Jason stumbled blearily out of bed, checking the time – nine in the morning – with a groan. The bruise over his ribs throbbed dully to remind him of the bullet his armor stopped, and Jason paused, halfway to the door, to stretch out a sore muscle in his calf. Rooftop chases always left him aching – no matter how much he practiced, he would never be as flexible as Dick.
He stifled a yawn as he entered the living room, doing his routine check – door and window closed, alarm light on, tripwires shining faintly in the morning sunlight, knife handle glinting in the vase, scowling assassin child perched grumpily on the cushions.
Jason came to a halt.
Jason blinked again, and rubbed his eyes. Nope, there was still a seething ball of murderous rage bound up in the guise of a typical twelve-year-old rich kid – uniform carefully pressed, tie knotted correctly, shiny bag thrown on Jason’s table – sitting on his couch.
“Aren’t you supposed to be in school?” Jason asked hoarsely – it was his typical reaction upon seeing Damian, but this time he was fairly certain it was appropriate. It was Friday, and the kid was dressed in his uniform.
Damian’s glower deepened, “Tt.”
Jason sighed. And Talia had gone to all the trouble of teaching him eleven different languages.
“Is there a reason you’ve broken into my apartment when you’re supposed to be in school?” Jason asked, continuing on his way to the kitchen, “Because if this is an assassination attempt, you didn’t need to wait for me to wake up.”
A sullen silence. Oh, wow, it was bad if Damian wasn’t even responding to the easy bait of plotting an assassination.
Jason sighed as he got out the bread – baked yesterday, sue him, he didn’t have the time to make fresh bread every day – and put the skillet on the stove. While he was waiting for it to warm up, he leaned against the door frame and raised an eyebrow.
“Well, brat? I’m waiting.”
Damian was picking up the Bat Glare fast.
“Father was supposed to drive me to school today,” Damian sniffed. It figured with Alfred out of town, everyone else had to pick up the slack. “But he informed me, this morning, that he has to leave for Wayne Enterprises work. He told me to make alternative accommodations.”
Okay, no, Jason was going to stop him right there, he was not going to play chauffeur – and Gotham Academy was much closer to the Manor than Crime Alley, so what was the little demon –
“So I have made alternative arrangements,” Damian said stiffly, “I will continue my education elsewhere today.”
Jason let out a low whistle. “Playing hooky?” he chuckled, turning back to the skillet and cutting two thick slices of bread. He let the bread toast as he pulled the brie from the fridge and the spiced honey from a cabinet.
“Tt. I am not so juvenile. I am merely following Father’s instructions,” Damian replied snootily.
“Yeah, that’s not going to work on Bruce,” Jason told him, flipping the bread over before going back to cutting the brie.
“I find myself unconcerned with Father’s opinions on the matter.” Okay, ouch, what the hell did Bruce do this time?
Jason poked his head into the living room – Damian had drawn his knees up onto the couch, his arms loosely curled around them, and was glaring at the plant on the table with such ferocity that Jason was surprised it hadn’t burst into flames.
It was Tamaranean, it was a valid possibility.
Jason pretended to ignore the suspicious sheen of Damian’s eyes. “Everything okay, demon brat?” he asked, faux casual, and rescued the bread slices before they could burn.
“None of your business, Todd,” Damian snapped back.
The brie slid easily across the hot toast, and Jason drizzled spiced honey over both slices before adding a handful of blueberries to the plate and carrying it out.
He handed it to Damian, who took it warily. “What’s this?” the kid grumbled.
“Breakfast, baby bat,” Jason ruffled the kid’s hair and laughed at the resultant growl, “Now are you going to tell me what has your cape ruffled?”
Damian took a huge bite of the toast, still glowering, and Jason carefully did not mention how that made him look like a baby chipmunk.
Adorable. Could probably kill him a hundred different ways, but still. Adorable.
“He was supposed to drive me to school,” Damian repeated, and underneath the snappishness, there was real disappointment.
Jason didn’t point out that Damian was more than capable of getting to Gotham Academy by himself. Or that running a company like Wayne Enterprises meant dealing with unexpected meetings. Or that, instead of passive-aggressively skipping class to hang out with a mostly-reformed murderer, he could just talk to Bruce.
Instead, he ruffled the kid’s hair again and dropped more blueberries on his plate. “Well, I’m always up for pissing off the old man.”
The brat was surprisingly pleasant company – he sat at one corner of the couch with a sketchbook, his head bent over the paper as the pencil scratched quietly. He made no comments – not even a judgmental look – when Jason brought out his collection of guns and began meticulously disassembling and cleaning them.
The pleasantness was tested at eleven thirty, when the alarms on his front door beeped and turned themselves off a second before the knob twisted.
Tim stalked inside before Jason could finish putting together his gun, and slammed the door shut with a force that reverberated through the walls.
“Replacement?” Jason asked slowly as Tim stomped over to the couch, positively radiating fury, and threw himself down on it.
“Drake,” Damian snapped, much less friendly, as Tim opened his laptop without looking at either of them.
“Fuck Bruce,” Tim hissed, squinting at his laptop, “Fuck Bruce and his sanctimonious high horse and his holier-than-thou attitude – he’s not the boss of me!”
Jason refrained from pointing out that Tim had given Bruce the CEO position back, so he was still, technically, Tim’s boss.
“What are you doing here?” Damian hissed before Jason had a chance to, the pencil replaced with a thin knife. Jason got off the couch before he was caught in the crossfire, and headed to the kitchen to put on the kettle.
“What are you doing here?” Tim repeated, glaring at Damian, “Don’t you have school?”
“Don’t you have college?” Damian snapped back. Jason took a bag of baby carrots and a box of cherry tomatoes out of the fridge, and began washing them.
“You know what, gremlin, you can go screw yourself – you can’t snitch on me without telling Bruce you skipped class.”
“I will fillet you like a fish, Pretender –”
“Okay,” Jason said loudly, walking back to the couch. He lifted Tim and placed the kid a cushion further away from Damian as both of them scowled at each other. “If both of you don’t shut it, I’ll tell Bruce that you’re here.”
Two betrayed gazes landed on him.
“Jason, please –”
“My house,” Jason said firmly, “My rules.” The kettle had started to whistle. “I see any hint of bloodshed, I’m kicking you out.”
He jogged back to the kitchen to turn off the kettle, and he got the hummus out from the fridge before poking his head back into the living room. “I’d like to see you try,” Tim muttered snidely. Damian glared at him, but his narrowed eyes echoed the sentiment.
“Alright,” Jason shrugged, holstering the nearest gun and snatching his leather jacket off the coat stand, “I’ll leave then. You two have fun.”
Tim and Damian both gaped at him for a long moment, and swiftly started pleading when Jason’s hand landed on the doorknob.
“No, Jason, I didn’t mean that –”
“If you leave me alone with him, I will definitely eviscerate him –”
“We’re sorry,” Tim said frantically. Damian’s nose wrinkled at the thought of expressing apology, but he gave a short nod.
Jason gave them both a stern glare. “Behave.”
They both made identical displeased expressions at that – it was hilarious, and Jason totally needed to send a picture to Dick – but subsided into sullen silence. Jason sighed and shrugged off his jacket before heading back to the kitchen.
He made three cups of tea and plated the carrots and tomatoes with a big heaping of hummus in the center, before going back to the living room and taking a seat on the couch in between Tim and Damian.
He handed Damian a cup of tea, another to Tim, and put the plate of veggies on the coffee table.
“Okay,” Jason said, “What did Bruce do this time, Timbo?”
Tim took an automatic sip from his cup and then glared at Jason.
“You drink too much coffee,” Jason said easily, scooping up some hummus with a carrot and sticking it in the Replacement’s face.
“I don’t drink too much coffee,” Tim grumbled over the loud crunch of the carrot, “And Bruce is a stupid-face.”
“Far be it from me to dispute the stupidness of Bruce’s face,” Jason said, struggling to hold back his laugh as Damian muttered ‘you’re a stupid-face’ under his breath, “But what did he do?”
“He kicked me out of the office,” Tim growled, “He had the audacity to tell me that I should be in class! What does he know about college? He doesn’t even have a degree! You and Dick and Cass don’t have degrees!”
“You should set a good example for us,” Jason said, mock solemn.
Damian snorted, and then took the opportunity to stare suspiciously at the hummus on his tomato. “You added too much garlic,” Damian sniffed after taking a bite.
“There’s no such thing as too much garlic, brat,” Jason retorted.
“Steph’s the one who has to set a good example,” Tim muttered, turning back to his laptop. Jason shoved another carrot in his face. “You know Bruce cried when she got into pre-med?”
Jason knew, he got the pictures. He wanted to point out that Bruce had cried when Tim got his acceptance letters too, and even more when Tim finally made the decision to turn down Stanford to go to Gotham U. A chance Jason had never gotten, because he was legally dead, and no matter how many classes he audited under a fake name, it would never be the same.
Instead, he ruffled Tim’s hair and fed him another carrot, “Alright, baby bird, Bruce is a stupid-face. Now drink your tea.”
The fragile truce held throughout the afternoon as Tim grew absorbed in his work and Damian buried his head back in his sketchbook. Jason finished going over his guns and reclined with a book, in easy position to see both the files that Tim was scanning, and the remarkably realistic depiction of his plant strangling Tim.
As long as the brat was using his pencil and not his knife, who was Jason to get in the way of a little brotherly maiming?
It was quiet. Tranquil. The room was filled with the scent of lemongrass – Tim had been extremely disappointed when he realized that Jason did not have a coffeemaker. It felt almost peaceful, if Jason wasn’t still watching for Damian’s knife to make a reappearance.
Then the door slammed open, and both Tim and Damian jolted – Tim nearly spilled tea all over his laptop, and Damian rolled off the couch, knife out.
Steph ignored both of them to drop her bag on the table and jump into Damian’s recently vacated spot, sprawling dramatically across Jason’s lap and letting her hair flutter onto Tim’s laptop.
“Today,” she proclaimed, “Was the worst. Jason, where’s my cheese?”
“What the hell are you doing here?” Damian demanded, brandishing the knife, “Todd, what is she doing here?”
“Dead Robins’ Club,” Jason chuckled, pushing Steph off – she made an indignant squeak as she caught the coffee table in lieu of falling onto the floor – and getting up, “Every Friday at four.”
“Wait,” Tim scowled, “That’s real? I thought you just made that up to piss off Bruce.”
“The two things aren’t mutually exclusive,” Jason called as he headed to the kitchen. He found five different types of cheese in the fridge, and retrieved nuts, sundried tomatoes, pesto, and crackers to join them on the platter.
“That’s the purpose of the club,” Steph said, casually sprawling over the couch again, “Make dead jokes, bitch about Bruce, and eat cheese. What the hell are you two doing here? Unless I missed something, you don’t meet the qualifications.”
“They’re playing hooky,” Jason laughed, adding blueberries and strawberries before bringing the platter back out and placing it on the coffee table. Steph immediately stuffed three different types of cheese in her mouth, the heathen.
“Can totally tell they’re related,” Steph said, muffled, through a mouth full of cheese.
Tim and Damian shot each other identical aghast looks at the slander, and this time Jason managed to click a picture and send it to Dick.
“Paws off my cheese, brat,” Steph glowered, tugging the plate towards her as Damian hissed. “I spent the whole day at college while you losers hid here, I deserve this.” Tim took advantage of her distraction to steal a few crackers from the other side, and Steph squawked before wrestling the laptop out of his hands.
Jason sighed, and got out the flour and chocolate chips.
An hour later, he came back to the kitchen to see that that there were three glaring empty spots in the sheet of cookies laid out to cool.
“Strawberries are in the fridge,” he called out, taking the rest of the cookies to the living room, where Steph and Damian were attempting to decide who had the superior handstand while Tim filmed them and threw projectiles.
By the time Cass brought out the strawberries, there were only six left.
There was a soft thump from his bedroom, barely audible underneath Tim shrieking at Damian about counting cards while Cass slyly stole from the deck. Steph was on the ground, laughing so hard she was incoherent, face completely red.
Jason tucked his own cards into his pocket to prevent thievery and cheating, and headed to his bedroom, opening the door softly.
The window was closed, the alarm reset, and there was a lump underneath his covers. Jason quietly closed the door and rounded the bed, reaching out to press the back of his hand against a sweaty forehead.
The lump groaned. The skin was warm, but not too high.
Jason retreated, sidestepped the beginnings of Tim and Damian’s duel – they were apparently using the playing cards as throwing knives, which explained so much about how Jason had ten incomplete decks – nearly stepped on Steph as she rolled over to get a good angle for her camera, and snatched the almost empty cookie plate from Cass before she started vibrating from all the sugar.
Cass pouted at him, and he ignored it.
“You’re all going to eat me out of this house,” Jason grumbled, heading to the kitchen and reheating a bowl of the stew he’d made for dinner.
By the time he made it out, Tim had discovered Damian’s sketch, and his houseplant was now in the line of fire. “Kori gave that to me,” Jason shouted over the clamor, “And if you kill it, you’re going to be the ones explaining what happened to it!”
Cass rescued the plant, and made a pleading look at Jason. “No more cookies,” he informed her, his gaze focused on the warm bowl of stew as he headed back to the bedroom.
He finally let out a sigh of relief when he put the hot bowl on the bedside table, and reached out to shake his uninvited guest awake.
“Mhmgh,” they groaned.
“Come on, Dickie,” Jason said softly, “There’s stew.”
Dick made an inarticulate sound that Jason took as a refusal. Jason sighed, and hauled his big brother upright. “Come on, Dickface,” he said, his tone firming, “You need to eat. It’s nice and hot.”
Dick made some more grumbles, glaring at him as he rubbed his eyes, but curled around the bowl when Jason handed it to him.
Three spoons later, Dick had recovered enough to attempt legible conversation. “How are they?” Dick asked hoarsely, motioning to the closed door.
“Good,” Jason answered. On cue, there was a loud thud. “I think Damian might actually achieve his goal of permanently maiming Tim today.”
Dick rolled his eyes. “You’re supposed to stop them,” he croaked out.
“Me?” Jason pressed an incredulous hand to his heart, “Now, why would I do that?”
“Big brother,” Dick rasped, “S’your job.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about, Dickie, and you’ll find no piece of paper claiming otherwise.”
Dick huffed out a laugh – well, Jason hoped it was a laugh, because it sounded like a dying chainsaw. “Sure, Little Wing,” Dick smiled – pale and sweaty, with a red nose and bags under his eyes, he still looked like a goddamn ray of sunshine. “I believe you.”
It rang with negative sincerity, but Jason ignored the tone and accepted the words at face value.
Dick took another spoon of stew, and almost choked. “Oh my god,” he said, coughing, “This is spicy.”
And it took his tastebuds six spoons to realize that, Dick really was sick.
“My tongue feels like it’s on fire,” Dick said, his eyes and nose streaming. Jason grinned, and nudged the box of tissues closer to him. “Jay –”
“It’ll clear your nose,” Jason told him, snickering as he exited the room to Dick’s glower half-hidden under a tissue.
“So,” Jason said, watching Tim and Steph duke it out on the TV screen, mashing controller buttons frantically as Damian and Cass watched, transfixed, “When are you guys planning to leave?”
“In the middle of something,” Tim said, his gaze fixed on the screen as he cursed.
“Tim, you imbecile, I’m going to kill you!” Steph hissed as something crashed on the screen.
“I intend to defeat Drake in this inferior method of battle,” Damian answered.
Cass turned to look at him with pleading eyes. “Cookie?” she asked plaintively.
He could hear Dick’s congested snores from the bedroom.
Goddammit. He knew his first mistake was feeding them.
The perimeter alarms were easy enough to surpass, he used a side window in lieu of the front door, and he managed to sprawl on the couch and revel in the peace and quiet before there was a shuffling movement at the door.
“Jay?” came the hesitant voice.
Jason dramatically threw an arm over his eyes. “Your kids have invaded my house,” he grumbled, “It’s like the story of Hades and Persephone, only she conned him into making food and then refused to leave.”
There was a long, stretching silence – enough for knots to twist back up in Jason’s stomach as the tension swelled – before Bruce broke it with a grunt. “How much can I pay you to keep them?”
Jason lifted his arm off to squint at Bruce in the semi-darkness. The guy looked weary – about as weary as you’d get running after five trained vigilante children while the only person capable of managing anything was away on a well-deserved rest-cure.
“Long week, huh?” Jason asked.
Bruce took that as an invitation, entering the den and slumping into an armchair. “You have no idea,” Bruce groaned, and then cursed, “Children.”
“You brought this on yourself,” Jason said, entirely unsympathetic.
Bruce gave him a soft look, “Yes, I did.” Jason flushed and scrambled upright – that was Bruce’s Dad look, the way his eyes crinkled and he looked at them like they were the brightest thing in the universe, and it was way too much to deal with at nine in the evening after his annoying siblings had hijacked his day.
“So?” Bruce raised an eyebrow, “How much? I’m willing to start at a million per kid.”
Jason scoffed. “You could empty your bank account, old man, and there still wouldn’t be enough for me to keep those hellions.”
“It doesn’t have to be all of them,” Bruce pointed out.
“Hmm, okay,” Jason faced him properly, sitting cross-legged on the couch, “Replacement and Demon Brat cannot be in the same space, so you can take the brat back, and I’ll keep Timmers.”
“If you send back Damian without Dick, he’ll just go back,” Bruce said.
“Okay, fair point. I’ll keep Damian and Dick, you take the Replacement.” Jason thought for a moment. “Also Cass, because she had like ten cookies and I’m not dealing with that sugar rush.”
Bruce made a face. “You’re giving me Cass with only Tim to entertain her? How about Steph too?”
“Steph’s about one annoyance away from skewering someone, which I consider highly entertaining, but your opinion may be different,” Jason said, and frowned, “Okay, how about this – you take back Dick, Damian, and Cass. I’ll keep Replacement and Blondie.”
Bruce lifted an eyebrow, “Except Steph will go back to her actual house and Tim will go to his Nest.”
Jason grinned back, all teeth.
“How about,” Bruce said, his voice growing quieter, “All of them stay there, and you spend the night here?”
Jason stared at him, something caught in his throat. Bruce’s eyes glimmered in the dim light, and Jason cleared his throat. “Pizza, garlic bread, and a movie marathon?” Jason asked.
“As long as it’s from Alfonso’s.”
“You’re paying for the food, and I get to pick the movie,” Jason said firmly.
Bruce extended his hand, “Deal.”
They shook on it, and Jason saw his own tentative smile reflected on Bruce’s face.
They were thirty minutes into Star Wars: A New Hope – the garlic bread was gone, and Jason was on his third slice of pizza – when a walking blanket burrito shuffled across the room and tipped over onto the couch, sprawling across both Jason and Bruce’s laps.
“Can’t believe you left me with them,” Dick groused, before burying his face in Bruce’s shirt and wiggling until he found a comfortable position.
Bruce just smiled down at Dick, and used his free hand to comb through his eldest son’s hair.
Five minutes later, an indignant collection of pointy elbows and knees squirmed next to Jason – pushing him against Bruce’s side – and said, offended, “You guys started Star Wars without me?”
“Didn’t realize your name was on the cover,” Jason sniped back. Tim retaliated by jabbing an elbow into his side, and stealing a slice of pizza.
Jason took his revenge by snaking an arm around Tim and folding him tightly against Jason’s side.
“I can’t believe I have to watch this stupid movie again,” Steph groaned, squeezing into the space between Tim and the edge of the couch. Damian eyed the rest of them in furious betrayal as he attempted to find an empty spot.
Finally, Tim got tired of Damian blocking the view, and tugged the brat forward, shoving him half onto Steph’s lap before Damian went for his knives.
At some point, Jason became aware that there were toes shoved behind his shoulder – he looked up to see Cass perched on the back of the couch, watching the screen intently.
The credits for the third movie drew to a close, leaving the room in complete silence. Dick – well, Dick hadn’t been awake since the start, Steph had fallen asleep after Damian had stopped shrieking, and the brat’s head was leaning against the couch arm as he curled up in her lap. Cass was stretched along the back of the couch, either asleep or feigning it well, and Tim was slumped on Jason’s shoulder, breathing slowly.
Bruce, however, was still awake, Jason could feel the alertness in the arm pressed to his side. Suddenly, the silence seemed stifling, the room too small, the collection of siblings sleeping on top of him a restriction forcing him down.
“Okay,” Jason said, trying to keep his voice level, “Great food. Good movie. I’ll be heading out, now that my apartment’s empty again.”
Bruce didn’t say anything as Jason gently eased Tim’s head over to Steph’s shoulder and pondered the best way of getting up that didn’t entail jostling either Dick or Cass.
When Jason moved to shift Dick up – sick and exhausted, Dick hopefully wouldn’t wake up – Bruce spoke up. “You don’t have to leave,” he said quietly.
“Got all your little birdies back home,” Jason said, still focused on Dick, “So our negotiations are concluded –”
“Jay,” Bruce said, “You don’t have to leave.” Jason sighed, pausing his movements as he tried to calculate the best way to move Dick. “You can stay for the weekend,” Bruce said hopefully.
“Nice try, old man, but I know Alfred’s on vacation, and I also know that you can’t make a crepe to save your life.”
Jason could practically feel Bruce wincing. He took his attention off of Dick and slowly turned to face Bruce, his expression blank.
“…You promised the kids crepes, didn’t you.”
“I don’t know how Alfred does everything,” Bruce admitted, “I couldn’t survive yesterday without resorting to bribes.”
“Uh-huh,” Jason said, his attention focused on the real problem, “You want me to make crepes, don’t you.”
The darkness did not conceal Bruce’s faint smile.
“Do you know,” Bruce said slowly, “I can’t remember the last time we made crepes together.”
“Made crepes together?” Jason hissed, “Bruce, you stood at the counter and handed me ingredients, I can’t believe you’re just taking credit –”
“Don’t tell Alfred,” Bruce continued, “But those were the best crepes I’ve ever had.”
For a long moment, Jason stared at him, stunned. His gaze swept around the room, briefly pausing on each individual sibling, before finding its way back to Bruce.
“…I’ve been conned, haven’t I.”
Bruce did the eye-crinkling thing again. “It’s possible some of them expressed similar disbelief in my crepe-making skills, and sought to find a worthy substitute.”
Jason slumped back against the couch and resigned himself to his fate.
This goddamn family.