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The Life Debt

Chapter Text

The syringe clattered onto the concrete floor. The sound echoing around the disused warehouse. Too loud.
A police siren drew near.

Inhaling sharply, Jonathan pressed his hand over the struggling boy’s mouth to prevent him shouting out and alerting authorities to their presence.
It was no easy task because although the years had not been kind to the boy, they had packed the muscle on him. Sweated beaded on Jonathan’s brow and he glanced up at his comrades, who’d each taken a limb, and offered them a weak smile.
‘He should sleep again soon.’ He offered in reassurance.
Frowning, Edward shook his head from where he struggled to keep hold of a kicking leg.
‘Not soon enough. Can’t we just hit him on the head again?’
‘We shouldn’t be holding him prone like this. Even the nurses don’t do this. This could kill him.’ Jervis grumbled, purposely turning his face away when the boy let out a haunting screech from behind Jonathan’s hand.

Jonathan had had enough. Throwing his comrades a fiery glare he try to hush the boy, offering him soothing words but none would stick. He knew none would stick. If the situation were different he’d have let the boy’s fear run its course.
Study it in every glorifying detail. This fear was greater than any he had ever seen before in his career.
His gaze fell to the gash he’d worked hard to stitch up and was now threatening to rip with the boy’s thrashing.
‘He already has one head injury Eddie, let’s try to not give him brain damage to boot eh? And Tetch? I know this is bad but do you have any other suggestions? My back isn’t as nimble as it once was, what about yours? I’m monitoring his breathing, it’s the best we can do.’
Jervis seemed to accept this but grumbled anyway, clearly wanting to mention that Jonathan was holding a hand over the boy’s mouth.

Finally, thanks to the mercy of the heavens, thrashing limbs stilled and soon Edward was giving the nod and the ragtaggle group of rogues released their hold and stumbled over to slump against a few crates set up like a bar’s booth. On the centre crate was a pack of beers which they all gladly dug into.
Frowning as he sipped at the cheap imported beer, Edward glanced over at the Red Hood slumped on the floor. Zsasz was uncharacteristically showing empathy by stuffing a wad of sacking underneath the boy’s head like a pillow. Raising an eyebrow at this behaviour, Edward turned to Jervis and gave him a smile of encouragement, before kicking the crate next to him out.
‘Come on Victor, sit down a minute, he isn’t going anywhere. I can’t believe the idiot flew a helicopter high on benzos, I guess it’s true what they say, if you’re a Bat, you have zero common sense.’ Edward chuckled to himself and took another sip of the luke warm beer. ‘Anyone know what happened to that girl he was with? Scarlet wasn’t it?’
Shrugging, Zsasz wandered over to the group and sat down, his gaze still drifting back to the Red Hood.
‘No demons when I went to get him. It’s like she never existed.’
‘True, true, tis as if she went down the rabbit hole! Maybe she is my Alice? Was she blonde?’ Jervis mused, yelping when Jonathan kicked him in the shins.

‘Hmm, you sure we done the right thing Crane? I mean, they dosed him up good a few hours ago, then he got a concussion and now we’ve given him more Ativan? You sure he ain’t gonna OD because I am not sticking around for when the Bat finds a dead Bird.’ Zsasz continued voicing his thoughts, eyes trained on the rise and fall of the boy’s chest.
Jervis and Edward looked at each other with dawning horror, before also looking towards Jonathan for answers.
Jonathan looked from his friends to the Hood and back again with growing frustration. Throwing his hands in the air, he threw his head back in exasperation.
‘I’m a psychologist. Psychologist! I don’t do medication, that’s a psychiatrist! Y’know? Like Harley? Only she’s in Arkham, so we’re screwed, okay? We’re stuck with a psychotic Robin and we’re all gonna die. I mean what on Earth are we gonna do with him?’

 

Licking his lips, Edward looked over at the boy solemnly, he looked so vulnerable, lying on the warehouse floor, drugged, with tear stains drying on his cheeks.
‘He needs to go back to his people. I won’t let them take him back to Arkham, it just ain’t right. He’s a kid, he’s just a kid.’ Edward choked slightly at the end and closed his eyes to fight the build up of tears, because like hell he was crying over a Robin, even a broken one.
‘We can’t take him back to the Bats. We can’t get near them and even if we did? Who here trusts them to look after him right? Huh?’ Zsasz added with an equally mournful tone.
His only response was the soft snores coming from the boy in question, because if any situation was like being stuck between a rock and a hard place this was it. At the moment the choice was the Bats or Arkham, neither were what their Boy Wonder needed, but he couldn’t stay with them either.
He wasn’t one of them, not really.

The scrape of the warehouse door opening had all three rogues on their feet and standing over a prone Red Hood, makeshift weapons raised and ready to defend him.
A large shadow cast over them, and at first, the assumption was made that the Batman had found them, the proper one, not the new one.
‘Give the kid to me. I know somewhere he can go where he’ll be safe.’ Croc announced his presence in few words, before he strode over to the comatose boy and hummed in concern. Kneeling down, he pulled up the boy’s eyelids to study his pupils before shaking his head.
‘How much have you fools given him?’
‘Two ampules. How did you find us?’ Jonathan demanded, eyes darting towards the open door because if Killer Croc could find them, anyone could.
‘You were all noisy enough to bring the GCPD down on you never mind the Bat. Two ampules on top of everything else?’ Croc questioned, before shaking his head in utter disbelief at the discarded syringe and empty ampules of Ativan. ‘It’s fine, it’s fine. Hood’s a Bat, he’ll walk it off.’
‘You don’t sound convinced?’ Edward couldn’t help but point out, before blushing and ducking behind Johnathan when Croc glared at him.
‘Let’s hope I’m right ‘cause if the Boy Wonder don’t walk it off? Well, how long was the Joker in a body caste for?’
‘6 months.’ Tetch all but gulped, turning decidedly pale as he looked at Hood’s comatose form.
‘Yeah and that was back when there weren’t a whole freaking Batfamily baying for blood.’ Croc grumbled before scrambling down to his knees, making quick work of slicing off Hood’s prison uniform with expert ease. ‘Come on, we ain’t got much time. Strip him and wrap him up in that sheet over there!’

Jonathan blinked before nodding slowly in understanding.
‘The orange is easy to spot.’
‘Yeah and we’ve not only gotta get him out of Gotham, but outta the state.’ Croc said, not looking from his work. ‘It’s his only chance. I don’t know where else he’ll be safe. Now, shift!’
Jonathan , Edward, Victor and Jervis exchanged looks before reaching a silent conclusion. Jonathan dashed off to fetch the pretty putrid looking sheet, while Zsasz snatched up the prison uniform with a gleam of mischief.
‘I’ll bloody this up and throw it in the opposite direction you take him in, Croc.’ Zsasz announced, and everyone pretended that he wasn’t just looking forward to getting his knives out.
Nodding along, Edward let his eyes rest on the slow rise and fall of the boy’s chest.
‘Take him Croc. Zsasz will lead them on a wild goose chase, and the rest of us? We’ll make some noise, so much noise you could drive out of Gotham in a carnival float and no one would stop you. Just, please I, the kid means something. He means something to all of us. Promise me this guy you know will keep him safe? He need to be safe.’ Wiping at the one Judas tear, Edward leant down and tucked the sheet tightly around their broken Robin, suddenly taken by an urge to keep him warm.
Croc nodded solemnly and reached out to give Edward an awkward pat on the shoulder in reassurance.
‘The guy I know? He’s as close to a Bat as we’re gonna get. He’s made some shit choices, but a good man, and, well, looking at our boy here? I think the two idiots need one another.’

Addiction begins with hope. It begins with the hope that something out there can fix the emptiness lying hollow in your very soul. It is hope but only a false one. The same as the hope that each time his demons are defeated, it will be the last battle fought and no longer will they crawl once more into his ear, whispering their lies and hate.
Letting out a deep sigh, Roy blinked blankly at the television playing, something. He’d switched it on whilst he ate yet another take out, now going cold and untouched on the coffee table. He felt sick and empty and right now he couldn’t really think of a reason to eat.
The same thought he’d thought over 48 hours ago doing the rounds in his head on an endless loop.
Addicted he was alone, sober he was alone, so what was the difference? He didn’t feel quite so shitty high.
It had been a long 48 hours and Roy could feel his stubborn will beginning to waver, even diamonds crumbled with enough pressure in the right place.
Letting out a roar of anguish, Roy flung himself down to hang off his couch, because it’s not as if there was anyone there to witness his dramatics. He vaguely noticed crumbs on his rug when he rested his aching head on it.
What was point? What was the point in any of this?
His phone vibrated on his couch again and Roy let out a hitched sob and closed his eyes tightly shut.
It would be Dick. He knew he should talk to Dick.
Dick had actually started to help a bit and maybe talking to him would set him straight again? Dick had his own problems though. Dick had had his own problems for the last year since Bruce died. Dick was after Roy’s help, but Roy just couldn’t find it in himself to care. To wrapped up in his own selfish thoughts, picking through them like a Chinese finger trap under the guise of self care, which he knew deep down was a lie.

Opening his eyes again, Roy stared up at his phone pensively, he could always call Croc? Croc always listened when Roy needed a good old rant at the world, and then would swiftly tell him a few home truths and sit him firmly back on the wagon, with a pat on the back that Roy could never figure out was a threat or not. Decision made, Roy sat back up on his couch and dialled Croc’s number. He thought about maybe calling Dick back and helping with whatever crisis was happening after his chat.
Roy didn’t really know if he was committed to doing that or how he expected his night to end, even if the sun was soon about to rise.
What Roy didn’t expect though was for Croc’s phone to start ringing outside his own front door.
Frowning, Roy craned his neck around to look, before creeping towards the door, phone pressed to his ear. Confused did not quite cover the level of ‘what the fuck’ he was feeling right now. The feeling only intensified to not only open the door to find that Killer Croc was indeed stood on his doorstep, but he was also grinning at him with sharpened teeth holding what looked suspiciously like a body wrapped up in a bloody, mouldy dust sheet.
‘You rang?’ Croc asked, smirking in amusement at his still ringing phone and the fact Roy was still holding his own phone to his ear. Roy swallowed thickly and intended to reply, but froze at the sight of a very human looking hand that had fallen out of the shroud sheet thing.
‘Um.’ Blinking, Roy shook his head and swiftly hung up and threw his phone down onto the side table where his unpaid bills lay piled. ‘I um, I need some help? Um..’ trailing off Roy looked back at what was definitely a human body.
Stepping over the threshold as if he had actually been invited in, Croc nodded and held up the body slumped in his arms in triumph.
‘I know kid, I guessed as much from our last little chat. That’s why I’m here! I got you this? I think he’ll help.’

Nodding along, Roy quickly realised what he was doing and swiftly began to shake his head furiously while backing away.
‘Um, yeah, no, thanks but no thanks. Cannibalism really isn’t my gig, I mean, I know you um, indulge, but it’s a no, a definite, hard no from me.’ Roy rambled, eyes darting to try and find the location of his bow or any weapon at this point. A deep chuckle interrupted his panic and Roy heard the sheet groan and Croc shush it softly, before looking up at him.
‘I didn’t bring take out. He’s gonna die if he doesn’t get seen to quickly. Where’s your guest bedroom?’
Roy looked at the sheet and nodded slowly, no longer sure if he was confused, shocked, or both but either way Croc was right, he wasn’t stuck inside his own head anymore. Whoever it was Croc had, if he said they needed medical assistance then he’d give it and ask questions later.
‘Down the hall, there’s three doors, the one at the very end.’ He instructed, watching Croc haul his large charge in the direction he’d been told.

At this point Roy had thought they had reached the maximum level of ‘what the fuck’, but apparently there was a whole universe of ‘what the fuck’ Roy never knew existed.
Roy stood, just stood and wondered how on Earth he ended up in these situations?
There was currently a bleeding, naked man in his guest bed. The fact that he had a good looking, naked young man that just happened to be bleeding on the sheets wasn’t exactly an abhorrent idea, in fact it was quite the opposite. It had been a fair while since he’d had a naked anyone in his guest bed and the bleeding thing was just a mild inconvenience.
No, the little thing that had Roy backing up once more and seriously re-evaluate his life choices, was who exactly the chiselled jaw and thunder thighs belonged to.
Jason Todd.
Jason Todd, who had most definitely grown up, and was in his guest bed.
Smacking his lips, Roy watched Croc checking the boy’s vitals with a growing sense that maybe he wouldn’t have to call Dick to find out what the problem was after all.
‘So, this, this is your idea of helping?’ Roy asked cautiously.
‘Yeah. He was discharged and ended up in a helicopter crash. There’s a reason it says not to drive or use heavy machinery on a box of Ativan!’

Snorting, Roy shook his head, strode over to Jason and lifted his left wrist, still sporting a hospital identity wristband.
‘Discharged Croc? Do I look stupid?’
Shrugging Croc gave him a wink and set about pulling the soiled sheet away from Jason in a gentle manner that was definitely out of character.
‘It’s Gotham.’ Croc offered as if it were that simple an explanation, before meeting Roy’s gaze with a hard authoritative one of his own. ‘Are we gonna mess around debating if Hood was discharged or not or shall we do something about his overdose?’
‘Overdose?’
‘Yeah, Johnathan gave him about 2 ampules of Ativan. Blackgate also dosed him up before that but no one knows what? My bet guess is more benzos, and he hit his head pretty hard so..’
‘Fuck’ Roy muttered under his breath, before diving straight to Jason’s side and taking his vitals for himself. ‘Johnathan? As in Johnathan Crane? Scarecrow?’
Nodding, Croc stepped back to give Roy some room to work, smiling slightly at Roy tapping Hood’s cheeks and trying to get him to respond.
‘That’s right. This guy has more allies than he knows, but I think right now, he needs a friend? Some place safe to rest.’
‘Flumazenil. He needs Flumazenil not a hallmark card Croc! Under my sink, next door, it has the med kit!’ Roy pretty much yelled, before leaning down to what Croc could only guess was to call Hood’s real name in the bid to rouse him. ‘His breathing’s depressed!’

Croc could pretend to be impressed when instead of going to insert a cannula in Hood’s hand, Roy went straight for the forearm, but what else could he really expect. In a crisis you fall to old habits or waste time fumbling.
‘Nightwing has been calling me, guess I know why now.’ Roy mumbled, wringing out a bloody cloth in order to carry on washing the grime off Jason’s face, eyes darting every so often to check on the IV hanging from the headboard.
‘Don’t tell him.’ Croc interrupted his thoughts from where he had taken up residence by the door. ‘Tell him and Hood ends up back in Arkham.’
Roy looked down at the wristband on Jason’s wrist and pursed his lips thoughtfully, wouldn’t that be for the right thing to do?
Jason wasn’t well, he hadn’t been well for a long time. Roy knew Dick only meant the best for his brother, like he had with him. Dick just wanted Jason to get better, for him to get his brother back like he had his friend.
‘You owe me a life debt and tonight I’m cashing it in. You know the way world works. Call me.’
With that Croc was gone.

Roy heard the door close and he let out one long breath. Yeah, he knew how the world works and Croc knew just what to say to get his way. Wasn’t that always how this worked? Why Roy was even still alive? Maybe he should call Dick?
There was a groan and Jason’s eyes opened to reveal slits of teal that weren’t really focused on anything.
Huffing out a breath, Roy smiled and squeezed Jason’s hand, relief bubbling in his chest when there was a weak squeeze back.
‘Jason? Hey, it’s Roy? Dick’s erm, friend? I’m gonna take real good care of you, okay? Just don’t kill me or anything, ‘cause that would be kinda cool?’
Jason blinked open his eyes to stare up at him, in a dazed way that Roy knew meant he wasn’t really seeing him, but he took the answering grunt and hand flopping against his cheek as a promise not to kill Roy.
‘Good. Now you’re more awake, let’s get you some pants.’
Sometimes, doing the wrong thing feels so right.

Chapter Text

This had been a very bad idea, not that harbouring an absconded psychiatric patient, who just so happened to be a murderer, was Roy’s idea at all.
It had been almost a week and Roy couldn’t remember the last time he had slept more than a few hours.
A crash followed by a piercing scream drew Roy from the bliss of sleep, yet again. Rubbing at tired eyes, Roy stumbled down the hall to what was now apparently Jason’s bedroom.
Each and every night without fail Roy would be called to Jason’s room by hellish screams and the wails of a soul so deeply buried in despair. Each time left Roy floundering because how was he meant to convince the boy that died, that living was the better option? In the end, he just ended up falling back on old, dusty teachings, teachings of how to tame wild beasts in the forest.
‘Woah, woah, easy, Jason easy.’ Roy called out softly, hands in the air as he ducked down a bit to try and get the screaming boy’s attention. His eyes fell to the knife clutched tightly in trembling hands. ‘Where did you get that hmm?’

It wasn’t that knife that Roy feared but Jason himself and the stories he’d heard of what this eighteen year old was capable of. Jason killed.
Jason killed with a violent and ruthless nature that left a trail of blood in his wake. It would not be the first time that Roy had felt relief when Jason had taken his violent urges out on himself instead, as much as Roy hated to think like that.
‘Jason give me the knife, yeah buddy?’ Roy asked softly, creeping slowly forwards as Jason clutched his knife, blood dripping from the cuts on his thighs and sobbed. He sobbed like a man possessed, there were no tears, they’d stopped falling days ago, but the harrowing cries seemed to grow worse.
Maybe it was his situation that cause him so much distress?
The guest room had been stripped bare, leaving Jason with just a mattress. Roy hated to admit it, but Jason frightened him and the only way he got the little sleep he had, was knowing that there was nothing in the room that could be used as a weapon. He wasn’t totally out for number one though, Jason also lacked a pillow and a blanket after Roy had walked in to find Jason trying to make a noose. Although, his guest never had told him who it had been made for? In fact, Jason didn’t say anything, ever. Roy remembered a quiet, sullen teenager but he also recalled a bright boy whose eyes lit up when he spoke about something that interested him. Roy didn’t know why but for some reason, Jason wouldn’t utter a single word to him.

Eventually, Roy got close enough to manage to take the knife out of Jason’s hands. Jason allowed the action and just continued crying. Taking a chance, Roy moved to try to examine the wounds on Jason’s thighs but his actions resulted in a startled yelp. Wincing, Roy flinched back incase he got hit, but as usual, nothing came. Instead he looked up to see that Jason had scurried back over to the mattress in the corner, curled up against wall he held his hands over his ears and his sobs worsened. Swallowing thickly, Roy nodded and moved further away again, noting how wide fearful eyes watched his every move, part of him wondered if Jason even knew who he was?
Looking up he watched the guy shiver and couldn’t help but feel a wash of sadness and concern for him. Jason was in such a frightening and desperate place but try as Roy might he couldn’t get through.
‘Are you cold Jason?’
There was no answer.
‘If I give you a blanket will you not hurt me or you with it?’
There was no answer.
Roy gave Jason a blanket and kept a hand at the level of his eyes.

The next morning Roy awoke blearily from where he had fallen asleep leant against Jason’s bedroom door. Thankfully there appeared to be silence for now.
Stumbling up to his feet, Roy opened the door to see a lump underneath the blanket, which thankfully appeared to not represent a noose.
‘Jason?’
A slight shuffle proved a sign of life before a corner lifted and Jason peeked put at him suspiciously. Swallowing, Roy gave him a nervous wave.
‘Hey buddy, you want some breakfast?’
His response was the blanket falling back down and he supposed that answered that one.
Wandering into his kitchen, Roy switched on the coffee machine before leaning heavily against the counter and burying his head in his arms.
Ever since his sudden arrival, Jason hadn’t left the bedroom or consumed anything other than a few sips of water Roy managed to get past his lips from time to time. If something didn’t change soon, then Jason was literally going to starve to death and was already beyond dehydrated.
The thought crept up once more that he should respond to one of the hundreds of missed calls and let Dick know where his brother was.
The caveat to that though, was that the thought of calling Dick also felt like he was failing Jason.

The coffee hissed and the kitchen tap dripped, the pipes were clanking again when Roy lifted his head and frowned at the kitchen cupboard.
Jason scared him.
That’s what the problem was.
In hindsight it was pretty obvious, Roy had could remember when people had been afraid of him. He’d never done what they asked him to do either. It was a lonely place when you were feared but so desperately needed someone to reach out and just be there.
Jason had nearly died because people were so afraid of him they’d rather overdose him on benzodiazepines. When was the last time Jason had someone who wasn’t afraid of him?
Was that what Croc meant when he’d said that Jason didn’t need just a safe place to rest, but a friend?
Someone couldn’t rest in safety if the people around them were frightened too.
How could he have been such an idiot?
Shaking his head, Roy closed his eyes and counted slowly back from ten, before turning on his heel and striding out of the kitchen with a new found purpose.
The coffee was not left forgotten, he was going to drink it with Jason.
Jason was going to get up and he was going to eat, and wash because ripe was not the word to describe his stench.

Resting a steady hand on the door handle to Jason’s room, Roy stared at the painted wood for a good couple of minutes. There was no more room for fear, there was no more room of thoughts about heads in duffle bag and no more thoughts about the noose Roy had pulled out of garbage on his way past. He’d been told once that if you don’t talk with animals then you won’t know them and by not knowing them, you fear them. It always seemed like a pretty little saying that made the adults of his early life seem wise, but the words held a truth now. Maybe all that Roy needed to stop being frightened, is to just open the door and talk to Jason, get to know him. If Roy knew anything it was that shit like Jason went through you don’t come back from, not really, that shit changes you.

Giving the door a brief knock, Roy strode into the room with a can do attitude and the biggest, goofiest smile he could muster.
‘Come on Jaybird, time to get up.’
There was a rustle but no further sign of even acknowledging Roy’s presence which was just rude. Rolling his eyes, Roy chucked the noose down on top of the lump and folded his arms.
‘Up, now Jason! I don’t know what the noose was for, but let me tell you this. You use it on yourself? I ain’t cutting you down, I’ll be calling daddy dearest to do it. If you use it on me? Well, good luck, in the state you’re in, it will be like fending off a kitten.’ Roy said calmly and clearly, making sure that his tone remained firm, but not accusing, just stating the facts. The cool approach seemed to work though, because a pair of eyes peeped out of the blanket to study the noose before shaking his head at Roy. Roy took that as an agreement, he hoped.
‘Good. Now the way I see it Jason, we got two options okay? I refuse to deal with a corpse so either you start letting me help you, or I’m calling Dick.’
Roy hoped the cool hard approach would work for the whole gig but apparently not. Maybe taking the risk of mentioning big brother was too much, because the blanket went down and there were sounds that sounded rather like sobs.

Reevaluating the situation, Roy felt the pull to revert back to the hunting techniques he’d done previously. Crouching down onto his haunches, he watched Jason cry beneath the blanket when it dawned on him.
Jason reminded him of a deer, not because he viewed Jason as some wild animal that needed to be tamed, but because he deserved respect. If Roy respected the deer and maintained the boundaries it set, eventually Roy was permitted to come closer. A trust was built between them and if he were especially lucky, he’d be allowed to rest a hand on the deer’s side.
‘Sssh Jay, it’s okay? Jay, that’s what you like to be called isn’t it? Jason is when you’re in trouble?’
The blanket moved again, but this time it was pulled down to reveal Jason’s face, his expression that of suspicion and weariness.
Smiling, Roy lifted his hands where Jason could see them and made no move to creep closer.
‘It’s okay, I’m staying right over here Jay. See?’
At first Roy thought Jason was just continuing his stare, before he suddenly gave a tiny nod. All this time Roy had been so focused on getting away, he hadn’t realised that Jason hadn’t been ignoring him, his responses were delayed.
Whether it was anxiety, depression, hallucinations or a mix of all three he didn’t know, but knowing he wasn’t being ignored had Roy’s lips tugging up into a genuine smile.

‘Good. I’m glad we’re on the same page.’ Pursing his lips, Roy watched Jason’s eyes dart around the room, studying every little detail. He always seemed to favour sucking on his bottom lip as he did so. Watching the action, Roy was pretty sure he could recall a teen Jason doing that as a source of comfort.
‘Hey, Jay? Do you know where you are?’
There was another long pause before Jason was nodding his head.
‘Right, well, I’m Roy? Remember me?’
Jason nodded again. There was another long silence.
Roy didn’t force conversation, instead choosing to just watch what Jason did. Thinking that with limited verbal response being offered, more information could be gleaned from any non-verbal communication.
Jason was hyperaroused and jolted at the smallest of noises, the hiss of the heating making him jump out of his skin. He was weak, not only from the helicopter crash but from malnourishment too. Despite maintaining his distance, Roy was earning himself some very suspicious glances every now and again.
‘Jay, will you come with me and have a shower and something to eat?’
Jason shook his head and his eyes narrowed further, clearly not trusting Roy before turning away.
Roy frowned and cocked his head slightly.
‘Are you frightened Jay?’
There was another delay and Roy was now pretty convinced someone or something was trying to tell Jason not to answer before he gave a rather brisk nod and puffed out his chest, as if such a basic display of masculinity would erase his previous admission.

This was way above Roy Harper’s pay grade. Jason’s stubborn insistence to lie in bed starving himself was far too complicated. Licking his lips, Roy closed his eyes and took a deep breath in the hopes of calming his own nerves.
A little boy tugged at the edges of his memory.
A scared little boy hiding in a hollow sycamore tree, it’s edges glowing red from the fire that had swept over it. The little boy hadn’t wanted to come out of his sanctuary either.
He refused even when a group of adults appeared and tried to coax him out with promises of safety and comfort.
One man crouched next to tree but instead of trying to pry the boy out, had just leant against its charred bark and told the little boy a story. Brave Bow had endless stories to tell the little boy when he needed to hear them.
Stories that had stayed with the boy into his adult life, stories that gave him hope and guidance when they were needed. Folklore, myths, are words used to describe them, but to Roy they meant much more than that, they guided him.

Opening his eyes again, Roy smiled slightly to himself and watched Jason again. The Jason Roy remembered had completely lost his shit when Bruce had built an entire wall of bookshelves above his bed.
‘Once there lived Coyote and Duck, who were best of friends. Duck trusted Coyote completely body and soul.’ Roy let himself sit and lean against the bedroom wall, a blush dusting his cheeks because storytelling something he hadn’t done for a long time. ‘Coyote saw how happy Duck was with his wife and children and soon grew jealous of the life his friend had. Coyote wanted Duck’s wife for himself and-‘
‘How can a coyote marry a duck? This is dumb.’ Jason grumbled, a cute looking frown furrowing his forehead. Roy could help but chuckle softly and nod. Of all the things to get Jason to talk it was a story’s apparent inaccuracy.
‘True, but these are more like spirit animals that exist within a human? Sometimes the characters adopt both animal and human characteristics because they exist as one.’ Roy explained, his heart swelling in his chest to see that Jason was finally engaging in conversation, finally saying a few words. Jason’s frown increased and he cocked his head to the side as he tried to process what Roy had told him, fingers running over the stitching of his blanket thoughtfully. If Roy closed his eyes, he could almost remember the feel of burnt bark beneath his own fingers as he did the same action. Seeking comfort from his environment.
‘Like metahumans?’
Roy blinked at this and felt his lips tug up slightly in amusement, he’d never thought of it like that before.
‘Yeah, I guess? Anyway, one day Coyote took Duck to some caves and told him to close his eyes. Trusting Coyote, Duck did and followed his friend deep into the caves. After a while, Coyote no longer replied when Duck called his name and when he opened his eyes, he was lost and alone in the darkness.’

Pausing, Roy watched the flash of recognition behind teal eyes when he spoke about Duck’s plight and got back onto his haunches once more and crept forwards. Jason watched his movements warily but did not startle or try to move away.
‘Duck wandered in the darkness, lost and afraid, still calling out for the friend he had trusted to help him. Coyote though was long gone and had taken Duck’s life for his own. All was not lost however, because one day a Ba-‘
Stopping short, Roy realised that maybe using a bat would not bode well for what he wanted to achieve. Jason would focus on the symbology linking the bat to Bruce and lose the meaning of the story entirely. Snorting a little, Roy sighed in defeat and settled on another, more familiar animal.
‘An eagle was flying in the forest and-‘
‘A bad eagle?’
‘No Jay, just an eagle.’
‘Sounded like bad eagle?’
‘The eagle is misunderstood okay? It’s a misunderstood eagle, who’s too stubborn and prideful for his own good.’ Roy grumbled, rubbing his forearm subconsciously as he spoke before carrying on with his story. Jason seemed more lucid than he was before and a hand shifted to the edge of the mattress, eyes wide and interested in the story being told to him.
‘So Eagle -‘
‘Misunderstood eagle!’
Sighing, Roy shook his head and wondered if this was why Dick always seemed so harassed when he returned to Titan Tower after spending the weekend in Gotham?

‘Fine! So the Misunderstood Eagle was flying in the forest when he heard Duck’s desperate cries for help and discovered him on a cliff’s edge outside the cave. Duck was looked awful. He was half starved, and stank to high heaven because he hadn’t showered since forever.’ Roy continued, with a slight smirk at his shot at Jason, who blushed and ducked his chin into his chest. ‘Misunderstood Eagle called up to Duck to jump onto his back and he’d fly him down to safety, but Duck refused to. Duck had trusted before and had ended up lost in the darkness. So Misunderstood Eagle called up to Duck to throw a small rock. Duck threw the rock and Eagle caught it on his back to show Duck that he would catch him. But Duck still would not step off the cliff’s edge. He grew hungrier and hungrier, and stinkier and stinkier, and he knew if he did not take the jump, he would die on the ledge and would never reclaim the life that was taken from him. So, he took a deep breath and trusted one final time, he stepped off the ledge and as promised, Misunderstood Eagle caught Duck on his back. Together they went on to take Duck’s life back from Coyote, and became best friends.’

Roy finished off his story with a sense of pride, Jason now had two legs over the edge of the mattress and Roy had crept within arms reach of him. Slowly, he held out a steady hand towards Jason and gave him a soft smile.
‘Come on Jay, take the jump, I promise to catch you.’
Jason’s body stiffened and for a moment, Roy thought that he was going to come to him before something sinister entered his expression, and Jason pulled back.
‘The Eagle lied too!’
‘What?’ Frowning, Roy tried to move closer but this time Jason did bristle, so he paused and held his hands in front of him once more. ‘Why is Eagle lying?’
‘Ducks can fly.’ Jason stated, suspicion dripping off his every word as he poked at the gaping hole in Roy’s story.
Nodding, Roy sighed and lowered his eyes to study his socks in defeat.
‘Yeah, I guess you got me there Jaybird. Duck was more than capable of flying.’
Jason smirked and began to inch his way back into bed before being frozen by Roy’s tearful gaze.
‘Aren’t Robins also capable of flying?’

The tension in the room grew but once more, Roy held out his hand towards Jason slowly, each movement deliberate and predictable. This was it, the moment when the deer either let you rest your palm against it’s side or bolt into the trees never to be seen again.
Roy didn’t speak anymore because there was nothing more to be said.
Just as Roy had been shown in the sycamore tree, the words and truths of the story had been given to Jason, and it was up to him what judgements he made from it. Roy could only hope and wait, respect that Jason, like the deer, had the choice to either trust him or to bolt. To decide if Roy had a dagger to slit his throat in his hand or a handful of grass to offer.
Coyote or Eagle.
Breath caught in Roy’s throat and his heart beat in his ears when Jason shifted again, eyes darting around the room before resting on Roy, searching his face as if looking for the answer to his predicament.
Painfully slowly, calloused, clammy fingers brushed his own, cautious, testing, waiting to see if Roy would push the boundary, snarl and show his true colours.
Roy didn’t even blink, he remained crouched on his haunches, ignoring the tremble in his thighs as he let Jason’s fingers travel over his.
Eventually, they slipped inbetween his own and held on so tightly, Roy blinked in surprise at it.
‘Hey Jaybird.’ Roy whispered, with a gentle smile he squeezed Jason’s hand back in thanks. ‘Shall we go find a shower and some food?’
‘Then?’ Jason whispered in reply, his voice thick and weighed down with anxiety, unsure of his decision to trust.
A wry smile stretched across Roy’s lips and he raised a mischievous eyebrow.
‘And then Jaybird, we’re gonna get your life back from that Coyote. I’ve got you buddy.’