The sigh Jason gave was deflated and wary as his blank eyes skimmed over the thick black text signifying an unread email waiting in his inbox for a moment of his spare time. There was no subject but the address it was sent from was familiar to him.
Great. Jason blew his cheeks out, in equal part wanting to delete the message and block Richard again (how did he unblock himself anyway?) and also let curiosity get the better of him. The family never sent him emails and hardly texts or calls, he didn't even know they knew how to contact him this way.
But no lie, he was intrigued as the cursor hovered above the message in consideration for a moment before he tentatively double-clicked it. Thanks to the slowness of the WiFi he was stealing from the neighbour, it buffered long enough for Jason to roll his eyes.
But then it opened to no text, no nothing, only a single shared link. He made sure his firewall and VPN were solid before clicking on it. You could never be too careful to avoid viruses.
Surprisingly, the link took Jason to Tumblr, of all places, and to a long post. Skimming over the text, he was asking himself what Dick was smoking to send him this when he caught what it was about with a start.
How to escape after being buried alive in a coffin.
- It could happen to anyone. People bury a person alive to scare them or to get rid of them. In this situation, rely only on yourself.
- Do not waste oxygen. In a classic coffin there's only enough oxygen for about an hour, maybe two. Inhale deeply, exhale very slowly. Once inhaled - do not swallow, or you will start to hyperventilate. Do not light up lighters or matches, they will waste oxygen. Using a flashlight is allowed. Screaming increases anxiety, which causes increased heartbeat and therefore - waste of oxygen. So don't scream.
- Shake up the lid with your hands. In some cheap low-quality coffins you will be able to even make a hole (with an engagement ring or a belt buckle.)
- Cross your arms over your chest, holding onto your shoulders with your hands, and pull the shirt off upward. Tie it in a knot above your head.
- As soon as the lid breaks, throw and move the dirt that falls through in the direction of your feet. When it takes up a lot of space, try pressing the ground to the sides of the coffin with your legs and feet. Move around a bit.
- Whatever you do - your main goal is to sit up: dirt will fill up the empty space and move to your advantage, so no matter what - do not stop and try breathing steadily and calmly.
- Get up. Remember: the dirt in the grave is very loose, so battling your way up will be easier than it seems. It's the other way around during rainy weather, however, since water makes dirt heavy and sticky.
What. The. Fuck?
The metal legs of Jason's chair screeched against the floor when he shoved himself violently away from the computer, his hands tight and squeezing tighter on the edge of the table.
What the hell? What - what the HELL?!
Without realising it, Jason was panting hard and heavy, his entire body shaking with a cold sweat while all the colour drained from his face. He tried to stop it, didn't mean for it to happen, but his brain took him right back there. The grave. The coffin. The rain turning dirt to mud that rushed into his airways and choked him.
His once broken fingers trembled as he closed them around the laptop and slammed it shut hard enough to crack the monitor. His eyes squeezed shut as if that eliminated the memories. Suffocating, constricting, blackening, killing...
Violently, Jason shivered when he remembered the shards of splintered coffin wood impaling his fingers at ungodly angles.
He swallowed, throat burning. He was screaming a lot then, in his head, out loud, and this fucking Tumblr post was making him relive it all in a series of flashbacks. It was stupid, it was just text in the cesspool of the Internet, and it was making him freak out like this.
Fuck Dick! What the fuck was wrong with him? Jason had thought they were on decent terms, especially since he'd helped out on a few tough cases at the cost of his own resources and time, but apparently not and the bitch had something he wanted to say.
With a jolt, Jason stood unsteadily, abrupt enough to send his chair reeling over backwards and crashing loudly onto the floor. The noise was still ringing out through his safe house when he roughly grabbed his jacket from the coatrack and swept out into the desolate hallway, as crummy and dark as his mental state.
Soon, he was getting over the traumatised flashbacks and replacing them with his go-to coping mechanism; indignant anger. Dick thought he was hilarious sending links like that, didn't he? Fucking hysterical that Jason was buried alive and barely crawled out without suffocating under six feet of dirt... that was worth the joke. It was so damn funny he wondered why he hadn't thought of it before.
Filled with a blaze of fury that burned hotter every second he dwelt on the email, Jason took his bike down to the BPD in the centre district of Dick's home city, bustling with people coming and going about their own individual businesses. No one did more than glance at the storm faced young man marching like a hurricane into the heart of police activity there; their lovely department.
When Jason came in, Officer Grayson was leaning on a desk and chatting with his coworker in a carefree and airy way, laughing lightheartedly at a comment they made that bore no long-lasting relevance.
Someone finally noticed Jason walking quickly through the cops-only zone, some officer whose fupa was spilling out of his belt and jeans. His handlebar moustache twitched as he addressed Jason.
"Hey, kid, you can't be here. What do you want?"
And that made Dick pay his little brother attention at last.
"Jay?" He pushed away from his colleague's desk, frowning in confusion because Jason never visited him here unless he needed his cop big bro to make something obvious go away. It wasn't anything he enjoyed doing but he would if Jason successfully twisted his arm far enough.
"What are you-"
With a sharp crack, Jason's fist splitting the corner of Dick's mouth open effectively shut him the fuck up before he could finish that sentence. Snapping his head back, he knocked the other away several strides and made him stumble, but not before every cop who was paying attention yelled at Jason and shot up from their seats to detain him.
And it was a damn joke, let him tell you, that four or five big men rushed Jason and grabbed his arms. As if he couldn't throw them all off and put them in the hospital, but he held back because he wasn't here to hurt anyone but Dick.
"What the hell's wrong with you?" Biting, Jason demanded of Dick angrily through his teeth while he wrenched to get his arms free from grubby mitts that enveloped them. When Jason pulled, the legion of hero cops pulled back harder until one almost dislocated his shoulder. With a sharp breath, he winced and muffled a grunt with his clenched jaw. Did he say he wasn't going to hurt anyone? Scratch that, if they tried that again, Jason was going to kick their knees in and not feel bad about it.
"Don't hurt him." Wiping a rivulet of blood from his lip onto the back of his hand, Dick instructed as he straightened himself out. It was left up to interpretation whether or not he meant Jason or the police he could maim with ease.
"It's okay, he's my brother." Dick continued, gripping Jason around his bicep and drawing him free to his own restraint. His fingers burrowed into Jason's muscle, holding onto him with such an easily breakable grasp.
"He just assaulted you." One of Officer Grayson's colleagues snapped, the one who grabbed Jason first and almost lost his ability to walk doing it. His face was bitter as unsweetened mead, glaring at Jason with an undisguised desire to slap cuffs around his wrists and process him into the legal system. Jason returned the scowl, his arm in his brother's hand like he was a naughty child being escorted off the playground after a brawl.
"Like I said, it's fine. I've got this." Dick repeated in a less patient tone, all but dragging Jason with him to the interrogation room down the hall. He shoved him in and locked the door behind, closing them into a small space with nothing but a table, two chairs and a murky one-way mirror residing on the wall.
"What?" Big brother sounded frustrated and tired when he turned to Jason with his hands on his hips, a wary dip in his brow as he regarded the problem before him. The corner of his lip and his jaw were bruising nastily, he would bear the marks for a while to come.
"You know what." Jason bit back with an unrelenting tip of his chin upward, narrowing his eyes as he folded his arms across his chest.
"You know what you did."
"Really? Well, I don't so you're gonna have to tell me." This playing dumb thing, it really wasn't cute. It was fucking annoying. It only made Jason more abuzz with rage, his fists clenching so tight they trembled and his nerves strained taut and visible from beneath his skin. Quickly, worriedly, Dick glanced at Jason's hands then returned to interlock their eyes.
"Why did you send me that stupid post about coffins and being buried alive? That's not fucking funny."
"Wh... what post?" His inky black brows knit with the inquiry.
"Jay, you know I'd never send you something like that-"
"Then who did?!" Jason didn't mean to yell or stomp his foot like a child, but it just sort of happened without his control. Dick was taken aback by his outburst but Jason couldn't find it within himself to care at all.
"Who's got access to your email other than you?"
"Sh... show me the post." With an exhale through his nose, Dick was pinching the bridge of it with a bowed head and tense line to his shoulders. He was bullshitting Jason, he knew full well what he was responsible for, but just to humour big brother, Jason opened up his phone and scrolled through the Gmail app, not having to go far to find the message in question. With the side of this thumb, he clicked it open and presented it with a self-righteous huff to Dick.
Leaning in, Dick scanned it over quick, reading only the highlights before he looked Jason in his eyes with grave, sincere severity.
"I promise you, I did not send this, little wing. I'm not that insensitive."
Staring at him, Jason searched but couldn't find any traces of dishonesty. Bear in mind, he'd been trained by both Batman and Talia al Ghul herself to spot any minor hints of it.
"Then who did?" It was tempting to give up some of his tension, it was getting a little bit painful to maintain, to be honest, but Jason was still very irritated and intended to look the part.
"I'm not sure." Dick rubbed the back of his neck with a wary sigh, going over the chances. Nice to see he was at least taking this seriously.
"Well... Damian is over at the moment but... But he wouldn't do something like this."
"Wouldn't he? He hates me, Dick."
"Why else would he do this then?"
"We don't know for sure-"
"Yes, we do." Darkly, Jason's eyes narrowed to glittering green slivers of anger.
"Because it was you or it was him. And it was him." As he said that, or snapped it, Jason shoved past Dick on his way to the door, only to have his arm snared by brother once more. Dick yanked Jason to his side, looking him dead in the eyes.
"Where are you going?" He asked, already knowing the answer.
"To see that brat and smack him upside the head. This isn't a fucking joke."
"No, Jason, you're not going to hit Damian. We can go talk to him, clear this up, but no one is getting hit." Dick spoke calmly but didn't lack the authority of a big brother coming between his younger siblings and a fight.
"I..." Trailing off, Jason stared at Dick, felt the sensation of having his bicep squeezed in a warning, and he rapidly deduced that he wasn't winning this one.
"... Fine." He blew his cheeks out in frustration, wrenching his limb free. He was going to fucking kill that pest, verbally if not physically.
"But I'm not going to say nice things."
Conveniently, Dick lived within walking distance of the police department. He and Jason could just stroll to his home at a leisurely pace. Not that his little brother did; Jason stormed down the street several strides ahead, his muscles tense and shaking with anger. In silence, hands in his pockets, Dick watched the not-so-small nineteen-year-old ball of rage as he expertly navigated himself to the apartment.
Lately, Jason had been over a lot, helping out with cases that required his knowledge of the city's underworld. It was honestly something Dick greatly enjoyed in secret, seeing as how he mostly spent time with Tim and Damian (especially Damian), so to have some solo time with Jason was truly a treat.
And that brought about the reason Dick suspected Damian sent that terrible link to Jason, to begin with. He was jealous of the time they'd been spending together. Damian had remarked on it the other day, that he didn't like Todd being around as much and that Dick ought to put an end to it, or else.
Naturally, Dick ignored the half threat because A, Damian was absolutely ridiculous with his demands. And B, no ten-year-old boy was dictating which siblings he spent his time with. Dick loved Jason as much as Tim and Damian, he wanted to pay them all equal attention. It was easier in theory, seeing as how Damian demanded all eyes on him at all times, but Dick had tried to make it work.
And now Damian was using the pettiest tactics he could think of to sabotage it. Because he was jealous.
Partly, Dick sort of got it. Damian was incredibly attached to him because of a lifetime of emotional and psychological abuse at his blood family's hands, and he was possessive, borderline obsessed. He wanted to be the only brother in Dick's life but he just couldn't have it his way.
Not that it would ever stop Damian from trying.
Unsurprisingly, Damian was waiting by the front door when they came in. Trained by the League of Assassins, he probably saw them coming a block away and been awaiting ever since. Always on his toes, that one.
"Grayson," Damian tipped his chin in ever-so-formal greeting, his green cat eyes narrowing angrily when they brushed over Jason. He was not happy with Jason's presence here, never mind it was Dick's apartment and first brother.
"Todd..." Damian growled vehemently, small fists closing at his sides. Jason leered down at him no less violently, leaving Dick wondering how long until he had to come between them. Ten seconds was the record.
"Where do you get off sending me shit like that, you little imp?" Snapping, Jason almost stepped on Damian as he approached with a vicious glare. Damian didn't want to, but he backed off half a stride to save himself getting trampled.
"Watch your tongue, Todd, lest you desire for me to tear it from your head."
"Damian." Sternly, Dick warned from the spot he spectated at, his arms around himself as he watched. He doubted they could talk this out by themselves as neither was good in the department of resolving things verbally.
He would step in soon.
Or now. Now was good.
"Dami, you realise that post you linked to Jason was a terrible thing to do, don't you?" He inquired, cocking his head as Damian first looked to him, then away grumpily, then scowled back to him. It didn't appear as if though he was going to lie about being culpable.
"I was simply instructing Todd on the proper technique of not dying in a coffin. He gave himself brain damage the last time, so clearly, he was not knowledgable in the information I shared with him."
"So you're not even gonna pretend you didn't do it?" Jason was angry. He had a right to be, it was understandable, his outbursts were well-known devices of his that he used to hide wounded emotions. Dick was deadly aware that out of all of Jason's traumas, the most brittle was waking up in a grave, six feet beneath the ground. Any trigger or memory, no matter how tiny or insignificant, could trip him. And Jason full-on freaked out when his PTSD was triggered, he was seldom in control then.
Probably, Damian had no idea how harmful his little vengeance scheme could have been, beneath the surface. But it wasn't an excuse. And judging by Jason's meltdown at the precinct, the damage was done.
"Why would I pretend, Todd? There is no honour in lying."
"Oh yeah? Then how about you tell me the fucking truth about why you sent it? We both know it isn't for some bullshit trivia."
Damian ground his jaw, working it in wound-up circular motions, the situation growing more and more agitated. It was winding like a guitar being tuned, strings pulling tighter and tighter until Dick was waiting for one of them to snap.
He gave a low exhale, taking a step closer to them and letting his arms unfold and fall to his sides.
"Dami, I know this is about you being jealous that Jason has been hanging around lately but that's not a good reason. You can't sabotage everything that doesn't please you." This time, he took a far sterner approach to this all and clearly, his no-nonsense tone didn't sit well with Damian. But the cherry on top was him adding,
"And Bruce is going to hear about this. And Alfred."
Knowing what that would mean to ensue, Damian's eyes widened a fraction before quickly returning to the resident scowl he mastered so perfectly. He was going to say something in the name of rebuttal but Jason was quick to interrupt his attempt.
"They're just gonna side with him, Dick. They're going to find it cute and sympathetic that he's possessive over you and they're going to tell me to stop overreacting over a fucking email." Jason rarely let a note of distress come into his voice as blatantly as then and the appearance of it did surprise Dick somewhat, that frail worried little tone that meant Jason was 100% convinced about the truth of his statement. As if Alfred would do that but Jason had his justifications for believing Bruce as capable of brushing the severity of the matter off.
It's not like the blood son had never not come first.
Especially since Damian was a child but Bruce forgot, Jason died at fifteen and stayed dead or brain-dead for years thereafter, he might be big and strong and combat smart but in a lot of areas, his mentality wasn't as mature as the average person of his age.
Dick wasn't saying Jason was stupid, not by any means, he just hadn't had the time to emotionally mature to his full extent.
Bruce didn't get that multiple factors Jason wasn't to blame for played into his behaviour.
"I'm going to explain this to B, Jason. He's not going to-"
"Yes, he will. Just - just don't say anything to him." Exasperated, upset, Jason's widened fingers raked back through his hair and pulled at a fistful of the strands in an attempt to alleviate some of the pressure building up in him. The email must have made him think about the grave again. He gave a heavy breath out that shuddered near the end and looked away rapidly, his tongue darting over his bottom lip and losing his tough-guy facade pretty damn quickly. This whole scheme of Damian's had shaken so many things loose that he didn't believe it.
Speaking of, the waist-high devil stared at Jason's disintegrating state and turned to Dick, murmuring,
"I did not realise Todd would be so affected."
"Yes, you did." Not here for his lying tongue, Dick gave his younger sibling a dark glare before making his way over to Jason and taking him by the shoulders, giving him a small shake to remind him to stay with them here in the present and not run any number of flashbacks through his head in technicolour. Dick recognised what it looked like when Jason was slipping.
"Hey, little wing," With his own eyes, Dick tried to encourage Jason to meet his gaze and look up from the floor, Jason's sights hesitantly flitting away from it to interlock with his brother's. At some point, Jason had begun to tremble, his face gone pale ashen and showing just how far removed he was rapidly becoming.
"Focus on me, yeah? Not anything else, just me. What's my eye colour?" A bootless question, it might seem, but getting Jason to pay attention to the real world was the surest way to keep him from going under. If he wasn't in his head, he'd be fine.
Brows knitting a little in confusion, Jason frowned at Dick.
"B... blue." His confused tone suggested that he didn't understand why the question was being raised but his willingness to reply so quick was a good sign. It meant he wasn't too far gone to reach.
"And Babs' eyes?"
Jason had to think a bit harder on that one, his features screwing slightly to further his frown. It's not that he didn't know the answer, it's just that giving it required him to creep back into the real world.
"Green." He replied finally with a bit more confidence than before and the fact that his voice was less haunted made Dick breathe an inward sigh of relief. If descents like that with Jason weren't caught onto at once, all matter of disasters could ensue. Like previously stated, Jason wasn't fully in control of himself if his PTSD was tripped.
Breaking from the trance with the help of Dick's interruption, Jason found it within himself to breathe out in a heavy but non-panicky way, his eyes becoming clearer as he reconnected to reality.
"Please... please don't tell Bruce." Jason asked, more like himself now but still far from the headstrong gunslinger he presented as.
"He's just going to make everything worse."
"I am certain Father will take pity on you, fear not, Todd." To be honest, they'd both nearly managed to forget that Damian was still in the room and his snippy voice was like a pail of cold water over the moment. It fully snapped Jason back to his signature self, however, the transition from a shaky mess to the violent kick in Damian's direction enough to whiplash Dick.
Damian reacted quick, jumping out of Jason's reach and darting off. Before Dick could stop or grab either of them, Jason chased Damian into the kitchen - where all the sharp things were. Running after them, Dick braked at the doorway just in time to see his youngest brother whip a knife blade at his younger brother. The knife was no small one; a meat cleaver, actually, but lethality aside, the attack was meant only to ward Jason off and not kill him, but that was no big comfort.
The metal sailed across the hand Jason tried to get around Damian's shirt, immediately making Jason recoil with an involuntary flinch and muffled grunt of pain. He was holding onto his wrist, shaking fist closed and blood already dribbling from his sliced-open palm.
"Damian!" Roughly, Dick caught the knife-wielding brat by his hood and shook the weapon from his grasp, landing noisily on the ground while he held Damian suspended for a heartbeat before dropping him. Naturally, he caught himself and shot leers to everyone present.
"That's it. I'm calling Alfred." Dick stated angrily, at the end of his tether. If it would have improved the situation at all, he would tell Bruce to get the hell over but Jason had already expressed his feelings regarding that matter quite clearly.
As if to look down on him, Damian tipped his chin up but didn't say anything and let Dick cross the room to check how deep Jason was cut.
"Show me." He instructed and without waiting for permission, took Jason's hand in his own, turned it to examine the ugly red mess. The slash went clean across his palm and was around half an inch in depth from what he could immediately tell, and it would need stitches or medical glue. Jason's blood was disgustingly warm and sticky when it got on Dick. It made him shiver inwardly.
Swallowing down nausea and his brain suggesting unwanted memories of a mangled dead little Robin, Dick was wordless when walking Jason over to the sink and switching the tap on. He held Jason's bloody hand under the cold stream and instructed him to keep it there while Dick dealt with Damian. The water turned pink quick and Jason watched it flow into the basin, uncharacteristically silent but not the way he was before.
He just didn't know what to say anymore.
Neither did Dick, really.
Rather uncaringly, he hauled a reluctant Damian back into the living room and shoved him down onto the couch, not that the boy could even twitch a muscle in the direction of caring that he hurt Jason, both emotionally and now also physically.
"There are going to be serious repercussions for this, Damian," Dick growled, digging through his pockets for his phone to call Alfred.
Disinterested, Damian clicked his tongue with a scoff and eye roll. It's like an invisible barrier was blocking any sense of guilt or responsibility from getting through. Jesus, it was common knowledge that he was a brat but this was kicked up a notch to a higher level that Dick didn't know to expect.
And all for jealousy.
"It is pathetic that a simple email can cause Todd to panic in such a way." Crossing his arms Damian remarked, leering at Dick, busy dialling Alfred.
"Shut up." Was the only thing he could say beside the haze of anger he felt towards the boy. This was no innocently mistaken or understandable act of Damian's, he wasn't excused by simply being a little bit jealous. He seriously messed with Jason's head and he did it on purpose. And Bruce and Alfred would both hear about it, Alfred would fuck Bruce up if he picked Damian's side.
"He might look like a man," Damian kept on provoking with his grating voice, completely unafraid of the hornet's nest he was kicking.
"But inside, Todd is a scared little child." Narrowing, his eyes glittered with angry emeralds as they fixed on Dick, and Dick's jaw clicked at the hinge as he ground his teeth together. He had to keep telling himself that Alfred would handle this a thousand times better than he to keep himself from doing anything.
The dial tone rang and rang, too long it took, and before anyone picked up, Dick's own phone buzzed with an incoming call. He lowered it from his ear to check who it was, surprised and confused when the screen displayed Jason's name. At once, he clicked the green answer icon.
"Jay, why are you calling me from the kitchen-" As he tried to ask that, he took some swift strides back towards the room he'd come from, his words hitting a brick wall when he arrived at the doorway and saw it was empty with only the window parted enough to make the curtains sway in the wind. On the sill beneath the glass was half a bloody handprint, a trail of red droplets leading from the sink to it.
"I don't think me hanging around is gonna fix anythin', goldie." Jason said through the received, sounding bittersweet and absent again. In the background, Dick could hear cars and traffic, people talking and knew his brother was in a crowd to hide from anyone who might try to track him. Anyone meaning him. It meant that he wanted to be alone.
"And I gotta get my hand fixed. It hurts. So I'll see you when I see you, tell Alf I said hi."
He tried to hang up but Dick stopped him in the nick of time.
"Jason, wait. Get back here, little wing, I'll sew up your hand for you and Alfred is going to deal with Damian. You don't have to worry about anyone blaming you for this."
"But I'm still worried. I live what I've learned and right now, I really don't have the energy for an argument with Bruce. He's going to find a way to make all of this my fault and I'm not here for it. I'm just gonna find a bar and drink until I can't remember why I feel miserable right now. You just focus on how much you guys all love each other and let me focus on me."
"What?" Dick was speechless.
"You're not going to fix anything that way!"
"No, I think I'm just gonna block all of you to stop Damian sending me emails about being buried alive again. It's nothing personal, I just... I just think it's best. I'll talk to you later or something. Thanks for trying."
He hung up, the flat tone filling the shell of Dick's ear, his eyes wide and staring at the bloody handprint that was the only indication that Jason was ever here. Like every time any issue hit Jason close to heart and exposed the shrapnel, he was going to withdraw long enough to numb the blow and pretend it never happened. No matter what Dick did from this point on, the whole incident would never come up again because Jason would rather push everything down than see it to the surface.
Because he would never risk being buried alive again. Too bad Damian's how-to list didn't have anything for not suffocating under the weight of raw hurtful memories.
I hate myself too. This ended nothing like I originally intended it to.
To all the sexy honies who caught me by the throat, dragged me back here and made me fix this, here you go. It's long as shit.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
"I can't believe you would do something this petty, Damian!" The wide open interior of the Batcave filled with the boom of Bruce's voice, yelling with shameless abandon at the waist-high ten-year-old who'd never been snapped at like this before. Looking at Damian's expression, it was clear that he was surprised and didn't know what to make of the situation he got himself into.
Dick would be pleased if he wasn't so beyond himself with anger. His arms had never been crossed so tightly, his scowl exceeded new heights as far as aggravation went, and to his side, he could tell Alfred was experiencing the same thing. Normally, the Englishman would be the one to step in when Bruce was going off at one of the kids but this time, he didn't deem it appropriate and stood by watching with his cool grey eyes uncharacteristically cold.
Alfred didn't play favourites but it was no secret that if he did, Jason would knock the competition clear out the park. He was fiercely protective in the Jason department.
"There's a limit, Damian!" Bruce went on and Damian was abnormally speechless, fallen mum in the face of a new experience he never prepared for.
"There's a limit to what amount of misbehaviour is tolerable and you've crossed it. By a nautical mile. You can't do that to anyone - especially not to Jason. He hasn't done anything to you."
At that, Damian saw it fit to lift his gaze off the floor a little, barely making eye contact with his father. Dick had never seen the baby Bat be intimidated, he didn't think Damian was intimidated, but he was somewhere there pretty damn close to it.
"I just... I just wanted Grayson to stop paying him attention." His excuse sounded even feebler aloud than it must have in his head, Dick could hardly believe he even said it at all. And oh man, Bruce was pissed. He was fuming, he positively exuded rage, such a dark glare on his face that it competed with the blackness of his cowl. He loomed over his bite-sized son, dwarfing him and it did not look like Damian's useless attempts to excuse himself helped.
"So you thought it would be a great idea to try sabotage Jason's and Dick's relationship? Like this? Damian, Jason has severe psychological damage that you're fully aware of, we'll be fortunate if the worst that happens is we don't see him for the next five years."
Dick saw this as the perfect opportunity for him to step in with his own cue card of points to list off, storm faced himself as he joined Bruce at his side.
"Jason was just getting comfortable with seeing us on a semi-regular basis. It made you green with envy that I wanted his help on cases - newsflash, Damian, I didn't need his help but I wanted it. I wanted him to not feel like an outsider with his own family and you think he's gonna believe we want him around now?" Wow, Dick wasn't prepared for how angry his voice would sound when it came out of his throat, or the length his lecture would be but he must have said the appropriate things because Bruce didn't tell him to step out of parenting.
But he did take the lead on the next point.
"I know you're jealous and I know why, but remember if you will that Jason was part of our family before you, that means you have absolutely no right to try push him out. Jason is my son too, Damian, and he's Dick's brother. Get comfortable with it because it's never going to change."
At this point, Alfred finally drifted over and oh boy, that's when Damian should have signed his prayers because by the look in his eyes, Alfred was out for blood.
"I understand why you must feel threatened by Jason, given how even your coldhearted mother has a soft spot for him, and you should do everything within your power to ensure she never finds out about this. She will have far harsher words with you than us." Ouch, okay, bringing Talia into this, only Alfred would have thought to do that. At her name, Damian paled right when most adult men would have.
"And Master Bruce, if I may," Alfred turned a couple of degrees to Bruce, his chin tipped upward in his authoritative trademark. He was always stern, never this stern. Even Bruce looked like Alfred's stone cold tone of voice might be more than he was familiar with.
"I think it would be very suitable if the young master was confined to the house for the coming weeks, one week for every step he had on the how-to list he sent to Jason." There were seven steps, that's almost two months worth of being grounded and it really didn't feel like it was enough but it was a start.
And with a wholehearted nod, Bruce agreed.
"Alfred's right, Damian, you're grounded. Two months. You go to school, you come back home, that's all. No Titans, no Jon, no Colin, and no patrol. Unless it's an absolute emergency, Robin will be staying indoors for a while to come." The latter part was the one that bore the most weight, it made Damian's eyes widen in disbelief as opposed to how narrowed they'd been up until now. Being Robin was extremely important to Damian, taking that away was the worst thing Bruce could do and he knew it.
"You cannot do that, Father!" Here came the foot stomp and bratty pout, Dick and the other two were so familiar with Damian's temper tantrums that they expected it.
"Oh I can and then some. How does eight weeks sound?"
Eyes darkening to one shade away from black, Damian's jaw ground audibly but he knew when his arms were twisted and he was helpless by the throat, anything he said in the form of protest would just add another seven days to his sentence, and with two months racked up already, he needed to smarten up.
"That sounds... deserved." Damian growled, unable to sound any more disingenuous but hearing him say it was a small victory onto its own. But now it was time for the harder part and Bruce must have called it ahead too as he turned and made his way towards the case his suit was stored in.
"Where are you going?" Dick called after.
"To find my son. I won't let him self-destruct again." The suit came out the case and he quickly began closing himself into it. Gravely, he was as aware as Dick and Alfred that if Jason wanted to self-destruct, then no one was going to stop him. If it was possible, many disasters could have been avoided.
As Dick mentioned, Jason never fully mentally matured and he didn't know how to process great amounts of emotion in a healthy way, the difficulty of trying often overwhelmed him. Self-destruction or a mental breakdown followed thereafter.
"Bruce," Dick said, catching his dad by the arm before he could sweep out of the cave.
"If Jay wants to argue, don't argue back. Just get him to come back here and we'll sort this out." Earlier, Dick would have been worried to let Bruce go after his baby brother but seeing the man go ballistic on Damian was convincing towards him having Jason's well-being as a priority.
Dick could go find him, yes, but Jason needed family right now and if he thought Bruce was going to jump on him, he would never agree to come near this place. He was a 'seeing is believing' type of person.
"I want to make sure he gets the attention he needs right now. Don't worry, Dick. It won't be like before, I promise."
Gazing into Bruce's dark eyes, sincere and urgent to leave, Dick nodded in silence. He believed what he was told.
Turns out, finding a mentally distraught teenage boy in a city of thousands was a challenge but Bruce eventually tracked Jason down to the roof of a large apartment block on the bad side of Gotham.
And what a sight he was in for.
Arms out to his sides, Jason was barely balancing on the edge of the roof as he took unsteady steps two inches from a forty storey drop. He was slowly making his way around the building.
Jason was obviously drunk. Very drunk. That didn't take a genius to see.
He was woozily swaying left and right, leaning dangerously far on multiple occasions but having the time of his life, singing slurred lines from a song Bruce had never heard.
"Double bubble disco queen... head - headed to the... guillotine... skin as c - cool as... Steve Mc... Haha, Steve..."
"Jason!" Surging out, Bruce's hand latched around his son's wrist and dragged him away from the edge when it looked like he was a heartbeat from falling over it, reeling in his drowsy stuporous state.
"What the-" Outrage struck Jason across the features when he stumbled and straightened, that is, for the second before his inbuilt facial recognition registered Bruce. A lazy, wide grin slowly crept up his lips.
"Oh... hi, dad." Even as Bruce held onto his upper arm, Jason wasn't standing straight, woozy as hell, the dizziness showing in his glazed over eyes, too relaxed and easy-going to be his. Bruce didn't get a chance for a word out before Jason rose onto the tips of his toes and... tweaked one of Batman's pointed black ears.
"I lorvee your cute widdle ears, I - I don't tell you that 'nuff." Losing his balance, Jason fell against the black bat crest, slumping into Bruce's chest while Bruce's arms instinctively encircled him to keep him from falling all the way to the ground.
"Jason, how drunk are you?" Concerned, he wanted to know, never having seen his son this into his cups. But it would be foolish to assume not knowing his limits was the problem here, Jason only got intoxicated when he was hurt and knowing what he did about Damian's schemes, Bruce could count that it was that and that alone that was the true culprit.
"I don't fucken' know, old man." Hiding his face, Jason muffled the slurred chuckle escaping his lips against Bruce's sternum, his hands curling into fists at his sides while in turn, Bruce's fingers tightened around Jason's arms and held him away at a small distance. He needed to assess Jason better, from afar, but he was floppy and practically boneless, moving which so ever way he was nudged. He wouldn't keep his head straight, it made it impossible to see his face.
And smiling. Jason wouldn't stop smiling like this was all a big joke to him. His bangs were in his face like a black veil but past the unruly locks, his bloodshot eyes could be seen. Had... Had Jason been crying? That made Bruce feel wrong and awful because Jason didn't cry. He just didn't.
"Come on, we're going home." Grim, he began walking Jason back towards the door on the roof, pulling him along by his hand. They'd go back to the cave and sort this out, Damian was going to apologise if it was the last thing he ever did, and Jason would hopefully feel even a little bit less threatened by his family.
Up until now, Bruce didn't realise the extent that Jason harboured this deathly fear of him. He was so worried that they'd all turn on him regarding this email matter, that Jason would rather no one found out and he just suffer in silence. The Bat couldn't lie, he'd made multiple mistakes that excused Jason's fears and he wished he could take them all back.
But he couldn't. He could only deal with the aftermath.
"Mh, leggo." Giving his arm a solid few tugs, Jason began digging his heels in to protest to going anywhere. He started pulling back and Bruce had to let him go before he hurt himself. At being released so suddenly, Jason stumbled a couple of feet but quickly caught himself, hiccuping from sheer pure drunkenness.
"Jason, please, come home with me." Voice level and half-pleading, Bruce tried to approach him, coax him, and his breath came short when Jason cartwheeled backwards away from him, preferring close proximity to the ledge instead of the Bat. Again, he almost fell to his death and didn't appear to notice.
"Don' wanna go anywhere with... With you." Uncoordinatedly, Jason motioned to Bruce, and he was swaying and taking half an unsteady step back, his boot scuffling on the stone beneath. Biting the inside of his cheek to mince, Bruce was getting really uncomfortable with how close Jason was to the edge, anxiously watching him steadily get nearer to it.
"Son, please come away from there. I don't want you to fall." He calmly said, hoping to get through just with his words but it would be a first.
"Fall?" Scoffing, Jason's ebony brows rose as if the idea had never even crossed his scrambled mind. This was a mock joke to him, his too-bright smile gave it away.
"Relaxxxx, old man, 'm not gon' fall. St'watch." Widening his stance in preparedness, Jason suddenly threw his weight forth and caught himself on his hands, flipping back atop his feet in seconds that felt like hours to Bruce, spectating as his son's theatrics threatened his life.
"T - tadaa..." Pleased with himself, Jason presented Bruce with a wobbly bow, which is when the man noticed there was red where his son's hand touched the ground and glancing back to Jason, the palm of his glove looked dark and wet, right where Dick said Damian cut him.
"Jason - is your hand still a gaping wound?" He couldn't believe it. Jason was capable of a lot of things but negligence towards injuries had never been a known one. He must really be upset.
"Maybe..." For a second, Jason's eyes narrowed as if to garner suspicion, but then he broke down laughing at an element of comedy that went over the Bat's head. What was so funny all of a sudden?
Bruce frowned, his cowl disgruntling with the lines of his brow.
"Step away from there. You are going to fall."
"Chill, papa. No, 'm not. 'M 'pletely fine." To prove it, Jason managed to make Bruce's heart stop again by pulling off another cartwheel but this time, he was in no rush to return upright, standing on his hands while tender to put weight on the injured one.
"What's the longest you've seen someone hold this position?" His son inquired with an air of experimentation in his voice, his arm wobbling as he carefully lifted his wounded hand and placed all of his weight only onto one limb. He swayed dangerously far to the left, Bruce was half a second away from picking him up clean off the ground and carrying him back to the cave.
"Dick can do it for like... fifty-eight thousand twelve hours but he's... a bendy noodle alien... he don' count." Inches to the side, Jason shifted his hand, curling his fingers over the lip of the edge. A single stray breeze was all him falling would take. And he was acting like he wanted to go over.
"Come down from there and we'll talk about this. I know what Damian did. He's being punished for it." Literally trying to talk Jason from the edge, it might work or it might not but one thing was crystal in its clarity, if Bruce made any sudden movements towards him, it'd not end well.
But Jason didn't want to talk. He wanted to play.
"Think 'm gon' try no hands... L - look, Bruce, l - lo-" Jason lost his balance.
And fell over the dangerous side.
On alert, Bruce had been waiting for something bad to happen, he was ready with his grapple and shot it at Jason the second he went over with a wild whoosh of air. Steeling himself, Bruce muffled a grunt with his set teeth when the grapple swiftly tangled around Jason's ankle and all of his weight was transferred to the Bat's shoulders. He wrapped the rope twice around his wrists and started reeling Jason in.
"Daddy, daddy, look!" As he hung upside down, Jason laughed drunkenly, blood running to his head and reddening his cheeks.
"'M not touchin' nothin'." He was swinging to and fro like a pendulum lyre, waving his arms for holds that weren't there and he didn't even necessarily want.
With a final heave, Bruce had Jason safely back on the roof and moved quickly to detain him before he got away again. Except he didn't try to get off his back, he seemed content to lay sprawled out, giggling to himself. Or then he was too dizzy to stand.
"Ahaha, you look so mad ri' now."
Bruce wasn't mad. He was just worried.
Sluggishly, Jason's head lolled from one side to the other as Bruce pinned him, one hand large enough to hold both wrists while his spare one untangled the grapple from Jason's legs.
"Wouldn't... Wouldn't it be crazy if - if you-" A mischievous giggle interrupted his sentence and he couldn't really keep his thoughts coherent.
"- If you had real bat ears?... Oh man, I'm so wicked hammered, haha."
"Enough, Jason. We're going home and we'll talk when you're sober." Stern though his voice was, he was careful. Bruce took a handful of the leather jacket and hoisted his son up, balancing him with a secure arm around his midriff.
"'M never gon' be so.. so.. sover 'gain." Chuckling in a lazy stupor, he suddenly leaned all of his weight on Bruce's shoulder when a particularly bad bout of dizziness nearly made him trip. He stumbled, he swayed, he almost threw up.
"Tell that to your hangover." Gripping Jason, Bruce grumbled, a button on his gauntlet summoning the Batmobile into the street below to wait. No way in hell he was going to be able to get Jason to walk further than the front door.
"Hangovers don't... don't talk... silly..."
The stairs were a no-go, Bruce didn't have to be told, and he did so apologise to the residents of the building if they were confused by seeing Batman escort an intoxicated Red Hood to the elevator, part walking, part dragging, part carrying him.
He pushed Jason in and heard him slide down the mirrored wall onto the ground while Bruce selected the lowest level button. The doors closed behind, he turned with a small sigh to look at Jason, down there on the dirty elevator floor with his back against the wall, staring lethargically at the too-bright yellowy light overhead.
Looked like he was coming down from the giddy high. Just on time.
"You know your limit, Jason. You never get this drunk. Why did you think this was going to solve anything?" Solemn, Bruce couldn't hide the ounce of disappointment from entering his voice but it wasn't directed towards Jason. It was more at himself for even letting this happen, as indirect as it may seem. If Jason trusted him at all, he wouldn't always opt to self medicate.
And his reply was a halfhearted one shoulder shrug and Jason's blinking getting heavier and slower. He was so, so tired he could sleep here.
"Jus'... don' wanna... always think..." He mumbled, wetting his lips with a drowsy dab of his tongue. The alcohol probably dried his mouth out.
Bruce rarely felt more sympathetic than he did when gazing at Jason because he looked so exhausted, so hurt, so confused and blatantly miserable. He looked like his son but just a shell of him, the soft interior completely hollowed out.
He wanted to hug Jason.
"You don't have to think right now, Jaylad. You can do that in the morning after you've slept." The doors pinged open and Bruce was cotton-soft when he bent to help Jason up, putting his limp arm around his shoulders and he walked them both out at a careful pace.
They were about to go through the front doors just as a woman and her little girl came in. Seeing them, the woman's eyes went wide and surprised, her lips moving to silent words, not knowing what to say while she instinctively lead her equally bewildered daughter in a wide berth around Batman and a wasted Red Hood, stumbling and slurring every word.
"Be careful or in ten years, this will be you and your kid." In a warning tone, tall and intimidating Batman told her beneath his breath, stepping out before she could stammer anything.
He was raising awareness about underage drinking.
The Batmobile was out there by the streetlight, waiting, and he remotely unlocked the doors with his keys and opened the passenger side. At a little directing, Jason practically fell in with a thud and groan. Bruce double checked no part of his son was hanging out before he closed him into the car and went around.
With supplies from the glove compartment, Bruce did quick work of disinfecting and bandaging Jason's palm and made a mental note to fix it up better when they were back at the mansion. He needed stitches sooner than later.
"We're going home now." He said, getting behind the wheel and starting the engine in between leaning over to close Jason's seat belt around his floppy body. The car pulled away from the building and they were en route to the mansion, a fair distance from the heart of the city as it happened to be located in the quiet outskirts. It would be a safe place for Jason to sober up.
Gotham was silent tonight as if she saw that its guardian needed a night off for family matters, and he appreciated her for her gesture.
Glancing at his son briefly from the corner of his eye revealed Jason was beginning to doze off, his cheek pressed against the window and his hair ruffled. His eyelashes fluttered apart by millimetres now and then but fell shut almost immediately after.
The car was silent aside from Jason's soft low breathing and the wind whooshing past the exterior vehicle. It was just Bruce and his loud rumble of troubled thoughts for an entire ten minutes before a sleepy incoherent voice entered his registry.
"... Hey, B...?"
"Wa'ssa... wa'ssa girl dog called?"
Keeping his hands locked at ten and two on the wheel, Bruce stole a glance of Jason again, lethargic half-closed green eyes dully regarding him, waiting for the answer.
Jason snorted, smiling to himself with a light that would make anyone think his world was now complete. His eyelids were becoming lead-lined again.
"Ha... you said bitch."
"Hmm... I did. Now go to sleep, Jason."
"Mhmm." He gave a nonsensical whine and burrowed deeper into the seat, licking his lips again. He pulled one of his legs off the floor and drew his knee against his chest, half curled up around it.
"... Wake me up when we're there."
"I will." He didn't. He lied. The Batmobile slowed into the cave and went up the ramp to the reserved lot, where Alfred and Dick were already waiting on hand. Slender arms folded, an extremely grumpy and reluctant Damian stood between them, his dark glare that of a person's who knew he couldn't get away from this.
"Where is Jason?" Running over, Dick was wearing his concerned big brother frown when Bruce came out of the car alone, circling around it to the passenger side. His eldest was probably worried he had another fight with Jason and they got physical.
"Here." Sighing, he didn't explain any more than that, the click of the door handle leading to Jason all but falling into his arms, connected to the seat only by the closed belt. Amazingly, Jason didn't wake up when he was moved, not when Bruce unbuckled him or lifted him out of the vehicle, concentrating on utmost care to keep him asleep. And Jason only gave a sleepy noise and screwed his eyes shut tighter.
"Oh my - is he okay?"
As Bruce straightened, Dick fussed by, walking around to get a better look of his little brother's ashen face.
"Yes, he's just severely intoxicated."
"He - he's drunk?" Dick was as surprised as Bruce had been because, again, Jason didn't do this sort of thing often. Typically a straight edge kid but he had an excuse this time to stray from the example he tried to set. With one email, Damian successfully undid years of Jason trying to bury his traumas too deep to remember.
"I'm going to take him up to bed. Alfred, can you bring the medikit? His hand needs stitches."
It wasn't missed that before Alfred gave a nod, he sent Damian a vicious leer that was extremely unlike him. But when Alfred was mad, everyone would know about it.
Uncomfortable under that fiery gaze, Damian shifted and couldn't meet it, glancing away.
"Thank you, Alf." Bruce hummed when the Englishman took his leave and he himself was left to carry Jason up the stairs, into the main body of the mansion, Dick hovering in his wake. But before he made it to said stairs, he came to a halt beside Damian.
"And you. As soon as Jason comes down tomorrow, you're going to apologise to him. I don't care if he wakes up at five AM or PM, you don't go anywhere before you've done that. And mean it."
Damian gave a small quiet nod, hands clasped behind his back, gaze riveted to the floor.
"Understood, Father. I shall make it convincing."
Huffing, Bruce abandoned his blood son to stare at his feet and ascended the stone stairway. It would be a while to come before Damian was out of the dog house for this one. A while indeed.
Jason's old bedroom hadn't gone anywhere, it was all still intact like a shrine from his posters to the unfinished homework sprawled out on the desk, but taking him there might screw up his brain even more. He still needed to come to in a place he felt safe. So Bruce went with what he deemed the best option from the ones presented; his own bedroom. When he was little, after a nightmare, Jason would crawl up beside Bruce much like the other Robins before and after him.
He always seemed to feel safe there. He woke up late and didn't toss and turn for hours unconsciously. The bar was low but that was the best they could hope for.
Stirring a fraction, Jason mumbled something low and incoherent when laid flat on the bedspread, his limp arm falling heavily over the side but Bruce picked it up and placed it beside him. Dick didn't need to be asked to pitch in, he was already undoing the corset of laces on Jason's boots, with a disappointed sigh an octave above inaudible.
"Getting drunk is one thing, but doing it in full gear? Bruce, imagine if someone from the rogues' gallery got to him before you did. They'd have had no trouble taking Jay down." He expressed his concerns with his eyes doused in sincere worry he was justified for. Yes, they'd both already imagined the alternate outcomes to this.
"I know, Dick. Let's not picture it." Bruce was midway through easing the leather jacket off, Jason propped up on his arm the bare minimum to do so. The precious garment of Jason's came off without a struggle and was placed on the armchair nearby, along with his kevlar shirt soon thereafter. One of the gloves was soaked in blood and ruined, Bruce wasn't sure if Jason wanted to keep the surviving singlet or not but left it on the jacket for his son to determine its fate later.
With an armful of medical equipment, gauze, padding, disinfectants and the lot, Alfred came in bearing more than they needed to treat the wound but it would be unlike him to come without being prepared for every possibility. He didn't say anything, he got straight down to business and that meant sewing Jason's palm shut the way God intended it to be.
"I think it would be for the best if Master Jason were to stay a few nights. I disdain the idea of him being on his own devices at the moment." Alfred worded it like a suggestion but they'd be foolish to think it was anything lesser than a command. The Lord had spoken, there would be no other outcome than that and not even Jason would argue against Alfred's will. Good, Bruce would agree with anyone on the fact that his son really shouldn't be out on his own right now.
"We'll tell him once he wakes up." Bruce finished undressing Jason to his waist, leaving only the weathered jeans on so he could have some semblance of a comfortable rest.
Irritated, Alfred was holding Jason's wrist to examine the wound he stitched up, his silvery eyebrows drawing closer together. Under his breath, he muttered,
"Damian is lucky this is a different time." His implication that wasn't meant to be heard by anyone else made Dick adopt a furthered expression of concern. It was very rarely that Alfred fell back onto the threat of the ole switch. So rarely that Dick may not have heard it yet.
"Let's leave him to - nh-" Bruce was walking away but his cape had gotten caught on something and it almost caused him to fall over backwards onto Jason. A quick glance revealed it wasn't the bedpost or anything of the like that snared his cape; it was Jason. Or rather, Jason's uninjured hand, wrapped tightly around a clump of black material even as he slept.
Sighing quietly, Bruce couldn't help the small smile when he bent to uncurl Jason's fingers, but then his smile faded to confusion when he couldn't. At first, he didn't use a lot of strength at all to complete the task, then he had to when he couldn't free himself and was still unable open the hand that held him captive.
He, Dick, and Alfred all exchanged baffled glances.
Bruce almost dragged Jason off the bed by pulling on the cape and yet his son just would not let go. He should not be that strong, especially when asleep. And then as it was starting to get ridiculous, Jason decided to roll and wrap himself in the cape entirely, reeling Bruce in like a fish on the hook of a line. In the end, all he could do to keep from falling on his son was to lean over him on both arms.
"Mhh... s'my fuckin' blanket..." By a fraction, Jason's eyes parted to a dark murderous warning glare but it would have been more threatening if he wasn't still three fourths into dreamland. His bared teeth looked more like a puppy growling than a hound.
"Jay, lad, you have to let go-"
"Nho. F'ckh... you..."
Brightly, Dick's entertained smile widened when Jason blacked out again and he gave Bruce a look that the man knew all too well. Oh boy...
"You know what that means? Sleepover-!" From where he was standing several meters away, he bounced onto the bed. A grown man or not, Dick delighted fully in jumping on the mattress in between kicking off his excessive clothing until he also was half-naked. Bruce sighed. Dick was in his mid-twenties and crawled like a giddy child beneath the blanket - the real blanket - with Jason. His arms tangled around his little brother's midriff and he nuzzled into his shoulder, a content exhale being heard.
Alfred quirked a brow at Bruce.
"Might I suggest you remove your armour? It appears as if though you are in for a lengthy night.
Bruce sighed. Alfred was right, as normal. He was always right and with that in mind, the Bat unclipped his cape from his shoulders and let Jason have it while he went about removing the armour plates and kevlar. Guess he could do with an hour's rest before the seven AM boardroom meeting with Fox and the associates.
Alfred drifted away as quietly as he'd come and uncowled, Bruce carefully stretched out beside his boys on the very edge of the bed, giving them the most space. That is until Dick rolled over, pulling Jason along with him, still bundled in the black bat cape. Jason was so unconscious that he didn't even stir when his older brother awkwardly manoeuvred him between his own body and Bruce so that Jason was sandwiched in the middle. This way, it would be the hardest for him to sneak away in the morning.
"Damian's gonna be so pissed over this." Head propped off the pillow on one hand, Dick mused, drawing circles into Jason's hair with his index.
"Let him be. He's going to learn to deal with jealousy one way or another. This is just good practise." It might be instinct that took over, Bruce slid his arm around Jason's chest and fastened it there, drawing his son's back against his side. Did he imagine it, or did Jason's muscles relax when he did that? Either way, he dropped a subtle kiss into Jason's hair, holding onto him a little tighter.
"Saw that." Dick smirked. He was about to say a further word when a third boy lumbered in without invitation, his emo bangs hiding his downcast face, his body slumped over until his spine was a perfect arch. Dragging his feet, he barely made it as far as the bed before he collapsed onto it in an exhausted pile, face down at their feet.
"... Tim?" Dick sat up, frowning at his third brother. Bruce was confused too as from the last he heard, Timothy was in New York, in college a year before of his peers.
And Tim did not reply, he was probably asleep before his face hit the mattress. Bruce moved him just enough to ensure he didn't roll onto the floor and decided to ask questions later.
And Damian did not deem it fit to traipse in that night and join them. He was still sulking.
When they woke up one by one, Jason was still there, wrapped in the cape and grumbling complaints about a hangover.
Aww, the sexy honies were right. I like this better.
I want it to be made known that Reggie2Hood is to blame for this, as they suggested a morning-after, and this is an early morning after because I wasn't quite pleased with things being left off with Damian like that. Now I think I'm happy. Enjoy, my beautiful scallions.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
"Oh god..." Jason held his splitting head in his hands when he came to, intending to sit up in the bed but found he didn't have the strength and fell into a heavy slump. What the shit hit him last night? His skull throbbed so hellishly it must be broken. This couldn't be simply a hangover. Hangovers shouldn't get this bad. It defied all laws of the universe. Jason had been hit in the face with a crowbar and swore it was less painful.
Removing his hands with a thick suffering groan through his teeth, his vision swam lazily over his surroundings, and there were about three times in his life that he had been as confused and they barely came close to that moment. Because... this wasn't the beat-up couch of his safe house, not his room, and on top of that, he had no memory of how he got here. To his left and right... even laying across his legs, there was a person he vaguely recognised as human in the early dawn gloom.
Jason's mind immediately went to 'oh my god I had a foursome and don't remember it', but then he realised that couldn't be the case since it was Bruce's arm around him and not some random thug from the Irish bar. And that was also Dick to his side and who appeared to be Tim, sprawled out leisurely over his legs.
Screwing his features up, Jason massaged circles into his temples, a controlled breath of pain leaving his throat. He tried to recall when he came back to the mansion the night before but his last memory was falling off a roof and being almost carried to the Batmobile by... Bruce.
Jesus, how hammered did he get to not remember anything afterwards it in between those instances? Well, if the rager in his head was anything to measure by, then he was pretty wasted. He really hoped he didn't say anything dumb but the likeliness of that was low.
When Jason could open his eyes again, Damian was standing at the end of the bed, staring at him with his small but dangerous hands resting on one of the bedposts. He was tight-lipped, not saying a thing, just staring. Of course, Jason got a start at the sudden appearance of the little demon but like any rational man in his last teenage year, he hid it.
"Geez, Damian. What are you doing there?" Sighing in irritation, Jason raked his parted fingers through the thick tangles on his head. He really didn't want to talk with this monster right now, not when all he was bound to do was drop tips on escaping from a grave. Again.
"Father has ordered that I express my regrets for my actions." Was the reply from the dark and at once, just the tone of Damian's voice took Jason aback. Compared to its usual cut edge, it was flat and low, quiet, completely void of anything but extreme tiredness.
It made Jason take a second look at Damian and as his vision adjusted to the darkness, he realised the kid wasn't standing quite still but rather swaying slightly from one side to the next. He was gripping the post for balance, the undersides of his eyes blacker than usually and the whites were bloodshot.
"Holy shit, Damian, you look awful." Jason realised aloud, and the fact that he didn't get his head bitten off for the comment was confirmation that everything wasn't 100 with Damian. The extremely hurtful sabotage attempt couldn't overpower Jason's big brother instincts from taking over when they probably shouldn't have, all things considered.
"What's wrong, imp?" Rolling Tim off his legs and onto Dick, Jason leaned forward and closer to Damian, who was reluctant to make visual contact of any sort.
"... Father said I must apologise the moment you come to, I am here to do so." Filling his narrow chest up with air, Damian took a breath to ready himself to say it. He looked like he was going to pop if he didn't breathe out.
"I. Am. Sorry."
"Dami... have you slept at all tonight?" Jason was beginning to realise the problem, why Damian's state was so bad, and it must be to do with sleep deprivation. Judging by the sun beginning to rise outside, it was about six AM and if Damian hadn't gotten any rest then he was bound to be unwell.
"No... I had to say sorry the moment you woke up. Father said it could be five AM or PM and if I had not stayed awake, I would have disobeyed his wishes." Damian explained it with the utmost severity, his frown belonging to a much older person than a child of merely ten years.
"I don't think Bruce meant you have to stay awake literally all night, waiting for me to get up." On a normal night, one AM was the longest Bruce let Robin be out for on account of wanting the kids to get sufficient rest, he took the matter of depriving it very seriously but Damian was a very literal person. English and human communication weren't his first languages, a lot of things could go over his head and he was too proud to ever ask for clarification.
"It's what he said. To the letter." Damian took his hands off the post and rotated slowly towards the parted door, tiredness nearly making him lose his footing but he fought to disguise it.
"Now that I have done as he wanted, I bid you a decent morning and a tolerably painful hangover." He was going to pad out of the bedroom but Jason stopped him.
"Where are you going?"
Damian paused, glancing over his shoulder to Jason, sitting in the bed with the bat cape pooled around him.
"I must feed my animals now or I shan't have the time to prepare for school." Oh that's right, school started in an hour and a bit but one look revealed there was no way the kid was going to make it through the whole day behind a desk.
"You're too tired, Dami. You'll pass out before lunch."
"I cannot afford to. Father wants me at school or home, nowhere else. I must honour his demands."
Clicking his tongue, Jason reached out and caught Damian's slender wrist, pulling him back across the small bit of distance he regained until he was touching the edge of the bed.
"Fuck school. One day off won't hurt."
"It is simple for you to say that, Todd. You dropped out."
"More like dropped dead." Jason murmured beneath his breath, tugging Damian onto the bed before the termite could protest. He either didn't want to wake the family or recognised his dire need for sleep.
Jason didn't say anything else, Damian didn't know how to respond to his comment, so Jason laid back down in the middle of Bruce and Dick, pillowing his head on his arm. Chewing his lips, Damian stayed sitting on his folded legs, eyeing Dick and Tim, no doubt desiring to throw the latter off so he could crawl onto Dick, but maybe he learned a lesson because he restrained himself.
Slinging his arm over his eyes, Jason winced behind it. Oh God, this headache. It felt like Bane was skull fucking him. Literally, getting raped in the head was the only way to describe it. It was his humble hope that it cleared so he could leave the mansion as soon as possible.
It's not that he didn't enjoy being warm and safe with his family stretched out around him, the reason for it was just... embarrassing. What, he got so distraught over an email that he drank himself into a haze? That wasn't like a Bat.
It wasn't like him.
So he wanted to leave before anyone spoke more about this and made it a big deal. They all needed to forget it.
"I... I didn't think it would be so bad for you." Damian didn't fall silent as Jason had expected, but he was quiet and kept his gaze downcast when Jason lifted his head to meet it.
"I mean, I knew it would hurt you but you never... cry. Or get scared and panic. I... You always suck it up and resume your devil might care attitude. I did not think this would be unique."
Jason wasn't sure he believed that or not. Or if he wanted to. It was easier to think everyone was against him.
He dropped his head back onto his arm, gazing up at the ceiling through the gloom.
"Don't worry about it." He murmured on the tail end of a low sigh, covering his eyes again. The less they spoke, the quicker they could forget this whole thing ever happened.
"I am relieved Mother found you, Todd. And that she helped you." Damian continued sincerely, staring at Jason even without having his eyes met.
"Yep." His response was dull and unenthusiastic. Whether or not dunking him into the Lazarus Pit was helpful could be debated, but Talia did have the best intentions.
He remembered close to nothing about the time between the resurrection and the Lazarus Pit, so anything from after there was an improvement.
The covers rustled as Damian finally joined them from the end of the bed and carefully crawled underneath Dick's limp arm, burying himself in his side. With his feet, he pushed Tim away enough to make space for himself. Hopefully, Damian was happy there. One of them should be.
This hangover wasn't getting any better. No better at all. And the longer he stayed, the more he risked being trapped here by Alfred for the foreseeable future. Were it up to the old guy, he'd never be allowed to leave. It was like a prison of best intentions.
"Father will not be pleased if you are not here in the morning." Damian mumbled from beneath Dick's arm, already halfway into sleep and only speaking now to scold Jason on his ideas. There was no follow up to that so maybe Damian passed out? Either way, Jason didn't really feel like staying.
Not because he didn't want to. He just... shouldn't.
To his side, Bruce exhaled gruffly, deeply, and in a motion too quick to belong to someone fully asleep, his arm looped around Jason's waistline. Jason gave a small surprised noise he couldn't help, trying to back away from the entrapping limb before it snared him but he was too late.
Lo, his efforts be damned, Jason found himself dragged from his own little spot to the warmer, comfier one beside Bruce. For a moment, he held his breath, worried that an exhale might wake the man but then it occurred to him that there was no way Bruce was actually asleep. Jason and Damian had been speaking for a bit now, none too quietly, and the Bat wasn't a big tosser so trapping Jason couldn't be unintentional.
It was a challenge in its own right, but Jason managed to turn around, a single breath coming heavier than he meant, and he was facing Bruce again, almost in line with his eyes. He saw the small flash of teeth when Bruce smiled at him and his suspicions were confirmed. How long had the sneaky bastard been listening in on them?
"Alfred wants you to stay awhile." He told Jason, low so as not to wake the rest of the brood. And Jason shifted uncomfortably at the notion, suddenly more aware than ever that he was presently in a hug. A darned hug. From Batman. It was weird and wrong and so many things all at once.
"I know... but I can't." He replied in a tone little above a whisper, not eager to have this conversation.
"Why not?" The question was a good one and at the same time, it wasn't. Why not, indeed? There wasn't a decent enough reason to give that would get them off his back.
"... 'Cause it's embarrassing that I freaked out like that over an email?" Truthfully, Jason was surprised with himself that he caved and was honest concerning his reason, and by the softness coming into Bruce's dark eyes, he was too.
"Jason, none of us think any less of you-"
"I know." He bit, slightly more defensive than the situation called, and his fists tightened around the bat cape, still encasing him like a burrito wrap.
"But you should. It's been years, I should be over all of that... grave stuff already."
For a spell, Bruce just looked at him and Jason silently agonised over whether he said too much. That was an ocean wave more than he usually disclosed and he might still be a little bit drunk, considering he was sharing at all. This was all stuff he could normally trap down and not think about.
Breathing out through his nose, Jason made to roll back over when Bruce wasn't commenting but Bruce's arm wouldn't let him; he was pulled back against the man's broad chest and held there.
"It's barely been four years since it happened. It's unreasonable to expect you to be over it." Bruce explained to him, sympathetic and soft the way Jason didn't recall him being before, but what did it help?
"I expect me to be over it. I... I don't like being all shaky and thinking and-"
"Traumatised?" Bruce spoke the word without a note of anything negative but it hit Jason harder than it had a right to. Trauma... tised. Jason didn't consider it often but that's what he was and there was no way around it. Which meant no way to get to a quick fix like Bats were supposed to.
"I'm sorry, Bruce. I... don't mean to be the trauma child. I know it's annoying to deal with, I-"
Fingers pressed over his lips and cut the sentence short.
"Don't ever say that. You only have those traumas because of what happened to you as Robin and you're the last person who can be blamed for that." Bruce came off as stern as he was sincere, he definitely believed that but how?
Jason removed Bruce's hand from over his lower face, suddenly unable to meet the gaze laid on him. It felt heavier than anything in the world.
"... I'm the one who got cocky and ran off on my own. I shoulda known I couldn't take the Joker, I just... I don't know." The moment stretched longer than it should have again and unable to take it, Jason cleared his throat loudly, hoping to change the subject.
"But hey - we wouldn't have Tim if I'd not have fucked up, so that's something, right?" To emphasise his point, Jason ruffled Tim's hair rather too roughly, and the impact was seen when he was swatted at with a heavy, sleepy hand.
"Jay - stoppit." Half asleep, mumbling, Tim whined, curling into a tighter ball with his head once again pillowed across Jason's legs. His weight, little though it was, was causing numbness to spread in Jason from the knees down.
"Why?" Jason sneered like a villain.
"S'it botherin' you?" He fussed with Tim's lengthy black tangles with more insistence, this time to annoy him and if the muffled growl was any indicator, it worked. By a fraction, Tim lifted his face from burying it in Jason's shins, deep blue eyes fixing hard on Bruce, the accusation in them not going missed.
"Make. Him. Stop." Came the implied, unspoken threat, so jam-packed with emotion that the words shook with a slight quiver.
"Jason," The smile in Bruce's voice was so evident it was a wonder that Tim didn't catch it. He leered intensely from his nest at all who were present and awake.
"Please leave your brother alone."
Smirking, Jason removed his hand from Tim's hair before this ended in getting his fingers bitten off and he leaned back on his arms again, watching the third Robin make angry quiet noises as he tried to regain his comfortable position. He curled up, his back to them this time.
"Damian apologised then?" Bruce continued with their initial conversation, to which Jason gave a small nod.
"Don't pretend like you weren't listening in on us."
"Do you believe him? About underestimating the effect of his actions?"
Jason shrugged a single shoulder, still watching Tim instead of focusing Bruce with a look. Truthfully, he wasn't quite sure what Damian did or did not intend to do but it was over now. They could stop discussing it. And Bruce must have sensed that Jason was sick of the topic because he didn't pursue it. Instead, he laid back down and stared at the blank ceiling, unlikely to sleep again when the sun was already rising.
"I have to go to work in two hours," Bruce said after a moment of utter silence. Jason didn't turn to him but he was listening, for once.
"But... I hope you'll still be here when I come back." It was expressed with cautious optimism that Bruce rarely showed, Jason noted it and the fact that it didn't freak him out surprised him. Usually, he'd anticipate Bruce was up to something then drive himself mad trying to figure out what an olive branch extended meant behind the scenes.
Maybe this once, he might ease into the notion that there was no ulterior motive. Maybe he could stay for a bit...? Besides, his hangover was going to be a skull-crushing torment for the next 24-hours, he'd probably crash his bike into a bridge and die if he ventured out. That'd suck.
And it might actually be nice to spend time with the family for once, as long as they weren't going to talk about the incident. It'd be fun if for once grievances didn't bring them together.
"Sure, B. But just because Alfred said so."
"And... Jason, you know you don't have to hide from us if you're upset by something. You don't always have to be the strong and dauntless Red Hood. You don't have to be him at all with us." An epiphany in words really, but it was easier said than done. Jason himself was hardly at terms with mere thoughts and memories scaring him, he didn't know if letting other people in on those things was quite where he was at yet.
But staying here for longer than he needed to might be a step in the right direction. Baby steps.
"Thanks, old man. I'll keep it in mind."
I don't think I've ever written such a long chapter with characters just sitting in bed.