The sound of the grandfather clock clicking back into place, sealing the entrance to the Cave for the night, had the tension draining from Bruce’s shoulders, letting them fall for the first time in what felt like hours.
5 days, 22 hours, 14 minutes, and 43 seconds. That’s how long the Batman and various Robin’s, past and present, had spent chasing the Joker and Two-Face around Gotham, after a breakout from Arkham.
They’d been caught several hours ago, but Bruce had told his family to head home, either to the manor or a safe house to get some well earned rest, and he’d take care of the reports.
3 hours later and he’d finally finished, and was heading up for some much needed rest of his own.
His assent up the large staircase was interrupted by the sound of a small crash, followed immediately by quiet, but heartfelt cursing, coming from the kitchen.
Bruce immediately ran through a mental tally of who could be awake in the manor beside himself.
Alfred was in bed. Had signed off once everyone had called in safe and sound, and no immediate medical emergencies reported for treatment. Cass had gone to crash at Stephanie’s apartment. Dick and Tim were at the penthouse, and Damian had been sent home the night before, and benched, after almost falling off a roof in his exhaustion.
Which only left Jason.
But as far as Bruce knew, Jason had headed to his safehouse in the Bowery as soon as Joker had been brought down. Having retreated to calm himself down, Bruce assumed, away from his family’s prying eyes and invasive questions.
His siblings meant well, but Jason preferred to not talk about his trauma unless he wished. And after direct and prolonged contact with a perpetrator of that trauma, Jay very much preferred to be alone.
Bruce turned on silent feet, pulling out one of Tim’s collapsible bos as he passed one of the “weaponized plants”.
He circled around to the far side of the kitchen, taking the long way around, entering through the old service entrance.
He stepped into the dimly lit kitchen, his last step loud in the silence, and three things happened at one. The smell of warm sugar hit his nose, he raised his borrowed weapon just in time to block the knife thrown at him, and dark blue eyes met teal across the dark expanse, as Bruce took in the picture of his second son in sleep pants, a tank top, and an apron, arm extended from the thrown knife.
“Shit! Jesus, B, warn a guy why dontcha.”
“Sorry, I -”
Bruce just watched as Jason turned back to the stove, ignoring him - seemingly forgetting that he just threw a butcher knife at his father - and pick up a piping bag.
Bruce edged closer cautiously, leaning the bo against the wall, watching the tense line of Jason’s shoulders, the stiff way he held himself, as he squeezed out batter into the pot of boiling oil. He took in the bandages on Jason’s arms, the bit of white he could see peeking out through the arm of his shirt, hinting at injured ribs.
“Jason… what… what are you doing?”
Jason shoots him a look over his shoulder as he pipes another strip of batter out into the pot. “I’m making churros… what does it look like?”
The former Robin doesn’t say anything for several moments as he grabs a set of tongs, and starts fishing cooked churros out of the pot, setting them on a prepared plate.
“Wanted a snack.”
“And you decided to make churros?”
“I like churros.”
Bruce heaves a heavy sigh as he reaches the island. It didn’t used to be hard talking to Jason. It used to be easy, almost easier than talking to Dick at the same age had been.
But that was before the Joker. Before the Lazarus Pit, before the madness and blood of Jason’s return.
However he was slowly coming back to the family, getting along better with his siblings. He and Steph got along like a house on fire, and Bruce still wasn’t sure how he felt about that friendship quite yet. But he was working with them, instead of against them, and that alone was a miracle.
He talked once a week at least with Alfred, helped Dick on cases, made sure Tim was surviving on more than energy drinks and coffee. The only one Jason seemed to still avoid was him; especially if none of his siblings were around.
But Jason was here, at the manor, knowing that everyone else had been sent to bed. There had to be a reason. Jason was a lot of things, reckless, brash, brave, but even his most reckless stunts always had a reason.
“Jay, it’s four in the morning, what are you doing here?”
Jason stiffens immediately, blue-green eyes narrowing, and Bruce winces, knowing exactly how Jason would take that statement.
Bruce quickly holds up a hand, pinching the bridge of his nose with the other. “I’m sorry, that came out badly.”
The apology brings Jason up short, Bruce can see him snap his mouth shut, biting back whatever his no doubt scathing reply would have been.
“What did you mean then? That line you always spouting about the manor always bein’ my home, no matter what, a lie now?”
“No, Jason. The manor is and will always be your home. We will always be your family. That is never a fact you need to doubt.”
Both men stared in startled silence after Bruce’s uncharacteristic outburst.
“Wow, B, that’s….” Jason rubbed at the back of his neck as he turned away, a faint hint of red spreading across his face, ignoring Bruce for a moment, and turning off the stove. “You must be totally sleep deprived if you let all of that out.” He turns back and Bruce fights back a grin of his own at the teasing smirk he sees on his son’s face. “I’ll have to tell Dickie the secret of getting you to open up is to not let you sleep for close to a week.”
Jason unties his apron and drops it on the counter. He grabs the plate and hops up onto a stool at the island, placing the plate of churros between them. He dusts them with cinnamon sugar, before picking one up and biting into the still steaming dough.
Bruce watches as Jason sets the sugar down, and raises a surprised brow when he nudges the plate towards him. He grabs one along with a napkin from the stack that Alfred always keeps on the counter.
Bruce takes a bite, being careful not to burn himself, and can’t help the small hum of appreciation as he chews.
“Jason, this is really good.”
The young man shrugs, taking another quick bite of his own deep fried treat. “Thanks, it’s not much. Just a recipe I remember one of our neighbours making when I was a kid. She made mean Torrijas too.”
They sat in companionable silence for a bit longer, both finishing their early morning snack.
Bruce wiped the sugar off his fingers before risking asking his question again. “Jay, what are you doing cooking at 4 in the morning? I thought you went to one of your safe houses?”
Jason stiffened again, hands balling into fists. Bruce watched as he took a breath, slowly relaxing his hands, though he was still tense, like he expected a blow at any moment.
“I don’t mind that you’re here, son, I just thought after all that happened, you’d want to be alone?”
“I was, I did, but…it was too quiet, but too loud at the same time. I could hear everything. Every drip of the pipes, every creak of wood, the traffic, the silence, and -” he cut himself off abruptly, shaking his head so hard it had to hurt. Bruce wanted so badly to reach for him, but knew from past experiences to not touch Jason when he was this worked up.
His next words were soft, so quiet Bruce barely heard them, but they made his heart break all the more for his Robin. “Everything sounded like his laugh, nothing could drown it out, so…I came here.” Jason scrubbed a hand down his face. “I tried sleeping in one of the guest rooms for a bit, but that ended…badly. I didn’t want to go down to the cave, and I didn’t want to bug Alfie, but I needed something to keep my mind busy, so I just came down here and started cooking.”
He shrugged, eyes fixed firmly on the plate of churros. “There’s batter in the fridge for pancakes, a bunch of fruits cut up for toppings, and - ”
Bruce reached across the table, stopping Jason’s rambling by placing his hand on Jason’s, and squeezing gently. Bruce was surprised, but pleased, to see that despite how much Jason had grown without them to see, his hand was still just a bit smaller than his. Reminding Bruce that even though he was close to being an adult, could take care of himself, Jason was in many ways still a child, and he would always be his son. No matter how big he got.
“It’s fine Jason. I don’t mind. We all don’t want to be alone sometimes. Even if we don’t want to talk about the problem, doesn’t mean we need to be by ourselves.”
He squeezed his hand once more before letting go, standing and taking his plate and napkin to the sink.
“That…okay, who are you and what have you done with Bruce?” Jason snapped, voice hard and uncertain.
Bruce paused as he placed his plate in the sink, thinking on Jason’s words. Did he really not talk to his kids about non-work things that often, that Jason’s first thought is that he’s an imposter?
He turned around to find Jason glaring at him, eyes hard, hand shaking around the knife he was holding.
Bruce immediately raised his hands, palms out. “I’m me Jason. I’m not an impostor, or being controlled, or a doppelganger or anything like that.”
He took a slow, careful step back towards the island, making sure his gaze never strayed from Jason’s face. “But I’m starting to realize I may owe you and your siblings an apology.”
“Why?” Jason’s face pinched tight, eyes dark with suspicion, as he watched Bruce retake his seat at the island.
“The fact that your first thought is that I’ve been replaced, tells me that I haven’t been doing my job as your father as well as I should have been.”
The knife dropped back to the island as Jason’s hand goes slack, the clattering of plastic and metal echoing in the suddenly silent kitchen.
“Bruce that’s - ”
“Don’t say that’s not true Jay, we both know that that would be disingenuous at best.”
“I didn’t notice how much this whole thing affected you, when I should have known.” He looked Jason in the eye then, not bothering to hide his regret. “You, who have lost the most to the Joker and Two-Face. If I didn’t notice how much you were struggling, knowing that, what else have I missed? Not just with you, but with your brothers and sister?”
He shook his head, running a hand through his hair, and letting his head rest against his palm, hiding his face now. “Dick has called me on it before, so have you, but I’ve refused to see it, and that’s not okay either. The fact that its taken this mess," he waves out towards Gotham, referencing the hard week they've had. "Sleep deprivation, and the fact that after two years of coming back to us, that you still doubt your place here with us, with me, means I’ve failed.”
It’s so silent following his statement that Bruce thinks Jason must have left, and he wouldn’t blame the boy either. So to say Bruce was startled when a heavy hand dropped onto his shoulder, would have been an understatement. His head shot up, nearly colliding with Jason’s jaw, and Jason took a hasty step back, other arm coming up across his chest, ready to block.
They both took a moment to reorient themselves and Jason inhaled deeply before speaking.
“It’s not just on you, Bruce. I mean a lot of it’s on you, and your conceal don’t feel, bullshit life motto. But God knows I don’t make it easy on you, neither do Tim, and the demon. We all know Cass is basically perfect,” both men chuckled briefly. “And the only one of us well adjusted enough to talk about feelings is Dick, and even he’s too much like you most days to talk about his own feelings. We’re all to blame for this.”
“So how do we fix it? Most people recommend counseling of some kind, but that won’t work here, not with what we do.”
Jason tilted his head in thought, forehead creasing like it used to when he was younger, still Robin, and was trying to puzzle out a Rogue’s latest scheme.
Before Bruce could poke his forehead, tease him like he used to for thinking too hard, Jason’s face paled and he looked at Bruce in horror.
“Jason, what is it?”
“All I can hear is Dick chanting family bonding in my head like deranged puppet, and the puppets not wrong.”
Bruce’s own face pulled into a frown as he tried to make sense of Jason’s bizarre statement.
“Jay…I don’t understand.”
Jason waved his hands around as he tried to articulate his point. “You’re worried about not being a good enough dad, but all of us have parent-issues. We don’t talk because none of us feel like a family unless we’re out on the streets punching criminals in the face. Which is great for working out frustration, but not for actually handling issues.”
Bruce caught on then, realizing where Jason’s thoughts were heading. “We don’t do enough as a family outside of the masks…you’re right, this is Dick’s dream come true.”
“Movie night.” Both men looked at each other as they spoke the words together, before dissolving into laughter muffled behind hands.
Bruce stood once he got himself under control several minutes later, placing a hand on Jason’s shoulder.
Jason glanced at it, before looking up and offered Bruce a small smile.
“I’m sorry I’m such a pain in the ass, sometimes.”
Bruce smiled back, then reached up and ruffled his boys hair, ignoring the indignant squawk Jason made in protest. “Well, as Alfred would say, you come by it honestly. I taught you to fight, for this city and your family, it’s only fair I passed on some of my less admirable traits as well.”
They left the kitchen and headed back towards the big staircase in comfortable silence, pausing when they’d reached the top.
“I’m sorry too Jay, for lot of things. I’m going to try and do better. With you and your siblings. I’m going to make mistakes, and I’m probably going to make a bigger mess of things before I get it right, but I’m going to try. ”
Jason stared at him eyes wide before he seemed to come to an internal decision, face hardening. Before Bruce could say a word Jason was stepping into him, head dropping onto his shoulder, and arms wrapping around him.
Bruce was rigid for all of two seconds before returning the hug from his second son, something he never thought he’d get again willingly outside of life and death situations.
“That’s all I-we want Bruce, is for you to try.”
Bruce tightened his arms around him, bringing one hand up to cup the back of Jason’s head, holding on for as long as Jay would let him.
“I think I can do that.”