Damian blinks at Jason with something akin to horror. Because he’s crying, huge, gasping sobs that sound like they’re being torn out of him, fat tears dribbling over red cheeks. Jason is swiping angrily at them with one hand. The other is pressed tight over his mouth, like he can seal the sobs back into his throat.
Damian can count on one hand the number of times he’s seen Jason cry. Admittedly, he doesn’t normally live at the manor, so maybe he’s missed some notable examples, but even when injured, Jason rarely makes a fuss.
Seeing him like this, red faced and gasping, he looks surprisingly young. It makes the dark anger and anxiety that’s been swirling in Damian’s chest ever since Jason had first accused Arthur Price of being a creep, sharpen into something almost painful.
“Jason,” he says, a little helplessly.
The kid just shakes his head, knuckling his fist hard into one eye, heaving those terrible sobs.
I just know, Damian thinks. I just fucking know.
The thought makes Damian want to heave. There aren’t many reasons Damian can think of for how his little brother would just know that Price is a pedophile. Damian hopes that it’s simple intuition - that it’s paranoia instilled by years on the street and all the bogeymen that Jason would have had to learn to avoid. Not that that thought is a particularly pleasant one, but it’s a thousand times better than the alternative.
Damian doesn’t want to even think about the alternative.
“Jason?” Dick asks, voice soft with concern. Then he’s flinging himself across the space between them, crashing into Jason’s arms. “Don’t cry! Please don’t cry. Damian and Tim aren’t really angry at you and I know you didn’t mean to say those things.”
The words come out in one, frantic rush, half-muffled by the way Dick has buried his face in Jason’s chest. One of Jason’s arms comes around Dick almost automatically. The other stays pressed against his face.
“I’m fine,” Jason mumbles, even though he’s clearly still crying. “I’m fine, Dick.”
Dick just presses closer. Further down the hall, someone staggers out of the ballroom, spilling the sound of music and chatter behind them. It’s a reminder that this isn’t private. That anyone could walk past and see Jason having some sort of panic attack right here in the hallway.
“Come on,” Damian says, trying to ensure it comes across as an order without being too harsh. “We should take this upstairs, I think.”
Jason nods, but doesn’t move. His sobs have quieted a little, at least, no longer sounding as though they’re being torn out of him. But his breathing hasn’t evened out at all, still too fast and rough, hiccuping with every sob.
Damian moves closer, slowly and extends a tentative hand. “Is it okay if I touch you, Jason?” he asks.
It feels wrong to be falling back on his victim training when dealing with his own brother, but Damian doesn’t know what else to do.
Jason shakes his head. “No,” he manages, quiet, “please don’t.”
Damian immediately retracts his hand. “Okay, I won’t. But do you think you could come upstairs with me?”
Jason scrubs his hand hard over his face one more time, before dropping it to glare at Damian. With his eyes wet and puffy and his face streaked with tears, it lacks any real heat.
“I think I can handle some stairs, Damian,” he snaps. Then he pushes Dick away, a little more roughly than necessary, Damian thinks, unlatching his arms from where they’re wrapped around him and sending him back a few steps.
Dick lets him, pouting a little, but not resisting. Jason turns away as soon as he can and starts stomping up the stairs, and Dick immediately follows him, tailing him like a little duck. Damian spares a moment to share a look with Tim before following them.
Tim’s face is pale and pinched. Damian suspects he’s come to the same conclusion as Damian has.
“Will you get Father please, Timothy?” he says, before starting up the stairs without waiting for an answer.
Because Damian doesn’t think he can handle this situation alone. He and Jason get on well, considering, - better than Damian had ever gotten on with Tim or Steph - but Damian still has no idea how to interact with him, sometimes. Suddenly, he’s terrified that he’ll get this wrong. That he’s somehow already messed up and he’ll only make it worse from here.
Whatever is going on, it needs delicate handling. Damian is not confident in his own ability to do so.
When he gets to the top of the stairs, Jason and Dick have both disappeared. Stupidly, Damian’s heart rate spikes, as if they could have gotten into any trouble in the minute it had taken him to follow them. It’s just…now that Damian is thinking about it, a sort of queasy dread is starting to settle in his chest. If Jason hadn’t been there, would Dick have taken that man up to his room? Would something have happened?
The thought makes Damian dizzy. Dick could have been seriously hurt, here, in his own home, because no one had been keeping an eye on him. He could have...he could have been sexually assaulted by a man they’d actively invited in.
Damian ducks into the first available room, trying to calm the sudden racing of his heart. It’s a relief to find both Dick and Jason there, curled up on one of the squishy couches that litter the little reading nook. Dick is already curled up against Jason’s side and Jason has one arm slung over him. He’s staring blankly at the coffee table in front of him, but he isn’t actively sobbing anymore, at least.
“Hey,” Damian says, softly, settling into one of the chairs nearby. “Timothy has just gone to get Father. We can wait in here until you feel better.”
Jason looks up sharply at that. He’s scowling, but there are still a few stray tears leaking over his cheeks that soften the expression.
“Why?” he asks, voice thick from crying. “B doesn’t need to come all the way up here. I can keep an eye on Dick and we’ll see you when the party’s over.”
Damian’s smile feels rictus. “I think we need to tell him about what happened. If you are concerned about Price, Father should be made aware.”
Jason’s scowl deepens, but he doesn’t argue, turning his attention back to the coffee table. Damian can’t help but wonder what he’s thinking. If he’s reliving painful memories.
The thought squeezes his chest tight.
Dick’s head pops up on the other side of Jason, big blue eyes focusing on Damian before flicking back to Jason. “Besides,” he says, “B will make you feel better.”
“I don’t need to feel better,” Jason growls. “I’m fine.”
He doesn’t pull away from Dick, though, and Damian thinks the hug is probably for both of their benefits.
They sit in silence, then, broken only by the occasional sniffle, until Damian hears footsteps in the hallway. A few seconds later, Bruce knocks lightly on the door before pushing it open and stepping in.
His face is a mask of concern, but he smiles when all three of their heads turn towards him. Both Cassandra and Tim are hovering behind him. Tim looking awkward, as usual, Cassandra looking faintly confused.
“Hey,” Bruce says, stepping further into the room. Cass and Tim both hang back, although they close the door behind them. “Is something going on? Tim said it was an emergency.”
“It’s not an emergency,” Jason says, before Damian can attempt to explain, “and you didn’t all need to come up here and gawk at me.”
“We are not gawking,” Damian says, but maybe Jason has a point. There is no reason for them all to be here, after all. Except, Damian doesn’t want to leave. He wants to know the truth, otherwise all he’ll be able to do is imagine the worst-case scenario.
Jason rolls his eyes.
“Why don’t you just tell me what happened?” Bruce asks, settling on the coffee table in front of them.
Jason ducks his head. Thin fingers fiddle with the sleeve of Dick’s shirt, pulling at a loose thread. Dick stares between Jason and Bruce. Neither of them answer.
“Jason had an...altercation with one of the guests,” Damian says, eventually, when it’s clear no one else is going to.
Bruce’s eyebrows raise. “An altercation?” he asks. “What does that mean?”
“The asshole deserved to get punched,” Jason snaps, finally lifting his head to look Bruce in the eye. “He was trying to take Dick upstairs.”
Somehow, Bruce’s eyebrows lift even higher. He tilts his head slightly, towards Dick. “Was he? Dick, you know that’s not allowed.”
“Only to play video games,” Dick says, in a small voice.
“No,” Jason snaps, “it wasn’t. He’s a fucking creep okay, Dick? Get that into your thick head.”
“Jason,” Bruce admonishes, in a way that sounds automatic. “Don’t talk to your brother like that.”
Jason huffs. “Why not?” He turns to Dick, pushing him back a little so that he can look into his face. “What you did was stupid as hell. What if I hadn’t been there? You would have taken that freak upstairs and he would have...he would…”
Damian feels ill at just the thought. Before he can stop himself, his brain conjures up the image of it - of Dick, his baby brother, being trapped in his own room by a man twice his size, being forced to do things that no child should have to do.
Father looks a little ill too, his face paler than usual, the wrinkles in his brow deeper.
“No he wouldn’t,” Dick says, petulantly. “He was just being nice. He didn’t touch me, Jason, I swear.”
“Only because I was there to stop him!”
“Jason,” Damian says, because he doesn’t want to hear them argue anymore. Because Arthur Price is out there and Damian needs to know the truth. “Did something happen? With Price? Did he…?”
“You saw what happened,” Jason grumbles, slumping back against the sofa, not looking at Damian.
Damian swallows. Forces himself to say, “I meant with you.”
There’s a beat of strained silence. Jason slumps further into the couch, picking at the seam of his trousers, his eyes firmly in his own lap.
“It’s not a big deal,” Jason says, finally, in a voice so quiet that Damian isn’t sure if Tim and Cass can hear him. “It’s...I’d see him sometimes. In Crime Alley. He’d…”
He’d what? Damian wants to scream. Looked at Jason funny? Picked up a kid he knew? Worse?
“He’d pay for my time, sometimes,” is what Jason eventually says and Damian’s stomach lurches up his throat and sticks there.
Pay for Jason’s time. It’s not like Damian, or anyone else in the room, is an idiot. They all know exactly what that means.
Jason had been so sure that Price had bad intentions, because he knew exactly what he could do. He’d been terrified that Price might touch Dick - might rape him - because he’d already done just that to Jason.
He’d raped him. Damian’s little brother.
Bruce inhales sharply. Damian shuts his eyes against the surge of anger that burns through his chest. Behind him, the door opens, then slams shut and Damian knows without opening his eyes that Tim has left. Damian doesn’t blame him. After what happened with the Joker, Drake’s emotional regulation has never fully recovered. Damian imagines he’ll need to cool off after a shock like this.
The door opens and shuts again, much more gently this time, and Damian spares a moment to hope that Cass will be able to calm Tim down. The last thing they need is him relapsing because of this.
“Why didn’t you tell me,” Father asks, in a strained voice, and Damian opens his eyes in time to see Jason shrug.
“It’s not a big deal,” he says again.
“But it is if it happened to Dick?”
“That’s different,” Jason snaps. “It’s...Dick is…”
Jason stops. Swallows hard.
“How is it different?” Bruce asks, gently. “He hurt you, kiddo. That’s not no big deal. Not to me.”
Jason makes an aggrieved noise, throwing his head back against the couch and tossing an arm over his eyes. “It’s different because I was a whore, okay? Is that what you want to hear?”
Damian’s throat closes over. His chest aches. Hearing Jason talk like that - refer to himself like that - as a whore, because of the things he’d been forced to endure to survive, it has acid burning at the back of Damian’s throat.
Damian shouldn’t have stopped Jason from punching that son of a bitch. He should have punched him, himself. Should have gotten out the swords he had long since put away and made him suffer.
“You are not a whore,” Bruce says, firmly.
“I used to sell myself on the streets, Bruce,” Jason snaps right back. “That’s the fucking definition. Besides, that bastard isn’t the only one of your rich friends who fucked me back then.”
Bruce jolts at that, sucking in another sharp breath. Damian feels his own shock spear through him - at the crassness of the words and the meaning behind them.
“Who?” Bruce asks, low and dangerous.
Jason shrugs. “Does it matter?”
Yes, it matters, Damian thinks. Because just knowing that one bastard touched Jason is bad enough. And Damian is already planning exactly how he’s going to make Price suffer for it - and he’s sure Bruce is too. Knowing that there were more of them, that some of the people Damian might have shaken hands with, or danced with, or suffered through a jovial back pat for, might have used those very same hands to violate his little brother, fills him with such unbearable rage that he feels he might explode.
He needs to track down every last monster who thought it was acceptable to take advantage of a child who was just trying to survive. Every rich prick who could have changed Jason’s life with just a fraction of their wealth, and instead decided to shatter his childhood. Damian won’t be able to rest, knowing that some of the people who have hurt Jason so terribly might have utterly escaped consequence. He needs to know who they are.
“Of course it matters,” Bruce says. “You’re my son, Jason, and these people hurt you and they need to be brought to justice.”
Jason makes an odd noise, then, and it takes a second for Damian to realise that he’s started crying again. It takes another second for Jason to respond.
“I don’t remember,” Jason manages, thick with tears and broken over a sob.”I’m such a slut that I can’t even remember them all.”
Damian’s stomach twists itself inside out. How many people had touched him? How many times had Jason been raped?
Bruce makes a low, wounded sound, and lurches forward. At the last second, he seems to realise that Jason might not want to be touched and ends up in a weird, half-crouch, half-kneel in front of him instead.
“Jason,” he says, and Damian has never heard him sound so pained.
Jason sobs. Then he tips himself across the rest of the space between them, crashing against Father’s chest. Bruce’s arms come up automatically to catch him, cradling him close even as Bruce shifts to seat himself on the end of the couch, instead, half-dragging Jason into his lap.
“I’m sorry,” Jason sobs, clutching at Bruce’s shirt, wrinkling the fabric beyond repair. “I’m so sorry. Please, please don’t chuck me out.”
Father catches Damian’s gaze then, and the expression on his face is agonised. He drops his head, pressing his mouth to Jason’s curls, rocking the boy back and forth a little. Jason is a teenager, but right now he looks like a child, small and curled up as he is, enveloped in his father’s massive arms.
“Never,” Bruce growls, fiercely. “I would never throw you out. Not for this. Not for anything. You are not a slut, sweetheart, or a whore. None of this is your fault.”
It’s hard to know whether Jason actually hears him or not. All he can seem to do is repeat the same words over and over again: please and sorry on repeat, sobbing between every hitching breath.
Dick leans over Bruce’s arm and gently touches Jason’s face, where thick tears are streaking over his cheeks. “Shhh,” he whispers. “Don’ cry.”
Damian frowns. The words are strangely slurred, which Damian would attribute to the fact that Dick is crying himself, but he's also slumped over Bruce’s arm, his head lolling against Father’s bicep, and he doesn’t look quite right.
Not to mention how quiet he’s been since Jason’s revelation. Damian didn’t know Dick could be quiet.
Bruce frowns too. One hand keeps stroking through Jason’s hair, holding him carefully. The other gently pushes Dick upright, so Bruce can look into his face.
“Are you okay, chum?” he asks.
Dick blinks at him, and even from where he’s sitting, Damian can see that his eyes are glazed, although maybe that’s just tears. He shakes his head, slowly, his head bobbing like his neck is too weak to support it.
“I don’ feel well,” he whispers. Then he lurches forward and vomits across the floor.
Bruce wraps an arm around him, to keep him from sliding right off the couch. Jason bolts upright and scrambles off of Bruce’s lap, his sobs shocked into sudden silence. Damian finds himself automatically on his feet too. Before he can even think about what he’s doing, he’s pacing around the couch and crouching beside his little brother.
“What’s wrong,” Bruce asks, as Damian reaches out and brushes the hair away from Dick’s sweaty forehead.
Dick just shakes his head, gasping, his eyes squeezed shut.
“Did you eat too much?”
“No,” Jason spits, before Dick can reply, if he was even going to. “That fucking bastard.”
Damian looks up, a little startled by the vehemence in Jason’s voice. His face is red and wet and twisted in a furious snarl. His hands are trembling fists at his side.
“Did you drink that punch he gave you, Dickie?” Jason asks.
Dick doesn’t reply. Damian isn’t actually certain he’s conscious, because he’s slumped in Bruce’s grip like it’s the only thing holding him up, and his eyes are closed.
Something cold slithers through Damian’s gut.
“Jason…” he starts, then doesn’t know how to finish.
“We should get him to the cave,” Jason says. “He probably drugged him.”
Damian feels another surge of rage in his chest, so strong that his vision blurs. Price probably drugged him? Dick. A nine-year-old. With the hope of...what? Having an easier victim to handle? That it would damage his memory of the violence Price was intending to wreak on him? That it would keep Dick quiet?
Looking at Dick’s slack little face, at how small he looks, lying limp against Bruce’s arm, Damian can’t imagine how anyone could want to hurt him like that.
But it’s painfully likely that he has been drugged. It makes sense, based on Dick’s symptoms. The nausea and slurring and loss of consciousness. And based on what Jason had told them of Price, Damian shouldn’t be surprised. And yet, for some reason, it still feels like a blow too low.
“Okay,” Bruce says, standing carefully, so as not to dislodge Dick, before lifting him into his arms. Soon Dick will be too big to carry comfortably like this, but right now, he's still small enough to fit.
Jason shuffles closer, hovering worriedly at Bruce’s elbow, his own distress apparently already forgotten in the wake of Dick’s.
“Damian, will you ask Alfred to meet us in the cave, please?
Damian nods. He’s never seen his father’s face so dark with anger. His voice stiff with his fury. Damian does not envy Arthur Price when Batman and Nightwing catch up to him.
Jason darts forward to open the door, then the three of them disappear into the hallway. Damian follows a little behind them. At the bottom of the stairs, he breaks off, heading to the kitchen rather than the study. Bruce could probably handle this by himself, Damian is sure, because he’s had plenty of experience with exposure to toxins, but Damian doesn’t blame him for wanting Alfred there. If anything, it will be good to keep him in the loop.
When Damian pushes into the kitchen, Alfred looks up from where he’s dropping little canapés onto a wide white plate and smiles. Damian can’t quite manage a smile back.
“Master Damian, is something wrong?” Alfred asks, wiping his hands on the tea towel hanging from the cabinet. “Or are you simply avoiding the party?”
Damian’s tongue feels fat and useless. He swallows, trying to work some moisture into his mouth.
“Something’s happened, we need you in medical.”
Alfred’s face wrinkles with concern. Immediately, he starts moving towards the door, whipping his apron off as he goes.
“Is someone hurt?” he asks, urgently.
“We believe Richard may have been drugged.”
Alfred’s steps falter, then pick up again at a faster pace. Damian can’t read his expression, following partly behind him, but there’s a tension to Alfred’s shoulders that Damian sympathises with.
“What makes you believe that?”
Damian doesn’t want to have to explain the full story out here in the hallway. Or at all. He knows they’ll have to eventually, but the words feel like solid lumps in his throat. He goes with what’s easiest - listing out the symptoms:
“He was slurring his words. He vomited, then lost consciousness. Jason believes a drug may have been slipped into his drink.”
The tension in Alfred’s shoulders only tightens with each symptom. When they reach the clock, he enters the code in a few sharp movements.
When they get to the medbay, Bruce has already laid Dick out on one of the cots and is preparing his arm for a blood draw. Jason is hovering at Dick’s side, holding one of his limp little hands in his own. Further into the cave, Tim and Cassandra are standing by the Batcomputer, almost identical frowns on their faces.
Alfred immediately moves towards the cot and takes over from Bruce, frowning down at Dick with concern. Damian hovers, not sure how to best help.
“What happened?” Alfred asks. “Master Damian suggested he may have been drugged?”
“That fucker put something in his drink,” Jason snaps. He’s still holding Dick’s hand tightly in his own. “I should have known he’d do something skeezy like that.”
“Has he…” Bruce starts, then stops and swallows hard before continuing. “Has Price used drugs before?”
Jason scoffs. “He was always trying to slip us them. He likes his kids loosened up.”
The words hit Damian like a sledgehammer. Behind him, there’s a ringing crack, and Damian turns to see an impressive dent on the batcomputer desk, where Tim had clearly buried his fist.
Jason jumps. His shoulders hunch up around his ears.
“I’m sorry,” he whispers. “I’m sorry, I should have known. I should have kept a better eye on Dick or...or told you earlier…”
“No one is blaming you, Jaybird,” Bruce says, hoarsely.
“I’m sorry,” Jason says again.
Damian wants to hit something. No. He wants to hit someone. A very specific someone.
And he will, once he’s sure Dick is going to be okay. No one will be able to stop Nightwing from patrolling in Gotham tonight.
Alfred steps away to start running tests on the blood samples he’d taken and Dick chooses that moment to groan back into awareness.
“Dickie?” Jason asks.
Dick blinks at him for a second before letting out a horrible retching noise. Bruce leaps forward just in time to turn him onto his side, so he vomits across the medbay floor rather than all over himself. When he rolls him carefully back onto the cot, Dick clutches at him, sobbing pitifully.
Damian adds a few more broken bones to his plan for Price.
“You’re okay,” Jason says, quietly, as Bruce shifts to hold Dick more comfortably, because the kid clings to him when he tries to pull away.
“I don’ feel good, Jay,” Dick whispers. And Damian’s heart breaks.
Jason makes a soft shushing sound, then clambers up onto the cot beside him, wrapping himself around Dick as best he can with the way Bruce is still holding him.
“I know,” he whispers back. “I know, but you’ll feel better in the morning.”
Damian feels his anger like a physical thing at the back of his throat. Neither of his little brothers should know what this feels like. Neither of them should have been subjected to Price’s depravity. But they have been, and all Damian can do now is make the bastard pay.
It’s not like Damian is helping here, after all.
So he heads further into the cave, beelining for where Tim and Cass are standing. If he knows either of them at all, Tim will have already found out everything there is to know about Arthur Price, and it won’t take Cass any convincing to come track him down with Nightwing.
“Where is he?” Damian growls, the moment he gets close enough to not be overheard by the little group clustered around Dick in the medbay.
“Back at his apartment,” Tim says, not needing to ask who. “Don’t worry, I’ll direct you.”
Damian doesn’t need any more than that. When he catches Cassandra’s eye, she nods. Bruce and Alfred can keep the kids safe here. Nightwing and Orphan have some cleaning up to do.
Starting with Arthur Price.