Tim blinked. Then blinked again. He was alone. Dick’s octopus tentacles were not crushing Tim to the older man’s body; Jason, face etched in a scowl, wasn’t asleep in Tim’s reading chair, and Cassandra with eyes focused on imaginary dangers wasn’t perched on his desk. He blinked a final time and noticed that there also weren’t any cold dinner dishes. There was no gnawing sense of hunger either, so Tim assumed he had eaten recently, for a given definition of recent.
Curling in on himself, Tim cherished the soft darkness of the room. He was alone like he knew he always would be. It was nice that Dick and the others stopped pretending. Tim had merely been Jason’s replacement. He was alone here just like he was alone at home. Like he always would be. Tim bit back the stab of pain at the thought.
It was time to go home. It wouldn’t take long to forge documents creating a long-lost aunt or great uncle. Then Tim could live at home and not bother anyone. A fresh wave of grief crashed into Tim; he had tried not to bother his parents, but they were still dead. It seemed it didn’t matter what he did he would be abandoned in the end.
Shoving the covers as violently as he shoved the thoughts from his mind, Tim sat up and grabbed his shoes. He was halfway through tying the second set of laces when the young teenager realized that if he was alone in Wayne Manor, something was wrong. Cursing himself for his ridiculously slow deduction, Tim finished tying his shoes and raced down the stairs into Bruce’s study.
He adjusted the time on the clock and ran into the Batcave. He made it three steps in before he heard Bruce yelling. Tim breathed a sigh of unexpected relief. If Bruce was yelling, there wasn’t an active emergency. Batman always solved a situation before unleashing his fury on any of his proteges.
Tim slowed to a walk and stuck to the shadows. Curiosity captured his attention, yet he wasn’t interested in directing any residual anger at himself. From his vantage point on the staircase, Tim saw Bruce pacing in anger, his fists clenched at his sides. The sound of his ankle boot thumping reverberated throughout the cave. The young detective couldn’t see Batman’s face from the current angle, but he knew enough about Bruce’s body language to know whoever pissed Batman off was in deep trouble. Deeper trouble than Tim had ever been in.
In front of Bruce, Dick, dressed in grey loose grey sweatpants and an oversized Gotham University hoodie that he had probably stolen from Bruce, huddled in on himself in a way that was unnatural. Dick Grayson didn’t cower from Bruce Wayne. Nightwing never once backed down from Batman. Something was wrong. Something was very, very wrong.
Since Dick’s head was ducked into himself, Tim couldn’t read the older man’s face. Concern rolled in Tim’s gut like he’d ridden a rollercoaster a few too many times. He needed more information, although he doubted the best way to get it was to interfere. Perhaps he could creep down the stairs without being seen to get a closer view.
A pebble struck the ground and bounced twice next to his right foot before coming to a stop. Tim stared at the stone for a second. Then he turned to his right where he saw Cass perched in her preferred squatting position a few meters above him on a natural ledge of the cave wall. She cocked her head to the side in clear invitation.
The top of the stairs skimmed the edges of the cave wall, and Tim climbed back up the stairs to begin his ascent to Cass’s position. The pull on his injured shoulder ached as he scaled the cave wall. Fortunately, most of the handholds were easy to find and the path was more horizontal than vertical. Tim doubted very much that he would have been able to climb upwards with his still injured shoulder. As it was, he was still going to catch hell from Alfred for even this little bit of strain.
Cass was directly above him when the exertion on his injury caused him to falter. She reached out a hand and grabbed Tim by the wrist. He cried out, but his yelp was buried underneath the sound of Bruce’s yelling. Together, they managed to get Tim up onto the ledge. His shoulder throbbed painfully. That was a stupid venture. Hopefully, he hadn’t mangled his shoulder beyond repair; although, it wouldn’t matter either way.
As he settled in to sit next to Cassandra, it occurred to him that he was now precariously perched on a tiny ledge with jagged rocks digging uncomfortably into his rear and his legs dangled over a 50-foot drop without climbing gear or a grapple. Cass seemed not to notice the danger as she squatted like she always did, feet firmly on the ground as she observed the world around her. Tim envied her. Cass belonged here; Tim didn’t.
“OF ALL THE STUPID AND DANGEROUS STUNTS!” Bruce’s yell echoed off the cave walls, making it sound louder and fiercer than normal.
From his improved vantage point, Tim watched Bruce pace furiously in front of Dick, who was still slightly hunched in on himself. Now, he could see the other occupants of the cave as well. A few feet away, Alfred, who looked far too pale (Tim wondered if it were anger or fear.), stared fiercely at the conversation unfolding in front of him. The butler hadn’t even bothered pretending to clean as he usually did while he eavesdropped. Farther away but equally absorbed with the argument, stood Jason with arms crossed so tightly across his chest that Tim thought the seams on that stupid motorcycle jacket would rip soon. The look on Jason’s face promised murder. Unable to stop himself, Tim shivered and refocused his attention on Bruce.
“I want an answer Dick! What the HELL were you thinking?” Bruce had stopped pacing and stood in front of his first protégé. His shoulders muscles shook with ferocity of his anger. For the first time in his life, Tim Drake was incredibly grateful not to be Dick Grayson.
Dick finally looked up, and Tim gasped. It couldn’t be. He wouldn’t have. Dick wasn’t that stupid. He couldn’t possibly have done something that imbecilic. Dick was better than that. An iron weight sloshed back and forth in Tim’s stomach. But Dick did have a death wish. Oh god, Dick promised not to attempt suicide, but he had never sworn not to allow a villain to kill him. Tim thought he was going to be sick, but he knew the lead in his stomach wouldn’t escape his esophagus. He also knew he’d never forget the sight in front of him. Dick Grayson was wearing his Nightwing mask with the mish mash sweats.
Desperate, Tim wanted to believe that Dick had stripped out of his Nightwing uniform and had left the mask on. It was unlikely. Dick almost always took his mask off after taking off his gloves, but the man was hardly a creature of ingrained habit.
“Did he go out like that?” The words were barely a whisper as he forced them through his tightening throat.
The iron weight rolled painfully in his gut; every muscle in his body tensed. Tim was going to be sick.
“Why?” The word was as desperate and broken as Tim felt.
Cassandra gave Tim a look of sympathy.
“No,” Tim denied. The word crept out of his abused, tightened throat. It felt like he had swallowed a bomb whole, and it lodged itself in his trachea.
“Who?” He forced out despite his lack of oxygen.
Cass pursed her lips in the way she often did when she searched for words that seemed to be beyond her reach. “Girl,” she decided on. “Hammer,” she added with a nod.
“Harley Quinn?! Dick went to face Harley Quinn wearing that?” Anger roiled in Tim’s stomach and burned up his esophagus. How dare he? How dare he? Hadn’t Tim lost enough? Wasn’t it enough that his parents had never wanted them? Wasn’t it enough that they had died? How much would he have to lose?
Everything. Everything he cared about was destined to be ripped from his fingers. The one person who had wanted Tim had a death wish. How long would it be before Dick was ripped out of his life as well?
Cassandra stared at Tim for a long moment. He was about to repeat himself when she pointed at Dick. “Left.” Then, she pointed at Bruce. “Scared.” She turned back to Tim. An emotion Tim couldn’t place on her face. “I protect.”
“Thank you,” Tim gasped, the words fraught with a gratitude he couldn’t express. “He can’t die. He can’t.” It was only then that Tim realized he had been crying. He had no idea when the tears had started, but he couldn’t stop them. Silent sobs streamed down. Cassandra didn’t offer any physical comfort. She just watched him as she often did. It was enough.
Tim pulled his dangling legs up and wrapped his arms around them as he pulled his knees into his chest. He took a few deep breaths to collect his wild, racing thoughts, and then back to the drama. Dick had apparently remembered himself. He was no longer hunched in on himself; instead, his arms flung violently as he shouted.
“You never listen! She deserved better!”
“Harley Quinn doesn’t deserve your life.”
Dick let out an unholy scream of frustration. “For the last freaking time, I wasn’t going to let her kill me.”
“It may not have been your intent, but it would have been the results of your reckless actions.”
“Oh, screw you, Bruce.” Dick shoved passed him. “I’m going home.”
“Master Richard, need I remind you –”
But Dick cut Alfred off with a foul curse that froze the elderly man. Bruce, as well, seemed momentarily stunned. No one cursed at Alfred. Let alone used that word towards the man. Dick seemed the only one capable of movement, and he stormed towards his bike. Only to be intercepted by Jason, who grabbed Dick’s wrist and spun his arm around his back, capturing Dick in a painful hold. The older man tried to break it, but given Dick’s significant loss of muscle mass, he didn’t stand a chance¬ against Jason’s strength.
“Let go.” Dick fought, though even he could tell it was a lost battle.
Jason growled, “Apologize.”
“Don’t tell me what to do,” Dick spat.
Jason spun Dick around and shook him slightly. “Apologize, you idiot. Otherwise, you and I both know, you’ll spend tomorrow in your bed, thinking you’re the worst human on the planet.”
Tim thought that was a bizarre threat, but Dick paled dramatically.
A fierce gleam appeared in Jason’s eyes. “Apologize,” he threatened. “Or I keep talking.”
Dropping his head again and avoiding all eye contact, Dick nodded. Jason released him.
“I’m sorry.” Tim had to strain to hear Dick’s faint words.
Alfred, still clearly shocked, (Whether it was from Dick’s colorful language or the way Jason had gotten him to apologize, Tim wasn’t sure.) nodded.
“We’re going upstairs,” Jason declared.
Dick seemed cowed for the moment. He followed Jason silently up the stairs. Tim would wait a few minutes, and then follow. If he were lucky, maybe Jason would explain what had just happened.
The sound of Bruce’s uneven gait distracted Tim, and he watched as Batman collapsed into the desk chair in front of the Batcomputer. He rested his elbows on the desk and dropped his face in his hands. Alfred squeezed his shoulders and offered the man some pills. The two spoke softly, and Tim had no hope of overhearing their conversation. Still, he felt rather uncomfortable with the display. Bruce Wayne didn’t break, but looking at the man and the man’s father figure, Tim’s last remaining image of the infallibility of Batman shattered into a million irreparable pieces.
How many fathers would he have to lose?
Refusing to cry again, Tim channeled his hurt into anger. He needed answers. And Dick was going to give them to him if Tim had to drag out every single one. He would not lose anyone else. He would not.
He stood up to begin his descent.
“Are you coming, Cass?”
She shook her head. “Barbara.”
Oh. Barbara had been involved. Had Dick been trying to protect Barbara? Tim was struck by the realization of how much he still didn’t understand about what had happened tonight. The young detective didn’t need to ask if Barbara was okay. She clearly wasn’t in the medical bay, and if she had been in danger, Dick and Bruce would not have been staging a dramatic reenactment of a soap opera in the cave. He needed answers. He burned with the desire to understand what had transpired before he made his entrance into the cave.
Gazing at the desolate image of the two men by the computer, Tim decided that any research he needed to do would have to wait. He couldn’t stand to stay and observe Alfred and Bruce in their shared private grief.
Cass merely nodded in reply. Her gaze fixed on the two men below.
Ignoring the pain in his shoulder, Tim hurried to the stairs and crept back inside Wayne Manor. He didn’t know where Dick and Jason would have decided to go but finding them had not been difficult. Dick’s frustrated yells led Tim to the first-floor gym. Jason and Dick were sparring. Well, Dick was more letting his anger disperse in a fit of uncontrolled rage. Jason didn’t attack the older man. He blocked. Over and over again, he blocked Dick’s fury.
Tim swallowed. He wanted answers, but they could wait until his brother no longer resembled a screaming banshee. Instead, he tiptoed up to his room and pulled his computer onto his lap. He’d get his own answers.