I really wanted to rec something lighthearted for you guys, but after a long week with a shitty boss, I had no mental energy whatsoever to relate to anything outside my own personal experiences. So instead, I ended up going through my pages and pages of bookmarks trying to find something that featured a completely platonic relationship and that was also safe for my current mental state.
In the process, I came across an older story about Jason Todd, Dick Grayson, and their brotherly hatred for one another. Well, Jason Todd comes with his own psychological problems, and most stories with him deserve multiple trigger warnings, but since my depression and anxiety sucked ass this week, reading a fic about a character going through a massive panic attack ended up being exactly what I needed. Not A Brother Not A Friend isn’t a safe read in that regard, but it was definitely platonic and relatable, and for this week, that was good enough.
Trigger warning for mental trauma up ahead.
Not A Brother Not A Friend takes place after Jason Todd’s resurrection and descent into villainy as Red Hood. Dick Grayson, the first Robin, now going by Nightwing, starts the fic off by enjoying a cup of coffee and a quiet night atop one of Gotham’s buildings. His peace is disturbed, however, after he gets a call from Oracle. Red Hood just got done shooting up some arms dealer at the docks, and when the police showed up, he escaped into a ship that had just recently been overrun with Scarecrow’s fear toxin.
Although Dick would like nothing better than to just turn Jason over to the authorities, he doesn’t particular care for the detox rooms at the GCPD, and he can immediately imagine the kind of damage fear toxin could do to Jason. After all, Jason had been brutally murdered by the Joker, before being resurrected and forced to claw his way out of his own grave. The following years—being replaced by Tim and learning that Batman never avenged his death—also weren’t particularly easy on him. Dick tracks Jason down and winds up dragging him back to his apartment to help his adoptive brother cope—and from there, the story goes right into Jason’s panic attack and what Dick has to do to help calm him down.
“I’m okay,” [Jason] repeats, through chattering teeth, for the fifth time or the fiftieth, “I’m okay.”
He’s not okay. But that’s not the bad part. Jason Todd has been not okay so many times in his life that it’s become just another state of being, like being cold, or lonely, or in pain, or terrified of the things his own brain is doing, or all of the above. He knows these things, they’re like his familiars, like shitty relatives that’ll never get off his back, he knows those. He can deal. Doesn’t love it, but he can he can. But this –
The bad part isn’t being not okay. The bad part, the really bad part, is that he feels – he knows – that he will never be okay again.
They’re heading down a long, dark, narrow corridor made of terror and dark edges that cut, and it’s getting colder and narrower and there’s nothing at the end except for pitch-black bleakness. This is it, this is the end of the line, this is his existence now there is no hope. He can’t stop walking, because it’s scary where he is, and he doesn’t wanna go on because it’s scary where he’s headed, but this is all there is now. This is not even the sweet nothingness of death. There is no end. It’ll be like this forever.
“Jason. Sssh. Jason. Jay.”
Nightw … Grays … Dick’s voice sounds soft, gentle almost, and Jason thinks it should freak him out because maybe he’s up to something. He never talks to Jason like that; he’s the traitor to the cause and the family disappointment, and their last interaction some months ago had been a kicking match on a rooftop that had ended with Jason in the Gotham River. Dick hadn’t checked to see if he was alive; he never does, and Jason isn’t sure if he would if their roles were reversed. There’s no love between … there’s no love.
Not A Brother Not A Friend isn’t the fic I wanted to read, but it was the fic that I needed. There’s something about people with psychological problems getting the help and support they deserve that really draws me to a story. And the fact that the story is also about two adversaries getting along is just a bonus.
Toxic masculinity is a huge problem in our society, and men are taught from a very early age to distance themselves from their emotions and to toughen up. Jason Todd is a character who very much encompasses that mindset, and that’s one of his great many issues, both in canon and in this fic. He has numerous mental health problems that he hasn’t quite worked through—PTSD, abandonment, so on and so forth—and he lacks healthy relationships and a support system to properly deal with them. He’s embarrassed that he needs to rely on Dick’s help, and doesn’t like being vulnerable. Despite this, Dick still provides him the emotional support he needs and lets Jason stay at his place.
Jason’s character was more or less the perfect avatar for me to relate to in regards to my own panic attacks. We hardly have the same problems, but the terror and the fight-or-flight response is still more or less the same. And as the story goes through his initial panic and eventually shows him slowly recovering from the attack, the fic ended up helping me as well. I’m one of those people who likes to bottle up my emotions and refuse to ask for help until I’m practically a screaming mess, so reading this kind of hurt/comfort story can help allow both myself and others like me deal with our emotions without exposing how vulnerable we really feel to other people, especially if we don’t feel safe doing so.
I wouldn’t say that Not A Brother Not A Friend was a particularly fun read—it’s a bit disturbing here and there, and it’s got some self-harm and violence in it, but as someone with anxiety, this was a very helpful story that just ended up making me feel better afterward. The fic is only about 5k, so if you’re at all interested, you can find it here on AO3.