Dick Grayson grunted as his back hit the ground, watching a sword come plummeting at his head. At the last minute he rolled, the blade hitting the ground next to his head and snapping upon impact, giving him the opening needed.
An opening to kick a civilian in the head. He winced at the crack, but there wasn't anything for it as the man he'd be fighting crumpled to the ground, unconscious.
It was an all-Masks-on-duty night. They still weren't sure what was the Scarecrow had brought out, but it had turned 300 inmates in three prisons into madmen. Half of them had simply started cowering in corners, screaming about everything from Martian Cows to Nazis to the conspiracy of Voles to undermine the infrastructure of the Earth and send everyone plummeting into hot lava. A hundred or so were hugging the darkness and hiding in catatonic horror.
Unfortunately, that had left another fifty who were much more proactive in their terror. The kind that saw something that horrified them and decided the best way to deal with it was to beat it soundly with the nearest blunt object.
At least it was supposed to be fifty. Seemed to be a whole lot more than that. Dick ducked as a rock hurtled towards his head, thrown by…
…thrown by a woman who had been just fine ten minutes ago and was now sobbing as she insisted he return her children. Dick grumbled as he turned to face the woman he'd just been saving a few minutes before, disabling her as quickly as possible.
"Good news and bad news, Nightwing." Dick's radio crackled on as if on cue, Oracle's voice a steady thread in the chaos.
"If the bad news is anything other than it being contagious I'm not speaking to you for a month," Dick ground out as he reached to take the arm of his assailant, intending to flip her. Instead, she crumpled under his touch, sobbing on her knees s he tied her arms.
"No, that's it. It seems to be spread through dermal contact, so as long as you keep the gloves on you'll be fine."
"Great. I hope the good news is really good." Dick dragged the woman to the edge of the street, leaving her. The police were coming close behind and picking people up, and as much as he hated abandoning the defenseless it was preferable to letting those who weren't defenseless rampage.
"It's not fatal, and the bodies of the people infected seem to be fighting it on their own. It'll take 24 hours, but they should cure themselves."
Ok, yeah. That was definitely good news. The next voice in his ear was Tim's, interfering with Oracle's before she backed out.
"There seems to be a pattern to the symptoms, too," Red Robin said seriously. A few wet thumps sounded over the comm, indicating that he was hypothesizing this from what he was seeing on the field, not in a lab. Not surprising. Dick acknowledged the presence in his ear before cresting a building. A main commuter pathway was a few blocks over and he could hear the screams from there.
"As soon as someone gets infected – dammit, I'm talking here! - they start paranoid hallucinations, usually violently lashing out at whoever is closest," Tim said. "Then they pass out from the overload. When they wake up the problems switch to a more personalized nature, and I imagine that lasts until the drug wears off."
"Got it. So they start to infect others right away, before ending up in their personal hells. Nightwing out." Dick looked at his gloves and he jumped from the building onto a street of people, mentally scanning and cataloging who was infected and who needed to be taken down. He hoped Barbara was right about them keeping the toxin out, because his own personal hell wasn't anywhere he wanted to be anytime soon. He prepared himself to begin a triage takedown, when his comm crackled on again, Barbara's voice sounding much less steady.
"Nightwing, you need to get to Grant Park. Now."
It wasn't a voice that asked for argument, and was even tinged with panic. Dick was turning to go even before Oracle elaborated.
"Jason Todd is there. He doesn't know how the toxin works and…"
"And given his hands-on style, his chances of staying uninfected are slim," Dick said grimly. This was bad. Jason was a dangerous killer at his calmest and most calculating. He'd cut a wave of death through the entire park if he was infected, and unlike most of the people screaming in the streets, he'd make sure every perceived threat was dead before moving on.
The freaks were out in full force tonight, Jason realized as he slammed his palm into the nose of a man about to attack a pair of school children with a shovel apparently wrested from the park groundskeeper, who was unconscious a few feet away. Cartilage crunched under his fist, and the man fell to his knees with a cry. As he struggled back to his feet, Jason lashed out with a kick, breaking his leg. The man stayed down this time, writhing in agony as he spouted nonsense about demons and the Devil. Jason tossed kicked the shovel away and stood there, looking down at the man. Looks could be deceiving. Jason knew that, but this man didn't seem like someone who would just start murdering kids on the street, either. Something was wrong in the neighborhood. He spared a glance at the two terrified girls, both still in one piece and cowering.
"Get out of here and get home," he growled. If the freaks were out the kids needed to be elsewhere. He would not be responsible for collateral damage, but he wasn't about to let anyone innocent of any wrongdoing get killed either. The two girls nodded and scrambled off, clinging to one another like that would save them from the monsters that lurked in the dark.
"You let them go," the man at Jason's feet said, the sounds marred by the blood in his mouth and nasal passage. "They're dangerous. They'll end everything you have to shoot them!"
Jason barely gave him a glance, just kicked him in his shattered kneecap. Half a choked scream later, and the man fell unconscious from the pain or something else. Jason wasn't sure. He moved away and loosed his gun from its holster. Something would probably need to be shot. He didn't think it was the girls, but the screams around him seemed to be intensifying and the violence escalating right along with them. Cautiously, he moved further into the park.
More people were hiding than fighting, but there were a few running around with whatever weapon they could find, or using their hands if they couldn't find anything. One woman in a tattered jacket had a broken bottle in her hand, advancing one a man hiding under a park bench. Jason moved forward quickly, gun out and ready. He didn't like this. He didn't ask questions, but he liked knowing what was going on. They woman saw him out of the corner of her eye and waved the glass around like a, well, a crazy person. Which she very obviously was. Jason took note that the edge of the glass she was holding was just as sharp and jagged as the one she was using as a weapon. There was blood soaking the entire sleeve of the jacket. Wonder she hadn't severed a tendon yet. Jason continued to press her, noting the fear in her eyes. She was terrified, lashing out to protect herself. Jason understood that. He also understood that she'd been trying to kill a man less than a minute ago. He braced himself. A person with that look in their eyes wouldn't allow themselves to be pushed back for long.
Almost on cue, the woman changed direction, charging him. Jason caught her in the chest with his shoulder, grabbing her arm and slamming her into the ground. There was an audible crack as her arm broke and her shoulder dislocated. On impact she clenched her makeshift weapon, and it sliced deeply severing the muscles and tendons that allowed her to hold it. Her hand fell open, limp and useless, and Jason picked up the bottle and threw it as far away from anyone as he could. The woman curled up into a ball at his feet, sobbing weakly.
Jason regrouped himself, focusing and taking stock of the park again. This was chaos. Everyone had obviously gone insane, seemingly thinking that everything from the sparrow in the tree to Jason himself was trying to kill them. At least there were only a few people in the park, but it was still a nightmare.
Clarity came to Jason in a wave. Of course. He was an idiot. Mass hysteria, the MO of yet another one of the madman Bruce was too weak to save the world from. So the Scarecrow was behind it, but that didn't really give him answers. For one, people largely seemed to be attacking one another out of self-defense. Nobody was dying, so that was somewhat new, and there wasn't a stimulus that Jason could see. No gas in the air. It was spreading some other way. Jason tensed, checked around himself again, trying to notice a pattern. His gaze fixed at the edge of the park, a man in the orange jumpsuit that you only found in one place, babbling to himself. An excellent place to start, he decided. Find the crime through the criminals. They were always connected. He rocked forward, intending to figure things out, when a blur of black and blue dropped in front of him. Jason instinctively slid into a fighting stance, gun up and at the ready, his finger tight on the trigger. "What the Hell are you doing here?"
Dick rocked back from the gun inches from his head, hands raised in supplication. Jason's clothes were splattered with blood, a tear in the leather near his shoulder, but that wasn't anything more than he'd witnessed during prior run-ins with the former Robin. Dick settled on the truth. "Looking for you."
Jason snorted and gestured at the park around them. "Looking to get in the way, I imagine."
Dick rolled his eyes and moved to step back in front of Jason when he tried to step around him. "Here to help, hopefully."
"I seriously doubt that," Jason growled. "You haven't yet."
Dick took a deep breath, trying to keep one eye on Jason and another on the people around them. The park was actually pretty empty compared to the other parts of the city the toxin had reached, but it was a lot of families. Spread out, thankfully, and children seemed less likely to get violent even in the beginning stages, choosing instead to cower and run. "It's the…Sc…"
"Scarecrow, I know. It's not the first time I've dealt with him," Jason interrupted. "Prisons, I'm guessing."
"Two small jails and the low-security portion of _" Dick replied. No point in keeping anything secret. "We don't know how he got them out, but it's a new toxin."
"Got that, too," Jason replied. "Behind you."
Dick didn't hesitate. Jason had changed, but he had no reason to lie. He dropped low, spinning to swipe a potential attacker's legs from under him, the man hitting the ground with a grunt of exhaled air. This one knew how to fight and Dick turned his attention, keeping the man away from his face and neck as more than just weak points, focusing on his legs and keeping him down, not letting him anywhere near his body. He saw another man, babbling something that Dick couldn't hear but he was sure was incredibly important to him. Simultaneously, he saw Jason move into action, physically slamming into the man with the full force of his body taking them both to the ground. Dick tried to keep his attention on his own man, disabling as best he could and tying him. At this rate he was going to be out of zip-ties. He turned back to Jason to find the younger man climbing to his feet, the man unconscious and his face a bloody pulp. He swallowed hard.
"Don't look at me like that," Jason said. How Dick had made it this far and still be a lightweight he wouldn't know. Influence of the damn Bat, he imagined. "He's not dead, and he used to be a member of the Joker's gang anyway."
Dick shook his head. Now was not the time, and Jason hadn't killed the criminal. He'd heal, and for now he was as disabled as the man dick had tied. "The toxin spreads by touch. You need to be more careful."
Jason paused for a moment, then nodded acknowledgement. "Nothing gets through these gloves. Know anything else?"
There as an accusation in the words along with the curiosity, Dick noted, but filled Jason in on as much as they'd figured out in the short time.
"How long do your 'stages' last?" Jason asked, gaze seemingly glued to a point behind Dick's shoulder. He was relaxed, though, so the threat must be minor.
Dick paused, and relayed the question over his comm. Jason snorted derisively as he realized the source and speed on the information, even as the answer came back. "20 minutes of rage, then they're out for about a half an hour.
"Contagious after they wake up?" Jason asked, shifting on his heels. Dick turned even as he asked the question, taking note of a man beating a tree with an axe. There were shreds of tree flying about, but as long as his target remained a plant it would be ok, Dick imagined. Tim's voice came back to him, tired but strong.
"Given how few of the police force were affected before we let them know about gloves I'd say it's only during the initial stage," he hypothesized. Dick felt a wave of pride for his little group, who had figured out so much with so little, before turning back to Jason, who was rocking back and forth, obviously uncomfortable with having to remain inactive. Or maybe he had empathy for trees. Dick couldn't be sure. He repeated the answer. Jason nodded tersely.
"So we just have to keep them distracted until they pass out," he growled softly, obvious itching to do something. Dick nodded.
"Remember, Jason, most of them haven't done anything. They're innocent."
Jason laughed. "Save me the preaching. I'm not going to go murdering anyone ranting about the kitten conspiracy. You all seem to have the wrong idea."
Dick glanced briefly at the smashed face of the man at their feet, and the blood splattering Jason's jacket, but said nothing. He could contain the area and keep an eye on Jason at the same time. He felt a wave of relief when Jason sheathed his gun, even knowing the boy could have it out and aimed again in the span of a second. Together, they launched themselves forward.
As much as he tried to deny it, Jason still fought like he'd been trained to, and it was easy for the two former Robins to form a duo, although the obvious difference in who had taken on which people was fairly obvious by the bruises and broken bones.
Jason was purposefully dividing their targets, too, and they both knew it. He'd go after the escapees, and let Dick have the civilians. Children he'd practically run from, the few he did engage being quickly tied and left unharmed.
Dick shook his head at the dichotomy before focusing on his own targets. If Jason wanted to divide and conquer, fine. It gave him a specific portion to focus on anyway, useful in any outnumbered fight. Although it wasn't exactly outnumbered, since everyone was out for themselves, attacking each other as much as they were attacking the two vigilantes trying to stop them.
Jason stood as one of the last infected went down, scanning suddenly as he noticed a lone man on the fringe. He had the same shovel, he realized that he'd thrown away from the first person he'd engaged. Damn, he should have broken it. Worse, he was headed towards an infant boy who was cowering over his mother, lying unconscious in the street. There was no way to reach him in time, Jason growled as he grabbed his gun, Dick stared at him in shock, but Jason paid no heed; stepped aside as the older man tried to tackle him. A split second of taking sight, and he fired. The man fell, inches from the child, who started bawling. Dick hit him right after, pinning his back against a tree, hand with the gun locked behind his back.
"You said you wouldn't kill them!" Dick snarled, shocked. Jason bucked against him, trying to get free. Dick held, determined and angry.
"You would have preferred he bashed the kid's head in?" Jason shot back. "He's wearing orange already."
"He could have been a petty thief."
"Maybe, but he was about to become a murderer," Jason said quietly. "And you weren't paying enough attention, so don't say that you had something that could have saved them both."
Dick shook his head. He refused to believe it. They'd all beat the odds more times than he could count. "I might have."
"Don't be a goddamn idiot," Jason growled back. Then he went completely stiff, jerking his head. "Let me go unless you want to die."
Dick shook his head, not entirely sure he wouldn't be dead even if he let go, when Jason heaved against him, shoving him to the side and to the ground. He was halfway to his feet before Jason had even moved, and then he realized Jason wasn't moving, a blade embedded in his shoulder, a maddened-looking man in a suit holding and twisting it.
"I finally found you!" The afflicted man screamed, shoving the knife deeper as Jason tried to free his own pinned arm, managing it only a moment after his attacker had wrapped his free hand around his throat, two moments before Dick grabbed him and threw him backwards. The man slipped and fell, head cracking against a rock that knocked him unconscious. Not that it mattered, as his head practically exploded in a shower of blood and tissue as Jason emptied half a gun cartridge into his skull before Dick could even think to stop him.
Dick stared, unsure how to react to that or the fact that Jason was now almost certainly infected and still holding a loaded gun. The one question he hadn't thought to ask was how long it was going to take before the symptoms started. Dick swallowed horror that tasted of bile and kept his gaze on Jason.
"You…were so not worth this," Jason said quietly. "What happens now?"
"Jason, I need you to give me the gun," Dick tried, knowing just how ridiculous it sounded.
"How stupid do you think I am, Grayson?" Jason asked, reaching up to wrench the knife from his own shoulder.
"I don't think you're at all stupid," Dick repeated quietly. "Which is why I'm hoping you'll listen and just hand over the gun. Please."
"Is begging all you know how to do?," Jason growled. He was breathing quickly, sweating and trying to deny what Dick was telling him. He could deal with anything. Murderers and rapists, drug dealers and terrorists. Deal with them so the world would be safer, so people wouldn't ever have to deal with the sort of horror he did. He couldn't go back there. He wouldn't. "Tell me what's going to happen."
Jason snarled at himself mentally for how pathetic that sounded, and hated Dick for the pity on his face, visible even behind the mask he wore.
Dick started to give the explanation he just had, still hoping to get Jason to give him the gun, or the knife, or maybe just hold out his hands and let him tie him up. The last incredibly unlikely, but nice in a perfect world. He trailed off as Jason began shaking his head vehemently. His grip on the gun tightened and he shifted his weight back to an attack stance.
"You're lying. You've always lied and you're doing it now." There was an edge to his voice, the tone too high to just be anger. The toxin was fast, if nothing else they knew that. "You just want to take me back there."
Dick shook his head, desperately. "I don't want to take you anywhere. I just want to help you. I want you to help them. You could kill them all, Jay. You would."
"I WON'T!" Jason snapped. "Stop trying to tell me what I will, won't and am iallowed/i to do."
Dick backed off a step. "I'm not trying to tell you what to do, Jason. If you don't want to hurt them, though, you do need to listen to me."
"I listened to you, and Bruce, and everyone else and look where it got me," Jason said, voice shaking. He was terrified. "This is all a lie. You've set me up to take me back. To put me down, and you're using ithem/i as bait!"
Dick took a deep breath, eyes flitting between the bloody knife Jason held in one hand and the gun in the other, trying to judge which was the bigger risk. The knife was more dangerous for him, and if he went down there would be nothing between Jason's chemically-induced paranoia and the people in the park, but as long as Jason had the gun they weren't safe anyway.
The attempt at decision proved futile as Jason suddenly spun away from the tree, hand diving into the bushes. His hand came up, holding a terrified-looking girl by the hair. "Distracting me so she can put a knife in my back, Grayson?"
"Jason, listen to yourself," Dick said, trying to sense an opening. The knife was now the most dangerous for all of the, poised above the jugular of a girl paralyzed from fear and whatever nightmares her own mind was twisting the already warped situation into. The slightest twitch on Jason's part would end her life. Dick tried to steady the adrenaline in his system and attempted a final appeal. Jason was one of them. He'd been trained against mind-control attempts. There might be a chance. "The biggest crime she could possibly have committed is pulling someone's hair on the playground."
"Which is why she's perfect for you," Jason replied. His voice was shaking, hard. He was shaking, too. Trying to fight through the static and gain control, and feeling it slip away from him into a darkness. There was something he had to do, and it wasn't kill the traitorous girl, but he couldn't figure it out. "You've always used innocents as armor."
Dick wondered where that came from, but took a step forward. Jason was obviously trying to keep himself in control, and maybe he could provide a big enough threat to get the attention off the girl. "Let her go and face me, then, if you think I'm behind it."
"You?" Jason laughed bitterly. "You're nothing but a tool of Bruce, and he's nothing but a slave to his own idiotic sense of cowardice."
Jason raised his gun, to shoot him where he stood, Dick realized, but the distraction was there and he took it, moving at the same time, twisting impossibly to kick the gun from Jason's hand even as he simultaneously gripped the hand with the knife and shoved the girl to the side. She fell, before backing away into the bushes again, audible sobs marking her location. But Jason no longer had her and no longer had the gun, which gave Dick hope as he just tried to regain enough balance to pin Jason again.
Jason screamed with rage as Dick made his move, reacting faster than he remembered the other man being able to, depriving him both of the traitorous girl and his best weapon. He lashed out with his knife, aiming for Dick's face, uncovered as he tried to recover.
The blade caught him in the forehead, cutting a thin sweep across it. Almost instantly, Dick felt the blood running down, and ignored it in favor of grabbing the hand that was now outstretched, Jason putting himself off-balance in his desperation to hurt the things that he was perceiving as hurting him. He held, determined, as Jason struggled, growling like a trapped beast. From the snapping of his teeth, Dick was fairly sure that not only was Jason trying to stab him again, he was also trying to bit him through the Red Hood mask. There was blood in his eyes, burning and blurring his vision, but he had ahold of Jason and that was what mattered. He just had to hold on until Jason overloaded. It couldn't be too long, he guessed, from the increasing terror, anger and desperation in whatever incomprehensible words it was that Jason was yelling, voice breaking from the strain. As long as the people in the park were smart enough to stay away they'd be fine, and even the word afflicted seemed to be wary of the rabidly snarling man Dick held pinned beneath him.
It took longer than Dick wanted it to, for both their sakes, but finally Jason gave a final, desperate struggle and an intense cry that was filled with as much pain as anger before falling limp. Dick held him a moment longer, just to make sure, before cautiously rolling to his feet. He was shaking from the effort and stress of what had just happened. Oracle was trying to talk to him, he realized.
"Nightwing here," he said quietly, still watching Jason. He was fairly certain that Jason had been too out of it to process strategies, but he couldn't be absolutely sure that he wasn't playing possum, either.
"What happened?" Oracle said. She sounded worried.
"Todd was infected," Dick said. He left out the part about it probably being his fault. "I've contained him and he's unconscious. The park is mostly contained, although getting some cops here for cleanup would be good."
"Jason is there?" Bruce's voice broke over the comm. "Can you get him to the cave?"
Dick paused, looking down at the unconscious form at his feet, some of the words of terror Jason had spouted right before he'd passed out coming back to him. "It's fine. I don't think we want to risk him coming awake during transport."
"Then I'll be right there," Bruce's voice crackled and Dick found himself shaking his head again. They knew only part of what had happened to Jason, but Dick was willing to bet that Jason's worst nightmares involved Batman somehow, and he doubted having Bruce there would make what Jason was about to have to endure any better.
"It's fine. The city needs you more. I'll finish with the park and then stay here with Jason. I'll bring him in when he's coherent again."
"You're sure?" Bruce and Babs voices came almost simultaneously, concern and maybe a tinge of suspicion in both their voices.
"Yeah," Dick said, bending down to bind Jason's hands.
He could practically hear the disapproving silence from Bruce over the comm, but his mentor said nothing so Dick took that as acceptance. It was a reasonable plan and he had no plans of changing it. The threat was lessening, especially now that Babs and Tim had figured out the mechanics of the toxin. Bruce and everyone else could fix the city, and he'd deal with Jason. And afterwards, they'd figure out what to do with the Red Hood.
Carefully, he maneuvered Jason onto his shoulder. He'd put him in the storage shed to get him out of the open, then take care of the wound still dripping blood down his face and take care of the rest of the park. He figured he had about 15 minutes. Jason wasn't one to stay unconscious for long. "It'll be best for everyone."
Dick tried to take stock of the situation and take action at the same time. Carefully he carried Jason and placed him down as gently as he could in the storage. A quick examination of the door revealed it would lock from the inside if he wanted it to. He thought for a minute, weighing the potentially disastrous ending of being trapped inside a space with Jason the way he would almost certainly be upon waking against the results of someone coming in when Jason's brain took him wherever it was planning to. Plus there was the possibility that Tim was wrong and the toxin would still spread in the second stage. Dick shook his head, and let the boy down as easily as he could, sliding him into a sitting position in the corner and double-checking the bindings on his wrists and ankles. And triple-checking them. There as a pit in his stomach and he couldn't fight back the sense of dread of what the next few hours would bring. Making sure Jason was secure, he backed away to finish in the park as quickly as he could. There was remarkably little to do. He and Jason had made an efficient team, he had to admit. It hadn't gone how he'd liked it to, especially the ending, but they'd done a lot in only a short period of time. The police force was already here, he could see the lights in the distance. He watched as a pair of them paused briefly over the pulverized body of the man who attacked Jason, having a brief conversation before moving on to the still-living.
Dick waited, scanning for any remaining threats before deciding the park was secure and turning back into the shed. Another moment's hesitation, and he locked it. If Jason did somehow get loose he wanted those few extra seconds to stop him. Deliberately and systematically he went through Jason's clothes, searching for weapons. The other man had a practical arsenal on him, between knives, guns and the various tools of their very specific trade. He kicked them away and tried to put the unconscious Jason in a comfortable position. Then he sat down to wait, ignoring the pain in his head and watching Jason as he began to groan and shift. 17 minutes, Dick noted. He'd been right about Jason not actually following the pattern. He took a deep breath and tried to figure out what to say that could possibly make it better for the younger man.
Jason pulled himself back into consciousness while fighting a severe sense of wrongness. Things were black around the edges, and in the middle, and he was sure there was something he was supposed to remember, but he couldn't actually recall. Fighting to open his eyes, he took in the shapes as best he could. Something was stopping him from seeing properly, a veil preventing him from focusing and it made him ill. He swallowed hard as his stomach lurched in a wave of nausea. Cautiously, he began an mental checklist of his body. He got as far as his arms before he realized he was tied. Carefully, he pulled once, then twice. Then again. Shit.
"Just relax," a voice boomed loud in the stillness and Jason stopped moving, trying to figure out where it was coming from. "Stay calm and it'll be easier."
Jason shook his head and pulled at his bindings again as panic welled up in him. There was an inherent wrongness with the situation permeating his reaction. People only told you to stay calm when they wanted something. He tried to get his eyes to focus again, and couldn't, tried his other senses. He could smell oil, and feel the boards of a shed or warehouse against his cheek. His mind fed him options and scenarios, and somewhere in the back of his mind he thought they were all a bit far-fetched, but they kept multiplying and with a cry of shock he was suddenly completely certain he'd been captured again, would be killed again. He had to escape he couldn't handle any more torture. Not again, never again. That was why he was doing what he did. So that nobody would have to be tortured again, including him. Right? Frantically, he began to pull at his arms, feeling his shoulders object first, then his wrists, starting as a dull pain and then blossoming until he could practically see the red flashes in front of his eyes. It didn't matter. He had to get free.
Dick stared in horror as Jason began to struggle, the moves Jason was making not anything he'd expect from anyone with the training and experience he knew Jason had. They were animalistic and panicked, and the terror in Jason's eyes was palpable if unfocused. The younger man strained against the double ties Dick had placed on him, forcing against them with no discernible system. "Jason, calm down. You're safe."
Jason jerked at the sound of a voice, gaze snapping towards the biggest shadow, looming over him and coming closer, and he redoubled his efforts, ignoring the pain in his hands. He'd rip the flesh from them if it freed him, it didn't matter as long as he could move. He lashed out with his feet, and the shadow stopped for a minute as he made contact with something that felt like flesh, then leaned down. Horrible and massive and Jason wasn't sure if it intended to hurt him or suck the life from his body, but he couldn't let either happen. He struggled up, felt something tear and wasn't even sure if it was his own flesh or whatever was binding him.
Dick was, though, as blood welled up around the ties holding Jason's wrists, sliding down his arms in rivulets and smearing against the wall and floor. The former Robin was going to flay the flesh from his own arms if nothing changed. Dick hesitated only for the slightest moment before reaching a decision. He wouldn't watch Jason hurt himself like this. The door was locked and they could deal with what happened afterwards. He grabbed up one of Jason's knives, trying to advance without terrifying him further. He reached out with one hand, glove slipping on blood as he tried to get a grip on Jason's arms, to hold him. Jason flinched away from the touch, struggled and writhed like his life was on the line, and Dick imagined that in Jason's mind it probably was. Trying not to stab either Jason or himself by accident, he slid the knife against the plastic, between Jason's wrists, snapping the plastic. He didn't think, immediately throwing the knife away from where either of them could reach it as soon as the plastic broke.
Jason felt the weight on his torso and the freedom in his arms almost simultaneously, although he wasn't at all certain that was how it happened. He just locked his muscles and pulled himself into a sitting position, trying to throw the weight off, whatever or whoever it belonged to irrelevant as long as he put space between them. A steady pressure in the center of his chest pushed him back, and he bucked against it. He wouldn't go where they wanted him. Anywhere else but what they wanted from him.
Any relief from the fact that Jason wasn't shredding his wrists anymore faded for Dick as the freedom of his arms meant Jason redoubled his efforts to move. To go somewhere. Dick growled in frustration, not meaning too, as he tried to hold Jason still. The position was awkward, but there was no hope of changing it without letting Jason go and every one of Dick's instincts was sure that would be a hugely bad idea. He couldn't hold Jason's wrists for fear of increasing the damage there. Jason heaved to the side, and Dick felt his grip slipping. Casting one leg to the side for leverage it collided with a pile of tools in the corner, the precariously propped rakes and tools in the corner falling towards them. Dick twisted again, hoping to take the impact himself, the clang of metal hitting metal and the floor echoing loudly around them in the empty shed.
Jason heard the metal on the floor, the dull thump of it hitting flesh and expected to feel pain from the familiar duo of sounds, the source of most of his nightmares even when he'd thought the was dead. He went still, trying to will himself to fight and not sure out. There was an angered exclamation from above him and the weight shifted. That explained it, then, he'd missed. He'd try again. Another piece of metal falling proved that, landing close enough to his head that Jason felt the gust of displaced air as it fell. The remembered blinding pain filled his mind and he arched, throwing the weight off and trying to escape backwards.
Dick blinked as he found himself on the ground, rolling to his feet and expecting to have to fight, only to watch as post digger fell, landing across Jason's legs. It can't of hurt, but Jason screamed like it had shattered bone, going still, eyes wide with horror. Dick felt his heart bleed for the other boy as he realized what was going on in his head, remembering the pictures, and the few broken words he'd gotten from Bruce. Jason's battered, bruised body. He hadn't gotten a lot from Bruce, but he'd patched enough information from encounters and evidence to know Jason had been beaten severely. With whatever was going on in his head, he had to be back there. Reaching out, Dick grabbed the offending tool and picked it up, intending to throw it away with the knife and realizing his mistake as soon as it was above Jason's head.
Jason bit his lip just hard enough to stifle the whimper, cringing back and hating himself for it. This wasn't important. He knew how to deal with pain. He'd dealt with worse, and yet his body was refusing to cooperate. Instead of bracing himself he raised his arms to ward off a blow he knew from experience that he couldn't stop from connecting. He took a breath, then let it out. Took another, trying desperately to remember which it was would cause the least damage. He couldn't remember in the face of the recalled and anticipated pain. The shadow stopped, waiting. For him to beg, maybe. To cry. He didn't know and didn't care, just as long as he got away. His arms still weren't working, from what had happened to them before. The razor wire binding them, his brain supplied for him somewhat hazily. His legs were bound but that didn't mean they were useless. Nothing was useless right up until you died, or at least until the bomb counted down to zero. The shadow waited, taunting him. Waiting for him to cringe back, he decided. He wouldn't, not again. He wasn't sure what cruel joke or karmic payback had placed him in this sort of situation again, but he wasn't going to waste it. The shadow shifted, and Jason shifted with it, legs lashing out towards its center. The world practically morphed around him, dark and terrifying and Jason watched and felt the world turn to something intangible. The shadow grew, changed, and something touched him. He wasn't even sure what it was, but it had him and that was unacceptable. There was solidness to his back. Wall or floor, Jason wasn't sure and he couldn't bring himself to care. Now wasn't the time. He twisted, figuring he had a fifty-fifty chance of judging gravity correctly and brought his full weight to bear into his legs, sweeping towards where the demon's legs should be. A sharp pain snapped up Jason's leg, but the shadow grunted, and staggered back, and Jason ignored the pain in favor of thrill. Of hope. If it could be hurt it could be killed. The fight wasn't over yet. Jason tried to push himself up, onto his knees, and his wrists screamed with inescapable pain, blinding him for a second. He shook his head to clear it, attention glued to the demon as it straightened and came towards him again.
"Jason, you have to stop this," Dick tried as Jason curled in on himself, a horrendous crack emanating somewhere from the region of his knee as the boy twisted in a way that even Dick's own body never could have managed. Part of him regretted not having tried getting Jason to the Batcave. They could have sedated him, or tied him down with something more forgiving than the zipties. Although given what Jason was forcing his body to do it seemed like he might ignore even chemicals. Jason seemed like he would rather kill himself than be subdued. This went beyond the attempts a panicked child or even an animal. Jason was existing in a state where anything short of escape was death. "Calm down."
"Calm down?" Jason laughed, the words sounding slurred and vague even to his own ears. He staggered to his feet. For a moment there was a barrier, something stopping him, but he applied pressure and gained his full height with a tearing sound and a searing pain in his side. It was definitely a wall at his back now. Alright. Where there were walls, there were doors. If only he could get his eyes to focus. "But moving targets are so much more fun!"
Dick winced as Jason stood, ignoring as his flesh became snagged on a nail and simply tearing it, leaving a wide and ragged gash down his side. He didn't miss the lopsidedness of Jason's posture, either. At least one of his shoulders was out of its socket, and his wrists were still slowly oozing blood. It wasn't even that he'd rather die than be subdued, Dick realized, but that with escape being the only option the other man could think of he wasn't comprehending the damage he was doing to himself. He bit his lip, and changed tactics. He'd tried talking calmly, to reach Jason, and that had failed. Gritting his teeth against his instincts, he tried to play to whatever thought process it was that Jason had going on. "So deny me my fun."
"Can't do that. Don't know who you are, yet. You might like me still, better." Jason shifted to the left, watching the shadow. It didn't move. There was more light coming from the other side of the room, he realized. It might be the door. Or maybe a flashlight, which he could always use as a weapon. He couldn't figure out how to get there, though, with his legs bound as they were and his arms frustratingly useless.
"Trust me, Jason, I like it best when you're breathing," Dick muttered under his breath. He didn't bother to say it loud enough to carry. Jason wouldn't believe him even if he heard all the words, and at worst he'd take it that Dick was planning to play with him like a cat with a captured mouse. He watched Jason's eyes roll. Something was obviously wrong with his senses, he decided. The delayed reactions, the fact that he oriented on light like a moth. If it was just the windows and the doors that would make sense, but he was staring at the flashlight now. Nobody had said anything about modified senses, but instincts were something to be trusted and nobody out there had the source he had. Slowly Dick reached a decision. He wasn't sure if it was a good one, but there it was. Jason was reacting to each change in his environment in turn. Cut off his senses, and he wouldn't know what to react to. It was an incredibly horrible thing to do, but if he didn't get Jason vertical again soon it wouldn't matter. There was enough adrenaline in Jason's system that he'd probably end up doing irreparable damage to himself before he would ever give in. Crouching down, Dick carefully picked up Jason's discarded jacket. Sight first. Maybe it would be enough. Hating himself for what he was about to do, Dick approached Jason like the other was a startled horse.
Jason sensed the movement from his right and swung his head around, trying to get his bearings. He took a deep breath, trying to suck in the oxygen he'd need to continue the fight, pressing his back against the wall, the only tool he knew for a fact was at his disposal. He tried to move one arm, to find it refusing to respond. Fine, he'd use it as a club or something. Rip it off at the root if he had to. As best he could, he took stock of the shifting shadows. There was a bright blue streak at his attackers's center, he realized, fixating on it. There was something he should remember about that, he was sure, something else trying to take root at his brainstem, but he shook it away. No time for distractions. For thought. The blue was coming closer, the slow movements of a hunter, and Jason refused to be the hunted. He ducked to the left just as the shadows sprung forward. Pain blossomed up from his leg, and Jason used it as a mask to ignore the screaming objections from his shoulder and side. The shadow hit him, hard, despite his attempt at dodging and Jason felt his feet slip from under him. Pain radiated from everywhere as he hit the ground, the breath forced from his lungs the only thing stopping him from crying on. A second later the shadow was back on top of him, forcing him down again, and then there was nothing, no light. Jason clawed at his face with the one hand he could make work, feeling nothing but slickness. His mouth was there, he was sure, he could breathe. Maybe. He tried to suck in breath only to find his mouth filled with something he couldn't place. The taste of oil and leather and dust. He thrashed against his captor again, trying to rip the covering from his face, too-clear memories of the oppression of boxes and dirt filling his memories. Frantically, his hand clawed and tried to find purchase.
Dick did his best not to double-guess his choice as he realized that the lack of light was in no way subduing Jason, the gyrations of the man below him becoming increasingly frantic, vocalizations that weren't words forced between his lips. He let go of the jacket to hold Jason down, keep him still. At least it had worked well enough for that. He pinned Jason's moving arm to his side, ignoring the dislocated one for the time being. Jason gave a final cry, inhaling leather as he did, then stopped moving. Dick got a sick feeling in his stomach at the broken sound, sitting back slightly, observing the terrorized man carefully and hating that he had taken any part in that terror. He'd made the wrong decision and Jason was even worse. Carefully, he removed the jacket. Jason's eyes were wide and staring sightlessly with blown pupils, mouth hanging slack while a thin trail of blood trickled from his nose.
It didn't take long for him to realize that Jason had literally stopped breathing. He didn't seem to realize he could. Dick went cold, waiting desperately for the younger man to inhale. They'd determined the toxin wasn't fatal, so there wasn't any reason for it to be killing Jason.
Except, he realized with horror, that it was feeding off of personal nightmares. Nobody else out there had died, even at the worst part of their lives. That was a special sort of Hell reserved for superheroes. Logically, though, Jason should come back. He had come back. Dick didn't hesitate as he laid Jason out on the floor and tilted his head back. If Jason was rewriting the final chapter of his own personal nightmare Dick would force it back the other way. Jason wasn't going to die twice, and certainly not like this. He plugged Jason's nose and sealed their mouths together, breathing the oxygen the other's brain didn't believe existed into his body.
It took longer than he would have liked, but finally Jason's eyes snapped open, his back arching up off the floor like he'd been shot, his lungs pulling air on their own, to deep and he started coughing violently, still shaking. Dick moved to put a hand on him and Jason twisted out of range, staring at him with eyes that held no recognition. "Who are you?"
"Dick Grayson, I'm trying to help, Jay." Dick tried. Pleaded. He stayed still, torn with indecision. He'd just practically killed Jason and refused to take the chance of actually doing so.
Jason shook his head. He knew who it looked like, but there were plenty of villains who could and would appear in the guise or even borrow the skin of someone else. It wasn't Dick. It wasn't Nightwing. Not here. Dick wouldn't be doing this to him. Dick was many things, but he trusted if nothing else that his predecessor wouldn't be trying to kill him. He was too much of a coward, and under the thumb of Bruce, who had chosen to ignore his existence rather than deal with the consequences of their collective actions. "No."
Dick paused, unsure if the word was Jason denying that he was who he looked like or if he honestly didn't know. It didn't matter, he decided. He wouldn't move in on Jason again, as long as he didn't go near the door. "Tell me what I can do to help, Jason."
"Be a start if you'd get the Hell out of my dreams," Jason threw back, struggling to his knees. It wasn't fair that Dick should get to be here, whether he was real or not. Fake, and his subconscious was just being a sadistic bastard. Real, and now having borne witness to the events of tonight, it meant the universe was playing an even worse joke than usual. "Or just hurry up and try to kill me so that I can throw you out."
"I won't do that. I won't touch you again, but I'm not going anywhere, either." Dick took a deep breath. Jason obviously still wasn't thinking right but apparently practically dying had at least restored his ability to speak in complete sentences. It wasn't worth it, Dick thought, but he'd take what he could get.
"Just watch me suffer, then?" Jason shot back, and that seemed more like someone trained by Bruce, maybe.
"No," Dick replied with force, mentally lecturing himself when Jason shied back like he'd been hit. He honestly felt as though he could do nothing right. He reached out a hand, and Jason shied back from the movement like he expected him to rip out his heart, pupils going out again and eyes focusing on something that wasn't there to see. Dick immediately stopped moving, took a step backwards and they stood in frozen tableau for a moment while Jason struggled with himself, with what was going on. His eyes coming in and out of focus, finally locking on Dick's face.
"Dick?" he whispered, the syllable almost hopeful. He sounded broken and knew he did. His mind was screaming that it wasn't Dick, that it couldn't be Dick. Unless Bruce was such a coward that he'd sent his first puppet to do what he couldn't. Except that wasn't right, either. Bruce didn't want him dead. Bruce loved him, it was just…
It was then that Jason collapsed onto his knees, the sound ripped from his chest neither sob nor scream, but somewhere in between and a sound of agony and torture. Dick didn't hesitate this time, refusing to let go now that he'd found Jason and made the connection. He grabbed the younger man, going to the floor with him and wrapping himself around Jason, holding him. He just kept talking, not even sure what he was talking about and not caring as he clutched the heaving body to his own.
"I can't go back, Dick," the words were half plea and half promise as Jason gave in and just let himself cling to the other man, eyes fixed on the stripe of bright blue in front of his eyes, and fearing to blink lest it return to black. In case he forgot what was happening. This was pathetic and stupid, but it was better than ithat/i. Anything was better. Dick taking a knife through his heart right now was better than what had happened.
"I know," Dick said quietly, patiently, holding Jason more tightly. They were both shaking, Jason in fear of losing himself again and Dick in fear of losing him. "I'm sorry."
Jason shook his head, unsure what Dick was apologizing for and not care. He just clung that much harder. He was basically in Dick's lap, he realized and that would be funny except he was sure if he made any sound, any move, he would be back in the nightmare world. Not that it wasn't a nightmare that Dick, or all people, would be seeing him like this. But Bruce had taught them to be resourceful, and if he could exploit Dick well so be it. He wrapped his arm around the other man's waist, holding him and refusing to let him move.
Dick threaded his fingers through Jason's hair, stroking it, and just kept talking. About the Batcave, about cake, about Gotham and anything else he could think of. Low and even and he kind of wanted to cry because Jason was still shaking, going still ever few moments and it was obvious that he was wavering on the edge. His subconscious had already tried to kill him once, and his body was a battered mess, and Dick wasn't sure that if Jason did lose it again they'd survive it, so he just kept talking until he throat was sore, waiting for the hours to pass until Jason wasn't on the edge. This was at least something he knew. He usually failed, eventually, but he'd held the Titans together for as long as possible, with help. Held others together. Always with help, but Jason was helping. He was fighting. "I won't leave you."
That did get a laugh from Jason, whose fingers tightened sporadically then realized. "Of course you will. You have to."
Dick shuddered, bit his lip. "Not tonight."
Tomorrow, yes. Jason was right. He'd leave and they'd go back to their own philosophies, but right now he was here, and they'd face down Jason's demons together. Footsteps echoed on the street outside the storage shed, and Jason stiffened in his arms. Dick leaned low and tightened his grip, raised his voice to drown them out. He was talking about acrobatics routines, which was completely pointless but it seemed unlikely that any of Jason's nightmares involved trapezes.
Another hour counted down, and another. Once, Jason felt himself get lost again, struggled against the arms holding him, the beast in the shape of Nightwing, of the man who had once been a friend and was now going to betray them all. And then that devil with Dick's face was spouting some sort of nonsense about the Batmobile getting a flat and Bat-Jacks, which was something that never existed and he remembered, pulled himself down and just clung harder.
The sun was rising when Dick finally felt it safe to actually stop talking and let Jason go, after Jason looked at him with eyes that were obviously seeing him and nobody else. That look of derision was one that Jason only gave members of the family, and only then after he'd come back. It was a little more heated than usual, but steady. Dick shook his head. "You alright?"
Jason made an odd noise. "Only one of my arms is moving, and at least a pint of my blood is either on the floor or in my clothes. And my feet are tied together. Take a guess."
Dick gave him a steady look, but bent to untie Jason's legs. He could do that much, and he doubted Jason was going to run very far. "That's not what I meant."
Jason didn't grace that with an answer, since the other option was "I screamed myself hoarse, freaked out over shadows and spent most of the night clinging to you like the world would end if I let go.' A new low, he was sure, and not one he wanted to dwell on. Gingerly, he pushed at the wound in his side, wincing. It wasn't going to need stitches, but he would need to find some penicillin. Unsteadily, he climbed to his feet, feeling his knee object as he did. It took weight, though, so it couldn't be that bad. His arm was another story. Mentally, he steeled himself, looking Dick over. Wondering if he'd prove an obstacle. He didn't think he would. Dick was an idiot and wouldn't want to hurt him.
"Jason, please," Dick couldn't quite believe he was begging, not even sure what he wanted to say. But the look in Jason's eyes was clear. "We can get you help."
Jason laughed, almost choked. He was shaking and he hated that. Hated Dick for getting to see him like this and hated the Scarecrow for doing this to him. "Don't you get it, Dick? It's not me that needs help. It's the world. The people out there."
Dick felt his heart break. This wasn't how it was supposed to be. Heroes coming back was supposed to be a good thing. They…"We'll talk to Bruce, Jay. He'll understand if you explain."
"No, he won't." Jason replied decisively. "He doesn't want to. You don't want to."
Dick stood for a long moment. Jason was right. They could deal with demons, with monsters that would kill them with a touch, but not this. There was a rift there, unhealable. Unbridgable. He'd seen enough, pieced together enough of the puzzle to know they wouldn't be getting Jason back, not the way Bruce wanted him to be. It wasn't fair, though. Jason didn't deserve the torment he had to be living with, any more than Bruce did. Even if they couldn't help, there had to be someone. There were people out there who were familiar with trauma victims. Maybe one of them… "We can get you help."
Jason didn't reply. He just took a slow step back. Everything still hurt, the pain growing as his body realized all the damage that it had endured – that he'd done to it. Wryly, he gestured to the arm hanging limply by his side. "Don't suppose you could…"
Dick nodded, taking a hesitant step forward, bracing one hand on Jason's shoulder, the younger man taking ahold of his. After all that he'd done he hated the idea of causing Jason more pain, but at least in this case it would help. He didn't bother to countdown, just yanked, wincing at the stifled whimper Jason made and ignoring it because he had to.
Jason sagged against Dick, his face white-pale as he fought to stay conscious over the pain. A few seconds longer than he should have or needed to, but Dick didn't say anything so Jason decided to pretend the other man hadn't noticed. It felt good. Right. Talia had touched him, but it hadn't been the same. He'd been a replacement and he knew it. Dick was just there and solid and he allowed himself those few seconds before straightening, stepping backwards as he tested his arm. It hurt, a lot, but at least it moved when he asked it to. "You shouldn't have untied me."
Dick looked at him for a long time, slowly ducking into a defensive posture. "Yes, I should have."
"I'm not going to change what I am," Jason said, eyes darting to the pile of weapons Dick had pulled off him, still behind the other man, but reachable if he tried hard enough.
"And we're not going to stop trying to end your operation," Dick said, shifting slightly to the left. They both already knew how this was going to end. He'd take Jason down, eventually, or Bruce would, or Tim. But not today.
"To each their own?" Jason moved, as quick as lighting and coming up with a knife before Dick had even moved a step in the wrong direction. He didn't bother with anything else, just backing away and scrambling with the door, fingers fumbling at the lock and pushing it open behind him, never looking away from Dick.
"Not really," Dick said quietly.
Jason shook his head and backed out the door before turning. They both knew Dick was going to let him go, bleeding heart that he was, so there was no point in delaying the inevitable. "You really are pathetic."
Dick stared at the empty space for a moment, unsure how to respond to that. Bruce was going to have his head for this, he knew. He didn't care. It was fine. Ok, so it really wasn't fine at all. Jason needed help, and support. Dick was convinced Jason deserved his revenge, and just as convinced that none of them ever could or would allow it. He stared at the floor, stained with Jason's blood, and made a decision. He'd talk to Bruce. He wouldn't listen. Couldn't listen for his own sanity, but at least he'd know. Maybe they could find a way to end Jason's torment, to fix the damage. They'd sympathized with devils, and Jason deserved absolutely nothing less. Wearily, Dick reached for his comm, to tell Bruce that Jason was gone.