Author's Note: Okay, as promised, here's my latest project: a limited-sized AU that starts off somewhere roughly where The Red Hood: Lost Days #1 does, but then things go different. Basically the idea is that Ra's is somewhere else at the time when Talia jump-starts Jason's brain by tossing him into the Lazarus pit, so our boy is able to hang around a little while longer. Age-wise, because age is always a fluid thing among comic book characters, I'm going to say that Jason was 15 when he died, so he's roughly 18 and a half now, 19 for the rest of the story. We'll talk about other character ages later when I get to them. As always, enjoy and please review!

The Changeling

By: Silver Spider

The first thing Jason felt that was unimpeded by a mental fog was a burning sensation in his lungs. His mind was awake, almost hyper-aware. Every nerve felt like it was on fire. There was the sound of someone screaming, but it couldn't have been him. Not him. You need air to scream, and he had none.

He was drowning.

Think, a voice in his head demanded. Calm down and think. You're not trapped. You're not entombed. It's just fluid, just the sensation of pain, and pain is only the screaming of nerves. You're not going to die because your nerves are screaming. You can do this. You can get out.

Wading forward through the liquid, Jason moved until both his hands and feet hit a sloped surface. Then he was on all fours, not trusting his legs to hold his weight quite yet, and coughing, expelling all the strange liquid he could from his body. The act alone drained what little strength he had, and Jason dropped onto his his back on the shallow end of the pool closing his eyes for a moment.

There were voices coming towards him. Mostly male speaking a language he didn't couldn't quite make out. What he clearly heard was a swish of drawn blades and at least one click of a gun being cocked. He stilled, gathering the last reserves of his energy, but found that he had none left to run. Most of the footsteps halted, but the lightest pair continued on towards him until the sound of footsteps stopped and the person knelt by his side. A cool wet cloth was placed on his forehead, and he managed to open his eyes enough to see the bleary image of a woman's face bent over him.

"Hush, child. You are safe. There is nothing to fear."

No matter how soothing her accented voice was, Jason couldn't help but feel afraid. He was often afraid, he realized with a pang of disgust, but didn't have a chance to dwell on hit. Her soft hand was placed over his eyes, and he obediently closed them.

He's already 'lived' through every hell. What was the worst that could happen?

When next Jason woke he was in a bed. He was clean and dry and comfortable and, most surprising of all, not in any pain. Blinking several times he stared up at the ceiling of an unknown room, and when he turned his head slightly to look out the open window, the view outside was unfamiliar as well. He wasn't in Wayne Manor. For that mater, he wasn't even at all sure he was still in the United States. Probably not, if the language those men had been speaking was any indication.

The door to the room opened before he could throw off the covers and hide or prepare himself for an attack, but it was only a man, most likely a servant, dressed in middle-eastern garb and caring a tray with some strips of cloth and a basin and pitcher of water. When he saw that Jason was awake and sitting up in bed, the servant bowed politely and said something in the language the young man finally identified as an Arabic dialect before placing the tray on the table next to the door and departing. Jason had no idea what that was about, but he made his way to the basin and splashed some water on his face. When he looked up, the sight in the mirror shocked him to the core.

The face that looked back at him was both recognizable but at the same time completely foreign. He'd aged, but Jason couldn't begin to guess how much. It could have been a year or it might have been ten. He remembered pieces and flashes; digging out of the coffin, the institution, the streets. Any one of those things could have done so much damage as to make his age impossible to guess. Malnourishment, as he knew from childhood, made one look younger, while other things could have aged him. Was that really white in his hair?

The second time the door opened, he tensed, but it was only a woman who entered. The same woman who had been there at the edge of the pool and a woman who he suddenly recognized with an instant mixture of relief and apprehension.

"Talia?" His hand went flying to his throat at the rough sound it made.

She inclined her head. "Jason. It is so very good to hear your voice after all this time. How do you feel?"

"My..." He tried to speak again but the sound coming out of his mouth was so very wrong.

"You have not uttered a word in over three years," she said sympathetically, "but now life has truly been restored to you. Your vocal cords will readjust, but you don't have to speak now."

He was stunned. Three years. Is that how long it had been since the Joker... the memory of the events in the warehouse came crashing down on him, and suddenly Jason found himself clutching the table for support and fighting off the urge to throw up. Talia touched his shoulder and gently guided him back towards the bed until he was lying down again.

"Rest a little while longer," she advised smoothing covers over him. "My father is away, so everything else can wait."

Father? Oh, right: Ra's. But it brought on a different memory. He bolted up and grabbed her hand before she had a chance to move away.


She froze for a moment, then the calm demeanor returned. Talia turned back to him from the doorway with a slight smile.

"Rest, Jason. All will be well."

He wanted to believe her, but there was a sinking sensation in the pit of his stomach that told him it would never be that easy. After all, the last person who'd said something like that was his own mother, and she'd... he didn't want to think about that now. If sleep would keep him from thinking, then he'd sleep until he no longer could.

There was a large antique-looking analog clock on the wall read fifteen minutes past six, but Jason had no idea if it was morning or evening. He didn't even know if it was the same day or if he'd slept over twenty-four hours. His perception of time was off. The water in the basin had been changed while he slept, and Jason washed his face and opened the door, taking a peak into the long hallway. The mansion was beautifully decorated with an obvious middle-eastern motifs. The building might have emulated an old style, but his well-trained eyes caught sight of cameras in every corner of the hallway. He wouldn't have been surprised if the room was bugged as well.

Talia was coming up the staircase at the far end of the hallway just as he fully stepped out. There was an dark-skinned man at her side who regarded Jason a little suspiciously but otherwise kept his expression neutral. Talia herself looked up when she saw him.

"Good evening." She smiled. Ah, so it was six fifteen at night, after all. "I was just about to have some dinner brought up to you, but you can eat downstairs with me if you like. I know you must be bored up here."

She was trying to be nice, Jason realized, but trying so hard that he didn't believe a word of it. Ra's might have been the most... noble of Batman's opponents if such a word could be used for anyone in their Rouge's Gallery, but neither he nor his daughter ever did anything without reason. If Talia al Ghul was being kind to him, he had no doubt there was an ulterior motive behind it. Jason looked her straight in the eyes.

"Does Bruce know where I am?" He asked point blank.

Beside her, Talia's companion raised a brow and gave her a look, but she ignored him. "He doesn't. Forgive me, Jason. I have been occupied elsewhere and have not yet had a chance to contact him. I will, though, don't worry. Now come and eat."

He had no appetite but followed anyway if only to get a better look at the mansion and see if he could get any insight on his captor. Jason had some hope that it wasn't the case, that she really had forgotten to call Bruce, but even as he thought it, he recognized it as naive wishful thinking.

Every day he saw her thereafter, Jason asked the same question:

"When is Bruce coming? Does he know I'm here?"

And every time he got one of a string of excuses: she'd forgotten or she was preoccupied making sure her father didn't know what she'd done in bringing him back or she was simply busy with other matters.

It didn't take Jason long to have his initial thought affirmed: he was a prisoner. Not a hostage, because he had absolutely no doubt that if Bruce even knew he was alive, he would have been back at home in Gotham by now. He had no idea what Talia wanted, why she was keeping him there with apparently no purpose. Jason didn't care what she wanted though, and he didn't need to know her plans to know what he wanted.

One day, less than six months after his return to awareness, he tried to escape.

He didn't even make it half a mile away from the mansion before he was taken down by Talia's men. It took six fully armed assassins to bring him back, which might have been a point of pride for Jason at one point, but now the whole experience made him angry and exhausted. They hadn't harmed him beyond the few bruises he'd given himself while trying to get away, and he'd been returned to his room until there was nothing else he could do but try to sleep.

Talia said nothing about it the next morning. The questions and excuses had become somewhat of a breakfast routine with them. Jason, however, was not about to play along with her anymore.

"Why won't you tell my dad where I am? That I'm even alive."

He didn't know why he'd said it like that, only that amid what little memories he had of just after emerging back into the world was one about telling a medic that the man he kept asking for was his father. He hadn't thought twice about it then or now. Talia slowly put the cup of tea she'd been holding and pressed her lips into a thin line.

"My father..."

"I don't care about your father! I care about mine!" Jason's fist connected rather painfully with the solid wood table. "Why don't you tell him? Why are you just... keeping me here? Why!"

She was quiet for a full minute before she finally spoke. "After your... your murder, Bruce was in a terrible place. For a log time I was not at all certain it would not end badly for him..."

He wasn't even phased by the revelation that Talia had them watched, but the idea that there was something really wrong with Bruce made his heart stop. "But he's okay, right?"

The corner of her mouth turned slightly. "As well as can be expected, but there are... situations in Gotham. I don't wish to cause him more distress."

"But if I could just talk to him..."

He'd been pushing it to the deepest pit of his stomach but now that it had floated up to the surface, Jason couldn't stop thinking about it. He'd been in Gotham for two years and through some horrible twist of fate had never crossed paths with Batman in all that time. Now that he was finally awake and aware, he was half-way around the world in a house filled with enemy people and Bruce didn't even know to look for him. And all he wanted to do was go home.

"You're not going to let me go back, are you?" His voice was completely devoid of emotion.

Talia didn't say anything. She didn't have to. She just took another sip of her tea.

Things changed in a different way from then on. Jason grew more and more distant, cold and emotionless. He ate little and rarely, growing weaker and paler by the day. He could almost feel himself slipping back into that autistic-like state and sometimes he wished he could. The world didn't hurt so much back then.

He allowed himself only brief moments to feel just as he closed his eyes in the night. He thought of the life he'd left behind, of all the adventures he'd had, both with Batman and briefly with the Teen Titans. He thought of Alfred and his tea cakes which were better than every exotic food he'd been served in this prison. He thought of Dick, the closest thing he'd ever had to a brother, even if they rarely got along. But before oblivion took him every night, his very last thoughts were always of Bruce.

After his escape attempt, Talia had ceased pretending that he would be going home any day now, and he had ceased talking to her. Jason probably wouldn't have left the room that had become his prison cell, but the bathroom was on the opposite end of the hallway. A habit instilled into him by both Bruce and the streets of Gotham, Jason rose early and trotted out, still only half awake and not at all certain he wanted to be even that. Sounds from downstairs reached him when he was about halfway to the bathroom, and he looked over the railing in time to see a small party of newly arrived people being led away from the doorway.

His eyes were still bleary from sleep, but Jason could have sworn one of them was a child.