'I should have told him.' She'd almost died and she would have never gotten the chance to let him know. Steph didn't even care about all the rest right then, about everything that had happened since he'd left, what had happened now he was back. She reached up to pull his head down to hers, her body moving on autopilot, then he was bleeding, it took her a second to process that the new warmth on her face was his blood.
Jason grabbed her and moved, Scarabs poisoned blades coming after them. Steph's eyes immediately went to scan the rooftops for the armored assassins, but then Jason was falling, Marque ripping a knife out of him with an ugly smirk splitting her face. It was all Steph could do to catch him, stumbling back into the wall of the narrow alley under his enormous weight.
She didn't have time to worry about the assassins, before a shadow descended out from the darkness of the clouded sky, the golden back on its chest illuminated for just a second by the dim streetlights before it struck Marque, taking the woman with it into the darkness.
"Cass." Steph whispered, her arms tightening around Jason, mind racing, looking for some way other than pressing her filthy cape into the wound to stem the flow of the blood pumping out of his chest, and the poison. Oh god, there was still the poison, and Jason was already trying to get up again.
"Jason no!" She pressed down on his shoulder, trying to get him back down. He'd been stabbed, he couldn't move until, until, oh god how was she going to get him a doctor to move him. A whimper crawled its way out of her chest and her hand instinctively balled over her mouth to block it as her eyes burned up.
"Get away from here." Jason hissed out through gritted teeth gently pushing her away from him with one arm while he brought the other to the bloody patch, wincing and hissing sharply when it met the wound. Steph swallowed, forcing down the sting of his dismissal.
"What are you doing, Jason, you need a doc…" She reached forward to hold him down again, but his arm swept out again to hit hers away from him.
"Go before they see you with me!" Sweat dripping from his face, Jason forced his legs under him and gripped the walls, digging his fingers into the grout as he struggled through the pain to pull himself up, his whole body trembling along with the breaths he sucked in. "Don wanna…" Jason let out a subdued cry as his hand slipped on the glistening wall and the rest of him went along with it.
Before he could fall, Steph had her arm wrapped around his chest, damnit, why did he have to be so big? "I'm not leaving your ass here alone." Steph ground out and put all of her remaining strength into steadying him, the cut on her leg screaming as though someone had doused it in that antidote all over again.
"Damnit Stephanie, this…" A shudder ran through him and he angled his head up just slightly towards the mouth of the alley, from where a tall, dark shadow had blocked out much of the little light they had. "Damnit." He sagged against the wall as another shudder hit, a trail of blood slipping from his lips to fall down his chin.
Steph clenched her jaw and looked up at Bruce, standing there silhouetted against the streetlights, his face cold and impassive as always, the only sign that the rain affected him at all, the fluttering on the barest edges of his heavy cape.
"B, he's not gonna fight, please don't hurt h…" She held out one hand as though that could stop him, the other staying pressed against Jason's chest.
"Move away from him Stephanie." Bruce ordered, not even looking at her, his eyes fixed entirely on Jason as the boy pressed his hand against his bleeding gut, eyes turning cold as the man staring them down.
"No." Steph said, putting more weight onto her uninjured leg in the hopes it would make her seem less likely to fall over. It didn't work out, and she had to use the wall to keep her balance right beside Jason.
A duo of new shadows made themselves know now, another cape fluttering up in the darkened fire escape and someone much lither, nearly silent behind them.
"Move, or 'be' moved, Brown." A high voice came from somewhere above their heads.
The change in Jason was instantaneous, his breathing evened out, and his slumped shoulders squared as he brought himself up to almost his full height, a trigger appearing in the hand he wasn't using to support some of his weight against the wall, his finger an inch away from flipping a pale yellow switch. "Touch her and I'll fucking kill you!" His deep voiced boomed in the enclosed space, and he put himself between her and Bruce, the trembling in his body now easy to pass of as rage. Steph gaped at the device, then around the alley, searching for what it would activate.
Bruce jerked in sync with the one behind them, a hand reaching for his utility belt. "Robin, go see to the fire." He ordered. "Now!" There was something to be said about Bruce's tone of voice that Damian didn't protest, the only evidence that the boy did anything at all the feint scrape of his departure.
Dark laughter echoed down from the fire escape and Tim dropped down a couple floors lower. "You were seconds away from beating a woman to death Jason, 'we're' not the one's she needs protecting from."
Jason tensed and Steph wrapped her hand around his wrist, between the sleeve of his suit and his gloved to feel his rapid pulse beneath her fingertips. He'd stopped himself, he'd stopped and that was… something.
"Cause you were doing such a stellar fucking job." He spat at the teen. "'F you bastards could pull your heads outta your asses for two minutes, guys like me wouldn't have to step up and do it for you."
"Step up?" Tim snorted. "By killing twenty-three people in two weeks and putting twice as many in the hospital? None of this would have even happened if 'you' hadn't run away to go another murder spree. What did you think was going to happen when you made the whole city think she was digging up all that intell on her own?"
"Aw it's cute you think I only killed twenty-three, you use your big-boy detective skills to work that number out or your calculator spit it out at you?" Jason took in a breath that was a little too deep and let out a grimace, but quickly morphed the expression into a grin, all sharp, pink-stained teeth and blood splitting across his face. "And those weren't people, you don't get to do things like that and still call yourself a 'person', so shut up until you know what the hell you're talking about." He didn't look at Tim as he spoke, kept both his eyes on Bruce.
"If everyone did that you'd 'never' speak." Tim shot back.
Jason growled low in his throat and Steph sensed that he was about two words away from turning his gun on Tim. She was about to tell him to shut up, but Dick spoke from behind her before she could.
"You sure you can win this fight while you're bleeding out like that?" Dick raised both his hands up fingers which was pretty much an empty gesture as far as things went with them, but it 'was' a gesture at least. Jason shifted to look at the man behind them and the fabric around his wound made a squelching sound that made Stephanie's heart try to climb out of her throat. "We're here to help, so just 'calm down' okay."
"Jay, come on, you can't do this now." Steph tugged on his arm, and even that little motion was almost enough to knock him over. "Please don't do this now, you need a doctor, you know you need a doctor. I promise I'll do whatever ever it takes to get you out if they try to lock you away again. You need help, please."
He shifted the hand he had pressed against the blood pumping out of him and winced, his face going very green as he looked between it and her, his mouth working silently as though he just couldn't push the words he needed out of his throat. "They're not taking me to a doctor Sunshine." He whispered eventually. "I can't…"
Steph looked between the three vigilantes boxing them in, but though it was clear they'd heard his quiet admission, none of them made a motion to disprove it. Steph swallowed, her mouth dry as she pushed her face into his arm. She didn't want him locked up again, but she didn't want him to die either, god she didn't want him to die again.
"Jason." Dick called and got both Jason and Stephanie's eyes on him as he slowly peeled away his mask before holding his hands out to them again, he looked at Stephanie, his expression unreadable but not entirely unpleasant before his head cocked to the side just slightly as though something had clicked into place and he spoke again. "We're happy you're alive Jason." Steph felt more that saw the tightening of Jason's muscles. "We just wanna keep you that way right now, okay; we'll talk about the rest later."
"Talk about what." Jason's voice was strained but he still found the energy to grim, wide and bloody and all pink-stained teeth splitting across his face. "I'm not gonna regret putting those animals down, not gonna 'repent' and let kids like that live knowing the pathetic sacks of filth that hurt em can get at em again. Means more to me than some antiquated moral argument that doesn't fucking apply."
"It's not your place to…" Bruce began, but Jason raised the trigger higher, his thumb moving almost imperceptibly nearer to the switch.
"And where's 'your' place?!" He demanded pulled himself away from the wall completely, fast enough that Stephanie was shocked into losing the light hold she'd had on him completely.
Tim moved to leap from the fire escape, but Bruce held up a hand, stalling him.
"Where were you when that was happening, when they needed you?" Both his hands were on the gun now, as steady as the rest of him was shaky, liquid pooling at the edges of his eyes. "Things like that don't happen in Gotham, fucked up as it is, 'that's' not supposed to happen on your watch. Where 'were' you?" His voice raw and choppy with emotion, more so than Steph had ever heard from him no matter what they'd been talking about.
"Looking for you 'you'!" Bruce returned his composure dropping as much as the raindrops that slid from his cape as he stepped forward. "Do you have any idea what we thought was happening to you! What she let us believe!" He jabbed a finger at Stephanie, who pulled back, as Jason shifted to cover more of her from Bruce's eyes. "
"Oh, so it's all my fault again?" Jason huffed out a sound that was almost a chuckle. "Cause of course it's always 'my' fault when you screw up. Stop pretending you give a fuck, you and your little soldiers, all you care about is some abstract moral picture. You don't give a crap about kids like that, cause they're never gonna grow up good, right? They're broken, so they're never gonna be perfect, or good, just more food for your little angst party." His breathing was getting raspy, and there was a cloudiness over his eyes that, along with the numerous blows she'd endured to the skull, made Steph feel nauseous, light headed.
"Jason stop!" Stephanie said, noting the way Bruce was tensing up again, and so did Jason. But Jason didn't stop; he gave her only the barest glance to show that he'd even heard her and kept right on, almost like he was fishing for another fight.
"And hey…" his voice was soft and barely even intelligible, garbled as all hell, but he still managed to inject into it every ounce of spite he needed for his next words. "Maybe in a couple years you send em a nice little message' bout how every choice they ever make in life doesn't count for shit cause they're too fucked up to ever matter."
Steph didn't know what happened first, Jason slipping, all of his weight falling into the wall, then her, Bruce rushing forwards, or Dick appearing between them, staring unerringly into the barrel of the gun Jason had drawn prepared to fire.
"Get the fuck outta my way Dickie-Bird." Jason spat the words out as if they were venom, with the poison still rushing through Jason's system they might well have been.
"No, Jason listen, I'm sorry all of this happened to you, but now is 'not' the time." Dick looked over Jason's shoulder, looked at Steph, but what he was trying to convey she couldn't quiet place. "You can shout all you want later, but right now, you need to get the hole in your gut seen to before you bleed out, and so does 'she'."
Not the best time for her to be reminded that she still had blood tricking down her leg and the gaping hole she had from being knifed in the shoulder was beginning to flare up again, demanding she take note of it. Adrenaline was a bitch when it started wearing off.
"Sunshine?" Jason reluctantly dragged his eyes off Dick, and back to Stephanie, they roved over her body and Steph got the idea that he was undressing her in a very different matter than every guy ever, the bruises hidden under her suit, throbbing painfully to life as though him recognizing they were there reminded them of the fact themselves.
"It's just a doctor, right?" She pressed her head against his arm, taking in the warmth that radiated off him despite the cold autumn rain pouring out all around them. "You can get outta a hospital east, right, and if you can't I'll help you, I'll do whatever it takes, please Jay. I don't wanna lose you again."
Lowering his gun, the last bit of resistance faded from his eyes and Jason nodded, just once, just barely a tip of his head, but as though it had been a scream, both Dick and Bruce stepped forward, each to take one of Jason's arms and, with grunts of effort, pull his not inconsiderable weight away from the wall. Steph wondered if they were relieved as she's been when she'd noticed he'd put on all that bulk after his stint in Jeremiah's basement had left him so wafer this, she wondered if they'd even realized.
They pulled him away from her, and it took barely a second for her to start shivering without the warmth of his body pressed against her. Tim dropped to her side in his place, and offered Steph his arm without a word. Jason looked back over his shoulder, and seeing as how it would defy the whole point of asking Jason to accept their help if she didn't, she let Tim pull her up and help her stay on her feet too.
She looked at the entrance to The Dive as they passed it by, now spewing just a little smoke and heat into the night, her eyes catching on something glinting in the embers. She could still make out some of the furniture that had yet to be eaten by the blaze she'd caused, covered by the sticky foam that came standard with every bat-utility belt. Steph figured that was where Damian had been sent off to. That fire hadn't proved to help her at all. It would be gone soon, all of it. Steph felt a pang in her chest for the place where she'd really gotten to know Jason, where he'd, the place where he'd somehow started to trust her.
This was what the owner would be coming home to when he got out of prison, just a burned out handful of useless rooms on one of the worst parts of the city. Would they even have the money to rebuild, or like the planetarium, would it just sit an empty husk of a place for years?
If she hadn't been watching the door, she might now have predicted what happened next.
Bruce clicked on his comm and told Alfred to ready the cave's medbay before they arrived.
"The cave?" Jason tensed as if they'd announced they were dropping him off at death row. Before anyone could make a reply, he'd unlatched something from his belt and a very different kind of smoke filled the alley.
Tim pulled Steph away, pressed the both of them against the wall and wrapped their heads in his cape, no time for searching out their rebreathers before it hit them, and even through the special made fabric, it 'burned'. Steph's eyes and her lungs when she made the mistake of sucking in a breath to try talking. Bruce and Dick, at the source were struck immobile by what was probably the most concentrated tear gas they'd ever come across. She heard them cry out, calling for Jason.
Even before she considered breaking away from Tim, leaving the little shelter they had, when she heard Bruce and Dick trying to pursue despite the fire clogging their lungs, she knew it would be too late.
By the time the smoke had cleared, so had Jason.
He was gone, again, and Steph was getting real tired of that happening.
The rain broke into a full-blown storm not long after, battering the sky's with thunder and lightning that rattled the city's inhabitants to their bones.
From the tiny, sterile room in Leslie's clinic, Steph was no different, numb as she was from the painkillers as she got her leg stitched up.
At first doctor had tried to make conversation for a while, asking about Steph's mother and the classes she hadn't attended for days, but Steph hadn't been able to answer any of them to any degree of satisfaction. So the now, the room was bathed in silence, punctuated only by Leslie's disproving muttering as she snipped away still more fabric from Steph's suit. It suited the girl fine, gave her more of her now limited brainpower to direct at the stare down she'd somehow gotten herself into with a very red-eyed Dick Grayson.
Turned out the tear gas had come from a canister Jason had pulled out of his pocket, the trigger hadn't even had batteries.
Steph's eyes were doing much better than his were at least, but they were still almost as red, though for a different but not unconnected reason. There'd been someone with her in the room for as long as she'd been there, first Tim while they'd waited for Leslie to finish with another patient, then Damian when the old woman had made her opinions on Steph's wounds known, and now Dick. Like they thought Jason was going to pop up out of nowhere again, like he would have been able to make it all the way to the clinic when he was poisoned and bleeding and…
Steph's breathing hitched and only the jab of pain when from the stitches when she tried to curl up prevented her from doing so. The hostility in the eyes she had locked with Dick's went up a couple notches, and he folded his arms.
"Didn't think you were the kind who liked watching girls a decade younger than you getting their clothes cut off 'Batman'." She rolled her eyes at him, and turned her eyes to the room's tiny window, and the rain pounding against the glass.
"We're not leaving you alone again." Dick said with a huff, as though she were Damian when he was being obtuse.
"Well I'm not running from creepy ninjas right now and I don't think Jason'll show up for anything less right now, so can you clock out before I lose my shirt?"
"Fine." Dick sighed and held up in hands in a placating gesture, as he backed out the room.
Steph had a few seconds to be relieved about him being gone, not having to deal with them watching her like one of the screens of the homing beacons in the cave before the door opened again and someone new stepped in.
Cass offered no words of greeting, and neither did Steph as Leslie cut away the suit at her shoulder and began cleaning out the deep gash in her shoulder.
The old woman sent Steph a glare that would have made Steph's insides shrivel up a little if not for the fact that Steph's insides were as shriveled as they could have gotten. She got another anesthetic shot for that one, and some tut-tutting about her being lucky something about how the poison kept the muscles from tearing more and making her need surgery. Yay for Steph.
When Leslie left, the rainy weather having brought on flu season early apparently, Cass stayed behind and Steph, now alone with the other girl, could feel the full brunt of Cass's see all eyes. It was kind of relieving in a way, not having to worry about what kind of things were being read off her, what kind of body language she was putting out when she knew there was nothing she could have done to hide from Cass. And it could have been worse after all, could have been Bruce watching her.
Steph curled her good leg up onto the bed and carefully maneuvered the other one up against some cushions. "He's not gonna come, you know." She said, listening to the rain and leaving out her musings about whether or not Jason even got out of the rain, if he'd gotten someone to help him. "Probably out of the city by now if he coulda found a way." She hugged her knee to her chest. "Probably never coming back. And I can't find him, or call him for you, cause he already blew up his phone, so you're really wasting your time here Cass."
Steph scrubbed a hand over the blood dried to her hair and sighed, rolling her head back to look at the ceiling as Cass stepped forward, anger laced stoicism on her face having softened, of only a little as she pulled her own cellphone out the pocket of her too big hoody.
"It was him?" She asked, sitting down on the bed besides Steph and angling the screen of the phone so they could both see as she scrolled through texts from a number she'd named simply 'friend', laden with emojis and the sporadic wall of text beneath a string of memes Cass had sent out.
"Yeah." Steph's lips curled up at the ends as she read an explanation of what Kermit the frog was and why captioned pictures of him were supposed to be funny. There was a link at the bottom that judging by the URL, led to some not quite legal method of watching a muppets movie, because of course Jason wouldn't have pointed her at any non-criminal options.
Cass nodded and scrolled down some more texts before pressing the phone against her chest. "Didn't tell them either." She said, looking at the door where at least one of her brothers had to be waiting. "Because, maybe it wasn't him, and they lost the..." she shook the phone, "Proof that he was here. Maybe he wouldn't want to talk to me anymore if I let them see, and if it wasn't Jason, then… why? He was gone already, wanted to ask, but…" She scrolled to the bottom of the chat, this time without letting Steph see. "No reply."
Steph leaned in to get the contents of her utility belt they'd left her with. Knickknacks, cards, and other random things that didn't have anything to do with being Batgirl. The last of Jason's sparkly IOU's were among them, now bent severely out of shape. Steph had saved this one for last, because she'd thought the colors were prettier that the others. Now glitter was missing from it in patches, and one corners was soaked in the blood that had dripped in from her leg.
"He gave me this, they're like Jason money." She said, trying to straighten the card without losing anymore glitter. "Three actually, but I used one to get me a frenzy sample and one to keep from leaving Gotham after I found that room, he found that room, said he couldn't leave till we solved the case. Shoulda used this one before he left." Steph rubbed her knuckles over her burning eyes, stupid Jason and his stupid tear gas. "Shoulda been more specific."
"At home." Cass drew her legs onto the bed as well, ballet flats and all, and tucked her knees under her chin. "Everyone was saying the all the time, 'What if I was there,' 'What if I found him,' 'What if I didn't leave him'. They watched, not the bad tapes." She sighed softly and laid her head on her knees to look at Steph. "Oooold tapes, when he was…" She held her thumb and forefinger an inch apart. "Little. They cry. Not with sound, but…" she pressed her hand against Steph's chest. "Inside. Everyone thinks it's their fault, always with the 'what if'. Always hurting. It hurts to watch them, but I can't… leave them."
There was nothing Steph could have said that she hadn't said already, nothing Cass said that she hadn't already known, so she said nothing, just tried to sink a little more into the mattress. Well, she hadn't known about the older tapes, what the little Jason in them could have been doing. Not school plays seeing as how Jason hadn't been allowed to join stage crew, but what else. What kind of home movies did 'The Batman' take?
"You don't need to tell them 'It's because you left him.' They say it to themselves. Bruce and Dick, and Alfred." She looked down at her screen again. "Barbara. You say it to yourself too. Don't need to."
"Because they're saying it too?" Steph asked, running her hand along the stitches on her leg.
"Hmmm." Cass nodded, and Steph chuckled as Cass serious expression quirked a little, the older girl rocking back. "I'm thinking. What will he say when they find him."
"They won't." Steph said, turning her cad over in the light, watching the glitter sparkle.
"Will." Cass put the phone back in her pocket. "His clothes were Society. Bruce asked for help. Friends, to find him from the 'league'. Two, they will find him."Steph's heart seemed to be torn between coming up through her that's and sinking deeper into her chest. It compensated by beating like a war drum in her chest. Jason couldn't fight the justice league, not on his own and if he tried, if they showed up out of nowhere while he was hurt… If they didn't 'know' he was hurt. Steph looked at Cass, searching for some kind of lie, or for Cass's reasoning behind telling Stephanie about any of this otherwise. Cass hopped off the bed, easy as though she hadn't been worked half to death as much as the rest of them. "Maybe you'll find him first and hide him again."
"Cass I don't know where he is, he broke his phone I told you, you know I'm not lying, I can't find him." Steph tried to jump to her feet as well and winced when all she succeeded in doing was popping a stitch in her leg.
Cass hummed again and squinted at Jason's IOU still clutched tightly in Steph's fingers. "Then you won't help him." And she walked calmly over to the door, shutting it silently behind her.
Steph brought a hand to her hair, her nails digging into her scalp as she stared at the door, then back to the card. It was about as useful right then as the rocket launcher he'd left for her, or the pretty silver hair stick.
She didn't have any friends in the Justice League, no one she could ask for help. No resources but a bunch of crooks that not only weren't likely to be scared of her anymore, but even less likely to know anything. She could have searched the hospitals and clinics, but she had a feeling the others were already doing that, and they'd be done with it before Steph could even start with her stupid leg stitched up like Frankenstein's bride.
She looked back to her junk sitting scattered in the bedside table, the same one where Jason had left the IOUs in the first place. Some candy, and pins and the few business cards she'd collected and promptly forgotten about. Her attention fell on the only one that didn't seem crinkled beyond all repair. Laminated to withstand doomsday – both the actual day and the indestructible alien – and marred only with some half-melted skittle stuck to the plastic.
If the Justice League caught Jason, they'd either lock him up, or hand him over to Bruce. If they didn't it would only be because he went so deeply into hiding that they nobody ever heard from him again. No matter what, she'd never see him again, they'd never let her see him again.
She picked the card up gingerly, as though it could have exploded in her hands at any second.
Talia. 'She's there', Jason had said. She's there, and assuming he was using his contractions properly, he's meant present tense, meaning there was a chance she was there right now. If he was really with The Society, and she 'ran' The Society…
Steph studied the card, the neat set of numbers printed along one side and an advertisement for a laundromat. "Oh god." She whispered, feeling much like she had the very first time she'd sassed Batman, only about a hundred times worse. Bad idea, bad, bad, 'baaaaaaaad' idea. "Oh god." She whispered again and dropped off the bed so she could feel out the steel bowl and loose the little grape soda she had in her stomach.
There was no way she was just letting Jason disappear on her again.
"Don't hang up." Not the most eloquent greeting, but she'd had a hell of a time convincing Leslie to sneak her out of the clinic without the bats hearing, and even a heller of a time during the days she'd spent trying to dodge them without being too obvious about trying to dodge them with her bum leg. She 'could not' find another untapped phone booth in time if this didn't pan out.
Stephanie could practically see the 'not an eye roll because Talia was too sophisticated for that' through the phone. 'You have two minutes.'
Great, two whole minutes to convince scary tiger lady into letting helping her without making said tiger lady want her head on a bedazzled spike.
"So, you'll remember you never gave me a deadline on the whole,' find Jason for a favor' thing way back when?" Steph's voice sounded really high to her own ears, she hoped it sounded normal on the other end of the phone, she really, really hoped so, but it was a faraway kind of hope. Like getting a cellphone for her tenth birthday. "Any chance that's still on, cause I figured this number wouldn't work if it wasn't, and I'm kinda, really interested in making a deal here."
'You assume you were significant enough to necessitate an entirely new number for your individual use.' There was a sot chink on the other end, a spoon in a teacup if Steph knew her al Ghul's. 'You have nothing to offer me.'
"Not like you offered 'me' anything when you made me give him that folder, or when I kept my mouth shut about the little birthday tea party you threw him." Steph tried desperately to keep her voice level as she spoke, squared her shoulders and tried to activate her 'Barbara voice' – kind of hard when the real Barbara hated her guts right then. "You went through a whole lot of trouble to hide all that and I bet there's 'some' reason you don't want everyone to know about it all. I don't know what it is, but the bats are real mad at me right now and it couldn't hurt winning them over with that. You're not giving me much reason to not get back into their good graces by having Bruce bust down your door."
'Yet you give me every reason to have the snipers tailing you take their shots.'
"Just spitballing here, but I'll bet Jason being pissed at you's enough of a reason." Steph said, eyes darting along the rooftops now not only for capes, but hidden snipers as well. Wow she hoped Talia really did like Jason enough for that to be a good reason, that Talia believed he liked Steph enough for it to be a good reason. "Bet you'da had me in Gotham harbor already otherwise."
'You're a brash, near-sighted child, return to your home now and I might forget about you again.' Talia's cold detached tone was wavering, Steph hadn't decided yet if that was a good thing.
"And you're wasting my two minutes." Steph leaned against the glass walls of the phone booth. "Come on, he got stabbed, and poisoned by the stuff 'your' people use. If they find him before me, he's in a lot of trouble. I'm not asking you to help me, I'm asking you to help him, please. He could be dead already and you're too busy being an ass to care."
'That he needs help now is your doing. Had you not decided to meddle at the start those imbeciles running that asylum would have never bothered with him to the extent they had, neither would he have thrown himself into a conflict he has no place in. Were he to have died, make no mistake, I would have had you in your grave already.' The unidentifiable sound Talia let out was cut off abruptly along with any background noise that had been filtering though the phone, but there was no dial tone signaling they'd been disconnected.
Steph had a couple seconds to be confused about it before the sound of the teacup was back. 'Unfortunately you're correct in that he's become too attached to you, and he might be more inclined to listen to reason were it coming from you, assuming you're capable of reason. If you cause him any more harm after this information leaves my lips I have the means of drawing out the worst suffering you can imagine indefinitely, do you understand?'
"Yeah, shovel talk; I get it, so where do we start looking here?" Steph pushed down the desire for a bucket to empty her stomach into again, then made the mistake of trying to pin the phone between her cheek and shoulder and ended up aggravating the stab wound she hadn't taken enough painkillers for. She really hoped Talia didn't hear that yelp.
Talia muttered something in Arabic that Steph didn't catch, and she was sure she was better off for it, before Talia rattled off an address, and a random string of numbers, and then hung up on her.
"Well okay then. You have a nice day too Talia." Steph slammed her phone back into its place and collected the change that clinked out. She doubted she was going to get much in the way of her Batman Inc allowance any time soon.
Getting dressed with a whole surgical ward's worth of bandages wrapped around your torso was hard. Doing it fast and well enough to not look like you had that surgical ward's worth of bandages wrapped around your torso was nigh impossible. And the shirt chafing against the bandages, chafing against his stitches really didn't help things any.
He ignored the voices at the back of his head that told him he wasn't even supposed to be moving, let alone trying to lift the duffle bag over his shoulder, because two hours was 'barely' enough time to pack up and move even under normal circumstances. He knelt down to secure the strap and held his breath when he stood, and promptly popped a stitch. He bit down on his fist to subdue keep his mouth from expressing that pain and took in a few deep breaths until he felt like he could go on as he took the cellphone out of his pocket.
The motion sensors had been going off at a steady pace since that morning, not fast, but then he wasn't exactly fast right then either. He could already hear light footsteps ascending the stairway. There was barely any time left for him to…
"You know, for a guy with a reputation for never backing down, you've sure got a knack for running away."
Jason sighed through his teeth and dropped the bag the thump it made when it hit the ground of the empty hallway seeming loud even against the storm that was raging just two feet past the doorway he'd stopped in front of. Speaking of storms.
"You shouldn't be here." He turned slowly, to watch her storming across the empty warehouse floor towards him. "If Bat's and the gang find you, you're…" He flung up his arm to block the hand she'd swung at his face, he could feel the sting even through the multiple layers of clothing and he was unspeakably glad for that.
She was dressed in a baggy hoody and sweats that were stained and one knee with the blood that had seeped through from the leg she was keeping her weight off. Stupid to climb that many stairs with stitches, but he wasn't exactly in a position to judge. There was still some bruising on her face, but the blood had been washed out of her hair, and she was glaring at him with a fire that was pissed beyond measure but she was 'alive'. He wanted to reach out for her, press his fingers against her pulse and feel it, just to be sure, but he held himself back.
"You shouldn't have left, you said you'd stay and you left me." She said, the soft treble of her voice echoing painfully in the empty, narrow hallway. Two steps, he was two steps against the door and now it might as well have been a mile in the sky for all he could reach it.
"No way I was gonna keep a dozen dead asshats a secret." He knelt down to sling the strap of his duffle over his good shoulder again; give him some thing to do even if it meant nothing, something that wasn't looking at her, asking if she was okay, if she needed a ride home, somewhere to sit for a while. "Didn't exactly have a ton of choices there."
"You 'chose' to lie to me." Her hands were shaking, balled into fists at her sides, was a all the poison out of her system, he'd given her as much of the antidote as he'd thought was safe, should he have given her a little more? "I know I'm not as good at words as you Jason, but far as I know, 'We'll talk later,' isn't a synonym for, 'Killed a bunch of people gotta run, bye.'" Her words stung, hit some part deep inside him and made it clench sharply enough to make him flinch. The forced cheerful tone she injected into her words made it even worse. "Do you 'know' how much that hurt? Trying to call you after that and you were just…" she brushed a hand over her eyes. "Gone. Why did you..."
"Because they were 'monsters'! Ya think I did that cause I 'wanted' to?" Try as he might, Jason couldn't; regret what he'd done, just thinking about it made bile rise up his throat, brought images to his mind that tinged his vision green. But for the first time, there was something warring with the green and the fire and in some ways, it was even harder to push back. Jason could just barely fight against the impulse to reach out for her, to dispel even the idea that he'd done what he had deliberately, to hurt her, because that was what he did wasn't it? What she would have been told from the very beginning. "Course ya did, cause Jason's a psychopath, he goes around 'looking' for monsters to turn inside out, cause he thinks it's 'fun' and that's why he turned into one, cause he wanted it, and he 'wants' to hurt everything he gets close to!"
"Then what 'do' you want?!" Like it was so easy, like that was all it took.
"IT DOESN'T MATTER WHAT I WANT!"
She flinched and so did Jason, his voice sounding too loud even to his own ears, magnified by the size and the emptiness of the building they were standing in, louder even than the thunder and the lighting crackling in the skies above their heads. His eyes burned and he turned away from her, damnit, the last time it had been that hard to breath he'd been in another universe, what was wrong with him?
The touch was cold, and Jason pulled back instinctively before he saw what it was, but didn't break away. She was right in front of him, her hand pressed against his cheek, cool and calloused, when had she gotten this close to him? His hand made it halfway to hers, to push it away or hold it in place, he didn't know, before she spoke and it stopped where it was.
"It matters to me." Her voice was a whisper, but somehow still louder than his scream had been. He looked down at her, so, so close. He'd been so sure he'd never be this close to her again. He couldn't smell vanilla, just antiseptic and rain but the scent still trickled in at the back of his mind. Her eyes, deep blue and wide and earnest, drawing him in and terrifying him all at once, locking him in place with an emotion he couldn't read. Or, more specifically, and emotion he'd forgotten how to read a long time ago.
"Why?" He asked, head dropping, his hand slowly, shakily coming up to cover the one she had pressed to his cheek. "I've never done…, " He tried to turn away and found he couldn't, "anything to deserve it."
"What do you want, Jason?" She repeated her question, stepping closer to him, sucking even more of the air out of is burning lungs. "The Jason who hangs around bars, and reads complains about explosions in movies, and risked getting bitten by 'wolf spiders' to look at the stars with me." She sniffed and brushed aside some liquid before it could fall from her eyes, a wobbly smile trying to carve its way onto her lips. "What does he want?"
"He wants…" He didn't know what he wanted, hadn't known for such a long time that he'd forgotten what he'd ever wanted in the first place. It was surreal, like the blurred weeks of blood and green fire that became all too vivid in his dreams. Like waking up to strands of gold almost splayed across his chest, in that pastel clinic room, almost shining in the small patch of sunlight had been. Like when he'd found himself wishing he could have stayed in that bed forever if it had meant… And then he'd run, because she was right, and that was what he did, wasn't it? He ran, and like an idiot he came back. He wanted… he didn't want to run anymore.
Jason looked up, back into her eyes, and before he could think about it, before he could come up with a reason not to, he leaned in closer, moving his good hand from hers to cup the back of her head. She let out a gasp, and he stopped, pulled back when he was less than an inch from her. He couldn't, whatever he was doing, he knew there was no way of knowing when she…
Perhaps more surreal than anything else in his life, she closed the gap her herself.
Jason stumbled back against the force of her crashing into him, her lips meeting his, cool but warm. His back hit the wall besides the door, close enough for the rain to reach them, hard enough that it send a twinge of pain through the wounds under his ribs that was a barely an echo in the back of his mind.
She was shivering still, pulled her closer wrapped his arms around her to share the almost unbearable heat he had rushing through his body. Her hand traced along his collarbone, higher to the thick scar along his neck and he pulled her closer still. He shouldn't have, he knew he shouldn't have, this wouldn't fix anything, if anything it would make it more difficult, more impossible than it already was, but everything else just felt so far away right then.
Her mouth tasted of candy, sweet and fruity, he pulled back for just a second, just long enough to smell it on her breath, and she'd closed the distance between the again. One of her hands, gripping the back of his neck, her nails scraping against the skin just hard enough to feel, the other trialing over his back, tracing along the bandages wrapped around him, then coming back around catching the hand he'd settled on her hip without even realizing it.
He wanted to go home again, whatever that was, to lace her fingers with his, hold her just like this and run his hands through her hair, damp but still so soft, the strands wrapping around his fingers when he tilted her head up to deepen the kiss. He traced the bandaged on her shoulder, bandaging covering where Black Mask had scarred her with a bullet and now Scarab with a poisoned blade.
It was dangerous, he knew it was, being there, fueling the fantasy that he could stay with her forever, like he had all the months before when he'd almost convinced himself it could have been a reality. This didn't change anything, didn't wipe away what he'd done, but then, right then with his arms wrapped around her, he wanted it to believe it could. Almost more than he'd wanted anything in either of his lives, than he'd wanted his mother to stop with the needles, than he wanted the scar on his neck to disappear.
God, he wanted it so badly it hurt, to be with her and feel he wasn't alone, he didn't need to be alone, even if it was a fantasy, even if it didn't last, it was worth it. He 'needed' it.
Her fingers dug into his back, he held her tighter, and he found he couldn't think at all.
Don't like writing the mushy stuff, takes me forever, that's this lateness' excuse.