Tim wakes up in a cold sweat, in complete darkness, with the undeniable feeling that he’s being watched. “Bruce?” He whispers through a rough throat. “That you?”
The silence doesn’t answer, but it does move. A shadow shifts close to the end of Tim’s bed, looking almost shy. “Bruce?” Tim feels a twinge of anxiety. “Hello?”
“It’s me,” a gruff whisper replies. “Just me.”
It’s Jason. In his bedroom. Alone.
A hand claps over Tim’s mouth before he has the chance to scream.
“Please don’t scream for Bruce,” Jason begs, holding Tim’s shoulder with his other hand in a crushing grip. It’s Tim’s bad shoulder. This night just keeps getting better. “Please. I’m not here to hurt you.”
Tim bites down on his hand, hard . “Okay,” Jason grunts. “I deserve that. Just promise me you won’t scream.”
Tim narrows his eyes. Jason’s form is beginning to become clearer in the shadows — he’s unarmed, still in clothes he’d been in the last time Tim saw him, and his eyes are bright and desperate. Slowly, carefully, Jason pulls his hand back. “Don’t scream. Don’t.”
“What,” Tim hisses. “The fuck are you doing in my room?”
“To talk?” Jason replies, as though he isn’t sure. “I just wanted to make sure you were alright.”
“So you sneak into my room and accost me while I’m sleeping? How did you even get in here? Does Bruce know you’re in here?”
“Bruce does not know I’m here,” Jason says quickly. “I don’t think anyone does.” He shifts uncomfortably. “And I got in through your window.”
Well, that’s a first. Tim’s never slept through someone crawling in through his window before. (Admittedly, it’s only happened one other time. Dick gets some strange ideas when he’s drunk.) “That fear toxin officially scrambled your brain. I don’t want you here. Get out .”
“Tim, please. I just want to talk.”
“ I decide when we talk, shithead. You don’t get to break in in the middle of the night and scare the shit out of me. What’s wrong with you?”
“A lot, apparently!” Jason puts his face in his hands, groaning into his fingers. “Listen. If you really want me to, I’ll go. But please, Tim. I just want to talk with you. Alone.”
“You can talk to me when I want to talk. Not when you figure out how to break my window lock.” Tim jabs his finger in the direction of the window. “Get. Out.”
Jason draws his lips thin against his teeth. Guilt looks ill-fitted on his face, even in the darkness. He takes one unsteady step back, then another, then turns towards the window. Tim remembers the state of his feet and lets out a groan. “Did you seriously climb around the side of the manor with your fucked up feet? Are you serious?”
Jason takes another step towards the window. “They feel fine,” he grunts, obviously in pain.
“You’re a fucking idiot.” Tim sits up and whacks the empty side of the bed. “Get in. Don’t say any stupid shit. Don’t annoy me.”
“If you want me to go, I’ll go,” Jason says. “I’m not going to force you to let me be here.”
Tim whacks his bed again. “ Sit .”
With that, he twists onto his other side and lays down with a huff, blocking Jason from his view. He hears Jason’s steps grow closer, the quiet grumble of pain as he swings his legs up into the bed. He says nothing. After a few moments of silence, Tim opens his eyes and peeks over his shoulder. Jason is laying on top of his covers, ramrod straight, hands crossed over his chest. “Oh my god,” Tim says. “Just get under the covers, you fucking weirdo. Stop laying there like a dead body.”
“I am a dead body,” Jason replies petulantly. “And why do you even care?”
“You’re trapping all my blankets and making them too tight. Just—“ Tim smacks his arm hard. “Get under the blankets and stop being weird.”
Jason huffs, but a moment later he’s lifting the covers and sliding underneath them. His ankle is hot when Tim presses his foot into it. “Jesus!” Jason flinches away. “And you call me the dead body.”
“I’m cold-blooded, says Dick. Gives him an excuse to smother me.”
“I always knew he was out of his mind.” Jason tugs on one of his blankets. “Why is this so heavy?”
“It’s a weighted blanket, dipshit,” Tim mumbles. “Bruce got it for me to help with my anxiety.”
“Have I fucked you up so much that you need a blanket filled with sand to help you calm down?”
“Not all my problems come from you, Jason.”
“Well, that’s reassuring.”
“Bruce did get me this after the whole Titans’ Tower situation, though. So this one is actually your fault.”
Jason is silent for a long, satisfying moment. “Sorry.”
“Hm.” Tim stretches his arms out in front of them. His injured shoulder protests painfully, but it does some good in shaking the sleep from him. “So, why are you here?”
Jason keeps his eyes fixed on the ceiling. The bruise on his face catches in the darkness like a melting, deformed shadow. “To talk. Alone. I said that already.”
“Don’t get snappy with me. That’s not what I asked. Why are you here ? Right now? Doing this?”
Tim tilts his head towards him. Jason’s mouth quirks. “I don’t know. I don’t want to think about it.”
“That’s unfortunate, because I do. Did Dick send you here? You can be honest. When Bruce and I argue, Dick will usually pull his sulking ass out of the cave to come and talk to me. It’s a good system.”
“I already told you nobody knows that I’m here. Is it that hard to believe that I came here of my own volition?”
“Hm.” Tim puts his head back on the pillow and closes his eyes. “Speak your piece, then. You’re not allowed to wake me up if I fall asleep, so keep it interesting.”
“Okay, I—“ Jason pauses. “Okay. Fuck. I’m sorry.”
“A decent start,” Tim says. “Very classic.”
“Stop being an ass!” Jason replies sharply. When Tim gives him a withering glare, he wilts. “Sorry. I'm sorry. I’m not — I’m not good at this shit. I’m nervous.”
“What are you sorry for?” Tim prompts him. He isn’t exactly happy to have Jason in his room right now, but he can’t deny that having someone next to him warms a chill within him he hadn’t noticed before. The Jason that lays beside him, fiddling with the bandages on his knuckles, is declawed, resigned, exhausted. He doesn’t scare Tim. Jason not scaring Tim is an uncommon occurrence. Tim likes not being scared of Jason.
“For—“ Jason motions around them vaguely. “For all of this. Everything.”
“You have to be a bit more specific than that, buddy.”
Jason scowls. “Don’t call— Jesus. Give me a second to get my thoughts in order.”
Tim bites back a snarky reply; despite how much he wants to be, being mean won’t solve a thing. The longer Jason sits beside him, the more righteous anger trickles from his veins. It feels wrong. Wrong to be angry, wrong to not be angry. A part of him wishes Jason had come in burning with rage, swinging a blade at Tim’s throat. At least then it would have been predictable . Sad Jason reminds him of locked bathroom doors and desperate hands clutching at his clothing. It makes him viscerally uncomfortable.
“I’m sorry for making you go through that,” Jason says finally. The words seem to physically agonize him. “I’m sorry you had to see me all fucked up. You’re well within your rights to hate my guts.”
“You didn’t let me call any of the bats,” Tim says softly. “You made me do it alone.”
“I know. I know I did.”
“I had to listen to you threaten to kill me, then to you begging me not to leave you because you told me I had to fuck off if you started crying. What the hell am I supposed to say to that? What were you expecting me to do?”
“I did that?” Jason pinches his brow. “Fucking hell. I didn’t think it would be that bad.”
“It’s fear toxin , you stupid asshole. Of course it’s going to be bad. And then you woke up from it and proceeded to act even more like an asshole, so—“
“I know! I know!” Jason surges upwards like he’s going to stand up, but his muscles (or perhaps his courage) fail him. He remains upright, leaned forward, head in his hands. “Fuck. I — I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m sorry. I fucked everything up.”
The tone of his voice shakes Tim. Jason never lets himself be on the wrong side of vulnerable; to hear him say sorry at all is something worth writing home to Alfred about. To hear him whisper it, voice laden with shame? It’s improper. It’s unreal. It’s a raw, bleeding wound, thrust into sunlight before it’s had a chance to heal. Tim shouldn’t be here. He shouldn’t be hearing this.
“Why, Jason?” He asks, because he never knows when to stop. “Why did you do all this?”
“I don’t know,” Jason replies, voice muffled. “I don’t know.”
“Were you scared?”
Jason presses the palms of his hands into his forehead. “I was fucking terrified , Tim. I know my fears. I know what fear toxin does to me. And then you were there, and you were alone, and sometimes seeing you makes me so fucking mad that I don’t even think —“
“So you did this because you just hate me? You just wanted me to suffer?” Tim laughs emptily.
“ No! ” Jason fists his hands in his hair again. Tim stays silent, unsure whether he would rather someone have heard that or not heard it at all. “Just— fuck— I wanted you to get it . And if you couldn’t get it, then I’d have a reason to hate Robin all over again. You want to be Robin? There. That’s what Robin is.” His voice cracks. “It’s fear.”
A rush of anger hits Tim in a dizzying wave. “You don’t get to decide what Robin is to me,” He snaps, sitting up. “I took on Robin to keep Batman from spiraling into destruction and taking the rest of us down with him. Dick didn’t want to help. Bruce was too busy committing slow suicide to even think about a new Robin. I forced my way in. And you know what?” He shoves Jason’s shoulder with all his might. “I did it for you . For your memory. For Bruce and Dick and the rest of this shitty city. I did everything for you guys.”
Pressure builds in Tim’s throat; what little he can see of Jason’s form in the darkness blurs into a medley of inky blues. “Now Bruce doesn’t need me anymore. He’s got his boy back.”
“His good soldier, ” Jason spits.
White-hot fury explodes in Tim’s chest like a flashbang. “Do you know what I’d give to be loved like that? To have someone mourn me like how Bruce mourned you? My parents don’t even know where I am right now! They don't care! ” He fights to keep himself from screaming. His cheeks are wet. “I didn’t get to have Bruce come and pull me out of my shitty situation because he saw something great in me. I had to go and find him, beg him to take me in, and then spend every moment afterwards making sure he didn’t get tired of me.” He takes in a shuddering breath. “Robin is — is everything I have. I have nothing and no one without it.”
Jason is silent. If he says some stupid shit, Tim thinks wildly, I think I’ll actually kill him. I’ll do it.
Jason turns towards him, still avoiding his eye. “Bruce won’t get tired of you. He loves you.”
Not kill-worthy, Tim decides. He flops back into his pillow. “He loves you . You’re his child. He’s fond of me — I’m just the weird rich kid who followed him around with a camera for years.”
“Dick loves you too. He talks about you a ton.”
“Dick would love a rock if it was comfortable enough to hug.”
“And I… I don’t hate you. Really, I don’t. I don’t want us to hate each other.”
Tim breathes a laugh. “Bit late for that now, isn’t it?”
Jason goes quiet, looking down at his hands. “Do you hate me?” He asks, genuine. “You can be honest. I don’t really have the right to get angry.”
Yes, Tim wants to say. Never, Tim wants to say. I just wanted you to like me, Tim wants to say. Not even love me. Just like me. That would have been enough.
“You were my hero,” he says. “I don’t think I can.”
That makes Jason laugh. It’s a tiny, exhausted sound. “I’m sorry, kid. Guess that’s why they say to never meet your heroes.”
“My hero came to meet me , actually. He just came armed.”
Jason doesn’t even try to reply to that, for which Tim is a little grateful. He slumps back with a small sigh, falling back to his elbows, before hesitantly laying back against the pillow at Tim’s side. Tim mirrors him, and the two of them lay shoulder to shoulder in silence for a long while. This is all I’ve wanted, Tim thinks. Him here, willingly, not angry or scaring me. Just here with me, simply because he wants to be. I want to like him. I want him to like me.
Tim sits up and twists in place. Jason looks up at him, equal parts concerned and confused. “Jason,” Tim says. “I’m sorry.”
“Kid, you don’t need to apologize—” Jason starts.
“I know I don’t. But you need to hear it, so I’m sorry. I’m sorry I took Robin after you died, I’m sorry you had to come back and see some random kid running around in your suit, and I’m sorry you had to die like that. I couldn’t imagine going through that at my age. You didn’t deserve any of it.”
Jason stares at him for a moment, looking bewildered. His mouth shuts and tightens into a thin line. “Shit.” He sits up, covering his eyes with one hand. “I— shit , Tim. Jesus Christ, man.” He laughs, but it’s watery. “Oh my god.”
Tim leans down and hugs him tightly; the arm Jason supports himself with collapses under the weight. Jason falls to his elbow, Tim pressed to his chest, and his breathing comes ragged. Tim feels a shaking hand grasp the back of his head. “You—“ Jason says, sniffling. “You’re fucked, you know that? You can’t do this shit to me without warning.”
“What,” Tim replies. “Say sorry?”
“I— yeah, whatever. Just this in general.” Jason lets himself fall back so he can hug Tim with both arms. His hugs are intense— just like Jason himself. Tim’s hands are trapped underneath them and his shoulders definitely don’t appreciate the odd angle, but there isn’t a single thing on the planet that would make him move. “Shit, man.”
“Bruce loves you. He loves you so much it bothers the shit out of me and Dick sometimes. He lets you get away with shit we never would.”
Jason laughs, strangled. “Not anymore, I don’t think. It’ll take decades for Alfred to forgive me.”
“Alfred always forgives. He’s just protective. Same with Bruce.” Tim presses his nose into Jason’s chest. “They love you more than anything.”
“Yeah, I’ve given them plenty to love over the years.” Jason rubs at one of his eyes. “For the record, I’m sorry too. You’re a good Robin, and a good kid, and I shouldn’t have had a problem with you. It was Bruce I was angry at — that shouldn’t have had anything to do with you.”
There it is. Tim feels a prickle of disappointment in the back of his neck. “Do you think you’ll ever forgive Bruce?” He asks.
Jason shifts; Tim thinks he may be shrugging. “I don’t know. It’s hard. Much easier to just keep going how we’re going now.”
“He misses you. We all miss you.”
“The man who tortured and murdered me is still alive. I’m still wrapping my head around that one.”
“Are you happy with the way things are? Do you want to be closer to Bruce?”
“I— I don’t know. I do miss him sometimes. Not like I’ve got many others keeping an eye on me.” Jason trails off. “I’m giving up too much if I let go of my anger. He can’t ask that much of me. It’s not fair.”
Tim slides sideways off his chest until he’s laying back on his pillow. Jason pulls his arm out from underneath him, but he keeps it close by, as if expecting Tim to grab it or lean into it if he so wished.
“Humour me,” Tim says, kicking his ankle. “We’re doing a brain exercise.”
Jason scoffs.“I swear to God, if you try to make me do math, I’m jumping out your window.”
Tim kicks his ankle again. “Not that kind, asshat. Just listen.”
Jason motions for him to continue. Tim settles into his blankets, feeling warm. “Let’s say, hypothetically, someone hurts someone you really love really badly. Be it Dick, or — or me, if you want, or one of your murder buddies—“
“You’re fine,” Jason cuts in. “For this hypothetical scenario.”
Tim nods. That shouldn’t elate him as much as it does. “Okay, okay— someone hurts me. Badly. Maybe it’s the Joker, or Two-Face, or some random mugger. Maybe they hurt me so badly I can’t be Robin ever again, or they leave me in a coma, or I’m left so depressed and scared of the world that I can never leave my room again. What would you do?”
“Kill them,” Jason replies simply. “Easy.”
“As I expected.” Tim shifts; his head catches on Jason’s shoulder. When Jason doesn’t tense or pull away, Tim leaves it there. “Now, if I asked you to spare them, would you? If I begged you not to kill them? Could you do that?”
Jason doesn’t respond for a moment. “Why on Earth would you want to spare them?”
“That’s not the question. Would you spare them if I asked you to? If I begged you to? If it was the only thing I wanted in the world?”
Jason purses his lips. “No,” he says, sounding somewhat shameful. “I couldn’t let them live.”
“And if I hated you for that, how would you feel?”
“I don’t want to talk about this anymore,” Jason says in a small voice. Tim knows better than to push him further. “It’s — it’s different. It’s different than that.”
Tim nods silently. He leans his cheek a little more on Jason’s shoulder in a silent apology.
“You’re fifteen, right? Yeah. Yeah you are. That’s how old I was. I’m sure someone has told you the whole gory story,” Jason murmurs. “Very juicy stuff.”
“Bruce would leave the room if we so much as mentioned your name,” Tim replies. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t know every detail of Jason’s death, but those details he had to look for himself. “I think talking about it would physically kill him.”
“That makes two of us.” Jason smiles lightly, but his voice is taut with pain. “That’s what makes it nice being Red Hood. Red Hood’s never died.”
Tim swallows a chuckle. “That and the guns.”
Jason snorts. It’s a starkly genuine sound. “That and the guns. Now you’re talking.” He pauses thoughtfully. “I could never be Robin again. I always knew I couldn’t, even before I knew about you coming along. Robin is good and he’s pure and, and symbolic and shit. I’ve got too much blood on my hands to ever deserve to touch that suit again.”
“There will always be a bit of Robin in you,” Tim says. “There’s still a bit of Robin in Dick too.”
“Dickiebird’s the original Robin. He’s still bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, and has no duffel bag full of heads on his record.”
“That we know of.”
Jason laughs again. “True. Nobody’s got that much natural pep without some seriously weird skeletons in their closet. But still, it’s different. Dick’s always been a darling. Nightwing is good. He’s trustworthy. He’s exactly what a grown-up Robin should be. Red Hood is… distinctly not.”
“Doesn’t matter,” Tim says. “You’re still Robin. You were my Robin. I took so many photos of you.”
“Stalker,” Jason replies, but there’s a slight edge to his humorous tone. “The kid in those photos was blown to smithereens in a filthy warehouse. I know that’s not the answer you want, kid, but it’s the truth. Every part of him died that day. I’m just the shitty sum of the bits left behind.”
You seem so sure of that, Tim thinks. But I don’t think you get it. “Do you know how Bruce found us?” He whispers, tilting his chin down towards his hands. “After I called?”
Jason breathes out through his nose. It tickles Tim’s hair. “You cowering in the bathroom?” He whispers back. “Me throwing myself at the walls?”
Tim shakes his head just enough for Jason to feel it against his side. “You were curled up on top of me. Like — almost spooning me.”
Jason pauses. “Why?”
“You thought you were back in the warehouse. With the bomb.” Tim’s throat goes thick again. “You were trying to protect me.”
There’s a thick, heavy silence between them. “I—“ Jason begins, but even he doesn’t seem sure of what to say. “I don’t remember doing that.”
“That’s okay. You still did it. You tried to protect me even when you knew it was hopeless.”
“That’s what Robin does. I’m not Robin anymore.”
“Robin is a name and a suit. None of us will ever be Robin. Stop trying to make that distinction. You protected me because that’s what you do.”
Jason’s voice is getting tighter. “Stop making me sound like a good guy. I’m not a good guy.”
“You’re good enough to try.”
“I wasn’t trying when I kidnapped you to be my nurse for forty-eight hours of hell.”
“Well, you were trying when you scaled the side of a brick manor wall with busted feet to come apologize for it.”
A gust of wind makes Tim’s window creak, and the two of them fall silent. A dull ache is blooming in Tim’s back; he’ll probably be due for another painkiller in an hour or two. He’s not sure how long he and Jason have been talking for, but it’s been long enough for Tim’s anger and hurt to have fizzled away like water on a hot pan. What’s left in his chest isn’t peace, but it is peaceful in its own way. The knowledge that it’s all over. That something has changed, for better or for worse.
“Do you want to be good, Jason?” Tim asks.
Jason sighs. “I want… I want to feel good. I want to know that Bruce has my back. I want the scum of this city off our streets for good.”
“Bruce does have your back. He loves you just as much as he loves me and Dick. Maybe even a little more. Death gets you lots of brownie points.”
“You’re a little optimist, Tim. I envy you.” Jason leans into Tim’s side ever so slightly. “I’m not ready to stop being angry yet. The Joker is still alive, and I don’t think Bruce has any plans of killing him any time soon. That’s going to keep some wounds open.”
Tim nods, disappointment blooming in his stomach. “Yeah.”
“I’ll… I’ll be better about it, though. I won’t drag you guys into it. If Bruce wants to try and make things better, then I’ll let him. Doesn’t mean I’m always going to be nice to him, but as long as he doesn’t act like we’re all buddy-buddy right away, then I’ll try to stick around a bit more.”
It’s a start. Tim smiles. “I’m sure he’ll appreciate it.”
“That’s if he wants me to stick around. If he doesn’t, then…” Jason trails off uncomfortably. “I’ll be sure to keep an eye on you on patrol from afar.”
“He’ll want you to stick around,” Tim assures him. “He wants us all to stick around. For better or for worse.”
“A death wish.”
“That’s Batman’s specialty.”
Tim closes his eyes. Jason must notice, for his hand curls around Tim’s upper arm and squeezes gently. The bandages are soft against Tim’s skin. He smells no blood in the air. He’s calm. “Jason?”
“Mm?” Jason responds.
“Please don’t let things go back to the way they were between us. If it hurts to be around me, that’s okay. Just don’t give me hope.”
Jason gives a slight pause. When he speaks, it’s scarcely above a whisper. “I’m keeping you up. Go to sleep now. You need it.”
Tim’s too tired to hold his tongue. “Will you be there when I wake up?”
“I owe you as much. Sweet dreams, Timbit.”
Satisfied, Tim lets his eyes close. “Sorry about slapping you.”
“That’s alright. I deserved it.”
“Just a little.”
Some time later, he wakes again to the sound of his door opening. Dick stands in his doorway, hand on the doorknob, his shaken features shadowed from the golden light of the hall outside. They make eye contact; Dick’s eyes shift to Jason, whose gentle snores tickle the top of Tim’s head. A great, shuddering sigh escapes him. “He’s here,” he whispers to no one in particular.
Tim nods. “Has been the whole time.”
Dick breathes in carefully. For a moment, Tim thinks he’s going to cry. “Okay,” he says. “How are you feeling?”
It’s a loaded question, guarded and wary. “Much better,” Tim says. “We talked.”
“‘Bout everything. I think we’re on the same page now.”
That makes Dick’s shoulders soften. “Sure looks like it,” he says, voice warm. “He never slept like that with me.”
Tim closes his eyes, listening to the soft, even breathing above his head. It would be smart to get up now, while the painkillers and the exhaustion have a lid on his emotions, and go talk to Bruce before his heart gives out from worry. But, despite his rational thought, his body seems loath to move. Jason’s arm is thrown over his chest, fingers hooked over his shoulder. It would be impossible to extricate himself from the situation without waking Jason up. Waking Jason up while he looks so peaceful would be a literal crime.
Hm, Tim thinks. I think he did that purposefully.
“Go to bed, Dick. It’s okay now. Everything is good.” Tim closes his eyes again. “If he wanted to murder me, he’d have done it already.”
Dick chuckles lightly. “Not what I was afraid of, but good to know. You know where to find me if you need anything.”
“What I need is for you and Bruce to go to bed and stop worrying. Tell him I’ll talk to him in the morning. I’m okay, I promise.”
“I believe you, Timmers. In return, you make sure that big idiot back there gets a good rest. I haven’t seen him sleep like that since he was little.”
Tim nods sleepily. “I got you, Dick.”
“Alright. I love you both.”
“Love you too.”
The world trickles back into oblivion.
“Staying home tonight?”
Bruce turns from where he’s hunched over his desk, startled. Jason leans against the doorframe, hoping he looks casual. “Tim and Dick are already out on patrol. I thought I had the manor to myself and Alfred tonight.”
“Mm. Yeah.” Bruce sets down his pencil. “I tried to get Tim to stay home, but I think he needs the fresh air. Dick’ll keep him safe.”
Typical Bruce, avoiding the question. Jason snorts. “Dickiebird ground the big bad bat?”
“I had day work to catch up on.”
“You’ve never missed patrol for ‘day work’ a day in your damn life.”
“Day work isn’t often more important than patrol, but today was an exception. I felt more comfortable being at home.”
Jason takes a step into the office, feeling awash with the simultaneous nostalgia and unfamiliarity of the room. It many ways, it stands the same as the image of it in Jason’s memory; the plush red chairs are in the same places in the center of the room, with the same meticulously dusted coffee table between them; the bookshelves are still full of books too boring for Jason to even glance at; Bruce’s desk is as messy as it always was, with only a single mug and a few framed photographs to break the patchwork of papers strewn over it. And yet, the closer Jason looks as he scans the room, the more changes he notices. The bowl of fruit that sat on the coffee table is gone, replaced with an empty vase; some of the books with the brighter spines that Jason used to occasionally poke at when he was bored are nowhere to be seen; the framed photographs, Jason realizes, are new as well. Bruce never had photographs on his desk when Jason had been around. “Thought I needed a babysitter, eh?” Jason says, plucking one of the photographs from the end of the desk. It’s Tim’s most recent school picture. His smile is wide and distinctly, almost humorously, fake. With his hair all brushed back, he looks like someone whose name should be something stupid and old like Conrad, Hubert, or Archibald. Jason lets himself crack a smile. Looks like being a big nerd is genetic.
Bruce watches him silently as he picks up another. This one is of Dick, dressed in a suit, standing at Bruce’s side with an ear-to-ear grin. Some fancy event, no doubt. There had been plenty of those way back when. Rich people love excuses to get dressed up and eat weird shrimp.
He picks up the third and last one. This one is of Tim and Dick together in front of the fireplace, looking stilted and awkward in the way all posed photos seem to be. They’re wearing matching sweaters. Christmas, Jason thinks, but his heart is sinking. Alfred always goes wild that time of year.
“Nice pair of sons you got,” he says stiffly, setting the photos down before his hands can shatter them. “You really did find a nice matched set.”
“I didn’t have any photos of you,” Bruce says quietly. “Not without the Robin costume on.”
There is ash in Jason’s mouth. “Of course. Dead kids in little pixie boots wouldn’t fit in with all these nice photos. Did Alfred take the Christmas one? That looks recent. I think I might have actually been breathing while this one was taken.”
“I extended the invitation. You did not reply.”
“Well, I’d have hated to intrude. You three are such a good trio. Tim’s even starting to look like you.”
Bruce sits back in his seat and reaches into his pocket. He pulls out a sleek black wallet, flicks it open, and fishes something out of one of the pockets. He pulls out a little slip of plastic, gives it a quick glance, then sets it on the desk and pushes it towards Jason. The picture is from a film camera, neatly cut down until it’s no bigger than Jason’s palm. It’s dark and blurry, but when Jason picks it up and squints at it, it takes him but a moment to realize what he’s looking at.
“There are better ones,” Bruce says. “But I keep those downstairs. I couldn’t risk anything if that photo got into the wrong hands.”
The photo is of Jason, no more than fourteen years old, caught mid-air as he vaults between two buildings. His arms are stretched out like wings, legs illuminated by the glow of the moon behind him, and though his face is hidden in shadow, Jason knows he’s smiling. He always smiled out on patrol.
“I never forgot about you, Jason. Not for one moment.” Bruce stands and sits on his edge of the desk, eyes trained on the picture burning a hole through Jason’s palm. “I’ll say that as many times as I need to.”
“Who took this?” Jason asks. His throat is dry.
“Tim. Couldn’t have been more than ten, I don’t think.”
Jason puts the picture back on the table, and Bruce slips it back into his wallet. “Took the photo of me and Dick too.”
Jason steps back, wincing as the bottoms of his feet sting. “Talented kid.”
Bruce must be able to tell that he’s on the verge of fleeing, for he stands up, fists balled at his sides. “Jason, I—“ he pauses. “I want to talk.”
“We are talking,” Jason replies.
“About what happened.”
“I know exactly what happened. I don’t need to talk about it anymore.”
“It can’t happen again. It won’t happen again.”
Jason keeps his eyes low. He feels Bruce’s gaze burning into him. “I already know I fucked up, Bruce. I don’t need another lecture.”
“I want you to call me if you’re ever in danger like that again,” Bruce says. “We’ve got a whole medical bay down there, Jason. We have antidotes. Bandages. Painkillers. You’re safe down there.”
Like I’m not safe up here, Jason thinks, but he knows to keep his mouth shut.
“I can’t make you stay. I’ll let you leave when you want as long as your life isn’t in danger. I won’t make you come upstairs if you don’t want to. Just promise me that you’ll come to the cave if you’re in trouble, okay? Don’t try to do it on your own.”
It’s not the lecture he was expecting, but Jason still feels like he’s being scolded. He nods stiffly. “Fine. I’ll try.” Trying is what I promised Tim. Not giving in, not forgetting. Just trying.
He looks up at Bruce, and is surprised to see him looking relieved. “That’s all I want from you, Jay. You’re always welcome here.”
Jason looks away. “Does Alfred agree with that sentiment?”
“Always, Master Jason. This is your home.”
Jason turns, startled. Alfred stands in the doorway, unusually empty-handed. Jason wonders how long he’s been standing there, silently listening. His eyes are soft, his uniform crisp, the lines of his face deep and weathered. When Jason’s feet move before his brain can catch up, Alfred catches him and pulls him close. He smells of the same detergent he’s probably used for decades.
Of all the things that have changed, Alfred is the only thing that remains the same as he was in Jason’s hazy, light-filled memories. Jason didn’t realize how grateful he was for that until now.
“Hey, Alfie.” There’s a great shaking lump in Jason’s throat. “You don’t hate me yet?”
Alfred’s cool fingers come to rest on the back of Jason’s neck. “It would take a lot to get me to hate you. Don’t let any of my harsh words lead you to believe you do not have a home here.”
“I deserved those, though.” Jason laughs into Alfred’s neck. He’s shaking, but Alfred’s grip holds him steady.
“I do not regret my anger towards your predicament with the fear toxin, but I do regret some of the things I said. Your well-being matters to me just as much as Master Timothy’s.”
“Caring about my well-being is a death wish, old man.”
“That’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make.”
Jason squeezes him tighter. His heart skips a beat when Alfred pulls back, but Alfred only cups his face in both hands and presses a kiss to his forehead before drawing him back in for another hug. “I maintain my position that this must never happen again, Master Jason, but I also have no doubt that you are capable of doing your part. Master Tim looked well at ease when he left for patrol. I’m proud of you.”
There it is. Jason screws his eyes shut. Alfred, you sick, wonderful bastard.
“I’ll leave you two to talk,” Alfred murmurs in his ear. He pulls back, resting his hands on Jason’s shoulders. “I’m still tidying up the medical bay from your episode. You are adept at causing the most damage in the least amount of time, my boy.”
Jason flushes. “My bad.”
“Apology accepted. Never let it happen again.”
Alfred leaves as quickly and silently as he came. He always did have only one speed, Jason thinks fondly as he watches him go. Go go go. Never a moment of peace in this place for him.
“Well,” Bruce says, sitting back down. “Looking forward. Your bedroom is always open. I can make up a guest room for you too, if you’d rather stay in that—“
“I’m going back to my safehouse tomorrow morning. Once I can say goodbye to Tim and Dick.”
Bruce nods, but his face falls slightly. Jason swallows. “But I might be back Saturday night. Depends how my feet are healing.” And the likelihood of Alfred making Sunday crepes. “Assuming that’s alright with you guys.”
Bruce brightens. “Always. Always, Jay. That’ll make Alfred very happy.”
Part of Jason hates the smile that creeps over his father’s face as he looks back down at his mess of papers, meaninglessly straightening a few to keep his hands busy. Part of Jason is warmed by it. Bruce doesn’t hate him. Bruce still loves him. It’s easy to not think about warehouses and time bombs and betrayals when Bruce smiles at him like that.
Maybe one day Jason will have the bravery to stick around for more than a night or two. One day.
“Thanks for taking care of me,” Jason says, and before his courage can fail him, he crosses the desk and leans down to give his father a quick one-armed hug. Surprised, Bruce only has time to give Jason’s back a single, friendly pat before Jason’s pulling away again. “I’ll see you around, B.”
Bruce grabs his forearm before he can turn away and gives it a quick squeeze. “Saturday night. I’ll see you.”
“Not a moment earlier.”
“Take care of yourself.”
Jason pokes the picture of Tim until it falls on its face. “Don’t stare at a piece of paper all day. It’s bad for your eyes.”
“I won’t. Let your brothers know you’ll be back this weekend.”
“I’ll let them know I won’t show up unless Alfred’s making something good for dinner.”
Bruce winks. “He always does.”
Jason takes a step backwards towards the door. “Saturday,” he repeats. “I’ll be back.”
Bruce gives him a nod. “I’ll see you then.”
“I love you.”
Jason smiles, and something in his chest untwists. “See you around, Batman.”
I love you too.