Warning for this Chapter: Non-graphic discussion of non-con and some disturbing themes
Sorry for the delay - RL is leaving me with little time or heart for writing atm - but both my ongoing fics are planned to the end and will be finished! [eventually…]
The taste of Dick's skin had become as familiar as his touch, and Jason was yet to feel the guilt he should have been experiencing… and that was just fine with him - he had plenty enough to feel crap about anyway.
They'd had sex only a handful of times since the first occasion, and had gone no further than hand jobs. Each time was fiercely intense, filled with an almost desperate lust and overwhelming emotion and, as such, there had been more than one instance when Jason had felt the need to back off and take time out. The shame of that did nothing for his libido, nor the images of Marc bleeding out on the floor that danced behind his eyes whenever things got too much. Those did wonders for making his cock limp.
Dick, being Dick, never questioned or complained about his actions, and made something that was humiliating and embarrassing seem like less of an issue. Jason didn't care who Dick had been, or what their relationship had been before, he loved him now, with such intensity it was frightening. He just wished he could give Dick the same space and understanding that he received.
But he couldn't.
The weight of Dick's own occasional freak-outs, the missing six months that Dick had spent with Steve (and didn't he wish he could have chosen a more evil sounding name for the bastard) and the horrifying times he muttered something in the Anathemas tongue during sex, were consuming him. He couldn't let it go.
It was terrifying, and the feelings of rage that bubbled up even thinking about it were so powerful he had to get out of Dick's space immediately just to avoid a potential blackout. He was becoming hyper aware of his own thoughts or things that could trigger them – if he flipped out, it would be Dick in the line of fire.
Jason's need to know about Dick's missing months, to understand what he might have suffered, was growing in him like a toxic boil that needed lancing. It was only a matter of time until the questions exploded out of him – and he needed to make sure he caused as little damage as possible when that happened.
They were five miles out from Gotham City, according to the road signs they were passing, and as they hiked along the deserted highway Jason decided tonight was the night. Soon they would be home – and other issues would take precedence.
They made camp in a deserted motel. Dick was excited by the prospect of a bed, and although the water wasn't working, it was still something of a luxury after so long sleeping rough.
Dick made a fire, while Jason hunted down the vending machine. It was blessedly untouched; although ancient Oreos and M&M's was not the ideal dinner, Jason was rather keen on the idea of a coke or three for breakfast. He had been sadly decaffeinated over the past week. He considered whether he should hunt around the motel for any money or just smash the crap out of the machine with the chrome pedal bin in the corner. After some deliberation he opted for violence, mostly because there was a certain amount of satisfaction in beating the hell out of an inanimate object and being rewarded with food.
He returned to their camp with armfuls of chocolate and chips and a few plastic splinters from his attempts to wreak havoc upon the plastic covered soda machine. He had also found a blessed supply of toiletries – soap, shampoo, toothbrushes and razors. It was like survivalist hobo Christmas.
It seemed Dick had had similar thoughts about decaffeination, and he had amassed a small pile of coffee making apparatus pilfered from empty rooms. He had apparently already tucked into his other find, and had sugar granules on his lips and in the scruff on his face.
"Have you been eating sugar, Dick?" Jason asked, dropping his offerings by the fire.
"No," Dick widened his eyes in apparent indignation and Jason swiped a finger over his lips.
Dick grinned, and Jason bopped him on the nose with one of the razors he had appropriated. Heaven knew they both needed a shave. Dick's beard grew in slow and even, but Jason's was like a mad fuzzy animal had taken residence on his face. His hair grew in fast and furious, but sadly patchy in places, and it was embarrassing and itchy. Every shave had been like a blessing in the last few months. He was planning to hang on to this razor for more than a few days though, he wasn't going to let it be confiscated by the Anathema or refugees or any one. Well, anyone but Dick. He wasn't a fan of stubble rash, after all.
Later, with stomachs full of chocolate and chips, and the fire burning brightly, Jason tried to broach the subject that had been playing on his mind.
"What do you think the Anathema wanted with you?" he asked, aiming for casual, but from the look on Dick's face he knew where it was going from the moment Jason opened his mouth. "With us," he amended, rather pointlessly.
Dick shrugged and poked at their small campfire with a stick. "I don't know what their end game for me was. Control of some sort I guess."
"Yeah, but why? They have better tech than us, they have powerful armies - why bother taking the time and effort to brainwash someone?"
"Maybe they were just testing their methods on us. For use in their next conquest."
"You think they haven't done this before?"
Yeah, Jason had thought that. They were too efficient. They brought the whole world to its knees in under a month and they hadn't even nuked anything. Just the perfectly executed and systematic destruction of leadership and the armed forces. There had to have been recon, had to have been moles in position of power for years before the invasion. There was no other way for them to have been so incredibly destructive in such a short amount of time.
"Yeah, I think they've done it before, and will do it again, once they've used us up."
"You think there's any truth in what Amir said? About them shape-shifting into the species they invade?" Dick asked.
Jason shrugged uncomfortably. "Maybe, but I would need to see evidence before I believed it."
"I guess." Dick poked the fire again, making sparks fly. He had a far away look in his eyes, like he was remembering something unpleasant.
Jason struggled to find the words he needed to ask his next question, but none of them seemed right. Did Steve do more with you than train? Was he using it as an excuse to take advantage of you? Did he- He couldn't even finish the thought without the rage boiling through him. To be honest he already knew the answer, he but he needed to hear it. Even if a small desperate part of his mind wanted to hear Dick believably deny it.
"What happened between you and Steve – the training I mean," Jason blurted, shying away from the real question at t he last minute. Dick heard it anyway.
"It really bothers you doesn't it?" he asked. "You think I slept with him, to gain favour and to escape what was happening to me?"
That hadn't been what was upsetting Jason at all, he had barely even considered it. Although he did recall Dick saying he had attempted to seduce his captors and that it had been met with indifference, but it was obviously something that had been on Dick's mind. He resolved to deal with that, right after he dealt with his original question.
"No, that's not-" Jason broke off, and gave a shaky laugh, even though he was as far away from amused as he could possibly be. Even thinking these thoughts was making him sweat. Not Dick though, strangely, he was just looking at Jason with a very Nightwing tilt of his chin, he was in control of himself and going to fight to keep it. And if he could face these difficult questions with dignity then so could Jason.
"Did he force you?"
Dick blinked at him, apparently unsurprised by the question, but still considering his answer. "Does it matter?" he asked, after a moment.
Jason felt a rush of anger run through his veins – did it matter? Did it fucking matter what Dick had suffered? But then he saw the expression on Dick's face and he realised Dick was referring to their relationship. That sent another flood of feeling churning through him, hurt-fury-bitterness-desperation, it called to the part of him that would forever be ten years old and full of self-loathing for things that weren't his fault. He struggled through it, he had too, for Dick, who should never feel the way he had.
"No," he said empathetically, after pulling himself back from the edge, "Whatever happened while you were gone, what ever he did, whatever you did. It makes no difference to what's between us."
It was upsetting to see some of the tension bleed out of Dick's shoulders at his answer – the fact that he thought that it would make a difference was hurtful, but not unreasonable considering the state of mind he was probably in. This was something Jason actually understood, and he hoped because of that, he could help ease some of the pain.
It might hurt, but like any wound, it was best to clean it out before you stuck a band-aid on it, so Jason didn't stop there, even though perhaps he should have. "It's selfish of me to pry, but I can't get it out of my mind. It won't change anything, but I really want to know. I suspected while we were in Old Gate, and its been eating away at me," he admitted finally.
"It's my business!" Dick snapped, and then he took a deep steadying breath. "But I'll tell you what you want to know." His eyes were downcast and Jason shuddered at the wrongness of that.
Dick took a rough breath and nodded. "At first."
"At first? Then he stopped?"
"Then I stopped resisting. He would use my memories and my fears to tear me apart. And then he would comfort me with something close to tenderness. I let him. Sometimes I felt safe, other times I felt pleasure or affection. And then he would hand me back to the medics and it would happen again. It was driving me crazy to be so conflicted, and I knew the only way to have a clear mind was to be free of him."
"It's not your fault," Jason ground out from between clenched teeth. Dick had been fighting against his enemy, against himself and almost insurmountable odds and yet he had won - and all Jason could offer were clichés and platitudes. But he felt pride, along with his anger. Pride and the fierce almost sickening feeling he had come to identify as love.
He thought knowing for sure would be better. It wasn't.
For Jason the idea of being manipulated and coerced into finding comfort or pleasure in your own abuse was far worse than out and out violent assault. It was the worst sort of mind fuckery and violation he could imagine. But he was not Dick, and he once again had to remind himself that they were very different people and that they probably dealt with things in their own ways.
"I know," Dick said. Startling Jason out of his turbulent thoughts. Dick gave him a look through his lashes. "I know that, its just remembering that feeling of contentment after he had sex with me is just very upsetting."
"Raped you," Jason corrected, the word burning his tongue. "Consent in the circumstances you were in, is no consent at all."
"I guess not." Dick went back to staring at the fire, he looked calm, but his knuckles were white where he still clutched his stick.
And there was the guilt Jason had been missing, crashing down on him like a ton of bricks. Could there relationship ever be considered fully consenting? Even if Dick regained his memories tomorrow, they still would have had sex without them.
He startled when Dick's fingers brushed his face gently. "It's nothing like this, Jason, nothing like us."
Jason nodded but he wasn't so sure.
What he did know, was that Steve was on borrowed time. Whatever happened in Gotham, as soon as it was done, he was going after the fucker.
They sat lost in their own thoughts for a while. Jason listened to the crackling of the fire and remembered other flames, and the vague feel of burning. In some strange way, he felt that had been cleaner, simpler than his other pains and torments.
"What about you?" Dick asked, finally breaking the silence.
"What about me?" Jason asked warily. There was no way he was talking about the shit that went on in his past, no matter how hypocritical that was.
"What did the Anathema want with you? They were pretty interested if I recall."
Jason was ridiculously relieved Dick hadn't been asking about his fucked up childhood experiences, and was also very aware that he never would have done so in the first place, and he was projecting wildly in his discomfort.
Jason shook himself free of his anxieties and pondered the actual question. "They were rifling through everybody's lives looking for something. Or more than one thing perhaps."
"And you had it? You knew what it was?"
"Yeah, I guess I did. Although it took me a long-ass time to realise that." And now they knew all he knew. He had a sudden spike of fear –Talia and Ra's were probably holed up somewhere, safe and waiting, but they weren't the only ones who knew the location of the pits. Damian knew, Damian had grown up with the knowledge of them.
And Jason's memories had told them that. Told them that Damian had survived. Told them the location of the Batcave.
His throat was suddenly dry. They were heading to Gotham to meet up with the Bat-Brats, but what if Steve or Frosty got there first? The prospect of Damian being taken by them was unthinkable. He was surprised at his feelings of helpless fury - heaven knew he and the demon spawn had never seen eye to eye, but still his blood churned with anger and guilt. Even though it had not been his fault exactly, he would still be in someway responsible. He would never forgive himself. How had he not realised this sooner?
"Jason?" Dick's voice drew him back to the present.
"What?" he croaked, he had probably missed half the conversation.
"What was it? The thing they were looking for?"
"The what now?" Dick was giving him his cute scrunchy nosed confused look, and Jason concentrated on that rather than the fear shooting through his veins.
"It's a pit of magical water that can heal or even resurrect the dead. Kind of."
Dick looked sceptical. "Sounds like bullshit."
"Oh believe me its real. And it works, although there is always a price to pay when you fuck with the laws of nature."
"A magic zombie bath that brings people back from the dead? Sounds like fucking with nature to me. " He looked pensive for a moment "Although if its not man made, then I guess it is nature."
"Don't know, don't care. I have no idea why they exist, just that they do. And taking a dip in one is not recommended despite their magical healing properties."
Jason noticed that Dick was looking at him intently, his stick, forgotten, was now merrily burning away in his hand. "You sure know a lot about their bad effects, Jay-bird."
Jason shrugged, blinking away images of pain and terror.
Dick was relentless though. "You said you had a near death experience in which you had been a bit more dead than you had initially let on. Were you revived with the magic water?"
Jason shuddered. "I was definitely dead, and I am not completely sure how I was resurrected but I don't remember much from that time. I was in something of a fugue state I think, my mind and memory gone. I was found by-" he struggled for a moment to find the right words to describe Talia, to describe what she was to him, to them as a family. It was surprisingly difficult to sort through his feelings and put her in an appropriate category. "-found by a woman who had known Batman. She took me in for her own reasons, and eventually used the pit to restore me. It was not an easy process."
"It restored your memory?" Dick asked intently, his voice quiet, and Jason could have kicked himself. He was ashamed of the cold feeling of fear that settled in his stomach.
"Yeah," he forced himself to say, "but it fucked me up too. It felt like someone had poured acid in my brain for months. Years even. I look back at myself and it frightens me."
"You did bad things because of it?"
Jason considered for a moment. He had been stripped of control for a while, his nerves raw and reactive. He had done 'bad things' because of it, but he had chosen to do many more, and he sure as shit didn't regret most of the deaths on his conscience. He had to wonder if that was the pit, or if he had always been that way. He had spent a while, in the early days after Talia, feeling that he must be a psycho, with the weird fiery joy he got from some of those early kills. But the whole time he had felt like his brain was on fire. Everything hurt, every emotion, every reminder of the past was like molten mercury in his veins – toxic and burning. Things had settled and he realised he had never lost his sense of compassion, just pushed it down, ignored it to protect himself.
"I did," He admitted at last, because the reality of the situation was too huge for him to verbalise.
And, if he was honest, because he was terrified of Dick regaining his memories. If he could keep them gone forever he would, no matter how much that damned him. That knowledge upset him in ways he couldn't explain. "Lets go to bed," He croaked, his voice sounded weak to his own ears, like a man unsure of his own footing.
Dick got gracefully to his feet, put out the fire and scooped up as much of their new supplies as he could hold before disappearing into the room he had chosen for them. Jason picked up his own bunch of stuff and followed.
It was dark without electricity or the fire, but once his eyes adjusted Jason could see Dick had shaken the dust off one of the beds and made it a nest of blankets. He locked the latch behind him – it didn't seem like enough, so he rammed the desk and a chair against the closed door for a little extra protection. Then he crawled under the covers. It was almost too hot with the warmth of Dick's body and the fluffed up blankets – but it felt good, almost safe.
Dick seemed to have once again sensed his needs, and instead of his usual heated kisses, he just lightly folded his arm over Jason's chest and laid his head on his shoulder. Jason was reluctant to call it snuggling, but that was more or less what it was. He didn't complain.
But still, Jason couldn't sleep. All he could think was – would they be too late? He had been so caught up with the struggle to get back to Gotham, he had failed to worry about what they would find when they got there. He had given Frosty a fucking map to his family, and the thought burnt and tormented him even in dreams.
He woke after only a scant few hours of sleep, his mind already working and twisting. Would they be in time, or would the Anathema be waiting? What would they do if they were too late - try to save the boys, or find the resistance and join? It was a choice he didn't want to have to make. His only hope was Frosty's apparent reluctance to let other Anathema take credit for her find. Maybe she would need to use another Anathema's activities to reach her own ends, like with Cold Eye's mission to recapture them. Maybe they still had time.
Jason was wide-awake when the sun came up, still staring at the grubby white ceiling. And even with Dick's comfortable weight against him the new dawn brought him no comfort, just a cold shiver of fear.