"You don't have to get through this alone," Starfire's breezy voice rings out to him, soft, compassionate. "I can help. Let me help."
Jason Todd is covered in sweat. Frustrated. Exhausted. At the end of his rope. But he shakes his head.
"No. This battle's all mine. This is something I have to do. I need to have this, Kory, I need to."
She says nothing for a moment. And then asks: "Why didn't you make pizza?"
"’cause he's the Dark Knight of Gotham," Jason says vaguely, slamming another used fork into the cloudy, dirty dishwater in frustration.
The six foot tall alien princess hovering above his coffee table ponders that for a moment. "I don't understand," she tells him. "One thing I've found to be universally true for every person on this planet is that they all love pizza. I do not think Batman is the one exception."
"Probably not," Jason mumbles, ripping the packaging off the brand new pan he's acquired. He's tried to remember what Bruce likes to eat, but all he came up with is that he likes fine British teas, and Alfred's cooking. Other than that, he doesn't seem to care either way what he puts into his stern, delicious mouth. Perhaps he only cares about nutritional value, perhaps he's spent so much energy being Gotham's stalwart harbinger of justice that his taste buds have died, fact is, Jason doesn't know.
"You know it's complicated," he mutters while he examines the pan. Does he have to wash this first? It looks clean …"We were friends, once. Partners, even. Then we were foes. Then, we … reached a truce. And now we're … anyway, I'm not making him pizza."
"You wish to impress him," Kory says, so accurately that Jason's ears turn red. He feels her eyes on him while he tries to cram the pan into his sink, which is already overflowing with dirty dishes. "Pizza is very easy to make," she points out, and now he hears an undertone of pity in her voice.
"I know!" He gasps, exasperated.
"Then why – "
"'cause I'm an idiot!"
"Not most of the time," she offers, after a slight pause.
True. He's not usually this stupid, but when it comes to Bruce, this age-old, deranged need to wow him with something completely overrides his good senses. That's why, when they'd last parted, his brain had short-circuited, and he'd called after him, "My place next time, I'll cook!", and when Bruce had replied, surprised, "You cook?", he'd beamed and said "Sure!", because he was an idiot.
And now here he was.
He'd spent most of his life being Robin, being trained to kill, being in hiding, being in prison, or being dead. Why would anyone think he could cook? Why does he want anyone to think that?
He pulls a whole chicken out of its foliage and stares at it with bloodshot eyes.
Most importantly, why does he have a chicken? What was he meaning to do with the chicken? He's making entrecôtes, he doesn't need a chicken for that.
"Hey Kory," he says slowly, "Do you want this?"
"Do I want a large chicken? But – " She protests, but then she resigns with a melodic sigh. "I'll take it off your hands."
The princess' eyes narrow dangerously. "Do not chuck poultry at me, Jason Todd, I'm warning you. Put it back in the bag!"
"Right." That makes way more sense. "Sorry."
"Did you wash your hands before you touched it?"
"I. I think?"
Another sharp sigh. "You need to calm down if you want to do this right, you know."
"Yes," he groans. He looks at the large pot steaming on his oven. Well, at least it seems like the potatoes are doing what potatoes are supposed to do. That's good. He looks at his watch. It's almost seven. That's not so good. "Oh, did you bring that thing I've asked you to bring?"
"Yes." She reaches into the bag she'd brought, and presents the instrument to him with grace. "Here is my potato masher. Please return it."
"Thanks. You're a life-saver."
He boldly leaves his observation spot at the oven, and they exchange potato masher and chicken, respectively. Before he can get back to inspecting his potatoes, she pulls something else out of her bag.
"I also brought you this."
He scowls at it. "No, thanks."
"Trust me," she assures him, while she slings the apron around his neck. "It's good to have one. And besides." She admires her work, smirking. "I wanted to see you in it."
It's sky blue, and nonsensically says SEXY COOKING.
He glowers at her. "Dick Grayson wore this at one point or other, didn't he."
She pats him on the head. "He did, and he wore it well. But now it's your turn." She looks him up and down one last time. "Well, my work here is done, I'll go. Though," A sneaky smile crosses her face. "I admit, I'd love to stay and watch this; it's very entertaining."
He gargles out a desperate laugh, which prompts her to put a warm hand on his shoulder. " I am confident that you can succeed at this. And be sure to tell me how it went tomorrow." Her sapphire-green eyes light up with mischief before she turns, and elegantly drifts towards the window. "And I mean all of it."
He growls, a slight blush creeping into his cheeks. "I don't think I'll do th – "
But she's out the window, and gone like a daytime shooting star. Now he's alone, with his growing anticipation, and a bunch of food items he's not sure what to do with.
His hand closes around the potato masher's handle with grim determination, and he goes to work.
Jason soon finds that Kory had been exactly right, he does need the tacky apron, because as it turns out, cooking is not unlike staging a prison breakout, or planning an assault on a slave trafficker's compound: no matter how well you plan it, you end up with a total mess.
Not that he's planned this very well in the first place.
He likes making the salad dressing best; carefully measuring liquids and making them interact with each other reminds him of preparing explosives, and he's very steady-handed doing that. Chopping the vegetables with a large knife turns out to be reminiscent of one or two things he's already done in his life, too. The result is kind of chunky, but he tosses it all into his newly-bought salad bowl, anyway. Afterwards, he brutalizes the potatoes until they're only marginally lumpy anymore, which he counts as a success.
He studies the complicated recipe for the complicated dessert he'd picked out, and then decides that it'll be easier to simply spray the whipped cream on himself; that way, he can be sure that Bruce will appreciate it.
He'll get cake mix next time.
Lastly, he whips out the massive chunk of red meat he's procured. He's bought a lot of meat, because a well-prepared vigilante does nothing without sufficient backup, he's learned that as a boy. He's fully prepared for his first two or three or six steaks to turn out disastrous, and he's determined to produce two consumable ones; at the very least.
By the time he's done, his kitchen looks and smells as if the GCPD had tear-gassed his hideout. Again.
But he also has two edible-looking steaks.
And that's when there's a knock on his door.
"Oh fuck," Jason grunts, tossing his kitchen towel onto the oven in defeat. Then, he realizes what he's done, and quickly picks it up again before the whole thing can go up in flames. He wipes his watering, irritated eyes. Why had he closed the window after Kory left? That had been insanity.
He hasn't had time to shower, or change, or remove the violated corpses of vegetables and charred pieces of meat from his kitchen, or free the one table he has from crap –
There's another knock, more insistent this time. Almost impatient.
The last thing he does before he stumbles toward his door is ripping that stupid apron off his body, and he's so glad he thought of that. He opens the door, red-faced, red-eyed, choking on smoke, smelling like a tire fire, and gasps out a "Hi – "
Bruce, not Batman, Bruce, still in his exquisite office suit, almost fills out his entire doorframe while he looks down on him with a hungry look in his eyes.
Not hungry hungry. The other kind.
They've been doing this for a while, but Jason is still floored by that look, every time. He's never seen Bruce look at anyone like that before. It's a raw, focused, very very horny expression of want, like he's ready to fall into him somehow, and it'd almost make him look stupider than he is, if it wasn't so deliberate and fucking sexy.
"Hi yourself," Bruce croons, and then slides his hands into Jason's shirt.
"I – " Jason begins, but he doesn't come far, because a pair of hard lips slam into his, while Bruce kicks the door closed behind them, and props him up against the next available wall. He seems completely oblivious to the burnt smell, the thick smoke, the chaotic kitchen, all he seems to pay attention to is Jason's warm skin under his fingers, and Jason's lips that he's sucking on. Jason moans when a warm, slick tongue slides past his teeth into his mouth, his legs are clamping shut around Bruce's middle, and the larger man's clothed, but heated thrusts make Jason's measly three pictures fall off the wall.
"I – " He tries again, struggling to free his lips (and it's not easy; Jason has first-hand experience of how hard this man can suck on something when he wants to) and get some important information out. "Look – I have – there is – "
He stops with a small whine and rocks against Bruce when he starts rubbing his nipples under his shirt. And then starts whispering to him in that low, fervent voice.
"I came as soon as I could. I've waited all week for this," he confesses, pulling down Jason's shirt to kiss his collarbone. The sheer need in his voice is so real it makes Jason's pulse skip and a shiver run down his spine. "You don't know how much – how hard – "
"Yeah I do," he breathes, eyes closed. "But – "
Usually, he wouldn't even dream of resisting this kind of attention, but he's put so much time and effort into that whole cooking operation, he wants someone to taste it and tell him he did well. Not someone. This one.
Almost unwilling, he puts his hand on Bruce's chest, and pushes, wincing when those hot lips are separated from his skin; that had felt so good. The confused, thoroughly disappointed look crossing Bruce's rugged features is almost funny.
"Food," Jason manages to pant. "Food's getting cold."
Bruce looks at him, face flushed with passion, still lifting Jason up by his ass, and puzzledly replies, "Food?"
This isn't the reaction he'd been going for.
"Yeah, I cooked," he says, awkwardly wriggling in Bruce's arms. He's tall, but his feet currently aren't touching the ground. "I said I would."
Bruce gives him a blank stare, and Jason can tell he's now scanning his mind for that particular bit of info, and comes up short. Well, at least he's polite about it. "I will be honest. I have no memory of you saying that."
"Ah," Jason makes. "So, d’you usually zone out when I talk to you?"
“Not on purpose – ” Bruce begins tentatively, but falls silent with a guilty look on his face when Jason glares at him. Jason angrily nabs at his lips with his teeth, and Bruce lets him catch them.
"I truly am sorry," he says, once Jason is done biting him. He does look like he's sorry, too, besides still looking very much down to fuck.
"Had dinner already?" Jason asks him.
Bruce takes in the sight of him, hanging in his arms, his dark hair mussed and his shirt riding up to reveal a stripe of toned, scarred skin. "I could eat," he announces.
Jason gives him a shove. “You dirty old man,” he scolds him, even though he knows that line does nothing to slow him down. "You’ll eat what I made." He keeps his voice strict, despite the fact that he feels less than confident about the whole thing. His persistence seems to spark Bruce’s interest, at least, for he puts him down, and follows him into the smoldering ruins of his kitchen and living room without further objections or attempts at intercourse.
After parking his coat (that obviously cost more than all of Jason's furniture) on a chair, Bruce actually makes himself useful by opening all his windows. A few minutes later, it doesn't look and smell like Firefly has swung by anymore. Then, he walks over and observes Jason arrange food on two plates.
The whole situation's a little weird, Jason has to admit. Normally, when they meet up, they immediately do it, or they argue over something and then they do it, or they spend the nights silently clinging to each other like two people who thought they'd never touch again.
They don't do this.
"Need any help there, chum?"
Jason casts one look at him and realizes that Bruce isn't sure how to act, either.
"No," he mumbles, brow furrowed. He's trying to tastefully arrange the mashed potatoes somehow, but the lumpy mass is not cooperating. He'd rather not have Bruce witnessing this tragedy. "Uh. You want something to drink? I have sodas. They're warm," he adds, face heating up. He'd forgotten to put those in the fridge. Brilliant.
The billionaire shrugs. "Sure. I'll take one."
Jason gratefully hands him a can. But then, his eyes widen. "Oh, wait! You want a glass? I bought some! Hang on - "
"I don't need - "
"…great, thank you."
A few minutes later, Jason has given up on replicating Alfred's artistry in food design, and slapped their meals onto two plates. He doesn't have a real dinner table, and the kitchen counter is anarchy, so they both sit down on the ground around the coffee table. It’s startling how youthful Bruce Wayne suddenly looks when he sits on the floor, cross-legged, sipping sparkling soda from a wine glass. He doesn't complain. When Jason nervously puts a plate down in front of him, he sees that he’s opened the top few buttons on his shirt and put his tie on half-mast, which looks charming. If the smell and look of the food isn't to Bruce’s liking, he doesn't show it, either. He seems determined to be on his best behavior.
But when Jason brings the salad bowl over, he peeks into it and remarks, "Oh, interesting. Alfred never puts whole onions in the salad."
Jason gives him a suspicious look. "Are you making fun of me?"
Bruce shoots him back an equally suspicious look and grumbles, "No?", and Jason realizes that he has as little idea about cuisine as he does, and it makes him feel marginally better.
He still has an anxious knot in his stomach when he sits down across from him. What if it was terrible? What if he fucked up so bad that they'd both get food poisoning, and Gotham would have to go without her much-needed justice for the next nights, and also they couldn't have any sex?
Scratch that. A worst-case scenario wasn’t even needed. In actuality, Bruce disliking his food would be enough to humiliate him, and that’s more than alarming all by itself.
He clears his throat in an effort to clear his head from the idiocy, which causes the other man to look at him. He does pay attention, after all.
"Okay, listen," Jason tells him as he kneels down in front of his food, trying to sound cockier than he feels, "I want you to know that, no matter how this plays out, I'll sleep with you, anyway. Because I've been looking forward to that all week, so ..."
Bruce gives him that look again, and it nearly makes him forget what he was going to say. "So, uh, if this sucks," he finishes, pointing at their plates, "Don't bullshit me, okay."
"I wouldn't," Bruce replies earnestly. "I don't believe in coddling people. It doesn't lead to improvement."
Jason gives him a sourly grin. Yeah, that sounds about right.
He's about to start eating, when Bruce raises his glass.
"To your health," he says, and there's so much warmth to it that it makes Jason feel embarrassed. And … nice. Okay, it feels nice.
"Oh." He reaches for his own glass, and lifts it almost shyly. "Yeah. Yours, too."
They toast, and to his surprise, Bruce leans over to kiss him, lightly this time.
And then, they eat. It doesn't taste that bad, he thinks. It's not Alfred-grade cooking, it's not restaurant-grade cooking, it's honestly not even that-grill-'round-the-corner-with-all-the-screaming-alcoholics-grade cooking, but it's also far from the worst slob he's ever tasted. Then again, he's been homeless and in jail, so maybe that doesn't mean much.
There's no sound apart from their forks and knives (on a positive note, there's also no gagging), and Jason thinks he should've put some music on. Perhaps light a candle or something. Write down some conversation pointers on cue cards –
"Do you do this often?" His guest suddenly asks. "Cook?"
Jason does an internal fist pump. It can't be a complete failure if Bruce has to ask that (or maybe his taste buds are dead, either way, Jason wins). Apart from that, he seems genuinely interested in what Jason does when he isn't around. It's a little pathetic how much that pleases him, but he takes it, anyway. Despite having licked probably every inch of the other's body, they don't really know that much about each other.
He considers eagerly boasting, "Yeah, all the time!" like the insecure fifteen year old boy he'd once been, but Bruce has promised not to bullshit him, so he won't either.
"Not really," he admits, wiping his mouth with the Kleenex he's offering instead of actual napkins, "This is probably the third or fourth time, to be honest."
Bruce makes a small noise that might mean he’s impressed, or that he’s bitten on some gristle, Jason isn’t sure. "Then why tonight," he wonders.
Jason gapes at him; seems weird that he has to spell that out. "Come on. I did it for you," he says. Should be obvious, really.
Bruce stops eating and fixates him with an oddly intrigued look on his face. "You did all this – " He gestures at the plate, then gestures at Jason's kitchen that lies in disarray, "Because I was coming?"
It flusters him. "So I heard you're a genius," he shoots back sarcastically. "That true?"
His former mentor smiles at that, which is unexpected, and turns his attention back to his steak; he's already eaten a third of it, so it really doesn't seem to actively repulse him.
“I’m honestly sorry I forgot,” he says after a while, sounding almost meek.
Jason looks up from his plate. “Oh, that. Yeah, don’t worry, it’s … whatever.” He plays around with his Kleenex napkin. True, he’d been kind of insulted, but somehow, Bruce making a big deal out of him being insulted feels odd, it feels unfamiliar, it’s as if … they’re together, or something. Expecting things from each other.
“Be better next time,” he tries to joke, shaking his knife in Bruce’s direction as a made-up threat.
What a dumb idea. Not only is it really fucking awkward, it’s also kind of unfortunate in light of some of their past interactions. Why had it been so much easier to be snide and witty with Bruce back when he’d still tried to fuck his shit up? Where was all his swagger now? Damn it to hell.
Also, were his jokes this bad when he was Robin? ‘cause that’d be devastating, and retroactively taint many of his most cherished memories.
The older man doesn’t seem put off by his antics in the slightest. He’s smirking, actually, though it’s not quite clear if it has to do with his joke. “I do listen to you,” he says, once Jason has stopped grinning like a maniac and put the knife down in shame. “But…” He lowers his gaze, and somehow manages to look contrite and mischievous at the same time. “You have to know that you’ve many distracting features. Let’s see, when you told me you were going to make dinner, were you turning away from me, by any chance?”
Jason furrows his brow. “Could be?”
“Well; there you have it.”
“Huh,” Jason says. Then it hits him. He shoots the man across him another tiny glare, unsure if he should be offended or not. “Wait. You weren’t paying attention ‘cause you were busy staring at my ass?”, he asks grumpily. His quest to make his former mentor take him more seriously was not progressing.
But despite himself, he was flattered, too. He had been wearing those pants on purpose, so...
The reply comes unexpectedly soft. “I always do,” Bruce flat-out admits, without looking at him. Then he adds, even more quietly, “It’s the only good part of seeing you walk away.”
Ooh. He gets it. He gets what he did. He said something sleazy, and then he turned it around and said something sweet and corny. He zigged, and then he zagged. He’s good. Jason doesn’t know why he’s so angered by it.
He’d always been awkward accepting compliments; but when it came from Bruce, it seemed to run through a filter that amplified it tenfold until he didn’t know what to do with himself anymore. It was more stunning than a batarang to the sternum. And it’d always been like this.
So, on further inspection, he did know why it angered him so much.
“Yeah well, what can I say, pops. I’m good,” he says dryly, giving him a filthy grin. ‘cause Bruce means the banging, right. He has to mean the banging. What else could he mean.
“You are,” the older man confirms, but there’s no sleaziness to it this time. It’s confusing as hell, so Jason raises his glass again and dibs it in his direction, more sarcastically than intended. “I’ll drink to that.” And then, he guzzles down his soda in one go.
They resume eating in silence for a stretch again, until he hears Bruce ask, "Jay?"
Somehow, hearing his old nickname from the man's lips still makes his heart leap. "Yeah…?"
"Do you want to do this more frequently?"
"This. Dining. Conversing. You know." Bruce is looking at him with a curious gleam in his eyes. "Things other than sex."
Jason doesn't know how to react. "Hope I've made clear how much I like the sex," he grumbles.
"Yes." A smile plays around the other man's lips. "All I'm saying is, if you want to spend time in other ways, we can … we can give that a try, too." Now Bruce seems flustered. "I. I want to participate in your … in the things you're interested in."
"I'm really interested in the sex," Jason re-iterates desperately, because this conversation is heading into uncharted territory, and it’s making him nervous.
"Me too. Don’t worry," Bruce replies, and there's a roughness to his voice that leaves no doubt that it's true, "But if you're interested in more than that, you can say so. I want you to know that I'm … I'm open to it."
Jason stares at him.
If he’s honest with himself, he has thought about it. Why the fuck else would he make him dinner. You don’t make dinner for people you casually want to bone, because it just gets in the way of the boning, like it does now. He does want other things, in a tiny corner of his heart that he’s continuously embarrassed of. He wants them to do stuff together. Hang out together and talk with their clothes on sometime. Laugh together, because there'd been a time where they'd done that. Perhaps even go out together or something. If he was honest, he hadn't wanted anything more since he'd been a boy.
He'd always wanted to be pals.
It had been ridiculous then, and it was ridiculous now.
That's why he couldn't say it.
That's why he, faced with that opportunity, shoves a fork full of mashed potatoes in his mouth and chews them, long, hard, and unnecessarily.
Bruce waits for Jason to reply for a while. When he doesn't, he picks up his fork and knife, and resumes eating.
Jason wonders if he'd hurt him.
He wonders if it's possible for him to hurt him.
When Bruce speaks again, he sounds much more formal. “I didn’t mean to corner you. I apologize.” He pauses, angling for a more casual topic. “The meat is really – ”
"It'd be nice!"
The words more or less break out from Jason’s mouth. It sounds more like a crude bark than an admission. He can feel Bruce’s eyes on him, but he doesn’t look back, staring at his plate and mumbling, almost incomprehensibly, “I’d um like that. It’d be. It’d be nice.”
He still doesn’t look up when he hears Bruce put down his fork and knife, and shuffle over to him in his expensive suit. He closes his eyes, smells the familiar aroma of his after shave, feels his warmth, and then, he smiles faintly as Bruce places a gentle kiss on his temple. Next, on his lips. It’s the least hard, least urgent they’ve ever kissed, in a way, because of how delicate it is, but he likes it. There’s something to it. Something unknown. Potential.
His hands are shaking when Bruce lets go of him, and returns to his plate. But he feels like he can look at him again. His former mentor is facing down the rest of his meal with even more determination than before.
“You’ve made this for me, so I’ll eat every last bite of it,” he announces when he catches Jason watching him. As silly as it sounds, he almost sounds emotional over it. But when their eyes meet, the look is back. “And once I’m done,” Bruce’s voice slips at least a full octave, “I’ll come back over there and pay attention to you for probably up to an hour, so I hope you’re prepared for that.”
Jason grins. The temporary return to familiar territory is very welcome, and the implications of that make his throat dry up with anticipation. He swallows, hard.
“So,” he inquires huskily, eyeing the food on Bruce’s plate, “Can you eat that any faster, or what?”