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Catch a Tiger by the Tail

Chapter Text

 

Jason woke up soaked in sweat.

 

He panted raggedly as though he'd run a marathon and fought Darkseid afterwards. It was just another dream again. Pleasurable but no less hellish. There was no need to look as he could feel it throbbing between his legs. The ache was steady and begging for a last brush against the mattress that would peak him. He hated night terrors but he would take them any night over dreams like this.

He shook violently, jaw clenched and eyes screwed shut. Jason rolled over to his side and curled in on himself, silently begged his body to calm itself. His face was so hot that the light breeze from his ceiling fan made the skin of his cheekbones tingle like the world's worst slap. The damp spot on his boxers clung sinfully sweet, another pulse of precum slicking the interior of the fabric in one traitorous twinge of his erection.

He'd had a dream about the man who lived upstairs from his childhood apartment. His mother would leave him while she binged on booze and drugs at street corners for days at a time and the man had been an impromptu babysitter. Someone that was probably the reason Jason survived toddlerhood was also the reason for most of his suffering.

He couldn't remember the exact circumstances when he lost his virginity. There had been so much that happened to him during his short stint in the first life and so much head trauma at the end of it that he had blank spots in some areas. The only fact he knew about it was that he'd been young, too young, plied into it with candy or worse.

Affection.

It was probably that man who had taken Jason's innocence the first time. But he couldn't have been sure, as there were other men and women that constantly traipsed in and out of that apartment. Looking back, Jason realized with a clinical mind that the man had been a trafficker. There were other kids at the apartment sometimes but he never saw the same ones twice. The children had been closed off, guarded, some had been cranky. Not once had any of them tried to play or talk to him. Typical of abuse victims. His abuser's proximity to his mother had kept him from being sent where the others disappeared to.

Or maybe the man genuinely wanted to keep him around for himself. He'd said many times that Jason was his boy, his tiny little tiger. Or was that Bruce? It was all so fuzzy to him now and things were jumbled.

He shuddered again.

Gentle touches, stroking his hair, giving him hugs and making him warm meals, it had been almost sweet. But... For every innocent touch were mirroring ones in places that should have been sacred. He'd been so fucking touch starved by his own family that he'd taken anything that man and his accomplices would give to him. He'd never even thought it was wrong, the fondling, the stroking, the...kisses.

A tear trickled down his nose as he tried to breathe and merely sobbed in self loathing.

He'd enjoyed it.

Sought it out.

Often.

The few memories of that time he could remember clearly were of him climbing atop his neighbor's lap, naked as the day he was born and--

Jason curled tighter into his fetal position as if trying to shrink his bulky frame to half it's original size. He didn't want to think about anything, much less be awake. Rationally he knew it wasn't his fault. Kids weren't responsible for that shit happening, especially when manipulated by people like that. They were innocent. Even if it felt good, even if they asked for it, even if it was someone they loved, the blame lay solely on the goddamn pervert who laid hands on them.

But he still hated himself.

He'd never stop hating himself for opening his legs and begging for it, that he'd enjoyed it to the fullest extent until one day that man just... disappeared. Left an empty apartment without so much as a goodbye. He'd missed the bastard terribly and had used the skills he was taught to not only make money but to fill the lonely void his violator left inside him.

He'd been thirteen when Bruce had taken him in.

He'd already contracted three STDs before that, two of which were incurable.

One which would have killed him had the Joker not done it first.

He'd never forget the look on Bruce's face as though he'd been stabbed by a rogue, when the doctor had gently explained to Bruce that it was more than just a simple case of antibiotics or medications to help with the flareups. Jason had never been so confused in his life as he was when they rode home. How could something that felt so good be so...scary? The breakouts over his crotch had been going on for quite some time, he could deal with that. He'd been doing that already. But death?

Bruce had gently interrogated him, his face filling with a sorrow so agonizing it made Jason want to climb onto his lap and comfort him. Kiss away the darkness in the man's gaze like he had so many others. He'd reached for Bruce, only to be stopped, large calloused hands engulfing his own.

The rejection started the slow tumble headfirst into Jason's long standing relationship with shame. Bruce explained to him, in the best way he could, and it was only then that Jason realized that what he'd been doing, what had been done to him, was wrong. The humiliation had crushed him. He'd cried so hard that he'd hyperventilated. It was too much. He was thirteen, he was awful, and he was going to die from some disease someone had given him.

It was one of the only times Bruce had actually been sensitive of his feelings.

Bruce, for all his stupid faults, had promised him he would take care of him. No matter what. Promised he'd never tell another soul his secret not even Alfred. Because at the time, that was what Jason wanted. Secrecy. He could scarcely deal with it all himself, there was no way he could handle others knowing.

Jason never wanted to have sex again after that day at the doctor's office. It was too late anyway, he was poisonous. The doctor had been very clear to him that sexual contact was forbidden. People were scared and very little was known about the disease at the time. It was fairly new to the scientific community and the public knew even less. He could appreciate attractive people. But he'd never go further than conversation or flirtation. He'd never...

He muffled a soft sob and then another, breaking down into tears.

He'd never be loved.

 

 

It was nearly five in the afternoon when he woke again, face a mess of dried tears and nose stuffy from the crying jags. He felt like a dirty wrung out rag, but he couldn't feel sorry for himself. He had too much work to do to roll over and give up just yet. With mechanical movements he showered and washed his face clean, then dressed slowly in fresh jeans and a t-shirt.

He blamed his current job for the unpleasant night's sleep. The case was a touchy subject for him and something that he'd thought he'd made crystal clear wasn't welcome in Gotham. Children had been disappearing from the Narrows while dark rumors swirled that a powerful new player had been snatching them to be sold for a plethora of disgusting purposes. Rage and righteous fury burned brighter in him than the underlying horror he felt at having failed to catch this sooner. Whoever was doing this would pay in flesh for flesh.

Thoughtfully he twirled the blade that Talia had gifted him before tucking it into his jacket. It would be a perfect tool to castrate the sick fuck. He hadn't pinned much down about his target yet, only they were here in his territory and possibly had been doing this for quite a long time. Years in fact.

Thanks to Oracle he'd managed to cross reference other cases that traced back as far as two decades. This perp knew Gotham. They'd been here before and had years-long stretches of inactivity between each spate of disappearences. Now they were back again and this time Jason was going to make sure they didn't leave unless it was in a coffin.

He checked his gear and helmet diagnostics one last time before he made his way out into the coming nightfall. It wouldn't be long before he was knee deep in corpses of the guilty, Bruce's stupid rules be damned. Red Hood had made it obvious that diddling children was unacceptable in his territory. Hell, in any territory.

It was time to remind them again.

He snorted, thinking about a duffel bag full of heads he'd carted around like a proud housecat when he first came back to Gotham. This time he'd just fill one with the dicks and clits of child molesters. It would probably make Batman punch him, possibly a lot. Maybe even get him thrown him out of Gotham again.

If it saved even just one kid from the horrors he'd experienced personally?

The dental work and wired jaw would be worth it.

 

Chapter Text

Jason tried to be patient as he staked out various hot spots of trafficking activity for the next several nights. There were few leads to begin with but he'd exhausted each of them already and was eager to find more.

The only witness to the kidnappings had been a retired rent boy who was living in the basement unit of a crumbling brownstone apartment complex in the edge of the narrows. He'd seen the perp's fleet of black unmarked vans pass down the street like a military procession before spreading out in various twists and turns of the streets. One van straggled, slowing down when it came to a pair of street kids huddled on a stoop. The door had opened, tranquilizers shot into each child and two men in solid black tactical gear had snatched them.

The entire operation had taken less than a minute, the van peeling down the street and into the night before the witness could even stub out his cigarette. He hadn't called the police, instead he'd sought out Red Hood. Everyone in this neighborhood knew touching kids was taboo and if anyone could stop it, he would.

Red Hood landed atop a lamppost near the scene of the first crime, waiting. Below, the witness sauntered up with the ease of a streetwalker. He was in his late thirties, past his prime for the work anymore. He was still handsome in a tired sort of way, his sandy blond hair full but his eyes were crinkled from seeing too much. David Royce now worked as a gas station attendant and was just coming off his late shift. The two weren't exactly friends, but David had once had a close call two years ago before he quit hooking and luckily Hood had saved his life by ending his John's.

“Dave.” Hood's scrambled voice box was devoid of emotion but sometimes David liked to pretend he was smiling behind that helmet.

“Hood.” He tapped out a fresh cigarette and lit it, sucking down the first breath of smoke he'd had that evening. “Y'gonna hang upside like the mark on your chest?”

“Ha-ha.” Well, sarcasm could still leak through the voice modifier at least. “No I was hoping you'd seen anything else.”

“Sorry, nothing.” David blew smoke upwards, checking the street for anyone strolling nearby. It was pretty deserted, even the street kids and homeless had sunk into their hidey holes for the night. At least he hoped they were just hiding and not kidnapped like the poor kids that first night.

“I'm gonna get them, promise.” Hood's heavy form landed next to him without a sound, nearly startling David out of his skin.

“Jesus, warn a guy!” He coughed, pounding his chest before he looked up and up. The man was a fucking beast, broad shouldered, whip waisted and mounted on thighs that David wouldn't have minded wrapped around his head. Nervously, he fiddled with his lighter, barely registering the hiss next to him.

“Lend me one?” Hood's normal voice was deep but not baritone. David immediately held the pack out, staring. He was young. David crushed his attraction ruthlessly then and there, heart wistful. Even with the domino mask, there was no way the kid's smooth complexion was anything past his teenage years yet. The vigilante's dark hair was thick and curled at the ends, a curious white streak touching the front of his hairline.

They smoked together and for a moment David had a strange memory float across his mind. Why it came to him he didn't know. He chalked it up to thinking too hard about bad things happening in the world. He finished his cigarette and busied himself with putting away his half empty pack.

“You know, this happened a couple times before.” David chimed up without knowing why he was babbling. “Bunch of kids kept going missing, but the GCPD didn't know why. Didn't care until it started happening in the rich areas.”

“I'd heard.” Hood's voice was strained. “I'm not like the GCPD. I'm gonna find the ones responsible and get rid of them.”

“I know.” David said somberly. “But I remember when it actually first started happening. Was like... fifteen years back I think? There were vans then too, but nothing like these. Just a bunch of random, beat up junkers.”

The Hood's head tilted, curiously.

“That long ago?” He sounded surprised, and a little suspicious. David didn't blame him.

“Yeah. In fact, the first kids to be reported missing were snatched from an apartment complex two blocks from here. I think it was called Sunnybrook.”

Jason felt his whole body go cold.

He didn't need direction, he knew exactly where it had been. That was the long since demolished apartment complex Jason's own mother had lived and died in when he was just seven years old. The very same place that his own childhood innocence had been destroyed beyond repair, and all at the hands of a man who was tall and had the voice of an angel, and gentle, soft hands that handled him with such care.

“A-Are you ok, Hood?” David's voice was shaking, uncertainty dripping from his posture when Jason turned to see him backing away. It was then that Jason realized he had just punched the streetlight post so hand he'd left a dent in it.

“Sorry. I... I think I just connected some dots thanks to your tip. Thanks again Dave.” He forced himself to steady his breathing, and not imitate a dying lizard hissing through it's teeth. Dave relaxed, nodding.

“Hey Hood? I know it's horrible, what's happening to the kids. But... Don't forget you need to take care of you too, ok?” David knew it was a risk to stick his nose into this, but it was obvious that the Red Hood was straining under the weight of his mission. He steeled himself. “If...If you ever need a breather, or someone to talk to I'm--”

“No.” Hood straightened to his full height again, cracking the knuckles of his abused hand.

David couldn't help but feel a little insulted at the abruptness, but he sighed a moment later, scratching the back of his neck.

“Yeah ok, I get it, you're a big tough guy, can't show a weakness. But consider it a standing invitation ok? If you change your mind.” David relented, seeing there was no chance in hell of the vigilante taking him up on the offer. The Hood didn't move away however, and if David didn't know better he looked sulky.

“Sorry, I do appreciate the thought though. I'll be fine.” Hood said so softly that David nearly missed it in the rustle of the man's leather coat as he began to put his helmet back on. He couldn't help himself, laughing quietly.

“Give em hell, Hood.”

The jaunty two finger salute he received in return before the man grappled away was enough to tell him that he'd give them more than hell. David stayed under the streetlight until he couldn't see him anymore, before he made his way back into his dark little apartment.

 

Jason crawled into the attic crawlspace of an old dry cleaner shop, where he'd set up a spartan safehouse. The ceiling of the tiny room was just high enough that he could stand up to his full height, but if his hair was too long the tips of his fluffy curls would brush the rafters. He quickly replaced the vent cover he used to enter the space and then closed and locked the real trapdoor behind it.

He had wanted nothing more than to bust the case wide open but instead the weather had foiled that plan. A dangerous storm had swept in from the sea and was currently pelting Gotham so hard that the street cleaners wouldn't have to work in the morning. The greasy grime was already coming up off the streets in gobs, probably clogging up the ancient sewer systems. He scowled and crinkled his nose at the gunk built up on his combat boots, and left them on the small mat he had by the vent just for such cases.

It was just as well that he ended his investigation for the night. Nothing was happening in this weather and he was steadily becoming exhausted. A hot shower would have been perfect but there was no way he could make it to another safehouse where there were water hookups.

He pondered going back out in the rain naked, it would be cold but at least he could slough some of the sweat off before crawling into bed. Public nudity hadn't been his thing, ever. So he threw that stray thought straight into the dustbin and began to undress for bed.

The bed was just a thin camping cot, since it was the only thing he could fit through the vent. He only had a pair of jeans and a t-shirt as spare clothes in this hideyhole so he opted to just bunk down in his boxers. He rolled onto his back, glaring at the ceiling. David's tip had been haunting in more ways than he expected. He had passed his old homesite on the way back to his safehouse, as he had many times before. Instead of an apartment complex a junkyard now stood in it's place. Chainlink fences laced with barbed wire kept the guard dogs in and the riff raff out.

It was just another shithole taking the place of another. Story of his life really. Jason reached up and rubbed his face with both hands, before he rolled onto his side and closed his eyes.

 

He was walking down Maloy Street, carrying a small bag in one little fist. His cheek was throbbing like the worst of wasp stings and in the reflection of passing shops his right eye was nearly swollen shut. Dried tears had left tracks down his dirty face but he wasn't crying anymore. He scrubbed his nose with his free hand, snuffling blood.

He'd gotten smacked around by his Mom's dealer after he tried to bite him for coming around again. One punch from the man's fist laden with gold rings armed with sharp diamond teeth had sent Jason down like a sack of bricks. His mother was shaking from withdrawl and the anticipation of her next hit when she picked him up and set him outside the apartment door. She told him to go buy cigarettes and a lighter at Miss Mia's bodega as she pressed a few crumpled dollar bills into his scuffed palm.

He was afraid to go home. He climbed the stoop to the apartment complex the bricks crumbled and cracked beneath his dirty mismatched sneakers. Instead of going back to see his mother in a drugged out haze on the dirty floor he went straight to the place that was more of a home to him than anywhere else in the world could be.

The door was black unlike the rest in the complex. Standing before it felt like peering into a cave, gaping and endless. He could not reach the bell so he was forced to knock against the solid panel. It wasn't long before he heard the familiar clatter of china and steady footsteps approaching from within. He didn't even wait to be invited inside before he launched himself against the warm open arms that welcomed him.

“Jay, my God! What happened??” Hands cupped his face, gentle of his injuries. In the comfort of attention, a sob bubbled from Jason's chest. The bag of cigarettes hit the floor forgotten as he was embraced and lifted off the ground.

Jason barely registered the sound of the door closing, blocking out the world and leaving just the two of them. The apartment was nothing like his own, spotless and orderly. The furniture wasn't expensive but it was clean and comfortable. The entire space was warm and rich with red and gold hues tied throughout the furniture and wall art.

Jason buried his face into the soft cotton of the man's button up shirt and breathed in deep the scent of orange and spiced wood, his tears abating. The hand that had rubbed soothing circles over his back slid over Jason's shoulder to tuck a finger under his small chin. The man's gentle nudge made Jason lift his face to meet his gaze, a dark pair of eyes twinkling at him.

“Your mom is entertaining a visitor, I take it?” He asked softly. Jason only nodded, leaning into the touch. “You can stay with me.” Relief flooded Jason, a smile spread wide upon his cupid's bow mouth. He made a soft noise of contentment, nuzzling against the man's neck to bask in the moment.

On the couch Jason sprawled in the man's lap, the record player listlessly playing Sinatra's crooning voice. It wasn't long before the man was stroking his hair, soothing him. Jason didn't even need to be asked he was already fidgeting with the button of his tattered jeans.

“Shall I kiss you and make it better?” A kiss was pressed to Jason's ear, the whisper sending tingles down his spine.

Jason nodded, offering not his mouth, but his body as he kicked off his dirty, tattered jeans.

“That's my good boy... My little bluejay...”

 

It was nearly five in the afternoon when he woke again, face aflame and chest shaking with each breath he took to steady himself. He felt hungover and headachy, sore. Most of all he was furious with his own traiterous body, and he vowed to burn his sheets as well as the damn safehouse with them. With mechanical movements he showered and washed his face clean, then dressed slowly in the fresh jeans and a t-shirt. Of course he would have a fucking breakdown the morning before he was supposed to visit the manor. He really didn't want to go, especially with the case at hand but he was obligated.

Things weren't great, but they were stable enough to visit on rare occasions. He and Bruce were talking again, sparingly. He was also abiding by the 'rule', at least in Gotham city limits. They left him alone in the Narrows and he left them alone wherever they were. It was easier that way.

He rarely went to the mansion but Alfred had asked him to and he couldn't say no.

It hadn't been until Alfred that Jason had felt real affection without any strings or conditions attached. The old man had been his rock in the aftermath of his condition. He'd been the only person besides Bruce to really care about him. Though he'd made Bruce promise not to tell, eventually Jason told Alfred himself. It was only with Alfred's acceptance and assurances that he was still good that he somehow began to believe it again.

Even if everything went to shit with Bruce, he'd always have Alfred.

Alfred, who still called him every week without fail and would leave voicemails if he couldn't answer, who would text him book titles to read, recipes to try and just to say he missed him.

As much time as he spent training to be Robin, Jason spent just as much time at Alfred's elbow in the kitchen. He soaked up culinary knowledge and housekeeping tips like a sponge. Jason suspected he was the only one to have any of Alfred's recipes besides Martha Kent. Once he'd even declared that he wanted to take over for Alfred when he retired. Jason knew from the look on his face that Alfred would have loved nothing more than for that to happen.

He'd been 14 and so hungry for real love and acknowledgment. He wanted a place to belong, because even though he and Dick had settled things between them enough to no longer avoid each other, he still feared losing Robin.

Then he'd fucking died and been replaced anyway.

What happened next, he blamed on the Pit. The rest of the family did as well, some begrudgingly. But he knew deep down that the traumas had also added fuel to the fire and he could have stopped tossing logs onto it anytime he wanted. Nearly killing Tim had been something he deeply regretted now, but at the time he'd just wanted to make someone fucking hurt, break them into the tiny pieces that he felt like he'd been beaten into by the Joker. By his neighbor. By all the other fucking Johns and Janes that used his body for their satisfaction. By the piece of shit that had nearly killed him with a three letter word and made him want to scream whenever he heard the song Waterfall by TLC.

The alarm on his phone buzzed, warning him he should start heading out if he didn't want to be more than fashionably late to dinner.

He pulled his jacket off the hook by the door and gently tugged it on. It wasn't cold yet, but the wind would make it feel at least ten degrees cooler and he didn't want to show up shivering and give a bunch of bats the wrong idea. If only he could shake this off. But the dreams like that always took more than a cigarette and a few well aimed punches to work out of his system.

The ride to the mansion on his motorcycle was a scenic one, as best as Gotham's putrid pollution would allow it to be. The acrid tang of metal and smoke in the air was heavy even out by the manor. He regretted not wearing his helmet, his eyes watering again as he slowed and turned up the drive. Alfred stood on the front steps as he drew up to the door. The older man took his jacket from him despite his fuss to leave it.

Entering the manor always had a weight to it. It was quiet with only the faintest of murmurs from somewhere near the dining room being an indication that anyone was home. It always felt like the walls fed upon sound, swallowing up clarity till all that was left were ghostly murmurs of conversations. Alfred headed towards the dining room where his family-- where the other bats were gathered.

“Alfie, let me help you with dinner.” He stopped in the hall, just off the doorway that led to the kitchen. He didn't feel like sitting awkwardly among the others, at least not yet.

Alfred's brow rose, but thankfully he didn't deny him. He merely swiveled on his heel and headed back to the kitchen, letting Jason follow. Sighing in relief, Jason went and settled by his side at the counter, relaxing into the motions that came with cooking.

This at least, he could handle tonight.

 

 

Eventually he ran out of work to do in the kitchen and Alfred was staunch in his refusal to allow him to help serve dinner. Instead he gave Jason's arm a gentle pat, dismissing him to go join the others. Jason thought about having a cigarette instead but the last time he'd smoked on Wayne grounds, Dick had promised to make him eat the whole pack. For once, Jason didn't want to fight. He didn't have the energy. He was too shaken and too raw at the moment to handle more than just sitting down at the table and being silent.

If anyone noticed him enter the dining room no one acknowledged it. Typical. He headed to the opposite end of the longer than necessary table and sat at the end on the left. There were at least six seats between him and the next person, Stephanie.

They were all congregated on the end where Bruce sat at the head of the table, chatting about inane shit like Game of Thrones and stock values. Alfred had instilled a no-work conversation policy during dinners like this and most of the time they followed that rule. Jason didn't have shit to say to any of them about anything anyway. He was sure they didn't care.

He was just here for Alfred.

Dinner was served and conversations lulled or moved in the direction of how wonderful everything smelled or tasted.

“Alfred I need to know your secret.” Stephanie piped up, brightly. “I know it's just mashed potatoes but they are so fluffy--”

“The butter, I can taste so much butter.” Dick all but moaned around his mouthful.

“I'm afraid my dear, I did not make the potatoes.” Alfred's lip quirked into a small but satisfied smile. He made a point to glance at Jason.

“Jay.” Dick set his fork down solemnly. “Be my WIFE.”

Jason's hand clenched around his fork.

“So you want to be my wife then, Bluejay?”

“No.” He deadpanned, as evenly as he could.

“At least teach me how to make them.” Stephanie leaned his way despite the distance between them. “We could--”

He stood abruptly, picking up his plate to shovel the last bites in, and then dumped his dishes on the serving cart.

“All Recipes.com” He muttered at her as he pulled his lighter out and began to search for his cigarette case.

“Jason.” Bruce's attention was on him now, heavy as lead and as hot as a laser. “We discussed you breaking this habit. It's not--”

“Shut the fuck up Bruce, I just need a cigarette.” He snapped. “I had a shitty day and I just don't wanna sit here and listen to keeping up with the Waynes.”

“Language.” Bruce snarled.

“FUCK YOU!” Jason threw his lighter, hurling it with less accuracy than usual, pinging it on the too tall head rest of the ridiculous chair Bruce was seated in.

Ice spilled down his spine as soon as he let the lighter go, and he watched numbly as it bounced off somewhere in the room, landing behind a potted plant. The room was silent with all eyes on him and it made him want to throw up. All at once he felt his head swim, their gazes harsh and accusing. Barbara's eye roll made bile rise in his throat.

Damian's mouth opened with a scathing remark, but Dick's hand covered it, gripping hard. For once, the brat took a hint. Bruce's expression was blank, shut down. He hated that look.

“Master Jason, shall we have some tea in the library while they finish dinner?” Alfred was suddenly holding his hand, patting the top of it gently just like he used to when he was a child. He stared at the old man for a moment too long.

He took deep breaths through his nose, closing his eyes. How many times had Alfred held his hand through a melt down? He shook his head and pulled away.

“I've got to get back to work.” He stepped away from the table, no longer caring about nicotine. He just wanted out of here.

“Master Jason, I don't think you should go.” Alfred said firmly. “You're not well.”

“I'm fine.” He snapped.

“You are not.”

He whirled on his heel to argue and froze.

Bruce's hand was drawn back above the table, batarang glinting in the chandelier lighting. As though Jason would ever hurt Alfred.

Unbidden his hand flew to his neck, protecting the delicate artery Bruce had once slit open to protect his murderer. Bruce, being the bastard he was, did not even flinch.

“Master Bruce!” Alfred admonished.

“You think I'd hurt him?” Jason whispered. Bruce's eyes hardened. There was no trace of the man who'd gently promised to protect him once.

“Well you don't have a very good track record.” Tim said dryly, cutting the tension. “You know, trying to kill me and all.” The previous Robin did at least have both hands above the table, no weapon in sight.

“Can we all please just calm down?” Dick tried to mediate, heaving a sigh. “Jay, come on. We're trying to help you, could you at least meet us in the middle?” He patted the table. “Sit down. We can help you with this.”

“I can't!” Jason blurted out, fingers still clenched to the crook of his neck. “I just fucking can't. You wouldn't understand.”

Bruce's gaze was unreadable now as his hand lowered, smoothly tucking his batarang away. He stood, coming around the table towards Jason. For once, the young man was rooted to the spot, unable to flee.

“Jason?” Bruce asked softly, gently tugging his hand away from his neck. “I'm sorry.”

Nobody breathed.

“I do understand.” Bruce continued. “We don't have to talk about it. But I cannot let you go on patrol tonight in this state. Please, Jason.”

“This was a fucking mistake.” Jason ripped his hand from Bruce's grip. “You don't fucking understand a fucking thing. You also don't give a fuck. You just don't want me out there because you think I'll kill someone.”

The statement was true, he realized, as soon as he said it. Bruce's tells were few, but Jason saw it, the imperceptible tilt of Bruce's head, upwards, as if to look down on him. The fight deflated then and there, leaving Jason hollow and a husk of himself again.

Are you going to kill someone?” Bruce asked. “Your case, it's the one about the children going missing isn't it? Did you find out the responsible party?”

Jason's gaze snapped to the side and he tensed.

“You need to step away from it, Jason. You're too--”

“They've been doing this for decades. Hurt so many kids.” Jason's face fell, his eyes burning. Alfred's hitched breath was enough to let Jason know that he'd failed at keeping the tears at bay again. He angrily scrubbed his wet cheek with the heel of his hand. “Unless you're going to castrate the fucking animal, stay the fuck out of my way.”

“You know that isn't our way--” Bruce tried.

“Oh my fucking God.” Jason hissed. “Of course, you treat the actual criminals with more dignity than victims. Fuck you Bruce, that's your way, not mine.”

“There is no other way--”

Jason leaned in to Bruce's face, so close he nearly touched the man's lips with his own.

“You ever been fucked in the ass, old man?” He growled.

The air in the room seemed to vacate. Bruce's lips parted, and for once not a single high handed syllable escaped him. The man was on completely new ground and he was stumbling with his thoughts. Jason did not allow him a second to regroup, pressing on with his argument.

“You ever been held down, gang banged, spit roasted and worse, manipulated into actually liking it and begging for it? You ever been so fucking twisted up they got you thinking THAT is what love is?” He tilted his head slightly as Bruce stiffened in recognition of that particular vein of Jason's past. Perhaps Bruce hadn't realized Jason's participation had been... willing.

The pain in Bruce's eyes wasn't nearly a fraction of what Jason had ever felt. Satisfied, Jason stepped back and cast a glance at the peanut gallery, who for once were stunned into silence. Dick looked as though he'd been shot in the gut, grief carved across his handsome face. Good, Jason thought unkindly, you always had to be so self absorbed about your own goddamn problems you never bothered to think about mine or anyone else's.

“If I find them outside Gotham, I'm going to fucking kill them. If they are inside the city, I'll make sure they don't have any appendages left to hurt anyone else.” Jason felt his lips curl in a snarl. “Unlike the rest of you I do know what it's like, and I'll be damned if I let it continue to happen anymore. Thanks for dinner Alfie.”

Jason slammed the door behind him, as if it would block the reality that he'd just spilled his deepest, darkest secrets to the room of bats who wouldn't know sensitivity if it bit them on their noses. His own mortification could wait, he had to bust this sex trafficking ring before the bats rallied and came after him. He probably had a few days grace period for the moment, since Alfred would never allow them to chase him in such a vulnerable state.

He checked his bike for trackers and found two before he left, heading straight to the narrows to run reconnaissance again. He hoped he'd have better luck at finding his target than he had at finding a scrap of empathy in Bruce.