Title: To the Bone

Beta: lady of scarlet

Rating: NC-17

Warnings: non-con, multiple partners, violence, cannibalism, angst, horror, hurt/comfort.

Summary: A riot erupts inArkham Asylum, and Robin is locked inside.

Characters: Robin/Tim Drake, Poison Ivy, Bane, Killer Croc, Batman

Author's Note: Written for bitternarration, the winner of my offer in the Gulf Aid Now auction. Also, please look at the warnings. I fulfilled each to the absolute best of my abilities while keeping the story reasonably plausible. This is sick shit. This is the fade to black version. The full version is available on my LJ, which you can access through the homepage link on my profile. Finally, I'm using this one for the caught in a robbery square on my H/C bingo (they were stealing away when they caught Robin...It's a stretch, but the only idea I have).

ONE

The radio crackled. -The Joker is in the visitor's centre.-

Batman said, "You need to finish this," and put a lock on the door. "You know the code."

Then he left.


There's something in Ivy's eyes, something behind them.

He thinks it's moving.

The alarm right eye bulges and ripples, pushed out from the inside. The iris is murky black, hollowed out and an indistinct shape inhabits the cavity.

A liquid thicker than blood slides down her face. "Did you think I'd let you get away with this?" Poison Ivy whispers. Her voice is dry as autumn leaves, but she's no less dangerous for it. Her breath lacks heat and smells like rot.


Bane charged, acid green venom pumping into his veins from the pack on his back. His breath sounded like it came from a bellows, rattling up through his chest in a deep growl. Robin rolled out of his way, throwing a smoke bomb beneath Bane's feet. Thick black fog quickly filled the room, powdery and chilled against his skin.

Bane crashed into the wall and it shook the ground beneath him. The guards in the corner were still breathing. If he could get them to the door-

The creak of leather heralded Bane's recovery, his arms swinging blindly through the smoke, billowing clouds spreading in bursts and starts from his movements.

He would have to take Bane down before he could get the guards out.


Bane laughs from behind her. He sounds wrong. He looks venom in his veins is dripping from his nose, from his eyes.

"I have to get out of here," Ivy says into his ear and her voice is breathy, confused, a rapid change from her earlier anger. She presses against him, cool skin touching his. Her flesh is withered and soft, like the leaves of a dying succulent. Something inside her pushes outward, stroking down Robin's chest in a long caress that he can feel even through the body armor embedded in his costume.

Bane mutters indistinctly. Green tinted sweat drips over his shoulders, coursing down the sharp divides between his muscles and pooling in the crook of his elbow. He pants through the leather mask covering his face, beads of condensation forming around the lips, coloring the white detailing with faint streaks of green.

Robin can't move.

Poison Ivy snarls and bites his lip. The cut burns and spreads, a hot rush that races through his body, tingling in his toes and the tips of his fingers.

Robin can't move, but the scrape of his costume over his skin is suddenly noticeable. He can feel the trickling drops of sweat falling down his back, the gentle tug of adhesive holding on his mask.

The thing behind her eye thrashes for a second. A thin trickle of greenish-yellow blood wells up from beneath her lower lid. It wets her fern-like lashes, clumping them together. "Contemplate the nature of your errors," her voice is husky. Inhumanly so.

Ivy stands. The breeze of her movement is a tangible weight on his skin. Robin's breath whistles through his lips, through his teeth.

"Bane?" Ivy asks. Bane approaches, circling like a shark around wounded prey.

The thing under Ivy's skin swells, filling her withered flesh from the inside. "Remember that you brought this on yourself," her voice strengthens abruptly, then dies to a hollow whisper. "Remember."


The elevator groaned as it rose from the depths of the cell block, its doors screaming in protest as they were forced open. The cables holding up the elevator whined as the pressure on them lapsed. The grates on the floor jumped and shivered under a massive weight.

Robin jumped off a supply crate, abandoned when the prisoners of Arkham breached the upper level. He sunk his fingers into the grated ceiling and hooked his feet into the joint where the ceiling met the walls, suspending himself twelve feet above the metal floor. He tucked his cape over his stomach to prevent it from draping down. The ceiling creaked ominously.

The rumble of Bane's voice filtered through the smoke indistinctly. A guttural snarl answered him.

The slowly clearing smoke swirled beneath Robin. He glanced down.

Killer Croc rose from the fog beneath him, baleful yellow eyes glaring through the black haze. Robin swung down, dodging away from the giant hand that swept toward him.

Croc snapped at Robin, teeth lodging in his cape. One great claw slammed into Robin's side, sending him crashing into the ground hard enough to make it shake, the loosely attached metal shivering against its framework. Croc followed, crouching over Robin, the scales of his snout only inches from Robin's throat.

"Bane says you're my way out of here, boy." Croc's nostrils flared as he took in Robin's scent. "And I want out of here."

Bane dropped to his knees beside Croc, his chest heaving, gleaming in the dim light. "So here's the deal, little Robin. You give us the code, and we don't kill those guards you've been protecting," Bane's voice rose and fell in tune with the twitching of the tubes forcing venom into his system.


Bane looks at Ivy before moving forward. She nods and slumps against the wall, slowly sinking to her knees, glaring at Robin through the bedraggled strands of her hair.

Killer Croc is kneeling by the guards. His teeth shear through skin easily, making wet sucking noises as he tears meat from the bodies. One is almost whole. The other is not. White bone flashes where Croc stripped the flesh. The guards bleed slowly, blood draining at the pace gravity sets.

The last faint traces of the smoke bomb trail languidly through the air like the morning mist rolling in from Gotham harbor. Bane disturbs the smoke trails when he moves forward. "I was looking forward to being free." His eyes glow, venom tainted, green like acid.

"Hurt him, Bane?" Ivy asks sweetly. She stretches, the obscene ripples under her yellowed skin stilling for a moment. Robin smells lilies, cloying in their sweetness. He breaths in, and imagines the fear leaving when he breathes out.

Bane twitches as if shaking off a buzzing fly. "Gladly," his answer is delivered without hesitation.

"I'll be done in a moment," Croc says as he cracks open a femur, lapping at the pale yellow marrow inside. His hands gleam bright carnation red, his claws the startling white of bone where he licked them clean.

Robin closes his eyes. His heart rate accelerates, blood pressure spikes, respiration increases. He can't move.

He breathes in.

Bane kneels next to Robin, the heat of his body pouring across the short distance between them. He touches the cut on Robin's lip, sending spirals of pain shooting through Robin's mouth, curling in his jaw and sparking in his teeth. An unsteady chuckle shows Bane's amusement and he pulls down on Robin's lip, opening his mouth and pushing his finger inside, pushing on the soft tissue of his tongue.

Robin exhales, his breath escaping shakily around Bane's finger.


Robin paused. "Ten forty-seven," he answered, letting his head rest against the cool floor.

Bane rose, heading toward the door and the electronic lock. Croc stayed in place, the dirty yellow-white of his claws lightly pinning Robin to the ground.

The soft sounds of the keypad rang out. Robin waited for the third tone before he twisted, pulling free and rolling away in the same motion. Croc pounced toward him, but Robin slipped past, tossing a sonic emitter to the ground and running toward the corner where the guards were propped up against the wall.

Bane entered the fourth number, and the electronic lock beeped twice before turning of, cutting off power to the locking mechanisms. The six inch long metal bolts holding the door in place didn't move. The sonic emitter started to blare, almost louder than the alarm. Robin pushed earplugs into his ears as he blindly navigated toward the corner.

There was a large air vent located behind the guards, large enough hide them both. Robin had the vent cover pulled off and the first guard shoved halfway inside when he noticed a vine wrapped around his ankle and the rapidly spreading numbness in his limbs.

Robin collapsed.


"You sure you left him alive?" Bane asks, peering into the lenses of Robin's mask. His finger lies inside Robin's mouth, stoking slowly. It tastes bitter and metallic. Robin's body tries to gag. His throat twitches.

"Quite certain," Poison Ivy replies.


Polished black shoes scraped over Robin's belly as Croc dragged the guard from the air vent. He dropped the guard carelessly, letting him fall to the ground, sprawled out beside Robin.

Robin heard the wet sound of flesh being torn apart, Croc's low growl accompanied by a soft, weak vocalization from his prey. But it wasn't until blood splattered across his face in an arc of arterial spray that Robin realized the man was dead, his throat torn out by Croc's teeth.


TWO


Low keening distracts Robin from Bane's hand. It cascades from note to note in an atonal mess of noise, mingling with the scream of the alarm. It's coming from Ivy.

Bane tugs at the edge of Robin's mask, the adhesive pulling until it feels like an ounce more pressure will cause his skin to tear off.

Ivy screams.

No one else seems to notice.

Yellow-green liquid pours out of her mouth, staining her Arkham uniform down the front.

Croc rises to his feet, casting the bone to the side. His tongue slithers out between the rows of sharp teeth, licking a smear of blood from his snout. The claws on his toes scrape over the floor as he walks toward Robin. The ground shudders under his weight, metal popping and squeaking with every step.

Bane loses interest in the mask, instead staring at Robin's face.

"Hurt him!" Ivy cries out. There are two voices speaking from her throat. Neither sounds like Ivy, or even human. "Burn him, rip him, tear him, destroy him," her voice fades away. Robin can hardly see her, his line of sight blocked by Bane and Croc.

Robin tries to move. His muscles knot up, straining against themselves but ultimately going nowhere. One finger twitches, and it feels like it's dislocated, the pain stabbing up the length of his arm, coiling in his tensed muscles.

Croc curls his toes and the claws pierce the grated floor, twisting the wires and cutting through them. Robin can feel the ping-ping-ping of the wires tearing apart, the vibrations passing under him, passing through him.

Robin tries again, shifting the finger that had moved last time. Again he feels it twitch, damp skin rubbing across the rest of his fingers. Pain crackles up his arm, drawing the faintest of noises from his barely parted lips.

"He's moving," Croc comments. He sounds pleased by that revelation.

Ivy wavers unsteadily as she rises to her feet. The sickly green blood she vomited earlier trails down her front, dripping down her legs. "It wears off," she says, the dual-tone voice gone. Her teeth, when she smiles, are light green.

A sharp crack echoes through the room, drawing Robin's eyes to the wall. His optic muscles ache at the movement, slow and dull like old bruises.

The blood splattered tiles are shifting, bulging outward from multiple points, the grout cracking and dropping to the ground. A tile falls, shattering against the floor and revealing the pale vines-no, roots- pushing through the concrete behind it. They trail through the blood on the ground, and form a thin white net over the partially dismembered bodies of the guards.

The roots are growing, the pale, thin lace protruding from the cracks in the wall thickening, becoming cords, then ropes. The wall groans under pressure, the color of the gossamer net growing over the bodies darkens to pale pink and the roots gain a sudden surge of energy.

"I like them wiggling," Croc says. His teeth scrape against each other when he talks, the sharp triangles fitting together perfectly. There's a scrap of bloody flesh stuck in the valley of two teeth.

Robin fights against the paralysis, forcing himself to move through the pain. He's slow and it hurts worse than broken bones, but he is moving. Barely.

Something brushes against his over-sensitized skin, and he manages to tilt his head enough to look. Thread-like roots are growing over him, sliding over his feet like strange lichen. They find the gap between his boots and leggings, crawling inside his costume and along his skin.

The roots grow, lengthening and scratching along his skin, ripe and crisp with moisture.

"We really gonna to do this?" Croc asks. His tongue flickers out, licking the blood splatter off of Robin's face. He tilts his head to look at Robin, his pupils flaring open.

The roots dig into the guards' bodies, burrowing into raw, bleeding flesh. Robin can feel the burst of vitality they gain, the roots thickening under his clothes, growing wider, rougher, stronger. They twitch, thrumming with energy.

"Yeah. We're gonna do this," Bane says. His voice is tight with unidentifiable emotions.

Robin can't-he doesn't know-what they're talking about. In the back of his mind, the clues are adding up, but he can't seem to figure out the answer.

Ivy laughs. The roots push him up, looping around Robin's arms and legs, raising him above the ground on twisted pillars. The sudden growth tears open the seams of his leggings, ripping them from his ankles to his knees.

Robin sways in the creaking bonds, limp and immobile. Helpless. The roots support him at his elbows and they take the weight of his torso.

He feels like a sheet of plastic, cracking as it bends, each movement making him breathless with pain. A fifth growth of roots surge from the floor and tangle in his hair, curling around his face. They slither into his mouth, coiling on the palette, insinuating themselves between his teeth and hollows of his cheeks.

Ivy bends over and whispers in his ear, "If you bite, I'll make you like it."


Fade to Black


Croc's leathery skin creaks as he looks at Ivy, his pupils narrowing. His sniffs the air, his nostrils flaring, a gleaming string of blood and spit hanging from his jaw where Robin knocked his tooth out.

The twitching roots that cover the floor stir, Ivy obviously willing to help if she needs to.

Robin pants, heat pouring through him. Sweat beads up at his brow, on his neck, stinging as it seeps into open cuts that he can't quite feel. He tugs his body armor into place. The white ceramic plates stain milky pink where his hands touch them.

"She's manipulating you, Croc." He's surprised by how cold his voice is, because he feels more scared than angry. "She's using you."

Croc roars, a deep rough cough that rattles the ceiling, and charges at Bane. Ivy's plants snap forward, wrapping around his ankles but Killer Croc tears through them, ripping them apart with the hooked claws on his feet and hands. Bane lunges, leading with a punch to Croc's stomach that he shrugs off.

Poison Ivy dodges away from them, laughing happily.

She dodges toward Robin.

He moves before he even thinks about it, throwing himself into a side kick that sinks deep into Ivy's side, knocking her head first into the wall. Moving hurts, but he ignores it, taking the advantage he'd gained. She collapses, falling between the corpses of the men she killed, one green hand landing in the cracked open chest cavity of the guard that Killer Croc ate.

Robin follows her down, driving his knee into her chest with a move designed to knock the breath out of her. He puts enough force behind it to break bone, his leg pushing deep inside her. Ivy feels like rotting fruit, wet and loose under his hand, worms writhing under the surface. He pulls back to hit her again (and again and again and again) but Bane yanks him off her, slamming him against the wall.

His ears start to ring and the breath is knocked out of him, but Robin surges forward, going for Bane's eyes. He misses, his hand knocked down by Bane's forearm, so Robin knees him in the balls and twists, elbowing him in the side of the head, the crack of bone on bone echoing loudly.

The sound of gears grinding is quiet compared to their panting breath, but Robin can't shake the feeling that it's important for some reason. Bane swings at him, and he dodges, yanking out a dozen of the tubes that connect to the back of Bane's mask. Acid green venom sprays out like arterial blood, splattering across Robin's skin.

Bane cries out, dropping to his knees as venom and blood spill out of the torn ports to his skull. Robin slams his foot into Bane's head, aiming for the temple, hitting as hard as he can. He follows up by using the heel of his palm to break Bane's nose.

Bane begins to slump over, and Robin hits him again, cracking his jaw. It feels good, feels right, so Robin punches him, the torn skin on his knuckles stinging at the pressure.

The leather wrestler's mask is dripping blood and venom onto the floor. Bane is out. Down. No longer a threat.

Robin puts his foot on his neck. He could stomp. It would crack open the cartilage of the trachea. Bane would suffocate within minutes. He could press down slowly, cut off the blood supply to his brain. If he moved up a few inches he could stomp on the shattered remains of Bane's nose, send bone shards through the nasal cavity and into his brain. He could-

"Robin."

Robin freezes and pulls his cape tight around himself. "Yeah?" he asks, watching the blood leak out of Bane's mask.

"He's down. Back off," Batman's voice holds a warning; one Robin learned to listen for before he ever put the costume on.

He steps down.


THREE


Robin runs his tongue over his chapped lips. They still taste like Killer Croc.

"You took down all three?" Batman asks. He's looking at Poison Ivy, half sprawled across a dead man's chest, as he takes Bane's pulse.

Robin laughs.

Something in his laughter makes Batman turn around so fast that his cape flares out behind him. "Robin?"

The ringing in his ears is so loud that he can barely hear Batman. Robin rubs at the edge of his mask. It itches.

"Robin."

Batman's voice cuts through the haze and Robin responds instinctively. "Yeah?"

Batman looks him over, and Robin shivers, staring at the ground. World's Greatest Detective, he thinks. "Are we done here?" Robin asks. His voice makes it sound like he's begging.

"The police can finish up," Batman replies.

Relief crashes over Robin, even as he feels sick, nauseous at the idea that Batman might know something. He looks up, but Batman chose a solid mask for a reason. It makes him really fucking inscrutable when you want to know what he's thinking.

Batman touches his shoulder, and Robin jerks back, knocking his arm away in a textbook block. Batman tilts his head slightly, which is a warning sign because the neck of his cowl doesn't bend easy. He's asking a question, and Robin panics, because he sure as hell doesn't know the answer.

The silence stretches on too long, and Batman backs up a step. "Let's go," he orders, heading toward the door. There's a guard waiting there. He backs up warily as Batman passes him. Robin keeps the edges of his cape closed tight, keeping his ruined costume from view and his head bowed because he's certain there's evidence on his face. He still thinks the guard will be able to smell it.

He doesn't let himself think about the stabbing pain that shoots through his back with every step he takes. He refuses to acknowledge that he's limping, and limping badly. He imagines a world where Batman wouldn't notice.

"Do you need immediate medical attention?" Batman asks, once they're away from the guards, once they're alone in the cold night air.

Robin rubs at the edge of his mask, wishing he could take it off.

"I'll take that as a yes," Batman decides.

Robin looks at him blankly, then says, "I'm fine."

Batman is unconvinced. "There's a Batcave hidden under the island. We can go there or go home." He watches Robin for a moment, then continues. "If your injuries are serious enough that they cannot be taken care of at home, then I'll take you to a hospital."

"You have a Batcave under Arkham Island?" Robin asks. His mind feels like the gears have rusted to a halt, and he wishes Batman would just make the decision for him.

"Yes. It is equipped to deal with anything short of internal bleeding." The curve of Batman's mouth could definitely be interpreted as worried.

"I'm probably not bleeding internally," Robin eventually offers, even though he very well might be. If they go home, Alfred will be the one stitching him up. He wants to avoid that.

Batman nods and turns away, heading toward the overgrown garden next to the Intensive Care building. Robin limps after him.

Batman disappears from beside him in a rush of heavy black fabric. Robin stares at the empty place where he had been for a moment, then looks up. Batman is perched on a nearly invisible ledge. Robin fumbles with his utility belt, hunting for his grappling hook.

He nearly kills himself trying to get on the ledge without his cape gaping open. Batman shifts forward like he's going to touch him or something, so Robin slips past him, heading into the crooked passage.

Batman grabs his shoulder and he twists away, sending a wild blow toward him. Batman blocks it easily, catching his wrist. He presses a long piece of metal and plastic into Robin's hand.

Robin blinks behind the mask. His eyes itch.

"You forgot your grappling hook," Batman says when Robin doesn't respond.

Robin nods and keeps walking. The cave takes a sharp turn and ends abruptly, a craggy sheet of rock preventing him from going any further. He hears Batman come to a stop beside him, about two feet to his right.

"I'm going to take you up with me on this one," Batman tells him.

Robin shakes his head because he's not processing what Batman is saying.

Batman moves closer and reaches out very slowly. Robin watches, running his fingers over the edge of his mask. He wraps his arm around Robin's waist, tugging him closer.

"Robin, you have to wrap your arms around my neck. I can't support your weight like this," Batman eventually says.

Robin obeys, holding his cape closed with one hand and wrapping the other around Batman's neck. Batman looks down at him, the white lenses of his mask blank. He's frowning, and Robin worries that something got on his face, that Batman can see-

The grappling hook sounds like a gun going off and Robin flinches in response. The line retracts slowly, running at the lowest speed it has. Batman's arm hurts where it presses against the cuts in his back.

Batman pushes off the wall with his foot, and suddenly there's solid ground under them. Robin staggers and stumbles away, because he doesn't want to get Batman dirty.

The frown is back.

The wall behind Batman beeps and starts to move, saying something about verified identities. There's a mining shaft elevator behind it, light-weight rails for walls, heavier metal sheeting on the floor.

Batman grabs Robin's wrist very, very slowly. So slow that Robin wonders if his perception of time is whacked, but a glance shows that, no, Batman's just moving like a glacier for reasons of his own.

Robin lets himself be led into the elevator. Batman presses the red button on the switch box that dangles from an electrical cable, and the doors slide closed.


FOUR


"Robin, come over here," Batman says carefully, like he's worried that Robin's going to wander off the edge. Which is possible, because there aren't safety railings on anything and the whole thing is suspended above what looks like a bottomless pit.

"Robin-"

He remembers that he's supposed to go stand by Batman, so he starts walking. Something wet is dripping down his leg, and he dearly hopes it's blood, because it's splattering on the floor and there's no way Batman can't see it.

He stops next to Batman, and stares at the floor. Robin feels pretty lucky, because it's definitely blood.

"I need you to take off your cape." Batman isn't facing him, he's pulling a really big box out from under a bench.

Robin hesitates.

Batman's gauntlets click when he pops the catch that holds them on. He takes off his mask, and Robin suddenly feels like he's going to throw up. Robin wonders when he started panting, wonders why his breath still tastes like Killer Croc.

"Robin?" Bruce is at his side and Robin can't remember him moving. He has the solvent for the adhesive that holds Robin's mask on in his hand. "I'm going to take your mask off."

The solvent is cool on his face. Bruce pushes in on the edges of the lenses to release the suction. As Bruce peels the mask away, a flood of liquid pours out, sliding down his cheeks.

He licks a drop that gets caught in the corner of his mouth. It's salty.

A white scrap of fabric wipes up the remains of the adhesive and the tears. He doesn't know where Bruce got the rag from. He hadn't been watching.

"Okay, we're going to try this again. Tim, I need you to take off your cape," Bruce speaks slowly.

Tim lets go of the edges of the thick fabric. They stick to his gloves. He tries to shake his hands free. It doesn't work.

Bruce slides his hand under the clasp that holds the cape on and flips it. Tim shrugs it off, letting the cape fall to his feet.

It takes a few moments for Tim to look him in the eye. Bruce looks horrified, and Tim is surprised. He thought Bruce had figured it out already.

Bruce lets his breath out slowly, like he's about to jump off the roof of Wayne Tech, spread his wings and fly across the city. "Did you take venom?" he asks. Bruce takes Tim's arm by the elbow and peels off his glove while he waits for an answer.

"I-no," Tim replies defensively. He wonders if maybe Bruce still doesn't know, if the horror was because he thought Tim was taking venom.

"Your eyes are glowing green," Bruce explains as he gets the other glove off. Tim's knuckles start to sting in the open air, but the feeling is muted.

"I didn't..." Tim protests, even as he remembers that Bane had been dosing so high that his sweat glowed.

"It's okay, I trust you," Bruce reassures Tim, pulling him toward a long bench and urging him to sit down. "I am going to assume you had some kind of incidental contact, though. You will probably start going through withdrawal within twenty-four hours. If you start feeling dizzy or nauseous, let me know immediately."

"I'm dizzy and nauseous," Tim replies, watching numbly as Bruce unbuckles his boots and slides them off. A twisted length of root falls out of one boot, and Tim kicks it away from himself, his heart rate increasing again. He's still breathing too fast, panting like he just ran a marathon.

Bruce kneels in from of him and looks up. His frown—Batman is upset—is concerned. "It's unlikely that you are going through withdrawal already. Did Poison Ivy use any kind of behavior or perception altering toxins on you?"

Tim pales and looks away.

"Tim, it's okay," Bruce says, and Tim wants to believe him so badly it hurts. But if it were okay, he'd feel okay, and he sure as hell does not feel okay. "If Ivy poisoned you, I need to know so I can give you an antidote. Most of her toxins have long term effects."

"Yes." Tim says, because the idea of long term effects terrifies him. Bruce takes his hand and presses down on the skin between his thumb and hand, then counts how many seconds it takes for color to come back. "She—yes." He rubs his eyes with back of his wrist.

"Okay," Bruce says again, grabbing a bottle of pills from the box at his side. "You'll need to take one of these every six hours. I don't think you've lost enough blood to go into shock, which makes things easier." He gets up to leave and stops. "I'm just getting a glass of water. I'll be right back."

Tim doesn't respond when Bruce untangles his hand from his cape. He swallows the pill without protest when Bruce returns with a glass of water.

Bruce also brings a sloppily folded pair of sweat pants and a tee-shirt. Tim eyes them with trepidation. "There is a shower here," Bruce begins, "your costume is mostly ruined, at least a few of those cuts will need stitches, and all of the ones from Croc's claws will need to be cleaned. The bleeding is slow enough that you can have a shower first, if you want," he offers awkwardly.

Tim nods. "I can shower by myself," he says, heading off the conversation he sees coming on. "I don't need help."

"I doubt that, but I welcome you to try." He tucks the clothes under his arm and offers Tim his hand.


FIVE


The shower is in the middle of the cave and open air, and the water is lukewarm at best. When Bruce said 'shower,' he actually meant 'a diverted water pipe heated by groups of resistors hooked up to a car battery.' He'd mentioned that he was still getting around to adding a shower head, giving Tim a faintly embarrassed look.

Lukewarm or not, the torrent of water that pours from the pipe washes most of the dirt, blood and grime off through water pressure. Tim feels more solid, even if Bruce has to hold him up to keep him from losing his balance. The shampoo/conditioner/bodywash is the same brand they use in the main batcave. The smell is more comforting than Tim's really willing to admit.

Bruce's grip on Tim's wrist is taking his pulse, from the angle and position of his hand. "Are you done?" Bruce asks. He's staring off into a corner of the cave, very deliberately not looking at Tim.

"Yeah," Tim says. "I'm good."

Bruce twists the spigot closed and grabs Tim a towel from the pile on the ground. "Can you get dried off without falling over?"

"Yeah." Tim shivers. The cave is cold. "I... the cuts are still bleeding," he says, holding the white towel away from himself.

"There are lots of towels. If blood gets on one, we'll throw it out," Bruce replies, picking up the scattered rags of Robin's costume. He drops them into a trash bin without examining them, and even though Tim knows he did so deliberately, he cannot help but to be grateful.

Tim nods, even though Bruce isn't looking, and runs the towel over his body, gingerly patting dry the wounds from Croc's claws. Two of them gape open in the middle, and he isn't looking forward to Bruce stitching them up. He wraps the towel around his hips, and grabs another towel from the pile to wrap around his shoulders (if they can throw out one, they can throw out two).

His feet hurt, and he has no idea why because nothing happened to them. Tim spends a moment being jealous of his feet before realizing how ridiculous that was. "Do those pills make you loopy?" he asks.

"Tranquilizers to neutralize the more violent side-effects are packaged with the antidote," Bruce confirms.

"Okay, good." Tim blames the tranqs and sits down on the bench. Bruce had covered it with another towel when Tim wasn't looking.

There will be three towels we'll need to throw out, Tim thinks absently, letting Bruce help him lie down. His head swims at the change in position.

"Are you alright?" Bruce asks, and Tim notices, belatedly, that he's tugged Tim's towels (they'll need to throw them out) apart so he can reach the big cut on his hip, where Croc had held him still while-Tim frowns.

"I'm fine," he murmurs, rubbing his face against the towel underneath him to get the wet line of drool—spit and come—off of his cheek. It leaves the terry cloth a little damp under his face. He reminds himself that he'll need to throw it out, later.

His hand wraps itself in Batman's cape, tangling it around his fingers. The fabric is warm from Bruce's body heat.

He realizes that he can't feel his stomach and looks down blearily. Bruce is pinching the edges of the deepest cut together and sewing them up, one laborious stitch at a time. Tim's definitely okay with not being able to feel his stomach. Bruce does stitches like a fish does ballet. Incredibly poorly.

Tim's eyes slide half-closed as he watches Bruce stab him with the needle, realize that he doesn't like the spot where he stabbed him, pull back, hesitate because he's already stabbed him, and then push the needle through anyway. Alfred will have to pull out at least three of the stitches and redo them, and Tim will have to be careful when he moves to make sure that he doesn't pull any of the stitches out.

He wakes up when Bruce pulls his hand free from the cape and applies disinfectant liberally and messily. The white gauze pad he tapes over top is reassuringly clean and white, completely hiding the cut from Croc's teeth. Tim closes his eyes (they itch) and grabs hold of the cape again when Bruce lets go of his hand.

Bruce slides his hand under Tim's ribs, pulling him into a sitting position. He brings Tim's shoulder towel with him, which is nice because the towel is warm and Tim is not.

It takes a loop or two for Tim to realize that Bruce is wrapping up the crooked lines he stitched into Tim's stomach. The flash of long white bandages as Bruce pulls them past blurs and twists in front of Tim's eyes, oddly hypnotic. Bruce tucks the edge into itself and leans back to grab something off the floor.

Tim brushes his hands over the bandages, finding the hidden wounds and touching them. He can't feel them, they're numb. He kind of wishes he could.

Bruce lifts Tim's feet one at a time and slides them into of a pair of boxers. They're printed with cartoon bats and little birds. Bruce shrugs at Tim's curious look, and lifts him up to pull the boxers over his hips, sliding them under his towel. "JLA Secret Santa. Superman—actually, probably his wife, gave them to me. I got him one of those stuffed Superman dolls they sell in Metropolis souvenir stands. It came with the Aquaman one. They held hands."

Tim laughs and if it sounds a little like a sob, Bruce doesn't seem to notice. "Aren't those just modified Cabbage Patch Kids?"

"Yes. Yes they are." Bruce smiles at Tim and pulls the drawstring of the sweats tight, tying it in a bow. Tim blinks in confusion. He keeps losing time, missing things. He can't remember Bruce putting them on him.

Bruce taps Tim's arm, and Tim lifts both of them up so Bruce can tug the tee-shirt over his head. The towel falls off his shoulders and he thinks, I'll need to throw that away.

"There's a bed over there," Bruce tells him, standing up. "I need to put sheets on it though." He stops a step away, and looks down.

Tim is holding into his cape again, but can't remember when he grabbed it. He starts to let go, his heart jittering in his chest, but Bruce has the cape off and draped over him like a huge black blanket before he can unhook his fingers.

"I'll be right back," he assures him, and he talks like Batman, so Tim nods and calms down.

He's all Bruce when he struggles with the bed sheets. Eventually he picks up the entire mattress and hooks the top sheet on two corners, then flips it and does the other two. Bruce just tosses the blankets on top.

Tim blinks, and Bruce is in front of him, urging him to stand. The bottom falls out of his head when he does, and he sways into Bruce's hands. Bruce drags him, foot by stumbling foot until the ground under him is rough limestone rather than swaying metal sheeting. Then it's a soft mattress covered by white sheets and Tim falls into it.

Batman's cape drops over him, heavy and warm, and Tim falls asleep.


SIX


"I'm sorry, Robin."

Tim sighs, turns over and says, "It's not your fault."

He can hear Batman's silence.

There's another pill and a glass of water, and Tim falls asleep again, Bruce's hand holding his wrist, fingers pressed lightly against the radial artery pumping beneath his skin.

He wakes up with the sheets wrapped around his legs. For a moment, he thinks they're vines.

Tim pulls his legs free. His back hurts, his stomach hurts, and every movement sends spikes of pain through his thighs. He knows he can call out and Bruce will get him painkillers. Instead he stretches, letting the stitches pull at his skin, inviting the aches into his bones.

I didn't like it. It hurts, it hurt, and I didn't like it.

"What time is it?" Tim murmurs, asking the shadow beside him.

Batman stirs, the white lenses of the mask turn to look at him. "Five."

"We leaving soon?"

"Yes."

Tim sighs and sits up. "How soon?" he asks, pressing his hand against his forehead. His head is pounding.

"When it's dark." Batman hands Tim a glass of water and another pill. "Any nausea? Dizziness?"

"Killer headache," Tim admits, absently tugging the collar of his shirt up. "Withdrawal?"

"It should be setting in. Your eyes stopped glowing three hours ago."

"Oh good," Tim whispers. The cave walls seem to roll around him and he swallows hard. "Oh man, nausea. Nausea now."

Batman hauls Tim to the edge of the cave, holding him still with an arm across his chest. Tim's stomach twitches, and then practically turns itself inside out. Even though he knows it's impossible, he feels like he can taste Croc all over again.

Tim pushes himself back up onto floor, stone crumbling under his palms and skittering into the pit. "So how are we getting out of here?"

"Batmobile."

"I don't have a costume," Tim replies, rising to his knees and crawling back to the bed. Moving hurts. He stretches a little, just to prove...

"There's an extra in storage here."

"It's not Dick's, is it?"

Silence.

"I seriously don't want to wear green panties," Tim says, grabbing a pillow and hugging it in front himself. He's being manipulative, and he really, really doesn't care. He doesn't want to wear the fucking panties.

"You could wear the sweats?" It's a rare thing to hear Batman sound uncertain. Tim shouldn't be so pleased.

"Can I borrow your cape?" Tim reaches over his side and pulls the edge of Batman's cape over himself. It's warm. "And the sweats," he adds.

"Yes," Batman says. Silence unfolds. "Are you sure you don't want your cape?"

"No, I want yours." Tim stretches again, as a reminder.

"I—Tim." Batman paused. This uncertainty in his voice doesn't bode well. "I need to ask you a few questions."

Tim's skin crawls, and he shivers, pulling the cape tighter around himself. "Yeah?"

"Bane, Killer Croc, and Poison Ivy. Were there any others?"

"No." Tim stared at the twisted rock formations beside him, breathing slowly, keeping calm.

"I looked into their medical records." Batman rubs his fingers together, the polymer-based fabric hissing quietly. It's a blatant sign of nervousness for Batman.

The pit of his stomach drops to somewhere around his knees. He hadn't considered—"What did they have?"

"They're all clean of diseases."

"Then what—?" He doesn't know what to ask. Doesn't know what Batman is saying.

"All three have been put on new medications in the last two months. Was their behavior...particularly unusual?"

Soft and withered flesh, yellow-green from lack of sun, something unnatural twisting around beneath her skin.

"What were they giving Ivy?" Tim asks before he can stop himself.

"Nitrogen. One of the new psychologists is also a horticulturalist."

"They should stop giving her that. I don't think it's helping," Tim resists the urge to laugh, because he doesn't think he could understate the case any more dramatically if he tried.

"She was the instigator." A statement, not a question.

"Yes. I'm fairly certain she was controlling the other two as well." Tim props himself up on his elbow, looking at Batman more directly. "You aren't surprised."

"No."

"Why aren't you surprised?"

"Killer Croc and Bane aren't sexual predators. Poison Ivy is."

Tim rolls the idea around, thinking it through, remembering dozens upon dozens of situations that had seemed funny or trivial afterward. He'd never made that particular connection, but the conclusion was fairly obvious, now. "I never thought of her pheromones like that before," he admits.

Batman laughs once, sharp and bitter, and replies, "Neither did I."

"Did she ever—" Tim cuts himself off there, because it's not any of his business. Even if he really wants to know.

"...To me?" Batman says.

Tim nods, his cheek rubbing against the wrinkled cotton of the pillowcase.

"Once."


SEVEN


Batman sets him down on the passenger seat of the Batmobile. Robin relaxes into the heated leather, pulling Batman's cape up under his chin. He'd stiffened up overnight, the dull aches returning as painfully tight muscles, stitched together skin pulling in all the wrong directions.

Apparently, Venom is a mild analgesic. The ones Batman keeps in locked containers are significantly more effective.

"You can sleep," Batman says, and his voice is quiet and far away. Tim-Robin closes his eyes. He feels like he's made of Jello. 100% pain-free Jello with a side of clouds and maybe a litter of kittens like they show in toilet paper commercials. He likes kittens.

"He alright?" someone asks from really far away, like, Tibet or Belarus. But he can hear them, so it's not that far away.

Tim frowns. "I want a kitten," he murmurs. "A black one." They could call it Batcat, and it could live in the cave with them.

"He's fine," Batman replies, closing the car door really loudly. "Just tired."

He wakes up in the Batcave, sprawled across the pallet bed Batman uses for naps while the computer is processing results. The first thing he does is check for his mask. Tim isn't wearing it.

There's no one else there. He's alone.

The bats above squeak sleepily when he turns on the lights (it must be day), chasing away the shadows. Tim changes into civilian clothes, getting rid of Dick's old top in favor of a plain white tee-shirt that's loose, old, and comfortable. He keeps Bruce's pants, even though they're way too long, the hems catching under his feet as he walks.

There's a clumsily folded afghan beside the bed. It's usually in the media room.

Tim lies down and goes back to sleep, curled underneath the blanket.

The sheets have twisted around his body again, pinning him down, preventing him from escaping. He checks for the mask as he catches his breath.

Tim untangles himself and heads for the stairs. His skin crawls, and he turns around, Bruce's pants tangling around his feet like vines like roots. There's nothing behind him other than rows on rows of trophy cases. Tim stares into the shadows, daring them to move, until his heart calms down.

He can't shake the feeling that he isn't alone, that he's being watched. The bats are gone (it must be night).

He backs toward the stairs, out of the cold light that illuminates him for anyone in the shadows. He can't see out. Everything else can see in. The first step catches him by surprise, adding a few more bruises to his bruises when he falls. Tim scrambles back to his feet, and heads up the stairs, ignoring the dozens of pangs and twinges moving brings.

The stairs creak with every step, a clear and loud indication to whatever is watching him (there is nothing watching him), telling it where he's going. There's a matching squeak behind him, probably a bat that stayed. It sounds like footsteps.

Tim unlocks the secret door with shaking hands, darting out from the grandfather clock and slamming it behind him. The counterweights sway gently, a muted clock strike of inaccurate hour.


EIGHT


He runs cold water over his hands and blames the shaking in them on the temperature. Every light in the kitchen is on, and the blinds are all pulled down. There aren't any shadows, and the air smells like Alfred's cookies.

Tim's still afraid. Irrationally so, and he counts down the reasons why he's safe here. There are many, and they are compelling. His hands don't listen to his carefully crafted list.

"Are you okay?"

Tim flinches, his heart in his throat. He turns off the water and the truth slips out before he can catch it, "I'm really not."


Bruce


Tim wishes he hadn't said it. He turns around to apologize, and pauses.

Bruce holds out his hands uncertainly. Tim blinks. Nothing changes. "I'm sorry," he says, then walks forward. "Is that a kitten?"

"I found it on patrol," Bruce replies awkwardly, trying to keep it from gnawing on his thumb. "I couldn't find its mother. The vet said-"

"Can we keep it?" Tim asks, gently rubbing his fingers over its little back. The kitten immediately rolls over and attacks his hand.

"Her. It's a female." Bruce smiles hopefully, and adds, "I thought maybe you'd like a pet?"

Tim hugs him, ignoring Bruce's jerk as he starts to block, then tries to cover it up as a flinch. "Yes. Thank you." He pulls back, taking the tiny kitten into his hands. Her claws prickle, and she bites his finger.

Tim's hands are rock steady.

"Can I call her Batcat?"


Alfred


"Might I suggest milk and cookies?" Alfred asks, heading toward the cooling tray by the oven.

Tim nods unsteadily, and sits down at the butcher block table. He holds onto the edge hard enough to make his hands stop shaking. He doesn't know if Alfred knows, but, given that it's Alfred, Tim probably never will.

The cookies are his favorite kind and Alfred used the bat cookie cutter on them. Somewhere around biting the head off of his third one, Tim's hands stop shaking.

Alfred makes him soup.


Dick


"Tim?"

He freezes. A drop of water falls from the faucet to the sink, a gentle ping in the silence of the kitchen.

"Tim, what's wrong?" Dick is next to him putting his hand on Tim's shoulder.

Tim freezes. "Nothing," he lies, forcing his hands to be still, making himself stand up straight.

"I kinda think you're lying," Dick smiles. "Bruce called me over. Said you weren't feeling well."

Tim gives a short, disbelieving laugh. "You could say that."

"Flu?" Dick guides him toward the kitchen table, pulling out the chair for him. "I heard there was a pretty bad outbreak of it in Gotham."

Tim nods, then hugs Dick hard enough to bruise.


Selina


Catwoman finds Robin on the edge of the Gotham Art Museum, perched on a gargoyle. She lands on the steep-pitched roof, as graceful and sure in four inch heels as Batman is in modified combat boots.

"Hey kid," she greets him, leaning against his gargoyle.

"Catwoman."

"Got a message for you," she pauses there and bites her lip, obviously confused. "Killer Croc told me to tell you-"

Robin starts moving when she says 'Killer Croc', shifting to his feet and leaping across the street to the opera house, sending his grappling hook into a statue's chest and swinging to the Gothic inspired cantilevered aches over the main entrance.

Catwoman sighs. "He says he's sorry!" she yells across rooftops, doing her good deed for the day.

Robin twists and lands the jump easily. "He's out of Arkham?" he shouts back, his voice strident, sharp.

"I saw him in the sewers last week," she replies. People below them are looking up, alerted by the shouting.

Robin nods and jumps again, heading toward Old Gotham.

Catwoman shrugs and jumps off the side of the museum, heading in the opposite direction. The click of cell phones taking pictures follows her north.


SuperBoy


SuperB: Hey, you want to do something this weekend?

BoyW: (click to download)

SuperB: Stop sending me pictures of your cat. Seriously.

BoyW: This one's really cute. (click to download)

SuperB: Damnit, Robin, stop it!

BoyW: She crawled into a paper bag! (click to download)


Superman


Robin studies the terrain below, noting possible landing spots, ledges, potential hazards. He pulls his grappling hook from his belt and loops the safety cord around his wrist.

Robin rocks back on his heels then leaps, flying across the city skyline, gliding like a...

...Gliding very slowly. Robin looks up and catches a glimpse of flapping red cape before he tumbles into Superman's arms, his cape losing its rigidity and flapping uselessly.

"I was fine," Robin shouts over the whistling of the wind. Superman can hear him from miles away. Robin shouts to hurt Superman's ears.

"Robin, I know you're going through a hard time..." The wind whips away the rest of what he's saying.

Robin seethes, "I have my grappling hook right here. In my hand. I do this every night. Why the hell are you saving me?"

"Kon said you were depressed," Superman admits, flying down to street level and letting Robin go. "I was worried-"

"Look, I'm not depressed, I'm not upset with him and I don't know what he told you, but I am not suicidal." Robin hissed. He took a good step or two back, getting some space between them.

"Robin-"

"I have to be in Old Gotham in twenty minutes." Robin cuts him off, brushing imaginary lint off his costume. If the lint is in the same places Superman touched him, that's just a weird coincidence.

Robin uses his grappling hook to get back on the rooftops. Superman's following at a safe distance, he realizes when he looks back. Robin narrows his eyes behind his mask. He doesn't need any help.


Stephanie


"Hey Boy Wonder," Spoiler calls from the next rooftop over. The bottom of her mask is rolled up, and she's in the middle of eating an ice cream cone, sitting on top of the air conditioning unit.

Robin waves, then jumps the five foot gap between the buildings.

"Want some ice cream?" she asks, licking up a white drop of melted vanilla that's threatening to fall.

"Where did you get it?" Robin replies, climbing up beside her and sitting down.

"A gang initiation was going after the ice cream stand on the corner. I stopped them before they could do any damage, so the owner gave me an ice cream cone."

"You aren't supposed to-"

"He was really insistent," Spoiler says, handing Robin her cone. "What flavor do you want? I'll buy you one."

"What flavors did he have?" Robin asks. He holds the cone gingerly, trying to keep the drops of melting ice cream off of his gloves.

"Lick it if you have to," Spoiler says. "And he had all the standard flavors, plus tiger, bubble gum, green tea, butterscotch, black licorice-"

"Black licorice," Robin says, then looks at her suspiciously. "You know all of the flavors?"

"I get ice cream there before I go on patrol. Like, a lot." Spoiler laughs and tugs her mask over her face before jumping down.

Robin licks up a trail of ice cream before she returns, clambering carefully over the edge of the building to keep the ice cream from falling out.

"Here." She hands it to him, then jumps up to the top of the air conditioner and takes back her cone.

"Did you-" Robin stops, and doesn't finish the question. He's not even sure why he wanted to ask it.

"Did I what?" Spoiler asks, peeling up the bottom of her mask again.

"How did you feel, coming back after Africa?" He doesn't turn to look at her, and hopes with a quiet desperation that she'll think his question is an idle one.

"I was happy. Looking forward to seeing you again." She manages to say it without even a trace of bitterness, which impresses Tim. "I was kind of scared, because everyone and their dog knew what had happened to me, and how badly I'd screwed up." Spoiler sighs.

Robin shivers, suddenly cold. "Would you have wanted it to be a secret?"

"My medical records, at least," she replies. "I still don't like that I was used as an example." She stretches fluidly, cracking her back. "But the past is the past, you know?"

"Yeah," he says slowly, licking up an errant trail of black licorice ice cream. "I guess it is."