Jason clearly knew exactly what Bruce was going to say, because he waited until Bruce disconnected the heart monitor leads and stepped back before he swung his legs off the bed and straightened.
He wobbled. Bruce immediately moved to get an arm under his elbow, and Jason snarled and shrugged it off.
“No,” he said, definitive and final.
“I didn’t even say anything,” Bruce said mildly.
“I recognize that look,” Jason pointed, still a little shaky, “That’s your smothering-small-children look. I am not a small child, B. I am an adult, with an apartment of my own, and a bed of my own, and I’m going to go back there and sleep.”
“No,” Jason snapped, “I stayed here for the post-patrol briefing, and I stayed here while you monitored my symptoms. I don’t have a concussion, and my ribs will be fine after a couple of days. I’m not dealing with your hovering.”
“You can’t drive,” Bruce pointed out, and then inwardly winced. Saying can’t to Jason was like waving a red flag in front of a bull.
Jason, however, didn’t rise to the bait, and that itself was more worrisome than the bruises stretching across his face or the pallor of his skin or the way his legs were trembling. “Then I’ll take a cab. It’s morning,” Jason bit back, and moved to take a step forward.
Bruce caught him almost as soon as his knees crumpled, and Jason let out a slow, frustrated groan as Bruce gently pulled him back on the bed.
“I just want to go home,” Jason exhaled, crossing his arms with a glower.
Bruce felt that like a dagger to his heart. This was your home once hung in the air, unsaid.
“One day?” Bruce offered, trying for a compromise between Jason’s unwillingness to stay in the Manor and his inability to let his second son out of his sight after he’d been caught in an explosion.
His heart had stopped for those first few awful seconds, before they’d spotted the Red Hood staggering upright.
“Tomorrow’s Sunday,” Bruce said, trying to sweeten the deal, “You’ll be here for Alfred’s crepes.”
Jason’s expression faded to one part fierce stubbornness, one part exhaustion, and two parts consideration.
“Fine,” he said finally, and Bruce relaxed so quickly he almost missed Jason’s next words. “On two conditions.”
Of course. Jason always had conditions. Everything was a test, and Bruce was still waiting for the day that he finally passed.
“First, this isn’t going to be some family bonding shit,” Jason narrowed his eyes, “I’ll stay in a room, but I don’t want any annoying birds or bats butting in, and I’m not staying for movie night or whatever else is running around in your head.”
Right now, the only thing running around in Bruce’s head was the possibility that Jason would stay, in his own room, in his own bed, under Bruce’s roof.
“And second,” Jason said, before he hesitated, something flickering across his expression before it schooled into blankness. “Second, I want you to make me lunch.”
Bruce stared at him. Jason gave him a challenging stare.
“Do you mean Alfred –”
“No,” Jason cut him off, “I want you to make me lunch.”
The first condition would be easy enough to meet – Damian and Cass were the only two in the house at the moment, and he couldn’t imagine them causing any trouble – but the second.
The second was definitely a test.
Getting Jason settled into his room – technically his second room, as no one ventured inside his first – was easy. Damian had scowled from a doorway and Cass had poked her head out to find the source of the cursing as Jason was forced to lean heavily on Bruce to make it up the stairs – Bruce remembered carrying a smaller, younger Jason on his back as the kid dozed after a long night of patrol, but decided not to test his luck – but neither of the two made any comments, and both nodded when Bruce told them not to disturb their brother.
Jason was already thumbing through a book when Bruce checked on him before going down to the kitchen.
It was ten o’clock. He had two hours to make Jason lunch.
Bruce wasn’t as bad at cooking as his children liked to complain. Yes, Alfred was better, and yes, he kept forgetting and wandering away whenever he left something boiling, but Bruce was perfectly capable of following instructions and making something edible.
Alfred did take holidays, after all.
No, the problem wasn’t making lunch.
The problem was what to make for lunch.
“You want to make lunch?” Alfred asked, skepticism clear on his face as he paused in setting up his preparation.
“For Jason,” Bruce explained, “He asked.”
“…Master Jason asked you to make lunch,” Alfred repeated, raising an unimpressed eyebrow.
“Yes,” Bruce said, not getting into the context, “Can I borrow the kitchen for a couple of hours?”
“Very well,” Alfred sighed, “Can I suggest –”
“No,” Bruce cut him off, his heart rate kicking up. He couldn’t get help from Alfred, Jason would know, and then Bruce would fail the test.
Alfred paused, and the second eyebrow joined the first.
“I need to do this myself,” Bruce said, willing Alfred to understand. Jason was prickly all the time, and Bruce wasn’t going to step off the clearly defined path for fear of stepping on a mine.
“Very well, Master Bruce,” Alfred tutted softly, taking out a few more items from the cupboard and fridge and placing them in the corner before he cleared a space for Bruce to work. “Good luck. I will be back at noon to prepare lunch for the remaining members of the family.”
Alfred left, and Bruce let out a slow breath.
It was 10:10. And Bruce had no idea what to make.
He stared blankly at the contents of the pantry for a full five minutes before he broke down and called Dick.
“Hey, Bruce,” Dick picked up cheerily, to the background noise of distant music and something squeaking, “What’s up?”
“Do you know what Jason likes to eat?” Bruce asked quietly, keeping a careful glance on the doorway.
“Chili dogs,” Dick replied promptly.
Bruce resisted the urge to pinch the bridge of his nose. “Something homemade,” he clarified.
“Um…he made me some rice thing last time I was at his safehouse,” Dick said, before muffling his end of the line to call out something.
“What rice thing?”
“I don’t know, I asked and he ended up ranting about some TV show,” Dick said, clearly distracted, “Look, Bruce, I’m in the middle of a class, can I call you back?”
Bruce didn’t get the chance to respond before Dick hung up on him.
“Tim,” Bruce greeted, tapping his fingers nervously on the counter, his anxiety increasing as the kitchen clock ticked on, “Do you know what Jason likes to eat?”
There was a long silence. Bruce waited impatiently.
“Bruce. Did you just call me in the middle of a board meeting to ask me about Jason’s favorite food?” Tim hissed.
Bruce thought through several responses to that question before settling. “Is that a yes or a no?”
Tim made a strangled, frustrated sound. “I don’t know,” Tim snapped, “Carrots? Celery? Oranges? Dates?”
“Tim, those aren’t exactly…meals,” Bruce said slowly, now concerned about his third son’s diet.
“They’re edible, aren’t they?”
“Well, yes, but –”
“Bruce,” Tim said, enunciating every word carefully, “I’m running your company, I don’t have time for your personal crisis.”
Bruce pulled the phone away from his ear at the sound of a dial tone.
Bruce’s attention was drawn away from the bags of rice by a soft giggle at the doorway. “Cass,” he said, smiling automatically as his eldest daughter gracefully swept into the room and boosted herself on top of the table.
She started poking through the bowl of strawberries Alfred had left on the counter.
“Cass,” Bruce said, watching her pick through the bowl and pick out the juiciest strawberries, “Do you know what Jason would like for lunch?”
Cass gave a tinkling laugh, snatched a few more strawberries, and strolled out of the room.
Bruce slumped back against the counter, and groaned. It was ten thirty.
“Was there a reason you woke me up at the crack of dawn, boss man?”
“Stephanie, it’s ten thirty.”
“Was there a reason you woke me up at the crack of dawn, boss man?”
Bruce eyed the frankly bewildering number of vegetables they had in the fridge. “Do you happen to know what Jason likes to eat?”
“Stephanie, I’m aware that waffles are your favorite food, I was asking about Jason –”
He could make pasta. But there were so many different types – shapes, sauces, vegetables, what if he put the wrong combination, what if Jason didn’t like basil, what if he was allergic to nuts?
No, Jason wasn’t allergic to nuts. He’d had him tested for allergies.
But what if dying and coming back had changed something? It wasn’t like Jason would tell him anyway, he would wait until he was choking on peanuts to glare at Bruce and sneer some detective you are –
Bruce groaned and closed the door to the pantry. He was Batman. Half the criminals in this city fled when they saw him. And he couldn’t even figure out what to make his son for lunch.
Bruce only realized that he was no longer alone by the soft scoff behind him. He turned to see Damian in the doorway, scowling.
“What are you doing here?” Damian asked, making it extremely clear that the sight of Bruce in the kitchen was suspicious and not who he came here looking for.
“Jason wanted me to make him lunch,” Bruce said, turning away from the pantry to eye his youngest child, “I don’t suppose you have any suggestions?”
“I can’t believe you’re catering to Todd’s whims,” Damian grumbled, “He gets two broken ribs and you immediately drop everything to fuss over him? Pathetic.”
Bruce didn’t say anything, merely stared down his youngest with a raised eyebrow until Damian slowly turned pink and slinked into the room to perch on a stool at the counter.
“Börek,” Damian said sullenly.
“I beg your pardon?”
“You should make him börek. He was asking me for a good recipe the last time I was at his place.”
Bruce took the peace offering. “How do I make börek?” he asked gently, and Damian settled fully at the table, eyes alight and face animated.
It was an uncomplicated dish. The spinach was chopped, the cheese and herbs mixed, the dough kneaded and fed through the pasta machine, and Bruce layered the fine sheets at the bottom of the pan as the oven pre-heated.
Damian watched him carefully, occasionally calling out reminders – Bruce almost forgot to add the salt – and glaring at him until he set the timer on the oven though he told Damian five times that he’d remember that it took forty-five minutes.
Bruce used the baking time to make sundaes – Neapolitan ice cream for Jason, topped with chocolate syrup and whipped cream and bananas, vanilla with dried fruits and dates for Damian, and chocolate with strawberries when Cass wandered in.
Alfred did not look impressed when he came back.
“Dessert before lunch,” he said flatly. Damian and Cass took their ice cream and scampered, leaving Bruce to face Alfred’s disapproval alone.
“I was making it for Jay,” Bruce said weakly, and then he couldn’t just not make them for his other children.
Thankfully, the oven timer went off, saving him from a lecture about over-indulgent parents and the value of nutrients.
The börek looked and smelled good, and Alfred gave it a passing sniff as Bruce plated it and carried it up with the ice cream on a tray.
He knocked on Jason’s door, and entered after he got a grunt of acknowledgement.
Jason looked up from his book once Bruce was inside, his gaze immediately sharpening on the tray. “Lunch,” Bruce said, feeling like a child presenting a drawing to their parents.
Jason’s face was expressionless. Carefully so. Bruce ignored the curl of dread in his stomach and walked forward to place the tray on the bed.
“What is this?” Jason asked, his voice level, staring at the tray like it was an alien lifeform.
The dread grew stronger.
“Börek,” Bruce answered, “And an ice cream sundae.” Jason stared at it, his expression shadowed. “Damian said you wanted to try it,” Bruce blurted out, resisting the urge to fidget.
Jason slowly took the plate and delicately speared a bite from the edge before nibbling on it. His expression stayed blank.
“Damian helped,” Bruce confessed, his heartrate ticking up, “I almost forgot to add salt.” It was a perfect opening for a jab, an ‘I knew you didn’t know how to cook’ and a smirk.
Jason took another bite.
“If you don’t like it,” Bruce said, desperate, “I can make something else. Anything you want.” Just don’t leave, he bit off, snapping his mouth shut.
Jason took another bite. “This is good,” he said, his voice still toneless.
Bruce blinked. “You…you like it?” he asked, daring to hope.
Jason stayed silent for an unnervingly long moment before he looked up and smiled. “Yeah, I like it,” he said, taking another bite, “Thanks, Bruce.”
The smile didn’t reach his eyes. His eyes were…empty. Disappointed?
Had Jason been expecting him to fail?
“Are you sure?” Bruce pressed, “I can make something else if you don’t like it, I can –”
“No, it’s great,” Jason said, still with that same, awful, fake cheer, “It’s delicious. I’ll definitely have to get the recipe from the brat.”
“Oh. Okay,” Bruce took a step back, aware that something was wrong but unable to find the problem. “Do you – do you need anything else?”
“Nope,” Jason responded, “You got me ice cream too. Thanks, B.” He wasn’t looking at Bruce anymore. He was staring at the tray, and one of his hands was trembling.
Bruce took another step back. “I’m glad you like it,” he said hoarsely, before he fled.
Damian found him in the kitchen, staring blankly at the remainder of the börek. “So?” his son asked, stepping closer with a raised eyebrow, “Did it meet Todd’s lofty expectations?”
Bruce closed his eyes and let out a slow exhale. “No,” he muttered, “Something was wrong with it.”
Bruce just didn’t know what. Had he missed something? Had Jason sworn off spinach at some point? Did he hate the kind of cheese Bruce used? Did his favorite ice cream change when Bruce wasn’t looking?
Everything changed when you weren’t looking, a voice inside his head hissed.
Damian huffed and elbowed Bruce out of the way to take a piece for himself. “You followed my instructions exactly,” he snapped, “There should be nothing wrong with it. What did the zombie insinuate was the issue?”
“…Jason didn’t say that anything was wrong with it.”
Damian slowly turned to give him an extremely disbelieving look. It was an exact match for the one Tim sometimes gave Bruce when he thought he was being slow. Bruce immediately resolved to never tell Tim that, and also to send a picture of it to Dick.
“If Todd didn’t say anything was wrong with it, why are you assuming that you’re at fault?”
Bruce opened his mouth, realized that the response he’d get to ‘he didn’t look happy’ was ‘he’s never happy’, and closed it again.
Damian took a bite of the börek and made an appreciative expression. “I don’t know why Grayson complains about your cooking skills,” Damian said, taking the plate and leaving the kitchen, “You’re adequate.”
“Dickface warned me about your cooking skills,” Jason laughed, eyeing the tray Bruce brought into his room, “And now I see why.”
“Hn,” Bruce scowls, placing the tray on the bed. He was a perfectly serviceable cook, at least good enough to make a sandwich and soup out of a can, it wasn’t his fault he got sucked into a spiral of worry over Jason’s broken ribs and ended up burning the bread and over-boiling the soup.
Jason took a wary bite of the burnt grilled cheese sandwich and chewed thoughtfully for a couple of seconds. Bruce awaited his judgement.
“It’s edible,” Jason pronounced, and the familiar mischievous grin made an appearance as Bruce pretended to be offended.
“Well, if it doesn’t meet Robin’s standards –”
“Oh, like it’ll meet Batman’s!” Jason sniped back, taking another bite of the sandwich.
“Batman doesn’t eat grilled cheese sandwiches. Batman is sustained by justice.”
“Batman is sustained by Alfred’s crepes,” Jason scoffed, still grinning.
Oh. Oh. Bruce hadn’t thought of that day in years, memories of a bright, happy, laughing Jason first acutely painful, and then achingly cold in comparison to the living, angry, seething Jason in front of him.
Broken ribs. And Jason had asked him to make lunch, even though he knew Alfred was at home.
Bruce swallowed against a dry throat and went back to the kitchen.
The ingredients were already on the counter. Bread, mayo, cheese. The can of store-bought soup that Alfred only kept for when someone else wanted to try making a meal on their own.
Alfred didn’t give him a single glance as Bruce moved the skillet to the stove.
“Jason?” Bruce knocked on the door, his heart in his throat, “Can I come in?”
“Sure,” came the flippant response, and Bruce entered, apprehension twisting his stomach into knots.
Jason greeted him with a raised eyebrow and a politely confused expression – and then his gaze caught on the tray in Bruce’s hands.
“You already got me –” Jason cut off sharply when Bruce placed the tray on the bed.
He stared at the tray, his grip loosening on his book, his hair hiding his expression from view. When he spoke, his voice was hoarse and low.
“Yes, Jay-lad,” Bruce said quietly, “I’m sorry, I – I didn’t think about it – I’m sorry for not –”
“Don’t,” Jason cut him off, swiping an arm over his eyes, “Don’t – I didn’t say I wanted anything specific. The börek was good, B, it was really good, you didn’t have to –”
“I wanted to,” Bruce said softly.
Jason made a low, hiccupping sound, and reached out a wavering hand for one half of the sandwich. “You didn’t need to char it for authenticity,” he laughed wetly.
Bruce decided that discretion was the better part of valor. He’d fretted over the skillet and the pan and somehow managed to burn both the soup and sandwich.
“Edible?” Bruce asked, and Jason chuckled quietly. “Up to the Red Hood’s standards?”
Jason stilled – Bruce wondered if he went too far, another glaring parallel shoved into Jason’s face, a reminder of everything he lost –
Jason picked up the other half of the sandwich and offered it to Bruce. “I don’t know,” he asked, eyes gleaming with amusement, “Is it up to Batman’s?”
“Sustained by justice,” Bruce reminded him as he took the piece. Jason laughed, and Bruce felt something inside him untwist at the sound.
“Bruce!” Jason shouted, and Bruce startled up from his paperwork. Before he even registered the sound, he was at the door, heading straight for the stairs. “Bruce!”
Bruce burst through the door – and then stopped, registering the scene in front of him.
“I had two conditions, old man,” Jason hissed through gritted teeth, “Two.”
“Oh, are we allowed to set conditions for forced bedrest now?” Dick asked, raising his head in interest as he finished unwrapping the chili dogs.
“Bruce interrupted me in the middle of a board meeting, so this is your fault,” Tim informed him, carefully stacking a pyramid of oranges in Jason’s lap. Cass added strawberries for garnish and patted Jason on the head.
Jason’s glower multiplied tenfold. Damian made a small scoffing sound, sitting in the corner with a plate of the leftover börek.
“You promised me waffles,” Steph informed Bruce, digging a fork into a frankly ridiculous tower of waffles, whipped cream, and syrup.
“I did no such thing –”
“I want to set conditions too –”
“I’m going to shove these oranges down your fucking throat, Replacement –”
“You’re the one that keeps throwing them at me!”
“Because you require the Vitamin C, you asplenic imbecile –”
“How about, you have to actually use your words if you want me to stay in the Manor –”
“Strawberries. Sweet. Like you.”
“Alfred’s crepes,” Bruce reminded Jason, and fled before another one of his children could ask him to cook for them.