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Kintsugi

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As soon as Tim properly lays eyes on their first sub, he knows this one is bad. All the trafficking rings are, inherently, in one way or another, bad; but Tim actually has the presence of mind and the detachment to rank them. It's what makes him so good at his job – the ability to consciously decide which rings need more resources, and which might, just maybe, be able to be put on the backburner a little longer before he gets around to them. It's a balancing act, and Tim's not proud of it, but it's how they run things. It's the only reason the Department's figurative head is still above water.

He can usually tell by how they handle the subs if they're headed for a 2 or 3 on the hit list, or if he can afford to push them further down the line, let them work their way back up by process of elimination. Most of his top ten in play at the moment are violent traffickers. All of them enact some sort of violence to keep their subs in line – or even just to get them down – but some of them have crossed over enough that Tim gives them a special fast-pass up the FBI's to-raid list.

These shitfucks aren't violent, and that's what throws Tim first. The subs, from the brief glances Tim has gotten whilst 'touring' their facility, are maintained and don't have any visual signs of physical abuse. Tim's not stupid; it's not like he's a health inspector giving a rubber stamp green light or eviction notice to every trafficking ring on the west coast. Regardless of how bad these traffickers are, they're on the list. Period.

And Tim knows that most abuse doesn't leave a neat visual flag. But he can tell by the grooming and the steady frequency of armed muscle that these subs are (backhandedly) cared for. These traffickers have been around the block a few times – not many times, but definitely a few – and Tim can see that merchandise quality is a selling factor. Going to town on a downed sub's hide every night because it's amusing or you're bored doesn't make for healthy, high quality profitable sales.

They're using a synth, Tim notices when they take him into a small back room to 'sample the goods'. He'd suspected, based on how pliant all the others were, even behind locked doors. It nudged the ring up another two notches on Tim's personal hit list just on principle. Synths were a sure-fire way of keeping a sub down and compliant, the most efficient way of minimising injury to them and yourself.

Based on how this one keens softly into the floor mat when Tim steps into the room, he can tell that there's something more at work here than natural bodily chemicals. It's not until he's nearly standing over the sub that he works out they're using Push.

It's not immediately obvious to Tim how he arrives at that diagnosis. There's certainly nothing specific in the way the sub acts when he feels Tim's eyes rove over his neatly restrained, prone form. But if he had any doubts before, they're swiftly washed away when Tim's escort turns to their armed muscle and orders, “Pick that one up.”

Because even though Tim knows the command was for the six-foot-five Mack truck of a guy with the Eagle holstered to his thigh, he watches the sub stiffen with the words. Watches as he tries to pick himself up, as if the impossible order is meant for him. Tim watches his ankles catch in their polycarbonate zip ties, watches the fists pressed neatly into his spine press harder as he strains to pull up, and sees how the sub tries to get himself upright under his own power. And he sees the absolutely crestfallen dejection when the Mack truck winds an arm around his bicep and hauls him up, as if he's failed in some simple task.

The sub stirs when they bring him closer, panic rising up through the calm bliss of the combination of synth and being down. His breaths curtail into short, sharp huffs of air, his shoulders stiffening with the proximity even as he tries to make himself smaller, more soft and pliant.

It's not until the escort claps Tim on the shoulder and declares, “Finest of the fine, my friend,” and the sub hums at the approval with his entire body that Tim's brain does the final math and realises they're using Push.

In terms of damage, if synth is an over-the-counter psychotropic-sedative pill, Push is the nastiest backyard crack cocaine you've ever seen. And most strains of synth aren't legal, let alone accessible without a prescription.

Tim can tell by the dazed, blissed crease in this sub's brow that they used Push to get him down. And he is down, shows every visual sign of it, from his narrowed, hunched shoulders to his quiet, non-disruptive breathing patterns. As if breathing too loudly is some sort of offence.

This sub is so far down that Tim doesn't even think he would know his own name if Tim tattooed it on his left arm. And whilst Tim knows its chemically possible for subs to enjoy being down, even on synth, he would be the first to raise his hand and guess that this sub is keeling, hard.

He has the bodily fatigue of someone who should have dropped four hours ago, and is staving off the inevitable not because drops are a bitch-and-a-half, but because they don't want him to drop. No sub can just postpone drop, like it's some sort of inconvenient baby shower or poorly scheduled appointment. But if you've got the training, sometimes you can edge it off, give yourself a spare few hours. Under their own bodily autonomy, most subs find themselves a few hours into drop before they notice they're even there.

This sub doesn't look like he has even the barest training, and if not bound up by the need to please, Tim's certain he'd be writhing in his own skin, seizing through whatever drop follows consistent uses of Push. And if the paperthin barrier of need for approval is all that's staving off a drop that hard, Tim knows that this is bad.

So Tim asks the most prominent question on his mind: “How long's he been down?”

The escort spares a brief glance at his wristwatch. It's a practical, if expensive, affair. “Forty-six hours.”

Tim nearly phones it in then. Entertains the brief, fleeting fantasy of burying a bullet between the eyes of this pimp and that thug, and hauling the sub the fuck out of dodge. The only thing that stops him is the fact that he's unarmed, and Tim's undercover assignment file had listed him as a knowledgeable but naive John.

So Tim reminds himself that he's a fucking professional, swallows down the acid lingering on the back of his tongue, and crooks what he knows is a vaguely impressed eyebrow.

“How long does it stay down without synth?” Tim asks, because it's a pointed question and he needs to establish a dynamic with this pimp early on. He also makes the conscious choice of pronoun, aware that it washes off the sub's back in a way that makes Tim wish it really didn't.

The escort gives him a sly smile, the corners just hinting at dislike. “Good eye. This particular one will stay down for twelve hours without synth. Our other merchandise can last up to fifteen hours. But, of course,” he adds, spreading his hands plaintively, “a little more malleability doesn't go unrewarded.”

“Malleability?” Tim repeats, before he can realise what a fucking stupid idea that was.

The escort smiles like he'd expected the answer, and he doesn't even need to look at the Mack truck for the guy to wrap a meaty hand around the back of the sub's neck and shove him to his knees. The sub folds instantly, like he was made to do nothing but, and Tim sees him skim negligibly close to the surface of his drop.

But the armed thug doesn't stop there, popping open his holster with a methodical thumb and taking his firearm in hand. Tim tries not to bite the inside of his cheek, not wanting to tip the escort off, but it's a narrow call.

The sub's mouth is slack and open before the gun's even fully cleared the holster. The thug slides one hand through the sub's freshly washed hair, indifferent as his eyes flicker shut with blissful pleasure, and slides the barrel into the cavern of his waiting mouth.

He doesn't choke, and Tim considers that worse. The cold metal scrapes dimly across the edge of his teeth, and Tim watches with strangled breath as the Mack truck levers a heavy thumb against the hammer, cocking it.

Tim doesn't smile, even though he feels the searing heat of the escort's grin beside him. Instead, he lets his panic bleed to a neutral expression and asks with just the barest hint of curiosity, “Would he let you shoot him?”

The escort frowns at him like the answer's obvious, and Tim supposes it really is. He's not emotionally prepared when the escort slips down to sit on his heels and says clearly, aloofly, to the sub, “Do you want me to have him shoot you?”

The sub doesn't peel his eyelids back, but the intensity of the escort's gaze on him is visible in the tautness of his back and shoulders. He makes a muffled noise around the gun that Tim can only interpret as keen affirmation.

The escort's smile dials up a few degrees. “You know it would make me happy to see your brains painting the floor,” he croons, and Tim feels the sub's full-body shiver, watches him curl himself a little further down the length of the gun, as if inviting the bullet. “And you like making me happy, don't you?”

The sub whimpers, the sound a reverberating agreement, and chokes in his effort to nod around the obstruction in his throat. The escort chuckles, low and thrumming, and Tim's nails bite into his palms.

“You'd be better off dead, wouldn't you?” he purrs, and the sub's eyes roll open at that, the first hints of confusion and betrayal tainting their blue depths. And because Tim can see exactly where the escort intends to go, he does what he always does when he finds himself in a situation that requires him to maintain face against inhuman odds; he disassociates.

Because he doesn't need to see the look of horrified dejection that paints the sub's features like a slap in the face. Doesn't need to see him scramble mentally for a foothold, for a way to construe this as anything other than you're a fuck up. 

And Tim knows he won't find that foothold, won't be able to ground himself when he's down that deep. Even if he were operating under natural bodily chemicals, Tim has no doubt that that would have made him tilt violently towards drop. The suggestion that he's anything less than exactly what his dom needs right now is nothing short of catastrophic when a sub's down that deep. With the added influence of Push, that sub's chances of walking out of this without spiralling immediately into a drop are thinner than a sheet of ice on the Hudson.

But against all odds and Tim's generous estimations, the sub perseveres, swallowing that punishment down with as close to a neutral expression that a man who'd been told his life's purpose was forfeit could muster. The gut-deep disgust and disappointment is abundantly clear though, and it tweaks Tim's d-type tendencies like a sobering addict.

“May I?” he interrupts, and the escort glances up at him over his shoulder, expression blank. He clearly hadn't expected to be interrupted, but he rolls back to his feet with a placating smile, and gestures accommodatingly.

“Be my guest,” he insists softly, and Tim notes that the sub's gaze doesn't part from the escort's until Tim steps into his personal space. The Mack truck holsters his gun, wiping it briefly on his trouser leg as he retreats into parade rest in Tim's peripheral.

“Eyes up,” Tim orders bluntly, and the sub's gaze is on him before he even finishes the second syllable. “I want you to focus only on me.”

He consciously words like it a command. He knows the sort of havoc an open-ended question can have on a downed sub's psyche, knows that the escort chose the backhanded commands on purpose to shatter the sub's wavering calm.

And maybe Tim's not inhuman enough to be that cruel, but he'd be lying if he said it was entirely for the sub's benefit.

Because Tim's not stupid. He's aware of his own dynamic needs, even as a dual. And seeing a sub pushed down this far has got every last one of his dom instincts clawing for purchase on his self-control.

So Tim does the maths, and figures that if the least he can offer this sub - even briefly - is a warm respite from this mental mindfuck of a scene, then mutually beneficial is the path he's going to take.

Up this close, the sub looks absolutely wrecked. Hesitancy lines every sliver of his features, every hard line of his body. And underscoring that malicious resignation is the ever-present, all-encompassing need to please. To be acknowledged and recognised and approved.

Tim cards his fingers over the sub's scalp and massages the crown of his head, partly because he knows it's a foolproof way to help a sub sink further down, and partly because it's invariably a good way to get him down, as a dom. And if this sub could use anything right now, it's a gentle nudge away from his inevitable drop.

The sub nearly purrs, and Tim feels the sigh that he eases from strangled lungs. His trust is tentative at best, and resigned at worse, but it's all Tim has to work with right now. And let it not be said that Tim didn't perform magnificently under pressure.

“I want you to lower your heart rate,” Tim instructs clearly and soberly, lets each word weigh on the sub's consciousness until they're the only thing that matters in his narrowed view of the world. “Take deep breaths. Relax for me.”

And as good as that control, that ability to provide for a sub strokes his ego, it's nothing compared to the swell of pride when the sub sinks down on his heels and breathes deep, steady and low. His eyes don't waver from Tim's, but they do become hooded in their tranquility. His breath whistles between barely parted lips until Tim is rewarded with the sight of his shoulders falling out of that strict line, and his chin tilting up the slightest inch.

Tim almost murmurs, “That's good.” but stops himself before the first syllable is past his lips. He watches the sub's brow pinch in uncertainty, his whole posture straining for acknowledgement that Tim can't give him. And if he didn't feel like peeling the skin off himself before at the thought that this sub would happily go to the grave just for the recognition Tim might offer him, he does now.

He swallows, hard, and summons the resolve to break this off now before he can do any more damage to the sub's whiplashed psyche. Tim's acutely aware of the escort's eyes on him, analysing the depth of his engagement. So he mentally checks out, schools his expression back to cold, almost bored, neutrality and steps away from the sub.

The rest of the evening is - thankfully - short. The escort wraps up their tour with cloying flair and Tim does his best not to let his mind wander to the expression of stunned abandonment on the sub's face when the door had clicked closed behind them.

The escort leads Tim back through the maze of the facility, figuratively signing him out at the reception as he waits for Tim to retrieve his surrendered mobile phone and personal effects. The clerk, a man in a neatly pressed dress shirt with an AK-203 strapped across his barrelled chest, informs Tim that he has a missed call and bids him a good evening.

Tim spends the short ride up the dirtway in the back of a canvas truck in resolute silence, and the further three mile hike up the empty stretch of tarmac equally disengaged in his surroundings.

It's only when he slumps into the seat of the non-descript hired Wrangler waiting for him in the abandoned carpark of the Berzane Nature Reserve that Tim lets his panic bleed into his expression. Lets his lungs strangle their way into a sharp, piercing rhythm against his sternum, and curls around the leaden feeling in his stomach.

The steering wheel is refreshingly cool against Tim's forehead as he breathes through and past the pain and turns the key in the ignition. He doesn't return the missed call. It's all he can do to focus on the road ahead of his headlights and drive back to his hotel in razor thin, wavering calm.

By the time Tim's head hits the pillow back in his hotel room, he's levelled out enough that he can force down a stale refrigerated sandwich and a bottle of water. He succumbs to sleep almost immediately, resolute in the knowledge that a fifteen page report is currently winging its way through the ethernet to land faithfully on the FBI Deputy Director's desk.

 


 

“You've got to give me time to get there,” Tim insists down the mouthpiece of his third work mobile, jamming the half-eaten protein bar into his coat pocket with his other hand.

“We can't medically recommend that we extend the coma by more than three days,” the physician at the other end of the line responds, a strained, detached quality to his tone. “With how many barbiturates are in his system, it's bordering on abuse. The risk of dependency-”

Tim cuts him off. “Yeah, yeah, I know the spiel.”

He grapples with the mobile, cinching it between his shoulder and ear as he pats himself down for his boarding pass. He locates it in the back pocket of his jeans, and hands the crumpled slip of paper over to the desk attendant.

“Look, I'm boarding the AA 467. You can track me online if you want. I spent thirty-six hours flying from Tirana to Tampa, and this was the earliest flight I could get. I'm due to arrive at-” Tim consults his mobile's display clock, does a quick calculation, “-eleven o'clock your time. I'll be walking through your doors at midday, okay?”

Tim can already picture the physician shaking his head. “We can't keep the patient-”

“I'm asking you for four more hours,” Tim growls, letting the hint of desperation colour his tone. “Four hours. Just keep the invalid invalid until I get there.”

“Look, Drake-”

“I'll buy you a coffee.” Tim's pleading at this point, mewling down the line as he shucks his shoes and shimmies out of his belt. He places both in the plastic tray provided and ignores the attending TSA agent's increasingly stern gestures to hang up his phone. Tim considers flashing his badge, and decides the chew-out he's going to get from the Deputy Director is not worth the fleeting convenience.

He steps out of line to let a mother with a surprisingly passive toddler edge through. He takes a moment to recognise the soft, placid features of a sub-child in scene, and watches the mother gratefully accept her handbag from the agent on the other side of the scanner.

The physician is arguing more vehemently now, but Tim's mind is dragging him back to that shitstain of a facility back in Albania. And between juggling a pounding headache, an unsatisfied caffeine addiction, the lingering panic attack that he'd succumbed to as the plane had begun its descent, and the shrinking patience he has left to deal with the stubborn physician nine-hundred miles away, Tim knows that something's got to give.

“If you wake him up before I get there, I will wrap Providence in so much red tape that you won't see daylight for three fucking weeks,” Tim snarls down the line, dodging the glares from a handful of middle-aged nuns shuffling through the scanners. He sandwiches himself into the corner between the next conveyer and the glass security wall and hunkers down, curling his shoulders around his ears. “I need you to do me a solid here, okay? I'm not explaining to you why I need that patient ready for me when I get there, but I'm going to ask you to extend me an olive branch here and meet me halfway.”

The TSA agent raps a crooked knuckle on the glass divider, nodding Tim back towards the scanner. He nearly flips the guy off, changing tacts at the last minute to hold up one stalling finger. The TSA agent shakes his head vehemently, and Tim mouths 'One minute' before stoically turning his back.

The line is silent, and Tim pulls back to check that he hasn't accidentally hung up on the physician.

“Doppio espresso macchiato,” the physician bites down the earpiece, and Tim flounders for a second before he realises it's a coffee order. “And a chilli chicken focaccia. Hold the mozzarella.”

Tim's heart stutters back into an acceptable rhythm, his shoulders unhitching themselves from his earlobes with his breathless chuckle. For the physician's benefit, he snorts, declaring, “Nah, I know a sweet Turkish place on the way. I'll get you some of the good shit.”

“That wasn't the de-” the physician says, upstarting, but Tim's already hung up and tossed his phone into the nearest plastic tray.

 


 

It's the third fastest wrap-up Tim's ever been involved in.

He wakes Friday morning to a smattering of classified emails, seventeen missed calls and two texts. He misreads his mobile's display clock originally, and then bolts out of bed when he realises it's six in the afternoon.

The half-hour drive to Providence is interspersed only by a brief stop at Sylvan's in Bloomingdale to snag a cream cheese bagel. Tim's padding through the foyer and jogging up the stairs to the second floor ward by the time the sun begins to dip on the horizon.

It's as he's navigating the polished LVT hallway that he actually lets the last week's events catch up to him.

It's been three days since he walked out of the Hotel Liss into the moderate spring chill, flagged down a taxi and let the Department call in a few international favours. By Thursday, he was wading through the muggy Tampa heat and dealing with exactly seven irate Interpol divisional managers lodged firmly in the second stage of the Kubler Ross framework. The last had screamed down the line at him almost entirely in French, and in absolutely commendable fashion, Tim had spat a “!” into the mouthpiece and hung up.

The final headcount from the facility had been sixty-eight in custody, with a suspected seventeen more lost in pursuit. Thirty-two of those had been deemed hostages, and the next two days had been spent waiting out the logistical challenge of relocating them to their respective embassies. Only one had been transferred back to American soil, and rushed through the Providence Hospital ICU in the early hours of Thursday morning, drugged to the gills with sedatives.

His attempt at bribing his way into a private interview with the invalid goes poorly, to say the least. He wastes six dollars on a premium Turkish coffee only to find that his supposedly-sedated interviewee busted the lip of an attending physician exactly thirty-seven minutes before Tim's arrival, while he had been sitting on the tarmac at Reagan International.

They'd shot him up with four milligrams of lorazepam while Tim had been studiously running through the interview script in his head, and he'd arrived at the hospital only to be told that his patient was now under chemical restraint for the next eight hours.

So Tim had cut his losses and doubled back to his apartment to rush through a much-needed shower, return the missed calls of anyone below the rank of Assistant Special Agent, and vehemently ignore the growing list of unrequited emails from The Office of the Deputy Director. He'd spent three hours in his apartment plaza's gym trying to stave off severe jet lag, and then called Cass over for another two hours to help him down. She'd gotten him levelled out, made sure he'd eaten, and then he'd crawled into bed sometime around eleven-thirty, dead to the world.

Because Tim believes in dodging karma's spiteful advances at every chance, he'd called the hospital before leaving his apartment in Arlington, to enquire as to the consciousness of one combative patient currently interned at Providence.

He is still mildly relieved to find him sitting up in bed, cognizant, if a bit dazed. Doesn't mean he doesn't coil like a steel spring when Tim strolls into the room.

Tim sets some boundaries early on. He keeps his hands in full view of the bedridden patient, careful not to reach for anything in his pockets and to verbally announce his intentions before moving. He drags a plastic chair a yard from the end of the bed and angles it so that most of him is visible from the head. Then he flips open his small notebook and settles in.

“My name is Tim Drake,” he introduces clearly and concisely, ensuring that the patient is processing his words before he continues. “I'm a senior consultant for the Bureau of Investigation. The FBI,” he clarifies when the patient doesn't react.

“I know what the FBI is,” the man croaks, and looks immensely uncomfortable at the sensation of his nasogastric tube shifting in his esophagus. He swallows gently and slowly, as if testing the agitation.

Tim takes a few slow breaths and continues, gentler this time. “You're in Providence Hospital, in Virginia. It's Friday, 17th May. You were flown in on Wednesday night. You've been sedated since Tuesday.”

“I punched someone,” he murmurs, and Tim takes that in stride.

“You hit the attending physician. You weren't entirely cognizant, so we're chalking it up to a knee-jerk reaction to waking up somewhere foreign. No one's pressing any charges. He was a lying bastard anyway,” Tim adds with the barest crook of a smile. It fades when the man stares at him blankly.

Tim clears his throat and shifts absently in his uncomfortable seat, offering a more genuine smile this time.

“Can we get you any water? Some tea?”

“Why are you here?” the man asks, his tone betraying his fatigue. There's a fair serving of distrust there too.

“First things first,” Tim backtracks. “Can you tell me your name?”

“Jason,” the man responds, and jolts very slightly when he realises Tim is waiting on his surname. “Haywood.”

“Jason Haywood,” Tim repeats, and when the man doesn't correct him, he forges onwards. “Can you tell me your birth date?”

“June 21st, 1992,” Jason answers, and Tim's smile widens conspiratorially.

“Born on the summer solstice; a Cancer then?” His blank, uncompromising expression has Tim rescinding his smile with a hesitant cough. He schools his tone, trying for disciplined, hoping it will elicit a more conducive response.  “I need to ask you some questions about your time in Albania.”

He doesn't miss when Jason's breath hitches up a notch, the whistle sharp and piercing in the quiet room. Tim lets his expression fall into sincere but neutral professionalism.

“Can you tell me how you came to be in that facility?”

“Am I under arrest?”

Tim rolls his jaw, and meets Jason's blunt, hostile stare. “You're under observation.”

“By the hospital or the FBI?”

“Both.”

Jason chews through that, lost to his thoughts for a moment before he seems to arrive at some resolution. He coils tighter, some defensive instinct in him kicking into overdrive. “I was driven there in the back of a reefer truck from Prizren.”

Tim doesn't let himself linger on the image that begins to form in the forefront of his mind. He's making progress, and if Jason thinks he can shake Tim off his case with a game of chicken, he's sorely mistaken. “How do you know it was Prizren?”

,” Jason murmurs, and Tim's mind skips a track trying to comprehend that sentence before he realises its not English. Not even in the vicinity of any language he knows. “I learnt some Albanian,” Jason explains with a shrug. “The truck driver talked a lot.”

“How did you arrive in Prizren?”

“Have you got a map?”

“Humour me,” Tim challenges evenly, and Jason rolls his tongue along the front of his teeth, as if trying to discern how far he wants to dive into this inquisition. “Explain to me how you went from being an American citizen to winding up in a facility in Albania.”

“I started in Port Newark,” Jason answers, his tone curt and sharp, void of sentiment. Tim suspects it's intentional. “Caught a ride on a container ship bound for Gioia Tauro. Skipped over the Adriatic into Montenegro, and then north through Serbia. I floated between Novi Sad, Zrenjanin and Subotica for six months.”

“That's a decent amount of time in Serbia,” Tim purrs conversationally. “You speak any Serbian too, or just Albanian?”

,” Jason responds in a low tone, and that has Tim lips curling in a smile. The man draws in a sharp breath, before continuing as if he'd never been interrupted. “Moved down to Sremska Mitrovica for half a year. Wandered over to Kosovo, and then caught a lift down to Albania.”

“A lift,” Tim repeats skeptically, and Jason fixes him with a glare that indicates he will put up a fight if Tim tries to narrow in on that venture too quickly. It's not often, but sometimes Tim can be tactful. “Okay. Any particular reason you chose Serbia?”

“I like mountains,” Jason interjects tonelessly, and Tim doesn't need a badge to know that's the most barefaced lie he's ever heard. Jason isn't the slightest bit phased by the deflect, seems pretty intent on sticking to it, but Tim persists anyway.

“Really?” When Jason's gaze narrows slightly, Tim slumps back in his seat,  tapping his pen gently on the blank page of his notebook. His tone is equally as arctic when he muses aloud, “Novi Sad is a pretty big tourist hub, I'll give you that. Plenty of shipwork in and out; plenty of vessels running up the Danube. I hear Subotica's architecture is gorgeous. Even Zrenjanin has some historical appeal. And Sremska Mitrovica!” Tim pauses for dramatic, ecstatic emphasis, and watches Jason's blue eyes chill a few degrees. “Did you know ten Roman emperors were born in Sremska Mitrovica? Such rich, rich history.”

Jason has the decency to look acquiescent, but Tim wants to establish exactly where they stand.

“If you're going to bullshit me, at least invest more than the twenty seconds it took you to glance at a Serbian travel pamphlet. Next time someone asks you that question, try using the historical tourist excuse. Drop a few names here and there: Claudius, Quintillus, Aurelian. You'll be amazed how far it gets you.”

The terse seconds tick by as Tim settles more comfortably in his chair, confident that he's made his point. Jason swallows again, winces, and asks softly, “What do you want from me?”

“I want to know what you were doing in the most corrupt cities in Serbia, along a known narcotics trade route, on a sixteen month headway with barely any understanding of the language and no indication of travel foresight.”

“You going to sanction me?” Jason counters coolly, and continues before Tim can answer. “I studied the RICO Act, agent. I know exactly what you're trying to do.”

“Not an agent,” Tim rebuffs calmly. “But thanks for the vote of confidence. I don't need to sanction you, and I'm not looking to threaten you. Because despite all your bluster, we both know exactly what was happening in that facility, and I'm not about to sanction the hostage of Albanian traffickers.”

Jason's lip curls back, fury flashing through his gaze and pooling behind the blue lenses. “You want to talk about what I remember about Albania?”

“I do,” Tim answers evenly, honestly. It's the second most regretful thing he does that day.

“I remember being sold in Prizren,” Jason says harshly. “I remember being thrown half-conscious in the back of a reefer and being carted halfway across Albania, trying not to freeze to death in a sub-fifty degree insulated box. I remember the absolute shit being beaten out of me when I got to that facility in Berzane.”

Tim's brain-to-mouth filter must be faulty, because he says, “They weren't beating subs in that facility.” He watches barely constrained hatred wash over Jason's entire form, and instantly regrets admitting that he knows the man's dynamic, throwing it in his face like that. He'll regret it til the day he dies, because from that second onward, Jason makes it his absolute mission to beat Tim's empathy reflex into a cowering corner.

“They didn't know I was a sub,” he projects, and Tim's stomach sinks swiftly. “They were just told to take care of my fuck-up, rough me up, bend a few bones; you know, the usual. And then, because biology is a bitch, I went down. Didn't even clock it. One minute I was telling some Albanian fuck to crawl back into his mother, and then the next I was under. Sunk like a fucking stone. And from there - well. It was too easy.”

Tim's stomach is in freefall, vertigo rushing up to shred through his lungs. His fingers are tingling, cold and distant, and he can't tear his eyes away from that hateful, haunted gaze. Doesn't even know what expression he's projecting right now, but Jason neither acknowledges it nor cares.

“I remember,” Jason enunciates, because he knows that Tim is trapped now, fused to that seat and wrapped up in the most horrific hours of this man's life. Days, Tim's mind corrects, and he tastes bile. “When they decided they could keep me under with Push. And if you think I put up even the slightest bit of resistance, you're kidding yourself. I practically injected it myself. I was so far gone, I might have even suggested it; who's to know? And I'll admit, the next few months or so get pretty hazy for me. I alternated between being so far down I couldn't even stand on my own, and dropping so hard they had to restrain me to stop me peeling the skin off my arms. It was a real blast. Like being on a hijacked carousel, only it never stops spinning and you can't ever get off. And the horse underneath you keeps reminding you that you really do want this, you've always wanted it, and why won't you just see that you were made for this?”

Tim's spiralling. He's been here enough times to know he's ricocheting up the PDS scale with dizzying velocity. Everything below his neck feels numb, jacked up until he's wound tighter than a compression spring. He's barely breathing, unable to even count his breaths past the thundering pulse in his ears.

Jason doesn't stop. Doesn't even hesitate. He's as trapped in this nightmare as Tim is, and unlike Tim, he's long since given up on the fantasy that he can pump the breaks on this shitshow of an interview. His tone is raw and grating when it slides into Tim's ears.

“When you're down that far, you're not even able to think for yourself. All that matters is what the dom wants, what the dom needs. And its hopeful, you know? It feels like if you can just do this one last thing, drag yourself up just over this last ridge, then maybe you'll reach the other side. Maybe you'll be as good as you need to be. Maybe, just maybe, you'll be able to drop. So you pinpoint. You hunker down and you focus on doing whatever it is the dom asks you to. Eyes up, eyes down, shut up, close your mouth, lie down, answer me, answer him. You try, you fucking try to keep up, but they just keep coming. Sit down, pick that up, smile wider, no - wider, focus on me, lower your heart rate, take deep breaths, relax for me.”

It's the final nail in Tim's mental coffin. A horrible, jarring caricature of the exact words he said to Jason back in that godforsaken facility. The selfish, pathetic, half-hearted attempt at offering him the barest respite from his own personal hell. Jason throws them back in his face with blunt inflection, and Tim snuffs the fleeting hope he'd had that maybe Jason didn't actually remember him. Didn't remember being trotted out for Tim's sampling pleasure. Didn't remember Tim taking him apart with a few simple commands, a few soft-spoken words. Didn't remember the purr of his voice or the half-hidden smile or the rush of control as Tim had stood over him and stripped him of his volition. And Tim can see it clear in the set of his jaw, the lines of his face as the memory plays back against the inside of Tim's skull, loops like a fucking record and jerks him back to the memory of having the sub's hair running through his fingers, his touch soft and unassuming.

“Excuse me,” Tim forces out, forces himself to get his weak legs under him as he makes a beeline for the door, notebook forgotten on the seat behind him.

 


 

He texts his consulting psychologist to meet him in the bathroom, partly because it's almost her lunch break and she's in the medical district, and partly because he knows she'll come regardless. Then Tim sticks his head into the first toilet bowl in the row and upheaves his last four meals.

He's managed to tuck himself into the space between the toilet and the wall, his skull pressed back against the blissfully chilled tile, when Barbara rounds the corner.

She passes a mortified expression in his direction, but hands him the caramel decaffeinated latte she has tucked under her wrist. Tim purrs a thanks, and silently reminds himself to buy Barbara a decent birthday present for her next anniversary.

Tim takes the opportunity to level out between sips of sugary sweet not-coffee, and Barbara, stellar human being that she is, let's him. After a few minutes of hard, tense silence, she opens her mouth to say something, and Tim waves her question off with the barest frown.

She doesn't like his dismissal, but she changes tacts nonetheless. “You're on a case?”

Tim hums around another mouthful of what is essentially sweetened milk.

“Are you flying out again anytime soon?”

“No, I'm not,” Tim replies, and knows that that is a confirmation of his activities in Barbara's books. She knows he's on a case, knows he's building evidence for proceedings. Knows he'll be neck-deep in legal burrows for the better half of the next month. Knows he'll start neglecting his dynamic and his mental health in general, and knows that she'll need to schedule 'spontaneous' visits on a semi-regular basis to keep tabs on him, keep him on track.

“Does Push have a high dependency liability?” Tim interjects suddenly, and Barbara starts, blinking.

“Are you on Push?” she asks skeptically, and takes Tim's half-irritated glare in stride. Then she settles back into Barbara, consulting psychologist, and says, “That really depends on your dosage and strain.” She pauses for a moment and adds, “Are we talking about a dual or sub here?”

“Sub,” Tim concedes easily, because Barbara's better at her job when she has the most facts.

“How long's the usage?”

“It could be up to-”

She misreads his hesitation and cuts him off, “If you want an accurate diagnosis, I need an accurate foundation. How long have they been using?”

Tim chews his bottom lip and resists the urge to upend his coffee into his mouth just to avoid answering her. “What counts as long term usage?”

Barbara crooks an eyebrow, and Tim's distinctly reminded that yeah, she's a psychologist, and a damn fine one, and she's not just analysing his theoretical patient. “There's a broad answer to that. Potentially infinite. But let's cap short term at four weeks and long term as anything over twelve.”

“Then yeah, long term,” Tim answers firmly, pointing in her direction as if in affirmation, and if that concerns her, she doesn't let it show.

Barbara crosses her arms over her blazer and leans back against the cubicle door, contemplative. “Assuming they're approximately your stature,” she hedges, and Tim nods impatiently, “then their dependency liability is going to be fairly low, if the pharmacokinetics are within expected parameters. You can expect a turnaround recovery in thirty days, and probably a complete lapse in dependency around ninety.”

Tim digests this silently, rocking to himself only very slightly. His stomach churns absently, but it's nowhere near as vitriolic as earlier. “And what are the come-down symptoms?”

“Irritability, loss or gain of appetite, dizziness, drowsiness, depression, disinhibition,” she rattles off, and shrugs. “On your higher end, you've got purposeless movements, mania, possibly aural and visual hallucinations. Nerve spasms, very possibly but highly unlikely is seizures.” Tim must wince, because her tone softens. “With proper monitoring and diagnosis, and treatment, most of these symptoms should be manageable. There's minimal risk in a Push dependency returning, and the chance of a relapse is negligible.”

Tim hums contemplatively, his gaze fixed on the tile.

“So this hypothetical patient,” Barbara prods slowly, her tone suggesting that she knows he's anything but, “am I going to get to diagnose them in person, or am I only going to get half of a file note?”

Tims barks a laugh. “You don't need an in-person diagnosis; that's why you're my consult. And I don't need my only witness being handled from department to department while I try to wring together a case.”

Barbara lets the silence linger, rolls her bottom lip between her teeth. Tim balances the coffee cup between the tips of his fingers, the motion absent-minded and second nature by now. His mind's elsewhere, churning through half-memorised reports and pharmacological calculations as he plots a gradual course forward.

“Can you prescribe me some benzodiazepine?”

“I'm assuming we're talking about your case,” Barbara says sternly. “And no, I'm not practicing psychiatry anymore.”

“You have a dual degree in psychology and toxicology,” Tim points out, his tone taking on a hint of exasperation. “If you can't find it you can make it.”

“Not the point.”

“I need you to-”

“When did you last go down?”

Tim blinks. “Excuse me?”

Barbara fixes him with the same pointed stare their father has mastered, and enunciates plainly, “When did you last go down?”

If it was anyone else, Tim would have flipped them the bird and told them where they could shove it. But this was Barbara, his adoptive sister and most trusted confidant, and Tim was currently shaking off the dregs of a low-range panic attack in a hospital bathroom that he had called her into. He doesn't back down from her stare. “Yesterday,” he responds, and pretends to ignore her intake of breath.

“Cass?” she guesses, and he frowns, nodding.

“Did she say someth-?”

Barbara shakes her head. “Steph's out of the country, and I know you certainly didn't call my office, so she's default by elimination.”

Tim grumbles something about solid logic and sets the rim of the coffee lid on his lower lip, inhaling the heat as he thinks. “She put me down, not- not up.” He feels like he needs to clarify that much.

“I don't need a Master of Clinical Psychology to work that out, Tim,” Barbara admits softly, and sighs. “You need to re-evaluate this case. You're barely functional, and you can't operate under this second wind for as long as you think you can.”

“I'll operate under it for as long as I need to,” Tim returns evenly, and there's anger in her green gaze this time, hinting at frustration.

“If you're this unstable a day after a scene, then you need an intervention. If you need to get down, then call my office; I can write you a referral for one of my colleagues. They're all vetted, all qualified psychs. They'll set you right.”

Tim is already shaking his head. “I'm not going to a quack. Any quack,” he clarifies firmly as Barbara opens her mouth. “And I don't need to get down. I- It's not going down that's the problem.”

She huffs, and her nails bite into her biceps where they hug her sides. “I'll call Dick then. He can stop by tomorrow night; he's always been good at service scenes. We've both scened with him before.”

“No,” Tim says immediately, because as good as his older brother is at facilitating sub service scenes, Tim doesn't want the follow up. While Dick is usually discreet, he pushes back when he knows someone's off-kilter. And Tim has practically capsized. “I'm sorting it, okay, Babs? Just leave me to do this. And I will sort it, I promise.”

“Make sure that you do,” Barbara says bluntly, her stare fixing him in place, pinning him to the tile.

“Promise,” he repeats, and lowers the nearly-empty coffee cup to the floor. He sighs, once, and tilts his head back to stare down his nose at her. “Nice deflect, by the way,” he quips, and watches her jaw set. “But I'm still going to need that benzodiazepine.”

“Do I get to meet your patient?” she counters, and Tim growls low in his throat.

“No, you don't. We've been over this.”

“Then I'm not prescribing hypothetical drugs to a hypothetical patient.”

“They're not hypothetical,” he chirps, gesturing to himself. “I'm right here. Write me the prescription.”

“You don't need benzodiazepine,” Barbara shuts him down coldly. “You need a service sub and a work-mandated vacation.”

“Wow,” Tim says, blinking once. He's beginning to feel more like himself, the latte burning away the remainder of his mania. “That's the sort of statement that gets psychiatrists' licences yanked.”

Barbara rolls her eyes. “Luckily, I'm not practicing. So once again, I'm not writing you a prescription.”

“Psilocybin it is then,” Tim summises, and rolls up onto his feet, brushing off his trousers.

Barbara looks beyond exasperated. “You're not giving a Push-starved sub shrooms, Tim.”

He feigns hurt, cocking his head in a mockery of offence that he knows taps into every one of her buttons and mashes them down. “It's the only option I've got left, Doc,” he simpers, brushing past her to shove his hands under the cold flow of a faucet. “I'm getting desperate here.”

“You're an asshole, Tim.”

He yanks a paper towel out of the dispenser, hitching his shoulders up to hide his crooked smile as he dabs his palms dry. “They're going to cut off my supply. Without my benzodi-”

“No benzodiazepine,” Barbara snaps, but Tim can tell he's made his point. She hisses under her breath. “But I can get you an antidepressant.”

Tim's halfway to congratulating himself with a pat on the back when her words register. He half-turns to fix her with a disappointed glare. “An antidepressant? Why not just have us all sit in a circle and talk about our feelings?”

“Coming from a nocebo effector, that would be a valid response,” Barbara diagnoses loftily, and peels herself off the cubicle wall. “But this prescription isn't for you, so I don't really care whether or not you think you got a placebo antidepressant last time.” She straightens, drawing herself to her full height, and casually rattles off, “I can give you paroxetine for the panic disorder, or sertraline for the panic disorder and the PTSD. Do you have PTSD?”

Tim has the decency to look cowed. “Probably.”

“Sertraline it is then,” Barbara says decisively, her tone cold, and exits the bathroom. “I'll courier you the prescription.”

Tim hurries after her, catching her by the arm in the doorway. “Babs, look, I'm sorry-”

She detaches her arm gently. “Don't apologise to me, Tim. Sort yourself out. Or give me your patient so I can treat them like a professional.” She heads off down the hallway, spreading her arms wide as she turns back to face him. “Or maybe do both; see where it leads.”

“Thanks, Babs,” Tim mutters to himself, and heads back to the room.

 


 

When he gets back to the room, Jason is in drop.

He's not surprised, honestly. Between the barbiturates and the lorazepam, his body hasn't had a decent go at a drop since before they extracted him from that warehouse in Albania. And Lord knows its been trying its darndest to get one good, hard swing at him.

It was why they'd sedated him onsite, kept him under for the flight from Tirana and even during the stopover in Vienna. Because drops are generally proportional to how in-depth a scene gets, and it doesn't take a genius to know that this one ran deep.

Jason's currently perched at the very top of the bed, scanning the room as if he's analysing exactly how small he can fold himself to fit into the gaps between the bed and the wall and the high-backed chair beside it. Maybe even considering if he can crawl behind the skirting lying flush against the linoleum.

He's shaking like a leaf in a hurricane, a pool of sweat beginning to stain the front of his hospital gown over his juddering chest. He's gagging softly at the nasogastric tubing in his throat, his clawed hands curled around the protruding end of the tube as if he's considering whether or not to rip it out of his nostril.

Tim's got enough of a working knowledge to know what to do with a sub in drop, so he raises his hands to shoulder height in front of him and makes his presence known. Jason's eyes flick to him immediately, blown wide and petrified as they find him and hold him there.

“Jason,” Tim says slowly, aiming for calm and somehow meeting the mark. “Hey, Jason. I'm going to need you to sit down.”

Jason's got his legs curled under him, tilting towards the side of the bed as if he will launch himself off if Tim takes another step closer. Tim plants himself where he is at the end of the bed and draws in a deep breath.

“Can you sit down for me, please?” Tim asks again.

“I'm, I'm dropping,” Jason realises in a dull croak.

“Yeah, yeah you are,” Tim concurs, nodding slightly. He doesn't lower his arms. “It's alright, we can handle it, right? You and me, we're going to walk you through this.”

Jason's throat works in a panic. “Don't- don't-”

“I'm not coming any closer,” Tim promises, let's his expression reflect his conviction. “I'm staying right here, right where you can see me.”

“Okay,” Jason breathes, and then repeats again, “Okay.”

Tim really wants him to let go of that tubing, so he focuses on that and prompts, “Can you sit down? Or move back a little on the bed? We don't want you to fall off.”

Jason nods slowly, as if he's processing this, and rocks back a little on his heels, shifting his weight. Tim breathes a little deeper.

“That's good, that's really good. Okay. Going to need you to let go of that tube too.” Jason glances down at his hands, and seems surprised to find them fisted on the rubber. “It's running all the way through to your stomach,” Tim explains gently. “So pulling it out is going to be really uncomfortable.”

As if to test whether Tim's telling the truth, Jason gives it a conspiratorial tug, and bows over for a minute, dry heaving. It's sickeningly loud in the otherwise silent room. He lets go of the tubing though, and Tim will take his victories where he can. He counts to twenty while he waits for Jason to shove down his gag reflex, and counts another thirty until his breathing has evened out.

“Feeling alright?” Tim enquires when Jason meets his gaze again.

He watches tears brim in the man's blue eyes, watches him mentally grapple with prioritising exactly how he wants to extract himself from this situation. Watches him briefly entertain the notion of bolting, and discard it when he realises he'll just be bringing the drop with him. That's a good sign, Tim assures himself, accepting reality is always a marked improvement.

But he's run this scenario through in his head, and he knows Jason's going to need to be sedated, or at the very least restrained. He's not going to just calmly ride out this drop on his own. And he's not going to accept their help either, which means they're going to have to pin him down for his own safety. Tim knows Jason is big enough and lucid enough to put up a decent fight when Tim comes for him, and that he's going to spring into action the moment he puts a foot forward.

A nurse who's been alerted by the commotion materialises in the doorway, takes one step into the room and freezes. Tim casts her a sharp, forcefully calm glance and mouths, “Grey.”

She backs out swiftly, disappearing from view to make (what Tim hopes is) a speedy bolt to the nearest nurses' station. Jason can't see her for the obstructing curtain, but Tim knows he knows something is up. His eyes flicker to where the door is, and back to Tim with blooming apprehension.

“Who is it?”

“It was a nurse,” Tim answers honestly, because he figures honesty can go a long way under the right circumstances. He watches Jason tense, and then unwind slightly when he continues, “But I sent her away. We've got this handled, just you and me, right?”

Jason nods at that, sharp and vicious, like he's trying to convince himself too.

As if on karma's spiteful cue, two RNs arrive on the scene.

Tim shoves out a flat-palmed hand, makes a frantic gesture for them to stop, and the RNs skid to a halt in the doorway, their leather sneakers shrieking on the LVT. There's a handful of security personnel and wardies hovering behind them, and Tim seizes control of the titling situation.

Jason's tweaking to the fact that Tim's the only thing standing between him and being forcefully restrained. Tim can read it in the curl of his lip and the hunch of his shoulders, the way his form hunkers down and coils into a stance on the bed.

“Jason,” Tim says firmly, and his tone wavers with concern. “We're going to handle this ourselves, right?”

“You can crawl back into the dick you came out of,” Jason snarls, jabbing a sharp finger at him, and Tim gets the sense that Serbia has made a real impression on his carnal vocabulary. Then Jason freezes, his gaze falling to fix on the back of his hand, where the nurses have installed a cannula for his IV. His eyes bulge, as if he's just noticing it for the first time.

And before Tim can muster a response to that, Jason wraps a hand firmly around the protruding end and rips it out of his skin.

Tim hears a shocked, dissenting shout bubble past his lips, takes a single step forward as he watches blood splash across the front of Jason's gown and sprinkle the white bed sheets at Jason's knees. Jason stares dazedly at the two-inch trocar now in his open palm, over to the blood gushing from the wound on his hand with malignant glee, and faints.

Tim can pinpoint the moment his brain signs his cognizant release form, sees the dark pool spread behind his eyes as they roll back up into his skull, and the slump in his shoulders as he's cut loose. Watches him keel towards the side of the bed and the hard, yellow linoleum below, limp as a ragdoll.

Tim launches himself across the room with the grace of a startled gazelle, screaming “Code blue, code blue!”

He somehow gets there before Jason, and catches the whole of his weight on his collarbone, ricocheting down to the tile as he wraps himself around the unconscious man. It hurts; Tim smacks the bedside cabinet on the way down, gets himself tangled in some of the wiring, and he lands entirely on his left hip, crunching their combined weight onto it.

The wardies are there in the next second, dragging Jason's limp weight off him at the barked behest of the RNs, and Tim doesn't realise until one of them seizes his fist and forcefully pries it away that he's not letting go of Jason's hospital gown. They manhandle him back onto the bed as Tim blinks up at them from the floor, breathless and forgotten as they tend to Jason's injuries.

They've already wheeled in an ECG and reinserted a cannula into the crook of his elbow when the attending physician jogs in. By then, Jason is stirring, and Tim's heart has lurched all the way up into his throat as he hovers uncertainly in the corner. He flat refuses the security guard's insistences that he vacate the room, and he takes the physician's arrival as a chance to slip past him and wedge himself closer to Jason's bed. He feels some of the tension ease off him with the proximity, and a deep part of him knows that it's his d-tendencies going into overdrive.

Jason's not handling the presence of approximately seven people in his immediate personal space well, but at least he doesn't have to ride it out for much longer when the nearest RN jams a needle into his new IV tubing and floods his system with sedative.

It takes a few moments of panicked, pained mewling before Jason goes out completely, and when he finally eases back down against the sheets, Tim doesn't think its an overstatement to say everyone in the room takes a collective exhale.

Tim shakes off the AIN who commends him on his fast response in handling the situation, and presses himself surreptitiously into a corner of the room. When he notices his hands have begun to tremble, he folds them into the small of his back and leans back to watch the RNs strip the bed. Counts his breaths and names the fifty states in backwards alphabetical order until his respiratory is below 16 breaths-per-minute and he can feel his fingers again.

Once Jason's obs have been taken and everyone's finally cleared out of the room, Tim lets the tension drain out of him, slumps back against the plaster on weak knees, and lets himself gasp in a violent, shaking breath. He rattles the inhale through dry lips, and spits the exhaled, “Fuck this.”

Then Tim picks up his notebook and his coat and goes the fuck home.

 


 

Jason spends the next four days floating in and out of consciousness, and honestly, Tim doesn't feel much different. At least Jason can chalk his up to being buffeted around by a steady drip of lorazepam. Tim doesn't even have that excuse.

Barbara shows up unannounced at his apartment sometime on Sunday. Lets herself in with the spare key he gave her, finds him hunkered down impossibly small in the leather armchair in his study, and walks right out of the room. Tim stirs to the smell of French toast and fried eggs, and staggers out to the kitchen to slump onto one of the stools at the high countertop. Barbara slides half of the serving onto a plate for him, nodding at his mumbled, “Thanks”, and takes up camp on the other chair with the remainder.

They sit in silence, the ambience broken only by the soft scrape of forks across lacquered ceramic, and the crisp crunch of fried bread. Tim's sliding an absent finger through the dregs of bright yellow yolk on his plate when Barbara speaks.

“You want to talk about it?”

He shakes his head, and then remembers that she won't let him get away with being nonverbal when he's baseline functional, and mumbles, “Not really.”

“Okay. You want me to talk about it?” she asks gently.

Tim shrugs, and Barbara turns the words over in her head before she speaks.

“Stop me if you disagree with anything I say,” she instructs, and Tim nods noncommittally. “This patient of yours is a sub. And a witness in your case. And somewhere in the course of meeting them, either in the field or in the ICU, they went down on you.”

She pauses, as if to give Tim opportunity to correct her. When he doesn't, she draws in a breath and forges on, sending each statement out tentatively onto the water, waiting for him to reject them.

“From what you've told me, this patient has used Push - or had Push used on them,” she amends when Tim frowns. “Which, understandably, you feel terrible about. And you've probably overstepped your jurisdiction as usual, and had them brought in.”

Tim doesn't refute that; Barbara knows him too well.

“So now you feel responsible for them. And knowing you swing towards a d-type, it's manifesting itself in you itching to wrap them up in a nice, cosy blanket and make them feel all better. But you can't. Because they don't want you near them. Which, again, from their perspective, is understandable and entirely valid. Am I on track so far?”

Tim nods, and can't help but wonder how much else she's going to spell out for him. Not that he doesn't appreciate it, far deeper down that he's willing to admit.

“So you've been thrown in a loop, which is why you looked like shit when I saw you at the hospital, and why you haven't contacted Cass since Thursday night. You don't want to go down.” Barbara takes a steadying breath here, her tone taking on an edge of firmness. “So I want you to tell me why haven't you called Dick.”

Tim swallows, his finger halting on the white ceramic, and tucks his elbows closer into himself. He can't articulate the heavy feeling in his chest, so he mumbles, “Not him.”

Barbara nods slowly, chewing through that. “So you want to bring this sub down, safely. Consensually. And he's not going to let you.”

Tim doesn't know at which point she picked up that he was a he, but he doesn't question it. He clears his throat softly, and rasps out the first few words. “He remembered me. From when I, uh, from when I saw him in the- the facility. I didn't- It wasn't… consensual.” The word is cumbersome on his tongue, and it tastes even worse going down. “And then when I was interviewing, I pushed him, and he… He went into drop.”

Barbara takes this on with the grace and patience of a canonised saint, as if she'd suspected as much. “That would make sense. Working Push out of your system usually puts you into a pretty severe drop. I wouldn't say that was your fault.”

“Felt like my fault.”

“Maybe so, but it wasn't. Whether or not you'd been there, he would have dropped once the sedatives wore off. It was only a matter of time. You couldn't have done anything to change that.”

She lets that sink into him, and Tim tries to let it.

“Is he still at Providence?” Tim nods absently, and Barbara pauses to stack their plates, the cutlery clinking softly. “Is he still sedated?”

“Yes.”

Barbara hums to herself. “Not that I'd make this recommendation to anyone else - but have you tried sleeping in the room with him?”

Tim startles, crooks an eyebrow at her like she's suggested he hold the hospital at gunpoint.

Barbara rolls her eyes, sliding off the stool and taking up the plates with her as she answers, “I'm not talking about putting him down or even interacting with him in any way. I'm talking about getting yourself down, somewhere where you can get some actual sleep, completely separate to him. Where he's supervised and safe, and for the most part, totally oblivious to your presence.”

Tim can't concentrate enough to challenge most of that, so he says, somewhat petulantly, “I am sleeping.”

“You're dissociating,” Barbara points out. “That's not the same as sleeping.”

“I'm not sleeping in his room, while he's unconscious, Barbara.”

“Have you been visiting his room?” she asks pointedly, and Tim's lips twist in displeasure. “That's what I thought. You're going there every day anyway, keeping an eye on him. You might as well throw in a few hours of shut-eye while you're there.”

When Tim's spine stiffens in protest, she backtracks slightly.

“Sleep in the hallway, then. Find a sofa in the lobby and lie down, if that makes you feel better. But you're going to need to be somewhere in his vicinity before you're going to be able to come down from this state you're worked into.”

“And what if I don't want to come down?”

The plates make a loud noise when she drops them into the sink, and Barbara busies herself with letting the hot water run for a while before she answers. “Don't want to, or don't think you deserve to?”

Tim groans, low and capitulating, in the back of his throat. “That's not fair,” he mumbles.

“Fair's not fair,” Barbara counters sagely, scrubbing at the dried yolk on the plates. “But we're here, so what do you want to do?”

They spend the next few minutes in amiable silence, mostly so Tim can dedicate what's left of his concentration to sifting through his feelings on the matter. Without the interfering haze of dynamics.

“Sometimes it sucks that you're so damn perceptive,” Tim mutters finally, resigned. “And intuitive. You want some help there?”

Barbara nods amicably, stepping back to let him slot himself in front of the sink, curled over the half-done dishes. He figures it's the least he can do.

Barbara leans her hips back against the countertop, crossing her arms loosely over her chest. She's not facing him, angled back towards the living room, but she feels like she's open to him. Like he's face-to-face with her without having to meet her gaze.

Tim sort of appreciates the lack of forced commitment right now.

“You're gonna sort yourself out, right?” Barbara asks softly, and Tim starts a bit, but doesn't answer.

She glances over at him, her brow pinched very slightly in that way that tells him she's concerned but doesn't want him to feel like it's his fault. He knows it is.

“Not that I mind coming over here to help you out - because I'm happy to help you whenever you need it, just say uncle - but I do mind. I want you to be happy, Tim, really happy. And I think we both know that you're not right now.” She draws in a steadying breath, forging on through his thick silence. “I don't know if it's just this case, or if it's your job, or something else you're not letting me see, but this isn't healthy. Hasn't been for a while now. And you've got to address it. Sooner than later, please.”

Tim says nothing, because he really hates lying to Barbara, and because he doesn't want to disappoint her. She squeezes her upper arms a little tighter, as if imagining she's hugging him, and Tim feels that consolation like she's burrowed against him.

“Take care of yourself.”

Tim lets the suds drain while she gathers her personal effects and shrugs on her coat, then he joins her in the foyer of his apartment. She smiles softly and shakes a hand through his matted locks.

“Love you, little brother.”

“Love you, Barbara,” he mumbles, and watches from the doorway until the elevator swallows her up.

He goes through the motions of a simple and quick shower, tugging on the first clean clothes he lays hands on. The drive to Providence slides by in disrupted segments, until he's standing in the lobby with his hands buried in his sweatshirt even though it's spring.

The receptionist gives him an odd look as he trudges over to the rows of tandem seating, but he stoically ignores her, folding himself across them. They're not wide enough to let him curl his knees up, which makes his chest feel open and vulnerable, and after twenty minutes of aimless shuffling, Tim concedes defeat and goes upstairs.

He finds himself in the doorway of the room and hesitates, unwilling to take a step further. The dynamics in him are screaming to go inside, but the rational part of him has enough of a foothold to send his stomach lurching with guilt every time he leans forward. And he gets the hazy sense that that feeling is only going to intensify the further into the dimmed room he goes.

So Tim slides down the wall next to the doorway and curls up as small as he can to watch the activity in the quiet hallway. He watches the wardies wheeling cots down the scuffed LVT, let's the rhythmic chirp of a heart monitor lull him as he tries to time his breathing to four of it's bleats.

Four in, hold for four, four out. Rinse and repeat.

He must sit there for an hour, just watching the tentative calm of the early morning ward. It's so familiar, feels so akin to returning home, that Tim finds his eyelids drooping.

He doesn't sleep though. Can't quite manage to push himself over that ledge despite his fatigued body yearning for the reprieve. He thinks it has something to do with how his ears keep straining for every arrhythmic soft-loud breath that filters out from the room behind him. How his pulse falters every time he hears the curl of a dreamless moan or the loud rustle of a body shifting on a hospital-grade mattress.

It takes him another rotation of Jason's attending EN before he pries his ramrod limbs apart and lumbers into the empty room. He forces himself not to look into the bed, not to let his eyes shape the shadows into the slumbering sub. Forces himself, one step after another, over to the seat beside the bed, letting the thud of his heartbeat drown out the other man.

Tim tucks his knees up to his chin, shuffles into a more secure sit wedged between the armrests, and burrows himself into the hard vinyl of the high-backed hospital chair. Then he reaches out to yank the curtain across his corner in a translucent cocoon and lets himself slip into sleep.

He wakes with the awareness that someone else is in the room, and boy, if that isn't a fun thing for his brain to negotiate with his heart and lungs.

The vice recedes a little when he realises it's two nurses busying themselves around Jason's cot, writing up his quart-hourly charts. Sandwiched behind the curtain as he is, they haven't twigged to the fact that they're not alone yet. And when the first nurse speaks, it takes more rationality than Tim thought accessible to him right now to stay silent.

“This is the Department's patient, right?” she asks, and Tim can discern the scratch of a pen over what he can only assume are the ADDS charts.

The other is fiddling with Jason's down-to-dregs IV, another cool bag laid out across his chest. She must check the cannula in Jason's elbow, because a soft, aimless groan filters through to Tim.

“Last I checked,” she responds. “They brought him in last Thursday, wheeled him past an octogenarian in cardiac arrest and a five-year-old with anaphylaxis.” Her tone is disapproving, to say the least, as if Jason was privy to the decision to admit him. And then aside, “I'm going to need two mils of lorazepam before we're done.”

The other nurse gives a soft grunt of acknowledgement, and quiet lingers while the IV tubing is pressed for air bubbles and replaced.

“You got his ADDS?”

“55, 104 over 77, 18,” the second nurse rattles off and Tim's brain fills in the blanks, familiar with this procedure. Heart rate, systolic, diastolic, respiratory. Tim has enough familiarity to know that they're all fairly low. Low enough to be below the golden threshold, but not enough to warrant heightened observation.

The nurse scribbles something onto the chart, before prompting, “What were his actuals?”

“He came in with 136 over 90.”

There's the sound of someone sucking on their teeth. “He's a one; we'll monitor it. Temperature?”

She must have tucked the thermometer into Jason's ear canal, because it beeps softly, as if on command, and she pauses for a second before answering, “A hundred point two-two.”

Tim knows that's on the northside of acceptable, but neither of the nurses verbally comment, so he can't discern if it's flagged to them.

“I just need his BGL,” the first nurse instructs, tapping a plastic pen against the clipboard. “Then we can do his feeding.”

“Hand me the lancet?”

There's a lot of subdued shuffling, the sound of rustling scrubs and Tim almost nods off again when one mutters, “Three point eight.”

The other sighs, as if this is expected but disappointing somehow. “Alright, you got the sachets? What have we got for lunch?”

“Roast pork,” the nurse reads aloud, a note of bitter amusement in her tone. “Poor bastard.”

That makes Tim's gut twist fiercely, but he doesn't unfurl from his position in the chair. He fixes his gaze on his kneecaps and breathes slowly, listening as they take up the slack of Jason's nasogastric tube.

Jason must stir partway into the set up, because one of the nurses mutters a curse under her breath, and Tim can feel the pace pick up. He's not surprised, really; between the fiddling with his cannula, the intrusion in his ear canal and the disruption to his sinuses, he would have expected a protest before now.

It's a few more minutes before either one of them speaks again, but Tim's fully awake now.

“You got the lorazepam?” one asks, her tone tight.

“You want two mils or four?” the other enquires.

“For this guy? Best do four,” the first confirms, and Tim's stomach clenches. Whether its in irritation at their practice or concern for the mostly-unconscious man on the bed, he can't tell. Maybe both. The nurse adds as she plugs the loaded needle into his IV tubing, “I don't want him waking again. The RN last night said he nearly gave her a black eye when she tried to feed him.” She chuckles bleakly. “I don't know about you, but I'm not keen on fighting this bastard.”

“I don't know why they don't just work him down,” the other chatters, and Tim doesn't realise he's clenching his teeth until his jaw gives a painful twinge. “He's combative enough for it, and he's got enough sedative in him to incentivise him.”

“Lord knows he needs a scene,” the first agrees. Tim realises with sickening clarity that they're either both doms or d-leaning duals; there's no way a sub would talk of another sub's downtime like this, even a medical professional. Like it was a convenient reprieve. Like its a stress-relief breaker you can flip and everything levels out.

“He doesn't need to be here,” the first mutters waspishly. “It's ridiculous that the Department thinks they can just wheel in anyone they want and skip the line. Who even is he? The damn President?”

The other nurse scoffs, disbelieving. “More likely some backwater terrorist. They've kept him sedated this whole time; I wouldn't be surprised if they're opting for chemical over physical restraints. Easier to manage them then.”

“Are you done?”

Startling silence fills the room, and it's a few hard breaths before Tim realises he's the one who'd spoken. Realising the game is up, he wraps a fist in the curtain and yanks it back, glaring. The nurses both start at his unveiling.

“Are you both done?” he repeats coldly, aware that his pulse is abnormally loud in his ears. “Have you said your bit?”

The one standing at Jason's elbow is the first to recover. “We were just- we didn't realise-”

“You want me to mention to your supervisor that you're discussing putting a compromised sub down, in front of them?” Tim snarls, his blue gaze flashing. “Or are you good to just keep that to your coffee breaks?”

“Sorry, sir,” the other one interjects, looking browbeaten. She slots the pen back into her breast pocket, smoothing down her scrubs as she glances at her colleague.

The nurse administering the food makes quick work of it, wrapping up the session in just under forty-nine minutes. Tim steps out briefly to relieve himself, but otherwise he hovers uneasily at Jason's right shoulder, curled up in the chair and angled away from the bed. Nothing is said between them, but Tim gets the distinct impression that the nurses are beginning to question his attachment to the patient. Tim is immensely grateful when they plug the tube, dispense with the puree sachets, reapply the tape on Jason's cheek and make a hasty retreat.

Once satisfied that Jason is stable and not likely to surface anytime soon, Tim unfurls from the chair with muted groans. He stretches slowly, letting his joints pop and working out the aches in his spine.

He steps out for fifteen minutes to order a coffee from the lobby cafe and make a few short calls. Once he's made his fifth call, Tim takes the nurse up on her suggestion and punches in the number for the Deputy Director with a dry mouth.

It takes a brief shouting match, several totally unveiled threats, and in the end Tim compromises on one month of special guest speaking at the academy.

By seven o'clock the next night, Jason is discharged into Tim's care.