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Bad Aftertaste

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Jason swung the side of his fist into the wall, denting the plaster and releasing a puff of white dust. He couldn't keep his head up. It weighed a hundred pounds.

“Oh, yeah, this looks great,” Dick said.

Jason jerked before remembering that he was still on comms. He needed to get off them or Dick was going to come looking. His shoulder hit the wall. “Uggngh,” he managed, followed by a breathy, “Fuck off,” on the exhale before he yanked the earpiece out.

His fingers were slippery, and he dropped the comm as he tried to put it in his pocket. It rolled in an arc across the floor, coming to a stop next to a drift of dust.

Another great sign,” Dick said. Jason could still hear him, which was weird since Jason's comm was on the floor.

Jason frowned. If he left the comm there, Bruce would be disappointed. He didn't like that, but if he bent over, would be be able to get back up? His knee started to bend despite clear instructions to the contrary. The little pile of dust came closer as he slid down the wall.

He stopped. Someone had a hand under his elbow, heaving him up and against the wall. That hurt, too. Jason turned into a surprisingly wide torso -- Dick wasn't actually as tiny as B made him look.

As Jason made him look. Oh yeah, being bigger than Dick felt good. Jason grinned. He tasted iron.

“Jesus, that looks terrible. Do you have all your teeth?”

“Don't need teeth where I'm going,” Jason said, the aggression knee-jerk.

That got him a unimpressed look. Fair, it wasn't Jason's best work, but then Dick seemed to think it over because -- holy shit -- he'd gone white, jerking forward to pull at Jason's jacket.

Oh, good. Jason still had the jacket.

“Hey,” Jason protested. Dick was patting him down all over, not gently.

“What do you mean, ‘where you're going’?” Dick said, furious. “You gave an all clear over the comms, I swear to God, if you're -- ”

Hey!” Jason said when Dick got to his ribs. There were bullet holes there, or rather, bullet dents. The armor had stopped them -- a lot of them, and shit if Jason wasn't feeling it right now. He started to slide back down the wall.

“Is this it?” Dick said. “Hood, is this it? He sounded offended by the lack of an open wound.

Jason showed Dick his bloody teeth again. “People act like you're so fucking calm.”

“I'm calm.” Dick gave him a look like a glacier in glittering blue. He did seem calm, if by calm you meant ready to move inexorably forward through solid rock.

People forgot that about Dick. He could get angry in a hundred different ways. Jason only got angry in one, but he thought it worked for him.

“This is your best feature,” Jason said. “Don't let anyone tell you it's your looks.”


“Where are your kids? You didn't leave them, right?” Jason didn't like that he couldn't see any of Dick's tiny vigilante ducklings in the shadows. That entrepreneur at the lab had been aiming at them and not just to cover his escape; he'd wanted to hurt them if he could. He'd wanted to hurt them because they were kids. It was making Jason's kid-shaped anxiety flare up.

“No, seriously,” Jason said. “You left your kids?”

“I don't have any kids,” Dick said. Maybe he’d changed his mind about letting Jason near them. Rude; Jason hadn’t shot at any of them in months.

Dickie,” Jason said, aghast, “are you saying you're not an overworked single mom just trying to get by with her ex-hubbie's bat-themed sex dunge-- “

Jason’s back knocked into the wall, a direct hit to the bullet bruises next to his spine. Dick lifted an eyebrow and carefully shifted his grip like he’d never let Jason go at all. Jason groaned and laughed at the same time. He was feeling better; clearer, he was pretty sure. Maybe having Dick here was useful. He could reward that with information, he supposed, and gestured toward his front pocket.

When Dick pulled out the empty injector pen, he went ballistic.

“What is this? Did you use it? Jas -- Hood.”

“Fuck you, I didn't do shit. Thug #2 got creative.” Jason thought for a moment. “No. Thug #13? I handled the first dozen pretty well.”

“You gave an all clear over comms.”

“It was one of the placebos,” Jason said stubbornly. “I saw the manifest.”

Dick gave him an are you kidding me look. “It doesn't matter if you're sure. Unknown substances get tested and reactions observed. If you get dosed, you go straight to -- ”

He stopped.

Jason lifted his eyebrows. Yeah.

Dick sighed.

“Jeez, Mom, I know a guy,” Jason said. “I was gonna check.”

Dick cast a pointed look at Jason slouched in the dent he'd left in the wall, teeth bloody and ribs probably broken.

I know a guy, too,” Dick said. He added when Jason opened his mouth, “Not Bruce.”


“Why is he so loopy?” Steph asked.

Jason gave her his best grin from the medical cot, reclining casually with one leg swinging off the side, the other bent comfortably, boot on the sheets. Leslie had made him drink enough water to clean the blood off his teeth, so the grin really didn't land as well as it had with Dick. Too bad; Steph was ornery, like him, and she probably would have liked it.

Jason wasn't surprised to see her -- he’d known, hadn’t he, that Dick didn't go anywhere in Gotham without at least one baby bat protege trailing behind. She wasn’t even a little bit shot, not like Jason. Good. If Jason wasn't going to shoot any baby bats, then some psycho running illegal clinical trials didn't get to either.

He kicked his foot thoughtfully. Dick and his ducklings. That had been a surprise when he’d first gotten back -- Dick hadn't been the big brother type when Jason had worn tights.

“Because he's a big baby,” Leslie said.

“Bigger than him,” Jason said with satisfaction. Leslie shoved his boot off the bed. The heavy combat boot rattled his whole body as it jerked to a stop. It ruined the pose, made him look like he'd been dumped across the bed like an invalid or an eligible coed.

It also made the room start spinning.

“The placebos have a sedative in them,” Dick said.

“I fucking knew you knew I was right,” Jason said.

“That doesn't seem very placebo-y of them,” Steph said.

“I don't think these guys were really into rigorous testing.” Dick turned to Jason. “And you -- you were not right. An unknown sedative still gets you observation.”

Jason threw a arm over his eyes, pretending the gesture was a sassy response and not about the vertigo. It didn't help the spinning.

“What does the non-placebo version do? Supposed to do?”

“Cure hangovers,” Leslie said. “Before Crane got involved.”

“Amazing!” Steph said brightly. “Does it cure them with death?”

“Only most of the time,” Dick said, a dry grin in his voice. He had charm, Jason could admit that. “The rest of the time, it replaces your hangover with, you know, an alternative psychotic hangover.”

The vertigo jumped in intensity. Jason reached out for an anchor and got Dick’s hand. Dick turned his wrist easily to fold his fingers over Jason's. He lifted an eyebrow; he wasn't going to let it slide without comment, the asshole. Jason turned red, which meant he was going to say something unforgivable soon, probably. But fuck, holding Dick's hand? It made him look like a little kid. It was also helping a lot more than closing his eyes, so he couldn’t let go.


“The room's spinning, Dickface -- get over it.”

“Nightwing.” Leslie, from across the room. “Tell me again about the equipment you found.”

“Sure. Steph, come hold Jason’s hand.”

“Gosh, me? Really?” She let out a gasp skirting the edge of pornographic. The ornery little fucker.

Jason would have let out a laugh, but the room was getting vague, past and present decoupling.

He had the fuzzy thought that he was glad Nightwing was there -- even if he'd would never admit it to the big dumb jerk. Nightwing was better at the bedside stuff than Batman, though Bruce wasn't as bad as people joked he was. It was easy to tell he cared, at least for Jason. Anybody who said different wasn't really looking.

A blonde girl stood over the bed, and he didn’t know who she was. She was maybe Nightwing’s age? He couldn't remember how old Nightwing was suddenly.

“Who are you,” Jason said, but it came out weird, like he was underwater. He tried reaching for the blue stripe on Nightwing's back as he walked away. Jason didn't have a lot of people in this world, and even on bad days, Nightwing was one of them.

“Uh,” the blonde girl said. “Dick?”

Nightwing was turning, and he looked the scary cold kind of upset. Bat upset. Jason grinned at him. These guys always needed to loosen up.

“That’s not the placebo,” Dick said.

The room got dimmer just as Nightwing started to freak out. Forget what Jason had said before -- the guy had terrible bedside manner.


Someone had taken Jason's boots off.

He felt a shiver of unease pass over him. This wasn't the Cave -- the number one place he'd expect people to take off his boots without asking him.

He was somewhere like the Cave though since the Cave's number two feature was asleep next to Jason's bed, curled up in a chair Jason recognized. It was Leslie’s most comfortable seat, an armchair in faded Nightwing blue, upholstered in easy-clean vinyl. Dick had bought it for her clinic after an unpleasant vigil -- as a message to Bruce about too many vigils because Dick’s ‘fuck you’s to Bruce were all hilariously stepford-wife-who’s-run-out-of-valium.

Damian sat in Dick’s lap, Dick's forehead on his shoulder. His expression was soft, a little lost, but it shifted quickly when he spotted Jason, becoming something flat and unimpressed, an expression that said I'm here against my will, and it's your fault.

Yeah, held every day by someone who loved him -- rough draw, kid.

Jason had been younger than Damian when his mom had gotten sick. Then there'd been his whole unfortunate Oliver Twist period, which had been pretty hug free, at least the kind of hugs you wanted. Then came Bruce, Alfred, and the big empty manor. Bruce was, as always, warmer than people wanted to give him credit for, but he'd been raised by Alfred, the king of British restraint. Jason had no bad things to say about the home they'd given him, not even now, but while he hadn't gotten no hugs, he hadn't gotten that either.

Jason met Damian’s stare. “He didn’t have to fucking sleep there.”

“You told him you felt better when he was here.” Damian tugged primly on the starched cuffs sticking out from underneath his sweater. The semi-formal brunch get up looked strange next to Dick’s dusty Nightwing suit.

“Bullshit,” Jason said. Damian didn’t bring the Wayne heir outfits into vigilante spaces unless he had to. Despite the outward calm, his clothes suggested a rush. It was giving Jason the heebie-jeebies.

“Tt. The drug was noted to cause temporary psychosis.”

The drug. Psychosis -- fuck! Jason went cold.

He tried to take stock of the clinic without looking like he was taking stock of the clinic, but there wasn’t anything overturned, no fresh scrapes on the walls or bullet holes. Jason wasn't restrained either, except by a set of EKG leads snaking under the unzipped collar of his uniform's underlayer. Even Dick looked ok, and Jason on the crazy train would have put a hole in him for sure. He clutched his hands in the sheets to stop a sudden shake. Then there was Damian, who they’d let in here looking like he was about to walk into a country club, no body armor at all.

Damian straightened, posture reverting back to classically educated murderbot, and Dick jerked awake, arms tightening. Jason wasn’t ready for Dick to wake up; he was still freaking out about what he could have done. It wasn't what he wanted anymore, but parts of him still remembered wanting it. He didn't trust himself. A headache came to life at the front of his skull.

Dick looked around, finally settling on Jason with an expression like he was bracing himself. That was probably Jason’s fault; he wasn't great at looking friendly when cornered and panicked. It must have been obvious that Jason was himself again, no longer tripping out or whatever else had happened, because Dick looked like he was struggling with what to say.

“What did I do? Just tell me,” Jason said.

That clearly wasn't what Dick had been expecting. “What?”

“The drug. It wasn't the placebo -- the psychosis -- what did I do?”

“Nothing,” Dick said. He shifted, resettling Damian on his lap, who made a show of staring at the wall.

“Nothing -- ”

“No, I mean -- ok, not nothing. You told me that you liked it when I used to come around when you were sick. Then you asked me to get B --”

Jason shot up, EKG leads jerking against the cart, ribs going white hot with pain, but fuck -- fuck! -- he was not sticking around if --

“Jason! Jason, I did not get Bruce.

Jason froze, chest heaving. Dick was up off the chair, hands on Jason’s shoulders, eyes earnest and sharp on Jason’s own. Damian had spilled off his lap, coming to rest a few feet away in a ready stance, prepared to intervene if Jason turned violent.

Jason sank slowly back against the cushions, skin prickling with self-conscious discomfort. “You didn’t call B.”

“I didn’t call B,” Dick confirmed.

Jason didn’t know what to do with that. He shifted, a little awkward, taking slow breaths until the ribs faded to background noise. “A dying guy asks for one thing, and you say no?”

Dick’s eyes narrowed.

“I'd be happy to call him,” Damian said pulling out his phone.

Jason twitched.

“Damian,” Dick said mildly, not even bothering to look over. Damian slid the phone back into his pocket, rolling his eyes.

“I hope that kid gives you as much grief when he hits puberty as you gave B,” Jason said. “Otherwise, you're going to have a pet assassin for life, and that isn't fair to the rest of us.”

Pet?” Damian’s knees bent, ready to lunge.

“Damian,” Dick said, again without turning, so Jason got to see both Damian drop back into ready position and Dick’s heavenward glance.

“He said--” Damian started.

“The instant he's cleared, you can beat him up -- if he agrees to the fight.” To Jason, he murmured, “No broken bones, no blood, ok?”

“Thanks, Mom, I love hitting kids,” Jason said earnestly.

“You won't be able to hit me, Todd,” Damian said, derailing both Dick's chance to mention another Robin Jason had been happy to hit and Jason's chance to say something worse in return.

Dick put a hand over his face, neatly hiding whether he was disappointed or trying not to laugh.

The door opened to admit Steph with Cass a silent shadow behind her. Steph looked back over her shoulder, laughing lightly at something she’d said before coming in.

Jason went tense all over. The relaxed way Steph was talking was giving him the creeps. Like they thought they had him taken care of. Squared away, wrapped up, controlled. Whatever the fuck détente they were living in was one nobody had bothered to talk to Jason about.

“Hey, not dead, excellent work,” Steph said, looking at Jason. That would have been fine probably except for all the rest of it. Any one of these people Jason could handle on their own, and he would, later, after he got the fuck out of this love fest --

Cass' eyes narrowed. She at least had her eye on the threat. To Dick, she said, “Too much.”

Dick did a double take between the two of them, startled and then chagrined. He jumped up, pushing Damian back, Cass pulling Steph towards the door. “Ok, I think -- ”

Great, Jason wasn’t even in this conversation. He pulled back the covers, staggering when his legs took a moment to decide whether to take his weight. He yanked the EKG leads off his chest, ignoring the sticky residue they left behind. His ribs started screaming.

“Boots,” Jason said, breathless enough it came out a growl. He hated having to ask.

Dick looked at him for a long moment. Jason let a snarl creep into his expression, pulling on every bit of the Pit he could without actually summoning the Pit's green haze into his vision.

“Right,” Dick said. He held out his hand and Cass passed him Jason’s boots from where they'd been sitting by the door. The jacket came next. They'd left his pants and undershirt on, but the body armor and his holsters were stacked on a table by the door. Jason breathed slowly through his teeth until he had his hands on all of it. Fuck, it was heavy.

Dick looked Jason up and down, the swaying and the pasty complexion. “Can somebody help you get those on?”

No. Somebody couldn’t. Jason got most of it on and walked out barefoot. He passed a napping Tim Drake in the hall -- Jesus! -- who woke up and knocked two chairs over trying to get a safe distance between them as Jason walked by. That was the reaction Jason wanted, but what the fuck was the Replacement doing here! Jason growled at him, but it didn't make him feel better.

He stopped three blocks away to put his boots on, sitting down on a window ledge covered in pigeon-shit. The restaurant behind it was closed this early, faded signs in Vietnamese hanging over barred windows. His socks were so filthy he left them there and put his boots on without them. They'd be fine for a few blocks.

Tying the boots was difficult, his chest aching and fingers clumsy. He had zipped his jacket up over the red bat, but he still looked like what he was -- someone who shouldn't have been vulnerable but was. A target. He should be in a bed behind a locked door with a gun by his hand.

He didn’t get up though. He just kept sitting there like he didn’t want to leave this pigeon-shit hole. The part of his brain that made the plan -- get someplace safe! -- and the part of his brain that executed the plan had stopped talking to each other.

It was like he didn't want to get up, and he just hadn't figured out the reason yet. Sure, the bats were probably going to follow him, but he'd already picked out which safe house to burn. Sure, he hurt, but he'd pushed through worse. What the fuck was he waiting for? For Black Mask's thugs to show up and run Red Hood off his territory?


Something else, it turned out.

A scuff on the sidewalk, and there was Dick fucking Grayson in thrown-together civilian gear -- gray hoodie and scrubs, a clinic ID badge still clipped on that said his name was Jane. He was wearing the kind of huge white sneakers worn only by nurses and the elderly.

Jason startled himself by not being angry to see him. He should feel pissed that Dick had followed him, but he wasn't. Instead, he had to turn away, swallowing something grateful in his throat.

Holy fuck! He’d wanted Dick to come. Why?

“Hey,” Dick said, sitting gingerly on the dirty ledge, sparing a skeptical glance for the pasty concretions the pigeons had left behind. “Sorry about the clinic.”

He left a good foot of space between them, but Jason couldn't tell if he'd done it out of wariness or what. He didn't look at Dick, watching the dumpsters across the street. This felt stupidly uncomfortable, much worse than how easy it had been to mock him when his teeth were bloody and he could barely stand.

But Dick had come after him. Even though he had a clinic full of the younger siblings he actually liked, he'd still come after Jason. And Jason was going to give him hell for it, probably.

For the first time in a long time, something unpleasant turned over in his gut at the thought of that. He didn't -- want to? Jason cleared his throat. Dick didn't needed to know Jason had wanted him here, not yet. Maybe not ever.

“Did Cass tell you I wouldn’t shoot you if you came after me?”

“She can't actually predict what you're going to do if she can’t see you.”

Jason kicked at an asphalt pebble. It had been easy to find words when Dick had found him in that lab. Jason lived with a fire inside him; all he had to do was open his mouth and let out the sparks. Now he felt creaky and cold, the stove inside full of damp wood that wouldn't burn.

“When she can see me, what does she say?”

Dick hesitated. Jason shot him a look under his lashes, but Dick just sighed. “She says she doesn’t know what you’re going to do next because you don’t know.”

That landed harder than Jason wanted it to. He should have known; Cass was always dangerous. What was he doing these days? If he thought about it, he’d have to decide -- so he didn't. Jason let out a self-deprecating laugh.

“Anyway, I’m sorry. I shouldn't have let everybody come over, but they were worried about you.”

“Bullshit.” Jason rolled his eyes. All of them? Tim had practically levitated to get away from him. If they were there it was because of Dick. They fawned over him like the Von Trapp children over Fraulein Maria. Dick hadn’t been anything like Julie Andrews when Jason had joined the family.

Jesus, what would that even have been like? Like Damian on Dick's lap, Dick's head on his shoulder? Jason had been too big for laps by the time Bruce had taken him in, but -- fuck, he couldn't think about this. Did he really want that?

Despite the shared distrust and violence, Jason hadn't actually been much like Damian as a kid. For Damian, Bruce had been everything he had been raised to expect; Dick was everything he'd never been allowed to have. For Jason, it had been the opposite. Jason had known plenty of smiling people who wanted -- needed -- you to like them, plenty of con men. Where Jason grew up, even the con men were just trying to get by.

No, for Jason, Bruce had been everything he'd never been allowed to have. Firm, honest, utterly reliable in the face of uncertainty and fear. Dangerous to others but a kind hand on Jason's shoulder. A father, the likes of which Jason had only ever seen in the pages of library books.

Fuck. He had asked for Bruce last night. He still wanted Bruce. Now that he'd thought it, he could feel it -- a sucking chest wound usually buried under fire and rage. He clenched his jaw so hard it made his ribs ache. It hurt to breathe.

“You show up when they get in over their heads, and they know that.”

Jason started. He'd forgotten what Dick was talking about. The kids -- the kids Bruce was going to lose like he lost Jason. It felt like Bruce had gotten worse at keeping track of them. Like he'd left it all to Dick.

He swallowed thickly, “They don’t even know when they’re in over their heads.”

Dick laughed. He flicked his hand in a silent gesture of agreement. Tell me about it.

Jason wasn’t going to bond with Dick over being the responsible adult. “You make it sound like -- but they aren’t like that with me. Not like with you.”

Not like Jason had been with Bruce.

“I don’t try to shoot them,” Dick said blandly.

Jason gritted his teeth. That wasn't -- he wasn't trying to joke, Dick. “You like them. You pay attention to them all the time, not just when they’d be dead if you didn't. They trust you.”

It sounded exhausting. Impossible.

“I’ve had a lot of practice mentoring. You could -- ”

“I don't want to be anybody's mentor.” A lie. He could do better than Bruce if he just knew how. “I just want to know why -- ” Jason cut himself off.


He couldn’t believe he’d been about to blurt out -- it had to be the drug. He was the Red Hood. But... maybe this was the only time he'd get to ask and have something to blame it on.

Fuck, it was bad enough he was yearning for Bruce. Was he really going to double down on being openly pathetic? He'd asked for Bruce. Dick had been the one to hear that pathetic plea, too.

He shut his eyes, forcing it out. “Why not me? I didn’t get -- ” He gestured vaguely back towards the horde of proteges back at Leslie's. “ -- that. You didn't like and pay attention to me.”

Dick swayed back like Jason had thrown him a real, physical weight. Jason could see the emotional reaction move through his body, the initial shock processed and deflected into something harmless -- his feet swinging nervously like a kid. Damian would have lectured him about his dignity. Jason would have just laughed at him.

“You're not going to like my answer.”

Yeah, Jason already knew Bruce and Alfred were the only two people who'd ever liked the mess of a human being Jason was. And one of them had later changed his mind. He looked away. “Forget it.”

“I was 18,” Dick said, “and clueless.”

Jason gritted his teeth. “That's it? What a fucking cop out. You know, I was actually there, I actually remember -- ”

“What? That I was not that bad?” Dick gestured with great offense back towards the clinic. “You got high and asked for me -- ”

“I wanted Bruce!” Jason snapped.

Dick stared at him, eyes very round and lips pressed together like if he made the expression he wanted to make he knew Jason was going to kill him.

Jason shut his eyes like he was wishing for ruby slippers to click together to take him away. “You were fine, alright? I didn't like the smiling or the bullshit -- I couldn’t tell if you were a con man or a hooker, and yeah, I did grow up in an after school special -- but you've got baby siblings up to your ears and you like every single one of them more than you ever pretended to like me.”

Dick took a long slow breath, shoulders lifting. It drove Jason nuts how obviously he changed what he was going to say based on his audience. Jason had pegged him right the first time -- con man.

“It’s not a cop out,” Dick said firmly. “I'd never had a younger sibling before. I'd been the darling of the circus, the manor, and the league -- ”

“Not that darling,” Jason muttered.

“-- and when I got a little brother, I messed it up. I’m sorry. I didn't get a second chance. My little brother died, alone.”

“Gosh, did he?” Now he was angry. “I was never your little brother, Dick.”

“Don't tell me -- ” Dick snapped before he cut himself off. He took a breath. “Ok. Ok. That’s -- fair. I think of you that way, but that kind of cemented when you were, you know.”

“Well, great. Glad you got to play happy families with my grave, and it worked out for everybody.”

Dick shot him a dissatisfied look.

“Why did you come out here?” Jason asked.

Dick waved a weary hand towards the clinic, like he already knew Jason wasn’t going to believe him. And Jason didn’t.

“They’re worried? Worried about what -- was I too nice under the influence?”

He’d asked for Bruce.

“No,” Dick shot him a baffled look, “about your heart. It affected -- don't you have pain?”

Jason put a startled hand to his chest. It ached, an all-over, bone deep pain. He took a sharp, frightened breath, and it hurt. “I thought it was my ribs.”

He'd thought it was missing Bruce.

“They’re bruised, yeah, but nothing broken this time.”

Jason laughed, relishing the pain of it. He'd been a fucking idiot. “You didn't come out here to talk. You came out here to see if I'd collapsed in an alley.”

“I didn't think you'd let me talk.”

“Why the fuck did you let me out here to collapse?”

Dick threw up his hands. “Because, Jason! Past experience suggests you are more than willing to hurt yourself to make a point to B -- and to me! -- about your independence. Because you’re willing to hurt yourself to hurt us, and I would like it if you didn’t hurt.

Jason had to grip the edge of the ledge to keep from reacting the way he wanted too, rough concrete digging into his palms. His heart was beating furiously, and each too-fast breath hurt like a motherfucker. For the first time in a long time, he felt the Pit picking at the edges of his vision. No, he wasn’t falling for that anymore.

He didn't want what the Pit wanted anymore.

And he didn't fucking want Bruce either. The Bruce Jason remembered -- the one he wanted -- hadn't withstood the test of time. He was like a movie you'd loved as a kid that you shouldn't ever rewatch.

Dick jumped to his feet, shifting with nervous energy. Jason stared up at him. Dick had withstood the test of time, but in a weird way. He drove Jason nuts, and Jason didn't know that he really wanted to fit into Dick's Von Trapp family, but he didn't -- he thought he wouldn't mind visiting.

Jason closed his eyes,. “Look -- can you just -- tell me what the medical follow up is?”

“Rest,” Dick said, “and monitoring.”

“Monitoring,” Jason repeated. “Blood tests? EKG? Or just a buddy in case of collapse?”

“Buddy,” Dick said. “Though a follow up exam tonight or tomorrow would be a good idea.”

Jason was quiet for a minute, trying to navigate the mess of his thoughts and get the energy together to say it. “I’ll call Roy. Do you have a panic button?”

Dick did. A little electronic device on a small chain that would fit around Jason’s wrist.

“Who does it call?”

“Who do you want it to call?”


Dick whipped out a phone and started swiping at it with his thumb.

“I’ll go to a follow up at Leslie’s -- if no one else is there.”

Dick grimaced -- an apology Jason didn’t want to deal with -- but he nodded. He slipped the phone back into his pocket. The panic button went into Jason’s coat.

“Thank you,” Dick said.

“Don’t fucking thank me,” Jason muttered. He felt terrible, and he suddenly couldn’t get the image of Tim Drake falling over two chairs to get away from him out of his head. What if he sat next to Jason instead, and let Jason tell him how to talk to street kids without sounding like a fucking rich brat from North Gotham. Dick probably knew how to make that happen.

There was a long silence. Wind coming up the narrow street messed with Dick’s scrubs and made Jason pull his jacket closer. He probably had to get up now. Nothing else to wait for.

Dick shoved his hands in his pockets. “Want a hug?”

Jason stared at him. “No, Jesus.”

“I just thought I’d ask, since you know -- ”

Jason stood abruptly, far enough into Dick’s space Dick had to tip his head back to look at him. Jason scared the hell out of a lot of people, but Dick talked shit to Deathstroke. His lips tilted in the beginnings of that Robin smirk.

Jason gave up and darted his eyes away. “If it happens again,” he said awkwardly, “they can come. If they want. Just -- warn me.”

Dick’s smiled wryly. He reached out and gripped Jason’s arm once in reassurance before Jason could shake him off. “Alright. Stay safe, Jason,” he said.

Jason stayed in the street a long time watching him go.