Jason and Roy weren’t broken up. That was a juvenile word. It didn’t seem big enough to encompass what they were, what they’d become.
The word choice was unimportant, though. It was a pointless thought that didn’t do anything but add to the noise in Jason’s head. It didn’t do anything but detract from what really mattered.
What mattered was that Roy and Jason weren’t together. It’d been seven weeks since Jason had seen Roy and eight since he’d heard Roy laugh. It was in a Bat’s nature to keep track of details like that. Besides, Jason had something of a responsibility to stay aware of it. Jason had been the one to walk away.
After the funeral, he’d needed to be away from Roy. He’d never liked feeling useless, and he’d never felt more useless than he had that day.
Jason would be the first person to admit that he had control issues. Every Robin got them once they flew the nest. Seeing Roy so utterly out of reach had been impossible to stomach.
And, if he was being honest, he’d also left because he was grieving deeper than he ever had before. Lian had been his daughter in everything but name. He’d been there for her first words, her first steps, her first everything. He’d been there for her lasts, too. He just hadn’t known it at the time.
When Roy had sunk into his own despair, Jason had lost the distraction of caring for him. Roy’d denied Jason’s attention, and the only place he'd been able to shift it was inward. That was never a good thing.
So he’d left. After the funeral, he’d gone back to Gotham instead of their apartment in Star. The apartment where it’d happened. What he’d needed was space, the same as Roy.
Time was supposed to heal all wounds, and what the two of them needed more than anything was to heal. They needed to be able to look at each other without scraping the raw wounds of their loss against one another.
He’d miscalculated how much time, though. He’d miscalculated how much space. He hadn’t known how much until he called Oliver.
“Is Roy there?” he asked instead of hello.
Oliver was quiet for a moment, then, “no.”
No other information was forthcoming. Jason waited for something else and fell back to anger when he didn’t get it.
“That’s all?” he demanded.
“We thought he was with you,” Oliver said, and then Jason understood the silence. His own brain was running through a thousand possibilities and contingencies. He still managed to hear Oliver when he continued. “He packed a bag a couple of days ago and said he needed to make sure you were alright. We hoped that meant he was getting better. Are you sure you haven’t seen him?”
Jason was getting ready to say something snide and definitely too harsh for the circumstances. Oliver was missing his son just as much as Jason was missing his partner. It was hard to keep in mind. However, it did make him hesitate.
Jason was in the kitchen while he talked. It meant when he paused and leaned against the counter, he had an unobstructed view of the rooftop opposite him. At the person standing there.
He knew that it was Roy. They’d been together for five years. Jason had seen Roy in every state from naked to fitted in full tactical gear. He knew his stance intimately.
“Jason,” Oliver said, and Jason was abruptly reminded he wasn’t the only person in the world with a hot head. There was irritation born of fear in Oliver’s voice. “We’re looking for my son. Try and pay attention.”
“I think I found him,” Jason said.
Even as Jason spoke, Roy’s shoulders shifted minutely. He disappeared off the other side of the roof in a smooth leap.
“Where is he?” Oliver asked.
Jason thought back to some of the mysterious shadows he’d seen over the last few days. He hadn’t been concerned about them. If they were villains, one of the others would handle it. Jason was taking a break from vigilante work.
He mostly stuck by Bruce’s big rule, but he didn’t think he’d be able to maintain that if he went out while grieving. He was no good at keeping his passions under control. It was half the reason he hadn’t been able to cut it as Robin.
Besides, that was a big ‘if.’ The thing about Gotham was that it didn’t lack for mysterious shadows. Most of them were well-meaning. You couldn’t take out the trash without running into a hero. Between the Birds of Prey, the Bats, the first Green Lantern, and Ragman, there were about a hundred people it could have been.
Knowing Barbara, she’d probably organized them to take shifts watching Jason until he was back on his feet. It would have been just her style to be so considerate and obtuse at the same time.
However, he’d been wrong about the identity of his observer. It didn’t seem he’d been wrong about the intention. Jason sighed into the phone.
“I think he’s stalking me,” he said.
Things were only getting more complicated by the second.
That night was the first in nearly two months that Jason went out on patrol. He wasn’t driven by a need to see justice done, or to protect the helpless, or whatever Bruce’s latest justification for his crusade was.
He wanted to see Roy.
He hit the streets with a vengeance. It was as bad as ever. Gotham didn’t take time off for tragedy. If it did, the city wouldn’t have the highest crime rate in the universe.
Well, besides Bludhaven.
He knew as soon as he left the apartment that he wouldn’t be finding Roy. Call it a hunch, or intuition, but Jason knew it down to his bones.
The thing was that, between Jason and Roy they had more experience disappearing than almost anybody in the world. They could go to ground for years without ever coming up for air.
Most of that had been Roy. Jason was smart, sure, but he wasn’t a tech genius. He couldn’t whip up systems and subsystems that looped traffic cameras and CCTV automatically. The things Roy could do made him invisible, even to Barbara.
What Jason had going for him were superior stealth skills. That didn’t help him when he was trying to do the finding.
Roy had let Jason see him, though. There’d been a reason for that. There had to be. If Roy’d been able to go days without letting himself be caught, there had to be a reason he’d changed that today.
The answer was obvious; he’d known Jason and Oliver were about to call the cavalry to find him. No matter how good Roy was, Oliver wasn’t above using every meta in the League to track him down, especially after what’d happened to Lian.
What Jason needed now, then, was another reason for Roy to show himself. It wasn’t hard to come up with one. It was a gamble, sure, but it was better than nothing.
Jason was going to get into a fight.
He didn’t think that would surprise anybody. He had more at play than a bit of stress relief, though. Roy was out there. There was a reason for that. Jason thought it might have been protection.
And it was fucked up. It didn’t take a genius to draw the parallels between what’d happened to Lian and Roy skulking through the shadows to watch Jason. It also didn’t change that Jason needed to see him. Jason just would do what he had to do to make that happen.
Roy wasn’t stupid. He’d always been a lot of things, most of them positive, but none of them had ever been stupid. If Jason was going to get Roy to show himself, the options were limited. He’d need to be in danger. For somebody like Roy, who knew just what Jason was capable of, that was a big ask.
It led Jason to attack a Black Mask warehouse solo. It was, Jason had to admit, a very tactically unwise decision.
He’d always been prone to acting before thinking. The only time that wasn’t true was when he was with Roy. The best motivator for staying safe was keeping somebody else from getting hurt.
Jason didn’t have a somebody with him.
At some point between dropping in through the ceiling and taking an unlucky hit to the back of his head, Jason had to admit his plan might have been flawed. Detective work wasn’t supposed to involve quite so many gut feelings.
He had absolutely no idea if Roy was watching, and that was something of a problem. He really didn’t have the bullets for this sort of job. He especially didn’t have the rubber bullets for it.
He debated throwing in the towel and calling for help. On one hand, he wouldn’t die in a warehouse at the Gotham docks. On the other, he’d have to talk to his family. It took him a very long time to decide which was worse.
Eventually, he couldn’t justify staying off comms. He needed to account for travel time. There was a good chance that if he put it off any longer, nobody would be able to get to him fast enough to help.
The instant before he activated his emergency beacon, there was the very distinct sound of something flying past Jason’s ear. He snapped to look. It was an arrow. Five arrows, actually, all fired at the same time.
Each of them found their target. Two in throats, one in an eye socket, one in the center of somebody’s chest, and another that hadn’t bothered with finesse and just caved in some goon’s skull. That was… new.
Jason wasn’t opposed to killing. Obviously. In fact, he quite enjoyed taking scum out of the world. He found it to be one of life’s few pleasures. It was why he and Bruce limited themselves to uncomfortable family dinners every Sunday.
Roy didn’t kill, not like this. He lived and let live when it came to Jason’s murderous tendencies, but that didn’t mean he partook. Roy’d always been a more traditional hero. Hell, the only reason he and Jason had bonded to begin with was because of what other people thought of them, not the way they actually were.
Jason and Roy had both been failures. People looked at them and didn’t see anything but the worst things they’d ever done. The worse they’d ever done, though, was wildly different. Roy’d never smashed somebody’s skull in before.
The rest of the fight went much faster. Roy’d always been dangerous, but Jason had never considered how dangerous he could have been. When he wanted to, Roy could kill faster than Jason blinked.
When the henchmen finally stopped showing up, Jason took a moment to breathe. Roy’d killed twenty-two people. Jason had knocked out seventeen. It was carnage.
Worse than that, it was easily identifiable. There were only so many people who could shoot this well, and the Arrows had an unfortunate habit of color coding themselves. It would take somebody all of three seconds to figure out who was responsible for this massacre.
Jason looked to where Roy’d been shooting from. Thankfully, he hadn’t left yet. He was staring down at Jason from the rafters, his face blank and utterly unreadable. Instead of his usual domino-and-hat combination, he was barefaced. The night kept getting worse.
“Roy,” Jason called to him. He sounded just as desperate as he felt. He didn’t care about the corpses around him. He just needed to talk to Roy, to see him after so long apart. “Please, can you come down?”
There was a long moment when Jason didn’t think he would. He just kept staring silently, his expression utterly unchanging. However, the moment broke. Roy jumped down, slowing his descent with a grappling arrow.
When he finally reached the ground, Jason didn’t hesitate to pull him close. He just held him in silence. The feeling of Roy’s body was so familiar to him. It was everything he’d known he was missing. Roy didn’t hug him back.
When Jason pulled away, Roy’s eyes had lost their observant dullness. They were flinty with anger. Jason didn’t back down from it, not this time. He’d learned his lesson at the funeral. No matter how angry Roy got, Jason wouldn’t fall apart again. He wouldn’t fall away.
At the funeral, Oliver had let Roy hit him. He’d taken the punch with the barest reaction and asked for another. Jason had thought he was trying to pay penance at the time. Now, though, he understood better.
Oliver had already lost Roy because of his own mistakes, and he’d do anything not to lose him again. Roy had a way of inspiring that in people. Jason would give anything, too. He squared his shoulders so he wouldn’t back down when Roy spoke.
“You’re a fucking idiot,” Roy said. His voice was furious. He wrenched himself away from Jason. It took a monumental effort to keep from clutching at him, but Jason managed. “You almost died.”
“You wouldn’t have let me die,” Jason said.
He was positive of that. No matter the way they’d fallen apart, Roy would always look out for Jason. Hell, he’d dropped everything to run missions with Jade before. Roy was loyal long past the point of foolishness.
That didn’t mean it was the right thing to say. Roy’s temper flared at hearing it. It was cowing to be the subject of that rage. Jason remembered Oliver’s stalwart acceptance of it, though, and didn’t let himself react.
“I can’t save you,” Roy spit. He clenched his fists by his side. “You rely on me and you’ll die. Why can’t you just stay safe? I don’t want to—”
He clenched his jaw. His eyes were so angry that he looked like he was a second away from swinging. Jason ached to reach out and touch him, to comfort him. He didn’t. Roy needed to say this.
“What don’t you want?” he asked.
Whatever it was that Roy was biting off, it was burning him up inside. Roy kept so much hidden. Jason could still feel the way something was festering beneath the surface.
“I don’t want to lose you, too,” Roy said, and Jason’s chest cracked. His breath caught. Roy’s eyes were wet and full of hatred. He looked like he couldn’t decide whether he was more sad or angry, so he settled on loathing the source of both. “You think this is a fucking game, Jaybird.”
“I don’t—” Jason started to defend himself.
He’d already forgotten his resolution to stay silent. Roy quelled him with a livid expression.
“You took her from me,” Roy said. His voice was trembling from how angry he was. “You wouldn’t let me bring her back, and that’s just as bad as losing her the first time.”
“Roy,” Jason said. He should be angry. He’d never had a problem letting his temper speak for him, no matter the circumstance. It was easy to let it cover heartache. He couldn’t now, though. He and Roy had flipped. It was Roy saying things to dig into the sensitive parts of somebody and Jason trying desperately to hold them together. “It’s not like that.”
Now that Roy had stopped hiding his thoughts, Jason could see all the way through to the core of him. Something in there was broken. A fundamental piece of Roy had snapped at losing his daughter, and everything else had been forced to accommodate it. Jason’s eyes were wet, too.
It was fucking stupid to be crying in a warehouse surrounded by corpses and unconscious goons, but there was no way of pushing this back. With Roy in front of him, Jason couldn’t deny the immediacy of his feelings. Roy didn’t look to be trying.
“You want me to lose everything,” Roy hissed. He was so wounded inside. “You hate me. Well, guess what? I hate you, too. I hate you so fucking much that I can’t think of anything else.”
Jason couldn’t resist moving, then. He took a step forward. Roy’s words were more dangerous than his arrows, though Jason was sure some of the people on the ground would disagree if they were still alive. It was awful to hear that Roy hated him. It was even more awful to know that he meant it.
“I don’t hate you, Roy,” Jason said. His voice was gruff from the tears and the modulator only made it worse. He reached up and pulled the helmet off. He hated how vulnerable he felt without it. “I could never hate you. I’m scared for you. I know that you’re hurting right now. I’m hurting, too, but we can get through this together. I loved her—”
Jason only barely saw Roy move forward. He definitely felt it when Roy dug his fingers into Jason’s jaw. It hurt. It wasn’t the worst pain Jason had ever felt — not even the worst pain tonight — but seeing Roy’s furious face a hairbreadth from his own made it ache all the way into his chest.
“Don’t you dare,” Roy shouted in Jason’s face. This close, Jason could smell the burn of alcohol on his breath. It made Jason’s pain even worse. “Don’t you fucking dare pretend you loved her! You didn’t. If you loved her, you would have done anything to get her back. You wouldn’t have let them bury my baby.”
Roy’s tears were streaming down his face now. Jason was matching him. What Roy was saying lanced down to the foundation of Jason. It burned. Roy’s hand tightened again before it released.
“That’s not true,” Jason said. Crying had always made him sound angry, and now was no exception. He sounded like he was gearing up for a fight. It couldn’t have been further from the truth. Roy had defeated him before he’d even spoken. “She was mine, too. We were going to ask if she wanted me to adopt her, remember? We were a family.”
For a single second, Jason saw the Roy that really existed. He saw the Roy that was hurt and lonely and desperate. Jason burned with the need to grieve together. They’d both lost so much when Lian had died.
Then, Roy’s anger returned deeper and truer than before. He reached into his quiver with a practiced motion and pulled an arrow out. He looked murderous.
Jason refused to believe it. No matter how bad things had gotten between them, Roy’d never drawn weapons on him before. He never would. Roy didn’t agree with the assessment. Jason was motionless all the way until Roy was holding the arrow upright between them. He couldn’t look away from the expression in Roy’s eyes.
Even when Jason did move, it was only to look down at the arrow between them. It wasn’t one of the sharp-edged ones. It had a blunt tip with small notches along the end. It only took Jason a moment to realize what it was.
Roy clenched his fist and gas billowed out of the end. Jason wasn’t quick enough to keep from inhaling it. The world started to spin immediately. Jason’s reflexes were at least good enough to get him to stumble away from the worst of it.
He managed a few shaking steps before he fell to his knees. He looked up and saw Roy. He was looking down at Jason with nothing but contempt. Jason tried to speak, to ask why, but the gas had burned his throat the whole way down. It hurt too much to speak. Roy seemed to understand the question regardless.
“We were a family,” Roy said as the world started to go dark around Jason. Roy was coldly furious. “Not anymore. I wouldn’t survive burying you, though. I can’t trust you to keep yourself safe, so I’ll do it for you.” He looked like there was more he wanted to say, but Jason watched as he buried it. He fell back into blankness and added, “don’t find me.”
Jason wanted to answer, but he couldn’t. It’d been hard enough to speak before he was hurtling towards unconsciousness, and now it was impossible. The most he could manage was staring at Roy until everything turned to nothingness.
When Jason woke up, his mouth was bone dry. He looked around and saw that the seventeen people he’d knocked out had all been executed. He could see careful slices across their throats. Roy had used an arrow like a dagger to do it.
“Fuck,” Jason croaked out.
He took a moment to collect himself, then he set about hiding the evidence. He gathered all the bodies into a pile and burned them. He barely had enough propellant in his utility belt to manage. After that, he looked carefully around the warehouse for any arrows Roy had left.
There weren’t any, but the shaft on one had split against bone and the fletching was in the middle of a puddle of blood. Jason used a pair of tweezers to grab it and added it to the fire. Once he was done, he left. He waited until he was four blocks away to call in an anonymous tip to the fire department. He didn’t want Roy caught, but he needed somebody to keep an eye on the blaze in case it got out of hand.
He went home. He checked every step of the way to see if he could spot Roy. He didn’t get that lucky. Once he was back in his apartment, he showered and laid down for bed. He didn’t let himself cry.
The next night, he went out again.
It set a pattern. Jason patrolled every night and to look for Roy. He never found him. On the nights the desperation got too deep, he would throw himself into an impossible fight and wait. Roy never came down for another discussion, but his arrows were proof enough.
He killed with extreme prejudice. Once he decided to help, the fight was over. Every arrow he shot made a corpse. Sometimes, two, when he got the angles right. It was vicious and terrifying and the closest Jason could get to him.
Once everybody was dead, Jason would hide the evidence. He’d pull the arrows out and cover the worst of the damage. He had some experience in hiding bodies, so it wasn’t new to him.
He knew it couldn’t last forever. He got in two months of being an accessory to murder before he was found out. The worst of it was that Bruce didn’t even have the decency to do it on patrol. Jason came home from the grocery store one afternoon to see Dick and Bruce sitting in his living room like they belonged there.
“Oh, fuck you two,” Jason said because it was never a good thing when he got Dad 1 and Dad 2 on his case. “What do you want?”
Bruce was silent. Evaluating his options, if Jason was reading his eyes right. He didn’t let anything else slip. Dick wasn’t quite that good.
“Are you killing again?” he asked.
Jason didn’t react. If he was trying to get away with it, he was off to a horrible start. Everybody in the room knew he didn’t take well to false accusations. The only reason he’d keep his cool was if he was trying to work the angles.
“Seriously, fuck you guys,” he said. Dick had gotten up from the couch when he’d asked the question, so Jason got the satisfaction of shouldering past him. It didn’t stop him from following on Jason’s tail. “And neither one of you assholes pays rent here. Don’t walk in like you own the place.”
Bruce finally spoke. “You don’t pay rent, either. You own this building under an alias, most likely paid for through your continuing weapons smuggling.”
Jason sneered over his shoulder. He was in the kitchen so he could only barely see Bruce.
“Wow, figured that out all by yourself,” he said. He layered the sarcasm on. “You really missed your calling as an accountant.”
“Can you take this seriously?” Dick asked.
He seemed frustrated. Actually, he seemed upset. Dick wouldn’t be this mad if this was about Jason killing a few people. Jason’s stomach dropped.
His feeling was only confirmed when Bruce gave a low warning of, “Dick.”
Dick looked like he wanted to say something else, but he just barely bit his tongue. He subsided and instead leaned against the counter and watched Jason put away his groceries. Jason went extra slow to spite him. However, he only had three bags. It couldn’t last forever.
He had to go back to the living room and play whatever game it was Bruce had lined up. Otherwise, there was going to be no getting rid of him. Besides, curiosity was burning a hole in his gut.
Dick was still right behind him. Jason hated having Dick herd him around. It made the short hairs on the back of his neck stand up to have threats behind and in front of him. He forgot about the paranoia when he saw one of Roy’s arrows sitting on the coffee table.
His eyes darted to Bruce’s. They were calculating. He didn’t miss anything. This had been over the second Jason saw the arrow. Fucking hell.
“Where did you get that?” he asked.
He’d been so careful. So fucking careful. How had he slipped up?
Dick, still just behind him, was the one to answer. “A man named Harmon Davies’ home. It was shot through the window and into his orbital bone.”
His voice was thrumming with tension. Jason walked away from Dick to lean against the wall. This was going to be a fight. He didn’t need to have Nightwing breathing up his ass when it started.
“This arrow belongs to Roy Harper,” Bruce said.
“What about it?” Jason asked.
He didn’t cross his arms, but it was only because he needed his hands free. Bruce’s brow furrowed. Dick went on the attack. They were playing good cop, bad cop all wrong.
“Are you putting him up to this?” Dick asked.
Jason didn’t have to fake the anger at hearing it. “Every death in Gotham isn’t my fault, asshole.”
“He didn’t die,” Dick said. The blue of his eyes was like ice. “He was murdered. By my friend. By your boyfriend. Explain.”
Jason’s throat was tight. Roy wasn’t his boyfriend anymore, but how would Dick know that? He’d barely even known Jason and Roy were together.
“There have been a rash of unexplained murders across Gotham City,” Bruce said. His voice was the grumble of Batman. “Altogether, sixty-eight people have been killed. Their bodies were stripped of identifying characteristics, including dental records.”
Jason started bouncing his leg. This was going to come down on Roy, and it was all Jason’s fault. Fuck, fuck, fuck.
“Why are you here?” he asked. He looked at Dick and decided he was the weak link. He was too attached to all of this. He cared about Roy too much and he was too primed to mistrust Jason. That could be exploited. “Are you going to arrest him? Maybe you should put him in Arkham. The two of you are like brothers.”
Dick’s face flushed. He was mad. Unlike with Roy’s anger, Jason could handle this. He’d had Dick mad at him more times than otherwise. If he got Dick mad enough, Jason could derail the investigation and buy himself time to think.
“You’re despicable,” Dick said. His hands were balled by his side. “Taking advantage of his daughter dying so you can turn him to your cause. He’s not like you. He’s a good person.”
That, unfortunately, hurt more than Jason had expected. Bruce seemed to see it.
“Dick, enough,” he warned.
He was smart enough to see what was boiling under the surface. He probably already knew what Jason was trying.
“So sorry to hear you’re not convinced of my goodness, Dickie,” Jason said. He tilted his head and narrowed his eyes like he was considering something. “Jealous you couldn’t get through to him, or are you jealous you couldn’t get him, period? Sorry, but baby brother got him first, and I’m going to keep corrupting him until it stops being fun.”
He knew exactly what it was that Dick thought about him. Dick thought Jason was a dangerous tempter who treated Roy like an entertaining diversion. It didn’t matter that Jason and Roy’d been together longer than any of Dick’s failed courtships. Jason was too much of a wild card.
He saw the moment it was too much for Dick to bear. There was the barest shift of muscles, then Dick was launching himself at Jason. Jason met him halfway.
For two trained fighters, it was particularly sloppy. They were scrapping, form and technique out of the window so they could roll around on the floor and land a few punches. Just as Jason thought, Bruce didn’t let it go on for long.
“Enough!” Bruce shouted. Each of them got a hand in the collar of their shirt and were unceremoniously thrown in different directions. “We’re here to talk, Dick. If you can’t handle that, leave. I’m not repeating myself.”
It was nice to not be the one getting chastised for a change. He got to see the way Dick’s face flushed with shame. Jason didn’t get to enjoy it long before Bruce was turning to face him.
“Why is Arsenal killing people?” he demanded.
Jason didn’t answer. He could see something through the kitchen window. In the same place he’d been when Jason had seen him two months ago, Roy was on the rooftop with his bow in his hands. Jason could just barely see Roy’s face from where he was, but he managed to get the rage covering it.
His bow came up. Jason moved without thinking. Dick tensed, probably thinking he was going for a second round. He couldn’t have been further from the truth. Jason danced around Dick and put himself between him and the window. Dick looked confused.
He’d seen Roy. Jason was positive of it. Bruce’s eyes bored into Jason. He knew Roy had an arrow trained on Dick
“He’s doing this for you,” Bruce concluded.
Dick looked vindicated. “I told you. Roy’s not like that.”
Bruce quelled him with a look. When he turned back to Jason, his face was softer than it had been.
“You didn’t ask him to, did you?” Bruce asked. He sounded a bit too understanding. When Jason bit his tongue instead of speaking, he continued. “This is about his daughter.”
Jason flinched at the name. Dick was baffled.
“What are you talking about?” he asked.
Bruce looked suddenly uncomfortable. Jason couldn’t even savor it.
“It’s not unusual to change after the death of your child,” Bruce admitted. The air in the room got heavy. Jason and Bruce couldn’t look away from one another. “Especially in our line of work. It’s easy to become too violent. Brutal.
It was like Dick wasn’t in the room any longer. Jason spoke directly to Bruce.
“What about it?” he asked. It wasn’t as confrontational as he’d hoped. “You can’t arrest him. I won’t let you.”
Bruce took a heavy breath. He looked older in the wake of it.
“The things you do in grief haunt you forever, Jason,” he said. “We both know that better than anyone. He can’t keep doing this. One day, he’ll get better. How do you think he’ll feel about everything he’s done?”
“You never helped me,” Jason said. He sounded defensive. He felt defensive. “How am I supposed to trust that you’ll help him?”
The silence between them stretched. Bruce looked like he wanted to say something, but he didn’t quite manage it. Instead he let his implacable mask settle over his face. Jason let himself fall into anger just as easily.
“Get out of my apartment,” he said, “and leave both of us alone. I mean it.”
Dick opened his mouth, but Bruce put a hand on the back of his neck and silenced him. Dick had always been a house pet. It was only fitting that he got scruffed. They left without saying anything else. Jason relaxed when the door closed behind them.
He didn’t consider if Bruce was right, if Roy needed help. All he did was check the rooftop behind him. Roy was gone. Then, Jason started working on escape plans. He and Roy needed to get out of Gotham.
By the time he had something decent put together, it was late. Too late to go on patrol, at least. It was for the best. There was too much heat for Roy to be following Jason around the city. He’d get himself caught by the Bat, and then Jason would have to figure out how to bust him out of wherever it was Bruce wanted to ship Roy off to.
Jason went to bed instead. He wasn’t particularly tired, but he’d long ago learned to get sleep where he could. If he went to bed now, it could only mean an earlier start tomorrow. He had a list of stuff to take care of before he headed out.
If Jason was right, Roy would go where Jason did. That meant Jason had to toe the line of hiding enough to stay out of Bruce’s sight and being obvious enough that Roy didn’t lose him. He fell asleep going over the plan again.
He woke after an hour. Maybe two. It was hard to tell without checking. His body was screaming tension, and it took him a moment to realize what it was.
He wasn’t alone. There was a faint tapping coming from the foot of his bed. Somebody was in his room and they wanted him to know. He ran a dozen scenarios on how to proceed. Most of them relied on knowing what was happening, but he hadn’t opened his eyes.
He didn’t want to give away the element of surprise. He had a gun underneath his mattress, but the seconds it would take to grab it might have been too long. The tapping ceased.
“I know you’re awake, Jaybird,” Roy said.
Jason’s eyes snapped open. He sat up and looked at Roy standing at the foot of his bed. He was dressed down to a tank top and jeans. His face was completely blank.
He had an arrow in his hand. This wasn’t a trick one. It came to a regular, lethal point. The tapping noise had been Roy hitting the head against the bed frame.
“What are you doing, Roy?” he asked. He sat further up. He went a little more slowly this time. He didn’t like analyzing Roy as a threat, but he couldn’t deny that he felt threatened. “What’s going on?”
“I was watching you today,” Roy said. His face didn’t swing to anger like it had on their last few encounters. It stayed completely expressionless. “I saw you with Dick.”
“They came by,” Jason confirmed. His brain was shooting out ideas a million at a time. It was hard to keep up when he was still so close to sleep. He decided to play the truth. “They know about you. I’m leaving Gotham tomorrow. Please, come with me.”
Roy didn’t hesitate before nodding. Jason gave a small smile of relief. Roy was still in there. Jason’s Roy, the one who was soft and kind.
“We’re leaving Gotham tomorrow,” Roy confirmed, “but I’m deciding where we go. I have a plan.”
They were both silent for a while. Jason couldn’t begin to guess what Roy was thinking about, but his own thoughts were a tangled mess. He finally settled on the one that’d been haunting him.
“I really did love her,” Jason said softly. He saw the way Roy flinched, but it wasn’t enough to stop him from continuing. “I still do. I’ll love her forever.”
Roy's voice was raspy when he replied. “I know you do. It was hard not to fall in love with her, wasn’t it?”
The facade of calm broke, and Roy offered a small and pained smile. Jason returned it. It hurt to talk about her, but it was a good hurt. It was the kind of hurt that was familiar when he saw it echoed in Roy’s face. It was a relief.
“I love you, too,” Jason added. He shifted so he was sitting cross-legged in the middle of the bed. “I never should have walked away.”
“I love you so much,” Roy replied easily. It rolled off his tongue like he said it a million times a day. There was a time that he had. How had things changed so much in four months? “I’m sorry for hating you. I know it’s not right, but I can’t help it. I hate you and I love you and I don’t know what to do. It’s tearing me apart.”
It hurt to hear. No matter what’d happened between them, no matter the words around it, hearing Roy hurt was a spike of ice to the chest.
“It’s okay,” Jason said. “You can hate me all you want. If it’s what you need, I’ll be that for you. Just don’t forget how much we love each other. Don’t lose what we have.”
Roy gave a small nod. “I could never forget it, Jaybird. Not in a million years. I’ll always keep you next to me. I’ll keep you safe.”
Jason’s phone ringing was shockingly loud. Jason winced at it. Roy seemed unaffected. Jason snatched it off the nightstand and checked the screen.
It was Barbara. That was strange. She didn’t make a habit of calling. Something must have been going on. He looked to Roy.
Roy gave another nod. “Go ahead, answer it. I’ll be here when you’re done.”
Jason accepted the call and brought the phone to his ear. The glass of the screen was freezing, so cold that it felt damp. He got Dick’s breathless and panicked voice on the other end of the line.
“Jason,” Dick said, “it’s Roy.”
Jason cut his eyes to Roy. His face was back to unreadable blankness. There was no way he’d heard what Dick had said, but there was a knowing feeling in the pit of Jason’s stomach.
“What about him?” he asked.
“Where are you?” Dick returned instead of answering.
“I’m in bed, Dick,” Jason said. “It’s three in the morning. What’s going on?”
“Roy attacked me,” Dick said.
Jason looked at Roy again. There was nothing guilty in his face.
“Explain,” Jason said.
The cold of the phone wasn’t abating. It seemed to be growing more frigid as time passed.
“He was in my room,” Dick said. “I woke up to an arrow trained on me. I think he wanted to kill me.”
“No,” Jason said. “No, that’s not right. He wouldn’t do that.”
He was doubting it even as he said it. Roy was different now. He’d changed so much since Lian had died.
“He shot me in my leg!” Dick shouted. He was distraught. “He said the only reason he wasn’t killing me was because we used to be friends. I don’t know if you’re next.”
“He wouldn’t hurt me,” Jason said. He knew Roy wouldn’t hurt him on purpose, at least. Hell, Roy hadn’t done anything the last few months except defend Jason. “Did he say anything?”
“I didn’t get the chance to interrogate him,” Dick answered. Even through the tension, his sarcasm carried. “Do you know something?”
“You hit me today,” Jason said.
Dick almost growled. “You hit me, too, idiot. Can we not bring up old shit when one of my best friends is on a rampage?”
Jason hunched over. Roy was just staring at him blankly. The world was starting to swim.
“He shot you because you hit me,” Jason clarified. Dick drew in a sharp intake of air. “That’s why he’s been killing people. He’s protecting me.”
“So he was serious, then,” Dick said. He sounded dazed. “He really would have done it.”
“He’s…” Jason started. He met Roy’s even gaze. Jason was missing something. Roy had to have known Dick would call. Something wasn’t adding up. “He’ll listen to me. He’s just hurt right now. We all are.”
Dick’s loud sigh was an explosion of static on the line. His voice was more subdued when he continued. More distant, too.
“That doesn’t make it okay,” Dick said. He cleared his throat and tried for authoritative like Jason hadn’t stopped responding to that tone by the time he was fourteen. “Listen, be careful if you see him, alright? I don’t know how, but he’s got some pretty powerful poisons with him.”
Jason’s heart dropped. “What do you mean?”
“Paralytics,” Dick said. Jason tried to say something, but found it was increasingly hard to open his mouth. He looked at Roy again. “I recognized them from back in the day. Some of Jade’s. He dosed the arrow with it. Barbara just happened to swing by and found me ten minutes ago. It’s why I’m using her phone. She’s at the Clocktower right now bringing B up to speed.”
Whatever else it was that Dick said was lost when Jason’s fingers went too senseless to hold the phone up. He could still feel the ice where the screen had been touching him. It’d been a nerve toxin. He just hadn’t recognized it in time.
Roy slowly walked around the bed so he was looking down at Jason. His face was gentle. He ran a hand through Jason’s hair, then used the back of his arrow to end the call with Dick.
Jason recognized the rapidly approaching unconsciousness for what it was. He knew his eyes were accusatory. Roy’s face went softer in response.
“Don’t worry,” he said to Jason. “I’ve got you, and I’m never going to let you get hurt again. Not by anybody.”
Jason wasn’t aware of anything after that. At least there was no betrayal in the blackness.