He finds Jason on a rooftop. It’s nowhere specifically chosen for its emotional value or its strategic placement; it seems to just be where he decided to stop. He’s sprawled out on his back on the concrete, his feet propped up on the edge of the roof. He’s smoking, and Bruce knows he hasn’t in a long time, but that he still carries them out of habit. He’s wheezing audibly, whether from the combination of the blood loss and the long trek over here done at charging speed or from the tobacco itself is anyone’s guess. His helmet’s thrown haphazardly off to the side, and his hair’s sticking up wildly. The fingers of his left hand twitch around the cigarette as he pulls it back from his mouth and exhales a stream of smoke, eyes fixed on the hazy sky and the barely-visible stars. He looks young, almost peaceful in an odd way, which brings a whole new pain to Bruce’s chest.
Peaceful until Bruce takes a step closer, at which point his pistol is instantly pointed at Bruce’s heart.
“I think I made it abundantly clear,” Jason says slowly, still oddly calm, not moving his head or shifting his gaze, “exactly what you should do when I left. Though you’ve always fucking sucked at listening.”
Bruce pauses, hovering a little, one foot an inch above the floor. He lightly sets his foot down. The gun doesn’t move.
“I….” Why is he here? What exactly did he think he was going to accomplish by following him? Jason was right; he had laid out what he should have done, and it made sense. Why had he come?
Jason laughs sharply, and it turns into a half-cough. “Even you don’t know why you do half the shit you do. Hilarious.” He flops his head back onto his arm, which is folded back on the roof behind him. His bangs are stuck to his forehead, and dried blood is in little rivulets trailing down his face. The gun hand drops to the floor, too.
“I.” Bruce swallows. “I just wanted…”
“What, to make sure I was okay?” Jason’s voice rises mockingly, in an imitation of a toddler’s voice. “Make sure I know I’m worth something and it’s okay to not be okay? Well, it’s not, and you coming and trying to play therapist is not going to help literally anyone in the history of ever.” Jason laid his head back down. “If you’d cared about mental health, you should have gotten counselling as a kid. Maybe you could have saved all of us a little pain.”
That stung. Bruce bit into his lip before he could stop himself. The jab at his parents was bad enough, but the honest implication not only that his children would be better off without him, but that he himself would have been better off without any of them was….one of the worst things that had ever been said to him in his life.
“That’s not fair, Jay,” he says quietly, and Jason laughs again, a bitter cackle. “Life ain’t fuckin’ fair, B. You of all people oughta know that by now.” He sticks the cigarette out to arms length and taps it to dump the ashes off the side of the building. Bruce thinks of them hitting someone in the face, but says nothing.
Jason sticks the cigarette back in his mouth and reaches his left hand up to scrub at his hair in an attempt to push his bangs back from his forehead. It’s still matted with blood, as Jason quickly discovers. “Fuckdamnit,” he mutters under his breath, giving up and pulling a bloody glove back to the cigarette. His fingertips leave little red smears on the white and orange paper wrapping.
Bruce swallows. “Jason…”
“Don’t you ‘Jason,’ me,” the boy says, voice suddenly low and hard. “Don’t you dare.”
“I don’t care what you ‘just.’”
Bruce draws a helpless breath in. “It’s been seven years…”
Jason is upright and tight as a spring in an instant, and the hatred in his eyes might as well have been a bullet for how it tears through Bruce’s chest and steals his air, roots him to the spot, frozen. “Fuck you.” Jason hisses. “Fuck you for coming here and fuck you for having the nerve to try to talk to me. After everything we went through, I would have thought I earned some respect for my wishes. I should have known better than that. If there’s anyone on the whole fuckin’ planet who knows that you cannot leave well enough alone to save your soul, it oughta be me.”
Bruce can’t think of a thing to say. It’s a common problem with him, really, but under the weight of his son’s hate and the day and the cowl and the blood---it’s too much. It’s always been too much.
“I.” Jason’s eyes are instantly zeroed-in, hard on his face. “I’m sorry.”
Almost imperceptibly, Jason’s shoulders slump, his hands going limp in his lap. His head dips forward, hunching down into his shoulders.
When he lifts his head a moment later, his eyes are colder than they’ve ever been.
“Bruce.” Jason draws a sharp breath through his nose, lets it out in almost the same movement, his fists clenched. “Do you think I give a single. fuck. that you’re sorry.”
Bruce’s jaw clenches, but nothing else changes, externally. Inside, he wants nothing more than to go back to the start and put himself between the gunman and his parents, like he’d always hated himself for not doing. Like he’d wished he could do since he was eight. Like he thought about every day for six months after the night Jason died.
Jason’s gaze is still cold, but Bruce can see the exhaustion in him, in how his chin keeps quivering, lips pressing together, his hands clasping into the fabric on his thighs. In his hunched posture and bloody hair and in the bruises slowly revealing themselves, marring the pale skin. In the broken-off little breaths he keeps taking, quick and fast, like he’s choking on them. So foreign, and so familiar at the same time. His boy. His son.
“Just….just go away, Bruce,” Jason says, almost inaudibly. He lies back down, turns his head away from Bruce so only the mussed, sweaty curls are visible. “Just go away.”
So Bruce does.