Ok, so it's still late, but better late than never, right? I hope you all enjoy. There will only be one more chapter after this before I finish off with this verse. I may do a sequel later on down the road and the next chapter will definitely be setting up for that, but for now I hope to finish up in the next two weeks or so. In the meantime, please enjoy!
"I need for you to pull on the rope so that you can keep the leg in motion, keep that joint loose." The physical therapist said quietly, forcibly manipulating the leg in question so that the pulley lifted his left leg slowly.
Jason grimaced, both at the screeching pain in his leg and the unbearable pity on the therapist's face. He wished, not for the first time, that he could just allow the leg to heal on its own – without the aid of Bruce's well-meaning doctors. Jason had always healed rather quickly after his dip in the Lazarus pit, so that small abrasions that went untreated (which they often did) usually healed on their own within a matter of hours. Though he had never mentioned that fact to anyone, least of all his so-called family, it was still a major part of what made the Hood who he was. Something about his blood had been irreparably changed when his body had hit the toxic blue water of the pit. The effects of drugs never worked as well as they should – not even caffeine. So it happened that Jason was on his third cup of coffee, as well as some amphetamines he may or may not have snuck in, and yet still felt like he was wading through sludge. The physical therapy wasn't helping either. The shocks of pain automatically put him on guard, which meant it was even more difficult to focus on what the woman was saying, when she was saying it.
The woman sighed. "Mr. Todd, I need you to relax your left leg."
"You just told me to lift it." Jason said, unable to keep the annoyance from his tone.
"No. I told you to use your right to lift the left." She reached out to manipulate the leg again, but Jason flinched away. "Please, Mr. Todd, this part of the therapy is very important. If you do this wrong, your leg may never heal properly and you'll be forced to use that cane for the rest of your life– which would mean you will never regain full range of motion." She nodded at the wooden cane sitting next to his chair. It was ornately carved, ironically with bats and birds all over it. Bruce had made a point to leave it at his bedside, a few days after his latest attempt at escape. He hadn't said anything, nor had Jason. And he had to admit, it was probably better this way. It was one thing he had in common with his adoptive father: they were both too proud to ever admit that they needed any help.
Jason waved his hand at her, indicating that he'd heard it all before. "I know, I know, doc." He huffed out angrily, frustrated with his own inability to make his leg move. In his idiocy, Jason had allowed the muscle to weaken – which meant that the leg was stiffening up and hampering his ability to move fluidly.
"You are healing at a rate I have never seen before," She said. "That means we have to be extra careful that it doesn't heal wrong."
Jason waved her off again. He knew this, had been through it more times than she could possibly know. He knew what to do and how to do it. The only problem was that he couldn't focus on what she wanted him to do for long enough to do it. In the safety of his own mind, Jason had to admit that he had backed himself into this corner. He had been careless. More than that, he had allowed himself to be seen in his vulnerability. Over an hour into the session and already he was sweating, the drips running into his eyes and making it difficult to maintain even a semblance of attention. He tried to focus on his surroundings instead. His room, though dusty when he had first returned to it, held no small amount of comfort for him. The posters that hung on the walls took his mind back to before he'd been murdered, when excitement had been a common emotion. Back then, he'd been hopeful about the future. He'd had aspirations and big ideas, ones that were made possible by one Bruce Wayne. Not that any of it was realistic now. Any hopes or dreams from before had been shattered by the psychological bullshit that his mind and body had been forced to endure.
The doctor huffed at him, drawing him slowly back into reality. "Well, Mr. Todd, I'm afraid our time together today has ended."
Jason had to struggle not to roll his eyes at her. "Right, it's been so fun."
She tutted at him again, but didn't rise to the bait. "I'm going to leave you with a list of exercises and stretches that I want you to do every day. I'll also be checking in with your father to see about your progress."
When Jason didn't reply, or clarify the relationship, she continued - "I will be seeing you in one week from today." Without waiting for his assent, she untangled him from the pulley system and left the room.
Sitting alone with his thoughts was possibly worse than struggling through physical therapy. Ephemeral shadows crossed his vision in a consistent pattern until, eventually, he stopped flinching at the sight of them. He wasn't sure how long he sat there, but when he finally stood up it was dark outside his window. A slight knock on the door was the only preamble to the sight of Bruce Wayne stepping into his room.
"How are you doing?" He asked, worry lines evident in between his brows.
Jason sighed, there was no point in lying or stretching the truth, not with Bruce looking at him so openly. The detective would likely already know anyway. "I'm tired. My body hurts. And I'm pretty sure I'm starting to have hallucinations on the periphery," He paused. "All together, I'm peachy." Jason shined him his best, brightest grin.
The worry lines only intensified. "The therapist said you were making progress."
"That therapist is a real bitch." Jason huffed the words through gritted teeth, slowly rolling his shoulder to loosen some of the tension there. He caught the wry glance that Bruce shot his way and decidedly began staring anywhere but at his adoptive father.
"I – I need to ask you something," Bruce said simply. "I know you don't want to talk about it, but I need to know…. What was it like? Coming back…"
The pauses in between his words made it clear that Bruce was just as uncomfortable asking the question as Jason was answering it. "You're right, B. I don't want to talk about it." Jason made to get up, but a wave of dizziness quickly shut that idea down. He wound up sitting back down heavily on the chair, but his walls were up, higher than ever.
"No." Jason said definitively. "I'm not talking about anything with you. I've had enough of this family at the moment and I don't want any more stupid bonding sessions" The words rang with truth, but they were missing the usual heat behind them. Bruce took that as an opportunity.
"Listen, you don't have to respond, but you damn well better listen to me." That tone brooked no argument and whatever words had been forming on Jason's tongue died in his throat. Jason closed his mouth with an audible snap. Bruce continued, "I know you were hurting after you came back, and I know that you wanted to hurt me, hurt all of us." Now it was Bruce's turn to look away. "But I want you to know that this was your home, and it can still be that if you want it."
Jason couldn't resist snorting. "Right, mi casa es su casa? Is that the best you got, Bruce?"
Bruce stared him down and even though he wasn't a child anymore, Jason couldn't help but shrink from his gaze. "It's the best I have to offer. Think about it. Make your decision. I'm here when you need me." With that, the older man got up and left the room.
Jason stared at the door after it had closed, waiting for… something. He wasn't even sure what it was anymore. What had Bruce asked? What had it been like?
What kind of a shit question was that?
Jason scoffed, getting to his feet. He waited until the nausea stopped swirling in his gut before daring to take a step. When he did, he went straight to his bed. He had made the transition back to his old room about a week ago, yet his skin still broke out into gooseflesh whenever he looked at any of the fixtures too closely. He could almost see himself pacing here, back and forth. He could distinctly recall all the times he'd been injured, placed on bedrest, or even grounded from his nightly activities. He almost smiled at the memories. Bruce had been right about one thing; Jason had been angry. It may not have always been anger directed toward Bruce, but it was more often than not. It had been a hard adjustment, coming to the manor.
On the streets, Jason had always been used to relying on himself and never trusting other people. His father had taught him that early on, usually through drug-induced fits of mania. Living without parents at all made sure that the lesson stuck. Jason had been robbed on several occasions, been left without food or shelter because of misplaced trust. So, when he had come to the manor it had been like night and day. Jason had never truly trusted his place in the manor. It was why he had stockpiled food in his room, until the day that Alfred had finally discovered the source of the smell in his closet and forced Jason to clean it up. Bruce, on the other hand, had done exactly as he had done with the cane – he had bought Jason a minifridge to keep in his room. Jason had come home the next day to find it already plugged in and stocked with necessities.
Jason had never thanked him for that, and Bruce hadn't offered any kind of comment on it afterward.
Even now, as an adult, Jason hadn't managed to shake his old habits. He still stockpiled food and ate each meal like it was his last. He still spent money sparingly, choosing to go for the cheapest items – even if there were sales or bargains to pay more to get more. It was hard to work under the knowledge that his bank account didn't always revolve around zero, always with the short term in mind. He was still used to packing his things up quickly, if he had anything at all – he still mostly lived out of a small duffle bag. It still weirded him out when he had clothes that fit. Growing up, his mother had always bought him things that were oversized to the point of absurdity. She had always wanted to make sure that he would have clothes, even if they never really fit until two or sometimes three years later. Little had she known that she would never see him meet that final growth spurt. He had been happy with her decision when he'd been forced out on the streets though.
All of that hadn't just gone away when Bruce had adopted him.
To this day he still found himself pausing when he spent money or bought something new. He struggled not to take the cheap options. It wasn't that he felt anxiety over his choices anymore, it was just habit. And Jason knew better than anyone how difficult it could be to break a habit.
Jason sighed, shaking his head to clear the cobwebs he felt forming there. He thought back to what Bruce had asked him. What had it felt like? The question raised gooseflesh along his spine. Flashes passed before his eyes, making his heart pick up in speed. Jason groaned in frustration. And then his stomach growled.
It was going to be a long damn night.
"Bruce. I'm taking Tim and Damian to dinner." Dick said with his fists clenched at his sides. He had already asked the boys to come along, and both were ready and waiting upstairs. Now, it only fell to him to acquire their father's blessing. Bruce looked up from his seat in the cave. Their eyes met like the clashing of two beautiful seas of blue. He was already in the guise of his alter-ego, but the cowl was pulled back as though he was trying to delay its return, even here in the Knight's home base.
Bruce cleared his throat before returning his gaze to the papers before him. "That's fine."
"I just thought that since Alfred is in London for the weekend and we haven't really been out of the manor since…" Dick let out a breath, surprise playing out over his features. "Wait, that's it?"
"Would you prefer that I fight you on it?" Bruce put down one of the papers he had been studying and allowed a small smile to play out over his features.
"Well no – I mean, I just expected-"
"You three need to just… be away. I get that. Go, have fun." Bruce leaned back in his chair. "Maybe… consider inviting your brother?"
Dick was about to say that Tim was already getting ready, but then paused when he realized who Bruce was really talking about. "Uh… I don't know… Do you think he'd even agree to go?"
Bruce shrugged, almost noncommittally. "There's really only one way to find out for sure. I know he's been climbing up the walls in his old room."
Dick was about to reply in the positive, but then stopped himself, wheels turning in his mind. All of a sudden, Bruce couldn't seem to meet his gaze almost as though… "What are you planning?" Dick looked at his father suspiciously, eyes narrow and untrusting.
Bruce shrugged again, still not quite meeting his gaze. "Damian and Tim are doing well. You have all healed up and Jason is the only one that is still dealing with the fallout here."
Dick shook his head. "We're all dealing with the fallout. Tim and Damian have been avoiding Jason like the plague and I have a feeling that Jason likes it that way. You on the other hand, are definitely up to something. What are you planning?"
Bruce looked like an abashed little boy, but said nothing, only moved to pick up the papers again.
"Bruce. Dad. Let me in on this." Dick moved further into the cave. If he reached out now, he would be able to touch his father-figure.
"Just…just trust me on this. You'll understand soon enough."
Dick didn't quite trust him, but when Bruce's eyes met his again there was determination shining there. The younger man sighed and raised his hands in the air in a sign of surrender. "All right, Bruce. I'll play along for now, but when we get back, you had better be ready to explain everything."
Bruce smiled at his eldest. "Thank you," he said simply. Then he turned back to his work and Dick knew it was a dismissal.
The eldest son of Bruce Wayne walked away slowly. Scratching his head, he half turned back to see him still sitting there, but now the cowl was drawn up and this man was no longer just Bruce Wayne. Did he just thank me? Dick thought, quite perplexed at how quickly the exchange had occurred.The young man shook his head again before making his way upstairs to collect his brothers. One brotherly bonding session coming right up.
"For the record, I think this is a terrible idea." Tim said as Dick relayed the plans for their engagement this evening.
"Noted, little brother." The eldest said a bit too sweetly. "This is still happening, though."
Tim huffed in resignation but said nothing more as they walked together toward Damian's room at the end of the corridor. Both noted that they were pointedly avoiding Jason's door until it was absolutely necessary.
"Leave it to me, Tim." Dick had said after relaying the plans. Tim had to admit he didn't have much faith in this little venture. Jason could be downright feral when he was injured and Tim didn't want to be on the receiving end of that undirected fury. He would definitely be leaving the cajoling to Dick. He seemed to be slightly less likely to receive a black eye just for entering the wayward bird's room. Tim rubbed absentmindedly at the raw pain still throbbing in his jaw from the last time. To be fair, Tim had spooked him so the punch had been justified. He just hadn't expected the blow to land him straight on his ass.
Dick stopped before Damian's door and knocked quietly before entering.
Damina was there, in the middle of the room napping peacefully on the side of his Great Dane, Titus. The dog lifted its head as they entered, but the boy did not stir. Dick approached them slowly, mindful not to upset Titus. When he reached them, the dog obviously decided that the older man was not a threat, because he simply yawned and went back to sleep.
"Hey, Little D." Tim had never actually heard his eldest sound like that. The voice Dick used was almost paternal and very much like the mother hen that Jason always teased him for being. Damian stirred at the voice, nonetheless. Sleepy eyes widened when they met Dick's and the boy's very childlike features suddenly hardened. The boy sat up and rubbed his eyes briefly, seemingly frustrated that they had even closed.
"What is it, Grayson?" There was a note in the child's voice that Tim couldn't quite place, but it sounded a lot like worry. Which was strange considering the boy wasn't prone to worry at all.
Dick smiled at him. "We are going out for dinner, you hungry?"
Damian looked like he might protest, but just then his stomach growled loud enough for Tim to hear it from his place by the door. The boy quickly grabbed his stomach and squeezed, as though he could strangle the noise. "I… suppose I require sustenance."
"Yeah, but Dick hasn't told you the best part yet! Jason is coming!" Tim said with mock excitement.
Damian looked up, only just then noting his other brother's arrival. His face morphed into a pout and he pointedly looked away from Tim. "I demand that we leave Drake behind."
Dick laughed, full and hearty. "But you don't mind if Jason comes?"
Damian seemed to decide that petting Titus was of the most importance at the moment, and turned to focus on that. "Todd can come."
Tim was beyond exasperated at this point and he turned to their youngest brother in frustration. "What the hell? I have saved your life on countless occasions! He did it once!"
"Yes, but Jason took a bullet for me without any reason to expect a return on investment. You take hits for me expecting to become my best friend. Never. Going. To. Happen." Damian ended the sentence with a shit-eating grin that looked so much like Jason's that whatever comeback Tim had planned went straight down the drain.
Instead, Tim casually mentioned, "So, it's 'Jason' now, huh? What happened to 'Todd'?"
Their eldest brother chose that moment to stand and bring Damian up with him. "Enough, both of you. We'll meet downstairs in ten. I'm going to grab the wayward bird."
Tim and Damian each let out a noise of disbelief, but nodded agreement all the same and went to get ready.
This may just work, Tim thought.
When Dick entered Jason's room, the young man was fast asleep on the bed. It was going on eight o'clock and it would have seemed strange to find the young man resting this early if not for the knowledge that he had been avoiding sleep since he first came home. He was mumbling incoherently and Dick took that as an invitation to step further into the room. In the rare instances when Jason did fall asleep, Dick couldn't help but marvel at how truly young he looked. Of course, that was partly due to his age. Jason had been sixteen when he had died and now stood as an obstacle to everything that Bruce stood for at only twenty years of age. He wasn't even old enough to drink legally.
Not that a little something like the law had ever stopped him before.
He approached the bed, making as much noise as possible so to wake his brother up before he got to the bed – Jason hated feeling vulnerable, even worse if he was made to feel like a child. His tactic worked, and a few steps into the room had Jason's eyes popping open and shooting up in bed. He was breathing heavily, and Dick knew without asking that he had had a nightmare.
"Hey, Little Wing." Dick said.
Jason grunted in response, rubbing at his eyes in a way that was disturbingly similar to the way that Damian had just minutes ago. Jason wasn't wearing a shirt and sweat gleamed across his skin, despite the temperature of the house being set at 63 for his comfort. His skin broke out in gooseflesh, and Jason shivered. Dick knew it wasn't from the cold though.
"You gonna say something or just stand there and watch like a pervert?" Jason said. Dick just barely kept himself from flinching.
"Tim, Dami, and I were going to go get some food. Want to come with?"
Jason looked at him as though he'd grown a second head. He seemed to be cycling through the different ways to reject the offer, but finally settled for asking, "Why?"
"Why not?" Dick answered honestly. He sat on the edge of the bed, the farthest away from Jason as possible. It was a good plan, because Jason tensed regardless of the distance. "Look, Alfred is gone for the weekend and there's no food left in the house so we were all going to get something really unhealthy – wings, burgers chilidogs. So… what do you say?"
Jason watched his brother suspiciously. Dick had been awkward at best around Jason for what had probably been a solid two months. Now, Dick was fidgeting, rolling his shoulders and rubbing his hands together nervously. Here was a 28-year-old man, and he still had the anxious habits of a child.
"You? Eating junk food?" Jason asked incredulously. He looked to be wondering if Dick was going to grow that second head after all.
"Well, it's a special occasion." Dick rolled his eyes. So he liked to live a healthier lifestyle, what was so wrong with that?
Jason looked like he wasn't convinced as he looked Dick up and down. "What occasion?" He asked.
Dick didn't answer, just circled around the bed and reached a hand out to him. "You in, Little Wing?"
"Don't call me that." Jason said. There wasn't a hint of anger in the words, only annoyance – like one should have around his family. Jason still took the offered hand, though. He needed the help to get out of bed with his leg still healing. "If I go with you and your merry band, I want no questions."
Dick nodded, as though he'd expected that.
"I mean it, Dickie Bird. Don't go dredging up the past – there's nothing back there but wasted time and memories." Jason's eyes narrowed at the last, ensuring that Dick heard him and couldn't ignore his words.
Again, Dick nodded. He was still fidgeting, but his movements became less and less agitated. Jason reached for his cane and opted to use that to help himself up rather than allow his brother to help him the rest of the way up.
"Alright. Let's get this over with." Jason wasn't looking at Dick as he made his way to the door, but if he had he would have seen the brightest expression of triumph cross his features.
Please review! Let me know if anyone is still reading this. XD