A new understanding
by Te
December 19, 2004

Disclaimers: If they belonged to me, I'd do a lot of
rocking back and forth.

Spoilers: None, really. In terms of the timeline, we're
smack dab in the middle of Tim's training.

Summary: Jason knows what it means.

Ratings Note/Warnings: PG-13. Content some readers
may find disturbing.

Author's Note: The third (and probably last) part of the
Hold Your Breath series. You should probably read the
others first.

Acknowledgments: With thanks to LC and Jack for
audiencing, encouragement, and many helpful


The rules for this sort of thing are confusing and kind
of fucked-up. He can't touch anything, and he can't
*be* touched, not really. (Not without the jar, the
hit, the memory, the --)

He's invisible -- except when he isn't.

He can make things happen -- except when he can't.

As near as Jason can tell, right now he's just about
real enough to make the living crazy. Which is
where the fucked-up comes in, because it's not like
he thinks he has any right to be as real --

The kid is dreaming again.

The slip is easy, familiar, and so good it's frightening.
Really frightening, maybe more than death was.

Because this is...

"How? How do I...?"

The kid waves a hand. The gauntlet he's wearing is
(wrong) black, and green, and black again, and gone.
The clothes he's wearing are just as uncomfortably
impermanent. It's easier to look at his face.

There's never anything *there* at all, save for what
Jason adds.

He can add things, here.

He wonders what the kid really looks like. He

How can you be a person without a face?

But he is, enough for Jason to not-quite-touch. And he's
going to be Robin one day. One day.


It's hard to pull off the mask, on a level of *something*
that he can't really see, or name, or --

It's easy, physically (It means something here. His body,
he's warm, it's summer, where are they?), until it
really isn't. For a moment -- the same long stretch of
what-if-he-wakes-up-before-I-put-it-back-on, the same
*terror* -- he's blind.

And then there's the rough scratch-on-scratch of their
gauntlets touching, and the scratch-on-skin, and Jason
can see --

Himself, for a moment, and then another. The word
he remembers is 'vertiginous,' but it passes, and the
boy has a wide 'o' of a mouth and the mask makes
him look young. Makes *him* look young, because --
"Kid," he says, as gentle as he can manage around the
spiky ball of sickness in his throat.

"Jason," the kid says, and it's all right again -- the face
is one he's never seen before, and that makes it
*wrong* that it's wearing his mask, but not as wrong as
looking at a shorter, younger (living?) version of himself.
"I... your voice..."

"What about it?"

There's a blush on the skin below the mask, and then
there's nothing at all. Not even a line where a mouth
should be.

And *this*...

He gets it. It's that other thing about being in the kid's
dream. Everything's under *his* control, so long as he
can remember to use it. Little hard black-gauntleted
hands and Jason's mask and a face that's just waiting

Well, that's the question. He's spent so much time just
using this, just *playing* with it. This kid he can reach,
and almost touch. Who can see everything Jason
*wants* him to see, and hear him and feel him just as
long as he gives up his mask. Or, hell, maybe the
fucking pixie boots would do it.

Maybe it's just...

He's Robin here, and the kid is his to *do* whatever
he wants with him. *Here*.

But out there, it's maybe something different.

He wraps his own gauntleted hand around the kid's and
pulls it up between them. "What's this?"

Another flash of *something* on the kid's face, and it
resolves into a mouth open in a wide red 'o' of shock
at the spiked and shiny black gauntlet on his hand, and
then --

The kid is gone -- no, awake.

But Jason is still here, wherever it is. Which is a little
screwed up, but... he might as well look around.

Everything's white, but not like a hospital or anything --
even a good one. There's a pool... somewhere. He can
smell it. The sun is lemon-yellow, and there's a glare
off the marble pillars which lead... somewhere *else*.

The stone beneath his feet isn't marble, but it's still
pretty smooth. It doesn't feel (right) American,
somehow. A little too clean, a little too *different* --
even though the trees beyond the white walls are just
sketches of green and brown.

He can't tell what they are. It feels like some kind of
resort, or the dream of one. Some place to kick back
with fruity drinks and get a tan. Some place he's never

When he can't put it off any longer, he touches his
own face. His mouth, his crooked tooth, his nose, his
cheeks, his...

The mask is still on.

He can't tell whether that's a good thing or not.

He scrubs a hand through his hair, instead, and...
usually, it's easy. The kid wakes up, and the world
*changes*. The mask feels harder on his face, and he
can't move his legs, and he knows he's in the Cave
again -- in the Case.

Or it's dark and cold and smells like Gotham, and he's
walking through a million different alleys -- or maybe
just the same one, over and over.

Or it's...

Not *this*. White and sunny and *white*, like if he
stands still for too long the world will bleach the color
out of *him*, until he's just another part of the stone,
or maybe just another sketch of something

Like it will -- that's it, right there. He's being *held*.

Maybe the kid isn't *fully* awake...?

It's a tough call.

But he's not staying *here*.

Jason runs for one of the walls and *sticks* -- but only
for a moment. The trees blow apart like ashes when
he hits, and then...

The fucking Case. For once, it's actually an
improvement, but it's still the fucking Case. He's got
mannequin legs and the mask scrapes and scrapes and
doesn't stick. Until it does, sort of, and he can...

There. Out.

The Cave is what it always is. Correction -- what it always
is *now*. Empty and shadowed and a little... strange.

He'd thought it had something to do with his being dead,
and it does, but there's also a lot more to it than that.
He hasn't seen Bruce since he'd come back to himself in
the storm of debris, and he'd gone from trying to figure
out how bad it would hurt in the morning to trying to
figure out why none of the debris was *stopping* when
it hit him to *getting* it.

Finding his body had seemed so *important*, and then
he'd seen it, and... really not.

But he wishes it had been, still, because he hasn't seen
Bruce since then, and even though --

He wants something else, in his head, besides Bruce's

It doesn't seem like it's too much to ask, even now.
He's *here*, after all, and whether or not he can touch
Bruce, and whether or not Bruce can see *him*...

But there's only the shadows, and the way the mats dip,
sometimes, even though there's nothing there, and the
sounds that get through the screams and the wind and
the bats -- typing and the clank of the weights.

There's something here, even when the kid is wherever
he goes when he's not sleeping and he's not here.


He's been telling himself for a while that it's one of the
fucked-up rules. That Bruce is just what he doesn't get
to have, anymore, because he's a ghost and... well,
he's *seen* the movies.

Some of them were even good.

(And there's a trick to this -- *in* this. Every question
he asks himself makes the *thing* that's always behind
him now stronger, harder to ignore. The thing that
promises an answer to everything, even the questions
he'd never figured out to ask, even within his own
mind. All he has to do is...)

But it's not that. It's more than that, or less, or just

And he can't tell himself he doesn't know what it is
when the kid comes in, one step at a time down the
stairs, watching everything, seeing...

Jason's pretty sure he knows what the kid sees.

He does what he always does when it's like this --
he *looks*, and he can see that the kid is just a kid.
Short, and a little on the scrawny side. Blue eyes,
he tells himself, not like mine, but still blue.

Straight nose, white teeth. A little overbite.

He's just a kid.

And he takes it all down, and he tells himself to
*remember*, so that when the kid starts dreaming
again he'll be able to see him how he really is.

But he won't, and... he will.

For now, though, it's just the watching. The kid wears
'nice' clothes, but he's out of them quickly enough
and into standard workout gear. He looks even smaller,
but he's not bad. Fast and flexible, even though he's
pretty weak.

Every once in a while, the kid stops what he's doing,
and turns and... he looks like he's listening to someone
(something), like he's listening with his whole body.
It's the same expression he has on his face in the
dreams Jason visits.

Except that there's no one *there*.


Except that there is. And he can't tell himself otherwise,

The thing about being dead is that when you feel sick,
there's nothing you can do about it. (That thing,
behind him) You can't puke, and you can't go lie down
someplace dark (reaching). You just have to take it.

Or leave.

He's getting good at this, though. This... thing he's
doing with the kid. The alleys go from being dark and
cold and anonymously empty or anonymously full of
people he can't actually hit to being... something else,

And the thing behind him fades into nothing, and it's
darker than ever, because it's *after* the night, but
it isn't day, yet.

And the kid is dreaming.

"I'm sorry," the kid says, and his voice sounds
miserable and honest, and his face is blank shadow. "I
thought I'd managed to stop doing that."

Jason holds onto the shadow with one hand, and grits
his teeth against the pain, and the feel of the kid
shuddering, and reaches up to take the mask off with
the other. He closes the eyes he doesn't have and
*holds* the kid still, and the mask goes on him and --

It doesn't matter, he can still see himself. He looks
scared and pale and angry.

And then it stops, and when he opens his eyes...


The kid jerks, and Jason's face (he didn't look young,
this time. He looked like himself, and he remembers
getting that black eye, and the taste of wine he wasn't
supposed to be drinking, and --) disappears again,
replaced with a mouth with chattering teeth, and the
sketch of a nose.


"Sorry. I'm... I don't know --"

"Listen. If you freak out, you wake up and we can't
talk, but that doesn't mean it's bad that you freaked

"Yes it does." The voice comes from everything but
the kid himself, and it's distracting enough that Jason
has to look around.

He's -- they're -- in a bedroom. Neat and unlived-in-
looking. Lots of books, and a computer that wouldn't
look out of place in the Cave. One of the drawers in
the desk is open, *opening*, and --

He ducks, but it still hits. *They* still hit. Photos and
newspaper clippings and Robin, Robin, *Robin* fucking
everywhere. "Jesus, kid --"

"I'm sorry, I'm so sorry --"

"Shut up." He gets it. He does. This kid...

This thing with no face and Jason's mask. (And his
eyes, behind them?)


"I know it's... I'm sorry. I never wanted to... you're just
so *important* -- oh God --"

The voice let him out from under, and *led* him to...
he's holding the kid again, the face. It hurts like nothing
else, and it doesn't matter that he'll forget the pain,
because the kid is moaning and shuddering and holding
on *right* back.

Even though the kid's hands are at his sides. The rules,
right. The questions and the answers and everything
else Jason doesn't have the room to care about. The

"Just listen to me, okay? Be quiet, and stay with me.
Can you do that?"

"It's important. Of course I can." The voice from
everywhere *but* the kid, again, but this time Jason
won't let it catch him.

"Okay. I didn't get it at first," Jason says. "You show
up in a Robin suit -- don't *look* -- and that's one
thing. That makes sense. But then you've also got...
yeah. Those." Those fucked-up black gauntlets are
right there, and more solid and real than they ever
have been. "You don't *have* to look, right? You
can feel them."

"Always. Even when I sleep. Even when I dream."

"It's so dark, Jason. So dark. Not like you."

Jason has to close his eyes, because he *isn't* going
to break his own head by trying to figure out which
voice came from the kid and which voice came from...
all over the kid's fucked-up little headspace. When he
can focus again, he opens his eyes, and the kid has
a mouth.

A tight, pinched-looking little thing, but it's there, and --

"Are you all right?"

Jason laughs. He can't help it. And it makes the kid
stop shuddering under his hand. "I'm dead. And I'm

"All right. What about the... what were you saying?"

Yeah. Those. "I didn't *get* it, at first, because you
weren't wearing Bruce's clothes. Any of them.
They're *blue*."

"Not inside. Never inside."

He's just going to pretend the kid's lips had moved
while he was blinking or something. "Yeah, okay, I
think... I can't see him, anymore, you know. Bruce. I
know he's *there*, I can see you *talking* to him,
but..." Jason shakes his head. "It doesn't matter.
Not as much as *this*," he says, and grabs one of
those dark, slick, *wrong* gauntlets with his free
hands. "This is important, kid. *This* is wrong."

"I know that," the kid says.

"I just don't know what to *do* about it," the kid
says -- *with* his mouth.

Which... okay. He doesn't either, really. He's in the
brain of a stalker who steals other people's faces by
*reflex*. But. Jason holds on to the kid's hand --
squeezes it -- and lets go of his nothing little face.

"Jason, what --?"

He squeezes a little harder, even though he doesn't
have to. Not really. It's just that taking off the cape
is impossibly easy to do here (but, maybe, not in
the other places...?), but it's only easy because this
whole fucking place is designed to. To...

No, he can't think about it. Losing the cape makes him
feel like he's just going to sink right in and get *lost*,
and throwing it over the kid's shoulders makes it even
worse, but... "Jason, I --"

"You're going to be Robin, kid."

"I -- *yes*," he says, and his mouth changes when he
does. Widens, curls up in a smile Jason *knows*, but.

He won't call the kid on it. Not now. "It's the most
important thing, right?"

"Always. Always so very *bright* --"

"*Yes*," the kid says again. "Jason, I... you don't know
what this means. You --"

"I do know," Jason says, and forces himself to smile. It
feels like trying to move his legs when he's in the Case.
"Even if you don't. Yet."

The kid's mouth changes again, going back to being
pinched and pained-looking and frowning. "Jason...?"

It hurts to open his tunic, and it's a real pain. A *true*
pain that has nothing to do with the *thing* that
lurks behind him, and maybe, possibly, might be
something even worse. But the gauntlet on the kid's
hand is still wavering a little, even with the mask and
the cape, and --

"What's happening... what are you *doing*, Jason?"

"What I have to," he says, and his voice doesn't feel
like his, anymore. "What I..." It's too quiet. Too...
*under* all of the other things, and he stops.

"Jason, don't, I --"

"You have to remember this, okay? You have to
remember, and you can't... it's not Bruce, because Bruce
isn't *there*, and maybe you won't bring him back,
but --" He stops, again, because it's harder to think,
now. Harder than ever.

"No, Robin, no --"

"Jason, no, what --"

"Don't you go. Don't you leave. Everyone leaves."

Drowning him, voices, and the kid's mouth is real and
pinched and hard, and his nose is there, and the eyes
behind Jason's mask maybe aren't Jason's, at all,
and -- "*Quiet*," he says, with all of himself he has.

The kid -- the *world* -- shudders and stops.

"Robin is what matters. *Robin*. Not... I don't care if
you were built for these... these fucking shadows --"

"Didn't mean to. Didn't --"

"I don't *care*, kid," Jason says, and rips the tunic off
and *pushes* it, and he --

He doesn't care.

He can't --

It's not fair. And it doesn't matter that the concept of
fairness is irrelevant and immature, it doesn't do
anything to stop the *feeling*.

The loss of it. He's alone in his own head again, and
he's --


He cocks his head, and then lets himself just stretch. The
bed he has here, in the Manor, is good for that -- too
good, and too comfortable. It's big enough that he can
do most of the stretches he's learned fairly easily.

Though he's going to have to (-- *important*. You have
to *remember* --)

Have to.

Dreaming consciously, yes -- 'lucid' dreaming -- that's
part of it.

But there's something else, too.

Something he has to --


It makes his heart stutter -- he can *feel* it -- and
there's a tight, spiky ball of *sickness* where his throat
should be, because Jason is *gone*, now.

It wasn't a dream, not really, and it wasn't real enough
for him to *do* anything about it. It just was.

And it's not *fair*.

He'd come so close, and he'd finally figured out what
he'd have to do to make --

No. Not that way, not anymore. It's *irrelevant*.
Because Jason hadn't done... *that*, on a whim. He'd
done it because...

There were rules to this -- there were *always* rules --
and even when they were... were *fucked-up*, you
had to pay attention. You had to do it, and do it

You have to give up absolutely everything, no matter
how much it hurts, no matter how unfair it is, no

Because this is the most important thing in the world.

And no one knows that better than... him.