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There were tears snaking down his cheeks, and he didn’t even know why – he couldn’t stop them, he could only cover his face and shudder as they fell because his stomach was a roiling pit of emotions, he’d been forced back to reality too quickly to build up his walls again, and everything was too close, too bright, too real.

 

“Jason.  Jay.  Can you please look at me?”

 

He didn’t want to – he dimly noted footsteps receding, but Bruce was still there, a warm hand on his knee, and he didn’t want to meet the other man’s gaze.

 

“Jay, please.”

 

Fuck.  Jason let his hands drop, shivering even though he wasn’t cold, and reluctantly looked at Bruce.

 

Whose expression was too open, too pained, too heartbroken, and Jason wanted to curl back up and recede into the floaty detachment that let him manage a pinched smile at a racist comment and a brief flare of annoyance at an old man’s smarmy grin and nothing but a passing whisper of concern at his brothers’ plotting.

 

“Jason?” Bruce asked quietly.  His hand felt like stabbing hot pokers on Jason’s knee.

 

“Don’t touch me,” he said hoarsely.  The hand on his knee disappeared with alacrity, but Bruce didn’t recoil.  Contrarily, some part of Jason mourned the warmth.

 

“Jason?  Are you with me?”

 

No.  Yes.  Everything was too confusing.

 

Bruce took his lack of answer as a response.  “Stay here,” he instructed as he straightened and headed for the medbay.

 

Where am I going to go? Jason didn’t call sarcastically after him, yet another outburst blocked by the wall of paranoia and fear and dread.  His left hip ached and Jason slumped further in the chair, exhausted from an entire evening of hobbling around on his crutches and suppressing any trace of pain.

 

Bruce returned with a small, brightly colored packet – he shook out a few gummies and handed them to Jason.  “Eat,” Bruce ordered, “And describe the taste.”

 

Jason was too tired to argue with this ridiculous demand and mechanically chewed the gummies, waiting for the flavor to register.  “Sweet,” Jason said, “And spicy.  What the fuck did you give me, this is awful.”

 

“Eat,” Bruce said sternly.

 

Jason forced himself to swallow the disgusting two-taste gummies and made a face, eyeing the bag with trepidation, “Wait, are those Damian’s?  Did you seriously steal the brat’s candy?”

 

“Are you with me now?” Bruce asked, ignoring his questions entirely.  Jason slumped further in his chair and sighed.  Galas were exhausting.

 

“Are you hurting?” Bruce asked softly, “Do you want painkillers?”  Jason glared at him through his bangs – if Bruce gave him pills right now, Jason was going to have a breakdown.

 

Bruce’s expression spasmed for a second before he again crouched in front of Jason – an extremely unsubtle gesture of handing Jason the power position.  Jason, in turn, pretended that having Bruce kneeling instead of looming didn’t untwist something inside his chest.

 

“Jason,” Bruce said, and then stopped, his forehead furrowing as he frowned.  Jason held his breath, waiting for the lecture.  “Jay, what’s wrong?  Why are you so tense?”

 

“Just give it to me, old man,” Jason muttered, “I’m sorry for ruining your gala, I’m sorry for freaking out Tim, I’m sorry for not mentioning which of your business pals were pedophiles.”

 

“Jason,” Bruce said, and he looked lost, “Jason, I didn’t – you have nothing to be sorry for.”

 

“I really don’t want to play this game right now,” Jason said quietly, “Just tell me what I did wrong, I’ll apologize, we can go back to the party.”

 

“You’re not going back to the party,” Bruce said flatly.  Jason couldn’t hide the flinch.  “Jason, I am not sending you into an environment that you just spent two hours intentionally dissociating to deal with.”

 

“I wasn’t dissociating,” Jason automatically argued, “I was just –” detaching himself from paying conscious attention – “I’m fine, I didn’t – I just –” had to find a method where he could tolerate the bright lights and the crowds and the constant sensation of people watching him when he was used to that kind of scrutiny coming through a sniper scope.  “I did the same thing I always do in galas.”

 

Wrap himself in pleasant thoughts of grappling through the skyline, leaving just enough attention to respond to the conversations around him.  Because Jason had always had a temper, and he knew he wouldn’t be able to listen to the bullshit all those rich people spouted without punching someone, and then – then Bruce would be disappointed.

 

Jason ached to be Hood again.  As Hood, he only disappointed Batman – they’d all disappointed Batman at one point or another, he was Batman, no one could live up to his stupid rules – there was no chance of disappointing Bruce Wayne.

 

“Jason,” Bruce said, still frowning, “That – are you telling me that you used to dissociate during galas when you were a kid?”

 

“It’s not dissociation,” Jason argued weakly.

 

Bruce took a deep breath, squeezing his eyes shut and pinching the bridge of his nose before he exhaled slowly.  Jason felt something twist in his stomach – twenty-one years old, and one simple thing could catapult him back to the frightened twelve-year-old who was sure he was going to be thrown back onto the streets.

 

It was ridiculous.  Jason was an adult.  Jason had been fending for himself since he was seventeen.  He was perfectly capable of living on his own.

 

So why did the thought terrify him?

 

“Jay,” Bruce said softly, “Why didn’t you tell me?”

 

Jason stared at him blankly.  “Tell you what?” he asked.

 

Bruce covered his face with his hands this time, muttering something too low for Jason to hear.  His hands tightened on the arms of the chair and his healing injury gave a dull pang, as if to remind him that it was still there.

 

Like Jason was in any danger of forgetting – like it hadn’t thrown his life into a tailspin and forced him back into the family he’d spent four years trying to deny.

 

It was one of the first lessons any kid learned in Crime Alley – if they didn’t know what you wanted, they didn’t know where it hurt the most.  Protect your weaknesses – cover them in armor, or turn them into bullets, but never ever let them see the truth.

 

“Okay,” Bruce said finally, “One thing at a time.  You said – you said you recognized several of the other guests.  Besides Cassamento –”

 

“Dead,” Jason answered, “All of them.”  It had been one of the first things he’d done when he got back to Gotham.  He’d been careful about it too, making the deaths as natural as possible, hiding any trace of his involvement.  They hadn’t been a part of his game with the Bats.

 

“All of – are you sure?”

 

Jason raised an eyebrow, incredulous.  What, like he would’ve forgotten any name on the list?  He’d missed only four – two had been sent to jail and died there, one had died in a Rogue attack, and the final one had been out of town.

 

“Okay.  Why – why didn’t you tell me?” Bruce asked quietly.

 

“I haven’t exactly hidden the whole killing-rapists-and-anyone-who-touches-kids thing.”

 

“No, Jason,” Bruce said, shaking his head, “I meant, why didn’t you tell me then?”

 

Jason froze.  “I didn’t have any proof,” he said lowly, “What the hell was I supposed to say – hey, B, we need to go after these guys, only I won’t tell you why or how I know they’re scum?”

 

“You did have proof,” Bruce said.

 

“You – I – are you really asking me why I didn’t tell you I recognized a bunch of your associates from my time spent on street corners?” Jason asked, disbelieving, “I realize we didn’t see eye-to-eye on a lot of things back then, Bruce, but I was not going to jeopardize a roof over my head and three square meals a day because I couldn’t handle some comments from assholes who wanted a back-alley blowjob!”

 

Bruce looked furious again, and Jason swallowed against a dry throat, keenly aware that he was lacking the metaphorical comfort the Red Hood helmet offered him.

 

“Jason,” Bruce said, each word terse like he was fighting the effort to yell, “I wouldn’t have kicked you out if you’d told me.”

 

Jason made a show of rolling his eyes, “A street kid was barely skirting the edge of acceptable, but a whore?”

 

“Jason –”

 

“Jesus Christ, B, the papers were bad enough when you took in Dick, they would’ve had a field day if it had gotten out that you’d adopted a prostitute –”

 

“A child,” Bruce snapped, cutting him off, “I adopted a child.  A child that had been forced to go through things that no one should’ve had to go through.”

 

“Don’t make this into one of your sob stories,” Jason groaned, “Nobody forced me –”

 

“They did,” Bruce said implacably, “Every single person who took your other options off the table forced you.  Every single person who decided to take the offer forced you.  You were a child, and you couldn’t consent.”

 

There were tears prickling at the corners of Jason’s eyes again, and he didn’t even know why.  He wanted to argue against Bruce – but he hadn’t let any kid on the street corners when he was patrolling as Hood, and he put a bullet in the head of anyone who’d tried to get them to.  But he didn’t – he wasn’t –

 

Fuck this whole goddamn family.

 

“I don’t want to talk about it,” Jason said through gritted teeth – usually a good retort, because Bruce never wanted to talk about anything.  “It happened years ago, I’m over it, I have no idea why you’re bringing this up now.”

 

One of those things was definitely a lie, but Jason preferred not to confront his feelings when he was confined to a chair and away from his weapons.

 

“Okay,” Bruce said, but his eyes had shuttered, “I’m sorry for not listening to you.”

 

“…What.”

 

“I’m sorry for not listening to you,” Bruce repeated patiently, “You told me you didn’t want to go to the gala.  I forced you to go anyway.  I’m sorry for not respecting your wishes.”

 

Jason stared at him, flabbergasted.  What the fuck.  Jason was tempted to call Alfred and ask him to check Bruce for hallucinogens.

 

“Since when have you cared about respecting my wishes?” Jason asked – he’d intended it to sound incredulous, but it ended up hoarse.

 

Bruce winced like Jason had reached out and slapped him.

 

“I know I’ve made mistakes,” he said softly, “And I’m so sorry, Jason.  I’m trying to do better.  I should’ve listened when you said you didn’t want to go.  I should’ve asked why you didn’t want to go, instead of assuming I knew the reason.  I should’ve realized how uncomfortable you are in the spotlight, even as a child.”

 

Dread grew in Jason’s stomach – this whole conversation seemed like it was winding to a ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ and some part of his heart cracked at the thought of the past few months being torn away from him.

 

“It’s just a party,” Jason half-shrugged casually, his heart beating in his throat, “I can handle a few hours of schmoozing for your favorite cause.”

 

Bruce didn’t look convinced, “But you shouldn’t have to.”

 

“Yeah, I do!” Jason growled, “Did you think I’d have come if you didn’t have a point?  There are still paparazzi at our gates, waiting for a glimpse of my face, and no one believes that stupid story about trafficking that you sold to the press.  Half of Gotham thinks that you were torturing me in the basement, and the injuries don’t exactly help your case.  I can rub elbows with some rich bastards and smile for some fucking pictures if that’s what it takes to let the story die.”

 

Bruce stared steadily back at him, his eyes flickering with an emotion Jason couldn’t name.  Jason ducked his head, his fingers clutching the armrests so hard they were nearly white, and stared at the floor.

 

He still couldn’t believe that this evening – Bruce’s favorite goddamn gala, the one he’d held in Wayne Manor for nearly twenty years now – had gone to shit so quickly.

 

Coming back to the Manor, recuperating here – because Jason was stubborn, but even he could admit that living alone in a safehouse with the kind of injuries he had would only be suicidal – forced out of anonymity and stuck at home while all the other Bats and Birds went out, had shoved Jason back into memories he’d done a great job of pretending didn’t exist.

 

Memories of the best three years of his life.

 

And the aching reminder of how easily it had all been torn away.

 

“Jason.  Look at me, please.”

 

And why, why could Jason refuse every one of Batman’s commands with a sneer but capitulate to Bruce’s whims every time?

 

He met the steely, blue-eyed gaze.

 

“You are my son,” Bruce said, firm and implacable, “You are more important than any gala I’ve ever attended.  You are worth more than the consequences of any press conference I hold.  And I would throw away my reputation in a heartbeat to keep you safe.”

 

Jason – Jason couldn’t – he couldn’t

 

He surged out of his chair, twisting past Bruce and hobbling forward – something in his left leg wrenched, but he wasn’t going back for his crutches, he was the goddamn Red Hood, he struck fear into the hearts of Gotham, he was – he was crying.

 

Jason scrubbed at his face, but they kept coming, silent and relentless.

 

“Jason,” Bruce started, but Jason cut him off.

 

“Shut up,” he snapped, his voice rasping and cracked, “Just – just don’t.”

 

Bruce stayed silent, but Jason could feel the man’s presence, a heavy stare boring into his back.

 

Jason clutched the edge of a computer table, and took a deep breath.  He could do this.  Like ripping off a bandaid.  It would hurt like a bitch, but at least it would be done.  No more jerking around.  No more painful hope.

 

It figured that Jason would sabotage himself every time, but it was better this way – better for it to be his fault, rather than trying and trying and trying and still falling short.

 

“You don’t have to give me the whole spiel, Bruce,” Jason said quietly, “If you want me gone, just say it.  I’ll be out of your hair in an hour.”

 

A sharp inhale.  “Why in the world would I want you gone, Jason?” Bruce asked, anger bleeding back into his words, “I finally, finally got you back!”

 

“No,” Jason said, still turned away from Bruce, because he couldn’t stop the tears but he sure could hide them.  “You didn’t.”  It ached, but it was the truth.  “Robin died.”  And nothing of that boy had crawled out of the grave.  “Red Hood disappeared.”  It would be months before he was back on his feet, months before he could patrol again, and he’d have to start from scratch to build his territory back up.  “And you’re clearly building up to tell me that Jason Wayne is useless.”  The one last chance he’d had, because if he wasn’t useful to Batman, he could still be useful to Bruce Wayne.

 

“What’s left?”

 

“Jason, I don’t – you’re not – you don’t have to be useful!  I don’t care about being Robin or Red Hood or the heir the media wants you to be – I just want my son.  Jay-lad, I’m not kicking you out.  I could never kick you out.  I don’t want you gone.  You are my son, no matter what.”

 

Something abruptly snapped inside of him, a knot he never even knew existed.  A part of him whispered that it was a trick, a trap, manipulation – but the greater part of him was filling with hope, fierce and wild.

 

“Really?” Jason asked, a sardonic edge to his tone, because he couldn’t stop shooting himself in the foot, “Even if I argue with everything you say?  Even if I’m contrary just because I feel like it?  Even I scream and yell and –”

 

“Jason,” Bruce cut him off, sounding…tired.  Tired and sad.  “Jay.  How long have you been worried that I would disown you for saying something wrong?”

 

Jason kept his mouth shut.  Answering ‘ever since I woke up in the hospital with my real name on the door’ would be too revealing.

 

Judging by Bruce’s sigh, he didn’t need Jason to say it out loud.

 

“Jason,” Bruce said softly, “I’m not going to disown you.  You’re my son.”

 

Jason raised his head, until he could see the empty space along the far wall where he knew there was once a glass case with a bloody, ripped uniform and a plaque that read ‘A Good Soldier’.  “Yeah,” Jason said wetly, “That’s what you said the last time too.”

 

Silence.  Bruce didn’t say a word.  Jason swallowed as the tension stretched, and finally twisted to look at Bruce, peering at him over a shoulder.

 

Bruce looked like Jason had carved out his heart with a rusty spoon and then set it on fire.

 

Jason turned fully, something clenching in his stomach as Bruce opened his mouth, his voice cracking, “Jason.  Did you think I adopted you because you were Robin?”

 

Jason kept his mouth shut.  He could sense that ‘yes’ was the wrong answer, but he was too wrung out to come up with a believable lie.

 

Bruce’s face crumpled.

 

Jason took a wavering step forward, unsure of what he was doing, and his legs chose that moment to remind him that they were nowhere near healed and had been supporting his weight all evening.

 

Bruce automatically caught him, grabbing his arms to ensure he didn’t collapse into an ungainly heap, and, this close, Jason could smell the woodsy scent of cologne that Bruce hadn’t changed in nine years.

 

The scent that had always promised warmth and home and safe.

 

Jason unconsciously reached forward, dropping his forehead against Bruce’s shoulder to inhale deeply and finally, finally quiet the jitters trembling through his limbs.  The prickling in his eyes swelled to burning and he could feel that he was soaking the jacket under his nose, but he couldn’t stop.

 

His legs were still weak and shaky, but Bruce’s grasp was steadier than the crutches had been, and he knew he wasn’t going to fall.

 

“Jason,” Bruce said quietly, his voice rumbling against Jason’s forehead.  He was shaking slightly.  “Was that why you left?”

 

Fifteen and furious, fifteen and upset, fifteen and watching in rapidly paling shock because Bruce was kicking him out – because Dick had had until eighteen but Jason had screwed it all up – and he needed to leave before Bruce forced him to, he needed to find someplace to stay, someone who wanted him –

 

And Dick wasn’t picking up his phone.

 

And he went back to his old apartment.

 

And he found a birth certificate that did not say Catherine Todd.

 

Jason tried to take a deep breath, but it hitched halfway through, cracking straight down to his heart, and he clutched Bruce’s suit jacket with trembling fingers and refused to let go.  “I’m sorry,” he gasped, feeling fresh tears pool in his eyes, “I’m so sorry –”

 

“No, Jay, no – none of this is your fault,” Bruce murmured, his grip shifting until his arms wrapped around Jason, holding him close, letting him sob into a ten-thousand-dollar jacket like he was a child again, like he wasn’t twenty-one years old and a goddamn crime lord and – and –

 

“Jay-lad,” Bruce said softly, and nothing else in the world mattered, as long as Bruce kept saying his name in that tone.

 


 

Jason had a room at the Manor.  Had three rooms actually – his old bedroom, which had been left untouched, even Jason avoiding it in fear of ghosts, the guest bedroom that Jason had used on extremely rare occasions when he’d still been Hood, and the new one they’d set up to be closer to the elevator and other accessibility features.

 

And yet he was snuggled in Bruce’s expensive silk sheets, eyes half-lidded as a gentle hand combed through his hair, drowsily observing that the paintings on the walls hadn’t changed at all since the last time he’d been here.

 

“You can go back to the party,” Jason said quietly, relaxing further into the gentle stroking, “I’m fine.”

 

“I’m happy where I am,” Bruce hummed, tucking a lock of hair behind Jason’s ear.

 

Jason rolled his eyes, “It’s your party, at your own house.  The host can’t disappear without everyone asking inconvenient questions.”

 

“You are not an inconvenience,” Bruce said firmly, “And I have spent more than half my life dodging questions, I’ll be fine.  Tim is playing host for now, and Damian is there as his backup.”

 

Jason sighed.  They’d be lucky if the demon brat didn’t skewer someone by the end of the night, and Tim had looked remarkably stressed…all…evening…

 

Jason jolted upright, catching Bruce’s wrist when the man immediately moved to lean back.  “Tim,” he said hoarsely, turning his frantic gaze on Bruce.

 

“What about Tim?” Bruce frowned, “What’s wrong?”

 

“Tim knew who Cassamento was,” Jason said numbly – his mind already dragging bits and pieces of the evening from the fog.  Tim’s pallor.  His pinched face.  His clear anxiety.

 

“He – he hasn’t been in Gotham for six years, and I didn’t know he was back.”

 

Oh, god.  Jason was going to hurl.

 

Bruce’s face was a storm cloud.

 

“Go,” Jason said, pushing him, “Find him.  Make sure he –” Sure he what?  Didn’t have Jason’s nightmares playing behind his eyes?  Bruce couldn’t promise that.

 

Jason swallowed.  “Bring him back here,” he entreated quietly.  He needed to see, with his own two eyes, that Tim was okay.

 

“I’ll be back,” Bruce promised, easing off the bed.  Jason slumped back against the pillows with a groan.

 

If he had just told Bruce back then, then Tim wouldn’t have – Tim would never have – his little brother should never had even known

 

He intended to stay awake, but minutes bled into an hour, and Jason was half-asleep when a knock on the door startled him back to consciousness.  Tim’s eyes were red-rimmed and his face was splotchy, and Jason wasted no time in getting him under the covers and bundled up in warmth.

 

He turned a questing glance on Bruce, something churning in his stomach, and only relaxed at Bruce’s slight shake of the head.  Jason clutched his brother closer and dropped his chin on top of the long, wavy hair, hearing Tim’s quiet sniffles slowly ease out into sleep.

 

“M’sorry,” Jason said quietly, his words half-muffled by Tim’s hair.

 

“Not your fault,” Bruce said, sweeping that white lock of hair off his face, “And I will repeat that as many times as it takes to sink in.”

 

Jason had no doubt he would.  Bruce was stubborn like that.  He grumbled in mock protest before letting his eyes drift shut again.

 

Bruce was here, and he was safe.

 


 

Jason couldn’t entirely suppress the groan when he hobbled into the kitchen – it turned out that spending nearly an hour on crutches and then refusing painkillers was not a wise combination – to see that it was occupied.  And he’d been hoping to get a sandwich without running into any members of the family.

 

Sure, all of them had left before he and Bruce had really started talking, but by that time, the damage had already been done.  Tim could barely look him in the eye this morning – but that could’ve also been because Jason woke up to the kid drooling on his shirt.

 

But the person that Jason had especially not wanted to see was lounging on top of the kitchen table, eating an apple and looking up from his phone at Jason’s entrance.  “Jay,” Dick’s face split into a smile – small and sad – as he leapt off the table, “Come on, sit, I’ll make you something to eat.”  He drew a chair out for Jason before flitting to the kitchen counter.

 

“Excuse me?” Jason wearily eased himself into the chair – it was better to go along than to get hit in the face with Dick Grayson’s relentless enthusiasm.  “I’m not in the mood for cereal, and I’d rather not be poisoned, thanks.”

 

“Okay, one, there’s nothing wrong with cereal,” Dick called over his shoulder as he turned the stove on, “And two, just because I like cereal doesn’t mean I’m incapable of making other things.”  He was getting out bread, cheese, tomatoes, and chilies, and Jason warily conceded that if he messed up a sandwich, it would be easy to tell.

 

Dick worked in complete silence, staring at the stove as he waited for the bread to toast, and Jason got tired of the prickling tension dancing along his spine.  “Just say it,” he grumbled, glowering at Dick’s back.

 

“Say what?” the older boy had the audacity to ask, turning to fix Jason with a guileless expression.

 

Jason glared, and Dick’s expression spasmed, twisting into something sadder.

 

“How are you feeling?” Dick asked, soft.

 

“Tired,” Jason replied, clipped.

 

Jason had been terrified of Bruce finding out, but his worst nightmare had been Dick finding out – perfect, golden boy Richard fucking Grayson, Robin and Nightwing and leader of the Titans and darling of the whole caped community, sneering at him in disgust.

 

Rationally, logically, he’d known that Dick wasn’t that kind of person, that he wouldn’t accuse Jason of sleeping his way into the position, that he wasn’t going to think that Jason was tainted, but insecurities were never logical, and he had been terrified of watching begrudging respect turn into cold, hard disappointment.

 

“Okay,” Dick said.  He was still looking at Jason like he’d disappear if he blinked.  “Cassamento’s in custody.”

 

Jason had figured – once Tim and Babs had a target locked in their sights, they never let go.

 

“Broke his jaw for you,” Dick said lightly.

 

“Thanks,” Jason said, instead of going for the ‘pity you didn’t kill him’, or any other barb lying in easy reach.  It didn’t matter.  Cassamento wasn’t going to be eating solid food for a while, and Jason could always kill him later, assuming that prison didn’t get him first.

 

Dick finished the sandwiches and cut them neatly into triangles.  “Food preparation is half the battle of getting children to eat,” he said in response to Jason’s raised eyebrow, clearly quoting Alfred.

 

“I’m not a child,” Jason retorted, an easy path for Dick to start teasing.  Instead, his brother’s face shuttered.

 

The sandwich was thick and heavy as he attempted to swallow.

 

Jason set the plate down, the silence a tangible weight as Dick took the seat opposite him.  He stared at Dick.  Dick stared back, forehead furrowed and eyes shining suspiciously.

 

“I’m sorry,” Dick rasped out after what felt like a minute.

 

“For what?” Jason asked, his fingers clenching into a fist.  If he heard one more meaningless platitude, he was going to deck someone.

 

Dick’s face twisted, and his gaze dropped to the table as he swallowed.  “It was – it was your first gala,” Dick said softly, “I was back because B said something about presenting a united front.  I – I didn’t want to be there.  I didn’t want to smile and pretend like everything was happy.  And you –”

 

Jason remembered.  Remembered his stomach twisting into anxious knots as he edged through the house – not Bruce, he couldn’t disappoint Bruce, the man had agreed to let him stay in the big house, but Dick was back, and Bruce said they were brothers, and Jason didn’t know a whole lot about brothers, but they were supposed to help.

 

“You came to my room,” Dick said softly, “And you said you didn’t want to go to the party.”  A tear slipped down his cheek.  “And I told you to suck it up.”

 

And Jason had pasted a smile on his face and let his mind drift, untethering it with ease, wading through the weight of sneers and aside comments and leers of recognition.  Dick’s smile had grown more and more pinched throughout the night, and he had forced Bruce to stop the car halfway on their way back before storming out.

 

Jason had stayed silent in the backseat, silent and still and perfectly behaved, even as his heart jumped at the thought of being forced to walk back home in the middle of the night.

 

“I’m sorry, Little Wing,” Dick said, his voice cracking in the middle.

 

Jason looked at Dick, remembering the echoes of the painful moments that had set the tone for their relationship – before Dick thawed, before he let him join the Titans, before he took Jason train-surfing and taught him flips and handed him a phone number and told him to call if anything was wrong.

 

“Apology accepted,” Jason said easily.

 

“Jay –”

 

“Dick,” Jason said flatly, “I’m not pretending that you weren’t an asshole at the start, because you were.  But you changed.  You grew up.  Yeah, it hurt when you said that.  But I forgive you.”

 

“Jason,” Dick said, quiet and small, looking at him with a fractured expression, “You don’t have –”

 

“You don’t get to tell me how I should feel,” Jason said, an edge entering his tone.  Dick’s expression twisted, but he backed off.

 

“Okay, Little Wing,” Dick said softly, “Thank you.”  After a beat, “So, how’s the sandwich?”

 

“You do realize you completely burnt one side, right?”

 


 

Jason looked up from his book at the sound of the library doors opening.  He’d expected it to be Bruce, who had checked up on him every half-hour while trying to not make it obvious that he was checking up on him, but the scowling figure stalking inside was about a foot too short to be Bruce.

 

“Todd,” Damian greeted, his tone, as always, on the edge of barely civil.

 

“Brat,” Jason responded in kind.

 

Damian sniffed at him and disappeared somewhere in the library stacks.  Jason watched him go, glancing over the top of his book – Damian had been in the most danger last night, even if it had revisited painful memories for Jason and Tim, and Jason wasn’t sure if the kid had just suppressed it, or if he genuinely didn’t care.

 

Jason imagined Talia’s version of ‘stranger danger’, and shuddered.  The kid had no doubt been taught exactly where to aim his knives for maximum psychological damage.

 

Damian returned holding a book, and gave him another passing nod.  Jason only realized that the whole thing had been an excuse when Damian paused at the doors, glancing at Jason over one shoulder.

 

“Todd,” Damian said flatly.

 

Jason raised an eyebrow.

 

Damian hesitated for a brief moment, before his expression firmed.  “Father is not in the habit of repealing his decisions,” he said haughtily.

 

It took Jason a moment to parse through that one.

 

“Thanks, baby bat,” he said, his tone fonder than he’d been going for.  Damian made a face at this display of emotion, and disappeared before it could infect him – more than it already had.

 

Jason chuckled and turned back to his book.

 

Damian was right.  Bruce was one of the most stubborn idiots Jason had ever met.  And he’d made the choice to adopt Jason.

 

Maybe he didn’t have to be Jason Wayne.  Maybe he could just be Bruce’s son.