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One Step Forward (Two Steps Back)

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“I wonder what Batman’s going to say,” Roy muttered, looking at the smoking wreckage of the Santa Priscan drug lord’s compound mournfully.

There’d been a new drug on the streets of Star City that was killing people and Jason and Kori were more than happy to help Roy burn through the city destroying every cache of the drug they could get their hands on. They’d taken out dealers and cartel members alike, trussed them up and handed them over to the police like good little Outlaws. Then they’d followed the trail to the Caribbean, intending to cut the head off the snake. Somewhere along the way, they’d ended up blowing the snake up instead.

Or, more accurately, the snake blew itself up and almost took them with it.

“I don’t imagine he’s going to be very happy,” Kori mused, eying the smoldering remains with a casual eye, entirely unruffled. “But that is his problem, not ours.”

Jason could hear sirens in the distance. They needed to hightail it. The cartel leader had many prominent members of the local government under his thumb, but they’d found a few decent people in power to give the evidence to. The problem was those same people would gladly lock the three of them up and throw away the key, and they were currently in a country without an extradition treaty and one of the most infamous prisons in the world. Their cartel leader and several of his men were tied up in the dirt in varying states of consciousness so Jason felt pretty confident they wouldn’t be able to get anywhere before the local cavalry, such as it was, arrived.

He slung his Tameranean blaster over his shoulder and gestured for his teammates to get with the program. “Exactly. Who cares what Batman thinks,” he retorted as Kori took hold of him and Roy in a careful grip then streaked through the sky towards their ship.

“I do,” Roy immediately answered, crossing his arms over his chest and glaring at Jason. “I care what Batman thinks, because somehow, somewhere down the line, every time we cause some sort of incident, I swear he blames me. And since this one started in my city, I’m definitely getting the blame for it. Forget the fact it wasn’t even our fault that the place blew up for once. Seriously though, when did I become the bad influence of the three of us? It’s clearly Kori!”

“The Bat knows he can’t intimidate me, so he attempts to intimidate you instead,” Kori explained haughtily.

She probably wasn’t wrong, Jason considered, then addressed Roy. “One, this is so far outside of his made-up jurisdiction, it’s ridiculous. He doesn’t get to get involved or blame anyone. Two, there were only minor casualties and since they were the ones who fucked up and blew the place to kingdom come, the casualties are on them. We’re in the clear.”

“We’re so not in the clear,” Roy muttered petulantly. “Add Santa Prisca to the list of countries I can no longer enter legally.”

“You didn’t enter legally this time,” Jason retorted. “Stop being dramatic.”

Roy dissolved into unintelligible grumbling, and Jason thought it best to just ignore him. He was clearly in a mood. Any other time he’d be cracking jokes and riding the adrenaline high of the fight.  

“What is our next move?” Kori asked as she set them down in front of their ship.  

Jason straightened his jacket, rumpled from the flight and Kori’s grip, and boarded, his friends trailing after him. “I need to head to Gotham and make sure that no one takes over the cartel’s business there. Wanna come?”

“No way. I’m not setting foot in Gotham until I know Batman isn’t going to hold me responsible for putting his precious prodigal son in danger.”

Jason pulled off his helmet and started fiddling with the controls. “You’re still being dramatic, Harper.”

“Jaybird, he calls. Like five times a week. He texted me yesterday, did you know that? Batman texted me because you weren’t answering his calls or texts. I can’t figure out if he wants to blame me for being a bad influence on you, harass me for information, or just commiserate over how difficult you are. Hell, it’s probably all three! So no, I’m not being dramatic. I’m being sensible. Gotham is not a healthy place for me to be at the moment if I want to keep my sanity. Besides, I should probably get back to Star City for the same reason.”

Jason shrugged. “Suit yourself. Kori?”

“Someone should endeavor to keep Roy from killing himself in his workshop. As you’ll have more than enough babysitters looking after you in Gotham, I’ll go to Star City and baby-sit Roy.”

Hey!” they both protested. Kori smirked.

*****

Within an hour of getting airborne, Bruce texted. Jason was honestly surprised that the news regarding the cartel was out already, but maybe Bruce had news alerts on any international incidents just in case Jason was involved. He supposed it would be pretty easy for the man to tell which ones they’d had a hand in. The Outlaws were many things. Subtle wasn’t often one of them.

“Looks like you’re off the hook, Harper,” Jason said, waving the phone and the unopened text in Roy’s direction.

“Oh thank God.” Roy relaxed further into his seat. “Please save my sanity and respond. I can only handle one billionaire nuisance in my day-to-day life, thank you very much.” 

“Just ignore him if he’s bothering you,” Jason retorted.

“Yes, because ignoring Batman is going to make him go away. How well did that work for you?”

Jason glared before switching his gaze back to his phone; he braced himself for whatever lecture Bruce had sent so he was a little surprised when the text simply read: Are you injured?

He considered the question. A little singed, some bruises, likely to have nightmares, but not injured. As much as he liked explosions when he was the one orchestrating them, he absolutely hated when one caught him off guard. They always left him jittery after the adrenaline wore off and usually resulted in nightmares for a few days at least. But Bruce didn’t need to know that.

Jason: Nope.

He knew better than to hope the conversation would end there. Sure enough, the response was almost immediate.

Bruce: Come early for dinner Tuesday night. We need to talk.

Jason groaned and shoved his phone in his pocket without answering. He’d arranged convenient reasons to be out of town the last two “family” dinners, and there was no way he was getting away with it a third time. Especially since he was heading back to Gotham. And if he didn’t show up early, Bruce would just ambush him afterwards and the impending conversation would loom throughout dinner.

God, it was going to suck.

“If he texts me again, I’m getting a new number,” Roy declared.

“He’s Batman, Roy,” Jason pointed out, rolling his eyes. “If you get a new number, he’ll have it in half a minute.”

Roy scowled and amended his statement. “If he texts me again, I’m bribing Oracle to get me a new number.”

Jason grinned. “Now you’re thinking like a bat.”

Roy swore colorfully.

*****

Tuesday came far too soon for Jason’s tastes, and before he knew it, he was skulking through the Manor, shoulders hunched defensively with an itch crawling beneath his skin. He didn’t like being here. He hadn’t liked being here during his recovery, and he didn’t like being here now. The halls were familiar and foreign all at once; a reminder of who he used to be and the life he used to have. It was jarring, and Jason spent as little time as possible here, arriving just in time for the stupid mandatory dinners, and running off as soon as he’d finished helping Alfred with the dishes. He suspected the only reason he got away with helping with cleanup in the first place was that it kept him around a little while longer.

In any case, the more Jason moved about the Manor, the more memories of his time there began to trickle back. Memories he hadn’t realized he’d forgotten would abruptly accost him out of nowhere.

The first time he walked into Bruce’s study while the man was working, he suddenly remembered sitting there with him working on his homework and asking Bruce questions whenever he hit a snag. Bruce would answer patiently, and the two would continue on in companionable silence. It was such an innocuous memory, but earth shattering all the same. He remembered in the warehouse—Tim telling him that Bruce had been happy back then. That Jason had been happy. Jason had known that on some level, or else it wouldn’t have hurt so damn bad that Bruce had thrown it all away, but he hadn’t really remembered it. He hadn’t really remembered those little moments between him and Bruce, how happy he’d been, how much of a father Bruce had been to him. And now he didn’t know how much of that was still missing or why it was missing in the first place.

The Lazarus Pit was always a great spot to start laying blame. Maybe it really had tainted his memories, pushing away the good ones and twisting the bad, dragging them to the forefront of his mind so that the Lazarus poisoned memories were all that he could remember.

Now that the Pit’s effects had waned, it was possible being in the Manor was triggering the ones the Pit had buried. But he hadn’t just been exposed to the Lazarus Pit. He’d been exposed to a shit ton of things with the League, including Prometheus. He’d been shot up with who knows what while Ra’s had whispered poison in his ears for years, trying to turn him against Bruce and the rest of the bats, win him over to the League’s side. Talia had done much the same, just not quite as overtly as Ra’s. Any number of the things he’d been exposed to could have been designed to tamper with his mind, and it wasn’t like he could go to the League and ask.

Then again, it was possible it wasn’t even the League. It could have been the Planet Eaters. They were telepathic feeders of pain and fear. Good memories were of no use to them. They’d been in his head; they could have pulled out all the bad and shoved the good down deep to keep it out of the way to the point where they were now only coming back in response to triggers.

Or hell, maybe it was brain damage from the crowbar. Maybe the Pit hadn’t healed everything.

The uncertainty of the exact cause was driving him nuts. His mind had been tampered with in more ways than he’d realized, and not knowing how or by whom made him feel restless and anxious. He didn’t even have a good grasp on what all or how much he’d lost, or even if it would all come back. And every time he got a piece back, it left him feeling sick and violated, like his mind wasn’t fully his own. Even worse, each good piece he got back was a painful reminder of everything he’d lost when he died, which, on top of everything else, felt like a sucker punch to the gut.

He hated it. He dreaded going to the Manor and he felt cagey as fuck the entire time he was here. That cagey feeling was back in spades as he stared distrustfully at the closed door of Bruce’s study. He didn’t want to go in, but he didn’t really want to linger anywhere else around the Manor either. He just wanted out.

“Fuck it,” he hissed, shoving the door open. Bruce was sitting behind his desk with some files, but quickly looked up and immediately inspected him for any signs of injury.

Jason rolled his eyes, stalked forward, and threw himself into an armchair with a huff. “Cut it out, old man. I’m fine.”

Bruce frowned. “A minor miracle given your trip to Santa Prisca.” Then, before Jason could protest, he continued. “It feels like I angered you in some way and now you’re punishing me, only I can’t determine why.”

“I’m not punishing you, you drama queen. Trust me; if I were, you’d know it and you’d know why. I don’t exactly put the passive in passive aggressive, Bruce. This is just how the Outlaws operate.”

“That’s worse.”

Jason rolled his eyes again. “How is it worse?”

“Because it means you’re always this reckless.”

“Reckless?” Jason protested, stiffening in offense. “Do you know how long we’ve been planning this op? Two fucking weeks, full time. Do you know how long we’ve been on this case? A month and a half. We put the time, effort, and planning into it. We weren’t reckless. Yeah, we didn’t anticipate one of the soldiers getting trigger happy and deciding to blow us all sky high rather than be arrested, but who would have? Sometimes shit just happens.”

Bruce took a visible slow breath in and out before he replied stiffly. “I don’t like that you take these missions so far away. If something goes wrong, it would take me too long to get to you.”

“We’re the Outlaws, B. This is what we do. We attack the source of the problem, wherever that is because we’re the only ones who will. And I don’t remember this being a problem when Dick was with the Teen Titans,” he pointed out angrily. “Dickie went on missions in freaking space before he graduated high school. You trust Dick to handle himself, but not me, right? Like it’s always fucking been?”

Bruce’s lips twisted downward. “That’s not the same thing and I didn’t like that either. But Dick had an entire team to help watch his back.”

“Yeah, and I’ve got a superpowered warrior princess and a mechanical genius to watch mine,” Jason protested. “And you trusted both of them back then to watch Dick’s back. We’re a good team, Bruce. We complement each other. We can handle our shit.”

“I worry. Not just about you, about all of you. But your team… you take on a lot with only the three of you. The others have more manpower and more resources, and I know I can get to them quickly if I need to. I don’t have the same security with you.”

Jason frowned a little because there wasn’t much he could do about that other than to reassure the man once again. “We’re good at what we do, Bruce.”

“I know,” Bruce admitted. “I just wish that what you do was a little safer.”

“Well you should have thought about that before you taught a bunch of kids how to fight crime,” Jason snipped, then almost immediately felt shitty about it. Even after everything, he didn’t regret being Robin, and it wasn’t really fair to try and make Bruce regret it either. “Look,” he sighed tiredly. “You worry; I get it. But I’m not about to stop doing what I do. I’m helping people, Bruce. I’m putting bad guys away so that ideally, they can’t hurt anyone else. I’m not killing anyone, even the ones I think deserve it, so you’re just going to have to take what you can get. If you don’t like the way we do things, tough. I’ve already compromised as much as I’m willing to.”

For a moment, Bruce looked like he wanted to argue more, but then, astoundingly, he caved, albeit with little grace. “Fine.” And if it sounded a little bitter and a little frustrated, well, Jason figured he could give him a pass, just this once. He was magnanimous like that.

“Good,” he declared, clapping his hands together. “I’m glad we had that little chat. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about Tim. It’s not fair that I can’t get out of these family horror meals and he’s not subjected to the same suffering. What are you going to do about it? If I have to suffer, so does he.” he demanded, ignoring Bruce’s slight eye roll. He was still being magnanimous, after all.

“You got out of the last two, Jason. And the one before that, we had to cancel.”

“We’re not talking about me anymore, we’re talking about Tim.”

“Fine. There’s a Wayne event next week that will bring Tim back to Gotham. I scheduled a WE meeting for that Tuesday morning which will ensure he’s back in the city before our family dinner Tuesday night. He’ll have to attend dinner. I’ve made sure he’ll have no excuse, and you’ll be around to help keep him from coming up with one.”

Jason snorted, a bitter edge to it at the knowledge he’d be back at the Manor in a week. “Which also ensures that I’ll be there. Covered all your bases, didn’tcha, old man?”

Bruce smirked, pleased with himself. He let it fade after a moment though and added, “We can set you up with a cover story so that you can attend the gala as well. The rest of us will be there.”

God no,” Jason said, physically recoiling at the idea. “No. Just… no. There’s perks to being legally dead, B, and missing Wayne events is pretty much at the top of the list, right above jury duty.”

Bruce frowned. “I don’t like that you’re left out of family events, Jason. You have as much right to be there as everyone else.”

“It’s not about right, it’s about choice. Every single one of your kids would be happy to be left out of this particular family event, B. You’re not getting me there.”

Bruce sighed, but clearly realized there was no point pushing. “Alright. Let’s go eat.”

Jason waited until they were moving towards the dining room before declaring. “By the way, I brought Steph. I hope you don’t mind.”

“I only mind when you two team up to torture your brothers and things get broken. Stephanie is welcome anytime she likes otherwise.”

Jason snorted. “Sorry, B. Can’t have one without the other.”

The small chuckle startled the hell out of Jason and plunged his mind straight down memory lane. It was Bruce’s reluctantly (but not really) amused chuckle and Jason heard it all the time growing up. Getting that chuckle had always been a personal victory when he was a kid. Now, it left him feeling wrong footed. Especially given the sudden flash of memory—Jason doing his absolute best to slide all the way down the corridor in his socks in one go. That memory hadn’t been there a moment ago, but now it was suddenly back.

Holes in his brain. How many holes were there? How much shit had he lost? Would he ever get it all back?

“What’s wrong?” Bruce asked worriedly, tearing Jason back to the present.

“Nothing,” he answered immediately.

Bruce’s expression was one of supreme skepticism coupled with concern. “Jason—”

“It’s nothing,” he said again, more firmly. The last thing he wanted to do was discuss it with Bruce. Not because he didn’t think Bruce wouldn’t try to support him, but because if the last few months had taught him anything, it was that Bruce was a little overly protective these days and he’d go into full on helicopter dad mode, would likely call J’onn in, and then Jason would spend the next several hours getting Martian brain scans and he couldn’t stomach anyone else digging through his mind. Just the thought had him feeling sick.

“Come on, dinner,” Jason prompted when Bruce just continued to stare at him.

“Fine,” he agreed reluctantly, starting down the corridor once more.

“What? Really? Just like that?” Jason asked, surprised.

“I’m trying this new thing Dick calls ‘respecting boundaries’,” Bruce retorted, sounding immensely annoyed by the fact.

“Really? And how’s that going for you?”

“I hate it.”

Jason snickered, amused. “Yeah, I don’t doubt it.”

“You’ll tell me if you need help though,” Bruce said, giving him a sideways look. “If there’s something you need or something I can do?”

Jason frowned a little at the tight lines around Bruce’s eyes and mouth, the anxiety that he was barely repressing. “God, we’re fucked up, aren’t we?” he breathed, dropping his head and rubbing tiredly at his eyes.

Bruce’s eyes narrowed on him in a silent demand to explain.

Shrugging, he did his best. “Me and my issues. You and yours. Your constant overbearing helicopter parent thing you’ve been doing lately. Is that going to let up anytime soon?”

Bruce’s shoulders tensed up and he looked away. He was silent for long enough that Jason was about to continue on to the dining room without him before he finally admitted. “I don’t know. I have actually been trying to keep it in check. And I have been, for the most part. But it’s more difficult than I imagined. I lost you, Jason, and now that I have you back, all I want to do is keep you with me all the time so that I can see you. So that I can see that you’re okay.”

Jason’s eyes began to burn, and his throat tightened up a little. He’d forgotten what it felt like, before Roy and Kori, to have people that cared about him. He’d absolutely forgotten how it felt to have a parent care about him. He didn’t really know how to handle it, if he were being honest. What to do with it.

“Stop texting Roy,” Jason spoke gruffly. “You’re freaking him out. He thinks you’re going to come after him or something.”

“Does that mean you’ll start answering my calls and texts?” Bruce challenged.

“It won’t always be immediate, but I’ll see what I can do.”

Bruce nodded and then squared his shoulders as they started back down the corridor.

*****

After dinner, Bruce asked him if he wanted to stay and watch a movie. Jason declined, practically bolting from the Manor. He pretended not to notice the look of disappointment on Bruce’s face as he went.

*****

Two nights later he dreamed about being in the Manor before he died—about being Robin. He dreamed about getting sick and trying to hide it from Alfred and Bruce so he could still go out and watch Bruce’s back. In the dream, they’d figured it out pretty quick, and banned him from patrol until he was better. It’d crushed him and he’d made plans to sneak out and patrol on his own since Bruce wouldn’t let him, but then Bruce did the weirdest thing.                                         

Instead of going out on patrol, he stayed with Jason. They watched movies together and Jason fell asleep against his shoulder. Bruce took care of him, made sure he took his medicine, and tucked him into bed that night. In the dream, Jason felt warm and cared for. For the first time in a long time, he felt like he mattered.

When he woke up, he was clammy, shaky and nauseated. He stumbled into his bathroom and scrubbed his face with cold water, trying to get his racing heart under control. He didn’t even know if that one was real. If it was a memory or a just a dream.

God, he hated this. He hated it. Jason gripped his hair and briefly considered braining himself on his bathroom sink. He couldn’t trust his own head.

Jason took a deep breath and fought to get the anxiety under control. It was fine. He was fine. He didn’t need to know if the dream was a memory or not. And if it started to drive him crazy and he really did have to know, then he could just ask Bruce. It wasn’t like he couldn’t get an answer if he wanted one. All he’d have to do was ask.

With another steadying breath, Jason shoved himself out of the bathroom. It was far earlier than he’d meant to get up, but there was no way he’d be going back to sleep. It was also too early to call his teammates as he’d spoken to them both while on patrol the night before. Not to mention they were in a different time zone and had probably only been asleep for a couple of hours. Just because Jason couldn’t sleep, didn’t mean he should wake them up too. Which left him with renovating. He’d been in and out of Gotham so much since he’d finally recovered from the Joker’s attack that he hadn’t made any sort of real headway on his bathroom, but he’d been consulting with Alfred and had picked out his new tile and made the renovation plans. He just hadn’t put them into action.

Now was as good a time as any.

He’d gotten the water turned off, the fixtures hauled out onto his balcony, and was halfway through busting up the current tile with a hammer when a knock on the door distracted him. Jason popped his head out of his bathroom and glared suspiciously in the direction of the door, wondering which of his siblings had actually bothered to knock. He dropped his tools among the decimated tile and stalked to the door.

The sight of Bruce standing there in sweats and a t-shirt holding coffee and pastry bags was enough to startle him out of his irritable mood. “What the fuck?” he asked, surprised.

Bruce stood there a little awkwardly, not overtly fidgeting, but somehow still giving that impression. “I heard you talking to Alfred about starting your bathroom renovations this week. I thought maybe I could help.”

Jason blinked, still a little startled. Before the Joker, Bruce had been by his loft a few times to drop little gifts out on the balcony, but to his knowledge the man hadn’t been there since and hadn’t actually been inside yet. At least, not while he had been there. He wasn’t sure how he felt about him being there now. Bruce’s expression was carefully blank, but Jason knew him well enough to know that it was only blank to hide his hope. Somehow, telling him to take a hike would feel like kicking a puppy. Besides, he wasn’t fully opposed to Bruce being there, he just didn’t know what to expect.

“I bet your t-shirt and sweatpants cost more than my whole wardrobe,” he declared, stepping aside so Bruce could enter. “You probably shouldn’t ruin them laying new tile.”

“These ones have already suffered bloodstains. I’m sure they can handle some grout. I brought breakfast in case you hadn’t eaten yet,” he said, offering one of the cups and pastry bags to Jason. He then looked about the loft, gaze focusing on the kitchen. “May I?”

“Knock yourself out,” Jason replied, watching a little tensely as Bruce moved about, inspecting his kitchen. He ran fingertips across the countertops and along the cabinets before speaking once more. “Alfred said you did all this yourself. It’s very nice, Jay.”

Jason shrugged, stubbornly shoving down the little pleased feeling surging in his chest at Bruce’s words. He dug into his unexpected breakfast just to give himself something else to focus on. “Just some minor renovations. You did most of the construction work in the Cave. That’s way more impressive.”

Bruce was shaking his head before he even finished speaking. “That was function more than anything else. This is form and function. You’ve done a beautiful job.”

Jason was embarrassed and mortified because of it. “I just redid my kitchen, Bruce. Don’t make it weird.”

His expression remained stoic, but he could tell Bruce was laughing at his embarrassed response to the compliment. Thankfully, he let it go. “What are your plans for the bathroom?”

Jason was glad for the change of subject and stuffed the rest of his pastry in his mouth before leading the way across the loft. “It’s a pretty good size so I’ve got room to work with, but the whole thing had to be gutted. If there’s one thing I’ve learned being a vigilante, it’s don’t scrimp on the bathroom amenities.” He pointed out where the walk-in shower, tub, toilet, and vanity would go. “Most of it, I’ve already picked out. I have the tile for the floor and the shower, tub, toilet and vanity and all that.”

He then showed him the wood grain tile he’d picked out for the floor and the slate gray tile he’d chosen for the shower walls, both of which Bruce complimented. His approval shouldn’t have mattered, yet Jason got that warm feeling in his chest in response anyway. It was damn irritating. He shoved it aside and put Bruce to work helping him clear out the old tile.

It didn’t take long for them to get a rhythm going, and between the two of them, they made short work of demolishing the old tile. Prepping the subfloor was a more involved process, with the scraping of the old mortar, sanding and leveling, but not one that took much focus, which left Jason’s mind free to wander.

And with Bruce there, his mind wandered right back to the dream that had woken him up at ass o’clock. The temptation to ask about the dream was almost overwhelming. Bruce was right there, helping Jason sand down bits of the subfloor. It’d be so easy. But what if it was a dream and not a memory? He didn’t know if he could handle Bruce telling him no, he hadn’t done that for him. Then again, if it was a memory, Jason didn’t know if he could handle another confirmation of everything he’d lost. Not knowing was better than knowing. At least, that’s what he was trying to tell himself. But not knowing was making him restless and anxious, making him scrape at the floors with a little more force than strictly necessary.

“I thought it was the Manor,” Bruce spoke solemnly, jerking Jason from his thoughts.

His gaze snapped over to Bruce who was fisting the scraper far tighter than was necessary. “What about the Manor?” he asked warily.

“The reason you try to skip dinners and never come over any other time. The reason you run out as soon as you can. I thought it was something about the Manor. But it’s me, isn’t it? You’ve been agitated since I got here.”

Jason dropped his own scraper and ran his hands tiredly over his face, frustration and defeat burning hot in his gut. “That started before you got here.” Bruce gave him a piercing look, and he bristled at the feeling of being studied. “Just drop it, Bruce.”

For a moment Jason thought that maybe Bruce actually would drop it, and he would be able to keep working in blissful silence. But then, Bruce opened his mouth and pushed, albeit hesitantly. “If it’s me… if there’s something I can do to make it better, I want you to tell me. So we can fix it, or at the very least, work around it.”

Jason huffed a breath. “It’s not you, Bruce. You’re right; it’s the Manor. But sometimes, it’s not just the Manor. Sometimes it’s just wherever the fuck I am and whoever the fuck is with me. Sometimes, it’s just how it is that day and circumstances don’t fucking matter, okay? Sometimes, it’s just how I woke up in the morning and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. You caught me on one of those days.”

“What is it about the Manor?”

Jason grumbled and returned to scraping the floors with a vengeance. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

“I only ask, because maybe there’s something we can do to help.”

“There isn’t, and you can’t, Bruce. My head’s fucked up, okay? There’s nothing you can do about it. Being there, it fucks over my head and I can’t stand it, alright? You can’t fix it. I can’t fix it. Nothing can fix it!”

Bruce didn’t react to his outburst, only kept looking at him with that steady gaze and softly asked, “What’s wrong, Jay? Talk to me.”

And Jason was tired and raw and before he’d even made the decision to open his mouth, he was spilling his guts all over Bruce. “My head’s fucked up,” he choked out. “In I don’t even know how many different ways. There’s holes in my brain. Things in there that might be memories but might never have happened. Some I’m pretty sure never did, but some I don’t even know. I don’t know what’s real and what isn’t, and I didn’t even know how much I was missing until I was in the Manor and memories just kept popping up and knocking me on my ass with no fucking warning, and I hate it every damn time, I can’t stand it. I have holes in my head, Bruce. I don’t know what all was taken from me, and I don’t know that I can trust everything that’s there, and I don’t know what all I’ll never get back,” he said, voice breaking on the last word. “And I don’t even know what did it. If it was the Lazarus Pit, or Prometheus or some other drug, or the Planet Eaters, or even if it was the damn crowbar way back before any of the other shit. I don’t know, Bruce.”

Bruce moved over and wrapped his arms around him, pulling him in so he could bury his face in Bruce’s shoulder. Jason squeezed his eyes shut, willing the tears back, and he couldn’t quite wrap his arms around Bruce and return the hug, but his hands did fist into Bruce’s t-shirt.

“You have PTSD, Jason,” Bruce said gently, making Jason swallow a sob. “Combined with memories returning unexpectedly, when you’re not prepared for them, I’m not surprised it’s getting to you so much. But you need to be patient with your mind. Whatever the cause, it doesn’t matter. It’s healing. It just needs time. Let it heal. Be patient with it. You’re not going crazy, you’re just healing. I know it’s uncomfortable and at times distressing, but don’t be so hard on your brain. It’s doing its best. And with some time, it’ll heal.”

“I hate it,” Jason choked.

“I know,” Bruce answered. “But you can talk to me about it, Jason. Whatever’s going on, whatever you’re not sure of. I’ll help in any way I can.”

Jason’s fists tightened in Bruce’s t-shirt, almost enough to rip it. “This stays with us. No League or whatever. No Martian Manhunter digging through my brain. I am done having anyone or anything fuck with my head, okay?”

“What about an MRI with Leslie?”

An image of an MRI scan, black holes riddled through the brain, flashed through Jason’s mind and he flinched. “No,” he croaked. “I don’t—No.” But then he remembered the scan that had already been done—one that didn’t show giant black spots all over his mind. “She did one when I first came back to Gotham. You can look at them.”

“Okay,” Bruce said, running a hand through Jason’s hair.

Reluctantly, Jason pulled away, running the back of his hand across his eyes and sniffling a little before he turned back to his task.

Bruce gave him a moment then went back to scraping as well. “You know,” he began thoughtfully. “There’s plenty of room at the Penthouse. It might be nice to switch things up every now and then for dinner.”

Jason’s hands paused, but he didn’t look away from the floor. “Yeah?”

Bruce hummed. “And you’ve got a decent amount of space here if you ever feel like hosting. I’m sure Alfred would be more than happy to help out with the dinner prep.”

Jason’s eyes watered a bit. “Yeah… might be nice, sometimes, I guess.”

“And then your kitchen could get the appreciation it deserves.”

“Yeah…. Hey, Bruce?”

“Hm?”

“…Did you ever skip patrol to stay home with me when I was sick?”

Bruce looked over at him with a considering gaze. Jason tried not to fidget as he met it. “A few times. The first time you got sick with us, you were determined to go on patrol. You needed to rest though, so I decided to stay with you. It became a tradition after that. The first night you were sick, I’d stay with you and we’d watch movies if there wasn’t something big going on that required Batman’s attention.”

Jason looked at the floor again, impatiently running his hand back over his eyes, wiping away the wetness. “Okay. Thanks.”

“Memory?” Bruce asked quietly.

“Dream I had last night. Didn’t know if it was real.”

“It was real, Jay.”

“Yeah,” he agreed softly, remembering the warmth of Bruce’s shoulder as he rested against it. The same warmth he’d pressed against just a few minutes ago. “I guess it was.”