Jason’s feet rested on the wooden bench lazily, crossed at the ankle. Clasped in his left hand was a copy of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby; the book old, visible from the slightly discoloured pages and well worn front cover. The boy flicked the glowing end of his cigarette, making sure the fine scattering of ash didn’t land on his precious book. Taking a long drag, Jason exhaled, watching the curling tendrils of smoke disperse in the light breeze of Gotham Academy’s Campus. Two boys hollered at him with a wave, and the boy cockily saluted back, the white death stick between his fingers.
Concentration once more drawn back to the page, Jason’s eyes came to rest on one of his favourite lines; a slight indent underneath the words where he had crudely underlined it with his nail. “You see I usually find myself among strangers because I drift here and there trying to forget the sad things that happened to me.” He smiled to himself at the words, ink smudged due to the number of times that the boy had run the pad of his index finger over them; it was as if he were trying to absorb the letters, the grease over time working away at the words.
Each blow of the crowbar hurt. It hurt so much. The splintering noise of metal connecting with bone was nothing, nothing to the pain. God, it hurt.
He was running, running somewhere but he didn’t know where; all he knew was that he couldn’t be caught, couldn’t stop. Out of the shop, down the smog filled street the boy ran as if it was the difference between life and death. And here, it was. The neon sign for the gambling bar glowed overhead like a beacon in the night. Small hands tightly clasped around a baguette, still slightly warm, Jason sped around a corner down a dark alley way. It was tight, narrow with buildings either side that seemed to touch the stars, the path only illuminated at the end by a single, flickering light.
The footsteps and shouts were getting louder. Jason ran faster, faster, towards the fork in the alley. The pitted ground was covered in a dusting of snow over ice; it was thick on the sills of the cracked warehouse windows, banked like a pillow forts on the myriad of dustbins. The sole of his shoe had a gaping hole in, and his sock was filled with freezing melted water. It was so hard for the boy to escape at speed, when underfoot the snow parted leaving ice for him to slip and slide on with all the grace of a newly born foal.
Just as he neared the cracked building at the end, the one he resided in on frosted nights like this, he was yanked back by the hood of his jumper.
Fists rained down on him from every direction. Jason - young, small Jason who was cocky and street smart and utterly, utterly terrified - let out a pained cry, the fresh baguette that he had just stolen kicked far across the greying snow.
Bloody and bruised, the young boy lay still, cold seeping deep into his bones, tears frozen tracks down his ruddy cheeks. He looked at the frosted moon and twinkling stars and wished, wished more than anything for a warm bed.
The Joker was talking, his voice quiet in a disturbing way, his laugh maniacal, rebounding off the four walls. Jason didn’t listen to what he said, not until the crowbar made contact with his broken body once more. It hurt so much, but Bruce would be here soon, and it’d all be over.
Jason raised a burnished beer bottle up towards the sparkling fireworks that expanded across the sky like blooming flowers. The rich crimson and neon blue highlighted the features of each teenager scattered around him, eyes and mouths open in childish wonder. Turning away, the boy scuffed his toe on the ground, looking out across the perfectly still lake, reflecting the brightness back like a mirror. Jason did not belong here, no. These teenagers language was built on exotic countries and expensive clothes, where he could only express gratitude for the warm bed he had at night.
The boy didn’t fit in here, but that didn’t mean that he wasn’t going to enjoy the free alcohol. The sharp fizz of the beer coupled with the light cries of happiness, bangs of fireworks was something he’d never had have in the smog and corrupted heaviness of Crime Alley. Lighting a cigarette, a beacon in the dark, Jason silently thanked who ever was up there for letting Bruce find him, for becoming Robin.
“Happy Fourth of July, Jason,” a pretty girl shyly said when passing him, pulling him out of his stupor.
He winked at her, watching the apple of her cheeks flush. “You too, Michaelson.”
There was no fibre in his being which wasn’t screaming in pain. Everything was on fire, every part of him was burning. He felt the warmth run down his face as the crowbar met his nose, spilling down his throat. Robin did not do anything, Jason was focussing too much on not screaming, not giving that fucker the satisfaction.
Throwing his school bag down on the granite breakfast bar, Jason was met by Bruce who looked like he was heading up to hide in his study. Instead, the imposing man turned around, sending the boy a sincere smile. It wasn’t one that he wore at Wayne enterprises, the award winning one, nor the Charity Gala Grin. His face lit up genuinely, which made the boy’s heart twinge in a way that he didn’t really want to name.
“How’s school been, Jaylad?” Bruce’s baritone rang out around the kitchen as he ran his hand through his dark hair - which was so much like Jason’s - putting whatever he was going to read down with finality, suggesting that to him, the boy was far more important.
Scowling at the affectionate name, though secretly his heart had stuttered, he replied back with an easy, lazy lilt. “It was alright, the usual. English Lit was good. Same as ever, old man.”
Bruce’s eyes held a softness that was very rarely glimpsed, the boy watching as the imposing man lifted the papers from where he and set them down, pulling out what looked like a book and holding it out to Jason. “Here,” he said simply, “I saw it and thought of you.”
This wasn’t any old book at a closer glimpse, and the boy grasped it reverently between his fingers. It was a beautiful copy of War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, printed on thick, cream paper. “T-thank you, Bruce.”
Jason felt his hair ruffled by Bruce’s large palm. “I’m glad you like it, son.”
I’m sorry Bruce, Robin thought, tears spilling down his cheeks at the raw, unbridled pain. Jason couldn’t help but think of an apology every second. I’m sorry for failing you was all that he wanted to say, but instead the boy spat a red globule of his blood, the last amount of energy utilised in an act of defiance, on the Joker’s polishes brogues.
The morning was thick with heat already, despite it being only six. Shoving his earphones in, Jason broke into a jog. The grounds of Wayne Manor were perfect for running; they were vast, stretching out far beyond what he believed anything ever could. Haze settled, shimmering in the dry warmth. Sweat trickled down the nape of the boy’s neck and forehead as he pushed himself harder, faster. Robin required peak fitness, and not even a hot day in August could stop him. This was Jason’s duty, Robin’s duty to the civilians of Gotham.
Passing through the winding paths of the walled garden, Jason inhaled the fresh citrusy smell of the ripe lemons, hanging in their sunshine glory; it was his favourite smell in the world, especially on a hot day when the aroma intensified, one that he’d never known before this life with Bruce. Further on, he hit the last stretch of grass. The sun speckled through the trees, highlighting the dewdrops sitting on crocheted gossamer like diamonds. Jason pushed himself one last time, collapsing in the grass in front of the towering Manor House.
“Happy birthday, Master Jason. I trust you enjoyed your run?” Alfred was tending to the roses, and the old man stood up slowly when he saw the boy. Jason walked towards him, arms above his head in a bid to get air back into his lungs.
He was not used to his birthday being remembered. In Crime Alley, there had been nothing, no one to witness the day. So when Alfred pressed a small cake into his hands, shock filled every inch of the boy. “Lemon drizzle,” said the British man, “your favourite, if I am not mistaken.”
Jason did the only thing he could in that moment. Throwing his arms around the butler, he could feel his eyes blurring. “Thank you,” the boy murmured quietly, “Thank you for remembering.”
He was exhausted. Nothing wasn’t numb; everything was heavy, broken beyond repair. He knew deep down that there was no way of coming out of this. And then he saw the timer. Jason was just so tired. Slowly, the numbers blended into one, his eyes closing. As the explosion radiated out in a wave of intense heat, Jason fell asleep.
The day of the funeral was somber. The rain was warm, uncomfortably warm, falling in sheets. There was only four present; Dick, Bruce, Alfred and the priest. No one spoke; it was silent apart from the light thud of the raindrops and the soft voice of the service.
It felt wrong, utterly wrong to see Jason’s name engraved in silver on the same type of stone of the breakfast bar, that quote from the Great Gatsby that he liked so much. The coffin was black, patent black with silver accents. Jason would have joked about goth aesthetic, or something as equally dark in humour.
But he couldn’t, now. Not this time.
The service was short, just like the boy’s Life. When it finished, each grieving man placed a white rose on the freshly dug ground. White, as pure as Jason’s soul.
To think that buried under there was their friend, their brother, their son, was not bearable to think about. They had failed him, failed the most innocent and loyal person that had ever walked the earth. There was so much that Jason never saw, so much of life that he had missed. He should have had many, many years in front of him.
But it was too late.
Blessed be the child who only glimpses the stars.