The trees were overpowering in their never ending presence. Jason felt trapped as he walked further and further into them with no end in sight. He didn’t like this. He didn’t like trees. Not trees like this. He’d been born and bred in the city, with cars passing by his window and guns firing so often not hearing them made him on edge. This, here, was unnatural to him, and made him pick up that little bit more speed to catch up to Bruce.
“You know where we are right?” Jason made sure. He hadn’t even seen trees like this on his travels. Not even in the middle of nowhere europe was there a forest that seemed to breathe on them.
Bruce kept quiet, but his gait didn’t slow as he followed some worn path that must have been made by someone.
Jason kept close, watching the little light they had fade and lengthen the holes in the bark until it looked like eyes were taking shape. Watching them. Reporting them to their master.
He wished Dick were here. Hell, even Barbara. Either one of them had this uncanny ability to talk without actually saying anything. Just filling the silence with nonsense until Jason was so annoyed he forgot about what it was he was supposed to be annoyed with originally. If Dick were here he’d be making jokes. Maybe funny enough ones to get Bruce to crack a smile. Barbara wasn’t too off the mark either, but she went for subtle funny. The kind that Jason didn’t really get. Alfred said it was because Jason had been raised on loud voices and insults. He didn’t, sometimes, understand that when Barbara spoke she meant it as a joke. Either way, Jason would take an argument right now over the ever pressing silence.
“We… we have a drug bust we gotta get to tomorrow,” Jason said, trying to remember their schedule. “A murder to follow up on too. Think we’ll get out before then or should I call to cancel?”
Bruce didn’t answer again. Although this time Jason wasn’t sure whether it was because Bruce was outright ignoring him, or trying not to think about work they weren’t going to get to because Bruce was just as lost as Jason as to what to do.
“I’m gonna cancel anyway.” He grabbed his phone, checking, not for the first time, for a signal he wished would pop up. Even just some data. Anything.
But even the JLA comms weren’t picking up. Jason knew. He’d watched Bruce made face after face as he screamed outright at one point for Superman.
They were alone here.
Somehow, some way, no one could hear them, and what unnerved Jason more than that was the fact he couldn’t remember just how they had gotten there.
He trod along after Bruce for hours more. Night had well set in, and unlike in the city where lights truly shone day and night, out in the forest there were no flashlights to guide their way. There was nothing to help their infrared pick up the trail. No moonlight poking through the copse to warn Jason of rocks, which meant he ended up flat on his ass more often than not.
Bruce helped him up after his latest fall, carrying Jason far enough off the ground that only his boots grazed the rocks he would have fallen into before plopping him on an even enough path.
“I think it best we stop,” Bruce said at last, and just his voice stopped the anxiety roaring in Jason’s head.
Jason snorted, “You think?” His knee hurt. Ass too. He was sure he was gonna have cuts on them when he managed to see them. He checked as well as he could now, pinching his fingers together to see if he could feel blood. “Are we stopping here then?”
Bruce hummed consideringly in his throat. “Maybe. We need a fire though.”
Jason remembered all the lessons Bruce, and Alfred, had ever given him on survival training. “Shouldn’t we have done that when it was still light?” It was difficult to see, which meant difficult to judge whether they had the right wood, and whether or not that wood would even ignite if it had damp on it or not.
Sure enough, “We should. But…”
“But you thought we would be out of here by now,” Jason sighed. “Okay, let’s get started then. What do we need? Kindling?” He remembered dried grass could be used as kindling. But only if there was nothing else, and it had to be specific dried grass too. The kind Jason hadn’t seen in this hell of a forest.
“I’ll get the firewood,” Bruce said firmly, patting Jason’s shoulder, “You stay here and see if you have any cuts.”
He grabbed Bruce’s cape before he could even take a step. “But what about animals? Murderers? Bandits? You’re seriously gonna leave me here alone?”
“Bandits?” Bruce snorted beneath his breath. He unlatched Jason’s hands, more than likely trying to pretend he hadn’t just been laughing at Jason as he said, seriously, “Jason, you’re more than capable of fighting everything you just listed. But remember, bears are more scared of you than you are of them. Mountain lions, don’t run or they’ll get you, and if you still feel unsafe just climb a tree and wait for me to come back. I won’t be long.” He patted Jason’s shoulder again before journeying farther than Jason’s eyes could see him.
“You promise?” Jason asked anyway, just to hear something other than nothing. It was weird but there wasn’t even any wind.
He ended up climbing that tree, a large rock held tightly in his hand. When Bruce did come back, there was about .3 seconds were Jason thought it was a bear and had been prepared to yell Dick’s stupid Teen Titan’s song as loud as he could. But then Jason had made out the cape and pointed helm and realised it was Bruce, so instead of yelling, Jason just sang at a tone that was just that shy of loud and watched Bruce jump three feet in the air.
“Jason!” Bruce hissed, the firewood had been dropped in favour of a batarang. “Don’t do that. I could have hurt you.”
“Could have,” Jason agreed, hopping down to pick up the firewood. “And yet I’m still standing.”
Bruce grumbled but couldn’t exactly refute that. “Just don’t do it again.”
“Then don’t leave me alone like that again.” He would have made a quip back if he wasn’t terrified right now.
Bruce sighed, nodding, “I promise. Now feel around for the thin sticks, they should be somewhere near those rocks you tripped on.”
They made a fire, eventually. When it was up and running, they did inventory of what did and didn’t work. The phones were definitely a no no. Comms too. The flashlights, since they’d checked them as soon as it got dark, weren’t working either. Nothing electronic was working for them right now actually.
“You think the GPS’s work?” Jason asked, tugging his boot off to look at the sole. He knew there were at least four in there. All for different situations. One was short range, one long. One for outer space, one for other dimensions. Bruce packed for all occasions.
Bruce, cowl off since, as he put it, ‘there was no one here that would recognise him’, shook his head. “As much as I want to think they are, I have a feeling they aren’t.”
“We’ll find a way out,” Bruce said quickly, holding Jason’s head still as he slowly pried the mask off. “We’ll head north again tomorrow, maybe plan for another night of camping, but we’ll get out. I promise.”
“Kay.” Jason had faith. Bruce had been in worse situations and he was still kicking. They would get out of this one too.
They made a makeshift bed, Jason decidedly not thinking about all the bugs that would be running over him in the night.
Sleep was elusive but came to him at last when dawn started to poke between the leaves. Bruce, thankfully, waited a good few hours before waking Jason up. While he’d gotten less sleep before, walking on only a few hours was bad for anyone and Bruce soon found himself with a grumpy Jason. Namely because he was hungry as well as tired.
“Are you sure you don’t have any of those protein bars in your belt?”
Bruce actually let Jason rifle through his belt, only batting him away when Jason got to the samples of fear toxin Bruce had been collecting before they got whisked away here.
Three days of camping. That was how long it took for them to find some semblance of civilisation. Three days.
In those days Jason learned a lot about himself. Firstly, he’d forgotten how much he hated sleeping on the ground living in luxurious Wayne Manor these past few years. Secondly, he’d also forgotten how cold it could get when he slept outside. Thirdly, he was decidedly, and most definitely, becoming a vegetarian when they got home.
“You’re the one who said he was hungry,” Bruce reminded him, a small smile on his face. Nevermind that he was plucking feathers from a bird he’d killed a few hours before.
Jason gagged again, the sight reminding him of those birds he’d see that the cats had gotten. He never thought those looked tasty, and didn’t think this one did either.
But, as Bruce kept saying, “Chicken nuggets have to come from somewhere Jay.”
“Yeah but they’re usually bread coated and not looking like bird when they’re on my plate.” He didn’t look when Bruce got to the beheading part. If he did, then he really would be a vegetarian.
How did rich people do this for fun? He had people at school telling him all the time about how they go hunting with their dads on weekends and holidays. Yet just thinking about this as a fun past time instead of necessity had his stomach roiling.
“I thought you were against killing,” Jason said, not looking as something squelched behind him.
“I am,” Bruce said. “But there’s a difference between killing for food and killing just because.”
Which, yeah, was everything Jason had just said. Still, Jason remembered distinctly, and told Bruce so just to get his mind off the dismembered bird behind him that, “Didn’t you cry that one weekend we were around the Kents because Clark killed a coyote?” It had gotten into the chicken coop, and Jason remembered being in the Kent house with Mrs Kent when a gunshot went off. Next thing Jason knew he was watching Bruce cry his eyes out going on about the coyote’s family and Clark doing his best to defend himself.
Clark got the silent treatment for three months after that before Bruce started speaking to him again.
“That coyote was different.”
“They didn’t eat it.” Which was a fair point.
“But it was out of necessity that Clark killed it right? It was eating all their chickens.” And had been for a few weeks according to three of the fifteen voicemails Clark left them.
Bruce had nothing to defend himself with. “Anymore lip out of you and you’re not being fed.”
“Er, that’s not how this works,” Jason grinned, quite happy with his upper hand, “You know as well as I do that if Alfred finds out I’ve been skipping meals again-”
Bruce made a long suffering groan, both of them knowing Jason’s meal plans were something that couldn’t be negotiated. He was already behind his growth spurts. If Bruce had any hope of Jason making it past adolescence they had to keep to the meal plans and pray the negligence he’d suffered before wouldn’t lead to any sudden illnesses. Apparently that was more of a possibility than one would think.
Regardless, Jason eventually got fed, and fed again when Bruce hunted something else for them the day after. The third day, thankfully, Jason didn’t have to stomach Bruce hunting something for them to eat because, and Jason spent a whole five minutes jumping up and down, the trees parted to clear skies and what looked to be the beginnings of a city.
There was construction work going on, the skyscrapers only reaching not even a quarter of the height Jason was used to seeing. “Think they’ve just settled?” Jason asked, watching the people that walked past them. They weren’t… exactly normal.
Well, Jason thought, looking down, maybe him and Bruce were the odd ones out here.
Long dresses. Weird tunic shirts and big blooming pants. “I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore,” Jason droned.
“Me neither Toto,” Bruce mumbled, grabbing Jason’s arm so they wouldn’t lose each other.
Jason barely registered the joke, too busy watching people go about their daily lives. Milking cows, churning butter. Just usual people stuff.
“Where do you suppose we are?” Jason asked, looking everywhere he could for some kind of sign. There wasn’t anything written anywhere.
Bruce was looking too from the way his head was swivelling left and right. “Hopefully? We’re in a renaissance faire and any moment now Kal’s gonna swoop down and carry us home.”
Jason clenched his hand a little tighter on Bruce’s arm, “And really?” Since even Jason didn’t believe that.
“Really, we’ll find out, and if we’ve not done what I think we’ve done then we’ll be able to engage the help of whoever’s in charge to make contact with Kal to come fetch us and, well, carry us home.”
“Sticking with the carrying thing huh?” Jason latched onto. “Something you wanna tell me Bruce?”
They walked for a while until the sun started to set once more. Only when Bruce accepted that he wasn’t going to get any further into the city that day did he turn his eyes to looking for a meal and a place to sleep.
They found a tavern, an actual tavern, with ruffians inside that looked like they’d hopped out of one of Jason’s books. As a result of this, none of them bat an eye at two weirdly dressed individuals, one of them significantly older than the other walking into their establishment.
“Think I could get a mead?” Jason asked, and got a stern look back. So, no mead.
Or so Bruce thought.
After Jason had been forced to get a table, he’d been surprised to see Bruce come back with something that was decidedly not water, and decidedly the same as his own too. “Did you just buy me alcohol?”
He sniffed it for good measure and, while it didn’t smell exactly like the beer he was used to, and only tasted once on a dare from Dick, it was definitely of an alcoholic strain.
“The water isn’t very good here,” Bruce mumbled into his own drink.
“What? It got dysentery in or something?”
From the look Bruce gave, the water probably did, and that did not bode well. What kind of city in America didn’t have some kind of drinkable wate- well, now that he thought about it quite a few places. But there should have been some kind of non alcoholic alternative.
Bruce clinked their glasses together, sitting back with a sigh, “Well, I was going to buy you your first beer at some point. Why not now.”
“Because it’s illegal,” Jason offered.
Bruce shrugged, “So are most people’s first beer. Besides, this one, I’ve been told, isn’t going to get you drunk. The beer is just there to disinfect whatever else is inside.”
Their food, when it came to them, was nothing more than a small slither of meat and that was all. It was like these people hadn’t even heard, or could afford, vegetables, and for a kid who had been surviving off meat, and the once in a while berry bush, he was kind of missing his five a day.
Strangely, they weren’t asked to pay. Jason figured it was some kind of pay later, since Bruce told him he’d bartered a room for the night here too, but, Jason wasn’t too sure. Something wasn’t adding up.
Oh well. A bed was a bed, and Jason wasn’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth.
Besides, Bruce might have paid while he was ordering their food.
A bed for the night sounded good in theory, but when they got up there, well, Jason thought the scrap heaps he made as a kid looked more comfortable. The thing was nothing more than lumpy rocks and straw made to look like a bed. There was no comfort whatsoever to be had from it. But Jason wasn’t going to complain. He was brought up to be thankful for what he was given, and that included being kept up half the night because there was something sharp digging into his side.
Bruce, Jason thought, was doing that thing where he forced himself to sleep. Except, as soon as the day started to brighten once more, Jason watched Bruce sit up suddenly and announce, “That’s it, we’re sleeping on the floor. Grab your cape Jason I can’t do this anymore.”
“Pussy,” Jason snorted, but got his cape anyway.
The floor, at least, let them get a few hours.
After that they were on the road again. Then again, and again until Bruce decided on their fifth day, right in the middle of the city that he’d had enough. “We’re not staying,” He said, a strange look on his face, staring at some bridge that was being built. “They don’t have what we need here.”
“They-” Jason ran to catch up to where Bruce had started towards the next edge of the city, and, to Jason’s horror, a new copse of trees, “But what happened to ‘anywhere will have something we can use’?
“Not here,” Bruce said, striding faster.
It took them another two to reach the trees, and every step Jason took he soaked up that sun and, yes, the weird people he saw. The smells, the sounds, the familiarity that was all gone as soon as they stepped into the trees.
It was like a window had been shut. Everything that had been a city was gone as soon as Jason stepped foot inside the forest. He had to make sure it was still behind him just in case and, well, it wasn’t.
They must have walked too far in already, Jason told himself as he caught up to Bruce again.
They walked for a week until they found another slice of civilisation. Which meant seven nights of camping out with nothing but his cape, and Bruce’s bulk, for warmth. Meat, meat and more meat for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and Jason fearing for his life every time he so much as breathed.
Was that a shadow he saw or a beast waiting to snatch him? Was that noise he heard when he closed his eyes his imagination, or was something truly going to murder him tonight? Jason just didn’t know, and the not knowing was driving him to some kind of insanity.
Which was why, when they finally came upon this next slice of land, Jason wasn’t going to be talked into going back into the woods unless they had a very, and he meant very, good reason.
He thought, as he had done since about his third day back in the woods, that they must have travelled to another dimension.
Somehow, during their mission with scarecrow, they’d slipped into another dimension, one where things were old timey. It made sense. His cell had no reception, and if not even Superman could hear Bruce yelling for him then they must be out of his hearing range. Their flashlight, well, Jason could explain that away with whatever magical entity had dragged them through a wormhole must have messed with the battery power on the way.
That was okay however, because, while their GPS’s might not be working, even the one that was supposed to in times they got dragged into different universes, there was sure to be someone in their world doing their best to get Bruce and Jason home. There had to be CCTV. If not CCTV then Alfred will have told Dick and Barbara, maybe even the league, that Bruce and Jason hadn’t come back and they would be on it. Jason had seen the league do this before. They were pros at latching onto dimension signatures by now. All Jason and Bruce had to do was wait, and, while they were waiting, see if they could make some device that could transmit a message through dimensions.
“Dunno about you but I could use some fruit,” Jason said, his tongue reviling at the idea of more bird or, god forbid, rabbit.
“I’ll see what I can do,” Bruce promised, the two of them carefully venturing into this new town.
It was quite like the old one, if Jason were honest. Bruce seemed more jittery here than the other place however. He no longer was looking for signs, but the way his eyes scanned everything it was like he was waiting for some bad guy to come jumping out.
That wasn’t good.
That really wasn’t good.
Still, “Maybe we could try a tavern again?” he asked, “They might have better beds this time.” Anything to stave off going back to the woods.
Bruce looked him over for a moment, and Jason just knew it was a no. Yet, “Okay,” Bruce said quietly, nudging Jason in front as the two of them navigated these quite familiar streets.
Jason couldn’t put his finger on it. It wasn’t anything like the old town. Unlike that half built city, this one was moderately standing. Their skyscrapers, while not reaching the sky yet, were quite impressive, and gone were those poofy pants in favour of something Jason bet Bruce had wore at least once. Maybe to a wedding. He definitely still styled his hair like some of these gents, Jason knew because he’d made Bruce teach him after they watched Pride and Prejudice together for the first time.
Still, there was definitely something about this place that flickered a memory at the back of Jason’s mind. His detective skills were on, as Bruce would say, which meant that his brain was picking up something his mind hadn’t properly processed yet. But, if it was important enough to catch his eye, that meant it was something noteworthy so Jason said, “These streets seem familiar,” hoping for, maybe some feedback, and if not that then at least alerting Bruce to his detective senses tingling.
Bruce cast a glance around like he was just noticing them for the first time, a surprised, “Really?” falling out his mouth, and that right there was what told Jason something really was wrong.
Bruce, for all his mysteriousness, wasn’t actually a good liar. Not right out. He had to plan his lies out in advance. Like his whole secret identity thing. He didn’t outright say he wasn’t Batman, he just put so many barriers between him and the Bat that when the question came up it was never directed straight at Bruce. Alfred said it was something Bruce had always been bad at, and Alfred would know, he knew everything, and while it had taken Jason a few months to figure out Alfred wasn’t just having him on, Jason could gladly say he could spot one of Bruce’s blatant lies outright now.
Like the one he’d just told.
Yet still, for all these funny feelings Bruce didn’t turn them around. Instead he marched Jason through the streets to a tavern that was more a pub, the english kind with the rooms on top and food served inside. Not quite as medieval as a tavern, but not modern enough for Jason to call it a bar.
The beds were, indeed, better than the last. As was the food. Jason even got some semblance of a vegetable this time. Even if it was half rotten.
He got some meadish drink again, and when it came time to retire Jason was introduced to the real reason Bruce wanted them to stay indoors.
“A bath?” he repeated before remembering where they’d spent the last two weeks. Discreetly taking a sniff at himself he admitted that maybe Bruce had a point. Still, the thing calling itself a bath was a far cry from the ones in Wayne Manor. Hell, it was a far cry from the ones Jason had as a kid. This one was nothing more than one of those tubs people used to do their washing in and, “Will the water even be warm?”
Bruce considered the tub like Jason had, he, out of the two of them, would be having the harder time in there, before nodding to the fire. “I’m sure if we work fast enough at least you’ll get a hot bath.”
There was a kettle, and that was all there was. Jason was tempted to go ask for one of their pots, but when he posed the question to Bruce the man pointed out that, from the looks of it, a kettle was a luxury. They would be needing their pot to make the food as well. Which meant they were stuck the kettle.
The kettle and no running water.
“Go on then,” Bruce grinned, holding the kettle out.
“What! Why me?” This was unfair.
Bruce shoved the kettle into Jason’s arms, taking the bucket in the hallway and towing the two of them outside. “Because you’re younger and could use the exercise.”
Liar. That was what all adults said when they didn’t want to do work. “It’s unfair.”
Bruce said nothing more, hefting his bucket into the well and waiting for it to fill up.
“You’re going to be done before me,” Jason tried again. Getting the cold water, and in a bucket nonetheless, Bruce would definitely be finished before Jason even had his third kettle on the boil. He would be running up and down these stairs for hours and then how are they gonna have a hot bath?
“Not if you run fast enough,” Bruce pointed out, dunking Jason’s kettle into his newly filled bucket.
They started back up the stairs, Jason lamenting on how tired his feet were gonna get.
Then Bruce finally had pity on him, telling him, “As soon as all the cold water’s in you take the bucket and fill it up, we’ll use that to fill the kettle. You won’t be running as long as you think.”
“I’d better not be.”
It wasn’t hours, as it turned out, but it certainly wasn’t minutes either.
By the time the bath was full, Jason was missing running water and Alfred more than anything else, and almost jumped for joy when Bruce said he could take the first bath. “You sure?”
Bruce ruffled his hair, “You need it chum.”
He bat the hand away, prying his boots and tunic off.
The moment his feet hit the water he forgot about the effort it took to get it all in there. Hot it may not have been, but weeks with no bath whatsoever, and living in frigid temperatures, this bath was like heaven to him.
For a few minutes, Jason forgot that Bruce was waiting for his own turn. He wiggled his toes and leaned back as far as he could, just letting the warm water soothe his aching body.
“Jason,” Bruce called, and like that Jason was sitting upright and reaching for the flannel the pub had kindly tossed their way.
“Do you-?” Jason looked back, finding Bruce fixated on his back. If this had been three years ago Jason would have covered up, definitely yelled and started looking for a new place to live. But Bruce wasn’t a perv, and Jason probably did have new scratches Bruce was itching to disinfect. He was weird like that. “Do you remember what we were doing before we got here?” Bruce finished at last, eyes still on Jason’s back.
He scrubbed at a new scratch himself, a long one across his stomach. He probably got it from lying on all that uneven, rock strewn ground. “We were chasing Scarecrow.” Jason reported back. Bruce probably wanted to make sure they both were on the same page. “We got the toxins, the ones in your belt, then we booked it after him when he tried to escape. I think we made it to the roof before we woke up here.” There was another scratch on his leg, this one Jason knew he’d gotten from a rock. “Why? You remember differently?”
He glanced back again, seeing Bruce check his belt like he didn’t even know he had fear toxin there.
Bruce blinked back at him a few times. “No,” he shook his head at last, “I don’t. Just making sure you didn’t see anything else.”
“If I remember I’ll tell you,” Jason promised.
Bruce had that strange look back on his face, “I know you will son.”
He lazed about on the, still lumpy bed, while Bruce washed. He even napped a bit. Then napped some more until Bruce shook him awake the next morning and told him they needed to get going.
Jason wasn’t too surprised that they were heading to the other end of the city. He was kind of glad, really. Anything that put Bruce on edge wasn’t good. What was good however, were the pubs they stayed in along the way. Jason had never been so clean or well rested as he was in those few days it took them to venture back into the woods.
He even missed the lumpy beds when, that first night, he found himself burrowing into Bruce’s armoured chest plate, hoping whatever was out there would go for Bruce before it got to him.
Another week of walking. Another week of huddling around a campfire and waiting to be rescued. “They’re going to come for us,” He kept telling himself when Bruce and he separated to get firewood or hunt down food.
At least he would know some survival skills for when they did find him. He knew how to make a fire now, and how to put it out properly too. It turned out he couldn’t just shove water on it, since water was hard to come by, and they needed it for other things, like drinking.
He knew how to check water, and filter it for use. How to make traps that actually worked. He even knew how to hunt, if only in theory since he hadn’t the stomach to watch just yet.
He also knew that Bruce was worried. Probably about how long they’d been here already, but Jason wasn’t too sure. He had that look on his face more often now than anything else. The one that made Jason’s hair stand on end. It got to the point where Jason found himself filling in silences with jokes almost as bad as Dick’s just so Bruce would look at him differently.
Speaking of, “Do you think Dick’s worried about us?” he asked as they started down the slope to this new city. Like the last, this one was familiar too. “It’s just, you guys were fighting again before we went out looking for Scarecrow. I know he cares,” about Bruce, “but do you think he’s looking?”
“He’s looking,” Bruce said. “And Jay, you know we love you, right?”
Not this again. “You might B, but the guy hardly knows me. He doesn’t want to know me. I hear what he says to you y’know. You guys aren’t exactly quiet.”
Bruce winced, that strange look on his face again, “Jay, the things Dick says, he doesn’t mean them.”
“Of course he doesn’t, he doesn’t know me, I just told you.” That was the problem between them. Alfred had told Jason that, if Dick just got to know him, then he’d like Jason for certain. So Jason didn’t take the things Dick said to heart, he just felt bad for all the days that went by with the two of them not being friends. Jason needed someone to vent to as well. It was all well and good having Titan friends,but Jason didn’t have that luxury, the least Dick could do was share a few of them if he wasn’t going to talk to Jason directly. Just someone near his age he could ask for a few pointers from.
“I mean, even if he doesn’t know you, that doesn’t mean he hates you. Dick… he says a lot of things when he’s angry. His temper is, explosive, and I know he might not say it to your face, but he does like having a little brother.”
“Sure,” Jason snorted.
“He does,” Bruce said, more certain now, “He ever tell you his parents were going to try for another baby before they passed?”
Jason shook his head slowly, “Doesn’t talk to me, remember?”
“Well they were,” Bruce said, “And, I think you being around just reminds him of that. It, digs a little deeper into that wound, you know.”
He didn’t know. Not everyone had golden childhoods like Bruce and Dick. “Sure,” Jason said again, not wanting to dwell on this subject anymore. “Do you think we can sleep inside again?”
Bruce rolled his eyes, and tried, key word tried, to continue on how much Dick supposedly ‘loved’ him as they walked the streets looking for a place to sleep.
This place looked more modern than the last place at least. By modern he meant more populated. It felt like twice the amount of people lived here compared to the last one, and with the crowds came more buildings and higher skyscrapers. There were horses in the streets now, ferrying people from here to there, and the colours all around them were more drab, more what Jason was used to. When they settled on an inn the bath this time had running water, and drinkable water too, which meant no beer for Jason. They didn’t ask for payment either, which Jason still found strange, but kept his mouth shut as he sank into a semi warm bath, once again heated by the use of the fire.
They had a pot however, which meant no long trips out to the well.
He scrubbed his scrapes again, wondering, briefly, why they seemed to be in the same place. He must be sleeping weird at night. As he did so, he heard the slosh, slosh of Bruce scrubbing his suit, and realised, belatedly, that he was going to have to do the same thing before they left. Looked like he wasn’t getting an early night.
It took until well after dark for Jason to be satisfied with his clothes. They didn’t smell like roses, but they sure didn’t stink up the place anymore either. Bruce was already tucked up in bed, and Jason happily followed suit in the one next to it, curling on top of a semi decent mattress and pulling the sheets up until he was snug and warm like man intended.
His eyes had just closed when he heard, “Jay?” whispered low in the night, like Bruce didn’t need Jason to be awake, but would like it all the same.
There was some shuffling, Jason watching Bruce’s broad back be replaced with his head. He didn’t look at Jason directly, but the attention was definitely sent his way as Bruce started with, “You grew up with a lot of, diverse, opinions around you.”
“One way to put it,” Jason agreed.
Bruce shot him a look, attention quickly on the ceiling once more after he did so. “I mean, there were a lot of, different folk around you. Those who might have been targeted.”
“We talking prostitutes, gays or drag queens? Cause I met a whole lot of people B, gotta be more specific.”
“Gays.” Bruce sighed, speaking more slowly as he posed, “What’s your opinion on them?”
His detective senses were tingling again, Jason treading lightly as he said, “Got no opinion really. Dad hated them. Mom too, but, she was more concerned about them taking all her clients. They didn’t really give them a very good rep but, they weren’t very good people themselves now were they.” he hated to think of it of his mom, but, yeah, Catherine wasn’t a good woman. The things she made Jason do in his life… He loved her, but that didn’t mean he forgave her. Or even liked her. Not at the end. “Me myself? Like I said, no opinion. They’re people just like everyone else right? Get good ones and bad ones. Don’t matter who you fuck so long as you’re decent at the end of the day.”
Bruce didn’t even scold Jason for his language, they really were having a serious conversation here.
“You’re a good kid,” Bruce said at last.
Jason perched himself on one elbow, “You gonna tell me what this is really about or am I gonna have to start guessing?” He had a feeling he knew why Bruce was introducing the topic like this, and, while he wasn’t too bothered about the topic itself, he had to wonder why now, when they were stranded, Bruce was telling him. “I don’t care if you’re gay. I know you’re a good guy B. You’ve already proven you aren’t gonna touch me. Telling me you’re into guys isn’t gonna send me running to the cops.”
He saw Bruce nod in the dark, so that was the reason for the weird roundabout topic.
“Bi,” Bruce said.
“Bi. Not gay.”
Jason shrugged, “Still like guys.”
He could see the stifled smile on Bruce’s face even in the dark, “You’re such a punk.”
“Whatever.” Jason flopped back to the sheets, one question still on his mind, “Why’d you tell me now? There are better places. Namely at the manor when I’m not trying to stop my feet from freezing over in this thin sheet.”
“For-” Bruce lifted his own cover up, and even with this new revelation Jason had no qualms dragging his own sheet and joining Bruce in his bed. Bruce was harmless. Always would be. “Comfy?”
Bruce sighed back into his pillow. “I told you because there’re some people we’re going to meet in a week. I want to tell them too. I want to tell them a lot of things. I just didn’t want you to find out then, like you were a second thought. You’re important to me Jay, you know that right?”
“You’ve only told me a lot over the last few weeks yeah.” He tucked his feet between Bruce’s legs, grinning at the hiss Bruce let out. “Who’s the guy anyway? Does Dick know you’re bi?”
“Yes,” Bruce said, Jason sensing the eye roll. “I told him when he was seventeen.”
Jason frowned, “He’s seventeen now though.” And he and Bruce weren’t exactly on speaking terms when it was Dick’s seventeenth. Jason tried to backtrack to see when exactly Bruce would have let that slip. “Did he take it okay?”
Bruce shrugged, “Probably the only thing he did at that age.”
“You make it sound like he’s old. And who’s these people anyway?”
“You’ll find out,” Bruce said, mysterious as always. “Although I’m sure you’ll figure it out before then.”
“You’re not telling me?”
Bruce stroked a hand through Jason’s hair, letting it linger a few seconds, “Trust me Jay, you don’t need to know until you do.”
Jason rolled his eyes this time, burrowing further into Bruce’s warmth. There was a gap somewhere in their blankets and it was going to drive him crazy all night he could just tell.
“It’s Kal by the way,” Jason heard just as he was about to drift off.
“No!” Jason gasped, fully awake now and near pouncing on Bruce, “Seriously?” Did that mean Jason could ask for flights to school? Clark was crap with kids, it’s what made it so easy to get away with things with him.
Needless to say Jason didn’t get a lot of sleep that night. But, since they were staying in another inn as they travelled their way across this strange city, he didn’t really care and made up for it the next night.
Jason had to admit if he had to pick a favourite, this city was likely his favourite. He liked it here with its moderate niceties. He would have asked to stay until they got rescued too had Bruce not said they were meeting people. Mainly because he didn’t want Bruce to miss his meeting, but also because if Bruce was meeting with someone that meant he had a plan, which meant he knew where they were which meant Jason was getting home any day after they met these mysterious people.
A new spring in his step, and actual fruit in his stomach, Jason skipped his way to the copse of trees at the edge of the city this time, trusting Bruce to keep him safe as they journeyed once more into the shadows.
“Here,” Bruce said, their second day in the woods. He handed Jason a knife and a plank of wood he’d been mysteriously picking out earlier when they got the firewood.
“What’s this for?” Was he gonna try some target practice? Make a spear? Were they going full tarzan now?
Yet “Whittling,” is what Bruce intended it for. “Clark showed me a few months ago. I’m not very good but, you have an eye for detail, and if it’ll stop you throwing up while I make our food that’s a bonus for me.”
He showed Jason the basics. Enough that Jason realised Bruce was bullshitting when he said he wasn’t very good. Jason had seen his art projects as a kid. He’d watched Bruce make batarangs from metal. Carving a piece of wood would be easy to him. But, if Bruce was bored enough to show it to Jason he wasn’t going to complain. It wasn’t like they could watch a movie here, and the whittling itself was a good conversation starter as to when exactly Bruce had stopped hating Clark so much as to go out with him.
“I thought you weren’t interested?” Bruce said, leaving Jason to go to his own project. Namely the poor bunny they were about to eat.
“I think it’s gross,” Jason agreed. “Because it’s you and you’re like my dad,” he corrected, “Not because of the whole guy thing. And just because I think it’s gross doesn’t mean I’m not curious as to just how you’ve been sneaking out to meet with Superman. I mean, my bedtime isn’t even minutes before yours, when do you have the time.” It wasn’t like Bruce went to a lot of JL meetings either, and every time he had to go to Metropolis he brought Jason along. Bruce didn’t have time to go courting. Unless… “Ew, have you guys been doing it while I’m asleep?”
“Jason!” Bruce hissed, like he was scandalised. “Don’t be silly. You know I wouldn’t risk your safety like that.”
“Silly?” Jason snorted. “Then when B? Have you made some kind of holoprojecter like in the movies to fool me on patrol? Are you really going to murderer’s houses when you tell me to stay behind? What?”
“We make it work,” was all Bruce was willing to give.
Which wasn’t enough. Not even close. But no matter how much Jason pressed he couldn’t get a straight answer out of Bruce.
Things got weirder after the whittling. It felt like they were no longer in the hurry they had been previously. Bruce seemed to be stopping earlier and earlier each day just to smell the flowers and of course, with Jason being there too he had to give them a sniff himself.
Bruce went out of his way to teach Jason all about the plants they were passing, a few of them Jason could have sworn were extinct in their old world. He also taught Jason the proper way to treat a lady, or a fella, right, as if Jason didn’t know himself. He revealed the secret to Alfred’s famous muffins. Just why Dick and him had ended up in those silly knockoff Batman and Robin costumes for halloween when Dick was ten and generally seemed to answer any questions Jason sent his way.
He was tempted to ask for a car with the good mood Bruce was in. His sixteenth was coming up soon, and, well, all that money Bruce had may as well be put to good use. “I mean,” He bargained when he actually got the guts up, “I don’t need something flash. Just something safe, with trunk space so Alfred doesn’t have to ferry me around every day. Just think of all the errands I could run.”
“Errands?” Bruce smirked.
“I could make grocery runs,” Jason nodded, ignoring the mocking smile that kept getting bigger on Bruce’s face. “Alfred’s not getting any younger Bruce, and he hasn’t got enough time in the day to do everything for the manor and drive me to soccer or drama or guitar.” he really needed to cut back on his extracurriculars. “Just something cheap, and if it breaks down you know I can fix it. Look at that patch up job I did on the bike. You know I’m responsible.” More responsible than Dick. He’s been through seven bikes in two years. Unlike Jason who still had Dick’s hand me down from when he first became Robin.
Bruce knew he was reliable. Trustworthy. Yet still all Jason got was an, “We’ll see,” Which, ordinarily, in normal parents, meant as yes. For Bruce, Jason didn’t know. ‘We’ll see’ could mean anything from ‘I’ve already got you a car’ to ‘We’ll see how the research and statistics for your age group holds up.’
Their last night in the woods, since Bruce announced, “We should be there by tomorrow,” Bruce broke out a little wooden bat Jason had seen him whittling away at while they walked. “Dare you to do better,” he challenged, setting the bat down for Jason to get a look at.
“That’s not fair, you’ve had months of practice, and you said you were shit.” The level of detail was honestly impressive for a guy that was supposedly still scared of bats.
“Language. And I said I still wasn’t that good, not that I didn’t have a little artistic eye. Clark’s are still way better and D-” Bruce sighed, leaning back on his hands. “Just try it okay. I know you’re good with batarangs now, you don’t necessarily have to have a ‘gift’ to be good at art.”
“Okay Gandhi,” Jason snorted, but, now the challenge had been laid down, tried to figure out just how Bruce managed to get that fur texture without chopping off an entire wing.
They passed out the last of their meat since, Bruce swore again, they would be at another city tomorrow. Figuring Bruce just got directions, Jason believed him well enough to force down the last of his poached meat and hope for a nice vegetarian stew tomorrow.
It got dark pretty quickly, as it often did in the woods. As soon as the sun left the angle to shine through the trees it was a matter of counting the seconds before Jason would be left blind with nothing but their fire in front of them to prove they were still lost in this god forsaken world.
He picked his way over to Bruce when he grew tired of cutting off bat feet, and after handing Bruce’s own masterpiece back, he huddled under both their cloaks and tried to pretend he was back in the manor, in Bruce’s bed after a bad nightmare. That’s all this was. One big nightmare.
“Jason?” Naturally that nightmare didn’t want to leave him alone just yet.
“What do you think about having a younger sibling?”
“A-?” Was this about Dick? “I er, I dunno. Did Dick say something?”
“No,” Bruce reassured, “I was just wondering what you thought about it. If you’d be open to it. We have so much after all.”
Which was true. Jason had said more than once the manor would make a killer children’s home. Still, “What about Batman? Will they know?” Will they try and take Robin away from him?
Bruce shrugged beside him, “If they find out there’s nothing I can do about it. I didn’t actually tell Dick you know.”
“This is all hypothetical right?” Cause if Bruce was only just introducing Clark to Jason as his boyfriend then there was no way they were going to be adopting another kid together for, what, three years? If that. Clark was shit with kids after all.
Yet Bruce still hesitated before saying, “Of course.”
Jason pretended not to hear it. He could argue about moving too fast when they got home. So, “Sure. I wouldn’t mind. It’d give me someone else to complain to when you get in one of your moods.”
He got shoved a little, “I do not go into moods.”
“You do,” Jason grinned, “Bad ones as well.”
Bruce got him for that comment, tickling his sides until Jason was begging him to stop.
It wasn’t too bad being trapped here.
When they got moving the next morning they, sure enough, came upon a city. Jason was getting a strange case of deja vu as he followed Bruce to the outskirts. It all felt familiar again, but this time there was something else. It wasn’t just a feeling that Jason should know it. Instead, there was actual proof.
Although Jason didn’t see it until they were heading up around some fancy cars to a district he could navigate in his sleep.
“Wait a minute, this is Crime Alley.” He caught up to Bruce, “This is Crime Alley! We’re in Gotham!” He couldn’t believe he’d never seen this before. The others were Gotham too. The streets were slightly off, but that last time they’d walked them, with the people in long coats, he knew he felt at home. It was all Gotham. Had been all this time, just, Gotham through the years. “What kind of whacked out world is this B?”
Bruce didn’t answer. Instead, much like that first day they landed here, he stepped up his pace, winding around the streets until they started up the long slope to the manor.
Jason was tempted to ask if they could go see his old diggs but the idea of the manor shut him up quick. Between his old apartment and a nice proper bath in the manor, Jason was almost running too as he tried to shorten the strides between him and home.
Eventually they got a taxi, and even then the guy didn’t charge them as he dropped them off outside their home. “The people here are real nice huh?” Jason said, turning to ask Bruce why he thought that was only for Bruce not to be there. The guy had already scaled the fence and was walking to the manor door. “Hey, wait!”
Jason scrambled up, trying his best not to scratch himself but, knowing when he looked later, there would be some as he ran past Bruce to the front door. There were lights already on, and soft music playing. It wasn’t a record Jason recognised, but he bet Alfred would know if Alfred were here. Then again, Alfred probably was here.
He knocked, loudly, his hand saved further damage from the old wood when Bruce quickly snatched it back. “Jay-”
“We’ll just explain everything,” he wasn’t sneaking around here. Not if, when they managed to persuade this world’s Alfred that they weren’t burglars and were in fact from another dimension where they were friends, Jason could have a nice cup of tea and some decent food. “It’s fine B, don’t look so worried.”
He still looked worried, but Bruce must have figured that the damage had already been done as he spend the time between the knock and the door being answered smoothing his hair down.
It wasn’t Alfred that answered the door. Well, it was, but, he didn’t look like the Alfred Jason was used to.
“Jarvis,” Bruce nodded to the man, which, Jason supposed solved that problem. This wasn’t Alfred then, but it was someone Bruce knew.
This Jarvis guy looked Bruce up and down with a sad smile, “Another one so young huh? You Waynes never had any luck.”
“It’s good to see you again,” Bruce said, hand coming down on Jason’s shoulder, “This is Jason. My son. We were hoping we could come in.”
Jarvis spared a smile for Jason before standing back from the door, “They’ve been waiting for you. The second ballroom I think you’ll find them.”
“Yeah,” Jason said, “Thanks.” trying to catch another look at the guy as Bruce shepherded him forward. “You knew that guy?” He hissed to Bruce.
“He’s Alfred’s father.”
Like that solved anything.
Then again, alternate universes, sometimes the dead aren’t dead there. But, for someone who’d fathered Alfred he sure was quite young. He knew Bruce too which meant Alfred had probably already been born and…
They came to the second dining hall before Jason could come to his conclusion slowly. Instead, he was hit with it full in the face as he saw twenty or so people milling around. Some were in their Sunday best, and looking for all the world like they were about to hit the town. Others were in their nightwear, or even just casual play clothes. All of them looked familiar, and all of them looked like Bruce.
More than that, if Jason had any doubts as to the theory he’d thought up in the few seconds it took for them to walk here, he hadn’t now.
“B,” Jason murmured, finding his feet taking a few steps back, “Those are your parents.” he recognised them from the photo’s he’d managed to find in Bruce’s study. That nose, those eyes, the peals on her neck, he’d know Thomas and Martha Wayne in his sleep.
But they were- and Bruce- Jarvis said they’d been waiting and-
Bruce went to go see his parents. Jason didn’t care to eavesdrop. He didn’t want to do anything except sit, so he did. The party faded around him as he wondered if it were possible that-
They’d never had to pay.
They’d been watching Gotham construct itself around them for weeks now.
But Jason had been hungry. They’d had to eat. How had they gotten food? How were the animals dying if they were…
“Jason?” Bruce was back, smoothing his bangs from his face. “You with me buddy?”
Jason nodded, and eventually let Bruce hoist him up like he was thirteen all over again when it turned out his legs weren’t working.
There were rooms set up for them, courtesy of Jarvis and another few men and women who looked a lot like Alfred too. Jason didn’t think too hard on it. Instead he wondered why he was being given his room. “Isn’t someone staying here?” Since the Waynes couldn’t all be staying in the master bedroom. Jason’s room was one of the nicer rooms in the manor. Quite a pick according to Alfred since it was across the library and not too far from the kitchens. Surely someone would have claimed it already.
Yet, “I think most of them have set up near the pool.”
“They like their relaxation.” And what better place to relax than-
“Are we in heaven?”
Bruce sighed, setting Jason down gently on his bed. “Jay,” he started off with, and just the way he said it finally pieced all the dots together. Bruce had known they were dead for a while. It was why he was giving Jason all those weird looks.
“It was the toxin, right? That’s what did it.” One dose, if not treated, would eventually lead to a heart attack and death. The heart couldn’t take the strain the fear toxin put on it, and since Bruce and Jason were either the first, or the last depending on how much antidote they had it was only a matter of time before something went wrong and, well, Jason supposed it had.
Yet Bruce said, “Jay,” again in that way that meant he wasn’t going to be delivering good news. All he had to do was agree with Jason if it had been the toxin. Which meant… “I don’t think we’re in heaven.”
Oh. “H-hell then?” This didn’t seem like a bad place, and if Bruce’s parents were here then, well, how bad had they been in their lives.
“No,” Bruce shook his head, “No definitely not. Trust me Jay you are far too good to end up there. I think- I think we’re in purgatory. That in-between place.”
Jason had heard of it before in passing. There were mentions of it in his books too, but, he didn’t really know all that too much about it.
“And I think,” Bruce went on, “I think I’m not staying here with you.”
His blood ran cold, “You’re moving up then. To real heaven. Without me?”
“No,” Bruce insisted, “No Jay I mean, I think I’m not dead. Not completely. That’s why we were walking. Something was telling me to walk and I think, when I get to the end of it, I’m not going to be here anymore. I’m going to be back home.”
The thing was Jason didn’t feel the same. He’d just been following Bruce around. Still, “Do you think I could…” he couldn’t go with Bruce.
He was pulled into a hug, his hands shaking as he clutched at Bruce’s back. “I love you so much,” Bruce said. “So much.”
Jason held on tighter. Bruce was leaving. He was leaving Jason here. Alone. He was going back to his life with Clark and Dick and whatever new kid he was going to adopt and Jason was going to be left here with a bunch of old ghosts. “I want Alfred,” Jason whined. He wanted to see Alfred again. To listen to his stories and hear him complain. He wanted to go back to school. To his drama class and guitar lessons.
He didn’t want to stay here.
“Take me. Please Bruce, you have to take me. I don’t want to be dead. I don’t-” he didn’t even remember it. He didn’t think he wanted to by the way Bruce almost winded him squeezing his sides. “Your parents are here,” Jason remembered. “You don’t have to be Batman. We can be happy Bruce just don’t leave and don’t leave without me!”
“Jason,” Bruce sniffed, drops of wet hitting Jason’s neck as Bruce held on that little bit tighter.
“Just because it’s telling you to go doesn’t mean you have to,” Jason tried again, but even he knew Bruce was going to leave. Who knows how long he would be here before this ‘compulsion’ to walk took over.
Long enough to talk more with his parents?
Long enough to be convinced to stay.
“I don’t want to go,” Bruce gasped. “Believe me Jay, I don’t.” But he had to go was the problem. “I didn’t want you to know. You shouldn’t have to know.”
About being dead? Jason could agree with him there.
They sulked long enough for night to turn to day, and while Jason wanted to keep Bruce to himself he knew there were people here Bruce wanted to see. So Jason let him go, and merely kept a close watch as Bruce told his parents, discreetly, about Clark. About Dick too, and a couple other guys Jason didn’t think should have been mentioned if they were just past flings.
Jason got introduced to them as well. He didn’t really know what to make of them other than they looked a hell of a lot like Bruce. So did Bruce’s grandparents when Jason got introduced to them later.
Jarvis was quickly becoming Jason’s favourite however. Seeing him reminded Jason painfully of Alfred, but the familiarity in how they talked and walked and told Jason should a few cookies go missing he would turn a blind eye soothed a little bit of homesickness for him. It wouldn’t be the same. It never would be, but, as Jason learned, standing on the porch with Thomas and Martha almost restraining him, it would have to do for now.
“I’ll be back,” Bruce promised, walking backwards towards the gate. “Jason I promise I’ll be back.”
“You’d better be,” He was crying, again, and wishing any moment now his feet would tell him to walk. To follow Bruce until they both woke up.
But they didn’t, and soon the door was shutting on a shadow that was quickly becoming night.
“How about we get you some cocoa Master Jason?” Jarvis asked, steering him away from his guard. “I’m not promising everything will be alright, but cocoa never made anything worse now did it?”
It was such an Alfred thing to say.
“You almost gave me a damn heart attack!” Clark yelled.
With Bruce out of the JL’s med bay and well enough to sit upright without screaming, Clark thought he was well enough to finally be told off for his ‘reckless behaviour’.
Bruce let him yell. He did deserve some of it. But, in his defence, the thing that did knock him out cold, well, almost killed him, he’d never even seen coming. It had been a freak accident more than anything. One routine check of the watchtower’s windows, a few taps too many to an already suspected crack and Bruce was watching the crack get bigger, the air dropping out and his body being slammed into a reflective window that was far too reinforced for a body his fragile. He was just lucky Clark was in the area.
“Do you have any idea what this has done to the boys?” Clark snapped. “They’re damn petrified to even come up here. I had to promise them several times that we would consider relocating back to Mount Justice when you woke up just to stop them from taking you out of med bay.” That mustn’t have been easy.
Also, “That might not be such a bad idea.” After his brief stint with death he could agree a satellite in space might not be the safest for normal humans like himself. Maybe they should start holding their meetings, at least the ones with breakable normal humans on earth.
“It- really?” Clark blinked a few times, no doubt expecting something other than Bruce agreeing with his kids. He walked far too fast for Bruce’s still recovering head to keep up with, taking the last sofa cushion left. “Are you okay?”
Bruce nodded, rubbing his head a few times. Clark was going to make him throw up at this rate. “Just tired. All that lack of oxygen, you know?”
“Agreeable and making jokes?” the smile hid the worry.
He let his hand fall. “How are the kids?”
“Like I said, worried sick. Oh, they made something for you too.” In more headache inducing swiftness Clark was gone and back in a blink and handing a series of cards to him. “I know they’re not little but, I figured giving them a project would keep their minds off things.”
Bruce looked the handmade cards over, sparing a snort at the memory coming to his mind of Jason saying, “He’s shit with kids.”
Clark really was, but in an endearing sort of way. He tried, was the main thing. It wasn’t his fault Bruce’s kids walked all over him.
In no less than three of the six cards in front of him the message inside had some variation of ‘because Clark made me write it I suppose’ followed by a heartwarming get well. He loved all of them.
Feeling the amount of glitter Dick put on his card Bruce considered for a moment just keeping his mouth shut, but, Clark had listened to him talk about worse stuff before. He was the only one Bruce actually talked to about this stuff. The bad things. The ones that made his head hurt and stuck staring into space with a look Clark referred to as ‘jumpers face’.
Insensitive as it was to simply put it out there, “I died Clark.”
“I know,” Clark grumbled, “I was there listening to you flatline. Believe me B, I know.” He shuffled further down in his seat, “You really okay?”
Bruce shook his head. “Before, when I went, I didn’t remember anything.” He’d flatlined quite a few times in his life. One of them even intentionally. Yet this one was different. “I remember it. Some of it anyway,” He corrected since most of it was a blur getting harder to remember as time went on.
“So there is…”
Bruce nodded. He’d suspected as much. Constantine and the other magic folk had basically told him through the years but, it was one thing being told it and another being there himself. Having actual solid proof he could die with. He didn’t know if it made him feel better or not for knowing now. Still, “Jason was there.”
“Ja-” Clark was back upright, “But he’s at home.”
Home? If Jason was at the manor then the boys really were worried. “He always said he didn’t come back right. Still, after Ollie and even Constantine telling me they saw a boy in a happier place I thought he would still be there. I-”
Clark was careful in wrapping his arms around Bruce as the memory came back of being lost in a wood. Of seeing a flash of yellow out the corner of his eye and watching for hours, ignoring the call to go on, as a boy, no older than fifteen, wandered lost and scared among the trees.
He’d cried when he’d seen Jason’s curls. The blood that caked them and wandered up to an open wound that showed the insides of his head. Jason hadn’t even known he was injured. Didn’t know where he was and Bruce almost cried again except then Jason had seen him and-
“I met my parents.” He’d been confused for a while too. He thought the same as Jason, that they were stuck in some alternate world. That some other Bruce had lost his son and, maybe he wouldn’t mind Bruce taking Jason somewhere safer to wait for a call.
But then he’d seen Gotham. He remembered the layout from his textbooks and research, had felt in his bones that he was home, that something else was going on and by then he just wanted Jason to be safe. To not be alone while Bruce sorted out his life here.
“They’re waiting for me.” That was the reason they hadn’t moved on. They were waiting for him. They weren’t bitter about their legacy, dying with arguments still in their throats like Bruce’s grandparents. His parents were simply waiting because they didn’t want to go somewhere better without him. “They liked the sound of you.”
“You told them about me?” even after all these years Clark was still surprised it seemed when Bruce actually told him he liked him.
“‘Course I did.” The memory of that conversation was fading. But he remembered they hadn’t cared. That his mother had been more focused on Jason following Bruce around. On the other four grandchildren she would get to meet when it was their time. “I told them to maybe look for yours too. See if they were there. If the boys parents were waiting too. It’ll give them something to do while they wait.” He hoped they weren’t. That the Grayson’s were at peace. Tim’s parents too. Cass’ could rot in hell alongside Jason’s but, Tim’s dad wasn’t all that bad, and Dick’s were genuinely good people. They didn’t deserve to wait around. No one did.
Clark gently kissed his hair, “Want me to try and persuade the boys up?”
“Cass with them too?” She’d made him a card.
Clark tilted his head slightly. “She’s at Steph’s but I can grab her as well.”
Bruce nodded. “It’ll be nice to see them.”
Clark was gone for an hour. By the time he came back up Bruce had filled up the back of Jason’s card with a sketch that wasn’t quite Damian’s level, but good enough anyway. He obviously hid it when he heard the first tell tale sounds of arguing, leaning his head back far enough he could see Tim’s colourful costume come barrelling towards him.
“Just about,” Bruce agreed, bracing himself for the gentle hug Tim granted him, and the not so gentle one Dick forced him into. “How’s things at home?” He asked, letting them all pile on top of him and lifting his arm for Cass to squeeze in next to him.
“Boring,” Dick said immediately.
“Quiet,” Tim corrected. “Damian’s been too worried about you to antagonise us. Did you really flatline?”
He shot a quick look to Clark before pulling Damian that little bit closer, “Course not. Clark likes to exaggerate when he’s angry. You know that.”
Damian, at least, believed the lie as he let off his usual disapproving, “Tt,” and started on at Clark why it wasn’t a good thing to lie about injuries. Bruce let him. It served Clark right for worrying an eleven year old.
They filled him in, with a quick warning that they weren’t going to be staying long, for obvious reasons. Someone had broken out of Arkham, as usual. Tim was organising a takeover for a neighbouring company. Dick was thinking of starting the Titan’s up again, with big plans for Damian should it happen. Cass had a new batarang design she wanted to show him and Jason, well, Bruce just couldn’t stop looking at him.
Jason was always quiet when the others were around. Or, at least when Bruce and the others were around. There was specific number, Bruce suspected, that started to look intimidating for him. Yet, instead of the usual hunched shoulders and jittery leg, Jason just looked content to listen to his brothers take the lead.
Bruce couldn’t help asking anyway, “And you Jason?” if only to hear him speak. This wasn’t the Jason Bruce had left behind.
“Fine,” But he was still Jason.
Jason shrugged, “Little tired.”
“Nightmares?” He got them often and bad Bruce had learned. It was more than just PTSD rearing its ugly head.
Yet Jason shook his head, “Not really. Just a late night. Dunno why but I just feel better today.”
Jason shrugged again. “Yeah,” he offered and little else.
Bruce didn’t like the idea that Jason was still there. Still half stuck between life and death. But just because he didn’t like the idea didn’t mean it wasn’t true, and if it was true, at least he wasn’t lost anymore. He was safe. Cared for and waiting for Bruce with the rest of their family for when it was time for him to move on. This Jason was too, and hopefully with at least one side of him feeling better, Bruce could help this one too.