Bruce shouldn’t have hit him that hard.
He’d been so angry and disappointed and he let those emotions get the better of him.
Jason won’t ever let him forget it and he deserves that. But Jason deserves this.
He waits patiently for Jason to wake up, occupying the minutes with research on his wrist computer. When the man stirs on the edges of Bruce’s vision he closes the screen, folds his arms across his armored chest, and squares up.
Jason blinks slowly as he sits up on the cot with a groan. He looks around, eyes sliding over Bruce with just a twitch of his lip toward a scowl.
“What the fuck is this?” He asks when he realizes where he is.
“You think I’d risk putting you in Blackgate or Arkham?” Bruce’s says calmly, “Just so you can escape?”
The look of incensed disbelief Jason levels at him twists the otherwise handsome face into something ugly and animal.
“Are you fucking serious?”
Bruce doesn’t answer, just glares at the boy from the safety of his lenses. He’s so disappointed with him.
“Just so I’m clear on this,” Jason growls with incredulity, “The Joker’s body count is literally, no hyperbole, hundreds of innocent civilians. But you keep putting him through the system, just to end up back in a cell at Arkham that is LITERALLY reserved for him because he keeps escaping. I’ve killed a handful of drug dealers, killers, and rapists, served time for it, admittedly not the whole sentence but as much as anyone else in this corrupt hellhole, and one mob-boss with his own list of bodies as long as my arm and a history of bribing his way out of justice, is enough for you to lock me away in a private prison with no trial?”
Bruce resists shifting uncomfortably. It’s different. But it’s different for personal reasons. Reasons Jason won’t understand.
“I put the Joker in here after the event with the family,” he hasn’t even finished the thought before he realizes what he’s saying but it’s too late to stop the words.
Hurt and shock flash across Jason’s face quickly before the rage returns.
Jason scowls at him.
“Great,” he says quieter than Bruce had expected, “Good to know where I stand. Of all the assholes in the world the two people you’ll break your whole justice code for is the Joker,” he pauses and gulps, “and me.”
Then he lets out a sharp, humorless, laugh, “Guess that saying’s true, huh? Be careful what you wish for.”
It takes every ounce of training and experience to not flinch at those words.
“Well, I guess since I’m not sharing this dank cell with the lunatic who tortured and murdered me that he managed to escape,” Jason’s looking around where the thick, clear, polycarbonate meets the cave wall so he misses the way Bruce does cringe this time, “I’m sure you’ve fixed that flaw but—”
Jason has turned back to him and he must not have composed himself as well as he should have because Jason’s eyes go wide and the anger drains away, replaced by sadness and… betrayal.
“You’re kidding?” Jason says. His eyes look a little glassy but he grits his teeth and purses his lips.
“It was the end of the universe, Jason,” Bruce sighs, not really wanting to go into it, “He was the only one who could help.”
Even he thinks the scoff that earns is well-deserved.
Jason suddenly looks older, tired, weary. He flops onto the cot which creaks under his weight.
Bruce wants to say something; something that can make this better, or easier anyway; something that can take back all the hypocrisy and horrible implications of what’s been said, something that will make Jason understand.
“Jason---” and he’s almost grateful the other man interrupts him because he doesn’t really have anything else to say.
“Fuck off, Bruce.”
* * *
“It’s still attempted murder, Jason,” Bruce can hear Dick roll his eyes even though he can’t see it on the screen. It’s been two weeks since Jason broke his deal with Bruce. Cobblepot’s condition is stable but he’s still in a coma.
Bruce does see Jason scowl.
“You and I have different definitions of murder.”
“Yeah, and mine’s the right one,” Dick says, too brightly for the nature of the conversation.
“Right, wrong. Morality’s subjective. Mine is the legal definition,” Jason smirks at Dick. “Do you have any 9’s?”
Dick frowns and passes a 9 of diamonds through the slot as Jason continues, “Attempted manslaughter, at best. Murder is premeditated. Either way,” Jason shuffles a couple cards around and sets down his new pair, then waves his hand around indicating the cell, “this is bullshit.”
Dick doesn’t say anything for a few seconds.
“What do you mean, ‘at best’?”
Jason smiles, “Oh I’m pretty sure, a good attorney could make a decent case for ‘justifiable homicide,’” he shrugs, “And if that didn’t fly then, hey, all I have to do is bribe the judge and/or the jury and according to Bruce, I’m innocent.”
“You know he doesn’t think that.”
Jason gives him a meaningful look, “Yeah, I know.”
“I didn’t mean about you specifically,” Dick sighs, “I meant that just because someone’s ‘found innocent’ in Gotham doesn’t mean Bruce believes that.”
“Is that supposed to be better, Dickie?” Jason says, their game of Go Fish completely forgotten, “Bruce knows the system in Gotham is corrupt from the top down, broken and no one’s even pretending to try to fix it. But he still sends every single costumed psycho through it. Except me,” his expression goes dark, “and the fucking Joker.”
“Bats aren’t killers, Jay, we can’t condone that” Dick says softly.
Even through the screen, Jason’s eyes are like fire.
“Hey, Dickie, that guy who helped us fight Mother… your friend with the magic doors?”
Bruce can see Dick freeze.
“Midnighter, right?” Jason sounds perfectly casual, “Doesn’t he kick steak bones through guys’ skulls and rip people apart with his bare hands?”
Unlike Bruce, Dick has the decency to look guilty.
“And Demon-spawn,” Jason continues, eyes never leaving Dick’s face, “He killed Nobody not too long ago. I don’t remember him getting locked up either.”
“He was raised by assassins,” Dick responds, finally defensive, “That’s gonna take some time to get over.”
Jason nods knowingly, “League training. Sure, that’s tough to overcome.”
Bruce is sharing in Dick’s growing discomfort as Jason calmly points out the hypocrisy in every statement.
“He was indoctrinated from birth, Jason, it’s not the same.”
“I’m not arguing, Dick. I get it, having your mind fucked with, taken from you without you knowing… yeah, man, that’s hard to come back from. It’s good that Damian has you and Bruce to help him.”
Dick’s gulp is audible over the coms. It had taken a while, figuring out how to deal with Jason when he’d returned. They’d stumbled, said some things, they hadn’t fully understood, even Jason hadn’t fully understood. In some ways, Bruce has always suspected that all those missteps had made it harder for Jason to come back to himself, made it take longer, made the current peace more tenuous than it could have been. He would do a lot of things differently if he could go back; had done a lot of things differently with Damian, all because of the lessons learned with Jason. But Bruce has never told Jason that.
“He didn’t lock Kate up in here for Clayface.”
Dick moves to stand, Bruce can see how tense he is.
“Last one, promise, big bird,” Jason says, still calm and composed in a way that’s much more unnerving than his usual anger and bluster.
Dick looks back down to him, follows his movements as Jason stands too.
“Did Bruce beat the shit out of you and lock you up down here when you beat the Joker to death?”
Bruce can see Dick’s mouth opening and closing; he likely wants to say that obviously the Joker isn’t dead but swallows those words back when he remembers that Penguin is also not dead; when he realizes, once again, that the only things he has to say will just make Jason’s point clearer.
Dick turns to leave, pauses, then squares his shoulders and faces Jason, looking confident.
“All the things you’re mentioning, there are reasons—not excuses, but explanations, for why. You don’t have one for this, you just went off half-cocked, like usual, and shot Cobblepot on live TV.”
Dick doesn’t wait for a response, just turns and walks out of the room. Bruce knows that Dick’s reasoning isn’t enough to justify this. Especially since—
“Please tell me you at least asked him why?” Dick snaps from behind him.
Bruce doesn’t turn around and doesn’t respond.
“Jesus Christ, Bruce, what’s wrong with you?” he hears Dick mutter as he leaves.
Bruce has no answer for that either.
He watches as Jason looks up at the camera and flips it off.