Like a knife, footsteps cut through the still air and echo in waves against the cemented Earth. He staggers out from behind a corner, slowly — obviously pained. A hand clutches over his stomach, the other a wall. His suit is torn, and his mask is crumpled and blood trickles from his nostrils, from his lips, from his head and his ears, between his fingers down to the ragged wounds in his stomach and his sides and his legs. He looks a bloody mess and leans heavily against the concrete, his breath ragged and shallow and irregular from the shock of his injuries and the all too familiar scene currently looping over and over again in his mind behind heavy-lidded eyes.

It flashes through the air, crimson and purple. He didn’t even notice his knees give out from underneath until his body collapsed against the wall with a dull thud. He hesitated, muscles quivering as he quickly lifted his knees up to his chest, trying desperately to push away the steel that continued to swing down on his exhausted, soon-to-be battered body. Up. Down. Left. Down. Up. Right. Up. Up. Left. It didn’t have a pattern for him to memorize and it didn’t have a break so that he could manage to get free. The concrete kisses the side of his face and gifts his skin with beautiful rings of purple hues, and it’s easy to see that everything is rough from his position on the ground; the heel of his attacker digging in against his jawline as he squeezes his face beneath a boot. Jason barely notices how cold it all feels from down below.

Weakly, he tries to raise his arm to block the blows but it shatters like glass, exploding with pain. You’ve got to be fucking kidding me. And almost as if he’s read Jason’s thoughts out loud, the man coos with maniacal laughter and twists and contorts his body in a frenzied dance atop the young boy’s beaten and bruised body, quipping about the irony of jokes and the cruel twists of fate that just happened to bring the two of them together in this abandoned warehouse in the end. “I wish I were kidding, Birdy-boy! But if the Bat really cared, do you really think he’d continue to stay like this?” Jason remembers thinking that he’ll come. No. He’s coming. Bruce is on the way right now. This will all be over soon, so just endure it a little longer. Just wait it out. But fireworks burst behind his eyes as the crowbar smashes atop his forehead, snapping his nose with a crack and splintering the bone. The noise is distorted as it echoes through his head, seemingly coming from the distance as he can hardly hear over the agony of it all.

Unreal. Jason can’t move, so he just lies there and gives in to the tears that puddle down to his chin, mixing in with the blood and the saliva and snot. He breaks to the sound of splintering bones and thumping metal and laughter that echoes back at him mockingly. Footsteps come next and he briefly resurfaces from his hallucination only to fall back down; the confusion and shock steadily fighting to take over his body as his mind tore with ease. He didn’t notice the man kneel beside him, didn’t feel it as the man shook him and then lifted him upright by the shredded remains of his suit collar. “Can you hear me, Birdboy? It’s really no fun if you’re going to go limp on me now,” the voice was so faint, Jason couldn’t help but flutter his eyelids. “This is nothin’ personal, just so you know,” the man persists, clicking his tongue to the roof of his mouth and panting his hot, sticky breath against the boy’s face. He shuddered and squirms with the last bit of energy that he has, to get away. “Your daddy would’ve been very proud of you. Such a pity he couldn’t be here right now to tell you himself.”

Jason doesn’t flinch as the clown flings him back to the ground, ripping off what little pieces he has left of his Robin suit. He can’t even scream when the clown brings the crowbar back in for another swing. “Nothin’ personal,” he thinks, dripping tears as he braces for the inevitable.