“It’s not you; you’re not the poison,” Dick tells him, even though the greater part of himself would rather tip himself over the edge of the building than continue, “It’s me. It’s my fault.”
He swallows hard, and forces himself to keep going even though the words taste like ashes in his mouth. He has to do this -- for Jason, if not for himself.
“It’s this secret that’s making us all sick; my secret,” he explains, “I caused all of this. I did something, five years ago. Something unforgivable.”
It’s so hard, trying to get the words out there, but he knows to the bottom of his soul that he needs to do this, that Jason needs to hear it. And if Jason can bare his soul to him the way he just did, then Dick can return that trust, can’t he?
"I killed Deathstroke’s son," he finally admits, and Jason is quiet for so long that Dick has to look up again, his heart in his throat, just to make sure that Jason hadn’t already jumped.
“What?” Jason finally asks, and his voice sounds so small, so betrayed and confused, “But-”
Jason shakes a little, and looks over at Dick.
“Rose said her dad killed Jericho,” he says, and Dick’s throat closes up at the sound of his name, “You- You knew him. That Bowie record in my room, it was his.”
Understanding seems to fall over Jason like a wave, and he stumbles; Dick barely manages to lunge after him, knocking them both backwards onto the roof instead of off of it.
“He was a Titan,” Jason wheezes out, and Dick carefully stands up and reaches a hand down, relieved when Jason accepts it, this time, and allows Dick to help him up.
Dick can’t help himself, after that; he drags Jason into a hug and holds him as tightly as he can manage.
“It’s not that simple,” he stresses, and Jason makes a disbelieving noise as he slowly settles into the embrace, “It isn’t.”
“What the Hell is going on here?”
Dick stiffens at the sound of Bruce’s voice, and squeezes his eyes shut tight.
Not now, he tells himself, Let me focus on Jason.
It’s Jason who speaks, his voice sounding even more wrecked than it had moments ago, and Dick realises with a jolt that this isn’t another hallucination; Bruce is real, this time.
Dick lets go of Jason, and turns to face Bruce head-on, his expression solemn. Jason seems to hesitate, lingering behind Dick instead of moving closer to their shared mentor.
“What are you doing here?” Dick asks, and Bruce merely raises an eyebrow at him.
“Did you really expect me to stay put when Jason’s tracker went offline only to come back with no vitals?” He responds, and Jason makes a noise behind him that’s something like shock, and something like hurt.
Like he didn’t expect Bruce to care.
Dick’s heart sinks even further in his chest at the realisation.
Jason rocks forward on the balls of his feet, only to settle back a moment later, clearly making an effort to stay put despite not wanting to, and Dick inches aside just enough to make him more visible.
He watches as Bruce’s jaw ticks, and his brow furrows ever so slightly.
“Come here, Jason,” he says, a command despite the softened tone he speaks with, and Jason makes another of those hurt sounds before launching himself at Bruce. Even as Bruce’s arms wind around Jason’s body, his eyes stay locked with Dick’s, and it’s only the years of being this man’s partner that allows him to read not only the confusion, but also the fear in his eyes.
“Bruce, I’m sorry,” Jason chokes out, and Dick frowns as Bruce reaches up to cup the back of Jason’s head and hold him closer, “I fucked up, I’m sorry. Don’t send me away again, please. I’ll work harder, I- I’ll do better.”
Dick feels bile rising in his throat, and swallows it back down as he forces himself to approach the pair.
“Shh, Jaylad,” he hears Bruce murmur, “It’s alright, son.”
“Deathstroke and Dr. Light got to him,” Dick says, skipping over the part where Jason had gone rogue, and Bruce returns his attention to him, “Slade cut out his tracker, left it with Light’s body for us to find.” He swallows hard, and lets his gaze drift to the side as he continues, telling himself this is just like any other mission report, “He wanted Rose for Jason, I tried to give him myself, instead.”
He isn’t looking, doesn’t see the way Bruce’s gaze darkens as it cuts to him, his jaw clenched and fingers twitching.
“It didn’t work,” he mutters, “Obviously. He blew up the scaffolding Jason was tied to, and- And I couldn’t keep my grip, he fell.”
Dick clenches his own jaw, and looks up at Bruce again, “There was this kid, who saved him. We don’t know much about him, but he’s in our infirmary. He-” Dick frowns, unsure about his next works, “He looks like Uncle Clark, a bit. I think he might be Kryptonian. I haven't… told the others that. I was supposed to call you, but-”
He shakes his head, ignoring the flicker of surprise in Bruce’s eyes for now, and continues, “I’ve been tracking Slade down all day, I just got back. He’s- He’s in the Tower, Bruce. He’s been watching us.”
Jason jolts in surprise, pulling away from Bruce and rounding on Dick with wide eyes.
“What?” He demands, his hands shaking even as he tries to quell it by clenching them into fists.
“I was going to tell you,” Dick promises, “Once I could get you inside. Talking you down off that ledge became my priority.”
Jason flinches at the reminder, and looks down at the ground, a stubborn set to his jaw, and Bruce just looks pained.
“Jason,” he whispers, reaching out to put a hand on the teen’s arm, but Jason shrugs him off.
“That’s… That’s it,” Dick finishes, “That’s where we’re at. We need to relocate and regroup.” He takes a deep breath, and then lets it out slowly, “And then we need to tell the new Titans the truth about what happened five years ago.”
Jason frowns, his fingers twitching against his thigh as his gaze cuts towards the door to the fire-escape.
“I’m not going back in there,” he says after a moment, and Dick tilts his head in confusion.
His eyes narrow as he thinks about finding Jason on that ledge, and the tension in the kitchen when he’d returned.
“Jason,” he says, his tone as neutral as he can manage to keep it, “What happened while I was gone?”
Jason’s fists clench at his sides, and Dick knows he hit the nail on the head, that there was a trigger to push Jason over the edge and it wasn’t just about what happened the previous night.
“Someone is fucking with people’s shit,” Jason says after a moment, and Bruce hisses out a language! that sounds painfully halfhearted, “They all decided it was me, even though I didn’t do shit!”
“Deathstroke,” Dick mutters, and Jason wraps his arms around himself as he looks at the ground, “It had to be him. He really is in the Tower.”
Carefully, he steps towards Jason, and rests a hand on his shoulder, waiting until Jason finally looks at him before he speaks.
“Let’s go talk to them,” he says, “Together. We’ll clear this up.”
“If you still don’t feel comfortable with the team when all of this is done,” Bruce adds, “I’ll take you home with me. Alright, Jaylad?”
Jason hesitates for a moment, a muscle in his jaw ticking as he steels himself, his shoulders pulling up straighter as he tries to project a confidence he isn’t feeling.
“Fine,” he mutters, and then turns on his heel, heading towards the door to the stairs. Bruce and Dick are left hurrying to follow him.
The rest of the team, minus Conner and Rose, is still congregated in the kitchen, talking in hushed whispers that cut off when they hear the three of them approaching. The back of Dick’s neck prickles, and he eyes the group suspiciously, his brow creasing when Kori cuts her gaze away from him.
“Here to take Boy-fucking-Wonderful home for a time out, Bats?” Hank spits, lips curling into a cruel sneer, and Dick watches as Bruce’s jaw ticks.
“Hank,” Dick cuts in, hoping to defuse the situation before it gets any worse, but Jason seems to have other plans, stepping up to plant himself right in front of Hank and looking up at him.
"My ma’ was a fuckin’ junkie, okay?" He spits out, and Dick frowns, reminded not for the first time that he never actually read Bruce’s files on the new Robin.
An addict mother. Boosting cars. Juvie.
That East End accent that slips into his voice sometimes.
It’s no wonder the kid's got so many rough edges.
Hank looks surprised by the revelation, too, if a little wary of having Jason up in his face, but the remaining fire in his eyes fades into muted horror as Jason continues, "I'm the one who found her when she OD'd. I wouldn't fuckin' shit on someone in recovery, I'm not that big an asshole."
He turns to Donna, then, and the confusion on his face is nearly as strong as the hurt, "And I don't even know what you were talking about! The Hell does soda have to do with fucking anything?”
Donna and Hank both shift uncomfortably, wilting a little under the scrutinising look that Bruce gives them both as Jason continues on, his attention turning to Dawn, now.
“And I didn’t move your picture, okay?” He tells her, softer than before, and Dick aches with it because he knows that Jason had gotten attached to Dawn during the whole Trigon debacle, can’t really blame him for having done so, “I’ve lost people, too. You don’t use that to, to- prank people, or whatever the Hell it is you all think I did.”
Finally, he turns to Rachel, who is already looking down as if ashamed, having realised she, too, was wrong in whatever she had accused Jason of.
“You,” Jason starts, “You- I get, I guess. I know I told you to go see a priest when that thing inside of you tried to strangle me-” Dick makes a startled noise at that, and turns to Rachel, who shrinks in on herself a little more “-but I didn’t break into your stupid fucking room and trash your shit. Your room is yours, it’s where you’re supposed to be able to feel safe. I don’t fuck with that shit, okay? I know what it’s like not to have that.”
Jason’s chest is heaving as he finishes, and he fixes his glare just above everyone’s heads, as if feigning eye contact. He clenches and unclenches his fists a few times, until Kori coughs, and he looks up at her, instead, a defensive snarl escaping instinctively.
Kori simply raises an eyebrow at him until he backs down, and then she shifts her attention to Dick.
“Well, now that that’s cleared up,” she says, “Wanna tell us what the Hell you were raving about when you came home, Grayson?”
“Not here,” Bruce cuts in, and everyone turns to look at him, straightening up instinctively at the authority that his mere presence invokes, “The Tower is compromised.”
Dick frowns a little, because seeing Bruce boss his team around is bringing up all kinds of feelings of inadequacy, but…
Well, he has to admit that, right now, it feels a bit like a godsend, too.
“You have fifteen minutes to pack your essentials,” he tells them all, his tone brokering no room for argument, “Be sure to double - and triple - check for bugs.”
“Someone needs to tell Rose, and help Conner,” Dawn points out, and Bruce nods.
“I’ll handle Conner,” he says, and Dick decides it’s not worth arguing over. He’s about to volunteer to deal with Rose himself when Jason beats him to it.
“I’ll tell Rose,” he says, and Dick wonders, briefly, about the photo of the two of them he’d seen at the church, about what Jason had said about Rose telling him about Jericho earlier.
He nods in acquiescence.
Everyone parts, heading for their own rooms with an air of urgency, and Dick sighs as he turns to face Bruce.
“Let me introduce you to Conner,” he says, turning towards the correct hallway.
“Dick,” Bruce calls, and he stops short, but doesn’t turn back around. He flinches when Bruce’s hand settles on his shoulder a moment later, but then relaxes into it, letting the unspoken words wash over him.
“Yeah,” he says, eventually, “I’m glad you came, too.”
i'm posting this from mobile, so i really hope the formatting is ok!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Bruce keeps things strictly business as he assists Conner - and his dog, apparently - in getting ready to leave the Tower, but his mind catalogues everything. Dick hadn’t been lying when he said that he resembled Clark - if anything, it was a bit of an understatement. A resemblance was something loose, vague. A feature here, a bone structure there, but this boy, this Conner…
Bruce has seen photos from Clark’s youth, displayed proudly on walls and mantles in Martha and Jonathan Kent’s home, and Conner is the spitting image of him. The fact that his dog’s name is Krypto only seems to confirm that there is some link to the planet of Clark’s birth.
But that will have to wait until they’ve reached a secure location. Perhaps, even, until Deathstroke has been dealt with.
Nonetheless, Bruce makes note.
They make it out of the Tower in twenty minutes, which is five minutes longer than Bruce is comfortable with, but he opts to pick his battles.
They disperse in three vehicles, but not until after Bruce has confiscated each of their phones until he can ensure they’re still secure and passed out comms he’d brought from Gotham to each of the drivers, instead.
He ends up with Jason, Dick, Donna, and Rose, and they spend hours driving around the city, each of the groups going a different route in a combined effort to shake any tail that Slade has on them. Bruce uses the time to scan each of the phones while Dick drives, and pointedly tunes out the way that Rose bitches and complains the entire time, glaring daggers at Dick through the rearview mirror whenever she can.
Eventually, he activates the comm in his ear and gives the coordinates to a safehouse he’d built for Dick and his friends when he first left for San Francisco all those years ago. It’s never been used, but it should be well enough stocked to serve their current purpose anyway.
Donna cries when Dick tells the team about Garth, and Bruce’s fingers twitch with the need to reach out and comfort her, to call Diana for her, to do something , but he keeps his distance, allows Dawn to pull her in, instead.
Dick tells them about the master plan they’d come up with for revenge, about implanting themselves into Jericho’s life to try and get closer to Slade, and it’s Jason who holds Rose back when she lunges at Dick, a kitchen knife that Bruce knows all three of them saw her take from the Tower slashing out wildly at his eldest son.
Jason disarms her before anyone else can, and kicks the knife towards him so that Bruce can secret it away lest anyone be tempted to use it, and the girl screams , vowing bloody murder against the entire team, and Bruce feels her pain like a kick to the chest.
And Dick just takes it, his head hung in shame and his shoulder hunched.
“Enough,” Bruce finally cuts in, and it seems to shock her out of her rage for long enough that Dawn is able to pick up on the explanation. She tells them about realising they were wrong, about telling Jericho the truth , and inviting him to join the team, and Rose starts to settle, her breathing only slightly elevated as she shoves out of Jason’s grip and scowls.
Donna explains how Slade slaughtered Jillian and her entourage, his real target the night Garth was killed, and then lured her away from the team. How Slade nearly killed her, left her for dead if not for her distress beacon, and how it pushed Dick over the edge and he went after Slade alone.
None of this is news to Bruce, but it hurts to hear all the same.
Of all his regrets, leaving Dick and his team to handle Deathstroke alone after Garth’s death is one of his greatest.
Dick takes over again, explaining in fits and starts about what happened at the church when he confronted Slade during his meeting with Jericho. He pulls away from Kori when she tries to comfort him, and refuses to meet anyone’s gaze but Rose’s.
Kori and Raven both try to tell him that it wasn't his fault, but Dick just shakes his head, refusing to hear it, and then finishes with 'I should have told you all from the start. I'm… sorry.'
Bruce is expecting a lot more anger, but it seems that everyone is just too drained for that right then. Perhaps it will come later, when everyone has had time to process this onslaught of information, but no one - not even Rose - seems inclined to make much of a scene now.
It's a small mercy.
When Bruce is certain that the subject has been laid to rest for the time being, he clears his throat. All eyes are on him instantly, and he straightens up just a little more as he faces Dick's team.
"Donna, Dick," he says, infusing as much disappointment into his tone as he can, "You should have known better. Learned from mine and Diana's mistakes. In this line of work, secrets don't keep anyone safe."
He hesitates, for the briefest of moments, and then adds, "You're supposed to be better than us."
Bruce frowns, and keeps going, not giving either of them a chance to explain themselves, though he can see Donna gearing up to speak.
"You also should have known better than to ostracize them," he tells them, addressing all four of the original team members now, "How many times did the lot of you go off half-cocked to try and prove yourselves to the League? And you didn't stop to think that your own team might do the same?"
He looks at Dick, then, and the younger man swallows hard, but doesn't avert his gaze. Good.
"I trusted you, Dick. With my son ," he says, "With your brother. And instead of teaching him, instead of giving him the chance to spread his wings and experience working on a team with equal footing, you nearly let him die. Twice ."
Something like shame flickers in his eldest's eyes, quickly followed by an all too familiar spark of rage, but Bruce refuses to back down. He will speak again with Dick in private, later, to alleviate his guilt, but he will not dole out special treatment now; there is too much on the line.
He takes a deep breath, and then continues, "I understand not wanting to let them face Deathstroke; I haven't forgotten what he did. You should have told them the truth, and then ensured that they were as far from his reach as they could get."
"You should have sent Jason home," he continues, shooting the boy in question a quelling look that has him snapping his mouth shut, keeping his protests in, "The League would have found accommodations for the rest of the team."
"This isn't League business," Hank interrupts, and Bruce cuts him a sharp look, "Deathstroke is ours to take down. So was Dr. Light. We aren't going to just run from that."
"It should be our business. Each and every one of you is compromised," Bruce replies, "I have half a mind to pull you all off this case."
There are several protests, at that, but Bruce merely speaks over them, and, eventually, they quiet down. The looks of agitation don't disappear, though.
"But I know you'd all go behind our backs and we'd all just get in each other's way," he says, because he would have to be an idiot - and a hypocrite - to overlook that truth after calling them out on doing just that, "As it is, you're stuck with me until this is over."
He raises a hand to cut off the rush of protests that begin to arise.
"That's not up for debate," he snaps, "I've already coordinated with the League, and Canary will be joining Batgirl on patrol in Gotham until I return."
"No fair!" Jason interrupts, and, for once, he sounds his age, a whine curling around his words, "You never let me work with the Arrows!"
Donna snorts, and shoots a grin towards him.
"That's because you and Red would get on like a house on fire," she says, and Bruce can feel the vein in his forehead throb at just the thought of the headache such a friendship would cause.
"That's beside the point," he cuts in before Jason starts getting any ideas, "For the foreseeable future, the Titans report to me . Is that understood?"
There's a lot of reluctant murmuring, and Bruce steels his gaze as he looks at each of them in turn. Finally, a chorus of 'yes, sir's goes around the room.
Bruce nods, satisfied enough despite the obvious reluctance.
"Go settle in, and rest up. You've all had a rather taxing twenty-four hours, and I want you on your A-game when we start planning how to take him down."
He looks towards Dick, then, and tilts his head towards the hallway that leads to the security room.
"Dick," he says, "A word."
The younger man scowls, but cuts across the room nonetheless, shouldering past him in a way that can only be intentional. Bruce sighs, and reaches up to rub at his temples.
The rest of the team disperses around him, but, when he looks back up, Jason is still there. He's tense, and looking anywhere but at Bruce, and Bruce sighs again.
"Jason," he says, making an effort to gentle his tone when the boy flinches, "Go to bed. Nothing will happen to you while I'm here."
"B," Jason says, and Bruce's heart aches for the way his son's voice cracks.
He moves to stand in front of him, and reaches out to cradle the boy's cheek in his palm.
"You are safe here," he tells him with every ounce of conviction that he can muster, and it’s worth it for the way that Jason’s shoulders drop as he leans into the touch. Bruce pulls him forwards gently, and presses a kiss to the boy’s forehead before he steps back.
“Go,” he says, “Sleep.”
Jason swallows, and looks away again for a long moment before he nods, and Bruce watches as he crosses the room.
He’ll need to speak with Jason later, but it’s more important that he rest, for now.
Besides, if this were a triage scenario, Bruce would have to admit that Dick needs his attention more. Dick, who he has left waiting long enough already, who is probably stewing in his anger and his pain at that very moment.
Bruce can’t leave him to that any longer.
“Bruce?” Jason calls out, hesitating in the doorframe, and Bruce turns to him silently, “Don’t… Don’t be too hard on Dick. Okay? It’s not just his fault.”
Bruce hums, his expression neutral despite the way his heart is trying to soar. His boys, looking out for each other -- that, more than anything else, is what he really wanted when he sent Jason with Dick.
“Hn,” he mutters, turning towards the opposite hallway, “Go to bed , Jaylad.”
He waits until he hears the boy walk away before going to find Dick.
Dick, who is right up in his face the second Bruce steps into the security office.
"What the fuck, Bruce?" He shouts, his hands clenched into fists at his sides, "You can't just come in here and take over my team! Deathstroke is our rogue; this is my responsibility!"
“Richard John Grayson, sit down, and shut up,” he snaps, and Dick, despite looking a bit like he’s about to explode, obeys without another word, his back ramrod straight and jaw clenched as he drops down into the computer chair, and Bruce allows himself a moment to try and calm himself.
He knows that he needs to tread carefully, that he and Dick have a history of letting their anger and other emotions come between them, but the part of him that is Dick’s father , and not just his mentor or former partner, is not even close to being rational right now.
"You cannot expect me to trust you to run the team right now," he finally says, and Dick snarls at him, ready to argue, so Bruce adds, "You're compromised, Dick."
"Fuck you," Dick rages, and crosses his arms over his chest, "I'm fine ! I'm not-"
“Do not try to tell me that you aren’t immensely compromised right now,” Bruce interrupts, pointing a condemning finger at him, “I nearly lost you to Deathstroke five years ago, and now I find out that I could have lost you and Jason both last night? I have every right to be livid with you right now, chum.”
Because that's the crux of it, isn't it?
Bruce is terrified . He trained his kids so well, but there are still villains that they just aren't equipped to go up against, and Deathstroke is one of them.
"What were you thinking ?" He demands, "Because I can only assume you weren't . You just- offered yourself up to Wilson? Did you really think that would work ?"
"You're such a fucking hypocrite!" Dick shouts, standing up and stepping back into Bruce's space, his arms flailing out wildly in anger, "You do that shit all the time !"
"You aren't me, Dick!"
Dick freezes, and Bruce feels something cold settling over him at the stricken look in his oldest son's eyes.
"Yeah," Dick says eventually, bitterness dripping from every word, "And ain't that just the damn problem."
He moves to step around him, heading for the door, and Bruce throws his arm out to stop him.
"That's not what I meant, Dick," he says, his voice low, "You are my son , do you understand that? You don't get to use your life as a bargaining chip and expect me to be alright with it."
Dick remains tense, and Bruce wishes that he could see his face properly, but he doesn't dare move from his current position.
"This is a temporary measure, Dick," he says, "I know you're a good leader, and I have no doubts that you'll do great things with those kids - I wouldn't have sent Jason with you, otherwise. But none of you are prepared, mentally or physically, to take on Deathstroke again."
He frowns, and forces himself to drop his arm, finds himself surprised when Dick doesn't immediately leave.
"I'm not making this decision as your former boss," he adds, "I'm making it as your father. I won't risk losing you to him again, Dick."
He can see Dick's jaw working as if he wants to speak but, in the end, he doesn't. He does, at least, allow his shoulders to relax a little before he leaves Bruce's side and steps out into the hallway.
Bruce sighs after listening to his footsteps fade away, and then drops down into the lone chair in front of the security monitors.
He pulls up every entry point, and the bedroom that Jason had chosen, and focuses his attention primarily on them as the other feeds continue to play in the background.
He'd promised Jason and the other Titans safety, after all.
thanks for reading! please feel free to hit me up on tumblr if you ever wanna chat about any of my fics, or titans or the batfam in general! i have a few ideas for other stories in this verse, but i haven't committed to anything yet; it may depend on how the rest of the season plays out, tbh, since i assume this is going to be quite the divergence.