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The morning after his eighteenth birthday, Jason slept in. Usually he’d been woken up by Talia by then, but he figured after the previous night she was going to give him some freedom. She told him he was a man now. 


Why did that make him feel dirty?


He hadn’t realized he was crying until he went to rub his eyes. That’s weird, right? The only thing he could imagine grieving was losing his childhood so suddenly, but… He’d wanted this. He’d waited for years for last night, and it wasn’t like he’d felt like a kind since… well, ever actually.


So why, then… Why did his hands not feel like they belonged to him, and why did his chest ache, and his stomach feel sour? 


He took a shower before breakfast, for whatever reason food didn’t seem attractive this morning. The day felt slow and quiet. Damian’s family’s home was large, and honestly more reminiscent of a castle than a home. Long winding halls through most of it, empty and devoid of life. 


The lived-in portion of the home was more welcoming, but the hardwood floor clicked with each step and made Jason hate walking through the halls. He wanted to see someone, anyone but he also didn’t want to be found.


Talia used to walk Jason to bed each and every night, but that night she was nowhere in sight. 


He didn’t see her for a few more days, they passed once in the hallway as she was walking Damian somewhere.


“Hey, Talia, can we-” he held a hand out towards her, and took a step, but the angry glare she sent towards him made him back up. Damian stuck his chin up at Jason.


The next time he saw her was at dinner, and he hadn’t ever thought that he might miss the way she used to look at him. The next month she told Jason and Damian she was driving them somewhere they were supposed to stay until she decided it was time to get them.


She never came back for them.


And Bruce never welcomed Jason back home.




When Jason wakes up, he’s holding Roy in his arms and it’s still dark outside.


His face is wet and he knows that he can’t stay there, he needs to move before he’s told to or else he will never forgive himself for ruining what he has. So he moves as slowly as possible, pausing for several seconds at a time to let Roy readjust in his sleep.


After a grueling ordeal that feels like eternity, Jason tosses his shirt off and in the dark he fumbles for Roy’s dresser, pulling out new clothes and slipping them on, ignoring the rough and disgusting feeling of his own skin.


He uses his phone for light as he moves through the house, picking his bag up from the guest room and finding his boots discarded in the garage. He throws his backpack into the backseat of his car, where Lian had sat the day before, and leaves the garage open as he pulls out. 


It’s still pitch black outside, stars are shining faintly, and tears are pouring down his face. 


He can’t help but feel like he’s stealing from Roy. 


Jason had made a lot of mistakes in his life, and there were plenty that he hated himself for… he just hoped that Roy wouldn’t hate him for this one.


Maybe he should have left a note. 


Something to tell Roy that it wasn’t his fault that Jason had to leave. Jason was broken long before he ever met Roy.


The roads are open and clear and flat. His car bounces along numbly and he hopes that Roy enjoys the pizza he’d left on the stove.

It’s dawn when Jason’s phone lights up in the passenger seat. He glances at it, expecting Bruce or Steph or even Dick, but instead it reads a name he’d been begging himself to forget about all morning.


He’s only a few hours outside of Arizona, and he’s the only person on the road.


He leans over to answer the call, and his car swerves for a moment before he straightens the wheel.


“Jason?” Roy’s voice gasps through his phone. He’d set it to speaker.


He stays quiet, because he’s holding back a sob and he doesn’t want Roy to know that. Maybe he should explain why he had to leave. Maybe he shouldn't have picked up the call.


“Jason, where are you?”


“I left.” He doesn’t sound nearly as upset as he is.


“You left? Where did you go, I was so-”


“I’m fine. Don’t worry about me.”


“Don’t worry about you?!” Roy’s incredulous. “Why did you leave? I- I thought that-”


“It doesn’t matter now. I loved you.” He reaches to hang up, but something stops him.


“No. No, Jaybird. There’s that saying,” Roy’s voice is pained, like he’s just barely holding back a sob, “that it’s better to have loved and to have lost than to have never loved at all. Well, I don’t think that’s true, actually. Jason, I’d rather never have met you than lose you. You mean far too much to me- hell, you mean far too much to Lian, for me to just let you leave.”


“Just say you wish we never met,” Jason bites. If it meant it would hurt Roy and Lian less, he would chew Roy up and spit him onto the interstate road.


“Jaybird, you aren’t listening to me!”


“I never do.”


“I know.” Jason wishes Roy were with him in the car, that he could slowly reach his hand over and that he were cupping Jason’s cheek. He would lean into the touch. “I can’t let you go.”


“Why not?” His question is quiet and sad and pathetic. Just like the rest of him. 


“Because I’m not like everyone else in your life, Jay. I love you and I care about you and I need you.” He wishes Roy were holding him again. “I would have never tried a single drug if I knew you were out there this whole time. Quitting heroin was nothing compared to what it would do to me to lose you.”


“That’s a bit fucked up,” Jason’s voice has a hint of a laugh with it, “comparing me to heroin.”


He shakes his head and closes his eyes, and all he can see is a starry sky, as if the universe is drawing him to be with Roy, begging them to let each other have this .


He hears Roy take a deep shaky breath in, and Jason tells him, “I love you.”


“Then come back.”


His voice shakes, “I can’t.” He hangs up.


Roy calls him again. He doesn’t pick up.

Jason keeps driving and the spot on his jaw that Roy held the day prior burns, his scalp that Roy had massaged burns, his thighs that Roy had touched burn, his hands burn, his arms burn… His entire body and soul burn and he wants it to stop but he doesn’t turn around. 


In the now achingly bright and washed out desert, a gas station appears on the horizon. 


He hadn't thought that the pain he felt when Bruce called him a liar when Damian told him what Jason had gone through could be beaten. But that ache in his chest that reminded him precisely why he had never truly belonged anywhere… 


Guilt and flaws are what define him, and he'd be best to not forget that.


So with his sights set on gas, Jason doesn’t fully process what he’s doing until he's sitting against the trunk of his shitty little blue car, gas nozzle glugging into his tank, and phone in his hand.


He ignores the many, many, many missed calls and texts, and instead finds himself calling Steph.


A large family pulls into a parking space in front of the gas station and he watches as the parents file their army of children into the store.


“Hello!” Steph greets loudly and Jason cringes away from the phone for a moment. “Who is it?”




“Jason!” Steph turns from her speaker to speak again so it’s much quieter and probably not meant to be at him. “Say hi.”


“Hello,” Cass greets. 


“Oh, hey Cass.” He’d never gone out of his way to befriend her, and she’d never done so either. They ate dinner together, and sometimes when he was hiding somewhere in the manor hoping to be alone while he shook and cried, he’d turn around and find her sitting nearby. 


“How’s it going?” Steph says back up at full volume.


Inside the store, one of the smaller children from the family pulls an entire aisle of beef jerky off the shelving. He feels his mouth crack up into a smile.


“It’s going. I had a question, actually. Need some advice.”


“Oh you came to the right women!” Steph laughs, “So, what is it?”


“I got stranded out here in the desert,” Jason starts, “cool guy picked me up. I spent the past week or two with him. We had fun. He fixed my car. I left this morning. He wants me to come back, though.”


“Wait, wait, wait,” he can picture Steph holding a hand up at him. He hadn’t realized just how much he missed their night-time chats. “Back up, Jay-dog, why’s he want you back?”


Jason lets out a breath. He knows everything he says will be repeated to the rest of his family, so everything he says needs to be perfectly thought out and considered. “He’s in love with me.”


Cass’s gruffer voice pipes up from somewhere further from Steph’s phone, “Dick said that you were-”


“It was a joke!”


“What was a joke?” Steph asks pointedly.


“He said he will be selling his body-”


“I didn’t!” Jason drags a hand down his face with a groan. “Okay I did say that, but it was joke! I was mad at Dick and wanted him to leave me alone.”


“I thought B-man was giving you money again,” Steph says.


“He is, I’m not-... Okay, not the point. I’m in love with him too.”


“Oh, then go back,” Steph says it in the same way someone orders their favorite pizza. 


“I… can’t.”


“Why not?” Cass asks.


“I can’t stay with him in his house. He has a daughter and I’m not- They just met me. It’s rude and weird.”


“Is it rude and weird or are you just sawing your foot off before you can wait for the shoe to drop?”


Ow. “No…”


“Jason, did you actually want advice or did you just want me to pat you on the back for fucking yourself?”


“That’s not-”


“I’m not going to. Clearly you want to go back. So do it. Go back to that guy, dummy.”


Jason throws his head back and his car shakes from his movement. He wishes it were that easy.


“It’s that easy,” Cass says. “Go back.”


“I’m not going back… not yet, at least.”


“Literally what are you waiting for?” Steph laughs.


The nozzle in his tank clicks and he moves to put it back into its home. “I don’t know.”


“Stop being stupid,” Cass says.


“You are being an idiot,” Steph tacks on. “I know how it feels to think that you’re not wanted, and that he’s just going to treat you how- how everyone else has treated you, but… You’re allowed to have faith in people.”


He sits back in his driver's seat, and casts one last glance at the family wreaking havoc inside the store before he pulls back onto the I-40. “I don’t know.”

He reaches Arizona as the sun sets.

He finds a hotel to spend the night at.

He ignores Roy’s calls and texts, at least until he’s laying in a bed for the night.


He opens Roy’s message history and bites back hot tears as he skims towards the bottom. He wasn’t there to read what Roy had to say.


From Jason to Roy:


j- i made it to arizona. im safe in a bed right now


Then he turns his phone off and stares out the window of his top-floor suite. The city is loud and vibrant and fuck. He won’t be sleeping tonight.