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This Distance Between Us

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It hadn’t even been a bad day. It had even been altogether good. Bruce had gone in to Wayne Enterprises, had a long conversation with Lucius and Tim and made a surprising amount of progress in the latest number crunching for a charity venture in only an hour or two. The three of them had gone to lunch together afterwards, and Bruce had been glad seeing Tim carrying himself confidently and yet still enjoying himself. He’d come home in the afternoon with Tim and hung around with Damian and Dick, who’d come home for the weekend. Dinner had been good, and it had been nice to have most of the kids at home. He’d had a nice, hot shower and gone to bed gratefully. He was taking a night off and looked forward to sleeping in. He didn’t even have trouble falling asleep.

But he dreamed about Jason. He dreamed about one of their vacations together where they went to a nice little bungalow Bruce had bought out in the country, close enough to the nearest town to drive to food, but far enough to be off the side of a road somewhere, on a nice piece of ground with woods and a creek. Jason had loved it. He’d practically spent the entire time outside, only calling it quits when Bruce gently nagged him in for bed well past 11:00. There was a rope swing hanging from a tree next to the creek, and Jason had jumped in at least a hundred times over the week they stayed. He always came back up almost instantly, coughing and gasping and laughing so hard he couldn’t catch his breath. He’d scramble to the shore in soaking wet jeans shorts and a faded tee, dripping hair almost completely covering his face. Bruce had to stifle a laugh, whether he was watching from the kitchen window, or from the shoreline.

In reality, of course, the trip had gone off with shockingly no serious hitches. Of course there had been the occasional small disagreement between him and Jason, but none of them resulted in anything more than a moment of sour expressions and angry pouting. Most of the time, they were getting along well. Very well. So well that Bruce could sometimes hardly believe it had ever happened. That he and Jason had ever been that close, that comfortable with each other.

In reality, Jason had always come up from the creek. In reality, Bruce had put him to bed every night in the little twin with the light blue sheets in the smaller room, with a kiss on the forehead, a pat on the shoulder, and a quiet, “Good night, Jay.” In reality, Jason had dutifully packed up his backpack and loaded it back in the truck and climbed shotgun to come home with Bruce, and had watched the little house grow smaller and smaller until it disappeared behind them.

In reality, he’d pulled back from the window and sat slouched back with his arms crossed over his chest as he stared out the windshield in silence for maybe fifteen miles, after which point he’d lowly admitted, voice gravelly with sincerity, “That was the best time I’ve ever had, B.”

In the dream, the little house was empty. Bruce had only turned his back for a second, but when he remembered, he ran through it, searching the whole place. But he was alone.

He tore out the back door and pelted down toward the creek. “Jason!” He roared.

The rope swing was still drifting slowly back and forth, like it had been used. But there was no Jason coming up out of the water laughing so hard he cried, no Jason on the shoreline shaking off like a wet dog. No movement on the surface of the water, either.

“Jason!” Bruce ran into the water, himself. It wasn’t that deep, only up to his waist, but he was still afraid, more afraid than he could ever remember being in his life, except maybe once. He sloshed through the water forcefully, searching the creekbed, but his son was nowhere to be found.

He woke with a soft gasp and a sharp jarring that made his whole body jerk where he was curled on his side, tangled in his comforter. The bright-red numbers on his alarm clock reading 2:07 greeted him.

Bruce just lay there for a moment, still trying to catch his breath. His heart was hammering against his ribs and he scrubbed at the itchy wet streaks that desperate, unconscious tears had left on his face.

Today wasn’t any special, significant date. He hadn’t done or seen anything to dredge the memory, or the nightmare, up from the recesses of his mind. He hadn’t been fear-gassed, he hadn’t been hurt or seen anyone else hurt. He’d just gone to sleep and had a nightmare, and now he didn’t want to close his eyes again. Damnit.

He rolled away from the damned alarm clock and sighed shakily, resettling. He wanted to go back to sleep, he really did...but he couldn’t shake the fear that if he did, he’d go back into the dream. If he did, the dream might start pulling from reality to torture him. Might show him a scorched body, a twisted neck, a limp hand with freckles hidden in thick soot. An empty face. A still body. The top of a matted black head, cradled against him.

Bruce gulped, and closed burning eyes against more hot tears, coming quicker and more insistently.

He wondered where Jason was right now, what he was doing. Probably sleeping, he hoped. Yes, that was it. Fast asleep in his apartment, probably wrapped up like a turtle in the covers. Drooling on his pillow. Blissfully dreaming of muscle cars and guns, or whatever it was teenagers dreamed of. Even though he was twenty now, and not a teenager anymore.

Another stab of pain, there. He glanced back at the clock. 2:10. He heaved an exhausted sigh and pinched the bridge of his nose.

He fumbled for his phone on the bedside table, but then hesitated. If Jason was sleeping, he didn’t want to call him, wake him up. That wouldn’t be fair. He dropped his hand listlessly onto the covers, halfway to his phone.

But. He really didn’t want to go back to sleep. And he knew that he wouldn’t stop worrying about Jason, and thinking about him, until he really knew that he was safe and healthy, in his apartment or wherever, like he should be. Like he would be if he’d never met Bruce.

So Bruce sat up, and he tossed off the covers and stood up. He stumbled over to his closet and switched the light on, blinking away stinging, blurred dark shapes as his vision re-adjusted. He clumsily pulled out a pair of jeans and a plain henley, and changed from his pajama pants into them. A leather jacket went on over the top, and he shoved on some sneakers before going to grab his wallet and phone. He switched off his alarm before he left the room.

It wouldn’t do any harm to go check on him. He’d just drive over across town real quick and peek in the window. Jason didn’t need to know he was there. Better to leave him alone unless he asked, anyway. Just to make sure he was alright, and then Bruce would come home and try to go back to bed.

He went quietly down the stairs and through the main hall. The house was as quiet as it got, with its creaky, antique heating system and all the noisy water pipes and all. It was shockingly empty at night, even though he knew the bedrooms were full, at the moment, of his sons and Alfred. Cassie was having a sleepover at Steph’s, tonight. She’d texted him about it and was very excited.

He grabbed the keys to one of his more normal cars and quietly went through the door to the garage, locking it behind him.

He climbed in the car, started it, adjusted the seats and mirrors. He pulled out of the garage and wound his way down the driveway and out the gates.

Gotham was surprisingly peaceful as he drove through the metro area. There were a few other cars on the road, with music blaring so loud he could hear it clearly. But aside from that, there were few people out on the streets, aside from the occasional small group of party-goers, who staggered out of one or another bar in a tangled mess of people, laughing the whole way. The intersections were empty, and Bruce found himself looking into lit-up windows of empty stores and restaurants, tracing the lines of neon lights spelling the name of a cafe or bar. He’d always liked getting to be in the city past dark. It meant getting to drive home through downtown, and he used to lean against the back window of whatever car he was riding in and watch the lights go by outside. Sometimes he would be alone in the back seat. Sometimes his mother would be in the back with him, her soft hand resting gently on his back or his shoulder or his head while he looked away from her. After she’d died, he wished he’d spent the time looking at her, instead.

He pulled up to Jason’s apartment building wearily, and parked across the street at one of the meters. He climbed out and locked the doors, sticking his hands into his jacket pockets. It was late enough that he’d have to go for the window. The lobby of Jason’s building had been closed for hours. He shook his head at himself, but crossed the street and looked for a good spot to start from. There was a decorative ledge around every level of the building. He had to step onto someone’s windowsill to get up to it. Thankfully, they had their curtains drawn.

From there, it wasn’t too much work to clamber his way up. He walked on the ledge, one hand against the side of the building. Jason’s apartment was on the corner not bordering another building, the corner that was parallel with the road. He crouched down beside Jason’s window and peered in. The lights were off inside. He was looking in on Jason’s living room. It was empty.

Jason was probably just asleep back in his room. Bruce cursed himself for the nervousness still twisting in his middle. He cursed himself further as he checked the window and found Jason’s security measures, and started disabling them. What the hell do you think you’re doing? He’s going to be pissed at you for breaking into his house. You won’t tell him why you’re really here, so he’ll come up with some motivation he thinks you have and get angry at you because he thinks you distrust him. You always do this, just because you’re too damned stubborn to leave him be. He does better without you. If you would just stay away from him…

“No,” Bruce mumbled out loud, fiercely despite the low volume. He pressed one of the connections on the wire and slid the window open.

He climbed in and dropped lightly onto his feet on Jason’s clean carpeted floor. The apartment was completely still and quiet, and Bruce was loath to disturb it even as he kept going. Step after step, his feet took him to the door to Jason’s bedroom. Hesitantly, he reached his hand out, and twisted the knob, leaning just enough that he could peer in.

Jason’s bed was empty.

And just like that, Bruce’s carefully-constructed and well-maintained facade of calm dissolved with all the force of a battering ram. He actually had to grasp the doorknob to keep himself upright. For a long moment—far too long—he just stood there, in the doorway of his son’s empty bedroom, his head spinning.

When clarity came back, it hit him hard. He let go of the doorknob as if burned. A list of actions formed in fiery certainty, and he yanked his phone out of his pocket. He’d check Jason’s location on the tracker app they all had—but what if it wasn’t an emergency? Jason was a grown man, after all. Maybe he’d just stayed out late of his own free will? Maybe he was visiting a friend? He hadn’t known Jason to be much of a partier when he was younger, but that could have changed. Hell, maybe he was out with a girl tonight. The thought, though obvious, made Bruce wince. It wasn’t that he was against Jason having a relationship—far from it. But the concept of his son out sleeping with some unknown party just reminded him of how distant he was now, how little he really knew of Jason’s day-to-day life.

Still. The thought was there now. So he fired off a text to Barbara first, knowing she’d still be up. She might not know what Jason was up to lately, though, at least on a personal front. Dick would be more likely to know that sort of thing, but Bruce didn’t want to wake him for nothing.

Barbara texted back quickly. Talked to him within the week. He’s in Gotham. Need me to pull up his tracker?

Bruce jotted back, Not yet. Thank you.

Next, he pulled up Dick’s number. Sorry, chum, he thought apologetically, and hit send.

He wasn’t sure if he was more grateful or saddened when Dick fired back instantly. Emergency?

Not sure yet, he replied.

He hasn’t said anything about any new friends or anything. Roy or Kory would’ve told me if he was with them. I can’t speak for Artemis or Bizzarro, but they usually don’t need any covert tracking.

A pause. You need me?

Bruce shook his head, but his pained smile was still a smile while he typed out a reply. I’ll try to handle it. I will call you if I need you. I know it’s an asshole move on my part...but try to go back to sleep.

A pause. The rolling ellipses in the text box. Then, Alright. Love you.

Bruce blinked hard, surprised. He stared at his screen for a second. Then he typed out, You too. Sorry I woke you.

Shut up, popped up in less than a second.

Bruce smiled, and switched apps. His expression dropped again as he hit the tracker app. Flashing lights came up—none of his children were out tonight, so there was a cluster of markers in the Manor. Cass and Steph were on the north side of Gotham, in Stephanie’s mom’s house in a suburban neighborhood. Kate was out tonight—Bruce averted his eyes. He tried to give her her privacy as best he could.

Jason’s tracker was on the borders of the Bay, maybe a mile down from the downtown strip, where the relatively secure-feeling, metro waterfront turned quickly into shipping yards and parking garages and collapsing buildings and industrial parks. The city’s murder headquarters. Crime Alley was in the heart of it. But Jason’s tracker was in it, and it wasn’t moving.

Bruce gulped. He could just be doing a stakeout. He could be fine.

What if he wasn’t?

Bruce shoved his phone back into his pocket, and turned around quickly, heading out the narrow hallway toward the window he’d come through rapidly. If Jason was hurt, and his communications had somehow been disabled, or he’d been trapped, or kidnapped, Bruce wasn’t going to leave him a second longer than he had to. He didn’t have time to swing back to the Cave and change; he’d have to make do with his civilian car and whatever he could cobble together from the emergency kit. Maybe he could call Selina—her apartment wasn’t far from there; she’d know if anything was going on—

This all assumes he’s still alive, the sadistic voice in his mind which sounded shockingly like the Joker’s sneered at him, and not lying dead in a warehouse right now.

The thought had been dancing around the edges of Bruce’s mind all evening, the possibility always hanging over his shoulder, whispering in his ear, but he clenched his eyes shut instantly and felt very cold and sick. The nightmare came rushing back, right in front of him—with Jason still and cold in a pool of blood on a nondescript concrete floor, Jason riddled with bullets or tied in an abandoned office somewhere, Jason’s rope swing dancing back and forth limply, Jason’s empty twin bed in the little house, Jason’s empty bed back in the Manor—

And he froze halfway through Jason’s living room, because someone was climbing in the window, halfway through, one foot down on the floor, body mostly turned away. Until they turned their head and familiar, wide green eyes locked with his, startled.

All the breath left Bruce raggedly in more relief than he could remember feeling in a long while. Jason hovered there in the dark, staring at Bruce. Hardly any of his face was visible aside from those glowing eyes. Bruce stared back for a moment before dropping his gaze, ashamed of his panic and ashamed of having broken into Jason’s apartment at an ungodly hour of the morning over nothing but a silly, stupid nightmare.

Jason cleared his throat awkwardly. Bruce saw his booted foot on the floor hop around clumsily as he pulled his other foot down from the window. He fumbled with the lock. “Well,” he said, tone unreadable. “Imagine my surprise when I went to unlock my window to come in from patrol and found it was standing open.”

Bruce belatedly noticed the handgun Jason had in his left hand, and while the sight made something in his stomach twist sharply like it always did, he couldn’t say he was surprised. Hell, he couldn’t say he blamed Jason. Their life was dangerous, and anything out of place could be a warning sign. A failure to notice and react accordingly could result in death. Often did, where crime was concerned.

“I’m sorry,” Bruce said hoarsely.

At that, Jason’s head whipped to the side, eyes narrowed but shocked. “What the hell happened?” He asked, incredulous. He scanned Bruce up and down, taking in the outfit. “You doing some plainclothes op tonight? Something go wrong?” The skin around his eyes paled suddenly. “Anyone hurt?”

Bruce shook his head hard. “No,” he exhaled. “No...god, I. Jason, I—“

Jason yanked down the shades and the room grew even darker. Bruce couldn’t see him anymore, just a tall, slightly darker shape hovering in front of him. “You can keep stammering if you like,” Jason said dully, and Bruce could hear his soft but heavy footfalls in the carpet crossing the room. “But I’m gonna go clean up while you’re doing it.”

Bruce said nothing in reply. He couldn’t. He drifted in Jason’s wake, over toward the doorway to the kitchen. Just as he stopped in the doorway, the light over the sink flicked on, and Bruce’s eyes narrowed in pain at the sudden change in light. By the time he’d blinked them back open, Jason was running water in the sink and was ducking his face down to wash it in his hands, and the water running down between his fingers was tinged orange.

Bruce had crossed the room before he knew what had happened and was pulling Jason back from the sink while he sputtered and half-squeaked, “The fuck are you doing?” in genuine startlement.

Bruce ignored him to grasp his chin and yank it upright so he could see his face. Jason’s eyes were so wide his pupils had shrunk to dots, and there was blood still spilling down over them. Bruce shoved his hair aside to reveal a cut in his forehead, dripping down to cover his face. Bruce tried to trace the edge of the cut, and Jason hissed and his eyes clenched. He fumbled and tugged at Bruce’s hands, trying to get loose.

“Where was your helmet?” Bruce demanded, heart pounding.

“It—ah, fuck—it got broken so I ditched it!” Jason snapped, smacking Bruce’s hand away. “It’s not even that deep, damn!”

And now that Bruce looked at it, really looked at it, Jason was right. It really wasn’t. It was bleeding, sure, but it was a head wound. Those tended to bleed heavily. He’d just seen Jason’s face covered in blood and….overreacted. And he flushed upon realizing how easily he could have scared the hell out of Jason for no real reason other than his own pathetic fucking paranoia. “I’m.” He said lamely.

Jason wasn’t listening, anyway. He was feeling the cut, himself, with a hiss. He stuck his head under the faucet again and cringed while he rinsed the blood off, and then grabbed for the bottle of dish soap beside the sink. He squirted some into his hand and rubbed it into the cut quickly, hissing curses the entire time. He rinsed it off and yanked off a wad of paper towels, pressing it up against his forehead. “Fuckin’ typical, get back and gotta fuckin’ juggle this and you at the same damn time,” he muttered sourly. He stomped past Bruce and tugged an overstuffed kit from an overhead cabinet and yanked out a handful of gauze and tape and antibiotic ointment. With his load of supplies, he stalked back into the dark living room. Bruce hung his head and stayed in the kitchen. He was coming down from his adrenaline high, and he wished to hell he’d just stayed in bed when he’d woke up in a cold sweat. He’d done it plenty of damn times. That was harmless, at least. That never got anyone pissed with him.

Well. That part probably wasn’t true. He seemed to wind up pissing people off no matter what he did, sometimes.

His whole body ached, but not as much as his chest did. He wished he was back in bed, asleep, but he also had the feeling that even if he left right now and went home, he wouldn’t make it before he broke down in tears. And fucking hell, did he hate that. He shouldn’t be like this. Nothing had even fucking happened. And he’d driven across town at two in the morning, broken into Jason’s apartment, and panicked not once but twice, once in front of Jason, with all his usual grace. He never fucked up by halves. He gritted his teeth and cleared his throat, blinking hard. Damnit, no. Not here, not fucking now. Jason was in the living room, and Bruce knew he could hear it, because the rustling noise from him fumbling with the plastic wrapping around the gauze paused.

“Uh. You gonna stand in my kitchen all night, or you gonna come in here and tell me why the fresh hell you’re actually here?”

Bruce hunched over, hands in his pockets again, and dutifully stepped back into the dark living room. His shadow cut most of the light off. Jason was still visible, perched on the edge of the armchair sitting perpendicular to the couch. Angular shadows cut across his body. He was putting tape on the last side of the gauze patch, and then he clumsily brushed his stiff bangs down over it. As soon as that was done, he lounged back heavily in the chair and spread his hands expectantly. “Well?”

Bruce ducked his head down. “I. I made a mistake. I’m sorry.”

Jason blinked. He drew his chin back and blinked again. He glanced around, like the room held an answer to the problem of Bruce. “A mistake is putting too little sugar in your coffee or getting an Arby’s sandwich without asking for sauce. You driving across town—yes, I saw your car out there—hacking my security system and climbing in my window, doing who knows what standing around in my apartment for an indeterminate amount of time, and then flipping out over a tiny cut is anything but a mishap. Especially when it’s fucking you talking. You never do anything by accident. You’re Mister-Thorough-Batman himself. So what. The hell. Are you doing here?” Jason asked again, pointedly, staring up and waiting for Bruce’s answer.

He didn’t seem angry, Bruce realized suddenly. He wasn’t hissing, he wasn’t growling, his eyes weren’t narrowed, his jaw wasn’t set. He was open and confused. Maybe irritated, but not furious. Mostly exasperated, probably. And it made Bruce even more sorry and drained than he already was. He didn’t—he couldn’t come up with any reasoning to hide the truth. There was no explanation, nothing he could say that would disguise what he’d done and why, and Jason would see how fucked up he was and be glad that they never saw each other, anymore. But he couldn’t just not respond. “Nothing.” He said flatly.

Jason sank his head into his hand with a sigh married with a moan. “I just got finished saying—“

“No.” Bruce cut him off. “I mean it. Nothing. Nothing at all happened. I am here for no good reason at all.”

Jason stared despairingly at the far wall, mouth open, eyes stuck in a restrained roll upwards. “You came over and broke into my apartment, past midnight, for no reason,” he said plainly, to the wall.

“Nothing. Nothing happened at all,” Bruce said, and his chest twisted and his throat burned and words came and came and didn’t stop. “I was fine, everything’s fine , I was asleep and comfortable and everyone’s home and safe and it’s my night off and I was going to sleep in, and then I dreamed of that fucking house in the woods we went to when you were thirteen, that trip you loved so much that I never went back to the house after but never sold it because I’m a fucking moron and I couldn’t touch something you loved, and you weren’t there and I was looking for you and you weren’t in the creek either, and there was nothing wrong, nothing happened when we were there and there was no fucking body so there wasn’t even any reason to be so upset even in a fucking dream , but I woke up and I was so scared that I couldn’t think and I definitely couldn’t go back to sleep—“

Bruce buried his face in his hands, and he kept spilling out words like blood from an open wound. “And I thought about—I was going to call you but then I didn’t because I didn’t want to wake you and it was stupid anyway, but I didn’t want to go back to sleep and see you actually dead this time, and I thought, I thought maybe if I just came to check on you and make sure you were alright and secure in bed like the others, maybe then I could sleep, and I needed to—I should be checking on you anyway, you’re my son and a father ought to know where his son is and whether he’s alright or not but I didn’t—“

“Bruce,” Jason said tightly, his voice very small.

Bruce choked on more and forced himself to stop. But he didn’t look up at Jason. He couldn’t. He was crying. A complete wreck, and over nothing. He kept his face hidden in his hands, even though the tears were plainly visible, shameful.

“B, hey.” Jason said again, very soft. “Look. Look at me.”

Bruce didn’t want to. But he very slowly raised his head anyway.

Jason was watching him with a wary expression, tired but accepting and with understanding. “You fucking lugnut,” he sighed, shaking his head, but it sounded fond somehow. “You know you could have just called me? We work stupid hours, it’s not like I’m a normal person where it’s the end of the whole damn world if I get a text at two in the morning.”

Bruce shook his head. “I’m an idiot,” he muttered darkly. “An oversensitive idiot and I—“

“Shut up,” Jason said back, just as dark, and he was glaring. “Okay, you’re oversensitive about a lot of damn things, but being afraid of death is not one of them. You’re not even fucking irrationally afraid of it like normal people are. But you could have just checked my tracker from the start. Why didn’t you? Aside from the PTSD-motivated OCD, of course.”

Bruce shrugged listlessly. “Didn’t want to intrude on your privacy. Didn’t want to bother you.”

Jason sighed. “Well that’s out of the question at this point.” He rubbed at his eyes with a scraped-up hand, and waved his free hand at Bruce. “Will you just sit down before you fall over or something? You’re making me nervous.”

Obediently, Bruce wandered out of the doorway and dropped onto the couch, blinking hard and still breathing shakily. He sank his face into his hands again. He could feel the beginnings of a headache starting and he was just so exhausted. The weight of Jason’s life and death weighed heavily on him tonight, and he was sitting in Jason’s living room . What would it take to convince his brain to stand down if sitting across the room from a breathing, speaking, physically-whole and annoyed Jason didn’t?

He almost jumped when someone dropped onto the couch beside him. But he froze when Jason sighed quietly. “Sometimes I don’t know what to do with you,” he mumbled.

Bruce’s heart twinged painfully in his chest. He couldn’t come up with anything to say in his defense, anything to make him anything but a sniveling hypocrite.

Which was why he froze when Jason tilted his head against his shoulder with a sigh. “Don’t you ever wear yourself out, B?” Jason asked, settling down. He sounded sleepy. “Carrying around all that messy nonsense in your head all the time? S’no wonder we’re all such a mess.”

Bruce gulped. “I know. I’m sor—“

“For what?” Jason asked, his voice surprisingly hard for how quiet it was. “For getting me killed? You didn’t. For not avenging me? Sure, I’m still pissed, but you’re not mentally capable and I get that now. For taking me into your home and giving me a family and a name that meant the world to me? Yeah, you shouldn’t have replaced me with Tim, but with all the shit that little smart aleck knows, he’d have wound up busting criminals one way or another, eventually. You gave him a family, too. I had nothing before I had you, B. I would’ve had nothing the rest of my life. Am I furious and sick to my stomach that it ended out like it did? As much as you are,” and Bruce could hear it, and it brought tears right back to his eyes, when Jason’s low voice broke and he took a breath that rattled with wetness. “I loved the hell out of you, and sometimes it pisses me off that I still do.”

“You don’t have to,” Bruce gritted, a tear or two escaping as he sat there, eyes closed, cursing himself for relishing the weight of Jason’s head on his shoulder, the scratchiness of his hair against the side of Bruce’s neck. “I don’t deserve it.”

“Bullshit you don’t,” Jason said back, just as broken. “I hate you because I love you, and because you’re so good and I can never be as good as you are at heart. Not anymore.”

That made Bruce open his eyes, stare down at his son in horrified shock. Jason was there, cheek against Bruce’s shoulder, but his eyes were turned away, leaking steadily.

“That’s not true,” Bruce choked out. “You are good, Jason. So good it astonishes me sometimes. After everything you’ve been through, all that people wronged you who shouldn’t have, all that I wronged you, you’re still kind. And you always were. Kind and selfless. You’d give your life in an instant to protect an innocent, and while it scares the hell out of me, it amazes me, too. You do things, Jason, that I never could. You—your goodness isn’t hidden inside you, it’s—it’s all over you. No one could look at you without seeing it. Mine is all,” Bruce gulped, rubbing at his chest, “all in here, but it never comes out. What good is it, if I mean well but don’t do well? What does it matter if I’m barely protecting the city if it costs me,” he broke off, crying too hard to go on. “If it costs me everything I loved? Everything I never expected to have, and I wasn’t prepared for?”

Jason pulled away, and Bruce winced through his tears, but he was climbing onto his knees on the couch and he threw his arms around Bruce’s shoulders and held tight. “You’re such a jackass sometimes,” he choked, rocking back. Bruce couldn’t respond for a moment, just leaned his head against Jason’s shoulder this time, hiding his tears in his son’s faded black tee shirt.

“I get it now,” Jason went on, sniffling. “I get that you were always a mess, too. Dick knew it, but I didn’t get it. To me you were just Dad. A-Always just Dad. It took dying to break that image, and that was what—what broke me. But I realized,” he amended quickly, scrubbing a hand over his eyes and gripping Bruce again just as hard as before, “I realized it wasn’t fair. To you or me. Neither of us are what you could call healthy, but—but that doesn’t mean we can’t. We can’t have each other.”

Bruce finally managed to hug Jason back, and he held on as tight as he could while sobbing harder than he had in months. God. He didn’t deserve this. He could never deserve this. He could never deserve a second chance, to hold his son tight, all six feet and two hundred pounds of him, and to have him living and breathing and hugging him back. The boy grown into a man who against all odds, still loved him. Even with everything he’d done wrong.

But here he was. And here Jason was. And life had already taken so much from both of them that Bruce would be damned if he let it take this again without a fight.

The two of them sat there together on Jason’s couch, calming and breaking down again at intervals. Sometimes only one of them hunched over in tears and the other sat patiently and scrubbed away the tears with a calloused or scarred hand. Sometimes both of them fell apart together at once. Sometimes one would start and the other would quickly follow. Bruce lost track of the early hours of the morning. His whole life had momentarily shrunk to Jason’s living room, and the beginnings of a five o’clock shadow on Jason’s cheeks that scratched against his hand when he rubbed the tears away with his thumb, and the hoarse sniffles that escaped Jason when he started to calm down again and curled up against Bruce, leaned into the arm wrapped protectively around his shoulders.

And when Bruce woke up, he was tipped over against the arm of Jason’s couch, and dull afternoon sunlight was drifting in the room through the curtains. And Jason was slumped against his side, breathing softly into his jacket.

Bruce cupped a hand around the back of Jason’s skull, bristly black hair tickling his hand. He leaned down and pressed a kiss to Jason’s temple.

And then he leaned down and went back to sleep.