{when death knocks}

It was the unbearable truth of the world. To receive something precious, something precious must be given. At first it was a struggle to accept, but as time sped onward, the decay set in. They were all corpses, strung up and paraded like marionettes, and the longer they laid out in the sun, rotting from the inside, it grew clearer.

Am I a coward?

Their minds were stuck on selfishness. And they were forced to see it.

Death knocks once.

Jason Todd had been smoking on a Gotham pier. His thoughts were muddled, a chase of insecurities and fear and guilt. The smoke tasted like bitter dreams, lost in a fiery memory, lost in a vacuous darkness that he could never fathom. He was taken by the thought of it, the empty chasm swallowing up a little boy, a little demon with a coy smile and eyes that were glazed with secrets, but held innocence in their depths.

Jason took a drag on his cigarette. Maybe I'm wrong, he thought, hopelessness crawling inside his chest and settling in his heart. Maybe there's a heaven, and I just didn't deserve it. He wished it. With all his goddamn heart, he wished for the stupid kid to be somewhere where there was solace. Not the dark pit Jason recalled.

He blew the smoke into the air, and it floated like a billow of aching lies. He wasn't sure how he was supposed to handle this situation. Everything felt tainted again, and he felt like he was losing himself, falling back into a rut of despair and anger and hatred, and he wanted to run away. It wasn't fair. It wasn't fair at all, because he'd been better, and now this! This ache and emptiness, a cataclysm inside his chest that made him as volatile as a supernova. It was only a matter of time before he became a black hole.

Jason Todd had not heard it approach. So when it spoke, its voice a myriad of voices, all of them familiar and vacant and phantom. Voices of the long dead, voices of the soon to be dead. When he heard it speak, his cigarette dropped from his mouth, sizzling as it hit the inky black Gotham Bay. The water swallowed it in a gulp, and spat it out dead and drowned.

He jumped to his feet, guns out, his bursting heart pounding against his ribs in an unsteady rhythm. The click of the safeties being cocked sounded like a clap of thunder. The world felt listless, and the air felt thick. Smoke fell from Jason's lips, smoke and loss.

"You are lost."

It was a child. Jason almost faltered, his eyes growing wide. It was so tiny, it would barely reach Jason's knee, and it looked skinny. Perhaps it was a street orphan. The thought made Jason want to lower his guns, but his mind screamed at him not to, and he couldn't do it because his instincts were not wrong. There was something wrong with this child. It was skinny, but it was cloaked in a tattered black shroud, which swaddled it from head to toe. Its hood was a cowl, too big and consuming the child's face in darkness and a spill of dirt caked linen.

"Back off, kid," Jason said, his voice shaking. He didn't know why. His body was shaking too. He suddenly was overwhelmed by how terrified he felt. "I'm not in the mood to play, kay?"

"I am not here to play," said the child. Its voice resonated, and the water rippled beneath the dock, black as coal and fluttering in time with the echo of voices. This isn't a kid, Jason thought, his fingers going taut around his guns. This is a monster. "I am here for you."

"Why?" Jason's eyes narrowed, and he glanced around, testing his escape routes. Either he had to jump over the child-demon, or he had to swim. Fucking fantastic.

The child cocked its shadowy head. The rags of fabric rustled, and dust fluttered from it like glitter and dirt. "Why do you think?" it asked. It rasped, and voices swam inside Jason's ears, tickling his thoughts. They called to him. He was scared. This was not right. This was an enticement. It was all wrong, and all right, and the voices were strangling him.

"I think you're not human," Jason spat, his breathing uneven. "Get back, or I'll shoot."

The creature stepped closer, its shroud dragging across the rotting boards of the pier. And Jason squeezed the trigger, the shot hitting the thing in the chest. It didn't falter, and panic built up inside Jason like vomit. He shot again. And again. And again, and again, oh god

He tried to jump into the icy black water below, but the creature was already before him. He couldn't see its face. Did it have a face?

Jason's guns fell, clattering to the wooden boards, and he felt ice beneath his skin as the creature raised its arm. The ragged mantle slid from its hand, and Jason swallowed a scream. Ivory bones clicked against each other, an almost comedic sound of a skeleton moving. And it offered its skinless fingers to him, white and pure and luring.

"Get back," Jason said weakly. The creature sighed, and it sounded like a phantom. It sounded like a ghost. Tt

"You are lost," said the skeleton. "Let me take you home."

That made him want to laugh. "Like fuck," he rasped, his voice struggling to reach his mouth.

"Please," it said. The voices swirled around Jason, and they felt warm. Oh… oh no… "Please, I can help you. But you must trust me."

"No." Jason closed his eyes, and he wondered if he had ever been this scared before. He was trapped. His limbs were unyielding. His voice was failing him. And the little thing was calling to him…

"But I can give you solace," the voices were children. Children lost, and Jason heard himself, a child who had been beaten and left for dead. "That, and more. I can give you the dead."

"What…?" He opened his eyes, and the skeleton's fingers were brushing his. They felt warm, and he felt himself smile. He wanted to cry. "I don't know what… what are you saying, I… shit, what…"

"You will be better," said the gentle skeleton. "And so shall the rest. I am fair. I am just. I will give you back what you have lost, if you give me what you have gained."

"What did I lose?" he murmured, drunk on dead voices.

"You know."

Jason did. He felt a tear slip onto his cheek, and it made him hate himself. "Damian…?" Jason felt the spell on him shatter, and he stared at the skeleton in awe. "This is a trick."

"Everything I say is true," said the monster. "I will give you this loss, if you give me part of you. Trust me."

"You're a monster," Jason gasped, shaking all over, weakened and reaching. His hand clasped around the child's, and it felt safe. "I don't believe it."

"You will," the monster swore. And it was Damian's dead voice. Jason blinked, dragged under the little creature's influence, and it pulled him. He took a step, and he took its other hand, and he took a deep breath.

"Fine," he said, little bones holding onto him, clinging desperately. "Fine, take what you want. Just give me Damian."

The shroud blew back, and Jason shouted this time, air rushing through his fingers as the fabric was flung into the air beating against the wind. There was nothing left before Jason but a lingering voice.


Jason woke up the next day, the memory of the deal still fresh in his mind.

When he wandered out of his room, he saw his friends lounging around, watching Saturday morning cartoons. His gut twisted as he recalled making the deal, and he wanted to tell them, and he took a deep breath, stepping in front of the television. The woman's big green eyes flashed with worry, and the man shot up straighter, his mouth falling open.

"Jason?" the woman asked, her voice a sweet melodic sound. It was a lullaby and a dirge. He stared at her, and his head began to pound. "What is it? What is wrong?"

"I…" Jason blinked slowly, and he pressed his hand to his head, the pounding growing worse. His breath quickened, and he shook his head furiously, hoping to clear it, but there was a buzzing, and a voice, and he felt them rising to their feet. "I… no, no, no, no…"

"Jason?" the man gasped, grabbing him by the arm as he dropped to his knees, vision blurring. "Jay, talk to us!"

The woman's hand pressed to his cheek, and he smacked it away. An instant guilt filled him as he looked up at her face, and he saw her hurt expression.

"Who…" Jason groaned, his brain beating at his skull. "You're my… my friends, but… who are you… again?"

There was always guilt. There was always pain. And there was always fear, latching onto a heart and tainting it, pushing unnatural decisions and unfathomable choices. There was no such thing as miracles. Only hard choices, and hard consequences.

Am I a coward?

Maybe, or maybe not. It was all very silly, but there was nothing clear about life. Cowardice was natural. As was denial.

Death knocks twice.

Barbara Gordon had been running. It was an exhilarating feeling, really, the feeling of her legs rushing beneath her. Like flying, and it made her so happy. It was almost easy to forget her grief. Truth be told, she'd never been close to Damian, not as Dick had been, but she had admired him as best she could. And as the dance of death went, she was filled with regret for not reaching out to him more. Guilt and shame filled her, and so she ran.

She was growing very good at running from her problems.

So good, in fact, that she almost forgot she had any.


She stopped at a park. It was dingy, but it was Gotham, and she actually vaguely remembered it from her childhood. It was different, she saw, her heart sinking a little, as it always did when nostalgia hit. The teeter-totter was gone, probably rotted away a decade before, and all the metal bars and slides and merry-go-rounds were missing. Replaced with motley plastic, safety overrunning fun. There were no monkey bars, and the links on the swing were covered with a strange, peeling green coating. Barbara stepped closer to study it, and she pulled her earphones out, soft melodies muffled by the air.

"You are running," a voice said. Barbara's head snapped to the side, and she blinked. There was a child sitting in the swing beside the one she'd been examining. She was a little startled, and she saw the child's dress, pressing her lips together worriedly. It was such a small kid, but the cloak it wore swallowed it up in dirty rags and shadows.

"Oh," Barbara said, her mind buzzing a little. The child's voice had sounded so strange, so… she couldn't think of how to properly describe it. It ricocheted inside her head, and made her dizzy. She blamed it on the music. "Oh, well… yes. I'm sorry, I didn't mean to bother you."

Barbara looked around. The park was deserted. "Where are your parents?" she asked slowly, concern bubbling up inside her. Tentatively, she sat down on the swing beside the child, and the air around her seemed to shift. Instead of tasting clear and crisp, it tasted hot and acrid, the acidic taste of an oncoming storm meeting her tongue.

The child was staring ahead. It wore a black linen cloak, which swallowed up its little body whole in the folds of musty, torn fabric. Barbara's sneakers brushed gently against the sand beneath her feet, running faint lines into the grain. Wisps of her red curls fell against her pale forehead, waving around her ears. Her ponytail bounced as she tilted her head.

"Hello?" Barbara gave the child a small, kind smile. "Are you lost? I can help you, if you want."

The child spoke, and Barbara's flesh rose to goosebumps. "I need no help," said the child, its voice a thousand, its voice just one, and Barbara felt dizzy again. The music from her earphones blared, a small, sad melody that sang round and round, caressing her skin. She felt the beat, and she felt the voice. The voices. She was scared and shocked by her sudden impulse to push this child and run like a frightened little girl.

"Okay," Barbara said softly, growing steadily uncomfortable with this child. "But can I call someone for you? I don't want you to be all alone here."

"Alone," said the child. "Like you?"

That stung. A thousand voices pierced her, and they were knives sliding in and out of her flesh. She felt herself grab the plastic grips of the chain links beside her, and for a moment her eyes widened. Then they narrowed. "Who are you?" she said, her voice going low.

"An oracle," said the child. A chill ran down Barbara's spine. "For you. I am your future. I am your past. I am your salvation, and I am your weakness."

"Stop," Barbara hissed, rage spiking through her blood, a lightning prong that lashed up and down her body, tingling her legs. She found her hand pressing itself to her abdomen, and she took a deep breath. "Shut up."

"I am lonely," said the waif, its voices lofty and filled with despair. Barbara felt sickened, and she wanted to get up but part of her was… intrigued. And scared to death. "I am sad. I am selfish. I am glad."

"Nice rhymes," Barbara said dryly. Her fingers tightened around the swing chain. "But my patience is wearing thin, so cut the cryptic crap."

The swing began to sway to and fro. Barbara felt a shudder run through her, phantom fingers drawing down her spine. The waif had not moved. Was it the wind? Or…

"I am your ignorance," sighed the waif, voices soft and breathy. "But do not fear, please."

Barbara forced herself to laugh. "I don't fear you," she said. It sounded almost haughty, and she hated herself a little for it.

"You are running," the waif said. Barbara's heartbeat was growing faster, and she bit her lip worriedly. The voices were singing inside her head, and they felt like fire and ice and raining bullets. "You must stop. I am here for you. You must stop."

"Okay," Barbara made a move to get up. "I've had enough of this."

The waif was in front of her. Its shroud was billowing, a long wisp of black fabric, and there were footprints in the sand. She stared for a moment, and she grabbed the other link of the swing's chain, and pushed her legs up, kicking the waif in the chest. Pain shot up her legs, and she gasped, feeling her feet fall back into the sand. This was no kid. It was something else entirely.

"Listen to me," said the thing. It stretched out its arms. "I am more. I can give you hope. Let me do that."

"Please," Barbara scoffed. "Tell me more."

"I can give you what you have lost," the thing said. Its voices sang, and she stared at it, her body freezing. She felt drawn to the thing. She felt the need to fight it, and the need to hug it. She trembled, her heart pounding in fear. "If you give me what you have gained."

"I…" Barbara swallowed thickly. The sand beneath her feet rustled, and thunder rumbled in the distance. She felt like child, and she bowed her head, gripping the chains of the swing with shaky fingers. "I don't understand."

"You run," said the thing, despair cracking its tone. Dead voices spilled from that crack, and Barbara jumped. "I am sorry. But you must stop. And then, I shall give you the lost, and I shall give you what had never been."

"And that is…?" she asked, her voice bitter. She didn't know what she was doing, indulging this thing. Maybe she didn't want to admit that she couldn't move.

"The dead," it said.

A thousand voices rushed around Barbara, and a thousand grains of sand fluttered into the air, spiraling around them. She gritted her teeth, her eyes squeezing shut. She didn't want to listen anymore. But… there was a dragging sensation inside her. It felt like contentment, and she was so scared, she wanted to scream.

"You're lying," Barbara said, pleaded, her heart breaking a little. "You can't give me the dead, you're lying!"

"What I say is true." The little thing offered her its hand. She jerked back, a cry of shock on her lips. The hand was naked of flesh and muscle, pure bone stretching toward her. "I will give you the lost, if you give me the gained."

"I don't…" She felt close to tears. I didn't know him well, she thought, her heart aching. I shouldn't be responsible for this. "I don't believe you."

The creature pressed its tiny, bony hand to her cheek, and she felt it brushed a tear away. She drew back, her lips pulling into a snarl, but she couldn't speak. She was scared, and she was tempted. It wants to give me Damian. I can get Damian back. How can I say no?

"Please," murmured the voices. She shook her head, biting her lip in confusion. She didn't know what to do. "To gain again, you must lose again. Let me take it. It is price enough. Please, I am fair. I do not mean to trick you. You will gain what is lost."

"What…" Barbara felt herself raise her hand, her fingertips brushing the bones of the thing. "What do you want from me?"

This time, the voices were silent. But she could hear them crying anyway, in the sands, thousands and thousands, and she watched the little thing raise a bony finger and point.

Barbara dropped her hand back to her side. Her swing swayed in the wind. "No," she said.

"You must."

"No!" she cried, tears in her eyes. She hated this. It was the cruelest choice in the world. The voices were pulling her, but she resisted. She was stronger than them. She was not going to let herself be coaxed into selling what she had only just regained. "No, no, no!"

"It is fair."

"How is this fair?" she hissed, her voice rising in height, cracking pitifully. "Why do you want them? What is in this for you?"

"Nothing," said the thing. Voices lulled Barbara, soothing her senses. She was angry. The world was being cruel to her. "I am but an oracle."

Barbara's entire body was shaking. She was crying, and she couldn't bear it. She wanted to run, but she couldn't, and she shook her head over and over and over, her mind a rush of bad memories and guilt and sadness. She took a deep breath, and she looked up at the little oracle, raising her head high.

"My legs," she said steadily, her tears drying on her cheeks. "For Damian."

"Yes." The little oracle sounded resigned and sad. Voices mourned for her, perhaps. She swallowed her insecurities. She was wary, but she was tempted. What was weaker? A life in a wheelchair, or letting a little boy stay dead out of selfishness?

She took the creature's bony hands, her lips pulling into a tight, trembling smile. "It's worth it," she told herself, her voice empty. "It's worth it."

She closed her eyes, and it took her other hand, squeezing it with its skinny, fleshless fingers, and she felt only a little reassured. She felt something scrape her cheek, and her eyes flashed open, just as the wind picked up, and the shroud was sent flying into the air, a wisp in the sky.

"Deal," breathed a thousand grains of sand. Barbara pressed her hand to her cheek, which was wet and stinging from the kiss of a skull.

"Jason, please…" Kori said, grasping his hands in hers. Jason looked up at her, and he looked down. He shook his head.

"I'm sorry," he said for the seventh time that day. "I don't know you, Kori. Can I go home now?"

"You are home," Roy insisted, leaning on the table. Jason felt uncomfortable, and he shifted in his seat. His head hurt, and he was so confused. He didn't know where he was, and he was fucking hungry, like holy shit. I wonder what Alfred is making tonight

"Uh, no," Jason said, scowling. "I'm not. Look, I don't have to stay here!"

"Jason, you lost your memory," Kori said, her pretty face desperately searching his. "You need to stay here until we can figure out how to fix it, and then you can choose whether are not you want to leave."

"Look, I've got people who are gonna be worried about me," Jason stated, looking between the redheads. They glanced at each other, and Jason was suddenly filled with dread.

They looked back at him, and their eyes were filled with pity.

Barbara woke up, and her legs throbbed. She sat up, and she tested them for a moment, bending her knees. She winced, and took a deep breath. She flung her legs over the side of her bed, and she stood. Her knees wobbled, but she could still stand.

She was confused for a moment.

Then she began to walk, and every step sent a jolt of pain up to her stomach. She stopped, and she looked in the mirror. Her bare legs looked pure white in the still dark room. She bit her lip, tears glistening in her eyes.

She could still walk.

For now.

They were all fighting, and they were all failing. That was the funny thing. They were all inadequate, if one was to be truthful. Heroes, heroes, some heroes they were. The failure was the truth. There was never satisfaction. It was never enough. Everything went to hell eventually.

Am I a coward?

No. No, no, not really, right? A lie, or a truth, or… well… nothing was for certain. Not with the inadequate.

Death knocks thrice.

Tim Drake had been reading. The library was quiet, and it reminded him of when he'd been younger. He'd always loved to read, but nowadays he didn't have much time for it. It was good to get away. From the Titans, from the Bats, from the sadness and sorrow and grief. Yeah, he wanted to get away. Was that so wrong?


Tim was troubled. In more ways than one. He was consumed by his own fervent confusion, muddled thoughts about who he was, who he had been, who he will be. He was locked in an eternal identity crisis. And he was never satisfied. He could be more. He could be better. He needed to be better, and yet… well, it was sad. He was sad. He didn't know how to act or how to think. He was inadequate, and he was the best.

He was such a joke.

"You are hiding."

Amidst his troubled thoughts and his readings, he heard this. He looked up, and he straightened. There was a very small person sitting across from him. It wore a dark shroud, which was frayed along the hem, torn and worn and faded and dusty. Its tiny shoulders barely reached the table. Its face was a darkened mass, shadowed by a tattered hood.

Tim was silent for a few moments, confused and unnerved. He went back to reading.

After a minute, the staring became unbearable. He felt as though the little person's eyes were looking through him. It was invasive, and he was irritated. He looked up, and the person had not budged. Was it a child? Tim sighed, closing his book.

"Do you want something?" he asked, trying to keep his irritation out of his tone. Wow, that was rude, he thought, wincing at his choice of words. People skills, Tim.

"Yes," said the person. Tim quirked an eyebrow. It sounded strange, too many voices emitting from one mouth. Tim was immediately on edge, and he looked around. The library seemed suddenly empty, and Tim felt a shudder run through him. "I want you."

Tim almost laughed. He smiled, and he shook his head. "Yeah, okay," he said, standing up. "I'm just going to leave, then."

When he turned, the person— child?— was there. Tim froze, and he took a deep breath. He wasn't in a fighting mood. He folded his arms across his chest, and he tilted his head. "Okay, look, I'm not in the mood to play around. Please get out of the way."

The child stood still. And then, it was speaking, its voices slithering into Tim's head, capturing him in a song of the dead. Tim felt vulnerable, and he felt scared, and he felt inadequate. Well, what else is new? It spoke, and it spoke softly with many voices fading in and out of existence.

"Play?" it asked. "That is similar to another. No, I am not here to play. I am here for you."

"Enlighten me," Tim said, frowning at the child. "What do you want with me?"

"I want you to see," said the child, voices lingering long after they dispersed. Tim felt a tug, and he realized he was walking closer to the child. He was suddenly consumed with shock and panic, but he couldn't stop. "You are hiding. Beneath skins, and beneath façades, and beneath a title that was never yours."

"What are you saying?" Tim blurted, his mind floating amongst the voices. He shook his head. It was wrong. It was all wrong… wasn't it?

"I only wish for the best," said the child. "You are not the best."

"Wow, thanks," Tim muttered. "That boosts my confidence so much."

"You are not your best," continued the voices, which pulled and begged. Tim breathed into them, and they breathed into him. He found he liked them, and that scared him. "You hide."

"I'm not hiding from anything," Tim breathed. "I'm not. Go away!"

"You are hiding," said the awful little thing. "Who are you, truly?"

"Shut up," Tim spat. He shook his head, stumbling back and gasping. "Shut up!"

"I only mean to help," said the thing. The thing in a funeral shroud, the thing of death, singing melodies of the long lost, and Tim couldn't take it. He was alone, and he was scared, and this was nothing new to him. Was it true? Was he hiding? From himself, from… from Bruce? Tim didn't know.

"Then leave me alone," Tim gasped, his back bumping into the table. "Get… get these voices out of my head!"

"You wish to help too," it said. It was beside Tim, its voices soft and sad. Tim felt for it, and he wanted to pat its head, give it comfort. That scared him too. "But to do that, you must reveal yourself. And when you do you will gain what you have lost."

"I haven't lost anything," Tim blurted.

"Lies," sang the thing. Voices blew a cacophony of notes at him, and Tim grabbed his head. Was he crazy? Was this a dream? "You have lost, and you have gained. Let me take, and let me give. I only mean to help."

"I haven't lost anything!" Tim cried. He felt bile rise in his throat, and he shuddered, dropping to his knees. He didn't know why he was acting so crazy. Maybe… maybe because it was true? He was a liar, and it hurt. He was scared, because he was awful, and that hurt to. Tim could admit that he hated himself. But only when he was alone.

"You all have lost, and you all have gained," sighed the creature. He was at its height now, and it stood before him like Death. Perhaps that was exactly what it was. "You deny it, because it hurts."

"What then?" Tim murmured, covering his face with his hands. "What did I lose?"

"The dead."

Tim looked up. He was confused. "The…" The voices warped, and laughed at him. He shivered, his body rejected everything, words and laughter and thoughts, and he wanted to scream. "Wait… Damian? Is that… is that what you're talking about?"

Thinking about Damian hurt. So Tim tried not to.

Was that hiding?

"I will give you what you lost," the thing sighed, as if it had said this a million times, and will say it a million more. "If you give me what you have gained."

"You'll give me Damian?" Tim's eyes widened. "Just like that? What do I have to give you?"

"Just a part of you. Or, all the parts." The thing's hand slithered back, and Tim was not surprised to see bones instead of flesh fingers. This was Death. "It is fair, is it not? I am fair."

"What does that mean?" Tim asked, taking its bony hand. He was not reluctant. He was not scared. He was only curious, and slightly wary. It wasn't the smart thing to do, but Tim was blinded by the need to please. Damian. Tim would never be Damian's friend. But he was still his brother… right? His hated brother.

"You will awake," said Death, taking Tim's other hand. Tim found himself smiling. The voices of the dead were almost comforting. "You will find yourself unable to do certain tasks. You will not be who you are now. Is it a deal?"

"What does that mean?" Tim repeated. He held Death's hands, and he shook, his body feeling unnaturally weak. No one saw this. Was it even truly happening? Tim couldn't tell, and that scared him. Not Death though. Death didn't scare him in the least.

"You must lose to gain," said Death. Its voices echoed in the vacant library. Tim felt sluggish, and his eyes were drooping. He felt he might collapse, and that scared him too. He squeezed Death's bony fingers. "Let me have this part of you."

"But what exactly…" Tim's voice was distant. "What are you taking?"

"Only what you can live without." If Death could smile, Tim thought it would. But it sounded genuine, and Tim believed it, because how could he not? "Is it a deal?"

"Yes," Tim croaked. "Yes. Do it."

The shroud collapsed before him, a heap of tattered robes and dust. The voices sang for a moment, and Tim was shaking so badly, he had to bite his knuckles to keep from screaming.


"Good morning, Kori," Jason said quietly. He sat on the couch, his knees pressed to his chest. She was watching him sadly. "It… it is Kori, right?"

"Kori, yes," said the alien woman, pressing her hand gently to the crown of his head. "You remembered."

"I'm getting better, I think," Jason said, his head pounding. He didn't want her to know that, though. She got worried easily. Or… at least, he thought she did. He wasn't sure. Maybe that was a different redhead. "And… um…" Jason squeezed his eyes shut, his face contorted. Oh, he knew this! "The other guy!" Jason snapped his fingers. "Rob?"

"Roy." Kori smiled fondly, though, and Jason grumbled, smacking his head.

"Oh, duh," he muttered. "I dunno why I thought Rob. Sorry."

"No, it is fine," Kori said softly, closing her lovely green eyes. They were so sad, and Jason felt awful, because… he had no idea who this girl was. "I understand. Even if you do not."

"I'm sorry," Jason mumbled into his knees. She gave him a pat on the head, and sat down beside him.

Jason was trying to remember his last name.

The pain had gotten worse. She walked with crutches now, and she didn't leave the apartment often. She was making arrangements. Making sure everything was in order for when… well, Barbara was prepared. This time, she would not despair. She would be ready for paralysis.

She didn't know what she expected. Damian was still dead. The sacrifice felt meaningless. She hadn't spoken to anyone in weeks. She didn't want anyone to know about her legs. She had gotten a wheelchair, and she practiced rolling in it every day. It was familiar, and it was torture.

What was done was done. She cried about it sometimes, but she knew crying did nothing to solve her problem. She had been half drunk on the waif's power when she had made that deal. Part of her was still hoping it wasn't a trick, that Damian would show up at her door.

She wasn't sure what she would do if that happened.

The day her legs went numb was the day she told her father.

"Dad," she said, her voice trembling as she pressed her phone to her ear. She took a deep breath. "Dad, I… I—"

"Barbara?" Jim Gordon's voice tickled her ear, a soft, comforting rasp that soothed her nerves. "Barb? What is it? What happened?"

"I can't feel my legs," she blurted. Her heart sank. Saying it made it true. She couldn't feel her legs anymore. "I can't feel my legs…"

Her father was silent.

He was at her apartment less than ten minutes later.

Tim awoke feeling awkward. His limbs were stiff, and when he stood, he was off balance. He rubbed his eyes, recalling the deal he had made.

He felt like such an idiot.

What had he been thinking?

He pulled out his laptop, his fingers fumbling at the keys. He looked at them, and he blinked, his mouth opening and closing. He had gone to type in Death mythology in a search engine, but… but he couldn't spell it. He managed to sound out Death, but he'd completely mangled the word mythology, and he sat on his bed, his eyes wide and terrified.

Searches popped up.

A frenzied panic settled inside him, and he tossed his computer to the foot of his bed, clapping his hands over his eyes. "No, no, no," he gasped.

He couldn't read a single word.

There was no acceptance, and there was no solace. It was all very empty, and it was all very sad. And it became a part of a grander design, attaching to bits and pieces and filling in the voids it had chipped at. It was so very sad, and so very silly.

Am I a coward?

Time stopped with a shudder. It sighed, and then it soldiered on.

Death is invited in.

Dick Grayson was at a grave. It was dark, and it was cold. He was bundled in a scarf and a jacket, bent on one knee before a great gray stone. The dates on the surface of the stone were too short. Dick wanted to scream when he looked at it, but he couldn't. He was too tired. He pressed his fingertips to the furrows of the carved name. It felt icy against his skin, and it stung.

Jason was in the manor. Dick had come to see if it was true about his memory, and when it ended up to be so, Dick had felt the need to stay. Jason would need help to recover all the memories he'd lost. There was some way to retrieve them, Dick knew it. They just had to sort it all out. Once they found out how this had happened, they would figure out how to fix it.

Bruce had gone out. Batman things. Dick had thought about joining him, but he'd opted to stay at the manor. It had been a while since he'd seen Damian's grave. Dick was tired. He thought about what he should say, but his voice seemed to fail him. There were no words for Damian. Only grief.

"You are sad."

Dick jolted to his feet. When he spun around, there was something shifting in the darkness. As it moved, the world went aglow with dust. The dust burst into little lights. Fireflies, Dick thought, awed as they fluttered around him, yellow and bright. They illuminated the dark figure.

It was a little kid, cloaked in dark rags, and Dick pressed a hand to Damian's grave to steady himself. His heart was beating hard, because… for a moment… well, it wasn't who he'd thought it was.

"Oh, well…" Dick felt defensive. It was too dark for anyone to be wandering here. He pressed his palm to the hard stone. I'll protect you, Damian. "Yeah?"

The little kid stepped close, and more dust sifted from its shroud. It burst into a dozen fireflies, which lit up the night around him. It felt surreal. And the lighter it got, the more eerie the child looked. I've seen this horror movie. This is the part were I get brutally murdered by a stringy haired wraith.

"You are sad," the wraith said. Its voice was off. It flickered, grainy like an old radio, and it turned. Dick heard another voice, and another, and another, and another, until he felt them all stir inside him, rocks inside his stomach. "Let me fix that."

"Nah, I'm good," Dick said, waving his hand. The fireflies grazed his cheek, landing on his shoulders, and they felt warm and comforting. He smiled at them. "Cool trick."

"I do not trick."

Its voices were setting Dick off. It sounded like too many people talking at once, and it made Dick disoriented. He couldn't think properly. "Okay," Dick said. "That's… nice?"

"Please," the wraith whispered. "I want to help."

"Help?" Dick smiled, and he laughed a little bit. It sounded forced. "With what?"

The wraith raised its arms. It was pointing, maybe. Dick couldn't tell, even with the fireflies. Dick realized it was gesturing to Damian's grave, and something inside him broke a little.

"You can't," Dick said, his voice small. "You can't help the dead."

"I can."

"No." Dick found himself scowling. "No, you can't. Please go away."

The intensity of the fireflies' glow increased, and Dick blinked at the shock of light. The wraith shook its head, and dust fell from its tattered cloak, morphing to more fireflies. The air didn't feel cold anymore. Dick looked around, and he felt as though he had dropped into a dream world. Like Wonderland.

"You are sad," said the wraith, voices drawing deep breaths. "But it is easily fixed. You can be happy. You can all be happy."

Dick groaned. "I'm really confused right now, so I'm just gonna go," he said, rubbing his face tiredly. He needed sleep.

But he was pinned in place. The wraith had him in its grasp, and bony fingers around his wristed, and he stumbled back, his body immobile. He gasped, and a thousand fireflies burst into the air, blurs of gold streaking across the night. "Let go of me," Dick said unsteadily. "I don't want to fight here."

"Please," the wraith begged. "I can give you the lost. Let me do it."

"You say all this stuff," Dick said, his voice thick. He was dizzy. The lights from the fireflies were obscuring his senses. "To me it just sounds like, blah blah blah, let me defile this nice grave for you. Let go."

"You are not like the others," said the wraith, squeezing his wrists. He was swaying, and he prayed he didn't pass out. "You are the final variable in this equation. I am only here to help."

"Others?" Dick's eyes widened, and he tugged at his arms, panic settling inside his heart and ripping it apart. "What others? What have you done?"

"You must understand." The wraith's voice was so sad, Dick almost felt sorry for it. The voices, however, he didn't feel sorry for. They made him dizzy, and they were pulling. "To gain, one must give. I will let you have your lost one. I have taken nearly enough. Let me have one more piece. And then, he is yours."

"Were you…?" Dick's tongue felt heavy. "You were the one who took Jason's memories."

"A price."

"Do you want my memories?" Dick felt angry, and he struggled against the little wraith's spindly fingers. "You can't have them!"

"No, that is not what I want," the wraith sighed, breaths dispersing into the air. "You must understand."

"I don't!"

"Then listen." The wraith bowed its head. Dick felt guilty for yelling. "I only take bits. Important bits. Pieces that will be missed. If I do that, I will create a whole person. The pieces are never gone. They have only changed. Matter morphed to suit. You must understand." The wraith sounded as if it was crying. "I do not mean to harm. I take what I must, and give it back in the form of what is lost. Is that not what all of you wanted?"

It made sense to someone whose ears were filled with cotton. Dick could only nod faintly, still confused. But the idea sounded enticing. And suddenly, Dick was acutely aware that Damian was beneath his feet.

Dick wanted to change that.

"What do you want from me?" Dick asked. He felt the fireflies begin to close in. They were drawing to the wraith as it clutched Dick's fingers, bones scratching flesh.

"Words." The wraith's voices didn't bother Dick so much anymore. Maybe it was because they had melted into a lull. "That is all I ask."

Dick looked back at the headstone. It seemed too good to be true. Maybe it was. But Dick had fallen into temptation. He looked at the wraith, and he nodded. "Okay," he said. "Okay."

He stifled a scream as all the fireflies gathered in a swarm, latching onto the wraith's bones, its hands aglow with a golden light, and beneath its hood it was luminescent, a beacon in the night. Dick almost pulled away, the hands growing so hot, it was unbearable to touch. His fingers were burning, blistered, and he screamed, but the night was quiet.

And there were a pair of tiny, fleshy hands inside his.

The light died, and Dick took a deep breath, his mind beginning to clear. Cold wind whipped at his face, and it blew dust off the tattered shroud.

Dick was half blind from the burst of yellow light. But he felt tiny fingers tighten around his.

"Grayson…?" a small voice rasped. Dick's heart might have stopped. He wasn't sure.

His vision returned in a burst of vertigo, and Dick dropped to his knees. The wraith was still hooded, its face a shadow. Please

Dick pushed back the hood, and it fell across tiny shoulders.

Sharp blue eyes blinked dazedly up at him, glistening in the darkness.

Dick felt laughter swooping in his chest, but nothing left his mouth. "Damian!" he gasped. His lips moved. The night was silent.

He found he wasn't bothered by this.

Damian made a soft noise of objection as he was yanked the arms into a hug, his face meeting Dick's chest. Dick was speaking, but he didn't know what he was saying, because he wasn't saying anything. His lips just moved soundlessly. Dick kissed Damian's head, his dark hair smelling musty.

Dick picked him up, scooping him into the air and clutching him tight. The wind howled around them, and Damian felt so like, like a toddler swaddled in a funeral shroud, and Dick squeezed him, feeling his skinny arms slither around his neck. The shroud smelled of decay, but Dick didn't want to think about it. He was too happy. He felt as though there were bubbles inside his stomach where rocks had once been, and his cheeks hurt from smiling.

"Grayson…" Damian croaked, his chin resting on Dick's shoulder. Dick could feel him shaking. "Grayson, my name…"

Dick spun around so he was facing the grave instead of Damian. He could feel Damian twisted, his body wiggling against Dick's hip to get a better look. Dick could hear his breathing, harsh and growing harsher, panic and fear settling in. Dick blew through his teeth, the only sound he knew he could make, and he breathed, "Shhhhh…." He cradled Damian's lolling head. "Shhhhh…"

"I'm dead," Damian said, his voice quivering. He pulled his head back, his arms still locked around Dick's neck, and he looked into Dick's eyes, searching wildly. He looked as though he was in pain, somewhere, and he pressed his fingers to Dick's cheek. He pulled them away, and they were wet and glistening. "I died…"

Dick shook his head furiously. He smiled, and he kissed Damian's forehead. His arms tightened around Dick's neck, as if he was afraid of what would become of him if he let go. He was breathing so hard, Dick listened to his panic-stricken gasps, his fingernails digging into his back, his eyes flashing in the darkness.

"No," Damian said, his voice wispy. "No, this wasn't supposed to happen, this…"

Dick bent to his knees, resting Damian's feet back to the dark grass. Damian clung to Dick's coat with shaky fingers to keep himself upright. Dick took a deep breath, and he rested his hands against the sides of Damian's head, forcing him to look him in the eye again. The iciness of his gaze had been stripped away, bearing only pure fear.

"I…" Damian squeezed his eyes shut, shifting unsteadily on his feet. "You… Grayson… Are you…" His eyes flashed open, darting around fast. "Is your grave here too?"

"No!" Dick gasped. He gasped alright, but that was the only sound he made. He shook his head again, and he reached over his shoulder, grasping one of Damian's hands and pulling it until it released him. Then Dick took two of his fingers, pressing them to his neck just below his jaw. He watched Damian's eyes go wide at the feeling of a pulse.

"Oh," the boy breathed. Dick brought Damian's fingers to his own neck, watching his eyes flash even wider. "Oh."

Dick smiled brightly, and he nodded eagerly. Damian looked too shocked to register it. So Dick scooped him up again, spinning around. He walked toward the manor with a lofty heart, and he could feel Damian adjusting his head to rest on Dick's should. He watched his own grave grow smaller and smaller until the darkness swallowed it.

"Damian," he repeated, feeling the need to beat his head into a wall. He felt disgusted with himself.

He was told his name was Jason Todd.

Jason had trouble remembering that.

"Todd," said the little boy. He looked nervous, his eyes flashing around the dark cave anxiously. He looked as Jason felt, utterly lost and imbalanced, teetering on the edge of terrified and disoriented.

Jason looked up at Dick, who was still holding the kid's hand. He had not let go since arriving. "We're all brothers?" Jason asked slowly. Dick smiled, and he nodded. "But he was dead?" Dick's smile fell, and he nodded again. The old butler had disappeared soon after Damian and Dick had shown up. "But now he's alive?"

Damian looked at Jason with narrowed eyes. He craned his neck up at Dick, and he scowled. Jason could see it was all a front. "Grayson, what's wrong with him?"

Dick opened his mouth, and then he shut it. He smiled weakly, and gestured at Jason. Then he tapped his temple, and he shrugged, looking sheepish and awkward. Damian looked down at his feet, which were bare beneath the tattered shroud.

"I'm…" Jason scratched his head, and he groaned, rocking back and forth. "I'm an amnesiac."

The boy looked at him blankly. For a few moments, Jason thought he would laugh in his face, but he seemed to be uncertain, and confused. He looked up at Dick again. "Is he serious?"

Dick nodded.

Damian looked at Jason, and then he turned away, his face burying into Dick's side. Jason could see him shaking. He felt bad, but confused as well. He had no idea how to handle any of this. He missed Kori and Roy, at least they explained things.

The sound of the butler returning was accompanied by the sound of paws scratching against the floor. Jason blinked as the great big bear of a dog he'd seen moping around earlier came bounding forward, tongue lolling from its mouth as it jumped, nearly taking Damian down as it licked his face. Dick had steadied the boy though, and to Jason's surprise, the sad child had laughed.

"Titus!" he gasped, twisting away from the slobbery tongue. "Titus, sit!"

The dog obeyed, but its tail was clapping against the floor faster than a heartbeat, wagging excitedly. Dick looked as though he was laughing, but it was soundless.

"Dog," Jason observed. He reached over, and patted it on the head. "We have a dog?"

"I have a dog," Damian said, his voice vacant. "You have Roy Harper."

Jason blinked, and he looked up at Dick, who appeared to only be laughing harder. "Uh, okay," he said leaning back. "Fair enough. Do I have to stay here?"

Dick nodded, and Jason puffed out his cheeks indignantly. "This sucks," Jason sighed. "I don't even know you."

Dick rolled his eyes, giving Jason a flick on the ear. "Ow!" Jason gasped, scooting away from the duo. "Ow? Okay, I don't like you. Take me back to the mama and papa Red, please, they don't hurt me."

"You are insufferable," Damian said dully. "Even without your memories."

"Excuse me!" Jason turned in his seat to the old butler. "I'm being bullied by an eight year old, shouldn't there be like, a law against this, or something?"

"He is eleven, sir," the butler said, smiling fondly at them. "And no, there is not."

"Well," Jason said, rising to his feet. "Y'all suck. I'm leaving."

"Master Jason, I must insist—"

The dog began to bark suddenly, and Jason spun around as a dark car came rolling to a stop a few yards away. Jason saw Damian lean into Dick' his body going rigid. It was only then that Jason realized the child had pulled his hood up, bowing his head low, as if he wanted to fade out of existence.

"Whoa," Jason whistled, his eyes scanning the car. It was sleek, and though his mind lacked to correct words to describe its parts, he knew it was a nice car. Do I like cars? Is this a thing? No one is any help around here. "Nice… wheels."

The cave was real quiet as Bruce— Dad? Why was no one clear about this…?— exited the car in a swooping fashion. His cape folded around him, a great monstrosity of black fabric, and Jason thought he looked like a giant penguin with pointy ears. He stopped for a moment, looking at the five of them (did the dog count?) with a glare that made Jason unnerved. This family is really weird.

"Dick," Bruce said, his voice hard. "What is going on?"

Dick opened his mouth, and then he closed it. He shook his head, and he looked desperately at Jason, and then Alfred, and then finally at Damian. He took a deep breath, and looked back up at Bruce. He shook his head again, and kept shaking it. That seemed to bother Bruce.

"What is it?" Bruce's eyes narrowed, and Jason took a step back, his eyes flashing around the room. "What's happened?" He looked down, and his eyes fell on Damian. Jason watched his lips pull into a suspicious scowl.

Jason opened his mouth to speak, but Dick threw him such a dirty look, Jason found himself at a loss for words. So he just sat back down, and began to pet the dog again. Dick pressed his lips together, and he used the hand not wrapped tightly around Damian's to begin gesticulating. Jason watched blankly, confused and tired. This was all too much to take in.

Dick was looking at Damian, and so was the butler, and Jason found himself staring at the boy too. Dick prodded Damian gently, and the boy stumbled his fingers releasing Dick's for a moment. Then, they shot out, latching onto Dick's upper arm, and he spun around, shaking his head furiously.

"No," he whispered, "no, no, no…"

"Shhhh…" Dick bent down, and he smiled. He shook his head, and gave him a thumbs up. Then he took Damian by the shoulders, and spun him gently around.

Damian stood for a moment as Dick stepped back. Bruce was staring, and Jason felt uncomfortable just watching the scene unfold.

"Father…" Damian breathed. Bruce did not react. Damian raised his hands, pushing the grimy, tattered hood away from his face.

The silence that followed was sort of unbearable. Jason had trouble digesting it. He looked between them all, and he was uncertain of everything. He had no idea what was happening.

Damian spoke again, his voice anguished. "Father, I'm sorry," he said. Jason could see him shaking. He looked a little dazed, as if he was only have there. "I… I failed, and I'm sorry, I don't… I don't know what happened, I…" He looked down, pressing his lips together. The way he stood, he looked almost in pain. "I should have—"

Bruce had bent before Damian, and muffled his desperate words into his chest. He pushed back his cowl, and for a moment, he exchanged a pleading, searching look with Dick. And Dick nodded, and smiled once again.

"My son," Bruce whispered, pulling Damian close. Jason watched the boy's little body buckle, and then collapse, relenting completely into the hug. He was shaking— maybe crying. Jason didn't know. "My son…"

Jason leaned back in his chair, his shoulders slumping. I bet if I died and came back to life, Jason thought, petting the dog's head again. Still no one would tell me what the hell is going on.

Jason found he didn't really care much anymore.

The transition into being unable to walk was easier the second time. Easier to accept, easier to handle, easier to live with. She still had trouble, though. It was difficult to admit to herself that she was unable to do many of the things it felt like she'd just learned to do again. She was sad, but she did not feel helpless. This had been her choice. No one had stolen her legs from her. She'd given them up.

When she got the call from Bruce, she had nearly dropped the phone.

"Damian is alive," Bruce said in his usually gruff voice.

"What?" Barbara blurted, wheeling away from her father. She was spending more and more time at home, lately. Her dad was a comfort to her. "When?" She paused, realizing too late she didn't sound nearly as shocked as she did relieved. "I mean, how?"

"A few days ago." Bruce sounded lighter than she had heard him in months. Softer too, as if all the weight and bristles had fell away. "We're not sure how."

Why didn't you tell me then? Barbara wanted to ask. She didn't, though. She was far too happy. "I'm on my way," she said, sticking her phone between her cheek in shoulder to gain access to both her hands. She was growing quick with her hands again, a swiftness that had dulled when access to her legs had returned. "Is he… is he okay?"

Bruce was silent as Barbara yanked her jacket from a low hanging hook. She shrugged it on, careful to keep the phone to her ear. She twisted her limp red curls into a messy knot at the back of her head, smiling reassuringly at her father as he came close, eyes questioning.

"He will be," Bruce said. He hung up then, and Barbara was left with a dull aching in her heart. Damian. So it hadn't been in vain after all. If Barbara hadn't been so proud, she would have broken weeks ago without proof that she hadn't been tricked. But Barbara had circuitry in her heart. And a wire heart did not break on false promises and broken dreams. It rebooted.

"I've got to go," she told her father, kissing the scratchy white whiskers of his cheek. "I'll explain later!"

That was a lie, and she knew he knew it.

Barbara made it to the manor twenty minutes later, her hair damp and her cheeks bright red from the whip of wind. Alfred opened the door for her, and she ignored the way his eyes had gone momentarily wide in shock. She rolled past him, too hurried to say hello, because she had to see for herself. She had to know.

She saw Dick first. He was leaning against the arch into the living from, typing away at his cell phone. She almost wanted to roll her eyes, but she was on a mission now, and so she pushed herself right past Dick, and into the room. She saw Jason next, half sprawled across a chair, eyes closed and mouth agape, soft, shallow breaths signaling his drift into dreamland. There was a book open on his chest, Jason's fingers still clasped tightly around the cover.

Bruce rose when he saw her, his face a mask, but she saw beneath it. He was startled, unnerved maybe. "Barbara," he said, his eyes flickering from her legs to her face. He gave her a long look, and she knew he was trying to form the correct words to ask.

"My legs stopped work," she admitted. She shrugged it off, as if it was the littlest thing in the world. "Where's Damian?"

Bruce looked to Jason. Barbara saw a great black beast shift from behind the chair, and Titus came trotting out, stretching his paws and his jaw hanging open in a long yawn. Behind him, a head of messy black hair poked out from the arm of the sofa. Dazed blue eyes met hers, and thick eyebrows knitted together in confusion. She saw papers littering the floor, and she saw Damian's eyes dart around warily. But all she felt was joy, then, elation and relief and contentment and amazement.

"Gordon," Damian said, his voice small. He looked at her legs, and he stared for a long time. He picked himself up, stepping on his pictures with bare little feet, and he opened his mouth. Then he closed it. He gripped the edge of the sofa, looking down as if what he had wanted to say was written on the floorboards.

Barbara wheeled herself closer to him, and she was glad when he didn't step back. He didn't flinch away from her touch when she hugged him, and he didn't fight her at all. He just sort of melted into her, like a marionette with its strings cut. She hugged him tight, not willing to let go, not ever willing to give the child up again. She hadn't known him well the first time. She wanted to make up for that now. She had to make up for that now.

"Gordon," Damian grumbled into her collarbone. "I can't breathe."

Barbara released him, but she held his arm, finding that she was scared to let go. He watched her, his hazy eyes intelligent. He seemed to read her like a book, and that bothered her for a moment, before she decided she did not care. Let him.

She felt a pair of arms around her shoulders, and she looked up sharply, frowning at Dick's face. He was watching her sadly, but smiling knowingly, and it irritated her a little. She shrugged her shoulders, nudging him to let go of her. "Dick," she said, her grasp on Damian slipping. "Let me go."

He shook his head. He hugged her tighter, and she scowled at him, squirming beneath his grasp. "I don't need a hug from you," she huffed, pushing at him. He released her, and before she could wheel away from him, he pushed his phone in her face. "Dick, what are you—" He jerked the phone, pointing at the screen. It took her a moment to realize he wanted her to read it.

You made the deal too.

Barbara looked up at Dick with wide eyes. She looked at Damian, who was watching with narrowed eyes, and then back to Dick. "You…? What did you…?"

His sad smile softened, and he pulled his phone back, his fingers gliding across the screen fast. Then he set it before her once more.


She felt her breath catch in her throat. She felt so guilty now for pushing away his hug. If anyone knew how she felt now, Dick would. "Oh," she breathed, biting her lip. "Oh..."

He shrugged. As if it was the littlest thing in the world. He began typing again, but Bruce spoke.

"Barbara, come with me," Bruce said, stepping out of the living room. "We need to talk."

She looked at Dick, her eyes wide. He shared her look, and mouthed, uh-oh!

Barbara pushed herself carefully out of the room, following Bruce in silence. She found herself glancing back to catch one last look at Damian, in case Bruce was leading her to the gallows or something. They moved until they were a fair enough distance away, and even then they kept moving. Bruce spoke in a quiet tone.

"I'm aware," Bruce said, his voice uncomfortably curt, "that a deal was struck to get Damian back."

"Dick told you?" Barbara asked, her eyes low.

"In astonishing detail," Bruce said, his voice dry. Barbara had to smile at the dark humor. She was glad to hear Bruce joke, even if it was bitter. "He told me as much as he could. Which, as you can tell, is not much."

"I had no idea he took the deal too," Barbara whispered. "If I had, maybe I wouldn't have kept it a secret for so long."

Bruce's eyes flashed down to hers. "How long has this been going on?" he demanded, halting in front of her. She looked up at him, eyes growing wider.

"A few weeks," she said, pressing her hands to her knees. "Maybe a month. I don't know. A while."

"Tell me exactly what happened."

Barbara sighed, rubbing her forehead tiredly. "It was… a child. I don't know. A waif. A little thing in rags. It caught my attention, and trapped me there. I can't explain what happened next. It was…" She took a deep breath. "Not natural. It knew me, and it used that against me. And then it gave me an offer, and I just… it's not something I could refuse."

"You could have," Bruce said.

"No," she murmured. "No, I couldn't have."

"I'm… grateful, Barbara," he said slowly. He looked at her, and she found herself smiling like a child whose favorite uncle had just kissed her for the first time in a year. "I know it must have been… a difficult decision."

She swallowed, and she laughed a little. She could say anything to that. Because it had been a difficult decision. She couldn't lie to herself, for a moment she had considered not taking the deal. And in the past weeks, she had regretted taking it. Now, though? Now she was happy she had.

"I'll live," she said, closing her eyes. "And now Damian will too."

It was a miracle, perhaps, but a pricy one.

Tim had gotten the call to come home suddenly. It was Barbara, surprisingly, and when he'd asked why, she had not specified.

"Trust me," she'd said. "You'll want to be home right now."

Truthfully, Tim didn't want to be anywhere. He was no use to his team, not without his fighting prowess, hacking abilities, and even his literacy. He was only just getting into the hang of doing basic math again. He wasn't sure if he'd ever be able to work a computer correctly, let alone hack one, and he wasn't sure what that made him anymore. Not Red Robin. Red Robin was gone. All that was left was an lanky, illiterate teenage boy whose only real knowledge now came from random facts jumbled together from history or biology, memories of studying, but no way to apply it. He was a mess of information, a plug without a circuit.

He did end up going home. He was lost in a sea of thought, his mind casting him away into a land of self-doubt and self-worth. He went home, and with a heavy heart he thought about how he'd explain to Bruce that he could no longer fight. Or do anything worth anything, really. Reading was getting a little better. He could still barely read a children's picture book, though, which frustrated him. He hadn't even tried testing his fighting abilities again, not since he'd nearly broken his leg doing a flip.

Tim came home.

To his surprise, Alfred had not been the one to answer the door.

"Jason?" Tim gasped, jerking back. The man looked at him with the most unimpressed gaze Tim had ever seen, and he leaned against the door sullenly.

"Unfortunately," Jason said. He studied Tim for a moment, and he sighed. "Another brother, right? Red-Three said to keep an eye out for you."

"Um…" Tim shifted awkwardly. "What?"

"Red." Jason rolled his eyes, and gestured with his hand. "Tiny red-head gal in a wheel-chair?"


"Yeah, that's right." Jason frowned, and he scratched his head. "Names. It's so hard when everyone I know looks exactly the same. Like, two groups. Black haired and red haired. I have yet to meet anyone different. Anyway, what's your name? You look like a Norman."

"My name…" Tim stood very still, not sure how to respond. "Jason, you know my name."

"Yeah, okay," Jason said with a scowl. "Tell me before you get stuck with Norman forever."

"Tim." He glared at Jason indignantly, seething as the man grinned and laughed. "What the hell is wrong with you?"

"Amnesia!" he shouted, throwing his arms into the air. He sounded like he was enjoying all this too much. "I know, bummer right?"

Tim didn't know if Jason was just messing with him, or if he was telling the truth. It was hard to tell. But Jason was smiling easily, looking more amiable than Tim had ever seen him.

"Can I come in?" Tim asked, growing impatient.

"Yeah, sure, whatever," Jason said, turning away and disappearing into the manor. The door creaked open and Tim pushed his way inside. He closed the door behind him, glancing around worriedly. Was Jason the reason he'd been called home?


Tim jumped, a soft cry of shock escaping his lips, and he jumped away from the doorway. Damian stood behind him, looking like the ghost he was, a little hollow thing with skin too pale and eyes too sunken.

Tim felt the need to take the defensive. But then he remembered he had no defensive. He was a big bowl of weaksauce, and even this bag of bones that looked like Damian could take him.

But he didn't.

He just stared.

And he looked down, saddened perhaps. Tim couldn't fathom it.

Cheer up, Tim wanted to shout, to throttle the child. I didn't give up everything I am for you to be sad.

"Damian," Tim said, his voice thick. He didn't know why. His throat was tight.

The boy looked up, and they stared at each other for a few moments. Moments turned to a minute, and a minute turned to more, and Tim wasn't sure why. Perhaps this was the longest they had been in the same proximity without going at each other's throats.

Damian took a deep breath, and stepped forward. Tim watched him falter, his mouth opening, and staying open, gaping uncertainly. Tim understood. He offered his hand, and he watched Damian raise his arm. His fingers were sort of dainty, clasped around Tim's. Tim smiled, and Damian's nose wrinkled.

"Tt." The boy stepped back, and he turned away, waving his hand. "Todd's behind you with a gun."

Tim spun around, his arms flailing for a moment in shock. He'd spun too fast, and he found himself sprawled across the floor of the foyer, his head pounding from hitting the wooden floor. Jason stood over him, laughing, and he dropped a book on Tim's chest.

Dick wasn't sad. He could live without his voice, and honestly, he was beginning to care less and less. It was more of pain in the ass than anything else. He had to get used to using other ways to convey his emotions. Which wasn't all that hard, he'd always had a talent for the theatrics. He used his phone mostly, and sign language whenever he could.

Jason talked about leaving, but admitted to wanting to get his memories back. Dick knew it would never happen. But he didn't want to tell him that.

Barbara came by the manor every day, one way or another adopting her old identity as Oracle. She seemed more comfortable with it now. She helped Damian enhance his knowledge on the grand world of computers, and in return he began venturing to her apartment for these lessons. It made Barbara happy, Dick could tell.

Tim was gaining back some of the things he'd lost. He could read a little bit now, but math was where he was excelling. He was already relearning algebra. Dick wondered if he'd ever be able to regain everything that he'd given up, but he doubted it.

Dick had moved into the manor. For Damian, and for Jason, and maybe for himself too. Damian had nightmares sometimes, but he never screamed. He only sat awake in his bed, staring at a wall. Dick began sitting with him after he realized why Damian had grown to look so sickly. It was when Bruce was out being Batman, so Dick couldn't blame him for not being around to take his place.

Sometimes Dick would take over as Batman for a night, just so Bruce could sit by Damian's side. That was when Damian got the most sleep.

Jason liked to talk. Dick had almost forgotten, because Jason was mostly hostile as of late, but Jason loved to hear himself speak. And he was funny. Rude, and brash, and ridiculous, but funny and smart too. We should have been friends. Jason wasn't all smiles and laughs, though, sadly. He was lost and confused about who he was, who they were, why he was there. Kori and Roy visited, and Jason expressed interest in rejoining the Outlaws.

Dick couldn't talk to Tim. Tim couldn't read his messages, or figure out his sign language, and that left Dick to gesticulate everything he wanted to say. Sometimes someone would act as a translator. Tim, Dick, and Barbara had talked about the thing that had made them make a deal. Tim believed it was Death. Barbara wasn't sure what she thought it had been, but she settled with a lost child. Dick still thought it was a ghost.

Maybe it had been Damian's ghost.

Who knew.

They kept it from him though. They never wanted him to know what they had sacrificed, because it wouldn't be fair. It would only make him guilty, and that wasn't what they wanted. They just wanted Damian to be happy.

It was an unbearable truth. And they were not selfish enough to force it upon him.

Death knocks.

No one answers.

I'm actually way too tired to edit the second half of this, so there's likely mistakes.

So... tbh I don't know a lot of the details of what's going on in the nu52 comics at this particular time, so I kind of just disregarded everything that I didn't need for the story. Yeah.

It's a weird story, but it was fun to write!