Damian comes to get him when it happens again, still in his Robin get-up standing in Jason’s kitchen rattling off some hastily-formed hypothesis courtesy of Tim— a hypothesis about a reaction that has no clearly understood cause as of yet. It’s the same guesses every time… could be a side effect of Scarecrow’s fear gas… could be a past head injury… could be any number of things including trauma and old age. Jason doesn't stop to add his own theory to the pool. He is too busy grabbing his jacket and keys off the back of the chair and thinking to himself,
You’re too old for this shit, old man. Put a stop to this. Please? Don’t you know this kills me just as much as it kills you?
Damian is a strangely anxious presence in his doorway. Jason stands in front of him with his apartment keys clutched in a white knuckle grip. “What is it?”
Damian’s eyes jump around to anything but his face. “I’m sorry. If I had known—”
Jason’s hand is quick to squeeze Damian’s shoulder and even quicker to push him over the threshold and out into the hallway. They don’t have time for this right now, but Jason still forces the words out of his mouth, “It wasn’t your fault. Bruce made his decision.”
You just followed . The words go unspoken but he can see that Damian is hitting up against them anyway like every one of them that wore the Robin mantel before him. But it wasn’t Robin’s place to question the actions of Batman. Jason wondered how long it would be before Damian went solo. They had all tested the limits before they found the Robin uniform as confining as a children’s shirt they’d outgrown.
Don’t you see how much this is killing your son to see you like this?
Damian had taken the Batmobile to his apartment, so they made record time getting back to the manor, though if Jason was being honest, he wished the trip had taken longer.
Bruce is on the floor of the batcave when Jason enters with Damian and Jason still takes in the sight before him like a punch to the gut.
Bruce on his knees, one hand streaking the glass case where Jason’s tattered robin uniform rested. Dick is next to him, now older— so much older than Bruce would have remembered him being when Jason had died— whispering reassurances that Bruce can’t begin to wrap his head around because Jason had died and Bruce had carried his body out of that rubble, buried him in the family plot, and locked the Joker away without any revenge taken, so how could he be saying that Jason was alive and well?
Jason looks to the shadowy parts of the cave and finds Tim lurking there, looking suddenly out of place and unwanted as Bruce is dropped back into a period where Tim is nothing more than the boy who admires Robin from afar in the dark alleyways of Gotham City. Jason can see the unease in the lines of Tim’s face, but Tim knows better than to offer a hand after how Bruce reacted to his presences the last time… like a stranger had broken through the cave’s defenses.
Jason goes to him first.
“You okay?” It’s a stupid question but someone has to ask it otherwise Tim is likely to turn those dark feelings inward and eat himself alive.
Tim’s answer is distracted, “I think I should head out—”
He’s already trying to slip away when Jason reaches out and snatches at his elbow, anchoring him in place. “Like hell you should.”
“Jason,” Tim’s face twists into a pleading mask. Jason can see the way he struggles to pull his eyes away from Bruce and Dick on the floor like he’s watching a car crash or a building burn down. “I’m no good to anyone right now—”
“Stay for me? I need someone else here who isn’t currently losing it, emotionally or otherwise,” Jason eyed him up and down, “Looks like right now that’s you.”
Tim didn’t say anything in response to that, but when Jason let go of his arm he stayed put. That was all Jason could ask of him at the moment. Jason left Tim with Damian.
From where Jason is standing he can’t hear the words that Bruce is whispering to himself, but he knows what they are all the same. I’m sorry. Please, please, I’m so sorry… like he thought that if he apologized enough to the open air it would bring Jason back to him.
In this case it did, though the Jason that crouches down next to Bruce is older… all muscles, chipped teeth, and 5 o'clock shadow… not the younger version that Bruce remembers. Still, maybe it’s Jason’s eyes or something about his lopsided smile that gives it away.
“Jason.” Bruce’s hands clutch at him.
“Hey, old man. Dick tells me you have this crazy notion that I’m dead.”
Bruce’s eyes scan his face like he’s going to find the truth in the rough lines of Jason’s face. “I buried you… hung your uniform up to remind me of my mistakes—”
“What can I say? It didn’t stick.”
Jason smiles even though he can still remember the sensation of thick dark earth choking him, sticking in the gaps between his teeth and pressing heavy against his eyelids as he shoved up towards the surface. He pulls Bruce into an embrace because he’s working on moving past that long standing anger that screams at him to tell Bruce it is his fault and this moment is karmic justice.
With his chin tucked over Bruce’s shoulder he takes a moment to compose himself.
He hates what has to happen next, the rehashing of their bitter history with all of their mistakes and fights and separations. It starts with Dick and Jason and as it all slowly comes back to Bruce piece by agonizing piece, Jason motions Tim to step out of the shadows. Tim’s expression is full of labored calm that is at risk of cracking when he’s made to explain the Red Robin uniform he still wears. Then it’s Damian’s turn to join their little impromptu circle on the floor of the cave as he fills in Batman and Robin’s most recent history together.
“Do you remember now? Do you remember it all?” asked Dick.
“Yeah,” Bruce’s voice has lost its frantic edge and smoothed out into a dull tone. Jason sits at Bruce’s side, watching his face flicker through a series of emotions as he takes all of his sons in and the damage he has caused to all of them in one way or another. Jason thinks to himself again the same tormenting thoughts as the last time this happened. Together they had brought him back from the dead, resurrected him in Bruce’s memory, but was that outcome worth making Bruce remember all of his past regrets in one single night?
It’s slowly killing us all, old man. Don’t you think that some things should stay dead?