Dick would call it stalking, Alfred would call it ridiculous, and Bruce calls it checking up.
Whatever the preferred term, it entails ensuring Jason’s not bleeding out on his bathroom floor without Jason knowing about this. He doesn’t do it that often, but Jay had a run-in with Crane earlier tonight and he has no idea what happened.
Usually, the answer is nothing. This time, the cowl does not show the apartment’s solitary skeleton going to bed or watching TV or what-have-you. This time, the skeleton is curled on the bathroom floor.
Breaking in is easier than it should be, but he reasons that Jay may not have been in the right state of mind to reset his security all the way. Whatever the case, he’s inside in under five minutes.
Jason’s huddled in a ball, arms over his head. He’s still in his work clothes, sans helmet, but most of his weapons are in a pile (unlike him) outside the bathroom. Bruce can’t see any blood on him, but he’s clearly been exposed to Crane’s poison; he’s whimpering softly and trembling, occasionally flinching at noises outside.
“Jason.” Bruce settles down next to him and tugs the cowl off. “Jay. Can you hear me?”
“No more, please, sir…m’sorry…won’t do it again…”
It’s only rational, really, that he’d be thrown back to his time with Joker, but Bruce has no idea how to make that better. Before, on the handful of instances this had happened, Jason had been comforted well enough with a hug and a soft, steady stream of reassurances. Now? Bruce has no idea.
“Jay-lad, it…it’s Bruce.” Jason doesn’t react, poorly or otherwise. “Can you hear me?”
His only answer is a whine and a soft, “Please, stop…”
This particular batch, Bruce knows from unpleasant experience, has to wear off. And it will, eventually. Unfortunately, sedating the victims causes a deadly reaction, so there’s no other choice but to stay and make sure Jason doesn’t hurt himself, regardless of the fallout.
“Okay, Jay,” he breathes, “okay. I’m going to take your jacket off, all right? I’m not…” He knows (hopes) it’s the toxin, but that doesn’t make this easier. “I’m not going to hurt you.”
Jason doesn’t respond at all the time, and Bruce leans over, starts working him out of his jacket. He’s boneless, breath coming in harsh pants and eyes barely open, and Bruce isn’t sure whether to be grateful or whether to wish for some kind of struggle, some echo of the fighter he picked up all those years ago.
But then, Jason was never one to resist during the other episodes. It wasn’t until the third time that Bruce determined why.
“Okay, Jay-bird.” Bruce turns him onto his back. “It’s all right, you’re all right. You ran into Crane earlier, do you remember?”
Removing the body armor is a little harder, and that does provoke a reaction-a half-hearted attempt to get up, to get away.
“Hold still for me, Jay, please.”
He goes limp again, limbs slack and head lolling, and for a few sickening seconds Bruce is transported back to a small black tape and a too-loud gunshot.
Boots next, and several knives, and as much as it kills him, Bruce leaves him there to hunt up something a little more comfortable.
And to put his weapons where he won’t be able to get to them easily. He suspects that was the idea behind the pile outside the bathroom door.
He finds sweats and a t-shirt that’s clearly loved and returns to the bathroom. Jason’s curled back into himself, eyes squeezed shut and hands clenching his hair.
“Jason.” Nothing. “Jason, I’m going to get you into some comfortable clothing, all right?” Still nothing. He lets go of his hair when Bruce tugs on the hem of his shirt, though, and remains pliable (though nowhere near helpful) while being redressed. “Okay, Jay-bird, okay. Come on, let’s get you to bed.”
He’s still silent and unmoving when Bruce gets him up (he grew up, dear God, last time Bruce had carried him he’d been fourteen, all knobby knees and elbows that were a damn menace to anything on a table) and half-carries, half-drags him out of the bathroom. His eyes are open, though, when he’s laid in his bed.
“I’m here, Jay.” He tucks him in and smooths his hair out of his face. “I’m right here.”
Any water Bruce tries to give him won’t stay down. His best bet is to sleep through this, if he can.
“Are you warm enough?”
Jason doesn’t look like he understands what Bruce is asking.
“Please don’ go, I’ll be better, I swear–”
Jay, no, no, I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry.
“Shh, Jason.” There’s no way to make this right, but he has to try. “Shh. I’m here now, you’re okay.”
Jason’s not hearing him, or worse, not believing him.
“Please don’ leave me here, I’ll be better, jus’ don’ go I don’ wanna die–”
Bruce weighs the risks, figures he can handle the fallout, and pulls Jason into his arms.
“I’m here, Jay. I’m right here. I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, but I’m here now, you’re safe, you’re in your own bed…”
Jason doesn’t struggle; for once, Bruce got it right. All he does is knot his hands around the cape and tuck his head under Bruce’s chin.
“Please,” he whispers. “Please don’t leave me with him.”
He’s trembling again, practically vibrating in Bruce’s arms, and Bruce peels a hand away and feels around until he comes up with a squishy blanket (that’s Nightwing’s symbol…Dick does not need to know about this, but Bruce is tempted to tell him anyway) that’s half-falling off the bed, wraps it around his shoulders.
“You’re okay, Jay, you’re okay. I’m here, I’m not going anywhere.”
The shaking doesn’t stop but the pleading does and eventually he slumps a little more, frantic pants slowly easing into shallow, even breaths. Bruce cups his head (his hair’s still soft, and it’s grown out enough that it’s trying to curl at the ends) and winces at the feeling of old scars on his scalp.
“No, Jay.” He tightens his grip. “You ran into Crane earlier, that’s all. You’re okay.”
“But y’re here.”
There’s a spell of confused silence before Jason apparently deems it too much work to think about things further-he presses tighter against Bruce with a breathy, “’Kay.”
There’s a crackle in his ear and Dick’s voice comes over the coms.
“B? You there?”
“You find Jay?”
“He made it home. He’ll be fine.”
“Do I need to go over there?”
There’s canned laughter from somebody’s TV set and Jason cringes, draws into a ball as best he can. Bruce moves his hand over his shoulders, feeling old scars. They’ve blended together, now; there’s one he knows is from a run-in with one of Ivy’s plants, but it’s intersected by another he doesn’t recognize.
“No, I’m here already. Thanks, Dick.”
Sometimes he thinks Dick thinks he’s incapable of making sure they don’t d-hurt themselves. He would like to point out that Dick not only made it to adulthood, he made it without falling off the ballroom chandelier and cracking his head on the floor. (There may or may not have been some barbed wire up there as a deterrent.)
“Okay. Call me if you need me. I mean it.”
Jason’s fingers loosen on the cape and Bruce feels him force in a shuddery breath.
“I’m here, Jay. I’ve got you.”
“Shh.” He rubs his arms, feels him shiver. “Shh, shh. I’m here. I’m here and you’re safe, I promise.”
He moves so he’s more propped against Bruce’s shoulder, head against his collarbone. Bruce has an old (painful, now) memory of him doing the same at fourteen, after a screaming nightmare.
He nods, sort of, and slumps further.
And that, Bruce thinks, is as good as it gets right now.