He doesn't know why the universe has such a vendetta against his children.
Probably, some will argue that he painted a target on their backs the moment he had them out in the streets fighting crime but, honestly, they all had pretty lousy starts in life before he got involved. He knows what it's like to be orphaned. He knows how it feels, somewhat, to never fit into the role society has given you. He's tried to relate to each of their traumas and oddities until his brain feels stuffed with parenting knowledge that he never actually gets to put into practice because it turns out fatherhood isn't really something you learn through books.
But when he finds Jason in an alley, he knows the universe simply hates his boys. His helmet is intact, at least, even if it won't fit onto his head because his skull is currently a shape far from human. Pieces of the Red Hood uniform had been scattered all around and Bruce had feared for the worst. This isn't the worst, but being turned into a dog is far from the best.
Jason is a black and brown dog, medium-sized, with one floppy ear and one upright ear. He's of completely indeterminable breed, especially to Bruce, but he feels pretty confident that this the true definition of a mutt. His eyes are bright, however, and he doesn't appear to be hurt as he drags his holster behind him. He gives Bruce a wary look as he approaches, but doesn't let go of his prize. "I don't think you really need a gun when you don't have fingers," Bruce chides him lightly, reaching carefully to extract it from his mouth. He's not all together certain Jason wouldn't bite him in human form; dog form makes it even riskier.
Fortunately, Jason allows him to extract the holster from his teeth and take a closer look. He's skinny as a dog. Has he been eating right as a human? Bruce swears he can count ribs through mottled fur. There's also blood on one of his paws where it appears a toenail was torn off one of his front feet. "Is your foot alright? Or would that be your hand?" He questions. Jason blinks at him and lifts up his foot, but otherwise gives no reaction. Usually (and, dear Lord, why is there a usually for this situation?) they are decently good at communicating when not in a human form. Jason seems to be the stubborn exception to the rule. "Come on. Let's go home and make sure it isn't broken. I hope Alfred's a good vet."
The mutt turns and starts to limp away. Trust it to be Jason who makes some alley mongrel have the attitude of the purest bred of poodles. "Not home, then. The Cave. I know...I know you say it isn't your home." As much as it hurts him to repeat it. "The streets aren't safe, Jaylad. It would be better if you came with me."
Jason gives a soft "Boof." at him and veers toward a garbage can. With surprising dexterity he pulls out a pizza box and flips the lid open. There's a scattering of cheese and picked off pepperonis that he eagerly sets to eating and Bruce grimaces. His mind is further gone than he thought; the temptation to call someone in who can predict how long this will take to set right is rearing its ugly head. But he's Batman. Batman can figure this out alone. A shapeshifter who turned out to be a magic user won't be hard to track down and he knows that only one of his spells can be active at a time. If he wants to use any more magic, Jason will have to turn back into a human. Surely it won't take very long.
"Don't eat that. I'll get you a pizza on the way to the Cave. Or at the Cave." The car might be a little too conspicuous for a drive-thru and whereas the younger generation is confident going into restaurants on patrol, Batman always tries to maintain more of a mysterious air about him than to get tacos with hungover college students at three in the morning.
He swears Jason scowls at him and eats the rest of the pizza remnants as fast as possible. Bruce sighs, but his heart feels tugged a little as he remembers Jason as a child doing very much the same thing.
It takes a little bit of convincing but he gets the canine into the passenger seat and buckles him in. It isn't the most secure way to transport him, but he thinks Jason would freak out if he had to be in any type of confined space. He's not all together convinced that his middle child isn't being purposefully difficult, either. He makes good on his promise of having a pizza delivered and even uses speakerphone so that Jason can be satisfied to take him on his word. Jason's ears perk, comical since they are mismatched, and his tail thumps against the seat when Bruce runs a hand down the ruffled fur of his shoulder.
It could be better, yes. It could be much, much worse. Jason is alive and Bruce knows how it feels when that isn't the case.
It turns out that Jason as a dog is far more accepting than Jason as a human. Bruce sets the computer up to run searches on potential fixes for being turned into a dog by this particular brand of magic while Alfred brushes the dirt out of Jason's coat and alternately scolds him for being so filthy and admires him for being muscular and friendly. Not for the first time, he realizes the old butler is worth more than his weight in gold for taking every odd thing that happens to one of them in stride.
Jason's paw is bandaged, though he keeps flicking his leg to try to knock it off. A toe (finger?) is indeed broken but already set properly again. Jason yelps and whines when they cauterize the bleeding nail bed. He must experience pain differently as a dog. He doesn't even argue when Bruce suggests a painkiller to ease the discomfort he feels when he walks. He takes the pill, after verification it's safe for canines, and places it on a slice of pizza directly in front of Jason. "It's fairly mild, but you'll probably want to sleep here," he informs him.
Jason eats the pizza, pill and all, and paws the box for more. He's at least communicative about his empty belly and hurt foot and Bruce is glad to ease those things as best as he can. Jason never lets him tend his wounds if he's conscious, and while he can be lured with Alfred's promises of cooking, Bruce knows the few moments he can steal with his second son and a bag of fast food are precious because they are so rare. He wonders if the man will count this as one of their meetings and deny him contact the next month. Alfred's counseled him repeatedly that the tighter he holds on, the more his child will struggle to get away. It doesn't make things any easier.
Fed, cleaned, bandaged, and drugged a tiny bit, Jason settles on the cot Alfred pulls out for him. Bruce moves him to be closer to the computer, stating it is only practical. Alfred will have other matters to deal with and this way Bruce can be close if Jason happens to need anything. There are a surprising number of documents to go through, but first Bruce scans them all to have the most important information.
Jason will be alright. This brand of magic is never fatal and rarely permanent. Their only concern is if the magic user dies before Jason turns back, and even then it will probably break all the spells he ever cast.
The silence is companionable. Bruce reaches down a few times, always cautious of being rebuffed, but Jason lets himself be petted. That's rare enough. It's basically unheard of for him to allow his father to do the petting and if Bruce needed the money he'd be going to buy a lottery ticket because this has to be his luckiest day in twenty years. At least, as far as child-raising went. Jason's floppy ear is the softest thing he's felt. His upright ear has a tiny tuft of fur at the top that makes him smile like the one strand of hair on the back of Jason's head that always swooped up light a riotous feather. His eyes are brown as a dog, and Bruce misses the teal shade, but more than that he misses the clearer blue they used to be when they were free of the influence of the Pit and the mistakes Bruce made that brought him there.
"I'm sorry," he murmurs to Jason when he takes a break to fill up the water dish beside him. He runs a hand from the top of Jason's head down his spine. It feels as bony as it had with Jason was a scrawny kid. "I'm not sure how much of what I'm saying you understand and I know I've apologized before." He hadn't wanted to hear it. Every time had ended in a fight worse than the last until, eventually, Bruce had simply stopped trying for fear of making things even worse. "I'm sorry I didn't keep a better eye on you. I should have, because Robin or not, you were my child. A father should be aware when his son is about to take off to another continent to track down his birth mother." He's racked his brain trying to think of what would have distracted him enough to miss it. A million things, really, and Jason was always secretive about even the most minor of happenings in his life. It was an easy thing to miss but it should not have been. Dick was his biggest learning experience, and Jason was one of a different sort. He likes to think he's gotten better as a parent but it alarms him it might have been as a result of screwing up the older to children.
Jason looks up from lapping up the water, droplets falling from his muzzle. He appraises him with serious eyes and Bruce strokes him again, half trying to settle him and half relishing the ability to actually reach out and touch him while they spoke. "I wonder who you would have been if it didn't happen," he admits. It feels treacherous to even say. He knows that wishing for things you can't have gains you nothing; he's known it since he was ten years old. "You've always had this anger and this fire. Would you still have become the Red Hood? Would you have hated me just as much?"
I don't hate you. Jason's said it to him before. It had been a milestone day when Jason had worked things out for himself enough to express it. I hate what you stand for. I hate what you didn't do. Bruce had argued, furious with his own child asking him to kill, but when he replayed the recording of the scene from his suit, he could feel the pain in Jason's tone and the thinly masked heartbreak at what he thought was a betrayal.
"I know you see Alfred more than you see me, out of the mask," Bruce continues. Jason limps a small circle around him, seeming to work some of the stiffness out of his joints. It must be hard on a body to suddenly change shapes. "It's alright. He doesn't tell me. We don't talk about you. That's how badly he thinks I've messed up the situation; we have a policy not to talk about it." He doesn't want to fight with Alfred, either. He's glad Jason has someone, when push comes to shove. He's glad a link exists there that can't be so easily broken because both Alfred and Jason deserve it.
Bruce sighs. He's not certain what makes it so much easier to discuss this with Jason. Perhaps it's that he's a captive audience, and one that doesn't seem intent to escape. Maybe it's the fact that he's wearing the skin of a common mutt. Bruce has always found it easier to talk to non-humans.
He shouldn't burden him with all of this. He doubts Jason will remember most of it, or that he grasps it now. It's for his own benefit he's saying any of it, and that he's doting so much on his son at this moment. It's entirely selfish. It won't fix anything between them.
Story of his life, really.
He waits for Jason to settle back on the cot and pulls a blanket up over him. Impulsively, he leans down to place a kiss on the top of his furry head. "Back to work. You take a nap, Jay. By the time you wake up I bet this will be all done with."
Jason gives his fingers a tentative lick as he stands up. Bruce isn't sure what to think, but he excuses himself until his emotions are in check.
Tim has gotten exactly forty-three minutes of sleep when the phone rings. The sleep tracker on his wrist blinks in anger at him when he rolls over to find his cell phone. He gropes blindly, refusing to open his eyes. Had he set it down to charge? Had it made it to bed with him?
Helpfully, a hand appears to thrust the electronic into his palm. Tim startles for a moment before he remembers that Jason is there, using his resources and eating his food. The resources are for a case involving a kidnapped child, so Tim can't begrudge him that. He can, however, make a hostile mental note that Jason has definitely been drinking his fancy kale mango smoothies judging by the smell. "Hello?"
"I need you to take Jason for a walk."
Tim squints at the caller identification. Bruce. That doesn't help him make sense of the words. "What?"
"I have a meeting I can't miss. I'm on the way there now. Alfred also has an appointment but Jason seemed very antsy and like he wanted to go outside. I need you to walk him," Bruce repeats like he's stupid. He feels stupid, suddenly, or like he's in a particularly odd dream and he'll roll out of bed only to discover he's naked in a classroom.
"Jason wants to go outside and I have to take him for a walk?" He repeats and sees Jason, the one in his apartment, pop his head into the room. "Why can't he go outside on his own?
His first thought is clones. The second is aliens. The third is that Bruce is under the influence of something. He's relatively sure that he has the human, original to this universe Jason. Bruce doesn't typically drink during the day. "Do you check your mission reports?" Bruce asks and sounds irritated and sober. "Jason was transformed into a canine last night. I thought the magic would have worn off by now but it appears I was incorrect. He's at the Manor. Damian is at school and Dick isn't even in Gotham. You were the next-"
"The next?" Tim asks, but he's stalling. "I'm seriously not even the first choice to walk the dog?" He puts his phone on mute while Bruce explains his decision tree and how he doesn't want Tim to get his throat ripped out by an irate canine-Jason. He looks to man-Jason. "Bruce seems to think you've been turned into a dog?"
Jason stares. "I haven't been."
"I can see that," he snaps. "Anything else you want to add?"
"I may have left a spare uniform in an alley for a quick change. I went to pick it up last night and the bag it was in had been torn open," he offers after a moment. "The pieces were all there, though. It was off Seventh."
Tim's had just enough sleep to see the possibilities of what has happened and not enough sleep to want to deal with it. He takes the phone off mute to hear Bruce repeatedly saying his name. "I'm here," he replies. "So is Jason, actually."
"You got Jason?" His father asks and then seems to realize the logistical impossibility that exists for Tim to already have dog-Jason in his possession. "What's going on?"
He should be pleased that the World's Greatest Detective is so bewildered. Instead he's trying to shoo Jason off his bed like he actually is a canine. "You tell me. Human Jason says he left a uniform in an alley for a quick change near Seventh Street and came back to find it opened."
"Don't call me Human Jason," Jason butts in. "It's offensive. I want to see the dog version of me."
He can tell by Bruce's silence that Bruce found the dog in an alley off Seventh Street. He can also tell that the man is mortified and he wonders who he's contacted and threatened to get his son turned back into a human only to realize the dog he's been taking care of is an actual dog. "He was in his jacket and going for his gun. He was trying to get his head out of the helmet."
Tim shushes Jason, kicking him off the bed when he tries to crawl onto it. "I'll go take the dog out even if it's not Jason," he reassures Bruce. "Go to your meeting. Tell Alfred to enjoy whatever appointment he has. I've got this taken care of. I promise I can walk a dog."
"I actually feel relieved knowing you won't be walking Jason," Bruce admits. "I'm almost to the conference room. I'll call when I'm finished but it won't be for a few hours."
Jason is on the ground grinning like a maniac. Tim wishes he had a muzzle for him. "Got this covered, B."
"Thank you, Tim," he replies in his Wayne Enterprises voice and Tim's too tired to feel used as a prop. He shoves his blankets down after a quick verification that he's wearing clothes, and shoves his feet into his sneakers, all together ignoring Jason.
"You're going like that?" He asks. "In sweatpants? Have you given up?"
"I have no idea how you can be chipper on no sleep," Tim replies. "I'm getting a coffee and I'm going to let the dog, who is not you but apparently has been treated like you for the past twelve hours, outside and then I'm going to take a nap." He's cleared his schedule until evening just to catch up on his sleep and now it's being ruined by two forms of Jason. Life is hardly fair.
The older man hops to his feet, surprisingly spry for how large he is. "I'll drive. I'm not going to miss a chance to have a credible ending to my story."
Tim quirks a brow at him, grabbing a jacket to conceal his baggy t-shirt. "And what story is that?"
"That time my dad found a dog, assumed it was me, and instead of calling to verify, took care of it because that's somehow easier than talking to me."
Jason has a point. Their lives are enough to keep a therapist in business for centuries.
"I'm naming him Roy and finding him a home," Jason announces three hours later when the dog, who is not Jason, has tired himself out on his walk.
Tim can't even make it to his old bedroom and is content to plan his nap for the over sized couch in one of the libraries. He has an afghan pulled over him and is arranging the pillows around him to his liking. "Why?"
"Because Roy is a son of a bitch like this guy and because he deserves a nice home. I doubt Alfred wants another animal to supervise and Bruce probably won't even look him in the eye after thinking he was me. He's cute, though."
"You could keep him," he suggests.
"Our lives aren't really conducive to pets," Jason replies and it's a fair point. "We can't even have house plants because we might disappear for weeks and can't trust anyone to come in our apartments and water them."
Tim shifts on the couch. "I'm sure Bruce could find him a home."
"I'll find him a better home. Nothing but the best for my canine doppelganger. It's a miracle Bruce didn't put him in jail or lecture him to death about being a bad boy."
Roy plops his head on Jason's knee. Tim shuts his eyes, and promises himself he'll find out what really happened as soon as he has his nap.