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Tim was looking for aliens when he found the weird radio signal. 

It was one in the morning, hours after Mrs. Mac had told him to lock up the house and go to bed. He’d followed half her instructions, checking every door and window in the three-story manor even though most of the rooms hadn’t been used since his parents had left on their latest expedition two months earlier. Then he hunkered down in front of the TV with a giant bowl of microwave popcorn and a stack of alien movies that Nathan had said he 'just had to watch.' 

He was pretty sure the older boy was trying to either scare him or get him in trouble, but he was going to be disappointed either way. Gotham had way scarier things than some bad puppet tentacles flopping around like dying fish. He’d seen plants with better acting skills. Just last week, actually. He’d photographed an epic showdown between Batman and what he was pretty sure was a genetically modified Venus Flytrap. That was awesome. This was—he watched the hero on screen do a handstand to try to make it look like the piece of fabric wrapped around his leg was holding him upside down—embarrassing. 

Maybe his parents would have been mad at him for watching R-rated movies if they weren’t off gallivanting through South America, but he doubted it. They’d have to notice him to get mad. He was more likely to get in trouble with Mrs. Mac for eating popcorn after his bedtime. 

He was halfway through the second movie, watching the latest two-dimensional hero try to hack into an alien transmission, when he thought, I could do that. I could do that better than him.

After all, aliens did exist. Everyone knew that. There was one flying around saving people in Metropolis just an hour away. There had to be a lot more than just him. Interesting ones. Covert ones talking in secret radio signals that human technology didn’t notice. Maybe planning to take over the planet right at this very moment. That sounded way more interesting than some guy getting eviscerated in a movie Tim couldn’t even remember the plot of. 

Ten minutes later he was writing a program to locate and flag unusual radio signals. The government probably had a whole department dedicated to deciphering alien messages, but Tim was still pretty sure he could beat them. He was a genius. Everyone said so. Even at ten, he was way better at computers than any of his teachers, so he was confident that if anyone was going to discover their secret alien overlords, it was going to be him. 

It took him thirty minutes to find the signal. It thrummed like air conditioning in a crowded store, like light bulbs buzzing overhead, like a heartbeat while curled up in bed. Like background noise. Always there, but rarely noticed. He was sure it had been there the whole time he was looking, whirling away with a constant, almost indistinguishable hum. This, he thought, was exactly what aliens would do. Hide in plain sight, using human nature to blind people to their presence. 

It wasn’t just that, he realized as he looked closer. The signal wasn’t just hiding under and behind existing signals; it was interacting with them, piggybacking on them, using them both to increase its own power and to hide its activity. It was more sophisticated than any radio technology he’d ever heard of, and undeniably alien. 

Excitement bubbled up in him like a soda exploding on a hot day. Now that he’d tagged the signal, it was easier to follow, but even then, it weaved in and out of view, sometimes disappearing for several long, anxiety-ridden minutes before he could track it down again. Every time he found it, he improved his tracker a little more until it was perfectly in sync with the signal. 

Now he just needed to turn the transmission into words. He couldn’t immediately tell if it was an audio or digital transmission, but he suspected audio. There were ciphers on it, encoding the signal so that even if you found it, you couldn’t listen to it, but he didn’t expect anything less from the lurking alien army.

Every piece of the signal he unlocked revealed more locks, and by the time he broke through the last one he was already mentally rehearsing his many upcoming talk show appearances. 'Yes,' he told the interviewer, 'it was difficult for me, a ten-year-old genius, to break open the worldwide alien conspiracy. That’s why it took a whole hour.'

When the crackling audio started, he expected some weird alien language. Maybe squawks and high-pitched squeals mixed with musical woofs. Maybe they wouldn’t talk at all, and images would beam directly into his mind. Maybe they’d talk in practiced English with a Midwestern drawl like their other resident alien. 

Instead he heard a low, guttural voice growling out of his computer speakers. “Robin,” it said. “Are you in position?”

Robin walked on his hands back and forth across the ledge, waiting for the go-ahead from Batman. He was bored. Two weeks ago, he'd been fighting an intergalactic war aboard an alien spaceship, and now he was waiting to thwart a couple of everyday bank robbers. Not even that, he was waiting to play backup to the thwarting of everyday bank robbers. What did Batman even need him there for? Sure, this was exciting when he was eleven, but he'd been leading his own team for years now. Call him for the next giant robot attack.

His earpiece crackled to life. "Robin, are you in position?" 

"Sure thing, B," he said, flipping backwards onto the balls of his feet and looking down at the bank. He hadn't noticed any activity, but the silent alarm had been tripped five minutes earlier. The police were probably already on their way. 

There was another idea. Let the police handle the bank robbers. Gotham police might be a corrupt group of poorly trained, underfunded rookies, but he was pretty sure even they could handle a couple of crooks in ski masks.

"Are you taking this seriously, Robin?" Batman's growl terrified even the most hardened career criminals, but Robin had been immune to it ever since he was twelve and Batman had gotten dosed with some concoction of the Joker's that had made his voice all high-pitched and squeaky. He’d still tried to do the patented Batman voice, but had just sounded like a growling chihuahua.

The memory still made Robin giggle, usually at inappropriate times, and he barely suppressed it now. "Very seriously."

Judging from the long silence that followed, B wasn't buying it, but that was his problem. There was nothing to take seriously. They'd be in and out in two minutes, before the red and blue lights starting to appear on the horizon could make it even halfway there.

"Move in."

This was the best thing that had ever happened to Tim. He was pretty sure it was the best thing that had ever happened to anyone. Sure, every once in a while people got married or had babies or were cured of terminal diseases, and he was sure most of those people thought that they were very happy, but none of them had ever accidentally hacked into Batman and Robin's communicators. This was true joy.

He sat transfixed listening to the short conversation, staring at the speakers like they were Batman himself, but the second it ended he jumped into action. He was absolutely certain that he shouldn’t be listening to Batman’s top-secret transmissions out loud through his computer speakers. Someone could hear it. The aliens could hear it, and their secret government takeover had enough of a head start without giving them the additional advantage of being able to hear Batman’s transmissions. He needed headphones. Maybe cordless headphones that he could reprogram to listen to the signal even when he wasn’t near his computer. That had to be possible. Batman and Robin did it.  

And, oh my god, that reminded him that he was listening to the same exact radio transmission that Batman and Robin listened to and he had to clamp down on his squeal of glee. 

He found an old pair of Bluetooth gaming headphones in a drawer of video game crud his parents had given him over years of birthdays and Christmases. Probably because they read somewhere that boys loved video games, not because he’d ever shown any particular interest in them. For now he connected the headphones to his computer, but he made a mental note to reconfigure them later. 

He bounced in his seat waiting for the next transmission, but they were taking way too long. How long had it been? One minute? Two? Twenty? He glanced at the clock but couldn't concentrate on it. What were they doing, anyway? He tabbed through a couple of news sites, but nothing about Batman yet. 

He hadn’t lost the signal, had he? He checked the code to make sure. It was still there, waxing and waning like a streetlight through watery eyes. Maybe he could track its location. That would give him a better idea of what they were doing. 

He almost had a GPS and mapping system set up when Robin’s voice made him jump. With the headphones, it sounded like Robin was standing right behind him. 

“I’ve got nothing, B. You?” 

“No, but something set off the alarm.”

“Maybe it was a cat.”

“It wasn’t a cat.”

He finished the last few lines of code and two overlapping dots popped up on his map. They were in the Lower Eastside, at the corner of Carmen Street and Dalawa Avenue. A quick cross reference with Google showed that it was a bank. A bank robbery then, or something that looked like a bank robbery but wasn’t, judging from their conversation. He felt a flare of pride at figuring it out so quickly. 

“It could be a cat.”


“Have you seen any evidence that it wasn’t a cat?”

He couldn’t believe Robin was talking back to Batman like that. He’d met Batman a couple of times over the last year of following them across rooftops, and he hadn’t even managed to speak in Batman’s presence, let alone consider talking back to him. His voice just got stuck in his throat. He’d barely even been able to speak in Bruce Wayne’s presence since he'd made the connection, but he needed to get over that because his parents told him that he’d been staring so much that he was ‘making a scene’ and ‘people were starting to talk.’ 

Then again, if anyone could talk back to Batman, it would be Robin. He thought about Dick Grayson, perfectly at ease wherever he went. He had the same confidence waltzing through a crowded gala as flying across the roofs of Gotham. It had been almost a year since Tim had figured out his identity, and realizing that his childhood hero was his other childhood hero was as natural as knowing that a poodle was a dog. He honestly couldn't believe he was the only one who had figured it out. Sometimes he wondered if everyone knew who Batman and Robin were and they just weren't saying anything to be polite, the way Tim's mother insisted that it was rude to talk about the giant stain on Ms. Kozlowski’s dress even though everyone at the party had noticed. 

Tim zoomed in on the bank until the two dots separated. The blue one was closer to the front, near the entrance, and the red one was in the back, probably by the vault. 

"Hey, B, I think I've got something,” Robin said in his ear, a hint of humor in his tinny voice. 

"What is it?"

"A cat."

The cops arrived quicker than Robin had expected. He watched them from an over-sized window at the front of the bank, carefully blending into the shadows behind a curtain. It was harder for him in his bright yellows and greens than for Batman in his black bodysuit, but really, that just made it all the more impressive how good at it he was. Score one for Robin. 

Four cops hunched behind their open car doors, using them as shields while they surveyed the building. It looked like they were going to take their sweet time entering. He couldn’t blame them. It was Gotham, after all. He wondered if they would be as disappointed as him that there wasn’t anyone to fight or if they actually preferred the quiet nights.

Something squeaked behind him and he twirled on his toes, falling immediately into a crouch and palming a birdarang. It sounded like the scuff of tennis shoes against linoleum or like unoiled wheels. His eyes scoured the darkness, looking for anything he might have missed. If someone managed to get the jump on him, he was going to have to sit through another one of B’s lectures on being aware of his surroundings, and he’d been over those since he was twelve.

He heard the sound again, louder and clearer this time, and had to suppress a laugh.

“Hey, B, I think I’ve got something,” he said, doing a roundoff back handspring across the lobby because he could and vaulting to the top of the safety glass that separated the teller desks from the rest of the room. 

“What is it?” 

There, nestled below him between the spindly legs of a rolling chair, was a tiny and absolutely adorable orange and black fluffball. It looked straight up at him, making eye contact with its giant blue eyes, and meowed again. "A cat," he said, this time letting himself laugh.

Batman's silence said it all. He was going to be grumpy for the rest of the night, Robin just knew it. He always got like this when he was wrong. Robin couldn’t concentrate on that right now though because the kitten stood up on its hind legs and tried to climb up the chair towards him, only to fall off and do a perfect front somersault. 

“Awwwwwww,” he cooed. It reminded him of the kittens that occasionally popped up in the circus’s animal trailers like they’d been spontaneously generated from hay and wood shavings. 

Now that the little guy had seen him, its meowing became more insistent. When was the last time it had eaten? Where was its mother? Robin hopped down to take a closer look. 

“Is it one of Catwoman’s?” Batman asked from immediately behind him as he landed.

“You’d know better than I would,” Robin said. “It doesn’t seem like her M.O. though.” He crouched and wiggled his fingers at the tiny baby. It crept forward and sniffed his fingers. Its features were hard to make out in the dim light shining through the front window, but its eyes were wide and bright. “Look at you, you little cutie,” he said gently, slowly coaxing it closer.

Batman’s penlight flicked on and shined straight at the kitten, who hissed and backed up at the sudden bright light in its eyes. Good job, B. Perfect animal handling skills. 

He was going to say something to that effect, but then he got a good look at the illuminated kitten. It looked like two cats smashed together, one side pure black and the other orange and striped. There was a perfect line down the middle of its face dividing the two sides. His breath caught in his throat.

“It’s not cute,” Batman said. “It’s a warning.” 

“Two-Face?” Robin asked, eyes immediately scanning the room again. Two-Face was one of their more unpredictable villains. Even the Joker was predictable in his chaos. Two-Face’s decisions could vary dramatically depending on what the coin said.

Batman didn’t respond; the answer was obvious. 

Robin reached for the kitten, but it was spooked now and swiped at him, clumsily falling over as it missed and immediately scrambling back up and away. It was wearing a collar, Robin realized as it turned to run. A black box was strapped to the side of the leather band, with a flashing red light signaling urgency. “B,” he said.

“I saw it,” Batman replied.

Robin lunged forward to grab the cat, and it took off running as fast as it could on its tiny legs. “No, kitty!” he called, trying to keep his voice gentle and approachable even as it raced under the desk and scrambled between chair legs and tangled cords. “Come back! You have a bomb!” 

Batman appeared on the other side of the row of desks—it was times like these that Robin still genuinely wondered if B had superpowers he’d never admitted to—and the cat slid to a stop and started running back towards Robin. He barely managed to scoop it up before it ran between his legs. 

“Got you!” he said, holding it against his chest and going for the collar. The kitten scratched at him with everything it had, its tiny claws digging into the bare skin of his arm, but he just hugged it closer. “It’s okay, kitty. It’s okay. We’re friends.” He couldn’t feel the collar’s latch so he gently turned the kitten to look closer. There was a tiny lock preventing him from unhooking it. 

“Give me the cat,” Batman said.

“I’ve got it, B,” he replied, pulling out his lockpicks and trying to pick the lock one-handed while holding the cat tight against the crook of his arm with his other hand. It wriggled its full body like a snake and meowed plaintively. 

“That thing could blow at any moment.”

“I’ve got it, B,” he repeated, irritated. The lock unhooked. He yanked off the collar and flung it over the bullet proof glass. As it arced through the air, the device beeped a single, high-pitched tone. 

For a split second, there was silence. 

Then a roar, loud and angry as a lion, echoed through the large room. Light seared his eyes, and he turned his back on it, folding protectively over the suddenly still kitten. He squeezed his eyes shut, but fireworks still danced on his eyelids. 

Sweat broke out on the back of his neck and boiled instantly. He gasped for breath in the thin air, fighting the dizziness that threatened to unbalance him.

When the roar quieted to only a ringing in his ears and the heat on his back felt more like a sunburn than a broiler against his skin, he turned. 

The front wall of the bank was completely gone. A couple of bricks dangled from the top of the arch and fell, crinkling as they hit the broken glass below. The lounge chairs and tables that had decorated the lobby were now unrecognizable, twisted, black hulks. A few small fires sputtered for breath, but mostly the explosion had incinerated anything flammable too quickly for them to find anything to cling to.

The glass that still stood between them and the lobby had only a few cracks squiggling across its surface.

“That is some good safety glass,” he said. 

The cops stared at them through the open wall of the bank. Only one of them had a look of shock. The other three just looked resigned, like this was a normal day in the office and they were frankly ready for their lunch break. One lazily picked up the car's radio mic and started speaking into it. 

“Roof. Now,” Batman said. 

He didn’t bother replying. By the time he turned around, Batman was already gone. Of course. Robin took his time, emptying one of the pockets of his utility belt and carefully placing the still quiet kitten inside it. Poor thing was probably in shock. 

“You ready to go?” he asked, scritching its head. “We’ve got a bad guy to catch.”

Chapter Text

A shrill screech, like holding a microphone too close to a speaker, shrieked through the headphones. Tim yanked them off, tossing them halfway across the room. 

What was that? Did the bomb go off? The last thing he heard was Batman saying it could blow at any second and Robin saying he had it. 

Tim’s heart was beating hard enough to lead a whole drum corps. Did Robin not have it? What if he didn’t? What if…

He stared at the dots on his screen. They wouldn’t still be there if Batman and Robin had exploded, right? That would destroy the signal. He was mostly pretty sure that was definitely true. Slowly, cautiously, he picked up the headphones and put them back on. There were no voices, but it had the staticky sound of an open signal. That was good. Probably. 

He gnawed on his lip so hard he tasted blood. The dots were moving. He was almost positive they were moving. Not much, but enough that it probably wasn’t just Batman and Robin’s bodies being dramatically flung about by the wind, like in the movie right before the aliens reanimated them. 

It probably also wasn’t because they were reanimated corpses, even though all he could see now were zombie Batman and Robin shambling towards the police, their arms outstretched, and then disappearing into shadows probably, because they were still Batman and Robin even if they were zombies.

He couldn’t handle this. He needed to be able to see what was happening. It had to be possible. There were security cameras everywhere in Gotham. In the bank or on street corners or on the dashboards of cop cars. He was sure he could hack into them, given enough time, but that could take hours. He needed to know what was happening now

He checked the local news feeds, but they were as useless as always. The news was always slow to report these things. Instead he opened Twitter to the #FuckGotham feed. Anything bad happening in Gotham showed up there first. It was his favorite way to figure out where Batman and Robin would be going next so he could get there in time to take pictures.

In less than a minute, he found what he was looking for. A tweet near the top read, 'Bank across the street from my apartment just blew up. Guess I need to find a new branch, preferably in another city #FuckGotham'

His heart stopped completely. Oh, no. That meant… Did they really..?

“Let me look at the cat,” Batman’s gruff voice said in his headphones and he almost fell out of his chair in relief. He hadn’t realized how tense he’d been until it left him all at once and he could barely sit up. 

“Careful,” Robin said. “I think he’s traumatized.” 

During the silence that followed, Tim tried to piece together what had happened. The bomb had clearly gone off, but the cat was fine. He’d been pretty sure the bomb was on the cat from what Robin had said, but a lot had happened all at once. 

Security cameras. He was going to figure out a way to hack them and then this would never happen to him again. He’d make something repeatable, that would let him pull up the footage quickly. 

“It appears uninjured and there are no obvious implants” Batman said. “I’m calling the Batmobile so that we can do a more complete check.”

“Do you think there’s a clue on him?”

“It’s possible, but unlikely. The cat itself is the clue. It’s a chimera. Two cats in one.”

Tim googled “chimera cat” and immediately understood why they suspected Two-Face. He’d seen Two-Face in person once, while precariously perched on a beam high above a warehouse floor. He’d been sure he was going to get caught that time, probably literally when he fell off, but he’d kept his balance and nobody noticed him. No picture of Two-Face had ever done him justice. The left side of his face looked like a pulsing, open wound, even years after the injury. It hadn't ever really healed. Tim didn't think it could heal.

He’d spent so long zooming in on Two-Face, adjusting the focus, trying to get the lighting just right to really catch his essence, that they’d ended up leaving before he took a single picture.

“So this was just, what?” Robin asked. “A distraction? An attempt to kill us?”

“Probably both.” Tim thought he heard a note of actual amusement in Batman's voice. Wow. He didn’t know the Batman voice could do amusement.

“Of course it was.” He could practically hear Robin rolling in his eyes. In his mind it was Dick, standing just behind Bruce and rolling his eyes at something stupid a socialite had said before their attention turned to him and he immediately revved up the charm. “So where is he now?”

“That’s what we need to figure out.”

Tim switched back to his Twitter tab. Even on slow nights, the #FuckGotham hashtag averaged a tweet a minute—people complaining about muggings, smog, assholes on the subway, vigilantes causing traffic jams, and obnoxious one-percenters. During the last Arkham breakout, it had increased to hundreds a minute, and Tim had needed to write a script to filter out people who hadn’t actually seen the heroes or villains in person. 

While Batman and Robin talked about where Two-Face might have gone, Tim scrolled down the feed. A few more people mentioned the explosion and a couple complained about sirens keeping them awake. One person, who clearly didn't know the purpose of the hashtag, wrote, 'Three lovely ladies in one night and more bars to hit! #FuckGotham' 

He almost scrolled past another bank tweet before realizing this one was different. '#FuckGotham Stupid drunk me jjsut walked pastk a bank robbery in progremss flm' 

Bank robbery? There were never any actual robbers at the bank Batman and Robin were at. The location under the tweet put it in the Coventry, at the opposite side of Gotham from where Batman and Robin's dots still lingered. 

Okay! Okay. That was something. He pulled up his script and changed the filter to only include tweets from the Coventry. 

There was another bank one fifteen minutes earlier. 'Lights on in the bank. Called the police and they said it was probably the cleaning crew. Sure it is. Incompetent idiots #fuckgotham' 

This was good! Well, not good, it was a bank robbery, but good for him. No, wait, not that either.

He shook it off. Neither of the tweets named the bank, but that was fine. How many banks could there be? He opened a map and searched for banks in the Coventry. Over two dozen icons popped up. Why were there so many banks? Didn’t they know how much crime was in Gotham? 

He almost growled in frustration. Why couldn’t people be considerate and include their location, full name, and any other pertinent information in their tweets? 

He scrolled back to the top, but the only new tweet was complaining about potholes from all the bombs dropped in last week’s car chase. 

He jerked the scroll bar up and down the feed, hand shaking with nervous energy, before finally clicking on the drunk guy’s account to see if it had any more information about where he'd be. 

'am i seeing dobule or do they have too getaway—'

Tim jumped to his feet before he even reached the end of the tweet. That was Two-Face! It had to be! He started over from the beginning. 'am i seeing dobule or do they have too getaway cars why would uneed that #fuckkgotham.' That was posted only a minute after the original tweet! He could have had this information five minutes ago but the guy spelled the hashtag wrong. If Tim was going to have to account for every drunk typo in the future, he was going to need much better scripts. 

But that still didn’t give him the name of the bank. He tapped his fingers on the keys without typing any letters for a full minute while he thought. Then he dropped the #FuckGotham hashtag and searched instead for tweets in the Coventry that said two. He tried two cars, two trucks, and then finally got a hit on two vans. 'I was crossing Dunster and almost got hit by two vans running a red light. Learn to drive, assholes'

Dunster at least narrowed his search. He went back to the map and looked for banks that were on or near Dunster Street. Three different branches of Bank of Gotham, a Coventry Savings, a United Trust Company, and an Ashvins Capital. He googled Ashvins and let out a whoop at the description on the first search result. 

'The Ashvins or Ashwini Kumaras in Hindu mythology, are two Vedic gods, divine twin horsemen in the Rigveda, sons of Saranyu, a goddess of the clouds and…' 

That was it. That had to be it. 

Just to confirm, he changed his Twitter filter to Ashvins and the very top tweet said, 'Large vans parked outside Ashvins. Might want to move your money before someone else does'

He'd done it. He'd found Two-Face before Batman and Robin. He was amazing.

Only problem was, Batman and Robin weren't heading that way. Their dots were on Second Street, which was an obvious theory, sure, but nobody on Twitter was saying anything about Second Street. 

He forced himself to breathe. He was sure they'd figure it out soon. Really soon. Any minute now. He stared at the screen and waited.

Batman sped down Second Street, dodging around the occasional vehicle like it was standing still. Robin had been involved in a few car chases outside of Gotham, and the civilian drivers were never so composed. One driver had even swerved right in front of him. He’d crashed his bike into the passenger side and gone flying. It was pure luck no one had gotten seriously injured. 

Not in Gotham, though. Gothamites didn’t even blink at cars swerving around them at a hundred miles-per-hour. It was like racing through a parking lot. 

He watched out the window for anything suspicious, mindlessly wiggling his fingers at the cat in his lap. They hadn’t found any evidence on him, and he was finally starting to act like a normal kitten again. He pounced Robin’s hand and gnawed on his index finger. Robin could barely feel his tiny teeth through the heavy kevlar glove.

Now they were just working their way down Batman’s list of number-two themed places in Gotham. Batman had put it together years ago, because of course he had. Second Street was at the top of the list, followed by the Second National Bank of Gotham, the Twin Spires, and the Snake Eyes Casino. At the bottom was the No. 2 pencil factory on the river. They’d never gotten that far, and he certainly hoped they wouldn’t tonight. That would take hours. 

“I don’t think he’s here, B,” Robin said as they reached the end of the street and the Batmobile swerved in a tight circle to face the direction they’d come from. “Do we want to try the casino? Ooh, or we could skip to the Double Shot Espresso Cafe. They have great muffins.”

“Focus, Robin.”

“Yeah, yeah. You know you love the muffins too. I’ll pick some up for breakfast later.”

Batman stared intently at the list on his dashboard computer. In another minute he’d announce some amazing revelation that completely explained the connection between the bank, the cat, and Two-Face’s ultimate plan, and then they’d be off to his current location. Batman had taught him deductive reasoning, and he’d learned enough to regularly impress his team, but here in Gotham he preferred to let Batman do the heavy thinking. 

He scrolled, paused. Scrolled a little further, paused. “The Second Chance Animal Shelter,” he finally announced with a tone of finality.

“Of course!” Robin exclaimed, feeling the urge to slap his face at how obvious it was. “But what would Two-Face want with an animal shelter?”

“I have no idea,” Batman said. “But I’m sure we’ll find out.”

They were idiots. Batman and Robin were idiots. How was that even possible? They solved so many crimes.

Okay, maybe the Second Chance Animal Shelter had something to do with this. Maybe that was where Two-Face got the cat from. But it wasn't where he was now, Tim was sure of it.

He pulled up Twitter and filtered for Second Chance in Gotham. His feed immediately filled with cute animals and tweets like, 'Got this adorable boy at Second Chance.' There were a few tweets from what looked like Second Chance’s official account too. He paused on one that showed a litter of kittens up for adoption just a few days earlier. One had the black and orange split face of a chimera cat. Okay, so maybe Batman wasn’t an idiot. He was still wrong. 

Had Two-Face seriously just walked into an animal shelter and said, “I want that one because it looks like me?” Tim wasted a minute trying to imagine it—Two-Face in his dapper suit, smiling as he picked up a cat and rubbed it against his face—before deciding, no, he must have sent a henchman. 

He tried a few more searches, but couldn’t find any evidence that anything had happened at or near the Second Chance Animal Shelter that night. Batman was wrong. Batman was wrong and he was right. Wow, how many people had ever had the opportunity to think that? Batman was wrong and he was right. It gave him a feeling of power. 

And of duty. He looked at the dots that represented Batman and Robin going in the wrong direction and felt the heavy weight of responsibility settle in his gut. 

His hand raised to the Bluetooth headset, touching the mouthpiece currently pushed down to his chest. It was made for speaking to other players in a game. If he could hear them, he could make them hear him. He only hesitated a few seconds before pulling up his code.

The Batmobile swerved to avoid a bike heading the opposite direction. Robin smiled and waved out the window in apology. He doubted the rider saw him, but he still considered it his job to make nice with the public. Batman certainly wasn’t going to do it. 

According to the dashboard computer, they were less than a minute from the animal shelter. He frowned at the kitten in his lap. Would he get into trouble by himself in the Batmobile if Robin left him here while they fought Two-Face? He was wondering if he could convince him to go to sleep in a cup holder when a voice spoke in his ear. 

“Hi? Hello? Um, hi?” The voice was young. High-pitched. Prepubescent male, probably. Robin’s gaze shot to the side, trying to meet Batman’s eyes, but B stayed stiff as a board, staring straight ahead at the road. “Hi? I know where Two-Face is, and it’s not at Second Chance. Or where he was. Um. Eight and a half minutes ago.” Robin thought he heard the sound of a keyboard in the background. “Okay, yeah, he should still be there. At least according to InfluentialLemon forty-two seconds ago. Forty-six seconds ago.” 

The comm went silent, even the background noise disappearing. Robin tried again to meet Batman’s eyes. The voice sounded more uncertain when it spoke again. “Can you hear me? I can’t tell if you can hear me when you don’t speak.”

Well, if Batman wasn’t going to tell him what to do, Robin would take charge. “We hear you.”

Batman immediately veered to the side of the road and glared at him. Oh, now he had an opinion, did he? Robin turned to look out the window so Batman couldn’t meet his eyes. Two could play that game.

“Oh! Good! Hi!” The voice paused. “How are you?”

“You said you had information on Two-Face?”

“Oh, right, haha, sorry. I just. Hi. I love your work.” The voice dropped to a hush. “Oh my god, I’m talking to Robin.” There was a muffled noise that might have been a squeal and Robin’s lips quirked up into a smile. Batman’s hand gripped his arm, but he ignored it. 

“Right, so,” he continued. Robin immediately recognized the voice kids used when they were trying to sound professional, with its lowered octave and stiff cadence. He’d heard it often enough from the younger members of his team. “He’s at Ashvins Capital on Dunster Street in the Coventry. It looks like he arrived about half an hour ago. I have witnesses stating that two vans were heading that direction at 1:41 AM, that there were lights on in the bank at 1:49 AM, and that there were two vans sitting outside the bank at 2:02 AM. The last witness also stated that there was a bank robbery in progress.”

That was surprisingly thorough. “Where are you getting your information?” he asked. Batman’s hand squeezed his arm tighter and he waved it away without looking. 

“Twitter.” Twitter? “Mostly the, um—” The voice lowered and Robin could imagine him looking furtively around himself before continuing. “—fudge Gotham hashtag.”

“Fudge Gotham?” Robin repeated.

“I mean.” He sounded embarrassed. “It doesn’t say fudge.”

Robin slapped a hand over his mouth, barely containing a laugh. “How old are you?”


“What are you doing up at—” He glanced at the clock, and Batman took the opportunity to hold up his hand in a clear cease and desist signal. Robin ignored him. ”—2:13 in the morning?”

“I was watching alien movies, and then I decided to look for aliens, and then I found your signal.”

“ just found our signal? While looking for aliens?” This time Batman went for the cat in his lap and Robin whipped around to glare at him, holding the cat closer protectively. Batman held up a hand with his index finger and thumb pressed together and pointing up. He separated them and pressed them back together twice. What are you doing?

Robin held up four spread fingers and touched his index finger to his mouth. Talking

Batman held his hand up with his palm facing Robin. He didn’t need to be trained in ASL to understand that one. Stop

“Well, it did take me an hour,” the kid said like that was explanation enough. “Shouldn’t you be going after Two-Face? You’ve just been sitting in the same spot for three minutes. That’s not Second Chance or Ashvins.”

He and Batman both stiffened at that. “How do you know that?”

“I told you. I’m tracking your signal.” Robin was sure that wasn’t what he’d said before. At least not how he’d said it. 

Could work for Two-Face, Batman signed. Robin didn’t think so. The kid sounded young. Not just his voice, but the way he spoke. That would be hard to fake. Still, he was more wary than he’d been before. He pulled up Twitter on his phone to check the intel for himself.

“Hello?” the voice asked when they didn’t respond.

“What’s your name?” Robin asked to stall. He typed #fuckgotham into Twitter and was surprised at the number of results. Were people really this mad at Gotham?

Actually, he thought, pausing mid-swipe. Nevermind. He wasn’t surprised. 

“Oh, uh…”  Batman’s mouth twisted suspiciously at the kid’s hesitation, but it just made Robin believe him more. He would have been suspicious if the ten-year-old did immediately tell them his name. “It’s, um… Chirp.”

Robin raised his eyebrows, mask stretching against his face, and glanced at Batman. “Chirp?”

“Yeah!” the kid said, sounding more confident. “Like the sound a bird makes. Chirp.”

Tim nervously watched the dots on his screen. Why weren’t they moving? The whole reason he was talking to them was to point them in the right direction quicker. At this rate, they could have already gotten to Second Chance, realized it was wrong, and started considering other possibilities if he hadn’t spoken to them. They’d stopped talking too. What were they doing? He really needed to figure out this camera thing. 

“Hello?” he asked, pulling up a separate window and thinking about how to hack the cameras. First thing he needed was a script that could recognize, locate, and map any cameras in the area. He just wasn’t sure how to start something like that. 

“What’s your name?” 

He stilled, hands hovering over the keyboard. “Oh, uh…” He shouldn’t tell them his real name. That much he knew. Superheroes never shared their real names, and he was totally a superhero now. He was talking to Robin. He’d figured out Two-Face’s plan before Batman. If that didn’t make him a superhero, he wasn’t sure what did. 

“It’s um…” He should have a bird theme, like Robin, and maybe something to do with the radio? His eyes caught on the Twitter tab and he thought, Tweet, but he was not going to have a Twitter themed name, oh my god. Think of the memes. They wouldn’t be nice memes. He liked the idea of a bird sound though. Caw? Cluck? Quack? Chirp? “Chirp,” he said, the moment the name occurred to him. 

“Chirp?” Robin repeated. 

“Yeah!” he said. That was good. That was great, actually. “Like the sound a bird makes. Chirp.”

Robin didn’t immediately respond, probably because he was also admiring how great the name was. 

“Well, Chirp, your intel looks good. Thank you for giving us a heads up.” Tim felt a thrill of pride, but then the dots started moving, and it wasn’t towards the bank. 

“Where are you going?”

“We’re still going to do a quick run by Second Chance, just to make sure.”

“But Two-Face is going to get away!” He cut himself off as soon as he recognized the whiny tone his parents had told him to never use again if he wanted to be taken seriously. They meant around their rich friends, but he was sure it applied here too. He took a deep breath and tried to sound more adult and logical. “I mean he’s already been there for over half an hour so he probably won’t stay much longer. You should focus your attention on the most likely target.”

“Already here. We’ll be in and out.” 

Tim resisted the urge to whine again. Superheroes didn’t whine, and he was a superhero.

“Why is the cat in your utility belt?” Batman asked as they entered a second-floor window of the animal shelter. 

Robin looked down at the cat sticking his head out of one of the big yellow pockets. He seemed perfectly content, head swivelling back and forth to observe their surroundings.

“You know, I’m not sure?” Robin said. “I got distracted.”

“Hm.” Batman opened a door to a room full of cats. Most of them glanced up lazily from perches on cat towers or where they were curled up in beds, but a couple stretched and walked towards them. “Perhaps we should drop it off as long as we’re here.”

“No way, B. I’m keeping him.” He scratched the top of his cat’s head and he purred, vibrating against his stomach.

“Robin.” B’s voice had a low tone of warning that Robin was well-versed at ignoring.

“I’ve already named him so there are no takebacks,” he said cheerfully. “His name is Chimichanga.” 

“Robin,” Batman repeated, voice dropping lower. This was the voice he used for particularly dangerous rogues and disobedient children.

“Chimichanga the Chimera Cat,” he said, grinning widely at Batman’s glare.

Batman turned and walked out of the room. A cat rubbed against Robin’s leg and he knelt down to pet it. “Sorry, but I can’t take you home. I already have a cat.” 

“You know, according to Wikipedia all chimera cats are female, so Chimichanga is probably a girl,” the kid, Chirp, said in his ear. 

"This is exactly the kind of important, hard-hitting intel we pay you for," Robin quipped. Batman scowled, but he could practically hear the kid beaming.

The hallway walls were lined with pictures of happy, adopted animals—dogs playing fetch, cats sprawling in sunbeams. Many of them had pictures of people with them, probably their new owners. Batman inspected them as they passed, pausing to look closer at pictures of orange and black cats before moving on. 

The hallway ended in a small but friendly reception area. Tables with colorful, mismatched chairs and plastic bins of blank adoption forms were scattered throughout the room. A sign to their left said, “Our Team.” A dozen framed, professionally taken photographs hung underneath. It could be the partners wall in a law firm, except all of the pictures were of people acting silly with animals. One person was completely covered in kittens—seven in her arms, two on her shoulders, and one on top of her head. Another looked like it was just a picture of a St. Bernard, except for the shoulders and tufts of red hair just barely peeking out behind the large animal. 

To their right, a bulletin board exclaimed in large, comic sans print, “FIND A NEW FRIEND!” Over a hundred polaroid pictures, clearly taken in the shelter, were pinned to it. Batman and Robin approached the board. Stickers with cute cartoon animals playing on top of the word “Adopted!” were stuck to several of them. 

“There’s your cat,” Batman said, pointing to a picture near the center. 

“So you admit she’s mine,” Robin said.

Batman ignored him. “It doesn’t say adopted. She wasn’t taken through legal means.” 

Robin continued looking at the picture while Batman moved on to search the reception desk. In it, Chimichanga was standing on her hind legs, batting at the camera. “That’s you,” he said to the cat in his pouch, scritching her head. She purred again. He looked around but didn’t see the stickers, so he grabbed the next best thing—a sticky note and a pen. 

“Two-Face has clearly moved on,” Batman said, walking up behind him. “Let’s go.” 

“One second, B,” Robin replied. He quickly scribbled “ADOPTED!” on the sticky note, complete with a doodle of a cat. He stuck it to Chimichanga’s picture and turned around. Batman was watching him, stone-faced as ever. Robin smiled back.  

“You can’t leave that there,” Batman said. 

“Just letting them know Chimi was adopted so they don’t worry.” He lifted Chimichanga out of his pouch and held her towards Batman. “Wouldn’t you worry about this pretty face if it went missing?”

“That very recognizable face is part of the issue.”

“Oh calm down, B. You don’t always need to be so paranoid.” He put Chimi back in her pouch and started towards the door. “Don’t we have a supervillain to catch? He still at Ashvins Capital, Chirp?”

Chirp made a startled noise, like he thought they’d forgotten he was there. “Oh, um, let me check.” There was less than a second’s pause. “I don’t have anything saying he’s left, but I’ll try a few more filters to see if anything else comes up.”


Batman strode past Robin towards the window they’d entered through. Robin glanced back at the reception area. Chances were good Batman had removed the sticky note while he was talking to Chirp. When he didn’t see the bright yellow square, he started to sigh in familiar resignation. Then his eyes caught on Chimichanga’s picture. An official “Adopted!” sticker was now stuck to the top right corner. He smiled, and turned to follow Batman out the window. 

Chapter Text

Tim prayed his parents weren’t coming home anytime soon, because his room was a complete disaster. Equipment from the closet was flung all over the floor, he’d completely dismantled a handheld game console for its parts, and most of the books and pencils that were normally on his desk were now under it. Maybe he should clean while Batman and Robin were busy investigating the totally wrong location. He was hesitant to leave the computer though, and his fingers itched to continue working on his surveillance code. The room could wait. If his parents even came back this month, he’d be surprised. 


Oh, shoot, that was Robin. Robin asked him something, and he wasn’t paying attention. He forced his mind to replay the last few seconds and found that it did, in fact, contain the question he was looking for. Two-Face. Was Two-Face still at Ashvins Capital. “Oh, um, let me check.” He refreshed the Twitter feed and nothing changed. “I don’t have anything saying he left, but I’ll try a few more filters and see if anything else comes up.” He winced at how stupid he sounded. 

“Thanks!” Robin didn’t seem to care, and that’s all that mattered. Warmth spread through his cheeks and he felt the urge to hide his face even though no one could see him. 

Focus. Robin gave him a task.  

He ran through search terms, keeping the location focused on Gotham. Ashvins, Two-Face, bank robbery, two vans. By the time he had something, the little dots representing Batman and Robin were speeding up Taylor Boulevard. 

“Hi, Robin?” he asked, hating how uncertain his voice sounded. He needed to sound confident and maybe a little commanding. He imagined commanding Batman and Robin and his whole body tensed up. Okay, just confident then.

“What do you have?” Robin asked. Batman stayed completely silent. It made him nervous. Batman clearly didn’t want anything to do with him, and that broke the heart of the little kid inside him that idolized Batman. It was okay. He’d win Batman over eventually. 

“It sounds like they’re starting to evacuate the bank.” Evacuate was a good word, he thought. Big and strong sounding. “With their illicitly gained goods.” Even better. The more big words he could sprinkle into his vocabulary, the smarter he sounded and the more they’d trust him. “I’ve got witnesses testifying that hooligans are bundling banknotes in the posterior of a vehicle.” 

A long silence followed his statement. Then Robin asked, “What were their exact words?”

“Uh. 'Just saw a couple bank robbers stuff a years worth of my salary in their trunk. I need a new job'.”

“Great! Thanks!” Robin said cheerfully.

“You’re welcome!” he replied quickly, then winced again. How did he even manage to make ‘you’re welcome’ sound dumb?

Tim tapped his fingers anxiously while he watched their dots slowly move across Gotham. Everything took so long. There had to be more he could do to help right now. The surveillance code wouldn’t be done in time. The thought of going out there in person flashed across his mind, but that was even less useful. There was no way he’d get there before Batman and Robin, and this was more likely to turn into a high speed chase than to stay in one location anyway. 

His fingers stopped tapping. It was more likely to turn into a high speed chase. He opened his Twitter code so quickly he accidentally clicked it closed and had to open it again. He forced himself to stop and just think. Location services on Twitter weren’t exact enough for what he needed, but if he could track a moving radio signal, he could track where someone was tweeting from. Their phones knew where they were. Their IP addresses knew where they were. He just needed them to tell him where they were. 

Once that was done, he set up an alert, a high-pitched ping, for every time one of his terms was hit within the city limits of Gotham. 'Van', 'Vans', 'Speed', 'Speeding', 'Chase'. What else? The woman earlier had complained about a van almost hitting her, but 'hit' was too vague. 'Ran over'? 'Red light' and 'Stop sign', as in running them. 'Curb', as in going over the curb. 'Crosswalk'? He tried to put himself in the mindset of an angry civilian ranting about bad drivers, and just imagined an old man standing in the middle of a crosswalk shaking his fist at disappearing headlights.

The first ping on his new system sounded before he even finished coming up with terms. He pulled up the tweet. 'A van drove straight over the curb and nearly hit my poor Delilah!!! She’s traumatized for life! Now she’ll never be able to pee without looking over her shoulder'

Location put them two blocks from Ashvins. Tim’s heart jumped. This was going to work. 

“Heads up. They’re on the move. I’ve got them at the corner of Chambers Avenue and West 20th.”

A long silence followed his proclamation. Those silences made him nervous. He was always sure there was some communication going on between Batman and Robin that he couldn’t see. 

“Where are you getting this?” Robin asked.

“Twitter,” Tim said, distracted by a second ping. He pulled up the new tweet.

'Fuck Gotham—' Use the tag, Tim thought. '—and fuck the colorblind assholes that don’t recognize a red light when they see it. I’m lucky to be alive'

“You can’t possibly be getting all of this from Twitter.”

“I added some of my own programming,” Tim said, zooming in on his map. “They’re on Carol Street now, heading towards Wayne Tower.” 

“Which you can tell from Twitter.”

“Yes! Now are you going to go after them or not?” He gasped and covered his mouth, eyes wide. He just yelled at Robin. What was wrong with him? Why would he do that? “Sorry,” he squeaked.

Robin glanced sidelong at Batman. He believed the kid, really he did, but even he was starting to have some doubts. Chirp was either some kind of mad scientist, or he was lying. But why would he claim to get his information from Twitter if he was lying? It made no sense. 

They were almost to the bank, but Carol Street was between them and Ashvins. If they trusted the kid, then they should swerve off to intercept the van. If they didn’t trust the kid, then why were they heading to Ashvins at all?

He raised his hand in question, and saw Batman’s eyes barely flick towards him. B’s hands tightened on the wheel. Then he swerved towards Carol Street. 

“We’re on our way,” Robin said. “Where are they now?”

“I’ll tell you when I know.” 

When he knew? When would he know? “So, Twitter?” he tried again.

“Yes.” Well, that didn’t answer anything. “Okay, they’re on Van Brundt Street, by Saint Mary’s.”

B swerved onto a parallel street, going close to 200 miles per hour. He should be able to cut them off easily. Assuming they were actually there. 

“Wait,” Chirp said. He sounded confused. 

When he didn’t continue, Robin prompted, “What?”

“I’ve got another spotting on the other side of the city, in the Bowery. I think the vans split up.”

“A spotting?”

“Yes,” Chirp said impatiently. “On Twitter.”

Ohhhhhh. It finally clicked what Chirp was doing. Robin still had no idea how the kid was making it work, but at least he wasn’t so confused anymore. 

“Got it. Focus on the van we’re after for now, but track where the other one is going.” 

B’s head tilted towards him, probably noticing his change in tone. Then he swerved hard past the Gotham Opera House and onto Van Brundt. Headlights disappeared around a corner two blocks ahead of them. Robin hadn’t seen them long enough to tell if it was a van, but he still felt a rush of relief. He’d been right to trust the kid. They swerved around the corner seconds later.

The van—and it was a van, thank god—lurched onto one of the thin, one-lane bridges crossing into the narrows. As they followed, Robin spotted a disgruntled looking woman standing up and dusting herself off. The van must have barely missed her. 

The bridge rattled as they sped over it. These were some of the oldest bridges in Gotham, and they weren’t made for two-hundred-mile-per-hour speeds. They were barely made for morning traffic. 

The van in front of them was driving erratically, aimed a little off center towards the railing instead of the other side. Dick wondered if it was because the driver was looking over their shoulder at the Batmobile quickly catching up. 

And then the van exploded. 

A fireball erupted where the van had been, completely consuming it. B slammed on the breaks, swerving the Batmobile in a tight circle. Robin watched out the window, twisting his neck to keep the fireball in view as it plummeted in a way that didn’t quite make sense, like it was passing through the bridge, and then it was gone and Robin could see the gaping hole it left behind just as the Batmobile’s back wheels squealed against the neighboring pavement. The whole car tipped backwards for a dangerously slow few seconds before Batman slammed on the rocket propulsion igniter and the car shot forward like it was taking flight. 

Robin half stood in his seat, scanning the road for the poor woman from before to make sure they didn’t accidentally run her over, but she was gone. 

“What happened?” Chirp asked. “Why are you going backwards?”

Robin didn’t immediately answer. The Batmobile squealed to a stop a few yards from where the bridge used to be. He had a feeling that, come next rush hour, the #fuckgotham hashtag was going to be busy.  

“Why did you stop?” Chirp asked. “Did you lose the van? I… I don’t have anything new on that one yet, but I’ve been tracking the other one. It’s up by the Botanical Gardens right now, heading towards the stadium.” Batman climbed out of the car and went to the back. Probably getting flares to block off the road. “Robin?” Chirp asked, voice small.

“The van exploded,” Robin said.

“W-what?” Chirp stuttered. “It... It must have been a decoy. I can direct you to the other one. Um. It… looks like it’s almost to the Lincoln Bridge.” He sounded uncertain. Robin knew why. The moment the van left city limits, his crowdsourcing system wasn’t going to work. There weren’t a lot of people complaining about traffic in the woods across the river. 

“Hold on a sec, okay?” 

Chirp made an affirmative noise as Robin climbed out of the car. Batman was igniting flares and spreading them across the road. The unnaturally bright light against his dark suit made him look more like a demon than the darkness ever did. Hopefully it would be enough to keep anyone from driving straight off the road into the river until the police could set up a proper roadblock. 

When Robin approached, Batman turned to face him and raised a hand to his communicator. Robin mirrored his actions as he took it out of his ear and turned it off. 

“This isn’t Chirp’s fault,” Robin said before Batman could start. He’d been a jerk about Chirp all night, and Robin didn’t expect that to end now.

“He could have been leading us into a trap,” Batman said.

Robin snorted derisively. “You can’t really believe that. You heard his reaction when I told him the van exploded.”

“He could be a talented actor.” 

“B, trust me on this. I know people.” He tried to repress the swell of frustration bubbling beneath his skin. Outside of Gotham, he was a leader, a great detective, a hero in his own right. But in Gotham, he was a sidekick. He let Batman lead, investigate, be the hero, and B couldn’t even trust him on the things that he was best at. 

"There are only two options here," Batman said, tone flat and not revealing any of what he was thinking. "Either he's lying and he's a threat to us. A villain disguising his voice. A reporter trying to get information about who we are and our activities."

The bubbling threatened to become a volcano. He could feel it like spurts of lava preparing to spew out. “I really don't think—" 

Batman held up a hand to stop him and continued, "Or. He's telling the truth and he's a ten-year-old child."

The volcano abruptly calmed back to a simmer. Even in the sidekick biz, ten was really young. It didn’t matter if he was only on the radio; he’d be in danger. A villain could find him and use him, or just outright kill him to hurt them. And even if that didn't happen, he would be staying up too late, ignoring studies, not sleeping enough, pursuing them on a path he never should have been on. He wasn’t a member of their family. He wasn’t an orphan looking for revenge. He was just a kid messing around on his computer. They could ruin his life.

He sighed and squeezed the bridge of his nose. "Right. You're right. I'm sorry. I’ll talk to him."

Batman nodded and didn't say anything else as Robin turned his comm back on. 

"Hey, Chirp?" he asked, walking away from Batman into the weeds at the side of the road. He heard the tone change in his own voice. He was sure Chirp did too.

"Yeah? I mean, yes?" he replied. Robin had to smile. Even as uncertain as Chirp’s voice was, he was still trying to sound professional. Another sign of him trying to act older than he was.

"Thank you for your help tonight." He meant it. Even if it didn’t work out, Chirp had provided them with valuable intel.

"Oh! Yes, of course." He sounded so happy that Robin just felt worse. This must be what firing someone felt like. 

He crouched, inspecting the weeds with way more concentration than they deserved. He brushed his hand over where they looked recently flattened. "But I think it's better if we don't speak to you again."

"...what?" Chirp asked quietly, stuttering. Robin bunched his hand in the grass. 

"I'm sorry. You're just really young, and there are other things you should be doing."

“I… I’m really sorry about the van.” The longer he spoke the more his words sped up, like he wanted to make sure he said as much as he could before Robin cut him off. “I didn’t know it was a decoy. I’m working on some scripts that will help me see what’s going on better.” 

“It’s not that,” Robin said firmly. “You should focus on school. Friends.” He laughed self-deprecatingly. “Trust me, this life isn’t all it’s made out to be.”

"You can't stop me from helping." Chirp’s voice took on a sharper edge. 

Robin smiled. He was sure he’d said the same exact thing to Batman more than a few times. It was weird being on this side of the argument. "Yes, we can. We'll change the signal."

"Then I'll hack it again."

Robin laughed. "You can try. Bye, Chirp." Chirp started to reply, and Robin was damned sure it wasn’t to say goodbye, but he didn’t hear it. He turned off the comm and took it out of his ear. 

Batman was waiting at the edge of the cliff, looking down into the dark river when Robin approached. Probably looking for clues. Or survivors. Someone must have been driving the van at some point. 

"Well, I feel like shit," Robin said.

"It's for the best." Batman held his hand towards Robin, his comm in his open palm. Robin put his own comm beside it, and Batman threw them both out into the darkness. There were two soft plops in the water far below.

"Yeah," Robin said, taking a slow breath. "For the best."

The dots were no longer on his map. The shape of Gotham blurred as tears welled in his eyes and he angrily brushed them away. He replayed everything that had happened, trying to figure out where he’d gone wrong. Maybe he shouldn't have told them his age. Maybe if he had been a little better, a little more professional. 

Tears stung the corners of his eyes and he tried to blink them back. Maybe he did mess up, but this wasn't over. Robin had given him an out. You can try.

He would try. He would try over and over again, and eventually they would accept him. 

He breathed slow, deep breaths until his eyes stopped burning. Then he opened the window for his surveillance code. He didn't think he could finish it tonight, but he could at least complete a significant chunk before Mrs. Mac came back to get him up for school. He didn't need to sleep. Sleep was for the weak, and he was a superhero. 

Chapter Text

Chapter 4

Two Years Later

It was only Jason’s third night wearing the mask. He couldn’t quite think of himself as Robin yet. Robin was a legend. The fantasy he had on cold nights curled up in a box hoping whatever was causing those screams wouldn’t find him next. It wasn’t a reality. Not for him

He practiced introducing himself while loitering on a roof, waiting for Bruce—Batman—to return from whatever top secret mission he’d decided was too dangerous for Jason. Jason had to clamp down on his instinctive disgust at some rich idiot with a silver spoon up his ass thinking anything was too dangerous for a kid who’d spent the last three years on the street. This wasn’t an overbearing prick who'd taken a wrong turn into Crime Alley. It was Batman. It still rankled, though. 

“I’m Robin,” he told the chimney sternly. Okay, that wasn’t right at all. He’d hesitated before saying Robin. And wasn’t he supposed to be smiling? The old Robin had always smiled. Bruce had gone through all the trouble of dyeing his hair black to look like the old Robin. He must want him to act like the old Robin too. 

“I’m Robin,” he repeated, this time with his mouth twisted into the facsimile of a smile. He was out of practice. There wasn’t much reason to smile on the street, and smiling at strangers just made you look like an easy target. 

He took a deep breath. Forced himself to relax. Tried to make the smile more natural. “I’m Robin,” he said.

“I was wondering,” a voice replied and he twirled to look behind him. That wasn’t Batman’s voice. It sounded like a little kid. He scoured the roof but couldn’t find any trace of the speaker. He knew better than to think that made him safe.

“Who’s there?” he asked, and winced. He’d defaulted to his street voice. Too deep and intimidating. Not Robin enough.

“Chirp,” the voice replied, without further explanation. Like he was supposed to know who that was. A repeat offender maybe? “And you aren’t Robin.” 

“Yes, I am.” He tried grinning the patented Robin grin. He couldn’t see it, but it felt wrong. Everything about him was wrong, and he was already going up against a villain. The whole Arkham crowd was gonna know before the end of his first week that he wasn’t the real Robin.

That he was a different Robin. He was real. 

“No, you’re not,” Chirp said, and Jason scowled. “Robin’s a lot taller and looks less like a starving puppy.”

Jason whipped around again, searching the shadows for where this guy was hiding. 

“I’m not there,” Chirp said. “I’m watching you through the cameras.” 

Jason’s eyes rose to a security camera in the corner of the roof, then darted quickly to another one on a different building. He’d been so aware of security cameras on the streets, staying out of their sight anytime he did anything he didn’t want recorded, but he hadn’t even thought to look for them up here. He’d felt safe on the rooftops. 

Feeling safe was always a mistake.

Then his hand rose to his ear, to the comm he still wasn’t used to. It was so perfectly shaped to fit in his ear, he kept forgetting it was there. His first night out, he accidentally went to sleep with it still in. His second night, Alfred pointedly took it from him as soon as he got back to the cave. 

He was so dumb. How had he not noticed the voice was coming from the comm? He scrambled to take it out.

“Wait, wait, don’t,” Chirp said, breaking his calm veneer for the first time.

Jason already had the comm out, but he held it close enough to hear. “I’m not going to be a pawn to some two-bit villain.” 

“Vi—I’m not—why do people always think I’m a villain?” Chirp whined. He sounded genuinely flustered, but Jason wasn’t ready to give him a pass yet. 

“I don’t know,” he said sarcastically. “Maybe it’s the whole creepy ‘I’m watching you through the cameras’ thing.” The more he looked around, the more cameras he saw. Jesus. He was not going to sleep tonight. 

I thought that was neat,” Chirp said, sounding every bit like one of the younger street kids when they’d done something that was gonna get them all in trouble but was still insisting it was a good idea. Jason suppressed a smile. He hoped those kids were doing okay without him there. He should sneak out to check on them. “Do you know how hard it is to program a script that will work on every camera in Gotham? I do. ‘Cause I did it.” 

“I’m sure I could do it too,” Jason said, just to get a rise out of him. Truth was, computers were his weakest link in the Robin training. Even before being homeless, he hadn’t had many opportunities to use computers, let alone do the kind of incredible shit Bruce wanted from him. Alfred had assured him that Dick had been bad at computers when he started too, but Jason didn’t believe Mr. Perfect had ever been less than amazing at anything he tried. 

“You could not,” Chirp said, affronted. Jason’s smile grew. Actually, he felt like he could pull off the Robin grin now. He pushed it a little wider, a little more mischievous. That felt right.

“Of course, I could. I’m Robin.” It felt real that time, sending a flutter down his spine. He was Robin. “I can do anything.” 

“That’s not even true of Batman,” Chirp muttered. He was sulking. Good.

“So what’s your villainous plan?” Jason asked, popping the comm back into his ear. He didn’t really think this kid was a villain anymore. If he was, he certainly wasn’t one of the heavy hitters. It was more fun to keep prodding him though. 

“I’m not a villain!” he exclaimed. “I’ve worked with Batman and Robin! Multiple times!”

“Funny, they never mentioned you.” 

Chirp didn’t immediately respond. Maybe that was too mean. It was true, though. Jason had to do six months of training before being let out in the pixie boots, including an extensive review of their enemies and allies, and Chirp had never come up. 

“They don’t trust me either,” he eventually muttered, each word like pulling teeth. “Or they think I’m too young. Or something.”

“How old are you?” Jason asked. He thought of the littler kids that he’d tried to protect on the streets. The ones he actually tried to convince to go to a home, ‘cause yeah, foster homes sucked, no doubt about that, but the little ones would never make it through a winter outdoors without resorting to much worse. 


“Pft,” Jason snorted. “That’s plenty old.” Only a year younger than him.

“I know, right!” Chirp said. “I mean, I was ten when I started.”

“Still plenty old,” Jason said. “At ten I was already jacking tires to make rent.” He realized belatedly that was probably too much information to give a stranger about his identity, but whatever. Wasn’t like there weren’t plenty of kids in the same situation as him, and maybe it would turn Chirp’s attention away from rich boy Brucie, who acted like he didn’t even know how to change a tire. He grimaced at the memory of Bruce’s second, less enjoyable, alter ego. 

“I can do a lot of neat stuff too. Wanna see?”

Jason scanned the rooftops for Bruce. No sign of him yet. Whatever he was occupied with sure was taking a long time. If B had turned down Chirp’s help before then he probably wouldn’t like Jason talking to him now, but whatever. Jason wasn’t about to let some billionaire dictate what he could or couldn’t do, even if that billionaire was Batman. “Sure.”

“See that window in front of you, two down and three to the right?” Before Jason could respond, a light flickered on in the window.

“Are you in that apartment?” Jason asked, body already tensing in anticipation of a fight he didn’t actually think was coming. His body often jumped the gun on that kind of thing. 

“No. They have Hue lights, you know the ones that you can control with your phone and change colors?” Jason had never heard of them, but he got the idea.

“You can hack into them?” he asked. 

“Yes!” Chirp said gleefully, sounding very proud of himself. Three other lights in the building popped on at once. Not a lot in the grand scheme of things, but certainly something. All four lights transitioned from yellow to red, then green, before shutting off. Robin colors. “People put lots of things online. That first apartment? I can control their lights, their thermostat, their security system, their roomba, even their locks.”

The thermostat one he knew. He couldn’t think of what it was called, but he’d seen one at the house of a kid he’d been partnered with for a school project. “I am never, ever using one of those things,” Jason said. 

“Probably for the best,” Chirp agreed. “If I can do it, other people can.”

“Like me,” Jason replied automatically.

“You cannot!” Chirp said. “I meant older people! With degrees! Who are almost as smart as me.” 

Jason laughed. Chirp was a fucking dweeb. “So, this shit do anything useful? Other than put on light shows and convince people their homes are haunted?” Actually, now that he thought about it, he might sick Chirp on that kid he’d been partnered with. The asshole had gone and left him to do all the work while he’d played video games. 

“Well, not as of yet exactly, but I’m sure…” he trailed off. Jason waited a few seconds, but Chirp didn’t finish his sentence.

“Circuit break, robot boy?” 

“Hm? Oh, no, I just... think there’s a break-in across the street from you? I was messing with some cameras for my next demonstration and—”

Jason was already running as Chirp finished his explanation with something about masked men with crowbars. He jumped off the roof with only a small hesitation. This was his first time using the grapple without Bru—Batman right there, and most of his practice was still in the cave. The grapple found its target without issue though. “Where are they exactly?” he asked as he swung smoothly towards the opposite building. 

“First floor, right side of the building, jewelry store,” Chirp said, voice all business. “They’re already inside. They set off a silent alarm opening the window. And… several more silent alarms smashing jewelry cases. They’re not exactly master criminals.”

“Can you see them?” Jason asked. He landed on his tiptoes on the crown molding between the first and second floors rather than landing on the ground. The Robin uniform wasn’t made for stealth, but Batman had taught him all the ways to avoid notice before, you know, painting a giant target on himself. He crept along the molding until he was directly above the already open jewelry store window. 

“Yes,” Chirp said. “There are three of them. Two of them are holding crowbars. The third just has a bag. I don’t see any guns but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any. One time—”

“Got it,” Jason said, interrupting whatever unimportant story Chirp was about to tell. He gripped the edge of the molding and swung down through the window. His feet hit one of the thugs, slamming him facedown on the ground. Jason landed on his back and struck his best devil-may-care hero pose. “Hey, boys.”

The two upright criminals stared at him. “The fuck?” one said. The other threw his crowbar at him, missing by a mile. Chirp was right, these guys weren’t exactly the cream of the crop. He knew nine-year-olds that could pull off better heists. It would probably be good for his first solo bust if it weren’t so embarrassing for everyone involved.  

The guy under him groaned, so Jason kicked him in the head before doing a totally sick front flip off of him. Yeah, the flying Dickhead probably would have added a couple dozen twists and turns and maybe a light show, but he was an over-the-top moron. Jason was being efficient. 

He spread three birdarangs between his fingers and said, “Tell you what. Give up now and I’ll go easy on you.” Both men rushed him like the idiots they were. “Warned you,” Jason said, before throwing all three birdarangs in a single, smooth motion. One hit the first man’s hand, causing him to scream and drop the bag of goods he was swinging like a bola. Another embedded in the second guy’s shoulder, sending him to the ground yelling like he’d been shot. The third shaved an inch off a display case and disappeared into the shadows behind it. Oh well. It was still an awesome shot. 

“Behind you,” Chirp said urgently, and Jason twirled. The man he’d landed on was up, his crowbar raised. 

Red emergency lights flickered on and off behind him, and the man flinched, turning with the word ‘Batman’ forming on his lips. When nothing happened, he hesitated, and Jason took the opportunity to kick the crowbar out of his hand. 

“Was that good?” Chirp asked.

Jason—no, Robin. He was Robin—punched the guy in the face just like Batman had shown him, and he collapsed like a sack of potatoes. “That was great,” he said. 

“Robin, where are you?” He froze at Batman’s voice in his ear. He hadn’t thought about it before, but shouldn’t Batman have heard him talking to Chirp? Why didn’t he say anything earlier?

“Just cleaning up some scum, B,” he said as he stepped over to zip-tie Bag Guy’s wrists behind his back. He looked the most likely to attack, despite not having a weapon. 

“You were supposed to stay on the roof,” Batman said. He really hadn’t heard the whole Chirp thing, had he? Chirp must have done something to the comm. He certainly wasn’t talking now.

“You really expect me to stand by while crime is happening?” He finished zip-tying the three guys, kicking the one who threw the crowbar at him again for good measure. 

“I expect you to follow orders.” 

Robin tried to gauge how angry he sounded. Was this a ‘you’re being pulled from patrol until you learn to follow orders’ level of angry or an ‘I’m impressed with your initiative but still need to emphasize the importance of listening to me’ level of angry? He was pretty sure he could push it into the latter group with the right prodding. 

“What are you training me for if not doing the right thing when I see bad shit happening?” 

Batman didn’t immediately respond. As far as Robin was concerned, that was a victory.

Sirens were approaching, probably in response to the many silent alarms Chirp had mentioned earlier. “Well, boys, it was fun, but it’s time for me to take off. Kick your asses later!” He flipped them off, which probably wasn’t the most Robin move, but whatever. Robin was his now. He got to give it his own flare. 

He grappled back up to the roof. He didn’t immediately see Batman, but knew that was just because B had a thing for theatrics. He waited patiently until Batman stepped out from the shadow of a large air conditioning unit. 

“Ooh, scary,” he said, grinning at B’s responding glare. 

“I… appreciate your desire to help,” B started slowly. Yes. Robin had totally won this round. “But orders exist for your safety. Next time you see a robbery happening, and I’m not here, contact me.” 

There was a lot he could have said to that. That he didn’t want to interrupt Batman’s important solo mission, or it was too urgent to wait, or he was distracted by a certain voice in his head. Instead he said, “Sure thing, B.” 

That seemed to satisfy him, at least for now. He turned with a dramatic swish of his cape and said, “Let’s move.”

Definitely a win. Robin fought down a grin as he started to follow. 

Something flickered in the corner of his eye. He turned to scan the closest windows, looking for what had caught his attention, and it happened again. Two windows down, and three to the right, a green-tinged light flicked on and off.

He barely lifted a hand in response, knowing that wherever Chirp was, he would see. Then he followed Batman into the night.

Chapter Text

The new Robin was funny. Not like ‘haha, great joke’ funny. More like ‘completely disorienting and a little disturbing to see someone other than Dick Grayson in the costume’ funny. Tim watched him run across rooftops after Batman. He didn’t have Dick’s natural grace—he winced as Robin tripped over a parapet but caught himself before Batman could notice—or Dick’s acrobatic ability, or Dick’s glowing personality, or Dick’s anything really. Despite that, it was nice to have Robin back. The city had felt wrong without him. 

A sharp knock and rattling of his doorknob startled Tim and his fingers immediately landed on Alt P. All of his tabs switched out with bland social media accounts. It was a necessary precaution when his parents were in town. The knock was just a pretense of privacy. Half the time they only knocked after the door was already open.

“Facebook, again?” his mother said with obvious disdain. She didn’t approve of Facebook, but she’d approve of what he was actually doing even less. 

“All my friends are on it, Mom.” It wasn’t true. He only had one friend on Facebook. But he wanted his mom to see his actual social media accounts even less than he wanted her to find out about Chirp. 

“If all your friends jumped off a bridge, would you?” she asked. He had to resist rolling his eyes. She wouldn’t appreciate it. 

“Can I see why they’re jumping?” he asked logically. “Is there danger?”

His mom gave him a thoroughly unimpressed look, but moved on to why she was actually invading his room. She held up a cream colored envelope with a red seal. Even with most of the envelope obscured by her hand, he immediately recognized Bruce Wayne’s family crest. “Did you RSVP to the gala for the new Children’s Wing dedication?”

He had. He’d actually expected his parents to be traveling in the Middle East for another month, but their excavation hadn’t gone well and they’d both come back in foul moods, barely speaking to each other. He’d been hoping to use it as an opportunity to get a better read on the new Robin. All he knew about him was what he’d been able to find in government and police records, which wasn’t much. His mom had died of an overdose. His dad was in prison. He’d been arrested a few times himself for minor crimes. Nothing serious enough for jail time. He’d been sent to a number of foster homes that he ran away from. By the time Bruce Wayne found him, there hadn’t been any record of him in over a year. 

Tim opened his mouth to lie before realizing that, for once, he didn’t have to. “I wanted to meet Bruce Wayne’s new kid. This will be his first major public appearance.”

His mom clicked her tongue. “I am curious how he’ll hold up myself. I doubt it will be well, but I thought that of his other child too.” Tim remembered Jason practicing to be Robin. He wondered if Jason was practicing to be a socialite too. His mom pointed the envelope at him. “I appreciate your initiative, but in the future don’t RSVP without confirming with us first. It would be humiliating if you showed up without us.”

“Yes, Mom,” Tim said immediately. He’d have to think about the best way to get around that rule in the future without outright breaking it. 

She gave him another look like she knew exactly what he was thinking and he tried to look as innocent as possible. Eventually she just said, “Dinner will be in ten minutes. Do try to look respectable.” 

Tim looked down at himself. He was wearing sweats and a t-shirt, which was his normal around-the-house outfit when they were out of town. “Yes, Mom,” he said, getting up to change into khakis.

She nodded and left, presumably to direct Mrs. Mac on the final touches for dinner, because she certainly wasn’t cooking it herself. 

Before heading downstairs, he switched back to his surveillance. Batman and Robin were long gone, but it was easy enough to check where their dots were on the map and switch to cameras focused on that area. He found them near the docks, looking over the edge of a roof at what looked like a drug deal happening below them. Robin straightened as Batman gave him orders that Tim couldn’t hear. 

This Robin was a mystery. Sometimes he was a soldier. Sometimes he was a rebel. Sometimes he was a puppy. Tim hoped to get a better bead on him at the gala, but if it was anything like Brucie, Tim might just find another persona that he’d have to look past to find the real Jason. 

So far, the real Jason appeared to mostly consist of endless fidgeting and checking the time. It had only been twenty minutes since he and Mr. Wayne had arrived, but he was acting like a student five minutes away from summer vacation. 

“Do try not to stare, darling,” Tim’s mother said, putting a hand on his shoulder. “It’s unbecoming.”

Tim turned his gaze a few degrees and tried to look like he’d been studying one of the ornate columns behind Jason. The gala was being held in the grand ballroom of the International Renaissance Hotel, so there was an overabundance of ornate columns. There were also two ornate staircases lining the far walls of the large room, ornate archways that led into ornate little cubby holes, and ornate floors that looked like someone had sprinkled gold dust in geometric patterns. Even his mom’s friend Cynthia, who wore her diamonds to brunch, thought the International Renaissance Hotel was a little over the top. His mom said it was a mediocre hotel at best and catered to tourists with what poor people thought it looked like to be rich. He was pretty sure he’d heard similar things said about Cynthia. 

He nodded and held his hand to his mouth thoughtfully. “Interesting architecture. Very Greek-inspired. Corinthian, I’d say.” Judging from the ensuing silence, his mother wasn’t buying it. He quickly changed tracks and plastered on his best future-leader-of-industry smile. “I was thinking about introducing myself to Jason.”

“Don’t be the first,” she said disdainfully. “Let one of the working families’ children make the first move.”

Since the gala was celebrating a new hospital wing Wayne Enterprises had funded, a number of the hospital’s employees and their families had been invited. That was probably why Mr. Wayne had chosen this gala to debut Jason at. More people Jason could relate to. His mother had already pointed out multiple women wearing department store dresses. 

Mostly, the rich donors and lower class workers were keeping to their own, but Tim had seen a guy who didn’t even have a suit on doing a hilariously bad job of starting a conversation with a woman holding a cat that was better dressed than him in its natural tuxedo and jewel-encrusted collar. One of the Délicatesse heiresses, probably. They were always carrying around one of their purebreds, as if to remind people of the luxury pet products they’d made their fortune from.

“Don’t you think it would be beneficial for me to network with the latest Wayne heir?” Tim asked in the boardroom voice he’d been perfecting for future use. 

“You do know I can tell when you’re trying to manipulate me, Timothy.” She gave him a pointed look, but he kept his expression as genuine and professional as he could. “You are getting better at it though.” He beamed at the compliment, but quickly toned it back down to pleasantly businesslike at her raised eyebrow. “Don’t talk to him first, don’t stare, and please try not to seem like you’re mocking the Little Orphan Annie. You do not want to know how much smoothing over the Dumphreys had to do before Wayne Enterprises would do business with them again after Walter Junior called Richard a circus freak.”

“Should I start with not calling Jason Little Orphan Annie?” Tim asked.

“Not to his face, certainly.” Her eyes caught on something across the room. “Oh, the Nelsons decided to show up after all. I need to speak with Tabitha before she drinks too much.” She checked her watch and pursed her lips. “It may already be too late.” She strode off without a goodbye. 

Tim glanced back towards Jason, making sure not to stare this time. No one else was even close to him. If he was going to be allowed to talk to Jason anytime soon, he needed to take matters into his own hands. He looked for one of the poorer-looking kids, zeroing in on a pretty blonde girl wearing what was clearly a second-hand dress. He put on his best friendly smile and approached. 

“Hello!” he said. The girl gave him a once over, and Tim straightened his posture at the attention. His mom had ensured he’d make the best impression in a fitted Armani tux, so he wasn’t too concerned. “You look like you don’t come to many of these.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” she asked, crossing her arms and jutting her hip out to one side. 

Tim replayed what he’d said in his mind, looking for anything she might have taken offense to, but it all sounded fine to him. He plowed forward. “I just thought you might appreciate someone showing you the ropes. Like how to get all the best food.” 

She was still giving him an odd look and Tim tried not to wilt. This wasn’t like at school, where he always had to make sure to reflect well on his family. His parents wouldn’t care if some random middle-class kid thought he was weird. And he was on a mission. He could do this. 

“Have you already talked to Jason?” Tim asked, deciding not to drag the conversation out any longer than necessary.

“What?” She glanced towards where Jason was still awkwardly standing alone. “No. Should I have?” 

Tim gave her a practiced surprised look. “He’s the guest of honor. Everyone’s supposed to at least say hi.”

Her mouth twisted in doubt. “They’re celebrating the hospital, not him.”

“They are, but this is also the first gala Jason’s attended. It’s very important.” Tim turned away, trying to strike just the right level of skepticism. “I’m sure it’s fine though. It’s not like your parents work at the hospital. That would be really insulting to Bruce Wayne, after all the money he gave them.” 

The girl still looked doubtful, but a bit of uncertainty started to leak in. “My mom does work for the hospital.”

“Oh,” Tim said. Just that. He thought he really nailed the tone of dismay.

“Fine!” she said. “I’ll say hi.” 

As she stalked away, Tim noticed his mother giving him a thoroughly unimpressed look from across the room. He smiled back. He thought he was doing a great job of abiding to her rules. 

Then his eyes caught on something else, someone who didn’t look like they belonged. Tim couldn’t figure out why the man stood out at first. He wasn’t wearing a tux, but a lot of people weren’t tonight, and he was dressed nicely enough. It was more the way he moved, with purpose. Not heading towards anyone or anything in particular, but walking around the edges of the room, eyeing the crowd with a determined, almost hungry look. Then Tim saw the gun holster beneath his jacket. 

His breath caught in his throat, but he forced himself to keep a bland smile on his face as the man’s gaze turned his way. What was this? A hold-up? An assassination? He knew his mom’s eyes were still on him, so he couldn’t react as quickly as he wanted to. Instead he very calmly walked towards a hallway that he knew led to a bathroom, making sure to glance towards Jason on the way because that’s what his mom expected him to do. He’d bunker in, find a good way to warn people.

A second man stepped in front of the door as Tim approached. He didn’t see a gun, but the man moved with the same sense of purpose as the first and stood by the door like a security guard. Except Tim knew he couldn’t be one of Mr. Wayne’s detail because he memorized the roster of Wayne employees before every major event. He turned towards the buffet table at the last minute, trying to make it look natural. 'Yes, I need to pee, but not more than I need to try one of those delicious looking pastries.'

The buffet had simple hors d'oeuvres and punch, the types of things waiters usually carried around at these events. He wasn’t sure why they were just sitting out. Maybe it was a budget thing? He was pretty sure poor people had waiters too, though. 

He munched on a pastry, casually scanning the room like he wasn’t looking for anything in particular. There were at least two more men. Maybe four. A couple of them were either better at blending in or were actual guests doing a really bad job of socializing. 

As soon as he was sure nobody was looking, he ducked under the table. It had a long enough tablecloth that he should be able to stay there unnoticed for as long as he needed to. Getting out without embarrassing his family into ruin might be difficult though. 

Now he just needed a way to alert Batman and Robin. His mind went blank. His only real way of contacting them was through the comms, and they wouldn’t have comms in while they were Mr. Wayne and Jason, would they? No, he would have noticed. Honestly, he probably should have just walked straight up to Mr. Wayne and told him that he thought he saw a guy with a gun. He wished he’d thought of that before trapping himself under a table. 

What about the #FuckGotham tag? Were they following that? He knew Dick had been, at least for awhile, but he didn’t know if Mr. Wayne ever had or if Jason even knew about it. 

It was worth a shot. He signed into one of his sockpuppet accounts and typed out a quick tweet. '#fuckgotham there are men with guns at the rachel dawes children’s wing dedication gala' 

Inelegant, but it would do. He wondered if writing out the whole name made it sound fake. Probably. Even his mom had never said the whole thing, and she was a stickler for formality. He needed people to know what event he was talking about, though, or this was all for nothing. It wasn’t his fault the gala had a stupidly long name. At least he didn’t capitalize it. 

Oh well. At the very least, if none of the Bats saw it, maybe the police would.

Oh, right, or he could call the police. That would be a good idea. 

As he dialed 911, a loud thunk hit the ground right outside his table. He leaned down, and could just barely see in the inch between the tablecloth and floor the pointed end of a fancy umbrella. 

A voice on the phone said hello and he scrambled to mute the call. At the second hello, he just pressed the end call button. He stayed very still, with his phone to his chest and his breath held, waiting. 

“Good evening, Ladies and Gentlemen,” a nasally voice said from directly above him and he breathed again, as quietly as he could. He hadn’t been heard. “Well, for me it’s a good evening. The same may not be true for you. Gentlemen?”

Shrieks sounded from around the room. A wave of desire to see what was going on washed over him so powerfully that it was almost nostalgic. Now, though, he had a solution for that. 

He swiped through to the second to last screen on his phone and opened a folder labeled “old games.” A number of generic block matching games popped up. He picked a boring looking one from the middle of the pack. A few keystrokes later and the game screen switched out with a map marking the location of cameras. 

Time to see how good the International Renaissance Hotel’s cybersecurity was.

Jason wasn't sure why this girl was talking to him, but he was pretty sure the boy in the ridiculous tux had put her up to it. He'd seen them talking and glancing his way when they thought he wouldn't notice. They were probably trying to play some kind of prank on him. 

He puffed up in a way he knew made him look less like a target, but didn’t go so far as to actually threaten the girl. He wouldn’t want to disappoint Alfie. 

This whole thing was a nightmare. He didn’t know why he had to be here at all. Bruce had assured him that this was one of the “less elaborate” galas. They were wearing suits in a gold-lined castle eating fancy French finger food. What the hell were the elaborate galas like? 

“Anyway, welcome or whatever,” the girl said.

“Thanks?” Jason asked. He didn’t know how this was going to transform into a prank, but he was pretty damn sure it was. The girl was acting so awkward, and clearly didn’t want to be talking to him. Was she stalling while tux boy snuck up behind him? Jason quickly scanned the room. He didn’t see tux boy anywhere. Great. 

“Hey, can I ask you something?” the girl asked. Here we go. He braced himself for whatever stupid joke this was going to be. “Has anyone else said hi to you?” 

“What?” Jason asked. This was a weird-ass prank. Was she trying to make him feel bad? “No? Barely anyone’s said a word to me. I’m starting to think I’m some kind of leper.” 

“I knew it!” she exclaimed. “That weird kid said…” She trailed off as she looked around, probably for tux boy, and Jason suddenly realized that this was indeed a prank, but it wasn’t on him. “Well, he basically implied your new dad would get my mom fired if I didn’t say hi.” 

What?” Jason asked, indignant on Bruce’s behalf. “Bruce would never… What the hell? Why would he even say that?”

“Probably thought it was funny.” She crossed his arms and fumed. “Freakin’ rich kids.” She startled and shot a look at Jason. “No offense.” 

“Oh, please,” Jason snorted. “I’m Alley trash. Having money won’t change that.” 

She grinned. “Cheers to that. I’m Steph, by the way.” 

“Jason. Which you already know. Of course.” He shoved his hands in his pockets, trying not to feel dumb. “Why do you think everyone’s avoiding me?” 

“I don’t think they’re avoiding you, exactly,” Steph said. “At least, I wasn’t. But, I mean, what do you say to a guy that went from living on the street to being a billionaire overnight? I can’t even imagine.”

“I don’t know,” Jason said. “Catch the game last night?” 

“Uhhhhh...” She drew out the sound for almost half a minute. “What sport?” 

“No idea. It just seemed like the kind of thing people say to each other.”

She grinned wider. “Maybe you should follow sports if you want to use that.” 

He shrugged. “I was thinking about getting into baseball. You know, for the conversation starter.” 

She snorted so loudly he almost didn’t hear the ping from his phone. He pulled it out and frowned at the text message notification from Dick. “Sorry,” he said, distracted. Since when did Dick text him? Where did Dick even get his number? Probably Alfred, which meant he couldn’t even be mad about it. “It’s my… actually, I don’t really know what he is to me.” 

“Dick?” Steph asked. It was weird hearing someone he was pretty sure had never met Dick call him by his nickname so casually, like they were old friends, but he guessed he’d get used to it. Everyone in this town knew who Dick was. He wasn’t sure how he felt about the fact they’d all know who he was soon, too. Being Robin was cool. Even living with Bruce was cool, when it was just the two of them and Alfred. Being Brucie Wayne’s latest pet project? That he wasn’t so hot on. 

“Yeah,” he muttered as he opened the text. 

Dick: are there people with guns at the gala??? 😨😨😱 

Jason stared at the message, trying to figure out how much the multiple question marks and emoticons were Dick and how much they were a persona he was putting on for some imagined audience. He didn’t register the actual message until Steph asked, “People with guns? What the heckie?” 

Jason mentally cursed himself for not thinking to turn the phone screen away before opening the message. If Dick was putting on a persona, this was exactly why. 

He quickly scanned the room and typed back: what no

“Why would he think there were people with guns?” Steph asked, turning in full circles as she searched the room. “Do you think there was a threat on the party? Should we say something?” 

“I’m sure it’s just—” He was cut off by a loud gasp from Steph, and he quickly twirled to follow her gaze.

Jason had never seen the Penguin in person, and he doubted Steph had either, but the man who stepped in front of the buffet table was instantly recognizable. He was bulbous, body puffing out in almost unnatural bulges that were mostly hidden by the floor length fur coat he wore over his tuxedo. A long cigarette stuck out of his mouth, and he held an umbrella that Jason knew from the files could either shoot bullets or gas. 

He instinctively took a step in front of Steph, then debated whether or not he should have. He was Robin. It was his job to protect people. But he was also Brucie Wayne’s something or another and shouldn’t he act more scared in his public persona? He couldn’t just not protect people so they wouldn’t figure out he was Robin, though. But wasn’t he also protecting Bruce by not protecting people? He hated this part of the job. Steph didn’t even have the good grace to stay protected. She stepped out from behind Jason to better stare at the Penguin.

“Good evening, Ladies and Gentlemen,” the Penguin announced. Anyone who hadn’t already been looking turned. A glass of Champagne slipped from a woman’s hand, shattering on the floor. “Well, for me it’s a good evening. The same may not be true for you.” He raised his hand in some kind of signal. “Gentlemen?”

Around the room, seven men pulled out guns and trained them on the crowd. Jason quickly texted “nvm” to Dick and put his phone away.

Chapter Text

The picture on Tim’s phone was too small. It took him forever to find Jason among the tiny figures, even knowing where he’d just been. There were two cameras, but the angles were weird and Tim had to keep switching between them to search the whole room. It would be a lot easier with his tablet, but his mom had said bringing it to a party would be “a breach of common etiquette and mark him as a social pariah.” 

He wondered if that was better or worse than being caught hiding under a table. 

Jason was still with that girl Tim had sent over, and he felt a bewildering surge of jealousy. It wasn’t like Jason was going to be friends with her now. They just happened to be standing next to each other when the Penguin showed up. It didn’t mean anything. 

Jason stepped protectively in front of her and Tim had to swallow down another completely ridiculous, unfounded wave of bitterness. What, did he want to be protected by Robin? He could take care of himself, thank you very much. It was stupid he was even thinking about this. He had a job to do.

He carefully searched the ballroom three times before deciding that Mr. Wayne definitely wasn’t there. That was good, right? Did he already get out? Did he have, like, some magic bat precognition that told him when danger was coming, like how animals sensed earthquakes before they happened? 

That would explain a lot really. 

When he was younger, he thought Batman probably had all kinds of bat-themed powers like sonar and flying and blood drinking, but he’d methodically ruled them out, one after another. Precognition could still on the table though. 

He slowly flipped through the cameras starting with the garage and working his way back towards the ballroom, taking extra care to check every single shadow. He hadn’t completely ruled out shadow camouflage as a super power but he was preeetty sure by now that Batman was just sneaky. 

He’d almost convinced himself that Batman had just completely left the building, probably for some super elaborate plan, when he found Mr. Wayne just one room over in the dining hall. He was with a few members of the planning committee, surrounded by the full array of charity auction items. They were probably making sure everything was ready for later. 

He also had one of Penguin’s thugs pointing a gun at him. So much for precognition. 

This was worse than being in the ballroom, actually. Fewer people meant it would be way too obvious if Mr. Wayne tried to make his escape. Jason was in a much better position to sneak out.

Except for that stupid, annoying cling-on he’d picked up. She was still there when Tim switched back to Jason’s view, standing way too close to Jason in Tim’s humble opinion.

He switched back to the dining hall. Mr. Wayne had maybe inched a little closer to a large arched window. He wasn’t actually looking at it, but Tim imagined him flinging himself out the window and changing into the Batman suit mid-fall.

Did they even have their suits with them? This wasn’t the manor, and it wasn’t like the Batsuit would fit under Mr. Wayne’s tuxedo. 

In the ballroom, Penguin’s men were taking out bags out and collecting jewelry and wallets. His mom made a show of removing her earrings and necklace to drop in the bag, but didn’t remove her bracelet, which he knew was easily worth three times as much as her other jewelry combined. Tim’s heart caught in his throat, but the men didn’t seem to notice. 

His mom's expression didn’t change as they walked away, but he could already hear her bragging at the next gala about how she’d gotten one over on the dumb criminals. 

Where was Jason? Tim scanned the tiny faces. Had he already managed to sneak out or had he moved into one of the groups? People were so crowded together, it was hard to see individuals. He found the Nelsons, not far from his mom. The Alcocks, the Davilas. Prince Vinson, who was Tim’s age and had parents with apparently very high hopes for him. The heiress had her phone raised, brazenly recording the Penguin. Stupid. She should hold the phone naturally by her side, turned just enough to face them. That was just basics. 

He spotted Jason’s groupie before he saw Jason. He had blended back into the crowd, probably preparing to escape unnoticed. Except that stupid girl was still with him with her vibrant purple dress and bright yellow hair. Jason was never going to be able to slip away as long as she was following him around like a lost duckling. 

He flipped back to Mr. Wayne. His mission to throw himself out the window didn’t look like it was going very well. Had he gotten closer? Maybe. Maybe not. It was hard to tell. One of the Penguin’s lackeys was collecting wallets and jewelry in there too, while another aimed his gun at the huddled guests. 

There were only two bad guys. Mr. Wayne could easily take them out before they could even react. But he just dropped his watch, wallet, and cufflinks into the bag with a little apologetic smile, like he was sorry he couldn’t give them more. 

Back to Jason. He was so close to a door, but that girl was still right there beside him, practically touching shoulders. Tim pressed his face against his knees to muffle a groan. 

This was so frustrating. There had to be something he could do. He could turn off the power, but he didn’t want these guys panicking and shooting blindly into the crowd. He just needed to distract them long enough for Jason to get away. Then he’d come back as Robin, free Mr. Wayne, and Batman and Robin would kick Penguin butt. 

He considering his options, gnawing on his bottom lip as he scrolled through his program. The hotel didn’t have digital locks or lights or even thermometers because apparently they were barbarians

They did have a security system, which should have been the first thing he thought of. Well, third thing. Telling Mr. Wayne, calling the police, then setting off the alarms. The point was there were like a dozen things he should have done before hiding under a table. 

Better late than never. He set off the silent alarm. If the police weren’t already on their way, they would be now. That didn’t get Jason out though, and Gotham police weren’t always the best at hostage situations. Or holdups. Or anything else, really. Maybe their presence could at least cause enough of a distraction to let Jason and Mr. Wayne slip out. It could be a while before they got here though. 

Tim scrunched his brow. It could be a while, but it didn’t have to be. Not if their only purpose was to be a distraction for the real heroes. 

Bland classical music was playing out of a speaker in a corner of the room, because apparently this gala couldn’t afford musicians either. Music had to be controlled somewhere. 

It took him less than a minute to find the Bluetooth signal being used. He couldn’t even justify using the word hack for this one. He literally just paired his phone to it. Anyone under 80 could have done the same thing. He found a YouTube video of police cars, set his audio to “IntRenSpeak”, and pressed play. Immediately, the room filled with the sound of sirens. 

This could actually work. He breathed out a laugh. Maybe it was a little loud for sirens that were supposed to be outside, but it should cause some confusion at least.

He switched to the cameras to see how the bad guys were reacting, but the sound stopped. There was a split second where he couldn’t figure out what happened, and then he realized… Stupid, freakin’ YouTube

He scrambled to reopen the app, almost dropping his phone as he swiped a little too hard, and the sirens started again. They’d only stopped for a second, maybe two. Hopefully people just thought the sirens glitched or something. Did sirens do that? God, he hoped so.

The bigger problem was he couldn’t see what was happening. He had no idea if it was working, if Jason had already gotten out, if all the criminals were just laughing at his pitiful attempt. 

Actually, he’d probably hear laughing. He focused on the sound under the sirens. There was some shuffling and angry voices, but he couldn’t tell what they were saying. 

He flopped backwards onto the floor and stared at the underside of the table. He couldn’t see anything, there were no comms for him to listen to, and he couldn’t even hear what was happening in the room he was in. This was the worst thing that had ever happened to him. 

He counted slowly to sixty, grit his teeth, and forced himself to do it again despite really wanting to just look at what was happening already. It was all for nothing if he stopped too early.

Forty-five, forty-six, forty-seven. At forty-eight, there was a loud crash and the sirens stopped. Apparently the lackeys had figured him out. 

“Find who did it!” one voice yelled. His heart jumped to his throat. He wasn’t too worried they’d find him, but criminals were nothing if not generous with blame. He remembered the heiress with her phone up. She’d be the obvious scapegoat. 

He brought the cameras up as quickly as he could, holding his breath as he searched the room for her. Not seeing her immediately was good, right? If they were ritual-murdering her it would make a scene. 

His breath released in a whoosh when he found her near the back of the room. She was fine. She’d put her phone away and blended back into the crowd, both arms wrapped around her clearly unhappy cat. 

Then he looked for Jason. He wasn’t by the door anymore! The distraction had worked! 

Maybe. Probably. Before he could get ahead of himself, he very carefully scanned all of the faces in the room. No Jason, no Jason, no Jason. He wasn’t there. He’d finally escaped that girl and gotten out of the room. Yes!

Except... he didn’t see the girl either. He scanned the room one more time, but yeah, she was definitely gone. What the heck?

Jason really needed to lose Steph. How was this happening to him?

“I can’t believe we were able to sneak out,” Steph said, following a few steps behind him and looking over her shoulder. She turned so much she was almost walking backwards. “Do you think anyone saw us? I don’t think they did. No one’s following, and they’d be following if they saw us, right? What are we going to do? Call the police? Or do you think the police were already called?”

His Robin suit was in the car, but he couldn’t exactly take Steph down to the garage and say hold on a second while I hide in the car by myself. Robin will be here any second to take care of you. These two things are completely unrelated. 

“Call the police,” Jason said. “Yes. We should call the police and also…” He grasped for a second thing they could be doing. “Warn the hotel guests that there are criminals here. Why don’t you find a phone to call the police and I’ll warn as many people as I can.”

“I have my phone right here,” Steph said, pulling out a cell phone. 

“Right,” Jason said. “Of course you do.” 

“Don’t you have your phone too?” Steph asked. “You did a few minutes ago.” 

“Right,” Jason said again. He forced himself to laugh. “Grew up in poverty. Always forget that cell phones exist.” Which was an outright lie because most the people he knew had cheap knockoff phones even if they couldn’t afford the latest tech. Even on the street, people prioritized buying a few extra minutes over eating. Hard to make money if no one could contact you.

“I get that,” Steph said as she pulled out her phone and started dialing. “Sometimes my dad’s all, whoo! We hit the windfall! Have all the things! And sometimes he’s like, we have to sell everything or we’ll be living on the street. Uh.” She tilted her head to look at him while putting the phone to her ear. “No offense to the street, I guess?” 

The last sentence broke through Jason’s frantic attempts to come up with a subtle way to escape and he laughed for real this time. “None taken. The street sucks.”

“Okay, yeah, I figured, but I was like, he used to live on the street, don’t insult his, uh, past home. Oh, yes, hi.” She turned away from him, saying the last part into the phone. “We’re at the International Renaissance Hotel and there are… oh, good, you already know.”

Jason thought about trying to just sneak away while her back was turned. He could probably get to the hallway without her noticing and just take off. God, though, he’d never live it down. And he was just starting to maybe make a friend. He was pretty sure running away and abandoning her in the middle of a holdup would ruin that. 

Or he could just knock her out and claim the bad guys did it. No, wait, that was worse.

“Um, is there anything we should do? The boy I’m with, Jason Wayne, you know—” His stomach twisted at Jason Wayne. He wasn’t sure if it was a good or bad twist. That wasn’t really his name, and it sounded weird, but also kind of nice? “He thought we should warn people? Oh, okay.” 

That wasn’t a good sign. He knew before she even hung up what she was going to say.

“The 911 lady said we should find a safe place and stay put.”

“Okay,” Jason said, and then added because it was the only thing he could think of, “I need to pee.” 

“Me too!” Steph said. “Do you think it’s the fear or the punch because I have never needed to pee more in my life.” 

Jason led the way down the hallway in search of a bathroom. He was pretty sure there was one around here somewhere. Bruce had mentioned it earlier. “What ingredient do you think turns punch into pee juice?”

“Peanuts!” she exclaimed immediately. “Wait, no, that’s gross. Urrrrrrriiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii—” She held out the syllables as they walked through two hallways until they found the doors marked ‘Men’ and ‘Women’. “I’ve got nothing. Meet back out here?”

“Yes,” he lied. The moment the bathroom door closed behind him he started looking for a window he could escape out of. There wasn’t one. Okay. That was fine. He just needed to go back out the way he came in. She couldn’t possibly be done yet. 

He opened the door a crack and peeked out. Thank Christ. She wasn’t there. He slipped out and sprinted for the elevator to the garage. He just needed to get to the car, get his costume, kick some butt, and then… what? Go back to the bathroom and pretend he’d been hiding in the stall the whole time?

He groaned. He’d been Robin for less than a month and he already wanted to reveal his identity to the world just so he didn’t have to deal with shit like this. He didn’t know how Bruce could stand it. 

His suit was in the floorboards, right where Bruce had shown him. The Batsuit was still there too, which meant Bruce hadn’t managed to get out. He’d been hoping… but this was fine. He’d handle the criminals, he’d somehow salvage his maybe-friendship with Steph, and he’d do it all without giving away the whole Bat secret. 

He was Robin, and Robin could do anything. 

Steph was surprised when she came out and Jason wasn’t already there. Boys usually peed faster. Maybe he wasn’t peeing? 

She rocked on the balls of her feet, ready to run back into the bathroom if anyone came down the hall. 

Maybe he was hiding in the bathroom? That didn’t seem like him though. Yeah, she’d only known him for like twenty minutes, but she was pretty sure that the type of guy who jumped in front of her at the first sign of danger wasn’t the same type of guy who hid in a bathroom. Not that she needed protecting, but it was a nice gesture. 

She gasped as a more likely possibility occurred to her. This was Jason’s first public appearance. Maybe those guys weren’t actually here for jewelry. Maybe they were here for him

She knocked on the boys bathroom door and listened carefully in case he actually was holed up in a stall. When she didn’t hear anything, she pushed the door open. “Jason?” Nothing. She crouched to look under the stall walls. He wasn’t there. She knew it. They had him. 

Should she call the police back? She might be the only one who knew. She pressed redial and anxiously twisted her skirt while she waited for an answer. 

Wait, she shouldn’t do that. They were going to return this dress after the party. She smoothed out the creases, trying to ignore the constant itch of the tag on the back of her neck.

“911, what’s your emergency?” It was a guy this time, not the girl she’d talked to before. 

“Hi, I called before. I’m at the International Renaissance Hotel.” 

“Police are in route,” the guy said, a little too rudely for someone whose whole job was to talk to victims, she thought. 

“Right, yeah, I know. But I was with Jason Wayne and he’s gone now and I’m pretty sure the bad guys nabbed him.”

“Police are already in route,” the guy repeated, sounding impatient this time.

“Gee, thanks, I know. But the people who took Jason could be going anywhere and I thought you should know.” 

“The police will be there soon,” the guy said. “Is there anything else I can assist with?” 

“I guess not!” she exclaimed and hung up. Police were useless. She already knew that from all the times she’d called them after her dad hit her or her mom and nothing happened, but Jason was rich. The police were supposed to care about rich kids.

Well, if they weren’t gonna do anything, then it was up to her. She snuck back towards the ballroom, darting from doorway to doorway so she could easily hide if anyone came her way.

Chapter Text

Tim adjusted his earbuds again. He’d made sure they were in and positioned right and working at least fifteen times now, but he was still paranoid he’d messed something up. They were just normal headphones connected to his phone, but he’d picked them specifically because no one could see he had them in when his hair covered his ears. It was like having communicators, but without the actual technology for communicators. He was still working on it. 

“B, you there?” 

Tim jumped at the voice even though he’d been waiting for it. He checked the dining hall. Bruce was still standing there, smiling blandly. He hadn’t reacted to Jason’s voice, so it looked like he didn’t have a comm in. Tim waited a few more seconds just to make sure. Nothing. 

The Penguin had moved away from Tim’s table, now chatting up some ladies by the look of it. None of the lackeys were within a few feet of him. He worried his lip between teeth. It was still a risk, but one he’d have to take. He keyed into Robin’s communicator so he’d be the only one to hear Tim, even if Bruce did have a comm in. “Robin, good,” he whispered.

“Uh, you’re not B.” 

It had only been a few days. Jason couldn’t have forgotten him already. Tim frowned. “It’s Chirp.”

“Oh. Why are you whispering? You sound like you’re trying to do a bad Batman imitation.”

“I do not,” Tim said, offended. He could do a great Batman imitation if he was trying. 

“Do too.” 

“You know what, it doesn’t matter right now. Are you working the hotel hostage situation?” He flipped through cameras, trying to find where Robin had gone. He wasn’t in the garage or hallways. The only person he saw was some blonde—actually, wasn’t that the girl Jason had been with earlier? He squinted at a girl creeping through one of the nearby halls. He was pretty sure it was. What was she doing?

“Yes. What do you have?” 

She’d have to wait. He flipped back to the action. “The Penguin is in the ballroom with seven obvious accomplices, five with guns currently out. There are two in the dining hall too. I think they’ve finished collecting jewelry from the guests, so they might just leave?”

“Or they might blow up the hotel,” Robin said grimly. Tim didn’t think the Penguin had a history of unnecessary explosions, but he was pretty sure every criminal in Gotham was one wrong look away from setting fire to the world. 

“Okay, what’s your plan?” Tim asked. 

“I smash through the window and beat these guys up.”

“Smash the—” He was interrupted by a loud crash. He switched cameras just in time to see Robin soaring into the room, surrounded by shards from the window he’d just crashed through.  He let go of the grapple and it swung back outside, which Tim was pretty sure was a big Bat no no—don’t leave equipment where other people might find it—but Robin was too busy punching the nearest criminal to worry about that.

“It’s the bird!” someone yelled, which, yeah, okay, was clear from context clues, but they were also working for the Penguin so maybe they should be more specific. 

Robin kicked a guy in the head, then used him as a springboard to tackle another man. It was eight against one, which Tim knew Batman or the old Robin could handle, but this Robin was new and there were a lot of guns. A lot of guns. Even the three guys who hadn’t previously had guns were pulling them out now. 

Even if Robin could avoid getting shot himself, that didn’t mean the bullets wouldn’t hit anyone else. Why didn’t Robin go to the other room and free Batman first? That would have been a way better solution. He should have told… no, wait, he couldn’t have. Not without revealing what he knew. 

Something hard knocked Tim’s table back a foot. Tim’s hand shot out and yanked down on the tablecloth before his brain even registered why. The whole table had nearly toppled over and revealed Tim’s humiliating position to the world. He flushed red imagining everyone staring at him crouched on all fours where the table used to be. Even the criminals and Robin would stop fighting to stare at him. Okay, he needed to look way cooler in case anything happened to the table. He adjusted so he was sitting cross legged, casually leaning on one hand—a loud oof sounded as someone bounced off the table. Right, the fight. He was supposed to be helping with the fight. 

He scanned the room, trying to take in as many details as he could. If he had his computer, he’d open multiple camera feeds at once, but on the phone even one was hard to follow. 

“Dive right,” Tim hissed urgently as a man behind Robin raised a gun. Robin followed his order without question and the bullet meant for Robin went into the guy he’d been fighting seconds earlier. Tim felt a mix of glee and guilt. He was helping Robin. Robin was actually listening. But someone got shot because of what he said.

No, not because of what he said. Because of the guys shooting guns. And if it hadn’t been him, it would have been Robin. And he was a bad guy anyway, and he was probably fine judging from the amount of cursing he was doing. Fine-ish. As fine as a guy with a bullet in him could be. 

Robin rolled out of his dive next to a group of uptight partygoers who looked just as offended by his presence as they’d been of the criminals. Mrs. Davila sniffed in disdain, and the heiress pulled her cat away like she thought Robin might give it rabies. Mrs. Nelson took a long gulp from a glass that she had to have refilled since the robbery started. His mom was right. She had a problem.

"Careful," Tim said mildly as the heiress’s cat hissed at Robin, apparently just as offended as its owner. "Last time there was a cat at one of these it had a bomb strapped to it." 

"It what?" Robin asked, jerking away from the cat with such an alarmed expression Tim had to stifle a laugh. Then another gunshot sent the group scattering and Tim’s smile fell. This wasn't a joke. People could get hurt, and it was his job to make sure they didn't.

“Okay,” he said, analyzing the room. “Move to the right before you attack. These guys aren’t being careful where they shoot. You don’t want any guests behind you where they could get hit.”

Robin made a grunt of acknowledgement as he somersaulted across the room to a mostly unoccupied corner. 

“Okay. Now you just…” He trailed off as his screen went black. Screams sounded around his table. What was happening? He shook his phone even though there was no logical reason why that would help. 

“Was that you?” Robin asked.

“What?” Tim asked. “No?” Then he noticed how dark it was. There hadn’t been much light under his table to begin with, but now there was none. “Did the power go out?”

“You can’t tell?” 

Tim tried to flip through his feed but all of the screens were black. Too black. Blacker than the room itself. He could see the faint red gleam of emergency lights under the tablecloth. “I think it took out the security cameras too.” He was starting to feel like he couldn’t get enough air in his cramped hiding spot. He couldn’t do anything without the security cameras. What if another guy tried to take a shot at Robin? He’d be useless. Without his cameras, he really was just a kid hiding under a table. 

No. No, that wasn’t true. He wasn’t in a different part of town unable to see. He was literally in the same room. He could still help. 

He very slowly lifted the tablecloth enough to see under it. He doubted anyone would be paying that close of attention to the table, and it was probably too dark to see anyway. A loud fwoosh drew his eyes to a short rotund silhouette in the window Robin had broken. The silhouette had an open umbrella propped on his shoulder and an overstuffed bag gripped in his other hand. 

“My esteemed guests, it has been a lovely evening, but I’m afraid I must fly. Ta ta!” The whole room was still as he jumped out of the window and gently wafted away like a blow-up Mary Poppins. 

“Did he take all of the jewels?” one of the lackeys asked. 

The others looked around and the one who had been shot said, with his hand tightly clenched against his blood soaked side, “What an asshole.” 

Steph barely suppressed a yelp as the lights went out. She pressed into the closest doorway, hands clamped over her mouth. It was pitch black for half a second before the emergency lights flickered on, casting the hallway in a deeply disturbing red glow that looked like it had been pulled straight from a horror movie. The gaudy, plaster-cast doorframes and painted portraits lining the hallway really didn’t help. 

When no one came barreling around the corner with a knife she crept forward. She was almost to the ballroom now. She could hear shrieks and deep voices from just around the corner. 

She stopped by the door and just breathed for a few seconds before slowly peeking in. She didn’t see the Penguin anywhere, and he was really noticeable so that probably meant he was gone. No Jason either. 

Oh no. The Penguin had already taken him somewhere else. He could already be tied up in some hidden room in the Iceberg Lounge, right now

She definitely needed Batman’s help with this, but she didn’t see Batman. Just a short Robin impersonator jumping all over the room. 

Was that the actual Robin? She’d been pretty sure he was like two feet taller.  

“Let’s just get out of here!” yelled a crook so close to Steph that she jumped. Holy moly, how had she missed him? He was like half a foot away, next to the wall she was peeking around. She shrunk back so she’d be less noticeable if he looked her way.

“The boss might be gone, but this is still a holdup,” someone growled back.

 “Oh, screw off. We already took everything valuable, and it’s gone out the window now.”

“Hey, guys,” Robin said, waving his hand. “I don’t know if you noticed but you’re under arrest.”

“Adults are talking right now,” the growler growled. He raised a gun to Robin and shot. Robin jumped easily out of the way of that bullet, and the next, but Steph’s eyes were on the woman behind Robin who didn’t even react before there was a bullet lodged into the wall beside her head. Jeepers Creepers. Someone was gonna die if this kept up. 

She crept a little closer. The guy nearest to her was guarding the door, his back to her. Nobody was looking her way. They were all too focused on Robin and the guy shooting with wild abandon. There was a vase right beside her, because this was the type of place that put random vases all over the place. There weren’t even flowers in any of them. It was probably worth a couple thou, but Steph was sure the hotel could afford it. She carefully hefted the vase and, before she could think better of it, smashed it into the back of the guy's head. 

She managed to time it perfectly with a gun firing, the loud bang covering up the crash. She wished she could claim it was on purpose because that would have been awesome, but it was a complete accident. A very lucky complete accident. A few nearby guests turned to look as the guy crumpled to the ground, but none of the crooks seemed to notice. She raised a finger to her lips, hoping the guests could see her well enough in the low red light to get the meaning. And that nobody started screaming about axe murderers. 

Jeez, if she were in the room and someone came out of the dark hallway to attack a guy, she’d assume axe murderer. It didn’t matter that they were already dealing with the Penguin. Gotham be like that. 

Nobody screamed and the criminals were still too distracted by maybe Robin to notice. Probably Robin. She didn’t think a Robin impersonator would be that good at backflipping into a flying kick. 

She frantically waved the closest guests towards the door, keeping her eyes on the nearby crooks to make sure they didn’t notice.  A very snotty looking older woman, like totally the type to be the grand matron of a historically noble family that had been recently disgraced but was fighting its way back to power, looked back and forth between her and the fight several times before huffily walking her way. 

“Quickly,” Steph hissed. “There’s a bathroom down that way you can hide in.”

“I am not going to hide in a bathroom,” the woman spat. Well, excuuuuuse her. Steph was sorry she didn’t arrange a garden tea party for her to hide out in while waiting for the police. 

“Bathroom that way you can hide in,” Steph whispered to the next guy, who seemed way more grateful. He tried to shake her hand with both of his, but she escaped his grasp. “Go, go. Lead the others.”

She turned her gaze back to Robin. He was still flipping around like he was trying out for the Olympics and didn’t want to sit still long enough for them to tell him the results.

“Stephanie!” Steph was enveloped in a hug. She stiffened before she recognized her mom’s lilac perfume. “Thank God. I couldn’t see you anywhere and I was so worried.” 

“Mom!” Steph gave her a quick hug before pulling back. “You need to go hide. There’s a bathroom that way you can hide in.” 

Her mom’s expression crumpled in confusion as she spoke. “You’re coming with me.” 

“No, I—”

“That’s not a question, young lady. It’s too dangerous here.” 

“Mom, no. Someone kidnapped Jason Wayne. I have to tell Robin. I promise I’ll stay out of sight until it’s safe.”

“Someone else ca—”

“I was the only one there, and I already tried calling the police. They didn’t listen. I have to tell Robin. I can’t let Jason get hurt because I went and hid.”

Her mom held tight to her arm, clearly ready to keep arguing, or maybe even just drag her out, but then her grip loosened. “You’re so good. Too good. I don’t know where you got it from. Heaven knows it wasn’t your dad and me.” 

Steph leaned in and gave her another quick hug. “Go hide. I promise I’ll stay out of sight.”

Her mom tightly squeezed her before pulling away and disappearing with the rest of the guests. Most of them were out now, and miraculously, the crooks still didn’t seem to have noticed. She was starting to think the Penguin had picked all the most oblivious criminals on purpose. 

Jesus fucking Christ on a bike, someone was going to die and it was going to be all his fault. A woman behind him shrieked as a bullet whizzed past and his heart stopped. He did a quick flip during his next dodge and didn’t see any blood, but that didn’t mean she was okay. He needed to lead the shots somewhere nobody would get hurt. 

Why didn’t he get B first? He’d wanted to prove that he could handle this by himself, but all he was proving was that he was great at endangering citizens. It was only his second week on the job. What was he thinking?

During the next gunshot, his eyes caught on something behind the guy shooting at him. Not great to get distracted but… was that Steph? What was she doing back here? Why did she have an unconscious goon at her feet? Had she… Had she knocked that guy out? Holy shit. That was so awesome. She was motioning to the guests and a few of them started sneaking out the door. 

Okay. Okay. This was good. When the guests were safe, he’d be able to pull out all the stops and take these guys down. He just had to distract them long enough for the guests to escape. He’d watched Dick enough that he knew exactly how to do that. Puns and unnecessary flips. 

“You’re a terrible shot. Sure you weren’t meant to be a bartender?” Ugh. That was awful. Judging by the look a couple of the goons shared, they didn’t even get it. “Sure you’re not trying to hug me instead of thug me?” That. Was not better. More guys were aiming guns at him now and he was pretty sure it was just so they could shut him up. He couldn’t even blame them. He was pretty sure he was going to give himself a brain aneurysm with another one of those. At least their attention was definitely on him. 

He kept flipping, handspringing, roundoffing, even somersaulting. Every little bit of gymnastics he’d learned when training to be Robin. His thighs and stomach were burning, but he just had to keep this up for another minute before everyone was out and he could attack.

“Wha… Wait, where is everyone?” 

Change of plans. He sprang out of a front handspring feet first and kicked the guy who spoke in the face. The guns followed him and several of the goons exclaimed when they realized how empty the room was. There were only a few guests left. One woman lingered just inside the door, scanning the clearly empty room like she was looking for someone. 

Robin didn’t give them time to think, not that they seemed very good at it anyway. He punched one guy, kicked another, followed through to land on a third’s shoulders. The guy bucked and threw him towards the buffet table, but he easily spun through the air to get his feet under him, remembering all the lessons B had given him on fighting people bigger than him. 

As his toes touched the ground in a point, he saw the gun aimed at him. Everything slowed as his weight lowered onto his feet, giving him plenty of time to realize that he didn’t have enough time. He wasn’t going to be able complete his landing and jump again before the shot. He saw the guy’s finger tightening on the trigger and tried to twist out of the way.

“No!” a voice yelled from out of nowhere. For a second he thought it was Chirp, but then a small figure flung past him and slammed into the guy’s gut just as the gun fired, sending the shot wildly into a far wall. The gunman grunted, but quickly got his hand wrapped around the kid’s arm and yanked him up. Robin would recognize that ridiculous outfit anywhere. It was Tux Boy. Where the heck had he come from?

“Tim!” yelled the woman by the door. 

Robin made several realizations at once. Tux Boy—Tim—had hidden when the gunmen showed up. His mom was looking for him. That’s why she hadn’t left. Tim had just saved Robin’s fucking life. And now he was probably going to die. 

The gunman twisted Tim’s arm behind him, pulling him tightly against his chest, and put his gun to Tim’s head. “I think it’s time we cut our losses and run. And hey.” He glanced at the woman by the door. “Maybe this kid’s worth something.”

The crooks he’d already knocked down started rising around them. They were going to leave with Tim, and there was nothing Robin could do to stop them.

Chapter Text

Tim winced at the sound of his mom’s voice. Her seeing him held hostage was way worse than actually being held hostage. At least most of the guests were gone, so he wasn’t embarrassing her in front of her friends. 

Robin looked nervous. That… was not great. He’d much rather be held hostage with Batman there. Batman would probably do some neat trick where he flicked his wrist and knocked the gun away with a batarang. Robin looked like he wanted to dig a hole in the floor. Tim tried to shoot confidence rays at him with his eyes. 

“I think it’s time we cut our losses and run,” the guy holding him hostage said. His hot breath was on the back of Tim’s neck and droplets of spittle splattered on his skin. Tim grimaced. No one mentioned this part of being held hostage. It was disgusting. “And hey, maybe this kid’s worth something.” 

For the first time, fear curdled in his stomach. He knew the statistics. If they took him away from here, his chances of survival went down significantly. His eyes slipped sideways to the door leading to the dining hall. Was Batman still in there? They hadn’t heard anything from that room since the power went out. Maybe Batman slipped away in the dark. Or maybe the guests all rebelled and took out the bad guys. 

Or maybe Superman showed up and shot them all with laser beams. It was stupid to hypothesize. None of that changed his current predicament. 

The guy started dragging him towards the door, his feet scraping uncomfortably against the gilded floor. He forced himself not to resist. Not yet. He wasn’t going to get in a car without any kind of fight, but right now it was better to seem easy. Don’t give the guy any reason to tighten his grip. 

As he stumbled backwards, tripping over the guy’s feet, his eyes found Robin’s face again. Something had changed. His expression was hard, determined. He followed step for step as the guy moved, not getting close enough for him to panic, but not giving him any space to think either. The guy kept backing further from Robin. They weren’t doing a great job of moving towards the door. Actually, they were getting pretty close to the windo—.

A blue-striped hand grabbed the guy’s gun arm and yanked it away before Tim could complete the thought. Robin rushed forward and pulled him to safety. Tim had a split second to see Nightwing crouched in the broken window frame before he moved. 

Nightwing was a dancer in motion. He spun, flipped, kicked like it was a performance that people had paid thousands to watch. The lackeys falling around him felt like part of the elaborate choreography. 

Robin’s hand tightened on his arm. Tim glanced sidelong at him. He looked bitter. And wistful. Tim debated how much he could say. Not much, not without giving himself away. 

“Thank you for saving me,” he settled on. His voice cracked, and he fought down the blush that threatened to rise. Oh, god. His first time talking to Robin as Tim Drake, and his voice cracked

Robin didn’t seem to notice. He just huffed, eyes on Nightwing easily laying the last man flat. “I barely did anything.”

“You did so much,” Tim insisted, turning fully towards him. It was physically painful to be this close to Nightwing and not looking at him, but Robin needed him more. “I watched you fight. You were amazing.”

Robin didn’t immediately reply. When his response came, it was muttered under his breath, more determined than confident. “I will be.” 

Footsteps approached, and Tim spun quickly back towards the fight just in case one of the baddies had gotten up and was coming at them with a blunt object, but it was just Nightwing, dusting off his hands as he strode over with a huge grin on his face. “Hey, kiddos.” His voice softened as he turned to Tim. “How you doing?”

“I’m fine, thanks,” Tim said, eyes wide in the face of Nightwing right there in front of him. “Why?”

Nightwing’s blank lenses lingered on him a second too long and Tim felt himself starting to sweat. His gaze flicked to Robin, then back to Tim. “The attempted kidnapping?” he asked.

“Oh, right,” Tim said weakly. “That.”

“How did you even know they were here?” Robin asked, scowling beside him.

“Twitter,” Nightwing said, his shit-eating grin returning full-force. 

Tim gasped as Robin said, “What?” 

Nightwing still followed the #FuckGotham tag. Tim was saved by his own tweet. He was never leaving Twitter. Their love story would be told for generations.

“Um, excuse me,” a girl’s voice said. The blonde from earlier crept closer, uncertainty and determination both lining her every movement. Tim could see his mom over her shoulder, her arms crossed and foot tapping. He was going to be in so much trouble. “I’m sorry to bother you,” she said, voice hesitant but growing stronger as she spoke. “It’s just, I was with Jason, Jason Wayne, earlier and he disappeared and I’m pretty sure he was kidnapped.” Nightwing glanced at Robin, whose face was going through conniptions. “I told the police, but…”

“We’ll find him, I promise,” Nightwing assured her. 

“Thank you,” she said sincerely. “Where’s Batman, anyway?” She looked around the room like he might be hiding in one of the shadows. Which was fair. He could have been. 

“Oh!” Robin exclaimed. “I mean, not Batman. That’s completely unrelated. But I just remembered something else. There’s a whole ‘nother room of hostages. We should go.” 

Tim resisted the urge to cover his face as they ran off. How had nobody figured out their identities yet? They were so obvious. Everyone knew and was just pretending they didn’t, he thought again. That had to be it.

“You know,” the girl said when they were gone, her voice much chillier than it had been a few seconds earlier. “It was cool how you risked your life to help Robin, but you’re still a jerk for what you did earlier.” 

“What?” Tim asked, turning towards her. “What did I do?” Why would she be mad at him? They’d barely even talked.

She put her hands on her hips, clearly unimpressed. “Tricked me into going to talk to Jason by claiming my mom would be fired if I didn’t. I mean, Jason’s cool and I’m glad I talked to him, but you’re still a jerk.” 

Tim’s brain stuttered to a stop. “What?” he asked again, flustered. “That’s not what I… I mean, I guess it… but I just wanted to talk to Jason and my mom said I couldn’t until someone else talked to him first and…” Her expression slowly morphed from annoyed to bemused. Tim flushed. It was too late to salvage this. He just had to try to reclaim what little dignity he could. “Anyway,” he said, trying to sound distinguished even as his voice squeaked. “Speaking of my mom, I should go, uh, face the music. It was nice meeting you…”

“Steph,” she said slowly. She looked like she was starting to get the punchline to a joke, and he was pretty sure the joke was him. 

“Tim,” he said. “Right. Bye.” 

He hurried away, face down. God, that was embarrassing. He was glad Nightwing and Robin didn’t see it. 

Oh, no… Was that what Jason thought too? He was never going to live this down. 

His mom was still tapping her foot when he reached her. He risked peeking up at her face. She was definitely annoyed. 

“I’m sorry, Mom. I…” 

She enveloped him in a hug. He gasped and stiffened at the surprise touch. They were not a hugging family. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d been hugged. 

Had she been worried? He hadn’t been in that much danger. Sure, there had been a gun and the guy was trying to take him away, but he’d still had plenty of opportunities to escape and Robin was right there and…

His body betrayed him with a sniffle as he relaxed into the hug, burying his face in her shoulder. 

“Never do that again,” she said. “Being held hostage is so uncouth.” 

He choked out a laugh. “I know. I’m sorry.” 

She kissed his forehead before pulling away. “Come along. Catherine was wearing a horribly out-of-season chiffon, and we need to make sure to mention it before going home. Otherwise I will regret it for the rest of my life.” 

Tim smiled as he followed. “Yes, Mom.” 

B had looked thoroughly unimpressed with them both when they finally got around to rescuing him. Those gunshots had been really loud, hadn’t they? Jason thought with a wince. And there had been a lot of them. He was definitely going to get a lecture later.

He thought of the woman screaming as a bullet barely missed her, of Tim with a gun to his head. It was probably the least he deserved.

Nightwing and Robin climbed up to the roof to wait for B while he changed and summoned the car. The Penguin was still out there. They had a long night ahead of them.

While Nightwing surveyed the city, Robin moved to the other side of the roof. 

“Chirp?” he asked softly. “Are you there?” He knew the cameras in the hotel went out, but Chirp might have been able to follow the Penguin after he left the hotel. He should at least know which direction the Penguin went.

“Chirp?” Nightwing asked from right behind him. Robin nearly jumped out of his skin. “You’re working with Chirp?” 

“What? No,” he said a little too loudly. “I mean, what if I am?” He crossed his arms and glared at Nightwing. “It’s none of your business. I know you don’t trust him, but—”

“I didn’t say that,” Nightwing interrupted, and Robin trailed off. 

“You didn’t?” he asked uncertainly, arms falling to his sides. “I thought… I mean, Chirp said…”

“B doesn’t trust him, but B doesn’t trust anyone,” Nightwing said. There was a bitterness in his voice, that Robin didn’t think was about Chirp. "I worked with him once, and honestly? He seemed nice. Smart. Genuine.” A small smile flickered across his face at the memory. “B was suspicious, but B is paranoid and frankly I'm better at reading people than he is. I don't think Chirp was lying.” 

“Then why don’t you work with him?” Robin asked. The way Chirp had told it, Nightwing and Batman had repeatedly shut him out.

Nightwing leaned back against an air conditioning unit and stared up at the few visible stars through Gotham’s ever-present smog. “He was just a kid. This is a hard life, and I didn't want him to fall into it because of hero worship, you know? He found our channel by accident.” He laughed incredulously. “By accident. You and I both know we're not vigilantes because B gave us a suit and some training. We're vigilantes because every day we wake up and we make the choice to keep doing what we do.”  

Robin felt a fire burning in his chest. He’d only been at this for a couple weeks, but he already knew Nightwing was right. He messed up today, but he was going to wake up tomorrow and work harder, do better. He was going to keep doing it as long as they’d let him, and as long as people needed him. 

Nightwing smiled like he could read Robin’s thoughts. “I've seen a lot of people quit, people I didn't even know the secret identities of and never heard from again. I've considered quitting myself. Heck, I practically did once. But this life is a choice I keep making.” He tapped his ear, looking towards Jason’s comm meaningfully. “After two years, it sounds like it's a choice he keeps making too, not just an accident.”

“So, you think I should work with him?” He couldn’t believe he was actually asking. He didn’t care what Nightwing, what Dick, thought. All his talk of waking up every morning and continuing to work, but he gave up on Batman and Robin. He left. 

Still. It didn’t hurt to hear him out, whether he listened or not.

Nightwing reached out to ruffle his hair, and Robin stepped back, offended. Nightwing just laughed. “You trust him? You like him? Then yeah, work with him as much as you want. B isn't always right." The bitterness leaked back into his voice, and Robin wondered again why Nightwing had left. What had really happened? B wouldn’t tell him, and even Alfred had talked around it. 

That was really why he talked to Chirp, he knew. It wasn’t about trusting or liking him. It was about having a backup plan. Because if perfect Dick Grayson, Robin extraordinaire, could fall out of grace with Batman, then what hope was there for him?

A car revved from the street below. “That’s the signal,” Nightwing said. “You go ahead. I think it’s better if I do my own thing.” 

“Yeah,” Robin said quietly. “Thanks for the advice.”

“See you around, little brother,” Nightwing said with a huge grin before jumping off the roof. The sound of a grapple didn’t follow for a full twenty seconds, then he swung away, after something, or nothing. 

Robin jumped down to join Batman. That was where he belonged, at least for now. For as long as they’d keep him.