until you’re warm
Posted originally on the Archive of Our Own at

Archive Warning:
Creator Chose Not To Use Archive Warnings
Batman - All Media Types
Jason Todd & Bruce Wayne, Alfred Pennyworth & Bruce Wayne
Bruce Wayne, Jason Todd, Alfred Pennyworth, Clark Kent
Additional Tags:
Mentioned Dick Grayson, Whump, Hurt/Comfort, Hypothermia, Kid Jason Todd, Implied/Referenced Child Abuse, Implied/Referenced Drug Use, Blood and Injury, Lazarus Pit (DCU), Hurt Jason Todd, Protective Bruce Wayne, Medical Procedures, Surgery, Needles, superbat if you squint
Part 2 of matches (made in hell)
Published: 2023-08-22 Words: 7,464 Chapters: 1/1

until you’re warm


Bruce finds a boy, frozen and alone under the Batmobile.


Sequel time! Posting as a separate work so the original fairytale theme won't get messed up. Set during the time skip in part one. Could be read as a standalone but you might miss out on some of the AU context.

extra warnings for: medical inaccuracies, reckless driving, graphic depictions of invasive surgery.

until you’re warm

When Bruce first sees the frozen boy with the tuft of black hair, peeking out from under the Batmobile, he almost yells out Dick’s name.

“Robin!” he shouts instead—as loud fireworks go off like gunshots in the dark alley of his nightmares—before jumping down from the rooftop in a panic, landing awkwardly in the snow. It's only after he’s crouched over the kid, looking at his upside down face, that he remembers.

Dick isn’t here, and Dick isn’t Robin.

Reaching around the unidentified boy’s naked shoulders, he hauls him out from beneath the car. Terminal burrowing; he must've started undressing soon afterwards too—Bruce can see the sleeve of a red shirt poking out from under a nearby pile of snow.

He tries feeling for a pulse, but there’s nothing he can reach with the layer of ice encasing his skin, shrouding his body in a deadly chrysalis, sweat gone white with cold.

Sparkling like a diamond; dead under the streetlamp.

Bruce can't administer CPR like this, his chest is completely frozen over; it would cave in like a roof, crushing the little boy’s heart instantly. If he clutches him any harder Bruce is afraid he’ll shatter right there in his arms. His blue eyes are blank, frosted over, trapped forever staring into the night sky, eyelids open.

Bruce deactivates the Batmobile’s security and places him gently along the backseats, horizontal.

The boy is light, too light. Even as waterlogged as he is with all the snow.

Hollow bones. Like a bird.

Like Dick.

He pulls a blanket out from below the seats, and tosses it over him. All the paradoxical undressing has technically prevented the boy from getting any wetter, but it’s of no help to his temperature. He slides into the driver’s seat. Bruce knows hypothermia isn’t necessarily the be-all-end-all to anyone’s life. It’s one of the closest ways you can get to death while still having a good chance of being revived.

He’s experienced it before. On purpose.

But he doesn’t know how long the boy has been out in the cold. The only reason he’d come back here so soon after following a police scanner’s directions to The Bowery, was because of the alert pinged to his display, the small wisp of fire and smoke detected by the sensors along the doors of the car.

And the kid just—

He’d left the Batmobile in Park Row. The boy was likely born and raised here, or at least in the surrounding few blocks at most—a street kid had been his first thought—but Bruce gets the feeling that by this age he would've already found a regular winter shelter to stay in, if he’d been living unhoused this entire time. So recently unhoused, then—perhaps recently orphaned too. Perhaps neglected. Kicked out by the parents? A runaway? No training or endurance for any of the things Bruce has been through anyhow. If he’s underweight his chances of surviving this are much lower, not to mention the likelihood of drugs in his system.


“—ster Bruce? Sir? Master Bruce?”

“Al—Alfred,” Bruce chokes out.

“Don’t you dare let that car heat up, young man. You need to get him to the hospital.


“Then get him here right now.”

“Got it,” he mumbles, pressing a button on the dashboard. He looks away from the boy and clasps his gloved hands around the steering wheel.

He feels the pedals crack under his boot.

“Alfred?” he calls quietly.

“Yes, Master Bruce?”

“Doesn’t he—he looks like—”

“I know, sir,” Alfred’s voice calms him, a little, it’s a reminder that he’s not the only one seeing this pure horror, that someone understands the fear coursing through him, “but you need to focus if you want the boy alive.”

Bruce’s hands grip the wheel tighter, “He’s going to make it.”

“I most certainly hope so, sir.”

The Batmobile tears through the streets. It drives as comfortably as it does on tar seal as it does on pure ice. Bruce’s eyes flick between the misty road, the moving symbol on the navigation screen, and the mirror next to his head.

A tiny bubble of vapour floats out from one of the boy’s nostrils.

Then back in.

Barely one breath, ever since he’d found him. Bruce doesn’t have much time.

He doesn’t think to worry about the dangers of the fog ghosting the streets. His tyres burn rubber straight through the ice, streaking across the asphalt in narrow arcs as he turns corner after corner. Over the open comms he can hear Alfred preparing the medical bay, glass and metal clicking together in a steady—yet somehow frantic—rhythm. He’s driving too fast to not leave marks heading straight towards the cave entrance, and punches in a morse coded message to Barbara, thumbing at the tiny keyboard embedded into the steering wheel.

She’ll likely ignore him, after how things went down with Dick.

The Batmobile goes dark, lit only by the glowing control panels as it flies into the earth, deeper and deeper into the ground.

It doesn’t matter, the cave isn’t as important as his mission right now.

His identity isn’t as important as the mission right now.

He blindly navigates the maze of tunnels, pure muscle memory pushed to the extreme as he forces the vehicle to its limit. The engine is booming behind him, a loud thunderstorm. The vibrations shake the charm off the mirror—the one Bruce had watched Dick hang up when he’d finally become old enough to drive it during patrol—and it falls somewhere in front of the passenger seat.

The shaking is going to put the kid into shock. Bruce inhales sharply, gritting his teeth. But he can’t slow down now, every passing second is another tax on the boy’s short life. He swears under his breath in relief when the blue-ish light of the Batcave comes into view, layers of gates and disguised rock walls already unlocked and parted to make way for the speeding car.

He slowly presses on the brakes, trying desperately to prevent a harsh lurch as he forces the Batmobile to carefully skid in a circle, ridding itself of all the kinetic energy. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Alfred running towards him with a gurney, and Bruce turns to climb out of the car, not bothering to close the door.

He reaches the side doors just as Alfred arrives, and he gathers the boy into his arms, placing him onto the black padding as Alfred hurries to snatch the blankets before they fall to the floor, securing them over him once again.

They wheel him into the medical bay, Bruce pushing while Alfred pulls a nasal cannula over his small face, then takes his temperature as they run.

“Alfred? What is it?” Bruce asks, staring at Alfred’s deepening frown in fear.

“Core is twenty one, still dropping, sir—I’m surprised he’s not in cardiac arrest yet, strong lad—the CPB machine has already been prepared; go get yourself ready.”


“Got it,” he says shortly, picking the boy up and moving him to the operation table.

He looks paler under the harsh lights. Sickly.

Bruce pulls a hospital gown over him.

He runs a few steps away, then starts peeling out of his suit; gloves, cowl and upper armour; cape fluttering to the floor. His hand burns under tap water as he cleans them before sliding on a pair of medical gloves instead. Quickly tying his green gown, Bruce pulls on the rest of his PPE in a flurry of movement, goggles snapping to his skin as he lets go of the elastic.

Rolling the IV tower closer, Bruce reaches for the boy’s hand, flipping it over to expose his wrists. He’s so stiff, like a corpse in rigour mortis, despite the lethargic, slow beeps from the heart rate monitor in the corner telling him he isn’t. Out of the corner of his eye, he can see that Alfred’s already almost done with disinfecting his chest—thankfully no longer so horrifically frozen as it had been earlier—and Bruce sets to work on the frail arm in his hand. A few swipes later, he checks that the fluid warmer is set to the right temperature, and inserts the catheter, before covering it with dressing.

“Oh, dear.”

Bruce startles and glances up to see Alfred standing, holding a breathing tube in one hand as he stares at something on the kid’s face, hidden by the butler’s gloved hand clasping his chin.

“His tongue froze,” Alfred murmurs, sounding old, “all the saliva behind his lips too, this will take a second.”

Bruce looks away.

He ends up making the first incision himself.

Splitting the skin down the centre of his chest, he tries to keep the cut as straight and clean as he can. These kinds of scars are almost impossible to hide without magical or alien intervention, he’s seen enough old rich shirtless men at his galas to know, and he doesn’t want the kid feeling any worse about it after. If he survives this, at least. He cuts through the chest wall next, fingers sinking into the chilly cavity, holding it open as it grows deeper.

Alfred stands ready with the saw, opposite him, face grim even under the mask, and takes over once Bruce exposes the breastbone.

While Alfred works his way through the bone—the hollow, hollow bones of the bird spread out all over his table—Bruce switches to holding the cardiac sucker. There’s barely any fluids leaking out, the kid’s BPM barely counts as beats—plural, so slow that his body can hardly gather enough strength to push anymore blood through the open wound.

“Done,” Alfred says, leaning back.

Bruce presses in the sternal retractor with one hand, handing the tube to Alfred so he can work it open, slowly opening up the hole above the boy’s poor, quivering heart.

His life is in their hands, a little bird under his palm, and Bruce refuses to let that blessing go to waste.

“Master Bruce?”

“I’m fine, Alfred,” Bruce says, locking the retractor in place over the blue sterile drapes framing the now-gaping incision. He pulls Alfred’s prepared tray of freshly unpackaged surgical instruments closer.

This is simple. This is nothing to him. He’s the—no—The Batman.

He cuts open the final layer protecting the delicate, peach-coloured organ, quickly placing long stitches in a circle through the pericardium; peeling it gently back, to pin against the rim of his chest, leaving the boy’s heart fully exposed to the air of the cave.

Like a butterfly, pinned under the glass.

Ahead of him, Alfred shifts to place the heart-lung console on the boy, where his abdomen would be under the gown, and begins his final inspection to check for any air bubbles he's missed while Bruce starts his work.

He threads sutures through the aorta, needle sinking easily through the valve, before snaring them in place. Bruce puts the needle driver down and picks up a scalpel, making a small incision between the threads. His left hand moves in, finger pressing over the slit, feeling the small push of cold blood below the thin material of his gloves—like a baby's kick to a mother's womb—while his other hand places the knife down.

Alfred passes him a tube. He shifts his finger away and carefully inserts the thin arterial cannula through the hole, making sure not to hit the back wall of the aorta.

A chill goes through his spine as he waits, but soon enough, the boy’s weak pulse makes another valiant pump, painting the transparent tube in a scarlet red.

“Good lad,” Alfred mumbles under his breath, then reaches forward to assist, holding the tubing in place while Bruce ties a heavy silk thread around both the cannula and snare, wrapping it a few times over to secure it tightly.

He pulls the remaining thread taut, and Alfred snips the excess with a scissor.

They wait, anxiously, as the cannula slowly fills with blood. It takes longer than usual, too long, but it climbs to the peak eventually. Alfred hands him the aortic line to the pump—the heart-lung machine—and he squeezes the edges of each tube gently, forcing both liquids out as he connects them together, free of any air pockets, and twists them to ensure a safe connection.


Passing the newly completed line back to Alfred to organise, he sets his gaze on the next task.

Bruce repeats the same style of stitches—this time, across the triangular pouch just above the boy’s atrium, the right atrial appendage. He goes slow, careful to avoid piercing the nearby artery, or the fragile chamber below. His hands stay steady. Once he’s all done, he snares threads again, and puts down one of his two needle drivers, then picks up a clean pair of scissors instead, before calling out, “Alfred, are you ready?”

“Always, Master Bruce.”

Together, with Alfred clasping a forceps of his own, they each grab at a side of the appendage, lifting it up slightly and pulling it in opposite directions. Bruce leans over the operating table, closer, and snips the stretched gap—between the sutures and their instruments—with his scissors.

Blood gushes out, and Bruce’s forceps slip.

“Steady on sir, stay calm,” Alfred says, distantly.

Bruce doesn’t register it. The only noise he can hear are the slow, struggling beeps of the monitor. Exhausted chirps from a dying star. He tries again and again to snag his half of the tiny appendage back into his forcep’s grip, feeling his own heartbeat frantically race as blood continues to pour out of the hole, spreading over the pale heart and drenching it with a deathly red.


“What,” Bruce blinks again.

“You’ve caught it,” Alfred praises quietly.

He looks down. The flow has slowed, their forceps are pulling together and holding the incision closed. Bruce sighs in relief, harsh breath ballooning out his mask.

Forcing his other hand to stop shaking—he’s Batman, for God's sake, he’s better than this—he picks up the cavoatrial cannula, and brings it down to where their forceps are clicking, tightly pressing together. Alfred drags his portion of the flesh back, pulling open the flap again in a controlled motion, and as the blood flows forth once more, Bruce slides the cannula right in.

Once he’s sure it’s passed safely into the right atrium, he aims it down towards the kid’s feet, and pushes until the placement marker on the tube reaches the rim of the hole. He tightens the snare around the tube, then wraps the thick string around them again, repeating the same motions from earlier as he ties it over and over, then holds it taut while Alfred snips the leftovers.

Taking the venous line offered by Alfred's gracious hand, he connects it to the cannula, making sure to stop any air from entering the tubes as does so, completing the final piece of the circuit.

“Rewarming has begun, sir.”


He stabs a knife through the boy’s chest.

Alfred doesn’t flinch.

He puts the scalpel down. Slipping a finger into the hole, he dilates it carefully, sliding gently under the boy’s rib, before withdrawing to place two stitches beside the incision, leaving some extra thread behind. Next, using a Roberts forceps, he tunnels deeper through the thin layers of fat and weak, underdeveloped muscle. With the path now mapped out, he pulls out and grasps a chest tube between the jaws of the forceps.

Guiding the tube into place, he lets it go, knotting the suture to the tube a few times over to secure it sturdily.

One down.

Slitting another hole through the boy’s lower sternum, beneath the original far longer incision and next to the previous chest tube, he repeats the process all over again; and then, finally, Alfred takes over to attach the two tubes to the drainage canister waiting below the operating table, activating the suction machine before quickly dressing the small wounds.

Bruce snaps off his gloves.

There’s nothing more to do than to wait.

For now.

After wrapping up, Alfred makes him tea, and he sits to drink, eyes locked to the monitor, listening to Alfred toss out the blood stained instruments and replace them with new, sealed packets as he preps for the eventual closing process.

But that's all for later.

He brushes his fingers through the boy’s dark hair, soft under his touch, no longer solidified into needles of ice; listening to the faint whir of the mechanical ventilator’s tubes forcing warm oxygen into his lungs. A steady loop.

The tea tastes bland in his mouth. It soothes his throat still, of course, from the scratchiness built up over his winter patrol, but it feels like molten, rotten guilt in his mouth. If only the kid had had this, out there, he thinks. Why is Bruce allowed to sit here, relaxing his feet, his aching bruises from patrol, while a forgotten child is forced to lie there—barely tethered to the world?

It’s the same feeling he’d felt, seeing the shock overcome Dick’s face while Bruce had sat in the crowd, legs crossed as Dick watched his parents’ ones become a tangled crushed heap on the floor. Safe, secure, while Dick was spinning below the big top without a net to catch him. All for a few dollars.

While Bruce had been changing into his PPE earlier, Alfred had cut through the boy’s jeans with his trauma shears.

The only thing Bruce had seen in the property basket, was a handful of pennies.


He doesn’t think the boy had been stealing—even that small amount of change is too repetitive for that. Bruce doesn’t want to think about what the boy could’ve been selling, the cheapest things he can think of are individual cigarettes, maybe, but he can’t know for sure. He wants to tell himself it’s just the kid’s allowance, that it’s only pocket money to buy candies with; he doubts it too much to even begin to say it though—given the country’s inflation rates—and it hardly sounds plausible that someone would provide him coins before shelter.

…At least Bruce wouldn’t have.




Eighty minutes later, the boy still isn’t improving.


“He’s not dead yet.”

“What’s wrong with him?”

“I don’t know, sir. It could be that he’s too small, too starved, too young or too weak. He could have any number of underlying issues we aren’t aware of. Allergies; an infection, anything.”

The heat exchanger is almost done rewarming the blood to a far safer level; and according to the oesophageal temperature probe, his core is looking better too.

It should be working.

“We did everything right.”

“Only from what little information we had, sir.”

Bruce scrubs a hand over his face, saying, “I’m not giving up,” as he wipes away a sheen of sweat. It isn’t so late that he should be feeling tired, usually he wouldn’t even be back in the cave yet. But he just feels. So. Tired.

“The chances are—”

“I’m not giving up Alfred.”

“Master Bruce,” he says, in that tone he always used when Bruce was flying too far off the edge when he was young, “I’m not asking you to, but you must remember that it’s alright to let people go sometimes.”

Bruce glares. “Not this time.”

“I only meant that you can’t save everyone; you know I’m not talking about that.”

“It’s my duty. No one else was there for him,” Bruce snaps, pacing in front of the monitor, “he came to my car.”

“He could have been lost, separated from his family by accident; even if they are most likely impoverished—you can’t just steal him. You don’t even know who this child is, let alone whose.”

“But that doesn’t—”


He blinks hard, then whirls around to the body on the table.

That’s something he can do.

Bruce pulls up his surgery gown, and reaches for his utility belt—still fastened over the lower half of his Batsuit beneath—he snaps open a pouch, pulling out his custom forensics kit. Kneeling down next to the boy’s hand, still a little purple around the edges, Bruce takes his fingerprints.

“Can you get his photograph?” He doesn’t need to look up to know Alfred is already by his side, as always no matter how difficult he’s been behaving.

Not that he’d openly admit it.

“His ET is still in place, it would be too distorted to search with.”

“Fine. Check the cowl’s footage and extrapolate from there.”

“Yes, sir.”

He collects the rest of the samples. A black strand from his head, a drop of blood from the drainage canister. With the boy's face obscured under the sunglasses Alfred had placed over him—to protect him from harsh light while his eyelids had been frozen open—Bruce can see nothing but flashes of Dick’s younger days in his mind. Body limber and young, tiny enough to fly through the smallest of hoops set up around the cave’s gym.

The first scare when his skin was torn to shreds by a jagged knife—right in front of Bruce’s eyes.

They need to get a name.

He places the collected DNA into their respective containers for analysis, but takes the fingerprints with him, heading to the Batcomputer as Alfred pieces together a frontal image of the boy’s face.

“This is as close as I can get,” Alfred clicks, enlarging the assembled photo, before minimising it to submit into their archive scourer. Bruce slides his paper under the scanner, watching as Alfred catches the digital copy and adds it to the filter.

Rows upon rows of people rush them by; hospital records, school enrollment forms, voting registrations, the GCPD database Gordon had given him—and the ones Bruce had hacked into in his own time—even the JLA’s shared-logs. They disappear quickly as the computer begins to narrow down their search, until one small file remains. The title is blank, so Alfred clicks to access the PDF while Bruce leans in over the back of the chair, crossing his arms.

It loads in less than a second, a single, brief document, barely even a quarter of a page.










“Three years ago…” Alfred mutters, after pulling up the file’s metadata. “That puts him at about eleven or so now. It looks like Dr. Thompkins was in Europe at the time, so no connection there. Bloody hell, this photo is of no use, it’s grainier than my own collage, hm, let me see what turns up for just the young Master Jason on his own.”

Bruce stares at the page, whispers, “Jason,” solemnly, “Jay,” and begins to force a connection between the name and face in his mind. The heart rate monitor beeps in the background behind them, ever unchanging. He watches for a moment as Alfred retraces their steps, removing the scan and images and switching to a simple name lookup; then turns to keep his eyes on the medical wing of the cave, operation room hidden by the anti-contamination dividers.

“No birth certificate,” the older man says, about ten minutes later, “but there’s a prison medical record for one Willis Todd, he survived a random gang related attack and was later released on good behaviour. He was married to the late Catherine Todd, who died in January this—ah,” Alfred pauses, “right. Happy New Year, Master Bruce.”

“Happy New Year, Alfred,” Bruce says, distracted, still watching the screen across the room, displaying a live feed of the monitor beyond the curtain. He doesn’t remember hearing the fireworks go off, now that he thinks about it, only the smell of gunpowder.

“Anyway, as I was saying; Mrs. Todd died last year, succumbing to organ failure after undergoing hospitalisation for an overdose. She has no children under her name. But in some of the security footage during visitation hours…” There's a swishing noise behind him as Alfred spins the chair and slides off of it, tapping his shoulder and gesturing for Bruce to sit down.

He presses play.

It’s a shot of a long hallway, some number of floors up at the Gotham General Hospital building, the inpatient wing—at least by what Bruce can tell from the window at the end of the corridor; he doubts he’s wrong.

A boy pops out of the restroom doors, slowly turns to judge the deserted area, then books it down the hall to room number seven, disappearing out of sight. Bruce scrolls back. “That’s him.”

“I thought so. The whitelist only permits entry for one Jason Todd. No Willis.”

“And there’s no record for any birth certificates under Willis, either?”

“None, looks like he must’ve had them purged during his criminal career. You know how Mister Dent gets about his goons.”

“Hn,” Bruce resigns to nod, “so we’re back to square one. No medical information, nothing—except that he isn't allergic to the ingredients in a dengue shot. Damnit.”

“Well, I wouldn’t say that, Master Bruce,” Alfred scoffs, placing a hand on his shoulder, “you have a name for the boy after all, and a… general estimate of his age.”

It takes him a second, and Bruce lurches to a stand, “I wouldn't have put him in a pauper’s grave! Even if he had died.”

“That is not a definite statement yet, sir, he’s still dying.”

“He won’t.”

Brushing past, he abandons the control room, heading back into the medbay.

The boy—Jason, is still there. Clinging onto life.

He stands there at a distance, for a moment, watching the slow beats of the heart, hearing the tap of Alfred’s oxfords coming to a stop behind him, then moves to pick up the fresh set of PPE gear lying on a shelf.

“Okay.” Bruce takes a deep breath. “I have a plan. Be ready to reverse the anticoagulation, we’re closing him up.”




They work in silence.

After removing the cannulas, he sutures the pericardium shut—it’s not the most necessary of procedures, but if their attempt to reach the pit somehow fails, he’d rather avoid the risk of cardiac tamponade in the small chance that Jason survives without it.

Slowly unwinding and sliding out the retractor next; he takes the sterile swabs Alfred hands him and slides one beneath each half of Jason’s separated breastbones. He picks up a heavy duty forceps, then carefully starts suturing the split back together; sliding thick, stainless steel wires in and out along the bone, feeling the popping sensation faintly buzz through his fingers after every successful pierce.


So soft.

They hadn’t even needed to use the drill they’d kept on standby, just as Bruce had privately predicted. After this, he’ll have to get him on calcium supplements. Or something. He clips the leftover wire, and hands the spool off to Alfred, then cuts through the loops. Sliding his finger beneath the narrow metal bridges to retrieve the swabs; he tosses them to the bin by the wall without a second glance.

The wires run down the middle of Jason’s torso, crossing over each other like the ribbons on a ballerina’s pointe shoe, and Bruce’s chest aches. Not in empathetic feeling, but in a thoughtful kind of sorrow. He wonders if Jason has ever attended a ballet before.

He wonders if he’d like it.

Checking the holes over for bleeding, he motions to Alfred when he finds none, and they reach in together with empty hands. Pulling the wires from opposite sides, they close up his sternum, wincing sympathetically at the sight and sound of Jason’s chest shifting. Creaking. Like one of the doors back at manor.

Once the gap has finally shut, Bruce twists the opposing wires together, keeping tension and trapping them in place before trimming them again.

Picking the forceps up once more, he sets to work tightening the twists, making sure the seam is completely locked up, while trying not to go so far as to rip the wires from the bone, or break them under his tool’s grip. With everything safe and set—Jason’s heart locked away once more—he bends the protruding wire flat to finish.

Now for the rest.

The deep tissue is sewn together quickly, practised hands skimming over the pinky-red flesh. He’s done this a hundred times, probably even more than that, to both himself and others. Bruce makes a conscious effort to slow down once he reaches the top layer of Jason’s skin, careful to keep his sutures neat and tidy, under his butler’s watchful eye. If—once, this is all over, he’ll have to get the kid some Brucie-approved creams.

Unless he wants to keep the souvenir, Bruce won’t judge.

By the end of it, Jason looks more like a boy, and less like a carcass torn apart by the unforgiving hands of Gotham.

His own hands.

But the illusion is destroyed by the drainage pipes left sticking out of his chest, and the breathing tube still down his throat.

Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Alfred leave with a tray of contaminated tools and fabrics. He strips off his protective wear and bundles them up in his arms.

Bruce takes a deep breath.

“Clark, I need you now,” he says, softly, and then, “Superman!”

There’s nothing for a moment, then; a distant booming noise sounds out from beyond the ceiling of the cave, insulated by the earth and air between them, somewhere high above the clouds. A blur of red-yellow-blue streaks into the cave, and then Clark and his blue eyes are right there right in front of him, hovering.

“Bruce? What’s wro—” Clark’s expression snaps from moderate concern to harsh seriousness and fear when he looks over his shoulder, “is that Di—”

“No,” Bruce says almost too quickly, “his name is Jason, I’ll explain later. I need, I need your—”

“Assistance. Okay,” Clark finishes easily, “what can I do?”

Shoulders relaxing in relief, he turns to the keyboard and pulls up a radar scan of the geothermal spring, pindrops scattered across the map marking all the tunnels leading into it. “I need you to fly with us to the Lazarus Pit. We’re breaking in,” he explains, just as Alfred returns from the incinerator room.

“Mister Kent, can not fly him there,” Alfred pauses in shock, looking between them in bewilderment, “he’s barely out of surgery. He will die.”

“I know. That’s why we’re taking the Batwing.”

“We are?” Clark tears his gaze away from Jason and looks at him, “why did you call for me then?”

“Your X-ray vision and enhanced hearing will help to monitor him during travel. At a low altitude and speed your flight won’t nearly be as much of a risk—and your strength will keep him steadier—so once we're there you can carry Jason while I clear the path." He tilts his head. "Does your suit have gloves?”

“Uh, yes?”

“Then you can float to dip him in the waters too.”

“I’m not as trained as you are in medicine,” Clark says, looking unconvinced, “what use are my eyes and ears if something goes wrong?”

“It’s fine. I’ll coach you through it if something happens,” Bruce scowls, “I’m not asking you to do a surgery while in turbulence, Kent. And if it becomes necessary, we can always switch places.”

Clark glances towards Alfred, considering. “And Pennyworth isn't coming becaus—"

“I need him on the comms,” he interrupts, “the connection speed is too slow in that region due to the base's interference. The Batwing wouldn't be able to access the servers here fast enough. He stays here.” Bruce switches labels to highlight the jamming towers.

“Okay okay, I get it, Bruce. Your plan checks out.”

“Of course it does.”

“Yeah, real humble, Bruce.”

“I do my best.”

Next to them, Alfred sighs, relenting, “If you two sirs are quite done then; I’ll get him ready for transport. Fuel up, and oh—Master Bruce, please do not go shirtless in the presence of our guest.”

Bruce blinks. Oh, that’s right.




All his years of meditation and training could've never prepared him for this.

He doesn’t feel much like The Batman right now, not anymore, even with every part of his suit strapped to him. Just useless. Just Bruce. A simple Wayne, flying a plane over the Atlantic. Like his father used to do before—

They’re in the air now, and Gotham is nothing but a distant speck of dust, left in their trails.

He can’t fly as aggressively fast as wants to, or he might as well have Clark lug Jason over his shoulder, injuries be damned. His only choice is to keep the Batwing smooth and steady, increasing the speed by the tiniest of increments, as they creep closer and closer to the coordinates on the navigation panel besides him.

It feels like he’s crawling at the pace of a sloth.

A snail.

Bruce’s forehead wrinkles beneath his cowl. Jason has probably never been this far from home before, but he wouldn’t wish this as a first destination upon anyone. But… it’s his only hope.

From behind him, Bruce hears a clatter, and the monitor wails. “Kent, what’s happening back there?”

“He’s in cardiac arrest, hold on.”

“Shit.” He pushes the throttle levers harder, speeding the Batwing up as fast as he can get it without risking the destabilisation of Jason’s stretcher. Or worse, Jason himself. There’s a rattle as Clark retrieves the defibrillator from the compartment beneath the table. Bruce feels his fingers burning within the gloves of his Batsuit, squeezing hard as he tries to focus on piloting while listening to the zap of the defibrillator, the quiet thumps of Clark performing compressions against Jason’s small body.

He knows Clark’s control over his own strength is something purely beyond his own comprehension. But he can’t help but think of the first few moments after finding Jason. With his frozen chest and brittle bones. When he hadn’t been Jason in his head, but Dick.

Too little, too late.

The thought of his estranged ward snaps him out of it a little, and he brings up his messages with Barbara. She’s already cleaned up their tracks—the rubber marks leading up to the cave—it seems, but there have been a few reports of one wildly flying Batmobile screaming through the midnight streets over people’s New Year celebrations. She questions why.

In the background, the monitor flat lines again.

He doesn’t bother trying to respond while in flight. She should be asleep by now anyway. Gratitudes can wait.

“Uh, not that I have anything against keeping this kid alive, but I thought the pit could raise the dead?”

“It can; if you don’t mind the higher chance of side effects,” Bruce says under his breath, almost a growl, knowing Clark will hear him regardless, “I’m not saving him from the boiling pot only to throw him into the fire.”

“Think you might need to rework that analogy, your butler told me it was hypothermia,” Clark sighs, “alright, hearts up and running on its own again, but the beats are all wrong.”

“Yeah I can hear it.” The monitor is playing an unnerving tune over the cockpit's speakers, an unsteady rhythm; delicate membranes stretched over the smallest of drums. Easy to scratch, easy to tear. Bruce forces his eyes ahead. “Sounds like AFib; it might trigger a blood clot—”

“—and then a stroke. Okay, how do I stop it?”

“Heparin, third drawer.”

“I can do that."

“It’s only temporary,” he grits out, “his body will deteriorate while it's—”

“We’ll get there Bruce; he’ll make it,” Clark says. It’s indistinguishable from all the other times he’s ever said it, but his voice tonight is somewhat less reassuring than the way Bruce would usually find it. “You'll make it.”

Staring a hole through the window—there would be one, if he had Clark’s powers—he pushes the blend of noises out from his mind and stiffly presses a button, re-scrambling their signal as they cross yet another country's border, creeping closer and closer to their destination as the dawning sun peeks over the horizon.

He wants to believe.




With the Batwing hidden behind a rocky outcropping, they rush to the nearest tunnel. Bruce feels his boots slamming against the stone and gravel, sand kicking up around him as Clark keeps pace with him from behind, holding the gurney—strapped with life support machines and pipes above the wheels, courtesy of Alfred—beneath him as he flies.

The monitor noises are turned off for stealth, only Clark can keep track of his vitals now.

He raises a hand to his cowl. “Cave?”

“Link established, sir.”

“Superman and I are coming up on tunnel four-two-beta now.”

“The guard tower southwest of you is in between rotations,” Alfred says, “you’re clear.”

Bruce lifts his fist, causing Clark to pause, and slinks through the underbrush. A quick swipe of his hand unveils the manhole-like door protecting it. But he’s cracked bigger things. The safety vents dappling the metal leaves just enough space for him to drop a tiny Bat-Drone beneath. It whirs for a moment, and then the seals release. The air pressure doesn’t change, but Clark must still hear the sound of the mechanisms rolling, because he perks up before Bruce can even begin to wave him over.

“We’re in,” he whispers, and Alfred hums an acknowledgement over the line.

Thankfully, it's big enough to fit their precious cargo.

He closes the manhole, and leaves the drone there to hold it shut—digitally at least—until they get back. The shrubbery that had been hiding it can’t be resituated from here, so they don’t have much time before the uncovered tunnel is spotted. At least this way, the guards above ground won’t be able to follow so fast.

Pulling up the holomap on his wrist, he lets the faint glow guide him as he starts to navigate the labyrinth, hoping that the lack of torch will keep their movements out of sight. The network of narrow tunnels collide into each other, circling around the main caverns and artificial structures. They stick to the unused tunnels, the natural air vents keeping the entire space from collapsing under the geothermal pressures. Certain ones are too small to enter, not by them, but by the bulky gurney, and others are worryingly damp with warm residue from recent eruptions.

“Seems a bit dangerous to live down here,” Clark whispers as they avoid another depressurisation chute.

Bruce grunts in response.

He has no issue with the security systems, but they almost run into a patrol of guards twice. First, because one group had slacked off on their pace and passed by the tunnel exit seconds before Bruce had come tumbling from the hole above; and second, because of a random new corridor appearing right up ahead—unmapped by Bruce’s scan.

“Cave, a note to investigate later; there seems to be a bit more activity here than usual. Pathways are being built faster than the cycle of our usual scans. They’re outdated.”

“Copy that, I’ll adjust the frequency.”

“Scan ahead,” he then orders to Clark, smirking, “I told you it’d come in handy.”

Clark rolls his eyes. Both their expressions fall when their gazes drop simultaneously down to see Jason, unconscious under the sheet.

“His heart just skipped. It’s irregular again.”

“Quickly,” Bruce says, unnecessarily, souring.

They’re running out of time.

There’s thankfully only a few more anomalies unaccounted for by the map, and they get by them with ease. They aren’t called The World’s Finest for nothing after all—but it would be, in the end, if they failed now, in Bruce’s opinion. By the time they enter the caverns of the Lazarus Pit, it's barren and empty, right on schedule, save for the eerie green glow.

Bruce pauses on one of the rocks and turns to tug the gurney carrying Jason’s dying body down to the floor. Clark goes easily.

“I’m getting all his tubes and catheters out first so they don’t interfere with the healing process,” Bruce says, pulling out his combat medic kit and retrieving the forceps he needs. “Get him over there as soon as I’m done,”

Clark’s shadow hangs over him as he sets to work removing the chest drains and other implements, before pulling the breathing tube from Jason’s oesophagus.

He starts seizing.

“Go, now!”

The water is too shallow around the edges to completely submerge Jason without stepping into the water, even at his small size, so Bruce is forced to wait—just as he had planned—while Clark carries Jason over the lake, hovering above the deep spot in the middle.

He zooms his lenses in to watch, as Clark lowers him into the water, gloved hands grazing the surface, and Jason slips under, until his black hair disappears into the green; silent as the sea before storm.

Bruce’s heart pounds.

There’s nothing for a moment, even Clark’s red cape sits still in the stale air of the cave.

Bubbles float to the surface, and then splashes.

Jason is thrashing.


“On it.”

Clark scoops him up in the next instance, and Jason breaks through the foam, coughing and spasming and—

“Did it work?” Bruce calls apprehensively from across the lake, teetering on the green edge of dipping tides as they lap near the toes of his boots, like dogs at his feet.

“His heart is beating.” Floating in the air, Clark crosses his legs, and turns Jason over in his arms, analysing, checking over each and every limb, before flying back towards Bruce.

“How fast?” He doesn't need to ask about the lungs, he can hear them working from over here as Jason continues to heave.

“Elevated, obviously, but it’s within the normal range.”

Bruce lets out a sigh of relief.

“Okay,” he whispers under his breath. “Good. Get him on the gurney, we don’t have much time before they notice we’re here.”

Clark lands, and places Jason down across the padding, flipping a lever to prop him up slightly. He barely looks anything like Dick now. Or maybe that's Bruce's own mind settling after the threat has passed. He doesn't know. Jason’s eyes flutter, blinking the Lazarus Pit waters away from his eyes.


“Huh—fu—” Jason splutters, and another coughing attack starts all over again.

“You’re going to be okay,” Bruce tries to reassure, cradling him as he rolls him over to his side, praying that he won’t choke himself and drown before they even manage to leave the chamber.

There's a look of recognition in his eyes. “Batman?” Jason whispers hoarsely, in a daze, then his eyes roll back as he passes out. It’s… it’s the first time Bruce has ever heard his voice. He reaches out to check his pulse in a panic.

“...Jay? Jason? Wake up!”

A hand appears on his shoulder. “He’s fine, Batman," Clark says. "Completely healed up from what I can see at least, ignoring that steel wiring. There’s just a bit of the fluid still in his lungs and he’s a little disoriented, that’s all. No damage," he finishes, just as the reassuring beating of Jason's heart reaches Bruce's finger, and he looks up to see Clark's faintly glazed eyes as he scans over Jason’s body again.

Bruce moves out of the way of his X-ray vision, letting out a controlled breath before nodding.

“You’re not an MRI though, boy scout, and you can’t check for pit madness either. I’ll know for sure once I get him back to the cave.”



They make it out of the tunnels before the guards finish their tea break.




Clark is bustling about the back of the plane, less inclined to ask for directions now that Jason is firmly within the realm of simple first aid. The realm of the living. Warm under a blanket, he’s breathing on his own. Steady. Healthy. Probably even better than he ever was before succumbing to the freeze of winter.

Bruce needs to keep it that way.

“Alfred,” he mutters quietly, as the wheels of the Batwing pull up, ascending into the skies to make their escape, “what’s the status on those papers?”

“Nearly done processing, sir.”



End Notes

Feel free to leave a comment if you enjoyed, thanks for reading!

dick this whole time blüdhaven: why do i keep sneezing who tf is thinking about me


Tumblr (18+)

Please drop by the Archive and comment to let the creator know if you enjoyed their work!