Waking up with a face full of sand and no memory of how he got said face full of sand is definitely not how Jason wanted to start his day, but unfortunately, a face full of sand is what he’s got. It’s dark and it takes him a moment to realize he has his jacket draped over his head. The air is thin under the leather and sweat has plastered his hair to his forehead so he shoves the jacket off, gasping in the fresh air and immediately cursing the bright, blinding sun.
His head is killing him and Jason quickly jerks the jacket back over his eyes.
“Holy mother of fuck,” he groans, voice dry and raspy, peeking out from under the jacket. All he sees is sand and a few scattered desert shrubs. He blinks rapidly, not quite comprehending his surroundings. “What the hell?”
He can’t remember how he got there, and that would be more troubling to him if he didn’t have such a horrendous headache. For now, the relentless pounding in his head keeps him from caring, and he closes his eyes and settles back in the hot sand for a little while longer. He’s already screwed; nothing is going to get worse if he takes a few minutes to get a handle on his headache.
Eventually, the sweat and the sand are enough to drive him into action, despite his pounding brain, and he pushes himself upright. His head screams and his body throbs, and Jason almost drops back down again.
“Fuuuuuck,” he groans, long and drawn out. It takes a moment for his head to clear, but when it does he’s not surprised to find he’s covered in bruises and road rash. Everything aches and the slightest movement pulls at strained muscles. Nothing seems broken though, so Jason focuses his attention on his surroundings. His new upright vantage point doesn’t reveal much more than he’s already seen. Some rocks, a lot of shrubs, a few cacti here and there, and sand as far as the eye can see. His head pounds in the bright sunlight. It’s been a while since he’s had a headache this terrible, and he starts to wonder if maybe he has a concussion. It would at least explain why he has no idea how he got in the middle of the fucking desert. With the beating his body apparently took, a concussion wouldn’t be surprising.
There’s no road anywhere in sight, and Jason isn’t yet clear headed enough to successfully puzzle out what direction he’s most likely to find one in the first place, but about three hundred feet ahead of him is a rock formation that’s producing a bit of shade. He stares at it for a while, debating the pros of shade vs. the cons of potential rattle snakes. He’s not at the top of his game and agonizing death by rattle snake venom would be the one thing that could make his already sucky day worse.
He still isn’t quite sure how he got out here in the first place, but he’s not wearing his Red Hood uniform which is curious. These things don’t tend to happen to him when he’s a civilian. Then again, he’s not in his normal civilian clothes. Instead he’s wearing tight jeans (nicer than most of what he owns though they’re now torn in several places) and the shirt he’s wearing is thin and leaves little to the imagination. Jason’s head throbs as he tries to put together a sequence of events that landed him here in these clothes with the hangover from hell and a possible concussion.
He gets a flash; something about Roy and Las Vegas.
“Fuck! ” he swears again, even more annoyed now. There’s no sign of Roy anywhere around, but his situation is much more believable now that he knows Roy is involved. Some of the most ridiculous situations he’s ever been in can be blamed completely on Roy. When Jason figures out a way back to civilization, when he gets his hands on Roy, he’s going to strangle him.
The heat of the sun beats down and with the headache and the dehydration that comes with the hangover, it quickly becomes too much for Jason. He decides to risk the rattle snakes. He drags himself to standing and starts trudging his way through the sand. His balance is way off though, and he almost falls a few times before he finally makes it to his destination.
It’s not until he’s in the shade and has thoroughly checked the area for rattle snakes that snippets of the previous night start to return to him. He and Roy had been investigating a human trafficking ring operating in Sin City. They’d each gone undercover in separate locations, Jason at a nightclub and Roy a casino that they thought had ties to their trafficking ring. The separate locations had clearly been a stupid idea, but at least Jason finally understands the clothes he’s wearing. And to think he’d almost gone out in leather pants. That would have been the worst kind of hell.
He doesn’t remember much about the nightclub, but he does remember the feeling of a drug creeping through his system even when he hadn’t had anything to drink. It’s hazy, but he remembers aborting the mission and attempting to get out of the nightclub as quickly as he could, knowing he only had so much time before the drug fully compromised him.
After that, it’s even less clear. He has a flash of trying to fight off men in an alleyway, a flash of slipping binds in a dark place, a flash of drunkenly struggling with a few armed men in the back of a speeding van with the door wide open and then another flash of being thrashed roughly across the ground. He’d rolled ungracefully and stumbled to his feet before darting away into the night as the van screeched to a halt behind him. His captors must not have been able to find him then, and now he has an explanation for the aching in his body and the road rash scattering his limbs. The headache and the patchy memory can be attributed to the drug hangover, but Jason isn’t abandoning the possibility of a concussion. He’d been fighting while drugged to the gills and he’d jumped or fallen out of a speeding vehicle. It’d be surprising if he didn’t have one, to be honest. Still, he’s not eager to go poking around his tender head in search of head trauma. It aches enough as it is, and there’s not much he can do about it out in the middle of nowhere anyway.
He drifts for a little while, letting his aching mind have a rest. He’s almost asleep when he suddenly remembers grabbing a cell phone off one of the armed men in the van scuffle. His eyes snap open and he snatches up his leather jacket and shoves a hand into one of the pockets, rejoicing when it closes around a cell phone. It’s got the tiniest bar of service and 11% battery.
“Fuck yes!” Jason exclaims happily as he dials Roy’s number. He immediately curses when he gets a message saying the number he’d dialed is unavailable. He tries again just to make sure he dialed the number right, but again, he gets nothing.
He growls, frustrated.
After just two attempts to make a call, the battery is at 8% and Jason frowns as he considers his options. No Roy means he’s going to have to call his family if he wants to make it out of this desert. He debates it for a hot minute before abruptly giving up. As humiliating as it’ll be to call one of the bats for a rescue, he’s exhausted and aching and thirsty as hell. He chooses the least annoying member of the family and dials the line that every last one of them has completely memorized: Barbara’s emergency line.
“Who is this?” Oracle’s computerized voice barks halfway through the first ring.
Jason winces at the volume. “Chill, Barbie. No need to bite my head off.”
“Jason?” And it’s Bab’s voice over the line this time.
“Unfortunately. Think you could come get me?”
“Where are you?”
Jason pauses. “…Do you think you could figure out where I am and come get me?”
There’s a hefty sigh, “Alright, hold on.”
“Don’t send Dick,” Jason decides quickly.
“Depends on where you are, Jay. Dick’s in New York City.”
“Yeah, definitely not there so don’t send Dick.”
Barbara gives a low whistle. “Yeah, definitely not there. Why on earth are you in the middle of the Mojave Desert, Jason?”
“That part isn’t all that clear.”
Barbara grumbles, “Of course it isn’t. But, you’re in luck. Bruce must have suspected something, because he’s already got the Batwing in Nevada.”
Jason stiffens, sending a shock of pain all down his body. “No. No way, send Baby Bird, I can wait.”
“You can wait in the middle of the Mojave Desert,” Barbara states, unimpressed.
“It’ll only take Tim a couple of hours, and we have more than one plane. B is anal like that.”
“He can be to your location in ten minutes, Jason.”
“You know, on second thought, it’s been a while since I’ve hung out with Dick. Give him a call, huh? I’m sure he’d be happy to come pick me up if it meant brotherly bonding time.”
“It’d take Dick even longer than Tim because he’d have to get back to Gotham to get the plane,” Barbara says impatiently.
“…The demon know how to fly yet?”
Barbara huffs, “I already sent Bruce your coordinates. He’ll grab you in 10.”
“Wait, no—!” Jason protests, but she’s already hung up. Jason moans and sulks back against his rock. As humiliating as it’d be to have to be picked up by one of his brothers, that’s nothing compared to needing Dad to come to the rescue. No doubt Bruce is going to scowl and lecture him about every little thing he did wrong. God, Jason can’t handle that right now. His head hurts too damn bad to deal with Bruce.
It’s not long before he hears the plane approach, and he doesn’t immediately get up when the Batwing lands in the middle of the open desert before him. Instead, Jason waits until Bruce is exiting the plane in full Batman gear before he drags himself to his feet. It takes him a moment, and he has to brace himself against the rocks briefly before the dizziness subsides. When his vision clears, Bruce is bearing down on him.
“Injuries?” he demands, gauntleted hands grabbing Jason’s face as soon as he’s in reach.
“Hey!” Jason protests as Bruce’s hands start running methodically through his hair, fingers checking his scalp. Almost immediately he finds a tender spot on the back left side of Jason’s head. “Ow! ”
“What happened?” Bruce frowns, prodding around the edges of the bump gently. Jason swats at his arms, but he doesn’t let up.
“I don’t know. I was drugged. And I might have a concussion.”
“Any other injuries?” Bruce says, checking down Jason’s arms.
Jason bristles and shoves at him, “God, stop. I’m fine.”
Bruce reluctantly takes a step back, but asks again, “Other injuries?”
He grumbles, “I’m dehydrated as fuck, if that counts.”
“It counts,” Bruce replies before they start moving. Jason’s balance is shit and he’s forced to rely on Bruce to help shuffle him onto the Batwing. He settles him in a seat and hands him a bottle of water. By the time Bruce has them up in the air with the auto-pilot engaged, Jason’s already drained the water bottle and started on another.
“Slowly,” Bruce frowns at him. He’s lost the cowl and there are lines around his eyes that mean he’s spent the last few hours worrying.
“Yeah, yeah,” Jason huffs in response, but with a little less bite than usual. Bruce grabs one of the first aid kits and pulls out a pen light to check Jason’s eyes. Jason immediately flinches away, swearing, “Shit, Bruce. That hurts, damn it!”
“Concussion,” he confirms. “At least a mild one. I want to get a scan when we get back to the Cave to make sure there’s not any cranial bleeding.”
“Lovely,” Jason grouses.
He passes Jason a couple of anti-inflammatory pills and a towel he’s doused with some water, and Jason happily ditches his skin-tight, sweat-slicked shirt and starts vigorously rubbing away the sweat, dirt and sand.
“So what are you doing out here anyway?” he asks as Bruce pulls some stuff to clean out his various spots of road rash.
“You missed your check-in.”
Jason blinks, “Seriously? I miss check-ins all the time.”
“The group you were going after is dangerous. You promised to check in this time, but you didn’t,” Bruce replies shortly.
Jason’s eyes narrow and he snaps, “You didn’t think I could do it, did you?”
The look Bruce gives him is impatient and a little bit frustrated, “If I didn’t think you could do it, I wouldn’t have let you leave. But things can always go wrong, and in this case, if anything did go wrong, you’d be all the way out here without immediate backup.”
“I had Roy,” Jason points out, then remembers, “Which reminds me, I gotta find him. Something might have happened to him too,” he says, a little worried. He blames the concussion for not considering Roy’s safety earlier.
“I’ve seen him. He’s fine,” Bruce says, tone hard and unhappy.
Jason’s confused. “What? When?”
“I tracked him down when I couldn’t get a hold of you, but he couldn’t tell me anything.” Again, there’s something hard in his tone and Jason narrows his eyes.
“Well where is he? I tried to call him, but his phone was off.”
Bruce doesn’t answer and instead focuses on flushing the bits of sand out of Jason’s road rash. Jason frowns, “Bruce, where is he?”
“In a holding cell in a Las Vegas police precinct.”
“Harper got himself arrested trying to cheat a casino,” Bruce snapped.
Jason drops his head in his hands, “Damn it Roy. Fucking—fine. Okay. Did you bail him out?”
Jason looks up angrily. “The hell, Bruce, you left him there?”
“He was cheating at cards while you were undercover in a nightclub that had known ties to a dangerous human trafficking ring,” Bruce says shortly, like that’s a good enough reason to leave Roy in jail.
Jason sighs. Never let it be said that Bruce Wayne isn’t a petty son of a bitch. “Can I at least use your phone so I can get somebody to go bail him out?”
“No. I’ll let Queen know he’s there.”
“He’s not speaking to Queen.”
“Petty as shit,” Jason grumbles.
Bruce doesn’t deny it. “What happened?” he asks instead.
“I don’t know,” Jason responds. “I was at the nightclub, and somehow somebody got me with a drug, but I didn’t drink anything so hell knows how that happened. I don’t know if it’s the drug or the concussion screwing with my memory, but best I figure they picked me up in an alley and I didn’t manage to fight them off. It’s hazy, but I was in a van and at some point I was able to jump ship and ended up in the middle of the Mojave Desert. I don’t know how they got me though—whether I was made or targeted for trafficking. I really just can’t remember. I did manage to grab a cell phone off of them, but I didn’t remember it for a while,” Jason says, offering the phone to Bruce.
“We’ll trace the numbers in the contacts. Good job,” Bruce compliments, slipping it into his belt.
Jason’s eyes narrow suspiciously and he repeats flatly, “Good job.”
“Yes. You did good.”
“Really?” Jason asks, disbelieving. “No what were you thinking or that was stupid or you should have done this?”
Bruce looks a little exasperated and he pauses from his bandaging to look Jason in the eye. “You did good, Jason. Things go wrong sometimes. Doesn’t mean you did anything wrong. You managed to escape and stay alive in a drugged state and you managed to secure a way to call help, not to mention a way to track the criminals. My only complaint is that you went into a dangerous situation with only Harper as back up.” And the way he says Roy’s name is full of disdain.
Jason frowns, “The Casino Roy was in has ties to the trafficking ring too, B. He was probably trying to see who in the Casino was involved by drawing them out. The fact that he ended up in prison and not somewhere worse means he didn’t find the right people. He wasn’t just trying to cheat a casino for the hell of it.”
The sound Bruce makes in response is highly unimpressed.
Jason heaves an exasperated sigh. “This is going to be a thing now, isn’t it?”
“Harper is off this case,” Bruce confirms. “And he won’t be working a case with the family until he proves to me he’s acceptable backup.”
“That’s not your decision. It’s never been your case. And you can’t tell me who I can work with, Bruce. I’m a damned adult,” Jason retorts, frustrated.
“You’re an adult, but you’re also my son and your safety is my priority. Unless Starfire or someone from the family is also involved, I don’t want you working with Harper.”
Jason rolls his eyes and settles back, too tired and in too much pain to argue with Bruce at the moment. “Oh sure, Bruce, whatever you say,” he retorts, all sarcasm.
Apparently, Bruce also decides he’s not in the mood to argue. “You should rest, Jason. I’ll wake you up when we’re home.”
“Chances of you dropping me off at my apartment?” Jason asks hopefully.
Bruce scoffs. “With a concussion? Nonexistent. And I will be doing a scan,” he reminds. “Not to mention Alfred’s been complaining since you’ve been out of Gotham anyway. The least you could do is give him a few days to dote on you.”
Jason narrows his eyes. “Cheater.”
Bruce gives the barest of smirks before he grips Jason’s shoulder briefly. “Rest. You’ve earned it.”
“Fine. But only because my head freaking hurts and I could go for a nap. Not because you told me to,” Jason retorts. Better not let Bruce think their relationship is getting too complacent.
Bruce rolls his eyes. “I’m not telling you to do anything, Jason. I’m saying you’ve had a rough night and deserve some rest.”
“Whatever you say, Boss,” Jason retorts, closing his eyes and settling in.
There’s a pause and suddenly Bruce’s hand is ruffling Jason’s hair. His eyes snap open in surprise, but Bruce is already moving back to the pilot’s chair. He stares for a moment, unsure whether he wants to throttle Bruce for the action or not. Fuck it, he thinks after a long moment of deliberation. I’m too tired for this shit. His eyes flutter shut once more and in moments, he’s asleep.