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Kerosene and Flame

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Jason can’t remember the last time he’s been allowed to relax like this. For the past few years, he’s relied on his anger to push him from one fight to the next, never stopping once to rest or let himself breathe between ass-kickings. Who knew that what Jason really needed all along was an island getaway?

Kori’s island is like something out of a fairytale. Time doesn’t exist here; one day bleeds fluidly into the next with another dose of salty ocean and sunshine, ever-present and serene. Jason can rest without consequence, which is a feeling so foreign that it takes a few days before he lets himself believe it’s not a trap.

Like the island, Kori is also timelessly beautiful. The beach and sky thrive in her wake, reflecting her etherealness back at her like she’s the battery to its core. Her smile pushes and pulls the waves, beguiling them to lick the shore and kiss the rocks before they go. Her warmth overpowers the very sun, erasing all need for it because there’s already a star here, and her sunbeams are the best kind.

Jason finds himself growing more and more grateful every day that he washed up here, of all places. He grew up in Gotham’s endless shadows, seeing them as shelter from an unforgiving world. Now, with Koriand’r, Jason is starting to appreciate the sunlight.

“I don’t suppose your fancy spaceship has any sunscreen, huh?” he asks, eyeing a suspicious spot on his forearm. “I’m starting to freckle out here.” Of course, the sunlight has its disadvantages too.

Kori shrugs. She sits cross-legged in the sand in front of him while he braids her mane of orange-red hair, threading blossoms through the tresses into a fiery cascade down her back. “My people have no use for protection from the sun. Me using sunscreen would be as useless as you drinking a glass without water.”

Jason figured as much. “I’m not built for places that aren’t cast over by mile-thick pollution and smog.”

“If it bothers you that much, we can always stay inside until sundown,” she suggests. “We can pick up some sunblock for you on our next grocery run.” Finally. Jason is starting to get sick of their diet of endless Twinkies and coconuts.

“And what are we supposed to do until then?” he asks, taming a stubborn flyaway and coaxing it back into the inferno. “The cable’s still busted until I get a new antenna for it, and no offense, but you don’t exactly have a lot of Tamaranian board games.”

Kori hums, thinking. “Well, we could always have sex if you’re bored.” She suggests it so casually, like she’s offering up a round of Go Fish.

Jason chokes on his spit. “Uh, I don’t—” He can feel his ears heating up, the blush spreading down his face to his neck. “No,” he gets out. “No, um. Thanks, but I’m good.” He focuses on weaving Kori’s hair, trying to ignore the flush under his skin.

Kori laughs to herself, the sound like tinkling bells. “You’re strange. You get flustered so easily.”

“Yeah, well, humans don’t typically talk about... that... as freely as you do. Not most of them.”

Kori picks up a cracked seashell and runs her fingernail over the grooves, tracing its finite spiral to the center. “Most men get excited when I bring up sex. Women do too. But you get uncomfortable.”

Jason finishes off the braid, tying it all together with a hair tie. “Maybe I’m just built differently.”

“Why is that?” Kori turns around so they are facing each other, their knees almost touching. She brings the braid around to fall over her shoulder. The ends drag in the sand, collecting grains that she either doesn’t notice or doesn’t care to swipe away. “Why don’t you like physical touch?”

“It’s not that I don’t like being touched,” Jason says. “I like it just fine.” Hugs from Alfred. A pat on the shoulder from Bruce. Sparring with Dick. “But here, with you...well, it’s different.”

Kori’s eyes dim. She scoots back an inch. “You just don’t like being touched by me.”

“No! No, of course I do, Kori.” To prove his point, Jason reaches out and takes her hand. Kori’s skin is an open flame, hot enough to feel but not enough to hurt. It’s comforting, like being tucked under piles of blankets or in front of a campfire. “You’re one of the best friends I’ve had in...well, ever.”

Until he met Kori, Jason wasn’t so sure if he was deserving of friends after the things he’d done. But Kori accepted him instantly with open arms. He can be himself around her. He doesn’t have to worry about being thrown away or judged for his past, no matter how repugnant his secrets may be.

Kori cocks her head to the side. Green pupilless eyes search Jason’s face, peeling back his layers and seeking to find the answers within. “Then it’s sex,” she concludes. “You don’t like it?”

Jason chews his cheek. How is he supposed to explain his sexuality to an alien whose first language is touch? Part of Kori’s culture revolves around physical intimacy, sharing oneself with another as a means of connection.

“I don’t exactly...feel things the way you do, Kori,” he starts. “You’re a very tactile person. You like skin contact and connection and...you know, sex.” He blushes just saying the word. He pushes through. “But it’s not like that for me. I don’t feel sexual attraction the way you do.” He takes a breath. “I’m asexual.”

Kori frowns, but it’s not unkind—more like confused, trying to make the numbers match up. “I thought humans needed partners to reproduce?”

Jason can’t help but snort at that. “It’s not a reproduction thing, Kori. Not the way it is for me. There are a lot of people in the world who feel the same way I do, but it’s not as widely accepted, I guess.” He scratches the back of his neck. “Honestly, most humans don’t believe asexuality is a real thing. It’s...complicated.”

Kori releases Jason’s hand to take a flower from the pile of remaining blossoms. She tucks it into her seashell like a tiny vase, placing it on Jason’s knee. “Then explain it to me, Jason. I’ll listen.”

Jason lies down, hot sand pressing against his back and prickling his skin. He tucks one arm behind his head, staring up at the bright blue sky. “It’s like...okay, like you see people and you can feel the attraction to them. It’s like a biological response. I never had that. I don’t get attracted to people that way. It doesn’t even occur to me.”

Kori nods, processing the information. She’s a good listener. “So you don’t like sex?”

Jason shrugs. “Not really. When I look at people, I don’t see their attractiveness or what I can get out of being with them. I just see them. Sex is not very...important to me, I guess is the best way to explain it.”

Kori’s eyes are not unkind. “You talk about it like it’s a puzzle.”

Jason’s mouth twitches upward. “It’s easier in my head. It’s hard to describe a feeling when the thing you’re ‘feeling’ is the total lack of it.”

Overall, Jason has never been a fan of sex. His memories have been sludge ever since the Pit, and the time after that is murky and disjointed. He has vague memories of being in Talia’s bed, touching her, being touched by her, but it feels more like a dream than an actual experience he lived through. Sometimes Jason is sure he imagined it. Other times he’s not so sure that his mind was completely aware of what his body was being made to do.

Whatever it was, that night didn’t change much for him. If anything, it just solidified how much Jason wasn’t interested in sex. Just thinking about it makes him uneasy, like imagining a booger monster or a car crash.

“I’m not interested in people, Kori. Not sexually. Most people are, but I’m not.”

He’s not broken up over it. It’s just a fact that Jason has accepted about himself, like his hair color or that he prefers green apples to red ones. It’s part of who he is. Compared to being a teenage vigilante and coming back from the dead, Jason’s asexuality might be the most normal thing about him.

Plus, it gives him ample time to worry about more practical things, like assassinating mobsters or avenging his own death.

“And what about the other parts?” Kori asks, looking down at Jason curiously. It’s unnerving, being pinned under her gaze. It’s easy to forget that Kori is as intense as Jason, only she harbors her intensity on the inside. Jason’s fits like a reflective vest. “Dates, romance? I’m told it’s a very large part of human culture.”

“Do I look like the kind of guy who goes out on a lot of dates? ‘Hello, you’re looking lovely tonight. Please ignore the blood on my jacket, I just took out a drug ring on the way here.’” Kori laughs, and Jason can’t help but join in. It’s so easy with her; he’s allowed to exist and nothing more.

“But I don’t know,” he says. “It sounds nice in theory, but it’s not easy to figure out what you like when you’re busy going rabid and plotting revenge against your dad.”

“This is why you reacted the way you did when I kissed you,” Kori realizes. She’s referring to Jason’s first night here. The night that began with Kori kissing him, and ended with Jason confessing to her the tragedy of his past and all of his trauma. It was the most cathartic night of his life.

“Well, being kissed by a stranger is off-putting to most people,” he reminds her. “But...yeah, kind of. Even if you’d asked, I would have turned you down.”

“I’m sorry. I wouldn’t have done it if I had known.”

“S’okay,” Jason replies. “You didn’t know. No harm done.” How can he blame her for being herself? He can’t ask Kori to be any less Tamaranian than she can ask him to be less Jason.

Kori lies down beside him, stretching out on the warm sand with her side pressed against his. “Do I make you uncomfortable, Jason?” It’s an innocent question. Kori’s head is turned so she can see his face, her own eyes wide and genuine.

Jason learned early on that Kori is more comfortable with her body than most people, and Jason has never minded that about her. He likes the reminder that she feels safe around him, despite all of the warning signs. He isn’t bothered by her unchaste lifestyle—like the bikini she’s wearing now, or the few times Kori would forgo a shirt when grabbing a soda from the fridge even though Jason was right there in the kitchen reading a book.

Jason has never complained. Kori already explained to him her body’s need to absorb sunlight, so it’s logical that the most efficient way of photosynthesizing that energy is through skin exposure. It’s more fascinating to him than anything, and it’s not like Jason cares about a little exposed flesh. Kori is her own person. If she wants to strut around in what she feels comfortable wearing, then who is Jason to stop her?

(Jason, meanwhile, could never dress so freely. He knows Kori would never judge him for his scars, but Jason prefers as many layers as possible to cover up every painful inch. He envies her liberation.)

Jason shakes his head. “Nah, I trust you. The crazy part is that you trust me back. Not many people would be so okay bunking with the Red Hood.”

“Well, I don’t see you that way,” Kori says with certainty. “You may have done bad things, but so does everyone. The real you is kind. I’d trust you with my life, Jason.”

Bruce said the same thing to him years ago, back when Jason’s innocence and Robin symbol were still untattered.

Kori links their pinkies together on the sand and rests her head on his shoulder. “What about this?” she asks. “Is this good contact?” It is. Kori is warm and soft, a living heated blanket. Jason could fall asleep right here.

By all logic, they shouldn’t be here, be friends, be this. It shouldn’t work as well as it does, the same way that a can of kerosene can’t be friends with an open flame, but here they are. Kerosene and flame. Jason and Kori, pinkies linked on the sand.

He rests his cheek against the top of her head. “You’re a good friend, Kori. I’m glad that I met you.”

“And I, you, Jason Todd.”