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Burning Inside

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“It’s a pity we never get to have game nights anymore. What d’you say, Robin? Should we made B bring it back? I could teach you Jay’s favorite game from when he was a kid, called Egyptian Ratslap. Sounds fun, right?"

“Can we just focus on patrol?” Damian ground out between clenched teeth. He didn’t have the energy to deal with Nightwing’s constant stream of chipper chatter tonight. Not when he was fighting the fever aches in his joints with every leap across the rooftops.

Nightwing flashed him a hurt look, then bounded ahead quietly.

Damian sighed. He hadn’t meant to hurt Dick’s feelings. He stopped for a moment, letting Nightwing run ahead to their planned rendezvous point with Batman. He’d catch up.

He rubbed his chest, wondering at the way his heart had been feeling off all night. He knew he had a slight fever, but that was nothing new. He’d successfully hidden his cold symptoms ever since that sore throat a few weeks back. It wasn’t enough to keep him off his feet, so why bring it up? Father was too distracted with the latest case, anyway. If he could push through, so could Damian.

But tonight his heart had other ideas, and his fever seemed a teeny bit worse. His joints in his ankles and wrists ached more, too. Maybe he really should sit down, he thought as another wave of fatigue washed over him. His heart skipped another beat.

Stop that, he mentally chided it. I don’t have time for this!

“Nightwing to Robin!” came Dick’s voice in his comm. “What’s the hold up? I thought you were right behind me.”

Damian propped a hand against the nearest air unit on the rooftop. “I’m… I’m fine. I’ll meet you at the rendezvous point with B.” He swayed a bit on his feet.

“You sound off,” Nightwing fretted. “I’m coming back.” Drat Dick’s sixth sense. But Damian had to admit to himself that maybe coming out on patrol had been a bad idea…

The world tipped sideways, and Damian’s legs crumpled beneath him. His heart did that painful clenching thing again, and he couldn’t help but whimper.

“Robin?” Dick’s voice. He sounded panicked. Damian had forgotten he left his comm on. Oops.

“I’m all right,” he murmured. “Just coming down with a slight cold. I think.” But he gasped at the continued pain in his chest. That was not a normal cold symptom.

He couldn’t focus on that thought, because his mind was growing muzzier as the fatigue caught up with him. His eyes closed. Even with his forehead resting on the cool concrete, he felt hot and tired…

“Robin!” Then Nightwing was there, smoothing his hair back and patting his cheek. “Stay with me, bud. Where does it hurt? Did someone attack you?” He ripped off a glove and pressed his hand to Damian’s sweaty brow. “Gosh, you’re burning up! Stay awake if you can, Dames.”

But Damian couldn’t keep his heavy eyelids open another second. Now that Nightwing was here, everything would be all right. He let the sounds fade away and fell into a fitful sleep.

*

“Damester, can you hear me? Damian?”

That was Richard’s voice. Was he still on that rooftop? No, there was a soft mattress under him. He heard a beep, beep, beep… and he realized he had to be in the med bay of the Batcave.

“Let him rest, Dick. We’ll get our answers soon enough.”

“But his heart is racing!”

“It’s stable enough now. We’ll have Leslie here in an hour.”

Damian stirred. “ ‘M awake,” he said groggily. Everything ached, especially his joints. He groaned and tried to open his eyes, but they’d crusted shut. Disgusting. He lifted a hand to wipe them clean, and realized he was hooked up to an EKG monitor.

“You have some explaining to do,” Dick said as soon as he met those sharp blue eyes. “You’ve been feeling sick for a while, haven’t you?”

Damian winced.

Bruce stepped into his line of sight. “We’re running some tests right now, but maybe you can help us narrow things down. How long ago did you start feeling sick?”

Dick narrowed his eyes before Damian could answer. “Be honest.”

“Twenty-four days ago I had a sore throat. But that was all! I thought it would go away on its own.”

Dick flipped through some things on his phone. Bruce tried to take the device away from him, but he yanked it back. “Let’s see… That could be strep throat. I know it was going around all the schools. Tim had it, but he took his antibiotics like you’re supposed to.”

Damian flopped his head back on the pillow. He hurt too much to argue.

The lack of biting response caught Dick’s attention. “You need some painkillers? I saw how swollen your wrists are. Do they hurt?”

Damian hadn’t realized they’d swelled up, right around the aching joints. He nodded.

Bruce leaned over. “There’s some in that bottle on the other side of his cot.”

Dick started to get up from his stool to grab them, but Damian flapped a hand at him. “I can get them.” He pushed himself up to reach for the bottle. A sharp pain shot through his chest again, and he collapsed.

After a long painful moment, his heart evened out again and he realized Dick was calling his name.

As he coughed and tried to catch his breath, he felt his father’s steady hand on his shoulder. “It’s all right Damian. Dick, calm yourself and check that monitor.”

Dick grumbled but did as he was told, while Bruce continued to rub Damian’s shoulders.

The coughing subsided, and suddenly all Damian wanted to do was sleep. He distantly heard Bruce discussing something about a rapid heart rate and high temperature, but the words blurred together and he couldn’t quite tell what they were saying.

He must have dozed off a bit, because the next time he opened his eyes, Bruce had laid him down and was speaking with Dr. Leslie Thompkins, who did not look happy.

“…not know that your own son had strep? I could have prevented all of this with a simple prescription!”

Bruce huffed and crossed his arms. “He hid his symptoms.”

“He’s your responsibility!”

“Guys,” Dick broke in, noticing that Damian was awake again. “Enough bickering, please!”

Leslie’s face softened. “Hello Damian, how are you feeling?”

He wrinkled his nose. “Sore,” he admitted.

Leslie handed him a glass of water and calmly checked his vitals. “You have a fever of 102 and your wrists and ankles are inflamed. How’s your head?”

With all the other pains, he hadn’t fully noticed the headache. “Hurts,” he said.

“I’ll need to run a few more tests to be sure,” she went on, “but it looks like you have a bad case of rheumatic fever. It has started to affect your heart. I’m pretty sure we caught it before it could do any permanent damage, but you will need to take it easy for a few weeks.” She hesitated, glancing back at Bruce and Dick. Bruce shook his head ever so slightly, and Leslie’s mouth turned down in a frown. “No, Bruce, I’m telling him. This can’t be allowed to happen again.”

“Tell me what?” Damian’s stomach clenched. Was there something else wrong with him?

Leslie turned back to him and patted his hand. “You just need to be more open with your family when you feel sick. This illness is a rare complication from untreated strep throat. If you’d told Dick or Bruce about your sore throat all those weeks ago, we’d have avoided this whole kerfuffle.”

Damian hung his head. “Oh. Right.”

With a final pat, Leslie stood. “Bruce, I’ll write up a prescription, and please keep an eye on him. If he develops any other symptoms or has further issues with his heart, contact me immediately or take him to the hospital. Rheumatic fever can be extremely serious.”

Bruce nodded curtly. “Understood.”

Dick escorted the doctor out of the cave, but Bruce turned back to Damian.

“Father, I… I’m sorry.” Damian fidgeted with the hem of the pillowcase. “Dr. Thompkins shouldn’t have yelled at you. It’s my fault. I just thought I could be strong enough. Like you.”

Bruce sat on the cot. “Damian, true strength doesn’t mean keeping your pain to yourself.”

“Pot calling the kettle black,” Dick sang cheerily as he returned. “You are two peas in a pod.”

Bruce huffed at that, but went on. “You don’t have to hide things like this from us, you know.”

Damian hung his head. “I know.”

“C’mere,” Dick said, and bundled him in a bear hug, nuzzling his chin against Damian’s hair. Bruce chuckled, but then Dick snaked out an arm and pulled him into the hug, too.

Suddenly Dick pulled away again with a gasp. “You’ll be resting a lot as you recover, right? So, you’ll have plenty of time to learn some new games!”

Damian shrugged, in no mood to protest.

Dick tapped his fingertips together eagerly. “Let’s see, Dutch Blitz is a good one, has Tim taught you that one yet?”

Bruce started to get up, but Dick yanked on his sleeve. “Oh no, big guy, you’re not sneaking out on this. We’re gonna get Damian moved upstairs and then we’re gonna have fun whether you like it or not!”

Damian snorted, trying to hold in a laugh. With the prospect of more quality time with his favorite people, the ache in his joints had already started to fade. Besides, he thought with a smile, perhaps a family game night could do him some good, after all.