FIGHTING YOUR FRIEND
RAGTAG BUNCH OF MISFITS
FOR INCONVENIENCE PRESS 1
SURPRISINGLY HAPPY ENDING

october 14, 2021 — dimitri geller & bastian wildes

It shouldn't have annoyed him so much that Bastian wasn't responding to messages. And — alright, to be honest, it wasn't so much annoyance as it was pure, genuine concern. Bastian was annoying. Bastian drove him up the wall. Bastian opened his mouth and Mitya found that he wanted very much in that moment to shove a sock into it. Bastian was, however — sort of, somehow — a friend. Benefits aside, Bastian had joined the group of people Mitya considered important enough to worry about, even if that in itself was annoying. But there was no way around it — they were going through the same thing. They were, technically, part of the same family. In a strange, uncomfortable way that Mitya was still resistant to — but it didn't matter in the end, did it? Not when Bastian wasn't replying to him, and now Mitya was worried.

He was frustrated to be worried, too, because he had a lot on his mind — recovering, still, from his journey to Rotworld, and worrying about those who had been with him, and those who hadn't. All of them were close to him and all of them impacted in some way. For him, too, the physical healing was taking its time, even with Penny's gentle assistance in terms of quickening some of it. His ribs were still knitting together, but he could move more freely now, could breathe without feeling like a big weight had settled on his chest, and, namely, could jump on his motorbike and show up to Bastian's house once he got tired of the radio silence.

Bastian would be fine, Mitya told himself. Bastian was just doing Bastian shit. He'd probably left the country in a private jet and forgot to tell anyone. But Mitya felt — off. That something wasn't right. He'd seen the news stories, the rumors circulating, and he knew better than to believe them — not when the same thing happened to him. But. Still. Strange things happened in San Francisco, and he'd just escaped many horrible fates of getting eaten by monsters — there was a lot to worry about now.

Especially when he went to knock on the door and found it unlocked, half open.

He gave it a shove and poked his head in, frowning. "Bastian? Are you here?"

It would have been a great idea to leave the country in a private jet, but unfortunately Bastian hadn’t thought enough to put that plan into action. Or even come up with that plan. Or even a plan. No, he had no plans. His plan had been ruined. It was simple, should have been anyway: 1) drink enough to stay hazy, 2) ignore the world, 3) profit. It was a plan that had worked for him before to great effect, it could definitely work again.

Except his dumb ass had chugged down fucking super soldier serum and now he was painfully sober despite his best efforts not to be. He’d tried very hard to get even the faintest buzz again, tried to find a limit to what the serum would counteract, how much liquor it could take before it reached a breaking point and couldn’t offset what he was throwing at it. The limit didn’t exist, or at least he hadn’t found it — and he’d tried. The evidence of his experiments were strewn across the kitchen counter, table, the floor, anywhere and everywhere. His cleaning service had been by, he’d shouted them out of the house, and that was probably why the door wasn’t locked. Probably. He had no idea. He didn’t care.

It was too much, he wasn’t made to deal with shit like this. He wasn’t made to deal with a lot of what he’d gone through in his life and he’d persevered, but this? It was too much. Being Batman had been a lot to deal with even on its face, even without having Bat-things appearing in his life. That shit showing up, taunting him, reminding him that even if he pretended it wasn’t happening, it was. He was. He wasn’t only himself, he was Bruce fucking Wayne, the rich asshole who decided to shoulder the wellbeing of an entire city like that was something that could rationally be handled by one person. Or even one person and his army of mini-me’s.

And he knew all about that shit now, because his head was swimming with Bruce’s memories. He couldn’t get them to stop, to shut up, to leave him alone, because he was awake and sober and nothing could change that. Sleep wasn’t possible, he couldn’t get his brain to stop or quiet enough for that. Bastian hadn’t slept in days, which was probably obvious when he came out from the depths of the house enough to see who was there, having heard his name. Dimitri wasn’t a reassuring person to see, though to be fair he didn’t know who might have been.

He felt uncomfortable, someone else being there in what had been a place only for him. Kind of like it made it real — as long as he’d been by himself, maybe it was a dream, hallucination, some altered state of reality that could disappear and he’d be back to normal. It all felt so much heavier and palpable now. He hated it.

“I’m not really in the mood,” was all he offered before turning and going the way he came, back further into the house, away from the outside.

And Mitya wasn't in the mood for Bastian's dismissiveness. It rankled him immediately, rose his hackles — which he tried to smooth away, forcing his expression to remain impassive before his lip could curl and nose could wrinkle. Of course that would be the response he'd get — irritable, Bastian turning away, Bastian looking ... weird. Not terrible, necessarily, but off. And Mitya was dogged at the best of times — it was a trait well-suited to his new career path as a reporter. He stepped inside, closed the door behind him, and followed behind Bastian without hesitation. It was just with a touch of slowness — he was still sore, after all, body littered with healing bruises underneath his layer of clothes.

"Well, I haven't been in the mood to wonder whether or not you've been dead, so I guess we're both shit out of luck." It wasn't until they were deeper into Bastian's house that Mitya caught up with him, and he reached out instinctively, wrapping a hand into the crook of Bastian's elbow. His voice had dropped into a softer tone now, though it was still firm, frustrated.

"What's been going on? What's up with you?"

Of course Dimitri didn't leave, because he was stubborn and annoying and liked to poke the bear right up to the point of getting his hand bit off. That was a lot shorter of a fuse than usual for Bastian, irritation clawing its way up into his chest as he heard the footsteps following him. He didn't stop, didn't even slow down, just kept going.

“Don't worry, not dead yet.” Bastian frowned, scowled at that, trying to push back how many times he'd thought about changing that in the past couple weeks. More than he'd ever admit to, certainly not out loud and definitely not to Dimitri. He didn't pull away from the younger man’s touch, which he blamed on being too exhausted to bother. Everything was tiring, simply existing was tiring. Mitya being there, asking questions like the good little reporter he was, using that nicer tone of voice… Bastian was tired.

“I'll be fine.” He ran his hand over his face, stubble poking against his palm like coarse sandpaper. What else was he supposed to say? No one could do anything to change any of it, not even himself, so certainly not Dimitri, so what was the point? “Just… I'm fine.”

As someone who said I'm fine more times than he could count, and knew that it could vary wildly between the truth and the exact opposite of the truth, Mitya simply took Bastian's words and pocketed them. They weren't going to dissuade him, and he knew that Bastian had to know that. He'd ridden all this way on his bike, after all — he was tired and he was worn and he wanted, above all else, to make sure that Bastian was okay. Not fine and not whatever 'fine' meant.

When Bastian didn't pull away, Mitya just tightened his grip around his arm, and then he used it to pull himself forward, to skirt around Bastian and to stand in front of him, to block his way before he could keep escaping into the rest of the house. That meant he finally got a good look at the state of the kitchen — the empty bottles, more empty bottles than he'd seen in a long time (not just Bastian's, but his own). A muscle in Mitya's jaw tightened and flexed but that was the only suggestion that he'd even clocked it, and his green gaze flickered back to meet Bastian.

"I know you're not. What's going on? Talk to me."

Bastian stopped, gaze steadily watching Dimitri standing there in front of him. He could make him move, he could do that so easily now — not that he hadn't been strong before, but now he was effortlessly strong. One hand on Dimitri’s shoulder and he could send him into the nearest wall. He wasn't going to, didn't want to, but he knew he could. That was an uncomfortable feeling, too. He didn't know how his own body worked anymore, what he was capable of, where the limits were. If they even existed.

“I'm alive,” he offered, gesturing at himself in a tada sort of way. That was as close to fine as he could get, in terms of proof. He ran his hands through his hair, clasping them around the back of his neck as his jaw clenched, tensing off and on. Talking about shit wasn't his forte, not even on his best days, and it wasn’t like that was something he and Dimitri were good at doing together. Even if Mitya was one of the few people he knew understood what it was like, going through this shit. It wasn't the same for everyone, wasn't even the same between the two of them, but they both got it.

It still took a long silence, long enough to prove Mitya wasn't going to cave and leave because he wasn't getting anything out of him. Bastian’s shoulders squared up, his jaw working a bit, eyes focused somewhere over Dimitri’s shoulder. “It's too much. All this, it's too much, that's all. I'll be fine, I don't think I can die actually, so there's nothing to worry about.”

If he'd known — if he'd had an inkling yet of what Bastian had done to himself, Mitya might have hesitated (slightly, insignificantly) with the way he was badgering him, with the way his hand was still on him. He still remembered feeling utterly at the mercy of Venom, incapable of doing much more than just leap out of the way, and then, in the horrible decaying Black — Mitya couldn't think too long on those memories, not yet. But still — he'd been reckless and desperate to protect as many people as he could, and he'd come out of it with a broken body. What he did know was that he wanted to be stronger. Better. Capable of defending himself, and others — that was another problem to parse through another time, though. At that moment, his focus was still entirely on Bastian.

And, as a reporter, he knew to listen between the lines, and he knew not to just take everything at face value, and of course he knew to listen to the weird admission of I don't think I can die, actually. Mitya's eyes narrowed at that.

"What do you mean you don't think you can die?" His gaze shifted from Bastian to the empty bottles — too many. If Bastian had drunk them all, even over the course of a week — well, he wouldn't be standing. Mitya closed in on him a little more, tilting his head so he could try to meet Bastian's gaze, to keep him from avoiding it by looking over his shoulder. In a low, serious tone — and was there a tiny hint of fear, piqued worry underneath? — Mitya urged, "What did you do?"

Mitya was too close, too far inside what little personal space it felt like he still had, making Bastian rock back a step. It felt like a retreat, like a weakness, giving in, failing, whatever words — they all meant the same thing, basically. A big part of him wanted to take control of the situation, haul Dimitri back to the door and shove him out. Get away from the relentless questions, the feigned caring, the niggling feeling that he was giving him more of a story the longer he let him stay there inside his house.

“I didn't do anything,” he said sharply, which was a lie but he didn't like how accusatory thay question had sounded. His gaze met Mitya’s, eyes tired but steady, corners of his mouth tugged down before he spoke again. “You have no idea what it's like, all this shit, goddamn Batman living in my head,” — and alright, that wasn't entirely fair, Dimitri went through the shift all the same but it hadn't been as long for him, it weighed on them differently. “— bad enough when it was just that, but now I have to deal with his shitty head inside of mine, getting all tangled up with my own memories, like I don't have enough fucking issues…”

The corners of Mitya's mouth dragged down, unhappy at the snapping but unrelenting nonetheless. His feelings weren't easily hurt. He was resilient in the face of disregard and irritation — he had to be, given the nature of his occupation — but he wished he could find a way to express to Bastian that he wasn't asking for gossip, that he really, truly, genuinely was worried. He furrowed his brow and listened instead, let the words wash over him and — particularly — smoothed the hackles that wanted to raise at being told you have no idea what it's like.

He could understand, he supposed, that he didn't. He didn't know what it was like to be Bastian or anyone else but himself, nor did he know what it was like to go through anything but what he was going through as an individual, and the fight against Dick Grayson, and everything that this was turning out to be — a whole heap of unfairness, as far as Mitya was concerned, but even then it hadn't been Dick's fault that he'd ended up in Rotworld and it hadn't been Dick's fault that he'd risked his lives to save others. And it certainly wasn't anybody else's fault that he was there, with Bastian, focused keenly on his face and still unflinching. "His memories?" He asked, gently inquired — but it wasn't going to be enough to get to the bottom of how Bastian was feeling, and it wasn't an easy thing to verbalise.

Mitya let out a short, sharp exhale of a sigh, and promptly released Bastian by the arm. Not to pull away, though — to do what he'd needed when he'd been spiralling out of control, too, when he'd been dwelling on his seemingly insurmountable amount of issues. He wrapped his arms firmly around Bastian's shoulders and tugged him in for a tight hug.

“Yes, his memories. I don't know how to explain it, they're just there.” Feeling like they were his own, that he’d lived them, but he knew better. He could feel the unease that came with reliving moments that weren't his, the struggle to place them in his life when there wasn't a spot for them. It made him feel unhinged, falling apart around the edges.

Bastian froze when Mitya’s arms wrapped around him, his brain short circuiting a bit. He wasn't… a hugger. He didn't get hugged. Physical contact and shows of affection were usually under his control, easy and casual, nothing that ventured into what might be construed otherwise. Not that he was a control freak, it was just how things tended to be, and he did like having control. He was coming to that realization in that moment, with Dimitri’s huff of a sigh and his arms tight around him.

“What— what are you doing? Why are you hugging me…”

It hurt a little to hug, but it wasn't like that was going to stop Mitya. Besides, it wasn't nearly as bad as it had been, thanks to Penny, and he'd grown used to the ache in his sides every time he lifted his arms. Mitya was affectionate with those he was particularly close to, but not someone who jumped to them like he was at that moment. Maybe he needed something of a hug, too — worrying about Bastian had grown urgent, and at least Mitya could see that he was alive, albeit struggling.

At Bastian's tensing and his question Mitya let out a snort of laughter into Bastian's shoulder. "Because it seemed like you needed it." He answered simply, and still didn't extricate himself from around Bastian. He let the tightness loosen a little, just in case the other man wanted to pull himself away, but he lingered just on the off chance that it was the opposite. Still, while he hugged him, he worked over what he'd said about Bruce's memories — Penny had said something similar, too, so Mitya knew that it was possible. Frustratingly so.

"I know it feels overwhelming." Mitya said again, voice quiet. "And I wish I had a solution."

It wasn't unpleasant, once he got past the initial shock and wariness, so Bastian didn't pull away when Dimitri’s hold on him loosened but still stayed. Not that he needed that if he wanted to get Mitya off him, but he hadn't exactly tested what his newfound strength could do and giving it a whirl on someone who was trying to be nice to him wasn't the best circumstances for that. If it made the younger man feel better to hug him, he could go right ahead.

Bastian wasn't sure how he felt about it. Especially with that quiet, understanding way Mitya was speaking, how it made the discomfort dig into him from the inside out. When things got too real, not dismissed or brushed away with a joke, when he had to sit (or stand, in this case) in reality and acknowledge what it was. Overwhelming was one word for it. Bastian could think of so many more, but overwhelming was good enough. Tension and unease crept up into his chest and throat, and he gave it a few seconds before pulling away, extricating himself from Dimitri’s hold.

“There isn't a solution,” he said, shrugging a shoulder and shoving his hands into his pockets as he stepped around him and leaned back against the kitchen island. Any other time he might have looked casual, but his body was held too tight, too rigid, plus the disarray of the kitchen behind him… not so much. “This is my life now.” He smiled crookedly, which felt wrong and looked like it too, the expression lasting barely a moment. “Living the goddamn dream.”

As Bastian drew away, Mitya let him go. He lowered his hands to his sides and watched him, brow slightly furrowed, expression firm again. It was a difficult situation and not one that had a solution Mitya thought was viable or easy to achieve. He was miserable, too — wished day in and day out that this wouldn't be his life, that he wouldn't have to share his body with anyone but himself. But it just wasn't the reality of their situation anymore. He let out a faint, understanding sigh, and finally glanced away to cast his gaze over the various empty bottles in Bastian's kitchen.

Mitya pushed past him then and rolled up his sleeves so he could start clearing the mess. "Did you drink all of this? On your own?" He asked, brow arched, head tilting so he could glance over his shoulder back at Bastian with a sharp look in his eye. Bastian hadn't told him everything, yet — was clearly reticent even to open up about how he was feeling, but Mitya had no interest in leaving him while he was in this state.

Bastian didn't have answers to almost anything, even though he'd been going through this for the better part of a year. It was frustrating, annoying, and made him feel like a failure — especially when there were those who looked to him for answers, expected him to have some idea solely based on how long he'd been dealing with it. Mitya, Jackson, who knows what other Robins were hanging around, waiting to come out of the woodwork. That was all in his head too, with Bruce’s memories. All these memories specific to the Robins, Batgirls, and everyone between and beyond. There were so many, and if many more showed up he might lose his mind — what was left of it.

He watched Mitya as the other man moved into the kitchen, turning to watch him and rolling his eyes at the question, but more so the look he was being given. “Yes mom, I drank them myself.” And considering he'd run off the people he paid to clean up the messes he made, and his hands felt itchy like he needed something to do, he stooped down to pick up a couple bottles from the floor. If he cleaned up, he had something else to focus on besides Dimitri’s questioning looks. “Sorry you weren't invited, but don't take it personally, no one was.”

Mitya didn't bother reacting to the mom comment, or Bastian's sniping sass. It was expected, and Mitya understood his role in all of it — even if it wasn't something that Bastian wanted, he was there to help, and if it meant being a little mothering, then so be it. He cleared some more empty bottles, a small crease in between his brows as he tried to make sense of it all. He wasn't like Jackson — he wasn't the brains of the outfit, and he didn't know much, if anything, about the history of the strange family they'd all found themselves members of. But he had done some of his own (meagre and embittered) research.

"Nobody should be able to drink all of this and not be in hospital." Mitya stated finally, tipping some empty bottles into the trash and turning around to hold one last one at Bastian. It still had some whiskey down the bottom.

"How come I'm not talking to you at SF General? Why are you standing here looking like — shit, but not this kind of shit?"

“Oh thanks, that makes me feel great, I look like shit.” Not that Bastian didn't know that he did, he wasn't stupid and he owned mirrors. He hadn't slept, barely ate, been riding on a pendulum of emotions — he felt like shit, too. Not in the alcohol poisoning way, or hungover way, but the far more frustrating and annoying what the fuck kind of way. “I've had a lot of practice, got a stomach and liver of steel.”

He rubbed at the back of his neck, fingers flexing to let his blunt fingernails bite in against his skin, the corners of his mouth twitching as he tried to think of what to say. It was that same hesitation as always, easier to deflect or avoid than to have part of him exposed and vulnerable. Easier to be a lone wolf than to let anyone in where they could get hurt or be disappointed by what they found. Maybe Bruce had it right, hiding away in a cave.

“I'm fine. Apparently I can't get drunk anymore, or high.” Bastian pushed his hands into his pockets to keep from digging his fingernails into the palms of his hands. “Or get hurt much. It's a Christmas miracle.”

Bastian's immediate deflection was met by a straight, deadpan stare from Mitya, and he didn't budge from it, still with one brow slightly arched, the nearly empty whiskey bottle extended as proof. He waited for Bastian to work through what he was thinking, what he wanted to say, and waited, patiently still, until he said it. Then he pursed his lips, considering it and turning those words over in his mind. It didn't sound normal, that was for sure — but Jackson could alter reality, and Mitya had been dragged into a horrifying alternate world and nearly murdered by multiple different terrifying creatures, so. What constituted as normal, anyway?

At the very least, it wasn't normal for Bastian, not as far as Mitya knew him — and he knew how desirable it could be to numb depression and anxiety and pain with alcohol, recreational drugs, and physical pain. "It's not even Halloween, yet." He answered dryly, and then crossed to close the distance between them again, but this time it was just so he could focus a closer frown on Bastian, searching his face there for more secrets.

"So what happened to make it so that you can't get drunk or high and you can't get hurt?" The latter sounded — appealing, to Mitya, but he didn't want to say it, not quite.

Bastian never claimed to be smart, knew he wasn't by any usual standards, didn't have any success of his own — he lived off that of others. Maybe that was part of why he was finding it hard to say out loud, because it sounded so ridiculous and stupid to say. What part of his life wasn't ridiculous and stupid, especially now with all the Batman of things? He felt uneasy, Mitya standing close and frowning at him like that, watching him like he was going to find the answers in him whether he talked or not.

“Halloween miracle, then.” He cleared his throat, looking over into the kitchen, needing to focus on something other than Dimitri’s questions and the way he was looking at him. At the very least, not have to look at him when he answered. “I found this… serum,” he started, tone even and measured, careful. “I thought — I don't know, I thought maybe it would help, it's not like Bruce gives a shit that I'm not built for his life, so I took it.”

It wasn't what he'd expected. To be fair — none of this was what Mitya had expected. It wasn't altogether surprising, he supposed. Bastian had always been an ornery asshole (at least with him), and he'd gotten some sense of his discomfort with his situation when they'd discovered Batman's suit in the caves underneath his new, strange mansion. But this — Mitya couldn't control the flicker of shock that crossed his features, a little mixture of horror and disapproval and frustration that Bastian would just do something to himself, like that, without knowing what it meant. But that was just — assuming.

"You took a serum." Mitya repeated in a way that didn't suggest it was a question. He set the bottle aside and leaned his hand on the kitchen counter again, bracketing Bastian in, somewhat, though there was more than enough room for him to walk off if he chose to again. He looked away, furrowed his brow and glanced back at Bastian. "I guess it's helped and it hasn't helped, then? Where did you find it?" He gave a short, exasperated sigh. "Why would you just take something like that? Why wouldn't you — did you even know what it would do?"

The way Dimitri blocked him in made Bastian’s hackles raise, a surge of wanting to run coursing through him. This was what he’d been trying to avoid — the judgement, tinged with disappointment. How that tone of voice made him feel as stupid and ridiculous as he’d found his words to be. Maybe he deserved that, it had been a stupid thing to do. But again, he’d never claimed to be smart. Still, a flicker of frustration and irritation hit and he brought up a hand to press against Dimitri’s chest, make him take a step back, give him space.

“I didn’t care.” It was more forthright than he’d meant to be, exhaustion wearing him down to make him honest. That didn’t make him want to disappear any less, get gone from this conversation and away from the questions. He couldn’t take it back, pretend he hadn’t said it, the words felt like they were echoing around the big, empty house. “I didn’t care what it did to me, alright? I just didn’t expect it to make me immune to all this shit.” Bastian gestured around with his free hand, indicating the bottles they’d cleaned up. “Like I said, I’ll be fine, and if I’m not, it doesn’t fucking matter.”

It took a bit more effort than it usually would have not to budge as Bastian pressed his hand into Mitya's chest. He gripped a little onto the side of the kitchen counter to brace himself and then squared off against Bas, jaw firm, brow furrowed. Naturally, he couldn't help but be pushed back an inch or two — but he still clearly didn't want to move out of the way, least of all because of what it was that Bastian was admitting in that moment.

"What do you mean, it doesn't fucking matter?" He shot back, voice low, a mix of confusion and frustration in there but — primarily — a keen sense of understanding. Mitya had been there. Mitya got it. He'd given such little care to himself for the worst time of his life and he understood, innately, how it felt to be in that place. But it was a lonely, awful place to be, and Mitya wouldn't have wished it on his worst enemy.

"It does matter. Just so you know. It matters to me if you're not fine."

The way Dimitri fought back against being pushed away, it made Bastian want to shove him. He was barely pressing, not wanting to overdo it, but he was about two seconds away from throwing that caution away and pushing. Deep down, he knew he wouldn't. He didn't want to actually hurt Mitya, for many reasons but the one at the forefront was that he was there, helping — or trying to, despite Bastian’s not so veiled attempts to brush him off, make him leave.

“I mean it doesn't fucking matter.” Bastian's gaze met Dimitri’s briefly before he brought up his free hand to rub over his face. He hadn't been fishing, hadn't been trying to get Mitya to say something nice or reassuring. Hearing him say that he cared, it gave that same off balance but not unpleasant sensation like earlier when Mitya had hugged him. “It doesn't matter if I'm fine, I'm still going to be here, just like I always am.”

Mitya pursed his lips into a tighter line and resisted, again. He was stubborn to a detriment when he wanted to be, and this — Bastian attempting to avoid it, when Mitya knew he needed help, needed the same kind of help Mitya had been desperate for in the past and hadn't known how to ask for him. In the end, he'd had to help himself — and he'd done it, but it had been hard, and long, and arduous, and Mitya didn't wish that for Bastian. Not if he could help now — or, at least, begin to. He tightened his grip on the counter and pushed into Bastian's hand insistently, even if it hurt the bruising on his chest and the tenderness in his ribs.

"Just being here isn't enough." He answered simply, and the sharp tug of his mouth hadn't lessened up. Maybe Bastian needed to shout at someone, Mitya wondered — and he didn't mind so much being the target of that frustration, albeit for a short while. "Just existing — that's nothing. That's not enough, Bastian."

“That's what I have,” Bastian shot back sharply, fingers splaying wider on Dimitri’s chest as he kept his hand there, keeping that small distance between them. “So it doesn't matter if it's nothing, I'm nothing, that's what I have. A whole lot of nothing with a goddamn mess in my head, because it's not just me and my life anymore, it's him and his and everything he brings with it.”

Maybe if he'd had time to accumulate Bruce’s memories, collect them bit by bit instead of having a whole lifetime dropped on him at once. Maybe that would have been easier. Bastian wouldn't ever know, because it was too late for that. The memories were there, the damage was done, and he was done. “Maybe he’ll end up taking over. At least he has some idea of what he's doing.”

I'm nothing was the last thing Mitya had wanted to hear come out of Bastian's mouth. But there it was — a louder declaration than Mitya had heard before and, of course, impossible to miss. He still had those thoughts, those feelings — that he was a bad, terrible person, that he was worth nothing, that it meant nothing. He resisted still against Bastian's hand on his chest, expression flaring hot and defensive — not for himself, though. He reached out and hooked his hand around Bastian's wrist to squeeze, half warning and half reassuring.

"You're not nothing. And do not let him take over. This is your body. You were here first. You're not nothing. He'll just have to — deal with that." Mitya frowned at Bastian, earnest but angry at the same time, that Bastian would even consider letting something like that happen — that Bastian had let himself get to this point. It wasn't a fair anger and Mitya knew it, but everything about what Bastian was telling him had frightened him. The taking of the serum, the dismissiveness of himself — it was hard to witness.

"You need to snap out of this, Bastian." Mitya said sharply, suddenly. "You're not worthless. You can be mad at him and you can be mad at this fucked up situation but you can't treat yourself like shit."

A brief smile flickered across Bastian’s features, but it was sad, tired, barely on the surface. Not any kind of smile that might be reassuring, or seen as anything close to real. None of the words on the tip of his tongue were worth voicing, not when they would only succeed in making Dimitri more insistent in his current pep talk.

You're not worthless. He couldn't think of a single thing he'd done that was worth anything. What had he done at all? His life was him just skating by on the success of others and nothing of his own. So yeah, maybe Bruce taking over wasn't the worst thing that could happen. At least he'd managed to make something out of his life. Bastian was pretty sure the only thing he'd ever made was headlines.

“Let go,” he said, quiet but firm, wrist flexing under Dimitri's grip.

What was it that Jackson had said? You'll do something dumb and hurt yourself. Well, Mitya didn't really think he'd end up intentionally hurt — but he could assess that holding onto Bastian when he didn't want to be held was, absolutely, a dumb move. Naturally, though, Mitya wasn't going to let go. Not when Bastian looked so sad, so weary, so done with himself. It was, horribly, like he was looking in a mirror, and Mitya couldn't stand to let it continue.

"No." He said firmly instead and only tightened his grip around Bastian's wrist. "Not until you say you're not worthless." Mitya kept his gaze steady on Bastian's own, level and clear and decisive — there was no way he was getting out of the way until he'd annoyed Bastian enough to knock down a wall or two or three. That was what he did best, after all.

“I'm not worthless,” Bastian parroted back dryly, gaze not wavering from Mitya’s even though he wanted to be looking anywhere else. It felt like so many of their interactions, the poking and prodding and trying to see who came out on top, which of them was more dominant at any given time. Like a game of chicken, and he didn't want to give in and lose. “Now let go.”

Mitya's laugh came out short and sharp with barely any humor to it. He popped an eyebrow up, tilted his head, and made sure to narrow his gaze into more of a sliver of a fleeting glare. He didn't release his grip around Bastian's wrist, and only adjusted it slightly so that he could hold it just a little tighter. Before, it might have been hard enough to pinch — but now Mitya had no idea what kind of pain Bastian could withstand now that he'd started drinking super serums.

"Nice try. You know that's not what I mean." He pushed. "I know how good it feels to sulk and bitch and moan about how terrible you are, but you've been doing it for long enough. Get over it, Bastian. Say you're not worthless and mean it."

“Really, you spend a lot of time bitching and moaning about how terrible I am?” Bastian countered with a smirk that was at least half snarl, flexing his wrist in Dimitri’s hold. The grip wasn't hurting, but he could see the tension in Mitya’s fingers, how tightly he was holding on. He stood in the silence for a moment, biting at the inside of his lip. “You know I can make you let go.”

It sounded like a threat but Mitya considered, seriously, that Bastian wouldn't intentionally try to actually physically harm him. And — to be fair — he'd been in the crosshairs of others who wouldn't intentionally harm him but had, still, against their will and without their control. And he was already hurt. And it would suck, a lot, to get hurt again. But he was stubborn and bull-headed and absolutely knew that he was right to keep pushing, even if he wasn't, even if it wasn't helping, because he was certain that — eventually — it would get through Bastian's thick head that there were people around, actually, who gave half a shit about whether or not he lived or died.

"I'm allowed to. You're an asshole." Mitya snapped back. "Big man, huh? You'd rather push me around than talk about your feelings? Get a clue, Bastian. I'm not standing here because I think you're a waste of time. You're my friend."

Honestly, Bastian was too worried to pry Mitya’s hand off him, scared he would hurt him without completely meaning to. He didn't want to hurt him, but he was dealing with so much churning around inside that he couldn't be sure he wouldn't. It would be too easy to break his fingers, his wrist, all by simply trying to wrench his grip off. So he didn't, especially with the flash of anger that flared up into his chest.

“You don't even like me,” Bastian shot back sharply. “The fuck do you think I've been doing? — this is me talking about my feelings. You want me to lie to you and I'm not doing it good enough and so you're mad. Well I'm fucking sorry, Dimitri, didn't mean to waste your time. If it was as easy as all that, don't you think I'd be better by now? It's not, and I'm not, and I can't change that just to make you feel better.”

Mitya's instant reaction was a sharp blink, a deeper furrow of his brow. Sure, he and Bastian sniped at one another — yes, Mitya had admitted wholeheartedly that he found Bastian to be infuriating and frustrating and an asshole on multiple different levels. But didn't like him? It was nearly laughable — at least because Mitya absolutely wouldn't have shown up like he had for anyone he didn't like. Maybe, yes, if he'd felt a certain sense of responsibility over them — but even in those cases Mitya couldn't say if he'd not had one ounce of 'like' in his body for them he couldn't imagine he'd be doing what he was doing right then, at that moment, holding tightly onto Bastian's wrist for fear of him pulling away.

"I just said you were my friend, you idiot." Mitya scoffed right back. "I'm not telling you to lie to me, I'm telling you to stop acting like you're a piece of shit. You're not. I'm not expecting a magical fix, but I'm hoping you'll at least admit you're not nothing, or try to. Come on. You can try, can't you?"

Bastian exhaled in a sharp huff, biting his tongue to keep from digging any deeper holes. His immediate urge was to say exactly what Dimitri was asking of him, but that wouldn't go over any better than it had the first time. Insincere, surface level words that weren't enough to make this end. He doubted he could give him what he was looking for. But sure, he'd try. Maybe it would get Mitya to stop looking at him like that.

“I'm not a piece of shit,” he said after a moment, gesturing with his free hand in a tada sort of way.

It wasn't perfect — and Mitya was pretty sure Bastian didn't believe it at all, but it was a start. At least he'd said it without chagrin (or, at least, not entirely). Mitya still didn't release his wrist, but his expression softened very slightly. He tilted his head. "Do you believe that?" And then interrupted himself, nearly, to add, "And it's not that you have to believe that — right now. Do you at least ... believe that I don't think you're a piece of shit? That's a start, right?"

It was better than nothing, even if Dimitri was still holding onto his wrist like he'd disappear if he let go. Bastian drew in a breath at that first question, already feeling exhausted from the argument that might follow, because if he gave an honest answer… well, it was complicated. They could go another round and end up exactly where they already were, only more frustrated and annoyed.

He brought his hand up to rub over his face, pinching the bridge of his nose before letting his palm run up into his hair before dropping to his side, his gaze meeting Dimitri’s again “Yeah, sure. I believe you don't think I'm a piece of shit.”

Mitya exhaled slowly through his nose. Yeah, that would have to do, for now. But he made a note to make sure to keep up with Bastian — and to encourage him into some form of therapy, like he had with Ethan, one that didn't rely on getting drunk. Which Bastian couldn't even do anymore, so it wasn't like he had many options left to him.

The grip around Bastian's wrist softened again, just slightly, and then Mitya gave it a gentle squeeze, attempting to be solely reassuring and less haranguing now.

"Good." He said, and finally smiled, a brief flicker of something warm and genuine. "You aren't alone in this, Bas."

Alone was Bastian’s default. Even when he was surrounded by people, like that rager at his house down in LA, he was alone. Surface friendships, people he couldn't rely on, names and faces he knew but didn't know know. Just like how they didn't know him. Always on his own, the only one who had his own back. He'd been on his own for almost half his life, it was what he knew.

Maybe that was a cue he could take from Bruce, except without the weird father dynamic and training kids into fighters part of it. He could work on having partners, not being alone, taking two seconds to think before he did something (else) dumb. It felt stupid to admit, even only to himself, but it was nice to see Mitya smile just then rather than glare or look at him with those sad puppy eyes.

“Yeah,” he said quietly after a moment, hand coming up to rest on Dimitri’s shoulder for a moment. “Thanks.”

He hadn't been overly sure Bastian would even relent to that — so as his hand came to rest on Mitya's shoulder the tension in his muscles started to ease. Just a miniscule amount — they weren't out of the woods yet, and for all Mitya knew, Bastian was just performing and saying what he could to make sure he'd be left alone. But he hoped that wasn't the case. He hoped, at least a little, that he'd made some kind of a dent — at least so that Bastian didn't think he had to face the whole thing entirely on his own. He'd have Mitya, and anyone else he'd allow in. Mitya just hoped he'd make room for them.

So Dimitri merely smiled a little at him again, gave his wrist another gentle squeeze, and finally carefully extricated his hand from around it. "No more trying to fuck yourself up with way too much alcohol, yeah?" He insisted gently, and turned his face a little so he could survey the rest of the disaster in the kitchen.

"Come on, man. Let's clean this up. And then you can tell me about where you found that serum. And we'll — figure it out. Okay?"

Bastian wasn't a good actor, as much practice as he had showing one face to the public while the real him simmered under the surface. That was one thing but, as shown by how he'd been since Dimitri arrived, he wasn't so good at controlling any of that when he was coming unraveled around the edges. He couldn't play calm with that much tension coiled tight inside, but that had dissipated enough and he was calm…er than he had been before.

“It doesn't work anyway,” he replied, rotating and flexing his wrist as he finally had it back, not that Mitya had actually done anything to it. More habit than anything else. “Imagine all the money I'm going to save cutting it out.”

We’ll figure it out. Bastian had as much faith they could do that as he’d had in Dimitri’s claims after his first shift that he was going to stop it from happening again, but that wasn't the point. The point was, he wasn't being left to try and figure it out on his own, he wasn't alone. Maybe, probably, they wouldn't be able to figure out anything, but at least he had that. “Okay.”