This is for @cerusee and I do not apologize at all for the lack of angst.
Bruce Wayne & Jason Todd father/son bonding. Gen, a Tiny Bit of Strong Language
The air was deceptively cool, a lazy breeze drifting up from the river the highway ran alongside. The sun was pleasantly warm at first and only gradually turned to hot. Jason Todd knew there was a long line of mature trees only fifteen feet away that he could seek shelter under, that might even be sort of wonderful if he had a lunch and a book, but he had a hard time walking away from problems.
His current problem was something under the hood of the non-descript Audi he’d borrowed from the Manor. And he had actually borrowed it for once, at Alfred’s urging. It was a slightly older and trusted car from the massive garage, and when he’d mentioned as a slight warning that he’d been itching to get out of the city for a bit– a warning he felt he owed Alfred at this point, if no one else– it hadn’t taken much from the older man to convince him to just borrow the car.
Because it was Alfred.
Now, if there was any consolation at all to be found in bending over the now-cooled but previously smoking engine, getting dust and grease all over his worn tee, it was that at least it had happened to him and not Alfred, somewhere in the middle of Gotham.
He had been tinkering around for thirty minutes, coming to the reluctant conclusion that it was the oil line and he didn’t have the tools and was going to have to hitchhike or walk the couple of miles toward the nearest help and then deal with the car itself instead of going further from the city and the life there he just needed a break from.
Nothing spectacular had happened to drive him away– no case gone wrong, no pile of bodies, no bitter injury or trauma or anniversary. But the city itself sometimes grew too big, too heavy on his heart and mind, and he just needed space even if he knew he’d run back within days or weeks.
Jason wiped sweat off his forehead and stepped back from the car and sighed.
That was when the other car approached, the rumble of its engine preceding it on the quiet road. He leaned back over the open hood and made a show of being engrossed in the components there, while keeping an eye on the road to see what would show up. The car passed him, already slowing, and pulled to a stop on the graveled shoulder just a couple of yards ahead.
Jason tensed. The road was quiet enough that any concerned passerby would likely slow on the blacktop and roll down a window, offer help. Maybe it was a cop. The car was unmarked but black.
He stood, wiping his hands on his already ruined shirt, and plastered a warm smile on his face. He turned and froze.
Bruce climbed out of the other car.
“The fuck,” Jason exclaimed, his smile falling.
“Hello to you, too,” Bruce replied mildly.
“I didn’t steal it,” Jason spat out. “Alfred told me to take it.”
Bruce ducked back into the car he’d emerged from and when he straightened, taking a deep breath of the fresh air, he was holding a paper sack of food and a cardboard drink carrier.
“I know,” Bruce said. “He told me.”
And maybe it was the ingrained paranoia, the fine family tradition of subterfuge, or just the tiny (and mildly glorious) sense of knowing someone else so well, but comprehension hit Jason like a thunderclap.
“He knew,” Jason gasped. And it irked him that it was Alfred and that he couldn’t cuss him out, even absent, without feeling about a hundred times as guilty as he would with anyone else.
“That the line had a slow leak?” Bruce asked, walking toward him. Whatever he had in the bags smelled amazing and it was about an hour past lunch. Jason had decided to push ahead to the next small town, eager for the miles between him and Gotham, and then had been forced to pull over in the middle of nowhere. Bruce held out the bag. “He did.”
They might not have the smoothest relationship, but it was Bruce out of the suit and it was a bag of food and even if Jason’s stomach hadn’t grumbled, he would have taken it. He peered inside.
“Are these pepperjack chicken sandwiches?” Jason asked, incredulous.
“And tea,” Bruce answered, lifting the drink carrier slightly. He looked a little apologetic, a worried frown around his eyes. “I didn’t think Gotham chili dogs would stay hot for the drive. But there’s a Wendall’s just ten miles back, the last one going west.”
Jason leaned against the bumper of the car and then cast a glance toward the shaded bank. He was still watching the trees and not Bruce when he asked, “You really drove three hours to catch up with me?”
“I did,” Bruce said. He reached out and bent the sack toward himself. Jason let it happen. Bruce pulled one of the sandwiches out. There were boxes of shoestring fries underneath. “I brought tools. And a new line. A drain pan and a few quarts of oil. But let’s eat first.”
“Okay,” Jason said faintly, looking into the bag again. He took off, long strides carrying him toward the trees and the river bank. It didn’t smell like trash and sewage out here. “But I’m not gonna bake while I eat,” he called, without turning. He left the words making it to Bruce on the whim of the wind.
Whether or not Bruce heard clearly, he followed and sat down next to Jason on the grass. They sat shoulder to shoulder, with enough space between them that Bruce set the drink carrier down.
“How early did Al wake you up?” Jason asked, glancing over at Bruce’s pale face in the sunlight. He hadn’t bothered with any of his usual makeup to hide the dark circles or the days-old bruise on his cheek, the stuff he wore for work. It reminded Jason of days when they had breakfast together at the gigantic dining room table, before getting ready for the world outside the Manor.
“He let me sleep a whole two hours,” Bruce said, a small smile tugging at his mouth. “It was supposed to be my day off.”
“Sorry,” Jason grumbled, which was hard to do around a mouthful of chicken sandwich.
“I’m not,” Bruce said. “We’re not good at lunch dates.”
Jason choked when his surprised and bitter laugh interrupted swallowing. Bruce reached out a hand, hesitated, and then clapped him on the back anyway. Jason sucked down tea to chase away the lingering itch in his throat. “No,” he said when he’d recovered. “No, we aren’t. Midnight snacks are more our thing now.”
“I think that’s my fault,” Bruce admitted, taking his own tea.
“I dunno,” Jason said, taking another bite. He knew he hadn’t exactly made himself easy to get along with or seek out.
They sat in silence for a few minutes, eating, then Bruce brushed his hands against each other and swapped his crumpled sandwich wrapper for a box of shoestring fries.
“Anyway,” he said, letting the quiet draw out again. “I’m not angry Alfred set us up. This is nice.”
“It is,” Jason agreed, with only a little reluctance. “Figures Al would figure out how to make it happen.”
“Where are you headed?” Bruce asked, gesturing with a slight motion of his shoulder toward the Audi.
“Haven’t decided,” Jason said, slurping tea from the crowded ice in the cup. “Just wherever, I guess.”
“We’ll fix the line and you can go find out,” Bruce said. “Need anything else?”
“No,” Jason said, feeling as calm as the river looked. It was nice, to sit and munch on fries and talk without shadows looming over them, without the weak glow of street lamps or the halogen bulbs in the cave. “I’ll be good. Thanks.”
“Send me a postcard,” Bruce said. “So I know where you end up.”
And even though it was just an escape, a tiny vacation from his usual life, Jason was reassured by the implication: I care but I’m not tracking you.
It was a comforting feeling, the freedom and the connection.
“Sure,” Jason said. “How are you doing?”
Bruce looked over at him, a long and steady look, and when Jason tore his eyes away to stare at the river again instead, Bruce sighed.
“I’m worn out. I need a vacation soon, too. Alfred keeps dropping hints. Maybe Iceland.”
For the first half of the minute that followed, Jason was tempted to say something joking or disparaging but he struggled to come up with something that satisfied the impulse. There was another delay as he realized the difficulty was rooted in the lack of any sour emotion to spur it. “You should go,” he finally settled on saying.
He could feel Bruce studying him, probably with that unrelenting and undaunted expression he often had while figuring out a problem or gathering information.
“I think I will,” Bruce said, exhaling softly. Jason turned to him and tried to grin, but he knew it came off as more genuine and less rakish than he’d meant for it to.
“You gonna eat those fries?” Jason asked, leaning over to look into the box Bruce was holding but not doing anything else with.
“No,” Bruce said, holding them out. “Want them?”
“Hell yes,” Jason said, accepting the box. “Only you’d waste good fries.”
“Want me to start on the oil line?” Bruce offered, beginning to stand.
“Nah,” Jason said. “We can do it together. Don’t rush me. Some of us actually learned how to savor food when Alfred taught us, instead of eating like machines.”
Bruce chuckled and leaned back on the grass instead of rising. “Alright.”
The French fries were crisp and salty and Jason alternated chewing them and sucking watery, frigid tea through the red and white striped straw. The river lapped softly at the baked mud bank beneath them and wind tumbled through the treetops overhead.
“I’m done,” he announced, more than five minutes after actually finishing the fries.
“Hn,” Bruce answered, sounding far from fully awake.
Jason stretched out in the grass and put a boot on the bag of trash so it wouldn’t blow away.
“If I wake up covered in bug bites, it’s your fault,” he said, closing his eyes. The sunlight that filtered through the canopy was just enough to keep away an actual chill.
“Hn,” Bruce said again. “We should lock the cars.”
“You do it,” Jason said. “If you’re so freaking paranoid.”
There were two clicks of automatic locks from near the road. Jason felt his pocket but the keys were still there and it just figured Bruce would have another set, but he kind of didn’t care.
It over an hour before either of them moved again.