As soon as they make their way to the car, Kori slides into the driver’s seat. Dick allows himself to debate whether or not he can give up control at a time like this before deciding that he’d probably kill everyone in a horrible car wreck if he drives. The heat building behind his eyes and the chills all over his body are evidence enough.
Dick limps around the van, one hand on the vehicle the entire time. He collapses into the passenger seat and buckles in, the leather feeling malicious. His heart rate starts to picks up right before he passes out cold, leaving no room to panic just yet.
Everything is fuzzy. Things are different but still the same, somehow. What he sees isn’t nearly as clear as it was before but he can still vaguely feel the chair he lies in and the leather strapping him in. This time it isn’t keeping his head, hands, and legs down, it’s just across his torso. Dick doesn’t have the energy he did before to struggle and harder than just shifting his head. There’s a suffocating heat everywhere, making it hard to think, hard to move in the vision at all.
His stomach sinks at the prospect of shuffling through yet another sequence of pain. But how can he be sure this isn’t real? It feels completely real – it feels like the fire creeping up his childhood bed and onto his vulnerable flesh is real.
Dick’s mouth opens in a choking gasp, and it feels so, so real, but no air expands his lungs. The smell of burning flesh invades his sinuses and through the flames, he can see himself. The Robin suit is completely intact and drenched in blood. Dick blinks and looks down; the bed is gone, and instead, he’s been impaled by his own bo staff. All at once, he feels everything and nothing, the fire and the bo staff amidst his innards, and complete numbness. The other Dick reaches forward with a blood-covered glove and wrenches the staff from his body.
Dick lurches awake with a gasp, the image of his younger self and blood splattering sticking to the back of his eyelids. Kori glances over, concern written on her features. His stomach cramps. Glancing down, he sees that his guts are intact, but the belt over his body has his heart beating nauseatingly fast. Sweat drips down his temple. The seatbelt digs into his neck.
“Pull over.” Dick grunts through clenched teeth. It’s dark and the streets are empty, so Kori can stop the car quickly enough – just in time for Dick to tumble out and vomit all over the sidewalk. He bites the inside of his cheek and digs his nails into his palm in an attempt to keep his stomach from expelling its contents again, but no amount of willpower could keep it back. He vomits a third time and at that point, tears have welled up and spilled down his cheeks from the pain. Again, his throat clenches, the muscles in his jaw spasm and go limp, but he only spits up bile. It stings his throat and does absolutely nothing to calm his stomach. Dick feels someone’s hand stroke up and down the back of his neck, the warmth on his clammy skin a comfort as he dry heaves a couple times.
The smell gets to him as soon as his stomach quiets down. Dick rocks back onto his heels but overestimates his strength and nearly falls back into the van. Kory catches him just before his head smacks into the metal.
“Fuck! Stay awake. Stay awake, Dick.”
He's tired enough that the metal digging into his back doesn't bother him. His whole body hurts one way or another; whether it's the bruises left from the fight or his sore stomach and burning throat and eyes, everything hurts. Above all, though, he's so exhausted that there's no chance of staying awake any longer.
When Dick next wakes up, he truly wishes he had remained unconscious. It feels as though there’s something in his blood boiling him from the inside out. His stomach aches horribly from all of the vomiting and he’s sweating profusely despite how cold he feels. The air conditioning is on full blast.
Groaning, he realizes he’s in the car again. How did he get back? Where…where are they going? Dr. Adamson had somehow escaped the house – it’s probably compromised. There’s nowhere else to go. Unless they go to a motel, but the last time they did, that creepy family found them. The creepy family is dead. Is he dead? Shouldn’t they all be, given the fire that burned the entire ‘hospital’ down? But he feels too cold to be burning. Which is weird because just a moment ago he thought his eyes were melting in his skull.
Nothing makes sense. He can’t connect two thoughts. All he knows is that he’s in pain and that Rachel, Kory, and Gar are, too. What he isn’t sure about is if this is real. That thought terrifies him more than anything; is he really awake? Or is this another vision courtesy of the drug? At any moment, Dick’s younger self could appear and kick the shit out of him again.
Right now, though, his mind and body are screaming at him to get warm. And the air conditioning isn’t helping, so his only objective is to turn it off. Dick’s arm blindly looks for the button to turn off the AC. His hand is met with something soft, furry.
“’S cold, Kor,” he slurs. He wonders if the younger kids are cold. “Gar? Rach?”
“You have a fever. Go back to sleep, Dick. It’s gonna be alright.”
“His fever is really high, Kori.”
“Help me get him into the bath. Angela, could you fill it up?”
“Cold water. Yeah.”
“Gar, you go and take a shower. Take as long as you want.”
Dick’s eyes flutter open momentarily. He doesn’t really take anything in, not any information that helps, just that the dim light makes his eyes hurt so much he nearly sobs. Aside from that all he knows is the pain throbbing in his head and throughout his whole body, how cold he is, and how incredibly weak he feels.
“Dick? I’m gonna have to strip you, and it’s gonna be really cold, but it’s for your own good. Don’t struggle.”
He has no idea what any of that meant. He’s already colder than he thought possible. And this is Kori talking to him, why would he struggle? She wouldn’t do anything to hurt him.
“No, I wouldn’t, but it’s going to be unpleasant.”
Kory isn’t going to hurt him. But he’s still confused. Dick wonders how he got down to his boxers.
“Rachel, go help your mom settle down, okay? I’ve got it from here.”
“I’ll see if Gar is okay, too.”
The door shuts quietly. Dick peeks his eye open again and shuts it quickly, the lights even brighter in here. He grunts halfheartedly. The toilet seat he’s sitting on far too cold. Kori wraps an arm around his waist and lifts him gently. It’s as if he doesn’t weigh any more than a kitten.
“I’m gonna take these off, too, just don’t freak out.”
Quickly, Kory hooks a finger in the elastic band of his boxers and shoves them down before carefully lowering Dick into the bath. He’s far too preoccupied with the freezing water to care, and she’s already seen him naked, so he wouldn’t care that much anyway. He gasps and grips her forearm in an attempt to gain leverage. The water splashes his chest. Kori keeps a solid hand on his shoulder. After a couple of minutes, Dick’s exhaustion outweighs the discomfort. He stops wiggling around and allows the water to come up to his neck. Kori pats his head hesitantly.
“Dick?” He gives a short, displeased hum. She scoffs lightheartedly. “I’m gonna wash your hair and you’re never going to bring it up. It’s just because you smell.” Not because I care about you.
He sits quietly and lets her fingers clean his hair of blood. The longer the water cools him down, the more coherent his thoughts become. Dick suddenly realizes how incredibly vulnerable he is. His training tells him that Kori can easily hold his head underwater and drown him silently. But he feels safe – safer than he has in a while. Her hands keep him grounded amid the lingering fear and fever.
“Shut up.” Kory helps him out and shoves a towel, pair of boxers, and sweatpants into his chest and absconds from the bathroom.
Dick quickly realizes that, despite his fever having gone down from brain-melting, it still has him shivering and weak. He assumes the drug they pumped in him is responsible for these symptoms – for the fever, headache, nausea, weakness, left-over terror, and hallucinations. With that in mind, Dick takes two steps out of the bathroom and immediately collapses, his knees buckling.
Rachel and Kori are there to help him up. He fights as best as he can against the dizziness and tries to walk as straight as possible. It’s hard to do that with black spots encroaching on his vision. Dick allows himself to be lowered down on the bed, the sheets having been thrown back. The pillow is cool but quickly heats under his trembling body. There are voices, and he vaguely thinks that someone is talking about him, but all he cares about is staying awake. He’s a little more certain that this is real but falling asleep means giving himself up to the mercy of his still-drugged brain. He knows that his dreams are going to be filled with a heat he can’t escape. At least if he’s awake, he can sort of see and hear his— the kids.
Rachel leans in to hug him but she's gone in the blink of an eye. She scurries off to fall asleep beside her mom for the first time.
“How’s Gar?” His voice is rough, worse than just gravelly, it sounds as if he’s been screaming. Dick winces internally and focuses before the memories can resurface.
“I’m good.” Dick turns his head toward the door, taking in the living room outside for the first time. It’s another safe house, not all glass this time, thankfully. Garfield stands in the doorway in his pajamas.
Gar looks drawn and weary, eyes dark and far too small in the doorway. Silently, Dick pushes the sheets down and lets the corner of his mouth twitch up. In a flash, Gar slides onto the bed and cuddles up without hesitation. For a second, the physical contact and his blatant trust and concern overwhelms him. Slowly, Dick wraps an arm around Gar and lets his eyes slide closed.
Kori doesn’t quite smile, but for the first time in hours, she feels relaxed enough to be able to take care of herself. She retreats into the bathroom to take a shower and wrinkles her nose at Dick’s discarded clothes in the corner. Rachel deserves to be with her mom, undisturbed, and Gar needs to recover. So, Kori is left with all of the chores. Usually, she and Dick split them but with him out of commission, she’s going to have to get everyone’s shit together, at least a little bit. But first, a shower.
Since Kori doesn’t remember anything before the last couple of weeks, she doesn’t have a reference for her love of showers, but that doesn’t matter. Nothing could compare to the relief of washing off the grime and the feeling of those masked scientist’s hands on her. It won’t make the memories disappear, but the hot water relaxes her muscles and provides her a place to just close her eyes and breathe.
They didn’t exactly have much time to stop for commodities like pajamas or even necessities like food, so Kori doesn’t have any pajamas to change into, but she doesn’t think that Dick will mind if she slips into a pair of his sweatpants and a t-shirt.
Gar is curled into Dick’s side, face planted in his chest. Dick is shivering, still, and his pillow is damp with sweat, but the hold he has on Gar is anything but weak. Actually, as Kory looks closer, Dick seems to be tensing up as she watches. He twists the sheets in one hand and the back of Gar’s shirt in the other.
Carefully, she sits beside Dick and rests her hand on his forehead. He’s burning up again and definitely dreaming. “Dick. Wake up. You’re gonna wake up Gar.” Dick doesn’t budge.
“Too late,” says a sleepy voice. Gar looks as rumpled as any teenager does after waking up. He sits up, rubbing his eyes. “He looks really sick.”
Kori nods. “The drugs they gave him – whatever they were – are leaving his system, I think. But he’s still having nightmares and we have to keep his fever down.” She considers asking him how he feels. After a moment, she knows it’s best to check on him, let him know he isn’t alone. “How are you feeling?”
Gar doesn’t answer for a long moment. The silence stretches on, cementing Kori’s worry. She can hear Dick muttering under his breath. “Bad. But I don’t really want to talk about it. Can we just wake him up before he throws up all over the bed?” For now, it’s enough. It has to be enough.
She shakes Dick’s shoulder and calls his name a couple of times. On the third try, she’s nearly yelling, but his eyes finally snap open. He sits up in a flash and slides off the end of the bed, still in the throes of terror. Unfortunately, he’s still weak and feverish, so he crumples to his knees yet again. Gar jumps off the bed to help him to his feet, wincing at the deep groan Dick lets out.
“Don’t- don’t. I can do it.” Dick gently shrugs his hands away. Fists curled at his side, he staggers the rest of the way to the bed. He breathes a long sigh as he lowers himself down onto the mattress. Vulnerability in front of anyone is still hard, nearly impossible, even. He rests his elbows on his knees and lets his head hang down. The drugs are still in his system; he’s still sweating and his heart is fluttering like he’s had way too many energy drinks. Despite how jittery he is, exhaustion still hangs on to his bones with a vengeance. Merely sitting up is almost too much to handle especially with how inviting the bed is under his thighs. And to top it all off, his stomach is rioting again.
“Are you okay?” Gar shrinks back when Dick looks over at him. “Sorry, stupid question.”
“No,” Dick says, “I’m just a little nauseous.”
He can feel Kori’s eyes staring holes into the back of his head. “You can’t really lie when you look like you’re about to pass out, Dick. Just—”
“…Just be honest with us.” Kori sits down next to him on the edge of the bed. He notices that she’s wearing his shirt. The sleeves hang low on her arm, her shoulders much narrower than his. Dick runs a desperate hand through his hair. But his mind is already made up.
How could he bring himself to lie to them, to these kids and an alien that are willing to put their lives in his hands even though they know he’s a failure? Dick decides that he can't, not anymore. So he starts quietly, “I’m kind of…uh, oscillating between not- not knowing if any of this is real. Right now I feel fine. But the, um, drugs are making it hard to calm down.” Before Dick can really get his thoughts sorted out, his stomach cramps again. “And I’m definitely going to puke.”
He pushes himself off the bed and limps over to the bathroom far too fast for his body’s liking. Every muscle in his body protests loudly but he’s too preoccupied bowing over the porcelain bowl and throwing up absolutely nothing. All he can spit up is bile because he hasn’t eaten in a while. Regardless, his stomach cramps and continues to expel bitter acid. At least this time someone pressed a cold water bottle into his hand. He keeps the other one tight on the rim and takes a swig, spitting it out into the toilet. While Dick chugs two big gulps, someone flushes for him, and then he throws up one more time. Afterward, his stomach is calm enough for him to consider moving back to the bed. “I feel like shit, Kori.” Maybe his fever started to climb again and he’s delirious enough to make a joke, but he’d take a bit of dark humor over continued vomiting.
“Let’s get you back in bed, then.”
Gar is lying under the sheets again, looking quite young and like the very definition of ‘sleepy’. He’s pulled up only one side of the sheets up to his chin and curled up tight. It makes it hard for Dick to imagine him in the Asylum, ripping the throat out of a living man. So he doesn’t think of it – there’s no need to think of Gar as his mistakes. He’s a good kid. He has a whole life ahead of him. Right now, he looks like some company would help keep the nightmares away.
Speaking of kids, Dick asks in a whisper, “How’s Rachel holding up?”
“She’s got her mom. And she’s got us.” Kori throws him a pointed stare. “But she wasn’t drugged half to death and she didn’t light anything on fire.” Dick refuses to make eye contact even as Kori helps him sit at the edge of the bed. Instead, he keeps his eyes on his hands. “Look, I know you’re a grown man and Batman’s former protégé but you’re fucked up, Dick. I’m glad you’re learning to be honest with us. Just remember you need to talk about what crazy shit is going on in your head.”
It seems the theme for tonight is vulnerability. Kori tilts his head up with a hand under his chin. Then she cups his cheek and strokes her thumb across his bruised skin. Her other hand cards through his wild hair.
“I…I will talk. About it, I mean. But not tonight. My heart feels like it’s going to burst out of my chest.” Dick gently wraps his own hand around her wrist and leans into her palm.
She doesn’t answer for a moment, just gives him a ghost of a smile. It’s her eyes that tell him he said the right thing. “I’ll sleep here tonight in case you wake up.” Dick releases her wrist and lies back. She goes to turn off the light.
He nudges Gar, guiding him to the middle of the bed to make room for Kori. Gar grunts and scoots over with his eyes firmly shut. Kori slips under the sheets and Gar curls up again, laying his head on Dick’s chest. Kori’s fingers curl around his.
Every bit of his body aches like a bitch and his head is pounding and so is his heart. But the bed is warm and Gar’s steady weight against his side tells Dick that he’s already the group-appointed big brother. Something about that title makes his chest unclench slightly. And Kori’s silent support makes it easier to let his eyes slip closed and drift into a deep sleep.