The first time was an accident.
Tim was at the Batcomputer, eleven different windows open as he tracked a thread of the case, his coffee mug empty and his head starting a dull ache—if only he could fit it all together, he could take a break for a little bit, get another cup of coffee, get—
Oh god what was it now.
“The medkit’s been misfiled,” Bruce said, frowning at the cupboard in the medbay, “Do you know who did it?”
Ugh. Tim had been exhausted last night after patrol, and he’d only wanted some bandages, and it wasn’t his fault that Bruce’s filing system was ridiculous, and he needed to finish this case, and he didn’t want to spend the next thirty minutes refiling everything until it met Bruce’s satisfaction, and—
“I don’t know,” Tim’s voice said. Great. Outright denial. Because Batman could be fooled that easily. “I saw Jason here last night.” Wait. Wait. Abort—“Does he remember the correct filing system?”
Oh god. Oh no. Tim wished he could stuff the words back into his mouth. He really needed coffee.
Bruce furrowed his eyebrows. Tim opened his mouth again—he needed to confess, tell Bruce it was him, tell—
But he didn’t want to reorganize the cupboard.
“I guess not,” Bruce sighed, and moved to reorder the misfiled items. Tim hunkered down and turned back to the case. It was officially Future Tim’s problem now.
The Red Hood didn’t show up to beat Tim to a pulp, and he seemed cordial enough with Batman when their paths intersected on a drug case a couple of days later, so Tim breathed a sigh of relief and dropped the matter.
It was just—
“Tim? Do you know where the latest batch of batarangs are?”
“Did you ask Jason? I think he was running out.”
Sometimes so convenient—
“Who left the wet towels here?”
“I think Jason was the last one in the bathroom.”
And Tim couldn’t help himself.
“Why is the synthesizer table such a mess?”
“Jason stopped by to use it.”
After all, it wasn’t hurting anyone.
“Tim, where did my coffee gone?”
“Um, I don’t know, but I think I saw Jason near your table earlier?”
Another frown. Another sigh. And Bruce never said a word to Jason.
So Tim maybe grew slightly complacent.
“Tim?” Bruce asked, staring at the mess of staffs that had tumbled to his feet when he opened the closet, “Who was the last person to use this closet?”
Tim hid his wince and blinked innocently—he was in the middle of some W.E. work, and he didn’t need the lecture on maintaining tools with the appropriate respect. “Jason, I think.”
Bruce narrowed his eyes, pinched the bridge of his nose, and sighed. And then he moved to pick up the staffs and place them back in their proper positions.
Tim turned back to his work—but not before he saw Damian’s narrowed eyes.
Tim nearly jumped out of his chair. “Jesus Christ, brat, you nearly gave me a heart attack,” Tim snapped, his heart racing. Damian stayed next to the chair, arms crossed and a glower on his face. “What the hell are you talking about, anyway?”
“You lied,” Damian said coldly, “To Father. Todd hasn’t been to the Cave in two days.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Tim turned back to his laptop.
“I saw you putting your staff back after training earlier this afternoon,” Damian snarled, and Tim groaned.
“Look, demon brat,” Tim swiveled to face him, his voice low, “It doesn’t matter if Jason was here or not. Bruce is never going to check. Let it go.”
“Your solution to your own incompetence is to blame Todd for everything?” Damian arched an eyebrow.
“Jason,” Tim hissed, “Gets away with everything. As long as he doesn’t kill someone, Bruce isn’t going to say a single word to him. So you’re going to keep your mouth shut, or I’ll tell Jason this whole thing was your idea.”
Damian’s glower reached near-laser proportions as he stomped away.
Bruce didn’t say anything.
Jason didn’t even notice Bruce’s flickering irritation the next time he stopped by the Cave.
Tim exhaled in relief.
Tim was unsure of why he was chasing Damian around the house, things like reasons and motives had disappeared around the point Damian had elbowed him in the gut and kicked him in the face, and he lunged, catching the edge of the boy’s shirt and sending them both to the ground with a loud clatter.
Something rattled, and then crashed with a shattering, ringing sound.
Tim stopped trying to throttle Damian, and Damian paused, his hand still curled in Tim’s hair. As one, they both turned.
They’d accidentally banged into the side table. One that had previously been home to a very expensive vase.
Shards of blue-painted porcelain covered the hallway.
Tim scrambled to his feet and Damian did the same.
“This is your fault,” Damian snarled, his tone a shade too high to be angry.
“Shut up,” Tim snapped. They needed to get out of here. They needed to clean up the mess. As soon as someone discovered it, the blame would land squarely on them.
Footsteps were coming up the stairs. Tim and Damian shot a look at each other, and ran.
“Someone appears to have broken the vase in the hallway on the second floor in the south wing,” Bruce said during dinner, “If anyone has any information as to who the culprits are, Alfred would like to know.”
Tim gripped his fork and stared at his dinner. “It wasn’t me this time,” Dick laughed.
Damian cleared his throat. Tim raised his head enough to shoot the brat a death glare—if he was going down, he was taking the little demon with him—but Damian didn’t look at him.
“I believe I saw Todd walking in that direction earlier today,” Damian said, “He did not seem like he was in a good mood.”
Bruce blinked. “Jason? In the Manor?”
Damian gave a half-shrug. “I didn’t stop to question him.”
Bruce sighed, “I guess I’ll help Alfred clean it up, then.”
Damian turned back to his dinner, but not before flashing a quick glance at Tim. Tim’s lips twitched as he took another bite of pasta.
The next time they broke something brawling, it was a weapons display in the Cave, and they didn’t manage to complete their retreat before Dick happened upon the scene.
“What happened here?” Dick asked, narrowing his eyes as he saw the shattered glass and scattered knives.
Tim and Damian, without glancing at each other, began speaking.
“I think Jason—”
Dick’s eyebrows raised slowly, “Jason isn’t in the Cave, I’m not Bruce, and I’m not dumb enough to believe that. Which one of you did it, and why are you throwing Jason under the bus?”
Tim crossed his arms, “Is it really throwing him under the bus if the driver always swerves to miss him?”
Dick blinked, “I’m not sure exactly what that analogy is supposed—”
“Father never punishes Todd,” Damian snapped, “Ergo, blaming him has no consequences.”
“Oh, so it’s okay for it to always be Jason’s fault?” Dick crossed his arms, “And what about when Bruce decides to go talk to him? What do you think will happen if Jason gets accused of something he didn’t do?”
“Like that’ll ever happen,” Tim scoffed. Dick’s frown deepened. “You know that Bruce is tiptoeing around Jason like one wrong word is going to send him running for the hills. Jason could burn down the Cave and Bruce wouldn’t say a thing as long as nobody was inside.”
Dick didn’t say anything to refute their argument, but sighed, “It’s still not right. You should be taking responsibility for your own—”
Tim snorted. “Really, Dick? Come on, you can’t tell me it’s not annoying you. Jason gets away with everything. What’s the harm in letting him take the heat for a couple of minor things?”
“You cannot tell us that Father ever let you get away with no punishment,” Damian sniped.
Dick’s eyebrows furrowed, and a brief flash of irritation crossed his face. “No,” Dick said slowly, “I don’t think Bruce has ever been that lenient with me.”
“Where did all this glass come from?” Bruce growled.
Dick shrugged, “Jason was in a mood.”
If pressed, Tim would probably say that that was the point when everything began spiraling out of control.
“Damian,” Bruce said, a level expression on his face, “There’s a book missing from the library.”
Damian was very glad he got rid of the evidence before someone could blame Titus. “Perhaps Todd forgot to return it.”
“Tim?” Bruce called from the lockers, “Have you seen my utility belt?”
“Have you asked Jason?” Tim called back, shoving the components into a desk drawer.
Bruce sighed, “Dick, how many times have I told you not to—”
Dick widened his eyes, recalling every single instance that Jason had gotten him into trouble when he’d been a kid, “It wasn’t me, it was Jason!”
“Spill, Boy Wonder,” Steph said, her arms crossed. Cass lurked behind her, watching them carefully.
Tim smiled back weakly. “So, have you guys ever noticed how Bruce never confronts Jason about anything other than patrol?”
Steph’s eyes narrowed. Cass blinked.
“Steph,” Bruce said flatly, “Is there any possible reason that you can think of for why my car in dented in three places?”
“I think Jason took it out for a spin,” Steph replied, not looking up from her magazine.
Bruce stared at the glass remnants of an old and expensive statue.
“Jason,” Cass said, and walked away.
“It was Todd.”
“I think that was Jay.”
“Tim,” Bruce stared at the computer, which for some reason was still stuck on the lock screen, “Did you change my password?”
Tim looked up and remembered Steph poking through a hacking tutorial with the demon brat. “No,” he said.
“Do you know who did?” Bruce asked, his eyes narrowing.
“No,” Tim lied, “But I think I saw Jason on it earlier.”
Bruce groaned, pinched the bridge of his nose, and walked away.
Bruce was hesitant to do this, but he needed access to his computer. Tim could’ve hacked back in, but he was currently swamped with W.E. work and Bruce didn’t want to burden him any further.
He took a car that wouldn’t be too noticeable and headed to Jason’s latest safehouse. Their last compromise had been that Jason would get medical treatment at the Cave and he would give them the locations of his safehouses, and in return they would stop checking up on him every night to see if he was okay. Bruce was loath to ruin the goodwill, but he needed his laptop back sooner rather than later.
He just needed to phrase his request as a request, and not a demand or an accusation, and assure Jason that he wasn’t upset and he only wanted his work back.
He was aware that Jason was probably testing his boundaries with every broken or missing or otherwise sabotaged item, and as long as it was minor, Bruce was willing to let it slide. Jason was worth far more than some hideous artwork, and he wished that Jason would understand that.
Bruce took a deep breath and knocked on the door.
There was a distant curse, slow, shuffling footsteps, and a muttered ‘how the fuck—’ before the door unlocked and opened.
Bruce stared at his too-pale son, all thoughts of laptops and work swiftly pushed aside in favor of concern. “What happened?” he asked as Jason glowered at him.
“Nothing,” Jason snapped, like he wasn’t clinging to the door to stay upright.
“Are you a vampire?” Jason accused, “How the hell do you always show up when—”
“Jason, you’re hurt.”
Jason glared, muttered some more curses under his breath, and left the door to shuffle back into his apartment. Bruce entered and closed the door behind him, watching Jason carefully as the boy sank into his couch with a groan.
“The agreement was for you to get medical treatment at the Cave.”
“I’m fine,” Jason snarled.
“Your skin is gray.”
“Oh, wow, way to kick a guy when he’s down.”
“Jason,” Bruce said softly and Jason huffed a frustrated exhale, drawing his arm up to cover his eyes.
“It was a minor scratch,” he said finally.
“Did this minor scratch need stitches?” Bruce asked levelly.
Jason made another frustrated sound that Bruce took as agreement. Bruce sighed.
“How much blood did you lose?”
“Look, I’m sorry I didn’t come to the Cave, but it was a scratch, I dealt with it, I’m fine,” Jason scowled. Bruce stared back, because both of them were fully aware that if Jason was fine, he would’ve pushed Bruce out the window by now.
“You’re too pale,” Bruce said quietly, “You need fluids.” Jason flopped back and groaned. “Jay,” Bruce said softly, “Please come back to the Cave.”
Jason raised his head and gave Bruce a truly fearsome glare. “No drugs,” he bit out, his jaw clenched.
“No drugs,” Bruce promised.
“Fine,” Jason rolled his eyes, deeply put upon, but he accepted the hand Bruce extended to help pull him to his feet. Jason grumbled all the way to the car, but he sank into the seat with a choked sound that was definitely one part relief, so Bruce let it go.
They were halfway there when Jason spoke up, “Do you have bugs planted in my safehouses?”
“What? No.” Jason would leave town if Bruce planted bugs or trackers on him without permission, he knew that full well, and he wasn’t willing to sabotage the tentative relationship with his son to satisfy his paranoia, no matter how many sleepless nights he’d endured. That was what their compromise was for, though Jason was clearly not upholding his end if he was still hiding injuries.
“Then how—you always show up whenever—do you have some freaky Bat-sense for when someone’s hiding something from you?”
“No.” Bruce was entirely human, despite all the rumors he stoked to the contrary.
“Then I don’t get it. How did you know I got hit?”
Jason glared at him, “Oh, sure, you showing up at my front door was a coincidence—”
“It was,” Bruce sighed. The car slowed to a crawl in the traffic.
“Really,” Jason crossed his arms, scowling in suspicion, “Then why did you stop by?”
“To check on you.” Which was the truth, if not the whole truth.
“Uh-huh,” Jason said, disbelieving, “You want to give that another try, old man?”
Bruce’s fingers tightened on the steering wheel. He really didn’t want to sound accusatory now, when Jason could very well storm out of the car, bleeding and exhausted in the middle of Gotham.
“I wanted to ask you if you were using my laptop,” Bruce admitted.
“Using your laptop,” Jason repeated, his voice flat, “Why would I use your laptop? I have a laptop of my own and I don’t need your spyware watching what I do.”
Both were good points. Bruce’s grip tightened further.
“Are you that protective of your laptop?” Jason asked, frowning.
“The password’s been changed,” Bruce said, keeping his voice perfectly level.
“And you think I did it?”
“No,” Bruce said, careful not to trip over the words and accidentally give Jason the wrong impression. He was angry, but he couldn’t let that leak out. “I’m just trying to find out who was using it last.”
Jason watched him with narrowed eyes, but seemed to accept that explanation. “I didn’t touch your laptop,” he said.
“So you really don’t have some Bat-sense honed in on me?”
Bruce paused to shoot him a wary look. Jason met his suspicion with wide-eyed innocence, a smile twitching about his lips. Bruce sighed and turned back to the road. And if his lips were tugging upward, no one had to know.
“Guys, stop it—”
“That little brat started it—”
“The Pretender is as incompetent as usual—”
“That’s paint, it’s not going to come off!”
“I’m going to strangle both of you!”
Bruce adjusted the IV, ignored Jason’s default glare, and tucked the blanket around his son after he finished checking the neat line of stitches. Jason glowered and curled up further on the bed, his nose already in a book. He had flat out refused to recuperate in the Manor, and Bruce had dropped it, double-checking the monitoring equipment before heading upstairs.
“Call if you need anything,” Bruce said.
“Peace and quiet,” Jason called back, “I don’t want a horde of Bats down here.”
Bruce took the stairs—the Cave was eerily silent, which meant that his other children were probably in the Manor somewhere—
The shouting was audible the moment he stepped through the clock.
Bruce pinched the bridge of his nose, groaned, and wondered, for the hundredth time, why he thought kids were a good idea. He followed the noise to emerge in the den with five furiously shouting children, splatters of paint everywhere, and two broken game consoles.
Bruce stood in the doorway, crossed his arms, and waited.
Cass caught sight of him first, and she went stock-still. Steph paused mid-breath and choked, which caused the other three to break off their argument with alacrity as they spun around to see him.
“What happened?” Bruce asked, his voice low and cold.
All five were silent.
Bruce raised an eyebrow.
Tim opened his mouth first, “I didn’t—”
“It wasn’t my fault—”
“Bruce, we didn’t—”
Bruce raised a hand to cut them all off and eyed each one of his guilty children. “Let me guess,” he said icily, “It’s Jason’s fault.”
Dick winced. Tim snapped his mouth shut. Cass took a step back. Steph went blank-faced and Damian drew up his haughtiest look. None of them said a word to refute him.
“Very well,” Bruce said, turning on his heel, “Let’s find him.”
A brief second of silence before they all exploded into action.
“He’s not going to take kindly to being accused—”
“Maybe think about this before—”
He ignored them all and headed for the study, passing through the clock and down the stairs. All of them followed him, still arguing—Dick was particularly desperate to stop him, but Tim was a close, terrified second—but none of them confessed.
When Bruce stepped into the Cave, all of the voices cut out. “Shit,” someone squeaked as Bruce made his way to the medbay.
Jason was already scowling, “I said no Bats, how difficult was it to—”
“Jason,” Bruce cut him off, struggling to keep his voice level, “Did you splatter paint in the den and break two video game consoles?”
Jason stared at him, anger shifting to confusion. “Bruce, I got here five minutes ago and I haven’t left the Cave,” he said slowly.
“You’re right,” Bruce nodded, and turned back to his other children, no longer attempting to hide the fury in his expression.
They all quailed back.
“Let me ask you all one more time,” Bruce growled, “What happened.”
Dick was glaring at his left shoulder, Tim had gone sheet pale, Damian was studying his shoes with fascination, Steph was hiding behind Tim, and Cass had slightly hunched down.
“Fine,” Bruce bit out, “It doesn’t matter. Damian and Steph, you will clean the den. Tim, fix my laptop.”
“But I didn’t—”
“I don’t care,” Bruce hissed, “It doesn’t matter who did it, you’re going to fix it.” Tim shut up.
“Cass, you will help Alfred clean up the glass. Dick, reorganize the weapons cupboard. And I never want to see something like this happen again. Understood?”
Five mute children nodded.
Bruce spun on his heel and headed for the stairs, still furious. He could just barely hear Jason’s curious voice as he left, “What the hell did you guys do?”
No one answered.
Jason stepped through the Cave, ignoring Tim’s nervous flinch near the Batcomputer, or Steph’s wary eyes as he collected his gear, or Cass watching him carefully as he made his way to the weapons closet. Dick and Damian paused in the spar as he glanced through the closet and withdrew a thick staff.
“What are you doing?” Dick asked neutrally. Jason ignored him.
He headed to the far wall of the Cave, hefting the staff in his hands—Tim caught what he was doing before anybody else, because he let out a shout—but the staff was already smashing into the stupid case that held his bloody uniform.
It didn’t crack. Well-made. Jason swung again. And again. And again.
They were all yelling over each other, ordering him to stop, but no one got close enough to pry the staff from his hands and on the next swing, the glass cracked.
Jason smashed into it again. The cracks splintered.
Again. Ever-widening, a fracturing pattern heading for the edges—
The glass shattered into a tinkling hail of shards and there were several harsh intakes of breath as the others backpedaled. Jason took a step forward, his boots crunching over glass, and swung again.
The mannequin holding his uniform wavered and crashed to the floor.
Jason turned back to his little audience.
“Jason,” Dick started, already glaring, “Why did you—”
“Whoops,” Jason said, letting the staff go. It landed in shattered glass with a tinkling clatter.
“You need to clean this up,” Dick said, his eyes narrowed.
“Clean what up?” Jason asked, shrugging, “I’m heading back home.”
“Jason, you can’t just leave—”
“Watch me,” he grinned, heading for the motorcycles.
“Jason, get back here—”
“Or what?” Jason called back, “You’ll tell Bruce?” His lips curled into a smirk at the expressions on all their faces. “Have fun with that.”
Jason laughed as he got on his motorcycle and raised a hand in farewell, “You reap what you sow, assholes.”
“What are the chances of Bruce believing us if we tell him it was Jason?”
“About negative seventeen percent.”
“What are the chances we can hide somewhere that Batman can’t catch us?”
“You’re joking, right?
“What are the chances we can fix this before Bruce shows up?”
“What happened here?!”
“…Odds are not in our favor.”