The weeks after the 27th always left him wrecked. The walls in his apartment had lost their appeal after two days of confinement. It may have been more, he wasn’t sure. He had turned off the phone when they kept trying to reach out.
Jason let out a shaky breath. He didn’t need to think about it. About them.
His apartment was modest. Not too small, a couple of bookshelves filled until there was no room left, a comfy old sofa and the coffee table. The kitchen was far more equipped, even though he’d barely eaten, and the bedroom was unexplored territory.
This was one of the most underground safe-houses he possessed. He doubted that it was even on Batman’s list. It was cold inside, too close to the docks, and he had seen a fat ugly rat crossing the living room twice. The thing had just looked past him, as if he was one with the furniture.
The sofa, worn and soft, had been his happy place. Well, the only place.
He turned and laid facing the ceiling, letting his right hand touch the ground. Maybe he should be worried. Maybe he should turn on the phone. They probably forgot at this point, it had been…
Jason hummed. He sniffed his armpit and groaned.
Yeah. At least.
The thing about having a death day was that you could not celebrate. People around him remembered the loss, went to his grave. And what for? There was no one there. But then again, maybe none of them really cared enough to think about that.
Resurrection day could have potential, though. If he could just remember when he had resurrected.
He was worried at the beginning. Other years had been rather… violent. He didn’t want to hurt anybody, least of all his family, so he had just vanished. He waited for the anger to come, the burning rage. Yet all he felt was a void.
He didn’t feel numb, he knew that feeling. He felt as if something vital had been carved out of him, something he couldn’t reach. Somehow, that was scarier than the madness.
Sharp pain went up his right arm and made him jump off the sofa.
“Son of a bitch.” He clutched his hand to his chest, blood staining the fabric.
The rat ran away before he could think of kicking it.
The smell of disinfectant hit him when he stepped into Leslie’s clinic. Jason tried to walk on wobbly legs, failing miserably.
The clinic always was a safe place in Jason’s memories. He remembered vividly being eight and terrified, getting inside the clinic with a split lip or malnourished to the point of fainting. Leslie was serious but gentle, tending to his wounds and giving him snacks. He remembered being twelve and almost dying because he had been shot in the field. He had heard Leslie shouting at Bruce, laying the facts and ugly truths.
Jason smiled at the memory before grabbing at a plastic chair for support.
He should have stopped being Robin when he still had a chance at a happy and meaningful life.
A nurse walked towards him to help him sit.
“Tell Leslie Jason’s here,” he told the nurse, exhausted.
She looked at Jason then, assessing him with an arched brow. He didn’t have the energy to try and decipher what she was thinking. He could hear Bruce’s voice inside his head: observe, analyze, draw a hypothesis. It was strange, how he couldn’t be bothered to read he body language in that state but he still processed she was recently divorced by the tan mark of the wedding ring, how she had been part of a criminal band that operated in Park Row in the 80s by the tattoo on her forearm.
He wished he didn’t know now twenty different ways to kill her with his bare hands. He could feel Lady Shiva’s disapproving stare. There are three more ways of doing it, she would say.
Truth was, all that knowledge didn’t mean shit when he had been wallowing up in his misery for three days, letting the fever send chills down his spine. He was sure he would have puked if he had been eating anything.
He was going to fucking decimate that rat the next time he saw it.
Jason didn’t know how much time he was in that chair, trying to see through glazed eyes. He didn’t mind, he knew Leslie had other patients to see, ones that weren’t dumb enough to wait three days to go to the doctor when a rat bit them.
At least he had come. At least he had felt enough to care about what would happen if he didn’t. That was a good thing, right? He could admit that dying from a rat bite wasn’t something he would be proud of.
“What happened to you?” Leslie’s voice sounded cold.
“A rat.” He showed his right hand to clarify. It was shaking and wrapped in a somewhat clean bandage.
Leslie winced at it. Jason guessed that clean didn’t mean the same thing for her. Oh, well.
“Have you been living in the streets again?” she asked, furrowing her brow.
Jason shook his head. She hummed. It was a small victory when she didn’t click her tongue. Jason knew she was thinking about doing it.
The next twenty minutes were a blur of syringes and blood tests and antibiotics. Leslie would look his way from time to time, Jason suspected she was worried he would try to sneak out. Jason didn’t have the energy to even try.
He figured he had passed out on the stretcher, because he woke up at the sound of voices mixing with his dreams. Familiar voices.
“Shit,” he said under his breath.
“Rat-bite fever,” Leslie said behind the curtain.
Was that Tim?
“He looks way worse than that,” a third voice said.
“Well,” Leslie said, “he looks like that because he hasn’t been eating or bathing for a while.”
Jason cringed at that.
Yep. That was definitely Dick.
“Bruce is gonna flip his shit.” Tim sighed.
Jason wasn’t really looking forward to test that theory, so he tried to get up from the stretcher. Which, in his mind, didn’t seem like a particularly difficult action. So, when he embarrassingly rolled off it and fell to the ground, Jason prayed for any deity to kill him then and there.
He felt so weak that he didn’t say anything when Dick’s face appeared from behind the curtain, a worried expression sobering his face.
“Please, just… shut up.” Jason couldn’t look at him without feeling even more humiliated. This was the most he’d felt in weeks. It was pathetic.
Dick walked to where he laid on the floor and sat down. When Jason didn’t complain about the whole situation, he guided his head to his lap. Jason tensed when he felt Dick’s hand stroking his hair.
“Why are you here?” Jason whispered.
“Because you’re here.” Dick shrugged like it wasn’t a big deal. Like he hadn’t been blowing up Jason’s phone, worried sick about him just to find him almost dying because of a fucking rat bite.
Jason felt something tight in his chest, a grip around his frantic-beating heart. He didn’t want Dick to see him cry, so he buried his head in his brother’s shirt, exhaling shakily. He wished he could say something to divert Dick’s attention to another topic, but the lump in his throat wouldn’t let him try.
Dick felt his heart breaking at the action and hugged Jason more tightly to him. He kept stroking Jason’s hair, trying to ignore how his brother’s shoulders shook as he silently cried.
Jason could see Bruce’s silhouette in the dark, his body slumped in the chair beside the bed. He would always be able to recognize Bruce. His shadow, his back, his footsteps in the hallways.
When he was little, he would listen intently, in case Bruce was going to check up on him. He would hide the book he was reading under the covers and pretend he was asleep. To that day he still didn’t know if Bruce knew or if he really managed to fool him. Jason smiled weakly at the thought.
He often wondered where that man was. The kind Dad who would call him chum and read him books. The lonely millionaire with a kind soul. Jason would see glimpses of him here and there. In the way he hugged Cass or in how he would look at Damian’s paintings and drawings. He’d see him when Dick took care of the family and whenever Tim came home after a mission with the Titans. But never when he looked at Jason.
For him it was only silence and a turmoil inside those clear blue eyes. He should have grown accustomed, but it felt like a blow to the stomach every time. The kid that flied with hope and trust would die a little every day. He could barely bear swinging through the city, soaring between skyscrapers while the wind carried his low laugh.
Jason let out a choked sound.
Bruce’s shoulders tensed, his head raising and turning to look at Jason. His hand reaching for the switch of the lamp.
“Don’t turn on the lights,” Jason choked out.
He wasn’t sure he could be kind in the light, seeing Bruce’s face of stone and cold eyes observing him. He wasn’t sure he would be able to talk with all his mistakes bared to the world, with him being the constant reminder that he had lost a son.
They had always worked better in the dark, knowing each other’s step and cues. Not having to wear any mask. Just a man and a boy, a son and a Dad. Two people who completely knew each other. With the blind faith of true love and respect.
Jason could pretend for a minute that they still were that people. He could pretend to understand Bruce and his reactions and, maybe, Bruce would pretend, too. He would allow Jason to have this moment in the dark, because he wouldn’t have to look at the face of a dead child.
Bruce returned to his position in the chair without a word and they stayed in silence for a couple of minutes.
“How are you feeling?” Bruce’s voice came out soft and gravelly. It was so close to Jason’s memories that he had to exhale slowly, fearing his ribcage would burst open with all those emotions.
“Like shit,” he croaked.
There was another minute of silence before Bruce leaned forward and took Jason’s hand into his.
“You should have come to us, Jay.”
“You were too busy visiting my grave.”
Bruce’s grip tightened. Jason feared this was the moment when they would start fighting. The moment when the illusion would dissolve and filter through Jason’s fingers like water, unable to be clasped and contained.
“I love you.” He could tell those words were the hardest thing Bruce had ever said, as if he had carved them right out of his chest to hand them over to Jason. Something bloody and raw and painful.
Some part of him told him that love wasn’t meant to be like that, wasn’t meant to hurt or bruise. But that part of him was just an echo of someone long dead.
“I’m not there,” he said, trying not to sob. “I’m not in my grave, I’m not in the ground.”
“I know,” Bruce whispered, bringing Jason’s hand to his lips.
“I’m not Icarus or Ophelia.” Jason’s voice grew louder in an attempt to reach that hidden part of Bruce. “I’m not my death. I’m not a tragedy.”
But that wasn’t right either, was it? Icarus, Ophelia… they had a say, they had a choice. Jason couldn’t even fight. Life was ripped from his tiny hands. Maybe he was not his death, but he sure was a tragedy.
Just that. Just his name, whispered in the dark, hanging in the air like a plea.
Jason wondered what expression Bruce had. He pictured him like in his dreams, a sad smile and worried eyes. Like that time Jason was sick for weeks and Bruce made sure he could stay and watch over him, hesitant and not really knowing what to do. But there. But soft and caring and warm beside him. Grabbing Jason’s tiny hand.
A tragedy wasn’t not having something other people have, a tragedy was losing something you once had and treasured.
“Just…” He choked on the tears. “Just let the past die. Not me.”
He felt Bruce’s hand on his forehead, smoothing back those tiny curls and wiping the tears on his cheeks. It was so good that Jason thought he had fallen asleep for a moment. He rubbed his face against Bruce’s palm.
“I’m so sorry, son.” Bruce’s mouth was now against his temple. “I’m sorry you thought…”
“Bruce,” he whispered. “Can you just…?”
“What? What do you want?” He never stopped petting Jason’s hair.
Please, give me proof that you’re still there.
Bruce just crawled beneath the blankets, his feet cold against Jason’s, and circled him with his arms. Strong and soft all at once. Jason broke down into sobs and let himself be held and protected even if he was beginning to feel too warm.
He closed his eyes and prayed that the daylight wouldn’t wash it all away.