"Did you ever care?"
The words echo in Bruce's mind, and his breath catches. The logical side of him berates him; he should have seen this question coming, from the way the conversation had been going. Snippets of it still circle in his brain, the words acknowledged but perhaps not entirely understood.
"This hasn't been my home for years."
"I forgive you for not saving me."
"I'm exactly the type of murderous criminal that you should lock up in Arkham."
And perhaps the most heartbreaking…
"I'm the dirty little secret, kept out of sight and out of mind. No one remembers all the good things I did."
Can he be blamed for barely comprehending what's happening right now? He doesn't think so. After all, only hours ago, he still thought that his son was dead, and things have been occurring much too quickly since then.
Bruce stares at the young man in front of him, for that is what Jason is now. A young man, not the boy he once knew. Not the young boy he trained, not the young boy who flew by his side without a care in the world. Not the young teenager either, the one who was impulsive, violent, argumentative, but who he still cared about with all his heart.
No, Jason is not either of those. Not anymore. Instead, this stranger lies in the bed, this stranger with too many lines on his face and scars on his back, and eyes that are so, so very hurt.
He doesn't seem to be quite as angry anymore; if he is, he's hiding it well. Instead, he appears drained, weary, and he's staring at him with an aura of inevitability around him, as if he's expecting a certain answer and is just waiting for that hammer to drop, to shatter any hope that he may have managed to keep hold of these past few years.
It's this that gives Bruce pause, that makes him think about what to say next. If he chooses the wrong thing, if he makes a single misstep, Jason won't give him another chance.
Of course, it might not matter either way, he realizes. There might not be a relationship to fix here, and I wouldn't blame him if there isn't. God, how badly have I failed that he would even think to ask a question like that?
Unfortunately, he can guess the answer for himself. It's there, written in the words of his son's speech, and heard in the desperate, painful tone in his voice.
But how is he to amend this? How can he possibly correct this error? How can he make his son see how wrong both of them have been all these years? Because he has to believe there's a way. He has to.
He has to believe that there's a way to make this right.
He can't talk about Jason's chosen alias and activities, not now, no matter how much that needs to be addressed, and no matter how much he himself needs to come to terms with the fact that his son is now a killer. Jason has made his thoughts on the subject very clear, and to push him on the subject right now would be to push him away.
He can't berate him for his outlook on things, either, no matter how much he wants to. He wants to shout at him, to take him by the shoulders and shake him, to say, Why would you think you don't have a home here anymore? Why don't you realize how loved you are, Jason? Why? Why can't you see that? He won't, though, because it would put him on the defensive again, and a defensive Jason won't be willing to listen.
He can't explain himself, either, not yet, anyway. Jason has proven that he won't be receptive to what he will interpret as excuses, no matter what the words actually are.
Tim never replaced you, Jason. He is his own person, his own Robin, and one that I definitely didn't go looking for. No matter how much I care for him, he's never filled the hole that your death left in me.
The Joker's death wouldn't have accomplished anything, Jason, and it wouldn't have brought you back to me. If it would have, not even Superman would have been able to stop me.
Your legacy isn't your death, Jason, and it's certainly not all that everyone remembers about you. You're not the one who failed, I am.
This is what he wants to say, this and far, far more, but he can't. How can he tell him this when he knows that he won't be heard?
No. This has to wait.
For how long, though? he asks himself. How long will it take to rebuild any amount of trust between us?
He knows the answer, no matter how much he doesn't like it. This will take time, and effort, and probably a lot of shouting and arguing from both of them, and it certainly won't be easy.
But they have to start somewhere, and Bruce instinctively knows that he needs to be the one to take the first step.
How long has it been since Jason asked the question? Seconds? Minutes? Not too long, he knows, because Jason is still staring at him with that same, horribly defeated expression on his face. Bruce sighs and takes his hand in both of his, wondering when he'd let it go in the first place.
"Jason," he begins.
"There is nothing on this earth or off of it that would make me stop loving you."
Bruce takes a moment to gauge his reaction- shock, suspicion, and surprisingly, not much anger- before pulling him into an embrace.
And Jason doesn't hug back, but he doesn't push away, either, and Bruce smiles.
Maybe there's something here to fix after all.
A/N: Well… that was… short. My excuse is that it technically takes place in the span of a few seconds. Apologies if it's a bit disjointed, but frankly I think Bruce's thoughts have a right to be a little disjointed at this point (even if he is still waaaay too logical for this kind of situation. Oh well.).
Thank you so much for all the alerts and reviews! It makes my day every time I get one. Just the epilogue to go now! :)
Edit 2/11/16: Alright, I know I promised an epilogue. But the thing is, it's been a long time since I had any drive for this fic, and honestly? I think that this chapter ended on a nice, hopeful note, and I have the feeling that if I were to try to add anything onto that, it would ruin the effect. So, as far as epilogues go, I don't think it's happening. I'm really sorry. But I hope you enjoyed what there was, and thank you very much for the support while I was writing this. It means a lot to me. :)