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Jason's car tabs were well over six-months expired, but his plates read New Jersey and he was somewhere in the panhandle of Texas. Hopefully, this state trooper would be on his way quickly. 

 

The terrible fucking heat baked his car and his check engine light kept the car- and AC- off, so he’d resorted to cranking a window and relishing the occasional passing car. Jason’s shirt sticks to him like a second skin and he wishes that he’d bought that second water bottle at his last stop.

 

Officer Whoever taps on Jason’s passenger window and Jason unbuckles to lean over and open the door for him. Hopefully he wouldn’t get a ticket for sitting in his off car unbuckled.

 

“Evenin’ Officer,” Jason cringes at himself, left hand clutching his shaking phone. 

 

“Evening sir, what stops you here on the 40?” the officer asks.

 

There’s no way this is a trick question, Jason reassures himself, “On my way to a family member’s.” He’s still lying, though. He’s not actually headed anywhere. It’s not like his family wants him anymore.

 

“What’s got you stopped here?”

 

“My car stopped working.” His body feels more sweat than human at this point and his heart hasn’t stopped racing for two weeks. “Check engine light came on, I think it might be the transmission.”

 

The cop nods and Jason has half a find to slam the gas, decapitate the cop… Too bad his car wasn’t working.

 

“You got anyone coming?”

 

“No.” Jason had been through his fair share of tows and mechanics, money was short but he’d gotten back in touch with Bruce so that was no object anymore. Man, he really should have gotten that extra water bottle. 

 

The cop nods and puts on a thinking face for a moment. “Say what, I got a guy up at Harper’s Wrecker Service, about 40 miles west of here. You want a number for them? They got a car lot and there’s some places to stay the night up there.”

 

Jason really doesn’t want to accept this guy's help but there’s no way he'd live walking 40 miles in this heat. “Sure.”

 

Pressing a button on his radio he requests a woman to look the number up for him and writes it on the back of one of Jason's mechanic receipts. “I’ve got a few hours left on my patrol, I’ll come swing by before I’m off and help get you sorted if you’re still here.”

 

“I’ll be gone by then.”

 

The cop nods and walks away, leaving Jason with a piece of paper and 5% left on his phone's battery.

 

“Harper’s Wrecker Service,” he finds a less than enthusiastic voice answer from the other end of his phone. “What can I do for you?”

 

“Uh, hey,” Jason’s mind is rolling, completely blank and devoid of anything helpful at this point. Maybe two weeks ago when his gas pedal first stopped communicating with his car he would have had something insightful to say. “My car stopped working.”

 

There’s a silence on the other end, something like a sigh or an eyeroll happens before, “You need a jump or a tow?”

 

“Tow.”

 

This would be upwards of his third that day. Somewhere between that and fifth.

 

“Got it. What are you driving- or not driving?” The man laughs and Jason chuckles along on instinct, without amusement.

 

“2005 Toyota corolla. ”

 

“Color?”

 

“Dark blue.”

 

“Where you at?”

 

Jason’s body shakes, hand gripping the phone pressed against his sweaty head as he searches the flat fields in front of himself for any landmark. He spots a mile marker and thanks whoever designed interstate roads. “Mile 132 on the I-40 west.”

 

“Before or after 132?”

 

“Uh…” All Jason can see is the marker ten or twenty feet in front of his car. “Before, I think.”

 

“Alright, I’ll be up there in less than an hour. Are you in a safe spot for that?”

 

Jason sees the sun sinking beyond the horizon, pretty colors painting the sky, and hopefully a chill coming soon. “Yes- Yeah, I think so.”

 

“Sit tight,” the man says before ending the line.

 

Jason stares down at his phone as the screen flashes with the end of the call. His screen shuts off to black before his own eyes. Maybe if his mind had anything going through it other than pleas for the heat to end, he would have cried. Maybe if this had happened last week, even. 

 

But he’s run out of emotions for now so he sets his dead phone in his passenger seat and stares out his front windshield. 

 

Jason doesn’t know how long it is until a big rig with a giant flatbed rolls up in front of his car, but the sun has since sunk below the horizon. Nobody steps out of the truck so Jason opens his door, and takes a few steps towards the truck before a man’s arm sticks out the window, directing Jason back and into his driver’s seat.

 

He waits there as the truck backs up a few feet, then a man steps out and down from the truck. He’s about as big as Jason, longer red hair under a blue trucker cap and a tattoo around his sleeveless biceps. 

 

“Can you turn your car on?” The man shouts over his loud as fuck running truck.

 

“Yeah.”

 

“Put it in neutral and put your foot on the brake.” 

 

Jason does as instructed and the man presses a button on the bed of the truck, holding it as it lowers, making a ramp for Jason’s shitty little Toyota. He picks up a rope with a hook from the truck bed and pulls it, body flexing against his red shirt as he pulls. The man produces a flashlight from his pants and holds it between his teeth, dropping down to the ground under Jason’s front bumper with the hook.

 

He pops back up, pointing the flashlight at the rope now holding onto Jason’s car and presses another button on the truck bed, pulling the rope back towards the truck. Once his car catches the man shouts, “Take your foot off the brake!”

 

Jason does so. His car is pulled forwards onto the ramp and then over onto the truck bed. The sound of the truck working drills into Jason’s skull, so loud he can’t even think about the line of blood that trails down the man’s arm. Presumably from a cut he got somewhere between dropping to the ground and standing back up. He acts like it’s not even there.

 

Once his car is safely secured on the truck bed, he turns his car off, grabs his phone, and opens the door.

 

“Here,” the man says, rushing to where Jason stands uneasy atop the truck bed, “let me help you down.” He offers a hand to Jason, and he takes it without a thought, dropping down onto the concrete side of the interstate.

 

“Thank you,” he shouts over the roaring truck.

 

“No problem, go ahead and hop in!”

 

He moves, walking around the truck and feeling like his body is made of something other than meat. He hops into the truck easily, relishing the cool air of it. It’s only marginally cooler than the still scorching heat of the night, but it’s something.

 

“I’m Roy,” the man says with a smile. From up this close, Jason can see Roy is covered in freckles with green eyes.

 

Jason’s brain is so fried by this point, he doesn’t even register that maybe he should tell this man his name too.

 

“What’s happened to your car?”

 

Many answers swing around Jason’s head, the boot has more holes in it than swiss cheese, the transmission has been going for a few years now, hell maybe he put the wrong gas into it two states back and ruined his engine. “No clue,” is what he decides to settle on.

 

“That’s a shame,” the man shakes his head in the dim light, eyes pointed forward at the interstate. They’re alone on the road. “You know what your plan is tonight?”

 

“Uh…” Truthfully, he’d been so caught up in getting out of the heat that he hadn’t really thought beyond that. “My phone’s dead, so I need to charge that.”

 

Roy nods, “You got anyone coming to pick you up?”

 

“No.” Maybe he should start lying about that.

 

“There’s some motels and such up here by the office. You could get a bed for the night, probably.” The man motions with his hand, off at the buildings in the distance.

 

“It’s fourth of july weekend, do you know if any of them are open this late?”

 

“Better be,” Roy laughs, “I’m getting a room too.”

 

Jason’s not sure why but he’s happy about that. “Why’s that?”

 

Roy glances at Jason before answering, “Too late to bother driving home tonight, my kid’s got someone taking care of her tonight anyway.”

 

“How far do you live from here?”

 

“Far enough. Say, what did you want done with your car tomorrow, like where are you headed?”

 

Nowhere. “Further than here.” Jason looks out the back of the cab at his car, as if staring it down will help him solve any of his current issues. “Can I keep it at your car lot for the night?”

 

“Yep. I could also park it outside your hotel, if you wanted.” After a minute of silence, Roy speaks up again, “How do you plan on getting your car to your destination?”

 

Jason doesn’t even have a destination. “I’ll probably need a tow.”

 

“Well, and now I don’t know if you know this, but I happen to have a tow truck available.” Roy cracks himself up, laughing a few times and Jason’s nearly delirious because he finds himself laughing as well.

 

“Once I figure out where I’m going I’ll give you a call then,” Jason mutters.

 

Roy side-eyes Jason but stays quiet after that. They arrive at what looks like a red barn in a junkyard, it sits at an intersection between three different hotels.

 

“I’ve got an outlet inside. I can ring you up for this tow and let you charge your phone before you decide where you’re going for the night.” Roy shuts the truck off and heads for a door leading into the red wooden building.

 

Jason’s quick to follow after him. He pays the nearly hundred dollar bill, and sits on the sawdust-covered floor as his phone slowly sucks power from the wall. Roy walks back and forth across the building, washing his car grease-covered hands and patching his new scrape up with electrical tape.

 

His phone lights back up to life and he’s almost surprised that it still works. 

 

He calls the hotel directly behind the building he’s currently in first. They’re packed full for the weekend. So he calls the next hotel. Same deal.

 

Hoping against everything, he calls the motel across the street.

 

“Relax Inn, how can I help you?” a woman greets through the phone.

 

“Do you happen to have any rooms tonight?” Jason just wants a bed and a hot shower. Honestly, at this point, he’d settle for just one of those.

 

“Only one left, actually,” the woman’s voice is cheery and Jason looks up over at Roy, who's currently sitting somewhere behind a wall in his office.

 

“Thanks, I’ll be right over.” He’s not sure if he should tell Roy that there’s only one room left. It’s not like he wants to tell the man he’ll have to drive back home to wherever the fuck he’s from.

 

“All good?” Roy asks when he sees Jason standing in his office doorway.

 

“All good. Relax Inn is the only place left open, do you think you could give me a lift over there?”

 

“I’m headed that way too,” Roy laughs. He lifts his hat from his head to run a hand through his hair. “I’ll be in my truck out front, you grab whatever you need from your car and we’ll be on our way.”

 

Jason nods and heads back into the heat of the night.

 

Somehow, Jason’s shocked when he finds himself standing in the lobby of the motel, being told that there is only one room left between himself and Roy.

 

“You’re sure?” Roy asks the woman behind the desk, as if somehow the answer would change.

 

“Just one queen left,” she repeats.

 

Jason takes a deep breath and rakes his hands through his hair. He stretches his back out and takes another deep breath. “Just the one bed?” he asks.

 

“Just the one.”

 

Roy glances at a watch on his wrist, then a clock on the wall and looks between the woman, Jason, and his truck outside.

 

“We can share that,” Jason finds himself blurting.

 

“What?” Roy asks, confusing drawing on his face. 

 

Maybe he’s suffering from heatstroke, but Jason continues, “I don’t feel like bartering over who has to sleep in a car, I just want a shower. You can take the bed and I can sleep on the floor or something. It’s fine.”

 

Roy gives Jason a look, and then turns back to the woman. “Yeah, sure.”

 

The motel room is… quaint.

 

Red walls, tan carpet. There’s the single queen bed in the center of the room, and a table with a single chair. At the end of the room is a sink and a door, presumably leading to a toilet and shower. 

 

Jason tosses his backpack onto the table and wastes no time in rushing towards the shower. There’s no soap but at least he’s less sweaty. Once he’s remarkably more comfortable in his own human skin, he exits the bathroom wearing a clean shirt and boxers.

 

“You know, I never did catch your name,” Roy says from where he’s reading a book on the bed. 

 

Jason runs a hand through his still damp hair, shaking it out. “Oh- uh, sorry . I’m Jason.”

 

Roy nods his head and sets the book aside. “Nice to meet you, Jason.”

 

He nods and moves towards the table for his phone. Plenty of missed texts from Dick dating back to a few months ago. They’d ramped up significantly after Jason had told him that his car broke down in Florida. He almost turns his phone back off, but decides instead to sit at the table and read everything his brother had to say.

 

It’s mostly just him begging Jason to let him know that he’s okay. “Do you mind if I call someone?” Jason asks suddenly.

 

“Not at all,” Roy shakes his head and picks his book back up.

 

Jason dials Dick’s number, waiting as it rings. As late as it is here, it must be even later in Gotham. He’d be lucky if Dick was awake at this-

 

“Jason?” Dick’s voice almost gasps into the receiver.

 

“Hey Dick. I’m at a… hotel… right now.” 

 

“You’re doing good?”

 

He’s not sure how genuine the concern is, but he hadn’t eaten in two days at this point. Not that he’d really chosen to do that, more that being on the road meant meals were harder and when your car breaks down in the middle of nowhere it gets even harder.

 

“Yeah, I’m alright. Talked to Bruce a bit ago.” Honestly, he should probably call Bruce again after he’s done with Dick.

 

“I’m sorry, Jason.” Dick’s quiet for a moment and Jason worries that his emotions will come back to him then. “He’s been super worried. I think he regrets the way things went.”

 

“Yeah, well, I do too,” his voice comes out venomous and he knows Roy probably thinks he’s being an asshole. “I’m sure he’s all torn up about my bad fucking luck.”

 

Dick lets out a sigh and Jason half-regrets venting his frustrations. “He just wants you to be safe, Littlewing.”

 

Jason wants to tell him not to call him that anymore, but he can’t bring himself to do that. “Do you think he’d want me to call him tonight?”

 

“I think so, yeah.”

 

“Okay…” Jason takes a deep breath. “Have you been okay?”

 

“Better than you.”

 

“Ha-ha.” Something inside himself pangs at this soft banter. He’s missed talking to his brother, he’s missed all of his siblings. “How is… everyone?”

 

Dick sucks air in through his teeth before he answers, “They’re okay. Cass and Tim haven’t really left their rooms as much lately. Damian keeps getting in more and more trouble.”

 

“What’s up with Damian?” Jason knows the answer to his, he knows why Damian’s upset.

 

“He stole Bruce’s car the other night, he crashed into a tree and Bruce had to pay some people to take Damian home after that.”

 

“That…” makes sense. “I’m sorry, Dick.”

 

Dick’s silent for a moment, as if he’s trying to decide what to say. “Don’t be. Not your fault. I think Bruce fucked up, big time.”

 

“That doesn’t really matter anymore.”

 

“You’re right, it doesn’t.”

 

Jason feels stupid for calling Dick now. There’s nothing left to say, but he’s dreading calling Bruce. “Okay. I’ll let you know when there’s more updates, I’m going to call Bruce, I think.”

 

“Good luck, Jason. Just remember that we all support you, no matter what he says.

 

If he weren’t so dehydrated and exhausted, he might have cried from that. “Thank you, Dick.” He hangs up and just holds his head for a moment. There’s a lot left unsaid, but that’s how his family has always been.

 

“Everything okay?” Roy asks from the bed.

 

Jason feels himself smile despite everything, “Yeah, just a broken car.” And a bit of a broken family. He doesn’t want to risk being asked anything personal so he calls Bruce.

 

He picks up on the second ring. He doesn’t say anything, just waits for Jason.

 

“Hey.” Should he add Dad onto that? Does Bruce even still deserve to be called that?

 

“Is everything alright?”

 

“Honestly I’m getting a little sick of people asking that.”

 

Maybe that’s not the answer Bruce wanted because he doesn’t say anything after that. 

 

“Car broke down again. Got towed again.”

 

“Where are you now?”

 

Jason’s a little shocked that Bruce doesn’t have a GPS on him. Though, maybe he’s just playing dumb. Bruce is really good at that game. “Motel off the I-40 in Texas.”

 

“Motel?”

 

He laughs, of course Bruce is judging that. “Sorry, your majesty , all the money in the world couldn’t get me in a suite if there’s none here.” Not to mention his own room even.

 

“So you’re safe then?”

 

It’s funny that now Bruce cares about that. “Mhm.” He’s only sharing a motel room in the middle of nowhere with a man he’d known for less than two hours. A stranger who knows Jason has no-one coming to get him, and no-one waiting for him.

 

“What’s your plan?”

 

What’s with him and plans? “Sleep.”

 

“After that, Jason.”

 

Jason rubs the bridge of his nose, unable to make himself care enough to give Bruce a lie. “I don’t fucking know, Bruce. Whatever I’m able to do. Get towed somewhere, find a mechanic, throw myself into the ocean. Who fucking knows.”

 

“If you need any money-”

 

“Yeah, I know. ” Jason tightens his grip on his phone. “Listen, Bruce , I’ve got everything under control.” He doesn’t.

 

“You don’t.”

 

“You don’t know shit about me, okay? Thank you for your help but I’d kind of like to get some fucking sleep now.”

 

“Jason-”

 

He hangs up. 

 

If Roy weren’t sitting behind him, pretending to read, Jason would have started sobbing. That was the first time he’d heard Bruce’s voice in months. He ignores the empty gnawing feeling of his body and just holds his head in both hands. 

 

“If you’re looking for a mechanic, I might be able to look at your car for you,” Roy says.

 

Jason takes a moment before he turns in the chair, looking over at Roy who has his book set out on his lap, looking patiently. “You’re a mechanic?”

 

“Uh… Not technically, but I know my way around a car. It’s a holiday weekend so not many places are open as of right now, and- you said you didn’t really have a destination, right?” Roy talks with his hands and if Jason weren’t so tired he might not have found it so mesmerizing.

 

“Yeah.”

 

“I can take a look for you.”

 

“Thank you.”

 

Roy smiles at him and Jason leans his head down on the table.

 

“You’re not… sleeping over there, are you?” Roy asks after Jason has already started drifting off.

 

“Beats the floor,” Jason grumbles, “but only marginally.” The carpet was hard and very old. At least the table was pretty cool.

 

“You can share the bed with me, dude,” Roy laughs.

 

Jason’s shoulders tense at that. He’s either accidentally walked himself into his own worst nightmare, or he’s currently living a fantasy of his. “Am I awake right now?” Jason wonders aloud.

 

“Yeah, pretty sure at least,” Roy laughs. “I mean, at least I hope so. It would kind of suck if this was how I found out I was just a side character.”

 

Jason laughs at that and doesn’t even think about it as he moves to the bed. The sleep is instant. It’s not even a particularly comfortable bed, but once he’s under the blankets with Roy he can’t fight sleep off any longer.

 

Which sucks, because he was actually starting to like talking to Roy.

Chapter Text

The nightmares are never very far, and especially not now that he’s back in contact with Bruce. He’s woken up in his car at rest stops shaking, covered in dry tears and new scratch marks. He’d had a bloody nose in the last hotel he’d slept at. 

 

Thankfully, this night comes and goes easily. He’s met with the looming dread that fades marginally as he drifts further from sleep. 

 

His first thought of the day is that his body feels empty, like a wooden straw. 

 

His second thought of the day is that these large and warm arms wrapped around him are the safest touch he’s ever felt in his entire life. A warm body is pressed against Jason’s back, breathing coming and going softly, even, and presumably still deep in sleep.

 

He closes his eyes for a moment, begging those arms to take his body back to sleep. His stomach grumbles like it’s digesting itself and Jason feels a pang of something earth-shatteringly painful hit him.

 

If he lets himself be held for another fucking moment his life will be over. He moves quickly, he has to. Roy turns behind Jason as he jumps from the bed, blinking heavy eyelids a few times under the daylight seeping in through the motel window.

 

“Morning,” Roy mumbles, tossing a forearm over his eyes and turning to lay on his back. 

 

Jason, akin to a dumbass, stands on the old crunchy carpet in his boxers and t-shirt. “Good morning…” he decides he may as well finally find something to eat, so he pulls on some clothes and leaves the motel room.

 

The Texas morning is bleak. Soft plains going on forever and the sun already beating down on him from above. Remarkably, between this morning and last night, no new places to eat have popped up at this interstate exit.

 

He heads to the motel lobby, and is less than surprised to see they aren’t serving breakfast. They do have a juice machine though. Jason gets a cup of water and a cup of apple juice, then pads back into the motel room.

 

Thankfully Roy is also awake now, brushing his teeth at the sink.

 

He waves a hand at Jason as he takes a seat at the table.

 

The water feels like honey going down. His body fights it, and he has to take a slow breath. He’s had enough hangovers by now that he knows how to nurse a cup of water in the morning. Growing ballsy, he sips the apple juice.

 

It’s like acid.

 

It burns his empty stomach, his insides churn and he drinks more water, begging for the feeling to go away. It doesn’t.

 

He sprints past Roy to the toilet, vomiting all the water and bile. It’s like his body is trying to get rid of his organs. Not even his own body wants him.

 

“Rough night?” Roy jokes.

 

“You have no idea .”

 

“So, what’s your plan?” Roy moves from the sink to the side of the bed, where he and Jason had cuddled all night , and removes his shirt. Jason moves further into the bathroom so he doesn’t have to gawk at Roy’s bare back.

 

Very muscular bare back. Great… now Jason’s thinking about barebacking-

 

“You said you could take a look at my car?” Jason’s voice sounds hoarse to his own ears. The cool linoleum of the bathroom floor is the only thing keeping Jason grounded.

 

“Yeah, I mean, if you’ve got no destination or time limit I’ve got like… all the time in the world.” Roy laughs to himself before his voice tapers off, then he clears his throat and sticks his now-clothed body around the wall. “Sorry if that sounded creepy.”

 

“Totally didn’t until that last part,” Jason’s throat screams against him talking, so he moves to brush his teeth.

 

“Alright, well, I’m going to want some breakfast here soon, then I can get back to where I’m from and you can find somewhere to stay while I work on your car.” Honestly, Roy had him at breakfast .

 

Jason pours his apple juice down the sink and follows Roy out to his pickup truck. 

 

“We’ll go get breakfast, then we can move your car,” Roy says.

 

“Where are we getting breakfast?” Jason asks.

 

Roy shrugs, “What’re you in the mood for?” Jason stays quiet as they drive. “We got a McDonalds not too far, I think a Subway a bit past that. Waffle House is pretty close.”

 

“I’ve never been to a Waffle House.” Jason was born and raised in Gotham. 

 

“Really, never?” Roy glances over at Jason.

 

“Never.”

 

“Guess that’s where we’re getting breakfast.” He makes a beeline at the next interstate exit.

 

The Waffle House is packed full, people at every table and employees yelling over the food cooking. Constant noise and movement.

 

-

 

He had been crying, because of course he had. Jason had been out living on his own for a while now. Well, a bit over three months. He’d gone from abandoned apartment, to empty home to… his own car’s backseat. 

 

Really living it up, Gotham-street-urchin style. 

 

Anyway, he’d been crying. Probably almost non-stop for about… three months now. 

 

He hadn’t wanted to leave the Wayne Manor, well not like this at least. He hadn’t planned on telling anyone anything. Ever . But… he never could fool Damian. He really hadn’t wanted Damian, or anyone really , to get involved. His family had a way of getting involved in things they probably shouldn’t. 

 

Jason drove the heels of his hands into his eye sockets, as if he massaged hard enough it could wash away the horror-struck faces of siblings when Bruce had told Jason to leave. Well, sort of . Bruce didn’t say that Jason was being kicked out. He’d said, “I’ll keep your room for you, Jason,” but he knew what Bruce meant was really, “I don’t want to see you for a while.”

 

He clambers out of his car’s backseat, practically exploding out into the bitter night air. He leaves his car door open as he paces, all the way from his car’s spot parked in this empty parking lot, to the road not too far away.

 

It’s like he’s volcanic. 

 

All bubbling and burning… something . He leans his head back, neck fully exposed to the sky, and pulls a groan from deep in his chest.

 

“Just tell me what you want,” Bruce had said to him. His large figure looks over Jason’s mind, towering over him still. 

 

“I don’t know what I fucking want!” Jason screams, hands moving from his face outward, wide arms. His pacing lands him standing next to the outhouse he was parked in front of. Around the side of it is a map.

 

A little star up in the right corner of a map of the United States, marked with a little “You Are Here”. 

 

“Just tell me what you want.”

 

Interstate roads are all marked off on the map, as well as every state’s capital and big cities. The I-95 leads down through Philly and Baltimore, the I-80 leads up north toward Cleveland.

 

Jason flips a coin.

 

“Jason, we can work something out. Just… Tell me what it is that you’re seeking. Just tell me what you want .”

 

-

 

“So what do you want?” Roy asks, easy smile draped on his face.

 

“Huh?” Jason looks up quick, following close behind Roy towards the bar. Roy takes a barstool so Jason sits beside him.

 

“I’m getting the All-Star, what did you want?”

 

He picks a menu up from the bar, and looks at it for a few moments, the chaos and noise of the building so overpowering he can’t even process the images of food. “Also… that. I guess.”

 

“Yeah?”

 

Jason cinches his eyebrows and looks up at Roy. “Why?” Is that wrong?

 

Roy opens his mouth and Jason feels like the building is beating with his heart. Instead of answering Jason, a waitress interrupts and asks for their order.

 

The Waffle House is so loud that they can’t really make conversation as they wait for their food. Jason kind of prefers it this way, to be completely honest. He watches a cook sweat over a grill covered in hash browns. 

 

They get their food not long after, and Jason keeps his eyes on the cook as he slams his metal utensils down on the grill. He does not look at Roy, not at his mouth, and especially not at his adam’s apple as it bobs.

 

The food goes down better than the apple juice did. No vomiting this time.

 

He doesn’t finish the plate, and he mostly just picks at it, but Roy just sits patiently for a good fifteen minutes after he’d finished his food. Jason doesn’t speed up, his body is already so mad at him. Once he’s had enough, Roy leaves a twenty-dollar bill at the bar and they’re back in his truck.

 

“Thanks for buying me breakfast,” Jason says. 

 

“Least I can do, seeing as you paid for the motel last night.”

 

Right. They aren’t friends. They do not know each other. Jason doesn’t say anything else until they’re back at that bright red building, faded and kind of lop-sided letters reading “HARPER’S WRECKER SERVICE”.

 

Jason leans against the door leading to Roy’s office as he shuffles papers back and forth across his own desk.

 

“So… You’re going to look at my car?” Jason asks. He feels like he’s breaking the tension, or maybe there wasn’t any to begin with.

 

“Sure, I can drive us over closer to where I live and get it worked on there, if you don’t mind.”

 

Not as long as he can watch. “How far is that?”

 

Roy makes a so-so gesture with his hand, “About an hour-forty.”

 

Jason nods even though Roy isn’t looking at him. “Are there hotels over there?”

 

Roy stops shuffling papers suddenly to look up at Jason. “You know, now that you ask-...” he stands suddenly, his chair scraping the ground and sending the sawdust of the floor flying.

 

“Yeah?”

 

“I’m actually not certain about that. If it was just me in my house I’d offer you a room, but…”

 

His home? “No, yeah, totally. You’re already…” he waves a hand, “doing so much for me.” His mind is somehow back to barebacking.

 

“Yeah?” Roy smiles at Jason and it’s playful, he thinks. “Glad you think so.”

 

“Uh-huh.” He feels giddy almost.

 

“Well I’ll tell you what, if need be I can drive you back down here for tonight. Worst case you sleep in here.” He points to his office as he leaves it. “Probably not the most comfortable-”

 

“I’ve definitely had worse digs.”

 

“-but it’s something.” Roy doesn’t acknowledge Jason’s comment, and maybe it’s better that way. Not like Jason would give this strange, handsome man his life story. Totally. “I’m just about ready to hit the road, just need to drop the motel key back off.”

 

“I mean… My shit’s on your bed already, so.” Receiving a blank stare, Jason moves after Roy and points at the tow-truck, his shitty little blue toyota still on the back of it.

 

“Ah. Fair enough.” With what Jason would call practiced ease, Roy jumps into the driver’s seat of the tow-truck. The engine roars to life and Jason wastes no time in climbing up into the passenger.

 

Their stop at the motel is quick enough, and then they’re back out on the open and flat road. 

 

“Jason,” Roy says when it’s been long enough that Jason had sort of forgotten that he was even with another person. “Do you know what’s up with your car?”

 

“Uh, not really. It’s kind of an old piece of shit.” He keeps his gaze pointed out the window at the desert. “Could be any number of things.”

 

“What was your car doing?”

 

A dust devil spins by outside the truck. Thankfully this truck has better AC than his off-car. “Check engine light came on. Wouldn’t get up small hills. Pressing the gas to the floor would make it crawl forward at a nice 25 miles-per-hour.”

 

“That’s not ideal.”

 

Yeah, no shit. “No sh- I mean- Yeah.”

 

Roy chuckles and Jason feels a heat spread from his face down his neck. His gaze stays pointed out the window. “I’ve got a garage I can keep your car in while I work. Before I get to that, though, I have to see my daughter.”

 

Jason glances at Roy quickly, his hands are resting at 10-and-2 on the wheel, and his eyes are fixed on the road. His jaw looks a little set, as if he’s waiting for Jason.

 

“That’s cool.” Jason looks back out the passenger window.

 

“You can look for hotels while I do that.”

 

“Good idea, thanks.”

 

-

 

Roy’s house is literally in the middle of nowhere. 

 

Miles- acres of land expanding in each direction, flat as the eye can see. Several turns off of the interstate and down gravel paths, they happen upon a large brown house. There’s no picket fence, probably because they would never need it, but there is an open garage door. Multiple lawnmowers and half-cars are set up and in various stages of stripped for parts.

 

Toys are everywhere- the garage, the sandy lawn, front porch. Jason swears the tow-truck backs up over a frisbee. 

 

It takes a little finagling and gear-shifting but soon enough Jason’s stupid fucking car is in Roy’s giant goddamn garage. He sits on the cool, shaded concrete of the garage while Roy rushes inside. He hears a high-pitched squeal of “Daddy!”

 

Roy’s young daughter. 

 

He knows it’s stupid, but Jason kind of misses Damian. 

 

His fingers find their way to calling Dick’s number. It doesn’t even fully ring twice before he’s greeted with a, “ Jason!

 

“Hey Dick,” he smiles. “God I miss you guys.”

 

We miss you too. What’s up today?”

 

“Uh…” he pulls his phone away from ear and turns on the speakerphone. “I think I’m like a ways out of Albuquerque.”

 

New Mexico?

 

“Yeah, guess so.” He hears two adult men’s voices coming from inside the home, Roy’s laugh and another. He feels a twinge of stupid and pushes it down. “Car’s still fucking broken so I’m kind of stuck here for now.”

 

Man Bruce should have got you that new car last year. Probably would have lasted longer than Damian’s.” Dick laughs and Jason laughs twice to feel included. “ You found a mechanic and a place to sleep for now?

 

“Eh, kind of. To both. I met this guy who said he could look at the car, not sure on where I’ll sleep though. There aren’t really any places super close by.” He takes a deep breath. He’s not even sharing anything particularly troublesome with Dick but it feels like he’s airing a lot out.

 

Make sure you tell him that you can pay. Don’t let him-

 

“Yeah, yeah, I won’t let him scam me .” He rolls his eyes to himself. Some people take an arm and a leg for highway repairs. This guy seemed genuine, though. Well either that or he was pretty enough that Jason didn’t really care if he bled him dry or not.

 

I’m just trying to look out for you, ” Dick laughs.

 

“I know. Thanks.” He kind of wishes Dick had been looking out for him when he was living with their family… But at least he’s trying.

 

What’s…” Dick takes a deep breath and Jason leans his head back for a moment. “ Where do you think you’ll go after your car’s fixed?

 

And isn’t that the million dollar question. Jason screws his eyes closed and tries to focus more on the heat of the day and less on the sound of laughter coming from Roy’s home. “I don’t know yet, north probably.”

 

Like…

 

“Not like Gotham.”

 

They’re both quiet for a moment. Jason thought that maybe Dick wouldn’t ask that of him, he was hoping that his siblings wouldn’t ask for him to come back. Because if they ask for that, he would have to do it. He would drop whatever this trip is even supposed to be and go home the second one of his siblings told him they wanted that.

 

Jason-...”

 

“Dick.”

 

I miss you.

 

“I miss you too.”

 

Duke, Tim and Steph have all started playing some new game together.”

 

A literal tumbleweed rolls past Roy’s driveway. “What kind of game?”

 

Oh, just some video game. ” Dick laughs and Jason feels a pang in his chest. “ You know how they get when they find something new they like .”

 

“Oh yeah.” He knew, because he used to follow them into their new interests. “I’m glad they’re having fun.” He feels impossibly tiny in this garage, between front bumpers and gears, like a metal idiot-sandwich.

 

Loud footsteps sound from the house, and they gain in volume as Jason realizes he’s sitting in front of the door from the house to the garage. His heart almost leaps from his chest when the door is swung open and Jason, from his spot on the floor, is looking up at a red-haired man who is not Roy.

 

“Oh! Sorry,” the man laughs, stumbling back a step so he doesn’t trip over Jason.

 

Everything okay, Littlewing?

 

“Yeah, I’ll let you go now, though, Dickie,” Jason hangs up before Dick can say anything more. He moves, stepping up and out of the man’s way.

 

“Jason, this is Wally,” Roy says, he’s just behind Wally in the doorway. “He was watching my daughter.” 

 

Sure enough, a small human goes bolting past Roy and Wally into the garage. She’s probably about waist-height. Somewhere between the ages of older than a toddler but probably younger than Damian. Jason doesn’t know anything about kids.

 

“Uh- hi.” Jason waves at Wally and then the kid.

 

“Hi! My name’s Lian!” The kid smiles at Jason and sticks a small hand out. Jason shakes it.

 

“Lian, what’s the rule?” Roy asks in a stern voice.

 

“Oh come on,” Wally laughs, walking through the garage and to a car sitting next to Jason’s own. He hadn’t even realized that the car was fully operational.

 

“Um… No shoes?” Lian smiles at Roy as he follows Wally into the garage.

 

Roy gives her a pointed look.

 

“No kiddies in the garage,” she says finally, as if admitting defeat.

 

“No shoeless kiddies in the garage,” Roy says. He ruffles her hair and earns a giggle before she’s bolting again, this time to spring into Wally’s arms.

 

“Uncle Wally, when are you coming back?”

 

Jason feels like he’s intruding, which is weird because they came to him

 

“Soon enough,” Wally laughs, and swings Lian around a few times before setting her back down. “I’ve got to get back home now, but good luck with the car, Jason!” he waves before hopping into his car.

 

Lian frowns as the car peels out, but as soon as Roy says, “Lunch?” she’s all excitement and smiles.

 

Jason stays in the garage as Roy takes Lian back inside. For whatever reason, there doesn’t seem to be any hotels out here in the middle of nowhere.

Chapter Text

“This thing has like… a weird amount of duct tape on it.” 

 

Jason’s unsure if Roy is just talking to talk or expecting him to answer. Either way, his mind is more focused on the way Roy’s back arches over the hood of Jason’s car. His loose pants are held snugly to his hips by a wonderful dark belt. His dark red shirt rides up, just a few inches, so Jason can see the tanned skin covered in freckles.

 

He’s not sure he’s ever seen someone with freckles on their lower back before.

 

Roy’s arms flex as he turns the large dark tube at the top of Jason’s engine, closer to the front windshield than the bumper. “Like most of this thing is four different types of duct tape, it’s no fuckin’ wonder that your car won’t regulate air.”

 

“My car won’t regulate air?” 

 

“Fuck no,” Roy laughs and looks over at Jason, moving to the side of the engine. “Come take a look.”

 

He steps forward and feels his heart leap to his throat. “I don’t know what the regular amount of duct tape on a car is,” as he says this, his eyes land on the dark tube that’s more silver and red tape than actual tube. “Huh.”

 

“What the hell happened to this thing?” Roy mutters.

 

Jason steps back again, and watches as Roy makes his way to the other side of the garage, poking around various engines of cars. “Sometime last year I went to a mechanic and they told me that I’d have to get that fixed soon.”

 

“So you just duct taped it up?” He can’t see Roy anymore, but his voice isn’t too far away.

 

“No, I waited until my check engine light came on and then I called a tow to a mechanic and he duct taped it up.”

 

“When was that?” Roy’s head pokes up over a car door hanging from the ceiling. Jason smiles at the blue hat.

 

“Two weeks ago, maybe. I don’t know, I lost track at some point.”

 

Roy chuckles, “I mean I get it. It’s a holiday in a few days and so-”

 

DA-AD !” Lian’s shrill voice calls from beyond the garage door in the house.

 

-

 

Father , how could you?!” Damian’s voice demanded. He was angry, and loud. He doesn’t typically shout when he’s mad but that time he did.

 

Jason’s feet are moving before he even knows exactly where in the manor Damian’s shouts are coming from.

 

Calm down?!

 

Upstairs somewhere. His heart is beating faster than his feet can push off the hardwood floors. They’re in Bruce’s study.

 

“I should know these things! I have the right to know!” 

 

His socked foot slips on the stairs as he’s running up them, his lungs feel like they’ve been lit on fire. He catches himself and turns his stumble into momentum up the stairs. 

 

I am out of line!? How could you keep this from me? I deserve to know the kind of people that are in my family!”

 

Jason’s not sure if Damian’s voice is getting louder or if he’s getting closer that fast. Each step of the stairs feels like a hurdle. It seems as if his brain breaks and pauses, only resuming once he’s back on even floor. 

 

He almost slides down the hallway, slipping a few feet when he slows outside of the office. Huge dark wooden door looming over him and two figures casting shadows in the light peeking under the door.

 

“What do you mean you didn’t know?” Damian’s voice is harsh, tone venomous but no longer shouting.

 

Jason pushes the door open with all the strength in himself, “Damian stop!” He’s barely able to gasp out.

 

Bruce’s face is set, emotionless but still somehow bitterly angry. Damian looks to be on the verge of tears, lip quivering and balled hands shaking.

 

“What did you tell him?” Bruce demands from Jason, head turning like a grindstone.

 

“I-” his chest is still heaving and now that he’s in the room with them , he’s not even sure why he ran all the way up here. “I told him what they did to me.”

 

“What did they do to you?” Bruce’s face doesn’t move but his eyes still narrow.

 

Damian doesn’t look at Jason, his eyes are set on his own feet. “He told me everything I need to know. Anything more would be voyeuristic.”

 

“So then tell me,” Bruce’s tone is even, low, and quiet. He’s not asking.

 

“No,” Jason feels the word blurt from his mouth more than he says it.

 

Bruce’s eyebrow twitches just the smallest amount. “You can tell my fourteen year old son things about Talia, but you can’t tell me? How am I supposed to believe you?”

 

Damian bursts out into tears, stepping forward with his chest, “How dare you say that to him!”

 

“Damian…” Jason’s face feels numb. His whole body feels numb, actually. His heart is still racing and his lungs are still burning. “Damian, come on, let’s go somewhere else.” Bruce wouldn’t hit Damian over this, he wouldn’t .

 

Letting out a large breath, Bruce stands fully, moving from where he’d been sort of resting against his desk. He takes a step towards Jason, and Damian moves quickly, faster than Jason’s brain can even follow. He stands in front of Jason, angled forward, like he might attack Bruce if he moves again.

 

“Step out of the way,” Bruce says, voice dripping and dark.

 

“No! He is my brother and I won’t let you do this to him!”

 

“Do what?” Bruce steps back, body tense but not towering.

 

Damian doesn’t move. “Bully him into acting like everything’s okay!”

 

“Damian, you really-” Jason starts but Bruce’s eyes land on him again.

 

“So then tell me what you think happened, so I can understand.” He doesn’t look like he’s asking this with good intentions.

 

“You’re really not entitled to my pain,” Jason says with such finality he’s certain Bruce will back down.

 

“Then how do I know what to believe?” 

 

Fuck you! ” Damian screams, and Jason catches him with an arm before he can jump at Bruce.

 

-

 

“I will be right back ,” Roy rushes the words out as he starts off towards the door. “You can look around and see if you can find any boots, I feel like I have at least-” he shuts the door on himself, probably still talking even after Jason can’t hear him anymore.

 

Hopefully the kid’s okay. 

 

He walks around the garage a little, not really particularly looking for car parts, more so just looking at the car parts. He still doesn’t have a hotel to stay at tonight, but he supposes he’ll cross that bridge when he gets to it.

 

From deep in the house he hears Lian’s high pitched giggling, followed briefly by a stern tone from Roy. The giggling gets louder and Jason fixes his brain on counting the amount of teeth on a gear he’s staring down.

 

“Sorry about that,” Roy’s voice startles Jason, he hadn’t been facing the door but he also hadn’t heard it open. “You find anything that might work?”

 

“I’ll be honest-” Jason turns completely only to find Roy standing just behind himself. He stumbles a step back, heat taking over his cognitive brain functions and barely catches himself by clinging to a lawnmower hanging from the ceiling. “Uh-!” his heart races as Roy doubles over in laughter.

 

“Sorry, Jason,” he’s barely able to gasp out. “ Sorry- ” he struggles to stifle his laughs, but ends them by sticking a hand out to Jason. He takes it and is somehow surprised at how rough it feels. Roy pulls Jason back onto his right feet, Jason’s strong, sure , but… so is Roy.

 

His eyes lock with Roy’s kind green ones and he feels his heart skip a beat. 

 

“Thank you,” Jason takes his hand back and moves towards his own car. This fucking garage is packed like a maze, too many shelves with too many parts Jason couldn’t even begin to name. He’s not at all thinking about the way Roy’s mouth turns up in a lopsided smile, or the way his cupid's bow curves, or the way his eyes linger .

 

“I take it you weren’t able to sniff out a boot in here?” Roy laughs and Jason thanks the universe for breaking his car down here . He shakes his head at Roy. “I’ll keep looking, but I’ll be honest it’s not looking great on that front. I could order you a new one but that’ll take anywhere between two days and a week.”

 

“That’s fine,” Jason says too quickly.

 

Roy looks at Jason and his head tilts forward so minimally that he’s almost unsure if Roy’s actually giving him this curious look. And then he turns back towards Jason’s car. “Cool! I’ll just get this breather out and in the meantime we should find you a place to stay that’s closer than my office.”

 

“Is there anywhere closer?” Jason’s already pulling his phone back out and opening the map.

 

“I mean I haven’t stayed at any, but like, there’s gotta be.”

 

“There’s hotels in Albuquerque.”

 

“Oh you’re going to make me drive you into town, huh?” Roy laughs and Jason smiles. “Yeah, that makes sense though. I think I know some smaller ones if you want.”

 

In his mind, Jason can see Bruce shaking his head. “Money’s not really like… an issue or anything.”

 

Roy nods and turns his head down to inspect Jason’s engine. Less of a reaction than he’d expected. What a weird fucking dude.

 

-

 

“Do you have an aux in this car?” Jason asks.

 

They’d been sitting in relative silence for somewhere on the high end of 20-odd minutes. The pickup truck bounces along the road, as Jason watches the mile markers count up. They still have at least an hour left to Albuqueue. 

 

“Yeah there should be a cord down there,” Roy reaches with one hand to fumble with his dash before holding a bright pink cord out. “What are you planning on playing?”

 

“I’ve got some dad-rock, if Metallica and AC/DC are your thing.” Truth be told, he just wanted anything to occupy his mind. Right now his brain keeps wandering back to Roy’s strong arm pulling him back onto his feet. 

 

“I’m not really picky, you can play whatever you like.”

 

“Okay.” He presses play on the first playlist he sees.

 

“I still have your picture on the wall,” Roy’s speakers, or maybe it’s the cord, crackles softly but Jason doesn’t even mind. He closes his eyes and lets his head rest on the warm glass of the window. He moves his mouth with the lyrics, but doesn’t make any noise. “ I still have the nightmares where I would have to call you to calm down.”

 

“What is this?” Roy asks.

 

“The Backseat Lovers.” He doesn’t open his eyes, just lets the music occupy him and feel the bumps of the road. The truck is very comfortable and it almost feels like Jason sinks into the passenger seat.

 

“Never heard of them before.”

 

“I still think about you all the time.”

 

“They have some good songs.”

 

“Yeah, I like this one.”

 

Jason peeks his eyes open, risking his life by looking at Roy in this sunlight and maybe it’s the music crackling out of the speakers, or maybe it’s the fact that he’s only had one meal in the past three days, but… Roy is beautiful.

 

“Aw shucks,” Roy laughs, “I think you’re pretty too, Jason.”

 

When I step out of the shower I’m reminded of the night-”

 

He lifts his head from the window and fully opens his eyes, staring at Roy openly. “Huh?”

 

“-when we slept in the back of your car, and you left me with a pretty cool scar.”

 

Roy glances at Jason and the smile on his face is so pretty and kind, like Jason could drink it in all day. “Did you mean to call me beautiful out loud?” 

 

What.

 

Heat consumes his entire body. 

 

Roy just chuckles, and leaves it at that. “Did you book a room tonight?”

 

“Yeah bro, I found a hotel and got a room.” He’s so beyond thankful for the subject change.

 

“That’s good. What’s your plan for dinner?”

 

Jason doesn’t have the brain power to plan that far in advance. “Uh… Order takeout probably.”

 

“Okay, just let me know if you need anything, yeah?”

 

Jason’s face, which has still not cooled down any, somehow gains a deeper blush. “What do you mean?”

 

“You’re stuck out here with no car, I know that probably hurts a bit. I kinda feel a little responsible for you, at this point.” Roy laughs and Jason’s unsure how he should take that. It wasn’t flirting… right? “I’ll give you my number when I drop you off. Text me when you get your room so I know I can head home. Between that and whenever I get your new boot, just let me know if you need food or… anything.”

 

“Anything?” Jason asks out of genuine curiosity because this man is just his driver and mechanic. His driver and mechanic who has a young daughter at home and probably his own busy life. ‘Anything’ probably does not include ‘laying pipe’ . Probably.

 

“I mean, say it really does take an entire week for the part to arrive. That’s a long time to be stranded in an unfamiliar city with no car. I’d get pretty antsy being cooped up in a hotel room like that.” He glances over at Jason, who’s wringing his fingers together and fidgeting.

 

Jason clears his throat because suddenly the air seems sticky. “You don’t know that I’ve never been here before.”

 

Roy’s quiet for a moment, and then, “You’re right. I don’t know that, I’m sorry for assuming. Have you ever been this way before?”

 

“Well… no-

 

Roy bursts out laughing, so much so that the truck veers off towards the desert. “Oh- fuck!” Roy stifles his laughs as he straightens the car. Jason’s heart races but he’s happy about it. He can’t help but crack up a little bit too. “Alright, well,” Roy says once the adrenaline has dissipated at least a bit, “assuming nothing, I’ll give you my number and you text me if you feel like it.”

 

Jason nods, his jaw suddenly set, as if he’s trying to pretend to be serious. 

 

“Actually-” Roy clears his throat and motions at Jason, like he’s about to pat his chest but he pulls his arm back too quickly. “You’re gonna have to text me at least once so I know what number to call when your car’s all good.”

 

“You have my number at your office.”

 

“I don’t, the phone there can’t save numbers.”

 

“Oh. I see.”

 

“Man you really do not want to text me, huh?”

 

Jason laughs at that, and Roy does too. “It’s not like-” Jason holds his hands out, fully turning towards Roy. “No, listen.”

 

“Oh yeah,” Roy nods and leans his head over towards Jason as he does so, “I’m a-all ears.”

 

“Alright fucker,” Jason grips the top of Roy’s denim hat and pushes it back towards his side of the car. His head fits neatly in Jason’s palm for the split-second and all his brain supplies him with is the thought of gripping Roy’s wavy red hair.

 

The car swerves across the interstate road, and Jason makes a show of splaying his hands out across the dash.

 

“Don’t fucking kill us, Roy!” Jason laughs, “You have to get back home to Lian!”

 

“You’re right, you’re right,” Roy puts on a serious tone but his concrete demeanor breaks with his bright smile. “And I’m sure you’ve got someone back home just as eager to have you for dinner.”

 

Something pangs at Jason’s heart. The bubbling laughter and heart-palpitations do nothing to part his seas. He sits back in the plush and soft truck’s seats, and clears his throat like he can make his thoughts go away in tandem.

 

“Sorry, there I go assuming things again,” Roy chuckles but there’s a note of bitterness to it. Almost as if he’s mad that he seems to have upset Jason.

 

“It’s fine.” His tone comes off much colder than he wants it to. How can he be so cold when it is so hot outside? “No, I’m sorry, it really is fine. I’ve just… been going through some things.”

 

“Yeah, you give off that kind of vibe.”

 

“What vibe?” His tone, hopefully, sounds curious and not offended.

 

“Oh just,” Roy waves a hand over Jason, as if indicating all of him. “You know just the way you answer some of my questions, and the way you talk to people on the phone.”

 

“Yeah, I guess.”

 

After a beat, “Want to talk about it?”

 

Jason’s eyes widen for a moment, and his thoughts begin to race. There is no way this man wants to hear about Jason’s family drama . “It’s… sort of a long story.”

 

“We’ve got nothing but time.”

 

Wow. Jason could stand to kiss this man.

 

“Uh… thanks, I think?” Roy laughs sort of awkwardly out the side of his mouth and glances at Jason… His face lights up under his freckles. 

 

“I’m sorry-” Jason slaps a hand over his mouth as his eyes grow wider, now his own face lighting up.

 

Roy visibly relaxes a bit, “Don’t worry about it, it’s cool. Did you want to talk about what you’ve got going on, though?”

 

“Uh-...”

 

Roy raises a hand against his steering wheel, “You do not have to, if you don’t want to! Just tell me to change the subject and I will… But you kinda seem like you could benefit from a listening ear.”

 

“Yeah, uh, it’s okay… I just don’t generally get asked to tell people what’s bothering me.”

 

“I’m sorry.”

 

“Don’t be, it’s not… your fault.” He clears his throat, again. “I kinda got kicked out of my family’s home a few months ago, and I’ve been traveling the country for a few weeks now.” He leaves it at that, if Roy wants to bite then he can chew.

 

“Where’re you from?”

 

“Gotham.”

 

Roy whistles at that, “Damn… So what, you head west up north, then head down here through Cali?”

 

“Uh, no. I went down the east coast and then over here through the southern states. My car’s been giving me trouble for about two weeks.”

 

-

 

He was shaking, the gas station he’d picked out to stop at before he left this morning was diesel only so he had to keep driving around the large and unfamiliar city of Orlando. He’d had to sit through the crawling traffic into the city for about three hours, so when he finally finds a gas station with regular fuel, his vision tunnels and he sets himself on parallel parking as the only empty station. This place is literally packed full of people. 

 

He waits in line at the till to put twenty dollars on his station and the man behind the register says something Jason doesn’t quite catch, but there are people behind him and they’re whispering to each other and everyone outside the building is looking at him.

 

“Uh-huh! Yep!” He smiles at the man, who nods, and Jason’s stumbling out back towards his car. It’s loud and bright and hot. Cars and people moving everywhere, Jason feels like an ant running from G-d’s magnifying glass.

 

His body vibrates as he fills his car up and he peels out the station without resuming his map’s trip. He can’t stop shaking, his foot shakes on the gas and his car lurches forward with his taps. 

 

He gets twenty feet onto the road before he’s looking for somewhere, anywhere , to park at. Heat grows behind his eyes and embarrassment fills his body. When he feels like this the only thing he can stand to do is sob and dwell

 

He pulls into an empty gas station across the road.

 

The car is so hot he feels like he’s baking. He shifts the car into park, both legs thumping against the floor, he’s shaking so bad. He lifts the bottom of his shirt up to wipe the sweat off his face, and takes a shaky deep breath.

 

“You’re okay, Jason,” he tells himself. He closes his eyes, squeezing them so hard the world starts to turn blue. He sucks a breath in through his nose, counting up to five. He holds it, counting to five again. Then he blows it out through his mouth, counting to five. He repeats this several times, pushing any thought other than the dictation of the numbers from his mind.

 

Fuck you! Damian’s livid voice plays in his mind. 

 

It’s not long before he resumes the trip on his phone, his car doesn’t seem to enjoy what he tells it to do with his pedal. To get back to the interstate, he has to cross six lanes of traffic, and pass between a narrow through-way of two median bumpers.

 

His heart is racing, sweat drips down his face.

 

The air gauge on his car goes wild, the ticker flying all the way from zero to five, swinging faster than Jason can keep an eye on- “WHOA!” his car thumps over the median and he slams his breaks. His car stops so suddenly it knocks the wind from his lungs. A white car with a woman on her phone sits less than an inch from Jason’s front bumper.

 

He waits a moment, his life feeling like it’s drained from his body. The white car moves and Jason continues, driving past the six lane intersection and back onto the interstate.

 

He presses down on his gas.

 

The engine roars, and the air gauge swings

 

His car remains at its slick 25 miles-per-hour.

 

He presses harder . The engine roars . The speedometer jumps to 80, his car leaps forward merging into packed interstate, a car coming at him honks and slams on their breaks. He removes his foot from the gas and his engine sputters, crawling back down to 25.

 

Another honk.

 

Chewing his lip, he can’t see through the heat and sweat. He presses the gas again, hoping the car evens at 65, but it crawls so slow, cars are moving out of his lane. The car jumps forward again, back up at 80 for a whole two minutes before dropping suddenly back off to 25.

 

His check engine light turns on as his engine hacks what he hopes isn’t its last breath.

 

He veers off onto the shoulder, hyperventilating the whole way.

 

-

 

“I’m very sorry to hear that,” Roy says.

 

Jason’s almost forgotten what they were talking about. 

 

They’re quiet after that, and it’s not long before Jason sinks completely into the truck’s so comfortable seat. His music carries him with it, the truck rocks him to sleep.

 

Which sucks, because he was really enjoying spending time with Roy. 

Chapter Text

Roy’s lips press into Jason’s neck, peppering soft kisses spaced between long and deep ones. His teeth graze Jason’s skin and he arches his back, pressing up into Roy. One hand holds Jason’s back, the other sliding in and out of him.

 

Their breath is hot and heavy, the room's air moving with them. “Roy,” Jason gasps. 

 

Roy hums against his skin, hand massaging Jason’s prostate, sending shockwaves of heat and pleasure though him. 

 

“F-faster, please Roy!”

 

Roy’s mouth stays in one spot on Jason’s neck, he sucks the skin in, breath blowing fast against Jason. His hand moves faster, the slapping of skin so loud but Jason’s body is numb to wherever it comes from. 

 

Jason moans out into their open room, his hands finding their way to grip Roy’s hair. His fingers loosely tug at the long coarse strands. Roy’s hand on Jason’s back flexes.

 

“You- you like that?” Jason breathes.

 

“Mmm,” Roy’s teeth graze Jason again, this time he lets them rest against the skin, almost biting, but not quite.

 

Roy’s hand slows in and out of Jason, and Jason knows what comes next. 

 

“Fuck me, Roy,” Jason begs.

 

He keeps his mouth on Jason’s throat, and eyelessly pulls his hand from Jason and leads his cock into him. 

 

Jason’s eyes widen as his breath leaves him, the feeling both whole and familiar. His hands move from tangled in Roy’s hair to grasping his back, fingers biting skin.

 

Roy removes his mouth from where it's attached to Jason’s neck, his breaths panting, but he kisses the tender skin anyway.

 

“How do you want it, Jay?” His voice is raspy, and pulls a moan from deep in Jason’s chest.

 

“Fuck me all the way into hell.”

 

Roy lets go of Jason, putting his hands on the mattress so he can angle himself and thrust into Jason’s open legs at an unrelenting pace. The bed moves with them, thumping into the wall as Roy’s cock pushes Jason.

 

Jason’s hands grip onto Roy like he’s on a rollercoaster, holding on for dear life. His voice echoes this feeling, screams exiting his throat in tandem with Roy’s thrusts.

 

His own cock leaks onto his and Roy’s stomachs, and his vision grows blurry around the edges. All he can think about is how pretty Roy is, bathed in this dim light through the curtains. 

 

“I love you!” Jason yells as he cums.

 

“I love you too,” Roy’s mouth finds its way to Jason’s, kissing him sloppily as his body moves with the fast thrusts. A trail of saliva connects the two when Roy pulls away, panting and sweating.

 

Jason’s body feels like the nerve endings are being roasted over an open flame, he pants and grips at Roy’s back still. He hopes he doesn’t draw blood, but it’s hard to focus on that thought as Roy speeds up. 

 

His lungs feel like they’re being squeezed, and his brain grows as fuzzy as his vision.

 

Roy keeps thrusting, only slowing as he pulls out, moaning loudly and doubling over down onto Jason. He cums as he pulls out, just barely avoiding cumming inside Jason.

 

Jason closes his eyes, reveling in the weight and warmth of Roy on top of himself.

 

When he opens his eyes, Roy is gone .

 

His breathing is still ragged and he’s covered in sweat, though he’s somewhere that is decidedly not home. 

 

A small hotel room, two beds, one empty. Curtains drawn closed with light just peeking through them. He definitely doesn’t remember how he got there, but from the way his phone is buzzing, maybe someone else has a clue.

 

He lifts his phone and answers without checking to see who it is.

 

“Yeah?” his voice is sort of raspy, broadcasting the fact that he’d just woken up.

 

You get to your room okay?

 

Roy.

 

“Yeah-! I uh, I don’t remember getting here, but I am definitely in a hotel room.” He props himself up, and tilts his head each way before stretching his arms out. He slept really well, all things considered.

 

Roy laughs, “ You fell asleep in my pickup. I woke you up once we got into town and dropped you off. I gave you my number and some McDonalds before dropping you off, though. You sent me a thumbs up and I took that as my cue to head back home.”

 

“Mmm…” Jason closes his eyes and his dream comes flooding back into memory, heat covers his face and he’s so glad that Roy is almost two hours away in Texas.

 

Anyway I just wanted to check in with you. You got food today?”

 

“I just woke up,” Jason yawns, and climbs out of his bed to root around for his backpack. A shower had never seemed more attractive.

 

Oh I can tell, don’t worry, ” Roy laughs and Jason can’t fight back the smile that spreads its way across his face. “ But are you able to get food?”

 

“Mhm, I can walk to… somewhere… or just order, probably.” He yawns again, and peels his sweaty shirt off himself.

 

Alright that’s good. Just hit me up if you need anything, Jason.

 

“Thank you.” He hangs up.

 

Jason flops back down on top of his bed, bare chest sort of heaving. His shower can wait a minute.

 

-

 

After he’s showered and eaten, he realizes that he’s in an unfamiliar city with absolutely no requirements. He can do literally whatever the fuck he wants and nobody would know. 

 

From Jason to Roy:

 

j- is there anything in albuquerque that’s actually like worth seeing?

 

Honestly he’d thought that Albuquerque would be a bigger city. Of course he knew it would be smaller than Gotham, but it felt kind of just like a pop-up town. He wouldn’t be shocked if it was the same size as the city he broke down at the other night.

 

Everything was bright and washed out. There were some cool bridges, though.

 

r- depends on if “dirt and concrete” are high on your list

 

Fair enough, actually. Jason lays on a warm sidewalk, just before an overpass and out of direct line of sight unless you were coming straight from the desert.

 

His finger hovers over the “dial” button on Roy, before he switches tabs and calls someone else.

 

Jason! Hey!” Steph’s voice blasts through his speaker.

 

“Hey Stephie,” he smiles. He really should have called her sooner.

 

You should have called me sooner!”

 

“I know, I know,” he laughs. He leaves it unspoken that maybe it shouldn’t be his responsibility to stay in contact with a family that doesn’t want him anymore. “It’s been a crazy few months.” He runs his fingers over the rough sidewalk.

 

A guy’s voice says something in the background, but Steph ignores it. Probably Tim. “ Really? What have you been up to?

 

Jason sucks a deep breath in, his eyes squinting against the bright sky. “Well first I was bouncing around Gotham, that lasted a few months.”

 

The guy’s voice is louder, more urgent now. Steph whispers something harshly in response, “ Yeah?

 

“Everything okay over there?” He closes his eyes and they sing from the release of strain. He decides to keep them closed and imagine he’s sitting next to Steph, video game controller in hand. Water spills from his eyes, but it’s more from the pain of how bright everything is than from emotions.

 

Mhm, I was playing this game with Tim and Duke and they want me to hurry up and help them through this next level.” More words are said, this time both Duke and Tim talking.

 

“Oh I can let you go so you can get back to-”

 

No! Jason I’ve really missed you, I wanna talk. Tim and Duke can wait.”  

 

Duke’s voice, now next to the receiver, says, “ I miss you too, Jason! I’m not a part of the rushing!”

 

Jason chuckles and he hopes he hides that bitter note to it. “I’ve missed you guys too.”

 

You would love this game!” Tim shouts at the phone.

 

“I’m sure.” There’s an awkward pause and he’s suddenly unsure why he even called in the first place.

 

What have you been up to?” Steph asks.

 

“Oh just… driving mostly.” If it was just Steph he might say more. He loves and trusts Tim and Duke, but… You never know who will tell Bruce what. “My car’s been giving me shit the past couple weeks so I’m stranded in the desert right now.”

 

Where are you? ” Duke asks.

 

“New Mexico.” There’s a chorus of “oohs” and Jason remembers suddenly that he’s their older brother. Despite everything, that’s what they all see him as. “It’s kinda underwhelming if I’m being honest.”

 

Get me a souvenir!” Tim says.

 

He’s not on vacation, ” Steph whispers harshly.

 

“It’s alright, I’ll see what I can do, Timmy.”

 

Ugh I hate that.”

 

“It was nice chatting with you guys, I’ve got to go now, though.” Jason hangs up before any of them can say anything. His phone flashes the date and time at the same time a firework goes off.

 

-

 

Fireworks go off like heavy gunshots outside the building. His legs still hadn’t fully healed yet, they looked much better than they felt. He was sitting in his bedroom, waiting for someone. 

 

He’d been really mad that day, he woke up in pain and it took him hours to realize that was why he was so mad, and it definitely had nothing to do with this being the first holiday he wasn’t spending with Bruce, Alfred and Dick in a few years.

 

His room was dark, which he liked because it meant he didn’t have to look at the still unfamiliar surroundings Talia supplied him with.

 

Definitely not crying, Jason jumps when his door opens. Fireworks continue to go off outside.

 

“You’re Jason?” a man asks. He’s very tall, and probably about the same age as Talia, though he’d never seen this man before. Or at least, with the only light coming from the fireworks, he doesn’t think he’d seen this man before.

 

“You’re not Talia,” Jason spits.

 

The man laughs and shuts the door, moving to sit with Jason on his bed. The bed sinks from the man’s weight. “No, I’m not. Are you watching the fireworks?”

 

He had been, but for some reason it felt stupid to admit that. “No.”

 

The man’s face is caught for a moment in the flash of a firework, and something about his face upsets Jason’s stomach.

 

“What are you doing in here then? Are you hiding?”

 

“What would I be hiding from?” Jason puffs his chest out, and sticks his chin up. 

 

The man’s hand catches his chin, and holds his face.

 

The world beats like a drum with Jason’s heavy heart. The fireworks going off outside are muffled and he can no longer feel his own body. Every bitter emotion is gone now.

 

“Jason, I’d really like to kiss you.”

 

Everything goes black after that.

 

-

 

He’s back in his hotel room when he notices his surroundings again. His face is sore and damp, and he doesn’t know where his shoes are, but his socks are dirty and probably stained.

 

From Jason to Roy:

 

j- this town is kinda lame tbh

 

His hands shake as he types the message. Another firework goes off outside the hotel, and when did it become night?

 

r- please you haven’t even seen the city yet

 

He breathes slowly, counting in fives, and clutching his phone. 

 

j- seen enough to know it’s super fucking boring here

 

r- come on, i can show you the few cool things tomorrow if you like

 

j- don’t you have a job?

j- and a kid, for that matter

 

r- lian loves the town

 

He sets his phone on his bed, and moves to open his mini fridge. A small box of McDonalds nuggets sits lonely in there, next to a half-drunk bottle of water. He eats the cold nuggets and drinks the water before moving to check his phone again.

 

r- besides, what else are you meant to do on a holiday? stay home? lol

 

j- honestly i’d rather be anywhere but here tomorrow

 

r- why’s that?

r- i mean other than the broken car, that is

 

Jason doesn’t even know what he could say if he did want to say anything. He lays on his bed, the cool sheets keeping his brain in his body. 

 

j- don’t like fireworks.

 

Roy’s response is not as instantaneous as usual.

 

r- fair enough

r- call me if you need anything

 

j- you keep saying that, as if i’ll suddenly need something

 

r- you never know

 

Jason sighs and sets his phone to the side. His brain feels like it’s swimming through mud, so he shrugs the last of his outer layer of clothes off and sinks into the mattress.

 

Fireworks continue to pop off outside the hotel room as sleep encases him. 

 

He kind of wishes he’d stayed up, talking to Roy would probably have been more enjoyable than whatever nightmare is sure to come.

 

Jason and Roy lay together in their bed, orange sunlight shining through curtains, bathing their naked bodies. They’re laughing, probably talking about something but Jason can’t remember what.

 

Roy rolls over, climbing on top of Jason, sitting on his lap. His skin is soft and covered in freckles. Jason’s hands find their way to Roy’s thighs, lightly petting the hair that curls there.

 

Their hands meet, and Roy entwines their fingers, holding them out to admire, before opening their arms so he can gaze into Jason’s eyes. Normally Jason hates eye-contact… But Roy’s bright green eyes spark something in himself. 

 

“Are you driving Lian to school today or was that supposed to be me?” Roy yawns for good measure.

 

“Uh…” Jason laughs, the answer is just on the tip of his tongue but he can’t reach it. “I don’t know, dude.”

 

“Bro…” Roy leans down, pressing his forehead against Jason’s. “Can you do it? I wanna get some more sleep.” Roy mumbles the last part, moving off of Jason to press himself into the bed.

 

“Of course.” He rises from the bed, because it’s probably about time to drive her anyway. As he exits the bedroom, his surroundings morph into that of his car. He’s fully clothed, sitting in that horrible heat of Orlando, now with Lian crying in the backseat.

 

“I miss daddy!” she wails. 

 

“I know, Lian,” Jason’s heart is racing, he wipes the sweat from his forehead with his shirt. He wants to cry too.

 

“Where is he?!”

 

“I don’t- I don’t know,” Jason admits. He pulls out of the gas station, and crosses the six lanes of empty road, his car chugging forward like a cartoon train. His feet rest side by side, the car moving forward at a pace it makes for itself.

 

“Daddy!” Lian yells.

 

Jason’s eyes well up and suddenly he’s no longer in his car. He’s laying in his hotel bed, soaked in sweat again. 

 

-

 

The fireworks subside sometime around 4am. They pick back up at noon. Jason’s walking back to his hotel from some fast food place when he hears them start. 

 

His first instinct is to hit the deck, drop to the ground and stay there.

 

But he doesn’t. He just reminds himself where he is and repeats Roy’s phone number until walks himself back into his hotel room. Any thought that wanders from the numbers Jason pushes away, repeating the numbers louder but keeping his voice low enough to not disturb others.

 

He doesn’t even notice when he starts crying, but Roy’s voice rings loud and clear from his phone receiver.

 

Hey Jason, what do you need?”

 

His throat feels tight and clogged, “I don’t-...” He whimpers. If he was even an inch more aware of what was going on, he would be mad at himself.

 

Are you okay? ” Roy’s voice is worried. Jason doesn’t know why.

 

“Um…”

 

Hey, it’s alright. Have you eaten today? ” A firework pops outside and Jason sobs.

 

“Yeah, I think so.”

 

I can come pick you up. There’s no fireworks out here.”

 

“There’s none here either.”

 

Roy’s silent after that and Jason has to wonder what he did wrong. “ I’ll be there soon. Just sit tight, okay? Can you wait forty minutes?”

 

“Sure.”

 

Jason.” Roy’s voice is so serious, he feels like he’s missing a lot of social cues. “ Are you going to be okay for forty mintues?” A car engine starts on the other end of the call.

 

“Mhm.”

 

Alright. I’ll be there soon.

 

Jason hangs up. He lays down in his bed, and stares up at the ceiling. Dark shadows dance on his walls and he decides to watch them instead of the closed window with drawn curtains. 

 

He’s still lying there when his phone buzzes rapidly. He almost forgets to pick his phone up.

 

“Hello?”

 

I’m outside.”

 

“Okay.” He pockets his phone and heads outside, looking around for that light blue pickup truck and the red headed driver.

 

Roy is standing in the lobby, Jason almost walks right past him. “Jason!” Roy steps in front of him.

 

“Oh-” Jason steps back and laughs, but he feels kind of hollow. “Hi.”

 

“Come on, I’ll make you dinner as soon as we get back to mine.”

 

Jason follows him to his truck.

 

He’s not sure why, but he’s really happy that Roy is with him.

Chapter Text

Jason sits next to Roy and across from Lian at their dining table.

 

The inside of Roy’s house was much like the outside, muted colors and children’s toys everywhere. It wasn’t cramped, but it was definitely lived in. Something like citrus, honey and cinnamon wafted through the air, though they were eating burgers and fries.

 

Lian’s burger has been cut into quarters, Jason’s in halves. He’d never had anyone other than Alfred cut his food for him, and even then it had been well over five years since the last time he’d done so.

 

In Roy’s truck, Jason had been asked where his shoes went. He told Roy he had no clue. Honestly they were probably somewhere between his hotel and that overpass he’d been sitting by when he called Steph. But he didn’t really want to go look for them.

 

“What size do you wear?” Roy had asked.

 

“13.”

 

“I’m sure I’ve got something that will fit you.”

 

As soon as they got back to Roy’s house, Roy led Jason to a broom closet where he rooted around until he produced a pair of heavy-duty working shoes. They fit perfectly, and were very well worn.

 

The burger he eats is the best damn burger he’s ever had in his entire life. The fries, too.

 

“How come you’re back here, Jason?” Lian asks.

 

That line felt familiar, but Jason didn’t have the mental energy to dwell on why. 

 

“He’s having a rough day, I thought he’d have more fun with us,” Roy says.

 

Jason smiles at him.

 

“Does that mean I get to show him around the house?” Lian smiles widely, ketchup smeared across her face.

 

“After dinner, sure. But your bedtime is right after.” 

 

Lian giggles, and then opens her mouth so Roy tosses a fry across the table, into her mouth. She giggles even louder. 

 

“Jason, how old are you?” Lian asks.

 

“Uh, I’m twenty-one.”

 

“Cool! I’m eight!” She smiles, as if she’s waiting for Jason to say something. Before he can figure out what she wants, she continues, “And my daddy is old!”

 

Roy scoffs, “No, I’m not, Lian.”

 

“Yes you are! You’re older than me and- and Jason!!”

 

“That is true,” he turns to look at Jason, “but I’m only twenty-eight.”

 

He does the math quickly in his head, and decides it’s not too shocking to have a kid at twenty. Bruce adopted Dick in his early twenties too. If Jason were a bit more stable he wouldn’t mind a kid of his own.

 

They finish their dinner soon after that, and Lian leads Jason and Roy around the house, the kitchen smells the most like citrus and the living room smells the most like cinnamon. He still can’t tell where the honey is coming from.

 

He sits himself on their couch, which is impossibly cozy, while Lian brushes her teeth. He watches his phone, tapping back and forth between apps before Roy joins him, no less than forty minutes later.

 

“Wanna go for a walk with me?” Roy asks as he picks a blanket up from the couch. Jason nods, and follows him outside the house. They keep the lights on, and walk next to each other in no set direction. The dark night sky seems to drip onto the horizon, almost melting into it.

 

“It’s really nice out tonight,” Jason says. Their shoulders brush and it takes him a certain carefulness to not jump away from Roy. Heat floods his face as he thinks back on his dreams.

 

“Mhm…” Once they’re a good ways away from the house, Roy slows his pace, and Jason follows. “Wanna sit?”

 

Jason looks down at the dusty ground, and Roy chuckles. 

 

“Don’t worry,” he shakes out the red and white plaid blanket he’d had wrapped around himself, and lays it on the ground. “You don’t have to sit, if you don’t want to.”

 

Jason really wants to, so he does.

 

They sit quietly together for a bit, just looking up at the stars and moon.

 

“Do you want to talk about today?” Roy asks quietly.

 

Jason’s heart beats against his ribcage. “What do you mean?”

 

Roy chuckles again, “I can see something’s up with you. I know we don’t- I don’t know you that well yet, but if you’d like to talk, I’d like to hear it.”

 

“I would like to talk,” Jason admits quietly.

 

“Tell me everything you want to, Jason.”

 

“I have…” Jason takes a moment and breathes in deeply through his nose. The air is cool now, not bitterly hot and suffocating, but pleasant and kind. Just like Roy. “A lot of people have done really bad things to me. So it’s hard- It’s not like-” He looks at his hands because how could he look Roy in the face, under this moonlight, and tell him these things.

 

“Hey,” Roy puts a hand on Jason’s thigh, just above his knee, and his voice is so soft and slow and… everything Jason doesn’t deserve. “Trust me, I know all about that sort of thing.”

 

Something in Jason bleeds and aches. Like his beating heart, he wants to spill everything out to Roy, but the last time he let anything slip he was kicked out of his family. “Roy, it’s really dark stuff.”

 

“Jason,” Roy’s hand stays on his leg and now Jason’s eyes are on that, instead of his own hands. “It’s okay. I promise you there is nothing you can say that would make me mad at you. I might get upset for you, I can’t promise that won’t happen. But… I want to hear anything you want to tell me.”

 

He nods to himself, and begins counting the freckles on Roy’s hand. “I was adopted.”

 

“Me too.”

 

Jason looks up and meets Roy’s eyes. He hopes that’s the last thing Roy relates to. “I’m not… on great terms with my adoptive father.”

 

“Yeah, busting out the ‘father’ kind of implies so.”

 

He smiles. Then he goes back to counting the freckles on Roy’s hand. “I was about twelve when I was adopted. I grew up with my bio-father and his wife. I called them mom and dad, but money was always tight and tensions were tighter. He hit me a few times, I honestly don't remember much… I think he hit her more than he hit me."

 

Roy's hand tightens, just the smallest amount.

 

"So I would commit petty theft, pawn shit off and make just enough money to keep myself fed most days." He looks up at the stars, and Roy joins him. The wind is quiet but he could swear that the universe was singing to them. "I lift some wheels from some hella expensive car, turns out those wheels belonged to Bruce Wayne."

 

He holds for shock, glancing at Roy, but he just nods. 

 

"Come to find old Brucie has a knack for picking up strays, me included. It was… okay… the first few years at least. Once I was a teen me and him fought… a lot."

 

"I know all about that story,” Roy’s voice has a bitter note to it, just left of jovial. “What happened to your bio parents?”

 

Jason picks Roy’s hand up, and holds it in both of his own. Roy’s fingers are thicker and more blunt than his own, but still his hands encase Roy’s own. “You have a lot of freckles on your hand.”

 

“Oh yeah, just like the rest of me,” he says softly. He lets Jason hold his hand, and is quiet for a moment, “Do you not want to talk about your bio parents?”

 

“No, I just-...” He huffs a breath, and lets his shoulders sag. One hand drops to his side, but the other stays entwined with Roy’s. “I’m trying to figure out how to describe it all… I don’t remember a lot of stuff, so it’s really hard to piece together and even harder to say out loud.”

 

“We have all the time in the world, Jaybird.”

 

“I like that name.” He looks up at the moon and stars, and they continue to twinkle and shine down on them. “My first step-mom died when I was living with her and my bio-father. He was busy doing crime, I assume that went towards her medical bills because it definitely never went to food or electricity. He ended up getting shot by some gangster he was working for. I cared a lot then, but I don’t anymore.”

 

Roy hums.

 

“I didn’t even know she wasn’t my bio-mother until after I was living with Bruce. We got in a fight, I don’t even remember what about… I ran off, ended up back in the neighborhood I grew up in, and some lady there- bless her heart- had saved a bunch of pictures and old papers of mine.’

 

‘One of those papers was my birth certificate, and my dead mother’s name wasn’t on it. So I used Bruce’s computer and found my biological mother.”

 

“How old were you when you found this out?” Roy squeezes Jason’s hand and he glances at Roy before looking back up at the stars.

 

“Fifteen, maybe a bit younger.”

 

Roy nods.

 

“I did end up finding her. I had to steal one of Bruce’s cards and fly, but I ended up tracking her down…”

 

“I assume it wasn’t the reunion you’d been picturing?” One of Roy’s hands absently pets the soft blanket, Jason follows it with his eyes.

 

Jason laughs bitterly, “It only gets worse. She was an addict, so I don’t blame her for what happened. I don’t know , maybe I used to. Or maybe I used to blame Bruce. Doesn’t matter. She knew I’d been picked up by a billionaire and she used that, and me. Sold me out to some fucked bastard, and then he ransomed me to Bruce.” 

 

He touches his right temple, feeling around until his fingers find that familiar bump. A ragged two inch long scar that used to feel so deep. 

 

“That bastard gave me this, and a bunch of others. He beat me within an inch of my life with a crowbar.”

 

“Oh my god,” Roy’s voice is quiet and breathy, he fully turns to look at Jason, “I remember seeing headlines about that. Everyone thought you were dead I-” he talks with his free hand, “I know who Bruce Wayne is, of course, but… I didn’t realize.”

 

Jason nods. “Yeah and I’m sure they never published anything about Bruce Wayne sending his forgotten son off to live with a form of step-family.”

 

“I don’t remember hearing anything about Wayne getting married.”

 

He shakes his head, “No, he never did. But he has a biological kid, Damian, my younger brother. His mom, Talia, was raising him and like… nursing me back to health.” His veins feel icy and he’s not sure what Roy wants to hear.

 

“Why did your adoptive father’s baby mommy take care of you?”

 

Jason looks at Roy, and weighs his options. Realistically the answer to that question is that Jason doesn’t know. But, truthfully, he has some pretty good guesses. “In his defense, he didn’t know he had a son with her yet. He also didn’t really know I was still alive.”

 

“How can he not-?”

 

“I don’t think he looked very hard.”

 

They’re quiet like that for a few moments. Then Roy leans back on his soft blanket, pulling Jason’s hand with him. “Come on, lay down with me, if you wanna.”

 

He does wanna. So he lets Roy pull him until they’re laying together. Each with one hand clasped to their stomach, the other held together. Their bodies are pressed together, just next to each other, hands right on top of where their thighs meet.

 

“The sky is really beautiful out here,” Jason says.

 

“Yeah, none of that light pollution like in Star.”

 

“You’re from Star City?”

 

“Mhm.” Roy lets go of Jason’s hand, rolling onto his side. There’s no way he’s super comfortable like that, but the sand is soft and the blanket is softer. “I want to hear more about your life, what happened after Talia helped you?”

 

Letting that ice consume him once again, he reaches for one of Roy’s hands, and holds it again. “Everything I have to say only gets worse from here.” His head lays flat on the blanket, and he stares up at the stars.

 

“You were fifteen, or possibly younger, and presumed dead while living with your adoptive dad’s estranged ex-flame who had a second secret child… I don’t see what could possibly go wrong.” Sarcasm .

 

“I lived with her, Damian and… Damian’s grandfather for a while. At least a few years, long enough for me to fully recover and Damian to start making some of his own choices.” Absent-mindedly Roy rubs his thumb in circles on Jason’s hand. “I always really liked Talia.” His voice cracks as he says that.

 

“Oh fuck Jason…” Roy’s eyes widen in horror. He can’t look at him.

 

“I always thought she was really pretty, and like… super cool. She was kinda intimidating at first, or like at least when I was younger. Before everything, I’d see her around sometimes, like when she would visit Bruce or at parties.”

 

“Jason no…”

 

He swallows hard. Tears prick at his eyes but he fights them, he wants to be done crying. He should be past this by now. “So when she was who took care of me, it was kinda like I was living my greatest fantasy, y’know? I’m somewhere far away from everything bothering me, my d- Bruce has no clue where I am, and-... And the most beautiful woman I’ve ever met is there tending to my every need.” 

 

Roy’s hand is no longer softly rubbing circles into Jason’s. His hand is tense, but not squeezing. 

 

“Unfortunately Damian’s grandfather was also trying to take care of me. At least in his own fucked way, I think that’s what he was trying to do.”

 

Roy’s body is rigid and motionless, like he’s stuck under a microscope. Or maybe Jason just feels like a microscope. “You don’t have to tell me anything you don’t want to. If you think you can keep going then I’ll listen, but please do not push yourself.” He awkwardly clasps his second hand over Jason’s now, “We have all the time in the world, you can tell me these things whenever you’re ready to.”

 

Jason nods, blinks hard, and waits as a single tear finds its way down his face. It rolls past his ear into his hairline. “Sometimes they would send random people to come see me and- I-” He clears his throat, “I remember when I realized what he’d been doing to me. It was only last year when I started realizing that maybe he did more to me than break my self-esteem and make me fear the world.”

 

“You’re twenty-one?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“Fuck.”

 

“I left Talia and him when I was eighteen or nineteen. I’d been told by them so much that Bruce wouldn’t want me, I sort of started believing it and never thought to even reach out to him. I still don’t think that was entirely a bad call.” He’s shaking, just a little. “The night of my eighteenth birthday Talia walked me to bed, and I remember she was super excited about me becoming a man. I-” Jason’s voice catches on itself, as if he’s running up wooden stairs in socks. “I asked her to sleep with me.”

 

Roy takes one hand back from Jason, but just to prop himself up so he can look directly into Jason’s eyes. “You cannot blame yourself for that.”

 

“I don’t even think of it as a bad thing, Roy.”

 

“It was.” His green eyes are on fire. “Maybe the law wouldn’t count that as statutory, but she absolutely took advantage of you.”

 

“I was eighteen, and I wanted to have sex with her.”

 

“You were a kid, hurt and lost. The facts on paper don’t mean a damn thing when-” Roy shakes his head angrily, as if he could wipe away all those years of hurt from Jason. “How did you get back to your family?”

 

“Talia sent me and Damian to Bruce. We knocked on his door and he took us in. It started a little rocky, he’d adopted a few more kids by then and my old room was mostly a memorial.” 

 

“She just…” Roy’s mouth makes a “wow” shape silently. “Holy fucking shit.”

 

Jason clears his throat, that ice in his veins only getting colder. “We had an okay year, everything had started working more smoothly and Bruce even got a few more kids. Everyone could tell I was different, though. Bruce chalked it up to that beating I first got, but it’s not like he never-” he’s so angry he stops, his rising voice simmers.

 

“Did he…?”

 

“Bruce definitely hit me a few times. It was only ever a last resort, and I don’t even really hate him for it anymore.”

 

“I’ll hate him for you, then.”

 

Jason’s world pauses. “What?” He half-rolls over, so he can look directly at Roy.

 

Roy’s gaze is locked on Jason still, “Jaybird, I’ve got enough bitterness and spite in me for the both of us. I’ll hate everyone who ever hurt you so long as you get to heal from it.”

 

Why?

 

“Look up at those stars,” Roy’s voice is matter-of-fact. So Jason looks. “You see that?”

 

“The stars?”

 

Roy snorts, “Yeah, but do you feel them?”

 

“Do I… feel the stars?”

 

“No,” Roy lays back down next to Jason and swaps his hand out, still holding onto Jason’s but also pointing up at the sky freely. “ It . Do you feel it ?”

 

Maybe he’s spent from pouring his soul out, or maybe Roy emits heat, but Jason feels that ice prepetucally inside of himself melt. Something warm bubbles from deep inside. He stares up at the sky, dark tones shifting together like the sand underneath him and Roy. The stars twinkle and the moonlight feels like a warm cast.

 

Yeah .” 

 

Roy laughs and squeezes his hand, his arm dropping back down to rest. “Good.”

 

“Can I-” Jason turns to look at him, “Can I kiss you?”

 

Roy’s eyes widen marginally, “Normally I’d have no qualms with that, but Jason you just got done telling me some really heavy shit. Shit I’d guess that you never told anyone.”

 

“I told Damian.”

 

“I’m sorry you had to tell Daiman. But, you’re not at your most grounded. I’ll let you kiss me tomorrow if you still want to.”

 

“I will.”

 

“I’m sure.” Roy lets go of Jason’s hand, and he’s almost afraid Roy is going to walk away, but instead he snakes his arm under Jason’s neck, and holds him.

 

Jason can’t recall a time he’d ever been held like that before.

 

-

 

They wind up back at Roy’s house, sitting together and eating popcorn on the couch. They sit on two opposite ends of the couch, but their legs are tangled together. They talk quietly so they don’t wake Lian up, and Jason finds himself anxious about returning to his hotel after this.

 

“What’s up?” Roy asks, with a curious gaze.

 

“Hm?”

 

Roy smiles, “You look worried. What are you worried about?”

 

Life, the universe… everything . “There’s still going to be fireworks in Albuquerque.”

 

“That’s true…” Roy looks between Jason and a hallway leading to the bedrooms that exits into his garage. “I’ve got a spare bedroom, if you’re comfortable with me locking you in there.”

 

“How would you do that?”

 

“I’ve got a crutch I can shimmy under the knob and lock you in with. You’ve got my number so you can text me if you need out… I just-”

 

“Don’t worry, I actually would prefer you’re this cautious.” How much Roy cares about his kid is actually something that makes him so much more attractive.

 

Roy smiles softly, “Cool. I know Lian showed you around already, but just let me know when you’re ready to go to sleep and I’ll show you where it is again.”

 

Jason shoves a handful of popcorn into his mouth, and smiles as he eats.

 

“Can you tell me about you?” Jason asks after it’s been quiet for a bit.

 

“What do you wanna know?”

 

“Uh, like… How did you end up out here, I guess?” Roy knows a lot about him, or at least of the bad parts of his life. He wants to know just as much about Roy.

 

He yawns and stretches his arms widely over the couch, his shirt lifts a few inches and Jason does his best to not stare. “I was always super bored in Star, nothing really interested me so I got into a lot of trouble in my early twenties and teens. Part of that included drugs, and I was an addict for a good few years until I decided to get clean- mostly for Lian.”

 

Jason nods, listening intently.

 

“Machines were a big interest of mine so I kinda threw myself into that and moved around for a bit. I ended up out here, really liked the quiet and solitude and I decided it’d be better for Lian too.”

 

Jason talks around his mouth-full of popcorn and hopes Roy doesn’t hate him for it, “You said you were adopted?”

 

“Sure was. My bio-mom died when she gave birth to me, my bio-dad died in a forest fire. He was a park ranger, I always looked up to him. He saved my first adoptive-dad’s life in that fire, and I went to live with him on a Navajo reservation. Really amazing community. They got me into mechanics and stuff, y’know something I still use today.” He pauses to eat some popcorn too. “Anyway that dad died too, I was fourteen at the time, and I ended up getting adopted by one Oliver Queen.”

 

So that’s why Roy wasn’t so surprised at Jason’s story. Bruce Wayne was usually more of a shock for people. “How old were you when your first dad died?”

 

“Three, I think.”

 

Roy yawns again, this time so heavy his eyes water. 

 

“I think I’m ready to go to bed,” Jason says.

 

Roy nods and leads him down that hallway to a small blue bedroom. It has a twin-sized bed next to a side table with an orange lamp. There’s a closed sliding-closet, and a ceiling fan. “Good night, Jason.”

 

“Night… Thank you.” 

 

“Of course.”

 

Roy closes the door, and soon after Jason hears him fumbling with the knob, probably locking him in.

 

He thinks about the way Roy held him on that blanket, and realizes that maybe Roy is what smells like honey.

Chapter Text

Jason wakes up and he’s not screaming, but his voice is hoarse. He can’t remember what he was dreaming about, but the way his heart races and the way his chest heaves, it wasn’t good.

 

Not too long after he’d woken up, still sitting in that twin bed, window above him bathing him in a warm glow. A soft knock comes from the other side of his door. He’s calmed down marginally, but he still feels something odd pinging around inside himself.

 

“Breakfast?” Roy’s voice asks from behind the door.

 

Jason stares up at the popcorn-patterned ceiling a moment longer than he probably should, eyes following the fan around as it spins. “You can come in.” His voice sounds gruff and foreign to his own ears.

 

The door opens, and not only is Roy standing there, giant plate of pancakes in hand, but so is Lian. She’s holding one of Roy’s hands, and smiles so wide. They’re both still wearing pajamas, having woken up not long before Jason.

 

“Um. Morning.” Jason rubs his eyes, and sits up, glad he’d gone to bed clothed last night.

 

“Good morning Jason!” Lian tugs Roy into the room, and stands in front of Jason, smile only growing wider. Her hair is slightly messy, as if she’d ran her fingers through it but not brushed it yet.

 

“How’d you sleep?” Roy asks softly, he lets Lian’s hand go, and sits at Jason’s feet. The bed moves with his weight and Jason’s heart skips a few beats. Roy hands him the plate.

 

Three large pancakes, one a bit darker and one a bit smaller than others, a giant pad of butter on top and maple syrup drowning the whole party. “Um… Good, I think.” He can see the reflection of the ceiling fan in the syrup. “I’m not really sure how I feel yet.”

 

“You sounded like you were having nightmares,” Lian says. “I had to go wake dad up so we could bring you breakfast.”

 

Jason looks at her, her dark brown eyes have flecks of green, and across her nose is a spatter of freckles surely from Roy. Her hair is much darker than his, but also softer looking. Her face is much rounder than Roy’s angular one and Jason isn’t sure if it’s because she’s a kid or what.

 

“Thank you.” His voice cracks, and he’s not sure why.

 

“Mhm, when Lian gets bad dreams I make her pancakes. She insisted we make you some.” Roy laughs and Lian looks on eagerly. 

 

Jason takes a bite, and beyond the overwhelming amount of syrup he can taste the slightly-burnt pancake. “Mmm, it’s really good.”

 

“YES!” Lian jumps with her arms in the air, and then runs out of the room.

 

“You don’t have to eat more, by the way,” Roy whispers. “I totally understand if they’re not your thing. She helped make a few, and was who poured the syrup.”

 

“No, it’s really good, I swear.” Jason takes another bite of syrup and smiles. He’s not lying, though Roy could probably feed him dirt and it would be one of the best meals he’d ever had.

 

Roy laughs, “So you’ve got a sweet-tooth, got it. I’ll be sure to remember that.”

 

“Ehh, maybe a bit less syrup next time.”

 

-

 

Lian draws in a coloring book at the coffee table, sitting just in front of the couch, as Jason finds his mind wandering from where he sits at the dining table. The sky outside dances in his vision. 

 

“You like mustard?” Roy asks, interrupting Jason’s drift. 

 

“Huh?”

 

Roy turns, he stands in the kitchen doing something with his hands at the counter. If Jason had been paying attention he might have known what. He’s still dressed in his loose red shirt and pajama pants, they almost perfectly match the pattern and color of the blanket hanging over his couch. “On your sandwich, do you like mustard?”

 

“Yes!” Lian cheers.

 

“No,” Roy laughs, “I was asking Jason.”

 

“Oh.” Lian’s frown is evident in her voice, and it tugs at the corners of Jason’s mouth.

 

“Lian baby, you’re still getting a sandwich. I just already know everything you like on yours.” He holds a knife in one hand, the other propped on his hip.

 

“Woo!”

 

Jason finds himself thinking about the previous night, and the way that citrus floats through the air, mixing with all the smells of Roy’s home. He still really wants to kiss Roy. “Uh, yeah, mustard is fine… Do you need any help with that?” His mouth feels sticky.

 

“Nah, I’ve got it Jay- Jason.”

 

Jason ducks his head down, hoping Roy can’t see his blush. “Cool.”

 

“How’s pickles?”

 

“I like ‘em.”

 

“And mayo?”

 

“Mhm.”

 

“Anything you don’t like?” Roy’s now turned back to the counter, moving around as he makes the sandwiches.

 

The fact that they aren’t kissing yet. “Um. American cheese.”

 

“How unpatriotic of you,” Roy feigns offence. “I’ve got turkey, chicken, and ham. Any preference?”

 

“Turkey please dad!” Lian yells.

 

“Got it love!” Roy glances over his shoulder at Jason, and he feels like a deer in headlights.

 

Obviously he knows his meat preference, but he probably shouldn’t say it with Lian in the room. “I don’t really… mind any way.” He watches the way Roy moves and thinks back to seeing Roy’s bare back in the motel. His shoulders probably have just as many freckles as his lower back.

 

“Turkey as well, good choice.” 

 

Jason smiles at his hands. “Thanks.”

 

“Mhm. So, how would you two feel about heading into town today? I hear Jaybird here hasn’t even seen the good parts of town.”

 

“Who’s that?” Lian asks.

 

“Jason. He’s staying in Albuquerque, I thought we might be able to show him around, yeah?”

 

“Yeah! We can show him our favorite ‘donal’s.” Lian drops her markers and runs towards Jason, coloring book in hand. “Jason! Jason!”

 

“Yes, yes?”

 

“Look!” She holds the book out, crumpling the pages in one hand, the other pointing at a green Lighting McQueen. “I colored her!” The colors are mostly in the lines and mostly fill the entire space. Lian smiles so proudly.

 

“It looks great,” Jason laughs. 

 

“Do you color things?” Lian quickly scrambles to join Jason at the table. She pulls the chair next to him out and lays her book on the table, it almost feels like a job interview.

 

Not that Jason had ever been to a job interview.

 

“Uh… Not really.”

 

“Why not?” She cocks her head to the side, long dark hair moves with her.

 

“Most grown-ups don’t color things anymore, baby. That’s usually something only kids do,” Roy explains for Jason. 

 

“Really?! Uncle Wally colors things!”

 

“Well Uncle Wally is not like most grown-ups,” Roy laughs. “Alright, who’s hungry?” He turns to them, two plates in hand and wide smile on his face. 

 

-

 

Jason had been staring at the sandwich Alfred served him for the better part of twenty minutes. The sandwich looked fine. There was nothing wrong with it, but Jason had that creeping feeling that maybe it was him that was wrong. 

 

Something about being back at the manor, back sitting in his old seat at the so-large table just felt… wrong.  

 

“Are you not hungry, Master Jason?” Alfred asks, concern all over him. He stands just to Jason’s right, and the giant ornate chandelier casts every line of worry in his face hashly. He’d left for a bit, probably to get the other kids fed, but had just returned to find Jason sitting in the same spot, food untouched.

 

The plate was heavy, the rim of it’s ceramic painted with leaves. It used to be his favorite plate. It feels weird that he’s grown so much and this plate has stayed exactly the same.

 

“Guess not…” Jason crosses his arms and shifts in the seat.

 

“Well you do not have to stay sitting at the table if you do not plan to eat anything. I can walk you to your bedroom, if you wish.”

 

Alfred was trying his best, Jason knew that. But still he feels something snap. So he pushes himself away from the table, his chair wobbling back before slamming back down level on its feet. He had been much smaller the last time he’d sat at that table.

 

“I can walk myself.” He storms out of the room, and he knows that he’s making an ass of himself but it’s not like there’s much else to do. 

 

The bedroom, or his bedroom, was an awful place to be.

 

He could stand in that doorway and stare at the room of that little boy, one he hadn’t known in so many years, and just imagine that maybe Bruce had done the same. When he looks at that room he feels those stabbing pangs at his very core, as if he’s grieving himself. Just maybe, after he’d first left, Bruce had felt the same.

 

Jason hadn’t even seen Bruce since he’d gotten back. Which figured, who would want to see Jason anyway. 

 

On his way out of the house, he bumps into Dick.

 

Dick had come home as soon as Alfred called, though he’d been busy getting to know Damian and helping him settle into the house.

 

“Hey!” Dick stumbles back with a laugh, always light on his toes. He looks up from his phone at Jason. “Man, I am never going to get used to you being taller now.”

 

“Okay.” Jason tries to step around Dick, but he moves with him, staying in his way. 

 

“Hey what’s the matter, Littlewing?”

 

It feels like a punch to the face, and Jason is very familiar with that specific sensation. “Move.”

 

“Hey-” Dick reaches to place a hand on Jason’s shoulder, but he shrugs away from the touch. He pushes Dick aside, and he’s only got a handful of inches on him but he’s able to push him far enough to move past him. “Jason, wait up!”

 

The giant wooden door leading outside seems like a light at the end of a tunnel as he barrels toward it. 

 

Dick follows him outside.

 

“What?!” Jason turns after a few yards, opening his arms wide and taking a step back at Dick. He’s out on their familiar patio, though there’s new furniture and new giant bushes in the backyard. “What do you want?!”

 

Dick’s brows are cinched. His hair is longer now, pushed back and shaggy as it reaches for the bottom of his neck. He’s older now, and it’s hard for Jason to keep looking at him. 

 

“You wanna come remind me how much of my life I’m missing? Is that it, Dick? What the fuck do you want!?” His lungs ache and his eyes are hot with tears just threatening to fall.

 

“Of course not, I’m- Are you okay?” Dick takes a step towards Jason, one hand reaching out. Despite everything, he’s not afraid of Jason.

 

Jason blinks and the tears fall on their own. He’s too overwhelmed to wipe them. 

 

“It’s alright.” With his eyes still closed he feels Dick place that hand on his shoulder again. “Is everything just… a bit too much right now?”

 

“I don’t know where to start.” No more tears fall so he opens his eyes slowly, and Dick still looks so familiar but so different. 

 

He’s got the same light brown eyes as always but in this light they almost look like they’ve got a ring of blue near his pupil. This is still his brother, no matter how long his hair is now. 

 

“I haven’t seen you go in your room, do you need me to clear it out for you?”

 

“No, I still want all of my stuff.”

 

Dick nods and places that hand back on Jason’s shoulder, much more firm this time. “What can we do, then?”

 

-

 

“So I got an update on your boot earlier,” Roy says.

 

Him and Jason sit in the front of his pickup, riding down that familiar interstate towards Albuquerque. Lian sits behind Roy, Jason had found in the foot or so of empty space behind the two front seats were two smaller child-sized seats that faced towards each other with the legroom for such.

 

Jason looks at Roy, waiting for the update.

 

The truck bounces along the road smoothly, and Jason wonders for a moment how much gas Roy’s spent on him. He should pay him back at some point.

 

“Should arrive tomorrow, then you can be on your way.”

 

“Jason’s leaving?” Lian sounds so sad but Jason feels sadder.

 

He knows Roy isn’t asking him to leave, not even in the round-about way that Bruce had kicked him out in… But he also knows he can’t stay with Roy and Lian forever. He knows that.

 

Over Roy’s shoulders, Jason watches as brown mountains pass in the distance.

 

“Are you?”

 

Jason snaps his eyes to meet Roy’s as he quickly glances away from the road. “Am I what?”

 

“Leaving.” He has a faint smile on his face.

 

His heart feels like it’s pumping the syrup from this morning. He turns to look outside his passenger window. He hadn’t thought about this part. “Yeah.”

 

“No, you can’t leave yet Jason,” Lian protests. “I still have to teach you how to color again.”

 

“Alright well after your car is fixed up and Lian’s taught you how to color, then you’re on your way?” Roy chuckles, “Sorry, I can’t argue with her on that one. You’ve been roped into a drawing lesson it seems.”

 

“I guess so.” Jason feels the corner of his lip tug, but he also feels that ice inside himself creep back in. The sky's horizon looks mad at him.

 

“Then we’re about to have the best day ever.”

 

For now, the ice dissipates.

 

-

 

First they go on a hike, Jason doesn’t really pay attention to where they are, but they drive through down-town and Jason realizes he really hadn’t seen any of the city yet. They walk through a forest, the nature much greener than he’d thought it would be out in the desert.

 

There’s the obvious cactus and frayed or washed out looking plants, but also patches of thin yellow grass. It’s nice, though Jason keeps looking out for snakes.

 

Him and Roy walk side-by-side and the entire time he thinks about how badly he wants to hold Roy’s hand. Lian says a dozen or so yards in front of them, but always in eyesight. 

 

They walk near the side of the Rio Grande river, and Jason finds it almost as pretty as Roy.

 

“I know-” Jason clears his throat because he hadn’t spoken in a good while. Roy looks at him patiently as they walk. “I know I’m leaving soon- or tomorrow, I guess… But I still want to hear more about you.” Their feet crunch on gravel and rocks as they walk.

 

“Yeah? Little ol’ me?” Roy playfully pushes Jason with his elbow. “What did you wanna know?”

 

“Uh…” 

 

Up ahead Lian leans down to look at a rock. She pokes it around with a stick she’d gotten about a half mile back.

 

“Lian’s mother, I guess. Like is she- I don’t know if it’s something you’re willing to talk about, it’s okay if not.”

 

Roy takes a deep breath, and places his arms behind his head while they walk. Jason’s not sure if he’s flexing on purpose or not. Jason does look at his biceps, and especially at the tattoo that wraps around his left. It’s a stylized wrench, the two ends stopping just before they meet.

 

“Her name was Jade, she’s not… in the picture really.”

 

“Mhm.” Jason turns his head away from Roy and wipes at his mouth, not completely confident he hadn’t started drooling. “What happened?”

 

“Oh, you know… It was just some summer fling, me and Ollie, my old man, had traveled to Central City for the summer. I was about nineteen at the time, she was a little over twenty-one if I remember correctly. She bought us alcohol, I remember that at least. Everything was fine, we had our fun.”

 

Roy has that faint crooked smile on his face, as if he’s thinking back on fond memories. 

 

“Yeah?”

 

Roy chuckles, “She was a bit of a rebel, I’m still not sure what she got up to exactly but I never really intended to settle down with her. Not that I wouldn’t have wanted to, she just wasn’t the type.”

 

“Did you go up to Central often?”

 

“Mhm. It’s where I met Wally, he’s a friend of a family friend of Ollie’s. But yeah I went back home, and a few years later Jade comes knocking.”

 

“Were you…” Jason watches as Lian runs up ahead.

 

“Stay in sight, Lian!” Roy calls.

 

“I am!” Lian laughs, waiting a few paces before continuing.

 

“I was twenty-three when Jade gave me Lian. She’d gotten in more and more trouble, and had been trying really hard to be a mother for three years but I guess… It just never took.” He sighs.

 

Jason nods, “I guess it’s better that she was able to admit that. I think that’s kinda what Talia had done with Damian and me.”

 

“I don’t think I’d say so. Between getting together with Jade and getting Lian I’d become an addict and started recovery. I already had an alcohol problem, inherited from one of my many fathers.” Roy laughs darkly.

 

The trees and tall cacti don’t provide much of a canopy to filter light through, but the running river is nice background noise for them.

 

“That’s really admirable.” Jason tries to stick his hands in his pockets before quickly finding it’s too hot for that.

 

“Can I?” Roy lets his arms rest by his sides now, one held towards Jason.

 

Jason accepts the hand, and their feet quickly fall back into pace with each other. Roy’s hand has thick calluses, and Jason almost feels self-conscious about his surely softer ones. And also they’re dripping with sweat, but Roy is kind enough to not mention that.

 

“I was just being a father, nothing admirable about it.” Roy kind of swings their hands as they walk.

 

“No, it- Recovery is something that’s super hard to do, and even if everything goes right that doesn’t always mean it’s possible.” He wouldn’t necessarily know.

 

“Yeah it- Ollie has a problem with alcohol as well. He’d never really been too great with steering me away from his path, but as soon as I started using-”

 

“What were you using?” Jason finds the words blurting out of his mouth.

 

Roy’s hand tenses but then he chuckles, “Honestly I assume you’d seen it in the tabloids. As far from Star as I run, and as long as I’ve been gone, that feeling of everyone's eyes on me never really goes away.”

 

“Yeah...” Jason was lucky enough that his family was known for being aloof and out of the media. But that didn’t stop the occasional reporter from stopping him in town and interrogating him.

 

“It was heroin.”

 

“I’m really glad you’re clean now.”

 

“Me too.” Roy leans his head back and trusts in Jason leading them as they walk for that moment. “Ollie kicked me out once he found out I was using. We had a huge fight, and then I was on the streets.”

 

“How old were you?”

 

Roy looks at Jason and purses his lips in though for a moment. “I think about your age.”

 

“I didn’t realize we had so much in common.”

 

“You’re not using, right?” Roy laughs.

 

“No, I meant… Getting kicked out at my age.”

 

“Ah… Yeah. I mean my step-mom, Dinah, she was a huge light. She helped me get into rehab and helped me even more once I got Lian.”

 

Jason feels like he’s missing so many details but he had no idea where to start. “You lived on the streets with Lian?”

 

“No, Jade waited with Lian at Ollie’s place, they called me and then let me come back home.” He shakes his head, a few bitter thoughts unsaid. “I already had my own place by then, though.”

 

After their hike, Roy drives them to a McDonalds, which Lian is more than ecstatic about.

 

Jason feels something warm inside himself as they eat together. Lian talks the entire time, asking for input every few minutes or so. 

 

It seems odd to put McDonalds on a tier of meals he’s enjoyed but that meal definitely ranks high on his list. He doesn’t know why.

 

Once Lian’s finished a story about two rocks falling in love, Roy says, “So I can drive you back to your hotel, or we could swing by and you can get your stuff to check out and we can do the same move tonight as last night.”

 

“I can stay in the guest room again?”

 

“Of course.”

 

The sun sets as Jason checks out of his hotel. He and Lian both fall asleep in Roy’s truck on their way home.

 

Which really sucks, because Jason was having fun staring at the stars with Lian.

Chapter Text

He opens a door, and he closes it.

 

Bruce's voice wafts through the manor like an echo deep in a cave. Sometimes this place feels like more of a damp and dingy cave than a home. Which is honestly saying something because the last place Jason lived at had numerous leaks with more mold and moss than wallpaper.

 

He opens that door again, and closes it again.

 

It's a large door, all the doors here are large doors. His head just passes above the doorknob. Intricate golden decals line the deep and rich reddish brown, Jason's not been wealthy long enough to know what kind of wood is good wood.

 

He opens the door, soft click of the knob turning. The smooth golden handle turns with his wrist. He pulls it toward himself, a door this large shouldn't open so easy but he supposes this is what good money gets.

 

He closes the door, the soft click like legos fitting perfectly together in his brain.

 

"I just don't know where I went wrong with him," Bruce sighs. He's been talking to Alfred for a while now.

 

They'd just gotten home from a doctor. Bruce hadn't told Jason what the doctor said, but whatever it was Bruce wasn't satisfied.

 

Golden summer sunlight drifts through the open hallway windows, Jason can hear birds chirping and wonders briefly if they enjoy the sound and feeling of this door just as much as he does.

 

He opens the door.

 

Alfred's voice is quieter, softer, kinder. Jason can hear he's speaking down the hallway, but not what he says. Bruce responds after a moment of deep thought, "I think there's something wrong with him, they told me attention deficit but there's something more."

 

He closes the door.

 

"He's not like Dick at all."

 

He opens the door. 

 

He hears Alfred answer Bruce and he hopes it's something along the lines of, "You're right, Master Bruce. Master Grayson was worse."

 

The large door is no longer that of Wayne Manor. Instead it's now his old bedroom at Damian's family's home. Thin wood painted white and chipping at the corners. 

 

He’d slammed it too many times to not show wear and tear by this point.

 

Jason knows that Talia stands on the other side of the slightly open door, but he doesn't dare breathe. He's less than two feet away from her but desperately wants her to stop noticing him, stop doting on him, and stop looking at him.

 

Her hands have always felt like ice and fire to him, and as much as he tells himself he loves the way she touches his face, he knows that thinking about it makes his stomach churn. She had looked him deep in his eyes and his heart skipped beats, because finally he was getting something he wanted.

 

He closes the door.

 

"Jason," she says from the other side and he feels his heart tear in two. She knows he's there and he's going to die. The freezing cold knob is smooth despite him desperately searching for a lock. He presses all of his body's weight against the door, pushing against the ground with his feet. "If you don't want to come out then I will lock you in there."

 

That's right. There's no lock on the inside.

 

He hears the soft click, then the sound of her walking away. He relaxes against the door marginally, breath shaking out of his body.

 

A rhythmic tapping noise pulls him from his sleep. It sounds like a woodpecker nearby. He's back in Roy's blue guest room, dried spit on his cheek pressed into the pillow. 

 

He rolls over onto his back, suddenly aware of how dirty his clothes feel. It's bright outside, but he's not sure what time it might be.

 

His phone says 10:30am exactly.

 

His phone also says that he has two missed calls from Damian. He ignores them for now.

 

-

 

Jason and Lian sit at the dining table together, she colors a fire truck with a lime green marker and he stares at a picture of a disney princess she’d ripped out of her book for him to color.

 

“You can use any color you wanna,” she explains, face just a few inches from her own book. “You can use my red one for her hair.”

 

“Yeah, sure-” wait what? “Lian…” Jason watches her small fist gripped around the green marker. She pauses and smiles up at him, face scrunched pleasantly. “What color is your marker?”

 

She looks down at her paper, before looking back up at Jason. “Did I mess up?”

 

“No, I just- Your marker is green.”

 

“Oh…” She frowns in deep thought. “That’s okay, dad won’t be able to tell either.”

 

Fair enough. “When you’re done with it, I will use it for her hair, though.”

 

“Woo!” She quickly returns to coloring the firetruck and Jason picks a blue marker up to color the princess’s dress. They color in silence together for a while. Lian hums along to the music coming from Roy’s garage. It sounds like ska and pop.

 

The house still faintly smells like the eggs and bacon breakfast Roy had cooked, more-so the bacon than anything else. He’d burnt a batch before getting the second one right and Jason was hit with the sneaking suspicion that Lian had less to do with the pancakes the day prior than Roy had led him to believe. The smell of cinnamon and citrus is everlasting in this household.

 

“My daddy has been happier since you got here,” Lian says, setting the green marker between her and Jason. 

 

“Are you done with that?”

 

“Yeah.” She picks up the blue marker Jason sets down to color the sky of her picture. “He usually spends a lot of the day sleeping but he’s been going out a lot now.”

 

“He’s been having to drive a lot to pick me up and stuff.” Jason’s actually a little surprised at how much he likes his coloring page. 

 

That morning Roy had let Jason borrow a shirt of his, made breakfast then given Jason a choice between watching Roy fix his car or coloring with Lian. He’s very happy with his choice.

 

“When did you and him become friends?”

 

Her nose stays tucked into her book as she colors, and Jason’s unsure how to answer that. “I’m not sure… We only met each other a few days ago.”

 

Lian looks up for a moment, her eyes going wide. “Really? I thought you went to school with him and Uncle Wally and Aunt Donna and Uncle Garth.”

 

A few of those names ring bells somewhere in Jason’s mind, but he’d met Wally and hadn’t recognized him. “Nope.”

 

“I’m done with my drawing!” Lian announces, setting her marker down to look at Jason’s. “Oooh!” she squeals. “Yours looks so good!”

 

“So does yours,” he laughs. 

 

Daddy!” Lian screams, pitched so high Jason feels like a blunt weapon’s been driven into his skull. 

 

Instantly the garage door opens and Roy’s heavy shoes are hitting the hardwood hallway as he sprints into the kitchen. “Whatswrong?!”

 

“Look at our drawings!” She holds her own up for Roy to look at. 

 

His expression softens instantly. “It looks great, baby.” He’s got car grease on his hands and up his forearms, face covered in sweat- shirt too- and hair matted down a bit with little curls pressed into his skin.

 

“Look at Jason’s!” Lian grabs Jason’s page from the table and holds it up to Roy next.

 

“Also great. Good job, both of you.”

 

Jason smiles at him, “How’s the car coming along?”

 

“All good, just gonna replace your oil and drive it a bit down the road before letting you go on your way.” He wipes his forehead and a small streak of grease paints his skin. “Should be less than twenty minutes.”

 

“Cool, thanks.”

 

“Jason, do you want to play with me?” Lian asks him, face completely serious. She's jumped off her chair to stand between Jason and Roy. 

 

“Uh…” He looks between Roy and Lian.

 

“What’d you want to play with him?”

 

“Hide and seek!” Her voice pierces his skull once again. 

 

“Sounds fun,” Jason says. With the garage door still open he can hear Roy’s music coming from it. 

 

It is fun. Roy works in the garage, the only place they’d labeled off limits aside from outside the house, while Jason and Lian take turns counting to 10 and running around the house.

 

When he finds her, he tickles her and swings her around while she giggles. When she finds him, she screams loudly.

 

They play until Roy calls Jason into the garage. 

 

Up until this point, Jason hadn’t really paid any mind to the nerves growing inside of himself. His heart races as he parts from Lian to retrieve his car. 

 

The door to the garage is sleek and white, it’s a light door but has a seal on it so he has to give it a good push to get through the doorway. In the garage, Roy’s music plays much louder. Not loud enough to drill into his skull like Lian’s cheerful little voice, but enough that Roy doesn’t hear Jason enter behind himself.

 

Roy is dancing, arms over his head with one hand clasping his other forearm, hips moving, and singing along to the sound. “-put a bet on it, not a damn thing will go wrong!” His tank sticks transparent to his back in patches of sweat. He can even see his freckles covering his shoulders and arms.

 

Jason knows he should tell Roy he’s there, probably say something, but… 

 

Roy shakes his shoulders as he dances, and Jason feels a smile work its way onto his face. The fluorescent lights overhead flicker kindly, the garage door is open all the way so Jason has a clear view down their driveway and off into the desert. He can see a cactus in the distance.

 

“Odds are that we- will probably be- alri~ight,” Roy keeps his body moving minimally, mostly just swaying with the music. The smell of honey and oil fill Jason’s senses. “Odds are we gonna be alright! Odds are we gonna be alright tonight!” Roy’s singing voice is loud and happy but not at all in tune or on key.

 

Jason thinks about walking up to Roy and wrapping his arms around the guy’s waist, dancing with him.

 

Instead he sits down on the chipped wooden steps leading up to the door inside. The same place he’d sat while calling Dick not too long before.

 

He repeats the chorus with the song, and Jason just keeps watching him. His arms are cleaner than they had been the last time he saw Roy. Maybe Jason has to leave soon, but surely staying for one song couldn’t be the end of the world.

 

“Hit by the A-train, crashed in an airplane,” Roy slowly brings one arm into a point, moving it down until he points out into the desert, “I wouldn’t recommend either one!” 

 

He confidently fucks the next few lines up, but only marginally. Enough that Jason notices, at least. He’s not really sure what Roy’s dancing or singing for, and maybe he should. He definitely feels whatever it is in the air that has Roy so happy… Or maybe Roy’s glee is contagious.

 

Roy steps one foot behind himself, bringing his fists to roll around each other in front of himself and pivots slowly, until he’s facing Jason as he dances, belting out the lyrics and green eyes shut serenely. “But somewhere in the world someone is gonna fall in love by the end of this song,” his eyes open and land on Jason, the shock is there and gone in an instant. He opens his hands towards Jason, “So get up! Get up!” He pulls his hands towards himself, asking Jason to join him. “No, it’s never gonna let up, so you might as well sing along!” 

 

Despite everything and himself, Jason reaches back and lets Roy pull him up, until their chests are pressed together and Roy wraps his arms around the small of Jason’s back. He feels a laugh bubble its way out of him and Roy laughs too. 

 

“Sing it with me Jaybird!” Roy shouts just before the chorus, “The odds are that we- will probably be- alri~ight!” The words come easily and Jason smiles with Roy, letting him guide their dance.

 

That smell of honey and oil moving with the two of them hugging like this. 

 

This comes so naturally, Jason’s surprised when the song ends and a new one starts playing. Roy lets go of him so he can pause the music. They part and Jason wishes that song were longer.

 

“I drove your car down the road and back and it seems to be doing much better.” Roy’s got that huge lopsided smile on his face. “Should be good to go.”

 

Jason nods.

 

He should say goodbye. He hates goodbyes. But… He can’t pinpoint why, between Roy’s perfect everything, and his stupid little blue car, this one time it’ll be okay.

 

“Thank you for everything, Roy.”

 

“Of course. Just call me when you get somewhere tonight, wherever that ends up being.” 

 

“Can I-...” Jason looks down at his feet, then his car. He still hadn’t kissed Roy, and he guesses maybe he never will. “I guess this is…”

 

“Goodbye?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“Guess so.” Roy’s still smiling. “One last hug for the road?”

 

Please. Jason’s already hugging Roy. His arms around the man, holding him against his chest so tight Roy can’t even hug him back. He doesn’t care. He needs this. Needs Roy to know that he…

 

Something.

 

“Goodbye.” Jason breathes it into Roy’s hair.

 

“Goodbye,” Roy’s voice cracks when he says it.

 

-

 

His legs shake as he presses his gas, his car makes the right noises and speeds up the right amount. But he shakes anyway. He can't see the road, just jumbled lines jumping around his head and cars speeding by like they want to kill him.

 

Honestly he wouldn't object to a car killing him.

 

It would probably hurt less than whatever it is he feels now when he thinks about Roy and Lian. It's something viscerally painful, it hurts in the same way it hurt him to look at his old bedroom when he first got back.

 

He's crying as he swerves across his lane of traffic, cars honking only make his heart beat faster and harder. He's somewhere green now, passing through trees and rivers.

 

Roy and Lian are hours back, in that fucking desert. His throat grows tight when he thinks back to Roy dancing and singing, Roy holding him that night, Roy holding his hand, Roy helping off the bed of his tow truck…

 

Fuck.

 

Fuck.

 

Fuck.

 

Fuck.

 

He swerves again, and chokes out a sob. He wouldn't be surprised to find he'd been driving with his eyes closed. His car's air meter swings wildly despite his gear not shifting and his gas not changing. 

 

That first night comes to Jason’s mind, Roy standing up after hooking Jason's car to his rope, that line of blood slowly oozing down his arm. His lopsided smile, crooked nose, coarse red hair, freckles and green eyes.

 

His body has never felt his own, but that sweet night that Roy held him he knew where he was and he was certain he liked that touch. Nothing about Roy makes his stomach ache except the way his voice broke when they said goodbye. Jason's not wanted in Gotham, he's not even wanted by his family. How can Roy want someone as broken as Jason, it's not like he’s cute or nice enough to deserve anything past a one night stand.

 

His check engine light comes on, and he swerves onto the shoulder.

 

Jason's car sputters again and hacks, he swears he sees smoke pouring from the engine, so with his shaking hands he turns it off. 

 

He can’t remember where he is, he’d gotten on that road with no fucking plan and maybe that was his first mistake.

 

The timeline of his life seems to just be a whole lot of mistakes leading him to where he is now. Surely he’d fucked up long before he left the Wayne Manor. Somewhere between his parents dying and him ending up at Talia’s he’d made a huge error.

 

Or maybe his only mistake was leaving Roy and Lian.

 

That thought, it passes in an instant but sinks itself deep into Jason. Just like his still shaking car, his brain seems to jitter. 

 

Yeah.

 

His phone slips from his sweaty grip and he realizes he's still wearing Roy's shirt.

 

He shouldn’t have ever left.

 

The phone rings once before, "Tell me what you need, Jaybird."

Chapter Text

That night, Jason lays on the twin mattress, wide awake and on his phone. He doesn’t use social media really, his family was wealthy enough and well-known where he was from that it always pushed him closer towards privacy than anything. His siblings weren’t always the same though. 

 

Tim and Steph ran a fairly popular tumblr blog, Dick had an active instagram, and Damian posted the occasional tiktok. He was fairly sure that Cass and Steph also shared a twitter account they started drama on, but he was never able to prove it.

 

Thankfully Duke has the good sense like Jason to to stay away from those kinds of things, though Jason did have fairly old accounts he dusted off once in a while to see what his siblings were up to. It was one of the easiest ways to adjust back to his ever-growing family when he went back home.

 

Speaking of Duke, he was calling Jason. 

 

It was an ungodly hour in Texas-New-Mexico, so it could only be worse back home. He picks up, because today had been long and hard and stressful… And also he misses his brother.

 

“Hey,” Jason keeps his voice soft and quiet, not wanting to disturb Lian, Roy or Donna.

 

“Stop being a bitch and call Damian,” Duke states. There’s noise in the background, it sounds like a TV.

 

“Miss you too, Duke.” Jason laughs, he’d gotten back to Roy’s just a few hours prior and after reassuring a tear-stained Lian he would stay for a while longer, he’d pretty much gone straight to bed.

 

“You already know I miss you, Jay. Damian missed you too, though. You gotta call him back.” The TV plays a victory song like from Final Fantasy and Jason feels a sleep-deprived smile work its way onto his face. “Steph says ‘hi’, B-T-W.”

 

“She there with you?”

 

“You know it.” Duke’s phone makes noise, presumably as he moves it away from his face, and then Steph’s voice comes through it.

 

“Hi Jason! Call me too, while you’re at it!”

 

“I’ll be sure to mark you into my schedule,” he chuckles. Something about this guest room in this house full of people feels eerily silent for a moment. His ceiling fan helps keep his nerves down just enough. “What’s up with Damian, though? Also- Where is Tim?”

 

“Sleeping,” Steph says at the same time Duke says, “He’s been trying to call you.”

 

“Is that a new skill Tim’s picked up recently?” Jason remembers Tim as only averaging a solid four hours each night, which admittedly sometimes beat Jason and Dick.

 

“He’s been bored without you around, I think,” Duke says. “But you gotta call Damian back, he really could use you right now.”

 

Jason doesn’t let himself dwell on the last conversation he’d had with Damian. Not yet, at least. “I’ll call him. Do you know what’s up?”

 

“We all just miss you,” Steph says. “Bruce is never sure which of his kids he actually likes, but Damian’s blood so I guess he’s always on the right list. That’s not to say that they don’t fight, y’know.”

 

“I know.”

 

“But,” Steph continues, “if you let him know you’re doing alright, he might calm down.”

 

“Yeah… I’ll call him tomorrow, alright?” Jason sighs. Duke cheers and he hears a guy enter the room they’re playing video games in. Definitely not Tim, but it takes a second for Jason to realize who it is, “Is that Dick in there?”

 

Much quieter than Duke and Steph, Dick greets Jason from across the room, “Call me tomorrow too, while you’re at it, Littlewing!”

 

Fuckin’ great. “Alright, alright, you guys are going to have to share me. Should I pen in Cass and Tim too? What about Babs, has she decided she c- misses me too?” 

 

The three laugh on the other end of the line, and Jason almost believes their family is okay again. Dick says something to Steph and Duke that Jason can’t hear, and then quickly excuses himself from the room. For a moment the call is silent again and Jason’s left with facing the suffocating silence of Roy’s house.

 

And then he hears a faint snore come from down the hall, where Roy’s room is. 

 

That ice he hadn’t even noticed creeping in dissipates just the smallest amount. 

 

“So Dick’s home again?” His voice is soft still, and with the way the blinds in his room are positioned he can see some stars in the vast sky. 

 

“Oh yeah, he’s been here for a month or so,” Steph says and her mouth is full of something. Maybe Dick brought them food… at about 4 am.

 

Duke makes a noise of agreement, “Yeah, he’s been helping with Damian mostly. You know Bruce never knows the right thing to do, so Dick’s gotta be a parent right now.”

 

Jason doesn’t like that at all. “What about you guys?”

 

“Mm, what about us?” Steph asks.

 

“How are you guys doing? As much as Bruce isn’t parenting Damian, I’m sure his focus isn’t on either of you.”

 

Steph laughs at that, “He has no plans of even adopting me, so I think that ship’s sailed.”

 

“Yeah and he’s kicked Steph out… what three times at this point?”

 

She laughs harder, “He keeps trying but it doesn’t stick. Always one window left unlocked.”

 

Maybe that’s where Jason went wrong, he should have made it harder for Bruce to kick him out…

 

“Alright, I’ve gotta go to bed, guys.” As Jason says that, he yawns. 

 

“Goodnight Jay!” Duke says.

 

“Remember to call Damian!” Steph says before Jason ends the call.

 

With his phone on his chest and a hand hanging off the bed, he’s left back in that familiar silence. Roy’s snoring the only thing keeping his mind at ease as his eyes drift closed, consciousness pulled towards the stars.

 

-

 

His stomach feels tight, and he tastes blood in his mouth. 

 

Steph’s telling him about awful things that happened to her when she was a child, but he can’t hear her voice. He just feels that awful feeling slowly creeping up on him. “I’m glad you’re safe now,” he says. “Those things should have never happened to you,” he says. “You didn’t deserve to be put in that position at that age,” he says.

 

Her mouth moves, and he knows what she’s saying but he doesn’t hear it.

 

They sit together on the patio, just outside the kitchen. It’s past midnight but most of the house is doing its own thing. Last he saw Cass was teaching Damian how to dance somewhere inside. Other than that everyone must be in their own rooms.

 

“What’s wrong Jason?” Steph asks him. 

 

He wants to tell her what he’s realizing, but the words won’t leave his mouth. His mind is already two months down the line, if he tells her what he’s thinking then what comes next? Fights, tears, anger… pain. For both him and his family, and he can’t do that. Not again, not this time. This time he gets to choose who feels pain over his story, he gets to choose how he makes his family feel. His death devastated them, but this doesn’t have to.

 

“Nothing, I just feel really bad for you, is all.” A lump forms in his throat. He’s lying and Steph knows he’s lying. He won’t look at her, just the glass table they sit at. “Your dad should have cared about you more, and never let that guy anywhere near you. It’s total bullshit.”

 

She laughs. 

 

His heart beats inside of himself and he needs to be alone.

 

So he gets up and leaves.

 

If what happened to Steph was wrong then how was what happened to him okay?

 

Maybe it wasn’t okay. Maybe he isn’t okay.

 

-

 

The sun screams through his blinds into his oh so very sensitive eyes.

 

Voices come from the kitchen and Jason rubs his eyes. Roy and Donna are talking to each other. When he’d briefly met her the night before she seemed nice enough, apparently Roy had called her to watch Lian for the few hours he would be gone to pick Jason up. 

 

After he called Roy it was only a few hours before he’d been picked up, and then only a few more before they were back at his brown house in the middle of fucking nowhere. Evidently Lian took Jason leaving worse than Jason- or his car- had. 

 

Laughter comes from the kitchen and he feels his chest get tight.

 

He picks his phone up, and stares at it for a moment. 

 

-

 

"Jason I'm so sorry,” Damian cried into his phone. He’d left the manor just the day before, he knew Damian’s call was only a matter of time.

 

His heart breaks to hear his little brother so upset, but he doesn't have an ounce of anger in himself, "It's okay, Damian. I'm not mad at you, I promise."

 

"Why not? You should be- You should be so mad at me and never speak to me ever again." He's sobbing so much he can barely get the words out.

 

If Jason could see him, he might hug Damian. Maybe not actually, Damian's never liked hugs. "Because I can be mad at you later. I don't have to be mad now. We've got the rest of our lives, and maybe in a few years I will be mad at you, and that's fine. I'm not mad right now though."

 

"But it wasn't my- I shouldn't have said anything to father!"

 

"Hey, hey," Jason takes a deep breath because honestly hearing his baby brother cry like this is more painful than anything Bruce ever did to him. "Come on, deep breath Dami. If I'm being honest… I knew you would tell him." The apartment he’s squatting in reeks of mildew, but at least the old carpet is sort of plush to sit on.

 

"You did?" His sobs have stopped to make way for confusion.

 

"Yeah," Jason laughs, "come on, we grew up together. I know you, bro. I knew you would use it against Bruce even before I told you anything." There's truth to what he's saying, but that doesn't mean he didn't wish that Damian would do the right thing. “I- I knew you’d find out eventually, and maybe I felt like you deserved to know, but I also… It only took me so long to tell you because I knew what you would do with the information.” He brings a knee up to rest his elbow on.

 

“You were right to not trust me.”

 

Jason scoffs at that, incredulous, “Dami, it’s not that I don’t trust you, it’s that I know how you get when you’re mad. I know that you lose track of anything else, and that you would tell Bruce, either as a gotcha or to guilt him in some way.”

 

“Do you…” Damian’s voice is impossibly tiny. “Do you think I’m a bad person?”

 

“Of course not,” Jason sighs. “You made a mistake. It’s okay, I forgive you.”

 

-

 

Jason sighs and hits the dial button. It rings twice before Damian picks up, he doesn’t say anything, just waits for Jason to start.

 

“Hey Dami,” Jason says after a deep breath that he hopes isn’t picked up. Despite it being morning now, he keeps his voice low. He doesn’t want anyone knowing he’s awake yet. His eyes follow the ceiling fan around.

 

“Hello brother,” Damian’s voice is clipped, almost mad sounding.

 

“Something up?”

 

“No.” Of course not.

 

A smile works its way onto his face, he’d almost forgotten what conversation with Damian was like. “You called me a few times the other day while I was asleep. Wanted to check in on my favorite baby brother.”

 

“That’s a bit redundant. Of course I’m your favorite. I would suggest just specifying favorite sibling in general.” Damian clears his voice. “I wanted to know how you were doing… We haven’t… spoken…”

 

“Yeah, I’m sorry about that.” It’s hard. Talking to Damian reminds him of everything he doesn’t have anymore. “I’ve been on the move these past few weeks, and it’s been-...”

 

“I understand. Did Grayson tell you about what I’ve been up to?”

 

“Uh… He said you crashed one of Bruce’s cars, I think. You okay?”

 

Damian grumles something under his breath and the smile on Jason’s face only grows. “Of course I am. Father has requested I start attending therapy, and it has been disgusting, grueling work.” Jason wishes Bruce had done that for him. “I have decided that I want you to come back.”

 

“Fuck.” Jason’s smile drops and his eyes grow hot. “Damian don’t-”

 

“I am not requesting that you come back, I doubt father would approve either way, but once you are done… healing… I want you to come back. Bring me something cool from wherever you are.”

 

Jason takes another deep breath as more laughter comes from the kitchen. “I’m in between Texas and New Mexico right now.” He hopes Damian doesn’t share that with Bruce, but he already knows Jason’s in Texas. “What would you like?”

 

Damian’s quiet for a moment, and then, “A story.”

 

“What kind?”

 

“I don’t know. Something interesting. Bring me back an interesting story… And a cactus.”

 

“You got it,” Jason laughs but it feels kind of hollow. 

 

“I’m going to go now, Tim needs someone to tell him he’s being stupid.”

 

“And by god it’d gotta be you.”

 

“I’m glad you understand. Goodbye.”

 

“Bye, love you.”

 

“Mm.”

 

Jason looks up at his ceiling fan again, he watches as the shadows move around the room and maybe an hour passes, or maybe it’s only thirty seconds but he’s interrupted by a quiet knock on his door. He raises his head off his pillow by a few inches and looks towards the door. Roy and Donna’s voices are still in the kitchen.

 

He stands and opens the door, his guest only about waist-height and, “Hey, Lian.”

 

“Hi Jason,” she pushes past him into the room, and he watches her curiously as she keeps walking until she’s in the middle of the room. “I have a predicament.”

 

“What’s… up?” He steps away from the door, leaving it open. He can’t help but notice the crutch is nowhere in sight. 

 

She opens her mouth, wide, and uses her pointer finger to poke one of her front teeth, “Mm my mouf ith wiggwy.”

 

“You got a loose tooth?”

 

“Yes!” She smiles widely, dropping her hand to wipe on her pants. “It’s really annoying and I want it out of me!” She quirks her mouth up at the side, as if thinking deeply. “Last time my mouth was wiggly, daddy had me wait until it fell out, but that took forever and I want it out now!”

 

“Okay…” His mind thinks back to when he was roughly her size, he’d honestly just ripped his teeth out as soon as possible, at least he assumes he did as much. “What do you want to do about it?” He remembers once at Talia’s he’d woken up to blood all over a bathroom, Damian had spent a whole morning trying to tear his teeth out and took a chunk of his gums with them. He shudders.

 

“Help me get it out.” She smiles at him sweetly, and he can’t help but think back to her devastated face the night prior. According to Donna, she’d cried the entire time he and Roy were gone. He wants to apologize in some way. 

 

“Okay, I can help with that.” She stares up at him patiently, and he hadn’t thought this far ahead. “Do you want to try tying a string around your tooth and slamming a door?”

 

“Will it hurt?”

 

Probably. “Not a lot- I don’t think so. Do you have a string?”

 

“Yes!” And she’s off, sprinting out of the room and into the bathroom before returning momentarily with a long strand of floss. The kitchen conversation pauses before continuing and Jason wonders briefly if he should call Roy over.

 

“Do you know how to tie a knot?” Jason asks.

 

“Of course I do.” He finds, very quickly, that she doesn’t. After she struggles for a few minutes, he ties it for her, and lets her slip it around her own tooth. He then ties the other end to the doorknob of the guestroom.

 

He steps back and looks between her open mouth and the open door, “Did you want to slam it, or did you want me-”

 

She slams the door shut, which he realizes as he watches the string fly from her mouth that maybe he should not have recommended this. Thankfully, her tooth is still in her mouth. 

 

“It didn’t work,” she states.

 

“Hm. Yeah.”

 

“Now what?” She looks up at him with her large dark eyes and he’s already thinking of another plan. “I’m not strong enough to pull it out with my fingers.”

 

“Yeah, pliers would probably make that easier.”

 

“Do you have any?”

 

No. “I can go ask Roy for some.” Fuck.

 

“Good idea. I’ll wait here.”

 

As he steps out of the blue guest room, he realizes he has no idea what he’s going to say to Roy. The hardwood of the hallway is abnormally cool against his feet, and he wishes he’d put on socks. 

 

“Hey, Roy,” Jason starts as he enters the kitchen, “I have a-”

 

His eyes land on Roy and Donna standing together, Roy half-sitting on his counter, mug of coffee in hand, and Donna sipping her own mug only a few feet away. Her hair is a little messy and she’s dressed in pajamas, Roy looking much the same bed head so crazy he’s not even wearing his trucker hat. 

 

Something about the way the sunlight comes in through the window, shining on half of Roy’s face and bathing the two of them softly, their pleasant smiles… Something about it makes Jason stumble over his feet and words for a moment.

 

“Hm? What’s up?” Roy asks, that kind, pleasant, crooked smile plastered dumbly on his face.

 

“Um… Do- do you have pliers I can borrow?” He points his eyes downward, trying not to focus on the way Roy makes his heart beat, or the way Donna feels strikingly familiar in a way he can’t place.

 

“Do I…” Roy cocks his head, his smile now confused. His messy hair moves with his head. “What for?” Donna chuckles into her mug. 

 

“Uh.” Perhaps this was not the best idea, after all. “Hey, Donna, I meant to say something last night, but like you look really familiar for some reason…”

 

“Smooth,” she says into her mug before pulling it from her lips. “Huh, yeah y’know I was thinking the same about you. You from Star?”

 

“Jason what did you need pliers for?”

 

“No, actually. I’m from Gotham… Pretty, uh, far.” He racks his brain, and as far as he can remember he’d never even been to star before. “Did you ever visit Gotham?”

 

“Not often…” She looks deeply in thought for a moment as Roy stares at Jason. “You know, one of my oldest friends from school was from Gotham, actually.”

 

“I doubt I’d know her, I’m usually pretty… recluse, I guess.” Jason rubs the back of his neck. He’d gone to school for a while, and also dropped out of pretty much every grade. He was never good at making friends… Or school. He always tried really hard and never failed spectacularly but at a certain point it became too much. He preferred assigning his own work.

 

“His name was Dick, actually. Dick Grayson ring any bells?”

 

Jason’s mouth drops open. 

 

Donna laughs, “Looks like it does.”

 

“That’s- He’s my brother.”

 

She laughs harder.

 

“Jason,” Roy says patiently, setting his coffee mug on the counter, “what did you want pliers for?”

 

“I don’t think that’s really-”

 

“JASON!” Lian’s shrill voice calls from the guestroom. 

 

Roy’s head snaps, body moving before he says anything. “What are you guys up to?” Jason’s shoulders sag as he follows Roy, Donna staying behind in the kitchen.

 

“Listen-”

 

Lian’s already talking before Roy’s fully opened the door, “Jason I almost got it out! Look, look- you’re not Jason.”

 

“No,” Roy smiles down at her, one hand on his hips, “I’m not.” Jason stands behind Roy, looking down at Lian as well. Her eyes widen as she looks between the two of them, hand slowly dropping out of her mouth.

 

“Scatter!” she screams before trying to bolt through their legs.

 

Roy catches her, both arms wrapping around her chest, “No, no, no, mister. What were you two scheming in here?”

 

“Lian if we both stay quiet he can’t prove anything,” Jason feels himself blurting.

 

“Oh don’t you dare try to teach my daughter-”

 

Lian giggles so loudly it pierces Jason’s skull, more like a scream than laughter. “I know my rights!”

 

“And I regret teaching them to you!” Roy laughs as well and picks her up off the ground to swing her around a few times. “My methods may be cruel and unusual but our house doesn’t abide by any government constitution!”

 

Jason finds himself laughing too as he watches Roy spin Lian around. He swears they have the same laugh when Lian’s not making his ears bleed.

 

“Okay! Okay!” Lian yells, out of breath and still giggling, “I’ll tell you! Put me down daddy!”

 

Roy slows, lowering her back to the ground, “Alright, talk.”

 

She bolts. Sprinting past the two of them and down the hall into the kitchen.

 

“Oh-!” Roy stumbles after her, putting a hand on Jason’s chest to push him out of the doorway and follow her.

 

Jason takes this as a chance to put on his socks.

 

It’s not long before everyone’s getting ready for the day, changing into day clothes and brushed hair. Roy cooks them all breakfast before Donna’s out of the door and on her way.

 

He’d forgotten how much he missed meals with his family.

Chapter Text

When Roy had picked Jason up the previous night, he wanted to stay mostly quiet. The tow-truck was enormously loud even in the cab. Roy had helped Jason get his car on the truck bed before helping him back into that seat he’d been in not too long before.

 

“Fancy running into you here,” Roy had said with a laugh and quick glance over at Jason. 

 

His brain had been running at only a few frames per second, unbearably upset with everything that had happened, but somehow happy to be going back to Roy’s. “I guess.”

 

“Hey, Jaybird, it’s gonna be okay.” Roy’s voice was so soft that Jason even tried to believe him. “I’ll get your car fixed up and then you can be back out here in no time.”

 

That wasn’t the problem.

 

Roy chuckled, but it was barely audible, “What happened to your car this time?” Over the phone Jason had been so upset all he could tell Roy was he needed to be picked up and where he was. “Air regulation again?”

 

“Yeah. Same problems.” He was spent from sitting in his car for a few hours waiting in silence for Roy to pick him up.

 

“Hm…” Roy nodded. “I’ve got a few new ideas for your car. Don’t even worry about it.”

 

He wasn’t. “I’m not.” He said it more like a sigh than a statement. 

 

Roy glanced over at him. “Okay.” After a beat, “Lian really missed you, by the way.”

 

“Really?” That felt like a first for some reason. He kept his eyes out at the dark expanse of forest that was quickly turning back into more rocks and soon-to-be desert. He couldn’t make out any details around them in this light, but the sky sure was pretty. He realized he still hadn’t kissed Roy yet.

 

“You know,” Roy says, “we can do that whenever. Just let me know when you’re ready.”

 

“Huh?”

 

Roy laughs and glances at him again, that crooked smile showing more pointy yellowed teeth on one side than the other. G-d he was handsome. “All the time in the world, remember?”

 

Sometimes… he wished they had a time limit. Something to tell Jason when it was time to actually start caring about where he was. 

 

-

 

After Donna had left back to Albuquerque (Jason had come to find that she was in town for the week, and was planning on stopping by to see Roy anyway), Jason excuses himself from Roy and Lian to the garage. He wasn’t sure how long he was supposed to wait before he called any of his siblings, but he figured now was as good a time as any.

 

Sitting down on the steps into the garage, leaned against the cool and heavy white door, he dials Dick’s number.

 

It rings all the way through to voicemail and he almost regrets even trying before Dick is already calling him back. He picks up hesitantly, glad the cool door is against his back so he doesn’t have to think about the now blistering heat.

 

“Jason!” Dick laughs breathlessly, “Sorry, I was working out just practicing my- actually y’know what? It doesn’t matter! Sorry, what’s up, dude?”

 

Jason exhails in a way that’s supposed to resemble a laugh. “You said you wanted me to call you last night…”

 

“Yeah! I miss you!” There’s a sound of something like a locker opening up and Jason has to wonder where Dick even is. “I want you to talk to me more, I’m really sorry it’s been so…”

 

“Yeah.” Jason feels something heavy sink in his chest, and he decides to look out around the garage at the various motors and parts hanging from the ceiling. He couldn’t even begin to name… any of them. “I guess everything probably hasn’t been so easy on you, either.”

 

“What do you mean?” A sink runs as Dick asks that.

 

Well even if Dick wasn’t who had been banished from their home or yelled at over something he hadn’t even wanted anyone knowing about, he was still semi-present for everything. “You and Damian have always been super close… I know he’s been taking everything pretty poorly, and like… I dunno… That’s probably not super easy to deal with.”

 

Dick laughs, but it’s not a super happy laugh, “I mean sure, I’ve been picking up some pieces here and there, but that doesn’t really excuse my absence from you.”

 

That feels like an ice pick driven straight down his throat and into his heart. He doesn’t want to think about that, because if he thinks about how absent his family has been from him, he might get mad at them. The last thing he wants is more things to be mad about.

 

“But anyway, how have you been? Is your car actually working yet?”  

 

“Not exactly.”

 

“Aw, that’s a bummer. You’re at a mechanic?”

 

“Not… exactly.”

 

“What’s that mean?” Dick laughs again and there’s a sound like a car door opening and closing.

 

“Are you driving somewhere?” Jason tries not to pry too much into his siblings' lives, but he genuinely doesn’t want to talk about himself any more.

 

Dick makes a non-committal noise, “Not yet. But once we’re done I’m gonna go take Cass and Tim out for pizza.”

 

“Cool.” Jason could go for pizza too. He thinks for a moment he sees a rat run across the garage, but as soon as his eyes try to follow it, there’s nothing there.

 

Dick hums in thought for a moment, and Jason knows whatever he’s about to say is going to be annoying, “I think you should try talking to Bruce.” There it is.

 

“Why? I’ve spoken to him a few times already, I think my yearly quota is filled.”

 

“Ha-ha. I just… he’s been acting differently lately, more broody than normal.” Dick laughs again, “I really do think he misses you, Littlewing.”

 

Jason tightens his grip on his phone because he doesn’t know what to say. Maybe if Bruce was going to start caring about Jason, he should be the one to tell him. “I met your old friend Donna. Sorry, Dick, my mechanic and his daughter are calling me. I’ve got to go whore myself out to him so he fixes my car.”

 

“Wait what-?”  

 

Jason hangs up before Dick can finish his question. In truth, he hadn’t been called and he was mostly just trying to make a joke. Maybe it was a cry for help, Jason was never any good at those.

 

He stays sitting in the garage for a while, eyes closed and hands on his knees. Once he doesn’t feel close to going nuclear anymore, he heads back into the living room. 

 

Roy is reading a book on the couch, legs laid out down the thing, while Lian lines a plethora of hot wheels up together. She’s already got a few lines of five or ten, but a bucket full of even more looms just behind her. The heat outside makes Jason’s shirt stick him with sweat, but the living room is already cooler than the garage.

 

Looking up from his book, Roy smiles at Jason and moves his feet to the ground, despite there already being space for Jason to join him. “Hey! All good?” 

 

That question could be in reference to any number of things and right now Jason assumes it’s the giant sweat-patches on his shirt, so he bites his lip and nods. Roy gives him a once-over and nods slowly.

 

“Alright, well I ordered some new spark plugs for you, they should be in two days.” 

 

Jason doesn’t really know what to say, so he sits next to Roy. There’s a few inches of space between them, and neither makes a move to close it. 

 

“Are you going to leave again in two days?” Lian asks, looking up at them instead of her toy cars. Her voice has a hint of wobble to it, and Jason tries not to think about her tear-soaked mess from last night.

 

Jason nods at her, but he’s not too confident. He knows he doesn’t want to leave. Why the fuck would he? He has nowhere else to go and it’s not like he’s privy to find someone hotter- nicer than Roy. His kindness is definitely what’s keeping Jason around.

 

“Do you have to leave?” Lian asks.

 

“We haven’t-” Roy starts, but he gets interrupted by Jason’s phone ringing.

 

Jason picks it up without really looking, planning on saying in the most Lian-friendly way possible “fuck off Dick”, but when he says, “Listen, Dick I’m really not-” he stops dead as the name on the caller finally registers. “Bruce..?”

 

He gets a grunt in response. 

 

“What’s this about?” Jason stands and heads towards the guest bedroom. Roy and Lian will still probably be able to hear some of what he says in there, but at least he doesn’t have to look at her sad dark eyes. He half wants to ask Roy if he can move in so Lian never has to cry again. 

 

“I think we’ve had some miscommunications.”

 

Jason wants to bite his arms off and send his phone flying through the window.

 

Bruce lets out a heavy sigh and that’s the closest thing to weakness Jason has ever heard from him. “We should… talk about it.”

 

“Is this about what I said to Dick? Honestly, Bruce, what I do or don’t do with my body is my choice these days. It’s not like you’d-”

 

“What did you say to Dick?” His voice is stilted, as per usual.

 

“Uh. Nothing… what did he tell you?”

 

“We haven’t spoken in a few days.”

 

“Oh.” Jason coughs awkwardly as he sits on his bed. “So, why are you calling me?”

 

“Jason,” Bruce says it in his serious voice, which is sometimes hard to pick out from his regular voice, which is also usually serious. “We have been having a breakdown in communication, as it has come to my attention.”

 

“Yeah, Bruce. We kind of only have those. We don’t really communicate in any non-broken-down way. A lot about me is broken-down these days, you know. Like my car, for starters.” He pauses and when Bruce stays silent, he continues, “And my family. Lotta broken-down-ness going on over there, huh? Dami crashed one of your cars and has been acting out lately, huh? Wonder what caused that. Bruce.”

 

Maybe Jason’s a little fried from the heat, and the stress of his life has finally started catching up, but as soon as he says all of that, he feels something slimy sink inside himself. It doesn’t feel cathartic. It feels cruel.

 

“Maybe I deserve that,” Bruce grunts out, “but I want us to try to-”

 

“You lost me at ‘maybe’.” And then Jason hangs up.

 

He flops down completely onto the bed, his sweaty back making the experience much worse than he’d care to admit. He stares up at the currently stationary ceiling fan and tries to not let everything catch up with himself. Maybe if he beats his bad thoughts back with a broom, they’ll stop happening.

 

He sucks his chapped bottom lip into his mouth, and feels the tears rolling down his face before he realizes he’s crying. His body shakes and he whimpers, moving a hand to clasp over his mouth and nose. 

 

Jason really wishes he were done crying about stupid shit by now.

 

So what if Bruce wanted to talk to him? He’d had his chance. Two fucking years he had his chance. Maybe Bruce had fucked it all up when he kicked Jason out in the most passive agressive and round-about way he could. Or maybe he’d fucked it all up when he told Jason that he just couldn’t believe him and what happened to him was lies meant to turn his son against him. Or maybe it was when Bruce took two weeks after Jason was dropped off at his house to even make time to see him.

 

But he knows, really and truly, deep in his heart, that Bruce didn’t actually fuck any of it up.

 

Jason had ruined everything the first time he met Talia at a party and let himself think that she was the most gorgeous person he would ever see. Everything after that was his own fault.

 

He takes a long and slow breath, feeling his chest rise against Roy’s shirt that he’s still wearing. His lungs feel like they vibrate within himself, a painful sensation that moves his mind away from his dad. He lets the breath go and with it, he feels something cloudy release him. 

 

A knock sounds from his door, so he wipes his face quickly, pressing the cool backs of his hands to his eyes and hopes that whoever it is can’t tell he’s been crying.

 

“Hey,” Roy says as Jason opens the door, “I figured you’d want something to change into.” He’s holding a clean white shirt, basketball shorts, and a pair of socks neatly folded in his arms. “You can put what you’re currently wearing in the hamper in the bathroom, and I’ll have it back to you by the time your car’s ready.”

 

“This is your shirt,” Jason says instead of accepting the clean clothes. 

 

Roy chuckles, “Yeah, and it’s one of my favorites. That’s why you can keep it,” he says with a wink. Jason opens his mouth to protest but Roy just thrusts the clean clothes at him before disappearing back to the living room.

 

The new shirt is very soft.

 

Roy’s thicker than Jason is, and he worries that the shirt might look stupid on him before he decides it’s less stupid than a sweaty red one. He re-joins Roy and Lian in the living room, and tries to not think about the way the shirt bunches up on him.

 

Lian’s toy cars are still laid out in neat lines, though now she sits in Roy’s lap, as he reads aloud to her. They both look up and smile when Jason enters. 

 

“Hey, welcome back,” Roy says, setting the book aside and patting the spot Jason had abandoned earlier. “I actually wanted us to talk about what happens after-” Roy’s cut off by a phone ringing, again.

 

Jason doesn’t even move for his own, but after a moment Roy answers his own phone, moving Lian to sit beside himself so he can stand and walk as he talks.

 

“Harper’s Wrecker Service, what can I do for you?” His brow creases quickly as his face turns set. 

 

Jason and Lian share a look as he joins her on the couch.

 

“Oh man, yeah that’s not good.” Roy paces around the living room, rubbing a hand against the back of his neck as he goes. “Uh-huh. Yeah, I’m out of town right now, I can be there in about two hours. Yeah, I’m just sorry I can’t get there sooner. No it’s no problem, I’m just glad everybody’s okay.” He sucks a breath in through his teeth. “Gotcha. I’ll head to the office now, I’ll give you a call back then and set up where to pick it up.”

 

His hand drops from his head, and he throws his head back. A long groan erupts from him, before he looks over at Lian and Jason waiting patiently on the couch.

 

“I thought you only had an office phone,” Jason says.

 

Roy chuckles, but it’s mostly without any humour. “I do have an office phone and when I’m actually at the office it’s what I use. But I’ve been off duty the past week so in the case of emergency, I get called…” He shakes his phone. “I’m gonna have to-... Jason,” Roy starts tentatively.

 

“I can watch Lian. Don’t worry. I’ll even cook dinner, if you’re gone that long.”

 

Roy nods and it seems like a weight comes off his shoulders. “You’re sure?”

 

“Me an’ Jason can have a movie marathon!” Lian announces. “With lots of popcorn!”

 

“Sure thing,” Roy laughs, “but dinner first. And,” he looks at Jason, “nothing above PG.” Jason nods, as if he’s been given a mission of utmost importance. “Okay… Okay. I’m- I should get going. Hopefully I’ll be back before midnight.”

 

“Drive safe,” Jason says. 

 

Roy gathers his keys and is out the door before Jason’s chasing after him, filled water bottle in hand. “Thanks,” Roy’s got a soft crooked smile on his face as he hops into his big rig.

 

-

 

Jason realizes after his and Lian’s second movie that the sun sets pretty late out here, so he begins making dinner. Lian decides to help, so washes her hands and then watches Jason as he looks around the kitchen, trying to find anything that he could put together.

 

“Would you want baked chicken?” Jason asks, looking out from the fridge at Lian.

 

“Maybe!”

 

“Hm…” He keeps looking. “Chicken salad?”

 

“Um… no!” Lian smiles at him.

 

Jason purses his lips. “Lasagna?” He glances at her, and the grossed out look on her face, “Yeah me neither, actually. What do you want?”

 

“Popcorn!”

 

“That’s after dinner. What about uh… pizza?” He opens the freezer to see they do in fact have frozen pizzas.

 

“No, I don’t like those.”

 

“You don’t like pizza?” Jason gapes at her.

 

“I like pizza… just not um… the cold kind.”

 

“I’ll heat it up.”

 

“No.” She shuffles from foot to foot, as if she’s unsure how to word what she’s saying. “I like it when daddy makes the pizza.”

 

“Oh…” Jason glances between her and the fridge. “Okay, I think I could do that.” 

 

Jason looks around the kitchen until he finds a jar that looks large enough to hold pizza dough in. He washes it in the sink as Lian takes a seat at the table. “What are you doing?” she asks him as he fills the jar with water.

 

“My best.” The jar is about 16 inches in diameter and maybe half a foot deep. He rummages through cabinets until he finds yeast. He shakes about a handful into the large jar. “Okay we should wait like… fifteen minutes before the next step.”

 

“What’s the next step?” 

 

Jason hadn’t made pizza in a very long time, but he had cooked often enough to remember the basics. “Salt and flour. Then we wait some more.” He joins Lian at the table. “Do you know how to play go-fish?”

 

Lian cocks her hair to the side and her long dark hair falls in front of her face before she pushes it out of the way. “Why?”

 

“Wanna play go-fish while we wait?”

 

She smiles at him, a now gap-toothed smile. He hadn’t seen when the tooth came out and it kind of makes him sad for some reason. “What if I don’t like go-fish?”

 

“Okay, what about poker?” Lian cocks her head the other way. “Blackjack?”

 

“Sure!” she squeals at a piercing decibel.

 

Jason stands to inspect the bookshelf he’d seen in the living room. The top two shelves are packed with books, the bottom two board games. He’d assumed that they would have a deck of cards because it seemed almost like a staple to him, even Damian’s family had decks of cards.

 

Instead he spots a deck of UNO and grabs that instead. Before he deals the cards out, he goes to add a few pinches of salt and about four drinking-glasses full of flour into the large jar. He stirs it until it starts to get doughy and then sits across from Lian at the table.

 

He deals them each seven cards and as he sorts his own he notices most of the cards have little letters in their corners, written in sharpie. “R, G, Y” the blue cards have no labels.

 

It’s not long before Jason and Lian are both yelling and slamming cards onto the table with enough force to shake it. They’re laughing and when Lian wins their round he realizes he needs to check on the dough. It seems ready enough so he begins to knead it on the kitchen counter (after cleaning the counter).

 

“Ooh! Ooh! My turn!” Lian yells running under Jason’s arms to stand between him and the counter. 

 

“Wash your hands again first, please.” 

 

She groans, but does so. Then she ducks in front of him again and follows his hand movements. They roll the dough out and then she helps him spread the marinara over the dough. Jason roots around the cabinets again until he finds oregano, thyme and garlic powder. 

 

He shakes the first two while Lian shakes the later and he hopes that they’re not putting on too much. He has her sprinkle cheese on while he preheats the oven. By the time she’s done, the oven’s ready for him to put the pizza in.

 

The sound of Jason’s phone ringing pulls attention and he dreads who it might be before he sees that it’s Roy. “Hi!” Jason smiles into his phone. 

 

There’s a lot of noise in the background, and Roy has to shout over it, “Hey Jaybird, how’s it going?” The sound of a larger truck backing up comes clear over the phone.

 

“Good, we’re cooking dinner right now, actually.” 

 

Lian lights up as she looks at Jason, “Is it daddy?” she asks. Jason nods and she pounces at him, jumping at the phone. “Hi daddy!” 

 

“Hey baby!” Roy laughs. “Alright, glad everything’s going well. I should be home in only a few hours. Think you two can make it that long?”

 

“No,” Jason says before thinking. He quickly rectifies, “No problem, Roy.”

 

“Great. Have fun!” There’s a moment of awkward air as Jason wonders what he should say next, and then the line dies.

 

Jason and Lian start another movie while the pizza cooks. Every fifteen minutes Jason stands to check on the pizza, on around his third time he decides the pizza’s ready. 

 

He and Lian eat the pizza, saving a few slices for Roy, while they finish their movie. Before the start of their fourth movie of the night, Jason microwaves them popcorn. They each have their own small bowl, but steal from each other anyway.

 

Jason stirs the sound of Roy’s amused laughter. He blinks his bleary eyes open and moves to rub at his neck that aches faintly and finds he has a pressure on his left arm. Roy’s illuminated by the TV light, and when Jason looks at his arm, he realizes Lian curled up next to him is the pressure.

 

She stirs as well from Jason’s movement so he freezes, eyes widening as he looks at Roy. It’s pitch black outside and must be so late.

 

“I’ve got her,” Roy whispers, moving to Lian’s side. He moves one arm under her back, the other under legs as he lifts her from Jason. She stirs for a moment so Roy stills before she moves from cuddling Jason’s side to hugging against Roy’s chest. “Thank you,” Roy whispers in Jason’s ear before leaning a few inches to kiss his cheek. 

 

It’s so quick Jason almost doesn’t believe that it happened.

 

As Roy makes his way towards Lian’s room, Jason still half-asleep stumbles into his own.

 

-

 

He wakes up again before morning and his heart’s racing and he can’t slow it down. He feels like he’s drowning and burning at the same time, entire body sensitive to the world but nowhere near present nor grounded. His blanket is heavy and suffocating, but also the only thing keeping him from floating off into the sky, out the window and to stay among the stars. 

 

His shoulders rise from the mattress without him willing them to, and soon his feet are padding out of his room and down the hallway. Lian’s room is right across the hall from his, the bathroom right next to him, and Roy’s next to Lian’s. The white door to the garage looks dark in the hallway.

 

Jason’s fist raps on Roy’s door, softer than he’d meant. The house is silent, no snoring from Roy, and Jason can’t tell if that means he’s awake or not.

 

He knocks again, more confident this time. One hand clasps the corners of his pendleton blanket around his shoulders.

 

“Yes honey?” Roy’s sleepy voice slurs from within his room. If the house weren’t so quiet, Jason might not have heard it. He feels his brain stutter for a moment, unable to figure out what he wants to say. A few moments later, Roy opens the door, head pointed down and clearly expecting Lian. “Oh- hey Jason,” he yawns and rubs his face. 

 

It’s too dark to make out any details of Roy in the dark. “Sorry I just…” Jason shifts from one foot to the other.

 

Roy opens the door wider, and puts one strong hand on Jason’s covered shoulder. He holds his shoulder tightly, secure. “It’s alright, I wasn’t asleep yet anyway.” He yawns.  “What’s up?

 

What is up? Jason feels his body still on edge, but he can barely remember why. “I had a… nightmare.” Bad dream would sound stupid, probably.

 

“You need food?”

 

“No…”

 

Roy grunts, but it’s not mean. Jason wishes he could see Roy’s face better. “You wanna sleep in my bed with me?” Roy chuckles softly, as if he’s joking.

 

“Um. Actually…”

 

“Oh.” Roy’s hand drifts from Jason’s shoulder for a moment, “Yeah, sure, lemme get a light on.” 

 

He disappears into the dark bedroom, and not long after the room lights up with a lamp on his nightstand. 

 

Roy’s bedroom has a queen bed stacked high with quilts and blankets pushed into the far right corner of the room, a dark wooden nightstand next to it sporting a little green lamp. A dresser sits on the far left corner, vanity mirror pointed at the bed, surface teeming with papers and off items. 

 

Clothes are strewn around the room, but pretty few and far between. It’s not messy, but definitely lived in. A window above the bed has a pendleton blanket matching the one around Jason’s shoulders covering it, as does another window on the far wall.

 

“Can that be covered?” Jason asks, looking at the vanity mirror.

 

“Huh?” Roy follows Jason’s gaze, “Oh… yeah, you wanna put your blanket over it?”

 

Jason nods and steps into the room, the smell of honey and musk and… Roy, so overpowering and comforting. The walls are a soft yellow color, but posters of cars and bands cover almost every inch, as if Roy had lived in here since he was a teenager. Jason knows that he hadn’t. He pulls his blanket from his shoulders and tosses it over the mirror, he didn’t trust mirrors these days.

 

“You want the wall or the edge?” Roy asks, sitting on the edge of his bed and watching Jason look around the room again.

 

“Which one… do you want?”

 

“My preference is the edge, but I really don’t care,” Roy yawns again.

 

Jason nods, and climbs onto the bed, moving around Roy to settle between him and the cool wall. 

 

“Okay if I turn the light off?” Roy asks, laying down with Jason. 

 

“Mhm.” Jason pulls one of the many quilts over himself and Roy turns the lamp off. “Thank you, Roy.”

 

“Yeah, no problem.” Roy rolls over, and wraps an arm over Jason’s shoulders. 

 

His heart finally slows as he feels Roy’s breaths rise and fall against his back.

Chapter Text

Jason wakes up slowly, the sounds of birds chirping outside are pleasant and he takes a nice deep breath in. Honey and wood and metalic grease greets his nose and his chest is met with a warm block. His left arm is draped over Roy’s still sleeping figure. His arm rises and falls with Roy’s soft breath.

 

The room is dark, light peeking around the square pendleton blankets hung over the windows. Enough that Jason can make out outlines of everything in the room, but no specific details. It’s hard for him to believe that he hadn’t woken up here every single morning of his life because it felt so right.

 

Roy’s breathing stutters and he rolls over, into Jason. One of Roy’s arms is tucked into his chest, the other probably pinned underneath himself. Jason squeezes his arm around Roy tighter, holding on with his hand flat against Roy’s back. He rubs his hand, and doesn’t miss the way Roy’s body relaxes under his touch.

 

He has no idea what his future holds, but he knows he wants more of this. 

 

“Good morning,” Jason says softly. Roy hums in response and just presses himself closer to Jason. “Thank you for letting me sleep in here.”

 

“Mmm,” Roy hums again and his breath heats Jason’s neck and chest up, “go back t’sleep… please.” 

 

Jason takes in another deep breath, his mouth pressed to the top of Roy’s head. “What are our plans for today?”

 

“Coffee.” His voice vibrates against Jason’s chest.

 

He doesn’t even think about it, he just brings a hand to rake up through Roy’s messy coarse hair and presses a kiss onto the top of his head. His hand gets caught in a knot and Roy shudders in his arms.

 

“Can I brush your hair?” 

 

“After… coffee,” Roy mumbles.

 

“Then let's go put on a pot.” Jason kisses Roy’s shoulder as he rises from the bed. “Could I-...”

 

“Clothes are in the dresser, Jaybrid.” Roy rolls onto his stomach as Jason climbs over him.

 

-

 

Jason doesn’t even drink coffee, but he figures the coffee maker can’t be rocket science, so he tries his best. When Roy joins him a few minutes later, he doesn’t complain.

 

“What was it you wanted to do? Braid my… no- You wanted…” Roy sips his mug of coffee as he wonders quietly, and Jason can just barely pry his eyes from the way his hair is knotted together around his head.

 

“Brush. I want to brush your hair.”

 

Roy nods as he sips the coffee. “Mhmm… There should be a brush in my bathroom, I can go get that for you.” He pushes himself off the kitchen counter and heads back down the hall, and Jason follows him back into his room. 

 

He sets his coffee on his nightstand and Jason sits on the edge of the bed while Roy disappears into the bathroom. The room is too quiet and too lonely and too large for the few moments that Roy’s gone, but when he returns Jason forgets every bad feeling that’s ever consumed him.

 

Black flat bristled brush in one hand, Roy tosses it to Jason and sits on the floor between Jason’s knees. 

 

“I can’t remember the last time I had my hair brushed by someone else,” Roy laughs.

 

Jason holds the brush and stares at the back of Roy’s head for a moment. “I can’t remember if I've ever brushed someone's hair before.”

 

Roy laughs and leans to pick his coffee back up. “Just don’t pull all my hair out, and we’ll be good.”

 

“I think you’d look good bald.” He skims the brush over the worst of the knotting, and presses his free hand against Roy’s scalp to hold him.

 

“Fuck-!” Roy hisses.

 

“Did that hurt?”

 

“Not a lot, it’s-... It’s okay.” He straightens his back and wiggles his broad shoulders against Jason’s knees.

 

Jason runs the brush around Roy’s ears, and it moves relatively smoothly, the hair flattening and running behind the brush as he goes. He skims the knot again, slowly and faintly, and after a few runs of the brush he’s got it broken up enough to run the brush straight down Roy’s head.

 

Roy’s back relaxes and Jason hadn’t realized just how close to the edge of the bed he was sitting until he feels Roy’s back press against his crotch. He stills for less than a moment before he keeps brushing Roy’s hair.

 

“Daddy?” Lian’s voice calls from the kitchen.

 

“In my room, princess!” Roy shouts back.

 

Her feet patter against the floor quickly before she bursts into the bedroom. “I couldn’t find you!” she announces. “Hi Jason!”

 

“Hi baby,” Roy’s smile is audible. 

 

She rushes towards the bed, jumping onto it with her arms out. The force of the impact moves both Jason and Roy, but Lian quickly worms her way to cuddle up next to Jason. “Did you two sleep together last night?”

 

“No-” Jason starts and feels his face heat up.

 

Roy laughs and cuts Jason off with, “Yeah, we had a slumber party in here after your slumber party in the living room.”

 

“Cool!” She brings her knees up and jabs Jason’s ribs. “When you’re done doing my dad’s hair, can you do mine?”

 

Jason looks down at her, and her hair is messy as well. It’s much longer and more daunting than Roy’s. “Sure.”

 

He continues running the brush through Roy’s hair, and despite the knots being long gone, he keeps going. Well, at least until Lian begins wiggling.

 

“Okay, okay, okay,” she pushes Roy’s back with her feet and slides down to the floor where he had been. “My turn!”

 

Jason scoots back into the bed a bit and adjusts for the shorter angle.

 

“Hey!” Roy turns towards her with an offended look on his face. “Lian, honey, we’re gonna have to share Jaybird.”

 

“Right, and no-ow it’s my turn!” 

 

Jason doesn’t argue, he just brushes her hair until she gets bored and leaves the room. Her hair is much softer than Roy's.

 

“You can put the brush back in my bathroom,” Roy points at the adjoined door he’d gone through to get the brush. 

 

For some reason Jason’s heart beats faster and louder, but he does as he was told. His hand shakes as he turns the knob to the bathroom. He catches his own reflection in Roy’s bathroom mirror. Despite it being dark, and despite not even looking at the mirror or his reflection directly, his body stops.

 

He doesn’t notice his hand dropping the brush to the floor, and he can’t keep his head from turning to look into the mirror fully. 

 

The first time he got to use the bathroom by himself after being picked up by Talia, he sobbed for nearly thirty minutes straight while looking into the mirror. His face was unrecognizable. Dark gashes and bloody bandages covered most of his body. He wanted to tear them off with the rest of his skin.

 

He was only fourteen.

 

The morning after his first night-time visitor, he didn’t see himself in the mirror. He saw a kid with a mangled face that matched the way he felt, but it couldn’t ever match who was ever again. That pain never left.

 

He was fifteen.

 

The first week he’d spent back in Wayne Manor after Talia dropped him and Damian off, he’d seen his own picture over and over again, and he'd wished that he still knew that boy. But that boy had gone missing long ago, and now Jason was a monster who felt afraid of his own face.

 

He’s twenty-one years old now.

 

The bent scar on his right temple, ragged and only a few inches long but you can tell it had a story. The rough patches of stretched skin under his chin and down his chest say more about the bomb and fire than his mouth ever had or would. The way his arms shake and have the same ragged divots and marks as his face, the small circular burn marks trialing his thighs and back. That damn streak of white in the center of his hairline that reminds him how he’s never known what it felt like to rest fully until-

 

“Everything okay?” Roy calls from where he sits on his bed.

 

Jason realizes now that Roy can see him. He can see the way Jason stopped and stared into the mirror, the way he holds his hands up and looks down at them, as if they’d betrayed him.

 

“Yes.” His own voice is as strangled and mismatched as his body.

 

“Come over here,” Roy says simply.

 

The world swims and shakes as Jason exits the bathroom.

 

“What happened?”

 

“My… hair looks weird.”

 

“I like it. What’s wrong with your hair?” Roy reaches up to ruffle Jason's hair playfully.

 

“It’s too…” Jason runs a shaky hand through it, pulling the curls as he goes. His hair isn’t nearly as coarse nor grounding as Roy’s. “Wrong.”

 

“What’s wrong?”

 

“The… it’s too soft and too different.”

 

“Hm…” Roy looks deep in thought for a moment. “Would you wanna bleach it? I might have some hair bleach left. Should make it rougher and- well my hair’s lighter so it won’t make you blond or anything, but… y’know.”

 

“Sure.”

 

“Alright cool, go take a seat at the table.”

 

-

 

Roy massages Jason’s scalp as he slathers the bleach into it. His head buzzes hot and warm and he wants to itch at it, but sits on his hands instead. 

 

“You ever bleach your hair before?” Roy asks.

 

Jason’s brain slugs forward at two miles per hour and can barely even register that he should answer that. “No.”

 

“I haven’t done anything to mine in forever. I was kinda surprised I still had powder and developer. This is only 20-proof so it won't do too much for you, but it'll make a difference at least.”

 

“Mhm.”

 

“This is gonna look awesome on you. I think last night your spark plugs arrived so while you wait for this to work and then shower I’ll be out in the garage working on your car. That cool?”

 

If Roy’s gloved fingers weren’t currently working their way against Jason’s head like he’d never been touched before, he might have gotten upset at the prospect of leaving again. But instead he just keeps his eyes closed and smiles. “Sure.”

 

-

 

When he gets into the shower he keeps his back to the mirror, when he gets out of the shower, he lets himself pause and look.

 

He’s never liked looking at himself naked, but the way his hair looks almost orangeish in the back, much lighter than he’d ever seen it before, and stark white in the front… He likes it. He likes the way that he both doesn’t look like himself and somehow looks more like himself. Maybe he looks more like himself than ever before.

 

He watches as his lips shake upwards into a smile. It had been a while since he’d seen himself do that.

 

Not long after, Jason joins Lian in the living room.

 

“Whoa!” She gapes at him. “You look so cool!!”

 

“Thank you.”

 

She’s sitting on the ground, lining up her toy cars again, so he just watches her and waits for Roy to come back in from the garage.

 

“Car’s all good!” Roy calls as soon he opens the heavy garage door. “Should deffo drive into town and make sure it’s all good, but it should be all fine now!”

 

“McDonalds!” Lian screeches.

 

“I can drive you guys to your McDonalds,” Jason smiles at her, and she looks expantantly towards the hallway as Roy enters the living room.

 

“You are getting so spoiled,” Roy laughs. “But what hey, sure. You know I can never turn down McDonalds.”

 

-

 

His car functions perfectly fine, but that doesn’t stop him from tensing at each and every miniscule bump and change. He finds himself driving with one hand, the other running through his hair every few minutes.

 

Roy and Lian chatter consistently the entire drive and Jason doesn’t let himself think about what might come the next day. He has them with him, so he’s not allowed to feel bad. So he doesn’t.

 

“There it is!” Lian bounces in the backseat as the golden arches of their prefered McDonalds peek around the city’s block.

 

“There it is,” Roy smiles. “We made it, how ‘bout that.”

 

Jason very narrowly misses scraping his drivers side door against a stop sign as he pulls into the parking lot.

 

"You're pulling mighty fine expert maneuvers,” Roy laughs

 

"I want you to never speak ever again."

 

Jason feels the familiar way his steering wheel turns into a parking space, and waits for Roy to help Lian out of the backseat before he exits the car, and follows them into the McDonalds.

 

The building, and parking lot, are eerily empty despite it being only late afternoon.

 

“It’s open!” Lian shouts, running through the dining area and into the kid’s play-pen area. 

 

“What does she want to eat, though?” Jason looks between where she frantically tears her shoes off to climb into the colorful tubes, and where Roy stands with a fond smile.

 

“Ah, I’m sure she’ll eat whatever we get her. She’s not too picky.”

 

Jason’s not sure that’s true, but he nods and follows Roy anyway. They order, get a number and go sit at a table in the play-pen room. They’re the only people so it’s not like their food would be given to someone else by mistake.

 

Lian laughs loudly and the plastic tubes rumble as she races through them. Jason sits on one side of the booth, and Roy sits on the other. 

 

“Your hair does look really nice like that, do you like it?” Roy yawns and rubs the heel of one of his hands into his eyes. “I love it.”

 

Jason’s face heats up, but he doesn’t say anything. He just looks down at the table.

 

Bruce doesn’t know that Jason dyed his hair. None of his siblings know. Talia doesn’t know. They might see him from behind at a place like this, and not even recognize him. Jason glances over his shoulder behind himself, but is less than surprised to find no one is there.

 

“I think you’re rocking the look, personally.” Roy smiles, lopsided and handsome and kind. “Last time I bleached my hair I think I was fronting a rock band.”

 

“You were in a rock band?”

 

“Oh forever ago.” Roy waves his hand flippantly. “Great Frog, we sounded like shit but we loved it.”

 

“That’s cool.”

 

Roy opens his mouth to say something more, but the woman working at McDonalds calls out the number she’d given them and Roy walks off to grab their food.

 

“Lian,” Jason calls towards the tubes, “foods almost here.”

 

“FOOD?!” There’s a loud thump and then seconds later she pops out of the bottom of a slide.

 

“Yeah, your dad’s on his way with it.” As he says that, Roy pushes the glass door open, food tray in his hands. 

 

“Hey princess,” he smiles down at Lian as she climbs into the booth next to Jason. “Let’s divvy this out.”

 

Jason has never been a big fan, or even fan at all, of McDonalds but… he’ll be damned if any meal with Lian and Roy wasn’t one of the best meals of his life.

 

As Lian eats her food she tells a very vivid story about pirates that Jason thinks might have been inspired by one of their movies the previous night. “When I go play pirates again, you have to watch me, okay Jason?” She points at him with a fry.

 

“Okay Lian.”

 

“Cool!”

 

They finish their food, and Lian finishes her story, then she rushes back into the play-tubes. Jason stays in the booth, but Lian crawls onto an open bridge ten-odd feet in the air and calls down to him, “Jason! You need to come here!”

 

“Does she want me in the tubes with her?” Jason asks Roy quietly.

 

“I don’t know, but you better go over there Jaybird.”

 

He sighs and stands and hopes he doesn’t have to explain to Lian that he probably couldn’t even fit into the tubes anyway, but instead she yells for him to stop when he’s a few feet from the bridge she sits on. 

 

“What do you want me to do now?” he asks, looking up at her.

 

“You’re a sea-monster!”

 

“What do sea-monsters do?”

 

“I dunno!” She laughs and sticks her tongue out at him.

 

He stands and watches her as she runs back and forth across the bridge a few times, and then he feels Roy press up against his side. 

 

“Having fun?” Roy whispers in his ear. 

 

The hair at the back of Jason’s neck stands on edge, and he stiffens for a moment, before Roy snakes an arm around Jason’s back. 

 

“Yeah, I think so.”

 

“I think you make a great sea-monster.”

 

“Good to know.” Jason bites his lip and tries to not think about the way their bodies are pressed into each other, or how the woman working here probably thinks they’re a married couple. “I guess I could kinda pass for one.”

 

“You could pass for an incredibly handsome one.”

 

“Roy if I didn’t know any better, I’d think you were flirting with me.” 

 

The sky outside the McDonalds gets quieter as the sun begins to set. Hopefully it stays light until they get back home.

 

“That’s good,” Roy laughs and Jason looks at him, “I wasn’t sure if you could tell.”

 

“Alright,” Jason rolls his eyes and Roy looks back at him. “So can I kiss you yet?”

 

Roy's face lights up, one eye scrunching more than the other and Jason loves the patches  of red blush that devour him. “Jaybird,” he reaches up to hold the rough scarred skin on the side of Jason’s jaw, where no one had ever dared touch him before, “I’d been waiting for you to ask again.”

 

His heart feels like it’s about to explode out of his chest but he holds Roy’s waist and kisses him, slowly. He doesn’t close his eyes on purpose, they do that on their own. Roy rubs his thumb against Jason’s cheek and he can’t believe he had to wait this long. That smell of honey making him feel so at home in Roy's arms, with Roy in his arms. 

 

Jason had kissed plenty of people before, and this time he doesn't feel sick to his stomach with anger and guilt. He just feels… warm.

 

“YOUR FOOT!” Lian screeches happily. They break apart, to look at her, mouth open agape and hand pointing over the rope of the bridge at them. “Daddy’s foot popped!”

 

“What?” Roy laughs with a tilt of his head and Jason’s face lights up brighter than ever before. He watches Roy's shoes as he places his foot back on even ground.

 

“When people kiss in the movies and their foot pops it means true love,” Lian explains.

 

“We… watched Princess Diaries last night,” Jason admits quietly.

 

“Oh my god I forgot I owned that movie.”

 

-

 

The drive back home is peaceful and Jason buzzes with excitement to retire into bed the entire way.

 

“Jason needs to put me to bed too,” Lian says as they pull into the garage.

 

“That so?” Roy laughs.

 

“You said we have to share.”

 

“Oh I hate when you twist my words against me,” Roy sighs.

 

Roy does most of the putting-Lian-to-bed, but once she’s settled and waiting for a story to be read to her, she makes sure it’s Jason reading. She falls asleep quickly, and then Roy tucks her in and kisses the top of her little head.

 

They exit the room together and Jason hovers for a moment outside of the blue guest room. 

 

“What’s up?” Roy asks with a yawn.

 

“Do you… think that I could sleep in your bed again tonight?”

 

Roy smiles and walks backwards towards his bedroom door, “I’d love that Jaybird.”

Chapter Text

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?”

 

“Hey.”

 

“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.

Chapter Text

Nightmares can’t consume a man who never sleeps. Or that’s at least what Jason thinks. He’s wrong, of course. A bad thought could find him two weeks after a lobotomy.

 

A lobotomy doesn’t seem like a bad call at this point. 

 

The clothes he wears are from the day before and smell like sweat and gasoline, but more importantly Roy. They’re Roy’s clothes so they also smell like wood and honey and citrus and cinnamon and… Jason can’t bring himself to change out of them. 

 

Check out for his hotel is at noon so he’s on the road thirty minutes before then. The I-40 through Arizona looks much the same as New Mexico, washed out planes, cactus, giant brown and red rocky hills. His only plan for the day is drive the 40 into the 58 and then up or down the 5. He’s not really picky.

 

California isn’t necessarily appealing to him, but it’s not like he has anywhere else to be. 

 

Well…

 

He tries to ignore those thoughts that chase him as he drives, he presses the gas harder and his anxiety quells when his engine revs. Running is something he’s starting to get really good at these days. 

 

The desert isn’t much to look at as he drives, and he finds his mind keeps fighting to wander from him. Sometimes he feels like he’s chasing his mind, or maybe he’s actually running from that too. Hard to tell these days. Maybe he should start therapy when he finds somewhere he can stay. 

 

His phone lights up with an in-coming call, he knows who it is without even looking. 

 

If these calls and texts don’t stop, his phone’s going to die before he gets to a hotel.

 

The lines on the road begin to fade in his vision and he struggles to figure out if he’s still on the road or not as he drives. His foot on the gas shakes and he decides to not think about it. If he ends up in a ditch in the desert, then that’s what happens. The sun might bake him before he’s found, but that’s just the way the world works sometimes.

 

The hottest Jason’s ever felt wasn’t when a bomb went off seven years ago. It wasn’t even when the building he laid in went up in flames around him, or when the fire consumed his already beaten and torn-apart body.

 

It was the months afterwards, when he was wrapped in gauze from head to toe as he healed. 

 

The actual beating, the actual explosion, and the fucking fire… it all felt background to how it felt to recover. He was given pain meds, but it was never really enough. Oh what he wouldn't do for an opiate right now.

 

Burning and itching was all he knew for months.

 

And then, after the night-time visitors started, he wished his skin really had all burnt off. He was never able to forget the feeling of trying to itch it off, or turning his shower hot enough to melt out of his own body.

 

He didn’t really like the summer anymore.

 

A truck pulls into his rearview, and despite them being the only two people on the two-lane road, it flashes its headlights at him. Jason honks back, which was a bad choice because they get closer to him. Then they turn on their brights.

 

Briefly, he considers break-checking, but he decides it wouldn’t be worth it. Maybe if they had been in a prius instead of a dumb fucking truck he would have slammed the brakes. He moves into the other lane.

 

Heat radiates off the interstate road as he drives down it, and for the first time that day his phone lights up with a call from someone other than Roy. 

 

“What’s up Damian?” Jason asks and hopes that his voice sounds cooler than he feels. Sweat rolls down his face and back. It reminds him of the feeling of someone's fingers touching him lightly but burning just the same.

 

A beat passes before Damian says anything, and Jason almost thinks it was a pocket-dial. “Where are you?”

 

“Driving down the interstate right now, why?” His eyes flick to his gas-gauge and he makes a mental note to keep an eye out for a gas station.

 

He huffs, “Father has… been very angry recently.”

 

A bare-knuckled fist flying straight for Jason’s face makes him physically recoil. “You okay?”

 

“I’m always okay. Don’t be stupid.” Stupid. Right. “But… I wouldn’t mind getting out of the house more. Father and Grayson have decided that it would be best for me to be locked in my bedroom.”

 

“Oh I know all about that game. Those locks don’t shimmy with a card, you’ll need something small to either get into the screws and take the whole door off, or something real thin with a hook on the end. Unless they changed the locks since I was there.” He has so many questions he wants to ask Damian, like most importantly, “Is that why you’re calling?”

 

“Yes. Well, partially. I am unhappy living here, with father and everyone.” It took about a year and a half before Damian admitted that maybe his mom wasn't coming back for him.

 

Jason laughs bitterly, but tries to keep it just left of actually negative. “Has anyone else been in trouble?”

 

“Brown has been talking back to father and he never likes that.”

 

“Good on her… What about-”

 

“Father has not been violent as long as I’ve lived with him.”

 

Jason swallows hard and it feels like there’s a lump stuck in his throat. He tries to focus his eyes back on the road, but it just looks like he’s watching a movie. “Who told you that?”

 

“Drake. He has been taking me out every night and we have been speaking more than when you left.”

 

“That’s cool. What did Tim say?”

 

“Father used to resort to violence very quickly, most often with you. Drake said that Grayson also got his ‘fair-share’,” Damian mimics Tim’s voice as he says that and Jason can picture the air-quotes, “Drake was mostly left alone, although he claims it was because he was the best behaved.”

 

“Nah I think Bruce just ran out of energy after me.”

 

“And yet he adopted a whole army of ingrates.”

 

“Alright, c’mon Dami-”

 

Damian laughs. “I want to leave soon.”

 

Jason already had a plan in his head, he would drive back to Gotham, pick Damian up and they would drive around the country together, living out of his car. He would take up odd jobs until Damian was old enough to work, and they would be poor, but they would be happy. He knows Damian would hate that. Maybe if they got a dog though-

 

“When will you be coming back?”

 

Jason kind of wishes he would stop getting asked questions like that. “I’m not-… I don’t know, Damian. I’m not sure.”

 

“TT-” he hums, “don’t be too long.” Then he hangs up.

 

-

 

When he passes through cities it feels less like he’s in a desert, and more like he’s in a movie. It only lasts for about fifteen minutes at a time, though. 

 

It’s not long before he’s in California, and then once he is, he stops paying attention to the signs.

 

Or maybe he was paying too much attention to the signs because the sun’s starting to set when he arrives in Star City and he can only think of one reason that drew him here over any other city in the fucking state. He hadn’t seen the ocean in almost a month, and the high-rising sleek buildings remind him more of something he never had than of Gotham.

 

He finds himself off the main roads, driving down a bridge that doesn’t seem to have been looked at since before he was born. Old wood creeks as he drives over it and he’s probably not thinking clearly because he pulls over to the side of the road and sets his bag and phone on the side of the road.

 

When he starts his car back up, he doesn’t buckle himself in, and he doesn’t close his door.

 

This old wooden bridge is more of a pier than anything, in all honesty. It leads off to an overlook of the ocean, the beach is some few hundred feet below. It's all rocks and sand with the loud waves crashing against. The tide’s getting higher now that it’s getting later in the day. The sky is lit alive with pink and orange, the ocean a deep wine and Jason swears to fucking G-d this isn’t meant to be a poetic end to anything. It’s just him trying to move on in the only way he knows how.

 

Running.

 

He presses the gas and his car rides down the pier, rumbling louder than a big-rig. He’s almost afraid that the wood of the bridge will break and send him plummeting down to the rocks and sand before he can even make it halfway. Wind whips in through his open door, and he swears the only thing he can smell over the salt of the ocean is bleach from his hair, which doesn’t make any damn sense because he certainly washed it all out.

 

His speedometer reads that his car is pushing 100 and he watches in the blink of an eye as the long pier in front of him turns only into sky and ocean. He jumps from the car as a terrific crack sounds, his car bursting past the flimsy and rotting railing at the end.

 

Landing on the wooden walkway, he rolls with his arms held close into his body, and he hears his engine roar through the sky, streaking off the end of the pier. Then he hears a loud splash with glass breaking and he knows his work there is done.

 

The boots Roy gave him are heavy against the wood of the bridge as he walks back to pick his backpack up. 

 

His phone lights up in his hand as soon as he picks it up, and he decides to answer it.

 

“Jason! Where in Arizona are you? We took-”

 

“I’m in Star now.” He scans the giant buildings in the city, before he spots what looks like a higher scale hotel, and sets his sights on walking towards it. If he keeps his pace slow enough he can make it there before his lungs give out. Probably. Hopefully.

 

“You’re in… Star? Star City?”

 

His backpack presses against his sweaty back and he holds his phone between his shoulder and ear so he can rub at his stinging elbows. If he has splinters from this whole ordeal he’s honestly just going to cut his arms off. “I’m probably gonna be here for a while.”

 

“Will you be staying at a hotel?”

 

“Yeah.” He looks back up at the giant building that can’t be more than a mile or two away. “It’ll be a suite.”

 

“I’m in Arizona now, Jaybird.”

 

“What- What are you doing in Arizona? You should be back home, with Lian.”

 

“I am with Lian.”

 

“I-...” His brain feels fried but he’d never admit that right now. “You don’t want to follow me here. Just go back home and live your happy life. Forget about me.”

 

"Don't." Roy's voice has a finality to it, but there's a twinge of him begging, just enough that Jason needs to push.

 

"Don't what?"

 

"Don't make me choose. Don't make me choose, Jaybird, because if you make me choose I will pick you every single damn time." He is begging.

 

"I don't-" despite the heat, ice runs through his veins. Roy has only ever said every single fucking thing Jason's been longing to hear. "I can't believe in that."

 

"Why not- How can you not see what you mean to me, to my family? We couldn't forget you if we wanted to."

 

He closes his eyes and there's those stars again. They, just as Roy, beg him to make the right choice. "I can't let myself believe that you really want me… I just can't, Roy."

 

He rushes the words out, "I know you've been hurt. I know that you've been through unspeakable shit, Jaybird I could hear it in your voice when you called me for that tow. I can see it in the way you look at Lian, such love and care for someone who ain’t like you." He pauses, as if he wants Jason to say something. He doesn't. "Jaybird, I want to give you something good. Please."

 

“I’ll text you my hotel when I get there.” Then he hangs up.

 

-

 

The hotel suite Jason finds himself in is huge, sleek and white with floor to twelve-foot ceiling windows that overlook the sprawling and bright city. Somewhere off in the ocean, his car sits on the seafloor. 

 

He left his chapstick in the dash. Damn.

 

There’s a livingroom portion of the suite; it has a few steps that dip down to a couch that could seat an army, a kitchen equipt for a staff, and restaurant grade appliances. Giant master bedroom with a bed bigger than the guest room he’d been sleeping in at Roy’s, and an attached bathroom. Through another door is a smaller room, but the bed is still a queen and that room has a half-bath attached. The final door from the living area is a large bathroom; tub with jets, standing shower, toilet with it’s own door, double sink.

 

This place feels more like an apartment than a hotel, he guesses that’s what Bruce’s money is good for.

 

He sits on the long fucking couch and very soon finds himself laying across it when his phone lights up again. He’d sent Roy the address and hadn’t been called again since, but this time it’s not Roy calling.

 

“Tim?” Jason asks as he answers. He sounds vaguely disgusted, which he really hadn’t intended but he’s too tired to put an effort into speaking like a human.

 

“Dad is so fucking mad at you,” Tim laughs. 

 

Of course. The first time they speak one-on-one in almost four months and all Tim wants to do is gloat about what a fuck-up Jason is. That’s all he ever wants to do. It’s not like seeing Tim sit in Jason’s seat at the table when he came home wasn’t painful enough. He’d moved on since then, he’d had to because Bruce brought in even more kids after he and Damian showed up-

 

“I’m kidding. Kind of.” Tim yawns and Jason can hear a video game in the background. “Dad’s just kinda mad, in all honesty. I heard you have a boyfriend or something now.”

 

“That’s none of your business,” Jason yawns too.

 

“True.” Tim pauses. “Are you doing okay?”

 

“When was the last time you changed out of your pajama pants?”

 

Tim scoffs, “My pajama pants are extremely fucking comfortable, I’ll have you know. Also, how did you know? Has Steph been sending you pictures of me?”

 

“Lucky guess.” The hotel is oddly cool and Jason rolls over over on the couch to look out the giant fuck-off windows. The sun’s almost completely set now, just a small peek of orange over the ocean. “What’s this call about?”

 

“I think dad wants you to come back home.”

 

“I think he should choke to death on a salad fork.”

 

Tim laughs, he always did have a messed up sense of humor, that’s probably why he got along with Jason and Duke so well. “I’d pay to see that. If you come back you could make it happen.”

 

“Not happening, Timothy.”

 

“Fucking dang.” He sighs and his game plays a losing sound. “Dad’s going to call you soon I think. You should pick up and hear him out.”

 

“He’s not my dad.”

 

“Fine. Am I…” Tim clears his throat as the sun disappears completely. “I’m sorry I didn’t call earlier. I didn’t know what to say.”

 

Now it’s Jason’s turn to sigh and as he does, it feels like a lifetime of tension leaves him. “It’s cool. You called now, that’s what matters. You’ll always be my little brother, even if what brought us together isn’t something I care about anymore.”

 

“I see. That’s cool.”  

 

“That it Timbo?” There really aren’t any visible stars in Star.

 

“Nah, but I can bug you more later.”

 

“I’m sure you will.”

 

“Have a good night, Jason,” Tim says before he ends the call.

 

Jason drops his phone onto his chest.

 

He lays on the couch for what feels like forever, but he’s unable to even close his eyes, let alone fall asleep. “Exhausted” doesn’t begin to cover how he feels and yet he can’t will himself to succumb.

 

The city outside stays bright and vibrant into the night. He feels something familiar gnaw at his insides and has to wonder if he’d eaten since he left Roy’s house. It didn’t really matter because soon Roy would be there and every gnawing feeling would leave.

 

It’s like the guy had a superpower to zero in on whatever was upsetting Jason and fix it immediately. 

 

Jason loves Roy, and he loves Lian too. Roy could tell Jason that they love him too over and over again but he’s not sure that he’d ever believe it. They say that they’re on their way, a few hours ago Roy was in Arizona. So in theory they’d arrive before the sun comes up.

 

He doesn’t let himself fall for this. The hotel room is empty and quiet and it’s going to stay that way.

 

He’s not sure when he starts crying but at some point he does. Thoughts about fire and grown adults touching his entire body are hard to sweep away, especially when the world is just like his hotel room. Vast expanses of people who don’t give a fuck about him. But that’s fine, he doesn’t give a fuck about them either.

 

The phone, still on Jason’s chest lights up and he notes the dying battery before he picks up.

 

“Hey Roy,” his voice is quiet and hoarse, as if he’d been crying all night.

 

“We just parked. Lian’s asleep so I’m going to carry her up the elevator. What’s your room number?”

 

There’s no way Roy’s really there so Jason figures there’s no harm in telling him. He’s a day and a half drive away back at his house, probably cleaning up Lian’s toy cars. “Suite 6.”

 

Roy whistles, “Damn. Alright, should take only about ten minutes. I’ll be up soon. You better leave the door unlocked.”

 

“I don’t think I ever locked it.”

 

“Oh.”

 

And then Jason hangs up. 

 

He stares out the so-clear windows at the milky night sky, the bright lights that all bleed together in the darkness. Maybe in the day Star is easier to look at. The lights seem to dance together, twirling around and jumping with Jason’s heart. 

 

The door to his hotel opens and in the bright reflection cast on the windows, he can see the rectangle of yellow light from the hallway, and there stands a man Jason knows has to fake. Roy is not shrouded in shadow from the unlit hotel room, carrying a sleeping Lian against his hip and chest. 

 

He does not enter the hotel quietly, and close the door quietly behind himself. He definitely doesn’t whisper, “Jason? Where are you?”

 

But Jason does stick an arm up from the couch, and he hopes whatever this sick joke his brain is playing on him ends soon. 

 

“I’m going to put Lian to bed,” the man who isn’t Roy says and walks around the living room to open the first door lining the hotel, the master bedroom, then the bathroom, and finally the smaller room. After he’s disappeared into it, he clicks the door behind himself softly and makes his way to join Jason on the couch.

 

Roy sits just next to where Jason’s head rests on the couch and he doesn’t say anything. He lays his elbows on his knees and hunches over himself with a sigh.

 

Jason cranes his neck back, feeling open and exposed, and he hates the way his skin stretching feels but if this Roy is real then it’s worth it. And he’s not, then Jason deserves the discomfort. “Hi.”

 

Roy’s body shudders, and he rakes a hand over his face, from his mouth up past his eyes and then through his hair. His dumb hat is missing and he looks incomplete without it. “I haven’t been back here in years.” 

 

“Oh.” Jason scoots back until his head rests in Roy’s lap and he’s looking up at Roy in the dark, barely able to make out any details of his face. “Your family not like you either?”

 

“We get along fine these days.” It’s too dark to be certain but beneath the glassy eyes Jason swears that he sees a crooked smile. “I just hate the city.”

 

“I hate Gotham.”

 

Roy squeezes his eyes shut and takes a shaky deep breath. Jason takes a deep breath with him and ignores the way his ribs and hips feel empty. When Roy opens his eyes again he asks in a quiet voice, “What happened?”

 

“I don’t know. I’m really sorry.”

 

Roy looks up, so Jason is no longer boxed in and he misses the close comfort for a moment. Then Roy places a hand on Jason’s head and just scratches him softly, raking his fingers against Jason’s scalp. “I know, it’s okay. Just…” he looks back down at Jason and there, with absolute certainty, is that crooked smile. “Don’t ever fucking do that again, okay?”

 

“Okay,” he rushes out. “You look tense.”

 

He chuckles and rubs his knuckles against Jason’s head. “Probably. I can’t get the image of the road coming at me out of my eyes and my right leg’s got a cramp. I’m perfectly fine now that I’ve got you, though.”

 

“Me too.”

 

“You alright to go to bed yet? You look fucking exaugsted.”

 

Jason hums for a moment, “I- soon, yeah. But first, I need something.”

 

“Anything, Jaybird.”

 

Jason struggles to sit up, and Roy helps him, holding his shoulders. His legs shake and his muscles won’t stop twitching as he swings his legs off the couch to stand, Roy moves with him, keeping sturdy hands on Jason’s shoulders. Then Jason wraps his arms around Roy, holding his broad chest tightly and squeezing as hard as he can.

 

He knows what Roy's bare back looks like, and now holding him this tight, as if he's trying to absorb the other man, he knows it feels just as good as it looks.

 

His head tucks down against Roy’s neck and he just stands there and breathes in Roy’s essence. Roy doesn’t hesitate either, he wraps his arms around Jason and holds on just as tightly. 

 

He’s honey and wood and metallic and citrus and cinnamon and salty and Jason’s crying again. 

 

“I’m glad you’re real,” Jason sobs, and then he leans back just enough to kiss Roy on the mouth.

 

Roy kisses Jason back, of course he does. He holds on like Jason's about to slip through his fingers, and they keep kissing. They keep holding each other and kissing and they start to move against each other faster and Jason starts to kiss him harder, and then Roy breaks away.

 

“Let’s-” he stutters as he catches his breath, “Let’s go to bed now, yeah?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

They lay together in that giant fucking bed, Roy holds Jason against himself and Jason literally wouldn’t have it any other way.

Chapter Text

Jason feels like he’s falling through the air, wind whipping his hair and a weird weightless feeling in his fingers as his body gushes. After what feels like his whole life, he lands in his hotel bed. He bolts up, chest heaving as he looks around the bright white room, the wall to his left is all window looking out over Star City, and a few feet away on the large bed is Roy, sitting upright. Jason brings his hands down from his face, trying to brush the feeling of falling off.

 

“Hey,” Roy says softly, setting his phone against his lap. He’s got the bed covers pulled up to his tits.

 

“When…” Jason tries to gather his bearings, he remembers kissing Roy and walking to bed with him last night. Not undressing. “When did you take your shirt off?”

 

Roy smiles, “Same time you did.”

 

And, sure enough, Jason also isn’t wearing a shirt. His eyes widen slowly and he scrambles to pull the covers over his own chest. “Fuck-! I’m so sorry! What… happened?” Jason looks down at his bare shoulders before looking up at Roy, who seems entirely unbothered by the fact that his scars consume so much of him. 

 

“It’s alright,” Roy moves across the bed to sit right in front of Jason, “I packed some extra clothes, I left them in the back of my truck though.” His face is set but there’s a hint of amusement behind it, “Hey… Don’t worry, Jaybird. Nothing happened, we kissed and then I walked you to bed. We both, independently, took our shirts and pants off.”

 

“Pants?” He moves the covers away from himself to look at his lap, and finds himself doned in only his dark pair of briefs. “Fuck.”

 

“Fuck indeed.” Roy nods solemnly before sideling up to Jason. “Alright I opened up one of those food delivery apps and,” he tucks an arm under Jason’s neck and holds him close, “ordered some breakfast. Should be here soon.”

 

Despite the feeling that all of this is almost too good to be true, Jason finds himself relaxing into Roy and yawning. “Yeah?” Or maybe it’s just too good for him.

 

“Yeah.” Roy presses his forehead against Jason’s temple and inhales deeply.

 

“What’d you order?”

 

“You’ll see.” What a bitch. 

 

It’s not long before Roy redresses enough to go get his aforementioned clothing bag, and not very much longer after that does he return so Jason can change. He stops a few times as he pulls his clothes on to look over at Roy, who watches him dress from the bed. He can’t tell if he likes the feeling or not. Jason runs his hands through Roy’s thick hair and messes it up a bit before they migrate to the living room.

 

They sit together on the couch and don’t really say anything. Just keep their legs and arms pressed tightly together. Like they’re both afraid if they don’t stick close the other may disappear.

 

Lian exits her room as the food arrives.

 

“Morning dad, morning Jason,” she yawns as she rubs her eyes. Roy lays a bag and some styrofoam boxes of food out on the kitchen island, and Lian does a double take. “JASON!” she shouts, shrill, and is sprinting across the gray hardwood to jump at Jason on the couch. Her arms latch around his abdomen. “You left me!” Her voice is muffled against his shirt.

 

He looks over his shoulder at Roy, who’s busy laying the boxes out and checking all them. Jason’s hands hover in the air awkwardly for a few moments before he sets one against Lian’s tiny shoulder, and the other against the back of her head.

 

“I know… I’m sorry.”

 

“Why?” she asks, and her voice is still muffled.

 

What could he even say to her?

 

“I was so sad Jason.” She finally moves so she’s sitting in his lap, and looking up at him. He accepts this and holds her in place. “If you leave again then me and daddy will just drive after you again.”

 

“I won’t.” She likes that answer, and Jason likes that he means it. 

 

Roy’s hands appear overhead as he hands Jason and Lian each their own box with food. Hers with scrambled eggs, bacon and toast, his with french toast absolutely covered in powdered sugar and syrup. “Thank you!” they both echo, and Roy ruffles Lian’s hair as he climbs down to sit next to them on the couch. He’s got the same box as Lian.

 

“By the way,” Jason says after he’s taken a bite, “I lost my car.”

 

Roy raises an eyebrow at him, “Same deal as the shoes?”

 

“Uh. No.” Lian snuggles into the crook of Jason’s arm, between him and Roy. “Ocean.”

 

“Ocean..?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

-

 

It’s probably about noon when Roy gets a text that makes him sigh. “I’m gonna make a quick call,” he says, almost under his breath. 

 

Lian’s off in her bedroom, which Jason guesses is a good thing because Roy seems about four minutes away from cussing someone out. 

 

“Hate the goddamn paparazzi,” he mumbles as his phone rings next to his ear, “and social media.”

 

“Uh-huh…” 

 

Roy takes a deep breath and with it his anger seems to dissipate marginally. So… probably not so mad at the person on the other end of the call.

 

Someone picks up, and they sound like a man as they say a few things to Roy.

 

“Yeah I got into town last night, Ollie.” Roy has a faint dumb smile on his face now. “Well she’s missed you all too- yeah, I know, I know.” The smile fades slowly from his face as he listens to the man speaking on the other end of the line. “You know why, come on.”

 

Jason wants to take Roy’s phone and tell the person on the other end to fuck off, but he knows it’s Roy’s dad. So he stays quiet.

 

Roy’s jaw sets for a moment and he clears his throat, “What kind of party?” His lips are pulled into a thin straight line as he squeezes his eyes closed. “Because it’s you, Ollie. I’m not bringing th- her to one of your usual parties.” He pinches the bridge of his nose and Jason wonders briefly if it would be weird to offer him a massage after this call.

 

Outside the hotel window, he watches the ocean not too far in the distance. 

 

“You promise?” His shoulders relax and his jaw follows suit. “Just family? That… I don’t like it, but it should be fine, I guess.” Roy clears his throat again. “Got it, we’ll be there.” His lips crack up into a smile, “Love you too, old man. Uh-huh, see you soon.”

 

Roy melts into Jason and the couch.

 

“What was that?” Jason whispers because he’s afraid if he asks too loudly Roy might shatter.

 

“My dad.” Roy sighs and tucks his head into the crook of Jason’s neck. “I haven’t seen him in a few years. Last time my family saw Lian she was about a foot shorter.” 

 

“Are you guys going to see them?”

 

Roy chuckles and it tickles Jason’s neck. “Yeah my dad’s throwing a party tonight. I want you to come with.”

 

Jason’s not sure what that means for them, but he agrees to go anyway.

 

-

 

It's much later in the day when Roy, Lian, and Jason arrive at a white house in the suburbs. Roy drove them in his blue pickup, Lian sitting in the small seats in the back and Jason in the passenger. The house looks modern and nice from the outside, not as showy as Jason expected a millionaire's home to be.

 

Roy parks in the driveway and Lian’s trying to climb past Jason’s seat before he can pull a lever and move it for her. She explodes from the car and runs to hug Roy’s leg as they approach the house. Jason follows closely behind Roy.

 

The porch of the house creaks when they step onto it. It’s only a moment before the door opens and a young, shorter blonde woman smiles at the three of them. “Lian!” she cheers, leaning down to look at Lian.

 

“Hi Auntie Mia,” Lian stays behind Roy’s leg but smiles wide. 

 

“Come on in, Connor’s upstairs,” Mia stands out of the way to let them into the house, “Ollie’s cooking in the kitchen with Dinah. Emi was somewhere around here. She’s probably with Connor or-”

 

A dark haired woman, shorter than Mia, walks around her shoulder to greet the three of them, she focuses on Lian and leans down to give her a hug. “You’ve grown up so much!”

 

The inside of the house is much more homely than the outside, tan and muted colors decorating everywhere and framed pictures of the family cover every inch of the walls.

 

“And here I thought any of you missed me,” Roy laughs, “these are my sisters,” he points at them with his thumb. “Well Mia’s my sister, Emiko’s technically my aunt but y’know…”

 

“What?”

 

Mia snorts and pulls Roy into a headlock, “Dummie.” Roy complains but doesn’t make any large movements to get out of Mia’s arms. She finally relinquishes him and turns towards Jason, “Roy didn’t say he was here with a friend.” Her eyes move up and down Jason and she quirks an unimpressed eyebrow.

 

“Cut that out,” Roy says and steps a foot in front of Jason. “He’s my…” he trails and turns to look at Jason, a soft smile on his face.

 

“That’s Jason!” Lian explains, “He lives with me and Daddy.”

 

“He does?” Mia’s eyebrows shoot up.

 

“When did you get a boyfriend?” Emiko asks.

 

“Oh, no-” Jason laughs and holds a hand up at the same time Roy says, “He’s not quite-”

 

“Is that my oldest son in there I hear?” a man’s voice calls from the adjacent kitchen. 

 

“Hey Ollie,” Roy calls back.

 

“Grandpa?” Lian whispers with a smile. Roy moves away from Jason to ruffle Lian’s hair. As soon as Roy moves, Jason feels Mia and Emiko’s eyes land back on him. He can’t tell if they’re judging him or studying him. 

 

“Wanna meet my old man?” Roy looks at Jason, and all he can do is nod slowly. “This way, then.” On their way to the kitchen, Roy stops at the base of some stairs to shout up them, “Hey Connor, Lian and some hot dude are here.” He speaks over his shoulder as they enter the kitchen, “I mean you, Jaybird. I’m hot too, but I was talking about you.”

 

Jason’s face feels hot as they’re met with an older blond man swaying in place over a granite kitchen island while he seasons meat. An older blonde woman sits at a barstool across from him.

 

“Hey Roy,” she greets, kind smile on her face and cheeks bright and rosey. She holds a beer bottle in her hand.

 

“Hey Dinah,” Roy wraps an arm around her shoulders and presses a kiss onto her forehead. “Whatcha cooking?”

 

Ollie’s cheeks are just as bright as Dinah’s, if not brighter. “Where’s that little bundle of joy,” he says as he sets the seasoning down and places a hand on the counter. His head swivels each way.

 

“Hi Grandpa Ollie!” Lian runs around the counter to hug his legs. He pats her head with his hand not holding his weight.

 

“Hey munchkin,” he looks at Roy and then his face turns into shock for just a moment as he looks at Jason. “You hungry?”

 

They hadn’t eaten since lunch. “Kinda.”

 

Ollie beams, “Help yourself,” he points at the kitchen counter over his shoulder, an array of snacks line the counter and at the end sits what looks like jars of bud. 

 

“Some of that is definitely cannabis,” Roy warns him.

 

“What’s cannabis?” Lian asks.

 

“Something adults smoke to feel good.” Roy takes a seat next to Dinah at the island.

 

“Yeah, like y’know chocolate,” Ollie looks down at Lian and she nods.

 

“I’d say it’s more like alcohol,” Jason tacks on as he looks at the array. The little jars have silly names written on them and percentages that Jason doesn’t really care about. “It’s only for adults and sometimes it can make you feel worse.”

 

“Exactly,” Roy smiles at him.

 

Jason’s eyes land on a nerds rope and he doesn’t think twice before he’s picked it up and started eating it. He hasn’t had a nerds rope since he was a little kid. It’s just as sweet as he remembers, if not a little bitter as well. He likes the crunch.

 

“So what have you guys been up to out in the desert?” Ollie asks as he goes back to cooking.

 

“Same old. I set up a tow business about a year or so back, people off the interstate tend to need that real bad.” Roy laughs. Jason smiles with him.

 

“You work that all by yourself?” Dinah asks, her voice a little wavering and slurred.

 

“Mhm, hasn’t been a problem as of yet. I’ve worked a few 12-hour days ‘cause of it, but nothing too bad.”

 

A younger man, a few inches shorter than Roy, with dark skin and light hair enters the kitchen. “I thought that was you I heard,” he says and Roy smiles as he turns to look. Mia and Emiko follow him into the kitchen. 

 

The room’s a bit crowded for Jason’s taste, but he stays out of the way and just keeps eating his nerds rope.

 

“That your new boy…?” The guy’s voice tapers off as if he wants to tack something else onto the question but can’t settle on what.

 

“That’s my Jason,” Roy laughs. 

 

“Nice to meet you Jason,” Connor gives him a quick smile before he moves to hug Lian. Jason holds his nerds rope out for a moment, like he’s raising a toast. “Lian, I’ve missed you.”

 

“I missed you too Uncle Connor!” 

 

“What brought you into town?” Connor asks Roy after he’s done hugging Lian.

 

Roy smiles for a moment and meets Jason’s eyes. “Just couldn’t let something go.”

 

“Hope it wasn’t chasing the dragon,” Ollie laughs as he turns to stir a pot. The room grows starkly quiet and still for a moment.

 

“I drove my car into the ocean so Roy came to pick me up,” Jason says. He finishes his nerds rope and crosses his arms as he sits back against the counter.

 

Everyone’s eyes make their way onto Jason, and he can’t even feel like he’s under a spotlight, he just feels warm. 

 

Lian laughs and moves to stand next to Jason, so he smiles at her. His eyes feel watery and his heart beats heavy in his chest. Like he’s never felt love before this moment.

 

“You want a nerds rope?” he asks her. Lian smiles and nods her head so he turns to grab her one.

 

Roy stands, “Hey,” he says, “wait a sec Jaybird.” 

 

Jason looks up at him, “Yeah?”

 

“Let me see that.” He gives Roy the candy, and his eyes widen. “Is this what you just ate?”

 

“Yeah…”

 

“Jason this is an edible.”

 

“What?”

 

“It’s 400 miligrams.”

 

Well fuck.

 

-

 

The sun’s set by the time they arrived back at their hotel. Roy had rushed them out of the house immediately and back there. He’d sent Lian to bed and sat Jason down on the couch.

 

Jason really doesn't want to focus on the way the world swims around him, or the way his tongue feels heavy and plastic, or how if he stays sitting up he'll die. So he- slowly- leans over until his head is resting in Roy's lap. "Can you…" he smacks his lips, trying to get the fake and dry feeling to leave. "Can you tell me about yourself?"

 

Roy has a hand in Jason's hair now, just stroking and petting rhythmically. All comfort and love, no fear of death in his touch. If they were in a bed Jason might moan, he’d learned a while ago that people tend to like moans. "What do you wanna know?"

 

Jason squeezes his eyes shut as shivers roll through his body, unbearably cold but also unable to mention it. He feels like he's shaking. "I dunno… I just mm.. wanna hear y'talk."

 

"I can talk," Roy's voice is soft. "I really love you a lot, Jaybird. I'm sorry I wasn't watching you closer, and I'm sorry nobody warned you about the edibles." He keeps petting Jason's hair, his fingers buried deep against his scalp, tucked into his curls.

 

"S'fine, I'm sure somebody told me, I'm just ah-... wrong." He smiles to himself, like he's in on his own secret. Then he rolls over, and struggles to lift his body as he does so. His cheek pressed against Roy's soft thighs, his mouth dangerously close to Roy's crotch. "I'unno if y've noticed this- er about me yet but I'm a… There's something wrong with me, Roy." He opens his eyes to meet Roy's pretty green ones peering down at him. "I'm nothin' like my brothers an' sis'ers."

 

Roy sighs ever so minutely. He moves his hand to cradle the soft spot on the back of Jason's head, and keeps his fingers moving, massaging him. "Who told you that garbage?"

 

"I don't remember…" Jason feels like he could melt into Roy right then and be happy for the rest of his life. "I love you."

 

Roy sighs again, "I love you too." His lips have quirked up into a smile.

 

Jason hums happily, just barely keeping himself from squealing with happiness. His mouth feels lazy and his body uncooperative. Absently, his feet begin tapping the air on the couch, it feels nice all the way in his brain. "You're a really great father. I never met any dad as good as you before."

 

"Thank you, Jason."

 

"No, really. You act like- like y'don't believe me. I'm tellin' the truth righ'now. You saved Lian when I tried to kill her earlier." Jason's mouth turns into a frown.

 

"You accidentally drugging her would not have killed her. But that doesn't mean I want my kid high."

 

Jason smiles again, "I'm high."

 

"You sure are."

 

"Tell me everything about you, Roy." Jason struggles to move a hand up from his side to clutch at Roy's shirt. He's not even sure where he's grabbing, but he's holding on like it's a lifeline. He buries his face into Roy's lap.

 

"I mean, there's a lot, but not a lot you don't already know." Roy moves his hand to cup Jason's head, but doesn't stop petting. "My mom was Navajo, my dad was Irish. She died during childbirth, he died a few years later in a forest fire. I lived on the reservation in Arizona for a bit over 10 years before I left to Star. Ollie picked me up as a teen, then kicked me out as an adult. Then once I got clean and got Lian he supported me moving around until we found somewhere that worked."

 

"Where'd you move to?" Jason's voice is muffled in Roy's lap.

 

"Alright, that- tickles, get outta there," Roy helps push Jason a few inches back, so his face is looking up at him. "Uh… Bludhaven for a year, Ireland for another, DC for one, Seattle for a few months. Eventually we got that house out in New Mexico."

 

"I was born'n'raised in Gotham." Jason yawns. He hadn't even realized how heavy his eyelids felt until then. "Ever been to jail?"

 

"I was in holding for a few nights, but no."

 

"Ever…" Jason racks his brain for any weird question he might want to know about Roy. "Uh."

 

"Have you been to jail?" Roy rubs a thumb on Jason's cheek and he swears he does actually melt. The world and his body feel fake, but his head cushioned on Roy’s legs feels like a lifeline.

 

"No, but Talia had the lock on my room inverted and a security camera set up outside it. Felt kinda like jail… Sometimes when Damian was having a meltdown she would lock him in my room with me." Jason briefly imagines Bruce locking Damian in his room at the manor and Damian picking the lock just how Jason told him.

 

Roy's eyes widen before they soften. "She's terrible."

 

"I guess." Jason briefly considers biting Roy's thumb. "Ever had a threesome with two other guys?"

 

Roy has to purse his lips in thought, "No, but I have made love to three women at once. I think candle wax was involved in that one." After a beat, "What about you?"

 

"Um. No. I mean technically with two guys, but that one…" was a long time ago. "That one doesn't count."

 

"Only count the ones you liked," Roy says it like he's exhaling. "Normally I would never give you advice from Ollie, but he used to give me that one. I mean, albeit in a very different context, but… y'know. If you didn't like it, it doesn't have to count."

 

Jason smiles at him, despite thinking the words he's saying are stupid. "Are you bi?"

 

"Eh," Roy makes a so-so gesture with his hand. "Definitely swung any direction when I was your age, but after I got clean women just never… did it for me like they used to."

 

"Heroin and alcohol made you straight?"

 

Roy barks out a laugh, "No, no… Well-... Hm. No, but I kind of dropped any kind of label after a bit. Nothing wrong with them, they just don't do it for me. I know I like you, and that's all I need."

 

"I'm gay, I think."

 

"Yeah?"

 

"Yeah. I never really got to explore that one much on my own. But the only woman I've ever liked was uh… Talia. And I'm still not sure how I'm supposed to feel… about all of that."

 

"Mhm… there aren't really any textbooks on that one. At least, none that I've stumbled across." Roy looks out their giant glass windows, out at the night sky.

 

Roy's house had spoiled Jason, because Roy really had been right when he'd said the light pollution out here ruined the sky sometimes. So he keeps looking at Roy instead. "I wanna make love to you."

 

Roy chuckles and looks down at Jason. "When you're sober, sure. Whatever you want, Jaybird."

 

"When will I be sober?"

 

"Tomorrow? Maybe by night, at least."

 

"Wha-at?!" Jason knows he sounds like a whiny kid.

 

"Yeah you took a really large dose. You'll at least be closer to sober tomorrow. Also, at least it wasn’t MDNA or acid or anything."

 

"Does Ollie really have those at his parties?" Jason's hand that had still been clutching Roy's shirt drifts a bit, until his hand rests on Roy's hip. 

 

"Who knows. I keep a close eye on Lian anyway."

 

"Mhm… good dad.. dy…" 

 

"Alright time for bed."

 

Jason can't even protest, just lets Roy walk with him towards his room. Jason stops right before the doorway, and turns to face Roy. Eyes glued to the floor, he says, "Can I actually sleep in your bed?"

 

"We share a room, Jason."

Chapter Text

They're back in Roy's bed, the room glows orange with either sunrise or sunset. Roy's got himself propped above Jason, soft halo shining around him. His hair hangs down around his face.

 

He's ethereal, angelic, and Jason will forever remain undeserving of him.

 

Jason reaches a hand up from where his elbows are pulled into his chest, and he brushes one side of Roy's hair back behind his ear. He smiles at Jason, his pointy teeth poking at his chapped bottom lip. From up this close, and with everything bathed in this orange light, Jason can see every single freckle and mark on Roy's wet face.

 

Their chests are only a few inches apart but he can still feel Roy moving as he breathes. Warm air blowing against his neck every few moments.

 

"I'm sorry," Roy says and his brows crease with worry or maybe sorrow. Jason doesn't care. His voice sounds like he’s talking under water so it’s difficult to hear and even more difficult to understand the inflection.

 

"What for?" He trails his hand to cup Roy's cheek. His skin is sweaty and he moves his hand to keep holding Roy’s face as he moves against Jason.

 

"For not saving you."

 

Jason furrows his own brows, "Saving me from what? That doesn’t make any sense." His mouth feels dry. Roy doesn't answer him though, he just ducks his head to kiss Jason's neck. Jason moves his hand backwards to tangle in Roy's soft hair. His lips scratch against Jason’s skin.

 

The house is peaceful, and he would bet nothing exists outside of Roy's bedroom. But as Roy kisses his neck and he closes his eyes all he can hear is a ringing in his ears. A ringing almost louder than the whooshing flames, the wood bending and creaking. A loud bang sounds somewhere deeper in the warehouse as a metal beam collapses.

 

Despite the rising heat, his core feels ice cold. Like he’s raw and naked in a meat locker. He lets out a pitiful scream and his lungs protest against him, they feel full and broken. His ribcage is somehow both too big and completely empty.

 

He can't move from pain, or… No, he opens his eyes and he's still with Roy. Under Roy. His legs start to curl up, knees spreading under Roy's legs so he can move faster. Jason’s trying so hard not to hyperventilate but he can’t move and he can’t feel his back and he can’t exhale as much as he needs to and his lungs can’t take anything more-

 

His eyes grow hot and Roy stops kissing his neck to center himself over Jason. His hand in Roy’s hair moves with him still. His lips are no longer chapped but wet and bright and Jason pulls Roy back down to kiss that goofy smile off his face.

 

Roy rolls his body against Jason's, and his back arches up against Roy. He bites Jason's lip, and his eyes well and pour over. He thinks maybe Roy can feel the tears because he pulls back and looks down at Jason with the most curious look. He's kind of panting and it's kind of doing it for Jason.

 

"Hey," Roy whispers before he presses a kiss to Jason's cheek, "I'm sorry. I'm really sorry that she put you here."

 

Jason's hot blood runs cold for another moment but then Roy rolls against him again and he bites his lips to stifle a moan. 

 

"Please let me hear you." Roy kisses Jason's other cheek. "You're so fucking pretty. I'm really fucking sorry."

 

"Roy, what- what are you sorry about?" The words cascade past Jason’s lips between his sharp and fast breaths.

 

Roy leans his head back down and bites Jason's shoulder so hard he wakes up.

 

He's being held tightly in someone's arms and he doesn't care who it is, he just needs to not be touched. He pushes against their chest with every ounce of strength in him and when their arms loosen enough, he punches them in the throat and scrambles back, as far away from them as he can manage. 

 

Jason falls backwards off the bed as Roy coughs, "OUGH-!"

 

Jason wears only his underwear so he holds his knees to his chest. He's crying still and hyperventilating. The room spins and swims with his lungs, and he watches as Roy sits upright and rubs at his throat. 

 

"Why were you sorry?" Jason demands. He narrows his eyes but from the floor he's probably not as intimidating as he wants to be.

 

"What?!" Roy rasps.

 

"I- You were…" He looks around the room. Big windows. White everywhere. Giant bed. "Oh." 

 

Roy hacks out another cough and Jason moves even quicker than before. Or, he tries to at least. He stumbles over the edge of the bed on his way to the door and faceplants into the floor.

 

“Augh!”

 

“You okay?” Roy asks and moves across the bed towards him. “Can I touch you?”

 

Jason struggles to roll onto his side so he can look up at Roy, he sees at least two of him before the Roys wiggle around enough to slam back into each other. “Help me back into bed.” The floor is cold against his bare skin.

 

Roy grabs Jason’s hand with his own and holds Jason’s shoulder with his other as he helps Jason back into the bed. Once they’re settled back in the bed, Jason held flush against Roy’s back and between his legs, his phone lights up on the nightstand and Roy reaches to hand it to Jason. He's no longer crying or hyperventilating, but nothing feels real just yet.

 

Jason swears, and then answers. The line is quiet for a few beats before, “Jason.” Deep and gruff, emotionless. As always.

 

“Bruce,” he tries to match the tone. He doesn’t think it works. Roy rubs circles into his biceps.

 

“I hear you have an… entourage… for this adventure of yours.”  

 

Jason’s lips quirk up into a smile at the way Bruce says that. “Yeah, sure.” Entourage. What a fun thing to call whatever Roy is.

 

“I also hear your car is in working condition.” It’s not a question.

 

“Eh.” Jason lays his head against Roy’s chest, he’s not sure if Roy is able to hear Bruce through the phone or not. “It was for a few days there.”

 

“Meaning?”

 

“Well it’s kind of… totaled.” Jason laughs at himself a few times. His face still feels wet and he can’t even remember what he’d just been upset about.

 

“You’re safe, though?”

 

Jason relaxes into Roy’s arms as that lazy smile cements itself onto his face. “Yeah.”

 

“Good. I’m glad.”

 

“Mhmm.”

 

“Have you… Do you know what you’re doing yet?”

 

Jason yawns and then laughs a few times. “Nope. In Cali for the next however long, though.”

 

“Hm.” After a beat, “That’s over forty hours.”

 

“Huh?”

 

“To get to Gotham from here,” Roy whispers into Jason’s hair and he realizes that Roy can indeed hear what Bruce says. Great.

 

“What’d you wanna talk about, Brucie?” Jason yawns again.

 

Bruce is quiet, and Jason knows he’s strategizing what to say next. “I think… when you’re done in California, you need to head back home.”

 

“Well good thing is, you’re actually not the boss of me. You haven’t been for a long time, bro.” Jason laughs and it’s not even hysterical. At least, he hopes it's not.

 

“Sorry. If you’d like to come back home, I think that would be best- I mean to say that I- We would… Your room has been kept for you. You can bring your new friends with you, if you wish. There are always extra rooms.” Bruce clears his throat.

 

“I’ll come home…” Jason trails as a figurative light appears over his head. “If you stop locking Damian in his bedroom.” You fucking freak.

 

“That can be arranged.”  

 

“You know what else can be arranged?” Jason asks, “C-P-fuckin’-S.”

 

“Mh.”

 

Roy’s hands that had been massaging Jason’s arms still for a moment before he clasps his hands over Jason’s chest. “Cool. Also you’re paying for my hotel here and my gas.”

 

“I… assumed as much.”

 

“Glad we’ve reached this understanding.” Jason hangs up.

 

Roy just holds him and Jason lets himself sink further into Roy. Hands pressed tightly against his chest, legs wrapped around his hips, chest beating and breathing under him. Roy kisses the top of Jason’s head. 

 

“You gonna be okay?” Roy whispers into Jason’s ear. 

 

He’d forgotten where he even was, let alone the call. “Mhm…” Jason’s face is smiling still and if he could relax further into Roy he would. Roy’s got a soft padded torso and Jason’s ecstatic at the idea of using him as a pillow. “I’m still… high… still.”

 

Roy laughs into Jason’s hair and the feeling of it is better than an orgasm. “Figured as much. Wanna wait until you’re sober to talk?”

 

“‘Bout what?” Jason struggles to sink a little further in Roy’s lap so he can crane his neck back to look at him. His neck stretches horribly so he only holds it for a few moments before he rights his neck. “Gotham?”

 

“Yeah, that. Few other things as well.” Roy’s hands have landed in Jason’s hair. They’re stationary and Jason thinks this is the cruelest thing to ever happen to him in all of his entire life. “How long we’re planning on being in Star, and… if you wanna-” Roy’s voice sounds shy and awkward and one hand disappears from Jason’s hair. He cranes his neck for another moment to see Roy blushing and rubbing the back of his neck.

 

“Hm?” 

 

When Roy blushes it’s never his entire face. Some parts always stay that tanned color. He’s splotchy and crooked and soft and pointy and Jason lets his head stay in that stretched position to drink in as much of Roy as possible before his neck aches and he has to stop. Roy is the prettiest, most handsome person Jason has ever met. More perfect than perfect.

 

“Well… You know I love you, Jaybird. And- Alright I know we haven’t had like… months to get to know each other or anything, but… I’d like to- I’d like to think that we’re pretty close anyway. Maybe-...” He laughs awkwardly again. “Ah, yesterday my family was asking what… you are to me.”

 

Jason hums in acknowledgement.

 

“I’m perfectly fine with you just being… My Jaybird. But… is that what you want to be?”

 

“S’long as I’m yours…” Jason mumbles. He rolls and presses his cheek against Roy’s stomach, arms wrapping around Roy’s torso.

 

“I’m trying to ask… Do you want to put a label on us?”

 

“No.” He's lying. He doesn't even know why he's lying.

 

“Okay.” Roy puts his hands back in Jason’s hair, and this time he does move them. Brushing rhythmically and wonderfully. “Go back to sleep, Jaybird.”

 

“Mmm.”

 

-

 

The next time Jason wakes up, it’s because Lian is handing him a plate. It’s got a few different blue and pink and chocolate pastries on it. 

 

“What’s this?” Jason mumbles. His face is pressed into a pillow and he’s sleeping on his stomach, completely sprawled out. Lian sits maybe a foot away from him, hair tied up into a ponytail and missing-toothed smile as she thrusts the plate at him.

 

“Daddy says you’re hungry.”

 

Jason’s stomach growls in response and he curses Roy for being telepathic. Or maybe Jason’s just always been easy to read? “Thanks,” he rolls over and picks a pink pastry off the plate to munch. “Speaking of, where is he?”

 

“He’s in the kitchen on the phone with Aunt Emi.” Lian sets the plate on the bed and moves to lean against Jason’s chest. She picks up a blue pastry and starts to eat it.

 

They’re sweet and sticky and flakey and probably not something they should be eating in a bed, but Jason’s too happy and light feeling to care. Still high. Albeit, not as high as he’d been earlier that morning. 

 

“Do you know what they’re on the phone about?” Jason asks around his mouthful. He flicks Lian’s ponytail a few times and she giggles her ear-shattering laugh.

 

“Nope! They’ve been talking forever though.”

 

“How long’s forever?”

 

“Um. Like ten minutes. I dunno.” She shrugs and takes another bite of her blueberry thing.

 

Jason reaches around her to take another pastry. “Do you like being back in Star?”

 

“Mhm!” She smiles at him so he pulls himself up to sit and she moves with him, sitting under his arm as they eat together. “I haven’t seen Aunt Mia or Aunt Emi or Uncle Connor or Grandpa Ollie or Grandma Dinah in… in forever!”

 

“This forever longer than ten minutes?”

 

“A little bit,” she smiles and Jason laughs.

 

He’s always wanted a kid of his own, even if he never let himself admit it. It was hard never being able to be a kid, most of the time he didn’t think he’d ever get a chance to have a kid. And back when he was living with Damian’s family… well he would never wish that environment on anyone. He’d die lonely and sad about being childless before letting a kid anywhere near that.

 

“It’s been a while since I’ve seen my family too,” Jason says. 

 

Lian’s mouth is full so she looks at him with wide, curious, green eyes. Her eyes are a little darker than Roy’s, maybe closer to hazel-adjacent than pure green. “Mm?”

 

“Mhm. Do you know where Gotham is?”

 

“Me and Daddy lived in Bludhaven, it’s right near there, I think.”

 

“Sure is. Just a bit north. My brother Dick is from Bludhaven these days. Well, he was. I think he might be living back home now actually.”

 

“You have a brother?”

 

“Yeah, four, actually. And a sister or two. Depends who you ask.”

 

“How does that work?” Lian finishes her pasty and takes the rest of Jason’s from his hand so he grabs a new one.

 

Jason chuckles, “The guy who raised us really likes kids. He adopted my big brother Dick a few years before me, then he got me.” He takes a bite and hums for a moment, “I went away for a few years and I came back with my youngest brother Damian. His dad, the guy who adopted me, had adopted a new kid in the time I was gone. His name’s Tim.”

 

Lian makes a face at that and Jason smiles. He probably had a tone to his voice he didn’t mean for. Oops. 

 

“He’s not so bad once you get to know him,” Jason laughs and elbows Lian playfully. “Once we got settled in, the serial adopter had adopted my older sister Cass.”

 

“Older?”

 

“Mhm. Technically it was an odd situation, she was over 18 by a few years but she had a really rough upbringing and needed to be taken care of and shown what a more normal life could be like. The guy housing all of us had been in the process of adding her to the family for a few years.”

 

“Like Aunt Mia,” Lian says.

 

Jason doesn’t know enough about Mia to agree or dispute that, so he just hums. “Fairly recently we added Duke, my second younger brother.” He pauses to eat more. “Steph’s my sorta-sister. She’s never been adopted or anything, she just kinda came with Tim as a package deal and never left. She’s part of the family but not like… officially or anything.”

 

“Oh… kinda like Grandma Dinah.”

 

“No, I’m pretty sure she’s married to Ollie.”

 

“I dunno.” Lian shrugs as she finishes Jason’s pastry.

 

“Lian princess!” Roy calls from the kitchen.

 

Lian’s mouth opens into a circle and she glances at Jason as she rushes off the bed, “Be right back Jason!”

 

“Take your time.” He smiles at her and lays back into the bed.

 

-

 

The next time Jason wakes up, it’s someone shuffling into bed behind him. The bed doesn’t move with them, but the room is pitch black and he swears his heart stops. He doesn’t move, and he tries to breathe as quietly as possible. 

 

Maybe they’ll leave him alone if they think he’s still asleep. Wishful thinking, he knows. But. 

 

“You awake Jaybird?” Roy whispers, and Jason forgets what he was even worried about. His body untenses and he rolls over to look in Roy’s direction.

 

It’s too dark to catch anything other than Roy’s outline. 

 

“I am now,” he whispers back.

 

Roy chuckles, deep and light. “Sorry. Think you can go back to sleep?”

 

“I’m barely awake.”

 

“Good. C’mere,” Roy opens his arms and shuffles a bit closer to Jason.

 

Jason moves closer to Roy as well. He gets pulled flush against Roy’s bare chest and thinks about all the empty space on their bed. Perfect for…

 

“We should have kids someday,” Jason mumbles into Roy’s chest.

 

“We’ve already got Lian,” Roy says into Jason’s hair.

 

“We need… another one.”

 

“Okay. I’ll get right on that. Now go back t’sleep… love.”

 

Jason tries, he really truly does. But his blood pumps hot and fast still, and he’s unable to quiet that weird ache in his mind. “Roy,” he says, sounding more alert than he feels somehow.

 

“Hm?” Roy sounds like Jason pulled him from the brink of sleep.

 

“What were you up to today?”

 

Roy yawns and kisses the top of Jason’s head. He must know Jason needs this because he doesn’t tell him to be quiet or go back to sleep again. “Went to the mall with Lian and Emiko.”

 

“Just the three of you?”

 

“Mhm… I picked Emiko up and we mostly just walked around. It was,” he yawns, “pretty fun.” 

 

“I’m sorry I didn’t really get to meet your family yesterday.”

 

“It’s alright, we’ve got plenty of time to see them again. Besides, Ollie and Dinah were a little plastered anyway.”

 

Jason chuckles and he feels himself vibrate against Roy, “They were, weren’t they?”

 

Roy runs his hands along Jason’s back, and he swears Roy’s tracing his scars absently. “I think Connor and Mia would love to babysit for us tomorrow.”

 

The large windows around the room are lit up by the city's lights, and the faint noise of traffic wafts in. It’s too late for loud noises, especially all the way up in their room, and Jason’s not even looking at the window. His eyes are shut and he’s mostly focused on the way Roy’s calloused fingers trace lines on his back nobody else had ever dared to touch. 

 

And he smells like honey. Moreso now than ever before, but it’s a given that Roy is sweet. Jason wonders if he does that on purpose. At some point he’ll have to break it to Roy that he doesn’t really have much of a sweet tooth. He likes whatever food he has with Roy.

 

“Cool. What are we gonna do?” 

 

“Anything you want to,” Roy laughs and he sounds a little awake now.

 

Jason kisses Roy’s chest because he thinks that’s something he should do. “Do we get to hang out with Connor and Mia? I still… wanna get to know your family.”

 

“Sure. We can spend an hour or so with them, they want Lian for the night anyway.”

 

“At your dad’s house?”

 

Roy laughs again and kisses the top of Jason’s head. His hands stop moving on Jason’s back and just lay flat against him. “No, Connor’s got his own place. Ollie has extra rooms they stay in, but they’re all staying at Connor’s tomorrow night.”

 

“Mmm…” Finally Jason feels those creeping hands of sleep reach for him. “I’m gonna miss her.”

 

“We’ll pick her up first thing the morning after.”

 

“Okay.” After a moment, “And another kid too, right?”

 

“Sleep.” Roy kisses his head one last time and Jason does as he’s told.

 

Which is nice. Because falling asleep in Roy’s arms is the only place he ever wants to sleep again.

Chapter Text

Star City’s summer sunlight streams in through the hotel windows, basking Jason and Roy in all of its glory. Those warm and strong arms Jason had come to be accustomed to hold him tight, his back pressed to Roy’s chest and one of Roy’s thick legs laid over himself. 

 

He’s trapped, but not in a bad way.

 

Roy’s breath tickles Jason’s neck and his eyes roam across the expanse of empty bed. He enjoys whatever luxury this is, but he does prefer Roy’s bed back home. He can hear the birds back at Roy’s chirping.

 

Taking a deep breath pulled from the bottom of his lungs, he closes his eyes for a moment and just stays there. Roy’s forearm and leg tighten on Jason and pull him even closer. Jason moves marginally to get more comfortable and Roy stirs, a quiet moan against Jason’s ear as his breathing sharpens.

 

“Morning,” Roy mumbles into Jason’s neck, pressing a soft kiss to the bare skin just behind Jason’s ear. 

 

There’s a pressure against the front of Jason’s mind and he can’t quite find his footing in this world, or in his own skin. “I feel hungover,” Jason says. He also feels a warmth spiking in his stomach, but he elects to ignore it for now. When he speaks he can feel Roy’s arm move with his chest.

 

“Hmm?” Roy exhales against Jason’s skin and shifts himself against Jason’s back.

 

It’s impossible to tell if Roy rubbed himself against Jason’s ass on purpose, but his face heats up all the same. “G-Good morn-morning. Roy.” Jason splutters. 

 

“Excited to have the hotel to just us tonight?” Roy asks, his voice is soft and low and if Jason’s brain was working he might even venture into calling it husky. 

 

“I-”

 

“I’m kidding,” Roy laughs and kisses Jason’s neck again before rolling away, onto his back.

 

“I don’t think you are, though.”

 

Jason rolls over onto his other side so he can look at Roy and watch as his chest rises and falls. He’s got their covers pulled down to his waist and Jason’s eyes stay on Roy’s face and definitely not Roy’s happy trail, or the way his freckles grow sparse around his stomach but pick up in density around his sides.

 

Roy smirks at Jason and he feels his face heat up again. “I’m serious if you are.” He winks.

 

Fuck.

 

Maybe Jason’s hard, but that’s definitely none of Roy’s business. He wants it to be though. G-d does Jason want it to be Roy’s business so deeply. Very deep-

 

“I’m gonna go to the bathroom,” Jason croaks while maneuvering to roll off the bed and run to the bathroom.

 

Obviously this was completely out of Jason’s control, he wasn’t prone to morning wood necessarily, but it definitely wasn’t anything new. What was new was the way his body shuddered against the closed bathroom door. 

 

His mind wanders to that first night he’d met Roy, mostly delirious from heat and dehydration and exhaustion. It was so dark out he could only really see Roy lit up from the red taillights of his big rig and that flashlight in his mouth. He’d popped up from under Jason’s front bumper, a trail of red blood just oozing down his forearm, and he’d paid it no mind. 

 

Jason bites his lip and squeezes his eyes closed until they hurt, and then he keeps going. His back is pressed so tightly against the bathroom door he’s surprised it doesn’t break. It is cool against his bare skin, though.

 

“You okay?” Roy’s voice calls, it’s slightly muffled by the door, but much closer sounding than it should be if he were still on the bed.

 

Well.

 

He leans his head back against the door, the soft thump sending a jolt through his spine. Jason’s great at keeping his composure. Just look at how many times he’s spoken to Bruce, and he’s literally never even murdered the man! Jason can calm down. He’s so great at that.

 

Sweaty and shaky hands grip the edges of his boxers and he takes a deep breath, “Great.” His voice sounds raspy, strangled, out of breath, and not great.

 

Roy’s voice moves closer, “You sure? Did I- Jaybird I’m sorry if I upset you. You’re not like- There’s no obligation to do anything. I was actually just joking.”

 

THAT BETTER BE A FUCKING LIE.

 

“Which… part?” Roy asks slowly.

 

Fuck. With each word, Jason digs his fingers into his thighs, “Go back to bed Roy.”

 

“I just need to be sure you’re okay-”

 

“I’m fine!”

 

-

 

They drop Lian off at Connor’s after breakfast. He lives in a small apartment building downtown. Star City is much brighter than Jason had though it would be, but the area Connor lives almost reminds him of the nicer parts of home.

 

Not that he really considered Gotham home anymore. Though, if not Gotham then… he didn’t really have a home.

 

Connor’s building is a dark brick place, bushy green planters hanging outside of more windows than not, and sandwiched between two brighter and taller buildings. One looks to house a deli downstairs and the other seems to be a comic or book shop of some kind. 

 

Roy leads Jason and Lian through the lobby of the apartment building, it smells sterile and like bleach. Lian giggles quietly as she spins in a circle, her pink backpack Jason had helped pack swaying with her. 

 

A man working at the front desk looks up from a computer, and gives the three a look. “Who are you here for?”

 

“Hawke,” Roy answers cooly, making his way to the desk. Jason stands with Lian across the lobby, next to a wall of silver mailboxes. He doesn’t watch Roy’s ass as he leans over the desk, elbows propping himself up. “Connor Hawke, apartment 203.”

 

The man at the desk glances at his computer before looking up at Roy, “He called this morning to let me know he had family coming. Can I have a name?”

 

“We’re the Harpers,” Roy says. Jason decides to not think too hard about that one.

 

Very soon Roy’s leading them to an elevator that smells less like bleach but still oddly unlived in. Jason’s never liked more expensive places, and this seemed like a fairly expensive place to live.

 

Lian bounces on her feet for the short elevator ride, and then rushes past the doors and down the carpeted hallway, counting off the apartment numbers until she lands at Connor’s front door. Her little fist raps on the door quietly, so Jason watches as Roy knocks with her until it opens.

 

“Calm down,” Connor says, “you’re going to get me a noise complaint- hey Jason.” His eyes seem to bore holes into Jason as he shifts uncomfortably in the hallway. “You doing good? Sorry about the-”

 

“Yeah yeah you and Ollie drugged my Jason, now are you guys gonna invite us in or not?” 

 

Connor laughs and steps out of the doorway, Lian runs in first and Roy casts an inviting look over his shoulder at Jason before he walks in. 

 

“Lian your hair looks lovely!” Mia coos from the couch.

 

“Jason did it!”

 

Mia meets Jason’s eyes as he enters the living room, “Good job, Jason.” He nods at her, just before Roy passes in front of their gaze to plop down next to Mia on the plush and comfortable looking couch.

 

“Nice place, Connor,” Roy says. Lian climbs onto Mia’s lap and Connor takes a seat in an armchair that matches the couch. “Last I was here, you…”

 

“Were still living with dad, yeah. We’ve both grown up a lot,” Connor laughs.

 

Roy shrugs nonchalantly and looks at where Jason’s standing awkwardly. “Wanna join us?” Jason’s eyes dart to the empty spot beside Mia. “Scoot,” Roy says and wiggles his hips on the couch.

 

Mia groans but scoots to the edge of the couch, and Roy moves to the middle, then smiles at Jason.

 

He sits.

 

“How’s New Mexico been?” Mia asks and Lian giggles loudly.

 

They let Lian answer this one, “So much fun! Daddy lets me play in the yard whenever I want to and my toys get to go everywhere-”

 

“No, you’re definitely supposed to be cleaning them up.”

 

“You never make me,” Lian points out.

 

Roy shrugs, “We rarely have company.”

 

“Except Jason,” Lian points out.

 

“Except Jason,” Roy concedes. 

 

Connor chuckles and Jason looks at him, he has the same face structure as Ollie, it’s oddly jarring. “That’s so weird,” Connor laughs, “you used to live with like ten other people.”

 

“It was a group home,” Roy says to Jason.

 

“Well,” Mia laughs, “when you lived with Ollie you’d have a new girl over almost every night.”

 

Roy groans, “I was kinda out there, I’ll admit. New Mexico’s great though, really slow and peaceful. Nice to balance homeschooling Lian and working the interstate.”

 

“You’re homeschooling her?” Connor asks, half laughing and half incredulous. “You barely graduated high school.”

 

Roy laughs and leans into Jason as he does so, “Hey! I got D’s. Also, I could have done better. They just only taught boring crap.”

 

“What about you, Jason?” Mia asks.

 

“I got all A’s.” He’d been the top of his class until he was swapped to homeschooling with Damian’s family. They hadn’t really had a grading curriculum.

 

“No,” Mia laughs, “how do you like New Mexico?”

 

-

 

Jason’s head rests against the cool glass of the truck. It’s still light out, and the city moves by him in a blur. The air is much hotter than the glass of the truck, and Jason has to wonder if one of them is lying to him.

 

“Honestly, don't take anything they said to heart,” Roy laughs. “I have changed a lot since back then. I’m older, I’m stable, I’m settled down, I’m clean. Hell, I quit my band and became a father.” 

 

The truck bounces and Roy’s words barely perforate his brain. He doesn’t know how to explain his feelings but, “I know,” seems apt enough. He hopes it is at least. 

 

They’re quiet after that, and Jason lets the soft feeling of the truck and the way that other cars and the sky move past them take his mind. Roy’s hand holding a black cord out to him brings him back.

 

“What’s that for?”

 

Roy shrugs, eyes darting from the road to Jason. “You seem bored. You can play music or something if you want.”

 

“Um. Sure.” He doesn’t look very hard, just puts his first playlist on, and then lets ACDC take his brain this time. Maybe he’s worn out or something. “You get a new cord?”

 

“Hm?”

 

“I thought your aux was pink.”

 

“Oh. Yeah, it crapped out on the way through Arizona. Had to get a new one.”

 

Jason nods and closes his eyes. He kinda misses the static.

 

After they’d been silent long enough for Jason to space back into a different song playing, Roy chuckles, “Man.” He glances over at Jason just as he pops an eye open. “I haven’t been to this part of town in… years.”

 

Jason finally sits his head against the seat's headrest. Easier to look at Roy this way. “Yeah?”

 

“Yeah. I used to spend a lot of time around here. Up over that way- we’re gonna pass it real soon- is a park I used to spend like all of my time at.” He looks out the front windshield and sure enough up ahead is a large field of grass, a few trees and what looks like a large playset.

 

“You hang out here when you were a kid?” Jason asks. He’d thought that Roy had grown up in Arizona, but maybe he was wrong.

 

“As a teen, mhm. Ollie and I used to get into these huge fights and I’d come here to calm down. There’s some trails around here you can walk down and a buncha benches that are great for collecting your thoughts.” Roy glances at Jason and smiles. “Maybe if you’d’ve pulled over up here you’d still have your car.”

 

“It’s cute that you think I have thoughts.”

 

“Oh so you think I’m cute?” 

 

Jason rolls his eyes but he feels his face heat up anyway. The car strolls past the park and Jason knows it doesn’t make any sense but he swears he can smell pine leaves. 

 

“You’re passable.” Passable as the hottest and most visually interesting person Jason has ever met in his entire life. 

 

-

 

Back at the hotel, they don’t start kissing instantaneously. They close the door to their suite first. 

 

Jason hadn’t been certain that this was where their day had been leading, but when Roy pulled into a parking spot, he’d shot Jason a look and to test the waters, Jason licked his lips. Needless to say, soon as the door closes he grabs the collar of Roy’s shirt and pushes him into the hotel’s door, lips already meeting in a deep and hard pressed kiss.

 

Roy’s hands splay out behind himself, flat against the wall and sliding along the smooth paint. He says something into Jason’s mouth that gets muffled, so Jason pulls back. A thick trail of saliva connects them and Jason raises an eyebrow at Roy, before wiping Roy’s lips with his thumb.

 

“Yeah?” he pants.

 

Roy’s face is lit up, those handsome patches of blush and his bright eyes half lidded. “Yeah,” he exhales, dumb happy smile on his face for a moment before he shakes his head and says, “Wait, no.”

 

Jason cinches his eyebrows together. “No?” He steps back from Roy, clearly he’d fucked something up. Maybe he was reading all of Roy’s signals wrong, and he didn’t actually want any of this. Maybe he-

 

“Well, no yeah.” Roy sags forward and reaches a hand to cup the side of Jason’s face. He almost feels sick to his stomach. “I want this, just… we should move to the couch at least, Jaybird.”

 

Oh. “Oh.” He steps out of the doorway to let Roy lead the way.

 

Roy stumbles over his feet, tugging his shoes off and almost falling on his way. Jason unlaces his and follows. Roy slips over the back of the couch and Jason walks down the step, so he can sit in Roy’s lap.

 

And he does. Jason places one knee beside Roy’s hips, and then grabs his shoulders and places the other. They look at each other with baited breath, cars bustling outside. Jason’s heart thunders in his chest as he watches Roy chew his own lip. 

 

“Okay?” Jason asks.

 

Roy smiles at him, and his hands find their way to the back of Jason’s ribs. “Better than just okay.”

 

Jason kisses Roy’s jaw, and Roy’s hands tighten against his skin. His head leans back and Jason kisses down his neck, along his pulsepoint. He moves a hand to hold Roy’s hair back. Coarse and red and Jason’s hand curls in it, pressing against Roy’s skull as he kisses hard.

 

Roy’s breaths come out shaky and his chest seems to stutter. Jason smiles against Roy’s skin. “You,” Roy speaks slowly, between shaky breaths. “You could… sit down- if you wanna.”

 

Jason slowly sits in Roy’s lap, and his face lights up. He picks a spot on Roy’s neck and kisses it twice before running his tongue along it experimentally. Roy’s breath hitches and he pushes up against Jason’s ass.

 

“Can I-” Jason breathes against Roy’s neck, but Roy answers before he can even finish the question.

 

“Yes.”

 

Jason laughs against his skin and kisses his neck again. “You don’t even know what I was-”

 

“Anything you want. Yes.” Roy notices when Jason doesn’t move for a moment so he rectifies, “I really want you to do whatever you were about to do.” When Jason still doesn’t move, he continues, “What was it?”

 

“A…” he feels dumb now. “I wanted to try to give you a hickey.”

 

“Oh. Yeah. Yeah, please.” Roy tilts his head more, giving Jason even more room on his freckled neck.

 

He kisses that same spot on Roy’s neck, but keeps his lips there, sucking the skin and grazing his teeth on it. His hand gripping Roy’s head tightens as Roy’s hands move down to the hem of Jason’s shirt before snaking up under it, along his scarred back.

 

“Fuck Jay,” Roy speaks, stuttered like his breathing.

 

Jason keeps sucking that spot towards the bottom of Roy’s neck and realizes he’s been grinding on Roy’s lap. Fuck that’s embarassing. He doesn’t stop entirely though, just arches his back against Roy’s touch, presses his chest into Roy’s so he can feel the breaths as they leave him. 

 

“Fuck, fuck, fuck,” Roy says quietly.

 

Jason moves a hand from Roy’s shoulder down to his chest, fingertips dancing along the soft and warm fabric. He keeps moving his hand down, until he’s pressing under the waistbands of Roy’s shorts and boxers. Finally breaking away from his neck, he gasps for air before quickly peppering kisses up Roy’s neck. “This okay?”

 

“Yeah, uh-huh.” Roy nods his head, and Jason leans back just enough to see his eyes screwed shut. 

 

Jason pulls Roy’s head so he can kiss his mouth and pushes his hand further into Roy’s pants. He can feel just how hot Roy’s skin is, his entire body shivers as Roy’s tongue licks into his mouth and his fingers finally-

 

His phone buzzes in his back pocket.

 

He furrows his brows as Roy breaks their kiss, taking his hands out from under Jason’s shirt, “What is it?”

 

Jason groans as he takes his hands from Roy and pulls his phone out, glaring at the name and answering, “What the fuck do you want Dick?!”

 

“Hey Littlewing, you free to talk for a minute?”

 

He flops over to sit next to Roy, pressed into his side. “No.”

 

“Oh… What’s up?” After a beat, “You okay?”

 

Jason takes a deep breath and has to will himself to not be mad at Dick. Bad timing. Not Dick’s fault. “Get to the point.”

 

“Uh…” There’s rustling through the speaker and the sound of a door closing. “Yeah, sure. I wanted to apologize for how our last call went. You’re doing your own thing now, sorry for prying. I hope you had fun with Donna, I haven’t seen her in a bit. She’s pretty much my only friend from school I still talk to.” He chuckles and Jason wants to gouge his eyes out.

 

“Yeah she was cool.” He pauses for a moment, and really thinks about it. They’d had breakfast together, she was funny. He can see her and Dick getting along really well. “Why are you calling?”

 

“Well, I heard you’re in Star. And…” He takes a deep breath, like he’s preparing himself to keep talking, “I also heard you drove your car…”

 

“Into the ocean, yes. Point?” With every word Dick says, Jason can feel himself becoming less and less aroused.

 

“My point is… I wanted to check in on you and make sure you’re-”

 

“I’m fine, Dick. Perfectly peachy. Car’s gone, but I’m safe. We done here?”

 

“Not just yet,” Dick laughs. “I’m glad you’re okay. How is Star? I’ve got some friends over there but I’ve only been a few times. Is it as shiny as I remember?”

 

“What?” Jason deadpans.

 

“Sorry, sorry. So are you coming up here with that guy and his kid?”

 

Roy wraps an arm around Jason’s shoulders, warm and reassuring. “Yeah.” After a moment of silence, “In a few days. We’ve still got some stuff here. Meeting his family before we head out.”

 

“Oh! Cool…”

 

“That it?”

 

“Well-”

 

“Cool. Love you too, bye.” Jason hangs up and tosses his phone to the other end of the couch. 

 

Roy chuckles and lays his head on top of Jasons, “Who was that?”

 

“My brother.”

 

“Huh… He sounded familiar.”

 

“You’ve probably seen him on the news or something. He’s the oldest Wayne.” 

 

“Mmm…” Roy moves to lay down on the couch, and Jason moves with him so he’s laying on top of Roy, his head pressed against Roy’s chest. 

 

“How long did you want to stay here?” Jason asks.

 

Roy exhales pointedly, “Few more days? A week at most.”

 

“Sounds good.”

 

Jason and Roy lay there together, Jason just listening to Roy’s heart beating. Hands wind up in Jason’s hair, petting and massaging his head. He closes his eyes, and they fall asleep like that.

 

Which really sucks… for obvious reasons.

Chapter Text

Jason had never received a tattoo before, but the next morning on their way back to the hotel with Lian, they pass by a shop and Roy points it out. “Hey I got my wrench there! I’m real close with the shop owners.”

 

So Jason says, “We should stop by there.”

 

Roy smiles at Jason, and Lian’s excited to do anything, so they park and Roy leads the way, holding Lian’s hand as they enter.

 

The shop is quaint, a tall desk leaving only a small seating area in the front, with a few chairs and tables set up around the back. Art hangs on pretty much every every single inch of wall and counter space. Some cartoony designs, some mechanical and straight line work, some geometric, and a style Jason could only describe as “anime-esque”.

 

“Hey man we don’t let kids in here,” a guy says from where he stands behind the counter. He’s got shaggy black hair and medium toned skin. 

 

Roy leads Lian to a binder set out on a table, and she flips through the pages. “Really Kyle?” Roy mocks offense, and the guy looks confused for a moment before his face lights up.

 

“Holy shit, Roy?”

 

“In the flesh.”

 

“One sec,” the man, Kyle, leans back and calls towards a closed door, “Hal! Get your ass out here!”

 

The tall counter has bright green lettering across it reading “Green Lantern’s”, which Jason supposes is a cool enough name. He looks up from the neon lettering to watch as an older but pretty man walks through a door, “What’s the deal Kyle- OH!” He stops dead when he spots Roy.

 

“Hey Uncle Hal!” Roy smiles and Hal’s walking around the counter to pull him into a big hug. 

 

Hal seems to squeeze Roy tightly, and he’s only like an inch taller than Roy at most. “Your piece of shit dad didn’t let me know you were in town.” Jason glances at Lian, who’s still flipping through the binder. He decides to look through it with her.

 

“Yeah, yeah,” Roy laughs and Hal lets go of him. “We’ve only been here for a few days. We were passing by and decided to stop in. John in the back?”

 

“Nah, he’s out with Jessica and Keli,” Kyle says.

 

Roy nods, “How old’s Keli these days anyway?”

 

“About fourteen,” Hal says.

 

Jason finds that the binder he and Lian look through is just full of different tattoos, all pretty simple and small. They look cool as fuck. Lian points frantically at one of a license plate, and Jason smiles down at her.

 

“How much are tattoos here?” Jason asks suddenly. The three men look at him, and he feels like maybe he’s said something weird.

 

“Today’s a Friday, and family gets discounts so… twenty-five minimun,” Hal says. “You see one you like?”

 

Jason nods, and Roy walks over to join him and Lian. “Yeah, but what’s the actual price?”

 

“Well typically on Fridays it’s fifty, and any other day is eighty.”

 

“Can I get a tattoo?” Jason asks Hal.

 

“Just the one?” he jokes.

 

Jason purses his lips, and looks between Hal and Roy, “Can I get more than one?”

 

-

 

The process of getting the tattoo doesn’t hurt nearly as much as Jason had thought it would… but it still hurts so bad he thinks he’s about to pass out. It’s okay, though. Lian holds his hand the entire time.

 

He winces as Kyle presses the machine against him, and Lian shakes her head in sympathy.

 

“Y’know Garth apprenticed here a few years back,” Kyle says as he lines the simple molar design on Jason’s left forearm. He’d put a purple outline on Jason that he was following.

 

“Shit really?” Roy grunts in pain as Hal lines lettering in the wrench on his bicep. Lian grabs one of Roy’s hands with her free one. “Where’s he work now?”

 

“Atlantic City, across the coast.” Kyle and Hal’s buzzing needles fills Jason’s head, almost like seeping cold chattering his teeth. “Almost done, dude,” Kyle says.

 

Hal finishes the lettering in Roy’s wrench, and wipes paste or lotion or something across it before wrapping it with what looks like seran wrap. “You want me to get started on the plate?” Hal asks. “Normally we’d make John do something like that, but it’s simple enough.”

 

“He’s getting it on his lower back, he’ll have to lay down for it,” Kyle says. “Wait until I finish this one.”

 

-

 

The next few days are slow. Jason finds himself staring at Roy’s wrench, over the two days it goes from puffy and unreadable almost to pretty. The dark letters fill the empty space of the handle. “Never too Broken.” Jason’s not sure why, but it makes him smile when he looks at it.

 

His own tattoos are throbbing itching messes, but he ignores them. Not nearly as bad as burn scars. The simple tooth on his forearm reminds him of Lian, and when he’s able to he looks at the black rectangle shape on his lower back in the mirror. The top of the plate reads “New Jersey” and the actual text of it says “FUBAR”. 

 

Jason will always be from Jersey, and he’ll always feel Fucked Up Beyond All Recognition.

 

He, Roy and Lian are finishing a walk through that park Roy had pointed out to him the other day. Jason and Roy are sitting on one of the benches while Lian runs around on the wooden playset. He hopes she doesn’t get any splinters. 

 

Roy gets a call from Ollie. He lets Jason know they’ve been invited out to dinner.

 

-

 

The restaurant they walk into is upscale, but not fancy enough to require a certain dress or make Jason want to crawl out of his own skin. Itchy skin. The place is large, dimly lit and with a busy bar in the center. Jason glances Roy’s way as a hostess leads their party to a round table.

 

Dinah has an arm slung around Ollie’s shoulders and Jason looks at Roy’s hand without grabbing it as they follow.

 

They’d left Lian with Mia at their hotel room, and Jason can’t stop thinking about his tattoos. The pain has pretty much completely subsided now, but they itch like crazy.

 

Dinah and Ollie take their seats, Roy sits next to Ollie and Jason sits between Roy and Dinah. The table has menus set out and a bottle of champagne in the center. Ollie doesn’t even glance at it before he flags down a waiter. 

 

“Is there anything I can get for you, Mr. Queen?” The waiter looks nervous, probably new.

 

“Bottle of tequila and something to chase it, for the boy,” he laughs and pushes his menu off to the side.

 

Roy furrows his brows, “I thought you were done with that, Ollie,” he says slowly.

 

“They were drunk when we went over to their house like last week,” Jason points out.

 

Roy’s mouth opens and closes a few times, and Dinah covers her mouth to hide a laugh. 

 

“C’mon Roy,” Ollie laughs, “I’ve got some guys here. It’s cool, we can drink as much as we want.”

 

“That’s not the-” Roy sighs and throws his head back in frustration. Jason reaches for his hand under the table. It seems to take Roy by surprise because he changes demeanor immediately, looking at Jason with fond eyes and half a smile. “Just don’t drink too much, old man.”

 

Ollie barks out a laugh and Dinah says, “Don’t worry about him, I agreed to let you boys drink. I’ll drive home tonight… unfortunately.” She gives Ollie a smile as she tilts her head.

 

“And worse case is,” Ollie says, accepting the bottle of tequila and cups of light soda from a waiter, “we order a car.” He turns to the waiter and holds up a hand, “Our usual, if it’s not too much trouble?”

 

“Not at all, Mr. Queen.” The waiter heads off towards the kitchen and Jason watches Ollie as he pours three shots.

 

Roy leans towards Jason, turning his head away from Ollie and speaking low, “Do you drink?” Jason doesn’t straighten his back on purpose, but when he bristles at Roy’s voice, his tattoo itches.

 

“Not often.” He probably hadn’t drank anything since he’d turned twenty-one, but he’d had his fair share early on. Ollie passes one shot to Roy and the other towards Jason. Roy nods and winces when he sees the shot, so Jason takes it and downs both. He almost goes to rub at his left forearm before he remembers the tattoo and drops his hand.

 

The dirty ashtray taste of tequila makes his stomach turn and he wants to spit out his own teeth but Roy quickly gives him one of the sodas and Jason’s beyond relieved to find out it’s sprite. It doesn’t do much to get rid of the flavor, but at least he can swirl his tongue around and ignore the gnawing flavor of death.

 

“I’ve missed you, kid,” Ollie chuckles. “How have you been?”

 

Roy smiles at Jason, “Good.” He looks back at Ollie, “It gets a little lonely out in the desert, but Lian’s amazing and I love spending all my time with her… I think these years are gonna be important for her as she finds her place in the world.”

 

“Are you still homeschooling her?” Dinah asks with a sip of her drink. Jason guesses it’s non alcoholic but he’s not entirely confident on that. His cheeks feel warm and his tongue feels lazy.

 

“Yeah!” Roy’s face lights up, “Well, we’re on a break right now, summer and all that. But we start back up in september. She’s doing fourth grade.”

 

Ollie laughs, “Pretty soon you’ll have to move her again and get someone that can work on her level.”

 

“Har har,” Roy smiles. “But no, I’ve got it all covered. We decided that if she wants to move for high school and do public school then that’s what we’ll do. In the meantime she gets everything from Dear ol’ Dad.” 

 

Jason looks at Roy, notices the way he looks at his dad and step-mom, and something warm swells in him. “I’m excited,” Jason says.

 

Roy looks over at him, the dim lights casting shadows on his face that make Jason want to eat it off… Not eat his face off, but like… Kiss him or something. Maybe. Jason looks down at the table. “Yeah? You gonna help teach our little Lian?”

 

“Sure,” he says, looking back up at Roy.

 

“You ever go to college?” Dinah asks.

 

As Jason answers, staff approaches with giant plates of food. They seem to have bread and salad with onion rings and cheesy fries. Fuck it looks so good. “No,” Jason laughs, “I was taken out of school before high school and then homeschooled. Then I was like… Well I wasn’t really busy, I guess, but my family’s really big so it was hard to find time and space to do my own thing, y’know.”

 

“Why’d you switch to homeschooling?” Ollie reaches for the shot glasses to pour another round as Dinah serves herself and Ollie food. Plates piled high with that steaming and buttery looking-

 

“Huh?” Jason blinks once, and then laughs. “Oh… I kinda ran away from home- long story- and then got injured. Couldn’t leave the house for a few years.”

 

The table is silent for a moment, but Jason doesn’t really notice. He just licks his lips and looks at the food. He waits for Roy to ask, “Did you want some?” and then nods eagerly. 

 

“That how you got all those scars, kid?” Ollie passes one shot to Roy and the other to Jason. 

 

Jason laughs, reaching for Roy’s shot and downing it. He makes a sour face, sips his soda, and laughs again. “Some of ‘em, yeah.” He points at his face, and his hand seems to move like a slideshow. “This one’s from a dude with a crowbar, so are a few of these ones.” He holds his arms out and points at the small, deep, jagged scars. “After he was done with the crowbar, he blew the warehouse up.” Jason points at the stretched burn scars from under his chin, down under his shirt. 

 

Roy watches Jason out of the corner of his eye as he serves himself and Jason plates of the appetizers. Ollie takes his shot, so Jason takes his other before continuing. His stomach lurches so he drinks his sprite, and smiles at Roy. 

 

Roy’s got this soft buzz about him. Jason hadn’t noticed it until then, but if he looks at Roy long enough he just looks like an angel. Which is probably dumb, but G-d has he always wanted to kiss an angel. Wouldn’t that be fucking crazy? He’s already slept with demons, maybe an angel would fix him. Is that why he and Roy can’t get that far? He doesn’t deserve to be fixed yet. 

 

“These are from my father though,” Jason pulls one leg up and props his heavy shoe against the table's edge. His burn scars wrap around his thighs, reaching down towards his calves, and his knees have deep, dark and jagged purple scars from surgeries he doesn’t even remember. Under those, and along his arms are those little circular burns that had faded significantly with the years, but had never fully left him. He points a few of them out. 

 

His eyes land back on that tattoo of a tooth, and he smiles even more.

 

“What about those purple ones?” Ollie asks.

 

“Oliver,” Dinah says in a low tone. Jason glances up, and can’t quite figure out why she’d said that like a warning, so he just keeps talking.

 

Roy moves to help Jason place his leg back on the ground, and slides Jason’s plate closer to him. He smiles at Roy and eats a few of those ass-fucking awesome cheesy fries. 

 

“Dude broke my ribs and shit with the crowbar. I don’t remember if he broke my legs with the crowbar or if the steel beam and walls collapsing on me did that number, but by fifteen I’d had uh…” he racks his brain to remember the exacts, and looks down at those purple scars, counting each. They seem to wiggle in his vision so he looks up and eats more fries. “By fifteen I’d had three surgeries on my right leg and two on my left. I think.” 

 

“Eat some of the bread, Jaybird,” Roy says. Jason looks at him, and smiles so widely. He’d let himself be blown up by another bomb if Roy asked him to. Some bread was no big deal and- HOLY FUCK THIS BREAD IS AMAZING.

 

“Yeah we come out here almost every week,” Dinah laughs. “How did the two of you meet?” She eats her own plate of food, and Roy seems to let out tension. Jason can’t figure out why.

 

“On the I-40,” Jason answers.

 

Roy nods, and gives Jason that lopsided smile. One of his eyes squints more than the other, and Jason wants to tell him how crazy that makes him. He’d never met anyone like Roy before in his entire life. “Yeah! Jason had an old beater that had been giving him trouble so I towed him to my shop… It was a holiday weekend so he stayed in Albuquerque for a bit while I fixed up his car.”

 

“But I’d already fallen in love, so…” Jason laughs as he eats. He hopes he’s not being too gross. “I stayed with Roy and Lian for a few days, then when I left here they just… followed.”

 

Dinah nods in consideration and Ollie gets a dumb look on his face that sorta reminds Jason of Roy. “How romantic.”

 

“Shut up,” Roy tries to act mad, but his smile betrays him.

 

They keep eating and talking, and Jason hears how Ollie and Dinah had met, and how Ollie’s business is going well and Dinah’s work is doing even better. He just feels warm and happy as he swivels his head around, watching each person talk and interjecting his own thoughts as often as possible.

 

Eventually they get brought actual meals, and Jason quickly gets intimidated so he just sticks to a salad with egg and croutons. He fucking loves eggs and croutons. He wishes Lian were there to make the meal better. He looks back down at his tattoo and smiles to himself for a moment.

 

“What’s up?” Roy asks Jason while Ollie and Dinah chatter across the round table from them. 

 

“Nothing,” Jason lies.

 

“You’re pouting and you look like you’re about to cry. Need help with the food or something?” Roy speaks softly.

 

“First of all, asshole, I’m perfect. Second- I like salad so fuck yourself. Fourth, I…” He frowns harder.

 

“What’s up, Jaybird?” Roy’s voice grows impossibly softer but he’s smiling a little.

 

“I wish Lian were here.”

 

“We’ll see her when we get home.”

 

Jason lights up instantly, and Roy laughs. 

 

Ollie reaches across the table for the shot glasses again and pours another round. He goes to put a shot in front of Roy, but Jason’s taking it before he even sets it on the table. “How many have you had, Jason?” Ollie asks.

 

“That’s his fifth,” Roy winces as Jason pulls a face before chugging soda.

 

“Fuck I’ve got to catch up. You sure you’re not drinking tonight?” Ollie looks at Roy, which seems pointed but Jason’s head seems to be moving like it’s in a snowglobe so he’s not really trusting that judgment.

 

“He’s sure,” Jason says.

 

Ollie shrugs and takes his own shot. “So your dad was a real piece of shit?” Ollie asks.

 

Jason looks up, and quickly realizes the question was aimed at him. “Which one?”

 

Ollie raises an eyebrow.

 

“C’mon Ollie, I’ve had three dads, it’s not too uncommon.” Roy laughs and moves to place a piece of chicken on Jason’s plate.

 

“Thank you,” Jason mumbles. If his face didn’t feel so warm already, he'd surely be blushing. He looks back down at his plate and watches as Roy starts to cut the grilled chicken into pieces. Deft and strong and freckles hands working expertly- Jason has another shot. 

 

He down the shot, sips the chaser and is surprised when Roy places a new cup in his hand. Jason sips it curiously, only to find that it’s water. He drinks long and slow, the feeling like his body is being watered for the first time ever and he’s being pulled from a life-long nap. His cells feel like they’re expanding, but like, in a good way. 

 

“So which one was the piece of shit that put those marks on you?”

 

Jason glances down at his arms for a moment before answering, “First one. Willis. He was pretty bad. Beat up on me, never paid the bills, but had enough for cigarettes to put out on me.”

 

Roy winces, “Eat some of the chicken, Jaybird.”

 

Jason smiles at him and leans over, resting his forehead against Roy’s shoulder for a moment before he leans back into his own chair and does as told.

 

“What happened to Willis?” Ollie asks.

 

“Dead. He worked for some gangster and got shot. My mom from then is also dead now. Actually, that’s a funny story,” Jason laughs, “she was an addict so I’d been taking care of her, but she was also terminal. Uh… something something late-stage, I don’t remember. I was like younger than twelve.”

 

“A lot younger than twelve, or was it just that traumatic for you?” Dinah asks.

 

Jason shrugs with a smile and chooses to move on from that. “I’d grown up thinking she was my biological mother that whole time, and after both her and my father died, I was out on the streets on my own. Eventually I’d tried to steal some parts off a fancy fucking car and that dude took me in. Bruce was cool for a bit, but like pretty distant.”

 

Under the table, Roy wraps a hand around Jason’s, and Jason melts into the touch. 

 

“Anyway after a couple of years me and him got into a fight and that was when I ran out. I went back to the neighborhood I grew up in, and one of my old neighbors gave me a bunch of my shit she’d kept. I found my birth certificate, and found out that my dead mom wasn’t even my mom.” Jason laughs, and Ollie laughs with him. “So I flew out to Ethiopia to find my biological mom.”

 

Roy squeezes Jason’s hand.

 

“Turns out that mom was an addict too. She’d been playing doctor at this camp but really she was just stealing drugs. So she’d known that I’d been picked up by Bruce Wayne and-”

 

Ollie’s face sours, “Bruce Wayne’s your dad?”

 

Jason shrugs and Roy groans, “Not this shit again.”

 

“Hey,” Ollie holds his hands up defensively, “I’m over my grudge with him! Swear.” He reaches for the shot glasses again and Roy makes a move to take them away, but Ollie gives him a look and Roy lets him pour more. “You still in contact with Brucie?”

 

Jason gives a so-so hand gesture. “He kicked me out but he wants me back now.”

 

“Why’d he kick you out?”

 

“Oliver,” Dinah says, and Ollie looks at her. He shrugs and passes one shot to Roy, which Jason takes quickly.

 

His stomach feels like it tightens in on itself and the restaurant seems to sway around him. Oh shit he’s drunk. Huh. When did that happen?

 

“Am I… slurring?” Jason asks louder than he’d meant.

 

“You’ve been slurring,” Roy says quieter.

 

“Oh.” Jason takes the second shot and squeezes his eyes to keep it down before chugging more of the sprite. Roy places the water in his hand and Jason chugs the rest of the cup. Roy immediately replaces it with a new one, and Jason has no idea where Roy got that one from. He’s fucking magic, dude.

 

Ollie laughs as he talks, “You don’t have to tell me why Bruce kicked you out. But you can if you want to.”

 

“Ignore him,” Dinah sighs.

 

“No,” Jason laughs too, the world seems like a soft blanket and he wants nothing more than to lay in it. “It’s cool, it wasn’t really… like that, y’know.” His eyes feel incredibly warm and Roy squeezes his hand again. “One of my sisters was telling me how she almost got molested as a kid and it like… I dunno, I guess I never really though something like that could be so close to me, or that something like that might be traumatic.”

 

“Oh shit,” Ollie laughs.

 

“It kinda gave me a new perspective. Like… like, uh-”

 

“You reevaluated things from your own life?” Dinah prompts.

 

“Yeah!” Jason smiles. “I’d been told I was always safe and that these people would never- could never hurt me. So I- I dunno. I just kept thinking about it and I couldn’t stop thinking about it and then after I’d been avoiding my little brother for a few weeks, he sat me down and pried my thoughts out of me.”

 

“Why’d he do that?” Ollie asks.

 

“I think his mom sorta raped me,” Jason shrugs. “After my biological mom sold me out- she pointed a gun at my head, did you know that?”

 

“No, I didn’t know that,” Roy says quietly.

 

“But yeah, after that and the fire and the everything, Bruce like barely even looked for me so my little brother’s family took me and helped me get better.” He felt like he was reciting a line, so he rectifies, “They took me in and when my legs were still broken and in a cast they let some older men- well I was like fifteen or fourteen so everyone was older I guess- but yeah they just let them into my room at night and I still don’t remember what happened.”

 

Ollie reaches for the shot glasses, and pours another round. He passes one to Roy, Jason takes it and he hadn’t noticed he was crying but the shot has a salty aftertaste. It no longer tastes like death, but after the salt Jason gets punched in the gut. Well, it doesn’t feel quite like that but it does make him lurch. 

 

He drinks his soda, then his second shot, then the soda again and then finally chugs the water.

 

He’s gasping for breath when he finishes.

 

“Someone forget how to breathe?” Ollie jokes.

 

“Sometimes, yeah,” Jason laughs.

 

Roy stands suddenly, and grips Jason’s shoulders, “I think it’s time we leave.”

 

That’s the last thing Jason remembers, aside from the warm and sad feeling of floating and laying in soft blankets.

Chapter Text

Exhaustion seeps into Jason’s bones the further into wakefulness he lets himself venture. He doesn’t remember how he got to bed the previous night, but Roy’s snoring just a few feet away from him, so he knows nothing bad happened. Rolling onto his back, he feels a sharp pain from the tattoo and flops over again.

 

This was a mistake because rolling so fast makes the ground jump up at him and his guts feel like acid. All he can smell is that pungent and gag inducing scent of tequila.

 

He’s barely registering the world around him as he stumbles towards the bathroom. Each blink of his eyes produces a new and overwhelming image. He barely shuts the door behind himself, that click of it sending pounding pain through his skull.

 

That acid bubbling up inside himself spills over into the toilet, and he vomits for what feels like forever. His mouth open and expelling something that feels worse than the first time someone ever-

 

-

 

Fireworks go off like heavy gunshots outside the building. His legs still hadn’t fully healed yet, so he was sitting in his bedroom, curled up into a ball on the floor.

 

He had no clue how he’d gotten there, and the wraps on his legs made it impossible to fully bend them, so he was more bent awkwardly on the floor than in the fetal position his body begged him to enter. 

 

Each firework popping off outside sent numb pain down his spine, and he couldn’t remember how he’d gotten on the floor. His face hurt and he was so sore all over. Itching, burning… always.

 

The smell of something putrid coaxes him from that weird gray place his mind had been hanging out at. He can’t place the smell, but it makes his stomach turn even more than before. 

 

His face is wet and his throat is so fucking raw. He can’t stop sobbing, and he knows he’s being loud but that empty and dark feeling wont leave him and the fucking smell makes him want to tear all his hair out.

 

The loud sobs are only kind of covered by the fireworks and he doesn’t know why his jaw hurts so fucking much but he wants it to stop and he can’t stop it if he doesn’t know what caused it and he wants to stop crying but he can’t and he wants to be home with his family but they don’t want him anymore and they never will again-

 

-

 

Jason’s shaking on the bathroom floor, laying on his side and holding his knees to his chest. He smells like tequila and it just makes his stomach churn more. The cold floor makes his body feel both awake and numb at the same time.

 

He feels alone, and he can’t stand that the cold is sinking itself into his skin like this. 

 

Trying to keep yourself warm can only work if you’re able to.

 

The bathroom spins around his head and he has to shut his eyes, the feeling of darkness reaches towards him, like a static prying into his mind. It doesn’t take over because he doesn’t let it.

 

-

 

It wasn’t long after his dad disappeared that the landlord kicked Jason out.

 

Well, it had been a month before he really noticed his dad hadn’t come back home at all. His burn marks and bruises had healed a lot and he couldn’t ever remember his skin feeling that smooth. It was weird.

 

He woke up a few nights to neighbors screaming or gunshots outside, and it scared him. Really scared him, like the way he felt when his dad was standing over him, yelling and swinging something and he wasn’t sure if he’d make it this time. 

 

His dad didn’t like to use his hand when he was punishing Jason, because the laws on open handed and close handed beatings were real finicky… Or at least that’s how his dad described it. If he hit Jason with a beer bottle, it was discipline and crying about it just meant that he needed more.

 

If the bruises lasted longer than a month then it was abuse, but if they went away before then, it was exactly what Jason deserved.

 

Whatever. 

 

Jason slept in an empty alleyway for a few weeks. But then he caught a cold or something because of all the wet, and he was tired of feeling soggy and frozen all the way from his toes to his eyeballs. So he started sneaking into empty buildings and sleeping in those. 

 

One night he lit a fire in one, he thought he’d kept it contained to a metal barrel but the next morning that building was a smoldering pile of rubble. That was like last week though, he’d moved on by now. 

 

This place he was sleeping in was really loud. It was right by a busy train track and the wind just blew right into this place. It protected him from the rain though, so that was good enough.

 

He curled into a ball in the corner of this empty and rotting office building. Hopefully he’d tucked himself far enough into the corner to escape the cold.

 

He knew he didn’t. You can never really escape cold like this.

 

-

 

Jason’s body lurches and he vomits again, tears pouring down his face as he begs his insides to stay with him. His nose burns, and all the way from his mouth to his stomach feels entirely numb with a familiar searing pain.

 

His lungs hadn't always ached like this. Sometimes it felt like the pain was never ending. A deep ache that clawed at his throat until it was raw. He can’t stand when his throat feels like that.

 

He had to use breathing tubes for a few months after the fire. Eventually he graduated to a steroid inhaler. His family still didn't know his lungs were bad.

 

Or maybe they do know, they just don't care really.

 

Jason grips the cool ceramic toilet bowl and his body shakes and aches as he dry heaves into it. Once there's no more in him to expunge, his body attempts to flee from him.

 

He thinks his lungs would leave him first- terrible betrayers that they are. Always working too loudly, too fast, too… noticeable. They'd sold him out more times than… Than his… His… 

 

He heaves again, pain vibrating from the air in front of his mouth, all the way through him to his feet now. Raw throat, raw hands, raw lungs. His nose runs and he's too overwhelmed to even think about wiping it. The dull throbbing from his tattoos doesn’t even register as real beyond the pain of trying to keep his empty body from spinning into that darkness.

 

It’s like an image flashes across his mind, one of a man he hadn't seen in a very long time.

 

A chill moves down Jason's spine and he doubles over the bowl, his elbows and wrists resting on the seat as he groans before heaving again. He sees stars.

 

The bathroom is too smooth, too cold, and too clean. The smell of vomit reminds him of his childhood home and if he weren't open-mouthed hurling, he might have smiled.

 

The cold of this bathroom also reminds him of his childhood home. Holding his mom's hair as she did what he does now. He would stay quiet for it, wouldn't want to say the wrong thing or make her feel embarrassed.

 

He would sometimes find her on her back in the bathroom, every time just as scary as the last. Check her pulse, roll her over, clean her face, hide her pills.

 

Once she got really sick, like bed-ridden sick, she slept most of the time. He would sometimes worry about his dad killing her during the night, just giving her all the morphine they had. 

 

She died naturally. Or, at least as natural as one can while high on every pain med there is and hooked up to four different machines.

 

Jason's first mom was probably his only parent who ever loved him. Well… Talia probably loved him too. Just not in the way that he needed.

 

Maybe that's why she sent Jason and Damian away- because she knew she didn't really love Jason anymore, nobody could.

 

That image flashes across Jason’s mind again. He hated thinking about Damian’s grandfather.

 

-

 

An instrument.

 

“An instrument.” 

 

All Jason is, is an instrument.

 

“All you are, is an instrument.”

 

An instrument.

 

“Through which people who are better, more important than you can use.”

 

He gets used. That’s his purpose. He kinda likes having a purpose.

 

“You do as you are told. You are played by deft and quick hands. You must cherish these hands as they give you something that you deserve.”

 

“What’s that?”

 

SMACK.

 

“Instruments do not speak.”

 

Instruments do not ask questions.

 

“Good. Very good. Look here, Jason.” 

 

Please don’t touch- 

 

“Good. Very good.”

 

An instrument. He is an instrument.

 

“With no purpose, you are worth nothing.”

 

With no purpose, he is worth nothing.

 

“Nobody has ever loved you. They cannot fathom the way that we love you here, and we take care of you, isn’t that right?”

 

“I love it here.”

 

“I’m so glad. Would you ever want to leave?”

 

“No. I need to be here so I can have use.”

 

“Agreed. As long as you behave, as long as you fulfill your duty, and as long as you remain an instrument… You may stay.”

 

“Thank you.”

 

“Talia will walk you to bed soon, Jason.”

 

“... Thank you.”

 

-

 

“Jason?” Roy’s worried voice sounds from outside the bathroom door. He forgot to lock it. Fuck. 

 

He can’t stop puking long enough to tell him not to come in. If he sees Jason like this he’ll never come back.

 

The door opens slowly, and Roy’s shadow casts over Jason before he enters, a strong hand resting on Jason’s back, between his shoulder blades. “Sh, sh, shh,” Roy rubs his back in what Jason assumes is supposed to be a calming way. “It’s gonna be okay. I can get you some water, okay?”

 

“Just-” Jason wheezes, and squeezes his eyes shut before turning away from the toilet to look at Roy. He breathes heavily for a moment, trying to ground himself enough to speak. “Leave me already.”

 

Roy’s eyebrows cinch together. “What do you mean?”

 

“Stop pretending to care,” Jason sobs, pulling his knees up to bury his face into.

 

“Jaybird I do care about you, I love you. I feel like,” he chuckles but there’s an air of apprehension about him, “this is gonna sound so dumb, but I feel like we’re made for each other. I’m not going to leave you right now.”

 

“Maybe… Maybe you are the right person for me, but it’s just… the wrong time. Roy, something’s not working and-” he cuts himself off to gag and Roy gives him a sympathetic look. Creased brows, and head bent forward just a bit.

 

“It’s not you,” he says softly. He reaches a hand to rest on Jason’s shoulder, and he lets Roy keep it there.

 

“What?” Jason squeezes his eyes shut to get the taste of bitter alcohol out of his mouth. He reeks of the shit still and it makes him even more mad that Roy is there.

 

Roy sighs, “You’re not what’s wrong. You never will be. It’s going to be okay, Jason.”

 

“I can’t keep-” he lurches forward to vomit into the toilet, burning acid ripping from his stomach all the way into his brain. It’s not the most painful thing he’s ever felt, but it’s up there. Roy has somehow moved behind him, that hand gripping his shoulder reassuringly and his other resuming rubbing circles into Jason’s back. He vomits again, this time all spit and pain. “FUCK!”

 

Jason’s sobbing, arms wrapped across the seat of the toilet and head pressed against his forearms. He hates touching his own skin, he hates the bumps and the scars and the texture and fucking all of it. Obviously he wishes he could tear it all off, but who doesn’t? Sobs are shaking his body so violently he doesn’t even notice when Roy drops to his knees and wraps his arms around Jason’s shoulders, hugging him and whispering something in a soothing tone into his ear.

 

“I’m so fucking sorry, Roy,” Jason sobs, his body feels brittle and soggy, but Roy’s holding him toggether. Hot breath brushing his neck and face, as wet tears stream down him. Acid bubbles in himself, and he knows it’s not over yet.

 

“There’s nothing to be sorry for, Jason. You’re perfect, it’s okay.” He squeezes tightly and Jason lets out a large breath. He keeps crying. He wants to stop. He needs to stop. He should be done with this by now.

 

His words bounce off the toilet bowl and his nose fucking burns but he can’t will himself to lean up from the toilet yet. “Right person,” he gags against the pain in his raw throat, “wrong time.”

 

“No,” Roy whispers back, “right person. Just right. Nothing wrong.”

 

“I am,” Jason croaks.

 

Roy buries his head against Jason’s tear-soaked neck, “Never. You’re gonna be okay, this will pass by tomorrow morning. I love you, Jaybird, and you’re never gonna convince me not to.”

 

He doesn’t believe him. But he lets himself pretend.

 

-

 

The portion of the day Jason doesn’t spend bent over the toilet, he spends in bed, staring up at the ceiling and watching as the world jitters around him. 

 

Lian comes in at some point and just snuggles up to Jason. He hopes Roy doesn’t hate him for letting his daughter see him like that. If Roy does hate him, he doesn’t say anything.

 

Jason can’t stop himself from shaking, but at some point he and Lian fall asleep together.

 

He stumbles from the bed several times to collapse into the bathroom and vomit again. Roy gives him water when he lays back in bed, and Jason sips it as slowly as possible. Lian doesn’t leave their bed until Roy says he’s making dinner, and then insists that Roy lets her help.

 

Jason doesn’t even know where Roy got the supplies to cook a dinner with.

 

He stays in bed.

 

Roy and Lian return with bread and fries, and Jason tries to eat them because he knows it would make them happy.

 

He doesn’t throw them up.

 

Lian gets put to bed as the sun sets, which is honestly probably later than she should be up. By then Jason’s more dizzy than he is nauseous so he just stays in bed still.

 

He’s grounded enough to know how itchy his tattoo is, though.

 

He tries to focus on the sound of his own heartbeat instead of the feelings of his body.

 

-

 

Jason’s dad had meant to hit his arm with the belt, but he’d missed and hit Jason’s face instead.

 

It knocked the breath out of him, his heart felt like it stopped and he didn’t even cry for a few moments, too shocked. The pain starts slowly but spreads quickly and Jason feels like he’ll never breathe again actually. His dad’s yelling, he’s always yelling.

 

“IF YOU THINK THAT’S WORTH CRYING OVER, I’LL GIVE YOU SOMETHING TO REALLY CRY ABOUT YOU LITTLE BASTARD!”

 

It’s hard to imagine that he still has a face, because all he can feel is ice and burning. He wishes his dad would just kill him, but his dad simply swings the belt again. Whatever his dad was mad about this time, Jason was sure he’d never do it ever again.

 

The belt connects to his arms on the next couple swings, sick thwacks and cracks that split his ears and numb his arms before they make him feel like he’s not real. He can’t imagine what he’d done to deserve this pain because it was too much.

 

Next time he messes up like this, he’ll just leave. 

 

He needs to leave.

 

As soon as his dad’s done, he needs to fucking leave.

 

-

 

The door to the hotel room opens and Jason bolts upright in the bed, swinging his legs over the edge before he has to stop because the world moves faster than him. Spinning, spinning, spinning.

 

His shoulders shake as he breathes too fast and too short, quick sobs escaping him as he struggles to stop them. His heart pounds in his ears and darkness creeps in the edges of his vision.

 

Holy shit he’s going to die.

 

“Look at me, Jaybird,” Roy says, he’d rushed from the door to the bedside. Jason doesn’t look at him. He can’t will himself to stop and turn, his thoughts keep going and going and to stop them would be a comfort he doesn’t deserve. 

 

“Can’t,” he whispers, shaking his head.

 

Roy moves in front of Jason, all he has to do is look up from his lap. “Look at me, Jaybird,” he repeats.

 

Jason shakes his head.

 

Roy sinks onto his knees, looking up at Jason, “Look at me.” His eyes flick from his hands to Roy’s face, just behind them. “Good. You’re good. You’re going to be okay, okay?”

 

“No.” Roy’s lying to him. He’s lying in the same way that everyone always lies, and the same way his own brain lies to him. He’s never been okay and he never will be. He’s been broken for a long time- or… Maybe he was never whole to begin with. How else could you explain that shit that happens to him and the people he loves?

 

“Take a deep breath, please.”

 

Jason shakes his head. He doesn’t even deserve air, not when he’s this worthless.

 

Roy’s quiet for a moment, the only sounds the pounding of Jason’s heart, his fast and quiet breaths mixing with sobs, and then-

 

“I still have your picture on the wall,” Roy sings quietly, almost like he’s whispering. His singing voice isn’t great. It’s not even good, honestly. It’s a little scratchy and very off-key, but Jason never wants it to stop.

 

His brows furrow and he stops hyperventilating in his confusion. 

 

“I still have the nightmares where I would have to call you to calm down,” Roy keeps singing.

 

“What are you doing?” Jason asks quietly.

 

Roy smiles at him, and reaches slowly to hold Jason’s forearms, so careful to avoid the tattoo. His hands are always strong and grounding. “I still think about you all the time.”

 

Jason meets Roy’s eyes, risking his life by letting himself look at Roy in this moonlight, and maybe it’s the way his voice sounds like a gravel path Jason would love to walk down, or maybe it’s the fact that he’s having yet another breakdown, but… Roy is beautiful.

 

Roy smiles wider at Jason, and pulls him into a hug. “You’re the most beautiful person I’ve ever met and I can’t fucking believe anyone ever made you feel afraid or like you’re not worth having the stars hung. I’m so sorry you’re having such a rough time, but I’m here with you, okay? I’m here with you, and you’re not there anymore. You’re here with me.”

 

Jason sinks into Roy, not holding Roy like how Roy holds him, but letting the soft thump of his heart keep him from spiraling down those bad thoughts. 

 

“Roy, I think…” Jason stops to swallow hard. “I’ve been remembering things.”

 

“I’m so sorry Jaybird.” Roy looks at him earnestly, his eyes seeming to shine in the moonlight. “Let me help you shoulder the weight.”

 

He wants to. He wants to let Roy help, but… “How?”

 

“Tell me something you’re able to talk about.”

 

He has to swallow something vile, and that feeling is one he hates to be so intimate with. Saying it out loud, like when he told Damian his mom kicked them out because Jason slept with her… This time he won’t let saying it out loud hurt him. “They raped me.”

 

Roy holds him tighter. One hand around the back of Jason’s neck and their foreheads pressed together. “I believe you. You’re safe now, Jaybird.”

Chapter Text

“Mind if I join you?” Tim’s question jolts Jason from his thoughts, and he sends a glare Tim’s way. “I don’t know what that means,” Tim says as he settles down next to Jason. There’s a few good feet distance between them, but Jason can see the air coming from Tim’s breaths.

 

“How’d you even get up here?” Jason wants to add an insult to the end of that, but decides against it. He was trying to be nice to Tim. “I want to be alone.”

 

Tim laughs without humor and Jason glances at him quickly, afraid the movement might send Tim tumbling off the slanted roof tiles. But he stays securely seated near Jason. “Really? Even if I brought-” he pulls a mostly full bottle of what looks like whipped cream flavored vodka from his hoodie. “You’ll have to share with me, of course.”

 

Jason rolls his eyes. “I guess you can stay.”

 

Tim pumps a fist into the air when he thinks Jason’s turned away, and it makes him smile. He really wasn’t as bad as Jason had kept trying to convince himself he was. Tim pops the cap off the bottle and it goes tumbling down the roof, falling into the gutter. “Shit.”

 

Jason snorts. “Pass the bottle here-” he goes to reach and Tim takes a quick swig before he lets Jason get his hands on it. “Idiot.” 

 

Tim gags before he spits onto the roof. “My friends Tyrone and Jimmy got that for me, so don’t drink all of it. I can’t get any more until next week.”

 

“Whatever.” Jason takes a swig and sucks the cold air in through his teeth, trying to get the taste to leave. He takes another longer drink from the bottle before passing it back to Tim. 

 

They’re quiet for a while after that, just drinking from the bottle and passing it back and forth. Tim rubs his knuckles against the rough roof shingles, and Jason has to will himself to not cringe. It's like fucking sandpaper, holy hell.

 

The roof seems to get more comfortable the more they drink and the cold bothers Jason less and less. The stars even seem to twinkle more in the milky Gotham night sky.

 

“I’m sorry,” Tim says quietly.

 

“Hm?” Jason looks over at him, and somehow they’d closed the few feet distance, sitting only a few inches away from each other. “For what? Other than being annoying, that is.”

 

Tim laughs and shakes his head before drinking from the bottle. “I hate Bruce sometimes.”

 

Oh. 

 

“I see how he treats you differently. Dick gets away with everything. I legitimately think he could do anything and Bruce would forgive him for it. But with you… it’s like… He avoids you, and he gets so mad so quickly, and you never get to make mistakes.”

 

Jason doesn’t say anything, but his eyes sting. He tells himself it’s from the cold, despite his cheeks feeling warm.

 

Tim continues, “Even I get to fuck up sometimes. With Steph- she’s not even his kid so… I guess he just doesn’t want to hit her. He yells at her all the time, though. With you he’s like, ‘Oh you missed curfew by three minutes, Jason.’ POW!” He does an exaggerated impression of Bruce’s voice and then throws his hands up into the air with the action, throwing his body back against the roof. 

 

“Yeah.” Jason takes the vodka from Tim and chugs it for a few seconds. He struggles to gags at the feeling in his stomach before handing it back to Tim. 

 

“I would be mad at me too,” Tim says, looking at Jason. His cheeks and nose are bright red, and Jason can’t tell if it’s from the half bottle of vodka he’s had or the cold. “If I were you, I’d probably hate me actually.”

 

“I don’t hate you,” Jason feels the words blurt from his mouth. “I’m just… jealous.”

 

Tim looks shocked, and then drinks from the bottle. “Me? You’re jealous of me?!”

 

Jason laughs at him, “Yeah, Tim. I had a weird few years and then I come home to this guy who’s never loved me, and I see he’s replaced me. He doesn’t even welcome me home, but this new kid still has everything I wish I did. The new kid doesn’t get hit, doesn’t have all these ugly scars, and…” Jason shrugs and doesn’t finish.

 

“That’s so crazy,” Tim says as he shakes his head, “this whole time I was jealous of you!”

 

-

 

A repetitive buzzing sound wakes Jason up. He’s held in Roy’s arms, the heat from Roy offsetting the cool from the rest of their hotel room. Damn hotel air conditioners. 

 

Roy shifts and his breathing is stilted for a moment before he settles, pulling Jason closer to his chest. Jason can’t remember them going to sleep like this, but he doesn’t mind. He never minds when Roy touches him.

 

The buzzing rages on, and Jason blinks his brittle eyelids a few times before he realizes it’s his phone. He wiggles out of Roy’s arms so he can reach for the nightstand and answer. Vibrations from the phone feel as if they shake his entire arm, he hates it.

 

“Hey!” Duke greets Jason as soon as he holds the phone up to his ear.

 

He has to blink a few times, willing his tired and clouded mind to clear enough to make conversation with his brother. “Morning,” his voice sounds like shit. He tries to speak quietly so Roy doesn’t stir more.

 

His eyes land on Roy, sleeping soundly on his side. The covers are wrapped around his waist, and his chest is bare. Those freckles cover him and his wavy red hair frames his face like a sleeping princess. He’s so fucking hot.

 

“I haven’t heard from you in a bit,” Duke laughs. He was right, but it's not like that was Jason’s fault. “How have you been doing? You’re in… uh California now, right?”

 

“Right.” Jason rolls to lay on his side, and just stares at the way Roy is bathed in the orange light of sunrise. “I’ve been… okay.”

 

“Awesome dude,” Duke’s playing a video game in the background of the call and Jason hears what sounds like soft classical music. “You’re coming home soon? I think I heard Bruce and Dick talking about that the other day.”

 

“Oh. Yeah, in a few days or so. I don’t have a day picked out to head on the road, but yeah…” His family kept asking, and honestly that was all he was waiting for. “I’m driving with this guy I met and his kid.”

 

“Oh? Sounds fun, what’re their names?” The music in Duke’s game swells before a victory sound plays and then it quiets.

 

“Uh… Roy and Lian.” He keeps his eyes on Roy, his skin seems to emit golden rays, and Jason can’t figure out what he did to deserve him. “I drove my car into the ocean so we’re taking his truck.”

 

“Crazy, what was that like? I’ve sorta jumped into Gotham harbor a few times. The cold nearly shocked me to death but I got out fine.”

 

Jason blinks once, “I didn’t go into the ocean with it.” After Duke lets out a noise of disappointment Jason continues, “It was exciting though. I was a little out of it so I drove off a pier, and the wind kinda hurt my skin. It was fun though, I think.”

 

“Mhm. What kind of truck does this guy drive?”

 

“Uh it’s blue.”

 

“Big or small, Jay?”

 

“Smaller. It has a bed, but it’s kinda old I think. It’s not like those dumb big trucks you see on the interstate with LED headlights.” He watches as Roy shifts in his sleep, his older tribal tattoo catches Jason’s eyes so he just stares at it. The lines are thick and dark and intersect with each other. It’s kinda awesome.

 

“Oh nice. Roy sounds cool. I can’t wait to meet him and…”

 

“Lian.”

 

“Him and Lian. I’ll see you in a few days, Jason.”  

 

“Mhm.”

 

Duke hangs up.

 

Jason’s arm falls down to his side and he looks at his own tattoo on his forearm. The linework is pretty and thin, it's just the outline of a molar. The license plate on his back has thicker linework, the letters bold and a sunrise coming up behind it. It almost looks passable for a real plate. 

 

He turns to look at Roy again, and just watches him, the way his chest rises and falls, a strand of hair moves with each breath. His face is blank, and Jason wants to wake him up just so he can put a smile on it.

 

Roy snores once, but it cuts off quickly, his eyes fluttering open as he wakes up. He meets Jason’s gaze and smiles softly, his face pressed against his pillow and half of it squished.

 

They stare at each other for what feels like forever.

 

“Can I kiss you?” Jason asks quietly, as if he’s still trying not to wake Roy up.

 

Roy smiles harder, his pointy yellow teeth showing as he reaches for Jason with one arm, that pretty tattoo moving with his skin. He tugs Jason’s bicep to pull him on top of himself. “Sure thing, Jaybird.” His voice is a little rougher than usual, thick with the morning light.

 

Arms propping himself up boxing in Roy, he can’t help but just stare for a few more moments. Roy’s so fucking pretty, and laying on his back like this, his hair splayed out and his chest bare, aside from those freckles...

 

Jason wishes he could kiss every single one.

 

He leans down to press his lips to the tip of Roy’s nose, and Roy laughs, warm breath blowing on Jason’s neck. He centers himself over Roy, and smiles at him.

 

“My brother Duke wants to know when we’re heading over to Gotham.”

 

Roy raises his eyebrows at Jason, and in this proximity he can see every detail of his face. The single dimple on one side of his face, the way his cheekbones curve under his eyes, the laugh lines that are faint until he smiles… The little wrinkles between his eyebrows.

 

“Hm… Probably two days? We’re hanging out with my sisters today, and Ollie wants to redo that party of his before we leave. We can do the party tomorrow and then head out?”

 

“Sounds good.” Jason kisses Roy’s mouth, and he tastes like something sweet. He loves it.

 

Honey fills his nose and that sweet taste fills his mouth and they kiss. Roy’s hands wrap around the back of Jason’s neck and head, holding him tightly and they kiss. His head moves up against Jason and he smiles against Jason’s mouth.

 

-

 

“New ink?” Emiko pokes at Roy’s wrench and he hisses before snatching her wrist and pushing it away from himself.

 

“Yes, stop that.” 

 

Emiko sticks her tongue out at him, before turning to Jason, “I keep just missing you, are you avoiding me or something?” She has a smile on her face, so he assumes it’s a joke.

 

“Well first Ollie got him high, then Ollie got him drunk. It’s not like he’s been able to make time for family,” Roy says.

 

They sit in Connor’s living room, he was working down at the comic book shop next door, and apparently his siblings all had keys to his place. Jason was baffled by it, but held his tongue. Jason sits on one end of the plush comfy couch, Roy next to him, and Emiko on the other end. Mia sits in the armchair Connor had been in the last time they’d visited, and Lian lays on the floor coloring in a book with markers.

 

“How are you feeling, Jason?” Mia asks.

 

Jason snaps his eyes from where Lian colors grass with a yellow marker to look at Mia, “Huh?”

 

“You guys have only been in town for a week and it seems like Ollie’s put you on a bender,” she laughs, but Roy protests that.

 

Jason shrugs, “It’s been cool.”

 

“You know,” Mia laughs, “I think you’re the longest relationship Roy’s ever had.”

 

“You have no idea how long we’ve known each other,” Roy states as Jason says, “We’re not-”

 

Emiko waves her hand through the air, “You haven’t broken up in the week you’ve been here. That’s a new record.”

 

Lian looks up at Roy, and he shakes his head at her, so she goes back to coloring.

 

“How long have you two been together?” Mia asks.

 

“Almost three weeks,” Jason answers, before realizing she wasn’t asking when they met. His shoulders and face heat up and he looks back down at Lian. Roy bumps his shoulder.

 

“How about you two tell Jason about yourselves instead of interrogating him, hm?” Roy looks between the two of them, and Emiko looks disappointed.

 

She sighs, and then crosses her arms behind her head as she speaks, “Nothing new going on with me, but Mia graduates college next month.”

 

“If I don’t fail my statistics class,” Mia laments.

 

Connor’s apartment is pretty, it has brown furniture everywhere and dark forest green walls over medium toned hardwood floors. He’s got some framed pictures of his family, mostly his siblings, but a few with Ollie and a few with who Jason assumes is Connor’s mom. 

 

Roy laughs, “You’ve got this Mia, it’ll be a walk in the park for you.”

 

“Says you, who barely graduated high school.”

 

“You all keep saying that, as if you’re insulting my intelligence. My piss-poor grades had more to do with my fights with Ollie and less to do with my smarts.” Roy shakes his head and Jason watches his hair move. If he's being honest- he kind of misses the trucker hat.

 

“Piss,” Lian repeats, looking up from her coloring book.

 

Roy furrows his brows at her, “Young lady, you are definitely old enough to know better than that.”

 

She shrugs before going back to coloring.

 

“And now you two,” Roy points between Emiko and Mia, “are teaching my impressionable daughter bad words.”

 

“Want to hear a worse one, Lian?” Emiko goads.

 

Lian looks up again, squinting at Emiko before glancing at her dad, who has one eyebrow raised. “No…”

 

“Good answer,” Roy says. 

 

Jason’s phone buzzes in his pocket and he throws his head back with a groan while he reaches to dig it out of his jeans. “I swear to god I’m going to fucking kill them-”

 

“Jason!” Roy gapes.

 

Jason’s eyes widen for a moment as he glances at Lian. She just closes her eyes as she smiles, that missing tooth prominently calling attention. “I didn’t hear anything!”

 

Groaning again, Jason sees the caller is Steph and stands to walk around the corner of the living room before he picks up. “Is this an emergency?” he asks.

 

“Uh…” Steph sounds stressed and Jason’s tone softens.

 

“Are you okay?” His thoughts are racing already, and he’s patting his pockets for his keys before he remembers that they were in his ignition when he sent his car flying. “What’s wrong?”

 

“Well-” Steph takes a big breath before she starts talking, “Tim got this new boyfriend and-”

 

“New boyfriend?” Jason tried to keep the shock from his voice, but he’s pretty sure it doesn’t work.

 

“Bernard,” Steph sighs. She takes another breath before starting again, “And they’re friends from high school, so I kinda know him too. He’s fine, and I like him okay and all, but Bruce found out this morning…”

 

“Why does Bruce give a fuck-”

 

“Jason!” Roy warns from around the corner.

 

“-isn’t Tim like over eighteen now?”

 

“Yeah, he turns nineteen tomorrow, but that’s not the point.” Steph sounds apprehensive and then Jason hears someone else's voice in the background. It’s a deeper voice, and one Jason doesn’t recognize. “He got into a fight this morning about his new boyfriend. I don’t think it’s that Bruce is mad about him dating, I think it’s that he’s mad about Tim dating so many people.”

 

“How many people is Tim dating?” This was the first Jason had heard about Tim dating, but that wasn’t really shocking. He’d never been particularly close to him.

 

“Three now,” Steph’s cut off but the deeper voice is saying something urgently, which is followed by… giggling?

 

“Hold on, what? Who’s he- Nevermind I don’t care. What’s going on?”

 

There’s a loud fumbling sound so Jason holds his phone away from his ear as he cringes. Steph’s voice protests as the giggling gets louder.

 

“Hi Jason!” Tim laughs, loudly, into the receiver. 

 

“Hi..?” Jason leans around the wall to see Roy and his sisters talking with smiles on their faces while Lian colors.

 

There’s more fumbling and then Steph says, “At least put it on speaker!”

 

A moment passes and then Tim asks, “How?”

 

“Oh my god, give it here,” the deeper voice says. A beat passes and then, “There. It’s on speaker. Steph, why’d you call Jason?”

 

“I wanted to talk to Jason,” Tim whines. Whines. Why the fuck is Tim whining?

 

“Who is this?” Jason asks.

 

“Conner,” the deep voice answers. “One of Tim’s boyfriends.”

 

Jason racks his brain, trying to figure out if he’s ever heard that name before, and decides he doesn’t care. “What the f-... What’s going on?”

 

“I’m high,” Tim whispers loudly.

 

Steph groans in the background. “He went out and got skedoodled with Bart!” Tim giggles more. “And Conner brought him home. How do we hide this from Bruce?!”

 

“Who’s Bart?” Jason decides to start with.

 

“My boyfriend,” Tim giggles.

 

“Cool.” Jason glances side to side down Connor’s hallway, unsure what to say next. “Is… Bruce home?”

 

“No,” Steph says. “But he will be, and we’re supposed to have dinner together tonight. That’s in like… one hour! What the fuck do we do!?”

 

“I think it will be fine,” Tim says breezily. 

 

“Of course you do,” Jason deadpans. “You could pretend Tim’s sick and have him in his room… Hm… But then Bruce might want to check on him. Tim, what did you smoke?”

 

“Weed,” he answers. “Bart said we smoked three bowls, but I also had an edible.”

 

“How much was the edible?” The only experience Jason had ever had with weed first hand had been just the other day. 

 

Tim giggles and Conner says, “He’s shrugging. Tim, was it just one edible?”

 

“No… It was two. I think Bart said they were ten…”

 

Jason nods to himself, “When did this happen?”

 

“Two hours ago,” Steph says.

 

“Okay,” Jason nods to himself. “Roy, can you come here?” 

 

The conversation in the living room quiets, and then Roy pops around the wall, “What’s up, Jaybird?”

 

“Jaybird?” Tim asks. “Jason, did you get a boyfriend too?”

 

Ignoring that, Jason says to Roy, “My younger brother’s high as balls and needs help hiding it from our dad.”

 

Roy purses his lips and nods, then reaches a hand towards Jason’s phone. He gives it to him. “Hey,” he says into the phone, a serious look on his face, “I’m Roy. What did you take and how much?”

 

Jason wrings his hands together and shifts from foot to foot as he watches Roy’s face lighten while he nods. “Okay,” he looks at Jason. “Go hang out with the girls.” Jason nods and leaves Roy to solve this.

 

-

 

Damian shoots daggers across the dining table at Jason. This was his first time spending one-on-one time with Damian since getting picked up by Talia a few months prior. The table at Talia's house was really big, made of a pretty almost pinkish wood.

 

Reaching for the salt, Damian’s face morphs into something even more mad, and Jason drops his hand. “What?” he half laughs and half rasps, his lungs still felt like shit from the smoke, and he’d been working on not focusing on the pain too much. “Am I not allowed to salt my food?”

 

He hated that his voice sounded foreign to himself. 

 

“Do you deserve to?” Damian sneers.

 

Jason’s eyebrows raise, the skin on his face still felt tight sometimes, so he doesn’t hold the look for very long. Getting to know this tiny child had included finding out that he was mean. Like… really mean. 

 

It was astonishing that they made them this mean.

 

“Yes?” Jason tries to tilt his head, but the wraps still on his neck- they went around his shoulders and chest too- keep him stiffly held in place. “What’s your deal, dude?”

 

“Dude,” Damian’s able to tilt his head forward and honestly if looks could kill… “I don’t appreciate it when strangers eat at my table.”

 

“Your table?” Jason laughs, and that was a bad call.

 

He just barely dodges out of the way as the glass salt shaker is flung at him. Terrifying force from an eight year old, it smashes against the wall behind Jason’s head.

 

“What the fuck, Damian!”

 

-

 

The first night they’d spent back in Wayne Manor, Jason slept in Damian’s new room. 

 

He couldn’t bring himself to even approach his own old door, and that wasn’t even why he was with Damian. Alfred had shown Damian to the empty room, decorated nicely with the ornate bed frame, ugly and expensive dresser, and matching nightstand. Then, when it became night, Jason had sat in one of the long hallway’s window-seats.

 

The sky outside was dark and inky and he tried to keep his eyes outside the window, instead of inside the manor. Everything was too familiar, he could recognize every piece of the manor, but it was still changed. New books, new curtains, new lamps.

 

The long hallway he sat at the end of was dim. He’d tried to turn all the lights off but at night there were always lights lining the wall that sayed on. They were just bright enough to guide.

 

Damian approached him, slowly and quietly. When Jason turned, that familiar feeling of being watched covering him like sweat dripping down his back, he jumped. 

 

“Sorry,” Damian said quietly, rubbing his arm awkwardly. He looked like a kid. He was a kid, but he rarely looked like it. “Are you unable to sleep either?”

 

Jason shook his head.

 

“I-” Damian straightened his posture and took a deep breath, “there is space in my room. If you wish you to not be…” Damian’s voice cracked and so did his posture. “I had a nightmare.”

 

“You okay?” Jason stood quickly, and then let Damian lead him.

 

“Don’t be moronic, Jason.”

 

They didn’t really speak for the rest of the night, but Jason was glad when Damian fell asleep soon after.

 

-

 

It takes Jason a while to fall asleep in the hotel bed that night, he keeps his hands clasped over his chest, and just stares up at the ceiling. Roy snores soundly next to him, and it’s enough to keep Jason from spiraling, but not enough to coax his mind into quiet.

 

At some point he opens tumblr on his phone to catch up on Tim and Steph’s blog.

Chapter Text

“Pst,” Lian whispers harshly. “Hey, are you awake Jason?”

 

“Bwuh?” His eyes flutter open and he jumps back on the bed, shocked to be almost nose-to-nose with Lian. She pokes his shoulder and stares at him, head tilted curiously.

 

“Are you awake now?” she whispers loudly. Her eyes are large in the morning light, and while the usual deep and dark brown stares into Jason’s own, he sees those hints of green from Roy. 

 

Jason feels like he’s been hit by a truck (or maybe like a metal beam has fallen on him). He blinks a few times before dragging a hand across his eyes. “Where’s Roy?”

 

Lian smiles at him, that missing-toothed smile. “On the phone with Grandpa Ollie. He’s giving him ‘rules’ that he has to ‘follow’ ... I don’t really understand it. It sounded boring.” She makes air-quotes with each word.

 

“Mhm… What- What time is it, Lian?”

 

“Morning, obviously,” she turns to gesture towards the giant windows.

 

“Great, thanks.” Jason flops over onto his back and his tattoo throbs so he squeezes his eyes shut. Lian wastes no time in climbing onto the bed and shoving her knees into his stomach. “Ow.”

 

Lian sits on his stomach and looks into his face, lips pursed. “I think we’re going to Grandpa Ollie’s today again.” 

 

Jason nods, and squints against the bright light to look at her. 

 

She reaches a hand out suddenly to pinch his earlobe, “Have you ever thought about piercing your ears?”

 

Jason furrows his eyebrows and thinks about moving her off, but stays stock-still. “Not particularly..?”

 

“You should!” she squeals. He winces. “We should get our ears pierced together, Jason!” She releases his ear to sit square on his stomach and pull her hair back from her ears to show that she also doesn’t have hers pierced. 

 

“Maybe that uh… Green Lantern’s place does piercings.” Jason yawns and rubs his eyes.

 

Lian nods, clearly deep in thought.

 

“Hey, uh… princess, could you get off so I can do your hair?”

 

Her face lights up.

 

-

 

They’d loaded up into Roy’s truck not long after that, and as soon as they pulled into the driveway to Ollie’s, Roy’s family were loading the back of the truck. Connor carried a few lawn chairs, Dinah hauled a blue cooler, and Mia tossed a football into the bed.

 

“What’s all this?” Roy asks, sticking his head and an arm out of his window.

 

“Eh,” Ollie shrugs, “you said no drugs and no alcohol so I figured we’d go to the park today.”

 

Roy leans back into his truck to glance at Jason before leaning back out. “We’re not meeting anyone there, right?”

 

“Dad promised it’d just be us,” Mia smiles at Roy and gives a salute to Jason. He salutes back somewhat awkwardly.

 

“Uh-huh,” Roy says, wholly unconvinced.

 

Emiko slams the tailgate of Roy’s truck back up and slaps it twice for good luck. “We’ll meet you there, Ollie’s driving us.”

 

“Which park are we meeting at?” Roy asks.

 

“3rd and uh… whatever,” Ollie waves a hand.

 

Dinah rolls her eyes but tosses a set of keys into Ollie’s outstretched hand. “The one near Hal’s shop.”

 

-

 

It’s sunny and scorching out, the park is bustling with people. 

 

They’re able to find an empty picnic table with a grill, Ollie and Mia post up while Roy slathers sunscreen on Lian. She complains loudly but once Roy puts some on Jason she lets it happen.

 

“Oh I get it,” Roy jokes, “because Jason did it, it’s cool.”

 

“Exactly!” Lian nods with a smile.

 

“Did you want me to get you?” Jason asks, trying to ignore the oily feeling of his skin.

 

Roy smiles up at him from where he sits on the picnic table. “Sure thing Jaybird.”

 

“Okay but after that you have to play tag with me,” Lian says, alreading running off towards Connor.

 

After he’s done and satisfied with feeling up Roy, he joins Lian and Connor. Roy, Dinah and Emiko lay in the grass, sunglasses on and sodas in hand.

 

They play for quite some time, falling into a pattern of Lian chasing them, and them chasing after her.

 

“Y’know for as much as we rip on Roy… he really is a good guy,” Connor says. He and Jason jog together, keeping pace ahead of Lian. It hurts Jason’s lungs but it’s not too bad. “He seems happier with you, I think.”

 

“Yeah?” Jason pants. 

 

“I mean, given, I haven’t seen him in a few years and either way he’s more settled and… grounded, I guess.” Connor stops in his tracks to avoid running into a woman playing frisbee. Lian takes this chance to grab his leg.

 

“Tag!” she screams and bolts off in the opposite direction. Connor and Jason jog after her.

 

“What do you,” Jason huffs, “mean?”

 

“He’s a really smart guy, I’m sure you know that. He just… seems to isolate himself sometimes. I think it’s great that he has you and Lian.” Connor speeds up for a few steps and picks Lian up to swing her around once. “You’re it!” 

 

Then he and Jason start off in a new direction, where the least amount of people and obstacles stand in their path.

 

“I thought you and Mia were calling him stupid… and I mean you didn’t say slut, but-”

 

“Oh he was a slut. Definitely.” Connor laughs. “We also don’t think he’s stupid, we were just giving him a hard time.” 

 

“Oh.” Talking while jogging has his lungs burning and sides feeling like he’s been stabbed.

 

Connor slows just enough for Lian to almost tag him, then speeds up, she laughs loud enough to make Jason’s head throb. “Thanks for taking care of my brother, Jason.” 

 

-

 

It’s not long before Jason has to sit at the table, but Lian’s worn out enough to join him by then anyway.

 

Mia and Ollie have got food on the grill, and Dinah’s moved from her spot on the grass.

 

The sky is bright and blue.

 

Later that night, before Jason drifts off to sleep he’d think back to this exact moment- sitting on the crappy wooden picnic table and watching the scene around him. 

 

He’d think back on this moment, feeling the splintering wood press against his forearms as he rests them on the table top, feeling the hot summer day, and smelling the rich sweetness from the foods Ollie and Mia grill. 

 

He would think back to this moment and decide that it would work better as a painting than a memory.

 

A painting would capture the way the sunlight shines on Dinah’s long curly hair, and gives Roy that fuzzy glow as he goes to throw a football through the air. Both Emiko and Connor run down the grass field, arms open and waiting for the toss. In the painting you wouldn’t really be able to hear their laughter, but when you look at them… you’d know.

 

The painting would capture the familiar way Ollie and Mia look at each other over the grill, Ollie pointing her to flip one of the patties and her blowing him off. Dinah watches them from a white patio chair, soda in hand and the same lovely smile on her face. 

 

Jason imagines the painting would show how Roy’s eyes meet his own, despite how he’s so focused on his game of fly with his siblings. Or- brother and aunt. The painting probably wouldn’t show the confusion of family relations. It should show Lian sitting next to him, sleepy head resting against his bicep. Completely tuckered out from the long and hot day.

 

If Jason were painting it, he would give them both matching earrings. 

 

-

 

When the food’s finally done, they all squeeze onto the picnic table, white plastic lawn chairs forgotten several feet away from them. Roy squeezes next to Jason, and Mia sits on Lian’s other side. Emiko sits across from Roy, Dinah next to her, and Connor on the other far end, boxing Ollie between himself and Dinah.

 

Their hands all reach over one another grabbing buns and patties and dogs along with various toppings. Jason makes Lian a hotdog, grabbing everything she points at as it becomes available. The chatter is constant and fun.

 

“Oh you should have seen how shit-faced Jason got,” Ollie laughs and Roy cuts in with a warning at the swear. “I mean this kid can knock back shots like they’re water.”

 

Jason sets Lian’s hotdog on her plate and turns to find Roy’s made him a burger. “Thanks,” Jason says.

 

“Why were you giving Jason alcohol, dad?” Mia asks with her mouth full.

 

Oh. They’re talking about him. 

 

Ollie shrugs and bites his own burger. “He was going on about his childhood, I kept thinking he was about to start crying,” he laughs.

 

Jason remembered some of that and does his best to not physically cringe.

 

“Shut up and eat your burger you old fuck,” Roy says and tosses a pickle across the table to hit Ollie’s cheek. He laughs and cleans his face off.

 

“You always been a talkative drunk?” Ollie asks.

 

Jason shrugs and eats his burger to avoid really answering. The burger is really fucking good. Almost as good as McDonalds with Roy and Lian.

 

“You used to be a kid?” Lian asks Jason.

 

“Yeah,” he says, smiling down at her.

 

“What was that like?” she asks.

 

Ollie laughs and starts to say something, but Dinah elbows him in the ribs and Connor shoves his burger into Ollie’s mouth.

 

“I uh… was a little nerdy.” Jason smiles at her still, trying to think of the good parts. “When I was going to high school I joined the drama club. I was in a few plays.”

 

“You what?” Roy asks, his voice muffled from his full cheeks.

 

“Swallow, sicko.” Emiko kicks Roy under the table.

 

“Ow!”

 

“Yeah I played a cowboy in my first play and a prince in the second. I don’t remember what they were anymore, but I really loved them.”

 

“I’ll bet,” Ollie laughs.

 

Roy throws another pickle.

 

-

 

After they finish devouring the food, Dinah and Connor start packing their things up. Jason notices that Roy and Ollie have disappeared off somewhere, so he wanders around the busy park to look for them.

 

When the large grass field and benches are a bust, he approaches a brick building. Nobody’s going in or out of the bathrooms, so he reaches for the men’s door.

 

He hears the shouting before he opens the door, and it makes his heart stop for a moment. “-you not see what you’re doing to-” Roy’s loud and angry and Jason turns to walk away first, he’d gone into the bathroom with Ollie so this wasn’t really any of his business…

 

“Roy, I’m a fully grown adult. You’re my kid, last I checked!”

 

Jason stands with his back pressed against the brick wall of the bathroom, they’d probably want someone to keep others from wandering in any way.

 

“And last I checked you’ve never been a father to me!” There’s a pause after he shouts that, then Roy groans loudly. Followed by a few more beats of silence. “That’s not what I- Ollie. Do you not see what this is doing to Dinah? Do you not see what’s going on with Connor and Emiko and Mia, or do you just not care?”

 

“Don’t project my failings with you onto-”

 

“SHUT THE FUCK UP AND LISTEN TO ME, OLLIE! Do you give a damn about your fucking granddaughter? At your rate you’re going to fucking croak before she graduates high school. How is that fair to m- her!? How is that fair to Lian?”

 

Jason knows this argument they’re having, he’d had it with his own parents a thousand times in his own head. From his experience, he knows how it plays out. Next Ollie is going to-

 

“I’m sorry, Roy.” Ollie’s voice is lower, no longer shouting. He’s sincere and it stops Jason in his tracks. He’d gone to burst into the bathroom but this hadn’t been something he ever thought a parent might say to their kid. “I’m sorry for how I treated you when I found out you were using.”

 

“That’s not the-”

 

“That is the point, kid. I wasn’t there for you- fuck I was worse than just not there for you. Things never should have played out the way they did. I promise you I’m here for you now, alright?”

 

Another long silence before, “I’ve been alone, Ollie.” There’s an unfamiliar note to Roy’s voice that makes Jason lean just a little bit closer to the bathroom door. “I’ve been all alone for years now and I don’t-”

 

“Hey, come here.” They’re quiet for a few moments.

 

Jason feels like there’s ice inside of himself and he can’t quite pin why.

 

Another moment passes before Roy speaks again, that unfamiliar note heavy. “I fell hard and fast, but he’s just like me and it… It makes me feel better to know I’m not all alone out here.”

 

It hits Jason then, that note, it’s because Roy’s crying.

 

He stumbles away from the bathroom, tripping over his own feet and feeling like he’s treading water.

 

-

 

When they load back up into Roy’s truck, Jason can’t help but glance at him a few times.

 

“What’s up?” Roy asks, turning his key in the engine. “You okay?”

 

If Jason hadn’t known that Roy was crying less than twenty minutes prior, he wouldn’t be able to tell. “Can we stop by Green Lantern’s?”

 

“Oh?” Roy looks at him, surprised but smiling softly. Jason can’t help but wonder how genuine the smile is, he hopes it’s real. He hopes Roy’s still real.

 

“Can we get our ears pierced daddy?” Lian leans up to press her face between the front seats.

 

Roy laughs, “If you want to, sure. I got mine pierced back in high school.”

 

“That’s good. I meant Jason, not you, anyway.”

 

“I also… had another idea for a tattoo I wanted,” Jason says.

 

“Oh this I can’t wait for.”

 

-

 

The bell to the small tattoo shop jingles as they enter and Kyle groans loudly, “Bro we are so close to closing-”

 

“Roy!” Hal cheers, vaulting over the counter to pull him into a hug. 

 

Kyle smiles at them and walks around the counter, shouting towards the back, “Get out here guys!” He meets Jason’s eyes before leaning down to pull Lian into a hug. “How’re the tats healing?”

 

“All good,” Roy laughs, pulling away from Hal. “Still hurts a bit, but I think it’ll be all good in a few days.”

 

“I don’t know how to gauge that,” Jason says and holds his forearm out to Kyle.

 

“Well none of it peeled, so that’s good.”

 

“What brings you two in?” Hal asks, an arm slung over Roy’s shoulders.

 

The backroom’s door opens and two larger men exit it. “What’s this racket all-” one of them stops in his tracks. “That Queen’s boy?”

 

“Hey Roy,” the other man gives a nod. “We saw some paparazzi nonsense about you back in town.”

 

“Guy,” Roy greets the first man with a nod, slipping out of Hal’s arm. “John,” he greets the second with a smile.

 

“We want to get our ears pierced,” Lian says. John looks over the counter at her.

 

“Oh look at how grown up you are,” he smiles. “I can do your ears, little lady.”

 

“My name’s Lian.” She sticks her small hand up to the counter and John shakes it in his large one.

 

“Jaybird here wants his ears done too,” Roy says, pointing with his thumb. “And a new tattoo.”

 

“I’ve got your ears,” Guy grunts more than says. Jason’s not entirely jazzed to have him pierce his ears, but he figures it’s probably better than doing it himself anyway.

 

Kyle looks up and down Jason before asking, “Another tattoo?”

 

Hal laughs, “Jason you tip so much, I’d put the Mona Lisa on you and I wouldn’t even complain about staying past close.”

 

“Yes you would,” Guy says.

 

Hal shrugs with a smile. “What were you wanting, Jason?”

 

“Uh… two swords?”

 

-

 

John pierces Lian’s ears at the same time Guy pierces Jason’s, Roy stands over Lian’s shoulder, one hand holding her. The actual piercing doesn’t really hurt more than a pinch, but the immediate heat that spreads through his head makes him suck in an air of breath.

 

Lian reacts less than him to the piercing and he has to wonder what the kid’s made out of.

 

“Just keep those in for a month and don’t let them close for the next six-ish months,” John says. “Clean them everyday, okay?”

 

Lian nods confidently, as if she’d been asked with a mission of utmost priority.

 

Kyle draws the flaming swords onto Jason’s thighs with a purple marker. They’re identical and stretch from just above his knee to the top of his thigh. They’re agled on him, mostly on the outside of his legs but you can see them from the front still.

 

“These are gnarly,” Kyle says under his breath.

 

Jason looks at him, and can’t tell if he meant the scars or the flaming swords.

 

Roy chats with the guys while Kyle tattoos Jason, and two hours later, by the time he’s done, Jason can still hear the buzzing of the gun.

 

-

 

It’s dark out when they arrive back at the hotel.

 

Jason and Roy put Lian to bed together and the last thing she says before she passes out is, “My ears hurt.”

 

He and Roy retire to bed immediately after, they lay a few feet from each other. When Jason’s not thinking about paintings, he’s thinking about the throbbing heat from his ears and the loud sore pain in his thighs. Laying on his back prompts a dull barely-there pain from his back tattoo, laying on his sides sends searing pain from his ears, and he doesn’t dare roll onto his thighs.

 

He sleeps on his back, thinking about the ache in his thighs.

 

-

 

Roy’s breathing hot and quick, hands gripping Jason’s hips as Jason brings himself up and down on his lap. “Fuck.”

 

Jason wants to smile but he’s panting too much, sweat covering his entire body as he rides Roy. His thighs ache from the repeated motion, but the burn only makes him warmer. 

 

Butterflies and hot static gnaw at him and he holds Roy’s thighs behind himself.

 

“You’re so goddamn pretty Jaybird,” Roy breathes. Jason moans loudly, practically screaming in pleasure and pain.

 

The feeling of Jason moving on Roy is all he can think about until he looks down to meet Roy’s eyes. Wide and green, freckles covering his entire face- entire body. His wavy red hair is plastered to his forehead with sweat.

 

Jason moves faster despite the pain growing in his legs. He can’t even form words, his mouth is open but his brain won’t let him focus on anything other than trying to hold himself back.

 

“Cum on me,” Roy urges.

 

Jason rolls his head back to moan and scream louder and he pushes himself as much as he possibly can. The feeling of heat rolling through him makes him stop and arch his back, head thrown back to open his neck.

 

He cums on Roy’s chest, his fingers gripping Jason’s hips so hard it feels like he’s on fire.

 

“You’re crying,” Roy says, a hint of amusement in his out of breath voice.

 

Jason realizes he’s right, so he leans forward to look at Roy again. “It’s because I’m so in love with you.”

Chapter Text

Jason’s still half asleep when he sits in the passenger seat. Roy had carried the few bags they had down while Jason carried a still-sleeping Lian. Aside from the residual feelings of his… dream… the previous night, he can’t stop thinking about one thing.

 

The conversation he’d overheard the previous day, between Roy and Ollie. 

 

He glances over at Roy and the light outside is so bright he has to squint his already sore eyes.

 

“Roy,” Jason starts. Roy glances at him with a soft crooked smile and raise of an eyebrow. “I just wanted to let you know that I heard you yesterday.”

 

“What do you-...”

 

“When you were in the bathroom. With Ollie.” Jason looks away from Roy as he glances at him again. They were just leaving Star at this point, and the roads were full of other cars. 

 

Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Roy nod. “How much did you hear?”

 

“I’m not sure. I know you- Uh. You seemed upset.”

 

Roy chuckles, “Yeah… Yeah, I was a little upset.” After a beat. “I haven’t hashed it out with Ollie in so long, and never quite like that.” 

 

Jason bites at his lip, worrying it as he starts a few different questions in his head. After it’s been long enough that Roy’s attention is fully back on driving, Jason turns to look at him and feels the words blurt from his mouth more than he says them, “Did it help?”

 

His eyebrows crease and he looks focused, Jason assumes on the road. “Yeah, it did. You thinking of having a similar conversation with Bruce?”

 

“Maybe.”

 

Roy nods. “Alright.” He taps his fingers against the leather steering wheel a few times. “I don’t know Bruce as well as you do so I can’t tell you how it’s gonna go. Me and my old man, we’ve had years to let our past simmer. It’s almost been a decade since he kicked me out and half that since the last time I saw him.”

 

“It’s been about four months since I’ve seen my family.”

 

“Do you think that Bruce will apologize to you for everything?”

 

Jason laughs bitterly. “Never.” 

 

Now it’s Roy’s turn to bite his lip before he speaks. “What do you want out of a heart-to-heart with him?”

 

“That’s a good question.” He wants… “I don’t know what I’m seeking from him. I don’t know what I want.”

 

“Not an apology,” Roy chuckles, casting another quick glance.

 

“Well, I never said I didn’t want one.”

 

Roy laughs and seems to be about to say something else when Jason’s phone starts ringing. He furrows his brows but picks up. 

 

“Hey, didn’t we talk a few days ago?” Jason asks. He didn’t mean for it to sound as accusatory as it did.

 

“We did,” Duke says, “but then you missed Tim’s birthday.”

 

“Shit.” Jason shakes his head. “What did you guys do for Timmy’s birthday?”

 

“Is Timmy the one I met on the phone?” Roy asks.

 

“Mhm, and Steph.”

 

“Who’s that?” Duke asks.

 

“My- Uh. I’m in the car with Roy and Lian. Roy’s driving us to Gotham.”

 

“Oh. Okay, cool. Yesterday me and Tim ran some dungeons with Bart and Damian, then Bernard and Conner stopped by to take Tim out and Steph went with them.” There’s a sound of a door closing on Duke’s end, and then a car on their busy highway honks and Lian stirs behind Jason.

 

Jason leans around his seat to look at her, she opens her eyes for a moment before lolling off again. When he presses the phone up to his ear, it throbs like he’s been punched so he presses the speaker button.

 

“This is my younger brother Duke,” Jason says to Roy.

 

Keeping his eyes on the road, Roy smiles and says, “Hey Duke, I’m Roy.”

 

“Nice to meet you, I think?” Duke says. “I’m about to head out with Dre and Izzy, we’re meeting some friends at a laser tag place so I can’t talk for too long.”  

 

“Alright. I’ll call Tim when we get somewhere for the night.” Jason goes to hang up, but Duke stops him.

 

“Wait, before you go, want me to pick up some crepes for you guys? There’s a new place that opened up in north Gotham, I’ve been going almost every day with Damian and Tim.”

 

“What do they have?” Roy asks.

 

“Sweet or savory, they’ve got a bunch. Jason, you like uh… matcha, right?”

 

“I guess.”

 

A car speeds past their truck on the left and nearly sideswipes them. “Fucking hell I can’t wait to get the fuck out of this damn city,” Roy mutters.

 

“They’ve got a matcha chocolate and strawberry one… What about you, Roy?”

 

“Anything with avocado,” he answers quickly. “Lian will probably like the sweet stuff too. Do they have banana crepes?”

 

“Yeah! I’ll pick some up before you guys get here, just let me know when you’re like an hour out.”

 

“Got it,” Jason says. “Love you, Duke. Bye.”

 

“Bye, love you too!”

 

-

 

As soon as they enter Arizona, the roads clear up. The landscape becomes less green, large bumpy hills of brown off in the distance as the car chases them. 

 

Lian woke up not too long after Duke hung up, and they pulled into a McDonalds drive-through. Of course it wasn’t as good as the one in Albuquerque, but it was admissible. 

 

Jason ate his hash browns as Lian devoured an egg and ham sandwich. 

 

“Alright, give us the run-down of your family,” Roy says, crumpling the wrapper to his own sandwich and tossing it into the bag between Jason’s legs. “Who are we meeting? Who do we like? Who do we not like?” Roy smiles and leans into Jason’s space just a little.

 

Lian gets excited in the backseat at that, “Ooh! Ooh! I know we do not like Tim.”

 

Jason chokes on his hash browns, and Roy offers him a sip of his drink. Jason wasn’t sure what kind of coffee it was, but it was honestly mostly caramel and milk. It tastes faintly like Roy, and he really liked that. “Uh- No… No, we like Tim. I never-” He goes to run a hand through the side of his hair and brushes his ear. “Fuck!”

 

“You okay?” Roy glances at Jason, voice soft and face concerned.

 

“Yeah I just hit my ear.”

 

“No more swearing in front of Lian,” Roy laughs and hits Jason’s thigh playfully.

 

“FUCK-!”

 

“Oh my god,” Roy barely restrains himself from doubling over his dash laughing, “I’m so sorry Jaybird.”

 

He grits his teeth and squeezes his eyes shut. “It’s cool.”  

 

Roy holds a hand out over the gear shift, and Jason just stares at it for a moment, before he realizes Roy wants something. So he puts his half-eaten hash brown in Roy’s hand. He laughs, takes a bite and then hands it back to Jason. “Thanks,” he chuckles and shakes his head.

 

“Mind if I play music?” Jason asks.

 

“Go ahead, Jaybird.”

 

He plays the first playlist he sees on his phone, and skips no less than four songs before a WHALES-TALK song starts and he lets it stay on. He leans his head against the cool glass window, and just looks out at the large hills. Arizona is washed out, even more-so than Texas- at least in his opinion.

 

After a few songs, he turns to Roy, “Wait, you wanted to know who you’re going to meet, right?”

 

Roy doesn’t turn to look at Jason, but he smiles. “Yeah.”

 

“Uh… okay. I don’t know if you’re going to meet any of their friends, but you’re probably going to meet all of my siblings. Last I heard they were all staying at the Manor.”

 

“Manor…” Roy trails. “Ollie had one of those when I was a kid. He sold it off and lives more humble now. Though, I guess with a family more your size it makes more sense to have something that big.”

 

Jason shrugs. “So… There’s my oldest brother, Dick. He’s been home since I left. He’s probably the house favorite.”

 

“Funny name. Alright so we like Dick.”

 

“You might,” Lian says pointedly. Roy stills and turns quickly to glance at her. “I haven’t met him yet,” she explains.

 

“Oh… I was about to ask you to tell your brother to change his name,” Roy laughs. “I’ve met some pretty good guys who go by Dick in my day. I’m sure you’ll like him, Lian. If Jason likes him, he’s gotta be a good person.”

 

“That’s true…” she sighs.

 

Jason waits a moment before he continues. “Next oldest is Cass, she’s pretty quiet when she wants to be. When she first moved in, she was pretty non-verbal, but she’s opened up a lot since then. Her autism is probably the most similar to Bruce’s.”

 

“Huh. Cool how that works. She was adopted too, right?”

 

“Mhm, Damian’s the only one actually related to Bruce.”

 

“Weird. Although if you looked at my family and had to guess who was blood with who, you probably couldn’t.” He laughs fondly and his face lights up even more when a Barenaked Ladies song starts. “You have the music taste of like my wildest dreams.”

 

Truth be told, Jason only added Barenaked Ladies after he and Roy danced to them in the garage. His garage. His home. His Roy.

 

He looks over at Roy quickly, and the panic starting in his chest quells instantly, he can’t be worried about if Roy really wants him when he looks at Jason like this. “There’s some Katie Perry on this playlist too.”

 

Roy throws his head back to cheer. “Alright, who else are we meeting?”

 

Oh. Right. “Uh… I’m the next oldest.”

 

“Ah,” Roy nods, “the elusive Jason-...” He glances at Jason, “What’s your last name again?”

 

“Jason Peter Todd.”

 

Roy nods, then smiles, “Roy William Harper.” He sticks a hand over to Jason and they shake hands. “Pleasure to meet you.”

 

“Likewise, sir.”

 

“Tell me about this Jason Peter Todd of yours.”

 

Jason shakes his head and snorts, looking out the truck window at the desert. “He’s a little gnarly looking, recently became covered in tattoos and scars. He’s been hanging out with a good crowd recently, though.”

 

“I hear he’s handsome as all hell, that true?”

 

His face heats up, and he tries to speak for a moment before moving on. “After me is Tim and Steph. Tim’s short and small-ish, dark hair, darker personality. He’s cool once you get to know him but he’s a little dry. Steph’s not really my sister, but she’s been with us on and off since Tim moved in…” While I was gone. “She’s got big blonde hair, and a childhood you might think Tim had from the way he always acts.” He shakes his head with a fond smile. “They’re both cool. Steph definitely more than Tim, though.”

 

“They’re the ones that called you the other day, yeah? Tim’s got that boyfriend uh…” Roy’s quiet for a moment as the Barenaked Ladies song crackles from his speakers and the truck rides along the bumpy road. “Conner!”

 

“Yeah. I haven’t met any of Tim’s boyfriends, but we might meet them. I don’t know.”

 

“Cool. How old are they?”

 

Jason takes a moment to think, “Tim had his birthday yesterday, so he and Steph are both nineteen now. I’ve never met any of the others, but I’m pretty sure he went to school with them so I’d guess they’re all the same age. Maybe a year or two older or younger.”

 

“How old’s Duke?”

 

“Oh he’s like… seventeen, maybe? I don’t remember, he might be eighteen now.”

 

Roy moves his lips along with the song as they drive. “So Duke’s the next oldest?”

 

“Mhm. He’s got a few friends too, but I don’t know if we’ll meet them. I’ve met Izzy a few times and uh… Riko, I think her name was, on a couple of occasions, but that’s pretty much it. I have no clue if he’s bringing people over more often these days.” He waits a moment before he continues, “And Damian is the youngest. He’s also the shortest. He’s a little mean, but not on purpose. He just kinda reacts to everything with anger as an immediate response. Once he calms down he’s typically more like a human person, though. It took us a few months of living together before he stopped lobbing shoes at me every time he saw me.” Jason smiles fondly, thinking back on those days. Damian was probably the only part of those days that didn’t make Jason sick to his stomach with anger and guilt to think about.

 

“That’s everyone? Other than Bruce, that is.”

 

Jason turns to Roy, stopping his thoughts from spiraling. “Sorta, there’s Bruce and then also Alfred, our butler. He’s always been sorta like another parent. I liked him best when I was living there as a kid. It was different when I went back, but he’s still cool.”

 

“Alright.” Roy smiles.

 

-

 

It’s late afternoon and Roy’s been driving for more than six hours when they stop at a large gas station. Jason walks Lian inside towards the bathrooms while Roy fills the truck up. The previous place they’d stopped at had been tiny, in the middle of nowhere.

 

This place has rows of little trinkets and souvenirs. It’s pretty empty, but he stays close to the bathroom Lian had gone into anyway.

 

From where he stands in the large white linoleum and fluorescent building, he can see Roy leaned up against his truck watching the pump meter tick up. Jason wishes he could stand there, between the bathroom and the beer aisle, watching Roy forever. The sun is low off in the desert, and Roy looks so good in the light.

 

A toilet flushes behind the bathroom door and after a minute of the sink running, Lian exits. “Can I have a soda?” she asks, reaching for Jason’s hand.

 

“Only if it’s rootbeer,” he says, already walking her past the beer to the sodas.

 

“I love rootbeer,” she bounces on her feet, walking with Jason. He passes her one bottle and holds another in his own hand. “Thank you, Jason.”

 

He smiles down at her, and all he can think about is that at some point she became his kid too. When did that happen?

 

They walk through an aisle of gardening tools and Jason slows to a stop in front of a few fist-sized potted plants. Succulents and… cacti. He tucks his soda into the crook of his arm and picks up two of the cactuses. 

 

Lian watches him with wide eyes, and they walk up to the cash register together. As soon as he pays, Lian’s sprinting off, holding out the soda for Roy to open.

 

Roy holds a hand over his eyes, as if he’s shading them, and squints to look at Lian as she runs towards him. “That for me?” he asks with a smile.

 

“No, but you can have the first sip,” she says quickly. “Jason will give you his.”

 

“I will?” Jason asks, setting the potted plants behind the driver’s seat. He turns to watch as Roy returns the gas nozzle to its home, and Lian chug the soda. “I can drive the rest of the way tonight,” he says.

 

Roy looks over his shoulder at Jason, “You’re good to drive the rest of the two hours?”

 

He nods, and Roy nods back before letting Lian into the truck and then climbing into the passenger seat.

 

Jason hadn’t driven a truck… ever. It was a smaller truck so it probably wasn’t as difficult to maneuver as a larger one, but it still takes him a few miles before he relaxes in the driver’s seat. Tensing his legs and moving his right foot sends throbbing pain up his leg, but it’s background as Roy plays music.

 

“What do you want Lian?” Roy asks, swapping songs every few seconds. 

 

They’d been in the car for the better half of 30 minutes, and Jason had found himself starting to enjoy the feeling of the flat and empty interstate road. It was completely washed out, with no visible lane markers, but he stays where he guesses he’s supposed to be.

 

“The sprinkles band,” Lian answers.

 

Jason looks at Roy, who seems to know exactly what she’s talking before pretty music starts playing from the crackly speakers. “Rainbow Kitten Surprise,” Roy explains to Jason.

 

“Oh.”

 

They’re quiet as they listen to music for a bit after that.

 

-

 

The sun had started setting when they entered the city they were stopping at for the night. Roy directed Jason to a Sonics where they picked up dinner before directing Jason to the small two-bed hotel room they were staying the night at.

 

When they arrive, Jason’s legs are entirely sore and his head is pounding.

 

Lian charges into their hotel room, after Roy’s checked them in, and declares the bed closer to the window as hers. The room has a TV on the wall across from the two beds, set atop a dresser and minifridge. Next to the set up is a desk with a chair and past the beds is a bathroom.

 

The walls are an ugly tan color with white floral patterns and the carpet is a muted brown or vibrant gray. Hard to tell.

 

Jason flops down onto his and Roy’s bed for the night, sad to discover it wasn’t as comfortable as the last bed they’d been in, but glad to be laying flat with no strain on his legs.

 

He rolls onto his side and sucks in a breath as pain shoots through his head from his ears, and then rolls back over onto his back.

 

“I’m gonna take a quick shower,” Roy says, walking past the beds into the bathroom. “Remember to call Tim, Jaybird.”

 

Jason groans loudly as he throws an arm over his face. “Lian, you should call him for me.”

 

“Um… Okay. Tim’s your brother, right?”

 

“Mhm.”

 

“What is he as mine?” she asks, climbing onto the bed next to Jason. The shower starts and Jason takes a moment to push the though of Roy naked out of his head before he leans up and pulls his phone from his pocket.

 

“Uh… I don’t know.”

 

“If he was daddy’s brother then he would be my uncle.”

 

“That’s true.” He shrugs and dials Tim’s number, putting the phone on speaker and handing it to Lian.

 

It rings a fair few times before Tim’s voice answers, “Hello?”

 

“Hi!” Lian says loudly, holding the phone as close to her mouth as possible. “I think you might be my uncle!”

 

“Wha- Who are-”

 

Jason just barely holds back a laugh as he pulls Lian to sit between his legs. “Introduce yourself, Lian.”

 

“Oh… Hi Tim, I’m Lian.”

 

“Hello Lian… Is- Is Jason there?”

 

“Hey Timmy,” Jason says, resting his chin on top of Lian’s head. 

 

There’s a second of silence before Tim says, “Hi… What’s up?”

 

“Sorry I missed your birthday yesterday, I was busy all day and it slipped my mind.”

 

“It’s cool,” Tim says easily. “I’ll just be sure to forget yours next month.”

 

“Your birthday is next month too?” Lian asks in awe.

 

“Yeah, it’s the sixteenth,” Jason says.

 

“Mine’s the seventeenth!” Lian declares.

 

Someone’s voice comes from the phone, too far to really make out anything they say, and then Tim holds the phone away from himself before he answers, “Yeah, sure. That sounds good.”

 

“Who’s that?” Lian asks excitedly. “Is it Steph?”

 

“No, it’s uh… It’s my- It’s Bart. How do you know Steph?”

 

“I was telling her and Roy about all you guys today. We’re gonna arrive in Gotham in like three days, I think. We’re coming from Star.” 

 

Lian leans to the side and presses an elbow onto Jason’s thigh and he sucks a breath in as pain flares up his leg.

 

Bart says something to Tim that sounds urgent and he leans away from his phone to answer quietly, “I don’t think it’s that important, dude. If you really think he’ll care, just throw it away and make a new one.”

 

“Everything all good?” Jason asks.

 

“I’ve got to go now,” Tim says abruptly, hanging up.

 

“He went away,” Lian says sadly, looking up at Jason.

 

He attempts to put Lian to bed himself, but she’s still awake when Roy exits the bathroom, dressed in the clothes he’d been wearing that day. He puts Lian to bed himself and she finally falls asleep.

 

Roy climbs into bed with Jason and throws an arm over Jason’s chest. “Good night Jaybird,” he mumbles into his pillow. He smells like honey even now and Jason can’t fight a smile off his face.

 

“Good night Roy.”

Chapter Text

Jason wakes up slowly at first, breathing in a sweet smell and cuddling into the grounding warmth that settles next to him. His eyes flutter open, and the hotel room is basked in the warm Arizona summer morning, light drifting through the crack in their curtains.

 

Then Roy stirs next to him, and rolls off of Jason. He’s left feeling cold and a little bit alone. 

 

“Morning,” Roy mumbles, rubbing his eyes with the heel of his hand. “Thanks for driving last night.”

 

“It was no problem.” Jason sounds much more awake than he feels.

 

Roy leans up, yawns and stretches his arms out. Jason had seen damn near every part of Roy by now, but he still finds himself mesmerized by the way his shirt lifts up, exposing a bit of his back just over his hemline. Soft tanned skin covered in freckles.

 

He stands, and goes to brush his teeth while Jason lays in bed, staring up at the ceiling. Lian sleeps in the bed next to him, and he watches for a moment as her chest rises and falls under the covers. 

 

Roy exits the bathroom soon enough, phone held up to an ear.

 

“Yeah, we’ll be passing through tomorrow night.” He passes by the bed and leans to ruffle Jason’s hair on his way. “I think tonight we’ll be stopping somewhere in Oklahoma. Mhm… Yeah, that sounds great. I’m sure Lian doesn’t remember them, but they’ll get along great.”

 

Lian stirs in her bed, before slowly climbing out of bed to climb into Jason’s, sitting next to his side and leaning on his as she blinks the sleep off of her face.

 

“Mhm a few weeks. Oh, she was?” Roy walks back and forth between the dresser and desk and beds. “Two more nights, we’ll get there on the third.” Roy snorts and then starts laughing so much he doubles over.

 

Jason looks down at Lian, who seems a bit more awake than a few minutes ago, “Hey princess, I think it’s about time we clean our ears so we can get on the road.”

 

She nods and holds Jason’s hand as she leads him into the bathroom.

 

Roy stays talking on the phone until they’re done, ears cleaned and piercings turned, tattoos washed and lotioned. “Sure buddy. Alright, I’ve got to head out on the road if we’re gonna make it on time. Mhm, see you then.” He tucks his phone into his jean pocket and follows Jason outside. “Tomorrow night we’re staying at Wally’s,” he says, much to Lian’s excitement.

 

“Cool. I can drive first today, if you want.” 

 

Roy smiles at Jason and tosses the keys at him.

 

-

 

Jason’s legs are numb by the second hour of the drive, and his ass is almost as sore as his thighs by the time he stops for gas. 

 

New Mexico was as bright and sandy as he remembered, and when they pass through Albuquerque, they stop at their McDonalds. Lian spends her time not eating in the play area while Jason and Roy eat in peaceful silence. Jason’s brain was pretty fried from the mindless task of driving, and Roy seemed to be content with filling his face.

 

His lips move in a mesmerizing way when he bites his burger or eats his fries. After a particularly large bite that has Jason itching to jump out of his own skin, a smear of sauce stains the corner of Roy’s lips.

 

“You’ve got food on your face,” Jason says as blankly as he can.

 

Roy raises an eyebrow and looks up at him, smirk already playing on his lips. “I do?”

 

“You do.”

 

“Where?”

 

Jason mimes wiping his own mouth and Roy follows the movement, wiping the clean corner of his mouth. “No-...” Jason leans forward to point, and Roy leans forward towards him at the same time. They’re suddenly only meer inches apart, so Jason pulls his hand to the side and cups Roy’s cheek.

 

They stare into each other’s eyes for a moment, breaths baited.

 

“Here,” Jason says, voice low and thick. “Let me help.” He leans forward and licks it off, the sweet tanginess of it bringing a smile to his face before he surges forward and kisses Roy.

 

-

 

Lian sleeps soundly in the back of the truck, the back of Jason’s head rests against the passenger window and he watches Roy. Out here on the interstate no lights line the road so it’s a little difficult to make out the details of Roy’s face but damn he is…

 

“... really pretty tonight.” Jason feels the words mumble from him and his face lights up.

 

The side of Roy’s mouth quirks up and he glances quickly, “What’s pretty Jaybird?”

 

Jason clears his throat and looks past Roy, out at the lit alive sky. The stars remind him of Roy’s home. They’re not even in Gotham yet, and still he wants to head back, just turn around on the I-40 and leave the panhandle of Texas. They shouldn’t though. Not yet. “The stars.”

 

Roy hums quietly and Jason watches as he leans over his dash for a few moments, looking up at the sky. “Yeah. They are.” He glances at Jason again, “Not as pretty as you, though.”

 

Jason feels his heart speed up, so he looks back at Lian. Her little face is slumped forward, chest moving with her even breathing. He doesn’t notice, but his heart slows back to normal. “Thanks.”

 

They’re quiet for a bit, Jason alternating between watching Roy drive, and watching Lian sleep. He couldn’t say why, but he feels something click right into place. He rubs his eyes, digging the heels of his palms into them. 

 

They still have two days left in their roadtrip, but he’s so burnt out already. He needs to keep his brave face on, but right now- with Lian asleep and Roy so open and honest… (not that he’s ever anything else.) Right now, though… Right now he’s allowed to feel alone without feeling lonely.

 

“Why…” Jason starts quietly, grabbing Roy’s attention. He’s not sure if he should continue, but he does anyway. Roy keeps his attention divided between Jason and the road. “What about me do you like?”

 

“What do you mean?”

 

Jason holds his hands in front of himself and gestures from his face down to his knees. “Mental illness from here to here, bro.” After Roy snorts at him, Jason continues, “I mean what is there to like?” He’d add on want but… He knows his keen skill for filling carnal desire, and while he does hope that Roy desires him carnally it’s not like-

 

“Come on… It goes to your shins at least.” Roy laughs more and Jason can’t help but laugh along as well. The truck rolls over a bump and he glances back at Lian to watch her shift before settling again. “And who’s to say your hot girl mess isn’t what makes you so interesting to me?”

 

Interesting. Well, at least he’s something to Roy, if not similar. “I think you’re more of a hot… mess… girl…”

 

“You think I’m hot?” Roy grins and glances at Jason again. He looks out the front windshield to avoid the gaze. 

 

“I think you should keep your eyes on the road, dude.”

 

“Oh but I want them on you, bro.” 

 

Jason glances back at Lian again and Roy chuckles softly.

 

“She’s out like a light, yeah?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

They’re quiet for a moment. Then Roy clears his throat. “I like that I can see someone trying to get better in you.” His voice is serious, and Jason feels floored.

 

“I’m not-”

 

“I also like how good you are with Lian, and your siblings. I don’t know when I fell for you after my dad drugged you and got you wasted while urging you to talk about all your trauma and you didn’t run for the hills… again.” He glances at Jason and there’s that crooked sly smile. “You’re fighting, Jaybird. You’re strong, you’re brave, you’re… beautiful.”

 

Jason doesn’t think he really is any of those things, but he pretends to believe him.

 

-

 

They stop at a hotel in Tulsa for the night and Roy carries Lian inside. Jason sleeps on his back, to avoid his main points of pain, and Roy slings an arm over him again. Sleep comes quickly, and morning comes quicker.

 

The next morning, Lian makes Roy put her hair into a ponytail before they go for breakfast, and then they’re on the road again. 

 

Tulsa had been drab and dusty, roadkill lining all the roads and low cement jungles. Jason drives them through the state, and they stop in Missouri for gas. As they keep going the landscape gets wetter and greener, less washed-out, less dusty. Missouri is mostly bricks at first, and then it’s just empty. Illinois is thick with corn, and in Indiana they swap seats after lunch.

 

The sun sets while they drive through Ohio and Roy drives at a slower even pace while Jason keeps an eye out for deer.




-

 

Wally’s house is large and bright, in the suburbs. He and his wife Linda meet Jason, Roy and Lian at the door and welcome them to a large dinner.

 

Jason watches in awe as Wally and his young twins absolutely devour the food. The table makes easy conversation, Linda and Roy catch up and then Wally and Roy carry most of the conversation.

 

The food is good, though not as good as Roy’s. 

 

When everyone is full and the conversation’s dying down, Linda and Roy put the kids to bed. Wally and Linda’s twins, Jai and Irey, seemed to be a few years younger than Lian but they put up no fuss at sharing a room with her for the night.

 

Jason stays sitting at the table, and Wally returns quickly after putting the dishes away. “So you’re visiting your family in Gotham?” Wally asks.

 

“Yeah, how’d you know that?” Jason asks, hoping he sounds friendly and conversational.

 

“Roy mentioned it this morning.”

 

“Cool…”

 

"Oh!" Wally claps his hands down on the wooden table, pulling Jason's attention. "When I ran into you back at Roy's place, I thought something about you seemed familiar, I just couldn't place what."

 

"Huh?" Jason's almost afraid of where this might be leading.

 

Wally leans back in his chair to fumble through his pocket for his phone. "But I saw Donna the other day when she was going through to see Garth and she actually brought you up."

 

"She did?" Jason had only had breakfast with her, and aside from asking Roy for a pair of pliers, it wasn't a particularly memorable breakfast.

 

"Well," he says, sliding a finger across his phone screen several times in quick succession, "she brought up your brother actually." He turns his phone to show a picture of a Wally that looked much, much younger standing in a school uniform with… Dick, who was about the age he'd been when Jason first met him, maybe a bit younger. 

 

"What the… You and Donna both knew him?"

 

He laughs and takes his phone back, "Yeah, dude. We were best friends back then- well we still are, just in the way that two adults with their own families can be."

 

"Uh-huh…"

 

"We still call from time to time, but not as often as we should. I mean, I haven't seen him since Jai and Irey were about two." Wally chuckles, mostly to himself. "Tell him I said hi and that I hope he's happy with whoever he's dating now."

 

To Jason's knowledge, Dick was single. But, he would have claimed the same of Tim just a week prior. "Wally, if you're in love with my brother you have to tell me," Jason jokes.

 

Wally's face turns a little at that, and Jason immediately backpedals. "Wait, wait, wait- hold on. I- You're not really- You have a wife, dude!"

 

He laughs and shakes his head, but it's bitter. "Don't worry, she knows." He shakes his head more and Jason's not sure that answer was good enough. "He always had a girlfriend back then."

 

This was really information Jason didn't need or want about his brother. "I- I'll pass the message along."

 

"Thanks, Jason."

 

Jason thanks a G-d he doesn’t really believe in anymore when Roy returns then and they enter a guest room together.

 

-

 

The next day’s drive is borederline torture as Jason’s knees ache against the floor of the truck. He’d offered to drive first again and every second he was wishing he were anywhere but behind the wheel.

 

Ohio is pretty green as he drives through, and the hour he’s in West Virginia is mostly under trees. Roy spots a few deer within the short timeframe and Jason’s almost glad to be in Pennsylvania. 

 

They stop for lunch and swap drivers so Roy can finish the drive.

 

The sun starts to set when they enter Jersey, but it’s no problem because there’s small cities every ten feet. The roads are windy enough that Lian doesn’t fall asleep for a while, but once Jason’s playing music she’s out.

 

-

 

As soon as they enter Gotham City, it begins raining. Jason smiles to himself because… yeah. It’s dark out, gloomy, and he’s afraid every person they drive past will pop a shot off at the truck.

 

He’s back alright.

 

“You know the way to Wayne Manor?” Roy asks.

 

“Oh just,” Jason yawns and presses his forehead against the cool glass of the truck, “drive straight for about 15 miles. Signs should point you the rest of the way, y’know.”

 

“You can get some sleep, Jaybird. I’ll wake you up when we get there.” Roy glances at Jason quickly. His eyes are barely open but he’s pretty sure Roy’s smiling at him.

 

“Nah… I’m good…” 

 

The next time he opens his eyes, Roy is shaking him awake, standing outside the open passenger door.

 

He carries his cactuses as Roy carries his and Lian’s bag up to the Manor.

 

The Manor has always seemed intimidating, looming, and uncaring, but tonight it’s almost peaceful. The large orange face of it, windows lit with yellow light as no life seems to stir within. The hedges out front have been changed since he last saw them, but the golden door knocker feels exactly the same in his hand.

 

Almost immediately the door swings open, and a beaming Alfred is shrouded in light from the foyer. “Master Jason,” he says, voice almost as soft as his smile.

 

“Hey Alfred.” Jason shifts from foot to foot, but Roy presses up against Jason’s side, and Lian takes one of his hands.

 

“Come right in,” Alfred steps out of the way, his dress shoes clicking softly on the hardwood flooring. 

 

Jason wasn’t sure what he was expecting, but to find some of his siblings waiting on the stairs for him, wasn’t it.

 

Cass turns first, she sits the highest on the stairs, facing the door. Her face breaks into a smile and she leaps weightlessly over the others, kicking off the wall and rushing to pull Jason into a hug. 

 

“JASON!” Steph screeches, getting up from where she sits lowest on the stairs, running to join his and Cass’s hug. Her arms are so strong she lifts Jason an inch off the floor for a moment. 

 

Tim walks over slowly, Duke following close behind. “What the fuck happened to you Jason?” Tim joins their hug and Steph squeezes all the air out of Jason so he can’t answer.

 

Duke looks Roy and Lian up and down, “Nice to meet you,” he says to Roy, sticking a hand out. Roy goes to shake it, but Duke pulls him into a quick hug, before leaning down and patting the top of Lian’s head.

 

His siblings all look the same, but Jason feels that something has fundamentally changed since he’d last seen them.

 

It’s at least a minute before their group hug parts enough for Jason to get a word in edgewise, and by then Dick rounds a corner from the common area, and stops dead in his tracks. 

 

“HAIR!” He points at Jason’s head, mouth agape.

 

“And piercings,” Tim adds quietly.

 

“Tattoos,” Cass tacks on as well.

 

“This is Roy,” Jason deflects, “and Lian.”

 

Dick’s eyes finally leave Jason and then widen impossibly more. “No freaking way,” he gapes.

 

“Dick?!” Roy’s head hangs forward in shock and Jason feels a little lost.

 

“What are you-” Dick looks between Roy and Jason quickly, “You met Jason?”

 

“Wait…” Roy looks between Dick and Jason as well, “You didn’t tell me your brother was this Dick.” Jason just shrugs at him.

 

“Do you know each other?” Tim asks.

 

“Yeah we-...” Dick seems too in shock to continue.

 

“We went to school together,” Roy finishes. “I haven’t seen you since-”

 

“Since we graduated.” Dick shakes his head in disbelief.

 

“We can have more reunions in the morning, I need to sleep now though,” Jason says.

 

His siblings complain, but let him leave anyway. He hands Tim a cactus, which lights up his face, before leading Roy and Lian up the stairs.

 

-

 

Jason and Roy put Lian to bed across the hall from Jason’s old room. She goes to sleep as soon as Roy starts reading one of the books from the ornate dark wooden bookshelf. They leave the room quietly, and Jason stands in front of his old door, waiting for Roy to open it first.

 

“You okay?” Roy asks, standing next to Jason instead of reaching for the doorknob.

 

Jason keeps his eyes on the door. It had several deep marks from throwing knives and other sharp objects he and his siblings had impaled into the wood. He was a little surprised Bruce hadn’t replaced his door at any point. “Yeah,” he bristles.

 

“Okay…” Roy lays his head on Jason’s shoulder and sighs. “I’m ready when you are. My legs are actually so sore right now.”

 

He wants to chuckle, to joke back about his sore eyes and the road… but his heart is thundering in his chest so heavy he feels like the world is caving in. He steps forward to open the door, and the inside of his old room is dark, the curtains drawn so you can’t even make out the shapes of things beyond what the hallway light illuminates.

 

“This is where I lived,” Jason says quietly.

 

“Mind if I turn a light on?” Roy enters the room and tosses his bag onto the floor. Jason splays his hand out clumsily to flip his light on, and Roy turns to look at him with a smile.

 

His room looks exactly as it had four months prior, but it feels just as it had years ago. The walls are a dark red, almost brown, his full bed pushed against the far right corner, nightstand with a picture of his first mother turned down. A blue carpet in the center of the room, where Roy had thrown his bag down. 

 

A sliding dark wooden closet lays in the left wall, a desk to one side of it littered with all of his old pens- most of which with chewed caps- and a matching dark wooden dresser between the closet and the door. It probably still had a lot of his old clothes, and he shivers to think of what was still in his closet. Next to his desk was a large bookshelf Alfred had put in for him.

 

He had three posters on his walls, all the old ones from when he was a kid were torn off with Dick. Above his bed was a blown up cover of a book he’d fallen in love with- it was a dark silhouette of two people sitting together under a starry night sky. Above his desk was an old poster of The Flying Graysons. 

 

Roy snorts and points at the last poster, a clown painting above his dresser. “What is that for?”

 

“It reminds me to stay vigilant,” Jason says, mostly sarcastically. 

 

“Alright I would love for you to explain what the fuck that’s supposed to-”

 

A soft rapping on his door behind him makes Jason jump as he turns. He hadn’t expected to see Damian standing in his doorway.

 

“Jason,” he greets, sticking his nose up. “Apologies for not meeting you at the door, I figured you would be…” He trails off as he looks at Roy. “Who is this?” His lip starts to curl up into a sneer, but stops himself when he really takes in Jason’s appearance. 

 

“Hey Dami,” Jason smiles, and lets out a breath he hadn’t noticed he was holding.

 

“You look…”

 

“Different?” Jason tries, unable to read Damian’s mind.

 

“I was going to say well but, yes. You have changed your appearance since I last-” He takes a step into the room and walks up to Jason, standing on his tip-toes. “You pierced your ears?!”

 

“I also got a few tattoos,” he laughs.

 

Damian takes a step back, looking appalled. “Of course you did.” His eyes flick over to Roy quickly.

 

“I’m Roy,” Roy sticks a hand around Jason towards Damian, who only stares at the hand for a moment before turning on his heel and leaving the room. “What-...?”

 

“He’s-” Jason starts to explain, but Damian calls back to them from several feet down the hallway.

 

“Jason, are you going to follow? I doubt you wish to sleep in your tomb.”

 

“Jesus christ,” Roy mumbles, picking his bag up and following Jason out of the room.

 

Damian leads them a few doors down the hallway, before turning and opening it. “When I heard you were returning I had this room made ready for your arrival. I hope you find it… suitable.”

Chapter Text

On April 16th, seven years ago, Jason and Bruce got into a big fight.

 

They’d been fighting all week, Jason was sneaking out and getting into fights at school. He never left his room anymore when he was home, and Bruce only knew how to fix things by yelling at them or hitting them. At least, that’s how Jason saw it.

 

Jason got into his third fight… that week. He had been walking down a hallway earlier that day when he heard Bruce’s booming voice.

 

“I just don’t know what to do with him, Alfred.” He knew they were talking about him, Bruce only ever used that tone of voice when he was talking about Jason. “I feel like everything I do just makes him…” Jason stilled and pressed his back to a wall, maybe if he got closer to the door of Bruce’s office he’d hear more.

 

Alfred said something back, but Jason was unable to understand it through the wall.

 

“Yeah… Discipline doesn’t seem to work with him, it just makes him angry.” The sound of heavy shoes on wood made Jason think Bruce was pacing.

 

Alfred responded and he was almost certain he said, “Like what?”

 

“Boarding school wouldn’t suit him the same as Dick. He seems to really like his books, we can’t take those from him though… That would be cruel.” It would be abusive if they took his books, but if they take something else then it’s exactly what Jason deserves. 

 

Alfred said something else and Bruce was quiet for a moment. Jason’s back stiffened impossibly more, and he couldn't help the bubbling rage building inside of himself. He’d thought that Bruce was better than his father. Well, he’d hoped at least. It had been over two years now and he’d given Bruce chance after chance to prove he wouldn’t hurt Jason and-

 

“You’re right, he does seem to really love theater. We’ll have him sit that out the rest of the school year, and if he improves then-”

 

Bruce never got to finish that thought. That bubbling rage did boil over, just as Jason slammed the door to the office open, a glare so violent he could put his own father to shame as he bounded on Bruce.

 

“Jason-” Bruce started. Alfred simply stepped back and out of his warpath.

 

“SHUT UP!” Jason felt the words rip from his chest, he couldn’t stop the angry tears from falling down his face. “YOU NEVER FUCKING CARED ABOUT ME! YOU THINK I’M A FUCKING DIAPOINTMENT! I’M SORRY I COULDN’T BE THE PERFECT LITTLE TOY YOU WANTED ME TO BE!”

 

“I do care about you. Sit down and-”

 

“FUCK YOU BRUCE! FUCK YOU!”

 

Bruce brought his hand up the bridge of his nose as he sighed, but Jason was already reaching for his shelf to throw a book.

 

He went for a walk after Bruce hit him. 

 

More words than just that had been exchanged but he honestly couldn’t remember. Their fight ended after Bruce punched him and said something in that cool tone of his. Alfred had offered an ice pack for Jason’s face, but he pushed it away and took off instead.

 

He had no plans of returning. 

 

Jason was on a plane to Ethiopia that night. It had taken no time at all to find his mom after he’d found his birth certificate, her nonprofit work was all over the internet. 

 

The sun rose when the bomb went off.

 

He had a timer of 15 seconds, but it had felt like 15 days. He could barely move on the cold and… slippery concrete floor of that warehouse. He wasn’t super familiar with injuries, but the noise that came and went with his breaths was probably a little too wet and high pitched. The bone in his leg probably wasn’t supposed to be visible, and he figured most people probably couldn’t sink their finger into their open and bleeding face.

 

The warehouse felt too cool, and he wished, dumbly, that it would heat back up. Thinking back on it, maybe the fire caused by the bomb was his fault actually.

 

One of his eyes wouldn’t open, but as soon as he saw the timer, and the fear on his mother’s face…

 

She’d been locked in the warehouse with him, as far as he could tell. 

 

The locked metal door leading outside the warehouse wouldn’t budge with her frantic pulls, eventually she collapsed against the door.

 

“Ma,” he’d tried to say “mom” but that first raspy sound was the only he could muster, belly-down on the floor with his cheek pressed against the concrete.

 

Her tear-soaked head whipped around to look at him, pure shock quickly bled back into that fear. It was a familiar kind of fear. He’d never felt closer to a parent in his entire life. Well, unless you counted holding his last mom’s hand when she…

 

“Jason baby?!” she sobbed frantically.

 

His eye traveled beyond her to look out the small window up near the ceiling of the warehouse. The sky outside was a bright orange, and he knew soon it would be blue.

 

“I’m so sorry baby,” her eyes were the same color as Jason’s. He always wondered how his mom and dad both had blue eyes if he had brown. “I’m so sorry that I put you here.” Her words, and honestly the whole world sounds like crashing ocean waves. He feels the cold and damning pressure of being deep under the surface.

 

He opens his mouth, but he can’t force any sound out. Pain doesn’t really describe how he feels. It’s more of an out of body experience. He can tell he’s shaking a little, but he can’t stop it or figure out where it’s starting from. 

 

“Please speak up,” his mom cries. She’s probably just babbling. “Let me hear you, baby.”

 

The bomb’s bright red number says something really low, and Jason knows he’s dead either way, but… His mom doesn’t have to be.

 

He forces himself back into his own body, and pulls himself up with his right elbow. It takes so much he almost falls, but he looks into his mom’s eyes- his own eyes- and he brings himself up to a limp, and just throws himself over her. The bomb pushes him the last foot into her.

 

Minutes, or maybe hours, later he would be crushed under the weight of something impossible, loud and hot whooshing all he can comprehend. The feeling of being crushed not even close to his forethought, as the whole time he would think about his bed back at Wayne Manor.

 

His bed back at Wayne Manor was incredibly soft and comfortable. He could sink into it and forget about the rest of the world, all his dumb fears and anxieties. 

 

Something told him he would never get to sleep in it again.

 

In a way, he never really did.

 

-

 

Breakfast the next morning is quiet at first, Jason and Roy sit across the large table from Lian and Daiman as Alfred brings platters in. Jason didn’t need to be told that Bruce wouldn’t be coming.

 

The outside world wakes up as they eat the delicious food Alfred had made in silence. Damian grills Roy and Jason dips a biscuit in sweet gravy. The dining room is bright and alive with the morning sun, Jason gazes between his dripping biscuit and the large white window framing Damian and Lian.

 

And Damian glares daggers at Roy, he’d been cordial the night before but now that they were rested and with nothing to do other than talk, Damian seemed to be intrigued. He sips a cup of chocolate milk and his back is straight as a board when he asks, “How old are you, Harper?”

 

“Did you tell him my last name?” Roy whispers to Jason. He snorts and just shrugs as he chews his biscuit. Truthfully, he had no clue. 

 

“Daddy’s old,” Lian says helpfully, “he’s taller than Jason so he’s older too.”

 

Damian looks at her slowly, and she eats her chicken blissfully unaware of his calculating gaze. “I don’t think that’s how that works.”

 

Jason scoffs, “He’s like an inch taller than me, if even that.”

 

“What, exactly, is your age?” Damian repeats his question to Roy. “And, additionally, what was your age when you had your daughter.”

 

“He’s in his forties,” Jason answers quickly. “He had Lian when he was like thirty-five, and the mom was under twenty.”

 

Damian narrows his eyes at Roy, who raises his brows and hands in a protest before Damian looks back at Jason, eyes narrowed further. “Liar.”

 

“I’m twenty-eight,” Roy says adamantly, “Lian was born when I was twenty, her mom is older than me.”

 

“By how much?” Damian asks quickly.

 

“Not much,” Roy answers quicker.

 

“Damian, would you like to play with me after breakfast?” Lian cuts in before he can ask more questions.

 

He glances at her and sticks his nose up in the air before he takes a sip of his chocolate milk. Jason watches Damian with a poorly hidden smirk as he wipes his mouth before saying, “I’m not a child, Lian. I don’t play.”

 

She puffs her lips and glances at him, “Sure you are! We’re almost the same height. You’re only a little bit older than me!”

 

Damian squawks in offense at that, and as if on cue, Dick and Steph lumber into the dining room together. They’re both still dressed in their sleep clothes, Dick in a white shirt and dark blue sweats, Steph in a yellow and purple two-piece nightgown. Dick’s hair is messy but as he runs his fingers through it, the mess melts away. 

 

Steph plops next to Jason, and Dick takes a seat next to Damian. They serve themselves, as if they hadn’t even noticed there were other people in the room.

 

“Must you eat like an animal?” Damian wrinkles his nose at Dick, who had inhaled a plate of eggs so fast he missed a piece on his cheek.

 

“Hm?” he looks up from his plate, eyes bleary and he seems to be surprised at the sudden conversation. Steph burps loudly, getting eyes on her and Lian laughs her headache inducing and so endearing laugh. Dick looks up from his plate, and blinks a few times at Jason and Roy before he makes an exaggerated, “Ohhhhh,” sound. “Sorry I forgot you actually came back, I thought I was just seeing things.”

 

“What?” Jason asks.

 

“Nothing.” There’s a short pause as the sounds of eating fill the room and Jason finishes his first biscuit. “So… how’d you meet up with Jason?”

 

Roy looks at Dick for a moment, and Jason can’t tell if he’s thinking or confused, but Steph tacks on before he can say anything, “What are your intentions with our Jason?”

 

“He works as a tow truck driver and my car broke down,” Jason says, Lian nods along eagerly so he smiles at her. 

 

Dick nods with them, “Mhm. Mhm. Did Jason tell you that he was coming back to me, and that’s why you went with him?”

 

Steph snorts at him, but hides the laugh with a cough. Roy looks between Jason and Dick a few times, “No, it was a coincidence.”

 

“Hey, Dami,” Jason cuts in, and the nickname earns a glare from Damian. “I’ve got something for you, c’mon.”

 

He narrows his gaze further, but stands and follows Jason up the stairs anyway.

 

-

 

The day is a cloudy kind of bright, the sky isn’t extraordinarily blue or anything but Steph emits sunlight and he and Tim follow her. The hedges in the backyard are over twice their height, but as they walk across the plush and damp grass they sort of forget a world exists outside of the manor grounds.

 

Every once in a while they pass a break in the bushes and Jason gets a clear line of sight at the kitchen windows, where Alfred is corralling more than teaching Lian and Roy how to make his special muffins and stir fry. Notably, one glance at the house earned Jason the image of Roy in the window, cast iron pan clutched in both hands extended as far from his body as possible with his rigidly straight arms. A giant flame eats the air in front of him for a few moments and it dies as Jason walks out of eyesight.

 

Steph had changed since breakfast into a more weather-appropriate and daytime attire, but Tim slugs along next to Jason in a stained hoodie and purple and yellow pj bottoms that matched Steph’s from earlier. He wasn’t sure if Tim owned a matching set or if he had taken them back from Steph.

 

“So-o,” Steph draws the word out, arms crossed behind her back and she walks, looking more at Tim and Jason than the path she struts down. “You and Roy, yeah?”

 

Jason looks up at her, one eyebrow raised in a silent question.

 

“You told me you guys love each other… what happened with that?”

 

“Wait,” Tim holds a hand up and he seems like the movement is almost enough to knock him out, “you’re in love with him?”

 

Jason shrugs and glances down to the little tooth tattoo on his arm. It was still a little crackly along the lines, but Roy had assured him it would go away after a week. “I mean… yeah. We’re just like. It’s weird, we’re together, I think. But we don’t-”

 

“Ah,” Tim sighs, “unlabeled?”

 

“Don’t say it like that, fuckhead.” Jason shoots Tim a look, but stays on his path following Steph. “It doesn’t really matter either way, I’m the one who didn’t want to label us. He probably doesn’t care what we are.”

 

Steph bites her lip but doesn’t say anything, and Tim gives him an incredulous look. “You think you’re gonna walk out on them or something? Get into a fight and run off?”

 

“No-”

 

“Is it insecurity then? I know you’re always dealing with-”

 

“Tim I will kill you,” Jason cuts him off and gives him a light shove. 

 

Tim stumbles a few steps, but catches himself and just laughs it off as they continue their walk. “Oh, Steph!” He says suddenly lighting up, “I got an email last night that I was accepted for my masters program at Gotham U.”

 

“You’re in college?” Jason asks at the same time Steph beams and maybe squeals with pride. “What are you even studying?”

 

“Bullshit,” Tim exhales like he’s smoking a cigarette. The thought makes his lungs ache more than they already do. “But I’m starting late next month.”

 

“You just turned nineteen,” Jason says.

 

Tim nods with a shy smile, “Well you know I graduated highschool early-”

 

“I didn’t.”

 

“Jason, you were living here.”

 

“Was I?” He shrugs and laughs it off, but the idea that he can’t remember his little brother graduating high school bites at the back of his brain a little bit more than he’d like to admit. “Good job though, Timmy.” He claps a hand over Tim’s shoulder, and he sinks a bit at the force. “Proud of you.”

 

“Me too! Tim this is huge! We should go out with Kon and Bart and Bernard tonight to celebrate!” Steph does a little dance, throwing her arms out and up wide with a spin.

 

Tim laughs awkwardly and rubs a hand behind his head, “Ah I don’t know. I mean, they all already know anyway. Bernard slept over and I was on a video call with Kon, Bart, and Cassie when I got the email.”

 

“Is that why you’re so tired, you were up late with your boyfriends?” Jason asks.

 

“Shut up,” Steph laughs at Tim, “we’re going out tonight to celebrate.”

 

“I guess,” Tim relents.

 

They pass another break in the hedges and Jason catches sight of Roy holding a flour-covered Lian in the window and it only takes once glance back at Tim and Steph to know where he’s needed.

 

“Hey I’m gonna-” Jason points a thumb over his shoulder at the kitchen, and Tim waves a dismissive hand at him, so he starts off towards the heavy steel door leading from the back patio into the warm kitchen.

 

-

 

“What’s this about, Jason?” Damian demands as he follows Jason up the manor stairs, and whether he’s just turned thirteen or about to turn fifteen isn’t an important detail. “I’m a busy person.”

 

“Of course, Dami,” Jason laughs as he leads them to his room, or the room he’s staying in with Roy. “I actually have a gift for you,” he says, opening the door and waiting for Damian to enter the threshold. He tries to hide a smile at the intrigued look on Damian’s face.

 

“You do?” he asks.

 

Jason enters the room and he either picks a small potted cactus up from his dresser or he gestures to a hamster in a colorful cage. It’s a small possum-colored fellow, and Damian lights just the same at seeing the creature or the plant.

 

“Her name will be Rebekah,” he says if it’s a hamster, and he says, “I will cherish this, Jason,” either way. 

 

“Cool, need any help getting it to your room?”

 

“Nonsense. Go back to breakfast,” Damian says, waving a hand while the other holds a cactus or a hamster.

 

-

 

Jason enters the kitchen and the first thing he hears is Lian's loud giggling, followed immediately by Alfred reprimanding Jason to remove his shoes at once.

 

“Hey Jaybird,” Roy calls with a smile over his shoulder, standing above Lian as she peels lettuce from a head. “Dinner and dessert's going well, how was the walk?”

 

“Refreshing,” Jason says, stopping to smell the sweet air of a batch of muffins baking. “Anything I can help with?”

 

Roy waves a hand at him, “We’ve got this under control.”

 

Lian turns from the counter to mimic the gesture, “Yeah Jason, we’ve got this under control.”

 

Alfred sighs and moves to pour a cutting board of chopped carrot into a pan. “Master Roy seems to need some practice in learning a few things about the kitchen.”

 

Jason snorts and Roy gives a pathetic look to Alfred.

 

“Mind if I pull up a chair and watch then?” Jason asks, already heading to a barstool facing Roy and Lian. She’s still covered in flour, but at least the total carnage seems to be minimal.

 

“Not at all,” Alfred smiles softly. “I often reminisce about when you were a boy and would join me in here,” he says.

 

Jason gives him half a smile, but most of his attention is on the way Roy’s arms flex against the knife and lettuce as he cuts. “Me too.”

 

“Will you rum and ice about me too?” Lian asks.

 

“Most certainly, master Lian.”

 

“Honey it’s reminisce,” Roy says.

 

“That’s what I said,” she insists.

 

-

 

Of course, Bruce doesn’t join them for dinner. 

 

Why would he?

 

Roy, Lian and Alfred get many compliments on their stir fry from the nearly-full table, and those who stay for muffins give even more compliments on those.

 

Jason nibbles a sweet cranberry muffin, he watches Lian with her poppy-seed, and Roy with his blueberry.

 

The only notable muffin Jason finds beside the three of them, is when Tim picks up a chocolate muffin and seems to inspect the side, as if looking for something before biting in, though the paper wrapper still holding the bottom. He doesn’t seem to notice the paper as he chews, and at no point does he remove it from the muffin. Astonishingly, nobody else at the table seems to notice that whole ordeal.

 

The table is still lively and loud when Roy decides it’s time to put Lian to bed, which she protests so he lets her run off with Damian for half an hour. When he and Jason venture upstairs to Damian’s room, they find him holding an elderly Rebekah in his hand, while Lian pets her.

 

“Look daddy!” Lian lights up with her missing toothed smile to point at the mostly white and light gray hamster.

 

“She’s still alive?” Jason asks in astonishment, plopping down on Damian’s bed.

 

Damian scoffs, “Of course, she turns four in four months.”

 

“You have definitely not had her that long, how could you know that?” Jason laughs.

 

“You can always tell. Now get off of my bed, you're going to mess it up.”

 

Lian’s wide and bright eyes follow the hamster as Damian claps a protective second hand over her. The cactus he’d been given sitting on his dresser. “Can I get one?” Lian looks up at Roy, eyes still big and bright.

 

“Ah…” Roy chuckles, “In a few years, sure. But I don’t really think a hamster is a good pet for you right now.”

 

“Jason, what do you think?” Lian asks, turning that gaze to him.

 

“I mean if you really want-” Roy clears his throat pointedly and Jason glances between Lian and Roy a few times before saying, “One day, princess.”

 

“Alright, say goodnight to the little hamster and Damian, it’s time for bed,” Roy says.

 

“Good night Rebekah,” Lian says to Damian’s hands. “Good night Damian.”

 

Damian nods at Lian, and then the three leave his room.

 

Jason goes straight to the bathroom adjoining his and Roy’s room so he can clean Lian’s piercings and then continues on to his own and his tattoos as Roy puts her to bed.

 

When they finally retire into the obnoxiously cozy bed together, there’s a quiet buzz in the air. Jason’s unsure what to call it, but now that he’s not wearing his socks or his shorts, or his shirt he’s at a sort of peace with his life and the world.

 

Or maybe he just likes trying to cuddle with Roy.

 

He’s thinking about the throb in his ear from laying on his side so Roy can wrap around his back as he drifts off to sleep that night. Which really sucks, because he would have liked to explore that buzz with him.

Chapter Text

“My turn,” a voice whispers into Jason’s mind. He’s not yet fully awake, but he has a feeling of creeping dread. “It’s my turn to take the baby, Jason.”

 

“What?” He leans up, feeling every bit groggy and pulling the covers with him. Roy stirs and tries to pull the blanket back to himself. “Huh?” He looks around the dark room- bless the black out curtains- and can’t spot anyone.

 

“Back t’sleep Jaybrid,” Roy mumbles, his warm breath vibrating against Jason’s ribs. 

 

A dark figure steps closer to the bed, and Jason’s certain it’s real. “I want to hang out with the baby today,” the figure says, louder than a whisper now.

 

Roy stills for a moment, and then rolls over, “If it’s a ghost that’s your detail. I’m not dealing with any haunts-”

 

“Your baby,” the figure says pointedly at Roy.

 

“Cass, can you please turn a light on, you’re being a weirdo,” Jason yawns and rubs his eyes with a thumb. “I appreciate the drama, though.”

 

“Sorry,” she says, and her shadowy figure slinks back to be swallowed by the dark room, and turns a light on. Both Jason and Roy flinch from the sudden light, but Jason’s able to see that Cass stands politely, dressed in the same pair of purple and yellow bottoms he’d seen on Steph and Tim. “I want to take Lian for today.”

 

Roy groans, but leans up, his head resting on Jason’s shoulder. “And do what?”

 

“What does she like to do?”

 

“She likes to color,” Roy yawns, draping his arms over Jason. His ear feels like it’s vibrating in anticipation of pain with Roy’s proximity to his new piercing. “She’s also pretty active, you could take her to a park and make sure she doesn’t get hurt.”

 

“I can teach her to dance,” Cass says, already determined.

 

Roy chuckles and almost falls into Jason, “Sure. I don’t know how well an eight year old can dance, but sure. I bet she’d love that. Just… eat breakfast first.”

 

Cass is out of the room before Roy can start to fall back asleep.

 

-

 

When Jason and Roy finally get up for breakfast, they pass Lian and Cass in a room that looks like a studio. Lian doesn’t even notice them, she’s too enraptured in her lesson from Cass.

 

The dining table is empty when they wander towards it. Jason leads them into the kitchen, where they find Dick eating what looks like a piece of plain white bread and reading a newspaper. 

 

“Hey Littlewing,” he greets without looking up.

 

“Hey,” Jason passes him towards the fridge, which is mostly full of vegetables. “Anything left over from breakfast?”

 

“Not that I know of.” He takes a bite of his bread and Jason returns to scouring the fridge. 

 

Eventually, he and Roy settle on bowls of cereal. They join Dick on barstools, and eat in quiet peace. At least until Dick folds his newspaper up in the most obnoxious way possible and then stands to grab three more slices of plain white bread before sitting back down and eating quietly. The metal of the kitchen counter cools Jason’s elbows and makes him significantly more awake.

 

“So,” Roy says, wiping a stray drop of milk from his mouth. Jason wishes he could have licked it off again, but maybe that would be weird with Dick next to him. “What have you been up to, Dick?”

 

Dick shrugs, “Same old. Me and Kori are all settled in Bludhaven, we might get married soon. We’ve been thinking about it.”

 

“No shit?” Roy smiles, and Jason watches Dick’s face intently. He has a shy kind of bashful smile. Jason was fairly certain Dick had been with Kori around when he got picked up by Talia, but there was no way they’d been together that whole time. When he got dropped back off at the manor, Dick was with someone else.

 

“Yeah… We had a split for a while, due to life circumstances. But now that we’re more settled, I’m going back home when Damian’s all stable. Then, y’know…” He ducks his head down and takes a bite of his bread.

 

“Congratulations, man.” Roy smiles at him. “I mean it. I’m really glad you found someone like that for you.”

 

“Congrats,” Jason says. They’re silent for a few moments and he finds himself lost in though and cereal. “Dick?”

 

“Hm?”

 

“We stayed with an old friend of yours on our way here, Wally says hi and that he hopes you’re happy with Kori.” Jason wants to say more, and ask if Dick returns Wally’s feelings, but… 

 

“Oh! Huh. That’s sweet of him. I’ll have to call him soon.” Dick looks deeper in thought than Jason.

 

They eat quietly for a moment after that, and then Roy breaks the silence with, “He’s only a day's drive away in Central, you know. I also heard Garth moved to the coast out here- Atlantic City. Donna’s visiting him now, actually. I don’t think we’ve all been in the same place in almost a decade now.”

 

“Yeah,” Dick laughs, “we’ll have to get the band back together.”

 

-

 

Jason and Roy are making out in a hallway when they get called to dinner later that day.

 

They enter the dining room together, Jason’s got a small and dizzy smile on his face, and he casts a few glances back at Roy as they walk. He runs his fingers through that coarse hair of his and Jason knows he’s blushing just a little. 

 

They pass under the golden archway into the dining room together, and Jason takes note of his family. Cass sits at one end, Lian beside her and sandwiched next to Steph, an empty chair between her and Dick, who sits across from Damian, next to him is Tim, then Duke and the last empty chair. Jason’s eyes frantically rake down the table again, smile instantly gone and he sees Cass sitting next to…

 

“Jason,” Bruce greets, demeanor ever cool and looming.

 

He stops for a moment and Roy comes up to stand behind him. “You alright?” he whispers in Jason’s ear. The feeling sends goosebumps down his arms, and all he can do is swallow and nod. “You should probably sit next to him, I think I’d fork his throat.”

 

Jason snorts and takes the seat closest to Bruce, while Roy sits between Steph and Dick.

 

“Welcome home,” Bruce says and Steph audibly snorts. “I hope your room was left exactly how you remember it.”

 

It’s been months since he’d seen Bruce in person, and making eye contact with the man sitting at the head of the table makes it feel like no time at all has passed. The chairs are just as big and heavy as Jason remembers, and he tries to focus on that rather than Bruce.

 

“I’m not staying in my room,” Jason says. The table is piled with food, but no one’s dug in yet. He looks over at Lian, her mouth practically watering as she eyes down a rack of ribs. “Glad you could join us for dinner tonight.”

 

“Sorry about that, chum. I’ve been swamped with work.” 

 

Jason nods and Cass whispers, “Lexcorp deal,” but the room is so silent, everyone can hear every word.

 

So Tim throws his head back with a loud and drawn out sigh before leaning over the table to look at Bruce, “You’re not seriously considering doing business with them, right? They’re absolutely gonna just fuck us over. It’s such a stupid decision to even entertain-”

 

“I don’t know,” Duke laughs, “their stock is going up right now.”

 

“Explain to me what the stock market does,” Tim says, turning fully to stare Duke down.

 

“Alright, I was joking, but if you’re gonna be an asshole-”

 

“Cool it,” Dick says in an authoritative voice. “In the words of someone great, I’m sure, let’s eat!”

 

The table goes slowly, each person taking turns serving themself as they politely pass tongs and utensils with dark glares. Roy shoots Jason a wanting look as plates get passed around. 

 

“So,” Bruce says, “tell us about the adventures you’ve been on, Jason.” He folds a cloth napkin in his lap and Jason wishes he would be guillotined.

 

Him or Bruce, he’s not picky.

 

“Adventure?” he asks around a mouthful of mashed potatoes. “Is that what you call kicking me out?” Steph and Roy whoop, which gets a quieter one from Lian tacked on clumsily afterward, but Cass just stares at him. 

 

“I wouldn’t call our spat you being kicked out either way,” Bruce says. He pats his mouth with the corner of a napkin despite not having actually eaten anything yet. “It was ultimately your choice to leave.”

 

He doesn’t really notice dropping his spoon, but the clatter snaps him back from his punch-drunk stupor and all he can do is stare in disbelief at Bruce. It wasn’t as if Jason was left with much of a choice, the only concrete fact was that he was never told to leave. He just woke up to a bag packed for him, and Bruce said goodbye. Was it really his fault he left after that?

 

“Just like it was your choice to rehabilitate him after he almost died, right?” Roy laughs, but tapers off after a moment, “Oh wait…” He sends a dark look Bruce’s way, and Jason had never felt more in love. His heart thunders in his chest and it seems like dark corners are taking over his vision, but he’s so fucking in love with Roy.

 

Bruce keeps his demeanor, but he does bristle just a bit. “You wouldn’t know the first thing about that.”

 

“What does everyone think of the coleslaw?” Dick jumps in, “I think Alfred made a great coleslaw.”

 

Lian’s small voice pipes up, “I think the big man is being mean to my dad and my Jason.” She twirls a fork around in her coleslaw before pushing it away. “And the coleslaw tastes like sadness.”

 

“I think the casserole is more like sadness,” Tim says.

 

“My name is Bruce.” He looks at Lian with that same face that convinced Jason to go with him back when he was only twelve. That dumb kid that had already been through rough shit but still trusted so easily.

 

“This casserole is sadness,” Duke agrees, “it’s like green beans and regret.”

 

Steph bursts out laughing, “We should start a band called that!”

 

“Roy was in a band once,” Dick says, “he tried to get me to join, but I was too cool.”

 

“You were a combination gymnast and mathlete,” Roy says. “If anything, Great Frog was too cool for you.”

 

Too soon, Bruce turns back to Jason and repeats, “Tell us what you’ve been up to these past few months.”

 

“So now you care?” he sighs.

 

“Jason, you know I’ve always cared about you.”

 

“Does he?” Tim asks, barely holding back an incredulous laugh, which earns a tired look from Bruce.

 

“Bruce you should maybe drop this one,” Duke says.

 

The table is silent for a few moments and Jason takes that as a chance to actually eat some of the food on his plate.

 

“You ended up in Star City, you came home with dyed hair and… tattoos,” Bruce trails a little at the end, as if he wanted to say something different.

 

“I did.”

 

“Why did you choose to permanently change your skin?”

 

“I don’t know, why are you permanently the most insufferable piece of shit on the planet?” Jason sighs. He looks at Bruce with an eyebrow raised, as if he’s waiting for an answer.

 

“Perhaps you could tell me how you met your friend Roy.”

 

“He’s Dick’s friend Roy. He’s more than just a friend to me, and you know that.” His voice is a lot more assertive than he means for it to be. “Or is me being gay just another reason you regret adopting me?” He waits again for an answer, but Bruce just carries on eating, and acts as if Jason hadn't said anything. “Nothing?”

 

Bruce looks up at Jason for a few beats, fork of peas suspended in midair, and then he goes back to eating again.

 

“Cool.” Jason throws his spoon onto his plate and storms out.

 

-

 

“I’ve been looking all over for you,” Roy chides, bounding down the barely lit hallway to Jason and Cass. “Duke too, actually. He wants to take you out for crepes.”

 

“What time is it?” Cass asks. Jason had sat himself in a window seat on the second floor of the manor and after a good sulk, he’d noticed a presence. It felt nice for Cass to just keep him company. She didn’t say anything, so he didn’t either. 

 

“Midnight,” Roy holds his wrist out to them, as if presenting a watch he wasn’t wearing. “He says the shop stays open until two. I just put Lian down for bed, long as you get me and her something I’ll be sleeping when you get back.”

 

Jason nods and feels a dumb smile work its way onto his face. “No problem. You don’t uh… want to come with?”

 

“Nah, you should go get crepes with your brothers.” Roy holds his hands out to Jason, and when he accepts, Roy pulls him to his feet. “I’ll try to stay up for you, ‘kay?”

 

“Okay.” He bounds down the hallway Roy had just come from, and he swears he hears Cass tell him thank you.  

 

Jason knows that Roy had said brothers in the plural sense, but somehow he’s still surprised when he finds himself sitting in the back of Duke’s car, with Damian in the passenger seat. 

 

“-and if you even think about ordering something with, god forbid, peanut butter in it, I will kill before we’re back home.” Damian points an accusatory finger back at Jason and he just raises an eyebrow.

 

“What’s so wrong with a peanut butter crepe?”

 

“Drake,” Damian hisses the name, “orders peanut butter and avocado crepes. He is an embarrassment to be seen with in public. He should be kenneled and-”

 

“Okay, that’s enough out of you,” Duke says and turns the volume dial on his dash up.

 

The menu in the desolate building is more than a little intimidating, so he lets Duke order for himself, Roy and Lian. Damian nods approvingly or makes a face of disgust at each item. When Duke’s being rung up, he turns back to Jason and asks, “We eating here or back home? The drive’s only thirty minutes.”

 

“Here,” Damian says, like it’s obvious. “I have questions for Jason about his… partner.”

 

The questions turn out to be pretty mundane, and also mostly things Jason doesn’t have the answers for. He has no clue what Roy’s favorite color is, but he knows he’s colorblind so it probably doesn’t matter so much any way. He doesn’t know Roy’s favorite food, but he knows he likes anything the man makes. He doesn’t know Roy’s actual family tree and lineage, but he can say a little about the family in Star City.

 

Jason’s listening to Duke tell a story about his amazing friends when a person approaches with their folded crepes. “Lychee for the little guy,” they say, handing a crepe to Damian, who stares down at his hands. “Mango for the guy in charge,” they say, handing a crepe to Duke. “And chocolate matcha for the bizarre guy,” they say, handing a crepe to Jason. 

 

He accepts, but looks up at them, and before he can stop himself he asks, “Bizzare?”

 

They laugh and just sort of gesture to his face. “Well you’re one of them Wayne kids, yeah?”

 

“He’s not a child,” Damian defends in the only way he knows how.

 

The person laughs again, “Anyway, enjoy your crepe. I’m kinda surprised you can even eat one with a face like that.” They start to walk off, but Duke stops them.

 

“What’s that supposed to mean?” he asks.

 

“I think they’re talking about my scars,” Jason says as neutrally as he can.

 

The person laughs and brings a bag with Roy and Lian’s crepes from their counter. “I don’t mean anything by it, I bet you’ve been through some crazy shit. Your face just looks wild to me.”

 

“Wild?” Jason asks.

 

“Well, y’know,” they say with a smile, “if I had your money I’d probably fix it so my momma would still love me.”

 

“Unfortunately for you, your mother has never loved you,” Damian spits.

 

The person laughs, like they’re good friends, and then disappears back into the kitchen.

 

“You okay, dude?” Duke asks Jason.

 

“Yeah…” He sets his crepe into the bag with the others. For some reason, he’s not hungry any more. “Totally.”

 

-

 

He’s quiet until they get home, his brain rumbling with a storm he’s barely suppressing. He stumbles through the manor in the dark, and eventually the bounciness of the world leads him to the room he’s staying in with Roy. 

 

Most of his clothes find their way to the floor, and as soon as he sits on the edge of the bed, he just goes stiff. 

 

It’s a long time, or maybe it just feels that way, before he makes any movement. It’s a slow but rough sort of tugging at the hair on his head. He doesn’t notice he’s crying until he hears himself sobbing.

 

Something lets loose inside himself, and his thoughts are suddenly suffocating rather than silent.

 

Jason has never felt love, he’s never been loved and he never will be. His ultimate mistake was ever thinking that the world could ever want him, thinking that he deserved to find someone who could touch him tender and care about him in any extended way. He’s only good for something quick. He gets used and tossed aside and that’s how it always will be and honestly he deserves to make himself feel this way.

 

Again and again he will fall for that silly little idea, where he gets to have a life, where he gets to be happy, and where he gets to be loved. But he never will be. Not really.

 

Who could love something like him?

 

“Jaybird?” Roy whispers and his voice is so quiet, yet it reaches into Jason like tendrils of hope. His hand cups Jason’s cheek, palm flat against his face and eyes looking into Jason’s. 

 

He tries to answer, but he just tugs at his hair harder. This is exactly the kind of thing he doesn’t deserve. How could Roy ever feel for Jason how he feels for-

 

“Do you remember that night, those weeks ago, out in the desert?”

 

He’s going to need to be more specific than that.

 

“I will be. Just,” he moves an inch closer to Jason, and this is it. This is the part where they kiss and Roy fucks him and then Roy leaves and Jason is left with that ache and that guilt and the knowlege that he’s fucking disgusting and will never get to be happy. He deserves this. “Stop. Jaybird, look at me.”

 

He tries, he really and truly does. But when he even glances at Roy’s eyes they melt that frozen ice in Jason’s veins and they make him feel a way he’ll never deserve to feel.

 

“Jason. Cut that out. Look at me. Say my name out loud.”

 

Roy.

 

“That’s right. What’s your name, where are we, and what’s the date?” Roy’s hand rubs circles on Jason’s face and he lets himself meet Roy’s eyes and even though he doesn’t deserve the momentary happiness looking at Roy gives him, he can’t look away.

 

“My name is Jason.” His chest shakes as he speaks, the words tumbling out of his mouth and dropping from him like shards of broken glass. “We’re in a bedroom at Wayne Manor.” The words lose their edge and gain a sweeter texture as he speaks. They don’t fall from him, they drip. “It is July 25th.”

 

“Good, good. I mean, it’s technically the 26th now, but who’s counting. What color are my eyes?”

 

They’re beautiful. The most handsome green Jason has ever seen. Kind, inviting, trusting. Everything Jason isn’t. “Green.”

 

“And yours?”

 

Evil.

 

“Your eye color is not evil, cool your jets, edge lord. They’re like… a deep and rich brown, yeah?”

 

“Like…”

 

“Like,” and Roy cracks that crooked smile at Jason, his yellowed teeth poking out more on one side, his crooked nose scrunching and one eye closing more than the other, “maple syrup.”

 

Jason wants to surge forward and kiss Roy, but that might ruin whatever this moment is supposed to be. They stay quiet, and Roy keeps holding him.

 

“That night out in the desert, on the fourth, I think. We laid out on my blanket and looked up at the stars. You told me really deep shit.” Roy exhales and with it, a weight leaves his body. A weight that Jason put there. “You remember that?”

 

Jason nods.

 

“You really think no one could ever love you?”

 

“What does that-”

 

Roy shakes his head so Jason stops talking. “You remember the way that night felt?”

 

He does. It felt like… like he was being cradled by the universe, touched for the first time ever, and truly… truly… 

 

“Yes.” His voice sounds pathetic, but it’s okay because Roy has him.

 

“You remember it?”

 

“It…” The feeling. The way he felt it. “Yeah.”

 

“Do you feel it still?”

 

And maybe it’s because Roy just always knows how to melt that ice inside Jason, or maybe he’s lost it completely. But he thinks he does. He knows he does. He feels it. He felt it for the first time when he watched Roy hook his car up to that tow truck, when he’d not even noticed the blood on his arm, like Jason was worth that wound.

 

They hadn’t even known each other yet.

 

“Yeah.” His voice breaks when he says that and Roy surges forwards to pull Jason into himself, holding his face into his chest and just hugging him as tight as possible. He’d forgotten he was crying, but he sobs into Roy’s chest, mouth full of his cotton shirt, “It’s love, isn’t it?”

 

“Yeah, I’m never gonna stop loving you Jaybird.”

 

“I’m never going to let you.”

 

“Good.”