn't sleep so well nowadays or at all. This was good. A nice, necessary change compared to the usual.
It was nicer than he was used to, to come around gradually and have solid warmth draining into his body from Dick, his back arched to fit into Jason's middle perfectly.
He gave a content little yawn, snuggling harder against him. It was so pleasant he could almost ignore the small stabs of pain chewing at his leg. He tried to push it out of his mind and keep sleeping, ignore it and hope it goes away but the stinging got steadily worse.
With a frown, Jason pulled his arm from beneath Dick - the whole limb gone numb to the last nerve - and sat up. He winced when he moved to pull the covers off himself and both relievingly and not, rolling his pant's leg up revealed nothing. Not a damn thing. Then where were the electrical twinges coming from?
Gritting his teeth, he pushed off the bed and limped as quietly as he could out of the room. He didn't want to wake Dick with his miniature problems. The more he walked it off, the pain began to fade to a tingle. He dully thought back on the nerve damage Dick said he had in this leg. Was there a cure for that? Medicine?
Hopefully. This wasn't fun.
Sighing quietly and solely to himself, Jason went about preparing breakfast. May as well make himself useful if he couldn't sleep. But what would he make? Grilled cheese sounded nice. Simple, tasted good, just a handful of ingredients. Yes, exactly what he needed to occupy himself with.
He was flipping a sandwich when Dick passed by in the background, hair disgruntled and a soft quilt comforter cocooning him. Jason actually felt his heart drop when his angel didn't sleep so much as another hour. He needed to sleep. He had to or he wouldn't get any better.
"Have fun with your friends last night?" Dick inquired so casually it came off as forced. He opened the fridge and took out a bottle of cold milk, not looking at Jason despite Jason's eyes on him.
"I - I guess. We d - didn't do a l - lot."
"Uh-huh." He nodded rather absently, ghosting his fingertips around the bottle cap, tracing the sharp ridges of its side.
"How were they? Bizarro and... And Artemis?"
Brows knitting, Jason tried to understand what his tone was. Why did he sound reluctant to name the Amazon?
"I - is something wr - wrong?" Jason turned fully to face him, hand still wrapped around the handle of the pan.
"No. Nothing." He shook his head, unsealing the cap off the bottle with a quick pop. He was unconvincing to say the least, there was definitely something new pressing on his heart. He poured his milk into a glass without regarding Jason with so much as a sideways glance but it didn't feel like the conversation was over yet.
"Diana should be back soon." Dick idly let him know, staring into the pure white drink he held in both hands, utterly fixated it seemed. But that was not the case. He was clearly avoiding Jason's line of sight and for what? This him being distant thing really didn't sit well.
"D - do you not l - like Artemis an - and Bizarro?" It appeared they were where the problem stemmed from, or so much Jason gathered from all the evidence presented. And by that glance he was finally given, he was in the right waters with the assumption.
"I don't mind them." Came the calmly worded response, followed by a sip of milk that was longer than need be.
"It d - doesn't sound l - like you w - want me to be a - around them."
"Spend your time with whoever you want, Jason. You're entitled to that."
Jason winced at the cut sharpness behind his words, quickly turning back to his cooking like he was just yelled at or hurt. He should have just fucking kept his questions to himself. Who was he to question Dick anyway? He'd given literally everything for Jason and now he was questioning him? There was a reason Bruce made sure he couldn't talk, this had to be it.
Something in his response triggered a whole other sort of reaction from Dick. Softly, he sighed in relent, setting the glass down on the countertop and taking Jason by his hands, turning him. He looked like the version of him that Jason was accustomed to again, lacking the particles of harshness.
"I'm sorry, little wing. I shouldn't be talking to you like that, you haven't done anything wrong." His tongue darted along his lower lip, gaze faltering elsewhere momentarily. The way he turned his head a fraction, it made the forming scar more obvious than before. Jason's chest tightened at seeing it.
"I just... I don't know what's wrong with me." He gave a tiny hopeless exhale, unwilling to meet Jason's line of sight. Jason didn't know what was wrong with him either but suspected it was almost certainly tied to recent events. How couldn't it be?
"It - it's fine. I - I know you d - don't mean it."
"I don't but that doesn't make it alright." He made to pull loose and step away, somewhere far away, only Jason didn't let him, persistently clinging to his hands.
"You - you spend too much t - time tryna m - make everyone else alright but not y - yourself." He let Dick know and his mouth was open to respond, but Jason put it to better use by kissing him. Dick seemed like he really needed that, he pulled back, melting into his touch, savouring each sensation as it came. Dick's fingers threaded through his hair, Jason allowed his arms to wrap around Dick's waistline, brushing up against the sculpted muscle underneath his t-shirt.
Honestly, it had been too long since they did this, far too much time since the electric buzz that came from his lips touched to Dick's and he could have stayed there in that heaven until the world burned down around them.
But one wrong slight move and his hand cupping Dick's cheek skimmed over the knotted end of a stitch poking up from his skin. The reaction was instantaneous, Dick stepped back sharply with a wet pop and hiss through his teeth, flinching when he covered the wound. Rapidly, he was blinking pain away.
A knife hit Jason in the heart. Not a physical one but a metaphorical blade conjured by hurting his angel.
He didn't know what he was going to do but Dick didn't so much have that problem, he returned and wrapped his arms around Jason's neck, carefully kissing his jaw. Physically and mentally, Jason relaxed some. Maybe it hadn't hurt as much as he'd feared?
"Thanks, Jay." Dick mumbled, the majority of it to himself it sounded and while Jason didn't understand what he was grateful for, he hummed in acknowledgement, bobbing his head slightly. There was such an amount of human behaviour he still didn't fully comprehend but he trusted that his angel did know better than him on what was normal, acceptable behaviour.
Dick leaned back, just enough to cover Jason's mouth with his own, a gesture that however cautious was completely void of that guilt he'd seeped from every pore the first time they did this. He wanted this to last as long as he could make it, Jason did everything to resist the urge to touch the side of Dick's face. Hurting him again was the last thing he wished to do.
Neither of them even heard it when Diana came in, tired after a long and stressful mission, the nature of which was truly unique. Two members of the League were now known as turncoats.... it was rare when anyone was dishonourably discharged from their ranks but when it rains, it pours. Bruce and....
Dropping her bag onto the couch, Diana less-than-gracefully kicked off her shoes and didn't care where or how they landed, heading to find the Robins. She needed a word with Dick. Exhaling under her breath, she removed her glasses to clean the lenses on her sleeve as she entered the kitchen.
Her voice made the boys break apart.
"Jason, you're grilled cheese is burning." She commented in a low voice, low because she didn't want to bring either of them an ounce more trouble but there was something Dick needed to be made aware of. At what she said, Jason got a look of panic, alarm, glancing fast to the pan he'd left on. He abandoned Dick's hold on him in favour of rushing to see if the sandwich was salvageable. How sweet, it looked like he'd been making breakfast for everyone.
He wasn't going to be able to save that one though. It was charred and solid black, crumbling at the edges when the spatula touched it.
"Dick, I need to talk to you." Diana kept her voice quiet to keep Jason out of the loop of their interaction, ushering the Romani aside, out of the kitchen. At her tone, Dick already looked on-guard, whatever happiness he'd gleaned from Jason overtaken by that part of him that was always on edge.
"Nothing is wrong but there is something you should know.... Zatanna has been incarcerated."
"Zatanna? Why-" Dick's question fell flat on its face when he remembered the League's resident witch's involvement in this conundrum. His expression became dark, set, intent eyes meeting hers. He already caught onto what Diana wanted to say.
"We - the League - only apprehended her now due to some complications," she continued, "but now that we do have her, I wondered if you wanted to exchange a few words with her? She is, after all, the person who helped Bruce do what he did to your brother."
Dick cracked his knuckles so sharply it had to hurt.
"Yeah, I'd like to talk to her."
Sorry this took so long to get out, my darlings, I have no idea what to write when there's no chaos involved.
Dick didn't like hurting people. He would never hit a woman, especially one he once considered a friend but when he saw Zatanna, it would be a lie to say he wasn't tempted. He wanted to strangle her until her eyeballs popped out of her fucking skull. But he took a forcibly calming breath and told himself he wouldn't. No one else needed to die. Too many casualties since this all began.
At the watchtower, in a cell that's walls suppressed any and all powers, meta or magic, Zatanna sat up against the wall with her knees drawn, expression cold when Dick came in, regarding her with an equal amount of disdain.
His glare met hers in silence. Her sleek black hair hung over her face, partly hiding her venomous leer but he felt its intensity nonetheless. A powerful witch, he had no idea how they captured her but the straight jacket kept her that way.
Wordlessly, he crossed the room and sat on the floor opposite her, folding his legs. One of them exhaled. She eyeballed his face, the scars, but didn't bring them up.
"You know why you're here, Zee?" He finally asked, words cutting the tension like a knife.
Zatanna sucked air through her teeth.
"Cause you're upset I fried your little brother's brain?"
Dick's lower lip stiffened. The way she played it off so casually as if it was nothing made him want to hit her even more. When did she get like this? They were friends, then more, then friends again he thought. Where was the transition?
Seeing his mood worsen, Zatanna rolled her eyes.
"You baby him, Dick. He's an adult." She sounded so bitter he couldn't ignore it. By what it appeared, she perceived herself as the victim here.
"What's this about? Why did you help Bruce? You're not evil, Zatanna."
"Of course, I'm not. There's nothing evil about muting those memories of Jason's. If anything, its a blessing."
"That's not why you did it. If you cared about Jay, you woulda let the League know about Bruce hurting him."
She shrugged one shoulder.
"Got me there. In hindsight, I should have sent a lightning bolt through his skull instead of blanking him. Poor thing needs a mercy killing."
"How the fuck can you say that?" Dick snapped, lunging forward but managed to stop himself almost right away. There was no resolve in violence here.
"Jason hasn't done anything to you!"
"Don't you get it, Dick? You left everything, including me, all to go on some justice rampage for Jason, who doesn't even know how much he should appreciate it. He ruined your life. He deserved it. I care about you, the less you have to do with Jason, the better. You can walk away from him if he doesn't know who you are."
In disbelief, Dick stared at her. She didn't make any sense. Yes, he and Zatanna dated on and off but after what happened with Jason, he broke it off. They weren't serious, he didn't think it affected her much or at least that she understood.
But apparently not.
"You really think he did this on purpose? And that wiping his mind would somehow make it right? Zatanna, that is fucking crazy." He sat back on his legs, glaring.
"Is this all because you're bitter I left you for him?"
Zatanna's expression became one of surprise. Huh, he was guessing she didn't know that he and Jason were a thing?
"You're seriously screwing your own brother?"
"He's not my brother anymore, Zee. You made sure of that. And I'm not screwing him but I do love him, so deal with that."
"I don't believe you." She shook her head, eyes narrowing to dangerously angry slivers.
"Well, you're not getting out of here anytime soon so you have time to come to terms with it." He that muttered darkly and rose with it. It took a lot, maybe everything in him, to walk away. There was nothing more to say. He was done but she wasn't. After him, Zatanna called,
"I can fix him, you know. Erase what I did and you'll have your Jason back."
Dick stopped dead in his tracks, looking over his shoulder.
"I know you can... But he's getting everything back himself, a sudden information rush of what happened would be too much for him." His newly building hatred for her intensified when their gazes met.
"And you know that. It's why you're offering now."
A snake's smirk spread slowly over Zatanna's lips.
Diana came in after that, she saw his mounting anger and stepped in before anything got out of hand. She ushered him out and he was relieved for it. He was tired of hurting people and had no energy left in him for this fight. He wanted to leave his Rogue Killer days in the last chapter. Too much had happened for nothing to change.
"You good?" Diana asked him, holding onto his shoulder and solemnly, he nodded, eyes downcast. Zatanna didn't make any sense with her methods but he didn't want to overthink it in the vain search for a conclusion. He had been doing that a lot recently.
"Can we go?" He asked and this time, she was the one to nod. They didn't stay there any longer, went straight back to Gateway City. Inside Diana's apartment, Artemis sat on the couch with one leg crossed over the other, filing her nails while her 'children' played cards on the floor. She looked so much like a supervising parent that it was impossible not to create the amusing mental image.
Bizarro had no idea what was happening but was delighted to indulge Jason with the game, holding a handful of cards. Jason was clearly practising motor skills, shuffling cards he focused on intently, working on fluid gestures instead of the shaking ones.
He looked up when Dick and Diana came in. Bluey-green eyes fixed on him.
"Hey, Jay." Dick managed to smile at him for the first time in a while. He knelt by Jason and without another word of greeting, took his face in both hands to kiss him. He needed to, it felt so good, like touching back down to reality.
Staring at him with eyes wide in confusion, Jason didn't pull back but was clearly questioning where this came from. Dick couldn't exactly say where either, maybe that conversation with Zatanna made him truly realise he had lost everything say for Jason. From their former life, he only had Jason.
Dick broke apart only to hold his little brother tightly to himself, nuzzling into his neck and planting a kiss there too. By this point, Jason was utterly perplexed, glancing to Diana for help but she only offered a small smile.
"I love you, little wing." Dick said into his skin, muffling the words but they didn't go unheard.
"I haven't told you that in a while."
"Are - are you o - okay?" Jason's unsure tone asked him. In response, Dick nodded but held onto him no looser.
"I'm alright, Jay." Gripping his forearms, he released Jason, if only enough to meet his line of sight, clouded by puzzlement yet filled with utter trust the way it always was in regard to him.
"It's gonna be okay, you know? We're gonna be fine."
It was impossible not to be aware when someone as tall and intimidating as Artemis rose and came beside them, running her fingers through Jason's hair and he broke eye contact with Dick to look up at her instead. She smiled softly.
"I told you he would come around, little one." Before another word could be uttered, Bizarro was up too, crushing the life out of all three of them in a hug that came without warning.
"Bizarro am happy Red-him and Blue um friends again."
In his embrace, their feet not touching the ground, Dick choked and Jason shuddered with a whimper. Artemis quickly moved her arms around to protect them both, expanding them and giving the two some room to breathe.
"Men..." She scoffed with an eye roll, unappreciative of how weak the opposite sex was in comparison to a fucking Amazon. Did she forget Jason and Dick were mortals and she was descended of the gods? Sue them for being at a slight disadvantage.
Despite that unpleasant encounter with Zatanna, despite everything troubling, Dick didn't want it playing on his mind anymore and kissing Jason again was the only resolve. Through it, he felt his little wing smile.
From beside them, Diana passed by.
"Artemis, Bizarro, stay for dinner, would you?"
"It would be an honour, my liege." Artemis gave a respectful nod of her head in acknowledgement. Her face and voice were serious whenever she addressed Diana, professional like a warrior's ought to be.
"Can Bizarro am help Wonder-lady in make food?" The clone enthusiastically requested, releasing them so suddenly that Jason stumbled but Dick was there to steady him, lacing his fingers through Jason's. Jason leaned against him lightly, resting his head on his shoulder.
"Of course, Bizarro." Diana gestured for him to follow into the kitchen, casting the same look to Artemis.
"By order of the crown, Artemis, join us, won't you?"
Dick wasn't sure what the expression that came over the redheaded Amazon was called but delight wasn't it. Still, she was loyal to her ruler and gave another obedient nod, trailing after Diana and Bizarro.
And then it was just Dick and Jason.
"Wh - where did you g - go earlier?" Jason asked when he lifted his head, looking to his brother with their hands locked together.
"Just to see someone who used to be my friend." He replied, somewhat grim no matter how hard he tried not to be. Little wing picked up on it remarkably quickly.
"Are - are you a - alright?"
There was a moment of silence where Dick browsed his options. There wasn't a black or white one, it was all grey in his head but that wasn't what he wanted to say.
"I will be."
That answer was the right one, it seemed to satisfy Jason when his smile reached to fill in the colour of his eyes. Optimism, it was something Dick didn't remember Jason ever appreciating in the past but he needed it now. They both did.
Dick took Jason's wrist and raised it, rolling his sleeve down enough for a long knife scar to show. Gently, he traced it while he was held by Jason in another bout of confusion.
"Jay, you know you're probably going to remember where you got all these marks from one day, don't you?"
Mutely, Jason gave a small bob of his head, yes, but he didn't say anything. He appeared to be neither happy nor sad with the information. It was understandable if he didn't know how he should respond.
"But I'm always gonna be here, okay? It doesn't matter what you remember, you've always got me. No matter what."
"D - Dick?"
"Yes, little wing?"
"Th - thanks. For everything."
No idea how I couldn't make this longer but here we are. Hope this ending suits people better than the garish one belonging to the predecessor.