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A Little Bit of Tender Mercy

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The porcelain was chilled beneath his grip and Tim Drake-Wayne had the stupid thought that he really needed to clean the toilet, right before he retched bile into the bowl. He was shaking, and his stomach churned so hard it hurt his ribs. He sucked in a breath and it started again.

His hair slipped out of the band he’d shoved it into half an hour before, when he’d realized on his third trip to kneel in front of the toilet that it was probably going to keep happening. It was one of Stephanie’s hair bands, he thought, and his hair wouldn’t stay in it.

It dangled in his eyes, growing sticky with sweat and tears. He slouched, exhausted, back on his knees and didn’t even try to get up. The reprieve wasn’t likely to last long and in his daze he wondered if maybe this was the point he should try to call someone.

Non-stop puking for a solid hour was, like, unusual. For him. Or for most people?

But his phone felt too far away to be safe to attempt the trip. Maybe if his body gave him a break soon, he’d just call to make sure someone knew to check on him in a day or two, try to hold down some water.

The bathroom door swung open and Tim tensed all over, fists balled to fight, because he was supposed to be alone in the apartment.

“Tim?”

The voice, rough and deep and always a little raspy (Tim guessed that was probably from the pit, because Ra’s sounded that way sometimes when he showed up after a fresh dip in one), belonged to Jason Todd.

Jason, who was now staring down at him with a hard-to-read expression. Tim didn’t relax. They’d been getting along, recently, but he also knew he had about the strength of a kitten at the moment and Jason was…well, Jason. A little unpredictable sometimes.

“I let myself in,” Jason said, still staring at him. “Turned the security back on.”

“Thanks?” Tim said, not much more than a hoarse whisper. It might have been his imagination, but he thought Jason’s eyes widened a little at the sound.

“You had some files for me?” Jason said, glancing over his shoulder. And that’s when Tim registered the mysterious expression as unease. He wasn’t used to Jason looking like he was anywhere he hadn’t exactly planned to be. He was a little like Bruce that way, Tim thought.

When had they talked about files? Maybe, like, a month ago? Tim couldn’t even remember what case now.

“Yeah,” he said, tension leaking out of him because he just didn’t have the energy to keep it up. The bathroom floor was icy against the backs of his limp hands. His stomach was not happy.

“I can come back another— you okay?”

Tim answered by scrambling forward and vomiting, again. This time it hurt even more and tears dripped into the gross yellow sludge that turned an alarming coffee-brown tinged with bright red. And still the nausea wouldn’t let up. His chest ached for air while he gagged and the hair band was a lost cause, tangles of black hair falling forward.

Then a warm, calloused hand was pulling it back, holding his hair out of the way, and another rubbed his back. It was so unexpected that when he finally managed to quit puking, he just sagged forward and cried.

The same hands hooked under his arms and dragged him back, left him propped against the wall.

“That’s not good, Little Bird,” Jason said, appraising the contents of the bowl before flushing it. “How long you been sick? You injured?”

“No. Just today,” Tim moaned, burying his head in his arms. His stomach was already twinging irritably again and his mouth tasted brackish, like bay water full of rot.

“You still missing your spleen?” Jason asked, crouching down across from him. Tim flinched reflexively away from the fingers on his neck before he realized Jason was checking his pulse. Then Jason’s hand was flat against his neck, then cupping his ear.

“What are you—what do you mean ‘still’?” Tim asked, willing his stomach to calm down. He tried shoving Jason’s hand away and somehow ended up just holding on to Jason’s wrist instead.

“Mom always checked fevers like this,” Jason shrugged, like sharing those far away bits from his past was just something he did, with Tim all the time. “Spleen?”

“I have not grown or stolen a new one since, no,” Tim spat. He was being such an ass, he needed to stop, he needed to—

Jason held his hair back again as he hurled more blood and acid into the toilet. He was so tired and his throat hurt. He was also very lightheaded and tipping forward, which he did not fully realize until a yank on the back of his head roused him some.

He was moved to the floor and Jason said something he didn’t really understand.

There was a towel wedged under his head and then he could hear Jason talking again, but not to him. Jason sounded serious, but calm, and that made Tim feel a little better about the fact that he was dying.

Was he dying?

“—way past puking his guts out; he’s throwing up blood now. He says he’s not injured. I don’t think he’s got a fever but he’s white as a ghost. No, B, that wasn’t a joke. How the hell should I know? I just got here. Wait. No, wait. I mean shut up, Bruce, wait a sec.”

A dark shadow leaned close to Tim’s head, between his closed eyes and the bright vanity lights. Tim struggled to get his breathing under control.

“Tim? You with me, kid?”

“I don’t want to die,” Tim gasped, because he was falling apart, that’s what was happening, he couldn’t even lift his head. He was puking blood, dissolving from the inside out.

“You’re not gonna die,” Jason said, gruff and sure. And then a second later, he was saying, into the phone, “Shit, shit, Bruce, no, he’s just sick and panicking, would you both calm down?”

Tim moaned.

“What? No, you can’t talk to him. He’s barely conscious. He’s probably dehydrated, B, if it was an emergency I would have just taken him to Leslie myself. No, it’s not— okay, okay. Sheesh.”

A smooth phone screen was pressed against Tim’s ear.

“Boss man wants to talk to you. You awake?”

“Mmmnnf,” Tim said, into the phone.

“Tim, I’m on my way,” Bruce said. “How long have you been sick? Have you taken any abdominal blows recently?”

“Nuh. I ‘unno,” Tim mumbled, leaning against the phone. “Few…hours?”

“I’m leaving Wayne Tower. I’ll be there in twenty minutes.”

“‘kay,” Tim said and the towel felt so comfortable under his cheek, he couldn’t remember when he’d slept last.

The next thing he knew, he was jolting upright, driven by instinct toward the toilet. The phone clattered across the tiles.

This time, nothing was coming up at all, and he dry heaved with his shoulders shuddering. He spit out a final mouthful of blood. Jason was holding his hair back again, holding his head up really, and Tim choked on a dry sob.

“Sorry,” Tim rasped, when he was lying down with his head on the towel again. “Sorry, Jay.”

“Shut up,” Jason said, in a kinder, gentler tone than Tim had ever heard him use. He left the bathroom and Tim closed his eyes while listening to the faint sounds of cabinets being opened and closed, drawers being rummaged through, a faucet running.

“You got any straws?” Jason yelled. “Fuck, don’t try to answer that. I can find ‘em if you— forget it. I’ll use mine.”

He came back into the bathroom, heavy boots quiet on the tiles, and crouched down.

“Drink this. Just a sip,” he said, shoving a straw into Tim’s mouth.

Tim forced his eyes open and there was a glass with translucent orange liquid in it, a ribbed blue straw with a sort of natural curl.

“Wha’ is it?” Tim mumbled around the straw against his lips. “Where’s straw from?”

“Powerade powder,” Jason said impatiently, jostling the glass a little. “It’s my trach tube.”

Tim sipped, experimentally; the first mouthful was a little grainy with undissolved drink mix. He took another sip and his stomach clenched. He spat the straw out and Jason pulled it back.

The towel felt coarse when he pressed his face tightly against the fabric and fought against the nausea with a tightly-set jaw. Jason rubbed his back and it helped— Tim wasn’t sure which was weirder: that it was helping, or that it was Jason.

“So,” Jason said, and his voice was even more like sandpaper than usual, “does he lose his shit like that over all of you, or is it just you?”

All of you, like he wasn’t part of the group, like he hadn’t been one of the first. Tim didn’t dare relax, so it was through his teeth that he answered.

“All.”

“Huh,” Jason answered, still rubbing his back in light circles with his palm. “Huh.”

They were both quiet. Tim tried to think but he found it hard to hold on to anything long enough for it to resolve in coherent thought. His limbs felt like they were drifting away at the same time his stomach felt like it was bubbling magma.

“Unh,” he managed to say.

Jason’s hands moved like lightning to under his arms, ready to pull him up.

“No,” Tim murmured, “m’so dizzy.”

A door opened, far, far away.

“Tim? Jason?” Bruce called.

Then the world slipped away into black.


There was pressure against his shoulder, a sliding weight.

“—he wouldn’t stop, and there was blood, and I didn’t—”

“Jay, it’s alright. You handled it well.”

“Of course I fucking did. I’m trained, aren’t I? God, I should have checked him for bruising anyway. I know, I know, you don’t have to lecture me.”

He was in a car. The upholstery smelled like carpet cleaner.

“I didn’t say anything. Calling me was the right thing to do.”

“He shouldn’t have been alone in an apartment. He’s just a fucking kid, B.”

“I know. It’s alright, Jay-lad.”

“Don’t call me that.”

“Alright.”

“I mean, do whatever the hell you want. I don’t care.”

“Alright.”

“Does Alfred know we’re— he should have a fever, shouldn’t he? He’s so cold.”

There was a hand resting on his head.

“Alfred’s ready. It’s because of his spleen. His body isn’t fighting off whatever he has. There’s a blanket under the floor panel.”

“You don’t sound worried.”

“I’m good at hiding it.”

“So, you are worried. Should I be worried?”

“No. You should take a deep breath. You did the right thing. He’s going to be fine. I promise.”

“You fucking promise. Whatever. You’re not in charge of the universe, you know.”

A pause.

“I know.”

A longer pause.

“He said you always worry. When it’s one of them.”

“Yes.”

“Did you…is it maybe, because…”

“Yes.”

“Oh.”

“It’s not your fault, Jayla—Jason.”

“Uh…you, uh. You can call me…that. Again. I don’t care.”

“How’s his breathing?”

“Steady. Pulse is a little fast.”

“Hn.”

“How the hell do you take that turn without braking? Gee whiz, B.”

“Practice.”

“So, if I borrow one of your cars, can I go that far over the speed li—”

“No.”

“You can’t tell me what to do.”

“You asked.”

“You’re the worst.”

“I am aware.”


A steady dripping near his ear woke him. Or, if it didn’t wake him, it was one of the things Tim first became aware of when he returned slowly to full consciousness.

“Mnmf,” he said, rolling his head to look. An IV bag was the source of the noise; saline, from the label. There was another bag, too, facing away from him.

“Morning,” Bruce said, from a chair not far away. Tim propped himself on one elbow. Bruce had a laptop, the screen now tilted half-closed as he glanced over it at Tim.

“Hi,” Tim said. His mouth and hair felt dry and gross. “I…got sick.”

“I noticed,” Bruce said, setting the laptop down on the side table. He checked over the IV though Tim knew there couldn’t be anything wrong with it.

Tim slumped back against the pillow and Bruce felt his forehead, brushed his hair back.

“You tested positive for type A influenza.”

“I hate everything,” Tim dragged a blanket up over his head.

“How’s your stomach?”

“Sore,” Tim groaned.

“I’ll bet. I think you ruptured the lining. We’ve been monitoring you for internal bleeding but haven’t seen any warning signs. Did you get a flu shot this year?”

Tim was glad the blanket was already over his face, so Bruce couldn’t see him cringe.

“Um. I maybe got busy and forgot?”

There was a short sigh and then the scrape of heavy chair legs across carpet.

“Are you mad?” Tim asked, from beneath the blanket. He didn’t particularly want to be looking at Bruce’s face right now.

“Do you want to wait until you feel better to have this discussion?”

“Not really, no,” Tim said. He dragged the blanket down to finally meet Bruce’s eyes. They were bright blue under heavy black brows. It was a hard, brittle glint. “I think you’re gonna be nicer while I’m sick.”

The chill shattered and Bruce chuckled, dry and short. “Fair.”

“I just…I know it was stupid. It won’t happen again. And maybe the shot wouldn’t have even worked for me anyway.”

The thin set of Bruce’s lips told him he wasn’t going to get far on that tack. And he did still feel pretty awful. Everything hurt. Maybe that was the reason tears were springing to his eyes, hot and thick now that he wasn’t dehydrated. He flipped the edge of the blanket over his face again.

There was a gentle tug and Bruce pulled it back down. Tim avoided his gaze while Bruce used the side of his thumb to wipe a tear off Tim’s cheek.

“I know you had reasons for moving into Gotham,” Bruce said. “But it’s time to move back home, Tim. For another year or two, at least.”

“I’m okay on my own,” Tim protested, sniffling. “I just messed up, okay?”

“Do you want to be okay on your own?”

Tim swallowed, past the lump in his throat.

“No,” he mumbled. “Yes. And no. I can be.”

“Do you need to be?”

“I had to be.” Tim scowled. “You were gone.”

“I know and I’m sorry. I’m back now, and I think you need to be, too.”

Tim fiddled with the edge of the blanket, twisting it in his fingers. There was a doodle on his wrist in pen, the ink smudged from age. Cass had drawn it a few days before. When he took a deep breath and looked up, Bruce was looking down at the carpet, his own hands.

“I don’t want to get another call and think the worst might have happened because you were alone, Tim. I don’t like it with your older brothers, not with the work we do. I never have. But you’re young, Tim. You should still be at home. For a little longer. There are things you shouldn’t have to handle on your own yet.”

“Okay,” Tim said. “But no curfew?”

“No curfew,” Bruce said quickly, straightening in the chair. “I’m not…I don’t want to imprison you, Tim. But I’m your…your father. Even if it’s mostly a legal distinction.”

“It’s more than a legal distinction,” Tim said quietly. His joints ached and he shifted on the bed, trying to get comfortable. “I’ve missed it here.”

“I’ve missed my morning coffee partner,” Bruce said, standing. He straightened the blankets, like he was tucking in a little kid, but briskly. He picked up the laptop. “Star Trek?”

“Voyager.”

“Tim, that’s the worst one.”

“I’m sick, Bruce.”

“The worst.”

“You never watched Enterprise. You’re just saying that because you like Next Gen.”

“Because it’s the superior series.” Bruce set the laptop on the bed beside Tim, so he could see it lying down. The screen was already paused on the first episode of Voyager. “I’m only allowing this because you’re ill. You have terrible taste.”

“I can live with that. Can you?”

His answer was a brief ruffle of his hair.

“Watch the show, Tim. I’ll pause it if you fall asleep.”

“B?”

“Hn.”

“Is…did Jason stay? At all?”

The opening credits finished before Bruce spoke again. Tim didn’t have to crane his head to look and see, to hear the smile in Bruce’s voice.

“He stayed for dinner last night.”

“Good,” Tim said. “He was really nice. To me, yesterday. It was yesterday?”

“It was yesterday. He was worried about you.”

“Is it weird that I’m glad?”

“No,” Bruce said, squeezing Tim’s shoulder. “It’s not weird.”