The call comes in as Bruce is at the Watchtower on monitor duty with Hal Jordan.
It's an unwelcome distraction from Jordan's already distracting ribbing while Batman tries to focus on their job (one of them ought to).
He doesn't bother to check the caller ID as he answers it through the cowl com, this is the channel reserved for family and his other allies in Gotham.
Most likely, Alfred or Dick checking in, he should be able to finish it with a few sentences providing nothing's gone too wrong back home.
His eyes track superhuman developments in New York as the Titans intervene in several escalating attacks, Jordan's muttering about not having popcorn because Flash ate it all during his shift.
He raises his hand to his ear so Jordan won't get confused as he speaks "Hm?"
Only, the prompt response and update he's expecting never comes. Batman frowns at the continued silence on the other end of the line, taking his eyes away from the monitors as he listens more intently. No, it isn't completely silent; he can hear someone breathing. Hitched, heavy ragged breaths. The kind he'd normally guess was someone trying to hold back tears or a moan of pain.
He tries to force down his sudden alarm, push it down into the pit of his stomach to deal with later if it comes to that, he needs to be rational.
His mind runs through several dozen possibilities, each more horrible than the last: an enemy got a hold of their channel somehow and is planning to bait or blackmail him with whoever they've forced it from, something terrible's happened at home and whoever's on the other end of the line's too inexperienced to know what to do, Damian's hurt and calling him, Dick needs help, Alfred's having a heart attack.
He clamps down on that hyperactively theorising part of his brain in much the same way he did with his initial alarm. He shoves it away to come back to later (if he has to).
"Hello?" He tries, with more suspicion and much more success.
He recognises the voice instantly, the sudden flare of annoyance he feels closely follows. It's a voice he should not be hearing. Jason is undercover working for Black Mask right now and has strict orders not to contact him until the end of the month. He supposes he may have discovered something urgent from Black Mask but Jason should've known to contact the Cave and not him on his personal line if that were the case. There's also the distinct possibility that he's blown his cover or made some other mistake.
Bruce rubs the bridge of his nose even though he knows he won't feel it through the cowl. He doesn't but the gesture helps all the same.
He glances over the monitors, still normal, Jordan has shut up for a bit, blessedly tired from his continued lack of response, though he knows better than to hope that will last.
"Hood?" He doesn't snap the word exactly but it's a demand all the same. He needs him to talk if he's going to fix whatever's the matter.
"Yeah," He hears Jason swallow thickly on the other end of the channel, "It's... it's me." He says in pointless confirmation. "I'm... I..."
"Why are you calling me?" He asks harshly - and somewhat impatiently, but it's justified he thinks, he needs Hood to get to the point and perhaps a harsher tone will prompt that old over-defensive spark of his into enough action to taunt him with whatever's happening.
Only Jason doesn't snap back at him. Instead he inhales sharply, a verbal flinch, before exhaling in a whimper.
Bruce's hackles immediately rise, the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end. Once again he's catapulted from one end of the emotional spectrum to the other.
His instincts are all but begging him to comfort his child somehow (it's Jason, it's Jason, he was so young and he needed me,
he needs me) but Jason's not a child. He hasn't been for a long while and he may be his son but the Red Hood is temperamental and he can barely be trusted until he proves himself further. Batman hasn't completely eliminated the possibility that this could be a trap of some kind. Still a large part of him wants to hush Jason and murmur something soothing.
He doesn't go quite that far but in the face of such an extreme reaction he does gentle his voice, Jason would never willingly show weakness like that (
to him, nowadays) if something wasn't very wrong.
"Hood, I need you to respond." He tries again, voice still flat but almost soft. "Why did you call me?"
There's a small sound like a hiccup, similar to the kind a much younger Jason used to get in his voice when he was trying to tell Bruce that he hadn't had a nightmare, or at least that it wasn't a very bad one, and a pause long enough that Batman starts to think Jason won't be answering him at all.
He opens his mouth to nudge him again, his hands moving over the keyboard of one of the many Justice League interfaces in the room to start working on sourcing the connection to Red Hood's co-ordinates (something that would be almost impossible to do for one of his channels if he weren't on The Watchtower).
But then Jason does answer, and in a way that offers no clarification at all.
"I… I don’t know."
The hyper-active theorising part of his mind perks up at that, once more dozens of scenarios flash across Batman's mind; he's been drugged, he has a concussion, he's bleeding out, he's being mind controlled (black mask had been experimenting with a virus of some kind), he's been fear gassed, he's just wasting my time, he's dying, he's - Batman shuts it off.
"You must've had a reason. Tell me what's happening."
It takes another moment and an audible swallow before Jason replies, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I - I messed up, again." His voice cracks on a third"I'm sorry."
Batman sighs, at least they're getting somewhere now.
He scans back over the monitors, all normal, he switches around some of the display locations, all normal there too.
"You need to give me more information than that Hood." Batman says, he wonders if he's killed someone again, he had meant it when he'd said this was his last chance, but then, Jason sounds so distressed about it. Maybe if he's feeling actual remorse at taking a criminal's life for once? But no he might just be upset at disappointing him, and Bruce would be lying if he said that he wasn't preparing himself for disappointment, the possibilities of Red Hood's undercover work had had... potential. "What went wrong?"
Jason's breathing stays disarmingly loud in his ears. He either has his comm held right next to his mouth or he's very close to hyperventilating.
"Hood." Batman tries again when he doesn't respond to that, "Jason. I need you to talk. Are you injured? Was your cover blown? What's the situation?"
He lets a little bit of the Dark Knight's growl into his voice, the way he does when he's interrogating a suspect, he's irritated that he had to call him by name in front of Jordan, never mind that the Lantern already knows Bruce's identity (has for years).
Another sharp intake of breath, another audible swallow, "I.. m-my cover wasn't blown."
Finally he lets some of the very irritated exasperation he's feeling into his voice, honestly this is taking too long and it's only inching him towards all the answers he currently needs. "Then why are you calling me?"
Something about it is the wrong thing to say because Jason starts stammering. "I.. I'm sorry... I don't, I didn't.. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have… I shouldn’t have called. I’m sorry."
Batman almost swears out loud, as it is he just thinks it, and barely stops himself from clenching his fists. It's not like Jason to be this obtuse. "Wait, slow down. Hood, all I want is for you to tell me-"
"I'm, I just wanted- Dad please I didn't.."
It's the dad that draws him up short, Jason never calls him that, he's never called him that, the way his voice cracks on the word like a sob strikes at something deep and discordant in Bruce's core. Something is wrong.
He half rises out of his seat.
It's at this point that Jordan chooses to start jovially picking at him again, "Trouble managing your staff Spooky?" The tension knotting up in the pit of his stomach boils his blood as he turns what has to be one of the most intimidating glares he's ever mustered at the man, coupled with a snarl. The Lantern's jaw clicks shut.
He doesn't have time to say anything else before Jason hangs up the call with a last, "I'm sorry."
He moves away from the screens, turns his back on Jordan, and calls Jason back as he paces the room.
He's getting more anxious.
He has a very bad feeling, like he's just made a terrible mistake, one he won't forgive himself for.
There's no answer on the other end of the comm. He tries again, no answer. Again, nothing. Not even the usual busy/can't talk beep the device usually makes when one of his team doesn't pick up, as if he's reaching into dead empty air wherever Jason's signal was.
He stalks back to the computers, Jordan's chair turns on it's wheels to track his movements. He pulls up the search from when he'd been looking for the Red Hood's location to send to one of the boys, he hadn't finished typing it because when Jason had started apologising he'd assumed that he'd just failed the mission rather than injured himself. Batman swears out loud and bangs his fist on the table next to the keyboard.
He makes a call to Barbara through his cowl, she's not Oracle anymore but she'll have a better chance of finding Jason's co-ordinates than Alfred will.
He doesn't tell her why he wants to know, but he knows he does a poor job of hiding the tension in his tone. She knows of course, (Barbara can always tell) but she doesn't call him on it, not yet at least and he's grateful for that. He makes it clear he'll be handling it, which is another red flag because she knows he's on monitor duty at the Watchtower in space, she doesn't mention that either. She does ask if he wants back up from one of the boys but he turns her down, he asks her not to tell the boys or Alfred until he knows more about the situation. That's another red flag right there, him not knowing exactly what the situation with Jason is but being concerned enough to go there himself. Barbara sounds honestly alarmed as she wishes him luck.
He doesn't know if or how much he'll need it but he thanks her.
The muscles in his arms feel wiry and tense as he takes a moment to reassess.
The part of him that wanted to hush Jason when he first heard his open distress during the call is furious, is terrified, is all consuming and at the same time, so brittle.
His feelings for his prodigal son are complicated always by what he'd let happen to him before.
There is a piece of his heart where the boy who adored him and thought Robin was magical and school fun stays, and that piece of him has been broken and rebroken and never quite repaired too many times to count.
The part of him that is furious and terrified and demands he leaves without explaining things to Jordan doesn't know if it can handle having that piece of his heart that cares so much, broken again. The emotions it's feeling are too overwhelming in their power and might fracture at any moment if this goes as badly as other parts of him think it might. There are possibilities the hyperactive always-theorising analytic part of his brain doesn't want to consider right now.
He turns to Jordan.
Jordan tenses a little and shifts in his seat, arms crossed defensively and looks back at him, "Uh.. Everything okay?"
Bruce wants to shake the man because everything is far from okay, but he doesn't. He respects Hal Jordan but the events of the last half hour have set every one of his nerves on edge and he can't spare the patience he usually allots for dealing with the man. "I have to leave." He tells him instead. "Family emergency."
"Oh." Jordan states which is fair, because this is only the second or third time Batman has ever cried off from monitor duty. "Uhm anything I can help with?" The question soothes some of Bruce's angry-nervous-too-tense edges, the simple compassion of his friends (not that Hal counts) still catches him by surprise fairly often, even after all these years.
He shakes his head, "Someone needs to stay on monitor duty."
"Alright, do you... want me to set up the shuttle's launching sequence for you then?" Hal half turns, hands already reaching to do just that.
He almost considers it but there's too much no no NOW we have to go help him NOW pulsing through his thoughts and there's still the memory of his son's voice calling him Dad, practically begging him- "No. I'm taking the Zeta Tube."
"Wha-? But that's still in its experimental stages isn't it? And-" Bruce cuts him off with a curt grunt, he knows the Zeta tube is all but declared fit for service barring some final finishing touches, he's one of the main Justice Leaguers working on it after all.
He also knows it's supposed to be reserved for alien invasion level emergencies at least until they see how it works in action. This detail seems inconsequential considering the other factors involved here.
He nods at Jordan one last time before striding out of the room, his cape sweeping after him.
The tube takes him to where he needs to be which in this case is a deserted side alley on the outskirts of Gotham.
He checks the co-ordinates that Orac- that Barbara gave him and follows his GPS through one of the City's abandoned districts, this area still left behind from when Scarecrow moved into one of the houses here and started experimenting on the rest of the neighbourhood, Wayne Enterprises has it on a list of places ripe for redevelopment.
If Jason's here maybe he really was affected by some leftover fear gas trap of Scarecrow's, that's not good - if it does turn out to be the case, who knows how the gas will have reacted to the passage of time.
His rogues' inventions have a marked tendency to mutate rather than go inert. It's uncanny.
He'd put it down to the influence of their personalities if he didn't know the science behind it.
Once he's here Batman doesn't need to follow the GPS down the twisting roads to find the place he's looking for, but he keeps the phone gripped in his hand all the same. Barbara's co-ordinates take him to an old brownstone sitting at the very end of a long row of equally empty looking houses.
He scouts around the edges of it, he feels better now that he's close, but he needs to see the Red Hood, needs visual to confirm whatever the situation is.
The co-ordinates want him to go down, an underground bunker or a basement maybe, he's not sure where the entrance will be but he searches the usual spots. The house tests his patience, there are no traps (yet) and the usual places for basement entrances (hidden or otherwise) are lacking, he takes a breath to calm himself. If there's a hiding spot here it's very well hidden, it's only because he knows to look that Batman doesn't give the house a pass for empty and normal and leave. Hood's done a good job with this place.
Finally, He finds a door leading downwards, the basement itself looks normal enough. Cobwebs, dust, a few pieces of broken wood and glass - but not recently broken.
He activates his search light and inspects the walls, pulling off a gauntlet and putting it into his belt in case there's a difference in texture as he slides his hands over the bricks, wiping his fingerprints away with his cape in his other hand as he works.
Eyes catching on a rusty metal grill just big enough for a man Jason's size to squeeze through. With something that's close to relief but too tense an emotion for it, he yanks it open and crawls in.
After five feet, the vent opens up, dropping down into a more extensive space, and Bruce is.. not sure what to feel, Jason's safehouses usually have much more protection. Even the barebones ones. Unless there's a silent alarm that he's tripped then none of Jason's guards have been turned on in the first place. A sliver of doubt makes Bruce wonder if he's already moved somewhere else since the call, but then why wouldn't he reset the traps if he was leaving?
"Hood?" He calls, he almost runs down the hallway and doesn't bother to run down the single flight of stairs, just leaps over the banister instead knowing his boots can take the force of the fall and turns towards the heavy steel door.
Something's wrong, Bruce can see the cameras but they're not on.
He tests the handle and to his further trepidation it swings open easily, not even locked. He moves swiftly into the room.
"Jason!" He shouts, fear darkening his voice into a demand, he turns his head rapidly scanning first in one direction and then other, searching until finally he lays eyes on him.
Sitting curled up in one corner of the room, Jason makes for an almost unfamiliar figure hunched over the way he is, with his arms wrapped around his legs and his face buried in his knees. He's in uniform but he's missing his helmet and his domino mask. He starts violently at the shout, and when Bruce looms in front of him jerks his head up to stare at him with wide, frightened eyes and a broken whine on his lips.
Oh God, Bruce thinks, What happened? What do I need to do to fix this?
He starts cataloguing the injuries that he can see.
There’s bruises on Jason’s face. Mottled yellow and purple, his lips are cut and split. When Bruce’s eyes track downwards, he can see red, angry marks rising over the collar of Jason’s jacket on his neck. A few of them look like hickeys or suction wounds, the kind Bruce got after fighting a tentacled alien last weekend when Hal Jordan brought yet another one of his problems back to the League, he frowns. There's one bruise in particular that looks faintly like a handprint over the side of Jason's throat, it draws his eyes to a silvery white batarang scar underneath the bruising. He shuts them quickly.
Jason has clearly been in a fight of some kind but from a cursory glance-over his face at least doesn't seem badly damaged, the bruises will heal, even with how many there are and how angry and painful they look, he'll have to touch them to check if there's any actual facial fractures.
"Jason." He says to get the boy's attention as he reaches over. He doesn't anticipate the way Jason flinches back in the face of his hand, head knocking into the wall, Bruce freezes but Jason starts scrabbling backwards even though there's nowhere to retreat to. Bruce curses, that's not a good sign, he might have a concussion, should've checked how his pupils looked first rather than the bruising.
He reaches forward to grab him by the shoulders so he can take an actual look at his eyes, Jason starts shaking as he reaches for him though, like a leaf in the wind, he hesitates. "Jason?" Jason lets out a high sounding noise that's too verbal to be a sob but too anguished to just be a whimper, his breathing picks up in an early warning sign of a panic attack.
"Jason, look at me, I'm here to-" Jason's not listening to him - he's got his head back between his knees like he had when Bruce came in and his breathing is too rapid and too much like gasping. "Jason." Bruce isn't doing this right, he can't get through to him, he's making a mess of this just like he'd made a mess of the phone call earlier. He sucks in a deep forceful breath, he knows how to deal with trauma victims he does but with Jason his common sense flies out the window. "Jason try to breathe slower you're fine you're perfectly safe." The words don't seem to help at all.
He forces himself to take a step back, he doesn't want to (it's the opposite of what he wants to do) but he knows he has to give him some space. The sound of Jason's heavy breathing and occasional sobs are the only noise in the room, Bruce is concerned that he's going to pass out, a cold rational voice in his head points out that maybe if he does he'll be calmer once he wakes up later.
He crouches down on the floor and tries to temper his voice into something soft and warm, something that sounds nothing like the cold rational voice from his head just now.
"Jay, Jay-lad," he says gently, he tries to remember the way he used to speak to Jason when he first brought him home when the boy would startle and snap at everything (even if he pretended that he didn't), how he'd soothe him after a night of horrors on a bad patrol, he hasn't touched those memories in a while, too painful, too pure, but he knows he was good with Jason then. "Hey, shh, it's alright Jay. It's alright Robin." The words slips out almost by accident but Jason's head jerks up at the name.
He tries to smile at him, "It's just me chum."
It’s like Jason doesn’t recognise him at first, looking at Bruce wide-eyed as a doe in headlights.
Then he blinks, and in the smallest, cracked voice, he chokes out, “... Bruce?”
There's something raw and tender, hurting and coiling inside of him, there's something about how vulnerable Jason looks, how young he looks right now that makes Bruce's throat tighten and close up.
"“Yeah. Yeah, it’s me, sweetheart." He chokes out, a part of him wants to reach for him again for a reason besides checking his injuries.
"What... What are you doing here?"
The question makes his heart rate speed up. He almost snaps an angry question at his clearly still out of it son to tell him what the hell going on already, because he's too far out of his depth for comfort here, but a horrified reminder of how hard it was for him to even get Jason to register who he was stops him.
"I was.. I was worried about you." He says instead, unsteadily. "You called me remember?"
Jason blinks at him. (His eyes don't look concussed at least.) Then slowly, his eyes track down to the floor next to him. A brief glance in that direction shows Batman a smashed comm unit sitting there, black and cracked. "Oh,” Jason mutters. “Right. I… I did.”
"Mhm" Bruce nods encouragingly, thinking about running a blood test as soon as Jason lets him get close enough. "You left me very concerned hanging up on me the way you did. I had to come out here to see what was going on." Jason flinches a little, "I'm sorry." he says like he thinks Bruce is about to start yelling at him.
Bruce should've realised there was something abnormal when Jason first started apologising to him on the phone, Jason's not usually this willing to give, not without a fight. The fact that he's being so passive right now, (not even a hint of a joke being made) is ringing alarm bells.
"I.. it's alright Jay-lad, I'm just glad you're alright."
Jason’s shoulders draw further inwards, an attempt to draw himself into an even tighter ball. He's not alright and they both know it. Bruce doesn't know what else to say, he's exhausted most of his vocabulary for dealing with Jason in a non confrontational manner.
He knows he used to know what to do for him in situations like this before, but it's like trying to remember another life, his own thought processes alien. He grimaces, Jason presents such a small target when he's curled in on himself like this. Bruce wants to reach out for the boy again but he'd reacted so badly to that before. He holds himself back but it's a near thing.
Bruce has no idea what else to do so he starts with some of his questions. "Jason what happened? Someone hurt you, I can see that, but I'm here now. Just talk to me son."
It takes a moment. Jason trembles slightly, and when he speaks it's in a pleading voice, "I didn't... Bruce it wasn't my fault. It wasn't. Don't.. Don't be-"
"Just tell me what happened Jay." Bruce interrupts, tries to make sure his tone's not angry.
Jason sucks in a harsh gasping breath through his teeth. His next words are muffled slightly as he ducks his head back down, hiding his face against his knee. Bruce takes the opportunity to edge a little closer to him across the floor. “Underestimated the target. Let them get the better of me. I-I shouldn’t have…” His voice cracks, splintering like wood. “God, B, I'm so sorry." He shakes his head.
Bruce feels his brows furrow, "I thought you said your cover wasn't blown."
He winces himself at how much it sounds like an accusation rather than a question. Jason doesn't even respond and Bruce can’t contain himself anymore.
He reaches over, making the movement as telegraphed and obvious as he can before gently running his fingers back through Jason’s hair. (He still flinches a little but not so badly.) It's one of the things Bruce used to do all the time when Jason was young. It’s tangled, stiffened by sweat and day old grease, the ever mysterious silver streak at his temple like silk in comparison to the rest of his matted hair. (That's strange too, Jason usually keeps the streak of his fringe dyed black, it's too distinctive). He's never seen Jason like this before.
But the touch seems to be enough to break something in him too, as he whimpers horribly, then pitches forward against Bruce’s chest.
Bruce's arms come up to wrap around him immediately, he knows how to do this part.
Having the boy in his arms eases something tight and tangled in his chest like nothing else could.
With his arms full of 200 pounds of sobbing outlaw, Bruce does the only thing he can do and holds Jason to him as tightly as he dares. As tightly as he used to do back in the days when Jason was still his and everything felt so much simpler. He nuzzles the lower half of his face into his hair, kisses the top of his head and rubs his back as he cries, holds him, speaks soft comforting words, tells him it's alright and that he has him and that he's been so brave. Gentle loving nonsensical things that feel right.
Now that Jason’s so close, he can pick up details of the miasma of smell that hangs about him as he inhales into the boys hair and shoulders.
Jason stinks. There’s no better or more delicate way to put it. He reeks of days old sweat and body odour but also - worst of all - of sex. There's a sudden stale smell of ammonia and semen that freezes Bruce, internally and externally as he processes what that means. But Jason's still sobbing and crying in his arms. He needs him. So Bruce hugs him back and cradles his hand around the back of the boy's head as his teeth clench. Suddenly the way Jason's been acting makes a twisted kind of sense.
He grits his teeth, he doesn’t want to say it, doesn’t even want to think the word, but he knows, he knows and there will be Hell to pay. Bruce has never wanted to beat anyone more in his life than he does Jason’s unknown assailant at this moment. (How did he let this happen.) But his priority is his son, not the attacker.
His sobbing child, the one who's all blunt edges and gumption. Bruce barely stops a growl from sliding out between his teeth, from tearing out of his chest.
He tightens his arms around him just a little more. "I'm here Jay, I’m here. And I’m not going anywhere. I’ve got you, sweetheart." He swallows thickly, he needs Jason to understand, needs to make sure Jason knows, so he pours every ounce of sincerity, of inevitability that he possibly can into his next words, "I promise. I've got you."
It takes almost an hour for Jason to calm down. Fifty minutes in which Bruce rocks him in his arms, strokes his hair and talks himself dry and hoarse (he keeps talking anyway), until finally the sobs stop, subsiding and turning into wheezing breaths instead. Jason no longer shakes but simply lays slumped against his chest, too exhausted to do anything else. His eyes blank and empty looking in the absence of the waves of emotion from before. It worries Bruce on a deeper level than he can handle.
Fifty minutes for Batman to think of all the possibilities and scenarios that could've led to this, fifty minutes to remember snapping at Jason on the phone despite his obvious - so obvious, how the hell did he miss it until Jason hung up? What's wrong with him? - turmoil, fifty minutes to loathe himself.
And time to try to think of the next steps they'll have to take, what he should do, take him back to the cave? Look after him here in this safehouse? Maybe he should call Alfred right now, he'll know what to do for Jason.
Bruce's arms unconsciously tighten around Jason enough that he makes a noise of pain even despite the shock he's clearly going into, he loosens them immediately, "Sorry." He murmurs, rubbing his hand up and down the boy's back again.
Bruce somewhat selfishly allows himself another moment to just hold him before he moves into action. Jason is calmer now and he needs to look after him, fix him up as best he can and check for any serious injuries, before he lets him rest.
Practicality can't wait anymore than it has.
He moves to silently extricate himself from the hug only to be grabbed tighter instead.
"No, no, no please I'm sorry. D-don't leave, I can't-" Jason says clearly in a blind panic as he clings to him. Bruce stills. "Please."
Right, of course Jason wouldn't understand why he'd been moving away all of a sudden, he hadn't bothered to give him an explanation after all. Stupid mistake after stupid mistake. He could kick himself. "Jason it's fine I'm not leaving you I just need you to let me go so I can.." He cuts himself off, "I'm sorry I was, I was putting the cart before the horse as Alfred would say. Here."
He pulls the cowl off. Bends down and presses his forehead against Jason's for a second before pulling back slightly to meet his eyes, "I'm right here just like I promised. Okay?"
Jason doesn't really seem to register much beyond the fact that he's not leaving him anymore. Not that he was to begin with. He doesn't think he can take his eyes off Jason right now, let alone abandon him to a dusty old underground safehouse on the outskirts of the city. The very thought of doing that to him while he's like this makes his heart twist in anxiety.
It occurs to him as he waits for Jason to calm back down a little more, that he hasn't hugged Jason like he has today since that awful night the Joker had almost burned the Red Hood's face off, he'd booby-trapped the helmet with acid on the inside and they'd been lucky it had happened at the manor with medical facilities at hand.
Why is it he only ever gets to hug (
his children) Jason when something horrible's happened? God. They hadn't talked about that since, what with Damian's death having thrown all other concerns to the back of the family's minds until they got him back. He doubts Jason's usual capacity to bounce back on his own will help him much this time.
"Jay," He says softly, "I just need to take you to the bathroom, okay? Get you washed up and into some fresh clothes.”
Jason doesn't answer.
He tries not to be frustrated at the continued lack of response when Jason had been talking to him again just a moment ago, tries not to feel like it's one step forward two step back. He decides that if Jason has a problem with being moved and changed he'll find a way to tell him.
Bruce rubs his hand in a soothing circle on the back of his neck before making another attempt to move.
Something that’s easier said than done with how hard Jason’s clinging to him.
Through a mixture of gentle coaxing and careful guidance, Bruce manages to extricate himself. To the point that he can then try and encourage Jason to stand up as well. But as soon as he shifts and start to straighten his legs, a weak moan of pain leaves Jason’s throat, and Bruce feels his heart wrench wretchedly in his chest yet again.
"Okay." Bruce says, half to himself. "Okay. I've got this. Jason I have you, don't worry."
Jason makes no real reply but that's alright.
Picking Jason up is not the easiest task. He’s as tall as Bruce now, and about as heavy. But he's Batman, so he manages.
With how much power it takes to land a decent hit fighting meta-humans and aliens, his arms and shoulders are used to being well worked. And his back and his knees are stronger than they were before Bane broke him. So he curls one arm around Jason's shoulders and hooks the other under his knees and lifts him up in his arms without much strain beyond the awkwardness of getting to that position.
The weight in his arms is oddly reassuring.
He'd be lying if he denied that he often tried not to think about how big Jason is nowadays, looking at him makes it harder not to see how much he'd missed.
It's like having the loss shoved in his face.
The initial shock of the first realisation he'd had that that malnourished little kid who Leslie, ever-sensible Leslie, had insisted be put on a special diet due to the fact that his growth had almost certainly been stunted had somehow grown up big and strong, somewhere he hadn't known to look - had never quite faded. (Who knew how tall Jason would've grown if he hadn't been malnourished as a child.) But being able to lift that weight in this moment somehow manages to dull the spark of rage and grief that usually accompanies his thoughts concerning it.
It takes Bruce a little searching to find the bathroom. When he does, he’s relieved to find that it appears to be the one area of the safehouse that the Hood didn’t skimp spending money on. (Where he got that money is something Bruce resolutely refuses to think about right now but he knows it wasn't his money that Jason used)
It’s big enough for him to move the both of them around in it fairly comfortably, with easily-cleanable tiling on the floor and both a shower and bath.
He turns slightly sideways to get them through the door without risking banging either Jason’s head or heels on the frame.
“I’m just going to set you down here for a minute while I get the shower going, understand?" But as soon as gets the words out, as soon as he actually goes to put him down, Bruce feels a terrible shudder run through Jason's body. His fingers pull tight at the fabric of Bruce's cape as he shakes his head. “No.”
Bruce pauses, unsure what it is he's said wrong this time.
He hesitates, takes time choosing his next words, carefully, he says, "You’ll feel better when you’re clean, chum. I promise you will. And that’s all we're going to do; help you get clean and fresh."
Alfred had been in charge of bath time but he's relatively certain Jason likes being clean what with how often he washed. It was always a bit of a battle to get Dick to shower after patrol. Damian too. Tim was a little better but he only did it because it was part of the robin routine, not because he liked it especially. Jason was so enthusiastic about self care it made looking after him so much easier and rewarding in so many ways.
“No,” Jason manages shakily, “I mean, not…” He swallows, so thickly Bruce can't help hearing it. “Not a shower. Please.”
It’s not a request Bruce expects. But he's encouraged by the fact that Jason's alert enough to request it. He doesn't understand the reasoning behind the spontaneous aversion but he knows it's usually better to just listen when a- when an assault victim makes a seemingly unrelated request. They're often more important, even when they appear to have nothing to do with anything besides making things just a bit more bearable.
"I understand, that's no problem Jay, no shower it is. Let's run you a bath instead."
Jason seems to sink back into his arms in relief at his easy acceptance.
It takes takes some work and careful manoeuvring to set Jason down in a way that minimises the pain he'll be in as Bruce gets the water going, but he manages it. Jason keeps a fistful of his cape in his hand while Bruce works, Bruce can feel the slight pull at his back as he stretches over the bathwater and smiles a little at it.
Ten minutes later the bath is run. A quick dip of his fingers confirms the temperature is pleasant and tolerable. He takes a deep breath in before getting ready to face their next challenge of the day: getting Jason undressed.
"Bath's ready, chum." He tells him gently, as he watches carefully for his reaction, "Time to get in, okay? C’mon."
Jason meets his gaze and doesn't drop it as Bruce cautiously pulls him to his feet.
He doesn't flinch or even stiffen as Bruce removes his jacket or when he kneels down to unbuckle and untie his combat boots.
But he does start to shake again when Bruce hooks his fingers under the hem of his shirt so he can pull it off. Not fighting him, but clearly not okay with it either.
“Jason, Jason, it's okay," Bruce tells him gently trying to soothe him, God Jason's never been this skittish before what did they do to him? "I'm just trying to get you undressed for your bath alright?" Jason bites his lip, "Shh, Jay it's okay, no one's going to hurt you now, I'm here and I'll protect you, you're perfectly safe."
He watches Jason continue to worry at his lip for a few seconds, before trying again, "Jason-" "Why?" He cuts him off hoarsely.
Bruce is momentarily thrown by the question but he follows along gamely enough, "Why what?"
"Why are you-" Jason's shoulders hunch as he meets his eyes, "Why are you being so nice?"
Bruce feels his face give away his absolute confusion and before he can come up with a response of any kind, Jason rushes to fill in the silence, his words getting more and more emotional as he tries to keep his voice steady, "It's not that I- I mean I'm not being- I mean thank you it's- it's great it's so.." Jason trails off for a moment unable to continue as he swallows, "B-but you're- you're never this nice to me, you haven't been this nice to me since I died. Aren't you angry at me? F-for fucking up again?"
Bruce almost does get angry at what Jason's saying but he's more horrified. He thinks.. Why on Earth would Bruce be angry at him? In this situation?
And yes he's well aware that things have been strained between the two of them but Jason acting like Bruce (who still happens to be his father) taking care of him when he's hurt is abnormal somehow is.. hurtful.
"I'm not- of course I'm not angry with you Jay-lad." He manages to get out.
Jason waves a hand in his direction, "And that, that right there! I feel like I'm- Like I'm in some kind of mirror universe or I've time travelled back to- back to when you gave a shit about me! I can't handle it. Why are you even? You're- You're calling me chum and Jay like.. like-" Jason's cuts himself off and presses a closed fist against his mouth like he can't make himself continue. Bruce watches as he squeezes his eyes shut and his shoulders tense.
"Jason I'm-" Jason's face tightens in a kind of agony that Bruce can barely look directly at as he interrupts him.
"You're acting like you care about me!"
The words are so full of anguish, raw and half-sob half-accusation, like it's the most terrible thing Bruce could do to him.
It leaves Bruce feeling condemned and exposed.
He doesn't know what to do. He doesn't know what to say. He doesn't know how to handle this.
"Jason I'm-" Tears start sliding down the boy's face, "Jason, please."
He doesn't know what to say, he needs help and he needs to help Jason but how can he? When Jason's scared of him when he snaps at him and scared of him when he tries to be gentle with him and he thinks Bruce doesn't care.
"Jason Peter Todd, I have always, I will always care about you, I know-" His voice cracks, "I know I'm not good at showing it but I do."
Jason gives a wet chuckle at that but he's still staring at Bruce like he thinks he'll turn on him at any moment.
"Y-You're my son. I love you." He means it, Jason has to know he'd never lie about this. "I worry about you, I'm scared for you, I don't know how to- how to talk to you anymore without setting one of us off or turning it into a fight but that doesn't mean I don't... Jason you're mine."
The effect the words have on Jason is almost immediate, he stops crying and he goes very pale as if he's going to faint.
Bruce moves forward without thinking but Jason doesn't flinch at all he just keeps looking at Bruce like he's the axis the world's turning on.
"But I- I kill people, killed people with what you taught me." Jason protests weakly, voice worryingly feeble.
"Being my son isn't conditional on how badly or how well you behave!" Bruce snaps back immediately, "I don't want you to- Life is precious, Jason, my father- my father's were both doctors, dad was a doctor and so was Alfred. It's how I was raised, it's how my life's shaped me. I can't just take it, not from anyone no matter how much they don't care about taking it from others. It's not who I am and I don't- I don't want it to be who you are because it's not something you can ever undo Jay. I want, I wanted our family to be people who protect life from the types of people who don't care about it."
Jason's face crumples, Bruce quickly opens his mouth to continue, "I know, I know the system doesn't work here, I know that bad people continue to do bad things when we let them and many of them will continue to try to do those bad things as long as they're alive. But I can't sink to that, I have to stop them the way I can or I won't be.. I won't be worthy of continuing. I won't be capable of continuing. But I won't stop caring about you just because you make mistakes or because you don't see a way out, a way to protect people other than killing for them. Jason you've been mine since you hit me in the ribs with a tire iron, you've been mine since I followed you back to that ridiculous squat you hid my tires in and helped me put them back on the car, you've been mine since I brought you home and introduced you to Alfred! Since I taught you how to drive, since you first tried on your Robin costume, mine when I quizzed you for your english tests AND your history tests on the way to school every Monday morning, you've been mine since I signed those adoption papers. And you were mine when you came back to me hurt and angry with lazarus green in your eyes too. Nothing will ever change the fact that I'm your father Jason. Nothing."
Jason's crying again but he's leaning into him, "But you said... You said this was my last chance."
Bruce is practically flabbergasted, "I meant that about Red Hood! Damn it Jason... I can't knowingly let people die without intervening. I can't. But I never meant for- Family doesn't give you 'last chances' Jason, you get as many tries and as many chances for that as you need I promise." He runs a hand through his hair distractedly, tugs at it from the stress. "I know I've... Oh Hera, I've let you down, so many times, too many to count. But all I've ever wanted to do was protect you, give you- give you a chance to fulfil your potential, give you all the things you need to learn and grow and thrive and- and instead I keep hurting you. But, don't think that I don't care about you Jason, I don't even know how I let things between us get so bad that you actually thought that, I don't even know how I made you think that and didn't realise it at all."
Jason's taking a shuddery breath and nodding now, backing up and rubbing roughly at his tear dimmed eyes, Bruce very much wants to pulls his hands back down because he has a black eye and is definitely hurting himself but he manages to restrain the urge and give Jason some space while he gets some measure of composure back.
"Okay, I- Okay." Jason says quietly.
Bruce takes a deep breath.
Jason looks like he's about to fall over.
He leans over to check the temperature of the water in the bath, still warm enough. He straightens up and turns back to his son who's looking rather embarrassed if still a bit shaky and pale, Bruce gives him a small smile, knows it doesn't come through on his face very well.
"Let's just.. put a pin in all that for now, Jay, do you think you can trust me?"
Jason gives him a small nod, Bruce slowly hooks his fingers back under the hem of his shirt, he still shakes a little, can't seem to stop himself, but it's less and he fully cooperates as Bruce guides him to take the rest of his clothes off.
Bruce frowns slightly as they work, Jason's not wearing his body armour underneath. That thought's forgotten in the next moment though as Bruce grits his teeth and lets out an actual snarl at what he sees. Jason flinches violently and almost falls back into the bath but Bruce catches him quickly, murmuring a soft apology.
It’s all he can do not to just hold Jason against his chest again and this time not let go, bathwater be damned.
The marks on Jason’s neck are nothing compared to those that mar his torso. Only their delicate location makes them worse by default, but the rest... God, the rest. There are bruises everywhere. Everywhere. Like Jason was used as some kind of whipping boy while they- whoever they are and Bruce plans to find out - had him. His detective's eye makes it worse because he knows, knows just what kind of damage had to have been inflicted to shape each of the crisscrossing blending bruises across Jason's front: That one was from a punch in the gut, that one he'd've been stamped on to get, the attacker's shoe would've been size 11.
The bruising is concentrated more on his hips, wrists and waist; more bite marks, more hickeys and what Bruce knows is a cigarette burn on his left pectoral. A cigarette burn.
Bruce tries very hard not to growl again for Jason's sake but this becomes more difficult when his eyes track lower as they catalogue all the damage.
If there were any doubt left in Bruce as to what had happened to his son, his baby - Jason's still so young, he's only nineteen, Bruce needs to smash something - this would wipe away the last of it.
Dried blood and come mark the inside of his thighs, and Batman knows with sudden, sharp crystal clear clarity, knows that he’ll get someone for this. Whoever it was, whoever they were, he will hunt them down, no matter what it takes. They won't be able to hide from him. They'll never have a moment where they can hide from him.
Jason starts shaking again and he whips his head away from the injuries. Jason looks ashamed, looks miserable. Bruce is a self involved idiot. “Shh, it’s okay. Jason, this isn't your fault. You're safe now." Or he will be, the moment Bruce gets his hands on whoever did this to him. He forces himself to breathe as he gets Jason in the tub.
He picks Jason up again to settle him into the tub. Then kneels down at the side of the bath.
He takes a second. He takes two seconds. He can feel himself getting upset but he can't let that happen right now, Jason needs him. The nausea won't listen though and rides a wave of self hatred and the image of the dried liquids on Jason's legs so he pulls himself over to the toilet bowl and pukes. It leaves his throat raw and sore and acrid tasting, and he can't breathe for a good twenty seconds after, has to do breathing exercises so he won't pass out (which would be unforgivable under the circumstances) and then when he can finally do it he almost hurls again because of the vomit smell and the taste and the bits left in his mouth. He flushes the chain, and grabs the mouthwash on the sink counter. Does a quick gargle, spits, wipes his jaw with the back of his hand and lurches back over to his son.
"Dad? Are you okay?" Jason asks, wide eyed.
He can't help but smile a bit wildly at that, which makes Jason look even more concerned.
It's the second time Jason's called him that today, it wasn't a fluke.
None of his children call him Dad, not Dick or Tim or Duke, they all had fathers of their own to give the word its meaning. Barbara might be like a daughter to him but she has a father of her own too he's just her mentor. Damian calls him Father but it's formal like a title, he might as well call him sensei half the time. He has so many children and none of them have ever called him Dad but now one does and he's failed him in possibly every way a father can fail a child. He wants to scream.
"I'm fine chum, don't worry about me." Bruce kneels back down next to the bath. "How's the water feel, any better?"
Jason nods mutely. He let him die, he let him get raped, he wants to scream.
"Good, good." He murmurs reaching for the washcloth and soap. He works up a lather in his hands as he speaks. “You just rest there and enjoy it while I get you cleaned up, Jay-lad, this won't take too long I promise."
Even being as gentle as he can, he knows he still hurts Jason as he runs the washcloth over his bruised and battered body, (
He always hurts Jason) It’s impossible not to. Even so, Jason doesn’t flinch away from him, not even once, doesn’t let out even one word of complaint as the water turns from clear to a light, evil pink, stained by all the filth Bruce has scrubbed off of him. He's so brave through it all.
But Bruce can't wash off the bite marks or the memories or the cigarette burn, god, didn't Willis used to do that to him?
He’d almost do anything he could to be able to take those away for Jason too, he absentmindedly considers making a call to J'onn J'onnz once this is over but thrusts the half formed idea aside almost immediately, Jason's already been violated physically why in hell would he think taking away his right to deal with it on his own terms would be a good plan? Bruce hates his mind. Hates himself. He tosses the dirty washcloth into a corner of the room to be disposed of later.
Jason leans into him as he shampoos his hair, murmurs something about how he could do it himself if Bruce'd let him. But Bruce is happy to see him relax a little.
They've both had a bad day.
Bruce moves to grab a towel from the ready stocked shelf he’d spied on the way in, he wipes the suds on his front off quickly with it before exchanging it for another.
"Up we go Jay." He says shaking the towel out and holding it open.
Jason turns his head just enough to look at him out of the corner of his eye. His teeth tug at his bottom lip, but then he nods, rising out of the bath on clumsy feet and stumbling back into Bruce's waiting arms. He wraps the towel around him gently and gives him a quick hug after he does it.
He’d already found Jason’s bedroom in this safehouse during the search for the bathroom, so it’s a simple enough matter for Bruce to lift him back up into his arms and carry him there, Jason complaining the whole way about Bruce being a mother hen and how he can walk on his own geez.
Bruce ignores him, he's privately thrilled that Jason's backchatting him again, the absence of it earlier had scared him.
But despite his complaints setting him down on the bed is another brief exercise in convincing Jason that it’s safe to let go and that he’s not going anywhere. Soon enough Bruce is able to hit the button on the bat beeper in his belt to summon the Batmobile to their location. He quickly turns to rifle through the wardrobe, finally producing an oversized t-shirt and a loose set of pajama bottoms.
He tries to be as gentle drying him off as he was washing him in the first place, and he's relieved to find that there’s no fresh blood on the towel when he pulls it away. The thought makes him want to run back to the bathroom and throw up again but he forces it back down.
Though something connects then, something stupidly painfully horrifically obvious as he carefully helps Jason into the pajama bottoms and his gaze skims analytically over the bruises and bite marks disappearing beneath the cloth.
Some of them are older.
By a couple days at most, with darker bruising fading into a yellowing shade. But some, Bruce can tell are fresh; five to six hours at most.
The realisation makes him swear and clench his fists, he can see Jason try not to flinch but he still looks pale. "Sorry." Bruce tells him, but it's not enough. "Sorry, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry Jason. I'm so damn sorry." Then it's his second turn of the day to try to remember the basics of breathing.
Jason wraps his arms around his shoulders and breathes with him. And that makes it easier and harder both, because it does make breathing simpler but it makes his eyes fill with tears which makes his nose clog which makes it harder to breathe again and why is he so bad at this? He knows how to compartmentalise his feelings, but his mind isn't co-operating with him like it's usually so ready to.
He assures Jason that he's fine now and passes him the shirt he got for him. Letting Jason shift to pull it on by himself.
He proceeds along the train of deductions he's on and thinks.
His children, Jason especially, are dangerous.
Highly trained escape artists all of them, escape is the first thing he teaches his robins, before stamina, before fighting, before detective work, how to get out of traps and chains and restraints of any kind. Not only trained, Jason is experienced, he knows things even his other proteges don't because of his time with the League of Assassins, God knows Jason had slipped Batman's own meta-human level bat-made restraints more times than he'd like to admit.
Unless they’re somehow incapacitated then he's not bragging when he maintains that his kids? Can get out of anything. He's willing to bet they could pull out a surprise or two even if he put them in the Justice League cells on the Watchtower.
Jason doesn’t seem to be dramatically injured, at least not in ways that would impede him that way and Bruce hasn’t noticed any puncture marks that might suggest drugging, unless of course the drug was inhaled or taken orally. But Jason's hood has a built in gas mask... but his hood is missing... but that's circumstantial at best.
Regardless. Even drugged, his kids are trained to have a higher tolerance than people expect from them, and Jason again, has even further training with that aspect of their work.
He's immune to several anaesthetics and poisons, Bruce knows because he's woken sooner than expected on several occasions where Batman's had cause to knock him out. (Though Bruce usually prefers not to dwell on the methodology behind his high resistances.) Even drugged Jason is still dangerous and an escape risk.
"Feel any better?" he asks, forcing his mouth to curve into a faint smile as he takes one of Jason’s hands, rubbing a soothing thumb over the back of it. (Jason's knuckles are split, he tried to fight back.)
Jason stares down at their hands, but thankfully not with the same wide eyed shock that he was wearing earlier. It’s exhaustion now, lining the edges of his expression and making him blink, slowly, down at their joined fingers. Bruce waits with all the patience he’s built up over years and years of training, meditation, board room meetings and stake outs.
"A little bit." is what he’s eventually rewarded with. Jason’s voice is rough, but it too lacks the panic or the empty shellshock of before. "I feel.. I feel better about us, but I don't know what I feel about this. Yet." He says.
Bruce nods. He knows exactly how he feels about this but he understands Jason's inner conflict. "I'm glad you feel better about us at least."
Jason gives him a small precious smile for that.
He shifts closer, "The Batmobile's on the way and I'll get you home soon, are you fine with sleeping in your old room or would you like me to call Alfred and have him make up a spare bed for you?"
Jason stiffens at that, a little bit of the earlier panic flashes across his eyes. "Will the- Will the others be there?"
His siblings, right, of course.
"Tim's over in New York with the Titans, I can call Dick to take Damian over to stay with him in Bludhaven for the night, I can ask Duke if he'll be okay with tagging along with them too but if not I'm sure I can arrange for the Gordons or my cousin to take him."
Jason freezes, "You'd... You'd be okay with chasing them all out for me?" He breathes the question like he hardly believes the words he's saying.
"Jason. You need me the most right now, whatever makes you feel more comfortable is what's important. Your brothers can handle a night away from the house if that's what it takes."
Jason stares at him like he's grown two heads.
He clearly needs to do some work on how Jason sees his priorities.
Jason blinks, realising he's still waiting for a response, "O-okay I'd like that. If it's okay"
Bruce ruffles his hair. "It's okay."
Jason stares down at his bedspread like it's the most fascinating thing in the room.
Bruce can take a hint so he moves away to give Alfred a call, taking his phone out from the utility belt and bypassing his security locks.
To his surprise there are a few dozen texts and missed calls. Mostly from the Justice League.
Flash Sr. (Barry): Hal said you swept out of Monitor Duty like vengeance and just retribution incarnate because you couldn't handle his brutal owns. He also said that you used the ZETA Beam to leave. Everything alright? (Also how was it? Still no sign of sliding variation on your destination range?)
Hal: so today was interesting, Monitor Duty's almost a fun time without a certain someone gloom and dooming it up
Hal: I'm just kidding you're actually peppy most of the time compared to your reaction to that phone call
Hal: Hey! Brilliant idea!
Hal: We should make that your new codename: PeppyBat instead of Spookypants, thoughts?
Hal: I guess you're busy.
Hal: In hindsight I mayybe should've picked up on the emergency situation vibes earlier
Hal: Not that I'm worried, but 'family emergency' sounds so dramatic when you're the one saying it to get out of work
Hal: Uh so let me know if everything's okay Spooky?
Flash Jr. (Wally): Uncle Hal said you're too good for a space shuttle and from now on all dramatic exits will be made via teleportation. Also.. are you really angry about me taking all the Monitor room's snacks home with me?
Clark: Hey B, I went over to the Crow's nest to check your opinion on some scheduling things for next month and Hal said you'd taken off on the ZETA Tube because of a FAMILY EMERGENCY, is everything alright? I called Dick but he doesn't seem to know what's going on either! Let me know if you need my help. I'll literally be right there. Super speed is handy like that. So can you try to remember you've got a friend who's just a call away? Let me know what's going on when you can alright? Hal seemed worried.
Clark: Also I've been reminded to tell you that you need to file a report on your unscheduled use of the Zeta Beam even if you are project manager. Again, please call me if you need any help B. Or just someone to talk to.
Shayera: office gossip says you had a lover's spat with GL during monitor duty, did you blackmail him with that story I told you about the Gummy Worm Incident yet?
Wonder Woman: Best of luck dealing with your family situation. Still on for sparring session/dinner tomorrow? :)
Bruce rolls his eyes, at this rate of spread everyone in the league will know he skipped out on his shift in the Monitor room soon.
Dick: Apparently we're in the middle of a family emergency? Asked Babs but she wouldn't tell me anything and Alfred doesn't know what's going on because he thought you were still at the Watchtower.
Dick: or were u just trying to get out of sitting in a room with uncle Hal? I won't tell
Barbara: Any update?
There are also three missed calls from Alfred and two from Dick, blinking a light grey and light blue respectively on the screen. He calls Alfred back.
His call is answered promptly on the first ring as if already made ready for. Knowing Alfred it probably was.
"Ah sir, your car will arrive at your location in roughly a minute and a half."
"Thank you Alfred, I need Dick to take Damian for the night, Duke too if they're both alright with it. Can you make sure it's done in a way that won't have any of them sneaking back to investigate why I need them out of the house?"
"Of course, sir. Though it may be of some help if you were to let me know the purpose of these measures. Just a thought."
He almost laughs but then he chokes, glancing back at Jason, who tenses a little under his gaze. Oh God, How's he going to tell Alfred??
"I'm- I'm afraid not Al." There's a moment of silence from the other end of the line when another thought occurs to him, oh that's right.
He pulls the phone away from his face and presses it to his chest as he turns to catch Jason's eyes, "Jay, spare bed or your room?"
Jason shrugs, "Oh uh.. I guess my old room's fine?"
He pulls the phone back up to his ear, "Alfred?"
"Ah, I was beginning to think we'd lost each other Master Bruce. Yes?"
"Sorry Alfred, I also need Jason's old room made ready as he'll be staying with us tonight. Don't let the others know."
If Alfred is thrown by the nature of this request he doesn't show it in his voice, "Of course Master Bruce. Your car has arrived."
"Thank you Alfred."
"Think nothing of it, sir." Alfred replies as he hangs up.
He sends a quick 'Situation under control' off to Barbara. Tells Barry the Zeta works like a charm and tells Diana thanks and that he'll have to get back to her on tomorrow.
He almost doesn't reply to Clark but finally settles on another 'I'll have to get back to you'. in consideration of the man's nerves. - Bruce knows there will be a follow up conversation, knows he will probably give in and open up because who else would he talk to about this besides Clark. But he doesn't want to think about that now so he won't.
He doesn't fire off any more texts, he can deal with the others later.
He stows the phone. Jason shoots him a bemused look (tinted slightly with bone deep tiredness) and raises his arms obediently as Bruce picks him up again.
"Can you pull my cowl on for me Jay?" Jason does this tugging it into place and he gives him a quick peck on the forehead in return as he carries him out.
Batman pauses outside the entrance to the bathroom, "B?" Jason queries, Bruce glances at the vivid bruises on his face, it can wait. They move on.
Jason's head starts to loll forward a little against the Bat symbol on Bruce's chest as he carries him up the stairs, Bruce can see him stubbornly blinking his eyes to try and stay alert even though he doesn't really have to with Bruce here.
Getting him out through the vent is.. challenging.
He gives Jason a long talk about not hurting himself by rushing it but Jason's good and listens, taking it slow and steady as Bruce watches him make his way out from behind him. It takes them almost fifteen minutes to get through a five foot vent but it's worth it as far as Bruce is concerned. Then he remembers the broken glass and wood in the room ahead and that Jason is barefoot right now and momentarily panics but Jason just shrugs him off and says there's none directly under the vent.
Still he feels better when he's out and he can get Jason off the ground again.
"Fricking mama-kangaroo" Jason mutters under his breath.
Bruce can't hide his answering smirk at the words, with his hair all fluffed from being towel dried, picturing Jason as a baby joey is a pretty endearing activity.
On the other hand, while it's true that Jason's mentally and physically exhausted as well as actually injured, it doesn't mean that Bruce isn't also taking advantage of the situation by keeping him close like this. There's no real bite to Jason's complaints either so he's fairly sure he's just resisting a little for posterity's sake himself. Bruce knows they both likely need all the reassurance they can get right now. He also knows that focusing on that rather than the fury bubbling up inside him, hissing under his skin, is what he has to do right now. What he must do to stay sane and focused on the mission, which is handling this situation. He can break down later.
The Batmobile's engine is still humming when they find it parked just outside the front door in the lot.
Bruce bundles Jason into the passenger's side and belts him in before unhooking his cape and wrapping it around him.
"Bruce?" Jason asks, brows furrowing.
"I'll be right back Jay I'm just going to grab some clothes for you to wear tomorrow, you don't have anything of yours that fits you at the manor."
"Oh." Jason says, "Um.. Well I'd be fine with just stealing from you but ok."
Bruce tousles his hair again, "I'll be right back, you can contact me through the Batmobile if you need me and you'll be perfectly safe in here. Think you can wait? I can send someone back for them later if you can't."
Jason shoots him a glare at that but it lacks energy, "Of course I can."
Bruce looks him over, he seems a little anxious through the tiredness but he's less out of it than before, still, he'll have to make this quick.
Bruce tucks the cape more securely around him and shuts the door.
Batman grabs another brown-paper evidence bag from his belt and unfolds it.
Carefully placing the underwear Jason had been wearing earlier into it using the disposable forceps, before placing the paper bag in with the others (containing the rest of the clothes he’d helped Jason out of) in the larger cloth bag he'd dug out.
He'll get samples from them later and run them through the cave's systems, see what he can find until Jason's ready to talk about what happened to him.
Not tonight. He needs to let him rest and sleep tonight, somewhere safe.
Later there'll be questions and answers and the hunt.
Batman leaves the bathroom and gets another bag from Jason's side closet, goes into the bedroom to get him some actual clothes from the wardrobe to wear in the next few days. Tries to keep his choices loose and comfortable.
He exits the house quicker this time and stuffs the two bags into the back of The Batmobile before heading around to the driver's seat so he can take his son home.
Jason falls asleep on the ride home, Batman's cape tucked under his chin and his hair mussed up and curling at the ends.
His hair still curls after it's washed, Bruce didn't know that. For a moment he looks every bit the sleepy robin coming home from a long adventure that he used to be.
The nostalgia makes Bruce's grip on the wheel tighten until the knuckles of his still gauntlet-free hand turn white and the leather covering the other begins to creak. It makes him grit his teeth and focus on the best way to get through traffic for all he's worth. Focus on the road instead of his failures.
It's as they're crossing over Memorial Bridge, midday fading into afternoon, that a call from Dick comes in, lighting up the console in front of the gear stick with Nightwing's symbol pulsing on the screen.
Bruce answers the call quickly for fear that the ring will wake the battered
boy young man, he's a young man now, curled up in the cape next to him. But he makes sure to tap the audio only option.
"B! You've decided to answer my phone calls now?" Dick's voice chirps sardonically through the line.
It's a balm on Bruce's soul in a way that few things are but he hushes him all the same, "Shh, Nightwing I need you to be quieter."
Dick's voice maintains the sarcastic lilt but it does drop a few levels for him, "When don't you? So, what's come up that has Alfred putting me down for babysitting duty tonight?"
"I'm sorry about that, I hoped you wouldn't mind. You can take them out for patrol if you want."
"I don't mind, not really, I mean I mind that you assumed I was free but other than that's it's fine. What I really want to know is why you need me to. What's going on?"
Bruce doesn't know how to answer that so he doesn't.
"Okayyy, so no comment, can you at least tell me whether it's a bat thing or a personal thing? Superman said you mentioned a family emergency and Spoiler and Orphan are with Batgirl and Signal and Robin are with me while RR's in New York, so what family B?"
"Is it Batwoman? Bluebird? Red Hood? Huntress? Azrael? One of the Fox family? Gordon? If it's Gordon is that why BG wouldn't tell me anything? C'mon B help me out a little here. I can help you with whatever it is. We're a team."
Bruce glances over at the bundle of vigilante in the other seat, "I'm sorry Nightwing it's not my place to discuss it with you. And I can't promise I'll discuss it with you later, but the best way for you to help is to look after your brothers and keep them in Bludhaven tonight. I can't be distracted right now."
"That is such bullshit B!" Dick snaps sharply and loudly in annoyance.
Jason jolts awake all at once, eyes startled and arms flying out beneath the cape, "Wha-" Bruce clamps a hand over his mouth - and almost immediately loosens his grip so Jay won't get scared in the confusion of waking up, he ends up just sort of hovering the hand awkwardly over the lower half of Jason's face as Dick continues, "If one of our family is in danger I have a right to know. I have a right to help with whatever it is and you know it, so just tell me what's going on."
There is that, Jason is Dick's little brother but.. he lifts his hand from Jason's face entirely as the boy starts shuddering to the sound of Dick's voice, Bruce meets his eyes as he shakes his head desperately up at him.
But it should be Jason's choice whether his brothers find out or not. Need to know basis otherwise. Dick doesn't need to know and Jason doesn't want him to know.
"Nightwing, I told you, it's not my place to say, it concerns another person's privacy and you will respect it or so help me I will call Agent A and see what he has to say about this."
"You're just going to have to trust my judgement. I would have gotten Batgirl to look after the boys if I'd thought that was going to be such an obstacle for you."
"Oh c'mon, you know it's not that B, I trust you, I just want to help!" "Nightw-" "But I can see that's not going to happen so I'll back off this time, just.. just be careful with whatever it is, B I worry about you when you don't have someone watching your six."
Bruce takes a deep breath and huffs it out loudly, comforted despite himself, despite the situation, Dick cares and that helps even when it shouldn't.
And Dick's a son, a Robin that he hasn't failed entirely, Dick grew up safe. He's relieved not to have to fight him on this today, (he almost always ends up hurting Dick when they argue and he can't handle that guilt right now).
"I know. Thank you N. I'll be in touch." He hangs up the call.
Jason looks wide awake now staring at the screen where Dick's symbol had been, cape fallen to cover his knees. "I have got to be hallucinating all this." He says flatly.
"Were you drugged?" Bruce asks before he can think better of it.
Jason tenses. Head turning away to look out the window rather than at Bruce, "Kinda yes, kinda no."
There's a sick sense of curiosity as he feels his brows furrow under the cowl, what does that mean?
Jason wraps his arms around himself and leans forward over his knees. Head sinking almost under the dashboard. "I don't think I can- Can we talk about it later?"
Bruce reaches a hand over, rubbing Jason's back as he stares at the road, he hesitates.
"You know... You know we do have to talk about it though don't you?"
Jason shudders again under his hands, starts quivering like a frightened puppy dog. "I know." His voice is miserable. "Just.. Just.. Later. Please."
Bruce rubs his back some more.
Jason continues, "I don't want to remember it right now."
The words hit Bruce like an electric shock to the chest. A defibrillator blow that makes his heart thump painfully.
He almost crashes the Batmobile, nearly jerking the car into an out of control spin. Trained reflexes snap into action a half second in time though and it's just a scare.
"What the fuck B!" Jay asks, snapping upright.
For his part he just breathes heavily for a few moments.
Later it is. He grunts at Jay.
Jason stares at him for another twenty seconds before leaning back into his seat.
Batman takes a final deep breath and then grits his teeth and looks forward as he drives, focusing on the road instead of his failures.
.. As much as he can anyway.