The first time it happens, Bruce is dumbfounded.
He should have seen it coming. Jason throws names and insults better than bullets — it was bound to pop up. But while Bruce knows this, while he realizes, deep down, that it's nothing, it doesn't mean what his brain is convincing him it does, nothing could have prepared him for the way his chest aches, his heartbeat so loud he fears Jason can hear it over the heavy rain. Nothing prepares him for the way it makes him want.
"What did you say?" he demands.
Jason's face — his pretty blue eyes and messy hair and that smirk that's been ever-present since his teens — is hidden behind the hood. He isn't here as Jason Todd; he's here as Red Hood, Batman's tentative associate. Barely that, even. He only comes to Bruce when he needs something. But that's okay. Bruce is glad he gets to see him at all.
"I said, when are we getting a move on with this little tea party, old man?" Jason says coldly, all of the warmth from his last statement seemingly washing away with the rain. It's all hurt, all open-wounded bitterness. It's like the window has closed, the curtains drawn. Bruce is locked out in the cold again.
Bruce hesitates. "Not that," he says, and isn't sure why he does. He should drop it. This isn't... this isn't anything. He should forget it.
But the way Jason's head tilts like he knows what Bruce is getting at, like he knows Bruce's dirty little secret, has Bruce opening his mouth again.
"Say it again."
He can see Jason's smirk. He knows Jason is leading him on, trapping him under that intense gaze Bruce wishes he could see, could feel on his skin. He knows, but he can't stop himself. He doesn't move away when Jason comes forward, step by step in the frigid, pouring rain. They're on a rooftop where anyone can see them, but Bruce doesn't care. He wants to hear.
"I didn't realize you were that perverted, Daddy," Jason leers.
It feels like time forgets to move for a beat. It's like they're both waiting for the other to start, to throw the first punch. It's what they do — they fight. And normally they would. But Bruce can only handle so much. He can't— Jason is his son. He hates — hates — to see the way Jason rips out of his fragile grasp, the way he scorns anything they might have.
But there isn't anything Bruce can do, and Jason isn't his son anymore.
Jason flinches when Bruce's hand falters by his shoulder. It's like he was waiting for Bruce to hurt him, maybe even anticipating it. The fact that Bruce was considering it breaks his heart a little more.
"Jay," he says. He wants to say more, but can't bring himself. Wants to fix it. To convince Jason to stop locking him out alone in the rain.
He expects Jason to brush it off, go back to the mission at hand, pretend it didn't happen. Maybe even further rip open the wound in Bruce's chest. But he doesn't. He stills.
And then he takes the hood off.
"Jay," Bruce says again, taking in the blue eyes, the messy hair. The smirk isn't there. The rain trails down his young, scarred face, soaking his hair. His eyes are red. Bruce wants to hold him.
"Is this what you wanted, old man?" Jason asks, but the bite is gone. He just sounds tired. As tired as Bruce feels.
Bruce swallows the uncomfortable lump forming in his throat. "No. No, this isn't what I want." He cups Jason's cheek. "All I've ever wanted is you by my side."
And Jason laughs. He laughs, a hollow, broken little sound, and presses into Bruce's palm like he's never wished to be anywhere else.