Tim stared up at Bruce with a profoundly surprised expression as Alfred parked the car outside the circus's fence. Their relationship was still new enough that Bruce felt more than slightly adrift taking care of his so-small son.
The custody battle with Janet and Jack Drake had been brief and relatively quiet given their respective fortunes. Janet had in the end been perfectly satisfied to pass Tim over to his biological father with only the requirement that she be allowed to visit him occasionally when in the country. It was yet another reason why Bruce was grateful that he'd discovered that his dalliance with Janet had resulted in Tim's conception. Bruce hated the thought that Tim could have grown up in that cold and lonely house with no one to care for him.
"Certainly," Bruce said, smiling down at Tim who shyly smiled back. "I always enjoyed the circus as a boy and I thought you might enjoy it too. The Flying Grayson's are the star attraction. Would you like to see if we can get a picture with them?"
Tim blushed when Bruce picked him up and carried him, still unused to physical displays of affection, but he nodded eagerly enough that Bruce smiled at him. Alfred trailed along behind them since Tim had requested that Alfred join them for his special treat. The Grayson's were warm and wonderful people. Their son Dick seemed to love Tim who stared up at him with awe. When the picture was taken Tim was sitting on Dick's knee, eyes like saucers over his face-splitting grin.
"He's nice," Tim murmured once they were in their seats for the show.
"Dick?" Bruce asked. He offered some of his popcorn to Tim, chuckling and nodding when Tim looked up to ask for permission before taking any.
"Yeah," Tim said around the single kernel he put in his mouth. He ate them one by one rather than in clumps.
The show started before Bruce could say anything further. Tim leaned against Bruce's side when the clowns came out, as always highly aware of Bruce's moods. Bruce had intended to keep his activities as Batman a secret but Tim had been too perceptive for it to work, even though he was still barely more than a toddler.
When the Grayson's came out Tim lit up with delight. Their show was everything that Bruce could have wanted for Tim's first visit to the circus up until the moment when everything went wrong. Bruce pulled Tim into his arms and covered his eyes as soon as he saw that the Grayson's were going to fall. His shouted warning wasn't enough to stop the tragedy. All he could think as it happened and he shielded Tim from seeing it all was 'not again!' As the crowd ran from the tent screaming Tim tugged at Bruce's shirt.
"Help him," Tim said, shaking and pale as he pointed to Dick who was still up on his perch. "Please?"
Bruce pressed a kiss against Tim's forehead before passing him to Alfred who held Tim as if he'd battle the devil himself to keep Tim safe.
"I will. Take Tim to the car, Alfred. I'll catch up later."
"Very good sir."
"Be careful, Daddy," Tim said.
He looked proud as Bruce hurried away, giving Bruce the strength he needed to catch the Grayson's murderers. There was another little boy who needed to be saved as well. One way or the other, Bruce intended to bring the murderers to justice and to save Dick.
"It's big," Dick said.
"Yes, it is," Bruce agreed. "Tim has commented several times that it would be nice to have another child here. I'm glad that I managed to bring you home. He's been worried about you."
Dick stared at him, surprise in his eyes for a moment before a huge grin spread across his face. He bounced on the back seat, impatiently waiting for Alfred to park the car so that they could get out. The instant the car stopped Dick pushed the door open so that he could clamber out and stare at the Manor. Somehow, his grin got even wider.
"It's not big," Dick said after a moment. "It's huge! How many people live here?"
"Ah, just the four of us," Bruce said a little sadly. "Alfred, myself, you and Tim."
That made Dick's jaw drop open in surprise but he took Bruce's hand willingly enough when Bruce offered it. They went inside and found Tim waiting for them with the babysitter that Alfred had arranged. Tim looked up at Bruce with his too-solemn eyes wide, smiling shyly at both Bruce and Dick.
"Um, welcome home," Tim said to Dick in a voice that was a half-step above a whisper.
"Thank you!" Dick said.
He hugged Tim enthusiastically, just as enthusiastically as he'd hugged Bruce and Alfred when they came to pick him up. Tim squirmed a little at first but very quickly was leaning into Dick's hug as if he couldn't imagine anything better than being hugged. Bruce smiled at them and then laughed quietly as Dick picked Tim up so that he could keep on hugging him while Bruce showed him around the Manor. It was a little awkward given that Dick wasn't exactly large for his age but he still managed to carry Tim all over the Manor.
"I can walk," Tim finally told Dick.
"I know," Dick said, laughing. "But I finally got a little brother. I can't help but want to cuddle you."
Tim blushed and giggled at Dick's delighted grin. They ended up in Tim's nursery, playing with Tim's toys. He hadn't had that many before Bruce brought him home but there were a great many now. Alfred had started warning Bruce that he was going overboard on the presents a couple of weeks ago, before the trip to the circus. He had to wonder if he could buy even more presents for them now that there were two boys in the Manor.
Dick looked up at Bruce, head cocked to the side. "You want to play with us?"
Tim's delighted look of surprise pushed Bruce away from the doorway and down onto the floor with the boys. He couldn't remember the last time that he'd built anything with blocks but the huge set that his father had given him as a boy still made a wonderful castle with a wall around it. Dick made up stories about the people who lived in the castle as Tim carefully straightened all the blocks. Eventually Tim ended up curled up in Bruce's lap while Dick cuddled along his side, still telling stories to Tim as Tim's eyes drooped and then shut.
"I was about to suggest nap time, Master Bruce," Alfred said from the doorway with one of his rare approving smiles.
"I think we got there on our own, Alfred," Bruce said.
"Um, can I cuddle with him while he sleeps?" Dick asked.
He looked as though he expected to be told no, that he was too old for naps. Bruce smiled and ruffled Dick's hair. At twelve Dick was a little old for naps but the social worker had said that he'd been having terrible nightmares.
"Of course you can," Bruce said. "Tim tends to walk in his sleep so having you cuddle him would be good."
That made Dick light up with delight. He scrambled onto the bed and gratefully cuddled Tim who curled against his chest as if he was the best thing ever. Bruce covered them both up with a blanket, giving Dick a kiss on the forehead and Tim a little caress that made him sigh and snuggle closer to Dick.
"I'll be back in an hour or so," Bruce murmured.
Dick nodded and settled down. His eyes drooped shut by the time Bruce made it to the door. He closed the door quietly, smiling at the dark wood with all the joy he felt. Alfred chuckled and patted Bruce's back fondly. When Bruce looked Alfred was smiling just as joyfully as Bruce.
"I think that Master Richard will be a welcome addition to the household, Master Bruce," Alfred said.
"I think you're quite right about that, Alfred," Bruce said. "Quite right indeed."
"Hey, whatcha doing?" Dick asked.
Tim looked up from putting his toys away. The nursery looked really strange. All the toys were gone, even the stuffed animals that Tim and Dick had been playing with earlier. The blanket that they cuddled underneath for Tim's naps had been folded up and smoothed so ruthlessly that it looked like it had been ironed. Even the curtains looked like someone had been trying to smooth and iron them but only as high as Tim could reach.
"Oh," Tim said as he put the final teddy bear into the toy box and shut the lid. "Mother is visiting today. She and Father are in town so she called and said she'd be here this afternoon."
It never failed to amaze Dick just how good Tim was at pronouncing words. He didn't sound like a four-year-old. Most of the time Tim sounded like he was older than Dick, despite his childish voice. This time though Dick wasn't sure that he'd actually understood what Tim was saying. As Tim looked at the curtains with an unhappy expression Dick knelt down to stare into Tim's eyes.
"Your mother's visiting?" Dick asked.
"Yes," Tim said, nodding confirmation. "She hasn't been in town since I came to live with Daddy."
"Um, I thought you were like me, an orphan," Dick said.
He laughed when Tim abruptly hugged him, wrapping his little arms around Dick's neck. Dick scooped Tim up and went to sit on the daybed with Tim in his lap. Tim was a little stiff at first, possibly because Dick had messed up the blanket when he sat down but pretty soon Tim was snuggling up to Dick as if he needed a ton of reassurance.
"So your parents?" Dick asked.
Tim sighed. "Mother and Father travel a lot. Father never comes to visit but that's okay. He's busy. Mother comes sometimes."
"And they just gave you to Bruce?" Dick asked. "I thought he was your father."
"He's Daddy," Tim said with the perfect confidence of a very small child. He huffed at the expression on Dick's face, shifting position so that he could stare into Dick's eyes as he explained. "Mother and Father couldn't have kids, Dick. Mother thought it was her fault but it was actually Father's. They had a really, really, really big fight and were sep… sep… sep'rate?"
"Separated?" Dick asked.
"That's it!" Tim said, grinning at Dick as if he was brilliant. "They were sep-a-ra-ted when she had a fair with Daddy."
"An affair!" Dick laughed.
"I thought it was a fair," Tim said blinking at Dick in surprise.
"A fair is when you go to the county fairgrounds and have fun with the games and rides and eat lots of stuff," Dick laughed while pulling Tim back into his arms. "An affair is when two people who aren't married get together for a while."
Tim giggled and settled back into Dick's arms. "Then they had an affair. It was really short because Father managed to convince Mother to come back to him. She found out three months later that I'd been conceived so I was a surprise. Daddy didn't find out about me until I was about three. He argued with Mother and eventually I got to come here to stay and Mother agreed to come and visit me when she was in town."
Despite the fact that Tim seemed perfectly comfortable with the little story he'd just told Dick hugged him tight. He didn't know if he should be angry or horrified or just sad that Tim's mother had given him away that way. It seemed so wrong for a mother to leave her little boy behind that way. Tim squirmed until he could give Dick an almost strangling hug, as if Dick was the one who needed the reassurance, not Tim. Eventually Dick let Tim go. Tim settled back onto Dick's knees, smiling at him just a little sadly.
"Who told you that?" Dick asked.
"Mother," Tim said as if that was a perfectly reasonable thing. "She wanted me to know why I was coming to live with Daddy before we arrived."
Dick stared at him until Tim giggled and pointed at him.
"Your mouth is open," Tim laughed. "You look like Froggert."
Mentioning the stuffed frog that was as big as Tim made Dick snap his mouth shut and blush. "Sorry. That… wow. Um, so she's coming to visit?"
Tim nodded, looking at the curtains again as if the fact that they weren't perfect was killing him. Rather than argue that they were just fine Dick looked at them and then offered to straighten them up for Tim. The delighted hug made Dick laugh. While Dick straightened up all the things that Tim couldn't reach Tim went over everything that he'd already straightened until the nursery looked as though it hadn't been lived in.
It was about that time that Bruce showed up. His expression when he saw the nursery was so sad that it made Dick run over to give him a hug. Tim was busy smoothing down his clothes when Dick turned around, patting his hair and generally looking entirely too tense for someone so young.
"Is he okay?" Dick whispered to Bruce.
"He'll need a lot of love once Janet leaves," Bruce murmured in reply. "Unfortunately I have to allow the visits or Jack and Janet would fight me for him."
Janet Drake was slim, forbidding and so perfectly groomed when she entered the Manor that Dick understood why Tim wanted to clean his nursery up. She nodded once at Bruce, raised an eyebrow at Dick as if she was cataloging every wrinkle on his clothes and then held her hand out to Tim. Tim took it, silently leading her upstairs to the too-clean nursery. Once they were gone Alfred made a little growling sound that made Dick stare at him. He'd never heard Alfred be that disapproving before, even if Alfred hadn't actually said anything directly.
"I believe I will repair to the kitchen, Master Bruce," Alfred said.
"Blueberry scones?" Bruce asked.
"Indeed, Master Bruce," Alfred said. "I think that some scones would be welcome shortly."
He patted Dick's shoulder before he left. Bruce gave Dick a one-armed hug before retreating to the sitting room at the base of the stairs. Dick only realized that Bruce was watching and waiting to see what happened with Janet and Tim when he saw that Bruce had left the door of the sitting room open. It had a perfect view of the door to Tim's nursery.
Dick wandered around, poking his head in rooms, climbed the stairs to the top floor and stared out windows. To his surprise when he looked down at the driveway Janet's car was driving away already. He ran downstairs to find Tim and Bruce staring out the front windows at Janet's retreating car. Tim looked up at Dick when he ran up, his face so blank that it was like Tim wasn't even there inside his own body. Dick automatically scooped Tim up and hugged him so hard that Tim squeaked.
"She's already gone?" Dick asked. "I thought she'd be here for hours."
"Oh no," Tim said into Dick's shoulder because he was hugging Dick so tightly that his face was crammed against Dick, "she never stays more than an hour."
"Her visits are always… brief," Bruce confirmed.
"Wow," Dick breathed.
The single word came out more like 'ow' or 'why' or 'I don't understand' but neither Tim nor Bruce commented on that. They went to the kitchen and had dinner. Alfred had made all of Tim's favorite foods and there were blueberry scones for dessert. Tim got the biggest one. Dick helped him spread butter on his scone, being just as precise about how much butter as Tim wanted which was pretty precise.
After dinner Bruce had to go into town for a big party but he hugged Tim before he left for five minutes straight, whispering things that Tim nodded about but didn't reply to. Dick went with Tim to watch as Bruce drove off in one of the cars. Tim looked as though he didn't expect Bruce to come back even though Bruce waved until he was out of sight. Once he was gone Tim sighed and leaned into Dick's side as if his heart was about to break.
"You want to go read together?" Dick asked. "I could read something to you if you want."
"Really?" Tim asked with such wide eyes that Dick wondered if anyone had ever read to him before.
"Sure," Dick said, grinning at Tim. "Why not?"
Dick was pretty sure that Tim would pick a book of fairy tales or something like that but he picked Pride and Prejudice, something that Dick would have thought was way above Tim's level. They went back to Tim's bedroom because it was late enough that Dick was pretty sure Tim would fall asleep as he read. Alfred had turned back Tim's sheets, laid out the softest flannel jammies for him and rescued Froggert from the toy box. Once Tim was in his jammies, hugging Froggert and curled against Dick's side, Dick started reading.
To his surprise Tim seemed to be able to read along with Dick and the story was better than he'd expected, though it was a little hard for Dick in places. Eventually Tim did fall asleep but it was so restless that Dick stayed in bed with him. Every time Dick started to ease out of bed Tim whimpered something that sounded like 'no' or 'don't go'. The 'don't leave Daddy' just about broke Dick's heart so he settled in and wrapped himself around Tim, determined to be there for him in the morning. No wonder Tim sleepwalked. He was looking for his mother and father in his dreams.
Sometime early, early in the morning Dick woke up to the distinct sense that there was someone in the room with them. He heard something that sounded like fabric sliding over wood but when Dick raised his head there was no one there. Tim was sleeping so soundly that Dick was able to ease out of bed and sneak to the door. There was a dark shadow up the hallway, disappearing into Bruce's room but it didn't look like Bruce at all. It looked much more like Batman when he'd rescued Dick but that didn't make sense. Dick stared down the hallway for so long that his toes felt like ice cubes. Nothing happened other than Tim whimpering so Dick went back to bed to cuddle his little brother.
It took a really long time to fall back to sleep.
The kitchen was quiet when Tim padded in. Only Alfred was there, which Tim knew was wrong. Daddy wasn't there. Neither was Dick. It wasn't Daddy that Tim was worried about though. He padded over to Alfred, being just loud enough that he didn't surprise Alfred while he washed one of the pretty crystal glasses that they used for formal dinners. Only once it had been set down did he approach Alfred.
"Alfred," Tim said as he gently tugged at Alfred's pants as Alfred had said was the proper method for getting his attention while Alfred was working, "where's Dick?"
"I do not know, Master Timothy," Alfred said. He frowned and dried his hands off before picking Tim up and holding him close. "Has he been missing for long?"
It was late enough that Tim knew he should be in bed. Dick should be in bed too but he wasn't there. That sort of frightened Tim. Daddy had been very upset and worried when Tim figured out that he was Batman, not that it was too hard to figure out. Daddy left at night and went to parties but he didn't come back afterwards until morning. Mother and Father always came home by 2:30 am. And Daddy came back with lots of bruises that didn't make sense for going to parties. There was all of the exercise Daddy did. Plus a bunch of other little things that had led Tim to sneak out of bed in the middle of the night and downstairs to find the secret door.
"Um, not long," Tim said, unsure whether Alfred was teasing him or worried about Dick figuring out about Batman too. "We were watching a movie together and I fell asleep. When I woke up I was covered with a blanket and Dick was gone. Daddy's out, isn't he?"
"Indeed he is, Master Timothy," Alfred said with that little catch in his breath that Tim had figured out meant that he understood what Tim was worried about. "He left about a half hour ago. Very likely not too long after you fell asleep."
Tim bit his lip. Alfred nodded, his 'this is not how things should be' frown firmly in place. He left the rest of the crystal soaking in the water and headed for the stairs. Somehow, Tim really didn't know how, Alfred decided to head downstairs instead of upstairs towards their bedrooms. He seemed to be following a trail that Tim couldn't see. Someday he hoped that he'd be able to track things as well as Daddy or maybe even as well as Alfred but he couldn't do it yet.
It led Alfred down into the basement, past the room with the special door where all the bottles of wine were kept and past the area where the secret door to the Cave was. Instead of turning that way, Alfred frowned and turned the other direction, following small footprints that Tim could just see in the old, scuffed carpet along the floor.
"Master Richard," Alfred said before they turned the corner into the farthest storage room where Alfred kept the spare chairs for special functions, "while I appreciate your curiosity about the Manor I would request that you do not explore at night. I would be perfectly happy to show you every part of the Manor but only during the day."
When the actually turned the corner and entered the storage room Dick was staring up at Alfred and Tim with really wide eyes. He had one hand over his chest as if he'd just had a heart attack and the other was pressed against the one blank wall in the room. Tim bit down on the urge to giggle at Dick.
"Now," Alfred said as he set Tim down and offered one hand to Tim, the other to Dick, "I believe that it is time for bed, Master Richard. If you will kindly come with us?"
"Sorry Alfred," Dick said, blushing brilliantly as he took Alfred's hand. "I couldn't sleep so I went exploring."
"Do come find me if it happens again, Master Richard," Alfred said much more kindly. "I'm sure we can find something that will tire you sufficiently that you can sleep."
Alfred made sure that Tim was tucked in first before escorting Dick back to his bedroom. It seemed a little strange for Dick not to be there cuddling Tim to sleep but Tim thought Alfred might want to have a talk with Dick about midnight wandering so he waited until he heard Alfred go back downstairs. Then he slipped out of bed and grabbed Froggert before creeping over to Dick's bedroom. He wasn't surprised that the lights were out. Dick sat up when Tim slipped inside, his grin flashing in the darkness.
Tim climbed into Dick's bed, snuggling next to him. Dick's room was much messier than Tim's nursery but it suited Dick. There were posters from the circus and of Superman all over the walls. His clothes were scattered around on the floor and toys were in a huge cheerful pile in one corner. Once Tim was snuggled next to Dick, Dick pulled the covers up over them. Froggert made Dick's bed a little crowded but Tim knew that Dick liked Froggert so he tended to grab the oversized frog more than any of his other toys.
"Bad dream?" Dick asked.
"I woke up and you weren't there," Tim said. "It was scary. I couldn't find anyone in my dream and then I couldn't find you either."
"Oh, I'm sorry, Timmy," Dick said.
He squished Tim and Froggert together in a hug. They slept that night and the next one without any problems. Alfred gave Dick a thorough tour of the Manor, much like he had with Tim when Tim arrived. Dick asked far more questions than Tim had, about everything and anything they came across. Tim hadn't had any idea that the old gun over the mantle in the big ballroom actually worked or that Alfred kept the black powder and steel balls for the blunderbuss close by so that it could be used if needed.
"Wow," Dick breathed, his hands cupped over Tim's shoulders. "I'm surprised that you would keep the ammunition here, Alfred. Someone could use it."
Alfred chuckled while dusting the old gun. "While I know exactly how to load and fire the gun I do not believe that anyone else could do so, Master Richard. It is a rather involved process that can take as much as ten minutes. Plus the firing mechanism requires an open flame and tinder that I keep elsewhere."
"But it would be a good club," Tim observed, blinking at Alfred whose eyes wrinkled in a wry smile at Tim.
"Quite so, Master Timothy," Alfred said. "That is why it is quite securely fastened to the wall. Available does not have to mean easily accessed."
The next few nights were better. Bruce stayed in until later, maybe because Alfred warned him that Dick appeared to be getting curious, and Dick stayed closer to Tim. For his part, Tim did his best to distract Dick from his questions about Bruce's nighttime activities. It didn't take much. Dick started school and he had new people to talk about, homework to do and lots of stories to tell. Tim was a little jealous of Dick that he got to go out and meet people at school but Tim knew that he was too young yet for that. Mother had said so and so did Daddy so Tim had to accept that it was true.
Still, he got to read stories with Dick and color or practice printing while Dick did his homework. Before Mother and Father left on their next trip, Mother came by to visit. Dick paid a lot of attention to Tim before and afterwards, reading Pride and Prejudice for Tim even though he obviously didn't understand why Tim wanted to hear that story after Mother visited. His nurse had said that it explained so many things about Mother and Father though Tim didn't understand what it said about them yet. Maybe if he read it often enough he would know what she'd meant.
Tim had bad dreams the night after Mother visited. He was used to that. It was better than it had been before Dick came to live with them and much better than before Tim came to live with Daddy. Now there was someone there to hug him when he woke up crying. Better still, Tim didn't wake up somewhere strange anymore because Dick was almost always there to catch him before he went sleepwalking.
Two weeks later Tim woke up in the hallway at the far end of the Manor from his bedroom. He was in one of the spare bedrooms that had been decorated much like his mother's room back home but this room was warmer than Mother's room. Tim hiccupped and wiped the tears from his dream away, wondering where Dick was. He'd gone to sleep with Dick right there, holding him. Tim kept sniffling, shaking a little from cold toes and the dream that he'd wander the world forever alone, as he walked back down the stairs and across the manor to Dick's bedroom.
It was empty.
Daddy's bedroom was empty too, as was Alfred's. The dream caught Tim by the throat, making him whine and cry in earnest even though Father always said that boys don't cry. No one was in the kitchen. They weren't in the study or Bruce's office or the formal kitchen. By the time Tim ran down the stairs towards the secret door to the Cave he was sobbing and shaking so hard he fell twice.
"Tim?" Dick's voice by the wine cellar caught Tim by surprise.
"Dick!" Tim wailed and launched himself into Dick's arms, sobbing and clinging to Dick because he wasn't all alone and it had been just a dream.
"Hey, hey, it's okay," Dick crooned as he hugged Tim and rocked him just the way Tim's nurse used to when she found him after a sleepwalking incident. "I've got you. It's okay, Timmy."
"I had a bad dream and woke up somewhere strange and I couldn't find anyone and I was so scared!" Tim cried into Dick's shoulder.
That got Tim much harder hugs and Dick making a horrified little noise as if he was disappointed in himself. To Tim's horror the secret door opened and Alfred came out with Daddy leaning on his shoulder. Daddy was just wearing his oldest lounging pants, the ones that were so thin that Alfred said that they were practically tissue and thus inappropriate for general wear. His chest was wrapped with bandages. Several bandages wrapped his arms. Dick's arms tightened so much that Tim squeaked in pain.
"Just this way, Master Bruce," Alfred said. "I trust that you will be taking it easy for the next few days."
"I can't afford that, Alfred," Daddy growled in his Batman voice.
Dick made a little noise, just a tiny little noise that was practically like a mouse sneezing. Daddy's head snapped up. His eyes locked on the two of them instantly. It took a moment longer for Alfred to locate them but that was all. Alfred sighed as if their being there was yet another thing for him to worry about but Daddy's expression shifted from Bat-fierce to worried as soon as he saw them.
"What happened?" Bruce asked.
"I had a bad dream and went sleepwalking and when I woke up I couldn't find anyone," Tim said because Dick didn't seem to be able to do anything but make shocked little noises that didn't make sense. "Then I found Dick but you came out at the wrong time, Daddy."
"You knew?" Dick squawked. "He told you?"
"Uh-uh," Tim said, sniffling again and rubbing the tears away with the back of his hand. "I found the door. Daddy wasn't happy that I found out."
"I have to say that I'm less surprised that you found out, Dick," Daddy sighed. "Come on, back upstairs."
Dick nodded, scooping Tim up. After a few steps Tim squirmed and made Dick set him down. That prompted Dick to help support Daddy as they went up the stairs to the main floor and then onwards up to the second floor where the bedrooms were. Tim followed them into Daddy's bedroom, climbing up on his bed to sit next to Daddy as he slumped back on the pillows and sighed. Dick cautiously sat at the foot of the bed, watching Daddy with wide eyes but without asking a single question.
"You're okay?" Tim asked.
"I'll be fine, Tim," Daddy said, smiling wryly enough that Tim squirmed a little. "I have bruised ribs and some cuts but that's all."
"You need help," Tim sighed. He let Daddy pull him down into a hug though Tim was careful of Daddy's ribs. "I wish I was older. I'd help."
Daddy rubbed Tim's back soothingly. They'd talked about Tim becoming a hero like Daddy when he was older. Tim wanted to do it but he knew he was much, much too young to be any help right now. He needed to be bigger and stronger, plus better at everything. It bothered Tim that he was too little to help his Daddy the way he wanted.
"I'm old enough to help," Dick observed from the foot of the bed.
Tim sat up and looked at Dick. He was radiating excitement and hope. Behind him, Alfred had his no-expression face on, the one where Tim could never tell what he was thinking. Daddy grumbled and shifted a little, wincing as he rubbed his ribs. Silence stretched for a long moment, long enough that Dick fidgeted and quivered.
"You're still very young," Daddy said.
"I am not!" Dick protested. "I'm strong and fast and agile and I do know how to fight."
"Fight," Daddy said in the flat voice that meant he didn't believe it even though his eyes were warming up and he'd started smiling.
"Well, not like you but carneys know how to fight," Dick said. "And I can learn how to be better."
"I won't endanger a child," Bruce said, shaking his head no.
Dick looked so dismayed that Tim put his hand on Daddy's bandaged stomach. He wasn't sure what he wanted from Daddy but it seemed unfair not to give Dick a chance to at least try. And Tim had to wonder when he'd be old enough to help in Daddy's eyes. Whatever expression was in Tim's eyes it made Daddy wince a little and sigh. When Daddy looked at Alfred for support all Alfred did was raise an eyebrow and stare at the bandages around Daddy's ribs.
"All right," Daddy grumbled. "We'll see what you can do tomorrow and set up some training, Dick." He had to raise his voice to be heard over Dick's whoop of delight. "This isn't a yes. I'll give you a chance to prove yourself but I may yet say no."
"Thank you!" Dick shouted.
He hugged Daddy, being careful of the bandages despite his enthusiasm. Daddy chuckled and patted Dick's back. When Tim tried to pull away Daddy tugged him close for another hug. As always, Tim felt safe cuddled next to Daddy's side. Even if Daddy came home hurt from time to time, Tim know that he was loved here and that his Daddy would always come back to him.
And maybe if Dick was able to prove himself it would mean that Daddy had someone to guard his back while he was out being a hero. That would be very good as far as Tim was concerned.
"Wow," Dick breathed as he stared at his brand new uniform.
He'd worn it before, during his training with Bruce over the last year, but this was different. Tonight he got to go out as Robin for the very first time. Dick's stomach was so full of butterflies that he'd had a horrible time eating dinner. Alfred had insisted on packing some snacks for them in the Batmobile, which Dick was grateful for. Later in the night he knew he'd be starving.
The best part was that Dick had won the battle on what sort of uniform he'd wear as Robin. What Bruce had wanted him to wear had been so dark and grim that Dick couldn't imagine wearing it. He wanted something that reminded him of his costume, not something that reminded him of Batman. The scales on the panties were armored. The tunic made him look like he had far more muscle than he really did. Dick really loved the bright yellow cape.
Still, he was having a hard time putting it on. Despite Tim's excitement for Dick, he couldn't help but feel as though he was stealing Tim's place by Bruce's side. This should be Tim's suit, not Dick's. Tim was the one who really belonged out there.
"You're not dressed yet," Tim said from the doorway.
"Yeah," Dick said. He ran his fingers over the tunic, feeling the armor underneath the bright red fabric.
"What's wrong?" Tim asked.
Tim tugged gently on Dick's shirt, staring up at him with the really huge sad eyes that made him seem like he was all eye and dark hair sometimes. Dick tried to smile at him but that obviously didn't work because Tim was suddenly hugging Dick the way Dick hugged Tim after a nightmare.
"You don't want to do it?" Tim asked though the words were hard to understand because Tim's face was buried in Dick's stomach.
"No, I do!" Dick said. "I just…"
"What?" Tim asked. He looked up at Dick, still hugging him tightly.
"I'm kind of stealing your place," Dick admitted. He squirmed a little at the thought of it. Tim really should be the one going out there with Bruce instead.
"Nuh-uh," Tim huffed. "Robin is yours!"
To Dick's surprise, Tim looked as though he was completely offended by the suggestion. He let Dick go and glared up at him with his hands on his hips. It was so adorable that Dick couldn't help but grin and ruffle Tim's hair even though he knew it would make Tim bat at his hand and puff up like an offended kitten.
"Robin is yours," Tim repeated. "I'm not going to be Robin. I'm going to be Batman someday when I'm lots and lots older and Daddy can't do it anymore. I'll be someone else when I'm big enough to patrol with Daddy. Robin is all yours."
Tim squeaked and flailed when Dick grabbed him for a surprise hug. He started giggling after his moment of surprise, hugging Dick back until Bruce came to check on Dick. That prompted Dick to scramble into his uniform so that he could head out with Bruce. The traditional hug goodbye from Bruce was a little longer than normal, apparently because Tim had things to tell Bruce. It felt very strange but also wonderful that Dick didn't get that hug goodbye.
He got to sit in the passenger seat of the Batmobile instead.
Dick couldn't think of words strong enough to convey just how incredible it was. Bruce chuckled in exactly the way Batman wouldn't but Bruce always did when Dick did something cute. He ruffled Dick's hair the way Dick had ruffled Tim's. All Dick did was laugh and wave goodbye to Tim who beamed and waved back at him with Alfred by his side.
The night's patrol was incredibly exciting even though Bruce, no Batman, didn't take Dick anywhere very dangerous. Dick loved flying over the streets and learning the city with Batman by his side. They took down some drug dealers and pimps. Dick made sure to talk to the girls to make sure that they were okay. He was a little embarrassed that they thought he was adorable. One made sure to ask whether or not Batman was doing anything inappropriate. They all seemed reassured by Dick's firm denial though it might have been his dropped jaw and horrified expression that did it.
By the time they headed back to the Cave Dick was so tired that he thought that he'd sleep like a log while being so excited by the patrol that he could barely stop fidgeting. Bruce didn't comment on Dick's fidgets as they showered and changed into their most comfortable clothes, Bruce sweat pants and Dick pajamas. Alfred gave Dick a mug of tea and a nice thick roast beef sandwich. His eyes were drooping by the time Dick finished it.
"Come on, bedtime," Bruce chuckled.
"I'm okay," Dick protested despite the yawn that surprised him and escaped.
"Mmm-hmm, bedtime anyway," Bruce said. "You have school tomorrow, Dick."
"Oh man, I forgot about that," Dick groaned.
His bedroom was messy and empty when Dick got there. He blinked at his bed and then stumbled across the hall to Tim's nursery. Tim was curled up in his bed with Froggert, wrapped around the big green frog as if he was afraid it would be taken away in his sleep. When Dick climbed in with him Tim sighed and relaxed. Froggert got pushed to the side as Tim wrapped himself around Dick.
It was adorable, sweet and sad all at the same time. Dick wrapped his arms around Tim before letting himself fall asleep at last. As he fell asleep Dick smiled. He was Robin, even if no one on the streets knew who he was yet. He got to go out and save people as he guarded Bruce's back. No matter what had happened in the past or would happen in the future, Dick was so glad that he'd come to live with Bruce, Tim and Alfred.
He was home. This was home, just as much as Haley's Circus had been, and Dick was grateful for everything that went with it. Especially his little brother Tim.
Tim hummed quietly as he watched switched between the monitors that showed the financial district to the ones around Arkham asylum. It was a quiet night, or at least as quiet as Gotham ever got. It had become a tradition for Tim to watch the monitors while Dad and Dick patrolled. He had another two hours before his bedtime. It was still a relief that Dad had upped his bedtime from ten to midnight when Tim turned eight. There was so much more he could do now than he could before.
"All quiet at Arkham," Tim reported over the comms.
"Understood," Dad said in his Batman voice.
"That's good to hear," Dick said. There was a whoop as if he'd just done one of his flips while swinging to a new rooftop. "Whoops, perps at three o'clock, B. Looks like a drug deal gone bad."
"On my mark," Dad replied.
Rather than focus on what sounded like a routine bust, Tim kept flipping through sets of monitors. It took him a couple of minutes to realize that he hadn't heard any chatter from either Dad or Dick. That was very unusual. Dick usually gave Tim a running commentary on what he was doing and how the evening was going.
"B, D, report," Tim said as he switched the monitors over to their last known location.
Only silence answered him. Tim automatically tensed up. There were good reasons for them to have gone silent. Really. They could have knocked their comms out of commission or gotten involved in a chase or Dick could have been knocked out. The sheer thought of either of them being injured made Tim's fingers fly over the controls.
There wasn't anything at the last location where Dad and Dick had been. He could see two knocked out drug dealers but they hadn't been zip tied. When he adjusted the cameras Tim realized that he could see gas masks next to the drug dealers and a canister that looked like it had been used.
"Alfred, Dad and Dick are in trouble," Tim called over the house comm.
"Understood, Master Timothy," Alfred said. "I shall be right there."
"Thank you," Tim answered while switching his comm over to Batgirl's frequency. "Batgirl, I think that Batman and Robin have been captured by someone."
"What happened?" Barbara asked. She grunted as if she'd just hit someone as hard as she could.
"They were at 47th and Main taking down some drug dealers but someone used a gas canister," Tim answered while checking along 47th and Main for any signs of people being dragged or a suspicious car. "Two drug dealers are down. They apparently didn't get their gas masks in place in time."
"Damn, that sounds serious," Barbara said. "All right. Find what you can. When I'm done here I'll head over there."
"Thank you!" Tim said with enough relief that he sagged a little in his borrowed chair. "T out."
He couldn't see anyone being dragged around in the area where they'd been taken and it was hard to find any suspicious cars so Tim started monitoring the police channels. There were a few reports of suspicious cars in other parts of the city but they were too far away for it to be related to Dad and Dick's disappearance. As Alfred hurried down the stairs to the Cave Tim switched his focus to analyzing where they could have been taken while starting up a program that tracked Batman and Robin's known villains.
Alfred took over the tracking program, leaving Tim to try and figure out what had happened. From the recordings of the area there weren't any cars that would have been close enough or big enough to hold both Batman and Robin. That meant that they had to have been taken somewhere close to the capture zone.
"Free now," Barbara said. "Location?"
"I think they're somewhere close to 47th and Main," Tim said. "There aren't any vehicles that could have taken them away so I'm searching the blueprints for the surrounding buildings."
"Understood," Barbara replied.
There were four apartment buildings, one warehouse and two little shops at the intersection of 47th and Main. The shops had both been built on slabs so there couldn't be any hidden basements. The apartment buildings had both basements and subbasements while the warehouse was well used and very well lit. In Tim's opinion that narrowed the search to the four apartment buildings. Checking the city's records on that area showed that there was an old subway line underneath two of the apartment buildings, very close to their subbasements.
"I'm here," Barbara said.
"Check for drag marks that aim for the basement entrances of 13456 and 13458," Tim said. "Both have subbasements that are suspiciously close to the old subway line in that area."
"Is it connected?" Barbara asked with enough tension that Alfred reached over to pat Tim's shoulder.
"No, I don't think so," Tim said with a quick grateful smile at Alfred. "They closed that section off due to instability in the tunnel. Or at least that's what the records say."
"Lovely," Barbara sighed. "I have indications that they were taken into 13458."
"Do be cautious," Alfred said. "Our tracking records indicate that Two Face has been sighted in the area."
"Understood. BG out."
Tim quivered as he waited for any message from Barbara, Dad or Dick. While he waited Tim called in an anonymous tip to the police that two drug dealers had been knocked out at 47th and Main. The distorter on the phone changed his voice from a little boy's to a growly man's voice, which always sounded strange to him. This time it didn't make him smile. He was far too worried about Bruce and Dick.
"Found them," Barbara grunted as if she was fighting for her life. "Managed to get antidote for the sleep gas to B."
"Thank heavens," Alfred breathed.
"I've notified the police," Tim told her. "They should be arriving any minute."
"Good," Barbara said. Something that sounded like gunshots and shouting came over her comm. "Some backup would be good. Thanks T."
The hardest part for Tim was not knowing what was happening. He could see some things through the monitors and he could hear a little of what was going on through Barbara's comm but that wasn't enough to know if Dad and Dick were all right. The five minutes that it took for the police to arrive, realize that something big was going on in the basement of 13458, and then charge in to help felt like five years to Tim. Ten minutes after that Barbara emerged with Batman by her side and Dick stumbling and rubbing his head while leaning on her shoulder. Two Face was carried out on a stretcher with a huge bruise already blooming on the normal side of his face.
To Tim's great relief Dad announced that he was taking Dick straight home once they made it back to the Batmobile. Barbara chuckled at Dick's grumbles as she promised to keep patrolling so that Gotham would have at least one of its protectors tonight.
"They are quite well, Master Timothy," Alfred said so gently that Tim jerked and stared at him.
His eyes were locked on Tim's hands. When Tim looked at them he realized that he'd locked his fingers around the arms of his chair so tightly that his hands had gone white. Tim nodded as he forced his fingers to relax. The tension transferred up his arms to his shoulders and then into his head, causing a sudden headache that made Tim want to cry. Or maybe he wanted to cry because he hadn't known what was happening to his family.
"We need to implement tracking devices on their uniforms," Tim commented to Alfred.
"That's a very good suggestion, Master Timothy," Alfred said.
"Agreed," Dad said over the comms, which was the only reason that Tim realized that his comm was still open. "Do some research into effective methods, please."
Doing research was a wonderful way to distract Tim from the fear and worry that still beat against his heart. There were tracking devices that were small enough to include in their armor or their boots but Tim wasn't sure that was good enough. Armor could be damaged and there had been several occasions where Dad and Dick had been required to remove their boots. Something really small that could be attached to their bodies would be better. That sent Tim off on a tangent as he reviewed pet identification chips that were injected under the skin. Tim was just writing up a proposal to develop tracking devices that worked in the same way when the Batmobile pulled into the cave.
"Dad!" Tim gasped, barely remembering to save what he'd been working on before running over to hug Dad and then Dick. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine," Dick protested while hugging Tim and using him to keep his wobbly legs from giving way underneath him. "Really. Give me half an hour and I'll be ready to patrol again."
"You'll wait until tomorrow," Dad said.
He ran a hand over Tim's hair and chuckled when Tim winced at the way the texturing on his gauntlets tugged at Tim's hair. To Tim's horror the tiny pain brought tears to his eyes. It wasn't the pull on his hair. Tim knew that so he shook his head 'no' at Dad's questioning look. Unfortunately the tears didn't stop and Dick was making worried noises that made him sound much younger than sixteen. When Dad pulled Tim into a hug it was too much.
"I was so worried about you!" Tim whimpered into Dad's shoulder even though the armor was anything but comforting except for all the ways that it actually was comforting. "I couldn't see what had happened and I wasn't sure where you were and I'm too little to do any good. I hate being so young!"
"Nonsense," Barbara said over the comm that Tim had forgotten to close in his agitation. "I would have taken hours or days to realize they had been taken T. And there's no way I would have gotten to them that quickly if it weren't for your work."
"Agreed, Master Timothy," Alfred declared from his place by the monitors. "You were most effective in ensuring their safe and speedy return."
"You did very well," Dad murmured as he gently rubbed Tim's back. "Proud of you, Tim."
Dick made reassuring noises until his knees gave out underneath him. That was enough of a distraction for Tim to get his emotions under control though he felt like tears were lurking under ever gesture that he made. Neither Dad nor Dick had any major bruises from their brief kidnapping. By the time Dick had changed out of his uniform and showered he was as steady on his feet as always.
They went upstairs for the midnight snack that Alfred had laid out. Tim kept himself plastered to either Dad or Dick's side despite feeling vaguely ashamed for needing the hugs and reassurance over such a minor incident. Though Tim couldn't help but think that it wasn't a minor incident. Dad and Dick could have been hurt very badly.
"Off to bed with both of you," Dad said once they were done eating.
"Awww, come on," Dick protested. "I'm fine! I can stay up."
He whined at the stern look Dad gave him but got a hug before heading for the stairs. Tim hesitated and then hugged Dad as hard as he could. Dad chuckled and hugged back. He felt like a brick wall, huge and impossibly strong with all the muscles that people never got to see. A little kiss brushed against the top of Tim's head.
"You truly did do very well, Tim," Dad murmured. "Exactly as I would have wanted."
"Really?" Tim asked.
Dad was smiling with so much pride when Tim looked up that Tim's cheeks went bright red. This time he got a kiss to the forehead and an arm around his shoulders. The fear and worry was still there inside of Tim but it wasn't as strong as it had been. Dick complained on his way to bed but he was yawning so Tim decided that it was just because Dick was sixteen and thought that he should be able to stay up late when he wasn't patrolling. To Tim's surprise, Dad tucked him in before turning out the light.
Tim waited until he heard Dad's footsteps going down the stairs before crawling out of bed and going to check on Dick. The light was on but Dick was already snoring so Tim pulled up the covers and turned off the light for him. By the time Tim made it back to his own bed he almost felt like he could sleep without having nightmares. The thought of sleepwalking prompted Tim to grab Froggert before he climbed back in bed.
Froggert had gotten a bit threadbare over the years. His stuffing was mostly gone, making him more like hugging a floppy lump than another person. He was still a comforting reminder of when Dick would let Tim sleep with him. That had stopped a couple of years ago. Dad had said that growing boys needed their privacy while Alfred had just patted Tim's head and told Tim that Master Richard was merely being a teenager. From the research that Tim had done online he really didn't want to be in Dick's bed anymore. The entire subject of sexuality and how it developed in adolescence made Tim want to hide in bed and never come out.
Instead he wrapped the covers snugly around himself and Froggert. Tim deliberately made himself remember the way Dad and Dick and Barbara and Alfred's voices had sounded when they praised his work. He focused on the memory of Dad hugging him and kissing his forehead. The sheer pride and approval helped his shoulders relax enough that the headache he'd been ignoring faded away.
"I did good," Tim whispered to Froggert. "I saved Dad and Dick."
Tim smiled against Froggert's worn head. He saved Batman and Robin. Him. The thought was enough to send Tim off to sleep with joy in his heart instead of worry. Hopefully he wouldn't wake up somewhere else in the Manor. That would be a very nice change, almost as nice as Tim actually making a difference for his family and Gotham.
"Gah," Dick groaned as he flung himself onto his bed.
The ceiling overhead had just as many answers for Dick as the college application he had been filling out. Most of it was easy to complete, name, parents, address, stuff like that. The box that had stumped him for the last several months and continued to stump him was 'Major'. It had mocked him since he first picked up the form like a little mocking thing that the Joker would approve of. It was yet another version of the question that Dick hadn't been able to answer since his parents died.
What did he want to do with his life?
At nineteen Dick really thought that he should have a better handle on the question. In some parts of his life he did know what he wanted to do. There was no possibility that he'd ever stop patrolling. Fighting crime as Robin gave him a sense of satisfaction that nothing other than performing ever had. Granted, revising his uniform to be more mature a couple of years ago had helped. The scaly panties really weren't appropriate anymore no matter how much Dick liked them. That first revision had opened the door to a series of revisions that had Alfred giving Dick arch looks and Tim giggling every time he saw Dick sketching.
His newest uniform was the best yet, at least in Dick's opinion. Bruce hadn't been pleased with the wide collar or the gold embellishments that he'd put on the chest but Dick loved them. And pants were a very nice addition. Roy had been quite right about that. Dick still wasn't sold on adding pockets to them but not having cold legs all the time was enough of a relief that he didn't even resent all the teasing the Titans gave him about his supposed lack of fashion sense.
None of which helped Dick answer his question of what he was going to put in the 'major' box. They didn't offer degrees in vigilante work. Even if they did Dick thought he could probably teach the 100 and 200 level classes while Bruce taught all the advanced ones.
"I suppose I should do something for Wayne Industries," Dick mused at the ceiling. "Bruce has done so much for me. Giving something back would be good."
The idea of actually going to meetings and doing paperwork every day made Dick groan and squirm so that he was on his belly instead of his back. No, getting a degree in business wasn't going to happen. He could try something artistic but Dick knew perfectly well that he was no artist. Joey was so much better than Dick would ever be.
"Man, I just don't know what to do," Dick grumbled.
He kicked his feet in the air, cycling through common things that he could do. Police man: no, too likely for his coworkers to notice the absences. Writer: no, Dick would go crazy sitting at a desk all day. Private investigator: seriously no, that's what he did every night. Fire fighter: no, too much time on call for vigilante work. There was no way that he could go back to performing with the circus. Dick just didn't think he could do that emotionally.
By the time he came to the conclusion that he would never, ever, in a million years figure out what he wanted to do when he grew up Dick was lying half off the bed with his head and shoulders on the floor and his feet on it. It wasn't the most logical position but Dick always thought better when he was upside down. Plus it was a very nice stretch for his back.
"Dick, do you… um, what are you doing?" Tim asked. His little upside down grin was adorable so Dick grinned back at him.
"Thinking," Dick said, waving one hand. His knuckles brushed against the hardwood floor beyond the edge of the carpet under his bed.
"Okay," Tim said as he sat on the floor next to Dick. "What are you thinking about?"
"What am I going to do when I grow up?" Dick answered.
His feet automatically started twitching as he pondered the question. Tim looked at Dick with an expression that mixed amused giggles with surprised confusion. He poked Dick in the ribs, full of eleven-year-old wisdom that always made Dick grin at him.
"You are grown up, Dick," Tim laughed. It was one of his quiet laughs that said more about confusion and lack of confidence than real humor. "You're nineteen."
"Well, yeah, I'm mature," Dick said and then groaned as Tim's laughter turned into real laughs. "Okay, fine. I'm not mature by anyone's measure but I am legally an adult. I just have no idea what I'm going to do with my life."
"Really?" Tim asked.
He scooted over so that he was leaning against Dick's side, his head up by Dick's knees and his bony toes by Dick's armpit. It was nice that he was finally putting on some height though Tim was still a good ways off from Dad's rule for patrolling in both size and strength. Dick rested his hand on Tim's knee, smiling as Tim pretended to elbow Dick's legs as if he wanted more room. They laughed together as Tim cuddled closer, smiling at Dick.
"Yeah," Dick sighed once Tim was comfortable. "I mean I know I want to keep being Robin and save people but that isn't a real job. I could help at WI but I think I'd go nuts with that really quick. I mean I could do lots of stuff but none of it grabs me. I never thought about it while I was in school. There was always something to distract me from it but now I have to fill out the college application form and I don't know what to put for 'major'."
"General Education," Tim said so promptly that Dick stared at him. He blushed and shoulder-bumped Dick's knees. "That's what you'll be doing the first couple of years anyway. Going with General Education means that you have two more years to think about it."
Dick peered at Tim suspiciously. "You have not already figured out what you're going to do when you grow up."
Tim went blazingly red. His hands clenched into fists and he looked anywhere but Dick. That of course meant that Dick had to curl up and grab Tim for rough housing and hugs that prompted Tim giggles that set off Dick's laughter. They wrestled for a little while, eventually ending up lying on the floor together the way they used to when Dick first came to the Manor. When Dick kissed the top of Tim's head he squirmed and poked Dick in the ribs in a reminder that he wasn't a little boy anymore and didn't need big brother kisses.
"All the love for you!" Dick intoned while hugging Tim and peppering little kisses on his head, face, arms and hands when Tim squealed and tried to push Dick away.
"Dick! Stop it!" Tim complained. He was laughing though so Dick didn't stop until they were both laughing too hard to keep going.
"Love you, Timmers," Dick murmured as they caught their breath.
"I hate that nickname," Tim groaned.
"Timmy? Timbo? Tim-Tim?"
"How about just Tim?" Tim suggested in such a Janet Drake tone of voice that Dick whined at him.
"Oh man, not the Janet voice!" Dick complained. "That's my weakness."
"Good," Tim said, this time in an annoyed Alfred voice even though his lips were twitching with another grin.
They stayed on the floor for a little longer until Tim squirmed out of Dick's arms and climbed up onto the bed. Dick huffed at him but joined him in the vertical though only long enough for him to flop on the bed again. As fun as that had been it didn't help Dick figure out his dilemma. He looked at Tim curiously.
"Do you have your future figured out?" Dick asked seriously this time.
"Um, well, yeah," Tim admitted with another huge blush. "But then I've always known what I'd do with my life. I'll take over WI from Bruce, do my best to run the company and at night I'll be Batman. So I know that when I go to college I'll study Business Management with occasional classes that will help me at crime fighting."
"Gah," Dick complained as he buried his face in the pillow. "How can you know what you're doing when I don't?"
"Um, what?" Tim asked. He laughed and rubbed Dick's back.
"I said," Dick said once he'd taken his face out of the pillow, "how can you know what you're doing when I don't?"
"I don't know," Tim said, shrugging shy. "I just do. I've always known. I still think you should go for General Ed for your major. You don't even know if you're going to want to get a degree. There are lots of things you could do with your life that don't require a degree, Dick. If you go Gen Ed it won't be that big of a deal if you decide to drop out after a few semesters."
Dick grinned at Tim. The pure practicality was one of Dick's favorite things about Tim. He'd be such a good Batman someday though Dick was going to have to make sure that Tim got a sidekick or ally who balanced him the way Dick balanced Bruce. Tim laughed quietly and poked Dick in the ribs.
"Finish the form, Dick," Tim said.
"All right, all right," Dick whined. "I suppose I can do that."
He trudged over to his desk with dramatically drooping shoulders and dragging toes that made Tim laugh out loud. As Dick finished the last few blanks on his application forms Tim came over and leaned on the desk to watch. Tim nodded that there was one for Gotham and Met U but he frowned that Dick had included one for Colombia University in New York.
"It'd be close to the Titans," Dick admitted with a casual shrug. "I don't like the idea of being that far away if Bruce needs me but it would be convenient for Titans work."
"Oh," Tim breathed, nodding while thoughts ticked behind his eyes. "I can see that."
"Hey, did you come by for something in particular?" Dick asked once the forms were finally done and put away for Bruce to review later.
"Oh!" Tim gasped while straightening up abruptly. "I forgot! Alfred has treats. He wanted to know if you wanted some."
"You bet!" Dick said. "After wrestling the dread paperwork monster I definitely need something to eat."
"Pfft, you didn't wrestle paperwork," Tim said, his eyes dancing with mischief. "You wrestled with me."
Dick grinned at Tim, making grabby hands at him. Tim gasped and then bolted for the door, laughing as he ran because they both knew that Dick would chase him all the way to the kitchen for more hugs and little kisses that Tim would never, ever be too old for. As Dick gave Tim a few seconds lead and then set out after him, Dick realized that he was laughing just as hard as Tim.
Yeah, he might be legally an adult but Dick didn't think he'd ever truly grow up.
Tim's voice over the comms was so shocked that Bruce paused on the current rooftop instead of swinging onwards towards the next one. The few times that he'd heard Tim use that tone of voice had been reserved for occasions where people he didn't know gave him meaningful praise, the explosion that had taken out six square blocks in the warehouse district and meeting Superman for the first time.
"What's wrong?" Bruce asked.
"There's… oh my word, you really need to get back to the Batmobile, B," Tim said, some humor mixed into the shock this time.
"On my way," Bruce said. He used a tone of voice that implied the question 'why?'
"There's, there's a boy stealing the tires off the Batmobile," Tim said.
This time his voice shook with the silent laughs that meant that he was so awed by what was happening that he wasn't really allowing himself to think about the situation. Bruce made it back to where he'd parked the Batmobile (and allowed himself a moment to sigh that Dick's impulsive nickname for it had stuck) in time to see a dark haired young man remove the left front tire and stand up. One tire was already off but it was leaning against the building behind him.
"He's so young," Tim breathed through the comms. "He can't be much older than me, B."
"Put them back," Bruce growled at the boy because Tim was quite right. He was no more than fourteen, more probably thirteen years old.
"Oh crap!" The boy stared at Bruce for a split second with eyes as blue as Tim's or Dick's before whirling and running away with his tire iron in hand.
Bruce chased the boy down, finally cornering him after a very good series of mis-directions in Crime Alley. He was just about to run into a condemned building when Bruce collared him, quite literally. The boy didn't give up. He kicked and struck at Bruce quite competently for someone so young and small, continuing to struggle once Bruce pinned his arms.
"Come with me," Bruce growled at him.
"I didn't do anything!" the boy protested so automatically that Bruce had to fight a highly inappropriate smile. "You don't have any proof against me."
The boy's shoulders tensed ever so slightly in the beginnings of a cringe that disappeared a moment later as he glared over his shoulder at Bruce. He truly was fierce. Bruce would have to determine if his parental figures put him up to stealing the tires or if it was strictly something he did for himself. Knowing that would help him determine the proper course of action to take once the tires were back on.
"Where are you taking me?" the boy complained a few steps later.
"To put the tires back on," Bruce replied.
All he got in return was a string of profanity that would have done some of the hardened criminals Bruce had dealt with proud. It took a fair amount of convincing to get Jason, which turned out to be the boy's name, to put the tires back onto the Batmobile. The whole time Tim was asking questions in Bruce's ear while checking the computer records on Jason.
His full name was Jason Peter Todd. His father had been a small-time criminal named Willis Todd who had died in prison some time ago. The mother on record was Catherine Todd who was also dead, apparently of a drug overdose. Jason had spent some time in foster homes, the last of which he'd apparently run away from. Bruce frowned at that bit of news, not only because of the worry in Tim's voice. A young man Jason's age had very few ways of making a living on the streets. All of them were bad choices that led to bad ends though Bruce thought that he might have to go clean out the pimps again if Jason had been hooking.
"Where do you live?" Bruce asked, allowing his voice to slide up into the less threatening register he used with Dick and Tim.
"Why do you care?" Jason demanded as he brushed his worn jeans off. "You're just going to arrest me, right?"
"No, I'm not," Bruce said. "My associate is concerned about you and wishes to know where you live as well as who takes care of you, Jason Peter Todd."
"The hell?" Jason gasped.
He had only told Bruce his first name during the questioning. Tim had tracked down everything else. Rather than answer the obvious 'how did you know that?' question Bruce hunched his shoulders and glowered just a bit more ferociously at Jason. Rather getting the more usual shivers of fear followed by babbling, the glower netted Bruce an answering glare from Jason who puffed up as if to make himself bigger.
"That building is your home, isn't it?" Bruce asked.
Jason deflated, looking away from Bruce with a sullen expression that answered the question better than words.
"Bring him back to the Cave," Tim suggested.
It was more of an order than a suggestion, as much of an order as Tim ever gave. Bruce started and stared towards the Batmobile where the camera Tim had to be using was. Jason's head cocked to the side with clear curiosity on his face. To Bruce's surprise Jason didn't run the instant Bruce's attention wavered. That spoke well of Jason's innate desire to do the right thing.
"He won't stay in foster care or the orphanage, B," Tim explained. "Everything in the files I could find said that he's a good person who's had a terrible life. He could do so much more but he won't if he stays on the streets. You know that as well as I do."
Bruce nodded once before turning back to Jason whose expression had gone even more curious than before. It was a stupid idea and yet Bruce couldn't see himself doing anything else. If he could give Jason a different path, perhaps as one of his paid informants or perhaps in one of the more reputable boarding schools in Gotham, it would be well worth the risk of taking him back to the Cave. The shadows should protect Tim's identity as long as Bruce kept him close to where the car was parked. Tim still wasn't big enough to be seen over the back of the chair at the monitors. Only Bruce was.
"What?" Jason asked so warily that Bruce's lips twitched into a smile. "What do you want?"
"My associate wants to talk to you," Bruce said. "In person."
Jason's eyes went wide and his jaw dropped open. The rumors out on the street about the mysterious person who 'ran' Batman and Robin were dark enough that he didn't blame Jason for being frightened. Stories about Tim ranged from his being a dark, dangerous killer who decided after a crippling injury in combat that he would clean up Gotham to his being a secret government project staffed with dozens of people. Dick had entirely too much fun adding to the rumors whenever he was in town.
"You will not be harmed," Bruce promised. "It's a rare opportunity."
Rather than accept immediately Jason stared at the Batmobile while gnawing on his thumb. There was nervousness and wariness in his expression as well as a huge amount of curiosity. Fairly quickly the curiosity won out over the other emotions and Jason nodded once.
"But if your 'associate' wants anything kinky I'm out of there, got it?" Jason snapped. "I don't bleed for anyone!"
Bruce barked a laugh involuntarily at that while Tim squeaked in horror over the comms. "That won't be an issue, I assure you."
The ride to the Cave was quiet. Jason had growled about the blindfold but had acquiesced to wearing it after Bruce explained that his associate would not risk their base being exposed. Tim's giggles at being made to seem the one in charge almost made Bruce smile but he managed to control his expression sufficiently to prevent that. All through the ride Jason gripped the seat belt as if he expected something or someone to attack him.
Once they arrived Bruce wasn't at all surprised to find that Alfred was there wearing one of the spare dominos. He was also holding a shotgun at parade rest. Jason gasped when he saw Alfred and then went pale as he looked at the brightly glowing monitors showing his current expression as well as recordings of his attempt to steal the tires, the chase and his eventual capture.
"Holy shit," Jason squeaked. He immediately cleared his throat and stood a little taller as if to deny that the squeak had come out of his mouth. "This is fucking impressive. Oh my fucking god, there are bats in your cave!"
"Where else would they be?" Bruce asked rhetorically. This time he allowed the smile to form on his lips.
He went over to stand next to Tim's chair. Tim had put on one of the dominos in his size as well as putting on an oversized black sweater with a hood that obscured almost all of his features. Bruce could see that there was armor under the sweat, to which he nodded approval.
"So um, why am I here?" Jason asked.
"I wanted to meet you," Tim said. He had also put a vocal distorter on so his normally childish tones came out gravelly and dark instead.
"Yeah, I heard," Jason said much more nervously. "But why? I mean, I'm nothing special. What the fuck can I do for you guys? This shit here is way the fuck over my head, guys."
"Language," Tim huffed.
"Oh come on," Jason grumbled. "I can talk however I… oh my fucking God! You're a fucking kid!"
He stared at Tim who had whirled the chair so that Jason could see him. Tim did it before Bruce had a chance to object. Bruce's glare and Alfred's sniff of disapproval went completely ignored as Tim stared at Jason and Jason stared back. To his amusement, Jason was spluttering and waving his hands at Bruce as if he wanted to rant and rave but couldn't quite make coherent words come out.
"Yes?" Tim asked in his distorted voice.
"You're a fucking kid!" Jason finally shouted.
The bats screeched and took flight, swirling around Jason before flying out of the Cave. Jason dropped to the floor, his hands over his head, but he was glaring at Tim, Bruce and Alfred as if he was just waiting for the opportunity to continue yelling. Once the bats were gone Jason stood up and stomped closer though he stopped instantly when Alfred's grip on the shotgun shifted.
"You're a kid," Jason growled.
"I'm aware of that," Tim replied. He reached up and clicked the distorter off. "So are you."
"Why the hell is a fucking kid involved in this?" Jason demanded. "Bad enough that you had Robin out there when he was way too fucking young for being up that late at night but you got another kid in this shit? What the fuck?"
"Personally," Tim said in his snippiest tone of voice before Bruce or Alfred could reply, "I find it to be good training. I will be taking over after my father retires, you know."
"Holy fuck, he's your dad?" Jason squeaked. This time he was shocked enough that he didn't try and pretend his voice hadn't broken.
"Yes." Tim cocked his head and smirked at Jason. "Robin is my older brother."
Jason shook himself like a dog trying to dry off after getting caught in the rain. His mouth worked a few times but no sound came out. When he looked at Alfred, Jason mouthed 'grandfather', followed by 'father' when he looked at Bruce and then 'son' when he looked back at Tim. By this point Bruce had given up trying to take control of the situation. Tim seemed to be doing well enough and Alfred didn't look upset by the confrontation.
"Goddamn vigilante dynasty," Jason groaned. "That still doesn't explain what the fuck I'm doing here."
"Robin is busy with the Titans," Tim explained with a glance over his shoulder at Bruce. "You're quite right that I'm too young to patrol."
"He has twenty pounds and six inches to gain before I'll allow it," Bruce commented. "As well as needing to improve his strike force. You're honestly suggesting making him the new Robin."
"Not Robin," Tim huffed. "That name is already taken. But yes, I think he would be an excellent partner for you. You get injured entirely too much when you patrol alone and Batgirl isn't always available as backup."
"This is so a long-standing argument," Jason said while snickering at the two of them. The snicker wasn't quite as convincing as Jason likely wanted. His eyes were too wide for that. "I'm a small time thief and occasional hooker. Who the hell would choose me?"
"I would," Tim replied instantly. "Dad spent years learning about crime on the streets. He's traveled the world to learn the best fighting techniques. He's making a real difference in Gotham. You could be a part of that. You could have the chance to make a difference and you could go back to school, live on the right side of the law and have a future beyond anything you've ever dreamed."
To Bruce's surprise, Jason glared at Tim as if he was offended. He bristled and crossed his arms over his chest defiantly. Tim didn't seem upset by that at all. He stayed perfectly still, Janet still Bruce realized after a second, watching Jason as if his emotions meant absolutely nothing. Bruce made a mental note to have Dick come home sooner this weekend. If Tim was channeling Janet then he was going to need a lot of big brother hugs, as well as Bruce's attention.
"What the hell?" Jason asked. "I'm just going to be some charity case?"
"No," Tim replied with the most distinctly evil smile that Bruce had seen on his son's face. "You're going to be Batman's partner, charged with keeping him safe and backing him up in the field. This isn't charity. He needs a partner. You're the first person I've seen that I'd trust to do it. All the data I was able to find online suggests that you're honest until driven to dishonesty by circumstances. To satisfy the public, we'll have to have Dad adopt you or something but the whole point is this side of things."
"No adoptions," Jason growled. "I had a dad and he was a fucking waste of flesh. I'm not doing that again."
"Then ward or foster son," Tim said calmly. "Either way, you'll be getting an education and place to stay in return for patrolling as Batman's partner."
"After suitable training," Bruce interjected. "I won't take you out without proper training."
That they were sincere appeared to confound Jason. His mouth dropped open again for a moment. This time he threw his hands up before whirling to stomp back to the Batmobile. Looking at it made him pause and think. Jason looked around the Cave, at the many mementoes that Dick and Tim had insisted on compiling.
The giant penny, the dinosaur, the many cases full of mementoes, appeared to make him reconsider whatever he had been going to say. Jason went over to the case holding Dick's first uniform. He was already larger than Dick had been when he started patrolling. Bruce thought that he saw a frown reflected in the glass when Jason set his fingers on the glass for a moment. Tim waited quietly, only a hint of the tension that Bruce knew had to be thrumming through him showing in the set of his shoulders.
"Three squares a day?" Jason asked while staring at Dick's uniform.
"Most assuredly," Alfred said, startling Jason by speaking for the first time. "As well as snacks as required."
"I'd get to go back to school, too?" Jason asked. This time he did look at them and the guarded hope there almost broke Bruce heart.
"It would be required," Bruce said.
Jason stared at him for a long moment, too many unasked questions in his eyes. Those questions lingered when he looked at Alfred but they seemed to melt away when he finally turned his eyes to Tim. Eventually, after long enough that Tim was holding his breath in anticipation despite Bruce's hand on his shoulder, Jason nodded yes.
"Yay!" Tim erupted out of his seat and tackle-hugged Jason just like Dick used to when he was much younger.
"Yikes!" Jason barely kept himself from toppling over at the sudden hug. "Come on, get off. What the fuck?"
Despite his complaints and grumbling as Tim dragged him back to the monitors where Bruce and Alfred waited, there was a huge amount of relief and happiness in Jason's eyes. They may have talked about this endlessly since Dick turned eighteen but Bruce wouldn't have expected that his new partner would arrive like this. Still, he thought it would turn out okay. Tim certainly seemed enthusiastic about Jason and Jason seemed to already be fond of Tim. The rest would come with time and training.
The scary part for Jason was that it all happened so damned fast. One minute he was boosting tires to get enough cash to eat for the next day or so and the next he had somehow become a hero-in-training with a big brother (currently away at college and leading the freaking Titans, for fuck's sake) and a little brother (who seriously, no shit, actually is T, the T, the big bad behind the Bat that everyone on the street knows is the most dangerous person on the freaking planet and how the hell did that work when he was only eleven freaking years old?)
Jason shook his head to clear it so that he could focus on what he was doing instead of on the shock of everything that had happened over the last couple of days. A new home, a new foster family unlike any other foster family, cameras going off in his face like explosions; frankly none of that was as hard as dealing with dinner at Wayne Manor where there was more food than Jason could ever remember seeing in his entire life served for a single meal.
"He wants you to feel welcome," Tim whispered to Jason as he passed a humongous bowl of peas that could feed a small army all by itself.
"Who?" Jason whispered back as he took what he thought was a reasonable amount.
"Alfred," Tim replied. He nodded that Jason could take more than one half scoop if he wanted. "He cooks things to make people feel welcome and happy. So you can have as much as you want. If you really like it he'll make it frequently."
"Weird," Jason muttered.
He stuck with the half scoop of peas because seriously, peas? Eww. The potatoes were great though and Alfred had made some sort of really tasty roast. Jason ate two servings of that and then stared when Alfred brought in a huge cake that made Tim clap his hands in delight. It had chocolate frosting and four different layers in it, vanilla apparently made with real vanilla, chocolate, some sort of raspberry and a lemon layer that Jason really liked. The frosting was so sweet that Jason thought he'd be bouncing off the walls.
Jason carefully slipped a few rolls into his pockets before leaving the dinner table. He probably didn't need to worry about keeping some food stashed with what Tim had said but Jay felt better knowing that he had a little food set aside. There really weren't any good places to hide the rolls in his room but there was a sweet spot on the first floor inside the closet in one of the sitting rooms, whatever the hell a 'sitting room' was. Tim was outside when Jay slipped back out of the room, staring at Jason as if he was curious what Jay had been up to.
"What?" Jay snapped.
"Um, I just wondered if you wanted to do something," Tim said hesitantly. "I have some games if you'd like to play them."
"What about training?" Jason asked in a much milder tone of voice this time. No reason to piss of T, after all. "Thought I'd be doing that most of the time."
"We're supposed to wait an hour after we eat," Tim explained. "Dad says that it's not good to do too much physical activity on a full stomach."
"Mmm, he's not wrong about that," Jason agreed. "So later? What do you normally do at this time of night?"
"I could show you," Tim offered much more hopefully this time.
"Lead on," Jason said with an imitation of a grand wave that made Tim laugh like a little kid. "You're the big bad, after all."
Tim's giggles were seriously adorable. He led Jason to the other end of the freaking huge place, chattering about how empty the place seemed without his big brother Dick around. Jay kept his mental comments on what sort of guy actually chose the name 'Dick' to himself since Tim seemed to have one hell of a case of hero-worship for his big brother. To Jay's surprise Dick was actually adopted, sort of like Jay.
At the far end of the Manor Tim paused in front of some double doors, biting his lip in a nervous gesture that made him simultaneously look older and younger than he actually was. The look in his eyes was a hell of a lot older but the bitten lip made him look like he was six instead of eleven. When Jason cocked his head at Tim, it made Tim's nervous look disappear into a grin.
"Um, this is my favorite room other than the Cave," Tim explained as he opened the door and gestured for Jason to go in.
"Holy fuck," Jason gasped once the lights came on. "What'd you guys do? Buy out the freaking library?"
"Oh no," Tim said. "A lot of these are books that Dad collected when he was young. Some are from his parents and grandparents. Dick and I bought a bunch of them. Even Alfred's contributed though I don't really read the cookbooks and romances that he likes."
"Romances?" Jay asked as a grin stretched across his lips.
Tim laughed and nodded, amusement dancing in his eyes. They spent the next two hours exploring the library together. Jay was half convinced that Tim had read every single book in the place even though Tim claimed that there were a lot of them that he hadn't read (yet). It was better than the public library because instead of one or two books about a particular subject there were whole bookcases worth. Granted, not every subject was covered but if Jay wanted to read about knives (and he so did) he could spend the next two months reading the two bookcases full of books about knives of the world, how they were used and even how to make them.
When Bruce showed up it was a shock. Jay had sort of forgotten the time and the training he was supposed to be doing. He was reading a book on knives of the Middle East while Tim was reading freaking Pride and Prejudice for some goddamned reason. Bruce frowned at what Tim was reading but smiled approvingly at Jay's book.
"Dad!" Tim said. He all but stuffed the book under the cushions, blushing as Bruce ruffled his hair.
"Ready to head downstairs?" Bruce asked.
"Yeah, I'm ready," Jason said even though he suddenly wasn't half as ready as he thought he'd been.
Brucie freaking Wayne was a completely different person from the man who scooped up Tim and carried him out of the library. They stopped long enough for Jason to put his book in his bedroom before heading to a hidden elevator that took them down and down and down until they were back in the dark, bat-rustling Cave of the Batman.
The training started out simple enough. While Tim worked on stretches and acrobatic moves that looked like Robin's, Jay went through a series of tests to see how hard he could hit, how fast he was and how agile he was. It was strangely like getting bullied except that when Jay dodged a blow or managed to connect with Bruce's hand pads he got an approving look instead of a snarl. After an hour of that, a series of stretches that made Jay's body feel like taffy being pulled and some measurements that got seriously personal in ways that were way too much like some of his John's and he was apparently done.
"I can do more," Jason protested.
"Granted," Bruce agreed. "But you have a great deal to learn about how we operate and what you'll be dealing with. It will take some time before you're ready to go out on the streets."
"Besides, you need to choose a name and design a costume," Tim said from the computers that were apparently his station every night.
"Oh cool, I get to choose?" Jay said, a great deal less upset about not getting to prove his worth right away.
"Of course," Bruce said. "I highly recommend designing your suit before Dick comes home. He's…"
"Fashion challenged," Tim finished for him. This time the grin was anything but nice. "All the Robin suits are his design."
He pointed at the series of glass cases that Jason had been fascinated by when he was recruited. That night he'd been absorbed the thought of being a hero. This time he actually looked at the costumes themselves. The first one was pedo-bait in a serious way. The later ones were better but still way too freaking bright and way to fucking obnoxious. When Jay looked at Bruce he was pretty sure the doubt and horror on his face was perfectly clear because Bruce chuckled (seriously a strained laugh) and patted his shoulder.
"I repeat, I highly recommend designing your suit before Dick comes home," Bruce said.
As Bruce headed off to change into Batman, Tim offered Jason a pad of paper with neat little outlines that pretty well matched his figure. He settled down and started sketching, trying to come up with something that'd work. It wasn't as easy as it looked. Most of what he came up with looked either stupid or really dangerous in a fight. Robin might be able to get away with a freaking cape and sparkly things on his costume but there was no way that Jay was going to do that.
He kept getting distracted by Tim's work on the monitors. Jason had never had any idea how many cameras there were in Gotham. It made a hell of a lot of sense out of T's reputation and how Batman and Batgirl always knew where to be. The cool thing was that Alfred came down with food during their stint at the monitors. To Jason's relief he had some good suggestions on the whole uniform thing, which got Jay back to sketching until fucking Two-Face broke out of Arkham and started shooting up half the damned town.
Between the police (mostly worthless), Batgirl (seriously hot and wow could she take a guy down) and Batman, they managed to put Two Face back in jail before dawn. Tim did his T thing, passing on information and working the monitors like he knew what was going to happen before it happened. Jason could see how he'd gotten the rep after watching him work. He was going to be one hell of a Batman when he grew up.
The next day and the three that followed were lather-rinse-repeats, with the addition of school and homework. To Jay's dismay Tim could actually tutor him on some of his homework. The kid was freaking brilliant and probably should have been way higher in school than he was. It wasn't all easy. Alfred found one of Jay's stashes of food and made a couple of pointed remarks about their not being necessary (which Jay understood, really, they just made him feel better). The training wasn't anywhere near hard enough as far as Jason was concerned though Bruce seemed to think that he was training too hard.
And worst as far as Jason was concerned, Tim kept surprising him and getting his head snapped off before Jay could restrain himself. The kid was way too quiet and sneaky as all hell. Every time he surprised Jay it was a freaking heart attack in the making and Jay never had responded well to being startled. He hadn't smacked Tim yet but it felt like a matter of time before he did and Jay just didn't want to do that.
Tim was sweet and smart and surprisingly funny for a geeky kid or for the big bad T. He was one of the best parts of being at the Manor, not that there were many downsides. Still, it was really freaking hard to relax. Everything was so damned different that Jay felt on edge all the damned time and he never really had a chance to relax what with everything that was going on.
"Gotta blow off some steam somehow," Jay complained to himself Friday evening before dinner. "I mean, if I had some smokes that'd help."
"Nah, Alfred would skin you alive for smoking inside."
Jay whirled, automatically throwing a punch at the man's voice that was way too close to him. His heart was about to jump straight through his chest, especially when the other guy, someone Jay had never seen before, ducked the punch easily and grinned.
"Nice one," the other guy said. "Little slow but good power on it."
"I'll show you slow!" Jay snarled.
He threw another punch, then another, trying to nail the bouncing ball that was only pretending to be a human being. By the third punch he realized that this had to be Dick Grayson, the one and only Robin. His shirt was certainly bright enough for Robin, as was his laugh, as they continued to spar. The really fucking annoying thing was that no matter how hard Jay tried he couldn't land a single punch on Dick. Worse still Jay was panting and sweaty way too fast while Dick looked like he wasn't even breathing hard.
"Got you!" Dick crowed as Jay stumbled.
He latched onto Jay's arm and pulled him in for what Jay though was going to be a throw but which actually turned out to be a hug that included Dick's arms, legs, and what he would have sworn were about a dozen invisible tentacles. Dick was all but a fucking leech once he'd latched on.
"Leggo!" Jason protested. He tried to squirm loose and utterly failed because Dick met every one of his twitches with a tighter grip and a laugh.
"Nope," Dick said way too cheerfully. "I got you so I get to keep you."
"Come on, let go," Jason whined as his heart pounded and panic tried to overwhelm him. Too tight, too confined, too damned much for Jason to deal with. "Damn it, I don't need a hug! Especially not a strangling hug."
"Mmm, I think you need lots of hugs," Dick murmured entirely too seriously.
The grip around Jay's arms eased and shifted until Jason was actually being cuddled. It was weirdly like when his mom used to hug him on the good days, when they'd cuddle together against the cold breeze coming through the gaps around the windows. Jay's heart rate slowed as Dick crooned something wordless but affectionate to him. Eventually Jason was able to relax enough that he didn't feel like his skin was about to come off from sheer nerves.
"It's overwhelming, isn't it?" Dick said once Jay set his head on Dick's shoulder.
"God yeah," Jay groaned. "How the hell did you deal with it?"
"Mmm, lots of Tim hugs," Dick chuckled. "He was so damned cute and so needy. He's a lot better now than he was. You've seen how he gets all tense and quiet?"
"Yeah?" Jay said, pulling back enough that he wasn't staring at Dick's too-bright collar.
"Picture a four year old child who's like that all the time," Dick sighed. "It's taken years for him to calm down and relax."
"Abused?" Jay asked, horrific visions going through his head in a flash.
"Neglected," Dick corrected with such a sad expression that it made Jay's heart hurt for Tim. "His mother's… cold. He hadn't been hugged or loved or had anyone care about him before he came here."
Jay grumbled under his breath about crappy parents and the things that should be done to them. Dick seemed to agree with him or maybe he just got off on hugging because he didn't let Jay go. He held Jay close, not so tight that it freaked Jason out but close enough that Jay was warm and comfortable. A giggle sounded from the door, prompting Jason to stiffen and Dick to laugh and hug Jay tighter for a moment.
"I see Dick found you," Tim said, grinning at them both.
"Goddamned octopus," Jason grumbled, mostly for show. "Or a ping-pong ball. Not sure which."
"I take that as a compliment," Dick said so happily that Jason snorted at him and Tim laughed out loud. "I need a Timmy hug."
Tim happily curled up in a nest made of Dick and Jason's laps. He fit nicely enough that Jay couldn't help but laugh a little. It was weirdly comfortable. Jay had never been one for hugging but this felt okay, maybe even better than okay. The really weird part was that as far as Jay could tell Dick really did see Tim as his little brother and nothing more. A squirmy part of his heart was afraid that he'd find out that the rumors of sexual abuse between Batman and Robin or Robin and T were going to turn out to be true. To his relief it looked like stupid gossip made up by idiots who didn't know anything.
Dick and Tim told each other stories of what they'd been up to that week. Tim's detailed explanation of how Jason came to live at the manor had both Dick and Jason laughing their asses off. It sounded way more awesome when Tim told the story of him boosting the Batmobile's tires than it would have if Jay told the story.
Sometime in the middle of Dick's rendition of his latest adventures Bruce showed up at the door of Jason's room. Rather than come in he leaned against the doorframe and smiled at them. There was pride and joy and a deep sort of happiness in his eyes that made Jason's heart go ping. He'd seen other dads look at their kids that way before but he'd never seen anyone look at him that way before. And it was directed at Jason, not just Tim and Dick. Bruce looked at each of them in turn; first Dick with his too-bright shirt and loud, enthusiastic laugh, then Tim with his little giggles and quiet intelligence. When he looked at Jason there was a sort of hopefulness to his expression along with the pride, as if he had all sorts of ideas of what Jay could do but was waiting to see what Jay did instead of dictating his path.
'I'm not just a replacement for Robin,' Jason realized as Bruce came in and ruffled Dick's hair fondly. 'I'm his son, Tim and Dick's brother. Holy fuck, being a hero comes second for them.'
"So do I get to help you design your suit?" Dick asked, startling Jason out of his thoughts. "I'm really good at it, you know."
"Oh, like hell!" Jason groaned while pushing at Dick's chest as if to escape the hug. "No fucking way! I've seen those sketches and other suits."
"No one ever believes how fabulous I am," Dick complained but his lips were twitching as if he was holding in another of his laughs. "Do you have a name yet?"
"Mmm, maybe," Jason said. "I'm thinking something like Bluejay or Jaybird."
"Your call sign is already J so that makes sense," Tim said. "The blue suit with the finger stripes was nice."
"Heh, thanks," Jason said, puffing his chest out a little. "No freaking cape though. Don't know how you guys don't kill yourselves with those damned capes."
As Dick complained that capes were wonderful and Bruce commented that they were an effective way of projecting a larger and more impressive silhouette than going without, Jay relaxed a little and smiled at Tim. This was a crazy-ass family and Jay still wasn't sure how he was going to fit into it (he sure didn't feel like a brother or son to them) but come what may Jay was going to do his damnedest not to let them down, even if they were all nuts.
It was interesting how Jason had fit into their lives. Tim had expected it to be just like Dick. When Dick came to live with them he smiled and laughed and treated everyone like they had always been his family. Tim really thought that Dick thought of Dad as his father, Alfred as his grandfather and Tim as his beloved, to-be-hugged-until-he-squirmed-free little brother.
But Jason wasn't like that at all. In the six months that he'd been at Wayne Manor he'd calmed down quite a lot. It had taken several months for Jason to stop hiding food around the Manor and a moderately tearful questioning by Tim to find out that he'd had several periods where he'd nearly starved to death. The stashes of food weren't because he was planning on running away. They were security blankets that made Jason feel safer about staying at the manor. After Tim found that out Alfred helped Jason create a little package of non-perishable food that he stashed in his closet and Jason seemed happier.
Figuring out the whole snapping whenever Tim talked to Jason was a little more of a big deal, unfortunately.
Tim had slipped into Jason's room as he usually did before dinner each night, padding over to tell Jason that Alfred had made his favorite garlic cheesy bread to go with the lasagna he'd prepared for dinner. Jason always ate two or three slices so Tim had known that he'd be excited.
"Jason," Tim had said and then found himself on the floor with his face killing him and Jason shouting something incoherent as he dove down to hug Tim and apologized for elbowing him.
Dinner had been so delayed that Alfred had had to make all new garlic cheesy bread for them because Dick was there and he'd been horrified that Jason had hit Tim and then Bruce had to scold Jason for picking on his little brother and Jason had almost broken into tears as he explained that he hadn't meant to do it. It was just that Tim was so quiet and he was always sneaking up on Jason and there had been this one guy with a knife who'd tried to kidnap and kill Jason, or maybe a lot worse from the look on Dick and Bruce's faces, and getting startled was bad.
So now Tim always knocked or cleared his throat before he got in arms reach of Jason so that he wouldn't be startled and it was a lot better. Even if the other kids at school had teased him endlessly about the black eye he'd gotten from Jason's elbow. Dick had done it too so that wasn't too much of a big deal, especially given how much Jason had apologized for the whole thing every time he saw Tim, at least until the black eye went away.
Even the school side of things was better lately. Jason had been pretty disgruntled that Tim could tutor him on several of his subjects but once he got caught up he hadn't needed Tim's tutoring. They still studied together in the library or Tim's room, Jason sprawled on the floor or couch while Tim worked on his homework in careful neat stacks at the desks. They were still reading together in the library too, where Jason had moved on from the knife books after reading every single one to military history and last week to Greek mythology.
Jason wasn't a brother the same way that Dick was but he was a lot of fun to be around and Tim really liked spending time with him. Maybe relationships between brothers differed depending on the brothers involved. Tim wasn't sure and didn't really care. He was just glad that Jason had settled down into a valuable member of the family.
Better still, Tim thought as he worked the monitors and watched Jason and Dad taking the Penguin's men down, he was a really good vigilante. Bluejay was absolutely nothing like Robin but he made an incredibly good partner for Batman. He was a lot more violent than Robin had ever been but Bluejay had the strength and endurance to pull it off.
"Careful," Tim told Jason and Dad. "There are more of them in the other room getting to attack."
"Thanks Owl!" Jason said, surprising Tim enough that he made a little noise into the comm. "Heh, sorry. Kinda presumptuous of me to name you, I guess."
"Maybe," Tim laughed while calling the police and pulling up a file that Barbara had requested on a smalltime hoodlum who had been giving her trouble. "Why Owl?"
"You're like Athena's owl, giving us advice and telling us what's going on," Jason said as he zip-stripped the thugs he'd knocked out. "It's kind of cool."
"Wouldn't I be Pallas then?" Tim asked while giggling at the faces Jason made for the camera and the little smile on Dad's lips.
"Nah, not at all," Jason said. He stood and grinned as the other thugs burst in at them. "That's Athena herself. Her owl's got no name but Owl, you know. I looked it up."
Their conversation ended as the battle progressed out of that room and out onto the street where the police were quick to show up. He made sure that Barbara got her information, listening with half an ear as Jason and Dad dealt with the aftermath of the Penguin situation. The detective in charge jumped when he got a call saying that Tim's information on the case had arrived. From the way Jason's lips twitched at the detective's nervousness, the detective was trying not to say or do anything that would offend the legendary 'T'.
"God, I love that," Jason chortled once he and Dad were back in the Batmobile.
"How they react to me?" Tim asked.
"Yeah!" Jason's enthusiastic shout made Tim wince a little from the volume through the comms but he couldn't help but laugh too. "It is so awesome! I mean, scary as hell when you're on the other side but still awesome now that I know."
"Language," Dad said but it didn't come out stern enough to dent Jason's good mood.
Tim stayed up until midnight and then signed off, leaving Dad, Barbara and Jason to their own devices for the remainder of the patrol. Barbara would of course be out much later than either Dad or Jason. She sometimes stayed out on patrol until dawn but all of her classes at Gotham U were in the afternoon. Dad and Jason would be home by 3:00 am at the very latest.
When he got up to his bedroom his cell phone had a message, which made Tim frown. Only Dick, Jason and Dad called him normally. A few kids at school had his number though only Ives had ever used it. He went pale when he saw that it was from his mother. Tim sat on the bed and made himself listen to the recording.
"I'll be stopping by to talk to you on your birthday, Timothy," Janet said in a colder than normal tone of voice. "Do make sure that we have some time alone as I have important matters to discuss with you. I will be there at 10:00 am on the dot."
The way she said 'important matters' sent chills down his spine. Anytime she'd used that tone of voice in the past it had been a prelude to some of his worst memories. Sleep didn't come that night. Jason noticed the next morning that Tim was obviously tired but they were both running late on their way to school so there wasn't time for him to ask Tim what was wrong. Tim knew that if Jason asked and did that bend down to peer into Tim's eyes with a worried expression thing he'd cave and explain even though he had no idea what Janet wanted.
His twelfth birthday was on Saturday and it was Thursday so there really wasn't that long to wait to find out what Janet wanted. Monitor duty that night was harder than usual. Tim had a hard time focusing on what he needed to do but following the checklists he'd established for monitor duty helped a lot. Check Arkham, then the Narrows, then the financial district, followed by the normal problem spots. Answer questions and find information. Take notes and type up reports on what happened. By the time he'd worked his way through the checklist four times it was midnight and Tim could go hide in his bedroom with the covers over his head.
Friday was twice as hard as Thursday had been. Tim had gotten so little sleep overnight that Dad and Alfred both commented on it. He managed not to explain what was bothering him other than saying that Janet wanted to come by for his birthday.
"Your mom visiting makes you freak the fuck out?" Jason asked with enough confusion that Tim smiled weakly at him. "What is she? A dragon-bitch or something?"
"Close enough," Dad said without scolding Jason for swearing.
"Whoa, she must be really bad," Jason murmured to Tim.
"She's… very strict and stern and I… never feel good enough when she's around," Tim whispered back.
He had to hug his stomach because the butterflies felt about like elephants inside of him. Alfred made him all his favorite foods for lunch and dinner. Dad made sure to give Tim extra hugs and Jason followed him around before patrol just talking about the things that had happened all day while nudging Tim with his elbow or kind of bumping Tim with his shoulder. It was a lot like Dick's tackle-hugs scaled down to Jason-levels of physical affection, which made Tim smile at him.
Alfred was there for monitor duty, which definitely helped Tim focus properly. He brought snacks with him too but they didn't help on the focus though they did make Jason hide snickers at how Tim sounded trying to answer questions with his mouth full of cookies. Tim ended up turning the monitors over to Alfred early because Alfred was sneaky and mean and he'd put a light sedative in Tim's tea to ensure that he slept properly. His complaints to Dad were met with calm acceptance on Dad's part and spluttering outrage on Jason's part. Jason threatened to stop eating forever if Alfred ever did it to him but Alfred only chuckled. They all knew Jason liked to eat too much for the threat to be real.
Still, Tim appreciated the sedative once he made it to bed. Two nights with virtually no sleep had him so exhausted that his mind wouldn't have shut off without it. The last thing he wanted was to be visibly less that his best with Janet showed up.
Alfred had chosen the dosage on the sedative very well indeed because Tim woke up at 8:00 the next morning, feeling surprisingly well rested and not wooly-headed at all. To his amusement Dick was there cleaning the room and dusting all the things that Tim still couldn't reach without a step-stool. Rather than get up right away Tim watched Dick until Dick noticed that Tim was awake.
"Happy Birthday Tim!" Dick said while hugging Tim through the blankets.
"Dick!" Tim protested while squirming and laughing.
It wasn't a real protest. Dick's hugs always did make him feel better and today was no different than any other day. Still, it took a while for Dick to let him go and that cut into Tim's preparation time. While he was in the shower Jason showed up to help with the cleaning though Tim could see that Jason didn't understand why it was so important that everything was perfectly clean and in its place.
Breakfast was all of Tim's favorites, just like always for his birthday, and there were presents for Tim on one of the side tables. Tim watched the clock as he opened them, smiling and making appreciative noises even though the seconds counting down to 10:00 seemed to get shorter and shorter. He'd just finished hugging Alfred for his gift of a special leather-bound copy of Pride and Prejudice that made Dad scowl and Dick look like his heart had been cut out when Janet rang the buzzer on the front gate.
"I'll go meet her at the door," Tim said, clutching the book to his chest.
"We can come along," Jason offered.
"Yeah," Dick agreed.
"I insist," Dad huffed while glaring like Batman in the direction of the front door.
Tim nodded and let them because there wasn't anything he could do about it. Janet's eyes went narrow when she saw them all there but it was Jason who got the worst glare of all. He glared right back as though he wanted to punch her. She raised an eyebrow when she saw the book that Tim still had clutched to his chest, holding out a hand to examine it. He gave it to her as they walked up the stairs to his bedroom, as she was visibly puzzled by the gift.
"I read it a lot," Tim admitted when she gave it back. "Mrs. McGillicuddy used to read it to me when I was very, very little. It makes much more sense now than it used to."
"I would imagine so," Janet said with a little snort of amusement that almost made Tim feel better about the whole visit. "Close the door, Timothy. We need to talk in private."
"Yes ma'am," Tim whispered.
His bedroom felt like one of the traps that super villains set for Batman, Robin and Bluejay once he closed the door. Tim sat on his bed. Janet took his desk chair and studied him with her 'this does not please me' frown on her face. Her nails had been done in a perfect French manicure, which Tim knew meant that she was worried about something. If she was angry then would have been bright colors like red or maybe electric blue if she intended to really evicerate someone verbally. Even her clothes were the worried ones, grays and charcoal black instead of a more strident red and black. Tim made his shoulders relax under her scrutiny, though he couldn't stop his fingers from caressing the book's embossed cover. He kept tracing round and round the "P" in Prejudice while waiting for her to start talking.
"You've done well here," Janet finally said.
"Ah, yes?" Tim replied, blinking at her in what he hoped was an encouraging rather than a startled way.
"I have never regretted allowing you to live with your father, Timothy," Janet continued. The worried frown deepened, making those words into a lie. "He's ensured that you have the best education possible and he seems to actively enjoy parenting, which we all know I never did."
Tim just nodded because he had no idea what was coming other than he really wished she would stop right now. The dread was choking him.
"I was somewhat dubious about Richard," Janet sighed, looking straight at Froggert perched on his shelf of honor. "He has turned out to be a decent enough person, however. This latest boy, Jason Todd, was an even greater worry. I mean really, a street urchin? I know Bruce enjoys being a father but there are much better choices if he wants to add to his family."
"Jason's smart!" Tim protested despite his fear and worry. "He got a very bad break in life. That's hardly his fault."
"Mmm, I suppose even people such as him should be allowed second chances," Janet allowed.
When she turned back to him here eyes were dark with angry and the worry had deepened. Tim automatically stilled, his face smoothing out so that his fear and worry wouldn't show. Janet hated it when he mirrored her emotions, especially when he didn't know why she was feeling those emotions. He wanted to be angry at her for acting like Jason didn't deserve his second chance or that Dad should have sent him off to a boarding school. Unfortunately he didn't dare when Janet looked like that.
"Despite that… commendable choice to offer the boy a second chance," Janet said, "I have major objections to his addition to the nightly escapades. What it implies about your future inspires enough worry in me that I am tempted to take you away from him."
Tim's heart stopped cold in his chest at the realization that Janet knew that Dad was Batman. He'd never thought that Janet paid that close of attention to his life. Obviously he'd been quite wrong about that. As the rest of her words registered Tim shrank in on himself.
No. Oh no. He couldn't go back to her home. He couldn't. He couldn't live that way anymore, in a house full of silence, never speaking to and never touching another person who actually cared about him. Tim couldn't let her do that to him, no matter what it took to get her to back off.
Janet fucking Drake stayed in Tim's room and talked to him for two freaking hours. Two very long hours. Two hours that made Bruce pace in his office at the foot of the stairs and Dick go to the gym to pound on the punching back like he wanted to maim it and Alfred cook about ten million things that Jason already knew were Tim's favorites.
Jason paced outside the door after the first hour, cursing under his breath and occasionally glaring at the door and willing it to open up. The night before Dick had warned Jason that Tim was going to be really upset because of Janet's visit. He'd said that she never stayed more than half an hour and now she'd been here two freaking endless goddamned hours and how much more upset was Tim going to be because of it? He took six paces that put him at the head of the stairs, waved at Bruce who smiled like it hurt his face and turned to pace right back up the hallway.
"I'll be going now, Timothy," Janet said as she opened the door. "Do consider what we've talked about."
"Yes ma'am," Tim said.
His voice came out so weak and colorless that it was like he'd been dipped in bleach until all the color ran out of him, washed about a million times, wrung dry and left to hang on one of the crappy clotheslines back where Jason grew up. Janet patted his shoulder as if she was pleased by the change from a bright young kid to something that looked like a poor imitation of Tim. Her eyes landed on Jason standing at the head of the stairs. She glared.
"What?" Jason snapped at her. "What's your problem with me, lady?"
"Politeness for one thing," Janet sniffed at him. "Have a good birthday, Timothy."
"Thank you ma'am," Tim replied in that same horrible washed out voice.
He walked Janet down the stairs to the door so Jason walked at Tim's side, on guard against anything else the bitch might say to hurt Tim further. Bruce was waiting for her at the bottom of the stairs. When he saw how Tim looked he glared at Janet too. She only raised an eyebrow at him in response. Before leaving Janet hugged Tim. From Bruce's reaction, that was really freaking unusual. Tim barely responded to her hug and his attempt at a smile was so goddamned painful that even Janet frowned at it.
Once she was gone Tim sighed and tried that horrible smile again. All it got him was Bruce crushing him in a hug and whispering things that Tim nodded at but didn't reply to. Once Bruce let him go Dick somehow appeared out of fucking nowhere to hug Tim tightly enough that he squeaked and struggled a lot more like normal. Jason thought he'd get his chance to try to reassure Tim after that but no such luck. Alfred showed up with an announcement of tea and lunch being ready. The way he said it made it perfectly fucking clear that they better eat the food he'd made or he was going to be seriously upset.
Since Jason kinda really didn't want to see what Alfred seriously upset looked like he followed the others into the dining room (the middle sized one that could comfortably hold like ten people instead of the little one they normally used) and then stopped cold when he saw the table.
"Jesus fucking Christ, Alf," Jason said. "What'd you do? Cook everything in the whole fucking place?"
"Language," Bruce, Dick and Alfred all snapped at Jason.
Tim didn't even smile.
The table groaned with the food that Alfred had made. They did their best to make inroads into the food but there was so much that there was just no way to eat it all. Jason watched Tim and it really bugged him because Tim barely ate at all. The kid was already way too damned skinny and small for his age and all he did was push his food around on the plate. Dick was there nudging him to eat but he still didn't eat nearly enough food for even a normal meal, much less one like this.
Janet's fucking visit put a damper on the rest of Tim's birthday. They'd had plans to spend the day watching movies together but Tim just curled in on himself and stared at the screen. It was really obvious that he wasn't seeing anything on the screen.
"You okay?" Jason finally asked after Tim zoned all the way through Star Wars when he was usually quoting lines and commenting on the movie like he'd seen it ten billion times, which he had.
"I'm fine," Tim said so automatically that Jason poked him in the shoulder.
"No, seriously," Jason asked. "You didn't say Luke's lines the way you always do. It's kind of freaking me out here."
Tim's heart was in his eyes when he tried to smile at Jason. "I thought you hated it when I said Luke's lines."
"Eh, I've gotten used to it," Jason said with a mock-casual shrug that probably looked really damn awkward given how stiff his shoulders were. "Now it's weird when you're not speaking up and saying shit."
That, to Jason's complete shock, actually got a real Tim smile though it was a tiny one. Tim leaned into his side so Jason wrapped one arm around the kid. Dick was beaming at Jason over Tim's head before he bounced up to change the movie to something else. The rest of the day was a tiny bit better. Tim didn't act like quite so much of a fucking robot but he still wasn't himself.
It was a terrible way to spend your twelfth birthday in Jason's opinion and he'd spent his twelfth on the fucking streets trying to find enough food to fill his belly. When patrol came around Bruce actually offered to stay in with Tim if it would make him feel better but Tim was emphatic about them going out. His hands shook when he said it though so Jason wasn't quite sure that Tim really meant it. Still, they all went out and Tim worked the monitors like the pro he was. Jason waited until midnight when Tim had to go to bed even though his questions were about to kill him. Tim signing off was an almost physical relief.
"The hell, B?" Jason asked as soon as Alfred confirmed that Tim had gone to bed. "Is it always like that when that bitch visits?"
They were in the Batmobile so Jason didn't feel bad about asking. Bruce sighed, his fingers tightening on the steering wheel. He didn't slow down or change course but Jason thought that Bruce really wanted to head right back to the Manor to check on Tim.
"This is worse than normal," Bruce admitted in a grim voice that wasn't quite the same as his Batman grim voice.
"We gotta find out what the hell she said to him," Jason complained. "You don't bug his room, do you?"
"No, I don't," Bruce chuckled. "The common areas, yes, but I've always felt that your individual bedrooms should be private. Especially since Dick hit puberty."
"Right, good, well, no, not good because that means we can't just review a tape or something," Jason said. "I mean, it's good that you're not spying on us in our rooms or anything but damn, I don't think Tim's gonna want to talk about this, B."
"Agreed," Bruce said as they arrived at their destination to find a full-blown gang war going on. "Let's go."
The night was long and thoroughly miserable after that. It started raining cats and dogs which sadly did nothing to slow down the violence. If anything, it made the gang-bangers worse. Jason ended up staying out on patrol until nearly five in the morning, which would have sucked if it had been a weekday. As it was it was the weekend so he got to sleep late.
Alfred was waiting to take their soggy uniforms once they got back to the Cave. He looked nearly as tired as Jason but he didn't show it when he headed off to wash and clean their stuff. Jay showered more to warm up than to get clean. After all the rain he really wasn't all that dirty or sweaty. Once he was in his comfiest sweats Jason headed upstairs while Dick and Bruce compared notes and worked on theories on who'd set the gang war off and why. Checking on Tim was totally automatic because Jason was three quarters asleep by the time he reached their bedrooms.
Tim wasn't in his bed.
Or his bathroom.
Or the sitting room.
He wasn't even in the closet.
"Holy fucking hell!" Jason shouted as he ran downstairs to the Cave again, sleep a forgotten concept since his heart was pounding a million miles a minute.
"What's wrong?" Dick asked.
"Tim isn't in his bed and he isn't anywhere in his room," Jason snapped. "He's fucking gone. You don't think his fucking mother came back for him, do you?"
"Oh God," Dick sighed, nowhere near alarmed enough for Jason's sense of panic, "he must be sleepwalking again."
"Say what?" Jason asked, startled out of his panic.
"Tim used to sleepwalk every night," Dick said. He and Bruce both headed for the stairs. "I used to sleep with him so that he wouldn't wander away."
"So he's just… sleepwalking somewhere?" Jason asked.
"Probably," Bruce said.
They turned the Manor upside down looking for Tim. Alfred reported that he couldn't find Tim anywhere on any of the monitors so that meant checking all of the places that weren't covered by cameras. Tim still wasn't in his room. He also wasn't in Dick's room, Bruce's, Jason's, or Alfred's. The storage rooms in the basement were empty of anything Tim related. By the time they realized that Tim wasn't in the bathrooms on the main floor Jason's sense of panic was back full force.
He grabbed a coat and headed outside into the rain with one of Alfred's huge fucking umbrellas, the sort that he said golfers used. The front yard was empty of anything other than puddles so Jason ran around the south wing and out into the back yard. It was harder to search back there since there was the fucking hedge maze that Jason couldn't find his way through without a map and lots of shrubs and quiet areas that were screened from the rest of the house.
Rather than focus on those Jason decided to head for the farthest point and work his way back. It turned out to be a really good idea because he found Tim standing on the edge of the cliff over the sea. He was staring out at the ocean wearing nothing but his pajamas. When Jason ran over and held the umbrella over Tim he turned and looked up at Jason with a bleak expression in his eyes.
"Tim? Timmy? You awake?" Jason asked.
"Sorry," Tim whispered.
"Jesus effing Christ, Tim!" Jason scolded while making Tim hold the umbrella in hands that were clumsy from the cold. "I've been worried sick about you. Come on, put the coat on and we'll head back inside. You seriously need to get warmed up."
"Sorry," Tim said again, his voice muffled as Jason wrapped the coat around him and reclaimed the umbrella so that they could walk back to the house.
Tim was small enough that Jason half thought he should just carry the kid but something in Tim's expression made Jason hold off. Instead he wrapped an arm around Tim's shoulders and scolded him about getting soaked to the skin while wearing pajamas. Alfred, Bruce and Dick were there when Jason led Tim back inside. Dick claimed the umbrella and Bruce helped dry Tim off. Alfred of course had hot chocolate for Tim to drink and clean pajamas that must have been warmed up in the dryer because they were warm to Jason's fingers as he helped Tim change out of the wet clothes. He sipped it and only shook his head no at questions of whether he'd had a bad dream.
"Right," Jason said about half an hour later. "We're all exhausted. Don't deny it Big Bird. I can see it on your face. Bedtime for the lot of us."
"Good idea," Bruce agreed. "A few hours sleep will do us all some good."
They trooped upstairs like a happy fucking family. Dick hugged Tim and rocked him from side to side before disappearing into his bedroom. Bruce did the hug and whispered non-conversation thing again before he went to bed. To Jason's horror Tim started crying silent tears once their doors were shut.
"Oh fuck that shit," Jason said. "Come on. You're not sleeping alone, not if you're gonna go cry in the rain and sleepwalk again."
Jason seized Tim's wrist and dragged him straight into Jason's room. It wasn't anywhere near as clean and neat as Tim's room which was all to the good as far as he was concerned. Tomorrow, or later today really, Jason was going to go right into Tim's room and mess that place up so it wouldn't remind Tim of his fucking bitch of a mother and her goddamned visit.
He had to damn near wrestle Tim into bed with him but Jason was bigger and stronger and he was damned well not going to let Tim hide in his room and pretend to sleep. It took a minute before Tim relaxed enough to cuddle against Jason's side but eventually he did. Nearly fifteen minutes later Tim finally sighed and wrapped an arm around Jason's stomach as his breathing eased out into a sleeping rhythm.
"Don't worry, Timmy," Jason whispered as he pulled the covers a little higher over Tim's shoulder. "We'll protect you. I promise that bitch won't hurt you, no matter what she said to you."
Dick really hoped that Tim had perked up over the last week. When he'd gone back to New York Sunday evening Tim had still be too quiet and too serious by far. All of their efforts hadn't done a lot to lighten his mood. Tim had tried to smile but it looked like Janet had broken something inside of him with her longer visit. He parked his car and bounced up the stairs to the rest of the house. To his surprise Jason was waiting to grab Dick and shove him into one of the little sitting rooms that no one ever used.
"Wait, what?" Dick asked as Jason checked the hallway and then shut the door quietly.
"You gotta do something, Big Bird," Jason said. "Seriously! Tim's like a zombie version of himself instead of the baby bird we're used to."
"He hasn't cheered up yet?" Dick asked, worried and more than a little bit astonished. "He usually gets over it in a day or two."
"No, he's worse, if anything," Jason complained while pacing back and forth across the room. "He's not sleeping, at least not unless I drag him into my room and make him sleep with me. He cries in his sleep, stares out the window instead of studying, and even Alfred can't get him to eat right. B's gone all grim. Nothing we do is making any difference. What the fucking hell did that bitch do to him?"
That made Dick sigh and sit down on the uncomfortable sofa. He really wasn't sure what Janet had done but it must have been worse than normal for Tim to still be so upset about it. It took a moment for Dick to realize that Jason was staring at him with his hands clenched into fists. His expression made Dick squirm.
"What'd she do to him?" Jason asked.
"Treated him like a little robot who was supposed to learn what she wanted and never have any emotions," Dick said. "No, he was never abused physically or sexually. Seriously. At all. But he was treated with virtually no attention or love at all. She's… I don't know, Jay. I really think that she believes having feelings is bad."
"The fuck?" Jason groaned as he collapsed on the couch next to Dick.
"Yeah, it's messed up," Dick agreed. "We've spent years building Tim's self-confidence and every time she visits she destroys all the work we've done. He, I think he really wants to have her approval, no matter what it does to him when he tries to win it."
They stared at the door together, both of them lost in their thoughts for a while. Dick didn't know for sure what Jason was thinking but the muttered curse words mixed with Janet's name was a pretty good indication of his basic mood. As far as Dick was concerned he couldn't blame Jason for wanting to beat Janet up. He'd wanted to do that every single time she visited and destroyed Tim.
Still, for Tim to still be acting weird something more must have happened than their normal stilted conversations about Tim's schooling and hobbies, none of which Janet seemed remembered visit to visit. Dick nodded and stood up again, smiling at the hopeful look Jason gave him. Jay tried really hard to act as though he was too cool to care about silly things like other people's emotions but his affection for Tim showed. He stood too, catching Dick's sleeve before he could head for the door.
"What are you going to do?" Jason asked.
"What I always do," Dick said and grinned. "I'll check with Bruce and Alfred to see if they have any idea why Tim's so upset and then I'll go hug Tim until he fesses up. Then we'll deal with whatever she said and it'll be okay."
"God, you would resort to hugging as a cure-all," Jason drawled. "Fine, I'll go keep an eye on Timmy. Don't want him to go hide somewhere, you know?"
"Good plan," Dick said approvingly.
Alfred had no more clue than Jason did so Dick tracked Bruce down to the office he used when he wanted to be out punching villains but couldn't. It was small and dark, tucked into a pantry on the third floor that had no windows and barely enough room for Bruce, much less Dick. He looked up when Dick appeared at the door. Tim really must be doing terrible for Bruce to have those bags under his eyes along with the grim set to his mouth.
"That bad?" Dick asked.
"Yes," Bruce sighed. "He's worse than he was when I first brought him home, Dick. He won't explain what's wrong, won't allow me to call Janet and cries himself to sleep every night with Jason."
"Damn," Dick sighed. "All right, I'm going to go hug him into submission. Can you have Alfred make hot chocolate for us all in say an hour or so?"
Bruce chuckled and nodded. The grimness lightened enough that he looked more like himself again. Dick reached into the tiny office to squeeze Bruce's shoulder, smiling when Bruce put his hand over Dick's to squeeze back. He'd never been that good at saying how he felt but he did a lovely job showing it physically.
Tim was in the library, no surprise there. He and Jason were both reading, though Jason looked like he was only sort of looking at his book while he studied Tim out of the corner of his eye. Of course, Tim wasn't really reading either. Dick knew exactly how fast Tim read. He'd been staring at that page entirely too long for him to actually see it. When Dick stepped into the library Jason bounced to his feet.
"Bathroom break," Jason said, hooking a thumb at the door.
That made Tim smile before he turned back to his book. He didn't even bother turning a page, reinforcing Dick's certainty that Tim was seriously upset and not reading at all. Dick waited until Tim's attention had turned fully inward before sneaking over and grabbing Tim from behind. It was always a dangerous thing to do in this household. Tackle-hugging Tim was just as dangerous as doing it to Bruce or Jason but it was always worth it.
Two nerve strikes, a squawk and a tumble to the floor later and Dick had Tim cuddled in his arms despite the way Tim squirmed and complained under his breath. Dick ignored the little not-quite vocal complaints. He could feel Tim shaking, which meant he really, truly needed the hugs no matter what he said. It wasn't like Jason who shook when he was on the verge of a panic attack (not that he ever admitted to it) or having a flashback (which everyone knew to avoid given the destruction that always followed). No, Tim was simply trying to be strong instead of trusting his family to love him and take care of him.
"Let go," Tim finally said about ten minutes of squirming, abortive nerve strikes and octopus hugs later.
"Nope, I'm dangerously low on Tim cuddles," Dick said cheerfully enough that Tim snickered in spite of himself. "Gotta restock the supply so I can survive."
"I thought you were getting Kory cuddles," Tim replied as if Kory's love would somehow completely replace the need for love from Tim.
"Kory cuddles are a totally different thing, Tim!" Dick protested as exaggeratedly as he could. "They fill a completely different need. Much hairier one."
That finally made Tim burst out laughing. Dick joined in the laughter automatically, relaxing his hold a little bit once Tim stopped squirming. Then as Tim's laugher died down to giggles and finally sad sighs Dick let himself kiss the top of Tim's head. He was growing so much lately that it seemed like he was bigger ever visit. It wouldn't be too long before Tim was big enough to patrol and would be able to create his own uniform. The thought made Dick both happy and sad. Tim had wanted it for so long but it meant that Tim was growing up and Dick loved his little brother just as he was.
To his surprise about half an hour into the tackle-hug (close to when Dick's butt started going numb from sitting on the floor) Tim started sniffling. Dick crooned at him and transferred them both to the couch so that they could cuddle more comfortably. The sniffles became silent tears that Dick knew better than to question or fuss over. Tim always hated it when anyone fussed over his crying. Eventually those stopped too, leaving Tim a boneless mass clinging to Dick's side as they lay on the couch together.
"So what'd she do, little brother?" Dick asked.
"Nothing," Tim answered, going so stiff that he seemed to be made of stone.
"Oh, don't even try that one," Dick snorted. "I still remember you trying that after the whole peanut butter episode with your friend Ives."
Tim squeaked and started snickering. He also relaxed a little bit though his fingers had latched onto Dick's shirt as if he was afraid Dick was going to disappear. Dick tried rubbing Tim's back. It made him stiffen and then whine into Dick's shoulder.
"Come on, fess up," Dick cajoled. "You know you can tell me."
"It doesn't matter," Tim muttered, barely understandable through Dick's shirt.
"Obviously it does or you wouldn't still be upset about it," Dick countered.
"I'm not upset," Tim protested so weakly that Dick grinned at the top of his head.
"Try again," Dick said, snorting. "I know you too well for that, Timbo."
The nickname got him a grumble and a not-really-serious nerve strike but that was okay because Tim at least lifted his head and let Dick see his face. Tim looked exhausted. The bags under his eyes were way worse than the ones under Bruce's. He might be lying in bed with Jason every night but Dick would bet that Tim wasn't sleeping all that much while he was there. He hugged Tim again, pressing a kiss against Tim's forehead.
"Just say it, Tim," Dick whispered. "You've always been able to tell me anything."
Tim quivered in his arms, clutching Dick's shirt again. This time when he spoke it was a harsh little whisper that cut through Dick's heart like a knife.
"She figured out that Dad is Batman," Tim whispered, shaking harder. "She said that she knew that you and Jason were Robin and Bluejay. She wants to take me away from Dad so that I don't do the same thing when I'm old enough, called it a 'crazy crusade best forgotten'."
Dick tried to say something that was probably a mixture of 'Oh my God' and 'No way!' but all he managed was a sound something like the ones he made when he was punched in the stomach. Tim nodded his agreement either way, apparently understanding what Dick meant without the words. He sat up a little so Dick went with him, still holding Tim close because even if Tim was doing better having finally said it out loud, Dick certainly wasn't.
"I argued with her," Tim said, swallowing hard. "I told her that she had no right to take me away from my home. She kept saying that it was her duty as my mother to keep me safe and I snapped at her that all she'd ever done was treat me like a doll. Like I was something she played with when she remembered I was there and forgot about as soon as she set it down. She um, didn't really like that."
"Timmy!" Dick said, every bit of his admiration coming through in his voice and probably his expression.
Tim snorted and poked Dick's side. "I'm serious."
"So am I! That was awesome!" Dick said. "About time she heard that. So what happened next?"
"We argued about it for about two hours," Tim sighed, deflating a little. "I didn't get her to agree to leave me here. All she'd agree to do is wait. If there's any sign that I'm actually patrolling she says she'll come back with her lawyers and take me away from Dad, no matter what it does to Drake Industries, Dad or his companies. She says that it's her duty as my mother."
"Well, she's not getting away with that," Dick huffed. "Come on. Let's go tell the others and we'll figure out how to handle this."
"We can't!" Tim protested. "She made it clear I wasn't to tell anyone else. I shouldn't have told you, Dick. It's between me and Mother, nobody else."
He clutched Dick's shirt, his eyes wide and frightened. Dick spared half a second to rage at Janet in the privacy of his own mind. Only an abusive parent would do something like that to a twelve year old boy. When Dick hugged Tim again he clung to Dick desperately. Dick rocked him side to side the same way he used to when Tim was really tiny and Dick had been his age.
"Tim, Dad loves you," Dick murmured against Tim's hair. "It would kill him to see you taken away. Alfred adores you. Jason's just as fond of you as they are. We're your family. She can't tell you not to tell us. We have every right to protect you and help you. She was wrong to make you promise that."
It took a long time for Tim to nod but he did eventually nod. They headed down to the kitchen just within the hour that he'd told Bruce. Alfred had hot chocolate going along with freshly toasted English muffins and fresh butter. Tim curled up on his chair, quivering slightly. Dick took a sip of his hot chocolate, set it down, took a deep breath, and explained exactly what Tim had said.
"That bitch!" Jason shouted.
He slammed a fist into the wall next to him, splitting his knuckles as he knocked a hole in the wall. Alfred bristled as though he wanted to go get the shotgun. Bruce straightened up so much and went so grim that he might as well have the cowl on. He reached across the table to take Tim's hand in his.
"I will not allow her to do that to you, Tim," Bruce said. "You're my son and you're much happier and healthier here than you were there. We both know that it's dangerous to patrol but that isn't a reason for you not to do it. It's a reason to take sufficient precautions and ensure that you're properly trained for the job. No matter what happens she is not taking you away from us."
"Damn straight," Jason declared as he wrapped a napkin around his knuckles and then winced as Alfred brought over the first aid kit.
"Agreed, Master Timothy," Alfred said. "I think she would find it a much more difficult legal case than she thinks after her behavior up until this date."
Tim slowly relaxed as Jason's hand was tended to and Bruce muttered to himself about talking to the lawyers about getting sole custody of Tim. Dick waited until Tim looked like he might actually believe it before pulling Tim out of his chair and into Dick's lap for another hug. This time Tim returned it with all his might.
"Told you so," Dick whispered to Tim. "We're your family and she doesn't get to take you away."
Bruce brushed past the spluttering, nervous maid and strode towards Janet's office. He already knew that Jack was out of the house at work. There was no possibility of having this discussion with Jack at home with the way he and Bruce argued every time they were in the same room. They had all agreed to hold any serious discussion in pairs to prevent another round of fisticuffs like what had happened when Janet gave Tim to Bruce.
"He told you," Janet sighed when Bruce strode in and slammed the door to keep the maid out.
"Of course he told me," Bruce growled. "He's my son. It took a week and Dick hugging him into submission but he told me. How dare you? After all this time you suddenly decide to upend his life?"
Janet glared at him ferociously enough that Bruce couldn't help but remember their very brief affair. She'd been quite open about the fact that it was an affair and so absolutely brilliant that he'd found himself drawn to her despite his best intentions. The fact that she'd seen straight through the Brucie façade to the real Bruce lurking underneath had only improved things between them. He never had been able to resist truly intelligent women who were fierce and self-contained.
"He's my son too," Janet declared. "Your obsession with your nightly activities is understandable, Bruce. That doesn't mean that I approve of it or want my son to kill himself trying to live up to your expectations. You've already forced two children into that unnatural lifestyle. I won't allow you to do the same to Timothy."
"I did not force them…!"
Bruce bit down on his tongue and forced himself to breathe rather than snap at Janet the way he wanted to. They had never been close so he shouldn't be surprised that she had highly inaccurate ideas about Bruce and his Mission. He would never have shared it with her even if they had worked out, simply because of her tendency to jump to iron-clad conclusions based on inadequate information.
"Not one of those boys has been or ever will be 'forced' to do this, Janet," Bruce said once he had control of his emotions. "Dick wanted justice in the same way that I did. I did everything in my power to discourage him. Jason understands all too well how criminals work having lived on the streets."
"There is still no reason to bring Tim into it," Janet said, her voice icy as she appeared to have used Bruce's pause to gain control of her emotions as well.
"Tim figured it out within weeks of arriving in the Manor," Bruce snarled. "He's known since he was four years old. I've had to hold him back to prevent him from going out long before he could survive it. I will continue to hold him and Jason back until I'm certain that they're fully prepared and properly equipped. I will not, however, forbid them from doing what they feel is right."
Janet's chin went up as if she intended to argue the point with him. Given that their beliefs on right and wrong had never coincided, she probably did. Bruce glared back at her. She was not going to win this battle. He wouldn't allow her to.
"Do you know the first thing Tim said to me once you left him with me?" Bruce asked in his darkest Batman growl.
"No, of course not," Janet said. Her voice was as sharp and decisive as before but she shivered involuntarily so he knew that the usage of the Batman voice got to her.
"He asked 'when are you leaving?'" Bruce told her.
Janet blinked, mouth opening and then closing it again.
"I told him I wasn't leaving," Bruce continued. "He asked me the same thing the next morning, after a night of nightmares, sleepwalking and waking up in the hallways convinced that he'd been abandoned. He asked me when I was leaving that night, the next day, at lunch, at dinner, pretty much every time I saw him, Janet. It took months for him to realize that I wasn't going to be going on a trip and leaving him alone."
She swallowed hard, turning away to stare out the window. "We always had nannies for him, Bruce."
"Who were instructed and paid to be properly polite and distant with him," Bruce agreed as he glared at the back of her head. "Do you know the last time he walked in his sleep, looking for the family he was convinced was going to abandon him?"
Janet gasped and whirled to stare at him in shock. She shook her head as if he had to be lying but she obviously could see the truth on his face. One hand rose to cover her mouth before sliding down to rest around her neck. A single pearl on a chain hung there. Bruce wondered if it was something she'd bought for herself or if Jack had gotten it for her. It was probably her purchase. She had never accepted gifts well.
"I got Tim to the point that he almost believed that I would stay and then you visited," Bruce continued, grimly driving home his point as if he was hammering nails into a coffin. "The nightmares and sleepwalking returned. Dick came to live with us and that was good because he needed the comfort as much as Tim did. They slept tangled together like puppies for three years before Dick got too old for it. Despite all our work, Tim still got nightmares about being abandoned and walked in his sleep every time you visited. Every one of your visits has set off his fears of abandonment."
"Jason's sleeping with him every night right now," Bruce continued despite her glare. "He's a light sleeper as is to be expected for a boy who lived on the streets. He says that Tim has three to four nightmares a night currently, all about being left alone."
"No!" Janet snapped, standing to glare at Bruce.
"When you visited for his birthday?" Bruce said even as Janet raised one hand to slap him. He caught her wrist so that she couldn't connect. "Jason came back from patrol and found Tim's bed empty. Do you want to know where he was when Jason found him?"
"Let me go and get out," Janet snapped. "You'll be hearing from my lawyers!"
"No," Bruce said. He kept his grip on her wrist despite the way she tried to wrench free. "Tim was standing on the cliff behind the Manor, Janet. In his pajamas. Barefoot. In the rain. Crying."
The noise she made was very similar to as if she'd been stabbed. This time when she wrenched her arm to get free he let her go. Janet stumbled away, staring out the window with her arms crossed over her chest. Bruce waited until her breathing evened out a bit before continuing. She was going to understand what she did to Tim if he had to tie her down and draw pictures.
"Suicide," Janet whispered.
"I believe so," Bruce said. "He's twelve years old and he's considering suicide rather than coming to live with you. I don't think that he's stopped thinking about it. Every meal I see him eyeing the knives on the table. Alfred's already discussed the need to keep a closer eye on Tim but it hasn't been necessary. Jason's watching over him like a hawk."
"Suggesting that he should live with us drives him to consider suicide," Janet sighed.
"Live with you?" Bruce asked as sarcastically as possible. "How long until you leave, Janet?"
She flinched. "Two weeks. We're leaving on another trip in two weeks."
"And how long will you be gone?" Bruce asked. It came out in the implacable tone he used for the worst villains in his rogues gallery but that was so appropriate to Janet that he didn't care.
"At least three months."
Bruce thought about mentioning the stupidity of leaving a suicidal teenager in a home alone for three months but Janet was anything but stupid. She had to already be thinking about all the ways that Tim could kill himself if left alone and how inevitable it would be. Servants and housekeepers would never be enough to keep him safe from himself.
After a long moment of tense silence Janet sighed and sat back down at her desk. She gestured towards the chair positioned on the other side of it. Bruce nodded and took it, glaring at her. It couldn't be over already. Janet never gave up that easily. If she had, she never would have conceived Tim. His rules about never dating married women definitely stemmed from his affair with Janet.
"I still don't think that he should patrol," Janet said, much less belligerently this time.
"I doubt that I could stop him entirely," Bruce replied. "He's incredibly intelligent, utterly driven and he's the sort of person who refuses to let something go if he thinks it's the right thing to do."
"I never should have given him to you," Janet complained.
"You never wanted a child," Bruce growled at her with a little snort of disgust. "It showed. It still shows. You destroy his self-esteem every time you visit him, Janet. All he's ever wanted was to earn your love and respect but he's absolutely convinced that the only way he can do that is to pretend to be a perfect emotionless robot. He spends hours before your visits making sure everything in his room is perfectly clean and in order so that you won't disapprove of him for being 'messy'."
She made the stabbed noise again, crossing her legs. Her foot bounced as she stared out the window again. Bruce could see her considering arguments, tactics, and discarding them as ineffective. That was when he knew that he was going to win. Janet had obviously gone into this believing that she knew everything about Tim from her brief, minimal visits with him. Everything that he'd told her had thrown her off her game.
"I never wanted to be a mother," Janet admitted finally.
"It shows." He smiled wryly at her glare. "I always wanted to be a father. I never expected to get the opportunity."
"I fully intended to threaten you with revealing your secret identity," Janet sighed.
"Ineffective," Bruce said. "I would reveal it myself to protect and save my sons."
"Save," Janet sighed. "You really are saving Timothy, aren't you?"
"Very much so," Bruce agreed. "He'll be incredible in a few years, as long as he survives until then. His dangers aren't out on the street, Janet. They're all in his head."
"OCD?" Janet asked.
"To a degree." Bruce nodded when she winced. "It's not overwhelming or uncontrollable. He is naturally a very organized person."
Janet nodded while staring at first the paperwork on her desk and then out the window again. It looked out on the street, allowing Janet to scan the traffic going by. Bruce had no doubt that she watched the people, categorizing them and analyzing them. During their brief affair it had been one of their favorite things to do; they would put their heads together and analyze the people in the room with them. She did have incredible deductive abilities when she chose to use them.
"Make sure Timothy stays safe," Janet said. She looked at him with enough of her heart in her eyes that he could almost believe that she actually cared about Tim as more than an heir.
"Of course." Bruce snorted. "I have very specific requirements before he'll be allowed to train in certain things and even more specific requirements he has to meet before he'll be allowed to patrol. By the time he meets them he's going to be better trained than either Dick or Jason were. Frankly, he'll be better trained and equipped than I was when I began to patrol."
She snorted a little laugh at that, but the laughter didn't reach her eyes. "Good. I hope there are height requirements."
"Yes," Bruce said. "As well as weight and hit strength requirements. Under a certain size and you're ineffective on the streets."
Janet nodded her approval of that. She obviously hadn't thought that he would do that but then she equally obviously hadn't thought this entire thing through. After a moment she looked at him with a wry biting smile, the one that had initially attracted him to her. It made her look vicious and brilliant and so beautiful that she was practically not human. Bruce refused to allow his response to show.
"I suppose lawyers will be by later with paperwork?" Janet asked.
"Very much so," Bruce said. "I want full custody, Janet. I will no long allow these visits, not when you use them to hurt Tim and try to drive him away from his family."
"I intended to do the same thing," Janet sighed. "My lawyers have been telling me that I don't have a leg to stand on."
"You don't," Bruce replied. "Given your constant absence and Tim's reactions to you, you truly don't. I never would have let him go anyway."
She sighed, still smiling that wry smile as she nodded. Her gaze was, as always, cutting. Rather than stiffen or do anything to stop it, Bruce let her stare at him. Nothing she could do would give her the win in this battle. He would never let Tim go back to this house with a mother who didn't want him and a father who resented that Tim wasn't his blood.
"I'll sign all the paperwork," Janet said finally. Her eyes flicked out to the streets where police cars zoomed by, lights and sirens flashing. Bruce ignored them. "I never truly understood you, did I?"
"No, you didn't," Bruce said as he stood up. "But then I never understood you either. That wasn't the basis of our relationship, now was it?"
Janet laughed and nodded, gesturing to grant Bruce the point. She stood as well, staring into his eyes. He could see so much of Tim in her; the build and delicate structure of her cheekbones, the wiry strength that had surprised him their first time in bed. No matter what she pretended to be for Jack and the rest of the world, Janet was bright and as sharp as a freshly honed knife. Just as he had allowed her to see the Bruce hidden behind his masks of Brucie and Batman, Janet now allowed him to see the woman she really was.
"I do care for him, you know," Janet said completely seriously. "I know perfectly well that it's not the all-encompassing love that they tell you mothers should feel but I do care. I want him to be safe and whole and successful in life. I don't want him risking his life on stupidity."
"You wouldn't have given him to me if you didn't care," Bruce replied with his version of her wry smile. She smirked at it. "I know that you care. It might be a good thing for you to let Tim know. If he doesn't hear it from your mouth I doubt that he'll actually believe it."
She nodded and turned towards the door, leading him out of her office and towards the front steps where Alfred waited in the limo. "I'll call him this evening. Sometime after dinner."
"Make it before 8:00," Bruce said. "He's T."
Janet stumbled and turned to stare at Bruce. He smirked at her, fully aware that his eyes were dancing with amusement at her response. It took a moment of thoughts flickering over her cold, expressive face before amusement welled up. She laughed as she came to the door, pride showing so clearly that he was tempted briefly to bend down and press a highly inappropriate kiss on her lips.
"Well, I certainly have no problems with that," Janet said, laughter making her voice ripple. "The dread power broker who controls the infamous Bat. How appropriate."
"I always thought so," Bruce said. "Goodbye Janet."
"Goodbye Bruce," Janet said. "Do keep sending the pictures of Tim. I have a scrapbook that I keep of them."
He smiled and nodded, going down the stairs with much lighter tread and happier heart than he'd gone up it. Tim was safe. Come what may, he wouldn't be forced to leave the family.
"I take it that your discussion was fruitful, Master Bruce?" Alfred asked once Bruce was back in the car.
"Very, Alfred," Bruce said. "Let's go home. I think I need to hug the boys for a very long time."
"Very good, Master Bruce," Alfred chuckled. "Very good."
Tim froze solid as his mother's voice filled his ear. Dad had come back from a business meeting grimly satisfied so Tim had assumed that he'd had some level of success dealing with her. There were lawyers coming and going at all hours since he'd confessed to what Janet had said to him, most of them with grimly determined expressions that reminded Tim of Dad when he was being Batman. This call wasn't something that he'd expected to receive.
"M-mother," Tim said, cursing inwardly at the stutter he hadn't been able to control.
"Do calm down, Timothy," Janet sighed. "I'm not upset that you told them."
"You're not?" Tim asked before he could stop the words from coming out.
"No, not really," Janet sighed. "Granted, I didn't want you to discuss it with them but I wasn't fully aware of all the facts. Your father did a very thorough job of enlightening me to the things I wasn't cognizant of."
She sighed. It sounded as though she shifted position, perhaps sitting down so that she could stare out the window. He could almost see her in his mind. Her office would be filled with light from the window at this time of day, creating panes of brightness that made working at her desk a work of annoyance. Tim had always wondered why she kept her desk so close to the window but he'd never dared to ask.
"I wish you'd told me about the sleepwalking, Timothy," Janet said eventually.
"He didn't tell you that," Tim groaned.
Janet chuckled. "Oh, he did. Along with telling me that the only thing you could ask him after you first moved there was when he was leaving."
"I ah, thought that all parents traveled like you and Jack," Tim said more softly than he'd intended. Somehow it was much easier to deal with her over the phone than it was in person. Maybe it was the distance or not being able to see her. Either way, it helped far more than Tim would have expected. "It took me some time to understand that most parents stayed home."
There was another series of sounds from the other side of the phone. Tim thought that Janet had nodded and tucked the phone against her shoulder as she sorted through the papers that were very carefully not littering her desk. That meant that she was actually nervous about their conversation, which surprised Tim. Janet was never nervous when she talked to him. Angry, impatient, indifferent; all of those were normal emotions for him to encounter from her. Nervousness only came from Tim, not her.
"Bruce said that you were out on the cliff that night," Janet said and oh my, she really was nervous. Her voice quavered.
"Um, yes, I was," Tim admitted with a nervous quaver of his own.
Jason hadn't asked how he'd gotten there. Neither had Bruce, Dick or Alfred. They'd all just assumed that Tim had walked in his sleep and ended up there. He probably should have corrected that assumption but Tim hadn't wanted to deal with the questions that would follow. Honestly, he still didn't want to deal with them.
"Was that sleep walking or consideration of suicide, Timothy?" Janet asked in her most serious, 'I need you to be an adult for me' voice.
His voice ran away from him for a second so only a huff of air followed by a whine and gulp came out. Tim's fingers ached. It took him a moment to realize that he'd clenched them so hard around the phone and into the blankets of his bed where he was sitting that his hands were protesting. He relaxed his fingers deliberately, forced his shoulders down and shut his eyes because even if she wasn't here he couldn't say this with his eyes open.
"I've considered suicide for years," Tim admitted so quietly that he expected her to request him to repeat that. "It… seemed like the only possible solution to being required to go live in your house again."
"'To live in our house'," Janet repeated, a sort of sick horror in her voice. "Not to live with us."
"Well, no," Tim said, starting to be a bit puzzled by the direction she was taking the conversation. "Mother, you don't live there. You just visit from time to time."
This time it was Janet's turn to have words run away from her or at least that's what it seemed like to Tim. She made a little hurt noise that he thought was muffled by an upraised hand. Tim found it a little scary to think that he'd upset her that much. She'd always been so coldly perfect and controlled that to find that he could do something that made her hurt instead of angry was frightening.
"I suppose I never thought of it that way," Janet said far too quietly and softly. "I never considered it appropriate to take a child along on our trips."
"Well, you really couldn't have, could you?" Tim asked. "I was so little, Mother. There wouldn't have been proper facilities for me or anyone to take care of me. And you and Jack are busy on those trips, aren't you?"
"If you're trying to make me feel better I might be annoyed," Janet snapped but it wasn't her normal snap.
"Mmmm, maybe a little bit?" Tim said, rubbing his fingers over the bedspread. "But honestly, I am curious about that. What would a little boy under four have done?"
"Gotten in the way," Janet chuckled. "That's why we didn't bring you. Truthfully, that was why I gave you to your father. I knew that we wouldn't be changing our pattern of work anytime soon so it made sense that you go to Bruce. He never made any secret of the fact that he wanted to be a father, after all."
Tim nodded. That had always made sense to him, even when he had been so young and hadn't understood the rest. Janet had told him that she hadn't wanted to be a mother more than once, usually when she was apologizing rather stiffly for not knowing how to handle his needs. He stiffened when Janet cleared her throat in the 'time to pay attention, we're getting serious' way.
"We also discussed your… nighttime activities," Janet said with a swish that he thought meant that she'd turned around to check that the office door was closed.
"You did?" Tim asked. His voice came out horrifyingly squeaky.
"I still disapprove strongly of the thought of you risking your life on the streets," Janet said so grudgingly that Tim couldn't imagine what the rest of her sentence would be, "but Bruce made it very clear that it's your choice to do it."
"Well, not yet," Tim said. "Dad won't let me go out until I meet strict height, weight and hit strength requirements. Plus there's a lot of training that I'm required to master, both for fighting and investigation purposes. And there's armor to make and weapons to master. Lots of stuff before I'll be ready. I anticipate that it will be another couple of years before he'll allow me out."
Janet snorted with amusement at his little spiel. "Yes, that's fairly close to what he said, just with more annoyance. I was also informed that you're, shall we say assisting him? Currently?"
"He told you that?" Tim asked, this time with laughter bubbling up because oh dear, Janet and the infamous T didn't belong in the same thought. Ever. At all.
"Yes, he did, just as he left," Janet laughed. "I must say, I have absolutely no problems at all with you playing that role. It fits with your intelligence and drive, plus your capacity for planning and organization. I really can't see why you'd want to allow people to punch you and shoot at you when you could stay behind the scenes where it's safe."
Tim laughed, actually relaxing a little. She… approved. Of him. Well, of T but T was him. It made him feel shaky and proud and amazed all at once. He was sure that she could hear his emotions in his voice but there was absolutely no chance of his controlling it, not when he felt this way. Besides, she'd laughed too so it was all right. It had to be all right if Janet actually approved.
"I don't know that I'll patrol all that much," Tim said once he found his control over his voice again. "I am very good at the background side of things. Besides, that's not all that I plan to do with my life. It's only part of it."
"Oh?" Janet asked in such an inviting tone of voice that Tim couldn't help the smile that stretched across his face.
He licked his lips and then told her about the discussion he'd had with Dick about college. Janet liked his plans of getting a Bachelors in Business and a Masters in Engineering. She recommended that he get a PHD in a science of his choice, whichever worked best for his focus at Wayne Industries. Tim nodded. That made sense. Something research focused would be good or maybe computer related.
All through their discussion Tim couldn't help but feel as though it was a dream. He simply didn't get along this well with Janet. She'd always been so forbidding and cold but right now she seemed much more open and welcoming than she'd ever been. Eventually Tim ran out of words and Janet seemed to do the same. He sighed and she echoed it.
"I… don't believe that I'll be visiting you again, Timothy," Janet said a moment later.
"No?" Tim asked.
"No." Her voice was wry and as sharp as when she had discussed business rivals with Tim in the past. "Bruce made it very clear that my visits are bad for you. I may not be much of a mother but I have no desire to make you uncomfortable. You are my son and I do worry about your future. However I doubt that he'll allow me to visit again."
"This wasn't bad," Tim observed.
"Then perhaps I'll call you when we get back in the country," Janet said.
Her chuckle said otherwise. Tim bit his lip, nodding thoughtfully. No more visits. No more worries about Janet judging him. She knew everything that was important and she actually approved of at least a part of his life. He let out the breath of air that he'd unintentionally held.
"That would be nice," Tim said in the tone of voice that said 'I understand that you're not likely to do it but thank you for pretending'.
"Be good for him," Janet said in her version of 'I find that I'm proud of you but don't you dare comment on it'.
"I will," Tim said, promising with his tone to never, ever draw attention to her emotional weakness.
"Goodbye Timothy," Janet said.
"Goodbye Mother," Tim replied.
She hung up and Tim stared at his phone for long enough that it shut off on its own. His thoughts ran in circles, darting from amazement at how cordial the call had been to stunned that she actually approved of something he did to huge amounts of relief that he wouldn't have to deal with her anymore. Never in his wildest dreams had he imagined a call like that. He'd thought many times about not having to deal with her visits anymore but those fantasies had always had more to do with hoping that they had a disaster on one of their trips and never came home.
Tim shook his head as he closed his phone and stood to go find the others. Jason and Dick would be delighted by this news. He jumped because Jason, Dick, Dad and Alfred were all standing at the door, watching Tim as if they expected him to fall apart at any moment.
"How long were you listening?" Tim huffed at them.
"Oh, maybe a little while?" Dick said, waving his hands aimlessly.
"Fuck that, I showed up right after she called you," Jason said. "What'd the bitch want? What'd she say? You shoulda told her to fuck off, whatever it was."
"Language," Dad and Tim said at the same time that Alfred clucked his tongue at Jason.
Jason bristled at them like a cat faced with a bath. The shaky feeling was back so Tim sat back down on his bed. This. This was his family. Really his family, not part of his family with the threat/promise of his mother coming to visit and making Tim feel horrible. He was really and truly home.
Dick was just there, arms wrapped around Tim as he pulled Tim into his lap just like he used to when Dick first came to the manor. Tim let himself hug Dick back, only realizing that he was crying when Jason reached into the hug to try and brush the tears away. His face was so distressed that Tim caught his arm and tugged him into the hug as well. Jason went unwillingly, sitting on Tim's other side so that he could rub Tim's back.
"I'm okay," Tim said, sniffling. "It's not. I mean, I'm crying but it's not bad. I'm happy."
Dad came into the bedroom and knelt so that he could look into Tim's eyes. He looked worried but after a moment studying Tim's face he smiled. His hand rested on Tim's knee, adding to the love they were all giving him. Tim gulped against another wave of tears of pure joy. It came out sort of like a hiccup, which summoned Alfred into the room too. Tim pulled away from Dick so that he could hug Dad.
"It's okay, Tim," Dad whispered to him as he almost always did. "I'll take care of you."
"I know," Tim whispered back the way he never, ever did. "I've always known. Love you Daddy. So glad that I'm here with you."
Hearing the words that Tim had never been able to properly vocalize made Dad's hug turn into a bruising thing that made his bones creak but Tim didn't care. He was home. He had his Dad, his brother, Jason, Alfred. Janet would never, ever take him away. She even approved of his work as T. Once Dad's hug eased up a bit Tim pulled free and hugged Alfred too.
"So what the hell did she say?" Jason asked after Alfred had made a little pleased harrumphing noise and hugged Tim as if he was made of fine china.
"She um, approves of me being T," Tim said, going back to the bed so that Dick could get the rest of his hugs in. He had that twitchy hand need to hug look.
"Really?" Dick asked. He pulled Tim into his lap and hugged him with his arms and legs despite Tim's half-hearted squawk and flail of protest.
"Yeah," Tim sighed as he squirmed until he was semi comfortable. "She said she'd have absolutely no problems with me doing that for as long as I want."
"I would have no problems with that," Dad said, eyes wrinkling in a smile that barely touched his lips. "However I doubt that you'll settle for it."
"Mmm, no," Tim said thoughtfully. "I still want to patrol and be Batman someday. When I'm much, much older. And taller."
Jason snickered, patting Tim's head as if measuring his size compared to Dick and Dad. When Tim tried to bat his hand away he couldn't because Dick was still being a hugging octopus and Tim's arms were pinned. Alfred disappeared only to reappear shortly later with snacks for everyone. It took a good bit of work for Tim to free himself enough that he could actually eat his snack. Dick appeared to have decided that hugs were good training for escape activities, which Tim supposed was true enough when it was Dick doing the hugs. Or Kory. Even Dick had a hard time escaping when she tied Dick up in her hair and hugged him.
"Thank you, Alfred," Tim said as he ate his cookie.
"You are quite welcome, Master Timothy," Alfred said with his most British tone of voice and that little smile that was only in his eyes.
"So what else did she say?" Jason asked around a mouthful of cookie.
"No crumbs on my bed," Tim complained.
"Yeah, yeah, I know," Jason said, rolling his eyes as he brushed some of the crumbs off. "What'd she say?"
Tim nibbled on his cookie, one hand cupped under his chin to catch any crumbs that might fall. Parts of the conversation weren't going to be discussed. He just wouldn't. Dad and Jason probably realized that Tim had been thinking about suicide that night but Dick probably hadn't figured it out. Discussing that would be stupid. Now that he was free from Janet there was no reason for Tim to want that. He was safe at last.
"Mmm, some of it was talking about my sleepwalking," Tim said finally. "A lot of it was her admitting that she never had wanted to be a mother and that she didn't know much about me. I did tell her some of my plans. She had good suggestions for my schooling."
"But what'd she say?" Jason complained. "I mean, what's with the tears? Come on, you're killing me here, Timmy!"
That made Tim laugh. He lightly kicked Jason's knee since that was the only way he could reach Jason while cuddled in Dick's hug. Dick's leg recaptured Tim's immediately after that, earning Dick an elbow to the stomach that made him complain wordlessly.
"She said that she wouldn't visit anymore," Tim said with a bright enough smile that Jason didn't look angry about it. "And um, implied that she probably wouldn't call either. That was more in how she said it than what she said, honestly. But talking to her over the phone wasn't very bad at all."
"So you're free?" Jason asked. "No more fucking ice queen bitch of a mom?"
Jason winced and nodded apologies at all of them but his eyes stayed locked on Tim's face. Tim smiled at him and nodded, making Jason brighten up dramatically. Bruce looked positively happy as well and Alfred had that viciously satisfied expression on his face that meant that he saw it as justice having been served.
"I'm free," Tim said. "I'm home."