The Fishing Trip
Bruce pours himself another cup of coffee. Black. He gets halfway through it before eyeing what's left in the carafe. He turns his back to Alfred to hunt through the cabinets for a thermos. His hands fumble tiredly through the glassware. There's a squeak of a hinge to his left as Alfred opens the cabinet next to him and swiftly retrieves a travel tumbler. He sets it on the granite counter top with a pointed thud. Bruce looks at the thermos warily before stretching out a hand and grasping it. He feels Alfred's judgmental gaze as he fills it up.
"I didn't have time to sleep after patrol," he informs the older man gruffly.
"I didn't say anything sir," Alfred sniffs.
"You were thinking it."
"I think a great many things, Master Bruce. To which are you referring?" the butler retorts archly.
"I couldn't skip patrol last night," he grits his teeth, "Freeze got out of Arkham. He was going on a rampage through the Summer Bay Days festival. You know that."
Alfred halves several brioche buns and lays them out on a pan. He toasts them under the broiler until they crisp golden brown.
His accent is tinged with mild reproof when he speaks, "Yes, but continuing to patrol afterwards—”
“Alfred, there were people who needed—” Bruce tries.
Alfred cuts him off, “I think two muggings and one bungled robbery is something quite within the police’s abilities to handle.”
Bruce winces. It had been a slow night. He snaps the lid of the thermos on with a touch too much force. Hot coffee splashes over the rim and scalds his knuckles.
"Damnit," he hisses.
"Language, Master Bruce. You are not above the same laws of this household that you subject young Master Jason to,” Alfred rebukes him placidly as he pulls sliced cheeses and meat and condiments from the refrigerator.
Bruce rolls his eyes and takes a sip from his mug. He’s not facing Alfred, but somehow the old man still sees it. Senses it. He gets a rap of knuckles to the back of his head that makes him choke on his coffee. Bruce turns around, the edge of the counter digging into his hip where he leans into it. He rubs the back of his head and watches Alfred methodically assemble a stack of artisanal sandwiches.
“This trip is very important to Master Jason. I do believe he’s been looking forward to it all week. You will not let your foolish decision to run amok all night instead of getting a good night’s sleep color this day for him. You will be on your best behavior,” Alfred warns, brandishing a mayo coated knife threateningly in his direction.
Bruce's shoulders sag.
“Yes, Alfred,” he mumbles contritely, feeling all of sixteen-years old again and full of shame when confronted with the puke-filled Ming vase from the foyer the morning after Serena Hiltbrand’s house party.
“Good. Now, if you’ll go rouse Master Jason, I’ll finish packing this up,” Alfred gestures to assorted snacks and drinks and the red cooler sitting on the floor.
It’s not a request. Bruce swallows down the last of the coffee in his mug and sets it in the sink before heading up stairs. He moves silently, due less to his stealth training and more to muscle memory – instinctively following the path he’d memorized in his teenage years to avoid the steps that creak. His fingers tighten on the bannister. Will Jason do the same? Will he learn how to move like a wraith through the manor in order to sneak out to alcohol-fueled teenage raves?
It wasn’t something Bruce had worried about much with Dick. Dick had been liked well-enough in school and generally accepted by his peers, but a mathlete did not the most popular kid make. Socially, Dick had preferred to hang out with the members of the Young Justice team than other students from Gotham Academy and Bruce was happy to let him. After all, Bruce knew his teammates and their capabilities. He knew and trusted their mentors as much as he trusted anyone. Not that Dick and the other young heroes never got into trouble (they were after all still teenagers) but Miss Martian and Aqualad’s good sense usually kept things from escalating too far out of hand. He also felt reasonably confident in their safety at Mount Justice, considering he had designed most of the security system there.
Jason however, doesn’t have access to a pre-assembled gaggle of well-intentioned young heroes as friends. So far Jason has seemed reticent to forge any friendships at all, something Dick had brought up to him. Bruce supposes that is worrisome, but he’s not sure what he’s expected to do about it. He can’t force Jason to make friends. He’s not sure which is worse, his son’s current lack of friends – or the hypothetical risk of him making the wrong type of friends in the future. The type who will encourage him to attend unchaperoned parties and do kegstands before running off the diving board into the pool stark naked...
Bruce decides he needs to adjust the manor’s security. It’s built to withstand a full scale ninja invasion, not to prevent a single teenage boy from sneaking out. He knocks lightly on the door to his son’s room and calls Jason’s name through the wood before turning the handle. He pushes it open a few inches and looks into the dark room. Inside Jason twitches, blinks his eyes open and sits up.
“Yeah?” Jason croaks out from the bed.
“Time to get dressed and go, Jay-lad,” Bruce tells him gently and closes the door again to give him privacy.
It’s just one more way Jason and Dick are different. Growing up in the circus Dick was used to staying up late for performances, helping pack down after and sleeping in late. He slept with the door open and on occasion Bruce would be woken by a tremulous call for comfort after a nightmare. He was also an absolute slug in the morning. It wasn’t uncommon for him to sleep through his wake-up calls until Bruce or Alfred was forced to bodily haul him out from under the covers and shove a shirt over his head.
Bursting into Jason’s room while he slept was a sure recipe for chaos. A split lip had taught Bruce that very quickly. Jason sleeps curled into the smallest tightest ball possible and always with the door closed – one more barrier between him and whatever dangers may lurk outside. He slept lightly, jolting into full consciousness at the smallest sound. The first time Bruce had walked into Jason’s bedroom unannounced the boy had snapped awake in panic so violent he’d scooted right off the edge of the bed in his desperation to get away.
Bruce waits until he hears the telltale sound of dresser drawers being opened before going to his own room to change out of his pajamas. They’ll be outside most of the day on the water. There should be some shade on the boat, but it will be a hot one. Bruce dresses in a pair of khakis and a white polo shirt, the light colors will reflect back some of the heat instead of absorbing it. He toes on a pair of Sperry’s (they're called boating shoes for a reason, right?) and heads downstairs once more.
Alfred is already waiting for him in the kitchen, the cooler ready by the door to the civilian garage. He holds out the thermos Bruce had filled earlier and hands Jason a bottle of his favorite strawberry lemonade when he plods down the stairs. Bruce swipes his sunglasses and keys off the hook by the door to hide his grimace at the sight of the Nightwing t-shirt his youngest sports. Damn it, Dick.
He loads the cooler in the back of one of the less conspicuous cars in his collection, a gunmetal gray RAV4, and then they’re on their merry way. Jason waves back at Alfred as they pull out of the garage. It’s still dark outside.
“Why’d we gotta giddup this early?” Jason groans from the passenger seat.
“Because we’re supposed to meet Riley at the pier by 5:30,” Bruce rejoins.
“Yeah, but like why can’t we meet them at like 8:00? Aren’t the fish gonna be there all day?” Jason presses, head lolling drowsily on his shoulder.
Bruce opens his mouth. He pauses. He can list five deadly toxins derived from fish. He knows that WE medical is studying the tissue regenerative abilities of zebra fish. He can order trout amandine in six languages. Other than that… He really should know more about fish after all of the years he’s known Arthur.
“I think—I think it has to do with catching the tide,” Bruce answers the best he can.
Jason doesn’t say anything. His head has dipped forward, chin bumping against his chest. Bruce smiles. The coffee is finally starting to kick in and he’s feeling more prepared and positive for the day ahead. Bruce had thought it would be good for Jason and Riley to get to know each other before Riley’s official start of duty. Riley had suggested a fishing trip. Not something that Bruce would have elected, but Jason had seemed intrigued by the idea.
It only takes twenty-five minutes to get to the marina instead of the typical forty. The roads are empty this early in the morning. Even Bruce isn’t used to seeing Gotham this quiet since he’s usually home from patrol by now. He keeps the radio off, as if any sound other than the steady whirr of their tires on the pavement will break the soporific spell the city has fallen under. The closer they get to the water, the more signs of life start to creep back in: gulls circling through the air, weathered men making their way towards crabbing and fishing boats, the long low tone of a container ship’s horn as it comes into the harbor.
Jason startles awake at the crunch of gravel under the tires. Orange globes of light illuminate the parking lot and nearby piers. A man sitting on the tailgate of a truck holds up a hand in greeting and directs them to park next to him. He stands when Bruce comes to a full stop and climbs out. He’s wearing a ratty old Margaritaville t-shirt with no less than 3 holes that Bruce can see, board shorts, beat-up sneakers, and a holstered Sig Sauer.
“Good morning Mr. Wayne,” Riley Jamison greets him warmly then gives him a once over. His eyebrows arc towards his hair line. “You are dressed—You look very nice this morning. We will try to keep you clean,” he offers dubiously.
Bruce looks down at his white shirt and khaki shorts and feels oddly out of place. He’s used to being perfectly dressed for the occasion, not overdressed. He feels better when Riley’s attention is redirected as Jason climbs out of the other side of the car.
“And good morning to you too, other shorter Mr. Wayne!” Riley grins.
Jason frowns at him then turns to Bruce, “Oh god, is he going to be like another Alfie? Because if he keeps calling me ‘Mr. Wayne,’ I change my mind. Fire him.”
Bruce snorts and makes his way to the trunk to grab the cooler. Riley intercepts him, unbothered by Jason’s grumpy reception.
“Oh no, Mr. Wayne, it’s cool. I’ve got this,” the younger man says, effortlessly popping the cooler up on his shoulder and gestures for them to follow him.
Jason trails behind him, sneakers making little pops of sound against the wooden boards of the pier. Bruce scowls. He’s perfectly capable of carrying a cooler. He’s the god-damn Batman.
There are three boats tied up to the jetty. Riley walks them to the one furthest out. The boat itself is about forty-five feet long and fifteen feet wide. It has a wooden upper and lower deck. The upper deck contains the wheelhouse and a lifeboat. The lower deck has a small indoor seating area with a counter, sink, and mini fridge along one side, but is mostly given to exterior seating that wraps around the front, sides, and back of the boat. In blue peeling letters ‘Son of a Beach’ is painted across the stern. Bruce’s eyes narrow critically.
“Mr. Wayne, Jason, this is Marty,” Riley introduces them with a jab of his thumb over his shoulder to a deeply tanned man standing by the railing of the boat. “Marty, this is Bruce Wayne and his son Jason.”
Bruce gets a flicker of white teeth and something he should understand but doesn't.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that?” Bruce offers with his best Brucie smile.
Marty repeats himself. Bruce swears he’s speaking English, but with far more ‘R’ sounds than any dialect he’s familiar with. He catches about every fourth word, not enough to make sense of their context. Bruce’s smile falters and he decides it’s better to shake hands and move on than ask the man to repeat himself a second time. Riley jumps from the pier onto the deck with the sure-footing of someone used to hopping back and forth from sea to shore. Jason eyes the gap between the pier and boat warily. Bruce puts an encouraging hand on his back.
Riley sets the cooler down and stretches out his arms, “S’okay kid. I won’t let ya slip.”
Jason frowns at the prospect of a stranger’s touch but allows Riley to lift him up and across the space. Riley offers a polite steadying hand to Bruce as well. Bruce ignores it. He does know his way about a boat, though they are typically sleeker and significantly more high-tech. He and Jason take a seat at the bow while Riley unties them. There’s a sharp intake of breath from beside him. Jason’s eyes are wide, fixed on the horizon where the sun is just starting to rise.
The sliver of pink reflects over the water and warms the dull slate sky with a hazy glow. The hopeful beauty of new dawn is one of Bruce’s favorite sights, but he has to admit that watching it spear through Gotham’s jagged skyline from the rooftop of a skyscraper has nothing on how it crests over the endless shimmering expanse of ocean before them. The engines of the boat rumble to life beneath them and they start to chug out to sea.
Riley rejoins them, and points out where the life-vests are kept in a chest under the bench they’re sitting on. Otherwise, they don’t speak during the voyage out of the harbor, just enjoy the scent of salt on the air and the lightening of the sky around them. Bruce can’t help but steal intermittent glances at Jason’s face. He’s barely blinking trying to take it all in, mouth parted in awe. Bruce wonders if Jason’s ever been outside of Gotham. He should plan some trips. He’d like to see how Jason responds to seeing towering forests and snow-capped mountains, or the red and orange banded walls of the Grand Canyon.
After thirty minutes or so, the engines cut. Riley claps his hands to gain their attention.
“Alright, guys. So here’s what we’re going to be doing today. We’re going to be drag fishing. What that means is we’re just dropping lines straight down and letting the current pull us along. These fishing rods aren’t meant to be cast like you’re probably used to seeing people do on TV. You try and do that with one of these reels and your line will tangle and you may end up with some new piercings,” Riley teases and tugs on his earlobe. “C’mon, let’s get some lines baited.”
Riley disappears inside and reappears with a cutting board and couple of squid that he expertly flays into strips. He beckons Jason closer and picks up a pink speckled strip.
“You want to be real careful when you do this, don’t want to poke yourself with the hook. But push the barb all the way through once and then wiggle the point back through again. Want to try to do your own?”
Jason nods and takes the rig in hand. He makes a face at the slimy rubbery texture of the squid. Bruce wishes he had captured it with a camera.
“It’s so gross!” he exclaims through a big grin, “I thought you used worms to go fishing though?”
Riley shrugs, “You can. Blood worms make pretty good bait but that’s mostly for fresh-water fishing. We’re in salt water and the fish that live out here – trout, bass, croaker – they prefer squid.”
Bruce surreptitiously pulls his phone out and turns on the camera while Jason works at baiting his rig. His tongue pokes out between his teeth and his brow is furrowed in concentration.
“Alright! Good job, Jason! We’ll make a fisherman of you yet. Let’s drop it over the side now.”
“Uh,” Jason hesitates like he did at the gap, clearly reluctant to get much closer to the water despite the railing.
Bruce tilts his head to the side, “What’s wrong Jay-lad?”
Jason looks back and forth between Bruce, Riley, the water, and the fishing pole in his hands.
“It’s just… What if—what if I trip or something?”
“Are you worried about going overboard?” Riley guesses.
Jason’s lips twist unpleasantly. He’s never been good at admitting weaknesses.
“Do you not know how to swim?” Riley prods.
“Why the hell would I know how to swim, huh?” Jason spits, “This leaky tub’s the first boat I ever been on!”
“But I’ve seen you play in the pool at the manor before,” Bruce interjects.
Jason bites his lip and looks at his feet, “I just splash around in the shallow end.”
Riley and Bruce exchange a look over his head. Riley reaches out to rest a hand lightly on Jason’s shoulder. Jason flinches a little but accepts it. “Hey, it’s no biggie kiddo. I can teach you how to swim. Not today, but back at the manor maybe, or my apartment complex has a pool too. It’s really easy. But for today, god forbid anything happens, but if it does, everyone else on this leaky tub knows how to swim and we’ll jump right over and get you. We also have a couple float rings we can toss out to grab onto and pull you back in, and if you’d feel safer you can wear a life jacket. We have plenty,” Riley soothes him.
Jason takes a breath and squares his shoulders. A moment later he shakes his head.
“No, I’ll be fine. But yeah, I’d like to learn how to swim after,” Jason states with determination, "And don't call me kiddo."
He strides towards the gunwale, rod in hand and Riley goes over the specifics of operating the device; how to hold it, where the switch is for letting line out or reeling it in, how to tell when the sinker hits the bottom. As with everything, Jason listens intently, soaking it all in. Once the boy is comfortable, Riley comes up to Bruce.
“So Bruce, you want to drop in a line as well?”
Bruce shrugs, “Sure. Why not.”
He eyes the squid bits distastefully and opts to let Riley bait his rig for him. He stands next to Jason at the rail and watches his rig sink, quickly disappearing into the murky green water. And then they wait. And wait.
And wait some more. Jason shifts his weight from foot to foot. After years of stake outs and playing long drawn out games of cat and mouse with super villains, Bruce is a patient man. But even he is starting to wonder how on earth this activity is considered fun and relaxing. He glares harder at the water. Jason huffs, his less developed patience breaks.
“Where the hell are all the fish? C’mon fuckers aren’t you hungry?” Jason yells and bounces his pole up and down a bit.
Riley laughs and convinces them to give it another ten minutes. He waxes poetic on how catching fish isn’t necessarily the point of fishing but being out in nature and just having fun. Jason isn’t shy about telling him how stupid that is. They don’t catch any fish. Marty decides to try another spot and swings them out closer to the bridge tunnel. They drop their lines again. Another five minutes of inaction has Jason swearing under his breath. Then he yelps.
“Something just jerked my rod!” he shouts excitedly.
Bruce bites down on his tongue to keep from laughing at the poor choice in phrasing. Riley manages to smother his snicker. Marty doesn’t bother. He belts out a full belly laugh from up above. Jason scowls at them all.
“Bunch of freaking pervs. Well?! What do I do now?”
“Reel it in and see if there’s a fish on the other end!” Riley crows.
Jason jumpstarts into action winding the line back in. The excitement drops off his face when he reels up an empty rig.
“What the hell?” Jason snarls.
“Be patient, kid. Sometimes they just nibble on it a bit but don’t swallow the hook. Next time you think you feel a nibble, wait a little bit longer for a harder hit before reeling it in.”
Jason seems unconvinced but less than two minutes later he goes stiff, one finger resting lightly on the line where it comes of the spool so he can feel vibrations up it easier.
“I think I got a nibble…” He mutters, voice tense, waiting…
The tip of his line jerks down and his grip tightens on the pole. Bruce can see the line zig and zag through the water and knows this time there’s something on the other end. Jason hollers when silver scales flash into view. He digs his elbows into his sides and doggedly continues to pull it in.
“Yeah! Just like that! Well done Jason!” Riley compliments as the fish is appears above the water line.
Jason eyes look about to pop out of his head.
“Ohmygoddidyouseethat?! That was so fucking awesome! I caught a fish Bruce! Holy shit I caught a fish!” He cackles madly.
His enthusiasm is infectious and Bruce digs his phone out of his pocket to capture it. He can’t be bothered to ruin the moment by scolding Jason for his language.
“Alright Jay-lad, let’s get a picture. Alfred will want to see the first fish of the day,” Bruce laughs.
Jason beams at him, piscine prize held triumphantly aloft. Bruce makes sure to send copies not just to Alfred, but Dick, Lucius, Selina, Clark, and after a moment of consideration – Arthur as well. Parenthood is doing something to him. There’d been a lot of judgment directed his way for letting Dick in the field so young and every successful mission Robin completed had felt like a smug justification of his decision... With Jason, maybe there’s still a degree of pettiness. Maybe he’s trying to prove he can be not just a good mentor, but a good dad as well. But on the other hand how could he not share? Just look at that grin.
“So what do you want to do with it?” Riley asks Jason.
His son pauses, “What do you mean?”
“I mean, do you want to keep it, use it as cut-bait, or toss him back?”
Jason looks back and forth between Riley and the fish, “Uhhh. I—I don’t know. Dad?”
“It’s up to you Jason,” Bruce shakes his head.
“Can we eat it?” Jason asks curiously.
“Yeah, kid,” Riley chuckles, “Croaker fries up real nice fresh.”
“I’m sure Alfred would be more than happy to cook whatever you bring home,” Bruce assures him.
“Sweet! I wanna eat him!” Jason declares savagely.
“Boy after my own heart,” Riley proclaims and shows him how to hold the fish behind it’s gills while he works the hook out of it’s mouth with pliers.
Jason makes a face. “It’s so slimy!” he cries, but Bruce thinks he appears rather more delighted than disgusted at the revelation.
Riley’s just freed the hook when the fish’s mouth gapes open and it lets out a creaky groan. Jason drops it in surprise.
“What the hell! What the hell was that? Did you hear that? It just fucking growled at me! What kind of demon fish is that?” he whips around to Riley, betrayal and accusation writ in his angry pout.
Riley has to crouch down and grab his knees he’s laughing so hard, “I told you, it’s called a croaker. Now quick! Go catch it!”
Jason turns tail and chases after the fish as it flops haphazardly across the deck. He’s so determined, he almost follows it overboard when in a last desperate bid for freedom it flips itself over the gunwale. Bruce drops his pole and is halfway across the boat when he sees Jason dive forward, but he’s not close enough. The boy jerks to a stop mid-air, Riley’s hand fisted into the waistband of his shorts.
“Whoa there, kid! That is not how we agreed to teach you how to swim. It’s just a fish. There is literally an entire ocean full of others out there to catch.”
Jason’s face crumples, sneakers squeaking when they touch the deck again. “Yeah but… That was my first fish.”
“Then it’s a good thing we at least got a picture of it then,” Bruce consoles, catching up to the duo. He claps Jason on the shoulders and runs his hands over his hair and face, reassuring himself that his son is still in fact there. “Now lets get you in a life jacket, hm?” He smiles tightly and propels Jason towards the crate Riley had pointed out before.
Jason protests at being shoved in the bulky orange vest but Bruce stalwartly ignores him. One heart-attack is enough for this trip, thank you. Jason can call him a paranoid fascist donkey-butt all he wants. Eventually they track back to the side of the boat and Bruce notices the empty space where his rod used to be.
“Oh, um. I’m sorry,” Bruce apologizes, “I’ll pay for that.”
Jason’s maudlin attitude at losing his first fish lasts an entire six minutes until it’s overridden with the thrill of another bite. It’s another croaker, not quite as large as the first, but he holds onto it with steely resolve this time until it’s safely in the boat’s well. Jason catches two more fish before Bruce gets his first bite. He reels in while Jason and Riley cheer him on, only to fade into silence, then burst into giggles when he hauls in a clump of seaweed. Bruce’s lips thin. He manages to catch a crab, plastic bag, and Jason’s line accidentally before they break for lunch. Meanwhile Jason has single-handedly manage to half-fill the boat’s well with croaker and mullet.
They drop anchor and Marty descends from his perch to join them for lunch. Marty wordlessly offers Bruce a beer from the mini-fridge. Lionshead, a pilsner that tastes far too similar to the way dingy dive bar bathrooms smell for even Matches Malone to like. Still he takes it, not wanting to offend. Riley declines the one he’s offered, muttering a quick, “Sorry, on the clock,” while jutting his chin to where Jason sits happily digging into a snack-pack of organic cheez-its. He’s shoved himself as far up into the apex of the bow as he can get to get away from the adults. Bruce thinks he can hear him humming a Clash song, I Fought the Law drifting on the breeze.
Oh god, Bruce watches in mute horror. He forgot to tell him to wash his hands first. Now Jason’s probably going to catch some sort of fish-born disease like salmonella or ecoli or clonorchiasis or worse, trematodiasis. Alfred will have his head. He takes a swig of his beer to distract himself from the guilt and grimaces at the skunky flavor.
He needs a better, less potent distraction. Bruce leans forward and tries as unobtrusively as possible to decode Marty’s diction as he converses with Riley. It takes him about half-a-sandwich's worth to get used to the growling stream of the waterman’s speech and unravel it into recognizable phonemes.
“How’s yer marm?” Marty asks Riley.
“She’s doing good. She’s been visiting Julia a lot lately to help her get ready for the baby.”
Marty nods, “Excited to be an uncle, ey. And yer pop?”
Riley’s mouth ticks to one side. “Same as always I guess. Mom said he was fine, so…” he fades off.
“So ‘is surgery went well then?”
Riley’s head snaps up, “Surgery? What surgery?”
“Bob Hayes said he took a fall at ‘is retirement party. Bad ticker,” Marty illustrates his words by tapping his fingers to his chest.
“He had a heart attack?” the younger man barks in disbelief, “Why didn’t anyone tell me? God, that stupid self-centered bas—” his eyes slide to Bruce and Jason and he bites his tongue, “I uh, I didn’t know.”
Marty slaps him on the back, “It’ll be alright, son. One o’ these days he’ll come around.”
Riley scoffs and hangs his head, “Yeah right. It’s been nine years Marty. Now he won’t even tell me when he’s had a heart attack? I know he said I wasn’t his son anymore, but I didn’t think he’d take it this far…”
Riley fades off. Bruce feels a pang of sympathy for the young man. He thinks of all the arguments between himself and Dick lately. Was that the path they were on? To a rift so great that they wouldn’t even notify the other when seriously hurt? His heart aches at the thought. He resolves to give Dick a call when they get home. At least Riley seems to have found a caring paternal figure in Marty.
The old seaman now has an arm wrapped around Riley’s shoulders. “I know, I know. And I know it’s not the same, but I always thoughta you as a bit like a son. Yer tough and brave and got a good head on your shoulders. It don’t make no difference to me if you like puttin’ your dick up some guy’s ass. Not my thing, but a hole’s a hole I s’pose,” Marty says encouragingly.
And that was more than Bruce needed to know. He chokes on his beer, the alcohol fizzing painfully up his nose and splattering yellowed stains down the front of his pristine white shirt. When he looks up, everyone is staring at him. Jason with befuddled disgust, Riley in pink-cheeked embarrassment.
“Went down the wrong tube,” Bruce coughs, pointing to his throat.
They pack up lunch quickly after that. Marty returns to his perch and Jason and Bruce to the starboard side. Bruce readies himself for another agonizingly monotonous few hours of watching Jason reap the bounty of the sea while his rig remains lonely and untouched. He leans against the railing and gazes out over the water, mentally pulling up open case files. He has plenty of time to think out here, he may as well take advantage of it.
He’s hit a block on the Montego case. All doors and windows locked from the inside, no fingerprints at the scene, but the bullet trajectories through the victims’ skulls don’t correspond to the proper angle for the suicides they are posed to look like. He needs to find a common thread linking the victims, but the four individuals seem to defy any typical correlations like age, race, gender, or occupation. First victim: Georg Montego. Accountant, family man, mid-forties, no priors—
He looks down in surprise at the rod in his hand. Did it just? The very tip bobs down maybe a half inch. He keeps his face Batman stony as he starts to reel in, eyes sliding to where Jason is chanting “heeeere fishy, fishy, fishy,” with utmost seriousness. He doesn’t want to alert the boy and invite his ridicule if this proves to be another seaweed debacle.
Tremors keep running up his line though in a promising manner. He starts turning the handle on his reel in earnest, finally catching Jason’s attention. Jason trots over excitedly.
“Hey Riley! Bruce finally caught somethin’!” he yells out over his shoulder.
Bruce allows himself a small grin. Out of the corner of his eye he sees Riley coming at the ready with his pliers in hand. He puts on an extra burst of speed and practically yanks the rig up out of the water. He stares at his catch. Jason doubles over laughing.
There is a fish on the end of the line this time. At least.
Jason wheezes for breath, curled in the fetal position on the deck, smearing scales and squid all over his Nightwing t-shirt.
“It’s—it’s—You caught a guppy!” he gasps for air, pointing at the four inch fish hanging from his hook.
Bruce narrows his eyes at the child and reminds himself he loves Jason. He loves his son. He is not at all tempted to dangle the boy over the side of the boat by his ankles. Not at all.
Riley is slightly more adept at hiding his mirth. He sidles up to Bruce and delicately take the fingerling off the hook for him. He opens his mouth and Bruce can predict the quip he’s about to drop
“No, I don’t want a photo. I don’t want to keep it. You can throw it back,” Bruce snaps.
“Actually, I was going to suggest turning him into cut-bait. Might have a little better luck with it,” Riley smiles apologetically.
“Oh. Yes. Thank you.”
Without warning, Riley produces a wicked-looking filleting knife and takes off the fish’s head. Bruce blinks at the watery trickle of blood down the hand rail. It catches him off guard. Logically, he knows fish are one of the least sentient creatures on the earth and the kill was so quick it probably didn’t feel a thing. Logically, he knows that the beef, pork, lamb, and fowl Alfred serves at the dining table had met the same fate. He’s never felt remorse for the bacon or foie gras on his plate before. It’s different knowing and seeing though.
He works so hard as Batman to avoid killing. Body casts and traction – yes, caskets, no. He thinks this might be the first time he’s been directly responsible for something’s death. Wait no... There had been that time about 8 years back when he hit a possum in the Batmobile and Dick had cried all the way home. Damn it, he’s getting sentimental over a fish. He shakes his head.
Riley already has the fingerling sliced into four pink and silver slabs and is threading one over the hook. The cut bait works like a charm. Not five minutes later he’s reeling in again. It’s another fish: mottled orange and brown, decent size. He’s hopeful.
“Oysterfish. Inedible.” Riley informs him.
Of course it is. Bruce sighs and drops line again.
The reel is nearly jerked out of his hands. He cries out in surprise, pole bent almost in half. Riley hustles over and throws on rubber lined gloves to help him reel in the line by hand to save the pole from breaking.
“We’re gonna need a net!” Riley shouts to Jason, who scrambles to bring one over.
His son is practically hopping in excitement, leaning over the rail to watch the thrashing water. Riley braces himself with one foot on the gunwale, heaving in line hand over fist. There’s a flash of something white and large and then Riley goes stumbling back to fall on his ass, line snapping. Riley groans and throws a hand over face in defeat.
“What was that?” Jason yelps, clearly thrilled, “Was that a shark? I never seen a shark before. Had to’a been! Ain’t no fish that big right? It was shark right?”
Riley removes the arm from his face to groan mournfully, “Nah. Looked like a cobia. A big one. Damn. They make good eating too.”
He rolls up into a sitting position and then pulls himself up to his feet.
“Sorry, Bruce. Today is just not your day,” he commiserates.
“I think fishing is not my sport. Sorry about the rig. I guess add that to my bill as well,” Bruce shrugs in exchange.
Jason pats him on the back consolingly, “It’s okay Dad. You’re still good at a lot of other stuff. Like scoring hot chicks and uh… Business stuff.”
Bruce closes his eyes and releases a small huff of laughter, once again completely charmed with the little punk he’d found trying to jack his tires. If only Jason knew the full range of ‘stuff’ he’s good at, he’d be a lot more impressed. Sometimes Bruce selfishly wishes he could tell Jason that his dad does a lot more than ‘scoring hot chicks’ and deskwork. He imagines telling him that he’s someone Jason can be proud of to have as a father, someone who spends his night saving people and weeding out corruption. But he had promised Dick and Alfred both.
“Thank you, Jason,” he murmurs sincerely.
Jason graces him with a blinding toothy grin. Bruce spends the rest of the day watching his son and making small talk with him and Riley, largely forgetting the freshly re-rigged rod in his hand.
Jason and Riley get along famously. The young man listens intently to Jason’s long convoluted tales and shares his own stories of misspent youth. He laughs with genuine delight at Jason’s comical highlights (frequently starring Dick or Bruce at their most unflattering) and hums thoughtfully when the conversation turns to school and acquaintances. Bruce notices a small line between Riley’s eyebrows that disappears and reappears on occasion. Riley isn’t just humoring Jason, he’s studying him. Taking in his words and body language as the boy passes over different subjects to piece together and understand his new charge better. It fills Bruce with relief and a new respect for the man. Jason chose well, even if it was based on nothing more than spite. Jason will be well-protected with Riley, he’s sure – and not just physically.
Bruce looks out over the water. The sun has just started to descend. They have many hours of daylight left but it’s taken on a golden glow. This will be their last stop for the day before packing it up and going home. He yawns. Maybe he’s starting to get what Riley said earlier about how the point of fishing isn’t necessarily to catch fish. As soon as the thought crosses his mind, his line gives a little jig and he throws it right back out. No. This is do or die time. He is catching this damn fish. It’s certainly a fighter, but it doesn’t feel like it’s going to snap the pole in half. He wrestles it up, turn by turn, catching glimpses of a spotted brown body.
“Ha!” the exclamation escapes him as it crests the water and he lifts it over the handrail.
“You got one!” Riley cheers, “Man, that is a nice looking flounder! Let’s take a picture!"
Bruce hands his phone to Jason. He grins smugly at the tiny lens and hoists the fish high. It smacks the grin off his face. Literally. In an angry defiant rush of exertion the flounder flops it’s unwieldy disc-like body up into his face. Cold, wet, scaly. Right across his cheek and mouth. He abruptly drops it in shocked. It ripples itself along the deck floor, like it’s going to do the worm right off the boat.
No. It’s not escaping. He is not losing this fish like Jason had. He throws himself bodily forward and grabs at it. His fingers slide off the slick surface of its scales.
“GRAB IT!” he screams as it shuffles its way clumsily closer to freedom.
Bless whatever god there is for Riley Jamison. While Jason squirms on the ground, incapacitated by hysterics, the bodyguard/fisher extraordinaire has the presence of mind to slam the net down over the fleeing flounder. Bruce rises, breathing heavily. He looks at the secured fish and nods. Finally.
“What the hell is goin’ on down there?” Marty yells from above, “Mighty racket yer all makin’.”
“Ha, just a bit of an—a bit of excitement!” Riley hollers back, “Almost lost a flounder over the side.”
“Alrighty, throw him on the ruler. Toss ‘em back if he don’t measure up,” Marty drawls, “And make sure that damn fool kid is okay."
Measure up? Fool kid? Bruce turns around to where Jason is lying flat on his back, arms curled up over his chest, red-faced and making little choking sounds. Bruce toes him gently in the stomach.
The boy hiccups and tries to gather himself, then loses it and collapses into a fresh fit of laughter.
“Ohmygod you got fish-slapped in the face. Ohmygodohmygod. It was perfect. Just you were—and then—and—I think I peed myself.”
Bruce crouches down next to him, he’s about to ask for a paper bag before Jason asphyxiates himself when the boy’s shakes start to subside. That’s when he notices the phone still clutched in his hand. Oh no. He pries it out of Jason’s claw-like grip and gapes at the screen. The camera had gone off at exactly the right time to capture the flounder in all of it’s malicious glory, body slamming into his face. Bruce flips through the phone, scrolling frantically. He sees the sent notifications to both Alfred and Dick.
Betrayed by his own son.
He could forgive sending it to Alfred, but Dick… That photo will be shared with the whole Justice League within the hour he’s sure. He’ll never hear the end of it. Especially from that disrespectful irreverent space-cop prick with the blimp-sized ego—"
“Hey Bruce, I got some bad news,” Riley approaches from the interior, holding his fish by the gills.
“What now?” Bruce seethes.
“Flounder are a protected species. You can’t keep them unless they meet a certain size. You have to toss them back. If the MP catch you they can fine you upwards of $150.”
Bruce feels something in his brain short out, “How big do they have to be?”
"18 inches long,” Riley answers.
“And how big is that one?” Bruce asks, desperate.
“Only 17 and a half.”
“A half?! Are you kidding me? They’ll fine you a hundred and fifty dollars over a half inch?” Bruce’s voice ratchets up a notch, “That’s ridiculous! No. They can fine me whatever they damn want, I am not throwing it back!”
They don’t throw it back. They peel Jason up off from the deck, load up the fish in a cooler, and Bruce hands the MP at the pier a couple hundreds before the man can even open his mouth. Riley walks them back the parking lot and shakes hands with him and Jason both, before waving them off. He makes sure to slip Riley an extra few bills to pass on to Marty for all the trouble as well.
When they come home, Jason gets a kiss to the forehead and a congratulations on his bountiful success from the butler before being sent upstairs to shower. As soon as he disappears, Alfred to turns to Bruce, takes in his ruined white polo, now stained with beer, snot, squid, and other miscellaneous and suspicious substances, and levels him with one of the most judgmental mustache twitches he's ever seen. He then suffers a lengthy lecture for forgetting to reapply sunscreen. It was something he never had to worry about with Dick, and he’s used to going out at night as Batman and well… His and Jason’s lighter complexions didn’t fare as well after a long day out on the water. He feels a bit ashamed over that. Not something he’ll forget again after Alfred’s scolding.
A couple of cool showers and a generous slathering of aloe later, Bruce sits at the kitchen island, Jason next to him on the high barstools. The boy is slumped over, pressing his lobster-red face to the cool granite countertop and sighing contentedly. Alfred stands at the stove top, pan in one hand spatula in the other. The sound of frying fish fills the kitchen as Alfred whips up a quick second serving. Jason rolls his forehead on the countertop to beam tiredly at Bruce over his plate, currently empty except for a few bones.
“Best. Day. Ever.”
Bruce considers the words. He’s sunburnt. His knees are scraped and bruised from scrabbling after that damn flounder. He’s mad at himself for his blatant bribing of the MP, an act that’s just so the entitled rich Brucie he hates. His reputation as Batman with the League is shot… He hates fishing.
Bruce mirrors his smile and ruffles his hair, “Yes. Today was the best.”