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“Thar she blows!” Jason sang out as he fired a canister of herbicide from the rocket-launcher braced over his shoulder. He rolled out the long 'arrr' and injected a gritty texture into his tones in an exaggerated pirate drawl, then watched as the enormous tentacle vine that had erupted out the ground ten stories below shuddered and retracted. It let out a high-pitched wheezing sound as it wilted and deflated, and thankfully, none of the pods sprouting from the adjacent stalks exploded with pollen before the vine began shriveling away. Ivy really went all out this time, and Dick and the other bats had their hands full trying to control the spread of the vines throughout the city.

"You're having way... too much... fun with this, Hood," another voice piped up behind him, and Jason turned to see Tim had landed on the rooftop, the sound of his huffing breaths was slightly muffled by the respirator he was wearing. That was odd. Tim was carrying a large case of canister refills on his back, which was heavy and unwieldy if he was on foot or swinging through the rooftops, but Tim was as fit as any of the bats. It usually took a lot to get winded.

A spark of concern flared through him. Tim was covered in a thin layer of yellow pollen dust, much like Jason was. The initial fight with the vines had pretty much blanketed everyone that was within a certain radius, but Tim had his respirator on. It should have prevented him from being infected.

“What happened?” Jason asked.

“Nothing,” Tim panted. “I’m fine.”

“Really?” Jason could tell Tim was lying. That much was obvious, and to prove his point he reached a hand out to grab Tim’s shoulder.

The younger man immediately moaned, arching under Jason’s grip and leaning into him, and if it wasn’t for the fact that Jason was wearing a helmet and Tim a respirator, Jason was pretty sure he would have had a face full of Tim by now. With Tim so close however, Jason got a glimpse of the nasty scrape that ran along Tim’s temple. The cut was fresh and still bleeding, and Jason quickly realized that had been the avenue for his infection—the chemicals in the pollen had gotten through his wounds and into his bloodstream.

Shit. Jason let go as if his hand had been burned. “Jeez, Tim!” Jason took a step back to give Tim some space. “You need to get back to the cave and decontaminate, now!”

“I know,” Tim nodded, his breaths ragged, and Jason knew it was bad when he didn’t even bother to correct Jason for using his name in the field. “I just… needed to… get you the rest of this herbicide.” He hefted the heavy case off his shoulder and pushed it at Jason, and Jason leaned in just far enough to quickly pull it away. “There’s still... five sites we need to take down. Those canisters… should be enough.”

Tim was getting worse. Jason could see how tense he was, the way he had balled his fists and kept twitching. He was inching closer to Jason too, and Jason took another few steps back.

“I’ll take care of the rest of the vines,” Jason said. “Get out of here. Can you make it, or do I need to call someone?”

“I can… make it.” Tim gasped out.

Jason wasn’t so sure. He was about to insist on dragging Tim back to the cave himself, when there was a whoosh of air. Another figure suddenly appeared, this one floating several feet above the ground in a swath of blue and red, his cape billowing around him in the breeze. Superman.

“You boys need any help?” Superman asked.

Shit, Jason thought. Things had quickly gone from bad to worse.

“What the fuck are you doing here?” Jason exclaimed. Superman wasn’t wearing a mask, and the pollen’s effect on Kryptonian biology was undetermined, but a sex-crazed meta was the absolute last thing they needed. “You need to leave, Superman. The area’s contaminated.”

“Okay,” Superman nodded. “I’ll get clear, but there’s a League emergency, I wasn’t able to get Batman on the communicator and we urgently need his expertise.”

“That’s because he’s been busy trying to keep this city from turning into a massive orgy!” Jason barked at him. “Seriously, you need to get the fuck out before you’re hit with this shit!”

“I’ll raise him on comms,” Tim responded. “But Red Hood is right. You need to go.” He had managed to straighten up, trying to put up a brave face in front of Superman, Jason thought, but he wasn’t fooling anyone.

Superman seemed to take note and lingered for just a second longer as if contemplating whether he should take Tim with him.

That was unfortunate, because in that moment, Ivy’s plants decided to reawaken. Another enormous vine erupted out of the ground, replacing the previous vine that had wilted. This one was thicker and taller, already sprouting pods and branching out to tangle around the building they were standing on.

Jason immediately grabbed a canister and loaded it into his launcher, firing off the herbicide in an attempt to stop the plant’s growth. His aim hit true right into the center of the stalk, and as the herbicide quickly took effect, the vine turned woody and brittle. The long vine began to creak and splinter, cracking along the length… and crap, a car-width of the vine was suddenly falling down, coming straight for them.

“Run!” Jason shouted, grabbing Tim by the arm and pulling him out of the way of the falling vine. They weren’t going to make it, and Jason readied his grapple to try and swing away in the last second, but Tim stumbled, still under the effects of the pollen. Jason turned to help him up, but it was too late, the vine was upon them. He jumped over and draped his body over Tim, hoping to shield him in some small way from being crushed, when suddenly there was a blur of red and blue.

Superman had interceded, putting himself in the path of the falling vine. It snapped in half as it fell over him, and he was able to push it harmlessly away, but not before a pod exploded in yellow pollen dust directly over him.

Superman didn’t move for several seconds, and Jason stared in horror as he watched the man in blue slowly try and wipe the yellow pollen from his face. He coughed slightly, and Jason’s gut clenched in fear. Superman had breathed the pollen in.

Jason got up slowly, keeping a wary eye on Superman. Tim didn’t follow to stand, and out of the corner of his eye, Jason could see him huddled on the floor. He was trembling, the pollen’s effects were probably overwhelming him at this point. He needed to get Tim out of there fast.

“Superman?” Jason heard Tim question from behind him. “Are you alright?” And shit, Jason wished Tim hadn’t done that, because the other man immediately snapped his eyes toward Tim. The look in his eye wasn’t good. Superman looked… tense. His jaw was clenched, and he had started to breathe heavily.

Jason put himself in front of Tim, trying to block Superman’s view. “Don’t look at him. You need to get out of here and decontaminate.”

When Superman didn’t move, Jason slowly drew his guns. “I’m not going to say it again. Superman, you’ve been contaminated, and you need to leave. Right. Now.”

He still didn’t move, and Jason realized Superman wasn’t even looking at him. He was still looking at Tim, who was struggling to get up on his hands and knees on the floor. Superman was panting now, and holy hell, Jason couldn’t help but notice the way Superman’s shorts had tented. The pollen was affecting him, and he wasn’t responding to Jason's entreaties.

Shit. He had to stop him from focusing on Tim. “Superman! Jesus fucking christ, don’t look at him. He is sixteen years old. Sixteen!”

He had to draw Superman’s attention away. He had to get Superman to focus on him in order to give Tim time to get away. “Look at me. Goddamnit, look at me!” Jason fired off several rounds. “If you’ve got to focus on someone, look at me!” The bullets pinged harmlessly off of Superman’s chest. Jason hadn’t expected to do any damage, but it was enough to shift Superman’s gaze away from Tim. He was now looking at Jason.

Good, it was working. “Tim,” Jason said softly through his comm, “can you run?”

“Jason….” Tim replied weakly. That was probably a ‘no’ then.

Jason turned back to Superman. “Hey, Big Guy. I know you’re in there somewhere, so listen to me when I say you need to get the fuck out of here.”

Before him, Superman was visibly straining, and in the blink of an eye, he had suddenly zipped forward from floating several feet away to standing just inches away from Jason.

“I… don’t think I can control it much longer,” Superman said through gritted teeth.

Jason contemplated his options, and they were few and far between. There was no way he could grab Tim and run fast enough. And even if they could somehow get away in time, he couldn’t leave Superman to refocus his attention on any other innocent bystander that might happen to stumble into his path. This particular strain of Ivy’s pollen was potent, and they had already had to field several attempted rapes by civilians earlier in the night who had been dusted with the stuff. While it made most victims affected extremely aroused, some had completely lost control of their executive function. It made some people unusually aggressive and violent, the sexual urges had been so overwhelming that some of the victims had severely beaten others into submission before the bats could intervene. Bruce hadn’t yet had time to devise an antidote for this latest strain, and the victims had been put into temporary comas until the antidote was available.

It seemed Superman’s Kryptonian physiology wasn’t immune, and if Superman was let loose to go on a rampage, it would be bad. Very bad. Jason had to find a way to keep Superman from doing anything he’d regret, and hopefully buy enough time that Bruce could get here with enough kryptonite to subdue him.

He had to keep Superman’s focus any way he could.

“Keep your eyes on me,” Jason couldn’t help the quaver in his voice. What he was about to do was crazy, but he couldn’t think of any other way to buy time. “Don’t look at anyone but me.” He reached his hands up for the latch of his helmet, unfastening it with a click.

“Don’t. Jason, don’t,” Tim wheezed behind him, but Jason ignored him.

“Keep looking at me,” Jason said, and it was working. Superman was staring hard at him. He was still clenching his teeth, but his lips were drawn back into something like a snarl. Jason pulled his helmet fully off, and Superman let out a rumbling growl as he suddenly reached out and grabbed the front of Jason’s shirt, right under the collar.

He hauled Jason close, so much that Jason could feel the puffs of Superman’s ragged breath against his lips. He could see the layer of pollen still clinging to his skin.

“I... don’t think I can stop myself,” Superman rasped. He licked his lips, and Jason could feel the other man’s hands were shaking even as he twisted his fist into Jason’s shirt. He lifted his other hand toward Jason’s face and Jason tried to pull away, but Superman proceeded to skirt his fingers along Jason’s temple. He picked at the edge of Jason’s domino mask, and then slowly peeled it away to leave Jason’s face fully exposed. “You’re so… handsome. Beautiful….”

Jason had known that it was a possibility, that Superman would succumb to the influences of the pollen, that he wouldn’t just stop after being guided away from Tim. Jason had hoped that drawing Superman’s focus would simply give him enough time to figure something else out, but with those words, and with Superman suddenly dropping his hands to grab Jason’s buttocks, pulling him forward so that he could press his erection against Jason’s groin… Jason faced the real possibility of being raped.

“No! Don’t!” He panicked, shoving hard at Superman and trying to twist out of his grasp, but there was no give. Superman held onto him fast, moaning as he began to grind himself against Jason’s hip.

Jason managed to unholster his gun, aiming and firing it straight into Superman’s face, but he might as well have been using a cap gun. Other than a brief jerk of his head, the bullets had no effect except to incite an angry growl that had Superman quickly yanking the gun out of Jason’s hand. He crumpled it like it was a piece of paper and threw it behind him, then he grabbed Jason’s wrist and squeezed.

There was the crunch of bone against bone, and then a snapping that Jason felt more than heard. He screamed, the pain shooting all the way up his arm as he struggled to pull away. He was sobbing, struggling to breathe through the agony, but then the next thing he knew he was being lifted off the ground. Superman was taking them up into the skies, and Jason desperately tried to get away before they went too far up for him to be able to drop down. It was to no avail however. He heard Tim shouting something below as Superman shot higher and higher, and Jason could do nothing but cling on for dear life.

It was probably only a few minutes, but it felt like eons as Superman flew them through the skies. Jason tried to simply breathe, with no choice but to tuck his face into Superman’s chest as he tried to shield his face from the freezing cold of the upper atmosphere. He tried to come up with some sort of plan to escape as soon as they were safely on the ground again, but he was coming up empty. He hadn’t been prepared for this. He had no effective weapons. He was starting to panic again, as he realized that with his helmet off and being held so close to Superman, he’d been breathing in the pollen too.

Jason was starting to feel a strange heat wash over him. He felt himself growing aroused, despite his fear and the gravity of the situation, but so far it seemed he was able to maintain control. Perhaps previous inoculations against the pollen offered him some protection from its effects, but if he could keep his wits about him, he might still manage to find a way to escape. He tempered his breathing, trying to stay focused as he felt Superman finally begin to lower them to the ground in some sort of clearing in a wooded area.

As soon as they were a few feet from the ground, Jason suddenly jerked in Superman’s grasp, twisting enough that he could kick out and launch himself to land several feet away. He hit the ground and immediately sprinted, trying to put as much distance between them, using his good hand to draw his remaining gun and firing off blindly behind him.

He tapped his in-ear comm, “This is Red Hood. If anyone can hear me, requesting immediate evacuation at this location! I repeat, this is–ah!”

Jason was suddenly seeing stars as something impacted the side of his head. He crumpled to his knees, managing to catch himself on his good hand before falling face-first into the dirt, only to have a second blow hit him in the ribs. He heard another crunch of bone, and he was suddenly on his back, choking on gorge and blood as he struggled to breathe. He looked up blearily, trying to blink through his blurred vision, managing to make out only an amorphous blob of blue and red that hovered over him.

“Superman. Clark,” Jason sputtered, hoping to get through to him by using his real name. “Don’t do this. You don’t want to do this… please.”

The only response he got was the feeling of hands on him, tearing away his leather jacket and armor like it was tissue. His vision cleared enough that Jason managed to look up into Superman’s face, and he nearly recoiled at the sight of the other man’s expression—it was contorted into something ugly. Grotesque. His ice-blue eyes were wide and crazed, his lips pulled back into a feral sneer. It almost reminded him of a similar scene from his past… of a white-faced clown with green hair, laughing maniacally as he hovered over Jason, holding a crowbar….

“No!” Jason fought back hard, rolling and kicking, punching with all his might using his remaining good hand, but he was quickly subdued when Superman grabbed his shoulder, pressing so hard with his thumb Jason heard his collarbone snap.

“Aah!” Jason cried out, but Superman followed on with a blow to Jason’s chest that had him hearing another crunch of bone, and then another blow to his gut that had him throwing up blood.

Jason struggled to drag in a breath, and he was nearly blinded with pain, but he could feel hands moving over him again. He could hear the ripping of his clothes, felt the tugging at his belt, and then his pants were being torn open. The hard rocky ground beneath him dug into the bare skin of his back. He felt cold. The chill of the outdoor air wafted over his skin as his clothes were stripped away and he was left fully exposed.

Through the tears in his eyes, Jason could see Superman’s face hovering over him again. He felt the other man pushing open his legs and lifting up his thighs, the movement jostling his broken bones and sending sharp stabbing pains through his gut. Jason tried to scream again. It came out a pitched keen, wheezing as he choked around the burble of blood in his throat.

There was a rustle of cloth again, and Jason felt the heat of Superman’s bare skin against his own. His entire body tingled in reaction to the contact, as if seeking out the warmth to ward against the cold. He felt Superman’s prick poke against his belly, and Jason jerked away as a spike of pain shot through him, then he felt it dragging lower to rub against his cock. He felt himself growing hard despite himself, the effects of the pollen still coursing through his blood, robbing him of control of his own body.

Superman humped against him, grunting and growling, and then, without warning, he pushed one of Jason’s legs back, shoving it toward his side until something popped. His femur had been wrenched out of its socket, and Jason cried out as excruciating pain shot through his hip.

With a guttural moan, Superman suddenly shoved his cock into Jason, a blunt force that pushed past muscle and ripped the soft tissue of Jason’s insides, splitting him open in one sharp movement that had Jason’s back scraping raw against the cold rocky ground. Hot blood quickly lubricated his passage as Superman started jackhammering into him, and that damn pollen—it was so fucked up—but he felt his cock hardening as Superman pressed into him. Jason whimpered as Superman wrapped a hand around his cock and started pumping Jason in time with each snap of his hips.

Jason sobbed. He could do nothing but lie on the ground limply as his body was rocked and jarred and plundered by the man above him. He could do nothing to stop it. He didn’t fight it as he felt his balls tightening, felt the tension build and build at the root of his groin as Superman quickened the pace, until Jason was screaming again as an orgasm wracked through his battered body, forcing his hips to curl and his back to arch. He writhed on the ground, crying and shaking as his body was caught in the simultaneous push and pull of pleasure and pain, as he spurted and spilled and gushed his seed, spraying strips of sticky white across Superman’s chest and across his own abs.

And then it was over.

Except it wasn’t. Superman hadn’t stopped. He was still fucking Jason hard, grunting with each grind of his hips. It went on and on as Jason lay there panting, trying to stifle his cries as he felt the friction of Superman’s cock rubbing him bloody and raw inside with each thrust. Even with the tremors of orgasm still lingering, it didn’t hurt any less. Superman was thick and long, and each time he pulled himself out and rammed himself back in, the pain and burn of his hole stretching to accommodate didn’t subside.

Jason felt his vision going black as it got harder and harder to draw in a breath, but then he felt a burst of heat inside him, a flood of wetness that brought a new sensation of pain as it stung the torn tissue of his anus. He felt it dripping down his back in a hot trail as Superman lifted him half off the ground to ride through his climax, shuddering so hard Jason could hear the grinding of his own broken bones as the movements rattled his entire frame. Then he pulled out, dropping Jason’s battered body carelessly to the ground.

He must have blacked out after that.

When he came to, Superman was inside him again, fucking him once more in a brutal rhythm. It was faster this time, with Jason face down on his stomach, a hand bracing his hip and the other tangled in his hair as Superman pressed his face into the dirt. Jason closed his eyes and cried.

It continued even after Superman came inside him a second time. Jason lost count of how many times Superman took him after that. The other man recovered quickly between bouts, giving Jason a reprieve of only mere minutes before he was violating him again. He was pulled up into Superman’s lap, pushed back against the ground, propped up against a rock. Jason took it each time limply and without protest. The pollen was still in effect, and sometimes he got hard halfway into it and came, each orgasm tortured out of him like some kind of spasm from an electric shock. Sometimes he didn’t, and Jason was grateful, though it probably simply meant his body was failing more and more on him each and every time.

He wished Superman would just kill him.

Finally, after what felt like hours later. Jason heard shouts, and the pressure of Superman on his back was suddenly ripped away from him. He curled into himself, too exhausted to care anymore.

There was a glow of green, and a movement of several bodies surrounding them. “Lantern, he’s down, the kryptonite has him weakened. Capture him, now!”

There were more voices–

“He’s down! He’s down!”

“Get him to the ship. Get him detoxed in the Watchtower!”

There were footsteps approaching, and Jason instinctively recoiled as they stopped beside him. He closed his eyes. At this point, he didn’t think he could reopen them even if he wanted to.

“Jason?” A rumbling voice. It sounded anxious and familiar. It was Batman. Bruce. “Oh god. Jason!” There was a shuffling, and then louder, “I need a medvac! We need to get him to the Watchtower. Get the stasis field ready!”

Jason felt hands on him again, and though they were gentle, he still shivered under their touch.

“It’s okay Jason,” Bruce said. “It’s okay. Don’t move. Just stay with me. You’re going to be alright.”

Jason wasn’t sure whether to believe him or not, but he could feel unconsciousness creeping over him again, and now that Bruce was here, he let himself fall into the darkness.

 

 

Chapter Text

Jason was floating, his arms and legs suspended in the viscosity of some thick bluish liquid. He thought he could hear gurgling—a bubbling and churning sound all around him as he tried to move. A memory flashed before him, of himself being plunged into a sloshing green pool, struggling upwards to break the surface, his lungs burning for air as the Lazarus waters closed in around him. He tried to suck in a breath, the horrific reality of being submerged underwater suddenly hitting him in full force, but there was something strapped to his face. He reached up to try and remove it, only to find one hand was immobilized in some sort of gloved contraption. He tried to kick toward the surface, pushing through agonizing pain that shot up and down his body, reaching upward with his free hand only for his fingers to graze something solid. The top of whatever space he was in was sealed shut. He couldn't see, his eyes unable to focus in the thick liquid, and in a panic he began to thrash.

"Jason, stay calm," a muffled voice, tinny with a slight crackle of distortion. It was some kind of comm in his ear. "You're in a stasis chamber. Don't move."

It sounded like Bruce, and Jason attempted to will his hammering heart into compliance. It was to no avail. He tried to form words, but the thing strapped to his face also filled his mouth and worked its way down his throat. He pulled at it, wanting it out, his chest expanding and contracting in an effort to take in more air.

"Jason, don't. You're intubated." Bruce's voice cut in, sharp and commanding. "I'm increasing the sedation. Try and stay calm."

His words had the opposite effect. Jason didn't want to stay calm. He wanted to get the fuck out. He reached forward and felt the curve of solid glass, pressing against it, fisting his hand to try and pound on it in desperation to escape, but he was too weak. Everything inside him hurt, and the bluish fluid around him started to tinge purple with what he realized was the red of his blood. He felt his strength leave him as a cold numbness washed over his body.

"Jason! Stop moving!" Bruce sounded alarmed. The chamber erupted in all sorts of beeping and flashing, and a bright light flared up hot from above. Something bitter seeped into his mouth through the tube that ran down his throat, and he tried to scream.

Jason blacked out.

*******************

He was flying, speeding through some indefinite space, surrounded by soft pinpoints of light in all directions. They were stars, twinkling like glittering jewels in the vast spread of black. He slowed down until he was drifting, feeling an odd sense of calm as he approached a familiar celestial sphere in the distance. Blue and bright oceans, green and brown continents and white swirling clouds becoming clearer as he approached the Earth.

For a moment he felt an indescribable wonder as he looked down at the world he called home, tilting his head to observe the Eastern shore of North America, trying to find the tiny jut and curve along the coast where Gotham was nestled. He couldn’t see it. He was too far away, so he leaned forward, propelling himself just a little bit closer….

And then he was falling, plummeting down and down from the outer atmosphere. His heart started to pound in fear as he realized that he couldn’t stop his descent. The Earth was quickly rushing up, expanding to encompass his entire field of view, the oceans disappearing over the edge of the horizon, the brown and greens separating until he could see so many trees. So many trees all around. And dirt. Lots of dirt. He was going to impact in a matter of seconds… but then something caught his eye.

There was something rushing up at him—a streaky blur of red and blue approaching from down below. It got closer and closer, and Jason reached for it. Whoever it was, they could save him. They could catch him.

“Help!” he screamed, but as the streak got close enough that Jason could make out their face, he saw it was Superman.

He immediately cringed, the image of the man bringing a horrific terror upon him. He screamed a different sort of scream. “No! Oh god, no!”

Superman kept coming, so fast that Jason braced himself for the impact just before they collided….

*******************

Jason woke with a gasp, flailing against the phantom pull of gravity that lingered from the vestiges of his dream.

You were just dreaming. It was just a dream. A dream.

The words kept repeating, but then Jason realized that it wasn't just in his head. Someone was speaking to him, "Shhh. It's just a dream. It's okay, Jason. You're safe."

That someone was holding his hand, and Jason blinked his eyes into focus to find it was Bruce. He was dressed in his Batsuit, but his cowl was down. His eyes looked hollow and haggard, and he had several days worth of stubble on his face.

Jason swallowed, his tongue felt thick, his throat dry and parched. He tried to reach up, but his arm felt heavy. He looked down to see one arm was in a cast, the other, partially hindered by the tangle of IV lines running from the back of his hand, was held firmly in Bruce’s grasp. He shifted his head to look back up at Bruce, feeling the pressure of an oxygen mask on his face, and brief flashes of memory surfaced. He remembered being under water, a tube lodged deep in his throat, Bruce trying to talk him down from panicking, and before that….

His heart started beating faster, the monitor beside the bed pulsing a more insistent beep as images flashed through his mind–

The feel of being pressed into cold rocky ground, his legs spread apart, a hulking figure leaning over him.

Jason tensed, and a flare of sharp pain flooded through him. There was a whimpering sound, and Jason realized it was him.

"Easy. Take it easy," Bruce squeezed his hand tightly, fiddling with something else that Jason couldn't see beside the bed. After a moment, he felt a soft warmth overtake him, probably some sort of drug pumped into his IV, he thought.

"I don't…." The movement of his jaw felt awkward against the oxygen mask, and his voice came out little more than a pained croak. He tried to say he didn't want the drugs, but his mind was still foggy, and it felt too laborious to continue.

Bruce seemed to be able to read his intention anyway, and said, "It's okay. We're monitoring your drug intake closely, but you need it to stay comfortable. Your injuries were very severe. We… I almost lost you." He gave Jason another firm squeeze of his hand. "You weren't reacting well to the stasis chamber, so once you were stable enough I had you moved out."

Stasis chamber? Jason struggled to push his mind out of the fog. Bruce had said that earlier, but as far as Jason knew there wasn't any sort of thing in the bat cave. He looked around the room, taking in the array of telemetry equipment and medical carts. That seemed pretty standard. The window looking into outer space, practically taking up the width of the entire wall, wasn’t. It finally clicked that he wasn't in the batcave.

Jason flexed his hand to unlock it from Bruce’s vise-like grasp, lifting it to pull down his oxygen mask. “Where?”

“You're on the League Watchtower,” Bruce replied.

“Gotham… Tim?” Jason struggled for breath, and Bruce reached forward to replace the oxygen mask.

“Leave it on, Jason. Your oxygen levels are still low,” Bruce said. “The situation in Gotham was contained. Dick got to Tim after you–,” he cut himself off. “He found Tim on the roof. I managed to synthesize a new pollen antidote, and he’s been in recovery for three days now.”

Three days? How much time had passed since….

Jason forced himself to focus on the last thing Bruce said. Tim was recovering. That was good. That meant Tim was safe and probably at the manor, and Gotham was contained. Great. He tried not to think about anything else, but of course his brain betrayed him because making sure Tim was safe was the reason why he was here. Superman had gotten hit by one of Ivy’s spores, and Jason didn't want the kid to have to go through this.

He couldn't help the sick feeling in his gut as he flashed back to the cold clearing in the woods–

Superman kept grunting from behind him—above him—as he pressed Jason face-down into the dirt. Jason could hear him, a rumbling "Hrrn, hrrn, hrmm," over and over as he tore into Jason with each rutting grind of his hips. Each thrust brought the pain of jostled bones, the scrape of his cheek against the rocky dirt, the pull and twist on his hair so hard that Jason thought Superman would rip his scalp off. He could taste the bitter copper of blood on his tongue, mixing with the sour tang of bile in his throat.

Jason jerked to the side, bilious spasms wracking his body as he ripped off the oxygen mask once more to dry heave over the bed frame. It was quickly followed by what felt like the nerves of his entire body catching on fire. He wheezed, unable to even scream as he curled into himself.

Bruce was scrambling beside him, punching something into one of the medical consoles, then pushing him to lie on his back. "Jason, I need you to take slow breaths. That's it, just breath."

Jason tried to comply, but the best he could manage were short, shallow hitches.

"Where is he?" Jason said, his voice sounding shockingly small and broken.

Bruce didn't ask who. "He's in isolation. We're keeping him in a red sun chamber until we're sure the decontamination has been completed."

Jason thought perhaps that should have made him feel better, but it didn’t. Bruce looked palpably grim as he responded, and Jason knew him well enough to see that he was repressing some deep anger.

An onslaught of thoughts jumbled into his mind. The mere thought of Superman made him nearly panic, which was stupid and pathetic. Bruce was angry, probably because Jason had fucked up. Superman was essentially imprisoned, and Jason couldn’t help but feel conflicted. Superman wasn’t supposed to be someone he feared. He was a good man who had succumbed to the pollen, and... Clark was Bruce's friend. Maybe even his best friend, one of the very few people he trusted, and maybe even someone that Bruce had put his faith in as someone unquestionably good. That was much more than anything that could be said about Jason. Superman was a good man, and Jason wasn’t, and now because of Jason’s foolishness, had Bruce’s trust in Superman been broken?

He knew on some level he was being irrational, but that ugly thing that was guilt and shame latched onto his mind, sending him spiraling into self-recrimination. How could he have been so stupid? There must have been some other way Jason could have distracted him. Superman wouldn’t have done what he did if Jason hadn’t goaded him into it. Bruce must think he was an idiot.

"Sorry. I'm sorry," Jason blurted out between gulps of air. His throat felt tight and constricted. It was hard to breath.

Bruce glared at him. "For what?" He snapped angrily, and Jason involuntarily recoiled. That sparked another agonizing twinge through his torso, the pain so great it momentarily blacked out his vision.

“Jason.” Bruce was using that tone, the one he reserved for when he was Batman, and Jason found it grounding. He didn’t follow up with anything else, seemingly caught in some sort of struggle of his own, but at some point he had retaken Jason’s hand, and Jason clutched it desperately.

Several long moments passed, and Jason felt himself slowly calming. The subtle beeping of the monitors in the background gradually slowed, and he was starting to feel drowsy. Bruce must have given him a sedative through his IV, Jason realized. He wanted to protest, but he felt too tired to move, let alone talk.

"You need to rest," Bruce finally said, somehow still attuned to Jason’s non-verbal queues, and though Jason's eyelids felt overwhelmingly heavy, he saw something odd flash across Bruce's face. A pinched look that extended beyond the normal furrow of his brow—some ineffable sorrow that exuded through his narrowed eyes and tightly pressed lips—but then it was gone, schooled away in the usual fashion and replaced by a mask of solemnity.

He let go of Jason’s hand, then quickly got up and left the room.

*******************

Some nebulous amount of time later, Jason woke again to find he was alone. He felt more alert this time, though the lack of any significant pain probably suggested he was still on heavy pain killers. He pushed himself to sit up, testing the movement of his limbs, finding his threshold before something started hurting. He shifted slightly from side to side, and ouch. Definitely something up with his hip. His right arm was still in a cast too, but he could wiggle his fingers freely. Hopefully whatever healing technology the League employed would allow him to regain full function. Bruce always seemed to bounce back inhumanly quick, though Jason wasn’t sure they would allow the use of such safeguarded technology on someone like him.

The door to the room opened suddenly, and Jason thought perhaps it was Batman or some other medical personnel, but instead, a small robot rolled in. It was roughly cylindrical, about four feet tall with a crane-like arm holding a saline bag, which it quickly swapped out on the nearby IV pole. It paused to interface with one of the medical carts, and then zipped out of the room as quickly as it came. Jason waited a while to see if anyone would come by now that he was awake, but after several long minutes, no one did.

His curiosity was piqued, and he scooted to the edge of the bed and slowly lowered his feet to the ground, leveraging against the bed frame to gradually apply his weight to the floor. It definitely hurt, and he couldn’t put much weight on the side where his hip had probably been fractured, but it felt like he could walk. He peeled away tape and tubing (and god, he hated catheters so much), did his best to tie close the loose medical gown around him, and used the IV pole as support to hobble over to one of the medical consoles. He tried tapping a few buttons, but the records were locked, and he didn't have any tech with him to try and hack the interface.

Next, he tried the door, and was mildly surprised when the sliding metallic panels opened easily with a vacuumed whoosh into the hall. Jason stepped out, dragging the IV pole with him as he limped slowly out of the room. The Watchtower has eerily deserted, the clang of the pole wheels against the cold metal floors sounded awfully loud as he wandered down the corridor. Had the place been abandoned? Did something happen and the Watchtower had been attacked? Did Bruce just leave him here to fend for himself somehow?

Jason was starting to feel a prickle of unease when suddenly the sound of hurried footsteps began approaching from the opposite end of the hall. Instinctively, Jason backed up, looking for a room to duck into or some place to hide in case whoever was coming was hostile, but with all his injuries he was too slow.

Before he could even get close enough to another doorway, a figure came running around the corner and nearly collided with him. Jason nearly toppled over, but an enormous green hand suddenly materialized and caught him. It set him back on his feet, lingering along his back as if to make sure he was steady.

The contact triggered something in him though, his mind momentarily flashing back to the feel of someone pressing from behind him, and Jason cringed at the touch.

"Get off," he shouted before he even realized what he was saying.

The large green hand immediately disappeared, revealing the man dressed in green and black behind it.

"Whoa! I didn't see you there. Sorry," the man exclaimed. Jason recognized him even with his mask—brown shortly cropped hair and well-framed features. It was the Green Lantern, Hal Jordan.

Jason didn't respond. He was still trying to get his bearings. The sudden movement had sent jolts of pain all along his hip and through his torso. He leaned against the wall, feeling suddenly dizzy and nauseous.

"Crap," Hal was hovering beside him. "You're out of bed. Batman said not to let you out of bed. Crap, he's gonna kill me."

Jason looked up at the mention of Bruce. "Where is he?"

"Oh," Hal paused, shifting nervously as if trying to find the right response. "Look kid, there's been an interdimensional invasion going on for the last few weeks, and Batman's been with the League trying to stop it. We're down our heavy hitter because he's in the red chamber, so I gotta go, but you should be safe here as long as you stay in your room."

"Superman's in the red chamber still?"

Hal had rambled it off fast, and Jason was finding it hard to stay upright, but he didn't miss that Hal had let slip that detail.

"Uh …," Hal made what Jason could only call an oh shit face. "Forget I said that. Please forget I said that. Let's just get you back to your room, okay? Batman said the nurse-bots will come check on you."

He made to grab Jason by the arm, but Jason recoiled. "Don't touch me," his voice came out sharper than he intended. He took a deep breath to try and regain some calm, managing to gather his thoughts and assess the situation enough to ask, "What if the Watchtower is attacked? How do I get off this thing?"

"Here," Hal handed him a small tablet. "This has a life preservation failsafe in case the Watchtower is compromised. It'll open locked escape routes and give you access to the pods. You can activate it on any console, but don't. Not unless you're dying, because Batman is going to kill me if you do. He's already gonna kill me, but if I don't go now, Coast City is going to be crushed under a tidal wave. Just stay still for a sec."

The floor beneath Jason's feet began to glow green, and he realized Hal had created some kind of platform on which Jason was now standing. Hal used it like a dolly to whisk Jason back to his room where he was deposited beside the medical bed.

“I’m gonna be so dead for leaving you here, but just stay put okay?” Hal punched a few codes into the console, and then darted out of the room.

Jason looked out the window. He could see a streak of green making toward the Earth, but he was too far away to see if there were any tidal waves on the surface.

*******************

He whiled away some time trying to hack the tablet Hal had given him. He was no Tim Drake, and certainly no Oracle, but he managed to get it to act as a sort of localized Watchtower key. He tested it on the medical console to pull up his records, reading his history and encounter notes with trepidation.

It was mostly medical jargon, but some things he understood clearly: repeated sexual assault. Trauma included massive internal bleeding, acetabular fracture, distal radius fracture, eight fractured ribs, dislocated shoulder, broken collarbone. He’d been going into septic shock by the time the League had found him, and he was in organ failure by the time they got him to the Watchtower. The only thing that saved his life was the stasis chamber. Kryptonian tech.

Superman’s tech.

The dates on the table showed that Jason had been here for over two weeks already, which meant his rate of healing was far beyond normal. The stasis chamber had fast-tracked repairing his life-threatening injuries, but Bruce had taken him out of the stasis chamber before he was fully healed because he kept having reactions to the sedation. Jason had only been in his current accommodations for a couple days. Hal had mentioned Superman was still in the red sun chamber though. Did that mean he was still affected by the pollen?

The tablet didn’t yield him any information beyond the location of the red sun chamber on the station. Jason got up again, thinking that he must still be half crazy doing this, but the station was abandoned at the moment, and for some inexplicable reason he just had to know. He got up from the bed once more, and used the tablet to guide him to the station elevators.

The red sun chamber was down in what was probably the Watchtower brig, where a long hall was lined with holding cells—small ten by eight rooms with bolted metal doors augmented with force fields. He peered into them as he braced his hand along the wall for support, slowly limping by from room to room. They were all empty as far as he could tell.

By the time Jason made it to the outer doors of the red chamber, he was exhausted, aching and in pain. Nevertheless, he’d made it this far, and however foolish it was, he wasn’t going to back down now. He stood at the threshold to the antechamber, before a set of large metal panels that looked twice as thick and heavier than any of the ones on the other holding cells. Jason used the hacked tablet to bypass the entry locks and stepped into the room.

The room was awash in a dim red glow, and it reminded him of the old photography darkrooms lit by small, red safelight bulbs. He supposed this wasn't so different, as there behind yet another force field, seated at a small table and chair, was Superman.

Or perhaps more like Clark Kent. The man was dressed down in a simple t-shirt and jeans, apparently reading a book under a slightly brighter red lamp. There was a bed and a small partition in the corner, presumably hiding a sink and toilet, but otherwise the holding cell was pretty bare. He got up as soon as Jason walked into a room.

"Who–, Jason?" Superman stared aghast. "What are you doing here? Where's Bruce?"

So that pretty much answered the question on whether or not he was still affected by the pollen. He didn't appear to be, and a wave of emotion hit Jason out of nowhere. He choked on a sob, feeling suddenly angry, relieved, afraid, desperate and aggrieved all at the same time. He couldn't make sense of it. Why was he reacting like this? The mere sight of Superman was sending him into a panic. His legs seemed to give out under him, and he barely managed to catch himself against the wall as he slid down to the floor.

"Jason, are you okay?" Superman stood at the edge of the force field, looking extremely concerned. "Whatever it is, you need to call Bruce. You shouldn't be here."

Jason couldn't talk. It felt like his throat had closed up, so he just shook his head and then regretted it. He felt dizzy, and the movement made him nauseous. He leaned his head back against the wall and tried to get himself under control. He closed his eyes, and felt the hot wetness of tears trail down his cheeks.

"Jason, please…," Superman said softly, "I don't know why you're here, but I don't want to hurt you anymore than I already have."

God, Jason felt like a fool. Why the fuck had he come here? Perhaps on some level he'd wanted to see the person who had hurt him locked away? Or perhaps he simply wanted to confirm for himself that Superman was no longer a threat? Jason had told himself he just wanted to know, but seeing the reality of it brought him no comfort. It left him feeling empty. Why the fuck did the man who raped and brutalized him have to be a good man?

"Hey, come on," Superman coaxed. "I've tried buzzing the Watchtower deck, but no one's answering. What happened, Jason? Where is everyone?"

Jason swallowed, trying to work through the lump in his throat to answer, "There's some kind of crisis. I think Hal was supposed to stay and man the tower, but he left. Some kind of tidal wave."

"Oh," Superman nodded. "The fissure must be getting worse.”

“Fissure?”

“An interdimensional fissure. It opened up a few weeks ago, and brought in an army of invading parademons. That’s why I–.”

He abruptly stopped, but Jason knew what he was going to say. That’s why Superman had gone to Gotham looking for Bruce. That’s why he got caught in the crossfire of Ivy’s spores. That’s why Jason had been raped and nearly killed, because Superman had only been trying to do the right thing. And now Superman was stuck here because of Jason, leaving the world outside without the benefit of his benevolent powers. The world still needed Superman, especially if the crisis was bad enough that Hal abandoned his post to join the fray.

“You should be out there,” Jason said.

“I want to, but…,” Superman trailed off.

“But I threw myself in front of you like a goddamn whore, and got you thrown into this chamber.” Jason threw the words out like a knife aimed to cut to the bone, but the vitriol he felt was directed at himself.

Superman actually sucked in a breath in shock. “Jason, that's not… no. That's not what happened!”

He was right of course, but Jason couldn’t help but feel that he carried much of the blame, the guilt and shame of what happened like a deadweight on his shoulders. “I'm sorry,” he said.

“What are you sorry for?”

For being a fool. For feeling sorry for himself. For not being able to control his impulses and getting everyone into this situation. He felt all those things, but said none of them. Instead Jason replied with, “Why are you still in here? Hasn’t the decontamination worked?”

“Yes,” Superman nodded, “but we can’t be sure until we test it.”

That probably meant exposing Superman to another person to see if it elicited any reaction. They had similar procedures when it came to the other bats, where the infected person had to pass a test under controlled conditions before they could go out again in the field.

“So what are you waiting for?” Jason asked. If the crisis was getting so dire, the League would need Superman’s strength. It didn’t make sense that Bruce would keep him locked up for no reason.

The other man paused to consider his words. He seemed hesitant, but then stated, “Bruce wanted to wait until you were off the Watchtower, but he never got the chance to move you. Not with everything going on down on Earth.”

“Oh.” Bruce was trying to protect him? Great. Another reason for Jason to feel guilty.

Regardless, Superman seemed to be in full control of himself, he was still a better man than Jason would ever be, and the world still needed him. Jason lifted the tablet he’d been clutching, and reached for a console panel in the wall.

“What are you doing?” Superman sounded alarmed.

“Triggering the life preservation failsafes. You need to be out there.”

“Jason, wait!” he cried out, but Jason went ahead and initiated the failsafe protocol on the console. There was a series of beeps, and the red lights flickered out. A few seconds later, the full force of sunlamps came on, and Jason closed his eyes, blinded by the sudden brightness.

He blinked until his vision adjusted, and when he looked up, Superman was standing over him. Jason stamped down the urge to curl into himself, and Superman knelt down beside him.

“I’m going to take you to the med-bay,” he said. “Is that okay?” He held his arms out, and Jason knew what he meant. Jason was still huddled pathetically on the floor, too injured and exhausted to make it back on his own, and the recent trip down to the red chamber had stressed his wounds. He looked down and noticed that blood was seeping through the bottom of his gown, dripping down his legs. He probably couldn’t walk at the moment. If he was going anywhere, Superman would have to carry him.

Jason took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and nodded.

He felt arms gently wrap around his shoulders, and then lift under his legs. Jason couldn’t stop himself from immediately stiffening, but he managed not to lash out. Superman pulled him closer, cradling Jason to his chest, and before Jason could panic, there was a rush of air all around him. Jason blinked open his eyes, and they were in the med-bay. The sunlamps must have recharged Superman’s powers enough that he regained his super speed.

He set Jason down gingerly on a bed, and then backed away. Jason let out the breath he was holding, and then realized he was trembling, his heart beating so hard it felt like it was about to burst out his chest.

Superman moved over to one of the medical carts, punching in a few codes and then turned back to Jason. “I’ve programmed the droids to come treat your injuries. You’ll be safe here, I promise.” He reached his hands out tentatively, and Jason forced himself to remain still as Superman brought them up to gently cup around his face. He held them there, and instead of feeling triggered like Jason expected, the warmth and solidity felt calming.

“Thank you,” Superman said, “for trusting me.” He stroked his thumb gently along Jason’s cheek, and then let go.

With that, he zipped away. Jason looked out the window again, and this time he saw a streak of red and blue.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Jason woke to what he thought was a loud rolling thunder, except when he blinked the grogginess out of his eyes to look out the window, he recalled that he was stuck in orbital space. He was still lying in the Watchtower med-bay, and as he tried to push himself into a sitting position, he found his limbs unnaturally heavy and his mouth dry—the telltale after-effect of sedatives.

The memories also began trickling in. After Superman had dropped Jason here, he had allowed the nurse-bots (which were not nearly as fun as the name implied) to reattach an IV line and hook him up to a fluid pump. Somewhere in there they must have drugged him up and he had dozed off.

His internal clock was out of sync, but it felt like he'd been out for at least several hours, if not more. He was about to check the tablet when the thundering sound that had woken him returned. The door whooshed open and he quickly realized that the sound he’d heard had been footsteps.

A blur of red and yellow zipped through, and suddenly the recognizable form of the Flash was standing next to the gurney.

"I got him, Batman," Barry said into his comm. At least Jason assumed it was Barry, judging by the costume. "Yeah, he's awake. Let me ask him." Barry reached a hand out to touch his arm, "Jason, are you okay?"

Jason flinched at the contact before he could stop himself, then felt himself flush in embarrassment. There was no reason to think that The Flash would attack him. There was no pollen here. He was safe on the Watchtower, but rational thought was overridden by his flight response gone rogue. He could hear blood rushing in his ears as his heart threatened to hammer out of his chest. It made him feel suddenly nauseous. He tried to suck in a breath but he ended up gasping. He clutched his arms to his chest in an attempt to quell his rising panic.

"Whoa, hey," Barry tried to calm him, keeping his distance as he handed over an oxygen mask. "Just breath into this okay? Bruce is going to be here soon. He sent me ahead to check on you."

Barry laid the mask on the edge of the bed and backed away. Jason snatched it up and pressed it to his face, trying to take slow even breaths, but his whole body had started throbbing in pain. He looked down to see that he was now sitting in a growing pool of crimson. Blood was seeping out from between his legs, soaking through the flimsy hospital gown and onto the bed.

There was a rustling beside him. Barry was approaching, his eyes wide in horror as they darted back and forth between the blood and Jason's face. "You're bleeding. Let me check–"

"Don't!" Jason reflexively shouted, even as he realized how stupid that sounded. He was fucking bleeding. Barry was only trying to help him, but Jason found himself fumbling with the oxygen mask with his casted hand, trying to grip it like some kind of pathetic shield. His other hand held the small tablet, arm pulled back like he was going to throw it.

He did throw it, but Barry simply caught it and set it down. "Okay. Point taken. How about I call the nurse-bots?”

After a pause, Jason nodded, and Barry pulled a privacy curtain as the robotic droids showed up. He backed away and remained quiet as they worked. That gave Jason the opportunity to try to calm himself, though it was still unnerving to let the nurse-bots open the ties of his gown to change his dressings. It was the first time Jason had gotten a good look at himself and what he saw made him wince. His body was a mess of purple and green bruises. There were several surgical incisions along his body—all the way down his abdomen, over his hip, and another one down his thigh—red puckered lines that were held together by a nearly invisible stitch, some kind of Justice League tech they used to put him back together. It made him look like some kind of Frankenstein's monster. The patchwork of ugliness made the ‘outside’ finally matching the ‘in’ he supposed. There were probably more stitches where he couldn’t see too, including the places he didn’t want to think about. Blood continued to trickle from between his legs and from his thigh. Jason laid back and forced himself to look out the window as the nurse-bots poked and prodded at him.

He focused on how the Earth looked impossibly bright down below, the white of the clouds swirling en masse over the brown and green patches that were the continents, then let his gaze drift to the wide swathes of blue that were the oceans. Everything looked deeply vibrant. Almost unreal. It was hard to imagine that there were billions of people clustered on mounds of dirt and rock down below. And were the oceans really that blue? A rich saturated color, kind of like…

...the blur of blue above him as blood bubbled up in Jason's throat. The waft of sweat and musk that filled his nostrils. The soil beneath his fingers where he was clawing into the ground was soft and damp. It must have rained recently. He could smell the petrichor of the earth.

“Jason?” Barry’s voice snapped him back to the present. “They’re coming.”

“They?” Jason realized his gown was still untied. Barry was still on the other side of the curtain, but the nurse-bots were gone and there was a fresh layer of bandages covering his skin. He quickly pulled the gown closed and then tried to sit up. How long had the nurse-bots been gone? Had he just been laying there? He’d completely lost track of time. Had he fallen asleep?

Before Jason could clarify with Barry, he heard the sound of the door depressurizing and a commotion of footsteps followed. The curtain was flung back. There stood Batman.

“Did he hurt you?” he immediately demanded.

Jason frowned in confusion. “Who, Flash?”

“No,” Bruce snapped. “You know who. You let him loose, Jason! Do you have any idea what could have happened? What he would have done to you if the decontamination didn’t work? What you did was reckless! Not only did you put yourself in danger, but the rest of the world too!”

Oh. He meant Clark. Superman.

“Bruce…” a placating hand reached out to rest on Bruce’s shoulder. It was Wonder Woman. She had followed Bruce into the room. “You need to calm down,” Diana said.

Bruce just shrugged her off. “I’m taking him off the Watchtower. Get him prepped while I get the transport ready.” With that he stomped out of the room.

Diana and Barry just looked at each other, then at Jason.

“Was that an order for me, or you?” Barry looked extremely awkward as he glanced back and forth between Jason and Diana.

“I’ll take him,” Diana conceded.

It didn’t take Barry long to leave the room. He gave Jason a quick nod and disappeared as soon as the doors slid open.

Diana pulled out what Jason figured was a JL-issued wheelchair—though it must have been outfitted with antigravitational tech given that it didn’t even have any wheels—and offered a hand out to Jason to help him get down from the medical gurney.

Jason kept his arms wrapped around himself. Every part of his body seemed to ache even when he was sitting still. Moving on his own would be hard, but he suddenly felt too embarrassed to accept Diana’s help. His gown was still soiled with blood, and the mattress cover he was sitting on would be covered in it too.

“I can walk,” he said, even though he knew very well he couldn’t, but if he could get Diana to leave he could probably manage to clamber into the chair and figure out how to get down to the transport bay on his own.

“No, you can’t.” Diana saw right through him. “I watched Bruce read the scans from the medical droids on the way here. You ruptured some of your sutures. Walking is going to put more stress on your wounds.” She softened her voice a little as she added, “There’s no shame in accepting aid while injured, Jason. It’s okay to be vulnerable.”

“Not according to Batman it isn’t,” Jason replied bitterly.

Diana sighed. “That’s not true. I know it didn’t seem like it, but he’s not angry at you, Jason. He was very worried when Superman showed up. He nearly abandoned the field, but we were still locked in battle with the parademons.”

Which made perfect sense. He wouldn’t have expected Bruce to come even if the fate of the world wasn’t at stake, so why would he expect any different when it was? At least it sounded like the crisis was now over.

“Did the dimensional fissure close?” Jason asked to be sure.

“Yes,” Diana nodded. “Thanks to Superman. We couldn’t have done it without him. What you did was very brave.”

Jason wasn’t so sure about that, but he didn’t want to argue. He was feeling tired again, and the quicker he got this over with the better. He reached out and accepted Diana’s hand, and with little effort she practically lifted him into the chair.

Maybe if he’d been stronger, like Diana, or smarter, like Bruce, he could have figured out a way to subdue Superman without dragging him out of the light—without sullying his hard-earned regard with the ugly black stain that was Jason and his poor choices—but Jason was what he was, even if that meant that he was a constant disappointment.

*******************

Bruce ended up flying them down through the atmosphere rather than use a zeta-tube due to the risks of adverse effects on Jason’s injuries. At least that was what he claimed after Diana pushed Jason into the shuttle, space-age hoverchair and all. It locked into place in a passenger area behind the pilot’s seat, and the rest of the trip back to the manor was completed in silence.

Alfred greeted them in the batcave. Once the old man completed yet another medical scan, changing his dressings and using some sort of laser gun to reseal his sutures, Jason was allowed to retreat upstairs. Thankfully he didn’t see anyone else. He was mostly bedridden and asleep for the next few days anyway. His jaunt to free Superman on the Watchtower had aggravated his injuries enough that the intensity of pain was causing cold sweats, and with the ruptured stitches came an infection that quickly grew into a fever. Alfred resorted to keeping him hooked up to an IV drip of antibiotics and sedatives.

Jason drifted in and out of consciousness, dreaming fitful dreams of someone constantly leaning over him. Sometimes it was a featureless man in blue who filled him with terror. Sometimes it was a vague form in black who made him feel small, sending his heart racing with a different sort of fear. Sometimes there were hands holding him down, which Jason fought against as much as he could. Sometimes there were warm hands just cupping his face, slowly stroking a thumb across his cheek until he was calm and still….

When Jason woke finally, after what felt like several days, he found Tim seated beside the bed.

“Oh. You’re awake.” Tim fidgeted awkwardly. “Uh, how are you feeling?”

“Like shit,” Jason groaned. It was the truth but it still felt like an understatement. Alfred must have been tapering the pain killers because he felt even more achy and sore than he did before. He tried to wet his cracked lips, but his tongue was so parched it stuck to the roof of his mouth.

“Can I get you anything?” Tim leaned in closer.

Thankfully Jason didn’t feel the impulse to recoil, but Tim’s presence wasn’t exactly comforting either. It was even a little unexpected. They didn’t quite have the sort of relationship where Jason would expect him to show up in support of his convalescence, given the fact that at one point Jason had tried to murder him. Jason had long moved past that inclination. To the point they’d managed to achieve a level of camaraderie where on occasion they worked well in the field together, even sharing intel on cases, but Jason mostly kept things professional. Not that they weren’t sometimes friendly. It was just that more than likely Tim was only here because he was feeling guilt or pity. Or Alfred voluntold him to keep an eye on Jason while he was off doing something else. That was the most probable scenario. The bedside clock revealed it was half past midnight, primetime for Alfred to be running tactical support for Batman down in the cave.

Jason sighed and then regretted it when it sent sharp pains through his torso. He wasn’t pleased with having Tim as a babysitter, but moving was going to a bitch and Tim was currently at hand.

“Water,” Jason wheezed out the request, and Tim skittered away to fill a glass.

The brief moment of solitude allowed Jason to take stock of his situation. He was dressed in a flimsy hospital gown again and still too injured to move easily. His arm was still in a cast and though he didn't feel feverish that didn't mean he was in the clear from infection. He unhooked the monitors and the fluids from the IV line, feeling too trapped in the tangle of wires and tubing.

He felt only marginally freer. He was probably stuck in the Manor for another few days at least, if not longer. A knot of anxiety formed in his stomach at the thought. He didn’t want to be here. The Manor held too many memories, layered like dust and cobwebs into the unreachable corners and crevices of every room. There was nothing Alfred or anyone could do to wipe away the feeling that he was returning to a home that was no longer his. Being here reminded him of all the things he no longer was and all the things he’d never be.

Best thing to do was to suck it up for just long enough to high-tail it as soon as he was mobile. He had a half-dozen or so bolt holes squirreled away in the city that he could hunker down in until he was fully recovered. Better to lick his wounds by himself than suffocate under Bruce’s constant attempts to keep Jason under his thumb. Jason just had to preoccupy himself and stay out of anyone’s way until he could escape.

In the meantime, he could probably take the hover chair into the library, or if he could find a laptop or even a phone, he could catch up on his cases. Speaking of which, Tim had returned with the glass of water, and after the cool liquid soothed his paper-dry throat, Jason asked, “You got a laptop or phone I can borrow?”

Tim responded by opening the bedside drawer and pointing inside. “I can go grab a spare laptop, but Alfred put your phone in here. They found it when…,” Tim frowned and cut himself short, his mouth hanging open for a second before he continued with, “They managed to retrieve it. Bruce has the rest of your equipment.”

Jason took the phone from the drawer. The screen was cracked. It had been intact and stuffed into an inner jacket pocket before… before….

Ripping. The sound of it. First the snap and stutter of cloth. The pitched crackle and squeak of rending leather. Then the sharp pain of tearing flesh. He stared up into the intensity of Superman’s blue eyes as Jason was battered into the cold damp dirt each time he was speared open between his legs. Those blue eyes staring fixedly at him as Superman fucked him raw. Were Jason's own eyes ever that blue? Before they were tinged with Lazarus green? His vision blurred with tears and he blinked them away. He felt droplets from above join the wetness running down his face. Was that rain? No, it was tears. Superman’s tears. The man who was raping him was crying too….

“Jason?” Tim’s concerned voice snapped Jason out of the flashback. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah,” Jason croaked. He put the phone back in the drawer, hand slightly trembling as he pushed it shut. He swallowed a few times to make sure his throat was clear. “Can you get me a laptop?”

Tim gave him an indecipherable look, but then nodded and went to retrieve what Jason had requested. "This is one of my spares," he said when he returned a few minutes later. "I unlocked it for you. You'll need to load the VPN and go through my encryption portal if you want any special access, but you can use it to browse the web and stuff."

Jason slowly pushed himself into a sitting position, pain radiating from his chest down to his thighs as he did so, but he managed to get himself into as comfortable a position as possible, settling the laptop into his lap. Tim hovered near him, his fingers knotted together nervously as he shifted from foot to foot. He looked like he wanted to say something more, but Jason decided not to prompt him. He wasn’t really in the mood for talking.

One arm was still in a cast, so it was awkward handling the laptop, but Jason managed to click open a browser and navigate to a search engine. He paused for a moment. He could still feel the effects of adrenaline running through him from the flashback, a nervous energy that he could feel in his elevated pulse, causing tremors in his unsteady hands. The image of Superman’s face kept flashing through his mind, jumping back and forth between the contorted face hovering over him, somehow both angry and anguished, and the more sedate expression of regret when Superman had cupped his face in his hands after Jason freed him. He remembered the way Superman had stroked his thumb over Jason’s cheek.

Jason clicked the cursor into the search bar and typed ‘Superman.’

The Daily Planet had a whole section dedicated to the Man of Steel. It listed the most recent sightings all around Metropolis and his activities with the Justice League, the most recent being his last-minute entrance into the battle with the parademons. The bold black letters at the top of the page read: Superman Saves the Day in Final Battle to Close Dimensional Fissure!

Social media yielded similar results. Superman saves 130 passengers on Runaway Train, and Superman Stops Bridge Collapse over West River, and Midtown Saved When Superman Stops Riot.

There was a brief mention about a mysterious absence, but other than that no mention of a recent pit-stop in Gotham. No mention of anyone drawing the connection between Superman’s disappearance with that of the Red Hood. No mention of Jason at all.

And why would there be? Jason felt stupid for even letting the thought cross his mind. What was he expecting? A headline that read: Superman Rapes D-List Villain and Gets Away With It?

No. Bruce would have kept the whole thing under wraps. He covered it up exceedingly well too. Jason didn’t show up in any of the recent news about the latest pollen attack. Any mention of the Red Hood had been scrubbed, pushed under the carpet and hidden away like the dirty secret that he was. The world couldn’t do without the constant barrage of newsfeeds about the shining star that was Superman, but it could certainly do without mention of another murdering psychopath like the Red Hood.

Jason clicked back to the Daily Planet site, searching for more articles by Clark Kent when Tim interrupted his train of thought.

"Jason… why are you…?" Tim was looking over Jason’s shoulder at the screen. He seemed to struggle for the right words to form a question before he said, "Are you worried about Superman still being a threat?"

"No." It wasn't that. Jason wasn't afraid. If Superman was still a threat Bruce wouldn't have brought him back to the Manor. The Batcave was also the most secure place in the world, and probably had several safety measures in place in case a Kryptonian went rogue. Bruce was paranoid like that. So why was he looking for information on Superman? Morbid curiosity?

Jason didn’t really have an answer. He just wanted to know. The memory of Superman's face was seared into his brain. He could even remember the smell of him. The feel of his skin. The way he had looked at Jason with those bluer than blue eyes. The firmness of his muscles arms and chest, the way he had locked Jason in a viselike grip when he had first flown off with him into the sky, the violence of the assault, contrasting with the care and caution he had exerted afterwards when he lifted Jason back on the Watchtower.

“Okay….” Tim said hesitantly. “It's not really my place to say, but maybe it's not a good idea to be looking up stuff about him.”

“You’re right. It’s not your place to say.” Jason snapped. He didn’t really want to be discussing this with Tim. He hoped that ignoring his suggestion would make that point clear. Jason went ahead and launched the VPN and opened Tim’s encryption portal.

“What are you doing?” Tim was hovering even closer. His hesitation was now replaced with alarm.

“I want to read the pollen case file,” Jason replied.

“No.” Tim suddenly snatched the laptop out of his hands. “Jason, that’s not a good idea. You’re not supposed to be stressing yourself. Alfred said to keep you calm.”

“Jesus fucking hell, Tim!” Jason moved to grab the laptop back with his good hand, but Tim had stepped out of reach. “What are you, my mother? Why the fuck are you even here? This is none of your goddamn fucking business!”

“It is my business!” Tim railed back. “I’m not going to stand by and let you do… whatever it is you’re doing. You’re here because of me. I’m the reason you were raped in the first place!”

This time Jason did flinch. Hearing the word rape said aloud somehow felt like getting slapped. It wasn’t like he didn’t already know that was exactly what had happened, but up until now everyone else had tiptoed around it. Once Jason processed the initial shock of it however, he realized the significance of what Tim had said. Did Tim actually think this was his fault?

Tim, for his part, was staring back at Jason, his hand over his mouth and eyes wide. “I mean… oh god. I shouldn’t have said that.”

“It's not your fault, Tim.” Jason stared down at his hands. He wasn’t angry. He just felt numb.

“It is.” The line of Tim’s mouth was set in a hard line, the corners twisted downward into a grimace. It looked a lot like an expression Bruce often made. “If I’d gotten out of there as soon as I knew I was infected, you wouldn’t have had to step in.”

This wasn’t something Jason really wanted to get into with Tim, but it had to be said. “Superman still would have shown up at the wrong time. He was looking for Bruce. He would have found one of us. If he got hit he could have gone after a civilian. It’s better that it was me.”

Tim looked away. “It shouldn’t have been you. It should have been me.”

“No. It shouldn’t have, Tim.” Jason bristled. “You’re still a kid, and I’ve been fucked over more times than I can count so this is no big deal. Stop trying to fucking argue with me. Let’s just call it even for me trying to murder you.”

Tim looked like he was about to snap a retort, but at the last minute he swallowed his words. Instead he took a deep breath, letting out a slow exhale before he said, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it like that. I’m… grateful, Jason. I just wish it hadn’t happened.”

“Yeah sure. Whatever.” Jason shrugged awkwardly, wincing as the movement pulled at the wreck of bruises and sutures on his body. His heart had started pounding in his ears. This discussion with Tim was getting him agitated. “Look, I appreciate the effort, but you don’t owe me shit. If anything, I’d rather be left alone.”

Tim actually looked a little hurt at that, but he backed off. “Okay. I’ll give you some space, but I still don’t think you should be looking at the Daily Planet. The case files are probably locked too, and I’m not going to help you crack into them. If you need anything else though, let me know.” He handed the laptop back, which Jason took without question, intending to pick up where he left off as soon as Tim left the room.

Except he couldn’t. Tim was right. Once Jason loaded the encryption protocols, he still couldn’t get to the case file. It was locked behind another layer of security and the laptop didn’t have a sophisticated enough script to hack through. It would probably have to be accessed through the cave itself, but Alfred was probably down there at the moment. If he wanted to read the file, he’d have to find a window of time when it was empty.

Jason cursed at being thwarted, but he was curious too. Why had Tim been so wary as to snatch the computer away as soon as he realized what Jason wanted to do? Why would Bruce lock Tim, Bruce’s preferred Robin short of Dick, out of the case file? Was there something in the file that he didn’t want Jason to find out?

He’d have to bide his time if he wanted answers. Jason spent another half hour or so reading through recent articles written by Clark Kent: a deep dive investigation into mayoral candidate corruption and an expose on the impact of reduced health spending on the Metropolis poor. Clark had certainly been busy. He’d managed to publish some pretty intriguing articles in the last couple weeks. It seemed his exposure to the pollen and subsequent confinement had little effect on his productivity.

It figured, Jason supposed. Superman had probably moved on and forgotten all about him. He’d gone back to serving the greater good in the ‘City of Tomorrow’ that was Metropolis, bright and shiny like a beacon of all that was right in the world. What had happened to Jason was washed away as soon as the bloodstains had been cleaned from Superman’s red and blue suit.

At the same time he couldn’t forget the way Superman had looked at him back on the Watchtower. There seemed to be genuine remorse. He’d been concerned as soon as he saw Jason… he’d spoken so softly, purposefully conscious of what kind of impression he made and that Jason had been verging on panic. He’d been so careful too once Jason let him out, wrapping his arms gently around him as he sped Jason to the med-bay. The way he’d enveloped Jason’s face with the warmth of his hands. Would Superman have just forgotten that easily? Maybe he didn’t remember much of the actual incident? It seemed like the pollen had affected his Kryptonian physiology differently. Much more to the extreme in fact. What had happened after the Justice League showed up?

Jason stewed on the questions as he set the laptop aside. Exhaustion was catching up to him as he rubbed at his eyes. Maybe he’d take a nap until he could figure out when he could get down to the cave. Jason let his eyelids droop shut, and within seconds he was asleep.

*******************

When he woke again, it was to the soft creaking of the bedroom door. Gentle footsteps followed, not so soft that they would appear stealthy, but soft enough that Jason might have slept through them if he’d still been drugged. He could judge by the weight and gate of footsteps that it was probably Bruce coming in after a night on patrol to check on him. Jason still kept his eyes closed, keeping his breathing slow and even to mimic the breathing patterns of deep sleep.

After a few moments the footsteps retreated, leaving Jason alone again. He waited several more minutes before slowly shuffling off the bed and into the nearby hoverchair, tucking Tim’s laptop under his arm as he did so. It was almost dawn, and Bruce would be catching a few hours of sleep before he faced the day as CEO of Wayne Enterprises. Alfred would likely still be in bed too after an active night of tactical support.

This was his chance. There was a small window where the cave would be empty, with Bruce and Alfred too exhausted from their night's work to suspect Jason would slip into the cave. The hoverchair was thankfully quiet and maneuverable as Jason took it through corridors to reach the entrance behind the grandfather clock. He took the freight elevator that descended through the foundations of the Manor, deep through layers and layers of limestone rock, until it opened up into the expansive subterranean hollow that was the Batcave

Jason cruised onto the center platform, hobbling out of the hoverchair to settle into the black leather seat in front of the batcomputer.

Normally getting into Bruce’s files would be nigh impossible, but Jason had managed to build a backdoor into the systems a long time ago when he had first returned from the pit. He’d been dead set on exploiting all of Bruce’s weaknesses at the time. A bomb under the batmobile had been one way. A key into his systems had been another. Jason hadn’t ever seen fit to use the latter, especially not after they reconciled, but that combined with the protocols Tim had on his laptop would allow him to gain access to the file he currently wanted.

It took a few minutes of wrangling but he finally got in. The first few files were just an analysis of the pollen—secretions from the exospores bonded to chemical receptors for adrenaline, which triggered extreme activity in the amygdala. That meant that with more fear, the more it stimulated the subject. Bruce had noted in the file that he suspected genetic modifications based on fear toxin.

Jason found himself looking away from the screen. He covered his face with his good hand, taking a shaky breath and feeling the tremble of his fingers as he pressed them into his eyes.

When he brought his hand away he felt a little calmer. Not by much, but just enough to resume pondering the facts. Fear toxin being a component made sense. The more terrified he'd been, the more aroused. And with Superman… had he been terrified too? Had it made him both uncontrollably aroused and angry? Kryptonians were a little different though. Jason wondered if Bruce had anything in the cave systems on Kryptonian physiology.

He sifted through several more files. There were additional notes suggesting that Ivy didn't act alone, or that this had been coopted from her to create a new variant based on earlier genetic samples. There was bloodwork from both him and Superman, site analyses of the affected areas, vine dissections, catalogues of the victims, several vector hypotheses, and then he saw it: an audio file labeled ‘Communicator.’

Jason’s blood went cold.

Could it be? Was it the audio record from Jason’s own communicator? He’d used the backup comm plugged into his ear to try and call for help after Superman had taken him. Had he left it on?

He knew he shouldn’t. The horror of what could be on the recording… having to hear it again… to live it again… it could break him, but he needed to know for sure. Jason clicked on it.

A crackling sound aired from the batcomputer speakers, then a huffing breath before Jason recognized the sound of his own voice. “This is Red Hood,” the recording echoed through the cave, “If anyone can hear me, requesting immediate evacuation at this location! I repeat, this is–ah!”

There was a loud thud. Then some sort of scuffling. “Superman. Clark, don’t do this. You don’t want to do this… please.” More rustling sounds, followed by the sound of Jason screaming.

Jason’s heart felt like it was punching out of his chest. His throat closed up and he couldn’t breathe. He scrambled to slam his hand down on the space bar, intending to stop the recording, but with one arm in a cast and the other shaking badly, he fumbled and missed. The mash of keys brought up the next file instead, this time a video file marked ‘Cowl.’

A new window suddenly popped up and filled the entire screen. It was the image of a naked man, all pale moonlit skin and dark hair. Superman. The cowl camera rapidly moved closer and closer in short, jerky movements, as if Bruce was running toward him. Jason could see the flex of buttocks and thighs as Superman rutted over a body underneath him.

Jason quickly realized who that body was. It was Jason himself.

In a panic he kicked away from the screen, launching himself backward and toppling out of the chair.

The video kept going.

There was a lot of shouting. Wonder Woman appeared in view, lassoing Superman around the neck and yanking him away. There was a blur of green, but Jason couldn't tell if it was Hal or the glow of Kryptonite because the camera focused again on the body curling in on itself on the ground.

“Jason? Oh god. Jason!” The familiar voice of Bruce sounded through the recording, and Jason couldn't take it anymore. He gathered himself enough to desperately crawl back toward the computer controls to stop the clip, but his hands were even more unsteady than before. He couldn’t seem to hit the keys right, and the video jumped forward again.

This time it was a different setting—a red-tinged holding cell in which Superman was strapped down, naked and writhing, his face twisted in fury.

“Give him to me!" Superman looked directly into the camera. He thrust his hips up despite the fact he was fully restrained, his engorged penis bobbing angrily in the air. "Bruce, give him to me!" He began to growl, his mouth frothing with spittle. "Let me have him. I need him. I need to feel him. Jason. Give me Jason!”

Superman began to wail, an inhuman sound halfway between a screech and a thundering roar. The sound of it was bone-chilling, sending Jason into full panic now. It was all he could do to huddle into himself on the floor, ducking his face down and trying to cover his ears with his hands. The casted hand wouldn't cooperate however, it prevented him from drowning out the sound. He needed to stop the video, but he couldn’t. He felt frozen, his heart seizing and stuttering, his limbs useless and unresponsive, his lungs burning as he struggled to gasp for air.

"Jason!" A voice behind him suddenly shouted. Footsteps ran past him and Jason managed to blink through the tears that had overtaken his eyes to see Bruce. He ran forward and quickly tapped several keys until the whole batcomputer immediately shut down. Then Bruce whirled around.

His face was ablaze with fury—his lips pulled back, teeth clenched tightly, like a pressurized valve about ready to blow. His fists were balled up and half raised, his chest heaving as he opened his mouth to shout, but then he abruptly snapped it shut. The grim line of his mouth signaled an immense effort at restraint.

Maybe it was because Jason was cowering pathetically on the floor, ashamed and floundering for an explanation as to why he'd been caught watching footage of his own rape. Or because he'd gone completely rigid from the pain of his wounds, stressed further by the episode of panic. Or maybe it was because Jason flinched violently as soon as Bruce stepped forward, but something in Bruce suddenly shifted. He suddenly gentled his movements, crouching down on the floor to slowly approach.

When he got close enough, Bruce wrapped his arms around Jason, pulling him into an embrace. Jason let him, too shocked and distressed to really process whether the action was welcome or not. A hand stroked the back of his head, pressing Jason’s face into Bruce’s chest.

"Jason, I'm sorry." A choked whisper near Jason's ear. Was Bruce… sobbing? “I'm sorry," he said again. “You weren’t supposed to see that.”

“Why would you keep that?” Jason felt an outrage building in him. He tried to wipe the tears from his eyes as he twisted himself out of Bruce’s hold. “Did you listen to the recording? Did you watch all of that again?”

Bruce nodded solemnly.

Jason felt like he was being torn apart all over again, the violation less physical but it somehow felt just as painful. Jason shouldn’t have been surprised. Of course Bruce had listened to the entire recording. Bruce was thorough like that. If there was anything to be gleaned, he would find it, but it made Jason sick to know that Bruce had saved a recording of Jason’s entire rape.

“Delete it.” Jason clutched at Bruce’s shirt, finding the will inside himself to look Bruce in the eye. "Do it now," he demanded. "All of it. No backup copies."

Bruce met his gaze, and for once he seemed remorseful. “Okay.” He got up, and Jason let go of Bruce so that he could walk back to the batcomputer.

Jason stayed on the floor, purposefully averting his eyes as Bruce tapped at the keys. He tried to work through a breathing exercise to gain back some sense of control, but it wasn’t working very well. His thoughts kept spiralling into intrusive questions: Did Superman know it had been recorded? Did he recall demanding that Bruce hand Jason over? How much of what happened was Superman and how much was the pollen? Once he was decontaminated, did the urge turn off just like that? Or did it linger, like some dark, dirty need that he had to hide? And if that was the case, did he still feel it, even now?

“How long was he like that?” Jason found himself blurting the question aloud.

The tapping of the keys stopped. Bruce turned his head to glance behind him, but didn’t reply right away, seeming to weigh his options before he answered. “The detoxification process took longer given his alien physiology. He’d only been fully cleared of it for a few days when you released him.”

Only a few days? Superman had seemed so rational when Jason had freed him. It was hard to imagine that he’d been crazed from pollen only days before. Was it like a light switch? Where as soon as it was flipped the urges were gone and he was instantly forgiven, welcomed back as the hero he was, and allowed to go back to his perfect life as Metropolis’ favorite farmboy reporter?

Somehow it didn’t seem fair. For Jason this would go down as another one of his fuck ups. Another black mark on his already tarnished record. Another thing for Bruce and the others to hide away and be ashamed of. Another thing for everyone to pretend like it never happened.

Jason struggled to push himself up, noticing for the first time that blood had once again leaked onto the thin gown he was wearing. He pulled the gown tighter around himself as he heaved himself into the hoverchair.

“Jason, you're hurt,” Bruce stepped forward with a hand in the air as if to try and help.

"Yeah, no shit, Sherlock!" Jason snapped, quickly backing away and out of reach. He didn't want to be comforted. He didn't want Bruce's pity. He didn’t want to hear Bruce’s halfhearted apologies, and he especially didn't want to give Bruce the chance to berate him for snooping into the batcomputer's case files.

“I’m going upstairs." Jason pushed the switches on the hoverchair to direct himself back toward the cave exit. “I can get up on my own.”

Jason turned to go, pointedly refusing to glance behind him so that Bruce couldn't see the tears that still tracked down his cheeks.

Chapter Text

He dreamed the falling dream again. Jason seemed to have that one quite a lot. The one where he was floating above the Earth, staring down and marveling at the vast expanse below. Everything always looked surreal, the colors a little too bright and vivid. The continents were too green and the earth too richly warm, because Jason knew that up close the earth was actually just mud and dirt. He knew that it clung to his skin and caked in layers of sticky crumbling clay. That the oceans weren't really such a beautiful Persian blue, but deeper, like the depths of midnight—so dark and so cold—an abyss that seemed to suck him down and down and down.

That was usually when Jason started falling in his dream. That was when he'd feel the force of gravity latch onto him like a cold hand plunging straight into his gut and tearing him out of the sky.

That was when in the midst of his terror he'd spy that speck of red and blue fluttering up to meet him from somewhere below. It was Superman flying up to catch him, only he never did. It always ended with a collision, the impact so forceful Jason would wake up with a strangled cry on his lips, dripping in cold sweat with his heart pounding so fiercely he could hear it roaring in his ears.

This time, Jason nearly toppled out of bed as he woke, the tangle of blood-streaked sheets catching him before he made it over the edge.

He panted, trying to regather himself as the rays of mid-morning sun streamed through the window. It was too bright. It felt like there was too much revealed under the glaringly bright light, somehow making him feel vulnerable and exposed. He stumbled out of bed, pain shooting up his hip and along his back, to snap closed the shutters. The room was quickly enveloped in darkness. Alfred did always make sure that the bedrooms had good blackout dressings over the windows, given their nocturnalism.

The room felt quieter and more soothing as Jason balanced himself on the bedpost, contemplating on what to do next. Thankfully he had woken up alone. He didn't feel up for dealing with anyone at the moment. Especially not after last night. Especially not Bruce….

Jason tried to steer his thoughts away as he felt himself tense, his heartbeat picking up in tempo again, sending a fresh wave of tremors through his frame. His entire body still ached with various pains. He should probably still be resting, but his skin felt clammy with sweat, and his hair was a greasy mess as he ran his fingers through. At this point he figured he hadn't had anything more than a sponge down from a nursebot in weeks. He felt filthy. Dirty.

He wanted a shower.

Jason limped into the bathroom to eye the shower stall. Someone, probably Alfred, had left a plastic stool inside. That was good. That would make showering easier if he didn't have to be on his feet. The cast on his arm made things a little complicated though, but that same someone—probably Alfred—had also left a plastic cast cover on the counter. Jason carefully discarded the soiled hospital gown he'd been wearing on the floor, averting his gaze from looking down at himself as much as he could, and then carefully slipped the cover over his arm.

He turned on the tap, waited for the water to warm, and then gingerly stepped into the shower. He kept his hand on the tiles as he slowly lowered himself down onto the stool.

It hurt to sit—for reasons he didn't want to think about—but standing had been worse. Even after the short few minutes it had taken to shut the windows and hobble to the bathroom, it already felt like his insides were threatening to burst through barely held-together stitches. Jason knew that was unlikely. Probably. From what he could tell the Justice League tech had pretty much lasered him shut, but the seams of his skin still felt raw and tender.

The warmth of the water helped soothe some of the more superficial aches though. Jason tried to breathe through the rest of the pain until whatever was ruptured or ripped inside him protested less and less. It seemed to work, and the pain began to dull as the warm spray of water continued to wash over him. It was almost calming until he looked down at his feet and saw the red tinged water.

Jason decided it was easier to simply close his eyes.

He fumbled open a bottle of shampoo with his good hand, squeezing a dollop onto his hair and doing his best to scrub at his scalp… tried to do similar with a bottle of shower gel, then running his soap-slippery fingers along the newest scars on his skin—knotty raised lines that still burned a sharp pain when he pressed a little too hard.

He followed one of the new scar lines that started from just below his sternum, down his belly, skirting along his navel and then down to just above his pubic bone… then shifted his hand down further. He let his fingers graze over the nest of hair over his limp cock, then wrapped his hand around himself. Could he still feel this? After the pollen… after Superman, would his body still react to pleasure?

Jason gave himself a tentative stroke, lightly running his soap-slick thumb over the head of his cock. His body felt tight, the tension in his muscles was beginning to be painful, but he still reflexively twitched in response to his fingers. Blood rushed into his shaft as Jason repeated the action until he drew himself into a full erection…

… A heavy weight bearing down over him, jarring his hips so forcefully Jason felt it all the way up his spine. The hot warmth that spread up from his groin, causing him to reflexively arch—a desperate pollen-fueled part of himself frantically seeking the friction of Superman's skin against his own—an overwhelming urge for even the slightest brush of the other man's abs against his cock. His body craved it despite the agonizing pain. The need for release building exponentially inside him each time Superman fucked him bloody, the desire growing as Jason twisted until he could feel Superman battering his prostate….

He came with a sob, spilling himself with a painful gasp, his muscles and barely-patched-together bones erupting in stabbing pain, forcing him to brace himself against the tiled wall.

The shower quickly washed his seed away, and Jason was left panting and shuddering, feeling empty, spent and utterly disgusted at himself.

What the hell was he doing? How could he have even let himself even think about touching himself? His skin crawled. He felt filthy, even under the spray of water.

He abruptly shut off the water and clambered out of the shower, his chest suddenly constricted so that it felt nigh impossible to breath. He grabbed onto the sink, trying to steady himself. It brought him face to face with his fogged reflection in the mirror. He wiped at the glass with a shaking hand, revealing the ragged countenance of his own reflection.

His sodden hair was plastered to his scalp, the fringe of his bangs hanging down over his brows. The stark black of it contrasted with his pallid skin, except over the right side of his face where the mottled greenish-yellow bruises still discolored his cheek and jaw.

“You’re so… handsome. Beautiful…," Superman had said, right before he'd whisked Jason up into the sky.

Not anymore, Jason thought as he stared at himself in the mirror. There was no beauty to be had here. Just ugliness bleeding through the cracks—from the monstrous criss-cross of new scars, to the sickly paleness of his pallor, to the haunted look of his eyes, to the horrible empty feeling deep down in his soul.

He couldn't look at himself anymore. He felt hideous. His visage and his body a testament to his stupidity. His worthlessness. His failure. Not a hero, but a dirty, filthy stain on one of their best.

He hated this. He hated what had happened because of him. He hated himself. A desperate wail escaped his lips as a mix of anger, self-pity, and anguish overwhelmed him. He lashed out, slamming his fist into the mirror, and the glass immediately cracked from the impact. It shattered and fell as he retracted his fist, the pieces cascading over the sink, spilling onto the floor.

Jason backed away until he hit a wall. His knees gave out and he crumbled into a sobbing heap in the corner. His knuckles were bloody. There was more blood on the floor, and Jason realized belatedly he'd stepped on a large shard of glass in his panic.

He pulled it from the ball of his foot, and more blood seeped and spread across the tile from the wound. The pain wasn't unfamiliar. He'd had much worse very recently, and it somehow felt strangely grounding. Even calming. Jason gripped the shard in his palm, feeling the edges of the sharp glass cut into his skin, then dragged the jagged edge along the top of his thigh. He let the sensation of the shard cutting into his skin be his singular focus—the physical pain drowning out the surge of emotion. More blood flowed as he repeated the action, slicing another long cut into his thigh. A warm ache began to spread over his body.

The pain was simple. It was easy. Something he could understand without having to think. It brought a sort of numbness to his thoughts. He let himself drift away, the image of the floating Earth coming to mind again. He marvelled at the rich colors of the oceans. They were such a beautiful deep blue….

*******************

The sound of distant voices brought him back to consciousness. Jason held himself still, keeping his eyes closed and his breathing even as he listened.

" … hasn't healed. Even if the readings were normal, we can't leave him alone." It was Bruce, his voice coming from outside the room. He sounded serious, using the rough, rumbling tones he often used as Batman.

"And what do you propose? He isn't one of your cases. More tests won't tell you anything you don't already know. He's hurt. Badly. He needs time to heal." Alfred's voice was a little sharper than usual, Jason thought. There was none of his usual propriety and calm.

"I need to run more scans." Bruce stated. Even though they were in another room and Jason was still pretending to be asleep, he could practically see them in his mind's eye, seated in front of a console, Bruce rapidly flipping open the med-bay modules to queue up a barrage of tests.

At least that's what Jason figured. Somewhere along the way Bruce must have dragged Jason back down to the cave in order to use the medical equipment. Before that, Jason remembered sitting on the floor of the bathroom covered in blood. Had he passed out?

"He's not acting rationally," Bruce's voice drifted over again. His words were oddly tense. He sounded angry. "It could be the pollen, or whatever lingering effect from the Lazarus pit that was triggered in the stasis chamber. It could be affecting his limbic function, or there could have been damage to the brain I didn't detect."

"Or the boy is simply traumatized," Alfred suggested, a little more sedately. "You cannot expect him to recover from this quickly. He's been through enough and you know better than anyone it's not the physical wounds that hurt the most. The damage is deeper than any machine can show."

Alfred's voice held a strange quaver near the end, something that Jason rarely ever heard. It had him feeling a pang of guilt. He didn't want the old man to be worrying over him like this. Jason was fine. He just panicked a little—he'd overreacted and given himself a few cuts and scrapes. Doing stupid things when he got overwhelmed was pretty much par for the course for Jason. This was just another one of those times.

Given a couple more weeks Jason would be back on his feet and the others could forget all this happened. He didn't want Alfred to fuss and he didn't want Bruce to think he was any more brain damaged than he already was from getting his skull caved in by the Joker. His injuries didn't warrant this level of concern, and Jason was already feeling his presence becoming a burden. It was all the more reason Jason needed to heal up and get the fuck out of the Manor.

Jason sighed and blinked open his eyes, intending to hoist himself up and off the medical cot. As soon as he did however, a voice piped up from the side.

"Father, he's awake." Short and clipped, the terse authoritative tone at odds with the youthful high notes of a thirteen-year-old's changing voice.

Damian. Great. The squirt was a handful on a good day, and it had been a long time since Jason had had any good days.

Today wasn't bucking any trends by the looks of it, especially since Bruce and Alfred immediately stepped into the room, the former giving Jason a look that he could only assume was disappointment.

"Jason, how are you feeling?" Bruce kept his distance, stopping at the foot of the cot and not venturing any further as Jason struggled to sit up.

Jason shrugged a shoulder on the side he didn't have a cast on his arm. He was wearing another one of those stupid medical gowns again, the top half flapping open as Jason leaned forward.

He glanced down at himself. Looked like Alfred had cleaned him up again. There were fresh dressings on his wounds, the ones over his thigh stung sharp from being newly inflicted. The older aches of his body were there too: the now familiar sensation of pressure up and down his torso, and the sharp burn between his legs and up his back every time he moved. It was going to be a bitch getting upstairs, especially since the fancy hover-chair was nowhere in sight. Jason just wanted to get back in bed. He never should have gotten up in the first place.

"I'm fine," Jason finally responded when the silence got a little too awkward. "I don't want any tests. I just want to go upstairs."

"You're not fine." Damian sprang out of his chair and actually stomped a foot. "I found you in a pool of blood after you tried to kill yourself!"

Jason stared back at him in confusion. "I didn't try to kill myself."

"-Tt-. I saw the cuts. You inflicted harm on yourself." Damian crossed his arms. "I don't see how that is any better."

"Damian, that's enough." Bruce clapped a hand on Damian's shoulder and nudged him toward the door. When Alfred guided him the rest of the way out, Bruce turned back to Jason, his tone quiet and surprisingly reticent as he said, "What happened, Jason? Did this have anything to do with the case files you found last night?"

Was that only last night? Why did it feel like eons ago? Time seemed to have dilated ever since this mess started. He was losing track, but he hadn’t even been thinking about Bruce’s recordings when he got in the shower.

Jason shook his head and snapped his eyes shut. He buried his face in his hands as he mumbled pathetically, "No. It's not that… I don't want to talk about it, okay? And I don't want any fucking tests. I just… I fell. And then I guess I passed out?"

He hadn't meant for that last sentence to come out as a question, but he couldn't unjumble the mess of thoughts in his head. He honestly didn't remember Damian walking in on his breakdown, though Jason felt his face heat at the thought of having let the kid see him in such a state.

Bruce pressed his lips into a thin line. "You were catatonic for over an hour."

"Oh." That wasn't good. "Is there something wrong with me?"

"I'm not sure. Some of your scans are abnormal, but we don't have a baseline for you in order to compare. You've had several adverse reactions to the technology used to heal you though, so it's probably best if you take it easy." Bruce reached a hand toward Jason's shoulder, probably intending to offer a comforting gesture, but Jason shied away. He didn't think he could stand to have Bruce touching him right then.

Bruce let his hand hover for a second before he balled his fist and dropped it to his side. “Jason,” his voice had gone tight and his expression stony, “you should get some rest.” It looked like he was going to say something else, but then changed his mind at the last minute and remained silent.

Jason didn't know what to make of that so he nodded and looked down at the floor, pulling the medical gown closed as much as he could with one hand. He felt uncomfortably exposed as Bruce stood a while longer… just… looking at him—like he was trying to figure out some frustratingly intricate puzzle—before he finally turned to walk back toward the door.

"I'll hold off on more tests for now," he said, pausing at the threshold. "I'll be right outside the room if you need something. Tim will be down in a few minutes to take you back upstairs."

Jason nodded, a feeling of relief washing over him as Bruce exited the room.

*******************

It turned out both Dick and Tim came to fetch him, which was a surprise because Jason didn’t even know Dick had come to the Manor until he followed Tim into the med-bay. Within a few minutes though, it became clear what he was there for: to act as a buffer for the rest of the bats.

Tim had rolled in a normal mechanical wheelchair instead of the hover-chair Jason had used earlier, and Jason immediately drew the conclusion that it was a deliberate attempt to limit his mobility. With only one working arm, he wouldn't be able to get around the Manor easily by himself until he could walk. The logical conclusion was that they were trying to keep him confined.

“What the fuck, Tim?” Jason snapped, “Why am I being downgraded? Is this punishment?”

“It was my idea.” Bruce had trailed back into the room after Dick. “You didn't take well to the healing process we used on the Watchtower, and this latest incident almost had you hemorrhaging. I need you to restrict your activity, so I returned the anti-gravity chair to the Watchtower. The League agreed to sanction the technology only for immediate medical transport to and from the station anyway.”

“Fuck the League,” Jason steamed. “Since when did you obey all the League rules anyway?”

“Take it easy Jay,” Dick stepped in. “This isn’t a punishment. You’ve ruptured your sutures multiple times. We just want you to heal, and you’re not going to do that if you keep moving around.”

“You’re just trying to control me,” Jason shot back.

“We’re trying to keep you safe,” Dick returned. “We considered keeping you down here in a holding cell. I think this is the better option.”

Jason wouldn’t put it past them to try and lock him up, especially if he put up a fight. He wasn't stupid enough to think that he could win in his condition, and given how drained he was already feeling he wouldn't get very far on his own. He was left with glaring daggers at the others as he slowly pushed himself off the gurney and lowered himself into the chair. His pride wouldn't allow him to accept any help as he got himself seated, then Dick wheeled him to the access elevator while Jason silently fumed.

Tim and Damian followed. And Jason rebuffed any overtures until they were upstairs in the Manor. He only broke his silence when instead of taking Jason to his room like expected, Dick wheeled him further down the hall to one of the entertainment rooms.

"What the fuck. Just leave me in my room, Dickhead!" Jason grabbed one of the wheels with his good hand in an attempt to stop Dick from pushing him any further, but Jason couldn't get a good grip. Dick just kept going.

"Alfred's going to bring you some food," Dick replied lightly. "Come on, we can watch a movie or something."

Jason saw where this was going. Dick was trying to spend time with him out of guilt. Or some misguided sense of obligation. Either way, it irked Jason even more. He twisted around despite the pain, narrowing his eyes at Dick and curling his lips into a snarl. "I don't want your pity, Dick. I got fucked and now I'm fucked up. I'll deal with it. I don't need you trying to fake-friend your way into feeling better about yourself because of some misplaced sense of guilt."

Dick finally paused. He actually looked stunned for a moment, but he quickly schooled himself into a neutral expression. Bat-training would do that to you, Jason supposed.

"Okay," Dick took a deep breath. "I get you're still processing what happened, Jason, but I'm not faking being concerned about you. I'm sorry I wasn't here earlier, but I'm here now." Dick actually sounded sincere, but he was firm and matter-of-fact with his next words. "Every time you've been left alone, you've gotten into situations where you've been hurt or put yourself at serious risk of being harmed. Given what's happened we're not leaving you alone until we're sure you're okay. So you're going to eat with us for a bit, and then if you want I can take you back to your room to rest, but one of us will be posted with you for the time being."

"You think I'm a danger to myself," Jason stated. That much was obvious.

Dick didn't answer. He just resumed their path toward the entertainment room.

Jason's jaw started to throb from grinding his teeth. His temper was flaring but he forced himself to focus. Blowing up at Dick wouldn't get him anywhere. It would probably increase the chances that they'd escalate from babysitting him around the Manor to full lock-down in a holding cell. Best thing to do was bide his time and plan his escape.

He didn't engage with Dick or the others after he thanked Alfred for bringing up sandwiches, which the older man set on a small foldout table. Jason didn’t protest as he took a bite of the food. How long had it been since he'd eaten?

He resolved to keeping his answers to direct questions short while trying to ignore Dick’s incessant chatter. It wasn’t easy though. Dick was good at being engaging. Whenever he showed up the spotlight naturally gravitated toward him, and just like how even the lowliest, gnarliest weeds were still drawn toward the sun, Jason found himself listening when Dick tried a different tactic: talking about the Titans.

Jason couldn’t help but perk up at that, wondering if Dick would make mention of his former friends.

He did. “You know Roy’s back with us right?" Dick looked directly at Jason. “We even had Kori too when we teamed up with the Damian and the Teen Titans.”

“Oh.” It was too late for Jason to pretend he wasn’t interested. “Are they okay?”

“They’re good,” Dick nodded. “They miss you. Maybe they can come see you when you’re feeling better?”

Jason doubted the part about missing him was true, but he wondered just how much they knew about what happened to him. How much did the superhero community know? Would Dick have told Roy and Kori the details? If he did, then no, Jason didn’t want to see them. He didn’t need their pity too. And if they didn’t know, well, Jason wasn't exactly keen on having to explain how he’d been injured.

“No,” Jason replied. He looked down at his half-eaten sandwich and pushed his plate away. He wasn’t hungry anymore. “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

Dick pressed his lips together as if wanting to say more, but thankfully he didn't push it.

Afterwards, Dick parked Jason next to the couch and then put on a cheesy action film as Tim and Damian piled up on the couch on either side of him.

Jason felt an unexpected pang of jealousy at that. It wasn’t like he and Dick had ever been that close, and it wasn't like he didn't already know that Tim and Damian were, but he rarely hung around the Manor enough to see them in a more casual situation like this. It was clear that even outside of the field Tim and Damian looked to Dick for guidance… maybe even leaned on him for emotional support, while Jason just felt… estranged. He immediately felt stupid as the thought crossed his mind. He didn’t need that kind of support, right? Especially not from Dick. Or anyone.

He managed to sit through the movie intro, but Jason felt more and more awkward and anxious by the minute. Dick's presence invariably drew the others away. They fell into a routine of commenting and bantering amongst each other as the movie played, as if they did this often. It felt like Jason was intruding on their little private party. He was an outsider. Always had been and it seemed like he always would be.

“I’m gonna go lie down,” Jason blurted out. He didn't want to sit through some vapid movie with a room full of people that made him uncomfortable, but he was having a hard time moving the wheelchair with one hand. He tried to lean forward to get to his feet, but Dick sprang up and kept Jason seated with a hand on his shoulder.

“I’ll take you,” he said, then turning back to Tim and Damian, “you guys keep going with the movie.”

He pushed Jason back to the room, and Jason immediately noticed the additional chair and a small cot in the corner. Dick wasn’t kidding about not leaving Jason alone. They really were going to babysit him twenty-four-seven. Jason was more on lock-down than he originally realized.

Dick didn’t immediately comment. He watched Jason as he noted the changes, and then carefully, his voice quieter than usual, he said, “Just so you know, Jason, if you want to talk, I’m here. I’ve never told anyone this, and maybe it’s not exactly the same, but I’ve been… taken advantage of before. I’ve been in situations where I didn’t agree. And I know how much that hurts.”

That was unexpected. Was he telling the truth? Did Jason really want to know? Just the thought of it made his heart start to pound. If something like this had happened to Dick… Jason didn’t know what to think. It was too much to process, so he didn’t.

“I’m tired.” The words were wound tightly around the lump that had formed in Jason’s throat. “I just want some quiet.”

Dick’s expression stayed neutral, but Jason could tell he was assessing. Maybe trying to gauge what Jason was really thinking. Was he disappointed that Jason hadn't asked him to explain? Or was he relieved? After a pause Dick added, “I’m gonna stay, okay? Just take it easy."

Jason leaned back into the pillows and pretended to sleep, wishing that Dick would go away. The exhaustion was real though. Eventually he drifted off as Dick continued to sit quietly in the room.

He dreamt the falling dream again—the wide expanse of dark blue oceans, the approaching brown of the muddy earth as gravity pulled him downward, the smell of geosmin in his nostrils, the taste of dirt in his mouth….

*******************

By the next morning a firewall was put in place on the manor wifi so that any mention of Superman or Clark Kent was blocked. Jason figured that out pretty quickly after he dug out the phone Alfred had retrieved for him—the one that had been in his jacket pocket when Superman had assaulted him. He’d stowed it away in the bedside drawer at first. The circumstances of how it had been broken was an uncomfortable reminder of the situation he found himself in, but Tim wasn’t willing to get him another laptop so he made do.

He plugged it in and after a few seconds, despite the cracked screen, the phone lit up and powered on. It was still working.

Sort of.

Bruce’s security measures included blocking all external cell phone signals. He used his own satellite for his cell phone service, so the only coverage Jason could get was through the Manor wifi, which was still subject to Bruce’s firewall.

The Daily Planet. Access blocked.

Metropolis' Galaxy Broadcasting. Access blocked.

Even a search of old articles on the Gotham Gazette was blocked.

Jason scowled at Tim, who had been watching his futile attempts.

"Uh, sorry," Tim shifted under Jason's gaze. "It's probably better if you avoid that for now. Bruce thinks, uh…," Tim cut himself off and scrambled for words. He finally settled on, "This seems a little obsessive. It’s not healthy, Jason."

"Yeah," Jason snorted, "well throwing yourself in front of a pollen-crazed Kryptionian isn't healthy."

Tim winced.

Jason felt a little bad about being so tactless. He knew Tim was right, but that didn’t in any way dampen his desire to see if he could dig up info on what Superman was up to. So what if he was a little obsessive at the moment? What else was he supposed to do? Bruce had locked him out of the cave, taken away his mobility, and invaded his privacy by instituting a constant rotation of batfamily babysitters.

He couldn’t do anything without one of the other bats looking over his shoulder. It was annoying a heck, and Tim was particularly nosey.

“We could play a game?" Tim tried to distract him. "I could set up a console in here if you want?”

Jason ignored him. Instead he tried to see if anything came up when he searched for news articles on the Justice League.

Access blocked.

Damnit. Jason sighed and put the phone away. Tim looked relieved at that, teetering slightly less forward in his chair beside Jason’s bed.

Jason would have to figure out some other way around this if he was going to get any glimpses of what Superman was up to. He obviously couldn’t get very far with Tim around, and Jason suspected it would be pretty hard to slip anything by Dick or Bruce. Alfred was astute too. He wondered how much he could get by with Damian….

Either way he’d have to pretend to let it drop for now. If he didn’t want anyone raising the alarm to bring Bruce breathing down his neck, Jason would have to make it look like he’d lost interest. An idea was brewing—one that latched onto his brain and refused to dislodge—and if Jason was going to have any chance of it playing out he’d have to let himself heal enough to walk for longer than a few minutes.

In the meantime Jason resigned to behave. He waited. He planned. He constantly kept his broken phone charged and in his pocket.

The next few days were spent appearing preoccupied with the mundane. Jason let Alfred dress his wounds. He took his painkillers. He let Bruce draw blood samples and he submitted to scans. He did his best to appear as normal as someone recently brutalized could be.

The nights were rough though, and Jason found he couldn't help but begrudgingly accept Bruce's steadying hands every time he woke up screaming. Or Dick's supportive arm under his shoulder afterwards when he hobbled to the bathroom to throw up as he was seized with a wave of anxiety. Or Alfred's calming offer of honey and chamomile tea as he struggled to get back to sleep. It was one of the three of them always on point at night and Jason was grateful they kept Tim and Damian away when he was such a mess. He didn’t want them to see him like this anymore than they already had.

It left him exhausted during the day, but in some ways the tiredness made it easier to pretend he wasn't still constantly thinking about one thing: Superman.

While Jason had been caving in on himself, had the world's most beloved hero been out saving someone else? Maybe someone who deserved it more? Maybe a child… or a mother? Someone who created life instead of taking them?

At this point it had been weeks since the incident had happened. Probably even heading toward months. How many lives had Superman saved since then? He'd been the turning point in fighting off the recent parademon attack, so it probably numbered in the millions, if not more. Jason was a small price to pay in the grand scheme of things. What was one person's suffering when compared to the billions of the world at large?

His mind spiraled through iterations of these thoughts, even as he tried to maintain appearances by spending his sporadic waking hours reading. He wasn't very successful at it. Sometimes he caught himself staring at the same page for a good half hour.

Dick noticed it one day as he accompanied Jason in the library. Jason had originally hoped that sitting for hours on end was a good way to drive off someone as restless as Dick, but the other man had a surprising amount of patience. He had stubbornly sat through every "shift" with Jason, despite being plagued by sheer boredom. All the while he remained perceptive of Jason's subtle mood changes.

"Everything okay?" Dick piped up after the tenth time Jason started rereading the same page.

"Yeah." Jason just shrugged and kept looking at his book.

"I just noticed you've hardly gotten through that book," Dick probed. "Want me to get you something else?

"No."

Dick was about to follow up when there was suddenly an urgent beeping sound. He pulled out his phone from his pocket and frowned as he read the message. He looked up at Jason, then back down at his phone. He looked torn.

"Whatever it is. It looks important," Jason remarked.

"Yeah,” Dick nodded, trying to stay casual. “Titans need backup."

"You should go."

"I'm not going to leave you here on your own,” Dick replied, though he’d scooted to the edge of his seat. Jason could tell he was antsy even as he said, “The others should be back in a couple hours. I can wait."

Bruce and the rest of the crew had gone into a board meeting at Wayne Enterprises earlier in the day, leaving Dick the only other person at the Manor.

“Look, I know what you guys are trying to do, but these last few days I’ve been… stable.” Jason internally bristled at the word, but outwardly he remained composed. “I’ll stay in the library until the others get back. I'll be fine.”

“You sure?” Dick looked at him earnestly. It must have really been a Titans emergency if Dick was actually considering it.

“Yeah, sure.” Jason nodded.

“Okay.” Dick still looked reluctant. He fussed for a few minutes, bringing Jason an emergency communicator, water, and a packet of crackers, before he hurried away to the cave to get prepared as Nightwing.

Jason let out a sigh, leaning back as much as he could into the sudden quiet. It was the first time he had been left alone in days, and with the prospect of a couple hours to himself, Jason’s thoughts began to drift again to images of a man in blue…

… “I... don’t think I can stop myself.” Words tangled in both horror and lust. Fingers grazed along Jason's temple. The touch was softer than he expected. And warm. Even the scrape of nail against his skin as it picked off his mask was tempered with restraint. “You’re so… handsome. Beautiful…,” he had said, and something hot pooled in Jason’s belly.

Jason was drawn back into the present by the feeling of heat that had moved from his belly down to his groin. He was aroused, his half-hard prick starting to tent the fabric of his sweats. His heart began to race, and another memory surfaced into his mind’s eye…

… Superman gently laid him out on the bed in the Watchtower med-bay. He felt those warm hands again, cupping his face, soothing him. Drawing him into a sense of calm. A thumb stroking along his cheek as he said, “Thank you, for trusting me….”

Jason sprang to his feet. He felt flushed from head to toe. What the fuck was wrong with him?

He stumbled out of the closest exit—the set of french doors that opened from the library onto a secluded patio. The stone pavers were cold under his feet. He could feel the chill even through his socks as he looked up into the bright blue sky. He realized that this was the first time he'd been outside in a long while.

This was his chance.

Jason put his hand in his pocket—a quick check that the broken phone he’d secretly been carrying around was still there—and then stepped out onto the lawn. The blades of grass crunched softly under his feet. It still hurt to walk, the disruptive recuperation of the last few days wasn’t enough to substantially improve his mobility, but he could manage it. He had to.

He trudged out and up a small knoll, until he made it into the wooded area of the Manor grounds, bracing himself every few paces against the trees. The exertion had him sweating and panting and his insides felt like they were twisting and cramping with every step. Still, he marched on until he found himself a clearing at the edge of the property.

Jason slowly lowered himself down to sit, catching his breath as he pulled out the phone and switched it on. He watched anxiously as the OS loaded then searched for a signal.

It finally connected. Score! He was far enough from the Manor that the cell blockers couldn’t reach. That meant he didn’t have to worry about a firewall.

He searched the Daily Planet for Superman, and he was immediately greeted with several new stories: Superman Races to the Rescue as UN Delegates Attacked. Man of Steel Lifts the Hearts of Orphans at Local Charity. Superman Supports Reopening of Hall of Justice.

As Jason expected, Superman had kept himself busy. There weren't as many updates for ‘Clark Kent,’ however. Just a short human interest article published since Jason last looked. He supposed an investigative piece took longer to write, so Jason went back and pulled up a close-up photo of Superman’s face.

It was a nicely framed shot of Superman’s finely chiseled features: the square jaw, the straight line of his nose, the symmetry of his overall mien and those clear blue eyes. He was smiling, his expression open and warm and wholesome, which contrasted sharply with the likeness in Jason’s memories…

… his lips were pulled back in a grimace as he panted, his breath occasionally hitching, punctuated by primal grunts. He had ripped his own suit off, and Jason could see the broad expanse of his bare chest, the light dusting of hair across his pecks in the moonlight. His brows were knotted above his eyes, which were wide open. Terrifyingly crazed and glassy. Tears spilled when he finally closed themas he thrust himself harder and harder, forcing Jason to accept him each and every time. Jason cried too, twisting in vain beneath him. Feeling a wave of unwanted arousal grip him in it's clutches despite the pain, a cruel pleasure that filled in the torn fissures of his body and soul as Superman ripped him apart.

Jason gasped, his pulse stuttering as he realized he was hard again. Painfully hard, his body somehow autonomically reacting to the visceral memories. The tension of arousal was strung all through his body, playing him like a helpless marionette. His cock throbbed between his legs as he instinctively twitched his hips. It was overwhelming, the sheer power of desire had completely subsumed him.

Jason leaned back into the grass and closed his eyes, reaching his good hand to push down the hem of his sweats and grab his cock. It pulsed hot as he grazed his fingers over the head. He arched into his own touch at the same time he recalled how Superman had filled him. God, it had hurt so bad, but it had felt so good too.

Just like it did now. The aches of his body felt small compared to the enormity of lust. It was all he could think about. The want. The need. The image of Superman's face twisted in pleasure. It obliterated all other thought, and Jason couldn't take it anymore. He wanted release.

He turned his face into the grass so he could smell the earth, then worked some saliva up and spat into his hand. He reached down and began stroking himself in a fast and hard rhythm.

He writhed as the pleasure built quickly, growing more and more intense as he moved his hand up and down. He remembered how Superman had fucked him harder and faster toward the end too, and Jason moaned and sobbed at the same time.

It felt wrong. It felt filthy. It felt disgusting. But he couldn't stop himself. The arousal was too strong. He wanted this. He needed this.

He continued the savage stroking until he was a crying mess, quivering and shaking in agonizing pleasure as he finally came. The warm, sticky fluid coated his hand and belly as he convulsed through his orgasm.

When it was over he lay still, blinking up into the clear blue sky. He felt strangely calm. He didn't feel any pain, just the lingering euphoria of climax radiating from his groin and out through his torso and limbs.

This wasn’t normal was it? Was there something wrong with him?

The thought crossed his mind that Bruce had mentioned some of his scans were abnormal. Was this one of the effects?

He recalled that back on the Watchtower, when Jason had been compelled to find Superman in the red sun chamber, he had asked: “Why are you still in here? Hasn’t the decontamination worked?”

And Superman had replied: “Yes, but we can’t be sure until we test it.”

They had never tested it, Jason realized. Not with the two of them together with lab controlled scans. Superman had left him alone pretty quickly, and Bruce had separated them and taken Jason off the tower immediately after.

Had that been intentional? Was Bruce hiding something from him? Was that the implication when Jason had overheard him say, "He's not acting rationally?" Was Jason still somehow under the pollen's effects?

And what about Superman?

The very thought of Superman brought an immediate and overpowering urge to see him. Jason needed to know. The thought was like a compulsion, latching on and rooting deep into his brain.

He was going to go see him, Jason decided. He was going to go to Metropolis.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

It was surprisingly easy to call a rideshare. Now that Jason had made it out to the edges of the property, he was actually quite close to the main road. The driver—a rough looking fellow who revealed himself as an inveterate Gothamite with a simple greeting of "Metrawpolis?"—knew better than to ask too many questions about why a young man was standing by the side of the road wearing a cast, loungewear and socks. Given the neighborhood, the driver likely figured Jason was one of the numerous young Gotham socialites who had partied too hard the night prior. He gave Jason an arch look, but Jason didn't offer any explanation. He simply got in the back seat and tried to appear at ease.

It was harder than he expected. His muscles were aching from the exertion of trampling through the Manor grounds, and though he wasn't bleeding, sharp pains were shooting up and down his pelvis and abdomen. He felt lightheaded and sick. The reality of nearly dying and being bedridden for so long had taken its toll. It was all he could do to close his eyes and try to breathe through it.

"You okay back there?" The driver craned his head over his shoulder to look at him.

"Yeah. Fine.” Jason croaked. His throat felt dry and raspy. "Hangover."

The driver scrunched up his nose. "If you're gonna be sick, roll down the window."

“Naw, I’m fine.” Jason replied. The pain was abating somewhat now that he had stopped moving.

The driver shrugged and refocused on the road as Jason pointedly turned his attention to stare out the window. There were plenty of cars traveling alongside them, weaving in and out of the lanes of the interminable ribbon of gray that was the Interstate—a stripe of hard concrete that cut through the hearts of cities, shunting denizens from one urbania to another until they bled out into the smaller streets of metropolitan sprawl.

Fortunately, traffic was relatively light this time of day. Leaving from the Bristol hills of Gotham toward Metropolis was a reverse commute that avoided the bulk of the congestion. They would be across the state line and over the bridge in a little more than an hour. Bruce and the others would still be in their board meeting—they often went overtime and they’d probably schmooze afterwards with the executives too, especially with Tim poking into the details of the business and Damian grandstanding over some kind of strategic plan. Unless Dick left them an emergency alert, Jason would have a few hours to do what he wanted to do, which was to find Superman. He'd just have to keep his fingers crossed that Bruce wouldn't check in on him at the Manor.

It was late afternoon by the time the car passed into Metropolis’ city limits, cruising into the downtown business district where the Daily Planet building stood tall. The main thoroughfare was bright and clean, the sunshine reaching all the way down past the jutting skyscrapers to the expansive crisscross of roadway below. Even though much of the aging historic architecture was a well-preserved art deco, the city somehow still felt novel and full of energy. It was wholly unlike the dank, gothic feel of Gotham's much more closed-in streets. The difference was practically night and day. Metropolis felt alive and hopeful in a way that Gotham could only dream. Even the pavement sparkled—the concrete was embedded with silicon carbide grains that glittered in the sunlight.

The streets bustled with cars and the sidewalks were busy with smartly dressed business-folk walking in and out of polished glass doors of office towers. Jason watched the steady flow of them, running through the heart of the city.

He finally signaled the driver to pull over at the start of the block where the Daily Planet building stood. He paid with his phone and got out onto the sidewalk.

The pavement was warm under Jason's feet after having absorbed the heat of the day. He was still only wearing his dirt-covered socks, but the passersby were too preoccupied to look down much. Jason mingled with the pedestrian flow for a few paces, then tucked into a recess to observe the entrance of the Daily Planet. He leaned casually against the side of the building as he watched for an easy mark.

It was almost too easy. Even with it being a good several years since he was living on the streets picking pockets, Jason never really forgot the sorts of skills that had allowed him to survive. He picked a target out of the corner of his eye—a man fumbling with a phone pressed to his ear. The front of his suit jacket flapped about as he tried to pull it over his pressed button-down. He clutched a briefcase with a stack of papers that were stuffed haphazardly in through the top. The man was busy thinking about other things, probably a meeting or an interview, and not about the wallet that was sticking halfway out of the back pocket of his trousers. Jason nicked it as the man passed by, and after a few beats to make sure the man was out of view, Jason rifled through the wallet.

Jackpot! There was a key card marked Daily Planet, 32nd floor and an I.D. to one Steve Lombard. Now it was just a matter of slipping into the building without drawing too much attention to himself.

He waited until there was a small group of men busily chatting as they walked through the doors. Jason casually trailed in behind them, keeping his gate even and natural despite the twinges of pain that shot up his legs with every step. He hadn't fully healed even before he went tromping through the woods, and this latest escapade was doing him no favors, but Jason couldn't turn back now.

A part of him knew this was crazy. Jason's rational mind knew what he was doing, and he knew how this was going to look—that he'd obsessively tracked down his rapist to confront him—but it wasn't about confrontation at all really. Jason just couldn't stop thinking about him. He couldn't stop seeing Superman's face. Sometimes it was horrifying, with the pain and terror of being brutally assaulted still vivid and visceral in his mind, but other times it wasn't that straightforward.

Though the nightmarish image of Superman’s pollen-lust grimace had been burned into Jason's brain, so had that gentle look of concern Superman had offered when Jason had practically collapsed in panic on the Watchtower. He remembered how softly Superman had tempered his voice, how carefully he'd gathered Jason to his chest as he took him to the med-bay, and then the way he'd cupped the warmth of his palms on either side of Jason’s face. The memories of the slide of skin against skin sometimes sent shivers through him, and that didn't feel as bad as Jason knew it should.

He remembered how tears had welled up in Superman's blue eyes. Had he been in pain too, even as he was tearing Jason asunder?

And the way Superman’s voice had gone breathy, husky with lust, his expression full of desperate awe when he'd said, “You’re so… handsome. Beautiful…."

Had he meant it? Or was it another misconceived notion that could be chalked up to the influence of pollen?

Jason let that thought linger as he followed the group of businessmen into the building, angling himself so that he was partially shielded from view of the security desk. He then switched trajectories and sauntered along behind another group of workers as he approached the elevator bay, slipping in toward the back as one of the lift doors opened. After a quick swipe of the stolen key card against the security panel, Jason punched the button for the thirty-second floor, just before several people crowded in after him.

The close proximity of the people in the elevator was uncomfortable, but fortunately it also meant they paid less attention to him. Jason took the opportunity to slip a manila envelope out of someone's open bag. He tucked it behind his back, then waited as the elevator stopped at several floors before stepping out when the car arrived at the lobby of the Daily Planet.

There was a receptionist at the front desk, busily taking a call on his headset as he tapped away at his workstation. He paused as Jason walked up to the desk, giving him an oddly surprised look as he said, "Can I help you?"

Jason plastered on a smile, "I have a file I have to deliver personally to Clark Kent. I'm from the mailroom." He waived the key card quickly in the air, his thumb strategically placed over the name.

"Sure. Sure," the receptionist nodded. "He's toward the back on the right." He pointed past the wall with the big Daily Planet logo behind his desk. Jason drummed up another friendly smile and proceeded down the hall.

He kept his pace measured as he followed the aisle between rows and rows of cubicles, despite the fact his heart was pounding so heavily his chest was literally throbbing. What was he going to say? What was he going to do? Would he make a scene?

No, Jason thought. That wasn't why he was here, right? Jason just wanted to see him. He just wanted to know if he'd really moved on without a second thought of what had happened. He wanted to know if Superman was still affected, because Jason certainly was. Whether from lingering physiological effects of the pollen or ongoing psychological damage, Jason was still suffering for it.

And then there was that strange feeling of need and longing that flared when Jason pictured Superman’s face… he wanted to know if Superman felt that too.

That's all he wanted, he told himself. But then what? Was he just going to walk away?

Jason paused his footsteps, hesitation beginning to coil in his gut. He didn't have a plan. He'd known he didn't have a plan, but he came anyway because the impulse had lodged into his brain and wouldn’t let go. However, some sense of rationality kicked in as he thought, what if Superman reacted badly? If things got out of hand, Jason wouldn’t be able to get away. If Superman attacked him, this time he probably wouldn't survive. Maybe Bruce and Dick were right—Jason was a danger to himself. Maybe he was brain damaged, and the pollen had severely compromised his sense of self preservation?

"Hi, can I help you with something?" A voice interrupted his train of thought, and Jason whirled around to see a woman with dark hair standing beside him. He hadn't even noticed her approach, which was a testament to how much he'd been distracted.

The woman didn't quite narrow her eyes, the gentle upturn of her lips was open and friendly, but her gaze was sharp and discerning. She flicked her eyes from Jason’s face down to his casted arm, then down further until she undoubtedly noticed Jason’s lack of shoes. Her expression didn't change despite her perceptiveness, but there was no way she missed the fact he was out of place. Not with who she was. Jason recognized her immediately—Lois Lane—one of the world's most widely acclaimed investigative journalists.

"I just need to hand deliver a file to Clark Kent," Jason bluffed, hoping Lois wouldn't key in on the multitude of incongruities that made his presence suspicious.

"You just missed him," she replied. "He left for the day, but I can hold onto the file for him until tomorrow if you want?" She reached for the manila folder Jason was holding.

Jason didn't quite flinch, but he immediately backed away. "Uh, that's okay." His tone didn't come out as casual as he'd hoped. "I'll drop it by tomorrow."

He didn't wait for Lois' reply. He just quickly turned and made for the closest exit, which happened to be a short hall with a stairway access. Jason opened the door and scrambled upward, letting his instincts takeover as he fled. His heart had started thumping again and it was getting harder and harder to drag in a breath. He chucked the pilfered file as he used his good hand to grip the rail, taking the stairs two at a time even though each step jarred his bones and sent stabbing pains up his lower back. His vision nearly whited out from pain, but he managed to bust through the doors of the rooftop access, stumbling until he caught himself on the railing just beneath the enormous rooftop globe.

Jason gulped in air, trying to calm himself as he climbed over the railing to sit on the ledge. He wrapped his arms around the cramping pains of his middle and closed his eyes.

Stupid, stupid, stupid, he chided himself. He’d come all this way and Superman wasn’t even here. Now what?

He looked down over the cityscape, wiping at his eyes as his vision blurred. When had he started crying? Tears dripped down his cheeks as Jason looked down at the cityscape below him. Metropolis was bright and beautiful. The grid of the city lined up perfectly, with everything laid out neat and tidy and wholesome, just like the man who protected it. It drove home the point how much Jason didn't belong here. Someone like him didn't fit into this immaculate city. Someone as ruined and wrecked as he was didn't have the right to be up here alongside Superman.

"Jason?" A voice interrupted his melancholia, and he turned to see it was Lois. She must have followed him out onto the rooftop.

Jason eyed her suspiciously. "How do you know my name?"

"He told me about you,” she approached slowly. Cautiously. She stopped several feet away from where Jason sat on the ledge, and when she proceeded it was only with her words. Her tone was gentle, but she went straight to the point. “I know what happened. Why are you here?”

“I wanted to see him,” Jason said simply.

Lois frowned in response. “But why?”

That was a harder question to answer, because how could he explain his strange obsession with seeing the man who raped him? It was almost like Jason missed him, which sounded absurd even though he’d only voiced it within his own head. He couldn’t explain it, so he didn’t. He just sat silently and looked out at where the bumpy outline of the city horizon met the clear blue of the sky. He tried to picture the color against the blue of Superman’s eyes.

“How about I call someone to come get you?” Lois asked when Jason didn’t reply.

"No." The word was out of his mouth before the thought even registered, but he didn't want to give up. He'd come all this way already, and Lois had said Clark had just left. If he had just gone home for the day, that meant Superman was close by. "Can you tell me where he went?"

"I don't think that's a good idea." She took a step closer. "I'm pretty sure he knows you're here. If he wanted to see you, he wouldn't have left so quickly."

So Superman somehow knew he was coming? Had he seen Jason with his super-vision? Lois definitely had a point—it was hard to sneak up on someone with super senses. She seemed to know enough to realize the sensitivity of the situation too. Had Superman confided all the gorey details to her? Were they close?

"Are you and he… I thought I heard once that you two were a thing?" He wasn’t sure why he asked that. It was overly personal for having just met someone, but he blurted it out anyway. Once he said it, Jason was left wondering why the thought of it felt so devastating?

"No. We’re just friends," she said. Jason didn't know her, but her response seemed genuine, if only a little sad.

Why did that feel like such a relief?

"Oh." Jason turned away and looked down at the sheer drop below his feet. "Can he hear us right now? Is he listening?"

"Maybe. It's possible." She took a step closer and reached a hand out. "Jason, why don't you come back and we can talk inside."

Jason didn't take her hand. He just backed a little further away on the roof ledge. Lois' eyes widened at that, and it suddenly dawned on him that she might be afraid he was going to jump off.

That hadn't been his intention when he came up here. He'd just wanted to escape, and going up had been ingrained in him after so many years of flying across rooftops in Gotham. Now that he thought about it though, most people didn't climb to the top of skyscrapers to dangle their feet over a thirty story drop. Lois might have deduced that he was a Bat, but dressed in civvies as he was, with one arm in a cast and knowing what she knew about what had happened, it wasn't too much of a stretch to think that Jason would be unstable enough to tip himself over the edge. Bat or not, Jason wasn't equipped to take a nosedive off a building. He wouldn't survive unless someone intervened.

Would Superman come if Jason fell? He would, wouldn't he?

"He's not off fighting parademons or something is he?" Jason asked just to be sure.

"What?" Lois shook her head. "No. Why?"

"Can you call him?" Jason pushed himself to stand, turning to face Lois. His back was to the open air above the sheer face of the building. His heels were balanced precariously at the lip of the ledge.

"Wait! Don't move!" Lois said in alarm.

Jason paid her no heed. He rocked back slightly on his heels, then balanced on his toes.

"Don't, Jason! Damnit!" She didn't fumble for a phone like Jason thought she might, but as Jason teetered closer to the brink, she suddenly yelled out, "Superman! Get over here, now!"

Jason didn't wait to hear if she said anything more. He let himself fall backwards off the ledge.

In some ways it was like in his dream—the falling one that plagued him night after night—except instead of looking down at the deep, dark blue of the ocean, he was looking up at the expansive cerulean of the sky. There was an initial feeling of floating, when it seemed like gravity hadn't yet fully taken hold to drag him down, but then Jason was quickly plummeting downward. The feeling of falling was familiar, and so was the rush of adrenaline that accompanied it, but this time the roar of rushing wind in his ears was all too real.

He watched the buildings around him seem to grow taller, lengthening toward the sky. The massive globe atop the Daily Planet tower almost looked like it was spinning away. Time seemed to stall with each resounding thump of his heart. The seconds expanded as thoughts rushed through his head. What if he’d made a mistake? What if Superman didn't come? What had he just done? Was he going to die?

Shit. Shit. What the hell was he thinking?

Jason twisted mid-air, trying to angle himself, maybe change his velocity somehow… but it was too late. Terror bloomed in his chest as he flapped his arms uselessly in the wind, but there was nothing he could do to stop his inevitable impact with the ground.

But then… out of the corner of his eye there was a streak of red and blue that grew into the shape of a man with a fluttering cape. It was just like in Jason’s dream, the simultaneous horror and awe of it registering as he turned his head to look.

He cried out as an instinctive fear swelled within, but the blur of blue was already upon him. Superman crashed into him from the side. The collision rattled his entire body, eclipsing his senses with pain. Jason cringed and clamped shut his eyes. He felt arms wrap around him as they swooped a shallow downward arc before he felt himself being lifted upwards.

When his sensibilities returned, Jason found his face was pressed against the hard planes of Superman’s chest. His good hand clutched a death grip on the familiar S-shaped insignia, despite the fact that he was trembling from adrenaline and fear.

Superman flew them upwards, cradling Jason against him, but instead of heading back to the Daily Planet tower, he headed toward a more secluded skyscraper a ways away from downtown. He slowly levitated down to the rooftop, and then attempted to gently set Jason down on his feet.

Jason's knees buckled, his body aching too badly from being caught to support his weight. He clung to Superman, twisting the fingers of his hand into Superman’s suit. He knew he should still have been terrified, that he should have let go and scrambled away, but he couldn't. He just couldn't. He’d come all this way to see Superman, and now that he was here in front of him—in the flesh—Jason didn't want to let go.

"Jason, are you okay?" Superman tried to untangle Jason’s grip, but Jason held on, a feeling of desperation boiling up inside him. Superman tried again to push Jason away, but though he was plenty strong enough to break Jason’s grip, he didn't. "I don't want to hurt you," he said, "but you have to let go of me."

"No!" Jason shook his head. "I won't. You don't want to see me, I get it. I'm your dirty secret. I'm the mistake you wish would go away. You just want to forget about me." An ineffable mix of emotion that spanned everything at once surged up from within—the gamut of his pain, his anger, his despair, and that unexplainable need and desire—spilling ineffectually over into his jumbled words. He blinked away the tears that once more blurred his vision. "If I let go, you're just going to go back to acting like nothing happened. Like what happened to me didn't matter. You have this perfect life. You have this beautiful city. You have everything, and… if I let go, I'll have nothing."

Jason was sobbing so hard he nearly choked on his words. He knew he was hardly making any sense at this point, but he didn't care.

"Jason…what? That’s not ture." Superman sounded strained. Conflicted. He brought his arms up to grip Jason's shoulders as he said, "What do you want from me?"

What did Jason want? He wasn't sure anymore. At first he thought he'd wanted to know if Superman was really as unaffected by the pollen as he appeared to be. He seemed to be in control of himself, but now that Superman was so close, his hands warm and gentle around Jason’s shoulders, Jason felt an irrational desire to be held. He was still terrified, but the solid presence of Superman was also strangely soothing. Jason continued to clutch at him, dropping his forehead to rest against the dip of Superman’s collar.

"I just wanted to see you," Jason cried. "I didn't want you to forget me. I didn't want you to forget what happened to both of us."

Superman stiffened at that, but then he wrapped his arms around Jason, pulling him into a full hug. “Jason… I didn’t forget," he tightened his hold and tucked Jason’s head into his shoulder. "I'm never going to forget what I did to you."

Jason's breath hitched, tears streamed down his face as he let himself sink into the embrace. He hadn't realized how much he wanted to hear that. He hadn’t realized how good someone holding him could feel.

"How could I ever forget?" Superman continued. "I try not to listen, but I can still hear you, even all the way in Gotham. I can hear your heartbeat. That's how I knew you came here. I can hear it when you're sleeping. I can hear it every time you wake up terrified. I can hear the sounds of your screams. How can you think I could ever forget that? It haunts me. Every. Single. Night.” His voice went hoarse with those last words.

"You’ve been listening?" That wasn't what Jason expected. Had Superman been listening all this time? Did he know how Jason had touched himself earlier in the clearing on the Manor grounds? Had he heard it that time Jason had pleasured himself in the shower before he had a melt down?

“Sometimes I can't help it, but yes.” Superman loosened his hold just enough so that he could look Jason in the eye, but he didn't let go.

Jason flushed in shame and tried to push himself away, but he couldn't extricate himself from Superman’s hold. He turned his face away, but Superman reached out and grabbed his chin, gently turning his head back to face him. He stroked his thumb lightly along the line of Jason’s jaw, sweeping slightly upward so that he was brushing against Jason’s bottom lip.

"Bruce didn't tell you, did he?" Superman was frowning as he studied Jason’s features for a long moment. It was awkward, and Jason could feel his pulse start to rise in panic.

Superman probably heard it too, because his eyes widened and he suddenly let Jason go. Jason stumbled backwards, nearly tripping on his own feet, but then Superman was there again, putting a steady hand on his hip and shoulder. He released Jason as soon as he found his balance and stepped away again.

"You can't come here Jason." This time it was Superman’s turn to look away. "I can’t see you, because some things didn’t just go away when the pollen was filtered from my system."

"What are you talking about?" Jason stared at him in confusion.

"I'm not technically affected by the pollen anymore," Superman replied, "but… it's not as simple as turning off a switch. I probably shouldn't be the one to explain this to you."

"Explain what?"

Superman stepped forward this time, slowly, so that Jason could have backed away if he wanted to.

Jason didn't. He stood still as Superman approached even though his heart was now thundering in his chest—until Superman was close enough to reach his hands out to cup Jason’s face. Just like he had that time on the Watchtower. Jason looked into Superman’s clear blue eyes, and a part of him marveled at how they shone so brightly despite his solemn expression. His own eyes always seemed so dark and dull in comparison. It was yet another way Jason could never measure up.

The warmth of Superman’s hands was like a steadying force that drew Jason into a strange calm. They were standing only inches apart. Superman tilted Jason’s head upwards, then used the back of his fingers to softly wipe away the trail of tears that ran along Jason’s cheeks.

"When I look at you, I can still remember what it felt like, Jason." His voice was hushed, but there was an eerie tremor in his tone. He swallowed, and Jason could hear the gulp of his throat and the sharp hiss of a quick breath. "I still remember how I wanted you like you were the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. It felt like I would die if I couldn’t have you. That feeling is something I can't forget. But now, when I look at you… you’re so fragile. Delicate. I can’t imagine ever hurting you again. That's the last thing I want, but the pollen may have changed something for me that can't be fixed. I can’t think about you without feeling something."

Feeling something? What did that even mean? Did that mean the same thing for Superman that it did for Jason? That he couldn’t get the other man out of his mind? That even when Jason recalled the agony and terror of the assault, sometimes he still felt aroused? Did it drive him to irrationality, so much that he couldn’t stop himself from impulsively seeking out the man who raped him?

Jason shook his head, trying to sort through the onslaught of emotion that threatened to overwhelm him. The hyper-fixation, the desire, the misplaced adulation, and the longing—was that what Superman meant by feeling something?

Jason reached his hand up, mirroring Superman’s gesture to run his hand along the other's chiseled features. He’d pictured Superman’s face in his mind's eye so many times, everything from the dark curl of hair at his forehead, to the neat arches of his brows, to the bright hopeful look in his eyes that balanced with the perfect proportions of his cheeks, the line of his nose and the square of his jaw.

How could anyone be so fucking perfect? Jason thought as he dragged a finger down over Superman’s lips. He felt the warm tickle of the other man's breath, and Jason felt his pulse quickening for a different reason now. Jason wet his lips. The impulse to press his mouth to Superman’s struck him like a zap of electricity. His skin tingled all over as he found himself leaning forward, closing the gap between them as he rocked up on the balls of his feet to brush their lips together.

Superman didn’t move at first, he just stood there stiffly as Jason pressed his mouth to Superman’s, but when Jason tried to pull away, feeling awkward and embarrassed at the lack of response, Superman didn't let him. He kept a hand cupped around Jason’s face, his other hand gently wrapped around Jason’s lower back. Then he pulled Jason close again.

This time it was Superman who leaned down to graze a kiss against Jason’s mouth, so soft it was almost chaste, but it sent a wave of butterflies through Jason’s stomach. He wasn't sure if that was from exhilaration or terror—he couldn't make up his mind about whether he wanted to sink forever into the consolation of Superman’s embrace or simply run away and hide.

In the end it was Superman who broke away. "Jason… we can't," he said. "I can't."

"Why not?" A plaintive tremor escaped Jason’s voice as he said it. He knew exactly why they shouldn't, but any rationality had been pushed all the way into the back of his mind. The more urgent feeling of desire was blatantly telling him that he absolutely should. Jason put his hand over where Superman was gripping his shoulder, "This isn't like last time."

Superman sucked in a breath. "No," he held Jason at arm's length. "You're not thinking straight. The pollen must be affecting you more than Bruce realized."

He didn't let go of Jason, but instead he guided Jason to sit against a rooftop vent. Jason hadn’t realized how shaky he was. His legs nearly collapsed under him, and if Superman hadn't been holding him up he would have fallen flat on his face. The rush of adrenaline was starting to come down too, and the aches and pains were back with a vengeance. Jason winced as he tried to find a position that didn’t hurt, but everything felt tender and oversensitive. His casted arm ached something fierce. He hoped it didn't have to be reset.

Superman seemed to follow his train of thought, looking Jason over with an odd focus that literally went right through him. Jason realized he was probably using his x-ray vision to check for injuries.

"I don't think anything's broken, but don't move okay?" Superman backed away, covering his face with his hands as he said, "Bruce is going to kill me for this."

Jason snorted at that. "He's not going to kill you. Batman doesn't kill."

Superman just gave him a reproachful look. "Jason, don't do this again. Don't come here and throw yourself off a building. If you need to talk to me, I'll figure something out. You don’t need to hurt yourself to get my attention."

"Okay." Jason nodded, but added, "how am I supposed to talk to you? There's no way in hell Bruce is just going to let me call you."

Superman sighed. "Just call my name." He looked reluctant, but his dulcet tones were comforting. Jason closed his eyes and just listened, letting the sound of Superman’s voice wash over him. "Call me Clark, and I'll hear you. I'll listen."

Jason only managed to nod in response. He suddenly felt exhausted. His eyes drifted closed for a moment, and when he opened them again, he saw that the sun was starting to set. Had that much time gone by?

"Get away from him!" A new voice pierced through the calm, snapping Jason out of his daze.

Jason sat up from where he'd been slumped against the ventilation shaft and turned to see Batman hopping out of a hovering bat plane.

"Batman!" Jason tried to get up on his feet, leveraging himself halfway up with his good hand, but then he slipped. He would have toppled over if Superman hadn't caught him.

"I said get away from him," Bruce barked, and then quickly flipped the latch on a pouch at his side. An eerie green glow immediately emanated from within, and Superman cringed and backed away. It was kryptonite.

"Okay, okay. Calm down." Superman held his hands up in a surrendering pose. "I wasn't going to hurt him."

"Seriously, B? Put that away!" Jason managed to hobble toward Bruce. "We were just talking."

"No. You weren’t." Bruce was practically frothing, but he wasn't looking at Jason. He was looking at Superman. "I saw you on my way here. I intercepted the security cameras."

Oh. Oh shit. They’d kinda sorta kissed, didn’t they? And Bruce saw it.

"It wasn't what it looked like," Jason protested, but Bruce ignored him. He stood facing Superman, his hand hovering over the kryptonite pouch. He spared Jason the barest tilt of his head to say, “Get in the plane.”

“But–,”

“Get. In. The. Plane.”

Even after all these years—after his horrific death at the hands of the Joker, after the bout of vengeful scheming, and even with all the bitter hatred that eventually mellowed into regret—there was still a part of Jason that instinctively reacted to Batman's command. Jason shuffled toward the plane, hoping that would get Bruce to back off. He ambled up the ramp to the door, then paused to look back.

They were talking animatedly, but in hushed voices so that Jason couldn't quite tell what they were saying. Bruce said something sharp. Superman wasn’t exactly cowed, but eventually he nodded. He turned briefly to look over at where Jason stood watching them, giving Jason a brief nod before he levitated upward and zipped away.

Bruce watched Superman streak away into the sky, then finally turned to follow Jason into the plane. There was nothing else for Jason to do but let Bruce guide him into the passenger seat. Jason lowered himself down, unable to suppress a hiss as pain spread across his hips as he sat down and buckled in.

Bruce pulled off his cowl as he sat in the pilot's seat. "Did he hurt you?"

Jason shook his head, trying to ignore how much Bruce looked surprisingly worried. His brows were knotted, something hollow and bare in the pale blue ice of his eyes. He pressed his lips into a thin line, and Jason braced himself for the reprimand that he thought was coming, but Bruce only said, "I should run some tests. Can you hang in there until we get home?"

Jason nodded.

There was an uncomfortable moment when Bruce reached out and squeezed Jason’s shoulder. His grip was firm and steady, lingering longer than Jason expected before Bruce finally let go.

Wetness trickled down Jason’s cheek as a new ache twisted up around his heart. He wiped at his eyes as Bruce fired up the engines and took off.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Bruce was oddly quiet on the ride back to the cave. His silence in itself wasn't unusual, neither was the fact that he was closed off and difficult to read, but the lack of aggressive tension in the air was strange. The mood was almost the opposite in fact. There was a flat deadness in the confines of the small cockpit that was stifling, so much that Jason felt like he was suffocating.

He thought back to what had happened earlier, remembering the way that Superman had gently caressed his face, how he said he couldn't forget, how soft his lips had felt when they'd kissed. Superman had wrapped his arms around Jason, and it had felt good to be held like that.

Jason’s chest began to ache, a relentless knot that tangled around his heart like a boa constrictor. The tightness hurt in a way that wasn't entirely physical, but no less painful.

It seemed to swell up and then drop down into his stomach.

He took a deep breath in an attempt to pull himself together, but his breath hitched as he hiccuped through a sob. He curled into himself, biting his lip to keep it from trembling. What was this feeling? What the hell was wrong with him?

"Bruce…?" Jason wheezed, struggling to form the words around the lump in his throat. Under normal circumstances, he would have balked at seeking comfort from Bruce, but he was at a loss to explain his reaction.

"Stay calm. Just breathe." The rumble of Bruce’s voice felt solid. Strong. Grounding. Jason focused on it as Bruce pressed the co-pilot's oxygen mask to his face. "Keep breathing. We'll be at the cave soon."

Jason mentally counted out his breaths in a slow rhythm, but the ache in his chest failed to subside even as Bruce docked the bat plane into the cave hanger. The memory of Superman as he zoomed off into the sky kept replaying in his brain. He had caught Jason’s eye just for a second before he nodded and sped away. The wrenching feeling in Jason's chest seemed to worsen as he wondered, was Superman disappointed with him somehow? Was he dismayed?

Jason fumbled himself out of the seat and followed Bruce out of the plane, feeling strangely numb except for the persistent ache in his core. He vaguely registered that Tim was there on the landing, a scowling Damian hovering behind him. They were talking, asking questions, but Jason didn't have the mental bandwidth to process what they were saying. He kept thinking about this feeling that plagued him—how his brained seemed to misfire whenever he thought of Superman, how his stomach would flutter at every thought of the other man, how much Jason wanted to see him, to be close to him… how much the kiss between them had felt right even though he knew that on so many levels it was wrong—this wasn't a normal reaction, was it? But then what was a normal reaction to being raped by a superhuman under the influence of pollen?

At some point Alfred stepped in and cleared the others off, leaving Bruce to guide Jason back toward the med bay. He sat down on the exam table as Bruce prepped a needle and several vials. Blood draws were a regular occurrence at this point—it was Bruce’s standard protocol to test for several weeks after anyone got dosed with chemical agents—but now Jason wondered if Bruce’s overzealous adherence to procedure was actually something more.

Bruce didn’t tell you, did he? Superman had said. Jason had thought he was referring to the admission of his feelings toward Jason, but what if there was more that Bruce wasn’t telling him? If history was any indication, Bruce hiding something was pretty much a given.

Jason felt a tugging on his arm, and he looked down to see Bruce was applying a tourniquet and swabbing the crook of his elbow. The cast on his other arm limited the venipuncture sites, and the area around the vein was dotted with a series of small bruises from days-old draws. Bruce was quick about it, inserting the butterfly needle then attaching the tubing to the first vial.

The sight of blood was old and familiar. He’d seen more than his share of blood and gore, a lot of it caused by his own hand, and though he never reveled in it, somehow watching the blood drain out of his veins made him feel calm. The thick, dark fluid flowed steadily to fill the first vial. Bruce replaced it with a second, then a third. When he was done he extracted the needle and pressed a cotton ball to the site.

"Can you hold that?" He said to Jason as he moved to take the vials to the lab equipment.

Jason attempted to apply pressure with the cotton, but the fingers of his casted hand were clumsy. He dropped the cotton wad. A trickle of blood seeped from the tiny needle prick. It slowly dripped down his arm as he flexed his hand. It bled a little more when he dug a fingernail into it.

He looked at the blood smeared on his fingers. Somehow he felt better. More in control.

Bruce returned a moment later, frowning at the smear of blood, but he didn't directly comment. Instead, he asked, "How's your arm? Clark said it didn't look like it needed to be reset, but you might have strained it."

Clark. Jason closed his eyes at the resurgence of the ache in his chest. Even just the mention of Superman’s name had that feeling inside him fluttering alive again. The attachment he felt was strong. It felt like he was….

Jason caught himself, forcing a stop to his train of thought. This was getting him nowhere. It was time he got some answers.

“There’s something you're not telling me,” Jason turned to Bruce. "The pollen is still affecting us, isn't it?"

In the starkness of the fluorescent med bay lights, the faint crinkle of lines around Bruce’s eyes grew more pronounced. The flat line of his mouth pushed against the creases that framed his grim expression. He looked pained as he spoke, "I wasn't entirely sure before. Your behavior has been erratic, but some level of post-traumatic stress is normal and expected. I had hoped that any effects you were experiencing were mild or temporary, but that doesn't appear to be the case."

Bruce tapped the keys of a nearby console to display a series of lab results. "Clark disclosed early on that he didn't think the pollen had cleared from his system, but we ran multiple tests and there isn't any trace of the toxin in either of you. What that doesn't account for are any long-term changes that may have been imprinted when you were infected."

"What kind of changes?" Jason swallowed, feeling his gorge rise. He already had an idea of what Bruce was going to say, but hearing it said aloud would make it undeniably real.

Bruce didn't answer right away. He just met Jason’s gaze, searching for something in him that Jason wasn't sure Bruce would ever find. After a moment, Bruce turned away looking defeated.

He tapped several keys on the console and a new set of analyses came up on the screen. "The pollen attacked hormone receptors, causing a massive release of testosterone and dopamine that we've seen in previous pollen toxins. But this time it also triggered an excess amount of oxytocin and vasopressin that lingered even after you were detoxed. Scans after we recovered you also showed the chemical reactors we normally see in fear toxin repeatedly attacked the hypothalamus."

Bruce dove straight into the technical details, which usually meant there was something in the analysis that he didn't want Jason to know. Hiding behind facts was Bruce's way of obscuring some other truth, but Jason understood the implications of what Bruce had outlined. Basic human biology had been drilled into him as part of his training, and Jason knew that oxytocin played a role in social bonding. He didn't want to guess though. He needed to know Bruce's conclusions.

"What does it all mean?" Jason held Bruce’s gaze, but he found no comfort in how the shadowed hollows of Bruce’s eyes seemed to hold nothing but the depths of regret. It was the most apparent emotion Jason had seen in Bruce in a long time.

His voice was rough with emotion as he replied, "It's impossible to know exactly how the neurochemical effects manifest in the mind, but the toxin activated areas in your brain typically associated with long-term bonding and emotional attachment. I didn't want to tell you at first, because I hoped that I was wrong. You appeared to stabilize, and it was possible that the effects would fade. I didn't want to unnecessarily alarm you, but when I ran the model simulating repeated assault in close intervals, it suggests that your brain was flooded with chemical signals that wired you to feel affection."

Repeated assault in close intervals. Those words felt like a physical blow, but it had Jason thinking back to the recording he had insisted Bruce delete. Bruce had not only watched it, but he must also have timed it and measured it. Built it into some sort of simulation model that was telling him what? That the pollen had brainwashed Jason into having feelings for his unwitting rapist?

The idea of it felt like yet another gross violation, but he forced himself to say it anyway:

"You're saying that I'm in love with him? The pollen’s like some kind of fucked up love potion?" All that impulsive obsession, the idolization, the want and the attraction…. and the way Jason couldn't stop thinking about him. That's what people did when they were in love, right? Was this what being in love felt like? He couldn't deny he was enthralled. Even with the knowledge that his feelings were chemically programmed, it didn't lessen the yearning to be by Superman’s side.

Bruce reached forward and grabbed Jason’s shoulders. "No. Listen to me! Whatever you're feeling, it’s not real. The pollen caused a misattribution of arousal that forced you to have feelings for the man who raped you. It's an induced state of limerance. It's not love. What you're feeling isn't you. You have to remember that."

Jason hugged his arms around himself and shuddered, tears smearing down his cheeks. If what he was feeling wasn't real, then what was this soul-rending pain? What was this vast emptiness he felt deep in his heart? Why did he feel like shattering into a million pieces at the thought of never seeing Superman again? It felt like the world was caving in around him, and there was nothing to hold onto. No one to catch him from falling into the deep pit of despair.

Except Bruce was there. He pulled Jason into a gentle embrace, wrapping an arm around his shoulders and pulling him forward. Jason didn't fight it. He let himself be drawn in until his forehead was tucked under Bruce’s chin. He could feel the movement of Bruce’s throat as he swallowed, the barest hint that Bruce could possibly be anything but unshakable.

“I’m sorry,” a hoarse whisper drifted into his ear as Bruce tightened his arms around him. “I should have been there to stop it. I’m so sorry.”

Jason found some small measure of emotional footing in the steadfast rise and fall of Bruce’s chest as he breathed. It was a strange feeling to be held like this. A hug from Bruce was rare even before Jason died. He tried to let himself accept the gesture of comfort, but a niggling voice inside him kept telling it wasn't what he truly wanted. It just wasn't the same as Superman’s warm hand cupped around his face, a firm palm at the root of his back, gently grazing his lips, tilting his head up... He wished it was Superman holding him instead. He wished it was Clark.

Jason shifted out of Bruce’s hold and Bruce immediately let him go, taking a step back to give Jason some space. He looked reluctant, furrowed brows over haggard eyes that were fraught with some inner turmoil. Jason wasn’t used to seeing bare emotion on Bruce’s face like that. He wasn’t used to seeing anything other than cold indifference or the red rawness of anger directed at him. Watching the play of pain and sympathy run through Bruce’s features felt uncomfortable, and Jason wasn't sure how to respond, so he let instinct take over. Jason withdrew.

He looked down at his feet. His socks were brown and covered in dirt. There were some spots of blood on the fabric of his sweats on the inside of his thighs. He hadn't even realized he'd been bleeding.

Jason dragged his eyes away, forcing himself to look up at Bruce again. "Is there any way to reverse the pollen’s effects? Or is it permanent?"

The long pause before Bruce answered was telling. Each drawn-out second a testament to the improbability of ephemeral effects. "It's not that simple," he said, each word dropping like a heavy stone into an endless abyss. "Trauma is embedded across the span of your psyche. It's reflected in subtle changes in billions, maybe even trillions, of neural pathways. There's no easy fix in the best of circumstances, and even harder when it comes to something as complicated as an emotional bond. There are things we can try. Magic. Or telepathy. But they're not without their own set of consequences."

Bruce hated magic. He hated its unpredictability. Anything that traversed the bounds of hard science was a method of last resort for Bruce. He was extremely wary of telepathy too. Bruce would never condone a telepath rooting through their heads under normal circumstances. The fact that he would even suggest either option meant he had no better solution.

Jason had seen enough of magic and psionics to know that tampering with memories was often risky and imprecise. It would be like trying to do brain surgery with a shovel. Memories tended to bleed and blur. Sanitizing a memory probably meant cleaning a good portion of the slate. If Bruce was suggesting them as an option, it probably meant one thing.

"You'd wipe my memories?" Jason found himself instinctively on guard.

“Only with your permission,” Bruce replied.

“What about Superman?”

“You'd both have to agree."

Jason wasn’t sure what to think. Did he want to forget? Logically he thought he should. Why would he want to remember horrific trauma? Why would he consent to be forced into loving someone who'd hurt him? But when he thought about how it felt—everything in him railed against it. He wanted Superman. He needed him. When Superman had held him… when they had kissed, it had been the first time since Jason had woken up that anything felt good. How could he possibly ever let that go?

It's not real, Bruce had said. Jason tried to believe it, but he couldn't. He couldn't just stop feeling the way he did just because he wanted to.

"I don’t think I can do it,” Jason admitted.

The pinch of emotion that flickered over Bruce's mien conveyed both dismay and relief. He ventured a hand out again to rest lightly on Jason’s arm. "You don't have to decide now."

Jason nodded. "I want to go upstairs." He was done talking. Maybe he was even done thinking. Thankfully Bruce was of similar mind, and they both lapsed into silence as they made their way up to the manor. Bruce offered a steadying arm as Jason limped up toward his bedroom. He shrugged Bruce off as they reached the threshold.

“Jason,” Bruce didn’t reach for him again, but Jason could tell he wanted to.

“I want to be alone.” Jason met his eyes, unwavering.

Bruce looked like he was going to refuse, but then he sighed, shoulders slumping as he backed off. “Okay. I’ll check on you later.”

Once he was alone in his room, Jason shut himself in the bathroom and slowly stripped. He moved against a backdrop of blunt pain as he got into the bath, the exertion of the day finally catching up to him. He carefully washed the grime of the day from his skin. Dried blood dissolved away until the water ran clear, but he still felt dirty. Filthy.

He dragged himself out of the bath and leaned against the counter. Alfred hadn't replaced the large mirror above the sink yet. That was a few days ago now, wasn’t it? A week maybe? Everything seemed to blur together in his mind, but the lack of a large mirror was probably intentional. Both Bruce and Alfred were too meticulous to have simply forgotten.

Jason recalled how his reflection had looked as empty as he had felt that day. It was the same as how he felt now—hollowed out into a husk of his former self, a cracked facade on the verge of crumbling, all the ugliness inside him brought to bear for everyone to see—except this time he couldn't even drum up that hateful rage toward himself. He was too exhausted and too tired from the hurt gnawing at his heart. If the pollen had forced Jason into feeling love for Superman, then Superman must be feeling it too right? That was what he was trying to tell Jason on the rooftop, but that meant that it wasn’t real either. That feeling of warmth and comfort was fake. Any regard he had for Jason was just the pollen talking, because why else would he have feelings for Jason? Why else would he give Jason the time of day?

It wasn't real. It wasn't real. It wasn't real. The words repeated in his head, tugging at the festering wound in his heart. The pain of it was crushing him from the inside out. He couldn't take it anymore.

He gripped the counter, his chest heaving as he began sobbing. He just wanted the hurt to stop. He hated this. He hated himself, and finally, the rage bubbled up again, just like it last time. Except there was no wall of glass to shatter, but he did have a small shaving mirror, and a razor.

Jason remembered how simple it had felt when he'd sliced a line of red into the skin of his thigh. He remembered the numbing calm of it, how it had stopped the vortex of his thoughts. He wanted that right now more than anything. He grabbed the razor and pulled out the blade, easing himself down to sit on the edge of the bath as he grazed the sharp edge along his skin. He followed the same partly healed puckered pink lines that he had laid out some days before.

A trickle of blood flowed. Not deep enough though. He did it again, pressing harder, feeling the bumps of fibrous tissue as he cut this time. It burned, but the rush of relief was immediate. Unlike the intangible claws that gripped his heart, this pain was undeniably real. He held onto the feeling because it was solid and certain and unencumbered with emotion. He sat and focused on the pain for as long as he could until the flaring throb of it subsided to a dull ache.

Afterward, he pressed his palm to the cut to stop the bleeding, then wrapped it in gauze. He cleaned up the floor and got dressed before he crawled into bed.

Jason curled onto his side, feeling the fresh cut on his thigh pulse with heat as he settled down. He looked out the window. It was night now. Dark clouds obscured the moon and stars. All he saw was an endless sky of black.

“Superman?” he whispered with his face half turned into the pillow. “Clark? Can you hear me? Are you thinking about me?”

There was no answer. Of course there wouldn’t be. Even if Superman was listening, he wouldn’t come. Jason closed his eyes, his tears wetting the pillow as he tried to sleep.

*******************

He slogged through each day, trying to find a way to have as little contact with anyone as possible until night would fall and he could come up with an excuse to retreat to his room. Once there, he'd just lie in bed, trying to find solace in the calm. If it didn't come, sometimes he'd reopen the cut on his leg and let the clarity that came with pain remove him from his pathetic reality. Sometimes, if he could find the words, he'd just... talk.

Jason didn't think Superman was actually listening. He was miles and miles away in Metropolis, and even with his super-hearing he'd have to be paying close attention if he was going to hear Jason mumbling into his pillow. But the idea of talking to Clark was comforting. The thought that maybe he was thinking of Jason too, that maybe he also replayed in his mind what it felt like when he had been holding Jason, when he'd returned Jason's kiss… it made Jason feel less alone when he remembered that he'd said he could never forget. Jason clung to that. It made it feel less wrong that he didn't want to let go of being in love with the man who'd brutalized him. It made him feel less alone.

Sometimes it was a simple whisper of, “Goodnight,” as he looked out the window at the stars. Other times, he’d ramble for a few minutes, talking aloud about things that came to mind, wondering what Superman thought of his more mundane musings.

"There's a diner on 10th and Park," he said one night. "One of those on-trend places I’m not usually a fan of, but you can get a mean cup of coffee and they have a wall of books you can read while you're there. There’s even an old copy of Pride and Prejudice on the bottom shelf that I don't think anyone but me ever reads. I wonder if it's still there. I went there with Roy and Kory once, but I doubt they remember at this point." A wave of melancholy washed over him at the thought of his former friends.

As usual, there was no response other than the chill of the night breeze.

Some nights he didn't talk, because the memories of Superman’s warm hands and soft lips brought heat to his loins. Jason didn't speak his name. He'd bite his lip and hope Superman wasn't listening when he would push down his shorts to palm over his erection. Nights like that, he’d stroked himself slowly, trying to focus on what he remembered of the gentle hands that had roved across his face, and not about…

… the bounce and slap of his thighs against the jut of Superman’s pelvis. Hands gripped his buttocks, spreading him apart as Superman continued to thrust himself in. He reared back, pulling Jason's hips into his lap so that he could jack Jason bodily over his cock. Jason flailed like a rag doll, his wrenched femur and his shattered arm useless to gather purchase. Superman increased the pace, almost to the point of super speed so that the friction of Jason's torn passage began to gather heat. Jason felt like he was burning from the inside.

Orgasm would come amidst tearful sobs and hitched breaths, a tormented release that was seldom accompanied by any relief.

*******************

Dick finally turned up again. Jason had been sitting in the corner of the upstairs den with Alfred one morning, reading idly through an old book, when the study across the hall erupted in shouting.

“You were supposed to watch him, but you left him alone!” The rumble of Bruce’s voice practically shook the walls.

"It was an emergency. And I might not have left if you'd told me the whole story about what he was dealing with." Dick's tenor cut through just as loud. “You didn't tell me he was still affected by the pollen!"

“It shouldn’t have made a difference. You knew he’d been struggling!”

“Well then maybe you shouldn’t have hidden what you knew from him! Maybe you shouldn’t have left him alone.”

It went on and on, and Jason found himself vacillating between feeling guilt and shame for his recklessness and irritation that they were talking about him like he was a child. He had half a mind to interrupt, but Alfred got up first, putting a hand on Jason’s shoulder to keep him seated.

“I’ll keep them in check,” he said. “I’ll be back shortly. Please stay here.” Alfred gave him a look that brooked no refusal, and Jason nodded.

The shouting across the hall soon quieted, but Alfred didn’t immediately return. Instead, Tim poked his head into the room. He looked somewhat disheveled, with his shirt crumpled and his hair mussed and uncombed.

“What’s going on?” Tim asked. “Alfred said to check in on you?”

Jason shrugged. “Dick’s back.” He needn’t say anymore.

“Oh.” Tim slumped down into the chair Alfred had recently vacated, looking like he wanted nothing more than to get back in bed. He’d been shuttling back and forth to the Teen Titans and staying out late on Gotham patrols, so it was no surprise he was exhausted.

Jason got an idea. “Hey, you want to get out and get some coffee?” He’d been thinking about the book cafe recently. He missed it.

“What? You’re kidding right?” Tim looked highly skeptical.

“No. I’m serious. It’s suffocating here and I haven’t seen Gotham proper in ages. Come on, let’s go.” The idea sounded better and better as he said it. He’d been cooped up in the Manor for so long. Surely there was no harm in going out for coffee, right? “I know a place on Park. They do a good Americano.”

Tim perked up at the mention of his favored brew, but he remained wary. “Is this some kind of trick to get me to take you out of the Manor so you can give me the slip?”

“No. Just coffee. And food. Pinkie swear.” Jason held up the little finger of his good hand, offering a small smile that he hoped conveyed he was genuine.

“I dunno,” Tim still hesitated. “You lied to Dick and he believed you.”

“Yeah, well,” Jason sighed, “we all know how that turned out. Come on, I’ll drive.” He lifted his casted arm jokingly.

“Fine,” Tim rolled his eyes and stood up, “but I’m not letting you drive with one arm. I’ll text Alfred that we’re going.” He pointed a teasing finger at Jason. “I swear I’ll take you down if you make a run for it.”

“I’d like to see you try.” Jason felt a smile tugging again at his lips. He was feeling a little lighter at the prospect of going out as he leveraged himself up. A week’s worth of rest had done wonders for his mobility, and he was able to follow Tim relatively quickly out of the room. Muffled voices still echoed out from the study, but the shouting had stopped. Surprisingly, no one interrupted as they made it down to the garage.

Tim got behind the wheel and soon they were off, driving down the winding road from the Manor until they reached the highway. Jason looked out the window as the wooded hills of the Bristol district gave way to the flat planes of the seaside suburbs. The denser clustered buildings of the city skyline greeted them as they crossed over the Kane bridge, and Jason felt a sense of ease at the familiar sights of Gotham city.

“Get off on Broadway and head down 10th,” Jason instructed, and several minutes later they were parked outside the cafe and making their way inside. Tim found an empty booth and flopped onto the seat, but Jason scanned the far wall lined with bookshelves. “I’ll be right back,” he said, ambling over to search the shelf for his favorite book.

He found it, sitting on the bottom row where it always was, but as he slid it out he noticed there was a scrap of paper tucked halfway through the book. A bookmark perhaps? It wasn't unusual for regulars to leave them in the books they read, but this was the first time Jason had seen one in his book.

Jason tucked the book under his arm and sat in the booth across from Tim where two cups of coffee were waiting on the table. Tim's was already half guzzled. Jason lifted his mug to take a sip as he fumbled open the book with the fingers of his casted hand. It automatically opened to the page with the bookmark where the unknown stranger had left off.

He froze. The scrap of paper wasn't a bookmark. It was a note:

You called my name. I just wanted you to know I'm listening.

–C.

Jason set down the mug of coffee, his fingers suddenly afflicted with nervous tremor. That fluttery feeling in his stomach returned in full force and his heart was thrumming a chord of fervor.

Superman had been listening. Clark had heard him. How much though? Jason’s face felt hot as he thought about those nights he'd kept silent. Those times when he'd spill himself into his hand as he imagined over and over what it would feel like if Clark kissed him again. Maybe he should have been scared or creeped out by the note, but he just felt flustered.

He’d been so focused on staring at the paper and completely lost in thought that he was startled when Tim suddenly snatched the note out of his hands.

"What's this?" Tim frowned. He looked back and forth between the paper and Jason. "It's him, isn't it? You told him you were coming here, didn’t you?"

Jason snatched the paper back. "No! I mean, not on purpose!"

“Jason, I only agreed to come here because I believed you. You said this wasn’t a trick!” Tim looked surprisingly disappointed. For some reason that made Jason feel bad.

“It’s not a trick! I’ve just been kinda… talking. Out loud. I didn't think he was actually listening!” He scrambled for an explanation that made sense, but there wasn’t any more to it. He stuffed the note back in the book and shoved it into the corner of the booth. "Crap." Jason buried his face in his hands as he tried to re-center, then looked back up at Tim. "Don't tell Bruce. Promise me you won't tell Bruce."

Tim looked flabbergasted. "You can't expect me to hide this from him. He’s probably going to find out anyway! You know how he is!”

"Then what the hell am I supposed to do?" Jason felt like shrieking. "I didn't ask for this, but now that everything’s fucked up, he’s never going to let it happen!"

"Let what happen?” Tim was half out of his seat, hands hovering mid-air as if he were trying to reach for an answer that wasn’t there.

Jason fisted his hands on the table. “I want to see him again. I can’t stop thinking about him. If he’s listening… then maybe….” Jason didn’t finish the sentence, because it felt too precarious to put into words. As if he dared to voice it then it wouldn’t be true, but the thought was solid in his mind: Superman wanted to see him too.

Tim shook his head. “No way. Did you forget about how freaked out Bruce got a week ago? There are so many reasons why that’s an absolutely terrible idea.”

“Don’t you think I know that?” Jason snapped.

Tim visibly winced at the rebuttal, but he quickly collected himself and leaned back into the booth with a sigh. “Okay. I won’t tell Bruce. For now. But we can’t just keep pretending this is going to go away. If this is as bad as it looks, if you don’t figure something out this is going to destroy you.” He eyed the book that Jason had shoved away and pulled the slip of paper out. “It’s going to destroy you both.”

Jason pressed the heels of his palms into his eyes. Taking Superman down with him was the last thing that he wanted, but the only way out was to risk losing his memories, and as much as he tried he couldn’t convince himself that that was what he truly wanted. He was falling, and he was falling down hard, and the more he resisted the pull of gravity the more it felt like he was being dragged to hell.

“You’ve got to talk to Bruce,” Tim said, “or he’s going to do everything he can to stop you from seeing him.”

“I know.”

They sat in silence until a waitress came by to take their order. Jason ordered a french toast, but he found that when the order came, he didn’t have much of an appetite. They packed the food up and paid. Jason tucked the slip of paper into his pocket before they got up and left.

*******************

Back at the Manor, Jason immediately shut himself in his room as his anxiety began to spiral. What if he talked to Bruce and he still refused? Jason was good at finding ways around the Bats, but he'd only get so far for so long if Bruce was actively working against him. More pressing was the question of what if Jason was wrong about Superman? What if Jason was mistaking pity for something deeper? Or what if he had lied, and he really did want to forget? What if he went through with Bruce's suggestion and had his memories wiped, leaving Jason in the lurch? What if he insisted that Jason wipe his memories too?

The questions invaded his every thought, tangling him into knots of doubt and self-deprecation. The tightness in his chest reappeared and wrenched deep into his soul. It was hard to breathe. Jason doubled over, lightheaded and gasping. He didn't want to feel this way anymore. He wanted it to stop and there was usually a surefire way to get his head to quiet down. He stumbled into the bathroom and grabbed his razor again, not bothering to try and reopen the wound on his leg. This time he gripped it between the unsteady fingers of his casted hand and carved a line up his bare forearm, careful to keep it shallow enough to avoid cutting a major vein. He cut just deep enough to hurt.

Just deep enough to bleed.

He dropped the razor and staggered back to lie on his bed as his head quieted down. The pain was minimal as he tucked his arm into himself. His vision got blurry with tears so he blinked them closed. When he opened them again, Bruce was standing over him.

“Jason?” His brows were furrowed with worry.

"Um." Jason quickly sat up and scooted backward, away from Bruce, who looked on the verge of reaching out to grab him.

"You're bleeding," Bruce said. His jaw was tight. Jason could see the bob of his throat as he swallowed.

"I know."

Bruce didn't move any closer, even though his hands were twitching—opening and closing against his palm like he wanted to reach out. Jason shrank away even further, which earned a look of dismay from Bruce. It had the intended effect though. Bruce kept his distance. He settled for sitting down at the end of the bed instead. "He told me I needed to check on you," he said softly. "He insisted there was something wrong. He was right."

"Who? Tim?"

"No." Bruce shook his head. "Not Tim."

If not Tim, then who? Dick? Jason had made it a point to avoid him when they returned. He almost asked Bruce to clarify, but the answer quickly dawned on him. Superman. He must have somehow realized Jason was upset. Heard his heart stutter as he was having a breakdown from an entire city away.

Bruce watched him intently as some internal struggle warred within the ice blue of his eyes. Jason recognized the gaze. He was analyzing, gauging Jason's every reaction as he weighed his options. Eventually one of them must have won out because he let out a long sigh, almost as if in defeat.

"He called me," he explained. "He said to make sure you were okay." Bruce paused, and after yet another internal battle he added, "He asked if he could see you."

"Yes." The word came out of Jason’s mouth before he could even think it.

The crease of Bruce’s brow deepened. "Are you sure?"

"I'm sure." Jason felt the desperate yearning down to his bones. He wanted to see Superman more than anything.

A storm of emotion darkened Bruce's face—a flash of something that didn't quite reach the flare of anger that Jason was expecting. The downward twist of his mouth spoke a silent declaration of inner torment. When he finally opened his mouth, the roll of his voice was low like distant thunder. “I’ll need to figure some things out," he said. "To keep you safe."

"Okay." Jason didn't say anything more, too afraid that further comment would provoke a justification for Bruce to reconsider.

"Jason…," Bruce let his name linger in the air, filling the silence with a thick tension. Jason could tell Bruce wanted to say more, but ultimately he seemed to abandon his original thought. Instead, he got up from the bed and moved toward the bathroom and said, "I'll get some gauze for your arm."

Jason let Bruce clean the cut and tape over it with gauze. When he finally left, Jason laid back into the pillows.

"Clark, I said yes," he whispered toward the open window. He felt hopeful for once, his heart swelling with relief as he added, "I'll see you soon."

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

The dream started out like a memory. The feeling of solid arms wrapped around him, cradling under his back and behind his knees as he was lifted up into the air. Soft lips brushing against his own, fingers stroked across his forehead and his cheek. Jason sighed. The touch felt good even though he knew he should have been scared.

The dream felt less like a memory when he felt himself being laid out on a rough patch of ground. Unlike before, Jason wasn't filled with overwhelming terror. He welcomed the close intimacy as Superman bracketed himself above him, leaning down to press another kiss to Jason’s mouth. It was more ardent this time, tongue probing past the barrier of teeth, a hand pushing between his thighs. Jason's skin was bare and chilled, and Superman’s hand felt so hot it almost burned as it slipped upward to press fingers inside him.

Jason knew he should have been deathly afraid, but he wasn't. He allowed it to happen. He let Superman plunder his mouth and drive his legs apart with his knees. He arched upward as Superman fingers probed deeper, but suddenly the ground beneath Jason gave way.

He was sinking. There was a flash of green like kryptonite, but as Jason flailed his arms out he realized he was submerged in liquid. The lurid green of Lazarus Pit water casted an eerie glow across Superman’s visage. It wasn't kryptonite, but Superman still recoiled as if scalded, and Jason sank and sank and sank… falling away into a dark abyss. The water rushed into his lungs as he tried to scream.

*******************

"Jason, wake up."

The voice was urgent, but somehow calming at the same time. Hands gripped his shoulder as Jason twisted in the bed, swallowing down a desperate cry as he resurfaced into wakefulness. He'd woken like this several times over since Bruce brought him back to the manor, and he quickly recognized the familiar steady hands of Alfred Pennyworth.

“That’s it, my boy.” Alfred withdrew as Jason opened his eyes.

He took a moment to let the relief sink in—there was no pit-water to choke out and no pit-madness to keep in check—then rolled to sit up. He ran the hand that wasn’t in a cast over his face to rub the sleep out of his eyes, feeling the pull of bandages that did nothing to mask the dull throb on his forearm. He looked down to see that the new cut he’d inflicted earlier had bled through the gauze.

Alfred was ready. He moved forward with a bundle of swabs and a new roll of dressings to swap out. Jason let him. The wound still seeped a little, and he'd learned over the years that there was no winning a fight with Alfred over minor medical care. He’d already been helping Jason with his other, more intimate bandages anyway. It was easier to let him do what he did, then get on with it. He was quick and clinical as usual. In a matter of minutes he’d wiped away the blood and taped over the wound, leaving Jason with a feeling of guilt that Alfred was the one who was always left cleaning his messes.

“Thanks, Alfred. I should say that more. I’m sorry.”

"There's no need to apologize." Alfred had whisked the medical supplies off to the side and was now readying to ply Jason with a tray of food. "We didn't want to wake you earlier, but you must eat something. Master Tim said you hardly ate your breakfast."

Jason had fallen asleep soon after Bruce had left. The shock of finding out that Clark had actually been listening when he'd talk at night, that he had been listening when Jason had harmed himself as he panicked… that Clark still wanted to see him… it had sent Jason through an emotional rollercoaster that left him drained and exhausted. A quick glance out the window told him it was now late into the night. He’d slept most of the day away.

"Are they out tonight?" Jason inquired. "Shouldn't you be downstairs running tactical?"

"I'm sure Master Bruce and the others can do without me for a night." Alfred kept his tone light, but Jason could read between the lines. His antics earlier in the day had earned him another round of enforced supervision by the Bats. Poor Alfred was the schmuck who got stuck with babysitting Jason tonight.

He swallowed down the bitterness that surged up in his throat and tried not to hold it against Alfred. After all, it was Alfred who had been the main person helping him through his physical recovery. It was Alfred who usually dressed and cleaned Jason’s wounds when he couldn't manage on his own. It was Alfred who had already seen every intimate injury of his laid bare, and it was Alfred who sat beside him now, setting out two bone china tea cups filled with a golden, floral-scented brew.

"Drink this," he said.

Jason took the delicate tea cup Alfred offered. The liquid sloshed in his unsteady hand as he took a sip—chamomile with a hint of honey. It was what Alfred used to give him to soothe him when he was sick, but at the moment it only gave rise to a knot of anxiety that lingered in his stomach….

The air was cold. Like ice. A sharp chill with each intake of breath that seemed to burn his airway all the way down to his lungs. He couldn't help but turn his face into the shelter of Superman’s chest in an attempt to shield himself from the freezing temperatures of the upper atmosphere. A deep floral scent penetrated his sinuses—the pollen that clung to Superman’s skin—it was sweet on his tongue as he gasped for breath. It contrasted with the bitterness of bile that rose up in his throat as Superman flew them at a dizzying speed through the dark sky….

"... Jason?" Alfred clasped his hands over his, and Jason belatedly realized he was clutching the bone china cup so hard it was liable to shatter.

He immediately loosened his grip and put the cup back down. The sweetness of the tea that lingered in his mouth had somehow turned sour.

Alfred watched him patiently, though a deep crease had formed between his brows. Jason felt a pang of guilt. He reached for the tea again, intending to take a sip, but his stomach churned as soon as the floral aroma hit his nostrils.

He put the cup down and pushed it away.

What the hell was wrong with him? If he couldn't handle a cup of tea, was he crazy to want to face Superman again?

Alfred seemed to sense his rising panic and moved to intervene. He settled a hand on Jason’s back as he brought over a plate of toast. "You should eat something. You're still healing."

Jason picked up the toast. His thoughts snapped back to what happened back at the cafe earlier. He’d ordered toast then too—french toast—but he’d been too much of a nervous wreck to eat. He wondered if Clark had been listening then? Did he hear Jason’s heart stutter in panic? What did he think now, with Jason continuing to freak out? Did he regret leaving the note? Did he still want to go through with the meeting?

Did Jason?

Yes. That was a resounding yes in Jason’s mind. Despite everything, the ache in his chest still felt like what he now recognized was a yearning. Jason just had to keep it together until he could see it through. He couldn't give Bruce, or Alfred, or any of the others a reason to prevent his meeting with Superman from happening.

Jason picked up the toast again and took a bite, even though his stomach still remained a giant, tangled knot.

"That's it." Alfred was normally too polished and reserved to make many outward emotional gestures, but the relief on his face was apparent. "If you're up for it, I can prepare something a little more filling."

"This is fine." Jason shook his head. His mouth was dry. The rough crust of the bread scraped against his tongue, like when…

… there was dirt in his mouth, the grains crunching between his clenched teeth. Superman had his fingers tangled in the hair at the back of his skull, pushing Jason bodily into the earth with every thrust so that he was suffocating as loam filled his nostrils. Jason gagged as his mouth filled with more dirt…

Jason shot up from where he sat on the bed and bolted for the bathroom, barely making it to the toilet to empty the meager contents of his stomach. When he was done heaving, Alfred was there with a towel. Jason took it with a shaking hand to wipe away the sour spittle from his mouth. He dabbed at the streak of tears that spilled from his eyes, then slumped against the wall. He was tired and sore all over, suddenly weak as the muscles of his overtaxed body protested. Jason huddled against the wall, feeling self conscious as Alfred hovered in worry.

"Sorry," Jason sobbed.

That earned a confused look from Alfred. "For what?"

"For being a fucking mess. You don't have to take care of me, Alfred. You didn't sign up for this."

Alfred responded by kneeling beside Jason. "Nonsense. I'm here because I want to be."

The words were sincere, accompanied by a gentle hand on his shoulder. The warmth of it blanketed some of his tattered nerves, but it wasn't the steadfast grip that his mind reflexively yearned for. It didn't have the breadth and solidity behind it that Superman’s did. It didn’t have that same deceptively soft feel that belied Superman’s extraordinary steel-hard strength. Jason wanted more than anything to feel those hands on him again, and he knew how ridiculous that sounded even in his own head, given he was currently having an anxiety attack from flashing back to his assault at those very same hands.

Jason pulled his knees up to his chest and glanced up at Alfred. "Do you think… do you think I'm crazy? For wanting to see him?"

There was a beat of silence—enough equivocation to indicate that it wasn’t a clear answer in the negative—but then Alfred replied more definitively: “No. I think you're simply finding ways to cope. The situation with Mr. Kent is delicate, to say the least, but this meeting… I have reservations. Are you sure about this?"

Jason nodded.

Alfred continued to look unsettled. “I won't press, so I'll say this once, but I wish you would reconsider. There's no reason to punish yourself anymore than you already have."

That was surprisingly blunt without being direct. Jason had no response to that, and true to his word, Alfred didn’t push any further. He simply guided Jason out of the bathroom and back to bed, but not before Jason noticed that the razor in the bathroom had been subtly removed and replaced with an electric shaver.

*******************

"Are you sure about this?"

Jason heard that particular question (or some variant of it) repeated multiple times over the next few days. Tim probed with the question when he showed up for babysitting duty the next day, though he denied that’s what he was doing.

Jason stuck to his guns. “I’m sure.”

It brought out that same unsettled look in Tim that Alfred had expressed. "I don't think this is a good idea," he said, but thankfully he left it at that.

Bruce had asked that same question when he'd initially conveyed the proposition of a meeting from Clark, but then he didn’t bring it up again until Jason prompted after two days went by with no further mention of it—

"When am I gonna see him?" Jason had momentarily escaped Alfred's hovering to catch Bruce in his study in the early evening before he prepped to go on patrol.

Bruce stiffly replied with the same question that he'd asked the first time: "Are you sure?"

It was obvious that he'd hoped that Jason would drop it.

Jason didn’t. "Didn't I already say I was sure?"

“I’m asking again,” came Bruce’s rebuttal.

“I’m sure.”

A vein of tension popped along Bruce’s forehead as he clenched his jaw. “I’m working on it. There has to be certain precautions this time. The environment needs to be controlled to keep you safe.”

“When?” Jason pressed.

Bruce had his hand fisted around a pen. It looked like it was about to snap. “End of the week.”

That was another two days, but having a target date for the meeting somehow garnered a flood of relief. “Okay.”

In the end Bruce kept his word, and two days later it was Dick who escorted him up to the Watchtower with Bruce going ahead to make preparations.

“Are you sure about this?” That same question again, this time from Dick as he readied a zeta-beam from the cave up to the space station.

"I'm sure," he replied, despite the fact that the more anyone asked the less confident he was in his answer. He knew from the outside nearly everything about this looked like a very bad idea.

Alfred didn’t quite acknowledge the word itself, but this was crazy. Why would anyone want to see their rapist? Especially one that they were forced into having feelings for?

Yeah. Bad idea all around.

Still, it didn't change the fundamental want Jason had been grappling with all this time. The inexplicable fixation had not subsided in the least, and even though he'd been a nervous wreck the last couple days leading up to this, he didn't want to back down at this point. He couldn't, or he might never get the chance again. Bruce would take any hint of hesitancy as reason enough to block a meeting like this from ever happening.

"You can still change your mind," Dick commented, as if reading Jason’s conflict, and contrary to Jason’s thoughts he added, "We can always do this another time."

“I said I’m sure.” Jason hobbled into the platform of the zeta-tube to stand beside Dick, feeling a little silly dressed down in civvies while Dick was outfitted in his full Nightwing gear. Jason’s mobility was getting better with the last several days of rest. The cast on his arm had finally come off too, but he hadn’t attempted to get dressed as the Red Hood again. One, because physically he was still in no shape to be crime-fighting; two, no one had bothered to help him scrounge up his spare gear while he was stuck at the Manor; and three, because he was hoping this meeting would be more personal. He didn’t want to face Superman from behind a helmet. He didn’t want to meet Superman as the Red Hood, but as Jason.

He wondered if on the flipside he was going to see Superman or if he was going to see Clark once he got to the Watchtower, but he kept his thoughts to himself as Dick activated the beam.

There was a flash, then a feeling of vertigo as the force of the zeta particles dragged through him. After a dizzying several seconds in which he felt like he was spinning through the air, he felt the floor solidify beneath him. He promptly collapsed onto his knees and threw up.

“Easy, Jay.” Dick had an arm hooked under his torso. “The zeta-beams can be disorienting. We were hoping you were healed enough it wouldn’t aggravate your injuries. You okay? Does anything hurt?”

Jason couldn’t answer immediately, because his entire body felt like it had been put through a meat grinder. He curled his hands into fists to hide how much they trembled.

“Fuck. You could have warned me," he croaked out.

Dick gave him an apologetic look. "I can fly you back down if you want. I just thought this would be faster."

Jason was deposited into a small waiting area that thankfully had a washroom as Dick called for cleaner droids. He muttered into his com the entire time, no doubt providing Bruce with an endless stream of live commentary about how unprepared Jason was. More than once he heard the whispered words of not ready and too soon, but eventually he turned back to Jason with a long sigh.

"He's waiting. Are you sure you want to do this?"

Jason couldn't help but snap at that. "Would you quit asking already? I told you, I’m sure. You don’t need you to drill it in that every goddamn one of you thinks I’m not ready."

Dick squared himself up, but he remained in a neutral position, keeping himself at a comfortable distance from Jason as he spoke.

“Okay, fine," he said. "I’ll admit it. I don’t think you’re ready. I know it’s not your fault, but you’re not thinking rationally about this. You lied to me so you could go see him the first time and I can’t trust that you’re not lying to me now. You've already proven that you're willing to put yourself at risk to go see him. You even threw yourself off a building without any equipment. I’m trying to help you, but I don’t want you to be in a position where you could get hurt just so you can prove a point about not being afraid."

"I'm not afraid," Jason snapped, but the slight tremor in his voice wasn't helping his case.

It didn't get past Dick either, if the arc of his brow was any indication. "What do you want to get out of this, Jay? What are you hoping to achieve from seeing him?”

“It's not about proving anything. I just want….” He trailed off, unsure of how to explain the strong desire to just be in Superman’s presence. I just want to know if he feels this too, he thought, but he kept his mouth shut. He waited until he was sure he could spread the tones of his voice evenly, and said, “Are you going to take me to him or not?”

There was a long pause where Dick didn’t move. He just pressed his lips together, his expression grim, but eventually he nodded. “I’ll lead the way.”

Jason followed as Dick marched out of the room and into a maze of branching corridors. The walls were lined with panels of brushed gray metal. Jason remembered how they had felt cold under his hands and feet the last time he had stumbled through them. They walked in silence except for the clunk of their boots. The floor felt surprisingly solid despite the fact that they were in orbiting space. Jason could almost have fooled himself into believing he was still on earth if not for the occasional glimpse of the vast black of star-dotted space through a passing window.

Finally, after turning through several long corridors and an elevator ride down, they proceeded through another familiar hall, this one lined with holding cells. Jason recognized it as the brig. He walked through it the last time he was here to get to Superman.

“We’re going to meet in the red sun chamber?” Jason asked aloud.

Dick nodded as they approached massive double doors. “B wanted to make sure you were safe.”

It made sense logically. Superman was devastatingly powerful, and if he wanted to attack in close quarters, there was little anyone could do to stop him, even on the Watchtower with other superpowered heroes close by. Jason knew the consequences of that all too well. However, when they had met on the rooftop Superman had been in control of himself. He had been gentle and careful, and Jason couldn’t help but bristle at the fact that Superman had been confined and stripped of his powers just for Jason’s sake. He didn’t warrant that kind of caution.

“Jason…?” Dick probed tentatively as they stopped before the antechamber. The vexation that had settled over his face earlier now softened into concern.

"I’m fine." Jason cut him off before Dick could continue. "I want to go in."

The muscles of Dick’s jaw tightened in a way that reminded Jason of Bruce, but he only said, "Okay. Bruce is inside. I'll be right out here if you need anything." He punched a button on a panel and the heavy double doors slid open.

Jason walked in.

The doors whooshed closed behind him, leaving him draped in the familiar glow of the red sun lamps. It took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the dim light, but once they did his gaze was drawn immediately to the far end of the room.

A heavy looking metal table was set in the middle of the cell block that Superman had previously been in. The force field barrier was down, but a quick glimpse at the legs of the table showed it was bolted down. Behind it sat Clark, dressed in a simple button-up shirt and wearing his trademark thick-framed glasses. He looked calm, almost casual, if not for the fact that his wrists were shackled to the top of the table.

Beside him, a tall shadowy figure loomed. Batman stood astute and austere, and Jason couldn’t help but feel like he was walking forward to meet his judgement. He took slow, measured steps forward—doing his best not to show how much his heart threatened to pound out of his chest and how much the tightness of his throat was making it hard to breath—until he reached the table and put his hand out to pull out the chair opposite Superman. He glanced at Batman, who was visibly grinding his teeth.

The feeling of awkwardness increased tenfold as Jason sat down, but he was here now, face to face with Superman. Whether he’d known it consciously or not, this was what he had yearned for ever since he’d woken from his assault. He’d have to see it through. Taking a deep breath, he turned to Bruce and said, “Can we get some privacy?”

His voice sounded embarrassingly meek, the edges of his words frayed with nerves.

Bruce didn’t move immediately, and Jason was afraid he’d refuse, but he finally stepped back after he pressed a small beacon into the palm of Jason’s hand. Bruce’s hand lingered, fingers wrapped tightly around where he continued to press Jason’s fist closed. “I’ll be outside the doors,” he said. “Push the button on this and we’ll initiate evacuation procedures. Clark’s agreed to be immobilized, but if anything happens, I want you to run.”

With that he released Jason’s hand and proceeded out of the room. The doors hissed shut behind him, and even though Jason knew there were cameras—knew that Bruce was probably still watching and listening—he was finally left alone in the room with Superman. With Clark. Jason stuffed the beacon into his pocket and tried to let that sink in. The man sitting across from him wore no costume. The s-shaped symbol he usually wore on his chest—the same symbol he'd worn when he had beaten Jason into the ground before he raped him—was nowhere to be seen. For the moment, with his powers stripped away, he was just a person. Another victim of the pollen, just like Jason himself.

Jason looked at him, searching for something to say. There was so much he wanted to ask—was the pollen affecting him in the same way? Did he feel the same fixation on the other that Jason did? And if so, why did he look so calm? How much did he know about what Jason had been going through? How much had he been listening?

The questions piled up in his head, a mess of jumbled thoughts that didn’t offer him a clear avenue toward where to start. In the end he asked, “Did you really agree to come here? To the red sun room? With the chains?”

Clark nodded. He shifted in his seat and the chains around his wrists clanked against the table. “We agreed we didn’t want to take any risks, in case there were unknown effects brought about by prolonged proximity. I agreed in order to keep you safe.”

Something about that rankled. He’d been coddled at the Manor for weeks, and Jason felt a burst of anger that Bruce was using Clark to exert his control too. “What about you? You don’t have your powers. There’s nothing keeping you safe. What if I’d brought a weapon? A gun?”

Clark didn’t flinch, but he asked, “Did you?”

“No,” Jason replied. It did occur to him earlier to bring his guns simply because he was in the habit of never leaving home without them, but Bruce had locked them away in the cave somewhere. No one had offered him any alternatives and arming himself with knives and forks from the kitchen seemed a little much, even for him. But in the end Jason hadn’t wanted to come armed. That wasn’t what this meeting was about. The anger drained away as quickly as it had come, and Jason sighed, feeling deflated. “I’m sorry. That’s not what I want. Not really. I just… I don't know what I expected."

"Don’t apologize," Clark swallowed, some of the calm in his composure began to crumble. "I was the one who asked if I could see you."

Which was true, though Jason had desperately wanted this so much that it felt like it was the other way around. And that was the crux of the situation. Jason had been tearing himself apart since he woke up to try and find a way to see Superman. Jason wanted this (whatever ‘this’ was), before he even realized that it was the pollen ultimately forcing the fixation on him. The question now was did it feel the same for Clark? Did he want ‘this’ too, or was Jason alone in his longing?

“Why did you want to see me?” Jason asked.

Clark shifted in his seat. The chains around his wrists clunked against the table again as he looked down at his hands. “I owe you an explanation. And an apology.” He looked back up at Jason. His eyes were clouded with emotion. “I’m sorry. That should have been the first thing I said when I saw you last time.”

That shouldn’t have been unexpected, but somehow it still felt surprising. “It wasn’t your fault,” Jason mumbled in reply. He broke the gaze, feeling too exposed.

“Maybe not, but I’ll regret what happened for the rest of my life.” Clark paused, and when Jason looked back up he saw that he had been waiting. Their eyes met again, and Clark proceeded. "I know I shouldn’t have left that note. I know it wasn’t fair to you, to surprise you like that. That maybe you weren’t really looking for a response, but I had to let you know that I was listening. I shouldn't have, but I did."

"I wanted you to," Jason admitted. "I called your name."

"I know,” Clark said, but then shook his head. “That doesn’t mean I should. I shouldn’t have any contact with you at all."

Jason broke eye contact again and looked down at his lap. He fiddled with his sleeve as he tried to quell his rapidly increasing pulse.

Clark waited until Jason looked up again, then added, "I heard you. When it happened." He indicated with a nod toward Jason’s sleeve, and Jason realized Clark was referring to the cut on his arm. "I was listening because I was worried. I kept thinking about you. I've been thinking about you a lot."

Jason’s heart seemed to stutter at that. He felt his face flush, and he was secretly thankful for the camouflage the red sun lamps offered. When he managed to reorder his thoughts enough to form words, he asked, "Then why not come see me earlier?"

"You know why, Jason. Because of what I did to you. I don’t want that to ever happen again.” Clark leaned forward slowly, reaching his hands toward Jason until the chains were pulled taut. He balled his fists, then he eased backwards until he was slumped in his chair. When he started talking again his voice was pained. “My entire life has been about staying in control. With my strength and my powers… every day and every minute... every second, if I lose control, people will get hurt."

"People like me?" The words came out hoarse. Jason felt like there was a vise clamping down around his throat.

"Like you, yes. Except there isn't anyone else like you."

Jason swallowed. His heart was hammering and his mouth felt dry. "What do you mean?"

Clark leaned forward again, straining slightly against the chains. His fingers unfurled from his palm. Reaching. Outstretched. "I wasn't sure at first. I thought maybe I kept thinking about you because of the trauma, but it didn't explain why it still felt like I needed you. Like I constantly missed you. Like I would die without you. The way the pollen changed me—changed us—it's controllable, but it hasn't subsided. It probably never will."

Jason was breathing hard now. His hands were trembling so he balled them up and retracted them from the table. "So what now? Do we try and forget? Find Martian Manhunter and get our minds wiped?"

"No. I'm not willing to do that." Clark shook his head. "I need to live with what I've done. I need to remember the horror so it never happens again. Bruce and I talked the options over, and you and I would both have to agree to a memory wipe even if it's just one of us. I won't do it. Maybe that's not fair to you if that's what you want, but I don't want to forget. If you want to do it, I'll understand, but…." Clark paused and looked away. He flexed his hands…. Open. Closed. Open…. "I don't have any right to say this, but it would feel like losing you."

That had Jason sucking in a sharp breath. Before he realized what he was doing, he brought a hand up over the table and reached for Clark, pressing their palms together and intertwining their fingers. His hand felt warm. Jason leaned into it, scooting himself forward so that his elbows were on the table. He let himself feel the flood of emotion that rushed over him. They jumbled together, a contradictory mix of relief and hope that was tinged with wariness and unease, but most of all he felt a deep-seated feeling of affection.

Jason let out the breath he didn’t even realize he was holding and it came out like a sob. Clark squeezed his hand back and Jason basked in the calm of his presence. It surfaced a thought from the depths of his unconscious: if Clark felt this way too, things were going to be okay, right?

Except when he tried to close their other hands together and tug Clark toward him, he was still held fast by the chains. Jason grazed a finger over one of the shackles wrapped around Clark’s wrist.

“I hate this,” he said.

“I know,” Clark replied.

“This feels like punishment.” Jason looked into Clark’s eyes. Even in the dim red light of the room they seemed to shine with brilliance.

Clark mustered a smile that Jason thought was meant to be reassuring, but it was too darkly tinged with sadness. “It's not. Not for you.”

Jason snorted, letting the bitterness he felt seep through. “They won't let me leave the manor. They won't let me be alone. They're constantly watching me. And for you—you're sitting here in chains. How is this not a punishment?”

Clark continued to return Jason’s grip on his palms. “Sitting here in chains isn't punishment. Not being able to see you. Forcing myself to stay away from you... that's my punishment.”

He couldn’t take it anymore. Jason surged up out of his seat, clambering half over the table to bring their faces together. He stopped short, lips just inches away from Clark’s and waited to see if he would turn his head or move away. He didn’t, so Jason closed the gap and pressed a kiss to his lips.

Clark responded by opening up, and then it was like a clash of heat, tongues pushing together in mutual need. The kiss deepened as Jason angled his head to let Clark tease along his bottom lip as Jason brought his hands up to run through Clark’s hair.

“Jason!” There was an angry shout, and suddenly Jason was yanked backwards. He nearly toppled onto the floor but a hand was fisted in the back of his jacket. He was dragged bodily out of the room before he could get his bearings.

He twisted on the floor just as the door behind him whooshed shut, then he looked up to see an angry Batman looming over him. “What the hell were you doing?” he said.

“I…,” Jason faltered. How could he explain it? The only thought that ran through his head was that it had felt so right.

“Nevermind.” Bruce cut him off, then turned to Dick and ordered, “Take him home.”

“Hey, wait!” Jason called after him, but Bruce was already punching a code into the door panel. He disappeared inside as soon as it opened. It shut again quickly and Jason was left staring dumbfounded from where he lay sprawled on the floor.

“Come on,” Dick appeared at the corner of Jason’s vision and hooked a hand under his arm to pull him up.

Jason shrugged him off. “No. Open the door.” He scrambled to his feet and reached for the panel, but there was no way to open it without a code or something to hack it with. He turned back to Dick. “Open the fucking door!”

Dick stood his ground. "I don't think that's a good idea."

“Jason,” another voice behind him called out. This time it was Wonder Woman. She stepped in from the hall and inserted her arm between Jason and the door panel to nudge him backwards. “You should go. I’ll mediate between Bruce and Clark and make sure things stay civil, I promise.”

The hand on his shoulder was gentle, but there was no give in her movement as she pushed him away further. Once he was backed a few paces away, she turned, punched in a code and disappeared into the darkened room. He could hear the sharp tones of contentious discourse as she entered, then the door swallowed her and the others into silence.

Jason waited stubbornly by the door for another several minutes, but in the end there was nothing more he could do but let Dick guide him away.

*******************

Back at the Manor, Jason waited. He waited for Bruce to come see him. To offer an explanation to why he was forcibly separated from Clark. Or to offer a resolution or a plan for how he could engage with Clark in the future, but when he finally returned late into the night, he was surly and uncommunicative. He ardently refused to discuss what had happened. Bruce only offered a curt, “I’m figuring it out. Until then, you’re to have no contact with him.”

Alfred tried to offer consolation. “Give it a few days, Master Jason. The way you and Mr. Kent both reacted is extremely concerning." He sat with Jason until Dick took over halfway through the night, so that Jason didn’t even have a chance to call out Clark’s name. A few days later it became pretty clear nothing was going to change.

Bruce stayed distant. Dick had disappeared back to the Titans, and when it was Tim’s turn to play babysitter he could only awkwardly agree that maintaining distance was the right course of action.

“None of this would be happening if it weren’t for the pollen,” Tim argued. “You hardly even know Clark, and after what happened how can you not see how problematic you… um…,” he stammered uncomfortably as he struggled to find the right words. He finally settled on, “You have to realize how worrisome you seeing him would be.”

“Don’t you think I know that?” Jason snapped. It was late in the evening and Bruce and the others were out on patrol with Alfred supporting in the cave. Tim had dragged Jason into the entertainment room again, where he had tried to distract Jason by watching a movie, but Jason remembered how much he had felt like an outsider the last time he’d been here with the others. It only added to the increasing urge he felt to be anywhere but at the Manor.

He pushed himself up off the chair he’d been sitting in and made for the door. He was able to walk with only slight pain at this point. Tim followed, but he grew alarmed when Jason didn’t make his way back to his room.

“Where are you going?” Tim blocked his path.

“I’m leaving.” Jason stepped around him and proceeded downstairs, slowly, intending to head toward the car garage. He’d been stewing on it all day, and he’d come to a decision. Plus with Bruce and especially Alfred already occupied, now was a good time to make an escape. He’d just have to convince Tim not to fight him.

“Leaving?” Tim looked shocked. “You can’t, Jason. It’s not safe. You and Superman are still dealing with the effects of the pollen”

That was the other thing. Getting the information was like pulling teeth, but he’d been able to deduce that Clark had been released after their meeting. He wasn’t sure what Wonder Woman had done to enable that (Jason guessed it probably involved the use of her Lasso of Truth), but that was likely the cause of the bat’s overbearing supervision.

Jason ignored Tim. He made it down the stairs despite Tim’s hovering, then proceeded towards the far end of the house where Alfred kept a few cars to run errands. Tim kept following. Jason hoped it wouldn’t come to a fight once he took a car, because he still wasn’t in any condition to win against Tim.

Tim did finally grab his wrist once he reached for the door of one of the Bentleys. “No. You’re in this situation because of me. I can’t just let you get hurt again.”

“I’ve told you before, it's not your fault. I chose to put myself between you and Superman. I’m living with the consequences, but I need to live with it on my own terms. Not Bruce’s and not yours.”

He yanked his wrist out of Tim’s grasp.

Tim squared up. “I don’t want to fight you, but I can’t let you do this.”

“You will.” Jason tried to relax his stance—tried to ease the tension corded through his recovering muscles to make this come off less as a confrontation and more like a conversation. Maybe even a confessional: “Alfred told me earlier that I’ve been punishing myself. Pretending this is going to go away is doing exactly that. Bruce keeping me here, whether he’s doing it on purpose or not, feels like punishment. That goes for Clark too. We're being punished for something that's out of our control. I don’t want that anymore.”

“You staying here was meant to help you,” Tim insisted. “This was never a punishment, Jason.”

“If it's not punishment, then are you going to keep me here against my will? How would that be any different?”

“It’s different. You know it's different.”

“It’s not.” It certainly didn’t feel any different to Jason. “Unless you’re going to attack me to force me to stay I’m gonna go.”

Tim blinked. “I’m not going to attack you.”

“Okay then.” Jason moved to open the car door.

This time Tim didn’t stop him, but he said, “I can hack the car, you know.”

“Then hack the car.” Jason got in and pulled the keys out from where Alfred kept them in the glovebox. He turned the ignition and drove away.

He watched Tim run back into the Manor from the rearview mirror. Several miles down the road, a figure on a motorcycle appeared behind him. Jason let Tim follow as he made his way into Gotham to one of his safehouses. After all this wasn’t about running or hiding. It was about getting back some of what had been taken from him. He couldn’t control how he felt about Clark anymore, but he could control how he dealt with it.

He’d lay low for a few days to make sure Bruce and the other’s would get off his back, but one thing was for certain: when he was ready, he was going back to Metropolis.

 

Chapter Text

Consciousness seeped into Jason's body slowly, gradually tugging away the blanket of sleep until the vestiges of it were no longer in his grasp. The brightening day was already piercing through his closed eyelids, and though the invading sunlight was an unwelcome intruder into his quiet oblivion, for once it didn't feel wholly unpleasant. It was the first time in what felt like ages that Jason emerged from the depths of a dreamless sleep without strangled screams or choked cries. His body felt sore and sluggish, but the pain was minimal—just a steady surfacing from unconsciousness into an uneventful awakening.

He kept his eyes closed, allowing the rhythms of his body to become naturally alert—his heartbeat ticked up to a gentle tempo, his breathing settled into an easy pace and he focused on letting himself sense the room around him.

All was quiet… except for the gentle gust of another's breathing, and judging by the weight and warmth tilting the edge of the mattress down ever so slightly, there was someone in the safehouse with him. Jason opened his eyes to see it was Bruce.

Bruce sat in a chair with his torso slumped over the ragged quilt at the foot of the bed and his head nestled in the crook of an arm. He blinked awake at the same time Jason sat up, then ran his hand through mussed hair as he pulled himself up to sit properly. They looked at each other, the moment pregnant with uncertainty—with Jason wondering if he should be readying for a fight, and Bruce uncharacteristically hesitant. There was a resignation in his body that was at odds with the attentiveness of his frown.

"Tim told me you left." Bruce's voice was tight, the words catching on gravel in his throat.

Jason nodded and fiddled with the edge of the sheets. He hadn't actually thought Tim would keep his departure the previous evening a secret from Bruce. It was pretty much a given since Tim made a point of following Jason here. He hadn't attempted to come in, but Jason had caught sight of him spying from an adjacent building before Jason drew all the curtains shut.

Bruce showing up was just a matter of time, but Jason had thought it would be in the form of an angry Batman bursting through the window at night to drag him into a holding cell in the cave, and not this disheveled looking Bruce who had silently sat by his bedside without waking him. It was weird. Bruce had taken his turns babysitting Jason back at the Manor at first, but it had fallen off eventually, leaving Alfred and a rotation of the others to keep an eye on him while Bruce did other more important things.

Now, as Bruce sat slumped in his chair, Jason couldn't help but notice how Bruce's eyes were red and dry, and how the dark shadows persisted under his eyes even when illuminated in the soft streams of morning sunlight.

He looked exhausted. He should have been back at the Manor sleeping after a night of patrol but instead, he was here in Jason’s safehouse. He'd been here at least a few hours if the crease marks that cut across where his cheek had been resting against his sleeve were any indication.

"Why are you here?" Jason ventured when Bruce failed to offer any explanation. "Are you going to make me go back?"

Bruce didn't respond at first. He just studied Jason like he was the most convoluted puzzle in the world. Eventually, he took in a long breath and then let it out in equally slow measure before he said, “It's not safe for you here.”

“It’s not safe anywhere,” Jason shrugged. “I haven’t been safe since I put on those stupid green panties as Robin.” Then, though he wasn’t sure why he admitted it, he added, “I don’t feel safe at the Manor.”

Bruce cringed as if Jason had just struck him with a physical blow. “Jason,” he started, then quickly shut his mouth, teeth clenched. He swallowed. Ground his teeth a few rotations. Jason watched in awkward confusion as Bruce then visibility forced himself to relax—released some invisible network of lines that had pulleyed his shoulders and pinched tight his jaw—until the vein pulsing at his temple abated, his expressions slackened, and his balled-up fists were settled limply in his lap.

“I didn’t know you felt that way.” Bruce actually sounded hurt.

“Of course you didn’t,” Jason replied, then immediately regretted it. He hadn’t said it to be hurtful, but Bruce had that gobsmacked look on his face again. Still, Jason didn’t want to let it go. “It’s always your way or the highway. You do things without considering whether that’s what anyone else wants. Keeping me at the Manor isn’t about me being safe. It’s about you being in control.”

"This has always been about keeping you safe." Bruce crossed his arms. "Wanting you back at the Manor is about making sure you stay out of harm's way. I’m not going to stand by and just let you put yourself in danger, which you've repeatedly done since you were on the Watchtower. The lack of self-preservation, the self-harm… the cutting… I know you’re trying to cope, but I won’t just look away again. I can't. Not this time."

To Jason’s surprise, Bruce's face crumpled with emotion. His mouth twisted into a grim downward turn as he touched a hand to his brow to momentarily shadow his eyes. It was the most emotion from Bruce that Jason had ever seen outside of anger … but what did he say? Not this time?

"What do you mean by not this time?" Jason keyed in on it. "Was there another time?"

Bruce shook his head and averted his gaze. "I'll never forgive myself for letting this happen to you."

"What are you talking about?" Jason was more confused than ever. "You didn't let this happen. I chose to put myself between Superman and Tim."

Except Bruce’s demeanor implied otherwise. His mouth was pressed into a thin line, his eyes wide and glassy. There was a hiss of breath before he spoke:

"I heard your distress call that night. I should have come, but I didn't. The interdimensional fissure had opened and the parademons were invading, so I left to gather our forces with the rest of the League instead. I didn't realize Dick had his hands full with Tim, and the rest of the family were battling the vines. I left you there. Alone. Screaming for help. And... I didn't come."

His last words broke. Bruce's face crumpled into an expression so afflicted with emotion Jason found him practically unrecognizable. Jason stared, mouth slightly agape, as he processed what he had just heard: Bruce had heard him call for help, but he had chosen not to come…

A lump had formed in Jason’s throat, and when he tried to swallow he could taste the bitterness of bile. He felt dizzy. His head seemed to swirl and swirl with thoughts that overwhelmed him—so much he couldn't make any sense of what he was feeling. Instinctively, he clutched at the blanket draped over the bed as he tried to regain a measure of grounding.

It wasn't that Jason hadn't already known that Bruce had been sucked into the battle to close the interdimensional fissure, and of course he never would have expected Bruce to choose Jason’s life over the sake of the world, but hearing it confirmed was another thing. Hearing that Bruce had deliberately chosen not to save him….

"What do you want, Bruce?" The words creaked like twisted metal in his throat.

"I want to make sure you don't get hurt again.” Before he could pull away, Bruce reached a hand out to grasp Jason’s arm, then ran his thumb gently along the red, puckered line where Jason had cut into his arm the other day. “I want to make sure you don't hurt yourself."

Something halfway between a snort and a sob escaped Jason’s lips. "You're too late. You're years too late." His voice was suddenly afflicted with an involuntary tremor that Jason was unable to suppress. "And if I want to hurt myself, you really think you can stop me?"

"Jason–," Bruce started, but Jason cut him off as the nebulous emotion flowing through him coalesced into fervor.

"You can keep me in the Manor, in the cave… even in Blackgate, but putting me away somewhere isn't going to make me stop hurting." Jason managed to extricate his arm from Bruce’s hold to cover the cut on his arm with his palm. "This is nothing, Bruce. This isn't even what hurts."

"Then what do you need me to do? What can I do to make this better?" Bruce sat stiffly in his chair. His fingers twitched in his lap as if he wanted to reach out and grab Jason.

Maybe Bruce wanted to shake him. Maybe he wanted to offer comfort. Regardless, Jason found himself pulling his knees to his chest—wrapping his arms around them, inexplicably feeling like he wanted to put some distance between himself and Bruce. It wasn't like Jason had ever been afraid of him, but somehow in that very moment, the thought of Bruce reaching for him made his skin crawl.

"Nothing," Jason choked out. "There's nothing you can do. Just leave me alone."

"If I leave you, you're going to go see him, aren't you?" It was obvious who he meant. Clark.

Jason’s answer was obvious too: Yes.

He didn't say it aloud. He couldn't. His throat was so tight it felt like it had been clamped with a vise. The silence that followed somehow articulated what Jason couldn't, and Bruce winced as if he'd just been hit by some unseen force. He got up out of his chair and leaned forward to reach for Jason this time.

Jason flinched away. "Don't!" The panic in his voice surprised him. It surprised Bruce too because he froze, half leaned over the bed.

"Don't," Jason said more resolutely. "Whatever it is you're trying to do, don't. I don't want it. If you can't respect that, then you're just like… like…." He trailed off. "You asked me what I need you to do? I need you to let me do this my way."

Bruce dropped his hands. Even though he let them fall at his sides, every muscle was still corded tight. Lines of tension ravaged his face, painting an expression of devastation—as if instead of Jason asking for control, he'd cut his lifeline and dropped himself off a cliff.

"Bruce," Jason continued, his voice a raspy whisper, "stop trying to fix this. Just stop."

Bruce sighed. He sat down in the chair again and covered his face with his hands before drawing them away again. "We're talking about you being in contact with the person who assaulted you so brutality you almost died. And now you’re asking me to just walk away and let it happen."

"Why not?" Jason shot back. "You walked away just fine when the Joker murdered me."

Bruce looked away at that. A score for once, Jason supposed, but the win only left him feeling angry and spiteful. He balled his fists tighter into the blanket he was holding, feeling the deeply rooted resentment he felt at Bruce’s hypocrisy boiling to the surface. With every second he spent in Bruce’s presence he was getting more and more agitated. He couldn't deal with this right now. He could barely deal with Bruce on the best of days, and today wasn’t one of those days.

"You can let yourself out." Jason turned his back and laid down on the bed, then waited to see what Bruce would do.

Minutes passed. Jason pointedly closed his eyes and huddled into himself, until finally, he heard a shuffling around the bed. There was a gentle dip at the edge, and then the weight of a blanket being dragged up and over his shoulders. Bruce remained silent the whole time.

Jason kept his eyes closed as he heard footsteps retreat. He heard the quiet click and latching of the safehouse door. He waited another several beats and then opened his eyes, noticing that dampness had saturated his pillow where his head had lain.

Bruce had left him alone. That was what he wanted, right?

It should have been a relief. He should have felt free. He should have been satisfied that Bruce wasn’t going to drag him kicking and screaming back to the Manor… but all he felt was empty, as if Bruce’s departure had somehow widened the chasm of despair in his soul.

His face felt wet again as he fumbled under the mattress for the knife he stowed there—a standard protocol he did in all his safehouses—then dragged the blade along the welted line already on his forearm. A quick flash of burning pain, and then blood beaded up to the surface. It welled and pooled until it seeped down to his fingers. He wrapped the wide hem of the flat sheet over the wound and tucked his arm against his chest.

He closed his eyes and laid down again, letting out a breath he didn’t even realize he was holding. True peace still felt immeasurably far away, but at least for the moment he could rest amidst the numbing quiet that only came with uncomplicated pain.

*******************

Jason laid low the next few days as he regathered the pieces of his life as the Red Hood. Helmet, body armor, and other field gear had to be dredged up and prepped for field readiness. Armories were unpacked, new pistols acquired, and the last leads on his cases tracked down. The latter was pretty straightforward because apparently one Bat or another had gone and closed his active cases while he was out of commission. That left him in the unusual position of having a clean slate when it came to tracking down new leads.

There was always the option of a simple patrol though. The most serious of his wounds had healed at this point. His arm still needed more conditioning after being in a cast for so long, but a light excursion on the rooftops probably wouldn’t strain it too much. Besides, he was feeling pretty restless at this point. He’d felt like a prisoner in the Manor, but now that he was no longer there, he wasn’t sure where to start living his life again.

And then there was the question of how he would eventually approach Superman again. He’d avoided talking to him in any capacity since he’d left the Manor, though it wasn't for lack of desire. He thought about Superman constantly, but he stalled when it came to approaching him again. Some part of it was to prove Bruce wrong—for at least a small measure of time—that he wasn't going to go half-cocked into Metropolis again to throw himself at the man who raped him. In hindsight, he couldn't deny that his last escapade was irrational and impulsive, though he’d never admit it aloud. It was just that if leaving the Manor really was about control, then at some point this would have to be less about thwarting Bruce and more about doing what Jason himself wanted.

Or rather, what his pollen-fueled emotional programming wanted—which translated to Jason’s ongoing fixation on Superman. To hear him and feel him and be nowhere but near him. To bear the weight of his extraordinary and terrifying presence at the same time. The thought of not going to see him someday made life seem meaningless. There was no question that he was going to Metropolis, but when Jason talked to him again, what would he say? What would he do? Showing up out of the blue hadn’t gone too well last time, and a simple, ‘Hey, you wanna hang out?’ was far too awkward given their situation.

He wondered how much the effects of the pollen continued to draw Superman’s thoughts to Jason from day to day? Bruce must have told him that he’d left the Manor, right? Or maybe Bruce had purposefully kept the other man in the dark for good reason. Either way, all Superman would have had to do to find out was to listen. Had he heard the conversation with Bruce? Did he already know?

‘I can hear your heartbeat,’ Superman had said when Jason had shown up in Metropolis. ‘That's how I knew you came here. I can hear it when you're sleeping. I can hear it every time you wake up terrified.’

The night terrors hadn’t stopped. So even if he’d only been half listening, he probably knew….

Jason got to his feet, dragging on his boots and armor. He had to get out of the safehouse sooner or later. Might as well be now. The thought of a simple patrol seemed frivolous now because there was only one thing he wanted to do. Why deny himself any longer? So instead of heading up to the rooftops, he headed down to the alley behind the safehouse where he’d parked a bike. The familiar creak of leather was comforting as he mounted the seat. The engine felt solid and steady beneath him. He pulled his helmet on, heard the click of the locking mechanism and the quiet beep as AI systems engaged, then he revved the engine of the bike and sped off.

He soon found himself leaving the city and heading north, hopping onto the Interstate highway that ran from the heart of Gotham into the outskirts of Metropolis. A tension that had been coiled around his core seems to slowly release—riding through the chill of the nighttime air, the smell of the salty sea, the sound of the waves buffeting against the cliffside rocks so loud it could be heard over the roar of the motorcycle engine—he was starting to feel the freedom he sought overpower the plague of constant desperation.

It was short-lived however, because anxiety returned as he rumbled up to where the Metropolis skyline erupted out of the suburbs. Great spires cut into the sky. The sweeping deco-style geometries with the dotted lights of the corporate cathedrals almost blended seamlessly into the starry heavens. Last time he had come it had been during the day, reaching into the twilight by the time Bruce had arrived. It was getting on past midnight now, but the city was no less impressive. Jason wasn't sure how Metropolis managed to be so consistently bright and beautiful even in the dark of night, while a city like Gotham seemed damned to be forever cast in dreary and foreboding shadows. Now, even in the dead of night, the city seemed to sparkle. Metropolis was pristine, untouchable… magnificent. Much like Superman himself.

Jason rolled into the city, feeling suddenly like a fish out of water in his vigilante gear. This city didn't need someone like him. The Red Hood rooted out the worst of the worst of a city's underbelly and put an end to the criminals once and for all, but as he cut through quiet streets, passing clean curbs lit softly with a warm sodium glow, it didn't feel like Metropolis had an underbelly at all. Intellectually Jason knew that was unlikely. Every city had a dark side, even Metropolis, but it didn't stop him from feeling out of place.

Jason continued toward the center of the city, keeping to the less trafficked roads as best he could until he found a darkened alleyway to stow his bike. There weren’t nearly enough shadows in Metropolis that Jason felt reasonably secure in, but once it was stashed, he climbed up the fire escape of a smaller stonework building until he could hop onto the rooftop.

It was only a midrise building, but he could still get a good vantage point of Metropolis' city center from there. He spotted Lexcorp Tower (probably better to avoid that one if he wanted to lay low), the Stagg Enterprises building, the S.T.A.R. Labs facility, a WayneTech R&D high-rise, and there… the massive globe atop the intrepid bastion of journalism that was the Daily Planet skyscraper.

It was one of the tallest buildings on the skyline, and looking at it from where he stood now, Jason could imagine how he must have looked—a tiny speck, like a bird in the sky, that had teetered over the edge before plummeting at a hundred miles an hour toward the pavement—then Superman had caught him because he’d heard Lois call out. If Jason went up there now, without Lois to yell and scream for him, would he come?

Jason was going to find out.

He had no intention of throwing himself off buildings unequipped this time though. He’d come packed with grappling gear and emergency anchors to spare. All he needed to do was map out the trajectory up and across the buildings. He raised his arm—grapple aimed and ready as he finished mentally calculating the angle of his swing—and fired.

The grappling hook shot off with a muffled pop and Jason sailed into the darkened sky. He swung progressively higher, his arms straining with the recoil of the line to climb several hundred feet in elevation with each successive building. He paused a few seconds to take a breath after he’d traversed a few landings. Almost dying had definitely taken its toll, but he only had to get a few more buildings further…. Jason aimed his grapple upward and shot out the line for the next anchor point, except the hook was suddenly intercepted by a flash of red and blue.

In the blink of an eye, Superman was beside him, the grapple line coiled in hand as he reached up slowly, deliberately, to disarm the launcher from Jason’s hold.

Jason let him take it, dropping his hands to his sides as he instinctively backed up a step. He could hear the hastening crescendo of his pulse rise into his ears as he waited to see what Superman would do next.

Superman’s expression remained calm but serious as he studied Jason. He was tense, fists clenched rigidly as he hovered several inches off the ground. Jason had to tilt his head to look up at him, mustering up as much poise as he could even though there was no hiding how much his heart was racing—if Jason could hear it, then Superman could too.

Red Hood,” Superman finally said, “what are you doing here?”

It wasn’t as if Jason was expecting Superman to welcome him with open arms, but the guarded tone had him taken aback.

Jason fumbled for a response. "I’m, uh… sightseeing." His words sounded ridiculous through the modulator in his helmet, which only served to reinforce how awkward and out of place he felt creeping into the city in his vigilante gear. The Red Hood was known for being ruthless and brutal, often leaving a trail of cold bodies in his wake. What the hell was he doing bringing that sort of baggage into Superman’s immaculate city?

“I highly doubt that, Jason," Superman responded. The muscles along his jaw flexed as he clenched his teeth. He seemed to struggle for words too, but at last he followed on with, "Tell me why you're really here."

"I just… I wanted to see you," Jason admitted.

Superman shook his head. “The Red Hood can’t come here. Not to Metropolis.”

“Oh. Um…,” Jason’s voice cracked, even through the modulator. His heart felt like it was sinking down through the pit in his stomach to the floor. Superman didn't want to see him. Somehow he hadn't prepared for that, but hearing those words—being rejected—it was devastating.

“I guess I should go then.” Jason took another step back, forcing himself to turn away slowly even though everything in him wanted to make a break for it—to find some hole far away to hide away forever in misery. Except before he'd fully pivoted on his heel, Superman reached out and caught his shoulder.

“Jason, wait. I'm sorry. I should have explained what I mean.” Superman gripped him firmly as he brought his other hand to Jason’s opposite side and rotated him around. “I mean it when I say the Red Hood can’t come here. Whether you want to or not, the Red Hood invites a sort of vigilantism I don’t want in my city.” He moved his hands up Jason’s shoulders until they were nestled along Jason’s neck, stroking his thumbs along the pulse of Jason’s throat.

Jason sucked in a sharp breath and froze. The gesture was intimate and insistent, though falling just short of being aggressive. He wasn't sure how to react, but his heart had now sprung back up from the floor and was now hammering away in his chest.

Superman took notice. His brow twisted into a frown and he gentled his touch, though he didn't draw his hands away. Instead, he skirted his fingers under the edge of Jason’s helmet until he found the latch. It opened easily to him with a click, and he slowly lifted the helmet from Jason’s head. Then, in a motion that was terrifyingly reminiscent of their first pollen-induced encounter, Superman caught the edge of Jason’s domino mask under his nail and slowly peeled it away to reveal his face.

Jason held his breath and remained motionless. If the effects of the pollen somehow resurged—if Superman lost control of himself and succumbed to the mind-numbing lust once more—then there was nothing Jason could do to stop him. There was nothing he could do now but wait and trust that the frenzy of uncontrolled desire had truly given way to something more like… like love.

He cradled Jason’s face in his hands, running a thumb over the rim of Jason’s bottom lip. “The Red Hood can't come here," his voice was low and breathy as he repeated his earlier assertion, then added, "but if Jason Todd wants to come see me, then… that’s different.”

Jason finally let out his breath. “Oh,” he said. If there was a better word with which to respond, for the life of him he couldn't find it.

"I promised him I wouldn't seek you out." Superman leaned in close. His face was mere inches away from Jason’s. His blue eyes shone brightly even in the moonlight. "I agreed because I didn't want to force anything on you, but if you came to me again, knowing what the pollen has done to us and knowing that Bruce didn't want you to, then I could be reasonably sure that this is what you wanted. It’s been hard staying away from you, but I waited, and you finally came."

Fingers were suddenly in Jason's hair, and he was being pulled forward into a kiss. Superman pressed his lips to Jason's, and after a brief moment in which Jason gasped in surprise, Jason gave in. He opened up and Superman pushed inside, sweeping his tongue into Jason's mouth.

Jason expected to feel terror. He expected himself to freeze up. He expected the kiss to be rough given Superman’s strength, but he found himself melting into the other man's embrace. It was as if nothing had ever felt so right. He felt so warm and safe for the first time in ages, even though he knew that made absolutely no sense.

His rational mind had long lost the war with his heart at this point. The only thing that seemed to matter was being held like this even if it was by the man who had unwittingly raped him. Letting himself be kissed and caressed and coveted was the only thing that provided Jason any relief from all the pain he'd endured.

Strong arms wrapped around him, pressing him flush against the length of Superman’s body. The heat of him seemed to permeate through Jason’s armor as the other man licked and suckled and teased Jason’s lips with his teeth—until the fluttering excitement in Jason’s stomach converged into a driving ache that spiraled down between his legs.

Jason’s arms were pinned at his sides with Superman wrapped around him, but he managed to squirrel his hands up to clutch at Superman’s lower back. He gasped as they broke momentarily for air, "I've wanted this so much. Even when I didn't know, I wanted this."

"I know, Jason," Superman's voice was husky and low with desire. "I haven't stopped wanting you. I tried, but it hasn't changed. I don't think I want it to."

"Superman," Jason whined as the kisses resumed. Superman moved down to suck at the sensitive spot along Jason’s neck, right below his ear and Jason moaned as a sensation of pleasure shot through his spine.

A breathy murmur was the response, "I told you to call me Clark." Superman pulled back to fix his eyes on Jason, his vivid blue gaze roving across Jason’s features as if he were the most interesting thing in the world.

"Clark…." Jason turned away at the intensity of the stare.

The next thing Superman—Clark—said had Jason snapping back to attention though: "Have dinner with me."

"What?" Jason blinked.

Superman loosened his hold on Jason. “This… attraction we feel, it's not something that happened naturally. I'm asking that the Red Hood stays out of my city, but I want to get to know you. The real you.”

Oh. That sounded like Superman was asking him on... a date? That seemed… logical, though Jason hadn’t thought that far in advance to consider how this—whatever this was—would work.

“You can say no," Superman added. "If any of this doesn’t feel right, just tell me. I’ll understand.”

“Yes." Jason blurted it out without pausing to think. "I want to, but I guess… I’ve never really done this before.”

Superman cocked his head. The corner of his mouth twitched, though it looked too sad for it to be a smile. “You’ve never dated anyone?”

Jason had been on a date. Maybe two. Sort of. He said as much, and clarified, “I'm not sure how this works."

Superman responded by leaning in and placing a soft kiss on Jason’s forehead. "We’re going to figure it out. Together. Go home for now. Leave your gear. Come back tomorrow at seven and meet me at the corner of Centennial Park."

He placed a final kiss on Jason’s lips, lingering long enough that Jason wanted to open his mouth and draw him in again, but Superman pulled away before he could. He hovered up into the air, watching Jason with eyes half-lidded and full of something that made him want to call Clark back to his side.

Jason didn’t. His voice was caught in his throat as Superman turned and zipped off into the skies. Jason felt the chill of the night without the other’s warmth. The night skies in Metropolis felt so lonely now that Superman had gone.