It’s raining. Jason can’t say he’s surprised, if Gotham is famous for one thing apart from its unusually high percentage of supervillains it’s probably it’s notoriously bad weather. Strangely enough he finds himself thinking that he’s missed it. Not only the always present darkness of the clouds looming above the skyscrapers. What gets him every time he sets foot into what used to be his turf long ago is the city itself. Its pulse beating at an irregular pace, the sound of sirens, of cars speeding along ever busy streets. It’s the way people are hurrying past him, their gaze cast downward although or maybe because they might catch a glimpse of the bat symbol cast against the night sky. Gotham hasn’t changed, not in a meaningful way at least. It’s still the same streets that fill his chest with an ache that won’t pass no matter how long he stays away. It’s the same corners that lure him deeper, the sloping rooftops. It doesn’t feel like years have passed since he truly belonged to this city, feels like only yesterday he was just a boy full of ambition and anger perched next to his favourite gargoyle waiting for the sign to jump into action.
The city might not have changed but he has. He doesn’t feel the same rush of adrenaline surging through his veins when he flings himself off the roof, only grapple and line to save him from plummeting down thirty stories and becoming just another smear on the dirty sidewalk. He doesn’t feel the same disappointment when he looks up to find that there’s no glowing bat painted against the clouds, no call for the city’s hero. His heart doesn’t beat to the same rhythm as Gotham does anymore. But he’s not here to revisit old memories, to hunt down the nostalgia lingering at the edge of his brain. At least not this part of it.
He doesn’t need to wonder about the state the city is in. How it still functions even though it has been mere weeks since it has seen a fight between two of the world’s most famous heroes and then the appearance of an even greater threat. The people are just too used to clowns with painted faces, to monsters appearing out of nowhere and wreaking havoc. Too used to their fates being left for others, more powerful forces, to decide. If at all Jason regrets that he didn’t come sooner. Sure, he doubts he would’ve been much of a help in the fight against Luthor’s temporary pet monster, against Superman himself. After all he’s nothing but an ex-sidekick. A vigilante who’s never been good enough to truly matter, nothing but a shadow of the great Batman who’s been lucky enough to be part of his world for a while. Bruce didn’t ask for him to come. They’re very similar in this way. But hell, even if Bruce had swallowed his pride enough to actually ask for help, he wouldn’t have known how to contact him. Because Bruce Wayne might be a master at the art of keeping tabs on people, but Jason learnt from the best and he dares to claim that his disappearance game is effective enough to even fool the bat.
And who is he fooling, if Bruce would ask for him to come, Jason would be there in a heartbeat. It doesn’t mean that he’s not angry or hurt anymore. At this point the pain has become such an integral part of his being, he’s pretty sure he would fall apart without it. But he’s not angry at Bruce. There’s just no point in being angry at the one person he would burn the world for, no matter how unreciprocated the feeling might be. But Bruce didn’t ask, be it because he was too proud to or because he simply couldn’t find a way to contact him, and Jason only saw the news about the attack on Gotham city when it was already too late. Even with his connections it took him days to get back from his hideout in the vastness of Siberia back to the US.
And now here he is, the gravel of the driveway crunching under the wheels of his bike as he slows to a halt just in front of the large door. Like everything else in this place, Wayne Manor hasn’t changed one bit since he last saw it. He’s not sure what he expected, not sure why the sight of the flowers on the windowsills makes his chest constrict. Alfred has always been unrivalled when it came to keeping up appearances. He wonders why his limbs move so slowly as he hikes up the stairs, his helmet clutched under one arm. There’s a lump in his throat that he can’t seem to swallow, a part of his brain telling him to just turn around and leave because he might not be a welcome guest. He thought about just breaking into the manor, maybe dropping right into the Batcave because he can and because Bruce wouldn’t expect anything else from him.
He rings the doorbell. Taking a step back his eyes stay glued to his feet, analysing the mud stains on his boots and what they might spell out for someone schooled in the art of observation. Only when the door creaks open does he dare to drag his gaze up again. Alfred looks older. He’s always been old, as far as Jason can remember in any case but now he looks more exhausted, tired. Jason wonders if Bruce will have the same lines carved into his face, if the events have settled as heavily on his shoulders as they have on his trusty butler’s. And yet, at the same time as he feels a strange worry invade his chest, he can feel some of the tension drain away from him. The place might not feel like home anymore but there’s something about Alfred’s presence that smooths out the anxiety spiking in his head. He cracks a smile, forcing his lips to stretch in a way they haven’t in a long while. “Hey Al.”
It’s hard to decipher the emotions behind the butler’s expression but the corners of his lips twitch and Jason could swear he sees some of those lines smooth out. Relief maybe, to see him safe after everything that has happened, to see him come home after such a long time. “It is good to see you, Master Jason.” The door is open and Alfred steps aside, ushering him inside with nothing but a gesture of his hand.
Jason waves it off, feeling a warmth creep into his heart. “Just Jason, please Al, I’ve been telling you for years.”
“And I’ve been telling you to take off your muddy shoes before you drag them all over the clean floors, Master Jason.” The older man replies with a pointed look at his boots and Jason feels himself duck his head sheepishly. An instinct, never quite lost and the familiarity of the situation forms a lump in his throat, as he hurries to peel off his boots. It’s true, there’s mud from god knows how many places around the world sticking to them. At this point they’re more dirt brown than black. He hasn’t even realised it, too used to hiding in crappy motel rooms and abandoned warehouses to care about the footprints he's leaving behind.
It’s awkward. Jason doesn’t know whether to hug him or to go for a handshake. In the end his insecurity wins over and he simply pushes his hands into his pockets, abandoning the rigid posture and relaxing his shoulders instead.
“Will you be staying this time?”
And Jason has no idea what to reply to that. No, his mind supplies, there’s no way he can stay here with the weight of the memories bearing heavily onto his shoulders. A part of him longs to stay, to be able to call this place home once more and it’s the same part that has made him return in the first place. “I don’t know.” He finally mutters through his tight throat, swallowing heavily as his gaze wanders past the butler to roam over the oh so familiar interior of the entrance hall. Nothing has changed, really. It’s like he’s been here just days ago. The same paintings, the same artful vases that he’s always found too tacky to have a place in Bruce’s home. And not a single speck of dust in sight. How Alfred manages to keep the place so clean without superpowers of his own is beyond him. “You still got some spare clothes that fit me?”
As if he waited for that question, Alfred gives him a look that speaks volumes. “Of course, Master Jason. If you will search the wardrobe in your old room I am sure you will find something to suit your needs.” He knew that Jason would be back. Or maybe he was just hoping that he would. In any case Jason finds his lips split into a grin despite the conflicting emotions in his head.
“You’re the best, Al.” He takes a step towards the large staircase, then stops in his tracks. “You don’t by any chance got some food too? I kinda haven’t eaten anything since I left Siberia.”
The frown gracing the older man is enough to tell him just how much he disapproves of this information. If he only knew, Jason thinks, quietly hoping that Alfred will never find out just how bad his eating habits have gotten. Not to mention his near non-existent sleeping schedule. Then again, he kind of did miss Alfred’s lectures. “Of course.”
Even his room looks almost the same as it did before he left. There are his posters suspended on the wall with pieces of tape, the stack of CDs on the otherwise empty desk. It feels eerie, strange and unwelcoming. He hurries to proceed to the closet and his eyes flicker to the old backpack stuffed into the corner. It’s old and worn out, littered with patches where Alfred fixed it after Jason loudly objected against throwing it away. He remembers when the backpack had been his whole life. A place to store stolen cigarettes and pieces of old bread. He remembers having nothing else to hold onto while he was out on the streets, just another street rat, always looking for a dry place to stay the night.
The clothes are new and Jason is thankful that Alfred considered the height he’s gained since the last time. He still isn’t as tall as Bruce, nor as broad. It probably could be blamed on his past; the years of running and hiding, leaving him underweight and scrawny. No amount of training could give him the bulging kind of muscles. But he was always fast, flexible, and strong enough to get the job done. Perfect Robin material. Jason huffs out a breath at his own thoughts, pushing away the bitterness rising in his throat.
He picks out something at random, leaving him with a comfortable hoodie and a pair of sweatpants that are just the slightest bit too wide. It feels strangely homely, trudging down the wide staircase in anything but his battle-gear. For a moment, he thinks that he could get used to this again but then again, he probably shouldn’t. As Bruce put it: “it’d be too damned easy”. And it wouldn’t do him any good because he’s not going to stay.
The thought brings him to the part about this visit that he’s been avoiding: Bruce. It’s not like he can avoid it forever because wherever Bruce has disappeared to, he’ll be back at some point. Jason isn’t sure he’s ready to face him yet. Doesn’t know what to do or say. Because that’s the part where his brain goes crazy with opportunities. With ‘maybe’s and ‘what if’s, possible scenarios that are never going to happen. What if Bruce doesn’t want him here?
The kitchen is warm, the air filled with a sweet scent that makes his mouth water. It really has been a while since he’s had a decent meal. And living off canned soup and whatever the Russian equivalent of ravioli is, doesn’t exactly count as a decent meal in his opinion. There’s a steaming cup of tea waiting for him and for a second Jason feels like something is pulling at his chest. Before everything went to shit, they had made a habit of drinking tea in the evenings. Alfred would call him down once he’d finished his homework, rewarding him with his favourite brand and a handful of cookies before he headed off to bed or down into the Batcave to join Bruce on his patrol. He wonders if Alfred managed to just stop doing it when he died. Or if he would sometimes pour two cups instead of one before realising that Jason wouldn’t come jumping down the stairs to join him.
He tries not to think about it. If there’s one thing he’s learnt over the past years, it’s to push intrusive thoughts back into the dark corners of his mind. It doesn’t fix things, but somethings can’t be fixed and if there’s a way to stave them off until he’s once more left to his own devices it’s good enough for him.
Jason wolfs down the food like he hasn’t eaten in months. He can see the way Alfred’s lips twitch just the slightest bit, his eyebrows raised in a way that speaks both of amusement and concern. It’s like he remembers all too well how scrawny and malnourished Jason was when he first arrived at the manor, how he never seemed to grow into Dick’s old clothes.
“So. How’s Bruce doing?” Because this is a topic he can’t avoid forever so he might as well try and face it. It’s enough to divert Alfred’s attention but it doesn’t ease the worry written into the lines on his face.
The butler sighs, and Jason thinks that he really looks older than he remembers. “Master Wayne hasn’t been sleeping.” When he notices Jason’s raised eyebrow, he adds: “Even less so than he usually does. The last weeks have been trying for all of us. I do think his encounter with Superman has hit him harder than even he admits. He has been spending more time in the cave, brooding over files, not to mention his regular visits to the family crypt. Something is eating away at him. I have tried talking to him, but it doesn’t seem like I got through to him. Maybe you could attempt-”
Jason barks out a laugh that sounds too bitter even in his own ears. “Don’t think he’s going to want to talk to me, Al. Far as I recall I was the black sheep of this family. If there’s one person he’d confide in it surely isn’t me.”
Alfred regards him with a look that is equal parts sympathy and understanding. “I don’t think you realise how much you still mean to him.”
He bites back the reply lingering on his tongue and looks down at his empty plate instead. There’s no point to deny the hope that simmers in his chest at that, no denying the way his heart aches. There’s a part of him that wants it to be true, to know that Bruce never stopped loving him, needs him the way he did years ago. Not that the kind of love, Jason harboured for the other man, was the same kind. And then there’s a part that is afraid that if he allows himself to be vulnerable again, he would all but fall apart.
“Where is he now?”
“I believe Master Wayne is attending a funeral.” Alfred throws a look at the clock over the counter. “I think he should be returning soon. If you wish I could try to contact him.” The tone of his voice suggests that the butler knows well enough Jason wouldn’t want him to.
Jason shakes his head. “I’ll wait for him in the cave. Thanks for the food Al.” He pushes himself up from his chair, suddenly feeling like the kitchen is growing too small for the both of them. His skin is itching, the mere act of talking about things is too unfamiliar to him. The desire to run, grab his bike and disappear again, gnaws at the back of his brain but he pushes it down. He came here on his own devices to try and see where it could get him, there’s no way he’s giving up that quickly.
It feels like the cave is smaller than he remembers. It’s still spacious and too wide for his eyes to see in the dim light but it’s less intimidating than it was when he was still a kid. Nothing else has changed. The same memorabilia line the walls. There’s a few he doesn’t remember, trophies from villains defeated that he can’t place. The quiet is like a soothing balm, trying to calm the maelstrom of thoughts in his mind. He’s not sure if he regrets coming here, isn’t sure if he should stay. Jason takes a deep breath and moves past the glass case without sparing his old uniform a second glance. It’s a replica anyway, he figures the original one was torn to pieces in the explosion. Just like his body.
The sound of footsteps tears him from his thoughts, and he slinks back into the shadows instinctively, eyes trained on the stairs leading up into the manor.
Bruce looks worn down. His shoulders are slumped, his tie halfway undone and the jacket of his suit crumpled. Even from his position Jason can see the bags under his eyes, the lines carved into his features. He looks beaten, like reality has finally managed to slither through the cracks of his defences. It makes Jason’s chest constrict, leaves him aching to reach out, to do anything to smooth the worry out of his face. He wants to embrace him, tell him that it’s going to be alright, that he’s safe to let go. But who is he to talk. He’s nothing but a shadow from the past, someone who’s still trying and failing to figure out who he’s supposed to be.
But he has to do something, so he steps out of the shadows. He can see Bruce flinch at the sound of his footfalls, can see those shoulders go rigid for a moment before they relax again.
It’s hard to swallow around the lump in his throat. Hard to draw a breath that doesn’t shiver past his lips. He doesn’t know what to say, where to begin because so much has happened, there’s so many pieces for them to pick up. “You kept it.” He looks at the glass case, at his own reflection staring back at him. “After all this time, you still keep it.” He doesn’t know how to feel about it. In a way it’s as though Bruce is still clinging to the ghost of someone that has died long ago. As though he longs to have that Jason back more than he wants the person he has become. And Jason can’t blame him.
“I need it.” Bruce replies and the words are heavy, sinking down on Jason’s shoulders. “I need to remember what happens when I fail. What I can lose…”
The words force him to turn around, but Bruce isn’t looking at him. He seems to be staring at something far away and Jason feels an intense surge of emotion that he’s not even trying to decipher. “You didn’t lose me.” The words rush out of his mouth before he can consider them. They have the desired effect though as the man finally looks him in the eyes.
It’s as though something is pulling at him. He shifts, slowly making his way over to the older man. “I saw it on the news. I tried to get here as fast as I could. I’m sorry I’m late.”
Bruce shakes his head. “You’re here.” His voice is gentle, and the surprise is obvious in those words. He didn’t expect Jason to come, maybe didn’t dare to hope that he would.
Up close the other looks even worse. The tiredness is written into his face and he seems as though he could crumble any moment. Jason doesn’t flinch when Bruce reaches out, doesn’t back away when those strong arms pull him in. Instead he sinks into the embrace, returning it as though he still has the right to hold the other like this. “Yeah, I’m here… I’m here.” The words are a whisper, getting lost in the silence around them but it doesn’t matter. He can feel Bruce’s heartbeat, can feel his chest rise and fall. Jason doesn’t want to let go.
Bruce hides his face in Jason’s shoulder and Jason suppresses a shiver. His fingers come up to run through the soft black hair, remembering how the other used to hold him through his nightmares when he was nothing but a scared kid. He can feel the older man relax against him, as though all the tension is draining from his body. “I could use your help here in Gotham.”
Jason doesn’t know how to respond so he doesn’t. Neither does he reply when the other asks him to stay the night. He only hums, relishing the way it makes Bruce’s fingers curl against his back.
He doesn’t feel like sleeping. He stays for a little moment to make sure that Bruce is resting easily, brushing his fingertips over the man’s forehead in an attempt to chase away the nightmares. Something feels off about the situation. He feels like maybe Bruce really does need him after all, like he can make a difference here. Jason thinks that as long as he can be good for Bruce, he can stay. He doesn’t know what that means for him and the concept of not knowing frightens him.
Jason heads down the hidden staircase again, his soft footfalls echoing off the high walls of the cave. Moving past the glass case without sparing it a glance, he settles in the comfortable chair in front of the large screens. He’s surprised to find that the computer reacts to his voice and the ache in his chest deepens. There’s no way Bruce hasn’t changed his access codes since his death, especially since his voice changed too much. But the computer welcomes him anyway, announcing that he has clearance to access all recent files.
He decides not to think about it for now and focuses on his reading instead. If he wants to stick around, even if only for a little while, he needs to be up to date on what’s happening in Gotham. And he has a lot of catching up to do on the whole metahuman situation. They’ve known about Superman for a while and he knows that Bruce has been entertaining the possibility of other superheroes for a while but to see them pop up like that is something else entirely. Jason isn’t sure if it’s unsettling or pretty damn cool. Maybe Bruce has rubbed off on him too much because his first thought is about the damage these people could do if they were to choose the wrong side of the law. They need contingency plans, ways to take them out quickly in case anything like that happens.
Pulling his legs up, he wraps an arm around his knees to ward off the cold of the cave and clicks on the next folder. He snorts. Of course, Bruce has already started making plans, listing potential weaknesses and strengths for the powers he’s expecting. He wonders for a moment if Bruce really means it, that he could use Jason’s help in Gotham. Because how could Jason possibly keep up with these kinds of individuals?
Jason barely feels the exhaustion creep up on him until his eyelids are already heavy as lead and he’s reading the same sentence three times without figuring out its meaning. The cup of coffee he’s stolen from the kitchen is long empty and he’s sniffling a bit from the cold. Next time he’ll bring a blanket, he thinks.
He drags himself up the stairs, lingering for just a moment outside the door to the master bedroom. With a quiet shake of his head, he continues down the hallway and to his old room instead. His bed is made, the sheets smelling of the same laundry detergent that Alfred has used for as long as he can remember. It feels strange like everything does but maybe, just maybe it’s a good kind of strange. Even if just for a little while, maybe he can allow himself to get used to it.
When he wakes up the daylight is already filtering through the blinds and he thinks it has to be the most sleep he’s gotten in ages. To his surprise, he finds Bruce in the kitchen, with the sleeves of his pyjamas peeking out from under his bathrobe. He still looks tired, his face buried in the newspaper, messy hair sticking up in all directions. But he seems less on edge, features relaxed as he blindly reaches for his coffee mug every now and then.
Jason only realises that he’s been staring, when Bruce looks up from his paper. He doubts that the older man only noticed him now, after all Bruce is the one person he could never sneak up on, not that he was trying to. “Morning Jay.” There’s an easy smile on his lips and Jason can feel his heart jump in his chest. How does this man still hold such a power over him after all this time? Ducking his head instinctively to hide the way his lips are twitching in response, he brushes past Bruce to take a seat at the other end of the table. He sinks back into the chair, throwing his feet up onto one of the empty chairs, forcing himself to relax.
He can feel the other’s gaze rest on him, a feeling of irritation raising in chest at how the simple attention can make his gut twist like this. “What,” he snarls, harsher than he intended and immediately regretting it.
For a moment, he expects Bruce’s expression to change but the smile lingers. “I didn’t expect you to stay.”
It’s the honesty of the statement that takes his breath away. And this really has to stop because he’ll be making a fool out of himself. He doesn’t know what to say in return, so he doesn’t. Instead he gives a vague shrug and waits until Alfred saves him by serving his breakfast.
The silence between them stretches, like an old chewing gum, but it is less awkward and unpleasant than Jason expected it to be. Yet it still makes his skin crawl, anxiety creeping into his mind like a poisonous snake. He’s not used to sitting idly for too long. Sure, there were moments of peace and quiet throughout the last years but never for very long. It’s hard to settle while he’s on the run from the world and most of all, himself. But he’s not on the run anymore, he reminds himself. He jumps out of his seat once it becomes too much, offering to help Alfred with the dishes just to have something to do. Out of the corner of his eye he sees Bruce fold the newspaper and rising from his seat, the scratching of the chair on the floor as he stands up.
Alfred gives him a pointed look and shoos him out of the kitchen after politely declining his offer. It leaves Jason in the hallway, a strange feeling haunting his mind, as he slowly follows Bruce to the hidden staircase that leads down into the Batcave. “Say something,” he challenges the other, hoping that it would chase away the uneasiness that comes with the lingering silence.
“What do you want me to say, Jason?” Bruce’s voice is gentle, there’s not the slightest hint of irritation to his words. It doesn’t ease the tension in Jason’s shoulders, instead it only worsens it. Maybe it was a mistake to stay after all, what use could Bruce possibly have for him here? His mind jumps to the possibility of leaving, makes up a plan to say his farewell to Alfred before grabbing his bike and driving as far away from Gotham as the fuel will take him.
“Do you want to come on patrol with me?” The words pull him out of his thoughts. He blinks, realising that they’re already in the cave once more, his hands clenched to fists in the pockets of his sweatpants. Bruce is looking at him expectantly and Jason can practically feel the hope radiating off the other. He’s lonely, Jason thinks, left alone for too long in the darkness of his own world.
There’s no way he can refuse, even if he wanted to. So, he gives a shrug, resting his gaze on the sleeves of Bruce’s bathrobe. “Isn’t it a bit early?”
A smile curls around the other’s lips. “It’s never too early for justice.”
And it’s such a cheesy line that only Bruce could deliver with such a straight face. It almost makes Jason smile in return. “You haven’t changed, old man.” He shakes his head, running a hand through his hair. “Let me grab my gear from upstairs.”
Bruce gives him a nod. “Meet me at the batmobile in fifteen.” And then, as though it only slipped into his mind when Jason is already halfway up the stairs again, he adds: “No killing.”
Jason doesn’t respond, only keeps climbing the stairs. “You really haven’t changed at all,” he mumbles to himself once he’s out of earshot. And for some reason it’s this simple thing that eases some of the uneasiness, chasing away the anxiety crawling up his spine.
It feels strange riding shotgun in the batmobile again. It’s too easy to close his eyes and imagine he’s still wearing the brightly coloured outfit, half sitting on the cape that always seems to get in the way of his cool poses. He remembers his pockets full of marbles and rope, ridiculously effective weapons that he’s trained to use and that jump into his hands as quickly as the smart one-liners and bad puns.
He can’t see Bruce’s eyes behind the lenses, but his gaze is trained on the street they’re flying down, his grip on the steering wheel relaxed. He doesn’t seem to realise that Jason is staring at him or he does and he’s simply not reacting to it. Jason is glad that he lets him have that, gives him those long minutes of silence to simply watch. He catalogues the lines around Bruce’s mouth, the changes he’s made to his batsuit, the little things that only someone sees, who is trained to look for them. There are scratches on his armour, places where the cape has been singed and Jason isn’t sure if Bruce just hasn’t found the time to fix them yet, or if he doesn’t want to. He wonders if they’re leftovers of his encounter with Superman, realising that he knows nothing of what really happened. The only intel he got came from the news coverage and what little he found in the reports on the batcomputer.
The cool night air embraces him, he can taste the rain without looking up at the dark clouds looming overhead. Of course, the place is famous for its notoriously bad weather. Jason doesn’t remember the last time the skies cleared up, replacing the gloomy grey with the most brilliant of blues. In fact, he thinks to himself, the day that Gotham city welcomes him with sunshine and a warm breeze instead of the icy cold wind might as well be the day he’ll call the city home once more. Both of which are things that will never happen.
Jason takes a deep breath, throwing a glance over his shoulder to find Bruce enraptured by whatever news Alfred is projecting onto the interface in his lenses. With a shrug, he pulls one of his guns from its resting place against his thigh. It’s an instinctive routine: ejecting the mag, checking for any irregularities before pushing it back in. He checks the safety lock, runs his fingernail through one of the more prominent scratches tainting the metal surface, before pushing it back into its holster. He’s halfway through the same check with the other one, when Bruce’s voice interrupts him.
“Gordon’s men are busting a pay-off at the docks. Alfred thinks they might be in over their heads.” It’s a routine that is just too easy to fall back into. The sentences are short, clipped, relying only the most important facts. Jason nods instinctively, without another word sliding into the passenger seat once more because there’s no time to waste.
But Jason isn’t Robin anymore and he doesn’t follow Batman’s clues as seamlessly as it should. They leave the batmobile behind and the sound of gunshots echoes from the large warehouses. Bruce is gone in a heartbeat, his grappling hook finding purchase on one of the rooftops. It leaves Jason at a loss for a split second. “No orders? Guess I’m doing this my own way.”
He doesn’t need Batman’s instructions to fall in line with him. His own tactics are different now, his moves less smooth marble-throwing-acrobatics-ace-kid and more like the broken soldier he is. And yet he hasn’t lost his touch one bit. He follows up on Bruce’s directions, as though they’re written clearly across the cloudy sky. His punches hit hard, where Bruce shoves the thugs into his reach, the soles of his shoes send the man flying back towards the caped crusader.
There is a synergy to their fighting that betrays their thousands of hours of training together, that shows just how well they know both each other's fighting style and personality. To anyone on the outside it must look like they can read each other's minds, a connection that makes spoken words completely unnecessary. And yet, despite just how well they work together, Jason can feel that there's something off. Where their moves might seem almost synchronised to a civilian, he notices small missteps, seconds of hesitation. It's nothing that can't be smoothed out with more training, he thinks to himself, blaming this strange feeling of unfamiliarity on their time spent apart.
The cops have removed themselves out of the battle minutes ago, knowing too well not to get into the Bat’s way. They’re lingering at the edges of the scene, watching their violent dance, some with fear written across their features, some with awe.
If the mission has seemed dangerous at first, the criminals clearly belonging to some drug cartel and armed with semi-automatic assault rifles, their combined efforts make it all too easy to shut them down. Jason thinks that he can almost feel the satisfaction radiating off the other man, once all six women and men are securely bound or knocked out. One of the policemen approaches them, gun drawn but no threat, with his arm hanging loosely at his side. He takes one look at the criminals on the ground, then glances up at the two vigilantes, shaking his head slowly. "Brutal," he mutters under his breath and then louder: "Thanks, Batman. Lucky for us, that you showed up when you did. One of my people got shot just before you got here. She'll live but we sure as hell didn't expect them to be this trigger-happy."
Jason huffed out a laugh. "Not like anyone ain't trigger happy around these parts. You should get used to that, officer. Can't always be there to save your ass." The cop shoots him an incredulous look, obviously wondering who exactly he is and why he's tagging along with the Bat.
He doesn't react to the statement, however. "This a friend of yours? Haven't seen him around before."
Oh, the "completely-ignoring-the-sidekick" thing. It's not like he hasn't experienced that a million times before... "You know, I'm right here-" Jason starts but a raised, gloved hand stops him before he can say anything else.
"He's with me," Bruce only says in return and somehow the sentence makes a warm feeling spread in his chest. Not, that he allows himself to indulge in this warmth, though he can't help but admit that it's nice. Jason doesn't even try to hide the grin that spreads over his lips, when the cop accepts this explanation without daring to ask any more questions.
The distant sound of howling sirens draws the cops attention, and once he turns his head back towards the two vigilantes, they've both disappeared without a trace. He frowns, thinking to himself something along the lines of "oh, good, there's two of them now".
Jason lets out a groan, when he stretches his arms along the roof of the batmobile, twisting his hips and receiving a satisfying pop in his back in return. "I gotta admit, I missed watching you work, more than I thought. Not sure, I like the whole sidekick vibe though."
If he's honest, he's not sure if this is what he wants for himself. It's different from the time when he was still Robin, different from his blind following of orders. Bruce still expects him to act within his rules, but he doesn't give him clear commands. And yet, he's still just a shadow of his mentor, an add-on, so to speak.
Maybe, he's simply gotten too used to doing his own thing, to being left completely to his own devices that he's forgotten what it feels like for someone else to have his back. Yeah, that has to be it.
To his surprise, Bruce's voice is gentle, when he answers, his gaze under the cowl clearly focused on the younger man: "I missed having you there."
The words leave him breathless for a moment, the sarcastic remark withering away on his tongue, unspoken. It's not that he hasn't expected the other to truly want him at his side again, it's just, that he's not used to Bruce being this honest about it, this outspoken.
Or maybe, maybe he's simply never given Bruce the chance to be this honest. It wasn't the same, back when he was still Robin, still the good little sidekick that was like a perfect extension to the vigilante. And after that, well, things weren't exactly easy.
The world he came back to wasn't the same he left behind. Hell, it took him years to find his way back to Gotham after his involuntary dip in the Lazarus pit and when he did, he found that Bruce himself had changed. This Batman is harsher than the one he remembers, rougher around the edges.
Jason doesn't blame him.
They haven't talked about it yet, about the Joker's blood on Bruce's hands, about the ultimate sacrifice he committed in his grief for his dead companion. Hell, Bruce probably thinks, Jason is still angry about his death.
He's not sure if he was ever truly angry. When he came back to life, he was confused at first. His mind a huge mess of things he couldn't decipher. An actual zombie. Then, he was thrown head first into the Lazarus pit and suddenly his world was filled with pain. Being able to think didn't exactly make his situation better. Instead, he was left terrified, and, once he escaped from Ra'as stronghold, lost.
It took him so long, to even figure out his own fragmented memories, surviving purely on instincts. He was desperate, hurt, alone. He knew, Bruce was somewhere out there, the one clear memory that guided him from the start. But he didn't know where to look.
And Bruce never came looking for him.
When he had finally made his way back to Gotham somehow, he was a mere shadow of his old self. Years had passed, there were no flowers on his grave and Bruce seemed to have forgotten about him. Even though he knew that the bachelor playboy Bruce Wayne was nothing, but a show put on for the journalists, Jason couldn't help but think how happy he looked in those newspaper pictures. With all those beautiful men and women around him, the rumours of an engagement between him and that one actress, Jason had never even heard of... Of course, he had no right to be hurt, he'd always been just a kid with a stupid, quite literally, undying, crush on his mentor.
He stopped by the mansion, left a present for Alfred and broke into the Batcave. A part of him wished that Bruce was there, another part of him was terrified of the possibility. He had no idea what he was supposed to say. After all those years, after being lost for so long, he didn't know what words would be able to mend his own broken mind.
But the cave was abandoned. The Batman was roaming the city, on his own. He didn't need Jason to get the job done. All things considered, Bruce didn't exactly need him for anything. If he ever did. And that was a thought he tried his hardest to never explore.
So, he left. Didn't put any effort into not leaving a trace behind, just in case-
A hand on his arm makes him flinch, pulls him out of his thoughts. He glances up to find Bruce has walked around the car, standing tall next to him. There's no telling what his eyes are saying but the lines around his mouth have softened. The older man doesn't speak, only looks down upon him, as though he's waiting for Jason to share his thought.
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, he asks: "Are you alright?"
The moment is too tender, too intimate and it sets his skin on fire. He's caught, staring at the mask and searching his empty mind for a suitable reply.
"Ah-" He clears his throat, turning his head because his thoughts are racing in his head and he needs to focus on something, anything else. The ground is dirty, patches of grass breaking through the concrete. Funny, how humans try so hard to control nature and yet it breaks through over and over again.
"Yeah, I'm fine," he finally says but he knows Bruce isn't convinced. Not, with how long it took him to get out the words. Not, with the way he can't look up until the other has finally abandoned his guarding stance and returns to the driver's side of the batmobile. His arm feels cold, where Bruce's hand rested just moments ago. It's like his skin misses the touch, longs for it.
He closes his eyes, as he lets himself sink into the passenger seat. As they drive back to the mansion, he imagines what the city would look like years after all civilisation has died out. Trees growing through the rubble of skyscrapers, deer trudging along the cracked concrete of the streets, feeding on the dandelions that have reclaimed the sidewalks.
Neither of them breaks the silence until they reach the cave. Jason peels the mask off his face, barely noticing the feeling of his skin tingling, so used is he to the sensation.
"Thank you." The words surprise him, and he turns around, finding himself caught in the gaze of those steel blue eyes, as Bruce has taken off the cowl. He still looks tired, but Jason likes to think that the exhaustion sits a little less deeply in his bones. The younger man resists the urge to walk up to him, to trace the lines on his face and brush his fingers over those dark shadows under his eyes.
Instead, he only shrugs. "Nothing to thank me for, old man." There are more words lingering on his tongue but none of them seem to fit the situation. The slight twitch pulling at the other's lips, makes his chest ache. Oh, he has to leave, before this unrequited love breaks his heart all over again.
But Bruce looks so glad to have him around, there's an honesty in his words and actions that reveals just how lonely he truly is. Maybe the Batman's world is supposed to be lonely, a road meant only for him to walk. But Jason can't help but think that maybe, even Gotham's greatest vigilante needs to remember that he's not all alone after all.
Bruce’s fingers are working with the buckles and zippers of his suit and Jason has to force himself to stop staring as the other reveals the naked skin of his upper body. There are scars he doesn’t remember and next to them bruises and stitches that look too fresh to not be souvenirs from his latest great fight against Doomsday. Instinctively, he takes a step forward and reaches out a hand, his fingers featherlight, as he trails one of the new scars along the man’s chest. The marked skin is rough and warm against his own, as though it’s inviting him to explore further. He only realises what he’s doing, when Bruce freezes under his touch. Fuck. He pulls his hand away, as though the contact burnt him. “Ah, sorry-“ He has no clue what he’s supposed to say, what kind of apology could make Bruce look past this indecent gesture. “I- I’ll wait upstairs. I’m sure Al has dinner ready…” With that, he hurries to turn and heads towards the stairs with long strides.
He doesn’t turn around to see what’s surely a shocked if not disgusted expression. Oh shit. Why did he come here in the first place? Maybe he should just grab his things and leave right this moment. After all, if this isn’t a distinct clue that being around Bruce isn’t a good idea, then what is? Hell, Bruce probably doesn’t even want him around now. And Jason can’t even blame him. His chest feels too tight, panic bubbling up in his mind, that makes his hands tremble. Clenching his teeth, he forces his breathing to steady. Bruce doesn’t say a single word and Jason isn’t sure if that reassures him or makes him feel worse. Casting his eyes downwards, he flees up the stairs.
Jason doesn’t get very far at all. Bruce’s steps behind him are nowhere near as soundless as usual, as he’s obviously preoccupied with something else. He comes to a halt just a few feet behind him. “Jay!” His voice is serious. There’s none of Batman’s grovel left but it’s still deep, emotional even.
He feels shame burning on his cheeks, despises himself for his cowardice and the way he can’t even look up into the other’s eyes. “What is it, old man?”
Bruce seems to hesitate, and Jason is trying his best to stare holes into his dirty combat boots. But the leather doesn’t budge, and he’s not prepared for the gentleness in the older man’s tone. He almost flinches, when a hand suddenly comes to rest on his shoulder, the touch so kind that it makes his heart jump in his chest. “Stay. Please.”
The request takes him by surprise and the thoughts in his head are racing at a thousand miles per hour. He doesn’t dare to ask why Bruce still wants him to stay, doesn’t dare to ask if Bruce will just pretend nothing happened. Instead he only nods, his voice cracking ever so slightly, when he responds. “Whatever.”
It's as much of an agreement as he can manage, because how the fuck would he be able to leave now? If Bruce fucking Wayne asks him to stay, there’s no way he can refuse. Because it feels like he’s suffocating even thinking about it. And because he knows that if he leaves now, he won’t ever come back. And the idea alone will break his heart in the most cliched soap opera way.
The hand on his shoulder lingers for another moment and he thinks he can feel the other’s warmth through his thick leather jacket and the Kevlar underneath. His skin tingles, and he feels the intense urge to turn around and throw himself into Bruce’s arms. No, no. One stupid misstep is enough for one evening, he tells himself and he mutters something under his breath about getting a shower before dinner.
It seems to satisfy Bruce, as the hand slips off his shoulder, a weight lifted and yet he yearns for it to return. Jason doesn’t find the courage to turn around and see the expression on the other’s face. So instead he hurries down the hall and up the stairs without another word or a glance back at Bruce.
The hot water pours over his body, almost scalding his skin and slowly easing his muscles into relaxation. He leans his back against the cold tiles of the wall, the contrast sending shivers down his spine and causing goose bumps to erupt on his arms. He sighs, closing his eyes and tilting his face upward into the spray. His hands roam over his body, calluses catching on his scars, as he maps out his own chest. Oh, he knows he’s going to hell for this, but he can’t resist. He still sees Bruce’s naked chest in front of him, feels the warmth of his skin under his fingers.
He imagines Bruce stepping into the shower, his body gloriously naked and sun kissed. He pushes Jason into the wall, trapping him with his body alone. Strong hands bury themselves in his hair, tilting his head back so that the taller man can kiss his lips. A soft moan falls from Jason’s lips, as he melts into the kiss, parting his lips and inviting Bruce’s tongue to invade him. Their tongues tangle and slide against each other in a hot, wet dance that sends sparks of electricity along his body. Bruce’s hands roam over his body greedily, exploring every part as though he wants to burn the memory into his mind. His fingers are demanding, rough, as they dig into Jason’s hips and pull him closer until their bodies are pressed tight against each other. He can feel Bruce’s hard dick press into him, and the sensation makes him groan, his own penis stiffening quickly.
“I’ve been thinking about you, Jay,” Bruce growls into his ear once he’s done devouring Jason’s mouth. His perfect lips trace the curve of Jason’s neck, teeth digging into the space where his shoulder and neck meet just above his collar bone. Hot pain sparks within him, leaving him gasping but not for mercy. His own hands find Bruce’s back, fingernails digging into the skin, desperately holding onto the other. “I’ve wanted this for so long,” Bruce admits, his words half swallowed by the hungry kisses he leaves along Jason’s chest. His voice is honey and darkness, deepened by arousal and dripping with uncontested dominance. The heat seems to make Jason delirious, his vision blurry, as his body arches into the older man’s touch.
“Such a good boy, look at you.” Bruce’s hand finds his hard cock and Jason moans desperately in response. The other’s hand tightens around his length, jerking him off with slow, languid movements. “Yeah, that’s it,” the older man encourages him, as his hand continues to draw noises out of him, causes him to buck his hips and press his back harder against the cold wall. “Come on, let me hear you, Jay. Tell me what you want.”
Jason almost chokes on his own tongue, his eyes squeezed shut, as he finds a finger prodding at his entrance, gently teasing the rim. “Please, B – fuck – I need you, B…” The finger pushes in ever so slightly, slick with soap and he gasps. “Fuck me, B, please…”
Bruce hums, his lips returning to torture Jason’s neck, kissing and licking and biting his way down to his nipples. The scratch of teeth against the tender nubs is torture, drawing pleading whines from his throat. “Fuck, come on B…”
The finger thrusts into him further, then pulls back, only to be replaced by two digits. The stretch is uncomfortable at first, the angle difficult but it feels so fucking good. “Bruce…” he moans, as the hand around his dick speeds up its pace, the motion so perfect to stimulate him further and further. “You have to beg for it,” Bruce responds, his movements slowing just to torture him further. “Beg like a good little slut.”
There’s no rational thought left in his mind. “Please, please B, please let me come for you…”
Satisfied, Bruce rewards him with a breathless kiss, his hand returning to the faster pace. Jason bites his bottom lip, as his body convulses. His orgasm rushes through him like a wave, making his muscles contract, breath caught in his throat. His hand slows, pushing the last drops of his come out of his dick, before he falls back against the wall.
He doesn’t open his eyes for a long while, allows his body to come down from the high.
Yeah, staying here is really not a good idea, he thinks, as he finally shakes off the post-orgasm trance and hurries to finish his shower. His legs just the tiniest bit noodle-y, he steps onto the ridiculously fluffy rug and wraps himself in one of the huge towels everyone loves so much. For a moment he lingers, staring at his blurry reflection in the fogged-up mirror.
“You’re a mess,” he tells himself before he pulls his gaze away and steps out into the hallway.
Jason stops dead in his tracks, when he spots the very man he just fantasized about at the other end of the hall.