Despite Bruce's insistence that Dick go home and Jason's repeated assurances that he was fine, all four of them (including Alfred) wound up in Dr Thompkins' clinic at five in the morning. As a result of Jason's vehement protestations, both Dick and Bruce were obliged to wait in the lobby. Bruce had hidden his annoyance at the fact that Alfred had gotten to go with Jason into the examination room rather poorly, but Dick had understood completely. Alfie always had been the more sympathetic parent, the one you could go to with your problems and expect a kind word rather than a lecture.
Dick checked his email and messed around on his phone while Bruce brooded in a silence so thick with angst that it hung in the air around him like a dark cloud. After he had refreshed his inbox umpteen times and gotten no new emails, Dick started to twitch. He was never very good at sitting still anyway, and certainly not when the people he cared about were hurting.
"Maybe they didn't…you know, go all the way," Dick said tentatively. His voice sounded unnaturally loud after the protracted silence.
Bruce tilted his head up to stare at him in a look just this side of hostile.
"I mean, I couldn't see much from the angle of the camera. Maybe I got there just in time," Dick said.
Bruce's eyes narrowed. "I'm going back," he said, standing. "Tell him…whatever you want."
"Bruce, wait, don't- dammit!" Dick swore. Now what was he going to tell Jason?
About half an hour later, Leslie emerged pushing Jason ahead of her, Alfred a step behind. Jason had tape on his nose, two black eyes, and an unsightly collection of bruises on his swollen face. Dick hurt just looking at him. At least Alfred had brought him some clothes, and Dick didn't have to see him looking small and vulnerable in that over-sized, blood-spattered shirt.
"How you holdin' up, little wing?" he asked, injecting as much cheer into his voice as he could manage.
"He's a trooper," Leslie said. "Concussion, broken nose, couple of fractured ribs, and a laceration that required fourteen stitches, but not the worst I've seen from you lot, not by a country mile."
"Jason?" Dick said, conscious that he hadn't answered him.
"Where's Bruce?" Jason asked instead, his gaze sweeping the small waiting area.
Dick exchanged a look with Alfred. "He figured you had me and Alf, so he went back to the cave to get a head start on his case notes, while it was all still fresh," he lied. Guilt churned in his empty stomach, and it was not a good combination.
Jason frowned. "Oh…okay," he said softly.
Dick forced a smile. "Come on, why don't we get you a hot shower and a warm bed? I bet you're dying for one of Alfred's sandwiches, too."
"Yeah, sure," Jason said without much enthusiasm.
"Come, Master Jay, you'll feel far better once you've had some of my homemade chicken soup," Alfred said as he herded him out the front door.
Dick hung back. Leslie arched an expectant eyebrow at him, but he waited till the door closed behind Alfred before asking, "Did you find any signs of…sexual assault?"
Leslie's eyes widened in surprise. "I didn't realise I was supposed to look for that. He didn't mention it to me."
Dick bit back a sigh. Why was he not surprised? "Did you take a blood sample?"
"Yes. He mentioned he'd been in direct contact with other people's blood, so I thought it wise to screen him for the basic blood-borne diseases, just in case. Honestly, you should all take more precautions in that area – you can never be too careful."
"Noted," Dick said. "Can you screen him for common STI's as well, just to be on the safe side?"
Leslie cocked her head. "Is there something you want to tell me, Dick?"
Dick pressed his lips into a thin line. "No, and I think the less you know, the better. Let me know when you get the results, and please, keep this between us." Then he turned and hurried out to the car.
By the time they got home, Jason was fast asleep.
"I'm not surprised," Alfred said. "Dr Thompkins gave him some very potent pain killers that also happen to have sedative side effects."
"I guessed as much," Dick said. He hefted Jason's dead weight in his arms and carried him into the manor. "I got him, Alfred. Feel free to hit the sack."
"Very well, if you're absolutely sure you won't need my assistance," Alfred said. "Shall I expect you for breakfast?"
Dick nodded. "Yeah. I think I'll stay for a few days, at least until I can be sure everything's okay."
"A wise decision, I think," Alfred said. "Good night, Master Richard."
"Good night, Alfred."
Dick carried Jason up the stairs and to his bedroom, where he laid Jason down on his bed. He took off Jason's shoes, and started to take off his jeans before he stopped. In light of recent events, he wondered how Jason would feel about waking up stripped to his underwear, even if he was safe in his own bed. After a moment, he re-buttoned Jason's jeans and just slipped him under the covers fully clothed.
As Dick was tucking him in, Jason's eyes fluttered open.
"B?" he mumbled as he cast blearily around the dark bedroom.
Dick bit his lip. "Hey buddy, I think he's still busy with his case notes. Why don't you get some sleep, and I'm sure you'll see him in the morning."
Dick stood to leave, but Jason grabbed his hand to stop him. "Dick?"
Dick hesitated. "Yeah, Jay?"
"I'm sorry I lied to you," Jason said quietly.
Dick gently removed Jason's hand from his. "It's late. We can talk about this in the morning. Just go to sleep, ok?"
"But…don't you even want to know why?"
Dick sat back down on the edge of the bed with a sigh. Apparently, Jason was determined to have this conversation, even in his exhausted, drug-addled state. "I know why. Look, I understand what it's like - the pressure, the fear of failure, the need to prove yourself, to impress him. I know it can drive you to do things – reckless, irresponsible things, but-"
"No!" Jason protested. "No. That's not…it wasn't like that." He stared down at his lap, where his hands were slowly twisting some serious wrinkles into the duvet cover. Alfred wasn't going to like that. "If I'd brought the case to Bruce straight away, then I would've had to explain how I knew about it, and I just…I didn't want you guys to know about…about the stuff I did, before. I thought that if I could let Bruce 'catch' me gathering intel, then he would think I got all that info from my investigations, from all those 'witnesses' I interviewed. I know that's not any better of a reason, and you don't have to forgive me or anything. I just, I thought you should know why."
Dick's heart sank. It was one thing to suspect, quite another to hear it all laid out like that. He gave Jason's hand a reassuring squeeze. "Look at me, Jay. No one judges you for the things you had to do to survive on the streets, okay? You're a part of this family now, and nothing's ever going to change that. We'll always care about you, no matter what."
A certain tension seemed to drain from Jason, and he yawned widely. "For real?" he mumbled, his eyes already sliding closed again as the drugs finally won out over his stubbornness.
"For real," Dick said. By the time he reached the door, he was relieved to see that Jason had already fallen back asleep.
As expected, Dick found Bruce in the cave combing through the control room's surveillance footage. The cowl was dangling from his shoulders as he hunched over the console, his haggard features emphasised by the artificial glow of the monitors.
"Watch this," Bruce said.
"Bruce, please, this is-"
"Look," Bruce commanded. The sound echoed eerily around the vast cave.
Dick reluctantly lifted his eyes to the big screen monitor. On display was a slightly grainy image of one of the six by six cells that Jason and so many other children had been held in. This one was currently empty.
"Watch," Bruce said as he hit play.
The door opened, and a man came in carrying a very naked Jason on his shoulder. He dumped Jason on the bed with about as much care as he'd give to a sack of laundry. He fastened the collar attached to the bed around Jason's neck and left quickly, closing the door behind him.
Bruce hit fast forward, and for a few seconds, they just watched Jason lie on the bed unconscious. When Jason woke, Bruce resumed normal playback.
Jason opened his eyes and rolled over into a foetal ball.
"You see what he's doing?"
Dick was mystified for a second before he considered what he would be doing in that situation. "He's taking stock of the situation, cataloguing his injuries."
Jason sat up and buried his head in his hands.
"Now he's feeling sorry for himself," Bruce narrated.
Anger flared in Dick's chest. "For god's sake-"
"He's just realised he lost his watch," Bruce continued, ignoring Dick's outburst. "He starts to panic, but look."
Dick continued to watch despite his growing unease. After a few minutes, he noticed Jason begin to look around the room with purpose.
"He's pulled himself together, and now he's systematically looking for escape routes," Bruce said with a fierce pride. "Look there, he hesitates when the second man comes into the room. You can almost see him calculating his chances and adapting his tactics."
Dick looked away from the screen as one of the men straddled Jason and punched him in the face. "Bruce, I can't-"
"There," Bruce said suddenly. He shot Dick an irritated look when he realised that he was no longer looking at the screen. "You missed it," he growled. He rewound the tape, leaving Dick little choice but to watch the instant replay.
Dick recognised the snippets of video that he had seen from the control room. The two men grappled with Jason, one with his hands and the other with his legs. Again, the larger man struggling with Jason's legs mostly obscured his view of anything other than the thug's broad back. It was one of the reasons that Dick had originally mistaken the child on the monitor for a little girl.
"Can you see?" Bruce asked, and the desperation in his voice was like a knife to the chest.
Dick laid a hand on Bruce's shoulder. "Does it matter? He just needs to know that you love him, that you still respect him, that he's still a part of this family, and that none of this is going to change the way you see him."
Bruce shrugged off his hand. "Look again," he insisted, rewinding the tape.
Bruce suddenly slammed his fist down onto the console, making Dick jump in surprise. "Either help me, or stop wasting my time!" he snarled.
"I am helping you!" Dick said, his voice rising as he gesticulated in frustration. "I know this is your way of coping with the situation, but it isn't going to help Jason. Don't you understand that he needs-"
"How dare you presume to tell me what he needs?" Bruce shouted, standing so abruptly that he sent his chair rolling away from him to slam into a nearby console. "I know what's best for him, not you, so if you're not going to be useful, then just…do what you're best at, and leave!"
Dick stared at him in stunned silence, his heart pounding in his chest. "You don't mean-"
"Get out!" Bruce roared. "Was that clear enough for you?"
Dick's hands clenched into fists as impotent rage burned through him. "Fine, you want me gone, I'm gone! Next time you need a third man on a job, feel free to call someone else!" Then he stalked to his motorcycle, gunned the engine, and peeled out of the cave, his screaming tires echoing loudly enough to send a hoard of bats flushing out of the cave in his wake.
Jason descended the stairs to the dining room carefully, his ribs aching with every jarring step despite the horse pill-sized painkillers he'd downed upon waking. Even wrapped in a fuzzy, opoid cocoon, he still felt like death warmed over. It was worth it though, for the kids. The looks on their faces when he'd busted in on those creeps perving on them – it was like their wildest dreams had come true. He didn't think he'd ever forget that as long as he lived. Which, considering how mad Bruce probably was at him, wasn't likely to be too much longer. He remembered what Dick had said last night about no one judging him, but he didn't believe any of it for a second. Dick was one of those glass half full types who drove everyone crazy with their unrelenting optimism, but Jason didn't know how to be anything but a realist. After all, why would Bruce have split last night at the clinic if he hadn't been unholy pissed off at him? He'd just found out that Robin was a whore. How hard must that have been to take? Plus, Jason had risked countless kids' lives, nearly compromised an operation, and almost gotten himself killed. If Dick "Golden Boy" Grayson could get fired from being Robin, what was to stop Bruce from firing a total screw up like him?
He limped into the dining room to find it empty, but the distant clink of glassware drew him to the kitchen.
"Hey Alfie, where is everybody?"
"Master Jason, what are you doing out of bed?" Alfred asked. If he'd been surprised to see Jason, he didn't let on.
Jason shrugged. "I'm hungry. What else was I supposed to do?"
"You could have rung me. That's what the internal house line is for." Alfred turned off the taps and wiped his hands on his apron. "Come, Master Jay, we should get you back to bed. You're aggravating your injuries just by standing there."
"Aw come on, Alf, I don't wanna go back to bed," Jason complained. "I'm already down here; can't I at least eat at the table?"
Alfred sighed. "Yes, but then it's straight back to bed with you. Now, what would you like to eat? I could make your favourite – hot dogs? We don't have any chilli I'm afraid, but I could melt some cheese on it."
Jason's mouth watered. "That sounds great." Alfred offered him an arm, and together, they made their way back to the dining room. "Where is...everybody?" he asked breathlessly, sweat beading on his forehead from even that minor exertion.
"Master Richard phoned this morning to inform me that he had been unexpectedly summoned back to Bludhaven on official police business. He wanted me to pass on his regret that he couldn't stay longer, and his wishes for your speedy recovery."
"Oh…" Jason said, trying to contain his disappointment. It wasn't like Dick had said he'd stay or anything. In fact, it was sort of presumptuous of him to even think that Dick would drop his busy schedule just to hang around the house with him, kind words or no. "Is Bruce up yet?"
"Master Bruce is working down in the cave," Alfred said. Jason must have scowled in response to that, because Alfred added, "He probably surmised that you were asleep, and didn't want to wake you."
"Well, I'm awake now," Jason said. "Can I go down and see him?"
"I think that you should eat your lunch, and then we'll see," Alfred hedged.
Jason sighed, but he allowed Alfred to deposit him in a chair before he returned to the kitchen. As soon as he heard the clank of pans, he got out of his chair and shuffled as quickly as he could towards the clock in the hallway.
By the time he made it down to the first landing, his vision was swimming and he was having a hard time finding the next step. He wasn't about to turn back now, though. He had to see Bruce, had to explain himself, apologise, whatever it took to make this better, because what if...
"He won't," he whispered, shaking his head as much in denial as to clear his vision. God, he really wished he could believe that.
He forced his uncooperative body down the last flight of stairs, driven by his growing anxiety. When he finally reached the floor of the cave, he looked up and gasped at the bank of monitors, each one projecting a grainy, black and white image of himself being…attacked. He froze as his brain ground to a screeching halt. The sheer humiliation of Batman just sitting there watching that… Tears of shame stung his eyes and suddenly, he felt more naked, more exposed and violated than he had…maybe ever, because yeah, it'd sucked when it'd actually happened, but at least then no one had seen it, least of all Batman!
Bruce spun around at the noise. "What are you doing down here?" he demanded. "Why aren't you in bed?"
But Jason didn't hear the words, only the tone - the angry, accusational tone that Batman used on criminals. The man on screen screamed in silent agony, and all at once, Jason could taste the thick, warm, metallic blood filling his mouth, smell the musty scent of the man's sweaty groin pressed against his face, feel the hairy gobbets of flesh against his tongue. He stumbled backwards with a wordless cry. Suddenly, Batman was right there, in his space, crowding him against the stair railing, so close that the stench of stale sweat, body odour and Kevlar seemed to envelope him like a cloud.
Gauntleted hands seized his shoulders and shook him so hard his head throbbed. Bruce's expression was terrifying, his face gaunt and tortured, eyes bloodshot and limned with dark circles. "Jason, look at me. Those men, did they…did they rape you?"
Jason flinched. There it was, that word, the one he'd been very deliberately avoiding even thinking, and just like that, Bruce had used it, had applied it to him, like, like it was applicable.
Bruce's burning gaze bored into him like maybe he had Superman's X-ray eyes, and all he had to do was glance at Jason to see every stain on his soul, and every filthy, horrible thing he'd never wanted anyone to see. "Yes or no, tell me the truth. I need to know what happened!"
Bruce was so close it was overwhelming. Jason could barely breathe, barely think except for that word, repeating itself over and over in his head like the world's most insidious pop song. And then he was crying, no, blubbering, like a stupid fucking baby. He told himself to get a grip, that Robin didn't cry, but it was too much, and he just…couldn't.
Bruce let go of him suddenly, like he couldn't even stand to touch him, and Jesus fuck, that hurt. "God, what've I done?" he whispered, burying his face in his hands. "I should've known which one, I should've been there, I should never have-"
"N-no," Jason protested. "It's not your fault, B. I'm the one who screwed up. I shouldn't have…I should've been smarter, fought harder, been better. I shouldn't…I shouldn't have let them!"
Bruce shook his head. "No, Jason, don't you see? I should never have let Dick join my crusade, let alone allowed you to follow in his footsteps. From now on-"
"No!" Jason shouted, panic rising in his chest. "You can't! I promise I'll do better. I'll do anything you want! Just please, don't do this."
"It's not a punishment," Bruce said with a frown. "It's for your own good."
"Please, Bruce," Jason begged. He'd never begged for anything in his life, not even that time Ma was hallucinating and wanted to play Russian roulette, and a part of him was sickened by his own obsequious grovelling, but he just couldn't lose the only two things in his life that he ever really cared about. "If you take Batman and Robin away, I…I won't have anything left. Please. I need this."
For a moment, Bruce didn't react, but then he grasped Jason's shoulders and knelt stiffly in front of him, bringing them eye level. The sudden silence in the cave was so complete that Jason could hear the blood rushing in his ears. He stared into Bruce's haunted expression, searching for some sign one way or the other, certain that the next words out of Bruce's mouth would mean exile in every sense of the word.
"All right," Bruce said at last. "I'll let you continue as Robin, and we'll keep this between us. But you'll have to try harder. I mean it, Jason. No more lies, and no more mistakes."
Jason nodded vigorously as relief washed over him, so intense it made him dizzy. "No, sir. I promise."
Bruce gave his shoulders a firm squeeze. "Good. Now get some rest. I've got a lot of work to catch up on."
Jason slowly made his way back up the stairs to the manor. No more mistakes. He could do that. He just had to work harder, that's all. He would prove to Bruce that he wasn't weak, and that he was worthy to be Robin, or he was going to fucking die trying.
Dick listened to the voicemail again just to be sure. Jason's blood panels had come back clean, and from Leslie's report on his latest check up, he was on the mend. He took a deep breath and exhaled, and then he picked up the phone.
"Answering your own phone? What ever will people think?" Dick said with forced levity.
"Alfred is at the grocery store. Is there something you need?" Bruce asked coldly.
Dick sighed. "I actually called to talk to Jason."
"He's at school. Did you try his cell?"
"He didn't pick up." Dick frowned. "Wait, you sent him back to school already?"
"It's been two weeks, and he's missed enough school as it is. I've already been told that if he misses any more days this year, he won't be allowed to graduate with his class," Bruce said.
Dick winced – he hadn't realised it'd been two weeks since it happened, but he'd been so busy with the BPD and his nightly patrols… "But I thought his grades were fine," he said.
"It's not about his grades, it's about pedantically enforcing the rules and showing Bruce Wayne that he can't game the system, no matter how much money he has," Bruce growled. "But you didn't call to discuss my disputes with the administration at Thomas Wayne Middle School, did you?"
Dick bit back a sigh. "No, I didn't. I wanted to tell you that Jason's bloodwork came back clean – considering what happened, Dr Thompkins screened him for standard blood-borne diseases, but I also had her include common sexually transmitted ones."
"Yes, she told me. You didn't honestly think she'd keep that information from me, did you?"
Dick silently rolled his eyes. "Of course not. I just didn't want her to upset Jason, especially if the tests came back negative."
"I appreciate the concern, and the foresight, but the standard screen for blood-borne diseases would have sufficed," Bruce said.
"Wait, what?" Dick said, even as he struggled to contain the hope expanding in his chest, just in case he'd misunderstood. "Does that mean what I think it does? Did the tapes-"
"He told me himself," Bruce interjected.
"And you believed him?" Dick asked. "He wouldn't be the first rape victim on the planet to lie about it, you know."
"He was very sincere," Bruce said. "I didn't think a polygraph was necessary."
Dick snorted. "So he's really ok…" As it started to sink in, an invisible weight seemed to fall away from him, leaving him feeling lighter and happier than he had since the night he'd walked in on that grisly scene.
"I believe we've established that. Is there something else you want?" Bruce asked impatiently. "I need to get back to work."
"No, I just-"
A loud click preceded the dial tone. With a shake of his head, he turned off the phone and set it back in its cradle. So much for fence mending. But well, their relationship always had been rather cyclical. He wasn't that worried about Bruce; he would come around eventually. The important thing was that Jason okay. He smiled with relief. In their line of work, it was important to celebrate every win, even the minor ones and the near misses. This? This was definitely a win.
From the last will and testament of Bruce Wayne:
Of all my failures, you have been my biggest. I take full responsibility for your wayward and self-destructive path in life. You were broken, and I thought I could put the pieces back together. I thought I could do for you what could never be done for me. Make you whole. What happened to you as a child…the terror, the pain, the horrors. But that secret is one that neither of us should have kept. You needed repair, and instead I gave you an outlet to act out on. For that, I apologize.