The first time the Quick Response Team got Tim’s attention, it was, say… five years ago? Yes, four years and eight months. One or two had a sudden slew of accidents, several got caught accepting bribes, and some even disappeared and reappeared in other parts of the country with their true bosses. All in all, a bit over half of the twenty-five members got taken out.
It was clear what was happening—somebody was cleaning house.
Gordon seemed a tad disturbed, but he didn’t bring it up with Bruce. Even Hennelly’s request to keep the members on full time and build their own cases was given a green light by Gordon. Heh. The cat let Jerry run the show.
Maybe Tim should sleep more.
Anyway, as time went on, the changes seemed… somehow expected? Their increased presence at the docks was a real help. And when two people from Internal Affairs got caught accepting bribes, everybody knew what was happening. Almost immediately a lot of employees from that department transferred out of Gotham.
Tim investigated, it was only natural, but he didn’t find anything fishy in the transfers. Sure, Gordon was commissioner, he took care to clean up Major Crimes and put trusted people at the head of the other departments, but progress was slow. Everybody knew he was communicating with Batman; that led to some respect and a lot of suspicion. He needed to explain his decisions. When the QRT took some of that on, Gordon was happy and Tim couldn’t blame him. As long as they took responsibility and everything was legal, it was just a bleep on Tim’s radar.
So when they arrested Roman Sionis aka Black Mask for drug possession, two unregistered firearms, and carrying a weapon without a permit, Tim wasn’t too disturbed.
“Are they serious?” Tim remembers Dick asking with a huge grin on his face.
Tim only shrugged. “I guess so.”
“This is useless.” Damian’s face showed a rare depiction of a confused scowl. “Why are they bothering to arrest him? Even if they convict, the time spent in jail is insignificant.”
“I think they’re just having fun,” Dick volunteered. “Black Mask certainly deserves it.”
Black Mask didn’t get convicted—that time—but his lawyer was agitated and tried to reason with him. It didn’t work and he did get convicted next time. He had to do community service. And the next, so he did two weeks in jail. Then a month. Two. Another two weeks. By the time a year and a half had passed, he had a newbie criminal record, his reputation was in tatters, and his drug empire was gone.
That one made people pause. It made Bruce downright frown, Damian scowl in confusion—Tim was tempted to call it the QRT scowl—and Dick to be alert. But there was something about the sequence of events that fascinated Tim.
Black Mask was understandably paranoid about police surveillance and so he hurried up the court dates through legal and less than legal means. But if he hadn’t, the QRT would never have succeeded in their goal. Only his paranoia—both in his business and in his dealings with the police—made the plan work. He had surrounded himself with incompetent people that would pose no danger and then got so busy with court appearances, actual jail time, and the QRT that he failed to be there day-to-day. It was masterful in a way, terrible in another.
But that was the reason no one was surprised when the QRT was successful in apprehending Killer Moth and Mr. Freeze.
The terrible part resurfaced after. With Firefly and Mad Hatter. Because the QRT takes people down or, if they can’t, they take them out. Like Tim learned they did with many of Black Mask’s men when they reached for their guns. If the circumstances are right, they have the right to kill. And as opposed to Dick’s rubber bullets, these guys actually use their weapons to their full potential.
Needless to say, Bruce didn’t and doesn’t approve. That much is clear. However, Bruce didn’t and continues to not say anything. He can’t. What they’re doing is legal, even though it’s confusing Damian to no end. But, Tim thinks, that Bruce had managed to come to peace with it since they don’t have his training. In a way, they’re civilians compared to the Bats.
And it’s not like the QRT kill everybody. They captured Bane, Deadshot, and, recently, Penguin. It’s true that they surrendered as soon as they found out that the QRT is on the scene, but…
Okay, this is bad.
Tim tries to dig deeper. He searches for the files of each member and he plans to go into their background and past actions. The problem is, of course, that they didn’t do and aren’t doing anything illegal. He sighs and tells himself that a second, more in-depth, look wouldn’t hurt.
He doesn’t find anything. No pictures. No names. Only numbers: 02-14-20-01; 12-31-19-26; 08-27-20-14, and so on.
Tim wants to say that those are dates: month—first two; day—second two; year—the last four. He thinks there are dates that are somehow meaningful to the team. It could be that there are personal events surrounding them. There are stranger ones, like 09-08-04-80. This is less likely to have a personal importance, but 8th September 480 is a possible date for the famous 300 battle. And then, there are ones that don’t seem to have any significance, like 01-28-18-13.
“What are you looking for?” Kon asks absently.
Tim is usually on the computer so none of the Titans are fazed or interested anymore. “Do you know of a battle that happened on January 28th, 1813?”
“Nope,” Kon says cheerfully.
Tim types some more. Maybe he should just broaden the search. He’s stereotyping, anyway. And…
Kon is currently in the process of putting a sandwich on Tim’s desk, but he starts paying attention. “What is it?”
“January 28th, 1813 was the day ‘Pride and Prejudice’ got published.”
Kon chuckles. “That’s different.”
“Why were you searching for battles?” Kon asks wryly.
“I was...” Tim shakes his head. “I don’t think I got it right.”
Tim turns towards Kon. “I found codes each of the Quick Response Team back home goes by. At first, I thought they are dates.”
“Can’t there be any Austen fans in there?” Kon asks laughingly.
Then immediately, He’s dead, leave him be.
Tim just aims a skeptical look in Kon’s direction, prompting him to snort and raise his hands.
Tim shakes his head, but cannot dislodge the thought. Jason has always been a weak spot for him. For them all. But he was Tim’s Robin. Tim idolized him.
He decides to get some sleep.
“Oracle?” Tim hates how young his voice comes out, but even after sleeping five full hours he can’t quite get Jason out of his thoughts and Tim wants to hear another opinion.
The familiar face appears. “Yes?”
“I was looking for the names of the QRT and I didn’t have any luck.”
Barbara adds, “It’s new procedure. The QRT got too high-profile. They expected that and took their pictures and names off the Department’s network. They have them at QRT HQ. In the meantime, the team can be identified by their codes so the public and their fellow officers can complain and/or press charges.”
“But you have them, right?” Tim asks. “You have the whole Department roster and you had the one before they took it down.”
“Sure I have some. Not all, though. Some of them never made it online.”
“But—” Tim cuts himself off. Barbara knew Jason. They worked together. Who’s Tim to dig it out? If he’s good enough, he’ll do it himself, not by causing everyone grief. “Never mind.”
“It seemed strange, that’s all.”
“Mmhmm,” Barbara says. Then 01-28-18-13 appears on the screen. “This caught your attention.”
Tim lets his forehead hit the desk. Damn it. “Yes,” he says, and it’s muffled by the glass.
“It caught mine too.”
Tim’s head snaps up. “Really?”
“Pride and Prejudice.”
“Um…” Tim swallows and gives up. “Yeah.”
“I found two sheets of additional information,” Barbara offers. “The first one gave me hop—it sounded familiar. Some of the second too.”
Tim can clearly hear the ‘but.’
“Let me show them to you,” Barbara says. “I don’t want to bother Batman or Nightwing with this.”
Tim can agree with that. “Sure.”
The first report is clearly from Internal Affairs. It doesn’t have the cases, but it talks about the summary of complaints and the causes for them. Apparently, 01-28-18-13 was accused of rudeness and generally scaring the public. Which is a bit concerning, and, at reasons for it, there’s a short characterization: (seemingly) easily angered; (seemingly) easily bored; blunt; (inappropriately) humorous; intimidating built (tall and heavy).
“That sounds so much like him,” Tim whispers. “And, at the same time, not.” He reads it again. “What’s with the ‘seemingly?’”
“I have no further information, but I can guess off the second one,” Barbara says.
Tim made an interested sound and read the report. It was made by the QRT for some sort of identification purposes or maybe the ledger of the commissioner had about its members. Still with the code, and it included: position on the team – sniper; expert – weapons and ammunition, explosives and demolition; competent – field medicine, investigation; rarely – transportation and logistics, negotiation.
“Negotiation,” Tim repeats and snorts.
“Yes,” Barbara says, voice coming across weird, in a way that Tim has learned to interpret as amused.
Tim smiles and his eyes fall on the 01-28-18-13’s position on the team and expertise. It was the sniper that took out both Firefly and Mad Hatter. Tim can’t conceive of any Bat using firearms and killing. Damian was trained as an assassin—so was Cass for that matter, but that’s not important right now—and couldn’t see a way around it, but even he stopped. There’s no way.
“It’s not him,” Tim says in realization. “I mean, of course, it’s not him. He’s gone.”
“I still think it’s concerning,” Barbara says. “It sounds like him until you reach the weapons and the explosives. He might be a Joker plant and this may some sort of cruel play.”
I finished this chapter earlier and I thought I'd just post it. It's ahead of schedule, I know. Enjoy!
Tim opens his mouth, stops to spit out the water, and then asks, “So Joker’s out again?” He realizes that he can’t be heard over the sheets of rain, and repeats himself shouting, “So Joker’s out again!” Some of the original intonation is lost in the rain, but that’s okay because he means the exclamation more.
Bruce grunts. Probably. The noise doesn’t reach Tim, but his expression does.
“Obviously!” Damian shouts back.
“How is that obvious?” Tim replies, annoyed.
Damian moves his head like he does when he rolls his eyes—probably does the ‘tt’ sound, thankfully Tim can’t hear it—and yells, “How is that anything but?”
Tim opens his mouth ready to snap back when Bruce turns.
“Do I have to remind you”—the rain stops suddenly, leaving Bruce shouting—“that we are trying to find the Joker before he kills innocent people?!”
His yell actually echoes.
“…You are the night,” Tim and Damian say at the same time.
It’s not like Tim isn’t treating this seriously, but he sometimes feels like he’s been doing this for forever. Run after Joker, figure out what he has planned, stop him, sometimes beat him—though never as bad as Bruce and Dick had, that one time—and then sent him back to Arkham. Over and over again.
Tim’s horrified to admit, but he half expects it. When the gates to Arkham close behind them, he is almost counting the days until Joker will get out. Tim is sure that it will be something terrible. He’s certain it’ll end up in blood, tears, and nightmares. And yet, he can’t change it. He can’t change any of it and it’s daunting. It turns him into an asshole on the way.
“Oracle, any news?” Tim asks, more to have something to do.
“Nope,” comes the answer. Barbara even pops the ‘p,’ a good sign that she’s as done with everything as he is. “Wait, here’s something.”
“What is it?”
“The QRT is on it.”
“Great,” Tim says dryly. “Who’s going to tell Batman?”
“Not me, either. It’s your information.”
Tim thinks a bit. “What are my chances of convincing Robin to tell him?”
“I don’t know your strategy.”
“It involves Nightwing.”
“Better than nothing,” Barbara volunteers. “But B needs to know soon.”
Tim grumbles and touches his comm. He selects a private channel with Bruce. “I’ve got news.” It’s a sort of, ‘Don’t shoot the messenger.’ “Oracle says the QRT is on it.”
“Yes, that’s what we were thinking,” Tim says.
“We have to find him.”
“Well…” Tim frowns. “That’s what we are trying to do.”
“Do better,” Bruce barks. “We can’t let them reach him. It’ll be a disaster.”
Now, Tim understands what Bruce means. He simply wants to say that the Joker combined with the trigger finger of the QRT does not make a good combination. Although there have been moments when Tim catches himself contemplating how much Bruce has controlled himself when it comes to Joker that it’s almost impossible not to develop some sort of bond or investment in Joker’s continued survival, Tim knows that isn’t the case here. But Bruce should really think what he sounds like and how concerned he seems at the thought of Joker’s fate.
They find out what Joker’s plan is and they end up calling all hands on deck: Bruce, Damian, Dick, and, of course, Tim. Barbara listens in to the police channel and, eventually, communicates with them to reach the victims. There are so many of them that even civilians help.
It’s as horrible as expected: all over the city, people are strapped to bombs which are set to go off once the person stops laughing for more than five seconds. The tension gives the whole situation a bleakness and a hopelessness that are hard to wade through. No one is in the mood for humor in Gotham today. And still, people try to crack jokes, if for no other reason than it’s in their best interest to be as hilarious as possible.
“Shit,” Tim murmurs.
“What is it, Red Robin?” Barbara’s voice is worried, but Tim knows she has no time for small things.
The Bats and the police along with the QRT are all over the city. They are working as hard as they can to contain the situation. And Barbara is at the center of the storm.
“It’s a girl,” Tim says, struggling to get himself together. “A little girl.”
A little dark-haired girl with a sweet voice, dimples, and curly hair that’s pulled up into two pigtails. She’s wearing a brown jacket and blue pants. Her hazel eyes are wide and her laughter is faltering.
And that’s the time Tim will allow himself to feel horror at the sight of a bomb forcing her to keep laughing or everybody around her—including what seems to be her father, who is desperately shaking a plushie—is gone.
Tim makes his way towards her.
Barbara inhales sharply. “Oh for fuck—If I get my hands on that maniac I’ll rip—” She breathes out once. Then she’s back. “The bomb is keeping the pattern of being different?”
“I think so,” Tim says, crouching in front of the little girl. “Hey, I’m Red Robin,” he greets and offers up a big smile.
“Her name is Sally,” the man with the plushie says. “I’m her father, Aaron.”
Tim whispers his thanks.
“I’m going to help you, Sally.” Tim keeps ahold of his smile by sheer will. “But you got to do something for me, okay?”
Sally nods. A tear dislodges, running down her cheek. She stops laughing.
“You got to laugh, okay Sally?” Tim rushes to ask. “Just for a little bit.” He gently bumps her nose, making her giggle.
The news is not great. Tim brings a hand to his cowl to zoom in on the bomb as he X-Rays it. It looks more complicated than Tim can safely disarm in time. For one, the sheer number of sensors that are present and he’s alone.
Then, if he’s not mistaken, one of the wires has the rubbery aspect of the elasticable and they are tear-resistant, cut-resistant, breakage-resistant, basically everything resistant. Superman can extend a two-inch piece as far as twenty miles before it gives; for anybody who isn’t on par in strength, they shouldn’t even bother. And the catch locks on as soon as it’s attached, only to be deactivated by the owner’s vocal print.
It’s out-of-this-world expensive. Tim knows it because he has to squash the disappoint he feels every time he sees a piece. He can’t afford more than little strips for the truly important electronics.
Luthor developed the cable—or better said, the material of the casing and the connecting mechanism—because he has a hard-on for foiling Superman. And, because Luthor holds the pattern and he has a penny for every crystal of sand in the world, it’s used almost negligently of his buildings. That’s because he’s made of spite.
Tim remembers Bruce was up in arms until he found out about the secret donations to the hospital equipment in Metropolis and slowly expanding outwards. He still protests, but he’s grumbling now. After all, it’s Luthor’s prerogative what he chooses to put out there. And, at least, they were assured that no two-bit criminal would get their hands on it because it was so expensive, difficult to get a hold of, and it could be stolen only by the best.
So how did Joker? Where did he get the cable? Does he have that much money? Is Luthor working with him?
On this particular bomb, Tim thinks that it protects the fuse.
It’s mostly done through the process of elimination and what he knows of the Joker, but there are a lot of wires and Tim feels the need to double-check.
Plus, to complicate it further, the bomb has a container of gas among the wires, probably Joker gas, that doesn’t seem to be attached the explosives, but it looks like it’s sensitive to movement.
Leave the Joker to conclude that the mess of fifty cables just isn’t hard enough to navigate.
That doesn’t mean that Tim’s going to stop trying, but it doesn’t look good. Sally has been here for at least fifteen minutes and she can’t keep going much longer. He’s running out of time.
“The QRT is on the way,” Barbara says. “They have experts in explosives, but if worst comes to worst, they can help with crowd management.”
“Roger that,” Tim says, making faces at Sally. “Do they have pictures?”
“And the video,” Barbara relays. “You have a request to look at the underside of the bomb.”
Tim spreads on the ground in as a dramatic manner as he can manage—which is pretty dramatic considering the teachers he had—to get Sally giggling and catches a good look at the bomb.
“Got it,” Barbara assures. “Incoming, one minute.”
“Sally,” Tim says, “some of my friends are going to join us. Don’t worry, they may be dressed in black and scary looking, but they are teddy bears. Great big teddy bears. They going to help too, okay?”
Sally’s wide eyes get impossibly bigger.
“Batman or the QRT?” Aaron asks.
“The QRT,” Tim answers.
Aaron nods. “They’re going to help,” he assures Sally. He smiles—it’s forced—and shakes his toy. “We’re nearly there, honey.”
The bulletproof van barely stops when several intimidating people jump out. While the rest of the QRT is dealing with the crowd, the tallest three are coming straight for them. One of them has a red helmet of some sort and a containment box. It’s made from the same material as the elasticable and has been a public gift from Luthor to all the police departments in the country.
The other has what looks like a mechanic pump and a small vacuum—they are both battery powered.
And the third is looking at a tablet, presumably the footage.
Tim realizes that they mean to release the gas.
“Are you sure that can handle it?” Tim asks lowly nodding to the vacuum.
“Yes,” the man with the tablet—01-28-18-13, Tim feels a shiver when he reads it off the man’s jacket—answers shortly. He steps around Tim. “There’s a plan B, Red Robin. Don’t get your pan—don’t fret.”
Tim narrows his eyes.
“Language, Thirteen,” the man with the vacuum, 02-14-20-04, says.
“It’s English, Four!” 01-28-18-13 throws back. Or should Tim call him Thirteen? It would make sense to use just the last two numbers when they speak to each other. “What’s wrong with English?”
01-15-19-65—or Sixty-five, Tim supposes, crouches in front of Sally and says, “My colleagues are really silly.” She shrugs. “They can’t help it, sorry.”
Sally laughs. “It’s okay.”
“Don’t listen to her. She likes to make us look bad,” Thirteen says.
“I don’t have to,” Sixty-five answers. “You do that yourselves. I just point it out.”
Entertained, Sally watches them interact, giggling softly.
“’Course you do.” Thirteen pushes Sixty-five jokingly, taking her place. He focuses on Sally. “So, sweetheart, how are you holding up?”
“Can you cough for me?” Thirteen continues.
Thirteen is gentle and mischievous. Tim can’t help but think that it fits the pseudo-hypothesis that Thirteen is Jason. But Tim doesn’t know if Thirteen sounds like Jason truly would, or like Tim imagined Jason to be like.
Sally coughs a couple of times, her chest imitating the movement of her laughter. There’s a small break and she coughs again. It’s probably more painful in the long run, but it fits the mood around better and so she’s more relaxed.
“Take deep breaths in between and don’t put your all in the coughs, okay?” Thirteen lowers his voice. “Kind of like when you cough to convince your dad that you don’t want to go to school, you know?” He gives a couple of shallow, barely-there coughs as an example.
Sally smiles and imitates him. “Like that?” she asks coyly.
“Just like that! You’re doing great, sweetheart!” Thirteen is smiling; Tim can clearly hear it in his voice.
“Sally,” Tim whispers.
Thirteen nods subtly and says, “I’m Thirteen. Sixty-five here”—Sixty-five waves—“is going to put a helmet on you. It’s going to have flashing lights, but I want you to focus and find Dory. And I need you to keep coughing like I showed you until we say so. Okay, Sally?”
“Okay,” Sally says through the coughs.
Sixty-five puts the helmet on and activates the clasps.
“Air filter?” Tim asks.
“Yup,” Sixty-five answers, while switching places with Four.
“Ready?” Thirteen asks.
Four fixes the vacuum over the bomb and prepares to power it. “Ready.”
Having nudged the containment box, made from the same rubbery material as the elasticable, to a clear area but still close, Sixty-five checks the placement a final time. “Ready,” she answers.
“You’re doing amazing, Sally. Just a little bit more,” Thirteen says and gets a pair of clips under the bomb. “Go.”
Four powers the vacuum.
Thirteen starts carefully clipping a lot of decoy wires on the underside of the bomb to get to the trigger elasticable. That one he can’t cut. He follows it to the box that controls the sensors put on Sally’s chest. If she stops laughing for more than five seconds, they stop sending the information to the box, which acts according to its programming, igniting the fuse inside the elasticable and detonating the bomb.
Joker’s creepy obsession with Looney Tunes is well known.
The simplest way would be to remove the sensors and put them on the pump, but they are the thermic kind. They won’t register something of a lower temperature like a machine. Unless it’s a heated pump, that won’t work.
Tim’s idea involved putting them on another person: either Aaron or him. On his own, he couldn’t have done it, but they could now. There’s only one problem with that, it doesn’t solve the bomb problem, only buys time.
Thirteen seems to have another plan, though. He strips the cable that gathers the input from the sensors to the box and a similar cable from the pomp. Then, waiting for Sally to start coughing again, he cuts the input cable halfway down and starts connecting it to the one from the pump. He has five seconds.
Fo—Thirteen manages it.
Two seconds later, the bomb still hasn’t detonated.
As a contingency, the removal of the sensors triggers the Joker gas. Four is thankfully there and green torrent is absorbed by the vacuum. It’s another few tense seconds while they make sure it none of it escapes. Four starts moving towards the box, while Thirteen and Sixty-five start getting the bomb vest off.
But the gas-canister is launched forward, to hit Thirteen’s face. He can’t move quickly enough. Neither of them can, they’re all holding volatile substances that can’t be jostled. Luckily, the canister doesn’t have the power to do any real harm, just take Thirteen out for a week or two. It’s more proof of Joker’s motto, ‘always maximize the damage,’ and of how bad a loser he is.
Tim extends his hand and catches it before it gets to that.
“Box,” Sixty-five says.
Next to the still running vacuum, Tim places the canister in the box as careful as he can. It wouldn’t do for anyone to inhale the dislodged residue when they’ve come so far. He takes his gloves off and carefully places them in the airtight compartment on his belt.
By the time Tim finishes, Jas—Thirteen has deposited the bomb and told Sally that she can stop coughing.
Tim kicks himself at the slip. He shouldn’t have. It’s crazy.
Sixty-five gingerly closes the box. “Clear.”
“Stopping the pump,” Four says.
The four of them take a step back. Five seconds. Then three more. A muffled noise is heard. The box triples in size. Stays that way for a moment. And reverts back to its usual dimensions.
“Filters,” Thirteen says.
A whir and the vents are opening.
After a few moments, Thirteen looks at his watch. “Safe.”
The announcement is met with a collective sigh of relief.
Thirteen turns to Tim, apparently taking him in. “Thanks.” He extends his hand.
Tim shakes it with a nod. “Any time. You guys did great work.”
Waving him off, Thirteen crouches down and releases the hinges on the helmet, lifting it off Sally’s head. “Hey, Sally. Did you find Dory?”
“No.” Sally pouts and Aaron rushes to embrace her.
“That’s okay.” Thirteen is smiling again. “She’s shy.”
Sally shrugs and sighs in her father’s arms. “I’m tired.”
“And we have work to do,” Sixty-five says and the QRT get ready to depart.
Tim’s hand slips and he puts a tracker on Thirteen.
“Red Robin, there’s a report of Joker holding hostages,” Barbara says and sends the address to his cowl. It’s a bank, five blocks away. “You are the closest, but be advised: the QRT is on the scene.”
“Since today, that started yesterday, was already ruined,” Tim grumbles as he fires his grapple gun. “I guess it doesn’t make that much of a difference.”
“The others are moving as fast as they can, but Red Robin…” Barbara trails off.
“Think before I act?”
“Mainly,” Barbara admits. “Be careful.”
“I do try.”
In no time Tim’s perched on a building across the street. The QRT isn’t much more nervous, or agitated, or bloodthirsty than usual. As far as Tim can tell, they’re treating this as any other case. That is good news because it means that the hostages won’t be forgotten. But it’s bad news because they have killed in the past.
“Oracle, can you me the feed from their comms on channel four, please?”
“Coming right up.”
“Thank you,” Tim replies. He presses four times on his reserve earpiece and puts it on.
“…ve company,” Thirteen is saying.
“Who?” Hennelly asks. Tim would recognize his voice anywhere.
“Would if I could, One,” Thirteen answers.
“Shitcake with a dash of raspberry-flavored fuck on top.” Hennelly sighs. “We did not need this.”
Tim can’t see Thirteen, but he hears him laugh. “Is that whining I hear?”
“Yes, dammit, it is,” Hennelly says. “Annoy me any more and I’m gonna cry, too.”
“Aw, is the big bad picking on you again, One?” comes another voice. “Eighty in position.” That one might be the Spartan-battle man, but Tim can’t see him.
“Twenty-six in position,” adds a female voice. “Do we need to have another intervention?”
“I am being bullied and that’s all I’m going to say on the matter,” Hennelly says, looking at the tablet. “And apparently, bullying is not all you’re good at. These are good.”
“I live to serve,” Eighty answers.
“You do,” Twenty-six quips. “I, on the other hand, appreciate the compliments.”
“Fourteen ready for deployment,” another woman says. “And bored. So bored.”
Now, Tim is willing to admit that the situation is getting concerning. He sees that they’re getting ready for something, but they aren’t posted at the entrances. Obviously, they’re waiting for something.
From the images Hennelly is looking at, there is no way that an incursion is successful. They are infrared and not that detailed, but Joker is easily identifiable. He’s the one that runs around the place, takes victims by the shoulders, and laughs. Tim can almost hear the Joker laugh just by the way the figure has his head thrown back, arms moving around like he’s a showman, and body contorted.
But there’s no line of sight. The windows are barred with wood sheets to hide the silhouettes of the hostages who are forced to stand behind them. There is a skylight, but no time to enter and take aim before Joker kills them or one of the hostages. Joker’s goons have their guns aimed at the entrances. The walls are made of rock and marble. And there is no way of telling for sure that Joker didn’t hire somebody to act like him, or maybe threatened them into it.
Maybe Tim could sneak in and take in Joker, leaving the rest to the QRT. It would be better if he wasn’t alone, but it’s doable even without help. He needs the building plans, but he could talk to the QRT and make sure that they would take advantage of the distraction he’d provide by taking on Joker.
But the QRT stands to mess everything up. The balance is so delicate in this situation: one tiny mistake and everyone’s endangered. If they’re late or hesitate even a little bit, that’s time that Joker’s goons can shoot. Or Joker himself can.
This is different even in that. Usually, Joker wants Batman’s attention so he’ll have some big speech and that’ll be Tim’s go-ahead signal. Jason didn’t have that chance so Tim knows that it’s better to not do this alone. However, he also knows that the more relaxed Joker is, the bigger the odds of catching him off guard. If Tim manages that, he can minimize the damage a disoriented and corned Joker will cause.
And that’s why the QRT is the worst idea—they should just let the Bats do their thing.
Shots are heard and Tim’s hand clenches on the grapple gun. Things are about to escalate. He’s ready to act.
“One, they don’t want to negotiate,” a man says in the QRT comms. “They shot the phone all to hell.”
“Well, there go my hopes and dr—” Hennelly begins.
“Wait,” the same voice interrupts. “They wrote a message: they’ll kill a hostage every minute until they run out of hostages. There’s a lot of ‘hahaha’s and then signed ‘J.’”
Hennelly shakes his head. “QRT, positions.”
“Smoke grenades on hand,” Sixty-five says. Tim easily recognizes the voice. “Sixty-five and company in position.”
“I have the shot,” Thirteen says, making Tim frown. “But if he looks up, I’m wide open.”
So Tim traces a line from the bank’s roof-up. There, dangling on the side of a taller building, facing the skylight, stands Thirteen. Feet planted on the wall as if he’s walking down the wall, body a perfect line parallel with the street, rifle braced on his shoulder, Thirteen’s stance is confident. He looks as comfortable with the heights and his precarious position as any of the Bats.
Fourteen adds, “No longer bored. Fourteen and company in position.”
“So, here’s the plan. Eighty and Twenty-six go first, Thirteen takes the shot, then Fourteen goes in along with Sixty-five,” Hennelly says. “Everybody got that?”
A round of ‘confirmed,’ and Tim is ready to send a—but should he? This is the police and they’re not acting illegally or illogically. He’d be the one that disturbs the balance and endangers everyone. So he hesitates. Less than a blink. That’s all it takes.
“Hey, Red Robin!” Eighty yells.
Tim can hear him both in the comms and in reality. He hesitates for another blink, shocked at being called out. A flare raises. Without wanting to, Tim’s head snaps in that direction.
Then Tim hears it.
“Target down,” Ja—Thirteen says.
Four comes right after. “Confirmed.”
Then the QRT members are holding their shields up as they enter. Two people up on Ja—Thirteen’s roof throw down smoke grenades through the skylight. In a few seconds, the members who entered through the door aren’t visible anymore. Instead, Tim can hear the shots. The two people with Jas—Thirteen are climbing down to him. Sixty-five and Four. They’re Sixty-Five and Four. They wait until Jaso—Thirteen has the rifle across his chest, the break off, and a gun in his hand. They disappear through the skylight.
Thirteen is Jason.
Jason uses guns.
He’s a killer.
Tim’s throat is dry and he swallows. It’s the only thing Tim can do. He swallows again.
Then Bruce lands next to Tim. “What happened?”
“Joker’s dead,” Tim answers.
A lot of words are being thrown around, words that are painful and true. Tim knows perfectly well what he did. He does not need Bruce to remind him, Tim will never forget. No, what he’s struggling with is his realization.
Thirteen is Jason.
Somehow, as time passes, Tim loses his conviction. He fears that he assigned a total stranger the tragic story of a short-lived teenager. Tim is almost ten years older than Jason ever got to be. There’s something so… wrong with that, especially when he’s still Tim’s Robin, his hero. So, yes, Tim could have rearranged the facts in order to believe that the two had more in common than they did.
After all, what is Tim’s proof? The publishing date of a beloved novel? Thirteen being comfortable with heights? Some personality traits that Tim doesn’t even know they were ever real? What?
“Enough!” Dick says, cowl on the table and hair standing up every which way. It looks to be the work of his own hands. “That’s enough, Bruce. Tim didn’t kill Joker! Let’s try to calm down.”
“He didn’t have to,” Bruce says and there’s something about it that makes Dick flinch.
Damian’s eyes narrow and, as usual when Bruce lays into Dick, he redirects the conversation. “Did the QRT act illegally?”
“That’s not the point.” Bruce shakes his head. “The point is—”
“That he didn’t have any time,” Dick interrupts. “If he had acted impulsively, he may have innocent blood on his hands.”
“Isn’t it enough that he has blood on his hands?” Bruce asks sadly.
Damian scowls. “Surely it is preferable to the alternative? That is the basis of the laws.”
“Preferable is not what we aim for,” Bruce says decisively and turns around.
“I still fail to see how that’s not the system working,” Damian mutters.
“This is what we want for Gotham, isn’t it?” Damian asks louder. “For there to be order again. They have their laws, they have the means to enforce them, and they do. This is the result. There is no external influence. A criminal held civilians hostages, was about to kill them, and was killed himself in the process.”
Bruce turns. His expression thunderous. But Dicks observes calmly but intensely, simply taking in what Damian says, waiting for him to finish arranging his words into an argument. And Tim? He is amazed that Damian seems to have some sort of epiphany after years of struggle.
“We have our code because we chose it, but the rest of the city is not bound by that.” Damian clenches his fists. “What they are bound by, they have followed in this case. Isn’t that the system working? We cannot pick and choose as we like. It’s not our right.”
“I think Bruce means that it could have been done without bloodshed,” Dick says. “That is debatable. But, you’re right, society has decided to allow their behavior under the circumstances. And I know for a fact that they wear cameras that are as high-tech as they can afford. The footage can be reviewed and witnesses can be called. If there are questions about the severity of their response, they’ll have to answer for their choices. Those are the laws right now; you make a good point.”
Bruce’s lips have tightened in a white line and Tim is folding his cowl around his fingers to cope with the sudden rise in tension.
“And if Tim had interfered, it could have ruined their strategy,” Dick continues as he starts pacing. “The hostages were not harmed in the intervention and the QRT sustained superficial injuries. We can’t be sure that the outcome will still be the same if someone interferes with their plan. They planned to stop Tim. It took two people. Imagine if they had to use more.” He drums his fingers on the table. “We might be a serious distraction they can’t afford.”
Dick doesn’t lift his head. It’s uncomfortable to look at him because his silhouette is dark an outline against the bright backdrop of the bat-computer. “If they aren’t paying attention because they fear our presence or intervention, then we’re doing more harm than good.”
“Don’t they need to pay attention to their surroundings anyway?” Damian takes off his cowl but moves his shoulders in a way that makes his hood fall forward a little, covering more of his face.
“Yes, but we don’t go down easily. We’re not like a civilian or somebody’s goons,” Dick answers and he turns. “Now that we know they seek to distract us, it’ll be harder next time. They need to have a plan at all times and special equipment. Just for us.”
“What are you suggesting?” Bruce asks from behind clenched teeth.
Dick shrugs. “Maybe talk to them? Reach a compromise? Food for thought.”
“Gotham needs us,” Tim says lowly. “No matter if they do good work or not.”
“We can’t be resistant to change,” Dick replies.
“Their position, their morals, or their continued existence aren’t certain.” Bruce hasn’t taken any of his equipment off and it’s jarring. It makes Tim feel exposed. And what Tim can see of Bruce’s face isn’t encouraging. “You can’t trust them.”
“If you didn’t trust the Gothamites to eventually do something to help clean their city, why do you talk to Gordon? His Major Crime unit is doing great work.” Dick smile-smirks and it isn’t friendly. “When are you going to feel threatened by them?”
“They don’t kill,” Bruce answers calmly, but Tim isn’t sure for how much longer.
And still, Tim can’t help himself. “The QRT didn’t kill Black Mask.”
“They killed enough of his people,” Bruce dismisses.
Tim nods. “They didn’t kill Bane.”
“This is hardly a contest,” Bruce says.
“It’s not; it’s pretty simple actually.” Dick lifts his hands. “The villains commit crimes—some surrender, some don’t. Those who do are taken in. No beatings.”
“As it’s the law.” Damian shrugs off his hood and turns to face Bruce. “I do not understand what more there is to say, Father.”
The tension in the room increases. Damian truly doesn’t understand so he can hardly be blamed for it, but he just put Bruce with the back to the wall. It’s not what he deserves after all he has sacrificed for the city and for them.
“As I said,” Dick cuts in. “Food for thought.” He stretches. “Speaking of food—snacks anybody?”
Alfred clears his throat. He’s holding a tray with hot drinks. “May I offer some refreshments?”
“Where the hell are you?” Tim shouts at the screen, throwing his hands up.
Kon is there in less than a second. “Everything okay?”
Kon enters and finds himself a comfortable place on the floor. “So what’s up?”
“I’ve been foiled.” Because no other verb would do.
Visibly suppressing an eye roll, Kon says, “’Tis a shame.”
“The asshole planted the tracker on a cat.” Tim drums his fingers on the table. “Its usual daily route is QRT HQ, one or two restaurants, and an apartment complex close to the HQ. I’ve been following a cat for the last week, trying to make sense of its movements and schedule.” He ignores Kon’s suppressed snickers with dignity. “Did you know that its favorite place for a late lunch is a small Korean restaurant that I’ve never heard of before?”
“No,” Kon answers half-choked.
“I went there and though I didn’t meet him—see, I didn’t know I was supposed to look for a cat—I thought he had good taste.” Tim, possibly, pouts. “I love their marinated crabs.”
Kon abandons all pretenses and laughs loudly. “It’s not the restaurant fault.” He chuckles. “Better luck next time. And maybe adopt the cat?”
I decided to update twice a week--once from Thursday to Saturday and again between Sunday and Tuesday.
Tim adopts the cat and names her Mina. It seems appropriate since she spends her time with the Bats. She is black and grey, and surprisingly affectionate. According to the vet, she is about a year old; according to Damian, Tim is unworthy of her love. Tim ignores the latter.
Mina is also the reason he’s late going on patrol. It started with a laser and it ended up with an intense staring contest. He left before the claws could come out.
But Tim’s in a hurry, which is why he doesn’t see Harley until he’s nearly on top of her. She’s not waiting for him or acting suspicious—just humming to herself, swinging her legs a little off the edge of the roof. She seems… sad? Contemplative? Tim doesn’t have time to figure it out.
“Harley?!” Tim asks bewildered, while he veers pretty dramatically to the left.
“What is it with you Bats?” Harley shouts, from where she dove left. Her left, so they don’t crash into each other. “Can’t a girl be on a roof anymore? What is the world coming to?”
“Girls, yes, but you are supposed to be in Arkham,” Tim says. “And uh…” He smiles sheepishly. “I’m sorry. I didn’t see you.”
Harley sighs. “It’s okay.” She looks back onto the city. “Do you think I could stay here a bit more?”
Tim studies her carefully. She seems at ease, but you can never be too sure with Harley. Her stability and consistency are not what she’s known for. She can attack anytime. On the other hand, it’s best if she surrenders willingly for the same reasons.
Besides, the Joker is gone. That’s bound to have consequences, especially where Harley is concerned. Tim doesn’t know what kind yet and until he does, he bides his time and tries to find out more.
“If you don’t mind company,” Tim says.
Harley shrugs. “Fine by me, little bat.”
So Harley retakes her seat and after sending a ‘may need help,’ warning to Barbara, Tim leaves a bit of distance in between them and sits down.
“This is how the world looks without him,” Harley says after some minutes have passed.
Tim makes an affirmative noise.
Harley hunches into herself. “Not what I expected.”
“What did you expect?”
“I don’t know,” Harley says. She stops. Takes a breath. Then, “No. I do know, I’m just having trouble picking one.”
Tim turns to look at her.
“Fire? Madness?” Harley laughs and it feels bitter. “The end of the world?”
Tim frowns. If he’s being honest, there were a few times when he actively waited for this moment. He’s relieved and, at the same time, feels guilty about it, especially since he could have stopped it or, at least, tried. In the end, though, there are no kind words that he can honestly offer to Harley, so he offers none.
“You’re not sorry. Not about to lie about it either,” Harley says soberly. “I can’t blame you. He was… himself and you Bats know the worse parts. He hit you, shot at you, blew you up, and played with your minds. His biggest achievement was that he killed one of you.”
Tim finds himself keeping his mouth shut. His agreement is obvious and strong, perhaps stronger than Harley expects. There’s no need to say it out loud.
“I love him, loved hi—no, I love him.” Harley’s voice wavers a bit until it stabilizes. “Once upon a time, I thought I could heal him. He has been through things that no one should have. I didn’t realize”—she smiles, but it’s horribly forced—“that when he looked into the abyss, he liked what he saw. He wanted that for everyone. I first thought it was a natural impulse, you know? Make them hurt like you hurt.”
Tim doesn’t understand the impulse, personally, but he’s heard of it so he nods.
“That’s not all there is, though.” Harley sighs. “All there was.” She takes a deep breath and continues, “He makes—made people hurt because that was the only time he liked them. Suffering, screaming, splintering into a thousand pieces, that’s when he liked people best. When they interested him the most. At first, I didn’t see.” Harley laughs faintly and whispers, “He wasn’t angry; he was in love.”
Cold sinks into Tim’s bones. It’s all he can do not to shiver. He hasn’t heard this explanation before and he doesn’t know what to do with it.
“You know, I can’t pinpoint what broke me?” Harley says conversationally. “Realizing that tidbit or realizing that doesn’t change anything for me. I still love him.” She snorts. “I guess somewhere in there, in my mind, he became more than human.” Harley swallows. “But he was not, was he? Just as prone to die by a bullet to the head as the rest of us.”
“He was larger than life,” Tim agrees.
Harley laughs her wild laugh, making Tim shiver. “I never thought,” she says, bright and cutting, “that if you are larger than life, that just means that the target you paint on yourself is seen easily from afar. I should’ve. He should’ve. After all, that’s why he came after Batman: it meant that someone seeing through the illusion of invincibility and doing something about it. When it happened to Batsy, though, I had the luxury of not caring.”
Tim watches her looking bleary-eyed at Gotham and probably not seeing anything. She is contemplative. He was right about that. She also is the closest to the Dr. Harleen Quinzel he’d ever seen her, without actually being her former self. Hearing her analyze events and people with cold detachment and a wild expression is disturbing.
“I think…” Harley takes a deep breath. “I don’t think I blame him.” She blinks. “Not ‘him’ as in Mr. J, ‘him’ the sniper who shot Mr. J. I don’t think I blame him.”
Tim makes a questioning sound in the back of his throat.
“Mmhmm.” Harley turns towards him. “It’s like this: Batman had a Joker. What Batman couldn’t live with, Joker made sure it happened. He was Batman’s nightmares incarnated.” She looks at him intently. “Then, it turns out Joker has a person like that. He wasn’t threatened, wasn’t beaten, wasn’t tortured. That would have made him so happy. No, the worst happened to him too. Killed, and then forgotten in favor of his own people and assorted hostages.”
“You don’t blame the police,” Tim repeats to make sure.
“No, and I don’t blame the sniper. How can I?” Harley asks. “He’s Joker’s Joker.”
That’s… one way of looking at it.
“I wonder what Mr. J did to him,” Harley says and snorts at whatever she sees on Tim’s face. Confusion? Surprise? Dread? “They get a new sniper and suddenly the terms and conditions for Gothamites are changed? He’s after something. Someone.” She shrugs. “Call me obsessed, but Mr. J has touched everybody in this city.”
“We make our own monsters,” Tim says lowly.
Harley bursts into laughter. “Exactly!” she shrieks. “That’s the way the cookie crumbles.” She takes a deep breath, but a few giggles escape. Shaking her head she jumps to her feet. “Maybe… maybe I’ll try something new. It isn’t raining fire. The future is full of impossibilities.”
“Ready to go back?” Tim asks.
Harley takes off her choker. Her fingers gently trace the ‘Puddin’ and she kisses it.’ “Yup.” She loops it through her belt. “Ready.”
Tim finally tracks down the QRT. They just finished a raid on one of Penguin’s warehouses, a clear sign that they are merrily dismantling the operation. The raid resulted in a lot of drugs seized, about 200-250 lbs, and surprisingly few wounded men. Also, there are no casualties; everybody surrendered.
It seems like that would have been the thing to do when the police finds them with a great big pile of drugs, but, as it turns out, they only just found out about that option. To be fair, they weren’t used to be caught unawares by the police and when they were surprised by the Bats, they could shoot without compunction. It’s not like they risked their lives when they did.
That is an uncomfortable realization to have for Tim, so, until he has more data, it lurks in the back of his mind.
Anyway, Tim is waiting for the right moment to deliver his message from Harley. He doesn’t need too many people around or anybody shooting him. So, he is monitoring their mics so he could find it.
The lurking thing at the back of his mind throws out words like ‘stalkerish,’ and ‘spying on the police,’ which didn’t mean much when Tim wasn’t sure the police were clean or that they knew what they were doing. Things like this are normal procedure for the Bats. They’ve always done this. It’s necessary. But that’s becoming less like a valid reason and more like an excuse.
Tim takes a deep breath and listens.
“I’m all right,” Sixty-Five says. Tim has learned to recognize her since Sixty-Five, Thirteen, and Four are usually together. “It’s just a graze.”
“Yeah, that didn’t work for me either,” Four says wryly.
“Would you stop moving?” Thirteen asks, but it’s more like exasperated order.
“Someone’s antsy,” Four comments.
“Long leave,” Thirteen answers.
Tim finally finds them in all the chaos.
“You didn’t find it helpful at all?” Four asks.
“Not in itself,” Thirteen says and looks around. “You being there all the damn time though, eating me out of my house and home, that did help. Amazingly, but it did.”
Four—Tim thinks—pats him on his shoulder. “Should we buy you a big bag of sugar?” Yep, it’s Four.
“And one of flour?” Sixty-Five asks.
And Four adds, “One of salt?”
Thirteen chuckles as he turns to look behind him. “Yes, to everything. If you wanted me to spread grocery shopping around, you just needed to mention it.” His voice lowers. “Prepare yourselves.”
“Relax, Thirteen.” Sixty-Five snorts. “Buying lemons won’t torture us.”
“That’s what you think!” Thirteen cackles. Then he drops it abruptly to say, “You’re fine, but I still need to bandage it.”
Sixty-Five sighs. “Of course you do.”
“What are you looking for?” Four asks.
“I feel watched,” Thirteen answers, searching upwards.
Sixty-Five curses and now all three of them are looking around.
Tim supposes that this is the right moment. He jumps, swings on a piece of rebar, and lands on a broken street light. “I come in peace,” he carefully mentions. “Hello.”
“Just a Robin,” Thirteen says dryly. “A red one. Wave everybody.”
The three of them wave.
Tim rolls his eyes. “Harley Quinn isn’t on the warpath for Joker.” He shrugs. “I thought you may want to know.”
“It’s useful,” Four says to the other two.
“Aw, you didn’t have to go all the way to Arkham for that,” Thirteen croons. “Would you imagine caring for someone so much that you go all the way to Arkham, in a costume, to—”
“Yes, she escaped,” Tim interrupts. “She didn’t do anything though.”
Sixty-Five is with Thirteen though. “Other than prove that the criminally insane could get out anytime they want?”
“…Yes,” Tim replies.
“That’s also useful,” Four says.
“Not surprising, but yeah.” Thirteen sighs. “Thanks, Red Robin.”
“If you have any more information, don’t hesitate to tell us,” Sixty-Five says. Her tone is a little mechanic like she said it thousands of times, but Tim thinks she means it anyway.
Then the three of them wave again.
Tim snots, waves back, and then remembers something. “I adopted the cat.” He shoots his grappling gun and plunges into the darkness.
There’s a moment of confusion, but finally, Thirteen laughs loudly. “Happy to hear that!” he shouts after Tim.
This, thinks Tim a couple of days later, is something worth mentioning. If I had the time and Bruce wasn’t looking over my shoulder. Also, if I had a way to contact them.
Tim sighs and looks up at the sky. There’s nothing anyone can do now. No one can miss the aliens pouring in over Gotham.
And that’s another point.
The aliens coming shouldn’t have a surprise. The JL has its HQ in space and the Lanterns are not only a part of the League but also interested in keeping the peace. No matter how unprepared Hal may be for his job, he’s not that bad. And the JL actively watches for invasions or contact attempts. The aliens streaming through the sky aren’t subtle, but somehow no one noticed and Tim doesn’t look forward to that debrief. If it turns out that somebody wasn’t doing what they were supposed to, heads would roll.
“Hey guys,” Hal says on the general line, “I haven’t managed to find out why they are acting like they are, but they did tell me their name, for what’s worth. They are the Ar Tun. That’s A-R and, a separate word, T-U-N. If anybody wants to try for diplomacy, be my guest. Good luck.”
There’s quiet over the line and Tim imagines a lot of confusion and, maybe, a bit of exasperation. But he has to put an end to the silence because they have some interesting people on the ground. So he announces, “Be advised, Suicide Squad deployed in Gotham.”
Bruce had to invite the Justice League in Gotham as soon as they started seeing the Ar Tun ships. They were just too many for the Bats to handle alone. As it is, they are working on several levels: those who can fly on harassing the Ar Tun and trying to find out as much as possible; those who can’t, on the ground, ready for a possible confrontation; and those who are injured or not cleared for fighting on amassing the data and keeping an eye on the battle. It’s too early to tell, and though it seems to be working, none of the others has fought in Gotham before.
Tim looks at an excited Harley who makes rude gestures to the still out-of-range aliens and can’t help but think that this looks normal. For Gotham. It’s actually pretty tame. He realizes that it shouldn’t but can’t quite make himself really feel it. That’s who he is and where he lives; Harley being aggravating and all.
In this case, the Suicide Squad fits in better than the JL and that says a lot about Gotham.
Clark announces, “Be advised, the Ar Tun can modify their bodies at will.”
“Is there any way you can clarify that?” Oliver asks.
“I think he is referring to their ability to exchange their legs for their wings after a moment’s pause,” Koriand’r volunteers.
“So…” Deadshot, evidently patched into the comms, throws in. “Where are the wings?”
“Yeah,” Harley says. “Are they where the legs were? And what happens to the legs?”
“I fail to see how this is important,” Donna says.
And Roy replies, “I kinda wanna know.”
“The legs are absorbed into the torso, which has momentarily more volume before that volume is redirected to three pairs of wings on the back,” Diana explains.
A disgusted noise is followed by Barry says quickly, “Sorry! I’m sure it’s worse in my imagination. I mean—it’s just… I don’t mean to be speciest. So sorry!”
“It’s… ah, unsettling in person,” Kon says. “But they pause when they change. You never know when it may come handy.”
“Be advised, QRT deployed,” Barbara announces.
“That’s kind of late,” Dick says absently.
Tim hears a chuckle, then Roy saying, “Police, man. Always on time.”
But Roy is overwritten by Bruce when he demands, “Where are they?”
“No idea,” Oracle answers.
“Look up,” Wally says. Something that Tim was doing anyway, but now he notices what Wally means. There are four black helicopters, higher and bigger—thought not by a lot—than the alien ships. “Are those them?”
“Do they know what they’re doing?” Clark asks.
“I think so,” Dick hesitantly replies.
And the same time, Killer Croc rumbles, “They do.”
“That’s not concerning at all,” Victor says.
“Oracle, can you patch them in?” Tim asks.
“They went low-tech recently,” Barbara answers and Tim knows that they must’ve had enough of the Bats spying on them. Dammit. “You’d have to have a radio and a lot of patience for to search the frequencies.”
Tim sighs. “Thanks anyway.”
“Sure,” Barbara replies.
The thing that breaks the status quo, though, is not the QRT being threatening. The Ar Tun don’t seem to notice them. No, it’s Clark being taken out by a familiar green beam.
Kon shouts that it’s indeed kryptonite-based, but, by then, the yellowish-blue Ar Tun, have already exited the ship. With their wings on and their legs conspicuously missing—and it is unsettling—they catch him before anyone can move. That’s the good thing. But then they seem to want to take him back to their ship and that doesn’t work… for anyone on Earth.
And then… the QRT.
Tim has seen both everybody else in action, so his attention is focused on the QRT. And he isn’t impressed by them. They don’t seem to have any kind of strategy when they simply go down to the highest ship and start shooting. Sure, they have sturdy shields, but Tim’s still kind of disappointed.
Then another helicopter appears on the ship’s other side and Tim is… appeased. Flanking the opponent is a time-honored tradition. Nothing inherently wrong with it. But they don’t have the manpower to do it for all the ships. And yes, the other two helicopters can provide a distraction or more fire. Also, there are the heroes flying around.
It’s still lacking something.
Until the Ar Tun open the doors. Their intention is obviously to swarm out when the QRT shift smoothly into cover fire leaving open a gap in the area they cover. From one of the higher helicopter jumps somebody. Straight for the gap.
It’s such a familiar move that Tim practically superimposes Robin—his Robin—over what he’s seeing. That’s Jason. It’s got to be. His stance is good, his leg is posed, and his landing will be successful. Not Dick-perfect with plenty of elegance, showmanship, and ease. Or Damian’s stealth that he can’t seem to be able to and he doesn’t want to shake, slinking until he’s barely visible. Or even Tim’s own precision with his detailed planning and calculated arcs. No, it’s… straightforward. Violent in a way, but practical in another.
“What the…” Roy trails off.
It really is Jason.
“Did someone else see that?” Kyle asks.
And then the first thing definitely-Jason does is shoot an Ar Tun in the head and the image is dispelled jarringly.
“Okay,” Arthur says. “But did anyone else see that?”
Tim breathes carefully.
“Deadshot,” Harley calls and Tim’s eyes snap to her.
But Deadshot is already firing and Tim tries to follow the bullet. If that’s the only thing he can do, then he’ll do it. He swallows and zooms in on it as it hits… what passes for an Ar Tun windshield?
Not-Jason, though, seems to welcome the distraction. It’s that little something extra that he needs and before anyone can turn the tide, there are two lines attached to the ship and back-up on their way. In no time, a black silhouette takes the Ar Tun’s pilot’s place.
“He doesn’t look dead,” Harley drawls. Her giggling slowly turns into cackles and says quietly, but still able to be picked by the comm. “I can’t think of anyone more fitting.”
Tim understands what she’s saying and wants to agree. But he can’t. He’s still not sure. There are so many similarities that the differences are all the more startling. And this is not the time to think about that.
The QRT has a ship. They have access to communications and technology, and probably have their hands full. The flying heroes are actively damaging the ships. They are plenty busy. And now that one ship is in range of a building, so is he.
But Tim won’t forget about this. As soon as they’re done with whatever this is, he’ll… He doesn’t know. Go ahead and ask Thirteen directly? Maybe.
That’s in the future and now Tim has to focus his attention on other things. He gets out his grappling gun and aims. Jumps. Fights. Everything else has to wait.
I reposted this because it showed six words less and I have no idea where I lost them.
Tim pushes further down in his seat. This is awkward. He sees Kon’s expression and sympathizes, but there’s also hope there when none is felt by Tim. He wants the best for his friend, of course he does, he just isn’t sure that the source is the right one. On the other hand, considering how ruthlessly protective Luthor can be, Tim’s not sure it is the wrong one either. Tim is all for letting time decide, but it’s uncomfortable as hell until it does.
Apparently, Luthor didn’t know that he was Kon’s other… Well, Luthor uses the word ‘father,’ where Clark uses the word ‘DNA donor,’ and it seems that when Luthor is majorly pissed off he won’t allow Clark’s hand-wavey approach to science. Presently, Luthor preaches about what exactly constitutes a clone. It’d be entertaining if Tim weren’t in the same room. As it is…
“I should kill you,” Luthor threatens Clark with a snarl.
And Tim hands down believes him. From what he sees around the table he’s not the only one. But this debrief is already a nightmare and Tim has stuff to do regarding Thirteen. Tim doesn’t need this.
The good news about this meeting is that everyone was where they were supposed to and paying attention. That means that everyone gets along for one more day. The bad news is… everything else.
If no one saw the Ar Tun coming the possibilities get fewer: they opened up a portal into the sky, high enough to still have to use ships, but low enough so the JL satellite won’t catch them until it was too late; they had cloaking devices; or they had another way of passing unnoticed like a type of magic or illusion-based power.
What they need to do now is either rebuilt the ships wrecked in the attack or talk to GCPD for one of the ships that the QRT got their hands on. Bruce doesn’t like that, but then again neither does Tim. It’s always complicated to reconstruct alien tech and usually, that means that it’s fun. This time, however, Tim doesn’t like the ticking clock attached. It’s still going to be interesting, but not necessarily pleasant.
Dick is happy, though. He seemed to lit up at the thought that this may be the thing that starts the cooperation between the Bats and the QRT. On that account, Tim is right there with him. Tim just wants to clear this Thirteen stuff first.
But then Kon made an observation that it would not only be faster, it would be better if they talked to the QRT. That prompted a reply from Luthor that it was a smart thing to say from someone who shared Superman’s genetics, to which Kon answered that he shared Luthor’s genetics too. Tim didn’t think that Luthor could be paler, but Tim was proven wrong.
Suffice it to say, things took a turn for the uncomfortable.
“Oh, really?” Clark asks bitterly. “Are you going to try one of your convoluted plans again?”
And Luthor turns to ice.
The only reason Luthor’s here is that this could be read as an alien invasion and, in the past, they’ve always had better results if they involved Luthor from the first stages. He is extremely paranoid about aliens and their intentions. It’s only debatable that he’s a speciest because so many of the cultures visiting are hell-bent on conquering Earth. He made a good team with Koriand’r in the past and an almost perfect one with Clark. That was suspicious, to say the least. And even now, Luthor didn’t hesitate to call Kon his son. There may be more complicated things there.
Anyway, the thing with Luthor is that he is smart. He took his fear and used it to find out everything he could about different races. Exploring, blackmailing, experimenting—he did it all. Then, when that well dried up, he started deducing. Many of his predictions regarding alien tech and how it functions have come true. That makes Luthor a dangerous person, especially to a non-human.
“I’ve never actually tried, Clark,” Luthor says. Then, as if he didn’t just reveal that he has known Superman’s identity for an unspecified amount of time, Luthor goes on, “You’re like a problem with only two solutions, one of which is mostly out of my reach. Do you really think that I haven’t figured a way?”
“How do you kn—I’m not Cl—”
But Clark’s stuttering is, blissfully, interrupted by Luthor. “Don’t insult me.”
That is apparently sufficient because Clark changes courses. “Why didn’t you try… Am I supposed to believe that? What was with the giant robots and lasers and the…”—Clark gestures something that Tim doesn’t catch, but it’s big—“monster thingy?”
“Ways to piss you off?” Luthor asks and he thaws a little. Enough to smirk. “What would your father say? Suffering is good for the soul? See, I only had the best intentions at heart.”
Clark gets angry but it’s odd. He doesn’t get enraged like Bruce would if Joker mentioned his dad. It’s not quite the same depth. Maybe Clark is just a calmer person? Well, that’s pretty obvious, but Tim doesn’t think that explains it.
Not that Joker is around to do that again. And Tim is still not over that: the Joker is no more. Usually Tim’s pretty adaptable, but, in this case, acceptance of facts still eludes him.
“My father was not always right,” Clark replies.
Luthor mock-widens his eyes. “Knock me over with a feather, I’ve heard them all.”
“No person could be,” Clark continues, ignoring Luthor. “And there were times when it was impossible to appreciate his words of wisdom.”
“I think you meant clichés,” Luthor interrupts again.
They are… bantering. Luthor and Clark are exchanging quips with the ease of long practice and the whole room is immobile in their disbelief. There is history there. Tim doesn’t know why that is surprising, but it is.
What exactly is going on here?
At least Kon’s confusion seems to crawl towards happiness.
“But, it’s your glee that invalidates your own statement,” Clark finishes.
And like a well-oiled machine, Luthor is ready with a comeback. “Can’t blame a man for being happy.”
Clark rolls his eyes. He rolls his eyes. He rolls his eyes. “Why can’t you answer a simple question?”
“Regardless of what you may have heard,” Luthor answers without clarifying anything, “stupid questions do exist.”
“Why—” Clark begins.
But Luthor’s had enough. “Because, you idiot, I don’t murder my best friend.” His voice is the coldest Tim has ever heard. “No matter the addition of the word ‘former.’”
The room freezes.
“What.” Roy’s voice does something funny in his incredulity so the question comes out strangled.
“That is why you two make such a good team,” Diana says absently.
Tim agrees. So many things make sense now that he almost blames himself for not having seen it earlier. On the other hand, there are so many more that don’t.
But the truly incredible part comes when Clark says lowly, a gentle and vulnerable, “Lex…”
Kon’s mouth falls open.
“But I will forget about the friendship we used to share if you try to keep me away from my son,” Luthor declares implacably. “I swear it, Clark.”
Clark tries to say something, but no words come out. He settles for nodding once. “I thought you knew,” he finally gets out.
Kon’s face doesn’t know what it’s doing for a second before settling on a grin so wide, it must hurt him. But he keeps smiling. Tim’s mood improves just by watching him.
And then Jon turns to Clark and says, “You are married to my mother!” Luthor mutters something, making Jon squawk and look at him. “You weren’t.” Jon turns to Clark again. “He wasn’t. You didn’t.”
“He stole mine too!” Clark sounds petulant and this whole meeting has gone off the rails into another reality. “He even married her.”
“Wait,” Dick jumps in. It’s like he enjoys being in the line of fire. “To find out Clark-does-stupid-shit stories I should have just…”—he gestures aggressively—“gone to Luthor?”
“What are you interested in?” Luthor asks. His smirk is truly frightening because he seems to be genuinely amused. “And how much is it worth it to you?”
“No, he won’t answer anything,” Clark tells Dick, voice higher than Tim has ever heard it. “I met Lex when he ran me over.”
Luthor rolls his eyes. “Not that you admitted that.”
“If I’d have been a regular human,” Clark says calmly, “I would have never got the chance.”
“If you’d have been a regular human,” Luthor repeats with an amused air, “neither would I.”
“Because you drive like a maniac,” Clark accuses.
“You knew that and you still went with. What does that say about you?” Luthor snaps back.
“The point is, I know a lot more of Lex’s dirty secrets than he knows mine,” Clark finishes with a ‘so there’ gesture, by-passing completely a certainly interesting first meeting.
Jon looks at Clark like he’s never seen him before.
Luthor shrugs. “The threat’s empty. I have to be embarrassed by any of them for it to count.”
Then again the same does Kon with Luthor.
Bruce grunts. “How long have you known Clark’s ident—”
But then the big screen comes to life. On it, there’s a video call from the Titans Tower. Someone has entered it without triggering an alarm and now is waving lazily to them all. That someone is Thirteen.
The chances of this day not getting any more surreal are nonexistent.
“Hello, guys!” Thirteen greets with an audible smile. Whether it’s mocking or not, remains to be seen. “Nice to see you all gathered already, that’s perfect because—”
Kon is gone already, but Donna says, “You’re trespassing.”
At the same time, Bruce wordlessly growls.
“I’m not trespassing,” Thirteen dismisses. “As I was saying, I come on beha—”
“How can you not be trespassing?” Roy asks.
Thirteen inhales deeply. “I come on behalf of—”
“You are so trespassing,” Barry says.
But Thirteen is interrupted by Barry who repeats, “You totally are.”
Kon appears behind Thirteen.
“Don’t touch me!” Thirteen snarls. He is somehow aware of Kon arriving and swings around to face him. “I have every fucking right to be here.”
“Hurt Kon at your own risk,” Luthor warns with a glare.
And Thirteen’s head snaps back, black visor gleaming. His jaw works as he swallows. “I am here on behalf of the Gotham City Police Department’s Quick Response Team to open a channel of communication,” he enunciates with forced calm. Thirteen shifts slightly, to include Kon in the conversation. Or to better see him. “That is all.”
Kon, busy trying to hide just how much Luthor’s intervention meant to him, nonetheless raises his hands. “I’m only here as a guarantee.”
But Tim is wondering how come Thirteen entered the Tower without raising alarms. Even with the donations increase following the results they provided, the QRT has limited resources. They shouldn’t be able to have the high-tech equipment that allows them to break in. And even if they had a hacker on the team—probably did, actually—Thirteen seems confident that he isn’t trespassing. It would be pretty dumb in and of itself, especially for the QRT. Tim has learned not to underestimate them. So, Tim checks the log-ins.
“That’s fair,” Thirteen tells Kon. “Now, if you’re amenable we would like an exchange of information and resources.”
“You killed the Joker,” Bruce accuses.
Thirteen tilts his head. “In my role as a sniper for the GCPD’s QRT, my superior ordered me to take down a target involved in an active hostage situation, yes.”
Silence meets the proclamation and Tim takes advantage of the situation to project on a smaller screen the log-in information and the name Thirteen used: Red Hood. That’s… an old name for Joker, right? Tim digs deeper and sees that name was recently changed. Today, even. It used to be… Tim’s head snaps up.
It used to be Robin.
“We would really appreciate the opportunity to communicate with the Justice League and the heroes from Gotham without being taken out of the… running completely,” Thi—no, Jason is saying. Jason. He doesn’t know what they know or, better said, that they do. But by his tone, he’s starting to get the idea. “So… what’s happening now?”
It’s a good question. Most of the Justice League is shocked silent. The rest, Tim would guess, simply have too much to say. It’s not unheard of for the metas to come back, but a regular human? Rarer. A human who was confirmed dead by Bruce? Who was autopsied and buried? Unheard of.
“L-little wing?” Dick asks hesitantly.
And Jason inhales suddenly. “Not so little anymore.” He sounds amused, but not quite. “Took you long enough.”
Kon has his confused face on so Tim sends the information to a screen at the Tower. While Kon makes a startled sound, Jason snorts. He has seen it too. Tim doesn’t have any proof, but he’s pretty sure that he has Jason’s attention.
“So,” Jason says in the prolonged silence, “about playing nice.”
But Dick makes an agonized sound. “Jay?!”
“No names on comms,” Jason snaps back seemingly without thinking and it’s such a Bruce thing to say that Tim has no doubts.
This is Jason.
Luthor—in a… well, expected turn of events—adjusts quickly. “If you’re afraid that I am here, I know about Bruce.” He gestures shortly to Bruce. “However, I would like to mention that when I gave him the idea in school to turn what he’s afraid of in a strength, I didn’t mean that he should terrify a city dressed as a furry.” He’s still off balance but handling it like a pro: calm and willing to dispel the tension. “Good advice,” Luthor goes on, “bad implementation.” Even he sounds a little faint at the end.
Dick, again, won’t hear it. He probably can’t. “Jaybird?!” he asks and it sounds desperate. Wounded. Hopeful.
Bruce has turned into a statue—he’s processing. Tim, on his part, is glad he was right. It means he’s not going crazy. But he’s also disorientated. There a lot of things that don’t make sense. Meanwhile, Barbara hasn’t said anything and neither has Damian. He is probably just confused.
And Jason… Jason tugs off the visor and the mask. “Yeah, it’s me.”
Tim’s first thought is, ‘He looks just like Dick.’
Yes, the hair color is different. Dick has black hair and Jason has—surprisingly—red hair and a white streak. Their hair isn’t curly in the same way. Jason has freckles. His eyes are greener then Dick’s but bluer than Damian’s. Dick has a slimmer constitution. And Jason doesn’t have Dick’s Roman nose.
Other than that, though, they have the same skin tone, the same jaw, the same shape of the eyes, lips, and cheekbones. They could be related. In fact, they could say they are brothers and no one would bat an eye.
Hal’s eyes are huge. “What the—”
“We have a new candidate the prettiest redhead,” Roy says hysterically.
“Are you two part of a discontinued model?” Wally asks Dick. “Tell me the truth, I can handle it.”
Dick doesn’t give any sign that he heard Wally. He just breaks. It’s not something visible so much as all expression wipes from his face as he extends a hand towards the screen.
Bruce, though, is on the receiving end of some nasty glances. And Tim can’t really blame them. Jason looks too much like Dick. When they were little most of those differences that do exist now, wouldn’t have then—what with Jason’s freckles and nose hidden, hair probably dyed, and body not yet developed. They must’ve been identical.
Understandably, it’s uncomfortable to the people in the room. To Tim, at least, it’s distressing to find out that this bothers him so much when he knew very well that he could tell apart the Robin only by subtle things. It’s even more upsetting that it only bothers him now.
“What the fuck, Dickybird?! Breathe,” Jason instructs softy. “Shit happened and now I’m here—the end.”
Tim shakes his head slowly at the sheer audacity of the understatement, but his reaction, no matter how out-of-character, is nothing compared to Dick’s. He unleashes a torrent of hysterical laughter that makes Roy flinch. There’s something so broken about the sound that makes Jason’s lips turn into a flat, white line.
“What’s up with that, huh? Am I suddenly the only one who remembers shit?” Jason asks in an annoyed tone. “We didn’t get along. Yeah, you accepted me there at the end, but we were never tight. I didn’t get along with Bruce and about the big stuff. I later found out that I gave Oracle the heebee-jeebees. I got no statue here and, don’t get me wrong because it was useful now, but c’mon… the Titans like to forget that I ever existed.” He snorts bitterly.
Luthor—Luthor—swallows and his eyes avert for a second.
“Everybody was just waiting for Wayne’s ‘project from the projects’ to crash and burn.” Jason rolls his eyes. “What the fuck, man, I was replaced less than six months after I got killed and the Joker was still around. So yeah … What’s with the long faces?”
‘Stupefied’ seems like a strong word until a situation like this arises and then it’s suddenly not enough.
“The…” Diana trails off, taking deep breaths in an effort to calm herself down.
Clark looks like a step backward and away from Diana would be ideal. But he doesn’t do it because he’s honorable and in the way to Bruce. Clark doesn’t make eye contact with Bruce, though.
This is getting out of hand.
“The heebee-jeebees?” Diana finally manages.
Jason blinks and starts to chuckle. “Yeah.” He fixes her with a bright smile.
It’s like everything wholesome and sweet packed into one grin. With a blink, Tim realizes that this is the Robin smile. It’s not Tim’s smile and it’s definitely not Damian’s. The tradition was somehow forgotten until he came along. But it’s disturbing that it’s not Dick’s smile either. Maybe it was, once upon a time, but now… Tim suddenly realizes that it’s a mask more often than not. A coping mechanism.
And Tim didn’t know it. He never… thought about it. Dick is always happy; no one looks too closely at it. But Tim should have. He’s an awful person. Tim wants to tear his hair out. He’s an awful person. How could he not know?
“Oracle had to babysit me and thought that I…” Jason gestures vaguely with a half-laugh as if he doesn’t know what to think about it. “I don’t know—gave her the impression that something bad was going on? That I was bad? That I had ‘darkness’ in me?” He actually uses finger quotes; it would be adorable if not for the subject. “I don’t remember the exact words, but you get the point.”
At this point, Luthor crosses his hands and turns into a block of ice. Kon looks like his heart is breaking and Clark looks… guilty? And these are the least painful expressions to look at. Hal, for example, turns away completely and faces the wall with his hands crossed.
But Tim has to fix this one thing. “I’m the one that insisted,” he says in a rush. “Batman needed Robin so I inserted myself into the role. I wasn’t wanted or anything. You weren’t replaced.” He glances quickly at Bruce and straightens. “I did what was necessary… what I believed was necessary, but Bruce didn’t want me around. He got used to me, eventually, but he didn’t want anyone.”
Now Tim’s getting the pitying looks.
“Okaaaay,” Jason says, dragging the word. “You—my replacement, Timmy—you should consider talking to someone. Ah, I think so, anyway. It’s messed up on so many levels that I don’t...” His mouth opens and closes several times, but no words come out. Finally, he says, “It’s messed up. Think about talking it over with someone?” He flashes an encouraging smile that has Tim nodding before he realizes what he’s doing.
How wasn’t Jason the best Robin?
“Your actions don’t change anything if you think about it,” Jason adds. “The important thing stays the same, Timbo, so don’t take the blame. You all were just fine without me.” He grins a little and it’s so gentle that Tim looks away for a blink. “So, can we talk about what I came here for?”
“No,” Dick snaps so quickly that even he seems surprised by it. “No.” He sounds more decided this time. “I… Where were you? How did you… Details, please.” Dick struggles to make himself understood.
Tim feels for him, for the shock Dick got today. Thoughts that maybe Tim should have told Dick everything about Thirteen circle around in Tim’s head. Yes, it would have been cruel if it wasn’t true but is this really much better?
And Tim can’t even blame Jason. He’s taken aback by how everyone’s reacting, just unprepared. Tim tries to imagine what was it that Jason was expecting, but he can’t find anything that isn’t ultimately offensive. Granted, it makes sense from Jason’s point of view.
It’s like a confrontation had to happen and that is the type of set thing that doesn’t sit well with Tim.
“If I tell you, will you let me move this shitfest along?” Jason asks wearily.
Dick refuses to answer, but Damian takes the reigns and replies, “Yes.” He’s immediately on the receiving end of a rare glare from Dick.
“Here it goes,” Jason says and heaves a breath. “There is this creep who slipped—”
And Bruce moves something or twitches because he immediately has Jason’s attention. “Slipped?”
“Yeah, douchebag, slipped. If I’da pushed him, I’d’ve admitted it,” Jason snarls back. “So, I’m benched. I don’t like it and, what do you know, I discover my birth certificate. My mom is not my mom, so I go lookin’ for the name written there. She works with the Joker and sells me to him when I offer to protect her. The fucker kills us both.”
This does not match with Bruce’s version of events.
“I wake up in my grave,” Jason goes on. There’s just a hint of tremble in his voice that he doesn’t—or can’t—hid to show how difficult this must’ve been. “I dig myself out and wander into the street where I get hit by a car. In my defense, it is dark, raining, and I was dead, then suffocating just a few minutes earlier. I get brain damage and go on to live on the streets in a… sort of walking coma?” He wrinkles his nose.
Somewhere over Jason’s shoulder, Kon fidgets, but Tim can’t pay attention to him right now.
“Anyway, Talia finds me.” Jason nods to Damian who jumped at the mention of his mother’s name. “She tries to heal me, I don’t, so she throws me in the Lazarus Pit. Gets me out and shows me I am replaced. So I put a bomb in the Batmobile.”
Jason shrugs as if he’s beyond how insane that sounds, but doesn’t otherwise react to Bruce’s rapidly in-drawn breath.
“Talia suddenly decides that I need training… far, far away from Gotham,” Jason says calmly. “I go, learn some things, kill some of my teachers, and come back. Fuckers think they are protected by their usefulness to the League.” He snorts dismissively. “I think joining GCPD would help me get control of Gotham’s crime scene and draw attention to me. We are all wrong. The men hiding behind the League don’t get to fully comprehend that particular truth, but I… I find a home; somewhere I fit.” He lifts his palms. “That’s it.”
Luthor and Clark swing around slowly and look at each other, incredulous.
Tim very carefully doesn’t make eye contact with anyone else.
“‘That’s it,’ he says,” Roy murmurs faintly. “If that’s all, I’m sure we’ll forget about it quickly.” He hides his face in his palm. “Sheesh, we’re fucked up.”
“What about…” Bruce trails off. “You mentioned Dick. Oracle. Me. The Titans. The press. But you had someone in your corner. Always have.” He looks at Jason to see an expression that defines ‘caught with the hand in the cookie jar’ and stops. “He knew,” Bruce says in awe.
“He knew nothing,” Jason quickly replies. “It was suggested. There was nothing to report back to you.”
Bruce looks like he wants to laugh, but stops himself in time. There has been a lot of thinly veiled desperation today. “He knew.”
“You know, son,” Clark begins and it’s so far off the mark that he winces. But he goes on earnestly, “Your family missed you very much. We all regret what happened, but no one more than them.”
Jason’s eyes narrow. His lips curve into a smirk. This is going to be bad.
“If I regret stepping on a bug, the bug won’t care. It’s dead. If I squish a snake, I will definitely have more reasons to be sorry when it attacks in retaliation, but it will care about how my regrets as much as the bug does. I’m not killing any of you over my death, but your regrets… Why should I care about them?” Jason asks. Calmly and simply, like he knows he has Clark by the balls. “They don’t help or change things. And they don’t mean anything to me because I’ve waddled through too much bullshit for that. I think you have it the other way around. See, people care about their own regrets. That’s their business.”
“That’s mean,” Jon says softly.
Jason nods. “Maybe.” He looks to Damian. “Satisfied?”
“Yes,” Damian says without turning to Bruce or Dick.
“Great!” Jason rubs his hands together and focuses his attention on Tim. He smirks, but this time it’s mischievous. “Tim-Tam! Come on, work me here; be the change you want to see in the world. Communication?”
Tim takes a deep—and silent—breath and says, “We would like to have access to any of the ships you took from the Ar Tun.”
“Sure,” Jason says. “What are you interested in?”
“Their cloaking capabilities,” Tim replies. “If it’s somethi—”
Jason snorts. “It’s technological. We activated one.”
“How did you manage that?” Roy asks wryly.
Jason opens his mouth, but no words come out. He watches the ceiling and makes eye contact with—an absolutely in love; how could he fall in such a short time; sweet baby panda on a pogo stick, Tim has never seen such a dopey expression—Kon, then Jason shrugs and says, “We just did.”
“That’s your Lana-face,” Luthor murmurs.
Clark swivels toward Luthor and aims a horrified glare at him.
“Deal with it.” Luthor isn’t moved. “He could have chosen much worse.”
“Tell us, s—” Clark’s eyes widen. “Jason. Please, tell us.”
“By jumping ass-first on the console?” Jason gave a slightly embarrassed, but challenging grin. “They have funny hearing and the ships have microphones installed on the outside. So, while I was inside to see why they don’t have weapons on the ship other than the kryptonite beam and to check for explosives, Twenty-Six started whistling outside and startled me. The whole thing disappeared, people panicked, I didn’t know what was going on, Twenty-Six thought she was a meta—it was a dark comedy in five acts.”
Swallowing his laughter with more success than Barry and Wally, Tim quips, “And you call yourselves police officers.”
Jason huffs. “We always land on our feet; we’re purr-fessionals.”
Shaking his head, Dick complains with a smile, “I make the puns here.” He subtly dries a tear, but another takes its place.
“Wait, does that mean that they have better hearing or worse?” Donna asks.
“We can’t tell yet,” Jason replies with a shrug. “The sound had something odd about it. Seemed distorted somehow.”
“Okay, let’s get organized,” Tim says. “You and I are the ones doing the actual sharing of information, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea to have a way to contact more people from either side. Agreed?”
“Yup,” Jason answers. He types something. “Here is the contact information for ten of our own people. I suppose you want us to switch back to digitally encrypted comms?”
“Can I?” Luthor asks.
Jason nods. “Yes, they agreed, but I’d prefer if you only contact me and Hennelly.”
“Very well,” Luthor acknowledges.
“We’d definitely appreciate the switch to high-tech comms; especially for joint missions.” Tim throws Jason a smile and offers up his contact information and the members’ usually used to communicating with other agencies or governments: Clark, Diana, and Hal. He throws in Dick, Damian, and Kon. Tim won’t force it, but he’ll try to straighten out this whole situation. “Mr. Luthor?”
Luthor’s already typing at a console.
“Got it,” Jason tells Luthor before putting his phone away. “I’ll have a report for you, Timbo, in about two days. Three to be safe.”
“Sounds good,” Tim agrees. “We’ll have it ready by then.”
Jason nods and fixes Diana with a serious gaze. “I was about to this later, but can we talk privately?”
“Go ahead,” Diana says confidently. “You can talk to me here.”
“It’s not advisable,” Jason warns. “Look, the only reason I’m saying this now instead of on the phone is that this may be nothing and it’s better to get it out of the way. But if it’s something, you’ll be glad for the privacy.”
“I am staying,” Diana says decisively. “Go on.”
Jason hesitates at first, but then he goes for it, “So I was coordinating with the SWAT team from New York when I met the Captain of their Unusual Crimes Division. He’s good at what he does. He’s been doing it for so long and he’s…” Jason shakes his head. “He’s really competent. And he has some issues, you know, nothing that important, but I still think the major thing is that he’s an all-around good guy.”
Tim doesn’t know where this is going. He can see that Kon is too close to being heartbroken, but it wouldn’t make sense for Jason to… what? Confess to a crush? No.
“And he has the bluest eyes,” Jason adds.
“It’s not the color because I’ve seen my fair share of those.” Jason makes a bat sign with his hands and Tim has to admit Jason got them here—there are a lot of very blue eyes in the Bat-family. “It’s like they glow from within.” He stops for a second and tilts his head. “Pretty, yes, and creepy.”
Kon’s heart is broken. Tim looks at Kon’s face and he can almost hear the sad violin playing in the background. Kon is so mournful that somebody he only heard about until less than an hour ago is off limits that it’s almost funny. If only Kon didn’t have that kicked puppy look.
Then Jason says, “His name is Steve Trevor.”
Tim sneaks a look at Diana. It’s shameful how not-subtle it is and how everybody’s doing it, but they deserve a break: Diana has taken a shocked step back; the love of her life may be alive. This is monumental.
Kon, though, seems happy again, so there’s that.
“Where…” Diana trails off and gathers herself. “Do you have a picture?”
“He’s at the base of the Tower,” Jason replies and Bruce starts typing. “I have security footage.”
In less than a blink after that, the screen splits in two and to the left, a guy appears. He has grey streaks in his beard and hair, a fit figure, and a serious demeanor. If there’s one thing to set apart Steve Trevor, the color of his eyes is a good one. They are neon blue.
“I’ve got to go,” Diana says and runs out of the room.
Jason nods, satisfied, and looks down at his phone.
“Does he remember her?” Bruce asks.
“I don’t know,” Jason says, swiping through his phone.
“Are you sure you did the right thing?” Bruce insists.
Jason looks up. “As opposed to keeping quiet that a person she described with so much grief is walking around?” He snorts. “Yes, I’m comfortable with my choice.”
“Did you just hear yourself?” Bruce asks with clenched teeth.
“I did.” Jason smiles and there’s nothing nice about it. “What’s the problem? Are you jealous?”
And Tim doesn’t know if Jason means that Bruce had something with Diana or if Bruce was upset that no one told him about Jason, or even both, but Jason clearly challenging Bruce here.
Bruce changes the subject. “What issues?”
“Oh, aaah, he can’t die,” Jason says.
“How?” Bruce asks and it’s more like a bark.
“A witch,” Jason answers.
Bruce jaw ripples. “There is no such spell.”
“A spell?” Jason smirks. “It isn’t, but you can piss off a witch so bad that he curses with his final words.”
Tim grimaces. Auch. That must’ve been rough.
“Are we done?” Jason asks.
“Pretty much,” Tim says.
“Great.” Jason checks his phone one last time. No, Tim realizes, Jason checks his notes one last time. “How’s Mina?” He grins.
Tim grins back. Kon looks enchanted. And Luthor chuckles.
An okay first meeting.
The next few days the Batfamily do this odd thing where they hide from each other. Barbara says that they get reminded of what happened and they just need some time. And space. Immediately after that, she’s unreachable so Tim guesses she knows from experience.
But Tim has to give Jason the report so Tim will see him. And maybe it’s because Tim looks—looked?—up to Jason or because they have interacted since Jason returned, but for once Tim’s the confrontational one. He wants to talk to Jason. Tim wants some answers.
The place where they agree to meet is unusual: Stokes State Forest.
“Why are we here?” Tim asks after hiking twenty minutes to reach the place. He hands over a flash drive and receives one in return. “I know you put value on your anonymity, but this is a bit much.”
Jason snorts. “You did check that I was alone, right?” He gets a rifle from behind a tree.
Though Tim is not so sure anymore. He isn’t scared of Jason, that’s not the problem. But Jason seems way too comfortable with his rifle in a way that makes Tim be the opposite. There’s something off about a Robin being okay with guns and Jason definitely is. His rifle is customized to all hell, so much so Tim has problems identifying it as one of Luthor’s—the SR 120—which does nothing to stop Tim’s unease.
“We’re here because we’re hunting Bambi,” Jason says, holding up three fingers and dropping one. “But we’re really here to talk about my gun thing and my killing people thing because I’m not blind and I want to try to clear the air.” He counts down another one. “And, by the way, I am a police officer. I exist in the world. The anonymity only applies in certain circumstances.” He makes a fluttering movement now that there are no more raised fingers.
Even though Tim finds the two previous subjects much more interesting, the odds of Jason coming back to them is relatively high because they are both reasons for why they’re here, so Tim focuses on the last one. “Then why didn’t I find you? Why didn’t Oracle?”
“That’s not my problem.”
Tim narrows his eyes. “But you know the answer.”
“Not for sure.”
Jason starts walking and Tim follows him.
“Would you just tell me?” Tim asks, frustrated. It might be said that he whines. Possibly. He gets the impression that Jason is having fun at his expense and that… Well, Tim realizes abruptly, he has just had a sibling moment. One in which Jason didn’t hug-attack him like Dick or accuse Tim of being an intruder in the family like Damian. No, it was just Jason being obnoxious. That is not cool, but, at the same time, it kind of makes Tim smile.
Laughing, Jason answers, “GCPD is a mess.”
“The turnover is insane, I know,” Tim says to make Jason get to the point. “Not to mention the corruption and the number of injuries or deaths.”
“Right, so most employees don’t get assigned a department.”
“Yes, they do.”
“I am not talking about Internal Affairs or Major Crimes or the former QRT or any of the big ones.” Jason rolls his eyes. “I am talking about the grunts. The beat cops, the people that get a line or two in every cop show, but no more. They are sent all over the city as needed so they don’t get a department. I am one of them, Sergeant Jason P. Todd. Department: none.”
“That can’t be,” Tim denies.
Jason stays quiet.
“It’s the way you all disappeared, isn’t it?” Tim is mad that he didn’t think of it in the first place. “But wait, what about Oracle?”
“Jason?” Tim asks.
“It’s nothing I can pass along,” Jason says regretfully. “Wait.” He stops walking and Tim stops with him. Tim looks at him curiously, and Jason goes on haltingly, “You know Hennelly, right?”
“When he retires, I am sort of… set to be his replacement.” Jason sounds… shy. He has an aw-shucks smile and looks down. Tim can’t believe his eyes as Jason goes on, “He’s the one who came up with the whole taking his place thing. It’s his prerogative as the leader. And we’re a team and a family, and have been through a lot, but, at first, he wasn’t feeling stoked about having me in the QRT. You see, the initial idea came from up high. He interviewed me with the Commish and Hennelly wasn’t happy that he was basically ordered to hire me.”
“If you think about it, the Bats and Birds are kind of obvious,” Jason says airily.
“They know.” Tim’s brain works through the possibilities. “That’s how you got back and we didn’t know anything.” He skips to another subject. “It means that he knows who Oracle is. Of course, he does. But Oracle doesn’t know so we have access to what they want us to have… because they can hide things if they know who’s looking.”
Jason, however, picks which one he wants to talk about. “I didn’t want anybody to know that I was back.”
“But you wanted to warn us,” Tim continues, ignoring Jason for a second. “Because… they surprised you. And… you don’t want that for us.”
“It’s a nasty shock,” Jason says shortly. “And it’s not like you wouldn’t find out anyway. I pay taxes and everything.”
“And Bruce declared you dead, right.” Tim nods and then adds, “You don’t want Barbara to know.”
“When the Commish and Hennelly chose to help me they knew it was a matter of time until the secrets would be out.” Jason shrugs. “Bruce is Gotham royalty.”
“But your sense of loyalty twinges,” Tim says, forcing himself not to let his voice show the delight he feels at finding out that Jason cares about the Bats.
Jason huffs and walks quicker.
“Because then it will be you who told and not us who figured it out. At the same time, you want us to know so we won’t be caught by surprise.” Tim smiles a little. “I won’t tell the Bats unless it’s necessary.”
“You don’t need to do that.”
“I was just announcing my decision.”
Jason turns slightly and meets Tim’s eyes, then ducks his head.
“I really like guns.” Jason flies to another subject with the subtlety of a sledgehammer and Tim begins to see a pattern.
“Obviously,” is all Tim says.
“They are decisive,” Jason explains. “When you shoot you know you’ll either badly hurt somebody or kill them.”
Tim frowns and aims a questioning look Jason’s way.
“I killed four people while I was Robin,” Jason says soberly. “And left countless others in a deplorable state.”
“You mean after you came back.”
“Behind Bruce’s back, then.”
“What are you talking about?” But Tim suspects. It’s not that big of a leap.
Jason aims an incredulous look that says he doesn’t buy it, but answers, “I stopped people and in order to do that, I hit them until they stayed down. Either I hit them a lot or I hit them in sensitive places. Humans are fragile and neither of those choices is good for them. It wasn’t on site or even right afterward, but they suffered or died all the same.”
‘Because you were violent. Because you were always angry and hit too hard. Because you never listened to Bruce,’ Tim thinks but doesn’t say. It’s Jason, Tim’s Robin. But Tim can’t just accept it either, so he settles for shaking his head.
“Sometimes it was because of preexisting issues, sometimes because they didn’t get the care they needed, or sometimes because they didn’t listen to their doctors, but here’s the thing”—Jason laughs and it sounds hollow—“it wasn’t just them. Their families are equally as poor. More. So to have to pay medical bills and to support the assholes until they recover is beyond their means.” He pushes a branch away. “Do you know Drixie?”
Tim frowns. “It’s not a sheep, is it?”
“No,” Jason says and laughs incredulously. “What?!”
“Then I don’t think so,” Tim answers with a shrug.
“She’s a prostitute,” Jason says. “She sits at the corner of Park and West. The one with the beautiful brown eyes?”
Tim doesn’t know them by the color of their eyes or, to his shame, by their names, but he remembers three sex-workers that fit the area. “How old is she?”
“I think I know who you are talking about.”
“So Drixie, I broke her father’s leg and he didn’t do his PT, he didn’t care about getting better. It was a simple break, nothing like the others who were dead, in a coma, chronically ill, or have lost limbs. When it happened, though, it turned out that he’d rather be abusive to his children, emotionally blackmailing them to support him even though he beat their mother and treated them like dirt, than do the work,” Jason says simply. He doesn’t try to hide, but Tim can tell that it weighs on him. “Drove his eldest to OD and his youngest to hooking. She needed the money and she probably needed other substances to forget. Can’t blame her; not really.”
“Wait, so you just leave her there?” Tim asks, taken aback.
Jason smiles sadly. “The social workers have come and gone. It’s not up to me, or them, that’s her decision. She has to take that first step because this is a battle she has to fight herself. The drugs, her father, her sister’s death, even with support, that is a lot to handle.”
“Mostly.” Jason shrugs and sighs. “She and the rest of the sex-workers in Gotham have a lot of information so the QRT looks out for them. It’s not enough, but it’s more than they had.”
Tim doesn’t know whom Jason thinks he’s fooling. The QRT. Pfft, sure.
“And…” Jason trails off, stopping. His chest moves like he takes a deep breath or sighs, but nothing is heard. He starts walking. “After I died, Batman beat Joker. Badly, he landed in the hospital with a lot of broken bones. He couldn’t move for a long time and he was in pain.”
Tim frowns. “Where are you going with this?”
“He was looked after by eleven people,” Jason answers and Tim has a bad feeling about what’s going to follow. “Two tried to kill him and went to jail for it, two committed suicide, one person started killing people herself and went to Arkham, another one broke down and committed himself. But not in Gotham. He went to Florida, where his parents are, which goes to show he was smart. Another three people left the city and one changed careers, giving up twenty plus years spent studying and practicing medicine.”
Swallowing, Tim bites back both protests and a sinking feeling.
“One nurse is well, in Gotham, working the same job, and sane,” Jason goes on. “But Suzie’s kid is sick and she’s about to max out of her medical insurance. If that shit would have happened now, there’s no telling if she would have been fine. Even if she had, that means out of eleven medical professionals in Gotham, eleven people who spend time and effort to help others in our city, one made it out on the other side.”
“That is not Batman’s fault and not yours either,” Tim says and shakes his head. “It’s Joker’s and the criminals’, you know that.”
“They did it,” Jason accepts. “But you know what? Nobody expected them to behave any differently. But I, Batman—we had a part to play, there is no way of escaping that. They wouldn’t have been able to hurt the same people in the same ways. And you can have your opinion on that, sure, but so can I. To me, that means that I have to be more careful. I can’t hurt everybody that pisses me off, but, when I do, when they represent a danger to others, I have to be decisive.”
“But that isn’t Batman’s responsibility,” Tim objects. “And it’s not your call, either.”
“When people take hostages or do other shit that endangers others and I’ve got them in my sights, I won’t hesitate,” Jason says. “You’re right, it’s not my call, but I’m still the one with the finger on the trigger. I assume responsibility for my actions and choices.”
“What about Batman? It’s not his responsibility to kill people,” Tim says, an edge to his voice. “Can’t he be a person who defends his city and chooses not to or even can’t kill?”
Jason nods hesitantly. “It took me a long time to accept it, but, of course he can.” He smiles a little and looks ahead. “Here’s the thing, though: heroes, ironically, don’t care about rights or laws, so to talk about something not being their responsibility is absurd. They stalk people and listen in on people and hunt people and scare people and interrogate people and hack people and beat people and, a few, kill people. At no point, is any of it a responsibility. With one or two exceptions, it’s just what they decided to do, in direct defiance of laws, without being accountable for their actions because they ‘do good,’ and without a set of rules that everyone knows and abides by.”
“Not one, no,” Tim replies. “Superman’s are different than Batman’s or Wonder Woman’s, but that doesn’t mean any of them exist without rules.”
“But transparency, due process, appeal, they are just concepts that have no real meaning to heroes,” Jason shoots back. “How can people be expected to know what those individual rules are? What difference does it make if they do? There are a lot of heroes out there and they just get to do whatever they like. Most of them do it thinking that consequences something that happens to other people. So yeah, maybe Batman has a rule about no killing—directly and at that moment—but if you think about it that doesn’t mean much.”
“Innocents are suffering, Jason.” Tim can’t believe his ears. “They need heroes. And heroes need to be able to work outside the law because that’s where the bad guys work.”
“Hey, I don’t judge. There’s no telling where Gotham would be without Batman and his Birdies,” Jason agrees. “But that’s not what I’m talking about. Even bad guys have rights, not to mention the people who have nothing to do with crime and get caught in the crossfire: they get hacked, they get stalked, and they get interrogated.”
“Innocents get investigated by the police every day.”
“They do and they get to complain about that,” Jason says. “We have a system and it may not be perfect, but it was made by more than a hundred of people, over more than a hundred years. It may not change as soon as needed, for the same reasons, and it may be made up of as many bad people as it does good, but it’s the one we have and the one that we must improve and, more pragmatically, it’s the one that the majority agrees on.”
“What’s your point?”
“My point is threefold: that no one person should make the rules; that it’s up to us to take responsibility for our actions and for following the laws or breaking them; and, if necessary, that we have to be ready to face the consequences.”
Tim doesn’t understand. “How’s that supposed to apply?”
“Why are you acting like Bruce’s word is law?” Jason asks. “The gun thing, that’s Bruce’s hang up.”
“No, it isn’t,” Tim says.
Jason snorts his disbelief. “If you think that I’m scum, you’re welcome to do it.” He spreads his arms. “As long as it’s what you decide to do, I don’t have anything to say to that. Do you know how I felt when killing all those people?”
Tim opens his mouth and finds that he can’t think of anything to say, so he shakes his head.
“Nothing at the really bad people,” Jason begins. “Sorry at the necessity with the people who have families and friends, people who’d grieve for them.” He smiles crookedly. “Relief—with Joker. I couldn’t believe he was really dead.”
“…I don’t know what you are trying to say.”
“What I’m trying to say is look again. I’m not a psychopath, I have my own principles and experience, I take responsibility for my actions, and I am no stranger to the fact that there are consequences,” Jason says. “Even though I use guns and I’ve killed, I’m not the boogeyman—I’m just a person who disagrees with Bruce.”
Tim tries to find a way to express that he knows, because he does, and not having it be a lie, because it would.
“You can agree with him and I’d have nothing against that,” Jason continues. “I only wanted to meet, to tell you my side, and maybe provoke you to think a little. If, at the end of this, that is still your opinion, then that’s your opinion.”
“Have you been to therapy or something?” Tim asks bitingly. He’s tired and angry.
“Sure I have.” Jason laughs. “A lot. And it’s not a miracle cure, I’m not over some things—chances are that I’m never going to be over them—and some things I’m still working on, but it helps. I deal with stuff better now.”
Embarrassed and confused, Tim looks around, casting for a subject. “Do we have to kill a deer? I don’t think you’re doing it for food and that rifle is overkill.”
Jason smiles approvingly and hands Tim the gun.
It doesn’t have bullets.
“I’m a city boy,” Jason says taking his rifle back. “I hate the singing critters and the air smells funky.”
“I called the deer ‘Bambi’, for fuck’s sakes.”
“Then why are we here, Jason?” Tim asks loudly.
“We’re here because your big brain somehow ignored all the signs and actually thought that I’m taking you hunting deer with a sniper rifle, Timbers!” Jason snaps back.
And Tim realizes he has blind spots.
Tim spends the next few days in a daze as he splits his time between his apartment and the Manor. He clearly has some things to reevaluate, and still doesn’t know what to think about the whole gun business and the killing, but he also feels cheated. Among the many things that have been said over the years about Jason, Tim doesn’t recall anyone mentioning that Jason’s intelligence. It completely blindsided Tim and makes him feel like crap.
How can Tim just assume that Jason is not in other Robins’ league?
Tim realizes that in between Bruce’s grief and his desire to make Jason—and his death—an example, Bruce painted an unfavorable and spotty image of somebody who is, at least, as vivid as anyone else. Tim went along with it until he got to the point where Bruce’s picture was almost covering his own. The vexing thing is that both his mental likeness of Jason and the Jason that Bruce describes have similarities to the real person, true, but they can’t compare with the real one.
And so, Tim feels like he missed a step.
The knot in his stomach shouts that Tim doesn’t have objectivity and it mocks him because… because he still isn’t even sure that he wants to look too closely at the matter.
“Drake?” Damian calls quietly.
Tim didn’t even see him sitting on the couch. Huh. “Can I help you with something?”
Damian opens his mouth, but he closes it. “Never mind.”
And Tim finds himself saying, “Please if you have something to say, do it. I could use the distraction.” He doesn’t know what came over him, but he means it nonetheless.
Surprised, Damian’s eyes widen then travel back to the screen where Tim can see a shot of Jason smiling from that first day. “A lot of things are changing.” A shadow of regret flashes over his face. “I remember him. Of course, I never made the connection and I was too young, too preoccupied with other problems to analyze the matters as I should have.” He takes a deep breath, not moving his eyes off the display. “However, I will always remember the person who was empty inside but could still hold his own. He was Mother’s example of why my body should know instinctively how to fight.”
Tim’s breath hitches. He doesn’t think Damian notices, but it wouldn’t matter if he had. That right there is confirmation. It’s a sign that it’s possible Jason was telling the truth.
“He was more than that, wasn’t he?” Damian asks and looks at the papers stewed all over. “There is always more,” he murmurs, deep in thought.
Tim coughs awkwardly to get Damian’s attention. “Was that the only time you saw him?”
“Yes,” Damian answers after thinking a bit. “But I heard of him from time to time. Once, because Mother threw him in the Lazarus Pit much to everybody’s dismay. Another several times was because he was killing off my potential teachers. Mother and Grandfather took over filling the gaps.”
That doesn’t sound like Ra’s al Ghul.
“At first, the situation almost escalated to an argument,” Damian explains, showing that he pays attention to Tim. “However, when it became clear that the man was a pedophile who was trafficking children, Grandfather accepted it. Encouraged it, even. Unbeknownst to him, Todd was used to check all my teachers.”
Damian leans back. “Most of them didn’t make the cut.” He flashes a smirk. “In hindsight, I should have realized who he was sooner.”
“Do you really think that you should have known?”
Damian actually turns towards Tim with a confused expression. “Mother would not just take anybody off the streets and it would certainly have to be someone of significance for her to disobey Grandfather.”
“You were a child.”
“I should have realized after, when I had the value of both insight and hindsight.”
“In theory, maybe you’re right,” Tim admits. “But in practice, we had too much going on.”
Damian turns back to his papers with a dismissive nod. “Perhaps.”
“Have you seen Dick?”
“I think he’s at the Tower,” Damian answers.
Tim considers the information. “I guess it doesn’t surprise me.” He moves to leave the room when Damian speaks again.
“Grayson went to see Todd’s statue.”
“There isn’t one.”
“He knows.” Damian looks at the screen again. “He believed Todd, but I think Grayson always thought that there was one.”
“Did he never visit?”
“In this case, perhaps he didn’t want a reminder,” Damian says. “From what I could tell, Todd came at a time when tensions between Father and Grayson were high so a lot of that must have spilled onto Todd. Grayson never said anything, but I believe he feels especially guilty about it. Then again, it’s only natural. He cares about everyone, but he hurt his brother.”
“We all care about everybody.”
Damian snorts. “We would all rather innocents not suffer. However, you care about solving puzzles. Father cares about his oath. I care about being Father’s son. And Gordon’s motivation is, in part, similar to mine. Even Cain, Thomas, and Brown had their own reasons before they left.” He makes a dismissive gesture. “Grayson doesn’t have a secondary reason; it makes sense when one sees how successful he is in his position as the head of the Martha Wayne foundation. He always cares.”
“He does do an amazing job,” is all Tim says on the matter.
Damian just smirks at him.
But suddenly Tim makes sense of something Damian said. “That’s not all you are, is it? Your father’s son?”
“Puzzles,” Damian accuses and Tim shrugs unapologetically. “No, that is not all I am. These are brochures for different college programs: ecology, environmental science and studies, veterinary school. I think it is time I did something that I was interested in.”
“What about Wayne Industries?” Tim asks as he looks around.
“You speak like I would ever do a better job than you,” Damian dismisses.
Tim feels a sudden need to strangle him—which isn’t that strange; everything about Damian is dismissive and that annoys Tim endlessly—and to gape at the compliment at the same time. It’s unsettling and Tim wants to stop. Now, please.
“Is that what you want?” Tim checks as picks up a pamphlet from Cornell.
“Yes,” Damian says definitively. “I do.”
“Okay.” Tim raises the pamphlet. “This is a good school.” He gives it back to Damian. “Let me know if I can help.”
Damian looks at him for a long second. “You really would, wouldn’t you?”
“Thank you,” Damian says with a nod. “And maybe…”
Damian looks down at his papers studiously. “Maybe you should redirect your analytical mind to what Todd said.”
“I will,” Tim answers with a frown.
Tim knows he should be thinking of what Jason said to him in the forest.
Even Damian insisted. And what was that all about anyway? How did Damian even know that they had talked, least of all what they talked about? Damian was acting strange, though, so Tim will keep his questions for another time, but most probably will go ahead and investigate himself.
Anyway, Tim knows what he should have thought about, but he’s still gathering data. He needs more than one realization to change a set principle, so until he has it, he’ll… what? Hide from it?
Sometimes Tim and his brain are at odds.
But it occurs to Tim that he could look in on two other people that mean something to him, so he does it. He is going to call Kon and see if he’s up for a flight to the Titans’ Tower. After Tim knows what Kon is up to, he plans on to check up on Dick. Now, that is something Tim can do and needs to do.
That is not confusing.
Not that what Jason told him is, at all, confusing. He made his point: Tim has blind spots. Jason is right about that and Tim can’t deny it. But what that implies, is a lot tougher to consider. Besides the fact that it rankles Tim that his brain hiccupped on aspects that he always considered fundamental, it seems so damn hard to begin to ask ‘why.’ Or even to figure out what his views are on the subject.
So, Tim calls Kon and finds out that Kon wants to see him.
“Hi,” Kon says and smiles.
Badly—Kon wants to see Tim so badly that it was enough for them to exchange greetings, for Kon to ask Tim if he’s busy, and, when Tim said he wasn’t, Kon appeared.
That’s not good.
Tim hangs up. “Prompt, as always.” He smiles and holds his forearm out. “How have you been?”
Clasping Tim’s forearm, Kon brings him closer for a one-armed hug and a pat on the shoulder. “Good, good.” He steps back and passes a hand through his ruefully. “Um… things are great. Dad made me a new identity. It’s legal and everything.”
Tim’s eyebrows raise and he smiles. He’s suspicious, yes, but he can’t help but be pleased for his friend. “That sounds great! New identity?”
“His son.” Kon smirks through his blush. “Comes with a trust fund and a name change. Say hello to Kon Luthor.” He bows.
Tim bows back with a wide grin. “Am I in the presence of royalty?”
“I think dad left royalty behind a couple of billions ago.” Kon laughs a bit, dazed and so happy he could be a small sun. “I can’t believe it. And I know. I know I should still be suspicious, but… It’s so good to be able to call somebody ‘Dad.’”
“You can enjoy it. Clark can be suspicious for you,” Tim volunteers.
“No.” Kon smiles mischievously, wiggling his brows. “He really can’t.”
An incredulous laugh punches out of Tim.
“I think that Dad likes it when I call him that,” Kon says quietly. “That’s the most surprising thing, you know? Once he found out he had something resembling a son, he changed his will, made me a new identity, had a pow-wow with his lawyers and his PR people. I don’t trust it, but I can’t be too suspicious of it, either.” He shrugs. “I’m too happy for that.”
“It’s understandable,” Tim says carefully. “I’ll try to keep an eye out. The Titans, Jon, and Lois, the Bats, Damian included… you’re covered.”
“Most of those people you just mentioned are biased. I don’t want everybody keep trying to tell me my dad’s the scum of the Earth.” Kon swallows. “But that’s not why I came. I have something else I need to talk to you about. The thing with Dad, that’s ongoing, but I need to ask you something.”
“Let’s hear it then,” Tim says and bites his lip to hide a smile. He knows what this is.
“Um… You know Jason, he’s so—and you’re my friend, so… It would be great if…” Kon swallows again. He sighs so hard he deflates. “I hate you, man. You know what I want to say.”
“Yeah, but I want to hear it.”
“Do I really have to?” Kon whines.
“If you can’t say it, then you shouldn’t h—”
“It would mean a lot to me if you were okay with my approaching Jason in a romantic manner,” Kon interrupts. “We are friends above everything else. You are my best friend. I want to know if we’re cool.”
“Of course we are,” Tim says, grinning. “And of course you can. We’re good, man. Good luck!”
Kon’s exhale is insultingly relieved.
“Wait,” Tim says after reaching the Tower. He told Kon about wanting to find Dick, but Tim has one more question. “How do you deal with the killing?”
“I think it’s an equality thing.” Kon smiles confusedly and shrugs. “For me.”
Keeping silent, Tim frowns.
And Kon, as expected, explains, “I accept that Diana kills because I have faith that until proven differently she made the right decision. If I can accept that of somebody who lived in an isolationist society for thousands of years, is a princess and a demigod, why shouldn’t I when it’s a street kid from Gotham?” He flashes a smile. “Diana proved herself over and over, but then again so did Jason. That’s before he became a cop.”
“Right,” Tim says, even though his mind is reeling from Kon’s words. “Because he went through interviews, has people keeping an eye on him, and, even in the QRT, there’s transparency. He’s much more in the limelight than he was—they have to wear cameras; people can complain. Every decision he makes can be put under a microscope.”
Kon raises his eyebrows. “I never thought of it in detail, but yes.”
Stunned, Tim smiles feebly.
Could it really be that simple?
Comparing Diana and Jason?
Tim finds Dick in the gym. He’s on the highest swing, put there with him in mind. Tim will take a moment to get there, so he asks first.
Dick startles and the swing moves with him. “Tim?” As always, he is never in any danger of falling.
“Can I join you?”
“Sure,” Dick answers with a smile.
And Tim doesn’t wholly trust that smile anymore. He knows that he’s being unfair. Jason nobody’s idea of a good PR person because he doesn’t hide anything. He probably doesn’t see the need. Dick is the opposite, a showman through and through. It doesn’t mean he’s lying or not naturally cheerful. But it does mean that grin or the laugh is used to obscure various thoughts as easily as he flips.
So Tim uses other indicators: Dick’s relaxed posture, no signs of hesitation, and the lack of tension in his voice.
Dick seems to mean it.
That’s that then. Tim tries to think of something to say while at the same time watching his footing. It’s not as easy as it should be, probably because the subject is a hard one, so when he reaches Dick, Tim just blurts, “I’m sorry Jason was right.”
Dick snorts. “No, he wasn’t.”
“Did you find a statue?”
“No.” Dick sighs. “Jason is wrong about a lot of stuff.” He smiles and it’s so fond and so sad that Tim doesn’t know what to do with it. “But the things he’s right about makes the others irrelevant.”
Tim nods. But then… “I don’t actually understand,” he admits with a wince.
“The Titans didn’t all hate him,” Dick begins. “They didn’t understand what it meant to be a street kid and he wasn’t patient or up to do any explaining. He had a life experience that nobody else had and the anger that he gathered while obtaining it. ” He chuckles and Tim has a suspicion that Dick’s understating things. “Also, they naturally took my side in my ongoing argument with B. And even if he got along with Donna, he was just a kid. Put all that together and it’s pretty understandable.”
“But that doesn’t matter because he was a hero and they didn’t give him a statue when he was killed because they didn’t like him,” Tim says, catching on. He winces. “That sounds bad.”
“You know what sounds worse?”
“Do I want to?”
“We.” Dick rubs his palms on his face. “He was a hero and we didn’t commemorate his murder because we were offended by his justifiable anger.”
Tim doesn’t reply. What can he say? They didn’t ask Dick about the statue, but that’s not what Dick’s saying, is it? He was the leader of the Titans. Their decision is his decision.
“My fight with Bruce had nothing to do with him, but he got shit for it from everybody anyway,” Dick continues. “He was an orphan kid, with a tough past, and instead of letting him enjoy his second chance, he had to fight again, to prove himself worthy of people who, by making him do it, are a lot less worthy than him.”
“You sound like you thought about it.”
“I did and then I find out he didn’t even get some peace.” Dick laughs a little. “Ever met somebody who doesn’t seem real? You know he is, but…” He shakes his head, his jaw working. “It’s unbelievable. He’s unbelievable. I can sit here and point out the different people who loved him—love him—or appreciate him or have helped him and tell you that it wasn’t all bad, but, in the end, he had a whole lot of backs turned when he needed them.”
“He crawled out himself out of whatever hole he found himself in,” Tim says. “Jason was my Robin. I think I’m bound to respect him.” He smiles a little. “It’s good to know that doing so is a universal feeling.”
“I know that Damian—”
“That’s different,” Tim dismisses. “He didn’t grow up with the Robins.” His head snaps towards Dick. “I’m not saying he doesn’t belong, I—”
“It’s not the same thing,” Dick finishes. “I’m sorry.”
“I always saw Robin as my thing, it was my mother’s nickname for me and one of the reasons I was so upset when Bruce just gave it away,” Dick says.
“I didn’t know that,” Tim murmurs.
“And I didn’t know who I was actually trampling on,” Dick says and he leans back and forth a couple of times to get the swing swaying. “I hurt both you and Jason: him by placing him on the same side as Bruce; you by just taking Robin from you and giving it to Damian. I’m sorry.”
“I have been over it for years, Dick.”
“I know, but that’s your own merit, not anything of my doing,” Dick says quietly. “So I want you to know: I’m sorry.”
Tim nods. “Thank you.”
They sway for long moments, before Dick says, “Do you think Jason ever...” He gestures nonsensically. “…about me?”
Ah. Respected. Admired. There’s only one reply that Tim could possibly give.
“I know he did,” Tim answers before he has time to consider it. And by the way Dick looks away, Tim really should have. He understands that Dick blames himself. Tim should have thought about his response more.
So they just… sway.
“How do you deal with Jason killing?” Tim asks absently. “Using guns.”
Dick snorts. “I don’t like it, but it’s not for me to like, is it?”
“You must have some opinion.”
Turning to study Tim, Dick increases the swaying. “When I worked as a police officer, I refused to kill. My gun was filled with blanks,” he finally says. “I endangered citizens every day I didn’t have live ammo because they counted on me to protect them and they expected that include shooting.” He shrugs. “But I did it because I was sure that no matter what came up, I could defend them. I didn’t need a gun.”
“Right,” Tim says hesitantly.
“And if the impossible happened and I did…” Dick trails off. “As Nightwing, there have been times when I went too far or I did nothing and somebody was either severely injured or dead,” he says quietly. “That proved to me that I don’t deal well with killing people—no matter how angry I am, if it’s done by mistake, or if it’s for the greater good. So I chose to suffer the consequences of my decision to not wear a loaded gun.”
“We make decisions we can live with?”
“Mostly.” Dick grins, bright and cheerful. “It helps that Jaybird does it while following the law.” He shakes his head lightly. “He’s no longer a vigilante, he’s a police officer.”
“…I actually agree with that,” Tim says, words coming out haltingly, heavy with realization.
Dick laughs and swings. “This is nice,” he says in the ensuing silence.
“Why can’t we do this?” Tim asks suddenly. “We can get past our problems, right? At least, we can heal… Get some closure, be around people who understand.”
“Is that a rhetorical question?”
Tim doesn’t say anything.
“We can try,” Dick offers. He shrugs and smiles. “It sounds pretty perfect.”
“I was thinking all of us: Damian and Jason, and whomever we can gather.”
“Now, that sounds perfect,” Dick says. “Us bonding—it’s dream-like.” But he shakes his head again with an incredulous laugh. “That’s all there is though, just a dream.”
That is a challenge.
Tim is back at the office and easing Lucius’ concerns less than four hours later. His invitation is issued to Jason. Tim has had enough of hiding.
“Superman is working with Luthor to find out who is responsible for the elasticable getting into Joker’s hands.” Tim prepares to enter the conference room. “Together they should get to the bottom of it. Anything else?”
“Just reports from R&D,” Lucius says. “Head in, they’re expecting you. I’ll have Tam find you later.”
Tim smiles and nods. He does not blush or act in any way weird. Really. That’s just the stiff way his mouth curves. Tim sighs and pushes into the room.
“Can I have an answer?” Bruce is saying. And there’s something wrong. He sounds pissed and not at all like Brucie.
Tim slips into a seat with a nod toward everybody.
“Sir,” Lawrence says. All the upper echelon of Bruce’s lawyers are around the table, private and corporate, and they’re apparently cowering. “We couldn’t have missed him.”
That was the wrong thing to say.
“Are you telling me that I imagined Jason alive?” Bruce says quietly. His eyes are narrowed and that is nothing if not a warning.
The lawyers are not stupid—they stay silent.
Breathing deeply and calming himself a little, Bruce asks, “How else would you explain his existence?”
“He was…” Cohen coughs when Bruce’s focus shifts on her. “He was dead, sir. And if he wasn’t before the autopsy, I imagine anybody would have problems reinstating him after.”
Tim’s mind slips down the slippery slope of Y-incisions, organs put back in plastic bags, and embalming and he winces.
Hell, everybody winces.
“This is Gotham,” Bruce reminds them, even though he sounds sick.
“I only meant that he was in no state to be revived,” Cohen says. “It means that he could not have been healed, but it also means that someone like Joker couldn’t have made a puppet out of his body.”
The Joker reminder is a coincidence. When the Prince of Crime was finally toppled by the QRT people have taken to use him as a synonym for ‘villain,’ in the hopes that they will suffer the same fate. In a weird way, even though his name is as famous as always, it has been reduced to a clawless existence: only important for how it was brought down. It’s usually a good thing, but today it hits a little close to home.
“He’s not some sort of zombie,” Bruce sputters. Tim has never seen him so out of control. “My son is alive!”
Another silence and this one is accompanied by too many side-glances for anybody’s comfort.
“He has a steady job,” Tim begins in Bruce’s defense. “Not a car because he likes bikes more. He pays taxes. Jason has had a life for the past five years.”
“And I didn’t know about it.” Bruce’s voice is low again. “I pay you so I do.”
“Someone must’ve helped him,” Fuller says quickly.
Everybody in the room watches Fuller with the same expression. One that says: so what? The illegalities of Gotham are well-known; the only way a company survives in this city is by anticipating them and doing them themselves or working around them.
It’s going to be a shock when people discover that this wasn’t the case of somebody breaking the law, but, even under the lawful assumption, it makes no sense to complain of something that is a constant: in Gotham impossible things just happen.
Fuller does his best to disappear under the table while staying in his chair.
In the meantime, Cho asks, “What job?”
“Hmm?” Tim notices that all eyes have transferred to him. “Oh, he’s a police officer.”
Blinking slowly, Cho asks faintly, “Beg your pardon, could you say that again?”
“Jason is a police officer,” Tim repeats calmly.
The lawyers act as if Tim has just climbed on the table, put a rose in his mouth, and danced the tango. No, actually. He’s pretty sure that Bruce did that at some point and there weren’t quite so many gaping faces.
“A police officer,” Lawrence murmurs. It seems she has trouble comprehending the concept.
And it’s not like Tim doesn’t understand. In Gotham, where the police is not so much a department as it is a joke—though that is slowly changing—everybody knows the identity of its officers. It’s why Gordon is so famous for the good work he does. Tim imagines the gratitude is nice, but, the fact that the whole city knows about their every move is not so great. If the lawyers missed something so big, what else did they miss? How do they still have their jobs?
“If you aren’t going to fire us, I would like to be excused,” Cho says soberly. “This is unacceptable and I would like to find out how it happened. Until then, I’m afraid I don’t have anything to say. We simply didn’t know. I’d like to get at the bottom of this. Of course, no matter the results, this is an unpardonable oversight.”
Cohen nods in agreement and, soon, so do the others.
“You’re dismissed,” Bruce says. He barely waits until there are only the two of them in the conference room before he’s out of the chair. Taking a deep breath, he paces. “How could we not know?”
He had help.
Which, yeah, maybe Tim should have been kinder to Fuller. That is the answer, after all, and, at the same time, it’s not sufficient. They should have known because they deal with this kind of bullshit on a daily basis. It seems that Jason has, once again, fallen through the cracks. At least this time, it’s as he wanted.
Is it though?
People generally don’t like going unnoticed by their families.
The lawyers came back the same day, but outside of business hours. It isn’t good news for Tim’s sleep schedule, but he’s made his peace with it. Still, not even eight hours pass before they have an answer.
“From what we were able to find out,” Lawrence begins, clearly the spokesperson of the group, “Jason Peter Todd is legally alive.”
After a pause, Bruce says, “Tim did mention taxes.”
“Yes, but you must understand the impossibility of that statement,” Lawrence insists. “He is legally alive, but we didn’t hear anything from a judge or…” She takes a deep breath. “I’m sorry, I’m explaining it wrong. It seems staring into documents has damaged my eloquence. When Mr. Todd was alive he was your son, right?”
“As such, he had a college fund, a trust fund, and he was featured in your will,” Lawrence lists.
“Yes,” Bruce says.
“Those are rights he lost when he died.” Lawrence, thankfully, isn’t expecting an answer. “Now, even if we completely missed his newly reestablished existence, we would still have to be notified when he reentered in possession of those funds, especially when he was again a beneficiary of your will.”
“I gather that you weren’t,” Bruce says dryly.
“No,” Lawrence says. “However, the fact that he came back to life legally can’t be contested.”
Bruce leans back with a frown.
“So what happened?” Lawrence sighs. “Well, I believe it’s important to begin by saying he’s not asking for anything from you. This can be because it would have been a big giveaway, or because of other reasons. I’m afraid that, even if we could, we’ll need more time still to get to the bottom of it. There just wasn’t enough time and we focused on the ‘how,’ and not the ‘why.’ I stress the importance of the last sentence because this story is full of ‘why’s.” She looks sympathetic.
Tim and Bruce make eye contact before Bruce says, “Go on.”
“How did he do it?” Lawrence looks over the notes on her tablet one more time. “Mr. Todd first petitioned the court six years ago when he was attending the Police Academy. He wasn’t a minor anymore so you weren’t notified. The case included, among others, two witness testimonies, one of a sex worker in Crime Alley, a Mr. Peter Rugart, and one of Commissioner Gordon, both of whom knew him in life.”
One, that is brand new information and two, what is it with Jason and sex workers?
“Mr. Rugart’s was misfiled due to the folder being presented fifteen minutes after the lunch break,” Lawrence says. “Commissioner Gordon’s wasn’t, but then he remembered two more occasions in which he had met Mr. Todd and, with the Commissioner being such a busy man, he was allowed an extension.” She takes a breath. “Apparently unrelated, the cleaning staff decided there’s a pest problem in the archives and it was shut down for a day.”
That is certainly one way to do it.
“Please understand that we think that would have been enough, but what ended up happening played right into their hands.” Lawrence sends to their tablets a newspaper page with the relevant title highlighted: Two-Face Holds Court Under the Court—Safe-house Uncovered. “It was a hideout. More archives were then searched, QRT was called, and it ended up being a bigger investigation than intended. The archive itself was not involved, there was some sort of fake wall, but the court cases were postponed for two weeks.”
“How did it ended up happening?” Lawrence sends them a timeline. “At the first court appearance, there is something missing from the case file, Mr. Rugart’s testimony. The second one is postponed due to the discovery of Two-Face’s hideout. At the third appearance, there are a lot of cases pending and when Commissioner Gordon’s addendum was not added to the file, the Judge decided not to wait. She had the Commissioner testify that the second statement doesn’t contradict the first, Mr. Todd is Mr. Todd, and, on the basis of existing testimony and DNA evidence, declared Mr. Todd alive.”
“Jason is back legally,” Bruce says.
“Not quite,” Lawrence replies. “Commissioner Gordon’s addition is still in the wind. Yes, that is the Judge’s decision, but officially the case can’t be closed until the file is complete.”
“As long as the Judge’s decision is final, and Mr. Todd keeps paying taxes and whatnot, no one would look twice at it because everything is legal.” Lawrence sighs again. “We aren’t told and the world is ignorant of his return.” She finally looks up. “This was orchestrated by someone who knows the system.”
“The file is in paperwork limbo,” Bruce murmurs.
“Yes, sir, it is, and it’s masterfully done,” Lawrence says.
Lifting a hand to rub at his mouth, Bruce asks, “How long will it take to untangle?”
“Not long,” Lawrence says. “Less than ten working days. It isn’t tangled at all. We just need to call attention to it.”
“Do it.” Bruce looks out the window. “Add him back. He went to college?”
“Yes, sir,” Lawrence says as she takes notes.
“Put the college fund into the trust fund,” Bruce orders. “Where?”
Lawrence nods and writes something. “Hm?”
“Where did he go to college?” Bruce clarifies.
“Oh, ah…” Lawrence trails off, quickly changing the tabs on her screen. “He got his Bachelor’s Degree from Novosibirsk State University in Philology.”
Why Siberia, Jason?
“Russian was his weakest language,” Bruce says quietly. “But he always liked literature.”
Lawrence flashes the same sympathetic smile. “Do you want what else we’ve uncovered?” At Bruce’s nod, she continues, “He also has a Master of Science in Engineering from the Department of Operations Research and Financial Engineering at Princeton. His dissertation was called ‘What Would Happen in Peru If Cocaine Disappeared—A Theoretical Model.’” Lawrence sends it to their tablets. “It’s actually an interesting read. Its basis is in precedent, statistics, financial predictions, but also has some original steps.”
“Original steps…” Tim stares down at the table of contents. “‘Reconfiguring the Cartels’?”
“His professors thought it had merit,” Lawrence says. “So did the cartels apparently because they send someone after him.” She hesitates. “Upon hearing where Mr. Todd was from apparently the woman said it was punishment enough.”
“Mr. Todd did his Masters at an accelerated pace so, even though he started them at the same time, he was done only two months after finishing the Police Academy.” Lawrence looks at her notes one more time. “He’s a Sergeant now.”
And somehow, the only person who has a Master’s degree in the family. Tim smiles ruefully. “How come he gets to keep his degrees even though he wasn’t legally alive when he applied?” Then Tim looks a proud Bruce. Wait, did Bruce go to law school?
“It works retroactively too,” Lawrence answers. “A person cannot be dead when he’s alive.”
Tim blinks. “That’s exactly what happened. He was dead, and then he was alive.”
“According to the law, that is impossible,” Lawrence says.
“What reason did he give for his absence?” Tim asks.
“The Judge didn’t ask.” Lawrence gives the appearance of a shrug without moving her shoulders. “It’s unclear if she was a part of the plan to hold Mr. Todd continued existence a secret, or she was just being a Gothamite.”
Tim glances at Bruce in time to catch his long-suffering expression.
Me too, Bruce.
“In the end, it doesn’t seem likely that we can point fingers in this situation,” Lawrence says. “It reads like a series of unfortunate events, and, even though it’s obvious even to the casual observer that it’s not the case here, we can’t prove otherwise.” She stops, takes a breath.
Job well done, Commissioner.
“The only people that have any provable fault are still us,” Lawrence continues. “We apologize again and if you decide the right thing to do here is to fire us, we would like an additional two weeks—without pay—to familiarize the next team with your legal issues. You might think that we are too incompetent and you are in need fresh eyes, and you might be right, but it’s still a big volume and you have some ongoing matt—”
“I won’t be firing you,” Bruce announces. None of the lawyers show signs of relief, but then again they wouldn’t. “Let this serve as a lesson and a warning.” Bruce stops to allow people to take in his words. “I will want updates on this case as soon as you get them. Dismissed.”
Bruce receives nods and ‘yes, sir’s. There are about three minutes of activity as they head to the door, and then it clicks shut. A contemplative silence settles.
“Gordon was in on this,” Bruce says almost absent-mindedly.
“It seems that way.”
Bruce turns to look at Tim. “What do you know?”
“I know that he and Hennelly helped.”
“Our secrets are not so secret after all,” Tim says.
Bruce rubs his mouth and falls silent.
Quickly, Tim flicks through the new information and settles on Jason’s dissertation. In most cases, Tim knows that the author betrays their opinions, their character, or both through what and how they choose to write. Tim is curious what he’s going to discover about Jason reading this. An idealist? A cynic? A man so entrenched in his own trauma that he can’t see past it?
“Princeton,” Bruce says out of nowhere and Tim looks up to see Bruce watching him. “He always wanted to go there and he was the most studious out of all of you.” He smiles sadly. “I thought… I’m glad he got to go.”
And Tim can’t really handle the secrecy anymore. “Why didn’t you say something?”
“About Jason,” Tim persists. “You told us he didn’t listen, that he had a temper, and was violent.” He doesn’t want to sounds accusing, but he can’t gentle his voice; he can’t quite take the bite out of it. “You made him sound like this person who runs around like a headless chicken, sprouting blood everywhere, and I believed you.”
Bruce holds eye contact, but he doesn’t say anything.
“But Jason much more than that isn’t he?” Tim chooses not to acknowledge Bruce’s nod. “He has a temper and he’s violent, yes, and he’s also studious, and a survivor, and a sassy asshole, and kind, and so fucking sharp.”
Finally, Bruce lowers his eyes. “He made me laugh,” Bruce murmurs. “Even when I was dealing with Gotham, with Dick, with me, he… Jay always made me laugh. It was like his natural talent or some sort of metahuman gene.”
And Tim has no idea where to even begin commenting on that.
“When he died…” Bruce’s voice cracks and he swallows. “I… When he went, he took a part of me with him. And it was the part that could smile and laugh and… be fair to a boy that deserved only best things in life. Even though I thought that he went off to get himself killed, I still blamed myself. Yes, I said things, but I knew the truth: I may have failed you all, but I failed him the most.” He’s silent for a few seconds.
“How do I come back from that?” Bruce asks with wet eyes. “How do I talk about him like I had any right? But I needed to, so this thing, no matter my incompetence, doesn’t happen again; so that you are able to defend yourselves. I made myself do it, but…”
“You couldn’t make yourself to tell us everything.”
Closing his eyes and releasing his tears, Bruce says, “Yes.”
“Now that he’s back, I’m so…” Bruce gestures as if the admission that he has good feelings is too much for him, even in this situation. “But I keep making mistakes. Jason and I have differences that are so deep that I can’t begin to mend. Yes, I love him, and no, I can’t agree with what he does.”
“Why do you have to?”
Bruce’s eyes snap to Tim.
“I’m not a father, but…” Tim trails off under the force of Bruce’s gaze. “He’s not breaking the law, now,” Tim says more forcefully, catching a second wind. “You can show that you’ve missed him by not being judgmental of something that’s…” He continues quietly because what he’s about to say next seems forbidden, “Something that is not for you to judge.”
Bruce seems frozen so Tim decides that it’s time for him to make a strategic retreat.
And it’s Wednesday. Wayne family dinner day. Shit.
“I’ll see you at the Manor,” Tim says with forced calm and he’s out the door as fast as possible while walking at a leisure pace. It’s… Anyway, he feels Bruce’s eyes on him the whole time.
At dinner, Bruce is indeed in a bad mood, but he doesn’t take it out on Tim.
“You know what I can’t figure out?” Bruce asks rhetorically and Tim straightens. So do the others, but Tim has reason to suspect an attack. “Jason said that he suggested that he wasn’t dead to you and I wonder how.”
Bruce is talking to Alfred.
“He did, Master Bruce,” Alfred answers in that unruffled way he has, but Tim can tell that Alfred’s shoulders are tenser than they were. “I could only be sure of it when Master Jason made his presence known, otherwise I would not let you continue grieving.”
Bruce fixes him with his gaze. “It was the waffles, wasn’t it?”
“Indeed it was, Master Bruce.” Alfred inclines his head.
“What am I missing?” Tim asks, putting a dent in the tension.
“I’d like to know too,” Damian says.
“It was before you two were here,” Dick starts. “Alfred cooks delicious food… with one exception: waffles. Jason, who learned from Alfred how to cook, used to make them for him.” He laughs a little. “I had forgotten.”
Damian shakes his head in denial. “I thought you buy those with the groceries.”
“I do, Master Damian,” Alfred says. “They taste different. At first, I thought I was imagining things, and then I briefly thought they were poisoned—they weren’t, so I came back to my original thought.”
“That’s not all,” Bruce says. “For one thing, Alfred left out that waffles are his favorite food and no one, with the exception of Jason, makes them quite right. Alfred would have known the second he bit into one.” His hand tightens briefly. “For another, I remember that the weeks in which Alfred was particularly worried we had an abundance of waffles. It’s almost like he wouldn’t be able to eat any if it weren’t from Jason, and when Jason didn’t provide them it meant that he couldn’t, so Alfred would get worried.” He tightens his jaw. “They had a system.”
Alfred is unimpressed. “I couldn’t know for sure, Master Bruce, and since this was a sensitive matter I thought it best to keep my own counsel.”
“You thought it best to lie to me about my son’s death,” Bruce says, voice perfectly—artificially—level.
Then something snaps.
“Is that what you lost, Master Bruce?” Alfred asks pleasantly. “You seem to be confused because the plaque that I’ve been dusting for almost ten years now says differently.” He continues and conviction seeps into his tone, “I know I lost a grandson.”
If they weren’t the Bats, used to the unexpected and unlikely, they’d be gaping. But they are. So, instead, it’s a close call.
“Oh,” Alfred says mildly, “I think it’s time for dessert. Excuse me.”
The first meeting falls through. Jason wasn’t going to come and though both Dick and Tim hoped, they never really believed. However, in a surprising move, Jason calls about twenty minutes after he was supposed to arrive.
“Where are you?” Tim asks into the phone and Dick beams at him over the table.
“I didn’t actually agree, you know?” Jason drawls.
“And yet you called.”
“I thought about it some more,” Jason says. “It might be fun.”
“Fun is one of the things we’re looking for,” Tim agrees and Damian kicks him—surprisingly lightly—in the shin. “There are others.” His shin throbs. The hit was light only by Damian’s standards, which meant it didn’t feel like his leg was going to fall off.
“Mmhmm, whatever you say.” Jason smiles, Tim can hear it in his voice. “Anyway, I’ll try to come to the next one. I can’t promise anything because… well, you know how it is, but I’ll try.”
“At Lorelei’s, next week, same day and time?”
Jason groans. “Why so early?”
“We haven’t been to sleep yet,” Tim explains.
Another groan, sighing, some mumbling—Tim clearly hears ‘meanies’—and then Jason says long-sufferingly, “All right.” And hangs up.
Tim looks at his phone and he shakes his head. It hits him at random moments that he talks regularly to Jason now. He’s not exactly what Tim pictured. Jason is far more real and human in a way that Tim’s imagination and observation haven’t accounted for.
“He’ll try to make it next week,” Tim says and looks down at his phone when it feels it vibrating. Jason’s calling again. “Wait.” Tim takes the call. “Hello?”
“I forgot something,” Jason says. “I was talking to Kon and he asked me to go on a date. Are you okay with that?”
“Yes, didn’t he say I was?”
“I wanted to hear it from you.”
“It’s fine by me,” Tim says. “Why were you two talking?”
“Work,” Jason answers. “Which is calling, I’ve got to go. Bye.” He hangs up again a second later.
Tim rolls his eyes and lowers the phone. “Jason will try to make it next week, but he can’t promise anything because he works odd hours. He was talking from there, now.” Realization strikes and multiple possibilities unfold. “Or he was being called into work. He wasn’t clear.”
“Did Jaybird really say he was coming?” Dick asks, surprised but delighted.
With a nod, Tim says, “Said it sounded like fun.”
Dick grins widely.
“Maybe you’ll get your wish, after all, Grayson,” Damian says absently. “These waffles are subpar.”
Tim’s head snaps up to see Damian freeze. Lorelei’s is a restaurant and a bakery reasonably close to the Manor. It might very well be the one where Alfred gets his groceries from. Damian narrows his eyes suspiciously and pokes at a waffle.
“I didn’t realize,” Tim says. And then, “Oh, shit!” He texts Jason.
I didn’t know until Wednesday night that the one you were communicating with was Alfred and how.
This wasn’t a gotcha.
At the time I invited you, I had no idea.
I didn’t even think about it until a few seconds ago when Damian said that the waffles were subpar.
I didn’t invite you here to imply anything.
I’m not even sure how you did it. How did you?
Who found out about Alfred?
I bought the bakery
Tim huffs; that’s such a Bruce move.
Bruce. I swear this was about us. It’s just the closest place that’s not the closest place and that means something when you’re tired.
I get it
Wish I could’ve seen his face
Sending you the footage when I get to the Manor.
What’s it going to cost me?
Tim wanted to reply ‘nothing,’ because he wants them to be able to ask for things, but he also wants them to be equals who can occasionally tease each other.
Unless it makes you feel better, in which case…
Do you make croissants? With butter?
They’ll be in Alfred’s next order
Your prices are steep, but fair
That depends on the croissants.
“I think we’re fine,” Tim says and sighs relieved. “And I may or may not have gotten croissants out of this.”
Dick shakes his head with a few chuckles. “This time sure is different from the last.”
“Also, Jason owns Lorelei’s,” Tim adds.
“Are you kidding me?” Damian demands. “Could he have been any more under our noses?”
“Definitely different,” Dick says and laughs.
The second time they are supposed to meet, Oracle stops them as they’re heading out to Lorelei’s. Catwoman has just stolen jewelry from some important people. It seems unlikely that she’d steal something so insignificant; especially since that dawn has come they have to postpone the search. She only ducks the Bats for important stuff.
The police don’t have to stop, though, which means that the chances of Jason making it to the restaurant are pretty small.
It’s as Tim thought.
They eat, talk a bit, and yawn into their drinks. Damian bemoans the state of the waffles, Tim bemoans the state of the croissants—yes, he has been spoiled and now there’s no going back—and Dick bemoans not having anything to complain about until Damian offers his waffles. Mostly, though, they are intrigued and oddly tense.
Intrigued because this is a mystery as is most of what Catwoman does.
Oddly because they shouldn’t be feeling tense and they’re feeling tense because this is the first time that they know Jason’s on a mission.
Maybe it’s that they’re afraid he’ll kill. But no, Tim doesn’t fear that. He doesn’t fully understand or agree, but that’s not it.
Perhaps it’s that they’re not there with him, which feels a little closer to the truth. Or maybe, unpeeling that onion down the logical seam, it’s that they wouldn’t be able to find out what is happening until after it did and that’s… unacceptable. It inches and buzzes and, basically, makes forgetting about it impossible.
Is this how families of the first responders feel all the time?
Tim goes to work and meets with Bruce and says, “Jason’s on Catwoman’s trail.” It’s just an aside, a throw-away line. He says it mostly because the buzzing hasn’t stopped and he has an overwhelming need to tell somebody.
Bruce simply grunts and Tim feels better.
But then, two hours later they pass each other through the hallway, and Bruce asks, “Are you on the list of people they call if anything happens?”
“No,” Tim answers and he can’t believe he didn’t think about it. “None of us is.” And something could happen right now and they wouldn’t know about it.
Lucius off to the side wears the smug expression of those who understand but think the target has it coming.
“If something happens, Gordon will know. That means Barbara will find out about it and she’ll tell Dick,” Tim says. Mostly defensively to Lucius whose expression gets smugger.
Bruce purses his lips and goes on his way.
Next week, same time?
How was it?
Just us chickens here?
It’s as secure as I can make it.
Good enough for me
It went smooth, didn’t catch Cw
They got their goods back
But I don’t think this was about grandma’s necklace
Tim changed screens and texted Bruce, Damian and Dick a short ‘Jason’s fine.’
Something’s not right
I think we’ll stay with it for a while
If you want any kind of backup, I’m here.
Out of the goodness of your heart?
That and some croissants, but I’ll do it for free too.
Are you bribable, now?
What are you willing to do for five croissants?
I refuse to feel ashamed.
What about ten?
I’m just trying to work out the value of what I have here
Equal to that of marinated crabs.
I now know your weaknesses
Be very afraid
How about your weakness?
Why? What do you need?
One of us being on the list of people they call if something happens.
We don’t deal well with not knowing.
I’ll think about it
But you can help yourself with Neapolitan ice cream
You got it.
Next Tuesday, though, three days before they’re supposed to meet, Lex is scheduled to come for a visit. The official reason is that he’s going to negotiate a contract with Wayne Industries and a potential collaboration with Martha Stark foundation. That means that Bruce, Tim, Dick, Luthor, and Kon would all be together in one room, which is not preferable, but it’s the only way Bruce would accept Kon in his city. Clark coming was not even discussed. Because, and this is the unofficial reason, the trail from Joker’s elasticable led to a hospital administrator in Gotham. Apparently, Luthor’ generosity in donating the material to hospitals came back to bite them in the ass.
Of course, this is Gotham, they are now being held at gunpoint by Two-Face. It’s just great. Superman II, Red Robin, Nightwing, Batman, and Superman’s nemesis (and his best friend) have to patiently wait to be saved.
Oh, what a day.
And it’s about to get better because Kon’s neck snaps to the left suddenly and he keeps watching something with narrows eyes.
“What now?” Luthor drawls.
“Jason got hit,” Kon murmurs and Tim draws up. “A bullet to the… arm, I think.”
Tim doesn’t have to look, but he does anyway. Dick’s jaw is set. Bruce’s hands are clenched. And Luthor is thinking.
“You can’t go unless he’s in mortal danger,” Luthor warns. “That is his job and it’ll be made impossible when it gets out that Superman cares about him. Is his life threatened?”
“I can’t tell, it’s a firefight,” Kon replies.
“All right,” Luthor says and taps under his ear. “Kon may need a distraction.”
“Who are you talking to?” Dick asks quietly.
“Mercy,” Luthor answers shortly and proceeds to get distracted by his conversation with her. “Yes, I’ll let you know.”
“You weren’t supposed to bring her,” Dick reminds Luthor.
“I didn’t. She came by herself,” Luthor says serenely.
Dick looks at Bruce and shrugs.
“But Dad,” Kon says surprised and confused, “won’t you—”
Luthor frowns. “Won’t I what?”
“I don’t want you to get hurt,” Kon admitted in a whisper.
“I heal, Kon,” Luthor says. His eyes turn—and this makes Tim do a double take—kind. “It would take more than some guns to kill me. Now, how’s Jason?”
“The fight is over, they’re taking him to the hospital,” Kon answers promptly.
“What’s his condition?” Dick asks.
“He’s cursing up a storm,” Kon says, eyes narrowed. “I can’t tell.”
“That’s his usual setting,” Dick offers.
“The QRT is coming here,” Kon says. “Do you think we can ask them?”
Bruce speaks under his breath into the comms for Damian and Alfred, “QRT incoming.”
“I don’t know if they’ll answer,” Tim says quietly. “And if we ask there could be questions.”
Not even fifteen minutes later the QRT is on site, so evidenced by Kon’s constant updates and Two-Face’s losing his coin. The first one, Kon’s communication of everybody's progress, is along the lines of, ‘He really knows how to lie, doesn’t he? Oh, the QRT is behind a car blasting top 40,’ or ‘He’s so bad at being injured, I think he fought with two doctors and he hasn’t gotten into the hospital yet. But the QRT is preparing for entry.’ And the second one, the coin loss, happens in mid-flip when it’s caught by a black-gloved hand of a QRT member.
After that, there’s a lot of shouting.
The QRT finishes arresting everybody, Tim and the others give their statements, and, generally, everybody is in a hurry to go, possibly in the same place.
“Hey,” Hennelly says, voice muffled by the mask. “You know he’s fine, right?”
And there’s a moment when they look at each because no one knows who Hennelly talking to.
Hennelly sighs. “Forget it. You”—he points to Kon—“take care of our boy. And you”—he gestures to the Bats—“get your act together. This is not a TV Show, you don’t need to keep my team entertained. Or Gotham.” He nods and is gone.
I know you got shot. Are you okay?
I’m here with Kon, Dick, Bruce, and Luthor.
It was a graze
I’m out of the hospital as soon as they finish processing my info
Do you need something?
We’re over here worrying, so you might as well put us to work.
Can I get ice cream?
And dulce de leche from that one lady who looks like she lived a long ass time and she spent it laughing?
At the open market
And who am I taking with me?
Nothing else, I’ve got everything
And don’t let her give it to you for free!
Everybody can come
As long as there’s enough ice cream and dulce de leche to go around
I’m not sharing
Quick question: did you take anything for the pain?
I’m hoping that the fact that I’m not responsible for my actions will convince Luthor to act kind in front his son
So that should go smoothly
And Bruce having to share space with Luthor just warms the cockles of my heart
It should be fun
And Tim wanted to ask again if Jason’s sure when another thought occurred to him.
Which arm did you get shot in?
The right one
Which one are you typing with?
Okay, stop typing. I’ll find the address. We’re coming now.
I hope you have some of those blast shields at home.
Of course I have, what do you take me for?
The lady is exactly as Jason described her: with all her other features lost in the folds of skin, she’s just a smile.
“You don’t pay,” she says. She doesn’t have an accent as much as she’s taking her time, mulling on the vowels, rolling them out slowly. “Friends of Jason’s don’t pay.”
“Yes, I do,” Tim says, smiling awkwardly. “I think he’ll actually shoot me if I don’t.”
She laughs and it turns Tim smile genuine. “A firecracker, that one.” Her grin widens. “I hope he feels better.”
Tim hasn’t said anything about Jason getting hurt.
With the theme from X-files playing in his head, Tim answers, “I’ll let him know that you said so.”
After they’re a good distance away, but not at the car yet, Kon turns to Tim. “What are the chances of a deity living in Gotham and you not knowing anything about it?”
“So it wasn’t just me.”
Jason’s building could be someplace nicer. To be fair, it could be in a worse neighborhood—not but my much, true—but he didn’t choose the worst one out there. That said, they do not fit in.
Luthor doesn’t even try. He chuckles softly, straightens his already straight back, smirks, and struts. More surprisingly, he seems to have the right idea. He gets derisive glances, true, but nothing more. People’s eyes seem to pass over him.
The Waynes, though, they are stared at.
Maybe it’s inevitable because this is Gotham and the Waynes mean something here. Tim, however, thinks it has more to do with the fact that, while the Waynes help the people in the neighborhoods like these, they don’t live here. It shows. Waynes have always played both sides of the fence, but here, where the sun shines over the cracks in sidewalks, were the hard-working people struggle to live with the little they have, and, with no visible crime in sight, Gotham still doesn’t look prettier, here is what they cannot understand. Not Tim, not Bruce, and not even Dick.
They, however, do not constitute the Waynes, and that makes Tim lift his head. Jason is as much one of Waynes as he is one of these people, and, if he got shit because of where he came from, it seems to Tim that it’s fair that they get theirs from here. Even with the death glares and the disgusted looks they sure get treated better than the press and the high society ever treated Jason.
So Tim takes a deep breath and leaves the car.
The building has four stories and Jason lives on the last one. There’s no elevator, but then again they are all in shape. Also, there’s a very well maintained fire escape which shocked exactly no one.
At Tim’s knock, the door swings open.
“Bribe,” Jason demands with a grin.
Tim forks over the ice cream and two jars of dulce leche.
“Ooooh!” Jason takes them, goes into the apartment, and leaves the door open. “Come on in.”
And Tim does, spying a bandage above Jason’s elbow. “Near miss.”
Jason already has his mouth full but his confused expression tells everything.
“The elbow,” Tim says, nodding to the bandage.
Jason shrugs and takes a seat on the floor, his back to the wall. “It’s nothing.” He gestures to the apartment. “Investigate, if you want, just don’t take or copy anything, and feel free to a seat wherever.”
Bruce grunts and disappears through a door, which Tim thinks it leads to the bathroom because Jason doesn’t have any other walls.
Open-plan wasn’t in fashion around the time this building was built so someone must have broken the walls down. The apartment is small, that was what Jason had meant about the seats—there’s only a sofa, the bed, and a couple of bar chairs. It’s clean and neat, with high ceilings and a lot of books.
Jason rolls his eyes at Bruce and gestures to a basket on the kitchen table, “You have muffins there and there’s water to the side.” He points to the bottles. “If any of you want tea, just say so.”
Kon grabs a bottle of water and takes a seat next to Jason, grinning when Jason kisses his cheek and offers him a spare teaspoon. Dick hops on the counter choosing a caramel muffin, and Luthor takes a seat on the couch with a seed muffin and a plate. They all look oddly comfortable.
“Where do I put the rest of the ice cream?” Tim asks.
Jason raises an eyebrow. “What ice cream?”
“He prepared in case you were going to negotiate,” Dick says around a mouthful.
“These are really good,” Luthor offers, taking another bite.
“You missed out on negotiating, but because I am such a good person,” Tim says, “I will give it to you anyway.” He smirks. “But I’m keeping the additional dulce de leche.”
“Fair,” Jason replies. “There is a fridge behind you.” He smirks right back. “And there’s a croissant at the bottom of the basket.” He turns toward Luthor. “I am told they are better with coffee, but it’s never been my thing so I always forget to buy some more after I’m out. Sorry.”
“We ambushed you,” Luthor says, waving away his apology. “Did you break down the walls or were they like this when you moved in?”
It should probably concern Tim more than it does how much he thinks like villains, but it’s too helpful.
“It was my request but I had to talk to a friend of a friend who’s in construction. I didn’t want the building to come down on me,” Jason explains. “I could figure out the load-bearing walls because I’m awesome at making things go boom but then my expertise gets blurry.”
Bruce gets out of the bathroom and sort of… hangs at the door.
“Smart choice,” Luthor continues his conversation. “Bruce, please join me.”
“Did you look in the tank?” Jason asks. He doesn’t wait for Bruce to deny it until Jason continues, “Did you find it?”
“Did you find it?” Jason repeats.
“Find what?” Dick asks.
“My key,” Jason answers and doesn’t look away. “He thinks I lock my guns away and would never pass up on getting at something that’s not his business.”
Bruce nods reluctantly.
Jason’s eyes bore into Bruce’s. “Did you copy it?”
“Bruce?” Dick asks and there’s censure in his voice. He actually believes that Bruce did it, which is cra—
“I did,” Bruce says, implacable.
Tim breathes. No, Bruce couldn’t have. No.
And even if Bruce did, that’s what he does. Tim can’t keep count of how many plots Bruce had destroyed with his paranoia over the years. Jason makes it sound awful, but that’s how Bruce operates and lots of people owe their lives to it.
Why is Tim defending Bruce all of a sudden? Wasn’t Tim saying a second ago that it couldn’t happen? Didn’t he think that Dick and Jason’s attitude sucked because they believed Bruce was capable of something like that? If Bruce hadn’t been accused of fucked up things, why would their attitude matter?
What the hell is going on?
“Congratulations.” Jason applauds. “You found the key to my neighbor’s apartment.” He stops and Tim can actually see Bruce’s mind going in unsavory directions. “I feed her cat,” Jason clarifies.
Tim would say Jason unnecessarily clarifies, but after seeing Bruce’s face Tim can’t say that. Instead, he wants to blame the misunderstanding on Jason’s attitude. If only he wasn’t such a snarky little shit.
And the whole thing starts to worry Tim. He’s realizing how warped his thoughts are and he feels like he doesn’t understand anything anymore. What the hell is going on?
“Leave,” Jason finishes.
“Jason,” Bruce begins and he sounds pained and his eyes are kind and his expression is earnest and—
“Now,” Jason says louder.
And Tim can’t blame him.
“I think I’ll go, too.” Luthor waits to speak until the door is closed behind Bruce. “If you hurt my son,” he says, “I’ll replace the food you give to your loved ones.”
“With what?” Jason asks with narrowed eyes.
“With subpar versions,” Luthor says. “Of course. I don’t plan to do something drastic to you. After all, you might get back together and my son is an adult.” He smirks coldly. “Plus, you’re a survivor—little inconveniences would frustrate you and create annoyance; killing you would only beg you to come back and try to do the same to me. I don’t look forward to seeing how blast resistant my penthouse is.”
Was that a compliment?
Jason and Kon exchange confused looks, while Dick tries to muffle his snickers.
“Good day,” Luthor says and they all nod.
“This was fun,” Dick concludes. “But I came to see you’re okay and you seem to be. We’ll see each other Friday. Kon, you take care of Little Wing or else.”
Jason snorts. “Or else what?”
“I’m not a Bond villain,” Dick says pleasantly. “I’m not about to tell my plans.”
After a short consideration, Jason asks Kon, “What’s your dad’s position on white cats?”
“You were supposed to be on my side.” Kon laughs, tickling Jason.
“When the opportunity is ripe for taking”—Jason smooches Kon’s cheek—“I’m going to grab it. He acts exactly like a Bond villain.” He kisses Kon loudly again. “With much better threats.”
Tim snorts. “On that note, I need to leave my cat some food before I go out.”
“Wait,” Jason says. “Just… can’t we meet tomorrow? I don’t think we are schedule people, too many things might happen. Let’s just go with it.”
“Dick and I have a lunch meeting with some developers tomorrow,” Tim volunteers. “It’s at La Saveur. We can meet after, around two?”
“Traffic is going to be murder, but I can come to you,” Jason says.
“I can’t make it until four.” Kon shrugs. “Will someone let me know if you’re still together by then?”
“One of us will,” Tim says. “So it’s settled?”
Jason smiles, a tad shadowed. “Batfamily, take two.”
Reminder: There are discussions of canonical rape (and people reacting to it) in this fanfic and, though the warning applies to more chapters, it's mostly about this one.
At two o’clock, they are at La Saveur, chatting over a cup of coffee. In the end, Dick and Tim are the only ones there. Jason is supposed to come any minute now, but the others are going to be a couple of hours late. After Jason arrives, they plan on upgrading to a privacy booth and open a new tab.
“Is it completely pathetic that I have high hopes for this?” Dick asks with a smile.
“If it is, I’m in the same boat.” Tim looks at Dick carefully. “What are you going to do to Kon? If he hurts Jason.”
“I’m going to put tassels on his leather jacket,” Dick answers with a dreamy look in his eyes.
“I’m not kidding, I am so going to do it!” Dick defends. “Tassels and puffy shoulders and… leg warmers sewn on his pants.”
“Because we’re talking in a hypothetical case in which he hurts Jason, and I didn’t protect Jason from anything, ever.”
Tim’s good mood vanishes. “Oh.”
“They’re adults, and good people, and yes, relationships are complicated, but…” Dick gestures vaguely. “And yes, there are a lot of other things I could protect him from. I’ll try. But Kon’s punishment is something I really could do. It doesn’t matter if it happens now or fifty years in the future. I don’t know anything else that is like that.”
“Yeah,” Tim agrees. “You’ve got me there.”
“And this is my shining moment, Tim! My second chance to be an older brother to Jason.”
What’s the difference, though, between Jason and Kon, and Steph and I?
But Tim knows he’s not being fair, it’s not the same thing. So he says with false enthusiasm, “Go for it, Dick.”
“I’ve got a feeling about Jay and Kon, you know?”
Tim’s eyebrows rise. “You really think Kon’s going to hurt him?”
“No. What? No, no.” Dick shakes his head. “Did you see them yesterday? How cute they were?”
“This doesn’t feel like a crush or a young love, you know?” Dick smiles as he tries to make Tim understand. “They like, admire, and are probably attracted to each other, but they’re also comfortable after such a short time.”
Ah, so that’s the difference.
But another realization lights the bulb in Tim’s head. “You heard me that first time at Lorelei’s.”
“You knew I was listening.”
“And deduced he was asking for permission. That’s how you know how long they’ve been together.” Tim takes a drink. “Very good.” He puts the cup down. “So wait, if I feel awkward with a person, we’re not meant to be?”
“No, every person is different.” Dick chuckles. “Some need to know each other, some are simply awkward people… I just have a feeling about Jay and Kon, that’s all. Though”—he raises a finger—“if you are truly uncomfortable with another person, you shouldn’t just glide past that. It’s like when you’re feeling watched, sometimes it’s in your head, but sometimes you’re being stalked.”
“I know, I know,” Tim says, but he feels like a liar. He feels uncomfortable with Tam. He always had.
“Hey, I’m your older brother; it’s my right to act like I know everything.”
“Sure it is,” Tim says dryly.
Dick opens his mouth to say something and immediately closes it. He turns towards the exit with a smile. And yeah, now that Dick draws attention to it, Tim hears Jason’s voice. A second later he even sees him.
“…a problem?” Jason’s asking.
“No, sir, I am simply wondering if you won’t feel more comfortable in another restaurant,” Celia says.
“I meeting somebody here,” Jason insists.
“I’m sorry, sir, but your clothes are not according to our code,” Celia says, pleasantly enough.
“Not according to code?” Jason asks as he looks at a man passing by him and into the restaurant. “I am wearing a leather jacket. He is wearing a leather jacket. I have jeans. He has jeans.”
The only difference is that the guy’s clothes are so smooth that they can’t have been worn before. Tom thinks that the chances of them being worn again are small. Jason’s, on the other hand, look like clothes are supposed to. And yet, Jason’s don’t scream money, which Tim supposes the ‘code’ actually means.
Jason calls out to the man, “Hey, buddy! You’re not dressed according to their code.”
“Please, don’t disturb our guests!” Celia says, blushing.
Celia, who was is always friendly to Dick and up for a joke. Celia, who has seen enough of Tim to call each other by their first name. Celia thinks their brother shouldn’t be there.
Tim realizes that maybe Jason would have been more comfortable in another place. And maybe Celia is only following the restaurant’s policy of not letting in people who don’t look they can afford it. Tim can understand it’s not her fault. What he can do, however, is not let it continue.
So Tim is rolling back his weight in preparation to stand when he catches Jason’s eye. Jason keeps eye contact for a second and then he looks down. Tim looks with him to see Jason’s fingers forming a sign.
‘I’ve got this.’
Tim nods and relaxes back in his seat.
“I think he’s having fun,” Dick says with a grimacing smile. It reminds Tim of Alfred’s when Damian brought a slimy toad into the house. A sort of ‘I don’t understand you, but I care for you anyway’ smile.
“You look approving,” Tim quips.
“You said it, not me,” Jason is saying in the background.
And Celia responds, “I’m afraid I have to ask you to leave.”
“Little Wing’s sense of humor is self-deprecating, dark, observant, sharp, and uncomfortable all around,” Dick says with a wince. “When he’s attacking himself, I join the others in wincing, but generally, I like it. Alfred likes it. Bruce loves it. Did you know he used to laugh?”
“I bet there’s a story there,” Dick says wryly. “Anyway, I kind of feel sorry for her. I won’t be coming here again, but I kind of do anyway.”
“Don’t you want to find out who is waiting for me?” Jason asks. “Imagine how bad you’d feel if I said the Waynes.”
Celia blinks. “Are the Waynes waiting for you? Sir.”
“Are you asking?” Jason has a textbook example of a shit-stirrer smile—equally challenging and mischievous.
“Sir!” Celia insists.
Jason’s smile turns sly and his voice lowers. “Would you risk it?”
“Who are you meeting?” Celia says between clenched teeth. “Sir.”
“The Waynes,” Jason chirrups.
Celia glares. It’s clear that she doesn’t believe him. “Right this way, sir.”
“I can see them, thank you,” Jason answers and makes his way towards them.
His progress through the restaurant is followed by many pairs of eyes. Apparently, even in Gotham, people are noisy. Who knew?
Dick takes full advantage. “Jay!” he greets cheerfully. And pulls Jason into a hug.
“You little fucker,” Jason’s words are muffled in Dick’s jacket.
Tim smiles slyly, his arms open.
“I hate you both,” Jason says and he leans in for a quick hug.
And why wouldn’t Jason hug them? They are family. All of them. They are Jason’s brothers. Dick is and… Tim is too.
“What did you expect?” Dick laughs. “Hey, want to take a booth? We’ll be out of the limelight.”
Tim is Jason’s brother.
“I’m okay with it,” Jason agrees.
Tim is Damian’s brother.
“Let’s go,” Dick says.
They take seats, wait for the menus, open a new tab—like brothers do. Because that’s what they are. A family: Cass, though she’s not here; Alfred, though Tim never quite thought of him as such, he doesn’t know why; Bruce, who Tim was supposed to help, nothing more; Dick, who helped Tim as much as hurt him; Damian, who can’t stand Tim and the feeling is so reciprocated, but Damian seems to be coming around and Tim is reluctantly willing to meet him halfway; Jason, who is a mass of contradictions that Tim’s poor brain still struggles with; and the most surprising of all Tim, who is included. The Waynes.
“…okay?” Jason is asking and Tim tunes back in gratefully.
Only to be dragged back out.
Holy fucking shit!
But no, Tim is paying attention.
“Are you okay?” Jason asks again looking at Tim.
“You turned pale,” Dick says with a concerned smile.
“I’m fine.” Tim tries to smile, but it feels fake, so he drops it. “I realized something.”
Jason stares at Tim expectantly, prompting Tim to ask, “What is it?”
“I’m waiting for you to tell us what made you impersonate Victorian nobility,” Jason says. “I’m about to reach for my smelling salts. With the shit we’re accustomed to, it’s bound to be bad.”
Tim opens his mouth and closes it. “I don’t—it’s… I don’t feel like talking about it,” he finally answers faintly. “Yet,” Tim adds in the face of his brothers’ incredulity.
“I’ll hold you to that,” Jason sa—no, he threatens.
And by his side, Dick nods like they won’t need plyers to get it out of Tim.
Amateurs—Tim is never telling them about this.
Tim turns pointedly away, ignoring his brothers’ smiles, and spots an eavesdropping waiter. “Coffee, please.”
The waiter—Charles, his tag says—looks like a deer in the headlights, complete with total body freeze and eyes that are wider than normal but continue to get bigger.
“I’d like one as well,” Dick says and smiles widely. But Tim gets the feeling that Dick expected better from La Saveur than Charles.
So did Tim.
“Tea for me,” Jason says. “English breakfast, please.”
With a cough, the waiter draws himself up. “The tea comes with a platter, sir.”
Jason rolls his eyes. “That seems unfair to people drinking coffee, maybe they want it from a platter too.”
“Uh.” Charles blinks. “No, sir, I meant it is accompanied by sandwiches and dessert.”
“No shit, Inspector Clouseau,” Jason quips back.
Jason’s tone and his words are inappropriate, but the reference is both accurate and adequately pronounced so Tim doesn’t quite know how to react. He sees Dick laughing silently and remembers what he said about Jason’s humor. Tim smiles. He swallows a laugh of his own and thinks he agrees.
Charles tries again, “Perhaps you’d prefer the tea without the platter? It is less expensive.”
“No, you don’t try that shit with me,” Jason says and doesn’t smile. He is suddenly somebody people would think twice before ticking off and Tim blinks at the change. “I’m at a table with the Waynes. If I can’t afford the damn tea, which I choose by reading the menu and it says exactly what it comes with, they’d take care of it. You know it, I know it, the maître d’ knows it. You want to know how come I sat down here, but I don’t feel like answering. Understood?”
“Yes, sir,” Charles immediately says.
“Now,” Jason says. Says pleasantly, because in less than a second he turned back and Tim has whiplash. “I’m having the tea, please.”
“Yes, sir,” Charles says, dazed, then hurries on his way.
Tim is looking is the direction Charles has gone. “What just happened?”
“Jason happened,” Dick says calmly. “He”—Dick leans toward Jason accusingly—“has a short fuse.”
“Shorter since the Pit.” Jason shrugs unapologetically.
Dick grimaces. “You’ll get used to it,” he tells Tim. Turning toward Jason, Dick says, “I’m sorry you had to go through that.”
Jason shrugs again.
“No, I really am,” Dick insists. “When you came along, I wasn’t ready to be a brother and I know you don’t care and you don’t have to, but I think this will help a little.”
Jason doesn’t say anything in the face of Dick’s earnestness, but neither does Jason do anything to stop him.
It seems enough for Dick, who continues, “I had issues with Bruce and everybody took sides, but you were caught in the middle. I wasn’t paying attention, I don’t think I even cared that I was hurting you and I’m sorry. I wasn’t a brother to you, I was barely an acquaintance, and I wanted you to know that I am so, so sorry.”
Jason nods once, sharply. Then glancing at Tim, Jason asks, “What about the guns? The killings? Is this my turn to start apologizing?”
“I don’t presume to judge,” Dick says and laughs ruefully. “I killed Joker.” Jason straightens in surprise and Dick continues hollowly, “He kidnapped Tim. I was so scared and guilty because you had been dead for less than a year and I snapped. I beat him to death. He wasn’t breathing and his heat wasn’t beating.”
“B,” Jason whispers. He sounds wrecked. Then, with a start, he looks around, seems to realize where he is. “You didn’t kill him, Dick, don’t worry. The fucker didn’t have time to go.” His eyes flick to the left. “Heads up.”
Tim wonders about Jason’s phrasing while their coffees are delivered.
“Go where?” Tim asks as Charles leaves.
“To go,” Jason says shortly and Tim knows Jason won’t elaborate on the subject. “You didn’t kill him, Dick. You didn’t kill anybody.”
“He wasn’t the only one,” Dick confesses with a pained smile. “When I was in Blüdhaven, there was a villain, Blockbuster. I couldn’t stop him and I… I allowed a different villain, Tarantula, to kill him. I couldn’t cope with the thought, Jay.” He seems desperate to make Jason understand. “If there’s one thing I can say it’s that I’m afraid it’s going to happen to you. I was inconsolable. Even when Catalina tried to make me feel better I only felt worse. I asked her to stop but…” Dick takes a deep breath. “Anyway, I don’t want you to feel like I did.”
Wait… Did Dick just say he was raped?
Not believing he hadn’t misheard, Tim sneaks a glance at Jason’s reaction. He seems surprised into immobility. Then, by the frown that takes most of his face, deep thought.
Tim sympathizes. His mind runs on a loop of: Dick was taken advantage of. Somebody took advantage of Dick. Dick was taken advantage of. It says something that even in his mind Tim shies away from the word ‘rape’.
Oh great, and Charles is coming.
Tim barely waits for Charles to put everything on the table before he says, “That will be all. We ask that we won’t be disturbed further, please.” He looks at Charles to find him nodding quickly. “Thank you.”
“What did you say her name was?” Jason asks quietly while he leans on the table, food forgotten. “Tarantula? You wouldn’t happen to know her real name, would you?”
Dick blinks. “Catalina Flore—why?”
“No reason,” Jason says quickly. Too quickly.
Hopefully, before Dick realizes Jason’s line of questioning may have murderous consequences, Tim says, “Erm, Dick?” So he lacks his usual eloquence. “You realize that… if anything happened, it was—it wasn’t consensual.”
“No.” Dick shakes his head. “Maybe it wasn’t fully consensual, maybe there were times when it wasn’t, but the act as a whole was—”
“Rape,” Jason interrupts.
It’s jarring even if Jason spoke quietly.
Dick jumps, winces, but shakes his head. “No.”
“Dick,” Jason says implacably, “it was.”
“No. Look, even if it was nonconsensual, there’s such a thing as nonconsensual sex without it being called rape,” Dick says hurriedly. “Lots of people are familiar with the difference; they explained it to me enough times. I had sex with Mirage who looked and sounded like Kori. I didn’t consent to have sex with Mirage, but I consented to sex. It wasn’t rape.”
Twice?! It happened twice? What the fuck? What the actual fuck?
“Okay, Dick, listen to me,” Jason says, his hands clenched. “My neighbor, who took care of me when my mom was too sick or out of it, was a prostitute, sex worker, however you want to call it. She talked about her job.”
‘So that’s why there are so many sex workers around Jason,’ Tim thinks faintly.
“I hooked. Sometimes, when I was out of money, sex was an easy way to get it,” Jason goes on. “When you do it, you have to watch each other’s backs because the world is full of shit. And still, at some point, a lot of us had something done to us or were put in a position that wasn’t what we consented to.”
Why am I here? I can’t help them. What do I say? Jason and Dick are my brothers and yet I don’t know what to say. I have to say something. But what? What do I say?
“As I grew up I killed people, or beat them, or arrested them for nonconsensual sex.” Jason watches Dick carefully. “Whether it was somebody’s boyfriend who just didn’t want to take ‘no’ for an answer one night, or a little girl groomed and sold into slavery, it happened to all types. I helped as I could: whether I managed to impale the son of a bitch with some of the same gold cutlery he bought with money from human trade, or I just arrested the piece of shit.”
Dick nods hesitantly.
“And… This doesn’t get to Damian.” Jason waits for their agreement. “After throwing me into the Pit, Talia showed me Tim and that Joker was still alive, fucked me, and left after calling me weak.”
Rape is not a new thing, for Gotham or the world. But this seems different. Platitudes and clichés are dreadfully insufficient.
“And you know what?” Jason asks. “It doesn’t even matter if I said yes. I wasn’t thinking clearly and she knew it.”
Why am I thinking about me? I don’t want to say the wrong thing, sure, but… They are the important ones right now. They are the ones that deserve to be heard.
“So, I know a bit about the subject and, Dick, there’s no difference,” Jason says. “Nonconsensual sex is rape.”
Dick turns to Tim. “What—I mean, what do you think?”
And even though Tim doesn’t have the same wealth of experience, he doesn’t wait long. “It is,” Tim says quietly. “Jason’s right.”
“So… it’s not my fault?” Dick asks.
Tim doesn’t understand. “What are yo—no, of course not. How could it be your fault?”
“That I said ‘no’ too late to Catalina, that I didn’t recognize Kori even though they didn’t act the same, that I…” Dick swallows. His voice turns bitter. “That I wear a skin-tight suit and I have a perky ass and washboard abs and kissable lips?”
“Of course not. What? Of course not,” Tim says feeling like he was slapped. It’s stupid because his words are malfunctioning and they shouldn’t. Not now. He’s stuck repeating the same thing over and over. “No. No, Dick. It’s not your fault. Of course, it isn’t.”
“It isn’t,” Jason says. “But if we can’t convince you, talk to somebody. Or, you know, just because. And yes, like a therapist, somebody who knows these things, has dealt with them, and can work with you until you can convince yourself. You wouldn’t think the same thing about Kori or about Tarantula if the roles were reversed, Dick.” He drags his tea closer and puts his hands around the cup, probably for warmth. “Even if you don’t go, though, remember me—us—saying this: it isn’t your fault.”
Tim just keeps nodding like somebody’s dash dog.
“Have you been?” Dick asks.
“Yes,” Jason says.
Dick turns to Tim.
“Jason thinks I should go too,” Tim says. He realizes that this was what Damian was talking about at the Manor, that one time with the pamphlets, and swears silently. “I was actually planning on it.” Was not. “After we get the new line out in the fall.” Better. “I was thinking Dr. Thompkins.” He swallows. “Maybe I’ll call earlier—like now-ish.”
“I’ll call if you call,” Dick challenges.
Tim narrows his eyes. “Deal.”
Jason watches them with a smile. “So,” he says, waving a sandwich. “We now have brainstorm how to send B, Damian, and, maybe, Alfred, and we’re home free.”
“Why?” Dick asks, lips curved into an uncertain smile.
“I know I’d feel much better when I yell B’s ears off if I knew he wasn’t traumatized,” Jason says and shrugs. “But I don’t need it. He had a lot of years to ask for help.”
“Damian is better,” Tim volunteers. “I found him looking through college pamphlets the other day.”
“Hey! That’s great,” Dick says.
“Mmhmm,” Tim says. “I also found out that somebody has a M.S.E. from Princeton.”
Dick beams at Jason. “Really?”
“Yeah, yeah.” Jason poorly hides a smile. “I have my bachelor’s from Russia in Philology and I am a Sergeant. Do you want to talk about that or the case with Catwoman’s jewels?”
“I want to talk about—”
But Dick is interrupted by Jason saying, “Catwoman’s jewels! I knew it.”
“No,” Dick says. “Not even close.”
“I’ll send you the dissertation,” Tim offers. “That way you’ll have more to corner him with.”
“Hey!” Jason exclaims.
“Agreed,” Dick tells Tim, before turning to Jason. “So what about the jewels?”
“We managed to find out what was so special about the jewels,” Jason says. “They had a chip attached to them by the insurance company in case they were stolen. But on this chip, there was also a list that tied together all the people involved in Lex’s elasticable leak: the managers of different hospitals connected to these people that Catwoman burgled, which were, in turn, connected Two-Face and his Arkham distribution. They apparently kept the evidence as insurance in grandma’s diamonds.”
“If Catwoman took it how did you know what was on it?” Tim asks.
“She gave it to us.” Jason shrugs, which is fair when dealing with Catwoman’s motives. “It was delivered via cat.”
And Tim couldn’t help himself. “Where do you people find cats to do your bidding anyway?” He huffs. “I mean at least with her is thematically appropriate, but, until Mina, all I could get a cat to do was to ignore me.”
Jason smirks. “It takes special talent.”
“Wait a sec,” Dick interrupts. “Lex?!”
Jason doesn’t seem fazed. “That’s the name he said he prefers. We talked a lot while we investigating the bombs.” He takes another cucumber sandwich and gestures to them to help themselves. “Actually, Kal and Lex did the hard part. I mean, B might’ve got there faster but, since he doesn’t share, we worked with what we had.”
“They must make a good team,” Tim says. He was on other things so he doesn’t know the specifics but that’s a short time for anybody.
“‘Team,’ interesting word choice.” Dick laughs lightly. “The tension was so thick even I noticed it.”
“And that was not a good day for you,” Jason says.
“What are talking about?” Dick asks. “It was one of the best days of my life. You are alive.” He grins widely.
Jason stops for a few seconds, too surprised to even breathe.
“I think you broke him,” Tim comments dryly.
Jason grumps and mumbles and changes the subject. “We’re making progress on Penguin’s empire. We had a few missions at the docks and it’s going well.”
“Ugh,” Tim says. “People have got to stop using the docks for their illegal activities. I mean really? The docks?!”
Dick pats Tim on the arm. “There-there. The docks are a big place.”
“If the criminals weren’t stupid, though, we would not catch as many or as easily,” Jason says.
Tim thinks about that for a second, but he’s not really impressed. “Unimaginative.”
“Now kids—they have all the imagination one needs,” Dick says.
“I heard the event went great.” Tim smiles proudly. “Congratulations!”
“What event?” Jason asks.
Dick opens his mouth, but Tim gets there ahead of him.
“I’ve got this,” Tim says. “So our darling Dick is at the head of Martha Wayne Foundation, as you probably already knew, but what you may not know is how hands-on he works. Yesterday he went to give food at the Youth Homeless Shelter in Bowery and he managed the impossible.” He pauses to prolong the tension. “There was no press.”
“How did you manage that?” Jason asks with the surprise of one long accustomed to being hounded by the press.
Dick shakes his head. “Industry secret.”
“I’ll get it out of him,” Tim threatens.
Tim remembers a promise and gets his phone out to tell Kon they’re still at Le Saveur.
“My lips are sealed,” Dick says. “It’s between me and the kiddies.”
Jason’s eyes narrow. “You came down the chimney.”
Dick opens his mouth and it stays that way.
“How did you know?” Tim asks, putting his coffee down to study them better.
Jason points a finger accusingly. “You have to figure out how his mind works.” He turns to Tim. “First think what you would do if you were made out of gleefulness and enthusiasm. Then add a pressing need to do a flip to that.”
Dick throws his head back with a laugh. “I am not… I do not…” He tries but he is laughing too hard. “You asshole.”
“That makes sense,” Tim says, nodding and lifting his coffee cup again.
“It does not!” Dick exclaims.
Jason snorts. “Give it up, Dick. Good job with the Foundation, though.”
“Thank you,” Dick says with a grin curving his lips. “By the way, we have a mentorship program, want to sign up?”
Shaking his head, Jason says, “I am not mentor-material.”
“Come on,” Dick pleads. “Damian and Tim were not a good fit, but you understand what these kids go through.”
“Yeah, I do,” Jason agrees. “But that doesn’t translate.” He lifts his hand to stop Dick from talking. “Dick, this only works in certain circumstances and I’m not what you’re looking for. In the first place, I’m too close. I would get overly involved in their lives. I’m gonna be overbearing and take everything that this city throws at them as a personal insult. You have to be calm and be able to let them solve their own problems, and I’m not that person. I take care of people my way.”
Dick considers. “By being GCPD?”
“It’s mostly busting heads and shooting shit—I know, I’m exactly as everyone remembers.” Jason shrugs and rolls his eyes. “Anyway… In the second place, I took care of my mom for years when I was little. It was fucked up. When she got sick, I got food, drugs, alcohol, clothes, paid the bills, helped her wash herself, you name it. And I continued to do it until the bitter end because I was the only one who could. I’m not saying that other people couldn’t do it even after that, but, for me, that was enough: I help by punishing the guilty and I leave the rest to somebody else.”
“Understandable,” Dick admits. “All right, I’ll get on that, while you continue to do what I couldn’t.”
“You were a good officer,” Tim protests.
“That’s debatable,” Dick says. “But Jay is definitely a great one and I am great at the second part of the problem so why shouldn’t we play to our strengths?”
Tim nods and Jason salutes Dick with his tea.
“So wait,” Tim says. “Jason helps with punishing the guilty, Dick takes care of others, Damian is with his animals… What about me?”
“You don’t need to live your life in service of others,” Dick says.
“Yes, that,” Jason adds. “And if it that doesn’t work for you, remember the economy is a big part of people’s stability.”
Dick chokes a little on his coffee in his enthusiasm. “Oh, that’s right! Yeah!”
“Don’t die,” Tim says mildly with a frown.
“Always a good advice,” Jason replies. “Anything else?”
“Yes. Don’t be an asshole,” Tim shoots back.
To which Jason and Dick reply at the same time, “Impossible.”
Tim rolls his eyes and steals a cupcake.
“Oh, yeah, that will teach me,” Jason gripes, pushing the platter in Tim’s reach.
Tim doesn’t get to answer.
There’s a dull sound, like something falling. Then there’s a scream. A pause, in which the three of them look at each other. And then they move.
They are not the only ones, people have left their tables to see better.
“Stand back! GCPD!” Jason gets out his badge from underneath his clothes and lets it hang on its chain in full view. “What’s the problem?”
“She’s not breathing!” a man exclaims. “My daughter’s not breathing.”
“What’s your daughter’s name, sir?” Jason asks.
“Edith,” the man says breathlessly. “Eddie.”
Jason drops down. “Ed—Eddie, I’m Jason. I need to take deep breathes, okay? And try to relax.” He hits somebody as he shifts and he orders the onlookers to back away.
Tim takes care of that while Dick calls for an ambulance.
“She seems to be in anaphylactic shock. Sir, does that surprise you?” Jason asks calmly as he places his jacket underneath her feet.
The man’s eyes widen. “We told them she was allergic, we did!”
Dick rattles the address, the incident, and the possible diagnosis.
“Where is her epi-pen?” Jason’s composed and in control, managing through personal example to bring down the tension a couple of notches.
“We told them!” the man shouts.
That doesn’t mean everybody’s calm, obviously.
“Sir, this is not the time,” Jason says, gentle but implacable. “She has an allergy and an epi-pen. Where is it?”
The man shakes his head. “They poisoned my baby!”
“Tim!” Jason calls and Tim is already moving towards their things. He hears Jason say to Eddie, “Stay calm. Nothing else is important right now.”
“In her bag,” the man finally answers. “The little pocket in the front.”
Tim finds the epi-pen, hands it over, and, in a matter of seconds, it’s in her thigh.
“That’s it, that’s it,” Jason soothes. “Relax. Shh. Relax. It’s almost over. You did good.”
Jason continues to mumble things to keep the woman calm while the rest of them just hang awkwardly.
Finally, the ambulance comes and takes Eddie to the hospital. Her father calls her wife to go with her, but he chooses to stay. He says he wants to find the people responsible.
That’s when Jason is really in his element.
With a few commands and questions, he has diffused the situation, made everyone retake their seats, and found out that Edith has an allergy to alcohol, which her waitress, Christine, either ignored, didn’t mention in the kitchen, or the kitchen messed up. It took him only about twenty minutes. He also found out other things, non-relevant things, like: Eddie was married in June; their family was new money with no kind of pull; and that Eddie’s mother’s favorite fruit was peach.
And Tim realizes several things.
One, Jason is amazing at this. Cool, don’t-you-bullshit-me attitude, pure Gotham grit, knowledgeable, gentle, are just a few of the qualities that make him so great at this. He’s got this.
Two, the Bats, though in possession of the knowledge needed, would never have been able to help in the same way. There’s an authority to the badge, something that’s easily recognizable and it’s ingrained in people to listen when they see it. That, in the hands of somebody who knows what they’re doing, ends up saving lives. And sure, people can just as soon react in the same way to the Bats, but there’s a transparency there that gives the police another dimension. It’s a whole different ball game to operate without a mask on.
And three, the system needs to survive. Yes, it can be corrupt and bigoted and not enough, but that can and should be fixed. The answer is not to do with it completely.
The Bats go around the system too much, even with Bruce communicating with Gordon, and they don’t grasp why it was put in the first place. This is a reason why: for when people collapse in a restaurant and they get medical assistance, plus an investigation into the incident, and all parties are aware it’s happening. The small stuff that is as important to be dragged into the light as the big things because sometimes it means more.
What would the Bats have done to the culprit in this case?
Maybe beat them up, maybe pin the proof to their chest, or maybe both. Perhaps a newspaper would pick it up, give it a small column that would somehow tie back to the Waynes as the real story. The person would go probably to jail.
And the jail thing, the evidence, that’s the system again. The Bats are taking advantage of one side of it while ignoring the rest. It’s not like they have detention centers, judges, or juries in the Batcave. They just decide what parts they like, what they don’t want to deal with, and do whatever they please to what remains.
But what would happen now with Jason on the case?
Some very rich people are made to wait until their statements are taken as per procedure. It doesn’t matter if the person would go to jail, and they will if Jason has anything to say about it, but nobody will forget about this in months. The Wayne angle will appear in the news, sure, but people will tell all their friends or at parties: they will complain about being made to wait or gush about this interesting thing that happened. That they stood witness to. That they helped with. That their time was wasted by. In the end, the punishment set by the courts will the least of the culprit’s worries and even that will be by the plenty. And it’s all chugged through the system.
Tim finally understands that while nothing happened here that couldn’t be fixed, it couldn’t be fixed with a beating. It’s not something to be forgotten while bones heal, it’s something that should serve as a lesson, as a warning that is whispered the next time somebody mentions an allergy: but haven’t you heard?
And, of course, beatings are not Tim style—they are Bruce’s—but that’s not the point here. Though Tim admits he’s responsible for his share of broken bones. No, the point is that the system is important. The Bats wouldn’t be able to do what they do without it and they can’t continue to have just a tangential relationship with it.
So, because Tim is proactive, he thinks farther than that. For example, about finding out what candidates for various positions he needs to support. He could pay more attention, maybe talk to Jason. They could put their heads together to figure out what Tim can do to improve the system because Jason seems to know his way around the lacks in it.
Like Detective Grosk, who Jason seems to hate on sight.
“What’s going on here?” Detective Grosk asks. He was called in by the nearest police station. “Mr. Wayne, Mr. Wayne. I’m sorry your meal was disturbed.”
“They’ll live,” Jason drawls. “Somebody almost didn’t, so if you’d be so kind as to direct your attention to—”
Grosk rolls his eyes. “I heard, a girl reacted to an allergy, it happens.” His eyes travel from the well-dressed staff and cashmere-wearing patrons to Jason’s cotton Henley. “No need to disturb all these busy people. This restaurant is both a business and a staple of Gotham, you can’t shut it down when it suits you.”
“People get allergies. That happens. When people eat food they specifically asked not to be included and it activates their allergies, that’s when we come in,” Jason says in a mock-cheery voice.
Huffing, Grosk looks around. “And you are, Officer Know-It-All?”
“Delighted at the compliment,” Jason replies.
“Do you actually have a name?” Grosk asks, annoyed.
Jason smirks. “It’s Todd, actually.”
“Sergeant Todd-Wayne,” Dick says from Jason’s left. “Actually.”
And Tim practically sees his cue, intended or not. He grips Jason’s shoulder and says, “Our brother.” He knows this game. “So it’s Mr. Drake-Wayne”—Tim puts a palm on his chest—“Mr. Grayson-Wayne”—he gestures to Dick and then Tim squeezes Jason’s shoulder—“and Sergeant Todd-Wayne. Actually.”
There is a second where Tim could swear the curtains move from the force of so many in-drawn breaths.
“What’s going on here?” Damian superior tone cuts through the sudden silence. He stands in the doorway like the world’s biggest asshole and Tim hates that, right now, it strikes the right note. “Jason?” So he heard. As suspected.
“Of course, you know Damian Wayne,” Tim tells Grosk conspiratorially. “And he admires his big brother so.”
Then Damian shifts and Kon leads Barbara into the restaurant.
“Barbara Gordon,” Tim continues going with the flow. “She knew the Sergeant before, said something to him that she shouldn’t have.”
Barbara nods. “Regretted it ever since.”
Jason stiffens almost imperceptibly.
“And you might have heard of Kon Luthor,” Tim goes on. “His lover or boyfriend or partner. Whatever you prefer.”
Kon brings up his best sly smile and Tim practically sees Luthor in it.
“We support Jay.” Tim fixes Grosk with a stare. “It’s one of the reasons we don’t mind waiting. The other, of course, is that someone got hurt.”
Grosk looks ill, even going as far as swaying a bit. He tries to smile. It doesn’t work.
Later, when they are happily nestled at Lorelei’s, they are finally having their meeting.
“Do you mind that I called you Jay?” Tim asks, wanting to know if he stepped on any toes. “It was important at the time.”
Jason snorts. “I called you Timbo; it’s fine.”
“Can I keep calling y—”
But Tim is interrupted by Jason lazily gesturing. “Sure, knock yourself out.” Jason studies Tim and smirks. “Family is supposed to be annoying, right?”
Tim shrugs innocently.
“You actually have this place according to ADA standards,” Barbara says happily.
Jason looks around. “It didn’t need that many adjustments, I mostly did them myself. Had a little trouble with writing the tags in Braille, but I’ve got people who know people.”
“It’s not that difficult,” Barbara says. “You know Morse, you can easily learn it. There are apps for that.”
“Well, now I know that.” Jason shrugs. “I haven’t really thought about it before.”
Barbara smiles thinly. “You’ve had that luxury.”
“I’m the type of person who takes problems as they come, Babs,” Jason replies and the two exchange a pained smile.
“It’s just…” Barbara trails off. “Did you know that the ramp at La Saveur is too steep? Conno—Kon had to help me.” She looks in her juice glass. “Sometimes I want to sue everybody. Take them to court, clean them out.”
Jason smirks. “So do it.”
“And be that person who demands restaurants pay even more when they have to deal with Gotham and its assorted characters?” Barbara snorts bitterly. “I’ve learned how to deal.”
Jason shakes his head. “Whatever you want.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Barba asks. “Why did you do comply with ADA?”
“Because I thought you might want a danish?” Jason shoots back. “Listen, I’m not going to tell you to make yourself unpopular or to register for hate mail. You do whatever you want.”
“But you think I should,” Barbara insists.
“What the fuck?! Did I say that? Was that what I said?” Jason stops Barbara when she opens her mouth. “I’m twenty-five, Babs; I curse.”
“Your age has never stopped you, Jason,” Barbara retorts. “Why should it stop me?” She leans forward. “And I want to sue them. I do.”
Damian frowns. “What’s keeping you then?”
“We’re here for you,” Dick says in his best Robin voice. It sounds a touch patronizing.
Dick raises his hands in a don’t-shoot gesture. “I’m with Jaybird on this one,” he admits. “I’ve always thought it’s not asking for much, but I guess I haven’t thought it through.” Dick sighs and gives an abashed smile. “Will I support you? I try to, no matter what, but I don’t always succeed.” He briefly makes eye contact with Jason. “I’m not risking anything here, though. You are. It’s not my decision to make. Decide and tell me how I can help.”
“I’ve noted hundreds of instances of noncompliance, I’ve talked to lawyers about the worst of them, I’ve dreamed about this for a long time, and I’ve been building the cases,” Barbara admits. “But I procrastinated because I learned to deal with it, I got used to things as they are, and it didn’t seem as urgent as when I started. I thought about the owners of the restaurants and some of them can afford it, but some don’t.” She shakes her head. “This is a lot easier when they straight up commit crimes.” Barbara takes a deep breath. “I’ll start with the ones that can afford it; maybe it’ll be a wake-up call.”
Tim nods. “If you need anything, don’t hesitate, okay?”
“Don’t seem likely,” Barbara says with a wide smile. “Wait, wait. I don’t want to forget.” She turns to Jason. “How do you know Grosk?”
“I don’t,” Jason says. “Not personally. Today was the first time I dealt with him.”
“What’s his deal anyway?” Kon asks.
“Corruption?” Damian asks.
“Maybe,” Barbara says. “But I’ve been looking and I haven’t found anything yet.”
Jason wears a disgusted expression. “I don’t think you will.”
“Why not?” Tim asks.
“There are three types: the bad cop, the good cop, and the…” Dick trails off. “The kind that prefers to go with the flow? The kind that doesn’t want to disturb the status quo? The kind that bows to powerful people, but doesn’t need to be bribed? The keep-your-head-down, do-as-little-as-you-can-get-away-with?”
Jason nods. “They’re everywhere.”
“That’s…” Tim tries to find a word to describe it, but, outside a ten-minute rant, none seem to do.
“Yeah,” Jason confirms.
“That reminds me,” Tim says and opens his briefcase. He takes Jason’s new credit card and his account papers out of it and hands them to Jason. “These are yours.”
Jason skims them. “No, they ain’t.” He pushes them back.
“They’re not mine,” Tim says. He frowns, knowing he is walking on thin ice. “You might as well.”
“They’re not mine, baby bird.” Jason sighs.
“Come on, Jay,” Tim says, pushing them further. “You’re a Wayne. Even if didn’t get along with any of us, which you know you do, these are still yours.”
Jason rolls his eyes. “Will it make you shut up about it?”
“Maybe.” Tim pushes the papers even closer with a sly smile.
“Fine.” Jason sighs again. “Do I need to sign somewhere?”
“Nope,” Tim says, popping the ‘p’.
Jason reads them more carefully. “How much money does a person need?”
“Hm.” Kon leans over. “That’s pennies,” he says loftily.
Jason cracks a smile. “If you think that, I don’t wanna hear what you say when you see how much I make.”
“Can’t be less than me,” Kon replies with a laugh. “I’m thinking of quitting altogether. Apparently, I can’t write stories where my dad’s involved which leaves me with some human interest stories and even fewer about freak weather.”
“Why—” Jason stops. And then, “No, I need to know. How’s Lex connected to weather events?”
“I was afraid to ask,” Kon admits.
They all laugh, but Tim manages, “Have you got any other plans?”
“Photography,” Kon says. “Until stuff with my dad sorts itself out a bit.”
“That’s nice,” Barbara replies. “Good luck.”
Damian straightens. “I’d like to see them sometime.”
There are nods all around and Kon smiles. “I was thinking of taking him some shots of Gotham, but I don’t know if Mr. Wayne would be okay with that.”
“I’d like to see him try to stop you,” Jason says and there’s a vicious smirk on his face, showing exactly who Bruce is going to have to deal with.
“Or maybe I’ll just use a muse.” Kon smiles, cups his hand around Jason’s cheek and pulls him in for a quick, but gentle kiss. “Right after I come back.”
Tim groans. “Don’t remind me.”
“What’s going on?” Damian asks.
“We have a mission,” Kon says, smiling. “An undercover mission.”
“I hate heels,” Tim complains.
Jason leans forward. “Tell me more.”
“So Tim,” Dr. Thompkins, now in her role as his shiny new therapist, says. “What’s your reason for being here?”
Taking a deep breath and trying not to let it show, Tim replies, “Jay—Jason said I should and I wanted to help Dick. And before you ask, I guess I feel responsible for not realizing what he’s been going through. I want to help.” Tim fidgets before he consciously stills.
“Do you think Jason might be on to something?” Thompkins asks.
Tim opens his mouth but waits for a beat. “I think he’s right about Dick so it wouldn’t be a surprise if it turns out that Jason has a point.”
“Okay, Tim.” Thompkins smiles kindly. “Tell me a little about yourself.”
The family-and-friends meetings continue. Sometimes they’re joined by Jon, by Roy, or by others less often, sometimes Barbara or Kon can’t show up, but the four of them always do—Dick, Jason, Tim, and Damian. If one of them can’t make it, even if it’s just for a few minutes, they don’t meet.
And… it’s nice. They complain, joke around, ask for opinions, maybe brainstorm. Damian is sold on Kon’s art, even though it’s an even split between pictures of Jason and pictures of everything else. Roy finds Jay hilarious and together they drag them into stupid things, like breaking into Queen’s new lair and decorating it with Arsenal merchandise. Even Damian and Tim have found a common interest: cats and their care. And Dick, who gets along with everybody as a rule, always beams proudly like a dog who has managed to herd his cats into a safe corner. So, that’s good.
The therapy, on the other hand, is going pretty terrible. And Tim has been warned, he has, that some sessions were going to be more difficult than others, but that it will get better. Tim is just beginning. They happen a lot. It’s just so exhausting and that’s coming from somebody who has replaced his blood with coffee because he doesn’t have time for sleep. In truth, he has slept more in the last two weeks than in the whole month and a half before, and he still feels like roadkill.
So, Tim thinks it’s understandable, when, passing through the lobby on his way to R&D, he snaps.
It’s Rachel Daws, who calls after Dick, “Hey, gorgeous!” Only to add, “Oh, hi Dick! I was talking to your pom-pom.” She follows that up with a wide grin and Dick smiles back just as wide. But his eyes are shadowed, the smile is unusually forced for Dick, and Tim can’t take it anymore.
“Hey, gorgeous,” Tim tells Daws in an even tone. “Oh, hi. I was talking to your pom-pom.”
Dick turns. Everything and everyone does, but Dick is important since Tim isn’t trying to cast a light on him. After looking around, Dick moves discreetly to stand inconspicuously in a shadow of a column. He nods.
Michelle Perdue, who happened to come across in time to hear Tim but not Daws, warns, “Mr. Wayne, that’s inappropriate.”
“I agree,” Tim says. “If you ever use language like that again, Ms. Daws, you will be let go. We don’t condone sexual harassment. I’ll file a report with HR by the end of the day.”
Daws swallows. “I was joking around. It’s Dick, sir, everyone does.”
Dick has an awkward smile frozen on his face, but he doesn’t say anything and he doesn’t leave, almost like he’s waiting.
“Ms. Perdue, anything to add?” Tim asks, his eyes challenging.
Perdue visibly weighs the situation. “The words are inappropriate, sir. Maybe if the two had a close relationship it wouldn’t be so black and white, but Mr. Grayson, to my knowledge, never responded in kind. So no, if I take into account only your repetition because I wasn’t here to hear the exchange myself, I don’t think it was a joke.”
Tim gives a short nod. “That’s established then. No more sexual harassment, regardless of reputation or gender.”
‘Thanks,’ Dick mouths with a quick smile and disappears.
“Sounds like a good idea,” Bruce says as he appears from behind a neighboring column once Dick is out of earshot. “Equality.” He smiles.
Tim doesn’t doubt that Bruce thinks it’s a good idea, but he will want to question how Tim thought of it now, on this sweltering day in Gotham. Bruce is not a big believer in coincidences. This was not Tim’s brightest moment.
Bruce lifts a wrapped package. “Do you have a minute?”
“Yes,” says Tim. He texts R&D that he’s going to be late. “Your office or mine?”
“The nearest conference room,” Bruce says. “You look like a person who has places to be.”
“How are you?” Bruce asks as soon as the door closes.
“Fine,” Tim says. It won’t work, but he tries.
Bruce waits him out.
“Tired,” Tim relents.
“What I saw just now?” Bruce inclines his head in case what he is referring to isn’t obvious. “What was that about?”
Tim shrugs. “I think it needed to be said.”
“How is Dick?”
Tim is careful not to change his posture. “I think he’s all right. You’ll have to ask him to know for sure.”
Tim shrugs. “I don’t know what you what you want me to tell you.”
“Hm,” Bruce says doubtfully, but thankfully moves on. “I know I’m putting you in an awkward position, but could you give my present to Jay?” He lifts the package again and puts it on the table.
Bruce watches him intently. “His birthday present.”
When’s Jason’s birthday?
Yes, but when.
On… uh… um… the sixteenth!
But what does it have to do with…
What’s today’s date?
“What is the date today, Tim?” Bruce asks, putting a finger on the package to prevent Tim from taking it.
And possibly running with the present because what the hell is today’s date?
All right, all right, calm down. Tim has a meeting on the tenth and that’s not for a while. He has finished the undercover mission in July and that was only a few days ago. And, finally, Mina has a doctor’s appointment on the twenty-first. He remembers thinking that waiting eighteen days for an appointment was a bit much so it was the third when he made it and he thought that yesterday so today is the fourth.
“It’s August fourth, Bruce,” Tim says out loud, after what he hoped was not too big of a pause. “I’m wondering why you are so early.”
Bruce studies Tim intently. “I wasn’t sure when you were seeing Jay next.” Bruce gestures to a seat. “It’s a row of seats at the ball game on the twenty-third.”
“Jay likes baseball?” Tim asks amused, while he sits down. “I didn’t know that about him.”
“He used to. I thought even if that changed it would make for a good group activity,” Bruce says, making it clear that he knows about the meetings. “What is going on, Tim?”
Tim feels a shiver down his spine and doesn’t say anything. It’s the smartest move he could make at that point. He doesn’t want to say anything that gives… well, anything away.
“You didn’t remember Jay’s birthday or the date. If one of this things happened, I’d be worried, but two?” Bruce studies Tim. “You are not fine and you aren’t just tired.”
How to tell Bruce that being in therapy reminds Tim of an infected wound? That after the pus is gone, there’s still the hole? That the ache remains and the absence of what it was, no matter how healthy, feels harsh and tiring?
“Remember what Jay said when he told us he was alive?” Tim asks, but then he shakes his head. “Of course, you do. Sorry. He told me to talk to somebody, I decided to take his advice, and suddenly there were a lot of things that needed saying. It’s getting better, but I’m not used to it so I’m a bit out of touch.”
Bruce inclines his head. “Damian told me something about Cornell.”
“He mentioned something about that, but it’s not really my place to—”
“Was Dick raped?”
Tim chokes on his words and then is immediately horrified for having such a telling reaction.
“He was,” Bruce says, in a neutral tone. “When?”
Tim is careful not to say or show anything.
“Who was it?”
A villain and a colleague. Everybody knew and they didn’t do anything. Dick had to work with her and people actually accused him of cheating.
“Where was I?”
Bruce sighs and rubs at his temple. “So my eldest is a rape survivor, my eldest middle child is alive, my youngest middle child is making his way through mental trauma, and my youngest has renounced his previous ambitions.” He raps his knuckles on the table. “And somehow, I missed it all.”
World’s greatest detective.
“I’m just beginning,” Tim offers. “And nobody knew about Jason—”
“Except the people who knew about Jason.”
Tim winces. “Because he showed himself to them and they aren’t stupid. And Damian was inspired.”
“I have to do better, Tim,” Bruce says honestly. He sighs. “Until then, after you’re done with the pressing matters today, take some time off. Work less, patrol less, your choice, but lower the workload. And, if you insist, sleep during the day, but do sleep. It’s important. Also, you know Alfred would love to have you.”
“Thanks, but I don’t think it’s necessary to move back into the Manor. I’ll take your offer for more free time though.” Something occurs to Tim. “Wait,” he says, but Bruce hadn’t moved. With a blush, Tim says, “I want to talk to you about something.”
Here’s the thing.
Bruce nods. “I’m listening.”
“What do you think about Tam?”
Tim admires Tam and he thought he had a crush on her, but…
Bruce frowns. “In general or is there a specific area?”
“As a transfer to the financial department.”
Tim has begun to suspect he’s making her as uncomfortable as she makes him.
“Do you have a reason for it?” Bruce asks.
“I’d have to talk to her, but I think a job where she could grow would be more fulfilling than that of an assistant, even if it’s to the VP.”
Sometimes people just don’t go together, no matter the intentions.
“That’s where she shows proficiency,” Tim says.
Tam is an extraordinary person—smart, competent, funny. But there’s something about her that makes Tim uncomfortable. Whether she knows he’s Red Robin (but he likes it when it’s Lucius), or she saw him being weak (but has no problem with Dr. Thompkins), or he is just intimidated by her (but he doesn’t feel scared or on guard), it hasn’t changed in more than six years. It’s not her fault, but neither is his.
Bruce nods. “Very well. Talk to her first.”
The whole engagement fiasco died down a long time ago. He always wondered how that went through Tam's head, but he’d always be grateful that she had a good redirect. But Tim has been trying to make better decisions and this is one of them.
“You know,” Bruce begins, looking at him as intently, “trauma doesn’t always bring people together. It’s not always a bonding element, sometimes it’s—”
“Disruptive,” Tim interrupts. He is surprised and awed by the realization because… that’s it! That’s it! “I think some sleep will do me good.” If only for the chance to collapse somewhere in relief because he hates when things don’t make sense and this finally does.
Tam is a reminder.
“Go,” Bruce says. “I’ll take care of the meeting. Where is it?”
“It’s at R&D,” Tim replies. “I sent you the details about the new line; I’ll just need to sign off on it. But it’s just a signature. I can go to the sublevels, and then on the way back to the office, pass by HR and report Ms. Daws.”
“How about I take the R&D meeting and you go to HR?”
Tim thought about it. “That works too.” He lifts the package. “I’ll see Jay a day after tomorrow. Do you want me to give it to him then or wait?”
“When you next see him is fine,” Bruce says. He smiles—Bruce actually smiles. “Give it to him, and then duck. Now, go get some sleep.” His smile is still there.
“Tam, I’d like to talk to you about something,” Tim says. His shoulders ache with tension. “Please, have a seat.”
Tam frowns and does. “Is something the matter?”
“No,” Tim replies. “Well, yes. We make a great team, you know that, but for a while now I think that we’re heading towards a point where we’re not. It doesn’t show in our work, but, in my opinion, we should each go on our way.”
“What?” Tam asks.
Tim doesn’t know how to answer that question. He stated the facts as he knew them. So, instead of answering, he says, “You will have a choice of where to go next. Outside the company is an option, of course, but also is a transfer to the Financial Department. You can prefer any other Department, and, if so and if you need my help or just need me to make a call as a reference, I’ll gladly do so.”
“Hold on.” Tam lifts a hand in a universal ‘stop’ sign. “Why are you doing this?”
“As I said—”
“I’m uncomfortable and I’m making you uncomfortable and that’s got to stop.”
There’s silence for a few seconds while Tim takes a deep breath and Tam thinks.
“Uncomfortable?” Tam finally asks. “I thought it was a crush, that’s why I was uncomfortable. I didn’t even…”
“I thought so too, but it was too long a time and—”
Tim smiles awkwardly. “Pretty much from the beginning.”
“What?!” Tam straightens in her seat. “I heard you went ballistic on Rachel the other day, is this connected? Are you… Did you not want me to kiss you? Did I do something that you weren’t okay with?”
“No,” Tim retorts. “I reported Ms. Daws because she really needs to stop with to the pom-poms.”
Tam’s expression is confused. “…Pom-poms?”
“It’s not important right now.” Tim makes a dismissive gesture feeling like Damian the whole time and hating it. Perhaps there is such a thing as spending too much time with the family. “And no, you didn’t.” Tim pauses to gather his thoughts, to be careful in his phrasing, but he’s not successful. “I didn’t not want you to kiss me.”
In answer, Tam’s eyes widen.
Tim winces as he hurries through the rest. “The kiss was because of adrenaline and relief, for both of us. And the engagement thing was genius. I just… There was something about that situation which affected me differently and, because I didn’t have a reaction that I was used to, I blamed it on a crush. You are an easy person to like, to admire, and to care about.”
“But that’s not it,” Tam says.
“No,” Tim says and smiles sadly. “It isn’t.”
“And you still feel uncomfortable,” Tam adds.
Tam nods. “Then you’re right. It’s time for me to go.” She looks at her tablet. “I guess we don’t have time for me to train your new assistant.”
“Of course we do,” Tim replies. “Unless that’s not so something that you want to do.”
“What I want is not make you any more uncomfortable,” Tam says with an eyebrow raised.
“Bruce told me to take some time off and I was thinking of shortening my work days,” Tim volunteers. “Would that be enough?”
“Is everything okay?”
“Do I get any details?”
Tim hesitates. An acute need to fidget hits him. He knows he can trust Tam, he knows that, he just…
“I should stop that, huh?” Tam asks.
Tim’s eyes snap up to see Tam watching him.
“I can see it now,” Tam says with a kind smile. “Yes, I’ll make it work. Did you say something about the Financial Department?”
Tim smiles back, relieved. “A transfer.”
“I’ll take it.”
Tam nods and stands up. “What’s your schedule tomorrow?”
“Half a day.” Tim thinks about the meeting with Jay and changes his mind. “Actually, I’ll be in just in the morning for my nine o’clock.”
“Noted. Do you have any preferences for assistants?” Tam asks.
“I have veto power.”
“Then nothing else,” Tim says.
“All right,” Tam says and she writes something on the tablet. “It shouldn’t take more than two weeks.”
“I trust you.”
Tam smiles sadly. “I know you do; I trust you too.”
“So the Ar Tun showed up again,” Kon says as he dips two fries into ketchup. “Dad’s satellites took care of them, he argued with the Justice League for not doing anything until they made contact, you already know how this goes. But, I have a question: What do they want? Kal or Earth?”
Jason shrugs. “I think that no matter what, they want Kal gone and that means you too.” He steals a fry. “I’m with Lex on this one.”
“What does that mean?” Jon asks. His tone is terse. “Aren’t you supposed to care about evidence and due process?” He’s been acting odd today. Annoyed at everything and everyone. That’s not who he is in Tim’s experience.
Smirking widely in challenge, Jason drawls, “I meant I worry too.” He stops for a beat, enough to visibly rankle Jon. “But now that you mention it, they had their chance for a peaceful approach. If things were different, they’d have sent a messenger or opened a dialogue from far away. They didn’t.”
“Maybe they don’t speak the language,” Jon snaps back.
The expression on Jason’s face is pure bait. “That doesn’t mean anything for a space-capable race. Nobody knows each other’s language and yet communication still happens. The Lanterns help. And attacking is rarely a peaceful way to say ‘hi.’” But his words are rational. He acts like an asshole, but if Tim stops and listens, Jay makes sense.
“That doesn’t mean it automatically gives you or anybody else the right to just murder indiscriminately,” Jon says reproachfully.
Jay’s eyes darken. “It gives you no other choice. We can fight them off, fight them off and capture them, or fight them off and kill them. Right now, our capabilities say that if we fight them off chances of either of those outcomes happening are equal. This time, apparently they died.”
Shaking his head, Jon opens his mouth and freezes. He looks around him. “I have to go to the bathroom.” He stands up immediately, but he heads in the direction of the exit.
“There is something wrong with him,” Damian comments.
Kon watches the exit with a somber expression. “Lois and Clark are arguing.” He shrugs when Jon, visible through the window, whirls around. “I’m explaining. You either leave me to it, come here and do it yourself, or tell me to stop because our friends are worried and you’re angsty.”
Tim watches Jon mouth. ‘I’m upset!’ he exclaims.
“How does that change what I said?” Kon asks.
Jon clenches his hand on his other upper arm. ‘You tell them,’ Tim reads on Jon’s lips. ‘I’m going for a walk.’
“Clark and Lois are arguing,” Kon repeats. “I guess that doesn’t happen often.” He shrugs. “Even though whenever I see them at work they rarely do anything but that… I don’t know; I don’t live with them. If Jon says and acts like this time is different, then it’s different.”
“What do they argue about?” Damian asks.
“Dad,” Kon says.
Damian nods with drawing understanding.
“No,” Kon says, watching Damian’s reaction. “Not in that way. Lois doesn’t understand why they’re talking to each other, you know Clark being friendly and extending an olive branch. And Clark said some nice things about Dad, but the point was that since Lex is immortal like him and they might as try to get along before it’s too late.”
“Too late?” Damian questions doubtfully.
Kon spreads his palms. “I don’t know the details, and anyway, this is where the arguments began, they didn’t stop here. Immortality is the issue. I guess Lois isn’t as okay with it since Clark found out that Dad’s healing factor stabilized and he’s not getting any older.”
“That’ll do it,” Dick says. He smiles sympathetically. “Where are you on this?”
“Nowhere?” Kon frowns. “I mean, I’m sorry for the Jon and Lois and Clark, but I’m not involved.”
Damian rolls his eyes. “Grayson is talking about your suspected immortality.”
“Ah.” Kon’s eyes drift to Jay.
Tim can easily see how that can be hard on a relationship. He never gave much thought to immortality. Most of Clark’s enemies and the big bads that want to conquer/eat Earth seem to have it, but Gotham seems removed from that. In a way, the fact that he grew up here shaped his outlook: get in and do as much good as you can until you have to get out. It’s all that can be asked of a Bat.
Though now that Tim thinks about it, Jay is a bit of an exception to that.
“Well.” Kon takes a deep breath. “I’d like to think I treasure every moment. You can’t know. I mean, I could get killed before a mortal partner dies of old age. Or I could far outlive them. Even if you can have two immortal partners, one of them could be gone for any reason—good, bad, and everything in between.” He lifts a shoulder in a shrug. “Who knows what’s going to happen?”
Jay beams at Kon. “Good answer.” He leans in for a kiss and Kon meets him halfway. “I like you being okay with everything. Keep that in mind.”
“What do you mean?” Tim asks.
“I don’t know how I came back to life, do I?” Jay smirks. “I test as a normal human. Beside the Pit’s small enhancements that have been dissipating, there’s nothing special about me. Only there must be because—”
“You came back to life on your own,” Tim interrupts, remembering.
“And wasn’t that a doozy,” Jay says, tone dark with bitter humor.
The table is silent until Kon wraps an arm around Jay’s broad shoulders. “I’m glad it happened,” Kon says quietly.
“You are made of mush,” Jay complains but leans into Kon’s half embrace.
“Since we’re talking about unpleasantness,” Tim begins, getting out Bruce’s present. “I have been tasked with a very important mission.” He puts it on the table. “I have not verbally accepted it, yet here we are. Bruce got you a gift.” Tim points toward Jay. “Open or don’t, just don’t throw it at my head.”
Jay points right back. “Just for that, I should bundle it up, put it in a grenade launcher, and fire it at your head.”
Tim blinks, while Dick pats him consolingly, and a bit patronizingly, on the shoulder.
“Or,” Jay says while opening his present, “make a sling and launch it at your head.” He reads the tickets. “Seriously?!”
Tim shrugs. “Not my idea. I am only the messenger. The humble messenger, who would ask that the gift not be thrown, fired, launched, made to fall, guided, or any such manner of verbs, at or in the vicinity of my head. Thanks. With love, yours truly—Timbo, the humble messenger.”
“Are you sure?” Jay asks idly. “’Cause I can make some paper planes out of these in a sec. Then I can fly them at your head.”
“Any such manner of verbs!” Tim points out. “And yes.”
“You drive a hard bargain.” Jay scoffs. “Humble Timbro.”
“Timbo. Tim-bo. No ‘bros’ allowed.” Tim shakes his head. “Nah-uh. Nope.”
Jay smirks. “Really?”
“C’mon!” Tim doesn’t whine. He doesn’t. The whole table is laughing for other reasons, obviously.
“What did Bruce gave you?” Dick asks, saving Tim for the moment.
“Tickets to the game.” Jay studies them and his smirk subtly changes; a challenging nuance to a wicked one. This is not good. Not good at all. “I suggest a family outing.”
Bruce, you fool, what have you done?
“Who would be part of this outing?” Damian asks, watching carefully.
“Us four, Alfred, of course, and B,” Jay replies, looking completely satisfied. “After all, he needs to get out more.”
But will we survive?
“What about Kon?” Dick tries, poor thing.
“Oh,” Jay looks at Kon. “He’s taking me to Cape Town.”
Dick doesn’t seem to want to ask, but he does anyway. “Why?”
“For the food,” Kon starts earnestly. “And to see the penguins.”
Even Dick narrows his eyes, Tim’s and Damian’s are practically squinting.
Kon continues, “To see th—”
“That even though they are called jackass penguins,” Jay drops in.
“They can be perfectly cute animals,” Kon finishes with an eye roll. “You have weird villains.”
“We have weird villains?!” the Bats say together. “You have weird villains.”
Before the famous birthday game, though, Ivy breaks out of Arkham.
They really need to do something about Arkham. It’s getting beyond embarrassing. How does this keep happening? Why is it impossible to keep the mentally ill inside? Are their villains so good at evading the security measures? Are the guards corrupt? Are the doctors?
As expected Ivy is inside Robinson Park, the Bats are on the case, and so are the QRT. Emotions are high. This is going to be not only the first time the QRT has dealt with Ivy but also the first the Bats were involved while knowing that a QRT member is one of theirs.
It’s also the night before Jay’s birthday because their lives are made of a collection of dramatic moments.
The QRT has managed to surround her in an area of the park, which seems something between miraculous and stupidly lucky. Why would Ivy let them so close? Every time the Bats got so close they were dozed with something or had to fight their way through vines, maybe wrestle a carnivorous plant or two. The police didn’t even have a chance. But the QRT managed to just… blossom into position.
Tim’s not jealous.
It appears that now, with each of the Bats crouching in different a tree and countless weapons trained on Ivy, is the perfect time to negotiate. This consists of Ivy and the QRT negotiator yelling across the clearing because Ivy doesn’t like technology and she wouldn’t let them close. They are, seemingly, in range of pollen that would make them unable to distinguish between friend and enemy, so the risk of a bloodbath is significant what with stray bullets flying around that can wound Ivy.
Talking things over may be the natural approach, but the cause is…
Can Tim just say ‘finally’?
There is always pollen where Ivy is involved.
“Why don’t you tell me what you want?” 09-15-19-97—Ninety-seven—says calmly.
Ivy isn’t too happy. “I already told you.”
“You didn’t let me finish,” Ninety-seven says. “I meant to add that making the demands realistic is also a big point. For example, if somebody robbed a bank and asked for a dodo as an escape vehicle I wouldn’t be able to help them. In the same way, I can’t kill the people of the planet and then myself to give the plants back their home.”
“Why not?” Ivy snaps and the vines around her legs start creeping forward.
“Because none of us here has that power,” Ninety-seven responds. His body language doesn’t show any signs of tension. “But what I can do, is listen to smaller demands.”
Ivy doesn’t look convinced. “Like what?”
“More manageable tasks. You could advise on plant care for from Arkham,” Ninety-seven says and his speech becomes halting. Somebody is talking in his earpiece. “Your plants can live in a protected space, for example.”
Tim doesn’t have to see Damian to know that he became attentive.
“In Gotham?” Ivy raises an eyebrow, but the vines slow down. On the other hand, they start sporting blooms which probably means ‘get to it.’
“It’s perfectly possible with the right connections and money,” Ninety-seven replies. “Your plants are one of a kind and if that protected space happens wouldn’t you want your plants to be a part of it?”
“How sure are you that it’s going to happen?” Ivy asks.
“Not at all.” The vines resume their movement and Ninety-seven tilts his head down to watch them. “Ivy… Pamela, it’s your only real chance. We have a sniper. If he gets the order, he won’t hesitate to shoot, no matter what happens to us. I want to go home, don’t you? Back to peace and quiet. This way it’s a win for everybody involved.”
But that seems to set Ivy off. “Don’t you lie to me! I know where everyone in this park is. There is no sniper.”
“Laser,” Ninety-seven says. A targeting laser is suddenly on Ivy’s stomach. “There’s a sniper.”
“Impossible,” Ivy says quietly, bent forwards a little to look at her stomach. Actually, her position makes it so Tim almost doesn’t see the word form on her lips.
Then vines begin to twine together to form a shield.
Ninety-seven is unmoved. “It’s not going to help, Pamela. You’re only going to succeed in making somebody believe you’re escalating the situation. Let’s go back to talking.”
“There is no peace and quiet in Arkham,” Ivy says soberly after a pause.
“See, that? That I can arrange.” Ninety-seven spreads his hands and adds, “The nights spent in a padded room—soundproofed, some peace and quiet. Deal.”
“Just like that?” Ivy asks.
Ninety-seven shrugs. “Worse deals have been made in this city. And to be frank, I think I’d little to no convincing for that.”
The vines fall on the wayside and Ivy asks, “What about the other offer?”
“The protected land?” Ninety-seven waits until Ivy nods. “That isn’t up to me.”
“But you’ll put in a good word?” Ivy smirks. “Maybe with a little dead birdie.”
Ninety-seven waits. He’s clearly thinking. “I’ll talk to somebody who’ll talk to somebody, you know how it is. That’s all I can promise,” he says finally. He chooses to ignore the remark, which is probably the smart move.
“Accepted,” Ivy says.
A shouted ‘fuck you, Ivy,’ is carried by the wind.
“Good decision, Doctor Isley,” Ninety-seven replies ignoring the shout.
Ivy laughs, oddly fond. “I missed him, you know? He has spunk.”
If Tim has to describe the game in a word, it would be ‘awkward.’ From the beginning, Dick tries to cut through the tension, but that only gives Jay fuel to snipe at Bruce. And Jay really doesn’t pull his punches. Dick soon reaches the conclusion that he is better off shutting up.
There are a few exceptions.
Firstly, Vicki Vale. Used to paparazzi following him around and being busy in general, Tim hasn’t really paid attention to how the world has reacted to Jay coming back. Most people around Tim have accepted that these things happen in Gotham. He thought the subject closed.
Not for Vale.
Waiting for them at the entrance of the stadium, Vale sticks a microphone in Jay’s face. “Good afternoon. We are delighted that you seem well. Tell us, how are you alive?”
Jay smirks and tries to get past.
But Vale, as Tim knows very well, insists. “Please, sir, you were buried. The people have the right to know.”
When Jay stops, Tim understands the reason. ‘The people’ are the same ones who belittled Jay at every turn. They have no rights to Jay’s life.
Jay snorts. “It’s a mystery.” He fans his fingers like a magician and winks. “Or it’s something really bland which will take time off real stories, turning me into an urban legend and you into somebody who’s looking for a job. Think what you want. You do anyway.” He waves and passes her by.
“No interference?” Vale turns as Jay goes. “No threats or lawyers?”
“I’m a police officer, I would never!” Jay says mockingly but it’s not obvious since he’s talking loudly. “Unless you break the law, then it’s my duty.” Jay’s smirk is wide and his face is extremely punchable.
Vale opens her mouth. Puts the microphone down. Swears under her breath.
But all Tim feels is pride and satisfaction.
“What is the official story then?” Vale rallies and tries one more time.
Jay shrugs. “There is no official story.”
The funny thing is—that’s exactly the truth.
It just… doesn’t sound like it.
Vale smirks, thinking she caught him. “And you expect me and the public to believe that?”
“Think what you want,” Jay shouts.
A shadow of doubt passes on Vale’s face. “If I find that you were lying?”
“This is Gotham, Vale,” Jay says loudly. “I’m not lying, there is no official story, and people care more about who I date.” He sighs. “Find out yourself. Or don’t. I don’t care anymore.”
Vale mutters viciously. “Gotham.”
And then she’s gone.
Secondly, Tim talks to Jay while they go to buy snacks. It’s supposed to be a break from the awkwardness and quiet. And it’s going to be. Just not for Tim or Jay.
“What do you have against Bruce?” Tim asks. His tone is edging towards exasperated, but he can’t help himself.
Jay coughs out a surprised laugh. “Do we have a week?”
“Come on, Jay.” Tim breaths out, careful not to come out like a sigh. “It seems like you’re picking on him. Why else would you be only upset with Bruce? Aren’t we just as guilty? We get along, don’t we?”
“I didn’t know or trust you guys.”
“But you trusted him and he betrayed that trust?” Tim casts for the right words. “Didn’t therapy help at all?”
“It’s not all or nothing. Therapy isn’t a miracle cure.” Jay stops and turns towards Tim. “If you want to work on it, you can accept it, move on, and start the road to get better that way. It doesn’t change your personality or your experiences.”
“So why is Bruce special?”
“Take a guess,” is all Jay has to say on the subject. “Besides, I’m an asshole.” He smirks like one. “I accepted that.”
Tim rolls his eyes. “Why not try to be better?”
“I change the things I want different, I acknowledge the things I don’t.”
Tim isn’t sure how he feels or what he thinks about that, but he’s certain Jay means it, so Tim nods.
And that is it.
They pile back into the car after the baseball game in subdued silence.
“Next time, let’s cut the awkwardness, please,” Dick says as he leans back in his seat and silently sighs.
“That’s if Bruce doesn’t run me out of town first,” Jay shoots back.
Now, the odd thing is that they’re just talking. Nobody expects anything. But suddenly, the silence becomes strained.
“You’d run me out?” Jay asks. There’s a different tone to Jay’s question than Tim’s used to. It sounds a lot like vulnerability and Tim’s not going to pretend to understand their relationship, but he thinks he sees where Jay’s coming from. It’s not the first time Bruce let silence speak for him.
“Bruce,” Tim says, voice tight with tension because Bruce had said things to Tim. Things that Tim’s afraid are worth nothing if they stay unspoken. “If you want to say something, now the time.”
Bruce opens his mouth.
But with a screech, something hits the limo.
It’s too late.
A lot of things happen in the next… Tm isn’t sure. Maybe a minute? He doesn’t know. All he remembers it as a series of frames.
The limo rolled.
One of the windows exploded inward.
And it shouldn’t have. The windows are bulletproof. It shouldn’t have happened.
But one widow exploded and Dick was caught in the aftermath.
Damian is sent spiraling into the car. Jay hits his head on the metal frame. Alfred shouts. Tim’s hand hurts.
Bruce is fine. He’s fine. It’s all fine if he’s fine.
The limo stops. Tim’s hand is somehow jammed between the seats. Jay is out. Damian and Dick are bleeding. Alfred groans.
But Bruce is fine. Scratched and bruised, but fine. So everything is fine.
They take Alfred first. Bruce climbs through the sunroof after them. Everything’s fine.
“Did they really launch a rocket at us?” Tim asks dazedly.
Damian is trying to stem the blood flow to his thigh with a grimace on his face and Jay is still out.
No answer from that side of the car.
“They must have,” Dick says. There’s a piece of glass in his eyebrow. The copious amounts of blood are impairing his vision.
Tim decides to get his hand back. So he jerks it out. It works. He only loses conscience for a bit.
Tim wakes up outside.
Dick still has problems seeing. Jay is still out. Alfred is holding his ribs and still hurting. Damian has a rapidly swelling ankle and his jacket is still wet with blood. Tim’s wrist is swelling and he’s still dazed. Bruce is fighting about eight men and he’s still fine.
Dick joins the fight. Tim also joins the fight. Bruce is still fighting.
They come from behind and grab Jay and Alfred.
Damian shouts. Alfred is jostled and almost passes out. They try to make their way to the new people, but can’t.
The big change—Jay wakes up.
With short, brutal strikes Jay dispatches the unknown men. It’s like he’s feral. He twists a man’s neck and there’s no regret. No pause. No emotion. Just the next one person.
And Tim realizes that…
“Father!” Damian warns. “It’s not him. He’s not conscious. It’s all instinct.”
Tim realizes that Jay is not aware.
And it makes sense that Damian reached the conclusion before Tim. After all, Damian has seen it before. But why did he feel the need to shout to Bruce? Why—
Bruce is rushing to Jay.
And isn’t the world way too bright?
Tim sits down. So fast that he’s still blinking away the aftermath. He has a concussion.
Bruce reaches Jay, just as Jay violently throws up.
Doing little to hide his concerns at seeing those two interact, Dick asks absently, “Do I have glass in my face?”
“Yes, you do,” Damian answers, not even watching Dick. Damian’s eyes are trained on his father and brother.
Dick says, “Oh.” And takes a seat next to Tim. “Has anybody called 911?”
“No,” Tim says when it’s clear that nobody else would answer. He gets out his phone. “I should.” He dials but his focus is mainly on what’s happening not even fifteen feet from his nose.
Bruce and Jay.
“Jaylad.” It’s said so much gentleness that Tim feels the urge to check if that’s really Bruce. “You’re okay. I’m here. You’re okay.”
Jay mumbles something.
“Shh,” Bruce says and reaches for him. “Come back. You’re safe. Shh. That’s it.”
“Bruce?” Jay asks, not all there. He whimpers and it’s heartbreaking. “I looked for you. But then the car, it came so fast…” Jay trails off. “I’m glad you finally found me,” he says earnestly. “I’m glad you’re here.”
Bruce pulls Jay to his chest. Tears make their way down his cheeks. And Bruce opens his mouth, can’t get any words out, and instead hugs Jay tighter.
“911—what is your emergency?”
Alfred has bruised ribs. Dick will have a scar intersecting his eyebrow. Damian will have a much bigger scar on his thigh and has a sprained ankle. Similarly, Tim has a severely sprained wrist and a concussion. And they think Jay might have bled in his brain.
They don’t actually know.
Bruce has been running all over the hospital, trying to keep himself apprised of the tests each member of the family has to do, their results, and diagnostics. He has, as suspected, only bruises and scrapes. As such, he has been trying to find out what’s going on with all of them and with the people who attacked them.
Most of them having been released, some with the doctors’ okay and others against medical advice, they make their way to Jay’s room. The worst case scenario is a brain bleed that they can’t stop and the best case scenario is that bleeding has already stopped. Either way, he’s not getting out of this without a week in the hospital and/or a possible brain surgery. It’s not good. They are rushing to Jay’s side almost as much as they are dragging their feet.
But as they turn the corner, they see two unknown officers get out of Jay’s room. A man and a woman, both dark-haired and dark-eyed. Their badges are swinging from their neck and their spatial awareness says that they must be good at their jobs.
Still. They are two unknown officers and they’re existing Jay’s room. It’s enough for every Bat to be a little paranoid; Bruce, more than most. Tim thinks he hears a growl, which means this is sort of a special occasion.
“Excuse me, Officers,” Bruce begins pleasantly enough. “I don’t think this is the right time for statements.”
The two smirk and the woman says, “It’s not. Have a good day.” Then the man waves and they make their way around the Bats.
Only it’s not that simple.
Damian trips on his new crutches, Dick rushes to help and Alfred groans his way into their remaining exit path with Tim hovering worriedly.
In the meantime, Bruce enters Jay’s room. “Are you all right?” Tim can hear Bruce ask.
“Yeah,” Jay answers. He’s still a bit of it. “Why are you here?”
Suddenly the Bats gather themselves, bugs have been planted and the hallway has been cleared.
“I’ve been here from the beginning,” Bruce says. “Who were those officers?”
The man and the woman walk away giving the Bats—the Waynes, in this rendition—suspicious looks.
Tim is not impressed or disturbed and enters the room to see Jay shrugging.
“Wait, is everybody here?” Jay asks watching them pile up. He looks a bit flustered. “Alfred! Are you okay? And you guys don’t look much better.”
Alfred smiles in that subtle way of his. “I believe the one in the worst condition is you, Master Jason.”
“I have a concussion,” Jay says frowning. “I mean it’s a bad one, but that’s it.”
Bruce, narrowed eyed, grabs the chart. “Hm.”
“Will you be coming with us to the Manor, Master Jason?” Alfred asks. “We’d love to have you there.”
“I’m sure,” Jay says. There’s no attitude in his tone, as far as Tim can tell, but that’s probably because Jay’s talking to Alfred. “You go, you need the rest.”
“As you wish,” Alfred says. “I’d rest much better if I knew how you were, dear boy, but I’m willing to be satisfied with regular updates. Does that sound like something you could do?”
“Sure does,” Jay promises.
“Are we just leaving him there?” Dick asks as they make their way out of the hospital. “Because I’m not okay with that.”
“We are,” Bruce admits. He cuts off any further protests by adding, “For now. His colleagues are going to take care of him and we have some remodeling to do.”
The man and the woman work for the QRT. Of course. Tim would’ve heard of any other capable new officers in the force. Urgh, he really hates concussions.
“And after that, I plan on asking him to join for Wednesday dinner,” Bruce finishes.
“That’s…” Dick trails off, obviously at a loss for words.
“Awkward?” Damian supplies. “A punishment for all involved? Potentially catastrophic?”
“No different from any family dinner then, Master Damian,” Alfred says serenely and no one dares to comment to that.
They take down the display/shrine/warning/whatever to Jay’s Robin, plaque included, and Bruce has said he told Jay how sorry Bruce was when he went to make the invitation, but this does not—in Tim’s mind or in any other mostly sane mind—translate into Jay actually coming on Wednesday.
And yet, here Jay is.
Tim should really have seen this coming.
With Jay is a huge basket of baked goods. What the heck… Wait. Actually, the day might not turn out so horrible after all. Tim thinks he spies croissants in there.
“I’m sorry,” Jay says while the Bats take a second to make sense of the picture he presents. “It’s my fault. The accident was my fault, you shouldn’t have got involved. Bribes?”
“It’s really not necessary,” Alfred declares and shuts Jay up when he opens his mouth to protest. “But, if you insist, it’s appreciated.” He steps up to take the basket away. “Thank you.”
Jay shrugs. “I’m going to need the basket back.” He steps into the house and gives a short wave and a nod. “Baskets that shape are hard to find but it fits great on the bike and I use it when I bake for the guys at work.”
“We can get you more,” Bruce speaks abruptly as in the words are punched out of him. “They must be made by a company in a factory somewhere, right? And you’d need seconds. What if something happens to the first?” He nods. “We’ll buy you more.”
After a slow blink, Jay says, “O-kay.” He leans towards Damian. “Hey Grumpy, what did Dick do to B?”
A shade of a smile appears on Damian’s face. “It’s even worse. He did nothing.”
The two share a look of mock-commiseration and Tim rolls his eyes.
“Are those croissants?” Tim asks as he slinks around the family, his eyes on the basket.
Alfred deftly moves it out of the way. “After dinner.”
“But why?” Tim asks. “Now they’re warm, then they won’t be.”
“Good point,” Dick volunteers.
“Is that Tarte Tatin?” Bruce’s expression tells Tim that Bruce can’t decide on a feeling.
Jay flashes a grin. “Made from scratch.”
“A favorite of Mrs. Wayne,” Alfred says with a pleasant smile, freezing everybody. “I’m sure it is delicious.”
“Ah…” Jay scratches at his forehead. “I can—”
“I’d love to have a taste again,” Bruce interrupts.
“Okay.” Jay licks his lips. “Food?”
Bruce’s eyes are closed as he tastes the Tarte Tatin. His face is oddly relaxed and he has a little smile. He looks nostalgic. But there’s also a wet glimmer right next to his eye and Tim feels the need to help him out.
“What did you mean by saying it was your fault?” Tim asks Jay to distract everyone from watching Bruce.
“Hm?” Jay is trying so hard not to look up from his plate that he doesn’t answer immediately. “Oh, yeah. La Saveur is owed by Cobblepot and the DA went a bit overboard because the Waynes were involved. She prosecuted the whole restaurant alongside the people responsible, and maybe she knows things I don’t, but Cobblepot is rapidly losing both his avenues of income and his street cred. He’s desperate. So he attacked us. He’s back in jail now, two of his muscle talked, but you shouldn’t have been involved. I knew that Cobblepot is reaching his limit.”
Dick shakes his head lightly. “Did you know that he was going to attack us?”
Dick interrupts Jay, “There you go.” He bites into a chocolate cupcake. “Did you even know that it was Cobblepot’s restaurant?”
“I knew that I should stay under the radar,” Jay shoots back.
“No, but I still should have stayed under”—Jay says louder so he covers Dick, who is trying to talk—“the radar.”
Dick says as soon as Jay finishes, “It’s not your fault.” He takes another bite and, with his mouth full, he adds, “Thish ish delishoush though. Th’ks fo’ ‘ese.”
“Thank you, Grayson,” Damian says dryly. “So eloquent.”
Unbothered, Dick shrugs.
They have almost reached the desert and no one has been assassinated. There are some minor cuts that are still bleeding sluggishly, the result of emotional wounds that Jay delivered onto Bruce with relish, but nothing that he wouldn’t recover from. The end is in sight.
“Why did you choose the QRT?” Bruce asks Jay.
Bruce, though, needs to stop poking the dragon.
“I had to choose between coming in with a bang or not,” Jay says coldly. “And since I already gave that up…” He smirks.
Another snipe visibly landed and silence settles.
But Bruce doesn’t give up. When he opens his mouth to say something, Tim feels for him. He really does. But Tim would really rather not have to scrape Bruce off the ceiling.
Blessedly, Jay doesn’t see him. He looks at his glass, sighs, and continues absently, “The QRT is better trained.” He shrugs and his tone is lacking tension. “There was no contest regarding competency and, in the long run, choosing the law proved to be a smart decision.”
“It was,” Damian pipes up. “But it was a risky play.”
“I got lucky,” Jay agrees.
Then Bruce decides to break the momentary agreement. “You said you were the one to plant the bomb in the Batmobile. How did you do it?”
Now, Tim feels like he’s accusing the victim, but the fact of the matter is that they’re both victims. It’s hard to establish fault in this mess of a case. Tim does think, though, that Jay doesn’t any more encouragement to attack.
“If you don’t mind,” Bruce adds. Belatedly, but, at least, he does.
“Did you really go there?” Jay looks around incredulously. “Really?” He chuckles humorlessly. “Of course you did.” Jay takes a deep breath. “Patience. I did everything slowly.”
Bruce’s eyebrows go up. “You mean—”
“Sloooooowly,” Jay repeats, dragging the word out.
Tim jumps in. “That must have taken you—”
“Hours,” Jay interrupts but agrees. He’s a funny guy like that.
“Why didn’t you set it off?” Bruce asks soberly.
“I told myself it was better this way. The possibility would hurt more and you’d drive yourself crazy trying to figure it out.” Jay shrugs easily and a cold shiver goes down Tim’s spine. “But the fact of the matter is if I wanted to, you’d be in pieces. I didn’t want to.”
Bruce smiles faintly and nods.
Tim thinks this is a… good thing? Probably. After that, things get easier. Not easy. But… easier. So, yes, it’s a good thing.
In the second week of September, three weeks after the first family dinner including Jay, when he’s called out to deal with the Scarecrow, it doesn’t surprise anybody that Bruce presents Jay with enough antidote for his whole team.
“Take care,” Bruce says quietly.
Jay doesn’t say anything, but his hand clenches on the bag of vials.
The QRT gets dozed and in a bad way—a face-full of fear gas for every member of the team. It would have been a disaster, but Jay apparently trusted Bruce enough that Jay gave the antidote to his team. So instead of tears and horror, the QRT makes a pretty cool picture coming out of the gas with Scarecrow in handcuffs, spitting curses.
After surveilling them for symptoms of the gas, the Bats reluctantly retire at the Manor. They know Jay is alive and not screaming himself hoarse somewhere, petrified out of his mind, but… they don’t know. They haven’t heard from him since it happened and it’s different, okay? It’s different because he’s not on comms and he’s dealing with the same Rogues they are and they don’t officially have his back and he’s not good about telling them he’s okay and he already died once and a hundred different reasons, but the point is… It’s different.
As Dick is half-heartedly asking Damian if he’d be willing to teach self-defense at one of the Wayne Youth Centers, the sensors pick up a foreign vehicle approaching. Their phones go off and Tim hurries to check. It’s a familiar bike with an unfamiliar rider followed by a four-door, dark gray or black sedan.
“This is interesting,” says Dick wryly.
And Tim sees what Dick means because they know both the driver, he’s the male officer at the hospital, and the passenger, none other than Jay. It also offers a possible identity for the rider, Jay’s colleague and the woman officer they’ve already seen. And it is true that Jay works with two people closer than the rest. They’re even the right gender: Four and Sixty-Five.
“Todd chose to keep us away from them for a reason and he is right. Why would he suddenly change his mind?” Damian asks.
That’s a good question. The most probable answer? It’s bad news.
However, all Tim says is, “We’ll find out in a minute.”
And they do. The woman is indeed the rider, but they get their answer when Jay climbs out of the car. He almost stumbles.
Bruce is already going down the steps. “What happened?” He studies Jay intently, ready to catch him if he stumbles or falls.
Taking a moment to regain his balance, Jay blinks furiously, before turning to Bruce, silent and pensive-looking.
Tim would be right there with Bruce, only Tim doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell to catch Jay. Maybe, if the occasion calls for it, Tim could slow Jay’s fall, but actually prevent it? Ha. The physical difference between them is hilarious.
What’s more, Dick and Damian don’t have a chance either. Although both taller than Tim, they are still the lean type, while Jay is most definitely not. In fact, he looks a bit bigger than Bruce. Jay’s build like a tank and, Tim acknowledges, there are disadvantages to that.
“We don’t know, but he says he has an allergy to an ingredient and that it’s minor,” Sixty-five says uncertainly. “He’s refused a shot for the presumed allergy, but he shouldn’t be alone right now.” She flashes them her teeth. “He insisted to come here and we listened. Reluctantly, so we could also take him home with us. What do you say?”
“It’s all right,” Bruce says calmly. “Officer…?”
“Mari Rojas,” Sixty-Five—maybe—replies. She gestures to the man. “He’s Juan Sorrentino.”
Dick grins, easily brushing off her overprotectiveness. “Nice to meet you. Do you want to join us? We pushed dinner back until Jay came back and we are just about to sit down to eat.”
“We’re benched too in case the same thing happens to us so we have got to get home.” Rojas rolls her eyes. “Like anyone could tell.”
Sorrentino snorts. “We are loud.”
“And don’t have a filter,” Rojas agrees.
“Anything else we should know about his condition?” Tim asks, frowning.
“Well, no filter so he’s trying not to talk,” Sorrentino says. “He only got good at in on the way here so, even if we didn’t know anything, we’d be concerned. Also, he has balance issues and is maybe euphoric? It’s hard to tell since I think it wasn’t a good surprise so he has contrasting emotions.”
Damian asks, “And what do you know?”
“Nothing,” Mari and Juan answer together.
“Yeah, ‘cause that’s not suspicious,” Jay finally says with an eye roll. “Imma be fine. Go home, text me when you get there. Please be careful on the road.” He rolls his eyes and Tim gets the idea that he said more than he wanted to. It did sound pretty mother-hen-y.
“Okay, fine,” Mari says as she playfully steals the keys from her partner. And boyfriend? Maybe. Or brother. It could even be her friend. Anyway, she adds over her shoulder, “Don’t forget we know where we left him. Have a great dinner!”
“Thanks,” Dick answers pleasantly.
As they watch them leave, Jay holds off for maybe thirty-seconds after they are inside and blurts out, “As we were coming out, somebody splashed me with something. They got some on their vests, I was the target. It tasted like pit water.”
“Lazarus Pit?” Tim asks at the same time that Bruce turns to watch Jay in horror.
“Yeah,” Jay says.
“Wher—” Bruce starts but stops himself. “I don’t suppose you saw where it came from.”
“No, but there was low visibility because of the gas so we switched our goggles on thermal readings and, with the gas moving all over the place, we were almost blind,” Jay says. “You were in that direction. What did you see?”
“We were in the same position as far as visibility goes, and, no, we didn’t see anybody there either.” Bruce scratches at his chin. “Thermal suit? Or one of the thermal regulated Rogues? Something new, even?”
Visibly worried, Jay shrugs. “I have no idea.”
Dick opens his mouth, closes it, and then opens it again. “What just happened with Mari and Juan?”
“They’re walking on a tightrope—trying to keep their plausible deniability, not let you know about our cases, confuse anyone who might be listening with a parabolic mike, and tell you as much information as possible.” Jay looks amused. “It’s a mess.” He gets out his phone and texts somebody.
“Do we take blood samples?” Tim asks. “How are you feeling?”
Jay starts to tilt to the left. “Hungry.” He catches himself. “But I should probably go sleep.” He blinks fast as if to wake himself. “Sure, take some blood.”
“Take it easy,” Bruce can’t help himself and orders. His hovering is reaching critical limits. “Alfred? Soup?”
“Chicken soup, right away, sir,” Alfred responds promptly and disappears.
“In the cave, Alfred,” Bruce calls.
“You look surprisingly calm,” Damian says.
Jay nods. “Yeah, it’s like I drank too much or something. Nothing too crazy, cruel, malicious, or murderous at all.” He hesitates. “I mean, aside from the usual.” He lifts his hands in a ‘what can you do’ gesture.
“That’s…” Dick trails off, trying not to laugh. He gives in easily, though. “You mean the Pit water didn’t make you better?” He snickers. “Really? I’m disappointed.”
“You know what?” Jay turns to Dick while he keeps walking and barely avoids walking into a wall. “Nobody gives you a whole range of emotion. Why is that? That sarcasm should get a mention.”
Dick smirk-smiles. And it’s not something that Tim has seen a lot of so over the years he had the urge to think he imagined it. Tim never did, though. “Why do you think it is?” Dick asks Jay.
Shrugging, Jay says, “I think it’s because it’s easier. You’re cheerful, I’m angry.”
“How am I?” Damian asks.
“Grumpy? Grouchy?” Jay lights up. “You’re like you’re an old man yelling at whippersnappers to get off your lawn. I like it. It’s awesome.”
Damian thinks about it for a second. “I am all right with that.” He smiles proudly and fist bumps Jay.
“I know what I am,” Tim says pensively. “Fear the Walking Dead, right?”
Jay holds up his fist. “If I can trouble you to shuffle my way…”
“I’m going to need your blood, too.” Tim gives a sharp, surprised laugh and bumps Jay’s fist. “In keeping with the theme.”
“I wouldn’t have expected anything different,” Jay says and sat down easily. “You can have my blood if you let me keep my brain.”
Tim readies the equipment. “Are you trying to tell me that it exists?”
“Well,” Jay says and stays still while Tim draws the blood. “It is a cryptid.”
Shaking his head and swallowing back laughter, Tim says, “I’m done.” He puts a Red Robin Band-Aid on it. “For now.”
“Does Mina know about these vampiric tendencies?” Jay asks, lifting an eyebrow at the Band-Aid. “I want her opinion on this.”
“I’m confident I could bribe her,” Tim says as he separates the blood in ten little vials and introduces them in their proper slots, connected to the Batcomputer. “And now we wait.”
“The kids are home,” Jay announces, checking his phone. “And Kon is not about to burst into Gotham, so that’s all my people safe and happy. What now?”
“We’ll eat in a bit,” Bruce says and watches Jay’s phone. “You and Kon seem to be doing well.”
“We are?” Jay says confusedly. “I guess we are. I’ve never really thought about it.”
“How does he deal?” Tim blurts out the question. “With the—everything.” He winces. “You don’t have to answ—”
“Like I do,” Jay answers simply. He clearly doesn’t understand. “I don’t have the vigilantes on my team and I get to answer for everything I do, but then again I don’t have two jobs and a secret identity. We have our problems and responsibilities, so I guess we have a relationship like any other.”
Dick looks at Bruce and asks, “How do you balance it?”
And Tim knows there’s more to this line of questioning. It’s clear with the glances and the questions and even the odd subject. But he doesn’t know what.
“Balance what?” Jay asks, bewildered.
“Who do you have as your priority?” Bruce’s expression is blank. “The job or Kon?”
That doesn’t seem to clarify things for Jay. “Both?” He scratches his head. “Maybe we’ll argue about it at one point and things will have to change, but… Look, there’s no one thing that I can do better than all others, so they are able to do the same stuff with or without me. If I have a Rogue at work and Kon needs to… ah, I don’t know—annoy somebody? Talk to law enforcement? He’s got Lex for that. Maybe even Clark if Kon gets him in lecture-mode. And if something happens to Kon and he has caught the Kryptonian flu or something, I have another twenty-four capable people in my team to handle stuff here.”
“And if it’s small stuff,” Jay continues. “Like Kon wanting to rant about something; I take an early lunch. Problem solved. Or if I want to work on our team issues at work; it’s just a weekend. Kon has stuff to do too. Maybe I’ll sleep less one night because we’ve got a date and maybe I can’t come home another because we’ve got a scumbag, but I mean…” He shrugs. “What’s this about? Wait. Did it happen to you? And which ‘you’ am I talking about?” Jay makes a disgusted face. “Whom am I talking about?”
“Nothing in particular,” Dick answers with a smile.
But just as Dick finishes, Bruce says, “Selina.” He slides an apologetic look to Dick. “We were supposed to get married, but there was this discussion she kept having with various people of where she ranks in my priories. Once she figured she’d be first, she canceled the wedding because she thinks that Gotham needs me. The whole me? I’m not clear on that.” Bruce trails off and frowns a little. “I don’t expect you to explain her behavior, but I thought that if you might explain yours, I would be—”
“In a better position to understand bullshit?” Jay interrupts.
Bruce’s lips twitch a little.
“I… That’s not who I thought she was,” Jay says. “I thought that she’d see the gray, you know, ‘cause, contrary to popular opinion”—he glares Bruce-wise—“things are now black and white, so I thought she’d get that people don’t follow lists. But I guess she doesn’t. Come to think of it, she has to have some of the same moral convictions as you, right?” He scrunches up his nose. “But, still. I mean, you’ve got all of us running around Gotham. What are we? Chopped liver?” Jay stops for a second, and then says hurriedly, “You know what? Don’t answer that.”
Bruce closes his eyes as the corners of his lips are starting to lift.
“And you’ve worked in Gotham how long?” Jay asks rhetorically, grinning himself. “What can you do now that you haven’t done in all these years to permanently stop crime?” He spreads his arms in a wide gesture. “You’re getting old is what I’m getting at. Soon Grumpy is going to be the big bad demon Bat and his arguments with Timbro Bat are going to be awe-inducing. Dick will be the totally unhelpful peanut gallery/mother hen/referee, and I’ll be in the stands watching the whole thing as I eat popcorn and laugh my ass off. And that’s how it should be. You aren’t going to run people down with a walker. I mean, maybe you would, but I was saying…”
An odd noise cuts in. It takes a second to figure out what produced it. Or who.
Because here’s the thing: Bruce is laughing.
It’s a raspy thing, with more volume than Tim ever imagined. So nuanced and joyful just… loud. And it went on for probably ten-twenty seconds, but it didn’t feel like it did. It felt like it went forever.
“I needed that,” Bruce tells Jay with a smile on his face.
Like Bruce does that every day and twice on Sundays. Like Jay just offered him a drink when Bruce was coughing. Like nothing at all earth-shattering happened.
Tim and Damian have tapped out and are currently gaping like chicks waiting for food.
And Jay, beaming his best Robin grin, says, “No problem old timer.” His grin becomes a little sly. “Can you imagine? Using your dentures like Batarangs. Throwing your meds on the floor so the scumbag slips. Oh, putting lasers in your reading glasses! Uh, that’s good.” Jay points a finger at Bruce. “You would; don’t even front with me.”
“Jaylad,” Bruce says with a chuckle. “Jay, these are all your ideas.”
“I know!” Jay protests. “I’m only small fish, the minnow to your shark.”
“It doesn’t work like that, Todd,” Damian scoffs. Even he is hiding a smile and not very well. “Frankly, I find your imagination disturbing.”
“It’s horrible and the result of trying to think like Bruce. So can you really blame me?” Jay blinks wide eyes in an unsuccessful attempt to look innocent.
“Yes.” Damian lifts an eyebrow.
Jay pouts. “Too bad.” He sighs but then brightens as soon as he sees Alfred. “Oh, well. Food?”
“Food, Master Jason,” Alfred confirms.
“Oh, by the way,” Dick tells Jay, “would you be interested to teach self-defense?”
Jay blinks. “Huh. Ask me tomorrow.”
Jay’s human. Tim already knew that, but it’s still worth saying: Jay’s human. The Lazarus elements are all but gone, even with the last dose, so…
“Why did he wake up in the grave?” Tim asks absently.
Bruce frowns harder. “He doesn’t remember anything?”
It’s about five or six in the morning and they are still pouring over Jay’s blood sample.
“Not about the reason for waking up,” Tim says.
“But he remembers suffocating and digging himself out.”
“He doesn’t like to talk about it.” Tim shrugs carefully.
“At least he doesn’t seem to have a severe reaction to the Pit water.”
“Yes,” Bruce says. “But there’s still someone out there who knows too much about him.”
That sounds like… Ah, no.
“It’s a possibility.” Bruce looks over the results again. “We should find out how he’s getting on with Talia these days.”
Tim turns to Bruce. “If not Luthor, then… Are you suspecting the JL?”
“It’s either them or us.”
“Or somebody else who’s stalking him.”
“That somebody has to be very good,” Bruce says. “The way he grew up made it so he’s more sensible to people watching him, following him, that sort of thing.”
“How good are you talking about?”
A scream echoes in the cave, stopping Bruce mid-word.
Tim is already moving, pushing himself off the table. Bruce is at his side. And Tim’s willing to bet that the others are going to come down any minute. But that doesn’t do much to soothe Tim.
There was only one scream. One single, horror and pain filled shout. No others. No more sounds from Jay. Not even whimpers or groans. Just the echo of that first scream. Over and over in the acoustics of the cave.
“You’re safe,” Bruce says automatically and Tim sees that Jason’s up, but not breathing. “Shh. Jay. You’re safe. We’re in the Batcave. I’m here and Tim is here and the rest will be here in a second. You’re safe.”
Jay draws a breath harshly.
“That’s it. Very good,” Bruce praises. “Breathe, you’re safe.”
Drawing his legs up, Jay drops his head between his knees. “I’m okay,” Jay says muffled and breathless.
“Don’t talk right now,” Bruce says.
And Tim says at the same time, “Less talking, more breathing.”
Jay chokes while he tries to laugh. “Tim-Tac-Toe,” he whines. His shoulders shake.
“Sorry,” Tim says quickly.
Jay lifts a hand, displaying the ‘A-OK’ sign.
Breathing himself more easily, Tim checks with Bruce. They want to ask what went wrong. It may be insensitive, but that’s how their mind works because what they really want is to do something to make it better. They can’t until they find out what’s wrong. It’s that simple.
But, at the same time, Tim understands that people are complicated and they function in ways that are not always logical. Sometimes in the process of knowing what went wrong, one digs in a wrong place or too soon and it does more harm. Plus, sometimes the bad element is found, one discovers there’s nothing to do about it.
So, understanding all that, Tim shuts up and Bruce stays similarly away from saying something they can’t take back.
It’s almost painful, though.
Jay takes a deep breath and lifts his head. “I’m okay. It’s stupid.” He tries to shoo them away, but it’s going to be impossible and, apparently, Jay recognizes that.
Damian and Dick arrive, and the latter says, “Alfred is bringing tea.”
“Why?” Jay whines. “It’s stupid. I’m fine.”
Damian scowls. “Stupid? You sounded like you were murdered.”
“I was,” Jay says. “By Joker with a golden spoon!” He extends an arm. “See? Stupid.”
Bruce’s expression is blank and he’s off to the side.
“You’re mixing memories,” Damian says. “The only stupid thing about this is the fact that you insist it is. Where did you hear about gold cutlery?”
Jay doesn’t say anything, but Tim remembers.
“The human trafficker,” Tim says, going over the discussion at La Saveur.
Jay still doesn’t say anything.
“So you were just trying to convince us that it was nothing,” Damian concludes.
“Little Wing.” Dick sighs. “Can I touch you?”
Jay narrows his eyes. “No hugs.”
“No hugs?” Dick asks.
Jay blinks. “One hug,” he negotiates.
There’s no further answer because Dick glomps Jay and they both fell off the cot.
“Why are you like this?” Jay asks loudly.
Dick is maintaining a constant stream of whispers to his ear and ignores Jay’s addition.
“I got it!” Jay yells. Then more calmly, “Thank you. Asshole.”
Bruce deeply exhales and licks his lips. “Who’s in the mood for a movie?” He receives a lot of confused looks. “Home Alone because you have already tried to do your worst.”
“Is that a challenge?” Jay wants to know.
Falling asleep to Jay sleepily mumbling about feathers and glue, with Dick snickering, Damian laughing silently in his pillow, Bruce rolling his eyes fondly and Alfred looking over them all gives Tim such a strange but warm feeling. He thinks that this is what people call home. This is safety and comfort.
They have two silent weeks after that that feel strangely peaceful. Therapy is looking up, the Bats are getting along, and Mina has successfully survived another vet visit. Tim spends the time investigating Luthor, his connections to the al Ghuls, trying to find out why Jay came back to life, and fiddling with some equipment.
He found Luthor hard at work on a project but it doesn’t have anything to do with the al Ghuls or with the Lazarus Pit. It’s some sort of armor. He plans to stay on that.
As far as Jay is concerned, Tim thinks he knows why Jay came back to life. It’s the only possible explanation and one Tim doesn’t yet know how to prove given the vastness of the subject. He’s not going to say anything until he’s sure.
The fiddling is the only thing that turns out exactly as he planned it and results in updated equipment. He tests and, when he’s satisfied, replicates it. There is something soothing about the mechanics of something, the way the components logically come together with a click. He’s forgotten how much he enjoys it.
At the end of the two weeks and three days, Tim understands the time period as what it turns out to be: the calm before the storm.
It starts with a call to a meeting with the Justice League. The person who gives the presentation is a surprise: none other than Luthor. And his message? There Ar Tunians on Earth and watching them.
To say that it’s bad news would be an understatement.
“What are you talking about?” Oliver demands.
Luthor smiles pleasantly. “The second attack was either a distraction and they sneaked their people in, or some stragglers survived and they made the best of a bad situation.”
“So you shouldn’t have killed them,” Oliver says.
“Right now, there are somewhere between two hundred and a thousand Ar Tunians on Earth,” Luthor replies. “In the attack, there were close to fifteen thousand by my best approximation. Batman agrees. Should I have activated the defense system? That may be up to discussion for some, but I rather think that one thousand entities we cannot keep track of are better than fifteen thousand.”
Neither would be best.
Oliver opens his mouth again and Luthor cuts him off.
“We do not understand their biology, technology, goals, or resources,” Luthor snaps. “Are you capable of understanding what that means?” His fist is clenched and he takes a deep breath.
“I don’t apprecia—”
But Luthor interrupts Oliver by saying, “Did you discover them? Did you even have a glimmer of an idea about their presence here? Did you try to get an approximation on their number? Did you try to divine their purpose? Did you analyze the actions already taken and the results of those actions? Did you do your best to fend them off? Did you call a meeting with a bunch of ignorant assholes so you can explain in small words what you know and humiliate yourself by begging that their help doesn’t come in such a way that undoes your work?” Luthor took a shaky breath. “If you did, by all means, I’m open to criticism.”
Oliver explodes. He says something about not being accused by a villain and Luthor loses his mind in a very unsubtle way. He’s pissed that this is the aspect Oliver chooses to focus his attention.
Meanwhile, Tim has a realization.
Luthor’s frightened. He’s actually scared out of his mind and there’s little he can do about it. And that, Luthor in a corner, with no one hearing his appeals and objections, is when Luthor is the most dangerous. That’s what Tim noticed and Kon has confirmed it.
“I’m sorry,” Tim’s calm, maybe cold, voice cuts easily through the argument. “Mr. Luthor, you were telling us something important. If you don’t mind getting back to that, I’m certain we can hold out objections for a more appropriate time.”
Luthor subtly swallows and nods. “Well, if you are certain,” he says silkily, back in perfect control.
Watching closely, Bruce grunts in a way that Luthor must take as ‘get on with it,’ because he does.
Tim has a bad feeling about all of this.
“The most obvious objection I can think of is why I haven’t been able to count them,” Luthor resumes. “The reason is that we don’t know enough about their biology to separate them. We do know that there are cold-blooded, we know the general mechanism for their transformation from legs to wings, and we even know a bit about their shields and how personal shields might work. That is why we have been able to recognize some of their actions and the general size of their living space, which added with what we have been able to parse of their goals and resources, led to the approximation of their numbers.”
“I understand what every word means,” Diana says, “but I didn’t understand what you said.”
“You will have a full report,” Luthor replies. “But, until then, maybe some examples are in order?”
“Yeah,” Trevor says. “I like the idea.”
“They broke into one of my towers,” Luthor begins. “How? We think they used their personal shields to become invisible. Here is what we don’t know at this stage: if the shield can pull off invisibility, can it project another person’s image? Presumably, if it can, it has to have a memory of the image projected. The shield did have a sort of ledger, but it only contained the activity of the last five hours.”
Trevor shares a look with Diana.
“Then they didn’t break into the basement and the R&D levels, they broke into the living area,” Luthor goes on. “Why? Well, we know that they showed interest in Superman and they must’ve known that Kon lives with me. Why Kryptonians? What do they gain by kidnapping them? How did they find out about Kon’s living situation? Do they watch the news?”
All good questions.
“We were only able to determine that they do watch the news,” Luthor says. “And that, for whatever reason, it’s either their goal or something that guarantees the completion of their goal, for them to kidnap Kryptonians.” He stops for a breath. “So how did we know that it happened?”
Wait a second.
“By mistake.” Luthor shrugs. “In a random sweep for microphones my security team detected an odd feedback. Just as they as they were commenting on that, three Ar Tunians dropped their shields and opened fire. The Ar Tunians were killed along with five of my team. We analyzed the shields and managed to find out that the shields work as a sort of cocoon while wearing them so they can’t use their weapons or the energy projectiles would rebound and hit them.”
That’s interesting, but hold on.
“Only kryptonite—as in kryptonite beam—gets through it,” Luthor says with a nod at Clark. “So it isn’t a case of giving up subtlety because they were discovered. But we don’t know if and what else can the shields do. We also don’t fully understand the cause of the feedback. This happened a month ago.”
The attack on Jay.
“Also, my son’s boyfriend was attacked,” Luthor says as he watches the Bats.
Tim very carefully doesn’t react.
“He was doused with water taken with the Lazarus Pit.” Luthor smiles sharply. “It’s one of the ways we confirmed that they do watch the news since their relationship appeared in the media. However, there are still questions. How did they find out about the Lazarus Pit and his connection to it? Did they? Or they simply chose a malicious element? Were they hoping to gain control over him, were they expecting him to rage at the moment of the attack and go after Kon, or were they just introducing chaos between two fractions that did them harm?”
“You know where they’re hiding,” Bruce says, cutting to the point.
Luthor smirks. “I do.”
“Where?” Bruce asks with a growl.
“Gotham’s very own Amusement Mile,” Luthor replies and Tim feels the urge to drop his head on the table.
Of course. Joker’s own villain lair. Where else?
But it turns out things aren’t that simple. With the QRT roaming over the place, in addition to the Bats’ presence, they apparently use the sewers to move around and stalk people. Apparently, it is not only a thing that you have to look up in Gotham, not you have to look down too.
Gotham, at least, already had the scariest interpretation of a clown and he’s dead.
Anyway, the sewers. They break off into teams to go hunting in good old Gotham. It’s debatable if it’s in the filthiest place, but it certainly isn’t the cleanest, so they have that to look forward to. Also, the sewers of Gotham are pretty huge in some places and he’s about to disappoint some people who believe the biology of the Ar Tunians might be challenged by not being able to fly around.
Luthor says his people have the Amusement Mile. Now, that sends a shiver down Tim’s spine. He doesn’t doubt that it’s exactly as Luthor says, but also Tim is extremely doubtful that it’s all there is. As if to prove Tim’s theory, Luthor’s not coughing up any more details. He absolutely refuses and he has incredible evasive tactics including a final threat of: ‘if you want to abandon your team or take it out of the running completely, even though it’s doubtful there will be enough of you as it is, you can go and ruin my plans. People might die, but, at least, you’ll know.’
And that’s that.
Of course, Bruce wouldn’t give up so easily. Neither would Tim or the rest of the Bats. They will, however, be forced to do the research from a distance. And yeah, Oracle does that as a rule, but it’s always a good idea to have boots on the ground.
Luthor has a plan in place that cannot leak. He has arranged the pieces and he’s going to act now. They can either help or not, but he’s going ahead with it.
Two hours later, there’s no news on Luthor’s plan, but Trevor has agreed to lend the NYPD SWAT team and himself. They are going to be folded into the GCPD, directly under Gordon. He’s responsible with the logistics of the police force and getting a couple of superheroes for every group.
Jason gets in touch and tells Tim that the QRT won’t be on comms because there are too many people already and they give the groups different channels, but wishes them luck.
Clark, Kon, and Jon put up a fight about joining but it doesn’t take long to convince them otherwise. They are heavy-hitters but targeted ones, and they’d do much more harm on the other side. Not to mention that if they are kidnapped they would cause more problems.
“You know,” Kon says. “That could be their goal, to have us taken out of commission.”
“Perhaps,” Luthor admits. “But we have to risk it. You are too dangerous and have endeared yourself too much to do otherwise.”
Jon rolls his eyes but doesn’t protest, and that says it all.
The Bats, though, decide to keep an eye on Luthor. They will take turns in being on the satellite in person from time to time. It’s hardly a bullet-proof measure, but it’s the best they can do. They’ll disguise their actions with in-person updates, though Tim doesn’t have any illusions about everyone knowing what they’re doing.
Tim just hopes, for Kon’s sake, that Luthor didn’t do something unforgivable.
Another two hours after that, Tim has just arrived on the satellite with the news that they have encountered seven Ar Turnians. They disposed of them and have two wounded as a result, who they sent to the hospital and are getting the care they need. His team continues to patrol their area while he gives the report.
As far as Tim can tell, now and then, a team meets several Ar Tunians with similar results.
There are still no clues as to Luthor’s plan, but Dick, who is the closest, is keeping an eye on the Amusement Mile. Bruce has the area next to Gordon’s crisis center, but as far as they can tell Gordon is as much in the dark as all of them. Damian has chosen to patrol the area around Watchtower and the QRT have the harbor. They haven’t heard from Jason, though, and it’s as annoying as ever.
“Charges set,” a familiar voice announces from the intercom at Luthor’s elbow.
Kon’s head snaps in the voice’s direction. “JP?”
And Tim understands. With a hollow feeling growing into his stomach, he has a flash of realization. He knows that voice and he knows those initials.
Jason Peter Todd—JP Todd.
“Are you an idiot?” Tim explodes.
Everybody turns to Tim in surprise but he pays them no mind. One. Two steps. And he’s next to Luthor. Tim sees as if through a dream his arm moving. His fist connecting with Luthor’s jaw. And Luthor falling from his chair.
“Did you actually send him to Amusement Mile?” Tim asks, panting. “Really?”
Luthor is gingerly touching his jaw. “Okay,” he says. And his voice is almost sheepish. “That’s fair.”
“Wha—” Tim splutters, taken aback for a second. It takes a second for him to get back on track. “I don’t care if you think it’s fair or not. What did you do? What you make him do?”
“Nothing,” Luthor says resolutely. “I needed somebody who was in their database, good with explosives, and not known to hesitate when taking a life. He came to me before I had the chance to make the proposition and volunteered. Although, I admit that I had him in mind from the beginning.”
“Volunteered?” Kon asks desperately.
And Tim continues that thought, “What else was he supposed to do? Leave his boyfriend and his city to their fate?”
“Kon and Earth are also my reasons,” Luthor reminds them. “But I understand that he has more to face. If I could, I would take his place, but we all know that it’ll be foolishness.”
“The armor,” Tim says, pieces of the puzzle clicking together.
“Mostly made from elasticable,” Luthor replies. “He didn’t want any of his team coming with him so I made him the best armor possible. And then I offered to do it for the rest of his team or the two he works with regularly, but he wouldn’t hear of it. He has the best equipment I think up.”
“It’s not enough,” Tim says with gritted teeth.
Luthor smiles understandingly. “Of course it isn’t.”
Tim wants to punch him again. His eyes narrow and his jaw is tightly clenched. He takes a step in Luthor’s direction.
But no. There are other things Tim should be doing right now. Instead, he walks over to a communication console and gets Dick on the line.
“Go for Nightwing,” Dick chimes.
Tim replies immediately, “Thirteen is Luthor’s ace.”
It’s followed by a few seconds of silence. Then, “What?!” Dick takes a deep breath. “I must’ve heard wrong—again… what?!”
“Dad?” Kon asks uncertainly.
“You heard right, Nightwing,” Tim tells Dick. “Be on alert.”
Clark looks between father and son, and sighs.
“None of that from you.” Luthor sneers in Clark’s direction, and then he turns to Kon. “What was I supposed to do? Kon, you were targeted. You both were. They broke into the penthouse looking for you. Am I supposed to… what? Forgive and forget?” He scoffs. “Jason agrees and that’s why he’s out there.”
Kon’s fist clenches. “Don’t talk about him!”
“Fine,” Luthor says easily. “I’ll talk about me. That’s who I am. That’s how I love: totally, without regard for morals, rules, or other people.”
Clark half-turns and Kon notices.
“You knew,” Kon tells Clark.
Clark puts his hands up. “I didn’t.”
“No.” Kon shakes his head. “I meant you knew how he does things. He did it for you too.”
Clark licks his lips. “I know how he loves,” he admits.
“And you agree with him,” Kon continues.
“I’m…” Clark trails off, gathering his thoughts. “No, I don’t. But I’d be lying if I said that I don’t understand the urge. It’s just that, I always fell short. Be it because I’m more morally developed, a better person or, even, a worse one, I couldn’t reach that level.”
Tim tries not to ask himself what he thinks about it. He tries not to see that Luthor is the father Jay wanted to have. Maybe needed to have because it’s just happenstance that he got the chance he did and it’s his own resilience that he got to the point where the opportunity came up. It certainly didn’t come from Bruce.
And Tim definitely does not ask himself where he’s on the interval between Bruce and Luthor. His punching Luthor could be as much Luthor as Bruce. Probably more Bruce because he didn’t turn Luthor into mush and then danced on his grave. So, there.
No, Tim doesn’t think about the fact that Jay being murdered and Jay volunteering for something are two very different situations.
But Jay, Tim can think about Jay. And Tim can easily accept that Luthor and Jay are very much alike. Jay has shown the same ruthlessness while caring about people. In the past, it made him seem violent, perpetually angry, and even cruel. Maybe he is all that, but that’s definitely not all he is.
And that’s not all Luthor is.
So yeah, Tim admits that Jay may have very well volunteered and Luthor may have done everything in his power to make sure Jay’s protected. For Kon, if for nothing else. And Tim thinks there’s, at least, a special brand of respect between Luthor and Jay.
“Let’s just get Jay back, and we’ll get to the truth then,” Tim says.
Luthor has the audacity to smile understandingly again and Tim narrows his eyes. He doesn’t know what Luthor sees, but he’s not forgiven. A cold revenge is still revenge.
“Uh-oh,” Jay says.
“What’s the matter?” Tim asks.
“Red Robin!” Jay says loudly. “I didn’t know you were there. Who else is with you?”
Tim closes his eyes. “Uh-oh what?”
But they can’t hear the rest of Jay’s sentence due to the massive explosion.
And it happens again.
BOOM. BOOM. BOOM.
If Tim was a little less controlled, he’d be chewing his fist now. He isn’t. What he does do, is wait a few seconds, and then asks, “Thirteen? Come in.”
“Come in, Thirteen,” Tim calls again.
Still no response.
Tim switches on Dick’s comm. “We lost connection with Thirteen after the bombs went off.”
A flurry of swearwords are heard from Dick and Tim’s confident Dick is on it, so Tim tries again. “Thirteen? Come in. Thirteen. Come on, come on. Thirteen?”
“I can’t take this,” Kon says and turns.
Luthor wants to say something, but he thinks better of it and aims a pleading look at Clark.
“Where are you going?” Clark asks automatically.
“Out there,” Kon replies. “To find him. Where else?”
“Wait a sec,” Tim says. He’s panicking and not. Somehow, Tim is sure that Jay survived. He just has to. “Thirteen!”
“What are we waiting for?” Kon asks desperately. “He’s wounded or worse! The more time passes the fewer chances we have of finding him still bre—”
A cough cuts him off. “Let’s not do that again,” Jay observes wryly.
The relief almost knocks Tim off his feet and from the corner of his eye he sees Kon taking a seat.
“Welcome back,” Tim says. “What happened?”
“The freaky feedback screwed with the timer, but I got out of way in time,” Jay says breathlessly.
“We have him,” Tim tells Dick. “He may be in need of assistance.”
“Understood,” Dick says. “On my way. Hal has it handled here.”
“Copy,” Tim tells Dick.
At the other console, Luthor is asking, “Did they see you?”
“Not at the beginning, you were right,” Jay says and he sounds like he’s running. Smoke inhalation? Is he actually running? Both? “The shield does make them appear like other people, but you can bet they found out in a hurry when the power source blew and I wasn’t affected.”
“Are you followed?” Luthor asks.
“Oh, most definitely,” Jay says.
“Are they gaining?”
“Where are you?”
“Preparing to jump on the nearest roof in three… two… one.”
Several tense seconds pass. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Si—they can hear clearly a thud.
Tim pushes the comm button for Dick. “He has just landed on a nearby roof.” There aren’t that many since the Amusement Mile is outside the city.
“Aren’t there cameras?” Luthor asks, trying to figure it out himself.
But Luthor is not familiar with the system, so Tim takes over. “There are.” And the image shows on the primary screen.
For a blink, Tim wants to look away. He doesn’t know what’s wrong with him today. Yes, Jay has after him about fifty Ar Tunians. Yes, it’s disturbing. No, he probably won’t make the jump to the next roof. And if he does, the Ar Tunians will be on him by the next one. But Tim is not like this. He’s logic and facts and coffee and aloofness.
The thing is, Tim cares. In a way that he never quite realized he was capable of. He loves Jay. He loves his brother. What’s more, he suddenly discovers he loves lots of people and things.
Tim thought he loved his parents. And he did. What’s different is that what he felt for them wasn’t encouraged. It didn’t quite grow as much or as safely as this one. With Jay around, Tim discovered what is like to be actually part of a family and have brothers and suddenly, the urge to strangle them into oblivion somehow fit into the whole thing. Somehow, the difference between not standing your brothers and not standing your brothers makes perfect sense in his mind. He loved before, sure, but this is the first time he’s felt it returned.
With a jolt, Tim realizes that he’ll fight whatever and whoever threatens those precious to him. He can tell that he’s not so different from Luthor. And Tim sees the disadvantages of that, but… they don’t seem to matter as much right now.
“Hearing,” Tim whispers. Then louder, “Hearing. They hear differently. The feedback. It’s them. It’s how they communicate. What’s the frequency?” He thumbs Oracle’s connection.
Luthor rattles the numbers, and Tim says desperately, “Blast the frequency, Oracle!”
“But what if they—”
Tim cuts Oracle off, “Blast it!”
“It’s done,” Oracle says. “I can type and speak at the same time. As I was saying, what if we now have a way of communicating with them? We’re actively destroying that opportunity.”
Watching Jay miraculously reach the next roof while the Ar Turnians in pursuit falter, Tim says, “We’ll have time for that later.” When he leans back, Tim catches Luthor watching him with the same damnable understanding he had since Tim figured out his plan. “Don’t even,” Tim warns, suppressing a shiver.
Context. That is important. It’s too late for the Ar Tunians because they attacked them so many times. But other times, maybe it won’t be. It’s forgivable for Luthor to feel like he did because he made sure to do everything he could for Jay, especially if Jay volunteered. On another occasion, maybe it won’t be. The same could be said for Bruce or Jay or Dick in different situations…
It’s not the feeling that’s essential, it’s the context you allow it to affect your behavior.
“We’re both human,” Tim says, his chin up.
Luthor inclines his head. “Yes, we are.”
Suddenly, Jay jumps and he’s caught by a projectile from one of the faltering Ar Tunians. He stops mid-flight. Starts to go down.
Down, down, down.
But then, Dick slams into him. Jay’s descent is stopped. But only for a blink. Dick is forced to give up his grappling line. The added pressure from Jay’s body, the force of his fall, and the speed Dick came at, prove too much for the cable.
Down, down, down.
“You idiot!” Jay shouts and it sounds ripped out of him. “Now we’ll both die.”
And Dick, quick as anything, gets out another grappling gun and fires. This one holds. It holds.
“Not yet, Little Wing,” Dick says and the smile can be heard in his voice.
Jay sputters. “Did you steal that from B?”
“These?” Dick says as they make it on a roof. He smirk-smiles. “Tim made these. He had an inkling that we may have to carry a tank around so he made it possible.”
Jay looks lost. “Tim…” He stops and then a moment later, “My Timbro!”
With a groan, Tim rolls his eyes.
“There are extras,” Dick chuckles, offering Jay one. “What do you say? Once more for old times’ sake?”
Jay hesitates. He breathes in, looks around, and finally accepts the grappling gun. “I did miss flying.”
They run. They jump. They fly.
Tim is smiling before he realizes it.
Once the brothers reach the next roof, they pause. They are confused. Tim recognizes the flavor of that bewilderment, the 'we're on our own; no wait'. It’s got to be the QRT. And sure enough, they are trapping the aliens, shooting them down, and providing cover fire for Dick and Jay.
But the QRT…
“Who’s at the harbor?” Kon asks before Tim gets the chance to.
“My security,” Luthor answers calmly.
Tim snorts at Luthor’s audacity. “You didn’t listen to him.”
“Of course I didn’t listen,” Luthor replies. He smirks. “And they volunteered.”
“Armor?” Tim asks, almost laughing.
Luthor doesn’t even blink. “Obviously.”
Kon looks at his father as if he’s never seen him before. It must be quite the trip. They are going to have the mother of all discussions, but Kon doesn’t seem disgusted or frightened, so Tim hopes that Kon will get to keep his father. After all, Kon just looks confused.
“Are those who I think they are?” Damian asks on the comms.
If Tim concentrates on the image the camera provides, he thinks he sees a small Bruce. Just a smudge with limbs. But his head is in his hands so Tim believes it’s him.
Chapter 17: Epilogue
Thank you for all your support!
“Good afternoon, Alfred,” Tim greets. “How have you been?”
“Good afternoon, Master Timothy,” Alfred replies as he steps away from the door. “I can’t complain. And yourself?”
“I’ll be better when I get ahold of Damian,” Tim says. “You wouldn’t know where I can find him, do you?”
Alfred smiles. “I can’t say.”
“Figures.” Tim offers a polite smile as he makes his way deeper into the house.
“Are you going to stay for dinner?”
“I’d love to,” Tim calls as he’s entering the drawing room.
There’s a book on the table on the supposed anatomy of griffins, Alfred the cat snoozes on an armchair, Titus wags his tail at him from his place at the foot of the couch, and there’s still steam wafting out of the tea.
Tim ponders the situation after a couple of steps.
Where could Damian have gone?
Tim looks up.
“Damian,” Tim says pleasantly. “Let’s talk finance.”
It’s been five years since Tim’s active dislike for what he saw as a stranger morphed into something weirder for somebody he saw as a brother.
“Tim,” Damian replies calmly as if he’s not dangling from the crystal chandelier. “How is Mina?”
Tim rolls his eyes. “She’s very well. Happy in the knowledge that she’ll be treated like a princess her whole life, lest you hear about it.”
The silence holds for a couple of seconds.
“Speaking of finance…”
Damian growls and drops down. “Why are we talking about money?”
“Because they make the world go around?”
Damian gives him a weird look. “That is love.”
“Oh, you romantic, you,” Tim says with a smirk.
“You have spent too much time around Jay.”
Damian immediately seems to regret saying anything. They both avert their eyes at the reminder. The conversation halts and Tim swallows with difficulty.
“Anyway,” Tim finally says. “This isn’t so much about money.”
“Because we have it.”
“As it is about you reporting it properly.”
Damian whines. He acts more like a child now than he did when he was one. It seems he’s determined to make up for lost time.
“How do Bruce and Dick do it?” Damian asks.
“They have accountants and financial advisors.”
“Why don’t I?”
“You haven’t hired any.”
Damian looks deathly offended.
“I can send you some names,” Tim offers, trying not to cackle.
Always bad form, cackling.
As if reading Tim’s mind, Damian narrows his eyes. “Thank you.” It sounds more like an insult than an expression of gratitude, but they are like that.
A month ago Jay died. It was in the line of duty, but what got him was a stray bullet. Somebody else’s death, to share.
They are debating between having dinner and waiting for Dick.
“Sorry! I’m late, I know,” Dick says as he runs to a seat.
The Waynes shrug collectively.
Dick pouts. “You don’t actually care, do you?”
“Would we really do that, Master Richard?” Alfred asks in such a serene tone that it’s hard to say if he’s messing with Dick or genuinely curious.
Probably messing with Dick.
But that’s okay.
“Yes.” Dick snorts. “Everybody here would.”
Because Dick can hold his own.
“Any news about Cain?” Damian asks as he chooses a roll. He spends way too much time doing that. “And the rest, of course.”
“They have settled in and don’t believe they’ll come back,” Bruce says.
Tim nods. “Good for them.”
Tim has a theory that he can’t prove.
It goes like this…
Tim thinks Jay’s comes back. There is no other explanation for his miraculous return to life. He was literally in pieces when he went into that grave. But, as evidenced by the car accident the night of his resurrection, he doesn’t heal, so there’s no way to prove it.
Now, there is a chance that he doesn’t grow past a certain age and Tim thinks it may be tied. He can’t prove that either. Jay looked youthful, but that could be a quirk of biology.
So Tim has a theory, but he can’t prove it.
“I don’t know what you have against Peter, he’s a perfectly capable assistant,” Tim says as he bites daintily into the pheasant.
“I think you mean ‘frighteningly capable,’” Dick retorts. “Underlying the frightening. Last time I showed up unannounced and messed up your schedule, I was in fear for my life.”
Tim shrugs lightly. “Made you think twice, didn’t he?”
“Eh,” Dick says, see-sawing with his hand. “Kind of made me itch to do it more often.”
Tim should have expected that.
Tim tentatively shared his theory with Barbara, Kon, Luthor, Mari, Juan, and the Waynes. They had mixed reactions, but Luthor was the one that came up with the idea. He had it built at the time and told Tim about it on the day of Jay’s death.
A mausoleum with an AI and all the amenities, for if—when—Jay wakes up.
Luthor had it shipped over to the Wayne Manor, thinking rightly that no one trusted him to watch over Jay.
So now they try to live their life as normally as possible. Sometimes, Jay comes up in conversation. Other times, they wander the grounds and they stumble upon it. The most difficult is the continued silence because they know that as long as it persists, Jay’s still dead.
EEEEEOOOOO WEEEEEEE EEEEEEOOOO
The Waynes freeze.
Dick whispers, “It that—”
“The alarm.” Tim swallows. “Jay’s… awake.”
Bruce is pushing from the table. “It can just be a break in.” He checks his phone. “No alerts on the sensors.”
“Somebody needs to check,” Damian says hurriedly. “I’ll go.” He disappears down the hall.
“You were right!” Dick shouts to Tim while running after Damian.
Tim refrains from commenting. He wouldn’t be able to take it if it turns out not to be Jay. So Tim walks out of the house, knowing he has, at least, five minutes before the doors will open. And that’s good because for the first few steps his legs felt like jelly.
When Tim finally reaches the mausoleum, arguing with himself the whole time, he sees Kon has arrived. The Waynes, Kon, and the QRT should be the ones to receive an alert. Kon nods to him, pale and nervous, and doesn’t seem to notice Clark landing with Luthor.
At the ten minute mark, Tim shifts his weight from his right leg to his left.
Tim shifts back after five minutes.
Just as Tim is considering moving again, Damian explodes, “What is he doing in there?”
The sound of a car approaches. It’s Mari’s sedan. She reaches them with Juan and Hennelly and they all gather in silence.
Time expands and contracts, and it feels like the door never going to open just as much as it feels like it’s going to happen in the next second.
“What’s everybody waiting for?”
For fuck’s sake, Jay!
“I’m going to murder you and no one will even blame me,” Tim says dryly as he turns around to see that Jay must’ve found another way out.
Jay beams. “I’ll just come back.”
And like that, Dick, Damian, Mari, Juan, and Tim are charging for Jay. Kon gets there first and gathers Jay in a bear hug. The rest of them are not too far behind and join in the hug to the soundtrack of Kon’s chants of ‘I missed you.’
“Good to have you back, Little Wing,” Dick says. He’s laughing and crying at the same time. “Don’t do that again.”
“However, if it happens,” Damian says, muffled by a shirt and so haughty that Tim bets Damian’s pretending he’s not doing any sort of hugging whatsoever. “Use the door. That is what it’s for.”
Tim laughs and it starts a contagion. Everybody’s relieved and it shows. Levels of adrenaline drop back to normal, tiredness hasn’t yet made any leeway, and everything is beautiful. It’s a bit too much on the hysterical side, but it’s a win. They’re laughing because, for once, a good thing happened.
Jay receives back-slaps and nods from the rest. He thanks Luthor, who Jay identified as the person behind the mausoleum, and winks at Clark. Jay also receives a painful-looking hug from Bruce. Words are said and they’re both suspiciously wet-eyed in the aftermath.
“Food, Master Jason?” Alfred asks slyly.
Jay steps to give Alfred a hug. “Food.”
Kon disappears to bring Barbara, Jon arrives, and another session of gushing commences. The same happens with Roy, Wally, Peter, Kori, Donna, Diana, Trevor, Gordon, Hal, the QRT and basically everybody. Jay complains. Everybody else does the equivalent of a pat on the head and the iconic ‘there-there.’
“So, I just heard the alarm, when I rush out of the bathroom and into some clothes. But I want to let Clark know, right?” Kon says, one arm gesturing enthusiastically while the other is lost in the hair at Jay’s nape. “And here I am. Happy as a clam and naked as one”—he pauses to let people laugh—“when I enter the living room. What do I see? C’mon guess!”
“Clark and Lex,” Jon sing-songs, “sitting in a penthouse and… taaaaaaalking.” He draws the last word out. “What else?”
“Sir.” Kon leans forward, arm planted on the table. “There was gropage.”
The laughter almost drowns Jay’s complaints of ‘that’s not a word!’
They laugh harder.
“Hold up, hold up,” Kon says loudly. “I’m not done. So this is happening against the wall by the door like there isn’t a couch within spitting distance.” More laughter. “Finally they notice me. I tell them. And Dad says: ‘I congratulate you on your costume. It really brings out your eyes.’ That’s when I realize!”
“You didn’t know?!” Dick says practically howling.
“No!” Kon snickers sheepishly. “But I am his son so I say: ‘It’s not like there’s recommended attire.’”
Tim chokes on his drink. “You didn’t.”
“I did,” Kon shoots back. “So Dad looks at Clark all interested like.” Damian is laughing so hard he bumps his head on table and Kon goes on, “Naturally, the most embarrassing moments of my life start playing in front of my eyes and I say, ‘You know what? I think he likes me better in clothes.’”
They are shrieking with laughter. Tim can’t tell if the story’s that funny or it’s just the euphoric mood. He has a great time, regardless, and he’s elated that he has this. He’s elated that Jay has this. That they all have this.
It’s not like the last time. The person, who shot the bullet that eventually got Jay, is dead, killed in the same firefight. There’s no car accident, no ignorance. No one’s betrayed and no one does the betraying.
This is how it should be.
“Want to hear our story?” Mari asks.
Taking a deep breath to get his laughter under control, Damian says, “Please.”
Mari nods, smirking. “We’re taking Riddler to Arkham, right?”
There are groans.
“He says, ‘Your pocket wants to leave you,’” Mary tells them with a hilarious expression of what-the-hell. “We pay him no mind because he’s Riddler, right?”
“Wrong!” Jay shouts.
“Yes, I know it was…” Mari slaps Jay upside his head. “Can I go on?”
Jay had his asshole grin on but gestures grandly.
“So he says it again. And again. ‘You’re pocket’s leaving you.’” Mari leans forward. “Finally, I look. And I swear. I swear. I knew what it was vibrating like that even before I got it out.”
“What did you do?” Tim asks.
“I feigned having food poisoning,” Mari says. She gestures to her and Juan. “For the both of us.”
Barbara is taken aback. “How can you—”
“Act-ing,” Juan declares proudly.
This is how it should be. This is what they’ve built. This is what they chose and continue to choose.