He’d stormed out of the Manor. Breakfast had been tense, with Jason glowering at his plate and Bruce hiding behind the newspaper. Alfred had asked Jason how his term paper was going. Jason’s mood had just gotten worse, and when Bruce folded the newspaper with that familiar lecturing glint in his eyes—school is important and is there anything I can help you with and you need to start thinking about college and all of the stupid, inane things to cover up that Bruce thought Jason was a murderer and crazy and violent and Jason didn’t need Bruce’s concern, not when the man was just another stuck-up billionaire looking down at the street kid.
He thought Bruce was different. He thought Bruce trusted him. But Bruce was looking at him like he was a ticking time bomb, and Jason couldn’t even scream because that would only prove him right.
It was infuriating.
Alfred refused to get into the middle of it, Babs was—Babs was still in the hospital, recovering, and Jason had left three voicemails for his older brother, but apparently Dick had gone off to space. Fucking perfect.
Jason just needed to get out of the house.
He thought about leaving the property entirely, going back to his old haunts, catching up with people that didn’t look at him like he was going to snap and beat them to death, going back home—but he wasn’t in the mood to hear another lecture. Not now.
God. It felt like the emotions were choking him, chaining him, he was angry and bitter and tired and if this was what Dick meant when he said that the Manor had become ‘stifling’, Jason fully understood why Dick had left.
But Jason couldn’t channel any of Dick’s screaming fury right now, he just felt sick and listless and there was a pit in his stomach that twisted painfully every time he remembered Bruce’s disappointed look.
It felt like failure, and Jason was so very tired of failing at everything he tried.
He took a seat when he reached the wall that encircled the property, leaning against the cool stone as he plucked strands of grass. It was a warm morning, more summery than dreary wet spring, and he was far enough from the house that no one could find him unless they went looking. There was a slight hill between the garden and the wall, and sitting down, Jason was concealed almost entirely from view.
Birds chirped faintly, and soft clicking sounds and croaks accompanied the low breeze shivering through the air, just barely ruffling the tips of the grass. Some of it was still wet with dew, shimmering in the sunlight, and Jason plucked piece after piece, shredding each one carefully before picking another. He twisted one in a knot and pulled on the ends and watched dispassionately as it ripped into two.
He wasn’t naïve. He knew there would come a day when Bruce would recognize what he’d let into the house, and tell him to get out. He just—the past couple of years—he’d just been stupid enough to believe that the concern and caring and pride was for him, that Jason was special, that he wouldn’t be thrown aside like every other tool that didn’t do what it was told.
Bruce couldn’t throw him out, not without causing a scandal, but Jason had been to enough rich people parties to know what they did with wayward children. Shuttle them off to a boarding school to ‘correct their behavior’, and pretend like they didn’t exist after they turned eighteen.
He just—he thought he would be different. That Bruce was different.
You could take the kid out of Crime Alley, but not Crime Alley out of the kid. And it looked like Bruce had finally realized that.
Jason ripped up a fistful of grass and let it slide through his fingers, dirt and roots and green blades. Destructive. That was all he was.
Jason leaned back against the stone and closed his eyes. It felt like gravity had doubled, forcing him down, coiling around his limbs, refusing to let him get up. It had quieted his mind to dull gray, and even when he opened his eyes, all he could do was aimlessly trace the wisps of clouds in the bright blue sky.
It was like the whole world was saying you do not belong here. And Jason didn’t have the energy to argue.
But the sun was warm and the grass was prickly-soft and Jason hadn’t been sleeping well, but out here, tucked away and out of sight, he could curl up on the grass and close his eyes and almost pretend the sun’s warmth was a blanket wrapped around him.
Out here, he could simply exist.
When he woke up, he felt hot and sticky—the sun was very high in the sky, it had to be past noon, it was sweltering, but his view was muted by a screen of light blue above him. Jason blinked, and followed the frame to the umbrella pole, and finally batted the thing off of him before stretching up.
Bruce was sitting a couple feet away, leaning against the stone, looking out over the grassy hill. He didn’t speak, or move to acknowledge Jason, but he opened the small cooler next to him and wordlessly passed Jason a chilled bottle.
Jason took it—tart and sweet and fresh. Alfred’s lemonade. He brushed the grass off his back, and shuffled back to lean against the stone, now significantly hotter. The silence was tense.
Bruce wasn’t saying anything though, he was just staring at the grass like he’d coincidentally wandered over here, set up an umbrella to protect Jason from the sun, brought a cooler of refreshments, and sat down, like he wasn’t both the owner of a multibillion dollar business and Batman and thus didn’t have time to spend the whole day sitting in the grass.
Bruce handed him a second bottle when Jason finished the first, and this one he drank more slowly, savoring the taste. Despite the disappointment and betrayal and frustration, some small part of him eased at Bruce’s presence.
Jason finished half the bottle before the silence was too much.
“I didn’t kill Garzonas,” he croaked out.
Bruce blinked at him, and then his gaze sharpened. Jason waited—for the condemnation, for the careful words, for the outright avoidance—but Bruce simply said, “I believe you.”
The words felt like a punch to the gut. Jason couldn’t breathe, his chest twisting, his eyes prickling, and he managed to crawl the two wavering steps closer and half-collapse against Bruce’s side.
Jason hadn’t even realized that there had been a noose around his neck until it unfurled in one smooth motion.
“Jay?” Bruce said softly as Jason tried not to cry—it was stupid to cry, Bruce hadn’t even done anything, it was—it was stupid.
Jason just burrowed further against Bruce’s side, sun-warmed clothes proving testament for how long Bruce had silently sat with him, and he felt…he felt like he could breathe again.
Bruce didn’t think he was a murderer. If nothing else mattered in the world, it was this.
“My son,” Bruce murmured, one arm draping across his back, holding Jason close. Jason had been warned by Dick, back at the very start, that Bruce was bad with words. He couldn’t find the right ones quickly, not when he was being honest, and Bruce was so much more a man of action than he was words.
Jason didn’t mind. Words were cheap. He was long since used to reading actions, because pretty words and smiles meant nothing when there was a knife glinting in one hand. And Jason had been furiously frustrated for a full week now, because Bruce kept avoiding him, and talking behind his back, and being a silent, taciturn bastard and giving Jason nothing to read and—
And here he was. Sitting with Jason. Staying with him. Hugging him. He wasn’t sending Jason away, or avoiding him, or pretending like he didn’t exist, and the bone-deep weariness changed to something lighter. Still exhausted, but no longer so hopeless.
“I think you’re right,” Jason said quietly, because even with the lightness, the fatigue hadn’t gone away. “I think I need a break from Robin.”
He didn’t want to, he wanted to help Bruce, to keep the city safe, but he…couldn’t. His temper had been getting shorter and shorter, the days blurring together, and Robin felt more like chains than magic.
“We all need a break sometimes,” Bruce said softly, his tone level.
Jason breathed in and out, and kept his face hidden against Bruce’s shirt. His stomach was twisting again, painful and tight and—“Don’t send me away,” came out in a small voice before he could stop himself.
He could hear Bruce’s heartbeat stutter.
Bruce’s arm tightened, and the other hand came up, cradling the back of his head. “No, Jason, never,” Bruce said quietly, “You are my son, Robin or not. I will never send you away.”
This time he definitely couldn’t stop the tears.
Bruce held him through the shudders, tight, like he was afraid that Jason would disappear if he let go, and Jason clutched back just as tightly. It was a shaky kind of exhaustion, his breath hitching every time he tried to take a deep breath, but Bruce kept holding him, and it gave Jason the time to put together the pieces of himself, to trust that he wouldn’t float away.
It was grounding, anchoring, rooting him here, in his home, with his father, and when Jason finally went limp, he realized that Bruce had started stroking his hair, careful and soft.
The sun was warm and the air was dry, the breeze providing snatches of coolness amidst the heat. The grass poked at Jason, but he ignored them, drowsy all over again. Bruce’s grip loosened to a more comfortable hold, and Jason wriggled until he was curled against him, his head resting just below Bruce’s shoulder, tucking his face in until it was mostly shaded from the sun.
Jason didn’t ask can we stay here. Here, in their bubble of sunshine, warm and safe. He didn’t need to ask a question to which he already knew the answer.
He didn’t know how long it had been—the silence turned minutes to an eternity, and stilled the passage of time—before the quiet reverie was broken by a distant shout.
“What was that?” Jason asked, pushing up. Bruce frowned, turning to stare at the wall they were leaning against. He opened his mouth, but was interrupted by an agonized cry.
“That sounded like a kid,” Jason said, heart racing, and he straightened all the way up, eyeing the eight foot high wall. “What’s on the other side of this?”
“The Drake property,” Bruce said, his frown growing deeper, “But they’re away right now, they’re usually travelling—”
“Well, there’s someone there and they’re hurt,” Jason said, backing up four steps before running at the wall. He braced a foot to give him an extra boost, and pulled himself up smoothly after he caught the top of the wall. He knew there were sensors in the stone, but that was Bruce’s problem.
He paused at the top, glancing over the property—it wasn’t as large as theirs, Jason could see the house in the distance, some trees dotting the land—and the crumpled heap under one of them. “Looks like a kid!” Jason called back, and jumped down from his perch, jogging over to the curled-up kid. “Hey,” he called out once he was in earshot—he could hear quiet sobs. “Are you alright?”
The kid looked up—probably barely a teenager, on the thin side, face covered in tears. “R—Robin,” he stuttered, blue eyes wide and slightly unfocused, “H—help.”
Jason had a half-second to freeze—what the goddamn fuck—before he caught sight of the kid’s leg, and something was definitely wrong with it, knees weren’t supposed to bend like that.
“Hey, hey, it’s okay,” Jason said, low and soothing, crouching down by the kid’s side. One problem at a time. The kid reached for him, shuddering through broken sobs, and Jason automatically tugged him into a hug, squeezing tight and observing the possibly-broken leg over the kid’s head.
Bruce had made his way over as well, and cool blue-gray eyes swept over the injury before Bruce pulled out his phone.
“Shh, kid, it’s going to be okay,” Jason said softly, “You’re going to be just fine. What’s your name?”
“T—Tim,” the kid stuttered, his voice muffled by Jason’s shirt, “Tim Drake.”
Bruce’s eyes narrowed. Jason craned his neck to shoot a glance at the silent house.
“Okay, Tim, do you know where your parents are? Can we call them?” Jason asked, shifting to run a soothing hand through the kid’s hair, easing him down from the panic. Bruce was crouched near Tim’s leg, and talking rapidly and quietly through the phone. Emergency responder, probably.
“They’re—away.” Tim was still shivering, and Jason held him tighter. “Mrs. Mac is—she has the day off.”
Bruce’s expression turned into a storm cloud, and Jason was a tiny bit afraid for the Drakes right now.
“It’s okay,” Jason said, “Bruce will figure something out.” He always did. “We’ll just sit here and wait for the ambulance, okay?”
Tim mumbled, “Bruce?” in a vaguely confused way, and squirmed free of Jason’s hug just enough to see Bruce crouching in the grass. He was still talking over the phone, but he smiled when he met Tim’s gaze.
Tim made a small choking noise. He curled up against Jason and hid his face again. “Can we just forget the part where I called you Robin?” the kid murmured so softly that Jason could barely hear him.
Bruce’s face spasmed. Jason made an I-don’t-know-either expression, and kept patting Tim’s back. “I don’t think so, kiddo, but I think we can postpone that discussion till after you get your leg treated.”
This wasn’t exactly what Jason had meant by a break, but it certainly got him out of his head.