Thin lines of rain hit the Batmobile with increasing agility, the gush of water hitting the windows and roof of the car as it speeded quickly by. The roads were mostly empty, as it usually was at this hour.
Patrol itself had been uneventful; Batman and Robin had taken down a small drug trade by the Harbour that was threatening to grow bigger but the rest of the night was peaceful.
Maybe too peaceful.
Bruce glanced at the passenger's seat in concern. Jason had been uncharacteristically silent all night, only speaking occasionally to add inputs to the case. Other than that, he seemed to have taken a vow of silence. He wasn't asleep in his seat, either -- no, he was rather wide awake -- but he lacked the chatter he usually bubbled with after successfully taking criminals down.
During patrol, Bruce hadn't wanted to distract either of them from working but now as they were headed home, Bruce intended to get to the bottom of this.
Bruce risked another glance. Jason was staring out of the window but he wasn't pouting or huffing like he usually did when he was mad at Bruce. His face was calm, content and maybe even deep in thought. His fingers, however, were tapping the sides of his seat impatiently.
“What's going on? Are you alright?”
They were pulling up near the cave now, zipping through the waterfall, and Jason’s body perked up at the realization they were home. He seemed to be eager to leave.
“I'm fine, Bruce,” he said distractedly. As they reached their parking spot, Jason leaped out quickly even before the car stopped. He dashed out, only giving a quick greeting to Alfred on his way to the showers. By the time Bruce had finished typing up the report, Jason was already in his pajamas and had run up the stairs, taking two at a time.
“Was it something I said?” Bruce asked, removing his cowl and enjoying the cool cave air that hit his face. “He's been quiet all night.”
“You do not seem to be the cause of his strange behavior tonight, Master Bruce, no,” Alfred noted. “Master Jason seems to be quite content with you, but preoccupied with other matters.”
“Like what?” When it came to parenting, Bruce by no means considered himself to be an expert but there were observable, telltale signs to Robin behavior that he usually deciphered. However sometimes, the mind of an adolescent seemed to be the greatest mystery yet to be unravelled.
“I'm not aware, sir. I cannot marvel what is going on in the boy's head at this moment.”
“I'll talk to him at dinner.”
Dinner was the same. Jason paid no attention to anything around him, just stabbed at his food quickly and chewed with hurried bites.
Jason didn't seem to hear him.
“Jay,” Bruce tried again, a little stern this time. Jason looked up quickly. His face was almost comical, his expressions quickly shifting from surprise to alarm to fear he had done something wrong.
“What? What is it?”
“We need to talk.”
“I wasn't the one who stepped on Alfred's freshly planted roses I swear! Even if I did, you have to understand it was an accident!”
Bruce had to struggle to hide a smile at this while Alfred simply raised his eyebrows disapprovingly.
“Is that why you've been so quiet?” Bruce asked. “Because you were worried we would be mad at you?”
When Jason first arrived at the Manor, he’d been extra careful around the house, especially in areas like gardens or shelves with expensive artefacts. Dick had been too, but not to the extent that Jason was. It seemed that Jason was constantly in the fear of destroying something highly priced, even when Bruce told him it didn't really matter. The way his eyes would widen and his fingers would be ever so gentle with expensive things was very revealing of the fact that he still believed Bruce would value some pricey artefact over his own son's happiness.
But Jason was simply confused at the question. “Huh?”
“I'm not mad at you for destroying the bushes,” Bruce said gently. “Though we do need to talk about it. You don't have to go on a vow of silence.”
Jason now went from surprise to amusement. “Oh Bruce, I'm sorry!” He said, giggling. “I wasn't quiet because of that --” he quickly looked at Alfred, “-- though I am truly sorry about the bush!” He rambled on before anyone could stop at that part of his sentence. “I was just thinking about this book I was reading and how I was right in the good part before we went on patrol.”
Now Bruce couldn't stop his smile and even Alfred seemed to chuckle. “You had us worried there, Jay.” He reached out and ruffled the boy's hair, earning him a scrunched up face in disgust. Jason pulled out of Bruce's reach and pushed his little curls back out of his face.
“You can't reprimand me when your whole act is about brooding in silence, mister!” Jason argued, shuffling between his two feet and pointing at Bruce in a mock accusatory manner.
“I believe Master Jason may have a fair point, Master Bruce,” Alfred teased as he cleared away their plates.
“Hnn.” Bruce stood up, holding onto Jason's shoulder. Jason tried to shake him off but Bruce playfully threw his whole arm around Jason's shoulders instead.
“Did you like the word I used?” Jason bubbled excitedly, now completely given up on trying to fight. “Reprimand?”
“It was a good word.” Bruce agreed. Jason often picked up fast on new words and tried his best to sneak them into conversations as casually as he could. It was a new game they had started between the two of them and Alfred where they would see who could sneak the most newly learned words into a conversation.
“So,” Bruce said, guiding them upstairs. “You'll have to finish the good part of your book soon today since you'll be helping Alfred with the bushes tomorrow.”
Bruce was only half-joking but Jason nodded seriously. Then, his face lit up with an idea. “You'll be home tomorrow, Bruce,” he said, looking up. “That means you have to come watch us.” He didn't wait for Bruce to respond, continuing his negotiations. “It's the weekend which means you have to join us. You can't work.”
“I don't have to do anything, young man,” he replied, flicking Jason's nose. It was technically supposed to be a punishment for Jason but one pleading look from the boy convinced him that maybe they both would benefit from spending the morning outside. It would expose them both to much needed sunlight, fresh air and normal physical activity.
That's how he would justify it to Alfred when he would join them in the garden the following morning.
They walked into Jason's bedroom and he immediately dashed to the shelf to reach for his book.
“So,” Bruce said, sitting on the bed. “What's this book all about?”
Jason snuggled into Bruce's side, launching into an animated explanation about caves and magic and other fantasy literary tropes that Alfred had said was normal for a boy of Jason's age to enjoy.
Somehow in the midst of his narration, Jason managed to sneak the book into Bruce's hands, prompting him to read it. Jason was a master of deception that way.
As Bruce read, Jason wrapped his arm around his father's middle and rested his little chin peacefully on his shoulder. He pushed back a yawn.
Jason’s eyes turned defensive and fierce. Leave it to him to take a challenge in the lightest of statements. “No. Tonight’s patrol wasn't even that challenging. I've been wide awake after worse.”
“So read me the next chapter,” he demanded and then softened, realizing the harshness in his tone. “Please?”
“I don't know, Jay,” Bruce said. “Seems to me like you've been a little cosseted lately.”
Jason looked up in confusion. “New word?”
“It means spoiled.”
Jason grinned. “You're full of shit, Bruce.”
They continued reading for a while, Jason’s body getting more languid and slow as they reached a good point to stop. Bruce closed the book gently and Jason didn't stop him this time, just letting him put the book onto the bedside table. He ruffled Jason's hair and flicked the lights off, taking a moment to survey the room before he left.
“Good night, Jay.”
“Night night Dark Knight,” Jason whispered, tucking half his face into his pillow. “Don't let the sirens come eat you in your sleep.”
Bruce understood the reference to the book but didn't think it would work, logistically, considering how the security cameras and heat signatures would notice a siren was on grounds even before it got to the inner Manor but he knew from experience that Jason was probably only joking. “I won't.”
“And if they try to eat me in my sleep?”
“I won't let them,” Bruce said seriously. There couldn't be any siren in the world that could touch Jason as long as Bruce was around. That was a promise he had made -- to Jason, to his parents and to himself. “We'll fight them together.”
“Good.” Jason mumbled, looking satisfied with his answer, the onslaught of heavy sleep dragging him in. “Night, Bruce.”
“Good night, son.”