There wasn’t supposed to be anyone else in the Cave when Bruce returned. Dick had Damian for the weekend (and Bruce had to stop thinking of that in terms of some weird custody agreement, no matter how many jokes the kids made; having a sleepover with your siblings was normal), and Tim and Cass had gone back to their own place hours ago.
But someone was there—Jason, his helmet off, held in the crook of his arm, standing in front of his old Robin costume. He didn’t look back when Bruce arrived, but Bruce could tell by the way he stood he knew Bruce was there.
Bruce cleared his throat anyway, moved closer but still kept his distance.
“I didn’t kill anyone tonight,” Jason told him.
Unsure if he should praise or thank Jason, unsure of what he should say at all or what Jason wanted, Bruce just grunted in acknowledgement. There was something self-depreciating, something bitter, in Jason’s voice, so Bruce waited, cautious, for him to continue.
After a long while, Jason said, “But someone died. OD’d. Some new shit on the streets. Couldn’t’ve been older than seventeen.”
Bruce moved closer, and Jason kept talking, his Gotham accent coming out thicker than usual. “None of his dumbass friends called an ambulance, so it was too late for him when I got there. But I stayed with him, y’know, because I’m not total scum all of the time.”
“He threw up on me twice,” Jason said. He shook his head.
“I keep a good neurotic’s calendar,” he said. He finally looked over at Bruce, still wearing a domino mask, slid a glance that told him Jason was quoting something, but Bruce didn’t read like Jason did, so he waited to see where he was going with it. It was hard to tell. “It’s the anniversary of my mom’s death.”
“Catherine--,” Bruce started and Jason threw him a filthy look, as if he’d been asking a question.
“Of course, Catherine,” he snapped. “She’s the only real one, anyway. And, in case you’ve forgotten, Dr. Sheila Haywood and I have the same death date.”
“I know,” Bruce said. He hadn’t been asking.
“I don’t even know how long it’s been,” Jason said. “Dying really fucks up your sense of time, doesn’t it?”
Bruce couldn’t say. He hadn’t ever really been dead. Being lost in time was a close runner-up, he guessed, but Jason didn’t want to hear that.
Jason snorted, shook his head again. “Sheila Haywood,” he says. “God, fuck.”
Bruce treaded cautiously. They never had a chance to talk about Sheila Haywood. “I know she wasn’t what you expected--,”
Jason laughed a little, and Bruce missed, suddenly, achingly, when his laughter wasn’t always so hollow, so bitter. “She fucking sold me out.” Slid a glance at Bruce, eyebrows raised, amused. “What, she didn’t tell you?”
Bruce shook his head. He hadn’t known—he hadn’t--
“Figures. Guess she was already dead, huh? Or you just assumed the worst.” Jason’s talking again.
“She said,” Bruce cleared his throat, started again. “She said you were better than she deserved. I didn’t—I knew you tried to save her. But I didn’t--,”
“Fucking waste of time,” Jason said. “She wasn’t worth it.”
“Jason,” Bruce started, reaching out to touch his shoulder, but Jason sidestepped him neatly.
“I don’t know why I came here,” he said. “Except I keep thinking about that kid and how in a few years I might’ve killed him anyway.”
And about his mom. Bruce tried again. “Jason, I—”
“Why do you keep that thing around?” Jason interrupted. He actually turned to look at Bruce, arm flung out sideways to point at his old Robin suit. “It’s fucking morbid.”
Jason knew why. It’s the same reason he’s here tonight. But he Bruce didn’t say anything and Jason continued, voice rising until he was raging.
“You look at that, what every day, and you can’t let go of him. And you look at me and that’s who you expect to see!” Bruce, unprepared for this outburst, stepped back.
Jason, abruptly, turned and flung his helmet at the glass case. It bounces off harmlessly “That kid is dead and gone! Let him go! I have.”
Jason stood, chest heaving, glaring at Bruce. Bruce, once he decided he was done, shook his head. He didn’t have anything to say. They both know Jason’s a liar and he’ll never let Robin go; they both know Bruce can’t.
“I’m not him,” Jason said. His lips quirked into a half-smile, but his eyes burned with anger. He shook his head, scooped up his helmet and slammed it back on his head. “I shouldn’t have come here.”
He turned and stormed off, back to his bike, back out of Bruce’s life.
“Hood,” Bruce called after him. Yanked his cowl off, ran a hand through his hair. “Jason.”
He waited until Jason turned back to him, hating that he couldn’t see his face anymore. He could feel the anger, though, the self-depreciating smile, the bitterness.
“Jason,” he repeated, remembering, suddenly, the sensation of cradling his small, broken body, stripping that ruined Robin suit from him, fielding questions. He swallowed, hard, looked directly where he knew he could meet Jason’s eyes through the helmet, even if he couldn’t see. Said, voice steady, firm, meaningful, “I will never let you go.”
Jason stood still a moment, then turned, and Bruce watched him go.