“Fuck off, Bruce. ”
“Great observation skills!” Jason cheered with fake enthusiasm, pressing his hand tightly to his side where an alarming amount of blood was gushing out of. “Now get lost. I can’t deal with your self righteous bullshit tonight.”
Bruce sighed but it sounded more like a growl. “Come back to the cave. Alfred will take a look at that.”
“What part of get fucking lost do you not understand?” Jason lumbered through the dank alley, swaying this way and that. Dark spots took over when he stepped a bit too quickly.
Bruce chose to ignore the verbal barbs. They stung, they ached, and most days they oozed, but he couldn’t show it. He could never show it.
“You’re coming back to the cave.” He let every ounce of authority he was capable of leak into his voice, hoping to intimidate his second oldest.
But of course, Jason never had been cowed by that voice. “Over my dead body.” And then Jason started laughing like it was the funniest thing in the world. Bruce was not amused in the slightest. “You’d know a lot about that huh, Bruce?”
“You’re not funny.”
“I’m-” Jason wheezed a bit as he tried walking past Bruce towards his bike, “I’m fucking hilarious.” He wobbled to the side and lost his footing, almost falling against the disgusting brick wall. Still wet with piss and other disturbing substances.
Bruce was at his side in an instant, grabbing him around the back and hoisting him up.
“You are very injured, Jason. You’re coming back to the cave.” And Bruce couldn’t understand why Jason was fighting so hard against this. He thought they were getting better. Jason hadn’t actively tried to hurt him in nine months, not after that night. They even ate a burger together after a mission two months ago. Bruce thought… well he thought this was a new start.
“I’m going back to my place where there isn’t a bat infestation.” Jason spit, trying to push his way out but couldn’t fully leave the circle of Bruce’s steady arms.
“Yes.” Bruce muttered.”Just a rat one.” He said thinking of Jason’s dingy studio apartment he called home. It was neat, tidy, but devoid of anything Jason. And, it had a rat problem. Bruce worried about rabies constantly now.
“What that fuck is that supposed to mean?”
“Nothing.” They had this same argument last month, no point in bringing it back up.
“You don’t get to talk, Mr. Playboy Billionaire. Born with a damn silver spoon in your mouth. Some of us actually have to work.” And they both knew this was untrue. Jason was more than wealthy enough to afford a decent place but he chose to stay where he grew up. Going right back to the start. “Now get your fuckin’ hands off me, I’m fine.” Jason pushed him off successfully this time, only tripping for a moment before righting himself. He wasn’t going back and he wasn't in the mood to play nice tonight either. He just wanted to get back to his apartment, patch himself up, and sleep for a thousand years. He missed his bed.
“Jason, I’m just trying to help.”
“Just go, Bruce. It’s the only thing you’re good at.”
Bruce’s heart sank. A hole punched right in his chest from the truth of it and every word coming out of Jason’s mouth hurt too much. He couldn’t let it get to him. He couldn’t rush off to stew in his feelings in the dark like he usually did after one of their conversations. Jason, his Jay, was hurt. He needed him.
He'd be there this time. He’d be there every time from now on.
“No.This is non-negotiable. You’re coming back.” And Bruce started following Jason out of the alley. Slow steps to not spook him into doing something stupid. Like shoot him.
Jason just snorted and kept limping down the alley. He didn’t want to admit it, but Bruce really saved his hide tonight. They had brought a kid to a gunfight and Jason paid for his negligence. He should’ve put bullets in those assholes last week but he was trying to live by the bat’s rules. He made it to the street opening and smirked. Look where that got me huh.
Jason stumbled again. Goddammit, how far was his fucking bike? His side, shit. It hurt like hell.
“Jason Peter, get back here.”
“No.” Thank god, he finally got to his bike. Smooth sailing from here on out tonight. No more listening to Bruce’s crap anymore. No awkward medical stays tonight. No seeing his replacement and no seeing that stupid display case.
“Do not make me drag you back.”
And now Jason just laughed right through the blinding pain in his side. God, this guy was hilarious.
“I’d like to see you try, asshole.”
He threw his leg over the seat and was instantly met with black spots and a tearing pain in his side that seared him to the core. He couldn't help it, he let out a guttural grunt of pain, losing his balance and crashing into the ground.
“I’m fine! I’m fine!”
“No, you are not. You’re bleeding too heavily.” Bruce said trying to help him up but this made Jason angry, no, it made him furious.
“What the hell is it to you? My death would be a blessing to you. Finally get some real use out of that fuckin’ disaply case.”
And Bruce looked for all the world like he wanted to leave him right then and there. A familiar look he’d seen many times before. A look he always followed through on. Jason wondered if he actually would. Leave him there to drag himself home or bleed out in this shitty alley. Finally having had enough of everything that was Jason . He hoped he would. Jason begged for it in his mind. Finally, a reason to hate Bruce completely. Finally, a reason to let go of him and everything they were behind.
But Bruce’s reply shocked the very fabric of their relationship. Or lack of one.
“You’re grounded. ” Bruce growled out between clenched teeth.
Jason’s brain halted in it’s comprehension of the English language for a moment. What words had just come out of Bruce’s mouth? They felt foreign. Like something from a different time, a different life. He stared dumbly at Bruce for a second as the latter got closer and leaned down over him. Only when he fully processed what the words meant and that they were actually being said to him that he let out a very loud, “ What!?” that reverberated loudly off the brick walls of the alley.
“You. Are. Grounded.” Jason’s attitude had been tolerated for long enough. It was time to be a parent again.
And Jason seriously could not wrap his head around what was happening. Bruce was... grounding him? What the hell was he on?
“You can’t fucking ground me, Bruce. I ain’t a kid anym- Hey !” A big blob obscured his view and he felt strong arms clamp under his legs and side. “What the hell!” Jason shouted as Bruce lifted his arms and scooped him right up to his chest.
“You forgot the rule.”
“Put me down! Right now !” Jason tried squirming out of Bruce’s arms but he felt something tear in his side and gave a loud grunt of pain. That only earned Bruce gripping him tighter to prevent him from moving. Shit, his arms were iron steel. He couldn’t move an inch.
“As long as I can pick you up, I can still ground you.” Bruce replied coolly. Walking with ease and not looking the least like carrying Jason’s 225 pounds of muscle was a strain at all.
“That’s no fucking fair!” And it wasn’t. Jason knew how much Bruce could bench and he’d be grounding them for the rest of their lives with how much it was.
“Bruce, I swear to go-”
“You’re hurt and you said mean things despite our agreement. You’re grounded for two months. No arguing or I’ll make it more.“
“Yes.” Bruce agreed as he carried a shouting Red Hood to the batmobile. Just enough time for Jason to heal and get accustomed to being home. This had gone on long enough. Jason was 19 for godsakes. He should be at home.
“You’re delusional. You’re actually delusional, old man. Let me go right now! You cannot ground me!”
“I just did.”
And now they were nearing the car. Jason tried renewing his struggling but the dark spots came back with a vengeance. Maybe he was more hurt than he thought. But who gave one single fuck. He was not going to be grounded.
Bruce just sighed and squeezed tighter, careful not to touch Jason’s injured side. This kid. Fighting even while bleeding out. Bruce honestly didn’t know how he raised such a dramatic kid.
He opened the top to gently place Jason in. There was too much blood on his gloves for his liking. He knew it wasn’t fatal, but left untreated for too long and it could be. Alfred would know what to do.
“That’s not an actual rule, you crazy as-”
“As long as I can pick you up, you’re young enough for me to ground you.”
“That’s fucking ridiculous!” Jason scrambled, the dark spots were closing in a bit more now and he felt sluggish thinking of a good argument. “You’re fat!” He blurt out and mentally face-palmed. Where the hell did that come from?
“I really don’t understand why you keep fat shaming me.” Bruce easily replied as he made his way to his side and closed the hood. Time to go home.
“You can bench over 400!”
“Then I guess you better gain more weight.”
“You’re not my fucking parent, Bruce.”
“That’s funny, because the adoption papers say differently. They even have your signature.”
“I died. They became void after that.”
“I’ve already consulted with Jefferson, they’re still valid.”
“You asked Jefferson about that!?”
“Of course. He’s on my payroll, Jay. He handles all of my legal matters.”
“Well, I don’t care what Jefferson said. He’s stupid.” Jason couldn’t believe what was happening right now. This wasn't their script. This was unprecedented and made absolutely no sense.
“He’ll be hurt that you said that. You were always his favorite.”
“He’s a filthy traitor. Those papers are void.” Jason said loudly, trying to grab back some control of the situation.
Jason snorted loudly before stopping because it hurt his side and he pressed his hand there tighter. Ow, what the hell is happening.
“You can’t sue your dead kid.”
“Aha. Got you. You are my kid. And you’re grounded.”
Jason mentally backtracked and then cursed himself out. Shit, he did say that he was his kid.
“Stop making me say things I don’t mean!”
“I didn’t make you say anything, but I’ll make sure to deliver this audio to the judge in court.”
“You’re not suing me!”
“I’m suing you.”
“Oh my god.” Jason bit out, rubbing a hand down his face and feeling the drowsiness set in from the complexities of this ridiculous conversation. He was hurt and exhausted and Bruce’s stupid threats weren’t helping. He was done with everything that was happening here. It was just too weird.
“I’m not grounded.” Jason said one last time sullenly. His side was throbbing now and he could feel his eyes closing. The hum of the motor lulling him into a sense of drowsy safety, just like it used to so long ago.
“I’m not. “
“You are.” Jason gave up. It wasn’t like Bruce could actually ground him. He’d be out of here in two days, tops.
Two months later.
The room was a dim reminder of the past. Only a single lamp on and Jason lounging in a familiar chair, hunched over and absorbed in printed words. There was something pleasing about just being able to see him here, again, alive and breathing, and not listening to a word he says.
“It’s 3 a.m., Jay.”
“Too bad.” Jason said and turned a page.
Bruce sighed and tried reasoning. “All of your siblings are asleep.”
Jason didn’t look up while replying, “They’re weak. You’ve raised weak children. “
“No, I’ve raised dramatic children. Case in point right in front of me.” Bruce stated as he walked further out of the shadows in the library and into the warm nook Jason had created for himself in the corner.
“I reject that.” Another page turn.
When don’t you? Bruce quietly asked himself with a nostalgic warmth blooming in his chest. “That’s fine, just reject it while sleeping.”
Jason kept turning the pages of his books as if he was reading during their conversation. He wasn’t, but he wanted to assert his dominance over the situation.
“I’m an adult. You can’t tell me what to do anymore.” And he couldn’t. Something in Jason wanted to rebel against this. Against this show of affection and care. He’s been working on it these past few months but with the safety of dark and floodgates opened by the literature in his hands, he simply couldn’t stop himself from refusing. He knew it was late, he knew he should be getting to sleep, but-
Laughter and midnight chases flashed through his mind
What would Bruce do?
Bruce knew the dilemma going on in his son. Of course he did, they had gone through this many times before in the past few months. Jason pushing, Bruce pushing back to prove something. The broken promise of never dropping him hanging in the air between them.
“You are 19, you’re a very tall baby. And you know the rule. As long as I can p-”
“Pick me up, you can ground me. Yeah yeah, I get it, B. But what you’re not getting is that you can’t keep grounding me whenever I don’t listen.” This was a bit more aggressive than usual, the irritation of being told what to do without an answer for all the confusion swirling in him making his temper rise, as it usually did.
“That’s exactly what grounding is for.”
“Says who?” Jason snapped his book shut, the sound echoing off the walls and disturbing the peace of the night. It was a dark night, no moon, and without the refuge of words on page. The shadows in the room became longer, larger. Reaching, reaching for-
“God.” Bruce interrupted his thoughts expressionlessly.
Jason put a hold to his wondering and focused incredulously on what Bruce had just said, “Since when are you religious?”
Bruce sighed and ran a hand through his hair, messing up it’s ever perfect coils. It gave him a rumpled appearance that made him look younger, more like how Jason remembered him as a kid. Before the cruelties of the word sped up the aging process tenfold on him. “Since I started adopting children who made me go gray.”
And he did have some gray now, Jason noticed. He was older, he was getting old. It made that part of Jason’s chest that was always warm with something soften like butter even more. It soothed the lines in his face and cooled some of that pooling confusion. Bruce just looked so human standing there. He looked like dad and not Batman. So when he answered, the tone wasn’t drenched in his earlier frustration.
“Don’t blame that on us. You were already old when I got here.”
“I was 32.”
“Ancient.” Jason instantly shot back, making a tiny smile peek out from Bruce’s face, lighting up the room and making the shadows recede the smallest bit.
“Jason, go to sleep. You’re killing me. You are killing your father.”
“Been there, done that. And the answer is still no.”
“I can just pick you up you know.” Bruce threatened, getting closer and Jason scooted up. Ready to attack and run at any moment. He was not getting picked up again.
“Bruce, I am not a minor! I don’t give one shit what Jefferson says.” He said, crossing his arms and not pouting. Jason would really have to be giving Jefferson a visit. His consultations with Bruce were unacceptable.
But before he could give his future Jefferson plans any more thought, he saw Bruce stop in his tracks. The words seemed to have the effect he wanted, but not in the way he imagined. Bruce had stopped walking and got a weird look on his face. Like he saw something Jason couldn’t. The younger man was instantly uncomfortable with the development.
Unbeknownst to him was Bruce's reality falling away.
Jefferson. Jefferson. Jefferson.
I’ll let my lawyers know.
They’re my lawyers.
Without warning, the man before him disappeared and in his place was that same little boy. He had wild hair and big eyes, with a book in small hands. A tiny Jason. Bruce blinked to no avail. The little boy was still there.
Time ceased to exist and a night from so so many years ago played before his eyes. An argument over bedtime. Curls tickling his chin. A warm weight in his arms. An even heavier weight in his heart.
And I’ve decided not to sue, on the grounds of loving you and all that
I love you too, Jay.
God, that was only a few moments ago wasn’t it? Didn’t he just tuck his little boy in? He swore he could still feel the bruise on his side from Jason’s kicking. The door was left cracked because his son hated the dark. He was upstairs now, sleeping peacefully and safely in his room where he left him. He had just listened to his steady breaths and knew he lived. Jason lived.
That wasn’t true.
Bruce blinked. And the man his boy became sat before him once again, squirming uncomfortably at how long he’d been staring. But the years between then and now didn’t matter because the little boy was still there. He was in the lines of Jason’s pout. The big orbs that used to look at him in adoration now rested on an older face. The curls that would tickle his chin fell in pieces over Jason’s forehead.
Jason cleared his throat, trying to get rid of the awkward that now hung in the air. Bruce was just. Staring. At him. He didn’t know what to do.
But before he could hastily excuse himself from Bruce’s breakdown, he snapped out of it. His eyes cleared but they looked softer now. The tenseness that was always present in his shoulders fell away and he took the last few steps to Jason.
The mood shifted and Jason was immediately on edge. He knew Bruce wouldn’t be picking him up and this made his hackles rise. Bruce was supposed to follow the script. They had a script. The confusion only intensified when Bruce took a seat next to him and put a warm hand on his forearm. Not his shoulder like he usually did. Not a hair ruffle and not a gentle push that would lead to a round of roughhousing. This was different. It was gentle. Kind.
Bruce had always been kind to him but this was different. This felt different.
Bruce sighed before gingerly meeting Jason’s confused stare.
“You still don’t understand.”
Jason didn’t respond, biting back the million questions on what the hell are you talking about. Choosing to stay quiet for once. Not knowing what to say or how to react at all. This wasn’t how they usually interacted. Not anymore.
Bruce squeezed his forearm and spoke with a voice that melted into the hues of the night and the beat of his heart.
“Jay, you’re always going to my kid.”
And the questions raging in Jason’s head quieted, answered and satisfied.The hand holding his forearm let go and lifted to pull him into Bruce’s chest. He still didn’t speak as arms encircled him and just held him there.
Jason slowly brought his arms up and hugged back. Not too tightly, still hesitant, but that was okay. Bruce squeezed enough for the both of them
Both chose not to speak. Simply letting the moment speak for itself.
Finally, after a minute of listening to the noises of the night and each other’s intakes of breath, Jason muttered a weak, “I ain’t no kid.”
A gentle brush through his curls before the same hand reached down and flicked Jason’s nose. “You are.”
“Ow! You bastard, why did you fli-”
Bruce instantly threw Jason over his shoulder while he was momentarily distracted and began making his way to Jason’s room, completely ignoring his son’s slew of curses.