Bright And Bitter and Clean (A Jason Todd Story)

NOTES: So I was talking with @HubCityQuestion about Jason Todd’s resurrection and Lazarus Pit lore in the DCU in a PM a little while ago, and a couple of the things he pointed out/suggested got me thinking about Lost Days again. I always really liked that miniseries, and there’s a lot of very good moments in Lost Days #1, but they’re also dependent on a resurrection explanation that is, frankly, terrible. I spent a few days chewing over how to reconcile them (particularly given HCQ’s excellent suggestion that DC could preserve Jason’s “digging his way out of a coffin” scene by having Jason + the coffin be placed wholesale into the Lazarus Pit, as well as all of how Arrow handles Lazarus Pits), and this is what came out. Enjoy!

Content notes: this entire story is hinged upon rehabilitation after trauma + severe brain injuries, so please be advised that there’s going to be a lot of hospital stuff, etc.

(Comments appreciated)


BRIGHT AND BITTER AND CLEAN

The first thing he feels when he can feel again is burning.

His skin is on fire, and he doesn’t know why.

No. He doesn’t know why it’s different. He was just here, choking on blood, skin raw and blistered, vision dark, ears ringing. Before he…

Before he what? Blacked out? No, that’s wrong.

He doesn’t understand it. He doesn’t understand this. He’d been sure he died. Hadn’t he? His mind fills itself with the sound of laughter, with broken visions of agony and laughter and the Joker and Batman, and the more he tries to focus on it, the more it slips away into a blur of pain and steel.

But he knows something is different. Something has changed. He doesn’t know how he knows, but he does, and when he gasps air into somehow functioning lungs, he nearly chokes on the smell. Death. Decay. Rot.

He realizes with sudden terror that wherever he is, he’s trapped. Trapped in a prison of silk and wood, rapidly filling with a strange, burning liquid.

Coffin.

He’s drowning. He’s drowning. He’s going to drown. So why is it that instead of choking, when he inhales the acid, when fire fills his lungs and courses through his veins, he doesn’t die? How is it that his broken body feels stronger even as the pain overwhelms him, that the bones of his hand knit back together as he shatters them again and again against the lid of the coffin?

What is happening to him?

The wood finally splinters under his fingers, and the lid breaks open, turning him out into a pool of water tinted a bright, poisonous green. He hears strange sounds, voices, distorted beyond understanding through the depths.

He breaks the surface with a gasp, and the sound of screaming echoes back to him as though from a distance.

There’s noise around him. Voices. But he can’t understand it. He can’t understand any of this.

He needs to get out. He needs to – he needs to escape. But there are people around him, hands clawing at his arms.

No. No. No. He won’t let this happen. He won’t let them grab him, bring him back to the Joker. He won’t let it happen again! He lashes out blindly, and is rewarded when he feels soft flesh give way under his fingers. He lashes out again and again, with fists and nails somehow intact. All he can see is blood. All he can taste is blood. All he can feel is rage. At what has been done to him, at what they’re trying to do to him. At everything and anything, beyond words, beyond thoughts. So he hits them, and hits them, and hits them, clawing and choking and smashing, until a pair of arms seizes him from behind and pulls him away.

No! No no no no no! He struggles, jerking his head back, trying to escape from the hold, escape before they can hurt him again. But he can’t remember how, and nothing is working right, and he howls in desperation.

He hears sounds on his ears, like the voices from before, but this time they resolve themselves into words.

“… calm down. Jason. Stop. Calm down. You’re safe. It’s safe.”

He still doesn’t know what they mean.

But the arms won’t let him go. So he struggles, and he screams, and screams, and screams, until his throat is raw and cracked, and something hits the side of his head and everything goes dark.


There’s something in his arm.

He thinks the thought again and again reflexively, ideas running like water through his senses. Not words, but the shadow of them, shapes and echoes that brush at the edge of his mind but vanish at the first touch of light.

Needle. The idea bursts into his thoughts. What is it? A shape. A word. A taste? No, a feeling on his tongue. A sound. Two sounds. Nee-dull. He searches his brain for the meaning, but everything slides away from him, and the effort exhausts him. He lets it go, and instead just lies there, feeling the word in his mind and the dull sense of something in his arm.

Needle.

He can’t move. He’s not sure why. He’s not sure how. His mind is a jagged pile of broken feelings and concepts, and he lies among them without even the thoughts to make sense of his experience.

Needle. He tries to move his lips, though he’s not sure why. His arm twitches. He can’t move it. Something stops him. Not him. He tries to focus on it, to make sense of the sensation. Something on his wrist… rough. Pressing down.

Tied down. More words. Less sense.

He remembers how to open his eyes. He does so, and manages to turn his head to look at his wrist. He tries to sit up again, and he manages to turn to the side and vomit.

Huh.


He’s not sure how long he spends alone in the bed. (He’s remembered that word, too.) Time makes no sense. He’s given up on trying to move, and instead focuses on trying to think. He’s frustrated by the tangled mess of sensations and thoughts swarming through his mind, tired of not being able to string two thoughts together.

It’s not going well. Every time he manages to start to get a thought together, he’s interrupted by something else. A new feeling, a new memory, a new piece to try to fit together into the puzzle that is him.

Things come to him in flashes.

The feeling of pain. The taste of honey. The idea of feathers. The memory of sun on his face. The smell of car exhaust. Someone saying ’You’re a scrappy one, I’ll give you that,’ with no further context.

The words crowbar and betrayal, again and again and again.

The feeling of anger, at once overwhelming and distant.

Names without meaning. Robin. Batman. Bruce.

He needs to find Bruce. Maybe then everything will make sense again.

A woman enters the room.

Mother.

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No. This isn’t… who is this? He feels memory itch at his brain, at his tongue, but nothing solidifies, and he eventually falls back in defeat.

“Are you feeling a little calmer now?” she asks him. More words. He puzzles them over, replays them in his mind one by one. The sounds line up obediently in sequence, and fail to deliver their meaning.

“Jason?” She asks again. More sounds. He knows this one, but he can’t place it. He thinks he growls in frustration.

“He may not understand you, Lady Talia,” comes a second voice. A man’s voice. “We’re in uncharted territory. The Pit has never brought anyone back after so long before, and there’s still extensive brain damage. We have no idea what he’ll be capable of.”

’As long as the body is warm, there’s still a chance.’ The words come back to him, but he doesn’t know what they mean.

He doesn’t have time to puzzle it over, though, because the woman is speaking again. “You’ve been through something horrible, Jason, but we’ll help you. Just trust us.” Jason. Is that… his name? That sounds right.

“Bruce.” He’s surprised by the word as he speaks it.

The woman looks at him. Jason knows her expression must be important, but he can’t make sense of it.

“… later,” she says. “Once you’re better.”

Jason doesn’t understand why. But then again, he doesn’t understand anything right now.

His eyes slide closed again. He thinks he must be sleeping, but all he sees is pain and laughter, and when he opens his eyes again he’s no less exhausted than he was before.


The next few days are strange and confusing. Strangers come in and out of his room, muttering incomprehensible words back and forth to each other as he drifts in and out of consciousness.

He tries to find the words for questions, but his tongue won’t cooperate, and neither will his brain. So he sits, and listens, and tries his best to do what they ask him to.

“Squeeze my fingers.”

He does.

“Push against my hand, as hard as you can.”

He does.

“Follow my finger with your eyes.”

He can’t.

The strangers mutter among themselves again, and someone hands him a cup of something thick and green.

“Drink this,” he says, so Jason does. The taste is bright, and bitter, and clean, and as soon as it hits his tongue he’s falling into blackness again.


She’s here again.

He’s not sure how long he’s been here. He tries to count meals, but everything runs together and he loses track. He tries to count when he sleeps, but he sleeps at odd times, and it never seems like he sleeps for very long, because every time he wakes up again he feels just as tired as before. And sometimes, he closes his eyes, and when he wakes up again, he’s somewhere else entirely.

So he counts visits instead. By the doctors, who poke and prod him with questions and needles and tests. By nurses he doesn’t know, who bring him food and clothes and medicine. And by Talia.

Jason likes her visits best. There’s no tests when she’s here, and while he doesn’t always understand what she says to him, sometimes her words help him remember things.

Like now.

Pictures. That’s the word that comes to him when she hands him the stack of papers, thick and glossy. He tries to flip through them with fingers that shake and struggle to follow his commands, and she smiles and takes them back to show him instead.

There’s a boy in the pictures. Bright and smiling and magic, in red and green and yellow. He looks happy. Jason doesn’t know why it hurts to see.

“Do you remember, Jason?” she asks.

He snatches the picture from her, staring down at it. Demanding it give up its secrets.

“That’s you,” she says. “That’s you as Robin. Do you remember?”

Him? That’s… him? He looks across the room, to the mirror they’d given him, and holds the picture up to match.

He cannot recognize the boy in the mirror, with his cloudy green eyes and white-streaked black hair. Jason touches the streak, frowning.

“It’s a side effect of the Pit,” Talia says. There’s that word again. “Don’t worry about it.”

Jason looks back down at the picture.

‘Robin.’ The voice in his head isn’t his own, deeper and older.

“He misses you,” Talia says quietly.

His eyes are wet, and he doesn’t understand why.


The doctor is here again.

There are a lot of doctors, but this is the one he remembers most. He’s always here during the tests.

Jason wishes they’d stop them. They’re different every time. Sometimes they’re small things. ‘Follow my finger with your eyes.’ ‘Point to the right letter.’ ‘Drink this medicine.’ Sometimes, though, they hurt. Needles and scalpels, samples and samples and samples. He tries to tell them to stop, but he can’t make his voice work right, and when he tries to stop them, they just tie him down.

So he lies here, waiting for it to be over while the doctors talk.

Steel. Purple. Green. Pain. Laughter.

Something itches at the back of his mind, but he can’t remember it over the memories.

“His dionesium levels look like they’ve stabilized… Resting body temperature remains 38 Celsius." He turns Jason’s arm over, looking at a cut on the skin. "Still exhibiting a moderately advanced rate of regeneration. I’d like to get another bone marrow sample. Do we have results from that spinal tap?”

“The lab’s still working through them. But I still think we should be looking at environmental factors.”

“That warehouse has been blown to hell. There’s nothing left to find. And we can’t exactly ask him if that clown dosed him with anything first.”

Steel. Pain. Laughter.

He hates how they talk about him like he’s not here.

“Don’t we have statements from the henchmen?”

He should be able to get out of this. Why can’t he remember? Why won’t his hands cooperate?

“We do, but they’re not worth much. They all got out of there before the end. And we’re not exactly interrogating the clown himself, so this is what we’re left to work with.”

Dark. Rot. Acid. Pain.

God. He wishes he could remember.


Talia had let him keep the picture.

He stares at it a lot. Tries to remember. He doesn’t have much else to do.

Why didn’t they give him any books? He wishes he could ask for them. He remembers reading. He thinks he must still be able to.

He’s lost so much. The more he remembers, the more he finds himself thinking that. Skills. Memories. Things he doesn’t even know how to define. He feels empty, hollowed out, and when he tries to remember why, all that he can think of are disjointed sensations and emotions.

He hates this. Hates being like this. Hates being here. The longer he’s here, the more he realizes something is wrong.

He needs to leave this place. He needs to find Bruce. He needs to make things make sense again.

But he can’t. He knows he could have, once. Before the laughter and the pain, the coffin and the acid. When he was Robin. But now his hands shake, and he can’t think straight, and everything is hate and pain.

So he sits in his room, and he stares at the picture, and tries to remember.


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Jason has decided he hates the doctors.

No. Jason’s realized he hates the doctors. The distinction is important somehow. He takes a moment to ponder it, then pushes it aside in favor of the main point.

I’m tired of being treated like a broken toy.

The thought runs through his mind fully formed, and he takes a moment to revel in it. The anger is easy, and satisfying. It’s easier than the frustration every time he fails to remember, easier than broken words and screaming, easier than the strange, painful memories that plague him as when sleeps.

It’s not a pleasant thing to focus on, but there’s triumph in the ability to focus at all. A relief in the clarity it brings.

I’m tired of being treated like a broken toy. I’m tired of being treated like a broken toy.

It’s simple. It’s focused. It makes sense. So he wraps himself in it, and drinks it in, bright and bitter and clean, as he sits on the bench like a good little boy.

Leslie. He doesn’t know who that is, but the name drifts into his head anyway.

He looks around.

Not here, he thinks. She wouldn’t be in a place like this, his brain adds, and he’s not sure where that came from, either, but it feels right.

“Follow my finger with your eyes,” the doctor tells him. He does. “Good.”

Jason realizes that he wants to kill him. The vision flashes before his eyes, steel and blood and escape. Something about it seems wrong, but the thought is quiet, and the impulse is loud. He looks around for the scalpel, wraps it in his hand, but then the needle is already in his arm, and he’s falling into blackness again.


He’s remembered how to swear again. He thinks he’s going to need it.


He’s come up with a plan.

His plan is this: attack first.

It’s not much of a plan. But he’s not much of anything right now, so he supposes that’s fitting.

He thinks he’s figured it out. He never resists until it’s too late. Just waits for the doctors, to see what they do. He needs to act earlier. His hands shake too badly to open the door, but he can fight before they even take him.

He thinks that’s how the old him would have done it, at least.

So he waits. Waits, and thinks, and remembers. Until finally, the door opens.

“Jason?” The nurse smiles at him. He thinks it’s fake. He can’t remember how to tell. “The doctors want to see you.”

She takes his arm gently. He twists, throws her into the room behind him, and slams it shut.

He runs.

It doesn’t take him long to realize he has no idea where he’s going. It doesn’t take much longer after that to realize he’s being chased.

Which way is out? He tries to think. This place is huge. Bigger than he’d realized. He’s only ever seen a few of the labs.

Out of time.

He vaults down the hallway opposite the labs. He doesn’t know where he’s going, but he at least knows a place not to go.

There are footsteps behind him. Shouting. He doesn’t understand it, and doesn’t care. He knows enough to know to run.

What floor is he on? He doesn’t know. He hadn’t even remembered ‘floors’ existed before this very moment. Up? Down? He doesn’t see any staircases. Doesn’t see any windows.

He opens a door at random, and finds himself in a different lab. He’s never seen this one before. He tries to back out, but there are more men behind him now, and he has to retreat into the room.

There’s a scalpel on the table. He grabs it, holding it out in front of him. There’s a large man in the door, tall and scarred and bald. Jason thinks he’s seen him before, but he can’t place him. And he doesn’t care. The man approaches him, and Jason lashes out with his blade, drawing a line of blood up his arm.

He doesn’t let up, either. He presses the attack, slashing desperately with one hand and blocking with the other. And it’s different, but it still feels right, somehow. Instinctual. Familiar.

He dives out of the way as the man punches at his chest, slashing at his leg, rolling to the side. He ducks, dodges, weaves, and when the man finally leaves himself open, Jason leaps over him in a flip he didn’t even know he knew how to do, both feet connecting with the back of his head.

The man’s face connects with the floor. He grunts heavily, trying to push himself back up.

Jason helps him along. He’s got maybe half of this man’s weight, but right now, he’s also got momentum going for him, and as the man staggers to his feet, Jason manages to overbalance him, send him toppling backwards towards the door.

Jason kicks him in the chest, then slams the door as he falls past the frame, shoving his full weight against it. It shudders as the man on the other side throws his weight against it, and Jason doesn’t think he can hold it.

Chair. He looks around frantically for something to jam it with.

“What’s going on here?” interrupts a voice in the hall. Female. Familiar.

Talia.

“Are there intruders?” she continues.

“Nothing of the sort,” comes a man’s voice. The doctor. “Your pet project has made a mess again. He’s just attacked the staff and locked himself in the lab.”

“Really?” she asks. “… he’s clearly retained some skills, at least.”

“Any cornered animal can fight.”

He hears Talia sigh. “Leave us,” she says.

“Lord Ra’s has commanded --”

“And now I am commanding you to leave,” she says sharply. “I’ll deal with this. You’re dismissed.”

He hears footsteps, clearing out of the hallway.

He doesn’t open the door.

There’s a knock at the other side of the wood. “Jason? I’d like to come in,” Talia’s voice comes.

He doesn’t open the door.

“I don’t think you thought this through, little bird,” she says. She’s silent after that, which is good, because he needs time to make sense of the words. He’s getting faster at it, he thinks. Starting to remember the paths to each meaning. “Or were you planning to stay barricaded in here forever?”

Wryly. The word pops into his mind and vanishes. He shakes his head, trying to clear it.

She tries the door handle. It turns, and he doesn’t stop her, instead backing off with his scalpel raised. But she’s alone when she enters, closing the door behind her.

They stare at each other. Jason doesn’t lower his weapon.

“Do you know my name?” she asks quietly.

“… Talia,” he says. The sounds are heavy on his tongue, but he shapes them even so.

She smiles. “Good. That’s very good. Do you know your name?”

“Jason.”

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Very good. And your full name?”

He stares at her. He feels the muscles in his eyebrows tense. Full name. This is a new concept. He hasn’t found this one again yet.

After a moment, Talia shakes her head. He thinks that it’s different than when he’d done it. “Nevermind,” she says. She looks at him. “Jason. You need to stop fighting your doctors. You need to stop fighting us.”

This time, he makes the face after he understands.

“We only want to help you.”

He snorts.

“We do,” she repeats. “Jason. Please, listen to me. I know how you must be feeling right now --”

He snorts again.

I know,” she repeats. “You are not the only one in this room who has been in a Lazarus Pit.”

Lazarus Pit. There’s that term again. He tries to place it, but all that he can think of is blood and pain and screaming. The scent of silk and death.

“You are in pain. You are raw and frustrated. You are angry. And everything is so confusing. Right?”

He doesn’t nod, but she has his attention now.

“There is much you need to relearn. There is much you will come to understand. But you haven’t yet. So please trust that I have your best interests at heart.”

“I’m tired of being treated like a broken toy.”

“Then talk to me.”

Jason stares at her, and does not move or speak. She stands across from him for a long time, before she sighs and turns.

“Come out when you’re ready. There’s food waiting for you,” she says, opening the door.

“Jason Todd,” he blurts out suddenly. He’s not sure where it came from, but he feels the rightness of it as he says it.

My name is Jason Todd. I’m Robin.

Talia turns to him, startled, and then smiles.

Jason decides that he likes Talia.


The guards take his scalpel when he comes out.

Damn it.


The more he can think, the more he starts to realize that he’s angry.

Angry that he’s like this. Angry at being kept here, kept from Bruce. Angry at the doctors and the tests and the medicines. Angry at not remembering things. Angry at things he can’t remember. Angry and bitter and scared and broken.

It’s funny. The more things come into focus, the less he likes what he sees. The better he gets, the worse he feels. And yet despite that, he finds himself fighting harder and harder, struggling for every single thing he can regain. It’s rough and raw and painful, but it’s his, and if there’s one thing he hasn’t lost, it’s his determination.

My name is Jason Todd. I’m Robin.

He thinks the boy in the picture would approve.


They’ve added combat drills to his schedule. Jason wants to hate it, but he actually enjoys it.

It’s nice to have an outlet.


The downside of talking, apparently, is questions.

It doesn’t matter that he’s still struggling to string sentences together. They’re hounding him constantly now, and they never let him leave it at ‘I don’t remember.’

Sometimes they’re easy. ‘What is your name?’ (Jason.) Where are you from?’ (Gotham) ‘Where are you?’ (Not a hospital.) (They never like that one.)

But it always comes back to the same thing.

“What happened to you? What do you remember from before you came here?”

Laughter. Pain. Blood. Fear. Darkness.

He’s especially getting tired of that question.

‘■■■■ off’ is, apparently, not an acceptable answer. Neither is ‘Leave me the ■■■■ alone,’ even though it’s a much longer sentence. When he tells them talking is hard, they give him a pen. When he can barely form the letters, they make him string beads, tie and untie knots, and write out the same things, again and again and again.

It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter, because he still doesn’t remember. Nothing that will satisfy them. Flashes of images and sensation. Pain and fear. The same dreams, again and again.

He knows it was something terrible. He can feel it was something terrible. It itches in the back of his head, invading his thoughts out of nowhere. But any time he tries to get a grasp on it, bring it to mind, he can’t. It refuses to arrange itself into order, to fit itself into a box he can make sense of.

Maybe he just doesn’t want to remember. Not really.

But why do they keep asking him?

They want something else from me, he realizes. They don’t want him to remember, they want what he’d remember.

And he wants to know why.


They’ve given him some things for his room now.

Books. Pens. Papers. It’s ‘good practice’, apparently.

It is.

It’s hard. His hands obey him more than they used to, but they still shake when he tries anything delicate, and this is delicate work.

Picks. Tension wrench. Pins.

It takes him a long while to shape the pens into the tools he needs. It takes him even longer to open the door. But he’s got nothing but time.

Bruce had always told him he needed to learn patience. He guesses he’s learning new things now, too.


No one’s guarding his room. They didn’t expect him to break out, apparently.

The question is, where to now? He knows he still needs to leave this place. But he’s no closer to knowing the way out than he was before.

‘In any unknown situation, reconnaissance comes first, Robin.’

So he goes to the place he least wants to go – the labs.

He’s whisper quiet as he moves. He checks before he rounds every corner, but this place is surprisingly empty.

Not a hospital, he thinks again, wryly.

He slows down as he hears voices. He’s right. There’s someone in the labs. Multiple someones.

He crouches carefully beside the door, pressing his ear to the gap.

“-- still can’t remember anything?” comes a voice. It’s vaguely familiar, a woman’s voice. Not Talia’s. Another doctor, maybe?

“So he claims,” responds a man’s voice, and this one he knows. The head doctor.

“You think he’s lying?”

“I think he doesn’t want to remember.” There’s a frustrated sigh.

“Worst part is, even if he remembers, we might not get anywhere. I’m out of other ideas, though.”

“And Talia’s tied our hands,” the head doctor says.

“Yup,” the woman responds. “Guess it’s to be expected, right? He’s her Beloved’s kid.”

“Yeah, well, you’re not the one who has to explain it to his Lordship every time we come up empty. Ra’s is breathing down my neck for answers on why it worked for him and not anyone else we’ve tried it on, so I am getting damn sick of her babying the little pain in the ass. If it was anyone but Talia’s little pet, we’d have vivisected him a long time ago."

… Jason decides this is a good time to get out of here. His mind buzzes the whole way back to his room.

He needs to think.


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He can’t figure out how to lock the door again, but fortunately, the nurse doesn’t seem to notice when she comes to get him.

More questions today. The doctor sits across from him at the table, staring at him. Jason wonders if his distaste was always this easy to see.

“I’d like to see how your memory is coming along,” he says.

“Yeah.”

“Let’s start with your name. What is your name?”

“You ask every time.”

“It’s useful to have a baseline.”

“You going to use it?”

He pauses. Looks at Jason. “… I’m not going to contaminate the results.”

“Right.” Jason looks down at his hands. Still all scarred up. He woke up with them like that.

Fire. Rage. Pain. Dark.

“What is your father’s name?”

“Go ■■■■ yourself?”

The doctor scratches down a few things on the notepad in front of him. Jason watches him, eyes flicking between the paper and the man.

He’s not looking at Jason right now.

“Where were you born?”

“Gotham City.”

“What is the last thing you remember?”

“You asked me where I was born.”

The doctor rolls his eyes, scratching a few more things onto the paper.

“What is the last thing you remember before coming here?” he asks.

He’s still not looking at Jason.

Jason rolls his shoulders. “Not sure.”

Another eyeroll. “Think harder,” he says.

“I am thinking,” Jason says, eyes flicking towards the nurse in the corner.

“Are you?” the doctor asks, still not looking at him.

“Yeah,” Jason says, then before the man can react, Jason grabs him by either side of the head and smashes his nose into the desk.

The guards are on him immediately. The same tall, bald man from before, and various people he doesn’t recognize. Jason had hoped he could run after this, but he quickly realizes it’s not going to happen. He decides to at least do as much damage as he can before he goes down, but things quickly dissolve into a blur of fists and blood, and when something hits the back of his head, everything goes dark.


He wakes up back in his room. There’s bruises on his arms, and the side of his head. His mouth tastes like blood, and he feels equal parts frustration and satisfaction.

He sits up, and finds he’s not alone. Talia is sitting across from him, staring. She doesn’t look amused, but he meets her gaze anyway.

“I see you’re awake, little bird,” she says neutrally.

“Looks like,” he agrees.

“Do you remember what happened this time?” she asks, and at that, he looks away from her.

(Sometimes, even still, he closes his eyes, and when he wakes up again, he’s somewhere else entirely.)

“Yeah.”

She sighs, and she just sounds… tired. Jason feels a little sorry for that, but honestly, he’s not sorry at all.

She looks at him. “Jason… why did you do that?”

He turns to her, searching for the words. He strings together half answers, one after the other, before he gives up, shaking his head.

Talia sighs again. “I thought we were done with this, Jason. We’re trying to help you–”

“‘If it was anyone but Talia’s little pet, we’d have vivisected him a long time ago,’” he quotes, and he lets the answer hang in the air.

Talia stares at him a moment. “Ah.” She smoothes the folds of her dress."… these men are not all nice men, little bird. But they all answer to me. And I will never let them hurt you. Do you understand?"

He looks at her. Assesses.

“Who’s Ra’s?”

“You don’t remember?”

He shakes his head, flicking a hand. Memories. Vague flashes of color and sound he can’t line up.

“He’s my father,” she says simply.

Father. That word resonates, but Jason knows that the memories it brings aren’t Ra’s.

“I want to talk to Bruce,” he says.

She freezes. “That’s… not possible right now.”

“Why not?”

“Because he believes you to be dead.”

“Why?”

She doesn’t look at him. “Because… you were.”

He stares at her, reeling. His dreams swim up again before his eyes, a torrent of feelings in new context.

Pain. Fear. Laughter. Mother.

Joker.


It comes together in pieces, in bits and pieces and dreams.

The Joker.

The crowbar.

The bomb.

Dying.

He fits them back together, the scattered memories, and as horrible a picture as it makes, there’s almost a relief in knowing. At least he has the words now. At least he can understand it, even as the idea makes no sense.

Dead. He was dead. He was dead?

Talia. Ra’s al Ghul. Lazarus Pit. Memories drift back. A chemical bath. Heals you, but at the cost of your mind. But…

’As long as the body is warm, there’s still a chance.’

’The Pit has never brought anyone back after so long before. We have no idea what he’ll be capable of.’

What the hell had happened to him?

What the hell is he?


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The doctor is back. He sits on the other side of the room, well out of Jason’s reach.

He has more bruises on his face than Jason remembers giving him.

Good.

“So,” Jason says, meeting his eyes. “More questions today?”

The look the doctor gives him is pure venom. “I think we’ll skip the preliminaries.”

Jason shrugs. “Sure.”

“We’ll be working on your fine motor control again today.” He gestures at the table in front of Jason, full of string and beads. He looks at Jason with sharp eyes. “Do you remember what to do?”

Jason shrugs again, picking up the materials. It’s getting easier, he notes with some satisfaction.

The doctor keeps staring at him. “Your memory’s getting a lot better,” he notes.

“Guess so.”

“How much would you say you remember now?”

“No idea.” He looks at him, and feels his lips pull into a smirk. “Don’t remember.”

The doctor doesn’t roll his eyes. That surprises Jason. Instead, he just looks at him more intently. “What happened to you?” he asks. “What do you remember from before you came here?”

I died. The Joker murdered me, and then Bruce killed him, so I’m the only one you can get answers from.

He looks at the doctor.

“Nothing.”

The doctor stares at him like he’s trying to look through him. “Nothing?”

“Nothing.” He shrugs. “Colors. Pain. That’s it.”

“This is more important than you know.”

’Ra’s is breathing down my neck for answers on why it worked for him and not anyone else we’ve tried it on.’

“Is it?” he asks.

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“You wouldn’t understand.”

’The Pit has never brought anyone back after so long before.’

“Maybe not.”

The doctor fixes him with a hard stare. “I liked you better when you couldn’t talk.”

Jason smiles humorlessly. “You never liked me.”

“I said I liked you better.”

“Right. Words.” He holds up his work. “This is boring,” he says.

“Just thread the damn beads.”

“Why am I doing this?”

“To retrain your fine motor control.”

“No better way to do that?”

“No.”

“Really?” He threads another bead. “Could pick locks.” He flicks his eyes up towards the doctor. “Throw batarangs?”

The doctor slides back a fraction of an inch. “You’re not getting near anything sharper than a damn bead.”

He grins. “You scared of me, doc?”

“If you make another move against me, Ubu will make you regret it.”

“You’ll regret it more.”

“You’re shaping up into a cold little bastard, do you know that?”

He shrugs. “Bad role models.”

“More than you know.”

Jason threads another bead. “Music would be nice.”

“You’re not getting music.”

“Why not?”

“Because as your doctor, I don’t see any therapeutic value in it.”

“So, spite.”

The doctor’s lips curl. “Don’t like it? Maybe you should run crying to Talia. Again.”

“Oh. I am so sorry," he says. He threads another bead and plans his words. "Sorry Talia won’t let you cut me open.”

“Oh, good. You’ve remastered sarcasm.”

He shrugs again. “Never lose some things.”

“You owe this all to me. Do you understand that? You whine like a spoiled child. You fight every medication and treatment we have given you. But every word you speak, every skill you have relearned, you owe it to me. I have given you everything you have.”

‘If it was anyone but Talia’s little pet, we’d have vivisected him a long time ago.’

Jason doesn’t speak. He threads his beads.

Bad role models.


He really misses Bruce.


Talia’s been visiting him more.

He appreciates that. It’s nice having someone to talk to again, now that he can.

He’s not an idiot. He knows she has her own agenda, too. But she seems to genuinely care about him, in ways that no one else here does, and he thinks he can remember her from before.

‘Guess it’s to be expected, right? He’s her Beloved’s kid.’

“How are your memories doing?” she asks him.

His name is Jason Todd. He’s Robin. His adoptive father is Bruce Wayne. Batman. He likes chili dogs, cars and Neapolitan ice cream, but the color green just brings back bad memories now. He died trying to save his birth mother from the Joker, but she betrayed him. He’s alive again because of a Lazarus Pit.

“Better,” he says.

“You’re speaking a lot better, too,” she says. She smiles. “Perhaps you’ll leave the nest soon, little bird.”

He looks away. She’s right, but…

… he doesn’t know. Why is it that the more he recovers, the more he feels like something’s missing?

“Can I see Bruce then?”

Talia’s smile fades. “… in good time, Jason. When you’re ready.”

“I’m ready now.”

She brushes her hair behind her ear, and doesn’t look at him.

The door opens before either of them can say anything else.

Great. It’s the doctor. He doesn’t look at Jason, instead keeping his eyes fixed on Talia.

“Lady Talia. I need to speak to you.” He finally glances towards Jason. “Alone.”

“Of course,” Talia says, standing and smoothing her dress. “I’ll be back shortly, Jason.”

She closes the door behind her. She doesn’t notice that it doesn’t click shut. Not with the paper Jason taped over the latch.

He gives them a few moments, then follows them, as quietly as he can. They don’t go far, just around the corner.

“I have the test results you asked for, Lady Talia,” the doctor says. Jason’s only ever heard him speak to her alone once before.

He’s a lot less of an asshole when she’s around.

“What were your findings?” she asks.

“Not good,” he says. “The rate of neural regeneration is slowing down.”

Jason goes very still.

“Meaning?”

“He’s come pretty far, I’ll give him that. But he’s improving less and less. There will be lingering brain damage. It’s not a question of ‘if’ at this point; it’s a question of ‘how much’ and ‘what type’.”

He doesn’t breathe.

“Isn’t there anything you can do?”

“We’ve done all we can. We’ve been medicating the hell out of him – and he’s been fighting us every step of the way, I should add.”

“Perhaps another submersion in the Pit…”

“I wouldn’t recommend any more Lazarus exposure. He’s already showing serious aftereffects. If he goes in again, you won’t like what comes out.”

“Then…?”

“Then nothing. There’s nothing left to do, Lady Talia. I’m just telling you to brace yourself. The Fever will not go away. The brain damage will not go away. He’s not going to get any better.”

“He’s surprised us before. He may again.”

“There’s more, Lady Talia.”

“What is it?”

“Your father will be here tomorrow.”

“… I see.”

“He’s going to want answers. And if he contradicts your orders… you know who I answer to.”

“What. Exactly. Are you telling me, doctor?”

“I’m telling you to brace yourself.”

“… leave me.”

“Lady Talia --”

“Now.”

He turns to leave. Jason freezes in place, expecting Talia to turn and discover him. But she doesn’t. She just stares at the wall, folding her arms over her chest and shaking slightly.

Jason goes back to his room, and makes very, very sure the door does not lock behind him.

He can’t stay here any longer.


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Talia doesn’t come back that night.


It’s funny. He’s gotten so much better now. At thinking things through. And yet right now, he feels like his brain has ground to a halt over what he just heard.

He can’t stay here. He can’t stay here, and he doesn’t know the way out. He can’t stay here, and he doesn’t have a plan. He can’t stay here, and he’s not going to get any better.

He needs to think. He needs to think, but he can’t. His thoughts are racing, chasing each other in circles, and he has no time.

What would Batman do?

Bruce.

■■■■. Bruce.

‘… in good time, Jason. When you’re ready.’

‘He’s not going to get any better.’

He checks the hall every hour. Waiting for an opportunity. But every time he checks, the guards are there. And if he takes them out, he’ll raise the alarm. Will he be able to get out in time? He only has one shot.

‘Failure isn’t an option, Robin. Not with these stakes.’

… maybe it’s that Bruce just wouldn’t want him like this.

'He’s not going to get any better.’

■■■■.


The guards are there all night. He’s running out of time.


Talia visits him in the morning. Her eyes are bright, and her smile is fake.

“Good morning, little bird,” she tells him.

“Talia,” he says neutrally. “What’s going on?”

She pauses, and her smile falters. “… my father is visiting. But it’s nothing that needs concern you.”

He stares at her. “‘He’s going to want answers. And if he contradicts your orders… you know who I answer to,’” he quotes.

Talia stares at him in shock. She tries to smile. “… are you a Robin or a parrot, my little bird?” He just stares at her.

Talia sighs. “How much did you hear?”

“All of it.”

“How did you get out?”

“If I tell you… will you stop me doing it again?”

Talia looks away.

“… the building is secured,” she says. “You couldn’t leave without a keycard, anyway.” She looks at him. “… my father wants answers, Jason.”

“Because I’m the first time they’ve been able to bring anyone back after that long, right?”

“Yes.” She folds her arms. “There’s never been a successful resurrection after longer than a week before. Yours was nearly two months.”

“Why did you even try?”

“… it was my father’s idea,” she says. “He felt he owed it to my Belo-- to Batman. He was the one who first unleashed the Joker as a distraction. It was his attempt to repay the debt.”

“You’re lying,” he says.

“I’m not,” she lies. She looks at Jason. “I won’t let anything happen to you. I promise.”

“What if Ra’s says otherwise?” Jason asks.

“He won’t,” she says, like if she says it strongly enough it will become true. “This was his idea in the first place. He owes Batman a debt. Nothing will happen to you.”

Jason doesn’t press her further. He knows he won’t get anywhere. So instead, he asks, “That’s not all the doctor said.”

Talia’s not looking at him again. “… I know you better than the doctors do, Jason. You’re improving less only because there is less to improve.”

“Bullshit.”

“It is not,” she says. “Do you have any idea how far you’ve come already?”

“You think I don’t know how far I’ve come?” Jason snaps. “Do you think I don’t know how much is missing?!”

“Jason --”

“Everything hurts! Everything! I’m so… angry! All the time! Something’s missing! Something never came back, and it’s never going to, and you know it!”

The words echo in the small room. Talia stares at the wall behind him.

“What aren’t you telling me, Talia?” he asks her.

“What do you think is worse?” she asks, still not looking at him. “Unfocused rage… or focused?”

“What?”

She turns back to him. “Jason… there’s something you need to know.”

“What is it?” he asks.

“The Fever… the Lazarus Fever. There is a center to the madness. A target. It hinges itself on the one who killed you. And vengeance against him.”

“But he’s dead,” Jason says. “Bruce killed him.”

She looks at him, surprised, then sad.

“He’s dead,” Jason insists. “He has to be! That’s-- that’s why everyone keeps asking me what happened! Because he’s dead! He has to – after what he – Bruce killed him!” he repeats, like if he says it strongly enough it will become true.

Talia shakes her head. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry, Jason… but you remain unavenged.”

He stares at her, uncomprehending. He feels like every word he’s gotten back has gone again. He feels cold, numb, like the floor could swallow him up at any moment.

There’s a knock at the door. He barely hears it.

“Lady Talia?” comes a voice. The doctor’s. “Your father is here.”

She turns slightly. “Of course,” she says. Her eyes don’t leave Jason’s. “I’ll meet him upstairs, in the room at the back,” she says pointedly. “Give me a few minutes alone with him before you come up. Get your reports together.”

She doesn’t even try to latch the door behind her.

The rage hits him moments after she leaves, and he doesn’t even try to hold it back.


He comes to in a destroyed room, with bloodied, bruised knuckles and a throat that feels raw from screaming.

Everything feels cold.

He is completely calm. He can feel the rage still, boiling below the surface, but it is tight. Controlled. Focused.

He knows what he has to do.

The door swings open easily at his touch. The guard is still at the end of the hallway, but only one. Not Ubu. He must be upstairs with Ra’s, Jason figures.

Good. That’ll make this easier.

They’ll sound the alarm, of course. But Jason has an easy solution to that: beat down everyone who gets in his way.

Elegant in its simplicity.

The guard doesn’t even have time to react before Jason is on him, pummeling him without thought or restraint. Jason’s not sure how long the guard’s been down for before he realizes he should stop hitting him. He doesn’t have time for this.

Jason doesn’t check for a pulse before he moves on.

He doesn’t know the way out. But Talia has given him all he needs to know. He knows what she was doing. Ra’s is upstairs. So Jason should look for an exit this floor, or lower. But first… he’ll need a keycard.

The good news is, he knows exactly where to get one.

The better news is, the guard had a gun.


The labs are unlocked. The doctor doesn’t even notice when the door opens, the man apparently engaged in frantically gathering papers. Jason walks up and kicks him in the back of the knee.

He cries out as he falls, pain and surprise, then chokes off as Jason pins him with a boot to the chest.

“No, don’t get up on my account," Jason says.

“You,” he snarls, recognition glinting in his eyes.

Jason points the gun at him.

“Wallet,” he says simply. “And hand it to me like a good boy, will you? Pull anything, and I pull the trigger.”

His eyes widen. “You wouldn’t–”

“Why not?” he asks.

“You ungrateful little bastard–”

Jason presses his foot down harder. “‘If it was anyone but Talia’s little pet, we’d have vivisected him a long time ago,’” he quotes. The doctor pales, and Jason smiles coldly.

“Wallet,” he says again. The doctor reaches into a pocket of his coat and, with shaking hands, tosses it upwards. Jason catches it, putting his full weight down as he rifles through it. The doctor groans in pain.

“You know.” He pulls the ID card out of the wallet. “You never did tell me your name.”

He tosses it to the side without looking. “Don’t care, though. You never used mine.”

“Ra’s will–”

“Oh, I already know what Ra’s wants to do to me. What you should be asking is, what do I want to do to you?”

“Listen to me. You listen to me. I am the League of Assassins’ foremost medical expert. Do you understand me? No one outside the al Ghuls themselves knows more about the Lazarus Pit than I do! That madness that you’re feeling? That pain and rage that’s eating you up inside? I am working on ways to cure it! If you kill me, you’ll lose your only chance!”

“Really? Because I’m pretty sure I’ve got a solution all figured out.”

“You… you don’t understand anything.”

“I understand everything I need to.”

“Jason.” The voice comes from behind him. Neutral. Female.

He turns. “Talia.”

“Leave him, Jason.”

“I’m not staying.”

“I know. You can’t,” she says. She holds her hand out. “Leave him. Come with me. I’ll help you.”

He hesitates.

“Where’s Ra’s?”

“Upstairs. He thinks I’m bringing you. But we don’t have much time.”

He stares at her.

“Trust me, little bird. Please, trust me.”

He takes her hand.

They run.


He sees her again after a week. A week of running. A week of planning. A week for homecoming, for confrontations averted, for justice delayed.

So he’s meeting her here, on a cliff outside of Gotham, somewhere no one will find him.

“What will you do now?” she asks him. He can’t read her tone.

He looks at her. “I’m going to kill them both,” he tells her, because it’s the most natural thing in the world. “Will you help me?” he asks, because that is, too.

She looks at him, expression neutral. “Of course,” she says.

He smiles. “Good. That’s good.”

He stares into the distance, feeling the wind on his face and the rage in his chest. Bright and bitter and clean.

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I never thought our Lazarus Talk would result in this redux of Jason’s early post-resurrection days, but I love to see it. Pulling all these sources to tell one cohesive history… you’re like the Don Rosa of Jason Todd. I’d love to see more!

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Haha, it just sort of all clicked into place! Thanks so much… I couldn’t have done this without your ideas.

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Oh CRAP. I omitted a REALLY important section of this story by accident when I was breaking it up into pieces. The seventh comment has been updated with it!

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**Knocks down door ten days late with Starbucks **

OH MY GOD. I love this, I cannot explain how much I absolutely adore this. All the little references you put from the comics, the characterization, it’s all absolutely amazing and I wish I could like posts more than once. Also Talia and Jason bonding is great I don’t know why I love it so much I just really do. (I choose to ignore that one scene in Lost Days.)

This fills in all the little nitpicks I had about Jason’s resurrection. Don’t get me wrong I loved Red Hood: Lost Days but I felt like it rushed way too fast through Jason’s time with the league.

Anyways, uh, I don’t know what else to say other than I love this and thank you so much you have blessed my eyes and brain with this beautiful story.

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I just got the biggest grin reading this comment. Thank you so much for your kind words! I loved Lost Days, and I loved seeing Jason and Talia bond (I know what you mean about that one scene though, lol), and I really wanted to figure out how to reconcile it with a more sensible explanation for Jason’s resurrection. Thank you so much again!

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