Jason is seething. Scarecrow must be glaring at him under that mask. It wouldn’t exactly be shocking. Jason has been pulling at his restraints all night.
“I kept telling you that we need him. Obviously I can’t trust you to keep him alive.”
“What do we need him for, and why bring him here? I want him dead, Crane! Now.”
Scarecrow lets out a long growl. “And you’ll get that, but you need to be patient.”
Jason huffs. “Still don’t get why you had to knock me out.”
“You’ll understand soon, boy.”
Jason’s modulator makes his laugh a dark, threatening chuckle. “You’re naïve if you think he’s going to play along.”
“It’s not his nature, that’s why. You’ve dosed him with the gas twice now and all it’s done is make him dig in deeper.”
“True. He has proven to be quite resilient. I wonder why that is.”
Jason laughs. “It’s because he ignores his mind like it’s an Olympic sport.”
Crane hums. “You know so much about the Bat, and yet, no one knows a thing about you. Who is it under that helmet, Knight?”
“Don’t want to ruin the surprise.”
Jason hears something in the rafters, a smile crossing his features. “Good of you to show up, old man.” He glances back to Scarecrow, frowning. Jason doesn’t take too kindly to being tied up, so it’s only fair. “The Bat’s here.”
Jason grimaces, twisting his wrists in the thick cuffs. “I know you’re here, old man!”
Crane’s laugh in response is scratchy. “Old man?”
Jason shrugs. “He’s been doing this for years. Not my fault that it’s the truth.”
Bruce takes account of his two targets. One is Crane, the other, Arkham Knight. The Knight has already shown significant capacity and intelligence, but ultimately, Scarecrow is more dangerous. Either way, if one gets the drop on him, he’ll take quite the beating. With another glance in his thermal imaging, Bruce frowns. The Knight is on the ground, arms above his head.
Scarecrow tied him up? What for?
“I know you’re here, old man!”
Bruce grimaces. Even if the Knight was bluffing, they’re expecting him. He leaps from the rafters, dropping into a crouch after using his cape to make a safe landing. The Knight laughs.
“You’re usually so dramatic, but there wasn’t even shattering glass this time. I gotta say, I’m a bit disappointed.”
Bruce doesn’t dignify that with a response.
“Old age getting to ya’? Should we see about your edge?”
“No.” Crane says, his voice a chilling croak. The Knight stiffens as Scarecrow nears. “We should see who you are.”
Scarecrow crouches, holding down the Knight’s legs with one of his own. He tilts his head to the side, shoving his needled fingers into the soft skin.
“What do you think the Knight is afraid of Batman?” Scarecrow murmurs, crouching off to the side of him. When his captive starts to thrash, Scarecrow backs a good distance away.
Bruce doesn’t know what to do. The Knight is shaking, and Scarecrow could get away at any moment.
“No.” The word is shaky, even with the Knight’s modulator. “No ,no, no.”
He pushes as close to the wall as he can, his tied hands preventing him from going anywhere else. Scarecrow stares eagerly. Bruce is about to start after him when the Arkham Knight makes a choked noise under his helmet. He’s fighting it, but it’s no use. Sobs start to tumble out of him. It’s nearly ten minutes when the Knight calls out for his father, the word long and drawn out.
Scarecrow chuckles. “Look at what you are reduced to, child. Needing your father to protect you.” The Knight doesn’t hear him, repeating the word in a lengthy string. “How sweet.” Crane mocks.
Bruce startles, crouching down next to the Knight. Only one person ever called him ‘B’. He finds the release on the helmet, gently tugging it off and cradling his head as it lolls to one side. Carding shaky hands through the boy’s hair, they stop as they cross over a white streak in his raven hair.
Crane stands, frozen on the spot. Bruce is glad that Jason took so many precautions, the domino on his face keeping his identity concealed.
The Arkham Knight whimpers and Bruce quiets him. “It’s all right.”
“B, please. He’s everywhere.”
A flash of worry darts through him. “No. I’ve got you. It’s all right.” Bruce can barely think. Jason, his Jason, is alive.
The Knight whispers. “B, please don’t leave me.”
Bruce’s lips press into a thin line. “I won’t. Close your eyes.”
“I don’t want you to mistake me for the Joker when you open them.”
Jason nods, gripping Bruce’s cape for all he’s worth. “How do I know that you won’t disappear on me?”
“I’ll come back for you. I promise.”
“You left me.” Jason whispers.
“I didn’t know where you were. I thought you were dead.” Bruce glances at Scarecrow. “It’ll be okay. I promise. Just keep your eyes closed.”
Jason’s hands twist in his restraints, but he nods. “Okay.”
Bruce makes a break for Scarecrow, catching the man before he has time to process what’s happening. Bruce’s expression is thunderous.
“You will Never touch my son again!” Bruce snaps.
Scarecrow stammers. "Y-y-your son?”
Bruce grabs the front of his shirt, ripping the canister of fear gas off of him with a harsh jerk. He gets in a few hard punches and kicks before ending it with a swift blow to the head. Bruce pants, only coming back to himself after another sound from Jason gets his attention. Crane comes back around, his scratchy laughter mocking.
“I’m curious now. Would you beat me to death for your boy? You killed the Joker, so I can only imagine that it would make this easier.”
Bruce shakes his head. “I’m not killing you.” he grabs the needled hand that Scarecrow had stuck Jason with. “I’m going to destroy you.” He turns the needles on Scarecrow and sticks them into his neck.
Scarecrow takes a moment to start showing it, but he starts to shake, screaming and whimpering.
Bruce feels a spark of satisfaction. “What’s wrong? Are you afraid?”
Scarecrow tries to wriggle out from under him, panting with fear and panic. Bruce knocks him out again, snapping his head against the concrete. Jason whines and Bruce returns to his side. Bruce tells him to keep his eyes closed, tilting his head to check for further injuries. There’s a crust of blood in his hair and Bruce has to stop himself from going back over to Crane and socking him. Jason cries.
“What’s he saying, kiddo?”
Jason reaches blindly for him, latching on with shaking hands. “Don’t leave me, please. Please, B. Don’t go.”
“I won’t. Shh. It’s okay.”
Jason nods as Bruce hoists him up in his arms, curling into his chest. “Can I look? S’ it safe?”
“It’s better that you don’t. You might mistake me for Joker. Barbara did.”
“Tell…. Tell her I’m sorry.”
“She knows, Jason. It’s all right.”
“She wasn’t hurt?”
“No. A couple of scratches, but she’s fine. I promise.”
Jason nods again. “He’s laughing. Always laughing, B.”
“Ignore him. Just stay focused on me. Check out the bullet hole in my Bat symbol.”
Jason’s shaky fingers find their way to the broken armor and trace the fractures. “How far away was it?”
“Maybe four feet. Gordon knew what he was doing.”
“Gordon shot you?”
“Don’t worry. He’s fine too.”
Jason makes a soft noise that could be a laugh before shifting. “Can we grab my helmet?”
Bruce stoops and directs Jason’s reaching hand. When he finds it, he holds the armor piece close to his chest, one of his hands gripping a metal ear. He's quiet on the way out to the car and Bruce tries to stifle the fluttery feeling in his chest.
"Do you think you'll still hate me when you recover?"
Jason shrugs. "Dunno."
Bruce opens up the Batmobile, setting it on autopilot for the cave so that he doesn't have to put Jason in the back. He makes a short call to Gordon on where to find Scarecrow, putting Jason's helmet back on for the call. Bruce is grateful for the fact that Jason doesn't make a sound.
"Any particular reason that you've got the Arkham Knight tucked against your chest like his life depends on it?"
Bruce brushes his fingers over Jason's throat to check his pulse. Heart racing, but he's asleep. "He's my son."
Gordon chokes. "What?" he rubs his ears. "I must be hearing things. It has been a long night, but I could have sworn you just said that the Arkham Knight was your son."
"I did. I'm taking him for medical attention, but I'll be back on the streets as soon as possible."
Gordon shakes his head. "Be careful, Bruce. I sure hope you know what you're doing."
"Your concern is duly noted, Jim. I'll see you soon."
Bruce tugs the release of Jason's helmet again, placing it back into Jason's hands. He wishes for the long ride to go faster. Jason is awake again by the time they reach the cave and Bruce gently reminds him to keep his eyes shut. He lays him out on a table, calling Alfred down to the cave to help him.
Sweat builds on Jason's forehead and he swallows convulsively, shaking in a cold-sweat. Bruce wipes at his face with a towel, trying to calm him as tears start to flow again. He must be hearing something.
"Master Bruce? You said you were in need of my assistance, but who is-" Alfred nearly drops his tray of medical supplies. "My word. It-it can't be."
Bruce's smile is strained as a sob tears from Jason's mouth, but it's a smile nonetheless. "It is."
Alfred hurries to the table, though he doesn't show it. "He's not looking well, Master Bruce."
"Scarecrow hit him with a concentrated dose of his fear toxin. Liquid form. Straight into the blood stream."
"We'll need some fluids then. I'll get Jason settled if you'll fetch those for me." Bruce hesitates. "Straight away, Master Bruce. No time to waste."
"Right." Bruce says, pulling off his cowl and making a quick break for the medical cabinet.
He's called back over by Jason's cries. Alfred looks composed as always, though he's got that look that says things could go very badly at any moment. Bruce hands the fluids to Alfred, tugging his gauntlets off in hasty movements. He cards his fingers through Jason's sweaty hair.
"Easy, I'm right here."
"I apologize, Master Bruce. I believe he realized you had left for a moment."
"It's fine, Alfred."
Jason calms and Bruce runs a shaky hand over his face. "Alfred is going to hook you up to an IV, all right? You hear me, kiddo?"
Jason nods, leaning into Bruce's hands. "You're cold."
"You have a fever."
Jason shivers. "Got a blanket?"
"Sorry, kiddo. No blanket until you're settled, but as soon as we can after, okay?"
Jason nods. "M'kay. Jus' don't go."
"I'm not going anywhere." Bruce answers. And it just might be true. With Scarecrow taken care of, Bruce can ask Dick to clean up a couple of things while he cares for Jason. Or Tim. Tim is inside the GCPD with Barbara.
He pulls a cot over and rolls onto it, his body heavier than it should be. A long sigh leaves him and he's out before Alfred can ask him if he needs anything.
He wakes up sore. So sore. He sits up with a groan, his head pounding. He glances over at Jason. Relief washes over him when he notes that Jason is sleeping soundly. Bruce swings his legs over the edge of the cot.
Bruce has just made it to his feet when Jason jolts to awareness. He snaps upright, bolting from the table. The IV rips from his skin and he winces, turning his back to the wall as he takes in his surroundings. His eyes land on Bruce, who finds that holding his body up right now is not something he needs to do. He pulls himself back onto the cot with a wince.
"You're hurt?" Jason says, his tone skeptical. Bruce doesn't show pain very often, and obviously it's rubbing him the wrong way.
Bruce shrugs. "It's been a long night."
Jason creeps back towards the table to sit down. "What happened?"
"Scarecrow hit you with his toxin and you started seeing the Joker. I brought you here to stabilize you."
Jason grips his arm to stop the blood and Bruce leans over to help. Jason reluctantly lets him since one hand and a roll of medical tape is a bad idea.
"Anything else I should know about?"
"You told me that I left you."
Jason jerks to his feet again, hissing. "You did!"
"And just like I told you before, I thought you were dead."
"Jason, Joker sent me the feed-"
"Prove it." Jason snaps.
Bruce shifts to his feet, cradling his ribs. "All right. Come on."
He limps ever so slightly over to the Batcomputer and punches in his access code, letting the retinal scan finish the sequence. He pulls up Jason's file and Jason does the rest, pulling up the video file. Bruce sits in the chair, grimacing.
Jason watches, has to force himself not to reel back when the Joker's face covers the screen with his red smile. He remembers this. Well, some of it. He doesn't remember getting shot in the head, that's for sure. Jason can tell by the logs that Bruce looked at this thing over a thousand times, each with a different filter and focus. Analyzed every piece.
Bruce places his head in his hands as Jason watches the video a second and a third time, disbelief written all over his face. "You were dead. And there was nothing I could do."
Jason watches it a fourth time. "You could have killed him."
"I DID!" Bruce snaps.
Jason startles at Bruce's shout, whirling to face him. His voice is barely a whisper when he responds. "What?"
Bruce tilts his head back until it clunks against the back of the chair. "I did." he swallows. "I took his hair in one hand, wrapped my arm around his throat, and I... I broke his neck. And if you count hallucination, I did it twice."
Jason's jaw moves, but he doesn't say a word. He stumbles, crashing to the floor in a heap. "I mean I... I knew he was dead, but I-" he breaks off, his breathing becoming less steady by the second. "B."
Bruce crouches down next to him. "Easy, just breathe. That's it, take it easy."
Jason pulls at his hair. "I just- I can't-"
"Shh. Everything you thought you knew just got ripped out from underneath you. It's all right. Just breathe. Steady." he rubs Jason's back. It used to help before.
Jason grips Bruce's t-shirt in his hands. T-shirt? Alfred is too sneaky for his own good. "Months." Jason says.
"I looked everywhere. It never even entered my mind that he would take you... there. Even after Tim, I had him help me take the video apart."
Jason bristles. "And Tim?"
"He pretty much forced me to make him Robin. He knew everything. Me, Dick, you. Everything. If he had wanted to, he could have ruined our lives with a few pictures from his camera."
Bruce hums, rubbing at Jason's hair. "I am so sorry that Joker used that to get to you. So, sorry."
Jason whines, a sound that sounds so pathetic to his own ears that he thinks Bruce should drop him and run. "I almost told him who you were."
"He shot me in the chest, not the head. Best doctor he could find patched me up at gunpoint."
Bruce wraps his arms around Jason. "I thought you were dead. I watched that video so many times, but I just couldn't believe that my son was dead." Bruce isn't ashamed to say that he shed a few.... more than a few tears into Jason's hair.
"B, are you-?"
"Shh." Bruce presses his face into Jason's thick locks. "I don't- Right now I can't even bring myself to care that you kill people." Jason relaxes a smidge. "I have my son back. You're alive."
Jason rests his head on Bruce's shoulder, sinking into Bruce's arms as they wrap around him more securely. He's not sure when it started tonight, but the fire that's been burning in his bones every second of every hour of every day, is gone. Anger doesn't flow through him when Bruce speaks, but something else does. It takes him a long time, too long, to place it, but he does.
Content. For the first time since Arkham, Jason is content.