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There are times when his conviction falters.

Bruce has to keep his mind in check. Minor injury, no permanent damage. How many cracked bones did he suffer in his whole career? He lost count; he cannot remember the last time where that kind of injury felt significant enough to notice.

But Jason had made a pained noise when the baseball hit him and Bruce had felt like… The thought drifts away on its own and he doesn’t chase it.

“Uno.” 

He cannot remember the last time he played cards either, but Jason seems to enjoy the game. Generally, at least. Right now, he is throwing his head back and groaning.

“Seriously? How are you so lucky at this game?”

“It’s not luck, it’s strategy.”

“B, please, it’s Uno. It’s definitely luck.” Jason starts leaning over to collect the cards but Bruce beats him to it, keeping one eye on the white cast propped on the chair. A minor injury, he reminds himself. 

But it’s best he doesn’t jostle it too much regardless. The whole existence of the injury is a snake twisting in his stomach, eating at his insides; but a sight of pain on Jason’s face would make him nauseous and he doesn’t want to end their game.

“Let me.”

Jason is happy enough to lean back in his chair and adjust the pillows that Bruce had forced on him.

“Do you think Alfred plays?” He asks conversationally. 

“I have no idea,” Bruce admits, “but he’s great at poker. I’ve never beaten him on the occasions he agreed to play with me.” 

That earns him a snicker. 

“You know, I can envision that in my head. I gotta ask him to teach me one of these days, it’s good for business. People will bet a crazy amount of money sometimes.” 

“Don’t expect him to teach you if you mention that .”

“Speaking from experience, eh?” Jason teases, not all discouraged. Besides complaints of boredom, his mood seems fine. Minor injury, he tells himself for what feels like the hundredth time. “Come on, I think the cards are mixed well enough by now, let’s get it on with. Back to Uno though, why do you even own the cards then?”

This is a good question. Bruce didn’t know he had them until that afternoon when the mixture of guilt and Jason’s vocal boredom had him turning the manor upside down in search of some form of entertainment that wasn’t TV. Chess was rejected out of hand, as was Monopoly. In the end, Alfred summoned the worn-looking pack of cards and that was the end of it.

“Dick, I guess. I should ask Alfred later.” 

Jason looks thoughtful at that.

“Is it okay then, though? That we’re using them?”

Bruce can’t imagine why Dick would care about a pack of cards. If he did, he wouldn’t have left them at the Manor. He certainly never seemed to use them anyway.

“What Dick doesn’t know won’t hurt him.” He says conspiratorially, throwing a green number four on the pile. “And I think he wouldn’t want you to be bored while you’re recovering. You’ll have to do something with Alfred in the evening when I’m away.”

“I could watch TV.” Jason counters. “Hey, wait, now you reminded me. There’s a talk show on Channel 3 at eight. They’re inviting a body language expert who’s going to analyze Batman footage.”

Bruce knows. Clark had already sent him the preview, followed by five consecutive thinking emojis. He’s half tempted to watch it for his own amusement but he reminds himself that he is a grown man on a mission who doesn’t have time to waste on things like that.

“You’re not watching that.”

Jason grins, looking very much like he got the reaction he wanted. 

“Then I guess you’ll just have to make some time for cards, huh? Since Dick clearly won’t mind.”

Bruce should tell him that crime doesn’t rest. He has a meeting scheduled with the League and he has to talk to Lucius about the annual revenue before the year ends or the man loses his patience and personally appears at his doorstep. It’s not a matter of want - these are things he has to do, no hiding away or listening to whims. It doesn’t matter if he hasn’t slept and the world seems like it’s fraying at the edges, twisting like wet paper. The thought of following personal desires feels… dangerous and wrong, somehow.

Like a loosening his grip on the wheel, perfectly aware that the road beneath is icy and treacherous.

“It’s fine if you can’t, though.” Jason catches on, observant and patient. Bruce is both glad for it and hates it. “I’ll just ask Alfred or do that extra credit essay I’ve been putting off.”

His cast lays carefully still on the pillow. Minor injury. Bruce averts his eyes.

“I’ll see what I can do.” 


He nearly changes his mind, outside where the guilt can’t catch him. It’s easier to keep his mind firm and focused when he is with the League. He told Alfred to not wait for him with dinner if he’s not back by six though this was a useless precaution because Alfred is more than aware of his schedule. If he doesn’t return after the meeting with the Justice League, it can be assumed he went on to do the next thing on the list.

But there’s a new Green Lantern, of all things, and the meeting that was supposed to end an hour ago has only just wrapped up. Normally, he’d be annoyed but a part of him is glad that an outside force completely destroyed his schedule.

He’ll find an excuse for Lucius on the way - it feels a lot more crucial that he doesn’t have to be the person disappointing Jason. A part of him even feels childishly excited about Uno. Luck or not, he likes winning.

“Master Bruce, I was not expecting you this soon.” Alfred raises an eyebrow in a way that says that he is perfectly aware of every single part of Bruce’s thought process. “I’m afraid you’ve missed dinner.”

“That’s fine. The League business got dragged out and I already missed Lucius.” He feels Alfred’s eyes burning into him with some undecipherable expectation. Concern? He saw some of that in the morning when he came into the kitchen and knew both occupants were aware he hadn’t slept a wink.

It makes his skin crawl with shame. Is he really worrying Alfred over a minor injury?

“I see. I assume you will be rescheduling that promptly.” 

“As soon as possible.” He assures, only half listening. 

“Are you planning on partaking in your… other business tonight?” There’s a concerned note to Alfred’s tone. Bruce knows him well enough to recognise that Alfred only asks that when he is of opinion that Bruce should not, in fact, be partaking in his other business that night.

“I thought I’d stay in and see if Jason wants some company. He seemed pretty determined that he would beat me at Uno earlier.”

“I see.” Alfred coughs. “Well then… good luck, sir. I have it on good authority that Master Jason intends to master that game.”

Bruce only realizes to analyze the clues in front of him once he and Jason are mid way through their second round of Uno and he hears a car in the driveway and Jason looks up with unmasked excitement.

Of course.

Alfred assumed Bruce wouldn’t be home and that Jason would be left to his devices. He would pull something like that. There’s a cowardly instance where he considers making something up and going on a patrol but he knows it’s far too late. 

He can see the moment the door opens and Jason calls out: “In the living room!” that Dick did not expect to see him tonight either. Bruce catalogs the way his face shifts when his eyes find him sitting there and he knows he’s going to replay that reaction in his head a dozen times before the day ends. 

He expects a comment and hopes for a greeting.

He gets narrowed eyes and a cocked head.

“I see you were in my room.”

It takes him a moment to realize what Dick is referring to.

“It was Alfred who gave us the cards actually.” The defense slips out automatically. Off to a spectacular start, already. If he was to leave the room right now, would that serve to completely shatter all good will that is left between the two of them?

There’s a moment of silence.

“Wanna join in?” Jason either misses or deliberately ignores the tension. “We can start over. I was losing anyway, I guess. I swear Bruce is, like, the grandmaster of Uno, somehow.”

I wouldn’t know.” That feels accusing somehow but Bruce doesn’t think he has to respond when Dick is already tossing his jacket over the couch and taking a seat, shaking off the bitterness as easily as the winter chill. When he speaks to Jason he is smiling. And completely ignoring Bruce’s presence. “I guess I already came all this way though and I had to trade dishwashing duty with Vic for that. It’d be a waste to just go back. Let’s see what you’ve got, then, Robin .”

“It’s a luck based game. You make it sound like we’re gonna spar or do the freefall thing or, you know, something serious.” 

Bruce bites his lip. Don’t question what the freefall thing is, he tells himself. He knows Dick well enough to guess what the freefall thing is and he doesn’t want to think about Jason doing it. 

“It’s good to see you. I… didn’t know you were coming.” His mouth offers instead because suddenly he feels like a cold spot in the room. He finds that he means it though; it feels good to see him, the way it feels good to take a breath after holding it for several minutes. Something settles and clicks into place in a way that's comfortingly familiar.

Dick considers him warily and that is enough to break the familiarity. “I was told you were in a meeting so I didn’t think there was a point in calling.” He states it plainly enough that Bruce can peel the “ I’m not here for you .” from it. “How’s the leg, Jay? Donna wishes you a quick recovery, by the way. You should call her sometime.”

“Oh this? This is nothing, didn’t even hurt.” He brags. “You should have seen the other guy. Actually, tell Donna that I will tell her all about the other guy, in detail, next time I see her. I can’t call when I have no idea when you guys are busy.”

Bruce accepts the cards he is handed, focusing on their rough texture and letting the conversation wash over him. 

“We’re always busy, Jay. But rarely that busy. What even happened? Alfred just told me you broke your leg in the field and are going out of your mind home alone in your giant house full of things to do.” He sounds… amused and Bruce feels an itch to tell him this is no laughing matter. Dick should know how quickly it goes from broken bones to - The cards. Focus on the cards.

“Cracked, not broken, thank you very much . Some of us are getting enough calcium.” Jason looks at his cards and groans. “Seriously? This is unfair, I think I might have been cursed. Anyway, there was a bank robbery. Three guys with guns, this kinda thing. I took out one and then B sent me to check on the security guard and I missed the fourth with a bat.”

Just listening makes Bruce uncomfortable. Words bring up feelings and feelings dredge up memories. There was a moment there, when he’d thought, even though there was no gunshot - but that’s stupid. Dying people do not make sounds like that. Neither of his parents screamed. A wet gasp when the air was sucked from them and their lungs filled with blood and that was it. Silence. 

But Jason

When he tried to sleep that night, the images that came to him were of Jason in that alley. The mind plays tricks of course; Bruce tries to be above it. But as he coughed and dry heaved, he couldn’t seem to expel this sense of guilt. In the dream, Jason had been in the alley because Bruce had led him there.

His fault, all of it.

“I guess we know where you used up all your Uno luck, then.” Dick comments lightly. It doesn’t touch him, the way it does Bruce. “You really don’t want to get shot on the job.”

“Yeah, well, I’m not exactly planning to. You should tell that to B, do you know how many times he gets shot at? And then I get a minor injury and he-“

“-It could have been serious. This isn’t a game . You have to be more careful. What if he hit your neck or your head? What if he was armed?”

The game seems unimportant now. He has to make sure Jason sees this, that he understands. But a look and Jason’s face morphs from relaxed into something wounded. It lasts a second and then it’s gone but through the ringing in his ears, Bruce is aware he’s said something wrong. Again.

“Come on, but he wasn’t. ” Dick decides to intervene. This is familiar - this argument. They’ve done it a hundred times and Bruce lets it sweep him back on safer ground. “It doesn’t sound like it was Jason’s fault. He’ll be more careful next time. It’s just a broken bone, I’ve lost count how many-“

“-Jason isn’t you.” 

There’s a silence and he knows he’s managed to hurt Dick too. Not that that’s anything new with the two of them.

Jason is sitting right here.” And he sounds annoyed .

“I was going to say I’ve lost count how many times you’ve broken something.” It’s the kind of defense that should sound angry but the shields are up and he can tell Dick is giving up on this conversation and retreating. That he’s giving up on Bruce . “Some of us are getting enough calcium.”

Bruce doesn’t respond. 

“Well, anyway. How’s the Titans? How’s Kory? How are you?” Jason asks his questions with the eagerness of someone who wants the topic changed. It’s stilted, scripted - Bruce thinks he’s never seen them interact any other way around him.

But Dick did show up when he so rarely does these days so maybe the key factor is his own presence.

That’s an elephant in the room. Bruce has to admit that he doesn’t know how to handle them both either. It’s like his mind is being pulled in two different ways, trying to pay attention to two different people when it’s already so hard already with just one. Or, to be entirely honest with himself,  he already cannot keep up with just one.

When did this start? Things used to be easier back in the day. Did he spend Dick’s early years with the same anxiety that he is somehow dragging this child to ruin? He doesn’t remember but he doesn’t think it was like that.

“Hey, Bruce, you’re not paying attention, are you?” Jason’s voice pulls him out of his thoughts.

“Hmm.” 

“He is so not paying attention.” 

“I asked if you really wore a rainbow batsuit once.” Jason repeats himself. He seems unusually eager to pull him into the conversation but at least he doesn’t seem to be upset. His demeanour is sometimes deceitful in that way - but it used to be worse, when he first came home with him. These days Bruce thinks he would notice if something had truly shaken Jason up. 

It takes him a moment to remember the incident they’re talking about.

“Hmmm.” 

“That’s short for ‘Yes but I don’t want to talk about it’” Dick translates, cackling. 

“He literally just mumbled, that’s not an answer. Come onnn, B, just between us, did you wear it?”

“It was a long time ago.”

Bruuuuce .”

“As I was saying ,” Dick cuts off Jason’s complaint, annoyed, “things that seem like a big deal hardly matter after a few years down the line. If Bruce can forget about the rainbow batsuit, I assure you that you won’t remember this.”

They’re still talking about the injury, Bruce realizes. Or perhaps Dick is simply trying to undo whatever damage Bruce did when he lashed out earlier. The thought makes him feel somewhat ashamed and somewhat proud. Perhaps some things truly never change.

“I didn’t forget. I just prefer not to remember.”

“That’s the same thing.”

It’s not and they all know that. The things he doesn’t want to remember are miles from things he forgets. He wonders how much of Dick is stored away in the former category these days. He worries how much of Jason might be too, one day.

Because ultimately, Dick is right. This is hardly a memorable incident. But it scared him in a way that he can’t seem to shake off.

He’s the one who took Jason out there. He’s the one who put him in danger. Did he not swear to give the boy a good life free of hurt? Did he not? 

Dick is looking at him like he knows exactly where his thoughts are. Of course he does. Bruce could always rely on him to know and understand. He might say something. Selfishly, Bruce wishes he’ll say something because if there is one person who can sweep those worries away, it’ll be him.

“Do you still have Monopoly? I’m sick of Uno.” 

Right. Time and place. 

He can’t expect Dick to give him absolution, now of all times. He shouldn’t want absolution to begin with. The nauseating guilt should be his cross to bear. Did he not come to the same conclusion a hundred times over? The only thing that changed was the person yet that was all the permission he had needed.

A probing question appears in his mind, pulsing until it’s the only thing he can focus on.

“I’ll ask Alfred.” Jason offers, pulling up his phone.

His chest constricts. Just ask.

Dick is looking at him. Is that invitation or resignation?

Ask.

“Do you regret it? The early years and the - Two Face and the Joker? And-“ Me, he doesn’t say. He will trust Dick with his life but not with the answer to that question.

“I figured that’s what’s worrying you. You think there’s still time to go back with this one.” They speak quietly out of respect for Jason on the phone but also to give the illusion of privacy. 

“…There was never any chance of that with you.” He remembers that frustration clearly; remembers hating it and understanding at the same time. They did have some things in common, all Bruce had to do is remember why he cannot stop what he is doing.

It might be different these days, for Dick. Maybe that’s why they can’t seem to talk.

“No. So don’t ask me , ask Jason.” 

Like that’s easy. Like asking Jason isn’t the equivalent of slipping someone a contract. ‘Sign here to confirm you are aware of risks and take full personal responsibility’.

“Stop that. I mean it. You don’t get to ask me to - to… comfort you, if you don’t even listen.”

Comfort him. As if Bruce is a child. As if he would ever ask that-

“-If you won’t talk to him, you’re just gonna hurt him. I know it’s hard for you but… You’re here, playing board games with him. I know you want to do good by him. Do you know why I didn’t expect you to be home tonight? Because you were never home after I got hurt.”

Bruce swallows, puts that away for later. It’s not like he’s ignorant of his wrongs. Going back, would he change anything? It’s pointless to ponder on that. 

“Did you-?” Did you want me there? He wants to ask but Dick won’t let him finish. It’s like he was waiting for a chance to talk the whole evening. Not for the first time, he wonders what exactly Alfred told him. 

“This isn’t about me. Jason isn’t me. Pushing him away will hurt him and for what? He wants a family, not someone who can’t decide if he’s going to care for him or run away.”

But you’re running away too. Bruce knows better than to voice it; it wouldn’t go down well and moments like this are so rare. But he can’t help but remember the conflict in Jason whenever Dick leaves. It’s hard for him to accept people. Harder still to love someone who will never stay.

Because of Bruce.

“Alfred says that you need to be aware that Monopoly takes forever. What are you two talking about?”

“Nothing.” Dick says quickly and Bruce admires the way his face shifts in a moment’s notice, as if he is leaving all the tension and baggage of that conversation in that conversation. Bruce has never been able to leave a single thing behind, he thinks on some days.

“Really.” Jason squints. “I’m pretty sure I’ve heard my name in there. Do I need to remind you that Jason is sitting right here again?”

“I don’t know what you heard, it echoes in here… Right, Bruce ?“

“Right. We were just… talking. About things.” 

“Wow, today really is a miracle. Should I expect a team up soon?” 

“Don’t get sassy on me. I went through all this trouble to get here, and you were perfectly fine and playing Uno with B. And honestly Alfred clearly never played Monopoly with Bruce. It doesn’t take long at all.” 

Jason looks like he wants to press the issue but then he looks at Bruce and backs down. 

“Yeah well. Maybe you just suck because every time we played it took forever.”

“He flips the board.” Bruce confirms and Dick kicks him under the table. “What? You do.

“I was ten and it was one time. ” 

Bruce remembers. One of the few times they’ve played and he recalls laughing even when Alfred made him pick up the pieces off the ground himself because Dick had run off somewhere. Probably to  complain to one of his friends. Some things really never change.

“Well, I’ve never-“

He tunes out the bickering and looks through the window. It’s too dark to see but he likes to imagine the shape of Gotham in the distance, calming and unchanging. He likes the dark; by the time morning comes, he knows that Dick will be gone again and it’ll be just him and Jason.

He’ll have to apologize to the boy. He was too harsh earlier and it was unfair of him. He can clearly see  that Jason is miserable with the turn of events as well, even if he is putting a brave face for Bruce .

Because he, too, thinks Bruce needs to be swaddled like some fragile thing. What on Earth is he teaching these children, without even realizing?

Can he make this right? Can talking with Jason really give him peace and let him leave this behind?

It has to.

They’ll talk then. It seems easy to make that promise at this moment.

He hopes the conviction survives the night.

“Actually,” he speaks up. It’s such a nice evening and the three of them are together - maybe that’s why he feels this brave, “forget about Monopoly. How about a movie?”