It's hot and dry. The people in Ethiopia are actually worse off than the people in Gotham's worst neighborhoods. Tim feels completely out of place, so visibly different that he sticks out like a sore thumb. Fortunately he's less of a metaphorical sore thumb than Jason is so he's able to follow Jason, snapping pictures like a tourist so that the people around him will see him as nothing more than a young tourist boy who wandered away from his parents while taking photographs.
But the camps that Jason goes to are harder to hide in. If Tim wants to stay unnoticed, and he does, he can't follow Jason in. The only reason that he discovers that the woman is Jason's mother is because he hears them talking about it though one of the tents.
Tim tucks his camera away and hides whenever someone comes close. He's good at it. He's had to be over the years. It's the only way to get close enough to take good pictures of Batman and Robin. Bruce and Dick. Then Bruce and Jason, not that he should think of them that way. No matter how much he knows of them, he's not part of their lives and never will be.
There are no Batman or Robin pictures on this roll of film. Tim made sure to start a new roll once he arrived. The flight attendants hadn't liked that Tim was flying alone, especially to another country, but they'd loved having their pictures taken by Tim. That nearly finished off the roll that included pictures of Batman and Robin's last fight with Scarecrow and Poison Ivy.
Of course he'd had to start a new roll today. The other was too close to done. Two pictures wasn't enough for anything. Thus there was one picture of his room and another of himself in the mirror. Tim wouldn't develop those pictures. There was no point to pictures of Tim.
Jason and his mother left the tents and took a truck outside of town. Tim had to run and catch the back of the truck to stay with them. The truck kicked up a huge amount of dust but Tim hung on, wondering where they were going and why. When they arrived he managed to stay out of sight by sliding under the truck with a scorpion that calmly crawled over his hand and wandered out into the street.
Too many people were around for Tim to follow Jason at first. It wasn't until Jason slipped out of the warehouse and changed into Robin that Tim managed to get a break that let him follow Jason. Something important had to be happening if Jason was Robin. The need to record it was so strong…
Tim was just thinking about sneaking in the front door of the warehouse that held Jason and his mother when a truck drove up. He stayed down behind his pile of garbage and then froze as the Joker got out and sent his men to secure the area. Jason, Robin, was inside and he had no idea what was coming.
He stayed ahead of the Joker's men by climbing up a rusty drain pipe on the side of the building and then sliding very carefully into the warehouse through a broken window. The catwalk around the upper floor creaked under his slight weight and swayed alarmingly but Tim kept going. Up here he could see what was going on and he was out of the Joker's men's path.
When the laughter started Tim moved, sneaking to the front of the warehouse. What he saw when he got there made his blood run cold, though Tim had always thought that was just a saying.
Jason, Robin, the Joker laughing as he beat Robin, blood spraying across the room and splattering the Joker's white face, Robin's blood…
Tim found himself latching onto the Joker's back, wrestling with the arm wielding the tire iron. He heard shouting, and the world lurched and spun as the Joker tried to get Tim off of his back but Tim knew better than to let the Joker grab him. Never, ever let the Joker get you. Gotham, stalking the nights in Gotham, had taught him that lesson.
Anyone the Joker touched died, other than Batman and Robin and now Robin was almost dead but Tim couldn't let that happen. He hung on, arms wrapped around the Joker's neck and legs clamped around his waist because he didn't have a weapon but that was okay because the Joker was gasping, laughing despite the lack of air, clawing at Tim's arms, his legs.
Tim pulled harder on the Joker's neck, praying desperately hard though he didn't know to whom.
Something hit his head, his back, his side, something sharp and painful that felt like nothing he'd ever experienced. Something warm that had to be blood flowed down the side of his face. He thought it was blood, it must be blood, but that didn't matter as much as stopping the Joker from killing Robin. Robin had to live. He had to live. He had to. No matter what happened to Tim, Robin had to live!
He wanted to stop the Joker but the blood-wetness on his face and back and side was pulling strength out of his arms and legs. As they went numb and stopped responding Jason was there to smash a fist into the Joker's face. He was snarling and angry with so many bruises on his face and so much blood covering his bright uniform but he still managed to knock the Joker out with three fast blows that made the Joker's blood fly this time.
Tim didn't feel the ground when he hit it a moment later. He thought it was a moment later. It was hard to tell. Everything felt so heavy and his head should hurt, shouldn't it? There had been gunshots or something. He'd been shot. That was it. Tim had been shot so he must be going into shock or maybe he was dying. Somehow the thought of dying didn't matter to him now that Robin would be okay.
"Come on, you gotta get up!" Jason snapped into Tim's face. "There's a bomb. We gotta get out of here!"
"Can't… move…" Tim managed to whisper. "Sorry. Your mom, Jason…"
"Fuck her!" Jason snapped even though his eyes were full of pain and worry. "Come on!"
He grabbed Tim to haul him up over his shoulder and suddenly the pain was back, so much worse than before. Tim almost screamed but the pain was so overwhelming that there wasn't room for air in his lungs. Blackness consumed him the instant Jason settled him over his shoulder.
"Come on, come on," Jason panted as he made himself run out of the warehouse and away from the bomb with the kid over his shoulder.
He had no clue who the fuck the kid was. Skinny little kid had appeared out of nowhere, and he was way to fucking small to be jumping into a fight with the Joker, even if the kid had saved his life. Jason knew he would have died. He'd seen it in the Joker's eyes. If the kid hadn't shown up fucking Joker would have beaten so bad Jason couldn't move and then left him for the bomb to finish.
"Far enough," Jason panted as he carefully dropped the kid to the ground. "Gotta get Sheila and the Joker out."
Jason stood shakily and started to turn back into the warehouse but as he did the whole world went up in a blast that knocked him from his feet and smacked him down on top of the kid. He hit his head hard enough to make the world go away for a little while when he landed. When he came to B was there, rolling Jason over and making a wounded little moan that shouldn't ever fucking come from B's mouth. The fucking Batman didn't make sounds like that.
"Robin," Bruce whispered.
"Joker," Jason said, struggling to sit up and push B away so that they could do what needed to be done. "Joker and… and the woman. They were in the warehouse, B. And the kid, is the kid all right? He jumped on the fucking Joker's back and half strangled him, B."
"The warehouse is gone, Robin," Bruce said. "I… got here after it blew up."
Jason tried to find enough sympathy in his heart to feel bad about Sheila dying. It didn't come, not after she turned him over to the Joker to die just to save her own ass. He didn't dare look at B for fear of seeing just what B felt about the Joker finally being dead and gone. Rather than deal with either of those issues, he turned back to the kid.
He was bleeding, but not bad. B had already slapped some bandages on the gunshot wounds. The kid's head was the worst but Jason was pretty sure that it was just a graze. Hopefully the kid's skull hadn't fractured. Black hair, blue eyes that Jason remembered but hadn't really noticed at the time, and seriously, just way too fucking young to be here.
"He's so fucking young, B," Jason whispered. "What the hell is he doing here? He spoke English, not Ethiopian."
"I don't know," B answered. "I found a hotel key in his pocket. We'll find his parents once we're away from here."
The only distinctive thing about the kid was the expensive camera around his neck. It looked like something the reporters that followed Brucie around would have wet dreams over. Jason managed to stand by himself when Bruce picked the kid up. They got away before the Ethiopian cops showed up with military trucks on their heels.
Even though everything hurt, Jason didn't complain about the pain. He was fucking lucky to be alive right now.
Once back in town after dropping the kid off at the local, crappy, hospital, the kid's room turned out to be in the same damn hotel as Jason and Bruce's room. He was one floor up, exactly one floor above the room Bruce and Jason shared. That made the hair stand up on the back of Jason's neck. It was a fucking expensive hotel. Getting in was easy enough but the kid's room only had one kid-sized suitcase in it.
"No parents?" Jason asked as he stared around the damn near barren room. "The fuck, B?"
Bruce's face had gone so grim that he ought to be wearing the damned cowl. Jason helped Bruce search the room but there wasn't a fucking thing to be found. The kid's passport said his name was Timothy Drake, age twelve, from Gotham. He'd left it sitting on the bureau as if it wasn't worth more than Jason's weight in gold around here. Kid was fucking twelve and he was traveling around the god-damned world by himself with nothing but a camera around his neck.
"Film," Bruce commented from his detailed examination of Tim's suitcase. "There are six rolls of film here. Two have been taken. One canister is empty. The others are untouched."
"Expensive camera around his neck," Jason commented. "What's on the film, B?"
"I think we need to find out," Bruce said.
"I'll keep an eye on him in the hospital, B," Jason volunteered. "You get that film developed and figure out what the hell the Joker was doing around here."
"Agreed," Bruce said.
They took Tim's suitcase downstairs, tucking it beside Jason's as though they were brothers or something. That's what Jason claimed when he got back to the hospital. Bruce did a great job of playing the worried rich father. He flashed enough money to ensure that Jason got to stay by Tim's side when Bruce left to 'take care of getting them all home'.
Jason hoped like hell that B actually was working on getting them home. The kid's face was pale even against the gray-white sheets of the hospital bed. He looked even smaller with a huge bandage around his head and a needle dripping blood into his veins.
Bruce came back a few hours later with a cab already loaded with their belongings and a doctor who complained in Ethiopian about moving a patient with a head injury. As Bruce tenderly gathered Tim's fucking tiny body up Jason slapped even more money into the doctor's hand.
"Do something like fix this place up, will you?" Jason snapped at the doctor. "Jesus, my little brother needs better than this. We're going home whether you like it or not."
Either the money or the obvious worry in Jason and Bruce's eyes made the doctor shut up and get out of their way. Jason had been worried that they'd have to fly in a regular plane but of course B had his jet ready and waiting for them.
"Is he going to be okay?" Jason asked once they were in the air.
He paged through the pictures of Batman and Robin that had filled the roll of film that B had found in Tim's luggage. How the hell the kid had taken pictures of their big fight with Ivy without being seen or hurt Jason had no clue but he had the pictures right there in his hand. And the fight with fucking Crane. Tim'd been there too.
It was kind of creepy except for the one shot of Tim in his hotel room, smiling so tentatively at himself in the mirror. Jason stared at that one for a long time while Bruce fussed with attaching an IV bottle to one of the overhead hooks by Tim's fully reclined seat. He looked so little and alone in that picture. Jason kind of thought that stalking Batman and Robin was all the kid had in his life but that didn't make any sense. He had to have parents, didn't he?
"It's too soon to tell, Jason," Bruce sighed. "Dick is investigating everything he can find out about Timothy. Alfred will be waiting to pick us up at the airport."
"And his parents?" Jason asked.
"I… already confirmed that they're in Europe," Bruce said in one of the darkest tones he allowed himself outside of the cowl. "They've been gone for two months and aren't expected back for another three and a half weeks."
Before Bruce could do more than meet Jason's glare with a glower of his own, Tim stirred and moaned. Jason put one hand on the kid's shoulder while Bruce put a restraining hand on Tim's arm when he tried to move it.
"Don't move," Bruce said.
"Yeah, you gotta be hurting," Jason said sympathetically. "Hits like that always suck, Timmy."
Tim blinked at Bruce and then at Jason, a tiny frown forming between his eyebrows. He opened his mouth, paused, shut it, blinked some more and then made a distressed little noise that fucking hurt to hear. Jason's hand tightened involuntarily on Tim's shoulder.
"What's wrong?" Jason asked right as Bruce opened his mouth to ask too.
"Who… are you?" Tim asked just tentatively enough to make it obvious he had no fucking clue who they were. "Um, I do know you, right? What happened?"
"What's the last thing you remember?" Bruce asked with one hand flashed up to keep Jason from all but shouting at Tim that he had to remember.
"Um, the… only… thing I remember…" Tim said, blinking at the ceiling of the plane now, "is… laughter. Horrible laughter. And… a letter. An 'R', all in gold. There was… something important? I think. The laughter was… bad. And…"
Tim shook his head and then his eyelids fluttered shut again as an expression of startled pain appeared and then faded. He slipped back into unconsciousness, leaving Jason staring at Bruce who stared down at Tim with enough worry to make Jason's guts quiver.
"He doesn't remember," Jason breathed.
"He will," Bruce said in his determined to fix it voice.
"We'll make sure he remembers," Bruce replied. "One way or the other. We… owe him that much at the very least."
Bruce gripped Jason's shoulder with enough force to convey just how grateful he was that Tim had saved his life. Jason set down the photo of Tim in his hotel room and put his hand on top of B's. They did owe Tim, a hell of a lot more than just some reminders of who he was. So much more.
Dick bounced on his toes as he waited for the plane to taxi up to the hangar. Alfred stood next to him, as imperturbable as if they were waiting for cookies to come out of the oven. The wheelchair standing quietly next to them told the real story.
Timothy Drake. He couldn't help but wonder what the boy was like. Everything that he'd uncovered during their twenty hour wait for Bruce and Jason's plane to arrive from Ethiopia said that the boy was likely to be emotionally fragile, damaged by his parents' neglect and completely brilliant. The housekeeper had been quite happy to talk about Tim, describing him as a sweet young man who never gave her any trouble at all. She'd shut down as soon as Dick brought up Janet and Jack Drake.
No surprise there, Dick thought as the plane finally taxied to a stop close to the limo. The Drakes were living examples of everything that Dick had always hated about high society, not that they spent a lot of time on their business. Or their child.
"They shall be out shortly, Master Richard," Alfred said as Dick started pacing.
"I know, I know," Dick sighed. "Just… the Drakes."
"Indeed, Master Dick," Alfred agreed with an aggrieved sigh of his own. "I am somewhat unsure as to whether we should contact them about Master Timothy's condition."
"Alfred," Dick said with a shocked enough stare that Alfred sniffed and straightened his back that extra inch that made him look like he'd been made of stone.
"I do not believe that he will receive proper care if he is returned to them," Alfred replied so stiffly that Dick winced for their sakes.
Neither of them had the time to say anything about Dick's research into Tim's life. Jason poked his head out and bounded by the stairs two at a time. His expression was an interesting mixture of worried and frightened. He was so badly bruised that neither emotion was clearly visible. Dick caught him in a hug that made Jason squawk. Normally he squirmed out of Dick's hugs as quickly as he could. This time, he leaned into the hug so Dick knew that his little brother was really freaked out.
"He has amnesia," Jason said as soon as Dick let him go. "Doesn't remember a goddamned thing besides the Joker laughing and the 'R'."
"If he has that much then he will be able to recover the rest, Master Jason," Alfred said soothingly enough that Jason stopped vibrating from nerves. "Head injuries are tricky things but I am certain we can help him recover what he has lost."
Bruce appeared with a boy in his arms. It took a moment for Dick to realize that the blanket-wrapped bundle had to be Tim. He was too tiny to be twelve, or at least it seemed that way. Dick would have thought Tim was ten at most, maybe eleven. The wheelchair was soundly ignored as Bruce stalked to the limo so Dick helped Jason fold it and tuck it into the trunk. Once they'd settled into the back of the limo Bruce looked at Dick expectantly.
"Wait until we're home, Bruce," Dick said. "Just… wait until we're home."
"That bad?" Jason asked.
"Alfred thinks we should keep him," Dick answered in as neutral a tone as he could manage, which wasn't terribly neutral at all. "He doesn't think Tim will get proper care if we give him back to his parents."
Jason's jaw dropped open that Alfred would say something like that. It didn't seem to surprise Bruce, though his arms around Tim's still form did tighten a little bit. They made the ride from the airport to Wayne Manor in relative silence. Only Jason cursing under his breath broke the quiet. Dick wasn't sure if Jason even realized that he was doing it.
Alfred and Bruce took Tim to one of the first floor bedroom suites as he probably wouldn't be able to handle stairs for quite a while. The medical report that Bruce had given Dick said that one of the bullets had been dangerously close to Tim's spine. He was going to have a hard time walking at first but if anyone could help him overcome the injury, Dick knew that they could.
"Did he tell you about the photos?" Jason asked after a couple of minutes of twitching silence.
"Yeah, why?" Dick asked. He deliberately didn't pull the thick folder holding his research into Tim's neglect over for Jason to look at.
"Dick… He called me Jason," Jason hissed. "I was in the suit and everything but he… he knows who we are. Look at this!"
Jason passed over a stack of photos, already slightly curled at the edges from handling despite being brand new. He must have spent the whole trip back from Ethiopia flipping through them. The top picture was a shot of Tim photographing himself in the mirror. The shy, tentative little smile looked to Dick as though Tim didn't really know how to smile. That matched perfectly with what Dick had discovered of Tim's life.
The rest of the pictures were even more revealing, though they were quite a bit more surprising.
One shot had been taken from the top of the warehouse on Thirty-second and Main, at an angle that meant that he'd been hiding behind the big heating vent. Another had to have come from Gotham Park, possibly the shrubs close to the pond where Dick had fought Killer Croc once. Picture after picture of Batman and Robin met his eyes, always taken from a perfect place of concealment.
"See?" Jason said as he stopped Dick on one picture that Dick couldn't quite figure out the vantage point for. "He had to have climbed up the light pole, shimmied across to the ledge on the side of the Harrison building and then slipped into that little spot where the bricks are broken to take that picture."
"There have to be more," Dick breathed. "These are the most recent pictures. He has to have more pictures of us somewhere."
"Yeah, and I'm willing to bet that he's got pictures of us as Jason, Brucie and Dick," Jason said. "Dick, he knew my name! He called me Jason when I tried to get us out of the warehouse. He knows us."
"Do you think he's a threat?" Dick asked.
He couldn't imagine that the boy he'd researched had done this for money but maybe he was doing it for approval? Tim was so neglected that he might have. There were dozens of enemies who would pay good money to see these photos. Offering a little approval to a love-starved child would be cheap to them.
"I don't know," Jason sighed. "Look, he saved my fucking life, Dick. Jumped on the god-damned Joker's back and half strangled him just to keep me from being beaten to death. He, he saved me and he's so damned young and… I just don't know!"
Dick pulled Jason into another hug and smiled as Jason clung to him. The times that Jason let Dick hug him this freely were so rare that he always treasured them. Even after Dick started gently releasing Jason, Jason kept clinging. That prompted a quiet sigh and another firm squeeze that made Jason whimper in ways that he'd deny violently if Dick teased him about it later.
"You don't want to think he's an enemy," Dick whispered.
"No," Jason agreed.
"Haven't told Bruce?"
"I couldn't!" Jason squawked as he abruptly pushed away from Dick. "Fuck, you know what he gets like. He'd have left the kid there in that crappy hospital and just called his parents out of sheer paranoia!"
"I wouldn't have let him do that," Dick said far more grimly than he intended to. Jason stared at him so Dick sighed and handed Jason the folder of research on Tim's life. "Read. You'll see."
Jason's eyes went wide. He settled down and read through the folder. As he read, his expression went darker and darker until by the time Bruce came out of Tim's room with Alfred on his heels, Jason looked like he wanted to kill someone. Probably the Drakes in messy, painful, humiliating ways. Dick couldn't blame him. He wanted to kill the Drakes too or at least drag their names though the mud by publically suing for custody of their son. Bruce raised one eyebrow.
"I'm going to formally suggest that you file for custody of Tim," Dick said.
Bruce turned and looked at Alfred who raised his chin and actually glared at Bruce. He blinked twice at Alfred's response before turning back to Dick. "Tell me."
"Criminal neglect," Dick explained. "I'm astonished that Tim survived infancy and can only credit his life to a nurse who gave him all the love his parents didn't. I would have expected him to die of 'failure to thrive'."
"Touch deprived," Bruce sighed. "I knew he was touch deprived from his appearance but wasn't sure how bad it was."
"Severe," Dick said. "His mother nursed him for precisely one week and then he was put on formula. Okay, fine. Lots of women do that but she never held him, never touched him. I mean, never. Her doctor in the hospital noted it several times before they were released. He recommended therapy for post-partum depression. Janet never went. Instead, two weeks after Tim was born Jack and Janet Drake left the country and spent six months in Australia. They returned for one month, left again for months, and returned for a few weeks.
"Tim spent his first four years without seeing his parents for more than thirty days at a time," Dick continued despite Jason's infuriated growl. "When he was four, his nurse was discharged and a housekeeper was hired in her place. The reasoning given to the nurse was that Tim was too old for a full time nurse and the nurse was getting 'too attached'. There have been sixteen housekeepers since the nurse was fired. All of them either left of their own accord, most expressing regret that they were leaving Tim behind, though some were fired, again for being too attached to him."
"Food?" Bruce asked. "Clothes? Bruises?"
His hands had gone into fists about the time Dick mentioned 'failure to thrive'. Dick was a little surprised that Bruce hadn't already stormed off to confirm Dick's findings. Tim's upbringing was far too much like Bruce's after his parents died, only taken to the nth degree. It had to be killing Bruce to hear that a child could be treated in this way by his actual parents. Jason certainly seemed to be horrified by it. He had turned so red that Dick was worried about tears or an explosion any second.
"He's always had ample food, clothing, and anything material he might need," Dick sighed. "He's never been beaten that I can tell. If Tim expressed an interest in something physical, his parents bought it for him. They provided for every physical want and need that Tim had and ensured that he had appropriately stimulating schooling. He wanted a camera. He got it, plus a blackout room and everything he needed to develop film. He wanted to learn to fight. They got him training in any discipline he was interested in. Any book he wants, he gets. Unfortunately, there seems to be a pattern that if Tim asks for something they go away for longer periods of time than if he doesn't. All of their longer trips came immediately after Tim asked for something big. I haven't correlated their trips and Tim's requests fully yet but it feels like they punish him by leaving whenever he shows any signs of having emotional needs."
"They're fucking treating him like a robot instead of a kid!" Jason finally exploded. "No fucking wonder he's running around Gotham at night taking pictures of us!"
"Is he a sociopath?" Bruce asked and then held up a hand at Jason's indignant noise. "Severe neglect can lead to sociopathic behavior, Jason."
Dick sighed and leaned back in his chair to consider the question. He waved at Jason's continuing growls and then smiled as Alfred came over to put a gently restraining hand on Jason's shoulder. It was a good question, if you were thinking like Batman. After a few moments Dick shrugged.
"I don't know, B," Dick replied. "I need more data. I'd like to go search his room tonight, see if I can turn anything up beyond what's in the public record. And seriously, you need to file for custody of Tim. He… needs help, B. Badly."
Bruce nodded and sat at the table to review Dick's data. Dinner was a quiet meal full of prolonged silences punctuated by theories about Jack and Janet Drake. Jason was of the opinion that they were flatly bad people. Alfred seemed to share that opinion. Bruce took the opposite side, probably out of sheer stubbornness, while Dick was somewhere between them.
He'd met the Drakes. Jack was a nice man, a good person, though obviously rather more submissive to his wife's desires than was probably good for him. Janet had always reminded Dick of a perfectly sharpened knife. She was brilliant, cutting and in his opinion a true sociopath. Dick doubted that she had any concerns about what other people wanted or needed, though she didn't go out of her way to hurt anyone.
She also had never seemed to care about her son unless they were in public.
Patrol started as soon as it got dark. Neither Dick nor Bruce wanted to stay in. Jason insisted on staying by Tim's side in case he woke and found himself in a strange place.
After spending so much time in Bludhaven, Gotham felt a little strange to Dick, though that might have more to do with the fact that tonight he was only a mile and a half from the Manor instead of in Gotham's worst neighborhoods.
Tim's bedroom was on the second floor, right next to a huge old oak tree. The window was gimmicked so that it looked locked but Dick was able to slide it up easily. Someone, obviously Tim, had carefully removed the latch. Slipping from one of the tree branches into the window was so easy that Dick knew he'd found Tim's way of sneaking out. Inside, Tim's room was as surprising as his parent's neglect.
The room was messy in strangely neat ways. One pair of pants hung over the back of the desk chair but they were clean, not dirty as would be normal for a teen his age. The bookshelves weren't alphabetized but they were arranged by subject, author's name, and date of publication. Dick shivered as he realized that the library at the Manor had many of the same books. A bulletin board over the desk had random snapshots of Gotham's better neighborhoods. Several truly beautiful shots had been framed and put on the wall.
There was a picture of Dick at Haley's Circus on Tim's bedside table. He had his arm wrapped around the shoulders of a tiny too-serious boy with black hair and blue eyes.
Dick shivered as he picked up the picture.
It was framed, an old wooden frame that had worn spots on the top corner closest to Dick's face in the picture. Someone, again obviously Tim, had rubbed that spot on the frame so many times that he'd worn the varnish away. Dick had to swallow down the lump in his throat before he continued searching. Nothing in the room really leaped out at him until he found a locked metal box under Tim's bed. The lock wasn't anything special but Dick could see wires leading from it so he carefully picked it and opened the box with care. He was glad that he had when he saw the acid bath that would have destroyed the pictures inside if the lock had been simply cut off.
Hundreds of pictures looked up at Dick, not just of Bruce and Jason as Batman and Robin, but also Dick and Bruce. There were pictures of them in their civilian identities going back years. Tim had followed them for years, possibly from the time he met Dick at the circus. The bottom of the box had a thick folder full of articles about Haley's Circus, Dick and Bruce, plus later articles about Jason's adoption as Bruce's son, all precisely arranged by date and source of publication.
"Oh Tim," Dick breathed. "We're the family you always wanted but could never have, aren't we?"
Dick removed the booby trap on the box and carefully slipped out of Tim's room with the box under one arm. He slipped back in a couple of moments later and took the framed picture from Tim's bedside table. By the time Dick made it back to the Cave he thought he could trust his voice again.
"B," Dick said and swallowed down the lump that had made his voice come out thickened and strange. "I found more info."
"Understood," Batman replied. "Bad?"
"I…" Dick shuddered as he looked at the picture of himself and Tim as little boys. In the better lights of the cave he could see a terribly neat handwritten notation on the bottom of the picture and had to wonder if it was Janet's handwriting or Tim's. "He was there when my parents died, B. He saw them fall."
"I'll be back soon." This time it was Bruce, not Batman, who answered.
Dick stared at the picture until Alfred came down and put a hand on Dick's shoulder. There wasn't anything to say in answer to Alfred's questioning eyebrow so Dick just gave him the little framed photo. One breath caught in Alfred's chest as his eyes went dark and sad.
"Has Master Bruce made a decision regarding Master Timothy's situation?" Alfred asked.
"I hope so, Alfred," Dick sighed. "I really, really hope so."
The night was darker than normal. Bruce knew it was purely a response to the too-small boy in the bedroom back at the Manor but knowing that didn't change his perception. Clouds hung lower than average over the city. The normal haunts of criminals were darker. He would have wagered that more lights were broken than any other night except that he'd already calculated based off a statistical sample and found that he was wrong.
It was nothing more and nothing less than the absence of his normal partners on the streets coupled with the sense-memory of Timothy Drake's fragile form in his arms.
"B," Dick said over the comms in a voice thickened by emotion, "I found more info."
"Understood," Bruce replied. He swung back towards the Batmobile, carefully controlling his emotions so that they didn't unduly affect his voice. "Bad?"
"I…" Dick's voice faded off into nothingness for long enough that Bruce's imagination filled in a thousand different torments delivered to Tim in the privacy of his parent's home. When Dick managed to continue Bruce could hear tears in his voice. "He was there when my parents died, B. He saw them fall."
"I'll be back soon." Bruce answered in his own voice and be damned to anyone who might overhear.
The words were a mere whisper followed by the click of Dick turning his comm off. As much as Bruce wanted to go straight home, one attempted murder and a near rape diverted him on his way back to the Batmobile. Once in it, Bruce didn't allow himself to be turned aside. The Mission consumed nearly everything in his life. Bruce wouldn't allow it to destroy his connection to his boys, especially given his known difficulties with communication. Dick needed him so Bruce would be there as quickly as he could whether or not he knew what he'd say when he got there.
When Bruce returned to the Cave, Dick was sitting at the monitors in street clothes, a metal box filled with photos on his lap. He had a framed photo in his hands that he stared at as fixedly as Bruce had ever stared at his parent's portrait after their death. Dick shut his eyes when Bruce walked over.
"He was there," Dick whispered as he blindly offered the photo to Bruce.
Tim as a toddler stared back at Bruce from the cradle of a smiling child-Dick's arm. It was the exact day that Bruce had met Dick, noted on the bottom of the photo in Janet's excessively neat handwriting. Janet Drake stood behind Tim, her burgundy skirt pressed to perfection. One hand rested possessively on the back of Tim's head as if to lay claim or perhaps in preparation for pushing Tim away once the picture had been taken.
"I remember them," Bruce murmured. "Jack forgot his wallet and Janet was awkwardly comforting Tim while verbally castrating Jack. I paid for their tickets as Brucie. I paid for everyone's tickets that day."
"Seriously?" Dick asked. His expression was amused though the pain was still there in his eyes. "I didn't know that you paid because of them."
"Mmm-hmm." Bruce frowned at the frame's very particular wear. "He's had this all that time. Are there more?"
"Hundreds of pictures, Bruce," Dick sighed. "He's followed us ever since that day. I'd bet Haley's Circus that he's dreamed of being part of our family ever since then."
The look in Dick's eyes nearly prompted a sigh. Bruce had seen starving, kicked puppies that were less effective at non-verbal begging than Dick. Alfred's glare earlier, Jason's insistence on sitting with Tim as he recuperated, the data that Dick had gathered all combined with Bruce's own determination that Tim not suffer another minute in his parent's home.
"I need to change, Dick," Bruce said, patting his shoulder. "Has Tim woken?"
"B," Dick whined. "Come on, you can't leave him with those people!"
"I called Lucius to create the paperwork for Tim's custody when I first called from Ethiopia, Dick," Bruce said and then chuckled at the glare Dick leveled on him. "It's only waiting for confirmation that Tim actually needed saving. I would have thought that you would have verified that by now."
Bruce turned away and went to the showers before Dick could begin cursing like Jason. The temptation was obviously there judging by the harsh exhalation that gusted at Bruce's back. By the time he was done showering, Alfred was waiting with fresh clothes and the look in his eyes that said Dick had talked to him.
"Master Dick states that you have begun the process of claiming Master Timothy from his parents," Alfred said sternly enough that Bruce felt like a child again.
"Of course," Bruce replied. "I started that while we were still in Ethiopia."
"Excellent, Master Bruce," Alfred said with that one perfectly arched eyebrow that never failed to make Bruce wince. "Perhaps next time you might inform the rest of us of your thought processes. We do sometimes fail in following your leaps of logic."
"Sorry, Alfred. I assumed that it was obvious," Bruce said and grinned as Alfred's expression went fondly dismayed. "Is he awake?"
"No, I am afraid not, Master Bruce," Alfred sighed. "I hope that he will wake soon but we can but wait and watch."
Dick and the box were gone so Bruce went upstairs to Tim's new bedroom. He was asleep but Dick and Jason were sitting together at the little table in the room, reviewing the hundreds of pictures that Tim had taken of the three of them. There were even a few pictures of Alfred, which surprised Bruce. Apparently Tim had noticed how important Alfred was to the rest of the family. Or perhaps he had simply been compelled to photograph everyone at Wayne Manor.
Dick got to Tim's bedside before Bruce or Jason could do more than turn. He grinned down at Tim while laying a restraining hand on his chest so that Tim wouldn't try and move. The framed photo of Dick and Tim sat on the bedside table in plain sight.
"Hey, no moving," Dick told Tim in the gentle voice he reserved for frightened children and Bruce in his worst brooding moods.
"Where…?" Tim whispered and then trailed off as he actually looked at Dick's face. His eyes went wide with recognition. "You're Dick Grayson."
"You remember me?" Dick said in such a delighted tone of voice that Jason snickered behind Bruce. "That's great! Jason said that you didn't remember much of anything."
"I… met you?" Tim said, blinking and frowning. "When I was very young. I met you, didn't I?"
"You did," Dick said. He took the picture from the bedside table and held it so that Tim could see it. "That's you and me as a little boys on the day we met."
Tim all but drank the photo in. His free hand, the one without an IV, drifted up and rubbed the worn spot on the frame closest to Dick's face. Several moments passed and then Tim's breath caught in his chest at a sudden surge of sorrow.
"Oh…!" Tim's moan prompted Bruce to come and stand with his hand on Dick's shoulder while Jason came and sat on Tim's other side so that he could put a hand on Tim's thigh. "Your parents…"
"They died that day, yes," Dick said. There wasn't any pain in his voice anymore but Bruce could feel the minute wince of Dick's shoulders under his hand. "It hurt really badly but I ended up with Bruce and I've been happy since then. It's okay."
"There's… more," Tim whispered. "I can almost…"
His forehead wrinkled as he tried to make himself remember. Tim's breath caught in his chest, prompting Jason to squeeze his thigh which got no response and Dick to pet his cheek which made Tim's upper body start while his lower body barely twitched. Bruce frowned. The spinal injury would need to be looked at today to ensure that Tim didn't lose the function in his legs.
"Don't try and force it, Tim," Dick said. "You're remembering things and that's what counts. I didn't think you'd remember me and you did."
"Your skull's fractured, Timmy," Jason agreed. "It's gonna take a while for your brain to get back to normal. Trust me on that one. I've had skull fractures before and I'm fine."
"Really?" Tim asked, looking at Dick, then Jason and then up at Bruce for reassurance that he didn't seem inclined to believe.
"Really," Bruce agreed. "Traumatic amnesia is to be expected after your experience."
"But I can't remember what happened," Tim protested. "I should remember that, shouldn't I?"
He seemed inclined to blame himself for the failure to remember everything as quickly as possible. Bruce sighed and shook his head which of course attracted Tim's attention back to Bruce and pulled him out of his own head again.
"That's the one thing that's least likely for you to remember," Bruce told Tim. "You may never recover that memory fully. Don't focus on the memories, Tim. Focus on your feelings. What do you feel about us?"
Dick and Jason both had expressions suggesting that they wanted to stare at him in shock that he would tell anyone to ignore their mind and focus on their feelings but Alfred's eyes were twinkling with amusement. Tim didn't seem to notice Dick, Jason or Alfred's responses as he frowned again.
The room was silent for a long moment as Tim pondered and then stared at the framed picture of him and Dick as children. He opened his mouth and shut it again several times. The hesitation seemed to make Jason twitch but Alfred's hand on his shoulder kept him from interrupting Tim's thought processes for long enough that Tim was finally able to turn back and look up at Bruce.
"I feel like I know you but you don't know me," Tim said, "though that… doesn't really make sense. And… that my parents…"
He stopped talking entirely which prompted a growl from Jason. This time when Jason squeezed Tim's thigh Tim blinked and looked down as if he was surprised that Jason was touching him. Bruce mentally moved the doctor's appointment up to this morning. Sleep be damned. Tim needed care now.
"I've started legal proceedings to get custody of you from your parents, Tim," Bruce told him and then smirked at Jason's crow of delight. "I took Dick and Jason in because they needed care that they weren't getting for various reasons. Your parents… the information we've gathered says that they haven't taken very good care of you."
"That… feels…" Tim paused and waved his free hand consideringly. "I don't know. They, I think… I think that they'll be… annoyed? That I'm hurt. It's… all just… reaction, not memory. I don't know and I should, shouldn't I?"
"Not with traumatic amnesia and a brain injury," Bruce said. "And yes, I do think that they'll be annoyed, very annoyed. I truly don't care. You were hurt saving Jason's life. I cannot let you go back to a home where you won't be properly cared for. I'll be bringing in the police soon and a doctor to look at your injuries, Tim. Don't worry about any of it. Focus on resting, healing. Your parents, your memories, all of it can wait until you've regained your strength."
"Yes sir," Tim said with a series of blinks that made him look years younger than his actual age.
Bruce patted Dick's shoulder and left the room with Alfred. Behind him, Jason and Dick talked with Tim, telling him stories about their lives in the Manor and how happy they were to be here instead of where they had been. Alfred's expression had turned worried, which matched very well with Bruce's worries about Tim's condition.
"I shall contact a doctor forthwith, Master Bruce," Alfred announced. "Perhaps you could spend the time until he arrives contacting Mr. Fox and the police?"
"Good idea, Alfred," Bruce said. "The information Dick gathered is in my office?"
"Indeed, Master Bruce, along with the further documentation that I gathered yesterday and this evening," Alfred said. "If I may say so, I believe that the case should be fairly easy to prove."
"I hope so, Alfred," Bruce sighed. "Tim can't go back to the Drakes, not with those injuries. Not after he saved Jason that way. I won't allow it."
The expression on Alfred's face was as warmly approving as anything Bruce had ever seen when they parted ways outside of Bruce's office door. There were so many things he needed to do as Batman, not the least of which was track down who had summoned the Joker from Gotham to Ethiopia and why. The Joker's death might have slowed their plan down but he doubted that it would stop whoever it was permanently. Figuring out their real plan was a concern.
He pushed those concerns away as he reached for the phone. Batman would have to wait for a while. Bruce Wayne had a child to save.
"Mr. Wayne," Jim Gordon said as he shook Bruce's hand. "To what do I owe the summons?"
"I do hope it didn't come across like a summons," Bruce said in his mild-mannered Brucie voice. "I need your help. Why don't we step into my office to discuss it with my lawyer Lucius Fox?"
"Sure," Jim said though he studied Bruce intently enough that Bruce had to wonder once again if Jim had figured out exactly who Batman was. If he had, Jim had never shown any signs of it other than the occasional penetrating look. "Can you tell me what's going on?"
"I want to file for custody of Timothy Drake," Bruce explained. "It's a bit of a story but… well, come look at the information we've gathered and you'll see."
Jim's jaw had dropped open. He snapped it shut and followed Bruce with a much more serious set to his shoulders. His mustache had bristled out so maybe he wasn't completely ignorant of Tim's situation or maybe he was upset about Bruce adopting another boy. When they came in Lucius looked up and nodded to Jim and Bruce.
"This…" Lucius huffed and stopped talking as he pushed the thick file folder towards Jim. "How has he survived this long?"
"I really don't know," Bruce sighed. He settled down and let Jim start reading over the information. "Jason and I went to Ethiopia this week."
"It always amazes me how calmly you can say things like that," Jim laughed while shaking his head in amazement. "Why Ethiopia?"
"Jason was curious about the pyramids," Bruce said with a casual shrug. "Ethiopian pyramids are completely different from Egyptian ones; far less well known. I was talking to a rug dealer about commissioning a rug for the blue salon and Jason wandered away without my realizing it. While he was gone, he was attacked by some thieves."
Bruce paused to take a deep breath which wasn't all for effect. If Tim hadn't been there… "The leader of the thieves beat Jason badly with a tire iron, Jim. He would have died except for the fact that Timothy Drake appeared out of nowhere and jumped on the leader's back. During the following battle, Tim was shot three times. He took two shots in the back and one bullet grazed his head. I found them just as Jason knocked the leader out and managed to help send the others running, mostly through the shock of my appearance I think."
"Good God," Jim breathed, the paperwork forgotten. "Is he all right? Is Jason all right? What did Tim's parents do?"
"He's in one of the bedrooms up the hall," Bruce said, well aware that his expression and voice had gone Batman-fierce. "Jim, Tim was in Ethiopia alone. I have no idea why he was there as he has amnesia. His parents have been in Europe for two months and aren't expected back for another three weeks. As far as I can tell, Tim is persistently left home alone with just a part-time housekeeper. This has been going on since he was four years old. It's a miracle that the boy has survived this long."
Both Jim and Lucius made a disgusted noise. Jim growled and started reviewing the paperwork. By the time he'd gone through all of it, including Lucius' custody suit paperwork, his expression was so grim that it reminded Bruce of how Jim had looked when Bruce's parents had died, as well as when Dick's parents had been murdered.
Jim flipped the folder shut and blew out a breath as he pushed back from the desk to pace. Bruce let him, having gotten the worst of his anger over Tim's situation out of his system before they called Lucius and Jim in. Lucius glowered as he re-sorted the paperwork to order and put it back into the folder.
"How has this gone unnoticed?" Jim finally exploded. "I've seen cases with less severe neglect in Crime Alley!"
"The Drakes are rich," Bruce sighed. "They could get away with it and Tim… Tim is a very quiet young man who doesn't want to upset anyone. He wouldn't complain no matter how lonely he was."
"They'll fight you," Lucius commented.
"I know," Bruce said. He patted the folder and shrugged. "I don't think that they'll win. There's simply too much evidence showing Tim's neglect."
"Can we see him?" Jim asked. Now he had nearly exactly the same expression as he had when he'd wrapped Thomas Wayne's coat around Bruce's shoulders in the police station, protective, solicitous and kind. "Is he up to that?"
"Certainly," Bruce said and stood. "I've called in a doctor, a specialist in nervous system injuries. He should be done examining Tim and taking X-rays of the damage by now. Tim isn't reacting to anything but the firmest of touches to his legs. One of the bullets was very close to his spine so I'm worried about partial paralysis."
That seemed to hit Jim hard as his face went very pale. They walked in silence down the hallway to Tim's suite though Bruce could hear Jim grinding his teeth. When they entered Tim's bedroom the doctor he'd summoned was packing up his portable X-ray while Dick settled down by Tim's side on the bed again. Jason smiled at Bruce and nodded respectfully to Jim. Jim whispered a curse word when he saw the bruises mottling Jason's face.
"Um, do I know you?" Tim asked while looking at Jim and Lucius.
"He's got traumatic amnesia," the doctor explained. "I believe it will be temporary. I'll just go in the other room to write up my findings and recommendations."
"Thank you, Doctor," Bruce said. "And no, you don't know them, Tim. This is Commissioner Jim Gordon and my lawyer Lucius Fox."
"Oh, they're here about my parents," Tim breathed. He looked horribly uncomfortable with that thought and clutched Dick's hand as if afraid he'd be torn away from them immediately.
"Do you remember anything about your life with your parents, son?" Jim asked.
"Um, not much," Tim admitted. "Mostly feelings. That… my mother will be very annoyed that I'm hurt. She doesn't, doesn't like it when I need things. And… lonely. I remember feeling lonely. Taking pictures. I remember taking pictures but I can't really remember what I took pictures of, I'm afraid."
"That's all right," Jim said. "When you do start remembering things I'll want to talk to you about your life there. From the evidence that Mr. Wayne has gathered I don't think that we'll have any problems removing you from your parents' custody. Are you happy here?"
Tim smiled hesitantly and squeezed Dick's hand hard enough that his knuckles went white. "Yes. Everyone's very nice. Dick and Jason have been telling me stories about their lives here. It sounds… nice. I haven't really seen much but I'm hurt so that's not a surprise."
"Good, good," Jim said. "I'll check back later, son. You rest up and feel better, okay?"
Jim patted Tim's foot, getting little reaction other than a blush across Tim's cheeks. The doctor was waiting for them in the other room with his findings written in a typical doctor's scrawl that was nearly indecipherable. He nodded to them and gestured for them to sit.
"He has some swelling around his spinal column that appears to be impacting his ability to feel his lower body," the doctor said. "Both incisions to remove the bullets are very clean. The surgeon did a superlative job in that regard. I anticipate no problems with them healing. The skull is fractured but not badly and other than the traumatic amnesia there are no signs of brain damage. I expect that the amnesia is mostly a result of the emotional impact of the event rather than the physical damage. He shows every sign of getting his memory back."
He paused and frowned at his notes before meeting Bruce's eyes. "He will require extensive physical therapy to regain the ability to walk, Mr. Wayne. It will be several weeks before he'll be able to sit on his own and probably a couple of months before he's able to stand with braces and crutches and then it will be for brief periods of time. It could be as much as a year after that before he's done with the physical therapy. I'll give you a full diagnosis once my notes are typed up and I've had time to closely study my X-rays. Given how close the bullet was to his spine and the swelling, it's possible that he may never recover full mobility. I'll know more on that front in a couple of weeks. The medications I've given him should help both with the swelling and with his pain. The boy… he felt bad about admitting that he was in pain."
Bruce let Jim's questions and the doctor's answers wash over him. The thought that Tim would never be able to do the things he used to horrified him. He'd stalked Batman and Robin, hidden effectively for years, and only been revealed through an act of heroism. For Tim to be relegated to crutches for the rest of his life made Bruce's heart hurt.
The start of surprise was completely un-faked. Bruce looked at them and sighed. "Sorry, I was worrying about Tim."
"Not a problem, Mr. Wayne," the doctor said with a wry chuckle that had more than a little bit of pain in it. "I can completely understand that. I was asking when his parents would be due back. I should consult with them as well."
"I think it's more appropriate for Commissioner Gordon to contact them than it would be for me to do it. I intend to sue for custody of Tim," Bruce murmured with Lucius' firm nod of agreement. "I hope that Tim will be allowed to stay here until the case is decided. He seems to have bonded with Dick and Jason and I know that they're very fond of him. Jason in particular is quite protective of Tim, for obvious reasons."
"Right now I don't see a problem with that," Jim said, "but you know that this is going to explode in the news, Mr. Wayne. Your lifestyle is going to go under the microscope."
"For the fourth time in my lifetime," Bruce said wryly enough to get grins from all of them. "Or maybe it's the fifth time now. There was a lot of commentary after I dropped out of college to travel the world. I know and I understand that. It doesn't matter as long as Tim has a good home with people who care about him instead of ignoring him."
That seemed to be enough for Jim. Alfred escorted them out and Bruce settled in to see what would happen next. He didn't have that long to wait before the reaction wave hit. Two hours after Jim's departure the first phone calls began. Bruce headed into Tim's room, not at all surprised to find them listening to the news. Jason growled at the TV as one of the reporters started talking about Bruce's 'lifestyle'.
"You knew that was coming," Bruce said, patting Jason's shoulder.
"I know but they're so rude about it!" Jason complained.
"Has anyone called my parents?" Tim asked. He looked as though he was afraid they'd show up any moment.
"I'll check with Commissioner Gordon," Bruce told Tim. "He's handling contacting them because of the lawsuit."
Tim relaxed and quickly fell asleep despite the reporters speculating about him and Bruce on the TV. They soon lined the wall around the estate, looking for any glimpses of Bruce, Dick, Jason or Tim. Within four hours, the news was full of leaks regarding Tim's condition. At the five hour mark the Drakes had been tracked down in Europe. Their firm refusal to comment played with pictures of Janet Drake looking as though she wanted to murder someone and Jack Drake looking confused that anyone would care about them or Tim.
By the time Bruce went out on patrol with Jason (Dick stayed with Tim), the lawsuit and Tim's injuries were all that anyone could talk about. Bruce made a point of digging further, interviewing Janet's obstetrician and recording it for the case. It wasn't the sort of thing Batman would normally be involved with but Bruce excused his self-indulgence because of Tim's condition and the murder in Janet's eyes. Jim seemed unsurprised to receive the recording later that night.
The next morning's news was full of the fact that the Drakes had set their return to the USA three days later, a full four days after the lawsuit was filed and five days after Tim was injured. Bruce couldn't contain his smirk when Alfred handed him the Gotham Globe and the headline stated 'Drakes Remain in Europe While Son Struggles For Life'.
"She's certainly making this easier than it should be," Bruce murmured to Alfred.
"Perhaps, Master Bruce," Alfred said with one of his arch looks. "May I suggest that you not invite one of your society 'friends' to the party tonight and instead take along Master Jason? Showing your dedication to your sons would be quite appropriate at the time."
"It might have to be Dick," Bruce agreed while reading the article which was every bit as harsh towards the Drakes as the headline implied. "Jason made me promise to let him sit with Tim tonight but it's a good idea. I seem to remember you advising much the same thing when I adopted Jason."
"Indeed, Master Bruce," Alfred said. "However, if I may be so bold, Master Jason's bruises are rather… forceful statements about the severity of the situation when Master Timothy intervened. It would help sway public sentiment towards Master Timothy and towards our case."
Bruce chuckled and nodded. When Jason showed up a few minutes later with Dick on his heels Bruce had to admit that the bruises were very picturesque. They had just hit the most vivid shade of purple and blue that came after the swelling went down but before the tenderness faded. Both of the boys pored over the newspaper as they ate, Jason crowing at some of the commentary in the Opinion section on Jack and Janet Drake's lack of parenting skills.
"Jason," Bruce said and smiled at both Jason and Dick looked at him. "I know I said that you could stay with Tim but Alfred had a suggestion that I thought you might approve of."
"What?" Jason asked warily enough that the street-kid he used to be was obvious.
"I thought you might… display your hard-earned bruises for the party this evening, Master Jason," Alfred said in exactly that innocent tone that was so very wicked. "It might go far towards showing those who are unconvinced that you truly did need rescue."
"Done," Jason said immediately. "Do I have to wear a fucking penguin suit though? I hate my tux. I always feel like I'm strangling when I put it on."
"We'll see," Bruce chuckled. "You probably need a new one. You've grown in the last couple of months. If it helps us save Tim from his parents though…"
"Well, yeah, I'll do it," Jason said as though it was a foregone conclusion. "If it's for Tim I'll do whatever I need to."
"I hate the fucking paparazzi," Jason complained as their limo slowly pulled up to the curb.
He hadn't wanted to go to this party. It was at the stupid art gallery that one of Brucie's 'friends' ran and he knew it would be full of rich people who had no clue what it was like to hurt or be afraid. This crowd was even worse than the ones he usually encountered at the other parties he had to attend. They'd be all focused on the art instead of on whatever charity was hosting the event. Besides, thousands of dollars for a piece of canvas with scribbles that Jason could have done when he was four never had and never would make sense.
Of course, the sheer fact that Bruce had said ahead of time that he'd be there meant that this was going to be one of the really crowded parties. The sidewalk into the gallery was literally lined with paparazzi waiting like ghouls for a chance to snap pictures of them. Bruce chuckled and patted Jason's thigh on one of the few spots that wasn't bruised right now.
"They serve their purpose," Bruce said entirely too calmly. "Let me go first."
"You try and help me out of the limo and I'll hit you," Jason grumbled.
Bruce grinned briefly at that but when it came time for Jason to step out all Brucie did was hover by his side as if he wanted to protect Jason from the flashes going off. Jason rolled his eyes and headed for the door, Brucie by his side. The paparazzi shouted questions that both of them ignored.
Inside, it was a little quieter but not by a whole hell of a lot. The stupid elevator music these places always played was barely loud enough to be heard over the voices filling the crowded room. It didn't really surprise Jason that the wash of voices dipped into a lull as they walked in. He felt like every single person was staring at him. Jason's cheeks went red which probably made the bruises look even worse. When he went out as Robin he put some makeup on to hide them but tonight his face was bare and they could all see what the fucking Joker had done to him.
"Brucie! Oh, Jason, your poor face!" Selina appeared out of the crowd to give Bruce one of those fake kisses near Bruce's cheek she used at parties like this. The hug she gave Jason was much more real, if too short for Jason to appreciate it properly. "You look awful, Jason. Why are you here?"
"Them," Jason said, hooking one thumb over his shoulder at the paparazzi outside. "They keep saying horrible things about Bruce so I had to come let them see what happened."
"How did he get hurt though, Brucie?" Selina asked as if she was dismayed that he'd let Jason wander off. Knowing Selina, she might actually mean it or she might be playing the crowd eavesdropping so that she could rob them blind later.
"I was negotiating for a new rug for the blue salon," Brucie said with a sad sigh. "It went longer than I expected and when I turned around Jason was gone."
"Got bored," Jason admitted with a scuffed toe against the carpet that probably made him look Tim's age instead of his own. "Tim saved me."
She had a skeptical look in her eyes that matched the looks from everyone around them. They'd drifted over to the buffet table quite naturally as Jason always made a bee-line for the buffet when he went to these stupid things. Even the servers looked like they didn't believe it.
"I'm serious!" Jason huffed at Selina and by extension everyone else. "I went down this alley and you know I used to be a street kid. I thought I could handle myself. Well, they… I guess I've gotten a little soft because they beat the crap out of me."
The image of the Joker laughing as he swung the tire iron down at Jason's head flashed through his mind. Jason shuddered and leaned into Bruce's side. The arm around his shoulders was far more Batman than either Bruce or Brucie. Either way, it helped Jason not flip his shit right there where everyone could see.
Selina took his hand and put one of the little nut-caramel-cookie bars in it. He laughed and grinned at her despite the bruises. It was a joke between them that he always stole them all from her when they were at the same parties. Jason munched on it and got his stupid emotions under control.
"Why were you in Ethiopia, Brucie?"
"The pyramids," Bruce said in the perfect befuddled-Brucie voice, as if he couldn't imagine why anyone would be surprised that they'd go there. "Jason was curious about the pyramids and how they differed from the Egyptian pyramids."
"Oh Brucie, only you," laughed one of the other society women who was always smotheringly sweet to Jason.
"They were cool," Jason said, not that he'd actually had time to see them. "But anyway, I wandered off, got jumped and then Tim came out of fucking nowhere to leap on the guy's back and half-strangle him. He's little but he still managed to get the guy to stop hitting me. I heard guns go off and then Tim started slipping. He had blood all over his face."
"When I showed up," Bruce sighed as he rubbed Jason's shoulders again, "Jason had just knocked the thug out. We assumed Tim's parents would be at the hotel but they were nowhere to be found so I brought Tim home with us. You know, Tim hasn't seen his parents for over two months. I can understand being busy with work but to leave a young boy like that alone for months on end is… just appalling."
That seemed to be the cue for people to come up and start asking questions about Bruce's efforts to adopt yet another young boy. None of them were rude or drunk enough to suggest that he liked Dick and Jason in inappropriate ways. Jason would have punched them for that. But it was still a little annoying that the questions were all focused on Bruce's suitability instead of on fucking Jack and Janet Drake's massive failure to be anything close to good parents.
Jason slipped away as he always did, though he made Selina laugh by stealing all but one of the nut bar things to nibble on as he wandered through the party. She took the last one and gave him a little salute with it before she wandered away to steal somebody blind. As he wandered, Jason did his best to pick out which of the guests were actually reporters in disguise. He figured that at least a third of the escorts were reporters of one stripe or another.
His story of wandering away and Tim's heroism got told four more times before someone asked why Tim had been there. To Jason's surprise it was one of the older women who had always seemed to be kind of nice and honest for a rich person instead of one of the escort-reporters.
"Don't know," Jason admitted. He ate the last of his nut-bars and stared at the floor. "Seriously, we checked his room and there wasn't anything there besides his suitcase and his camera. Tim has amnesia. He says he doesn't remember anything much beyond a few vague emotions. Best I can figure is he went to Ethiopia to take pictures or something. Dick called the housekeeper at the Drake's place and Tim's apparently a really freaking good photographer or something. Don't know why he was there or why he saved me. He's way too small to be jumping into a fight like that though."
"He took pictures of me and my daughter once," the woman, old Mrs. Orion said. Her hand shook as she put it to her scrawny chest. "He will be all right, won't he?"
It hurt to meet her eyes and Jason could see that she saw how much he hurt for Tim. "I… don't know," Jason admitted. "He's… Brucie brought in a doctor because Tim can't feel his legs. He's not paralyzed, not completely, but the doctor said he might never walk without crutches again. All because he saved my life."
Mrs. Orion gasped and suddenly he was in the middle of a lilac-scented hug that reminded him of hugging a skeleton. She was way too skinny but he could feel her shaking so he hugged her back gently and didn't complain about the way her hug hit the bruises on his back. When she let go there were tears in his eyes.
"I always wondered about the Drakes," Mrs. Orion said while dabbing her eyes with a tiny hanky from her clutch purse. "Jack is a good business man but he never seemed to remember that he had a son and that Janet!"
She huffed and her companions huffed with her. Jason shivered at the looks of disapproval on their faces. He'd almost rather face Two Face and the Penguin than face them looking at him that way. Bruce appeared out of nowhere to wrap an arm around Jason's shoulders.
"What's wrong with her?" Jason asked even though he was pretty sure that he knew the answer. Janet fucking Drake was a textbook sociopath who didn't give a damn about anyone but herself.
"I really couldn't say, dear," Mrs. Orion said. She patted his arm gently. "She's always been cold and distant. I never understood what Jack saw in her."
"Money," her friend Amelia said scornfully. "Jack's put his whole fortune into Drake Industries. Janet gave him the money to maintain his lifestyle."
"Well that's all he's ever gotten out of her," Tammy said and sniffed. "I swear that woman could freeze anyone's privates off."
Jason bristled a little and they all stared at him. Even Bruce looked a little surprised at Jason's sudden anger. His fingers tightened on Jason's shoulder, reminding him of the role he had to play. He ignored it, focusing on Tammy who gulped.
"He got one other thing," Jason declared fiercely enough that he was a little embarrassed by himself. "He got Tim. He got a really freaking bright son and then promptly ignored him. Tim's a fucking genius and they shoved him off in a corner and forgot about him! I don't understand how a parent could ever do that. I mean, my mom had the excuse of being poor and on drugs. What sort of excuses do Jack and Janet Drake have? They had a perfect little boy and they neglected him so bad that he nearly died in another country. I bet they wouldn't even have known that he was gone if he'd been killed over there. They'd have come home and just went 'huh' and gone about their stupid business!"
Their corner of the party went quiet, which was all that let Jason realize that he was nearly yelling at Tammy who looked like she wanted to run away or maybe break into tears. He shook his head at her and rubbed the corner of his eyes, not that he was actually crying. Jason didn't cry, not even when he was playing his role as Bruce's adopted son.
Bruce pulled him into a gentle hug that set the voices buzzing again. Rather than let him keep on hugging the way Jason wanted, he grumbled and pulled free. His cheeks were burning so hopefully they all got that Jason was a more or less typical teenager who didn't need hugs from his dad.
"Sorry, that was kind of rude," Jason apologized to Tammy who fluttered a hand to her mouth to hide a little smile. "I just get so mad. All Tim can remember is that his mom is going to be mad at him, disgusted because he's hurt."
"How badly is he hurt, Brucie?" Mrs. Orion asked with honest worry in her eyes.
"He's going to need extensive physical therapy to be able to walk again," Bruce sighed. "My doctor, Dr. Clemmons, I think you know him? Dr. Clemmons said that even with medication to control the swelling along his spine Tim may never walk without support again."
"I'll help," Jason declared fiercely enough that Bruce chuckled at him. "I will! Those Drakes better not get in my way either. Tim needs it and he saved my life. I'll help him get better so he can have the life he ought to have instead of the one they inflicted on him."
Mrs. Orion and her friends cooed at Jason, calling him 'such a good boy' and 'adorable'. His cheeks went flaming red again so Jason slipped away with the lame excuse that he was hungry. The conversations that he passed on his way to the buffet table were different this time.
He overheard people comparing notes on the last time they'd seen Tim as he worked his way through the crowd. A lot of them couldn't even remember what Tim looked like, which seemed to bother the majority of them. Jason let one of the escorts who was obviously a reporter stop him so that he could tell the whole story of wandering away and Tim rescuing him. When she asked about how Tim was doing Jason didn't have to pretend that he was worried about Tim.
"I don't know," Jason said with his heart in his throat. "I really don't know. The doctor said he was going to get his memories back but he was hit really freaking close to his spine. He might never walk on his own again."
"Should he have been moved?" the escort-reporter asked in such an obvious interview voice that Jason glared at her.
"I saw that crappy little hospital he was in," Jason growled at her. "Brucie and I are donating a million dollars to improve it because it's worse than anything you'd see even in the worst parts of Gotham. There was no way he could stay there, especially since his fucking parents were nowhere to be seen. He needed to be safe so we brought him home."
Jason stomped away and grabbed himself some of the little finger sandwiches and sparkling cider to drink. Once he'd planted himself in one corner of the room people left him alone. He ate his little sandwiches and sipped his cider while watching Brucie working the room and collecting rumors about the Drakes.
Parties like this always irritated him but if there was one thing that Bruce had taught him about the justice system it was that people were tried by their peers as much as by the court. If they wanted to keep Tim safe they needed to convince these society vultures that Tim had needed to be saved just as much as Jason had in Ethiopia. Once he'd finished his cider and given the glass to one of the servers, Jason pushed away from the wall and headed back out into the crowd.
He might hate these parties but he'd do whatever he had to to save Tim from his fucking parents, even socialize all night instead of beating up criminals.
"They're late," Dick commented as he joined Bruce by the front door.
"This surprises you?" Bruce asked in a sardonic little murmur that became much more serious when you saw how grim his expression was.
"Not really," Dick sighed. "Janet Drake obviously doesn't care what anyone thinks of her."
Bruce grunt of agreement sounded more like a growl. The Drakes had returned from the European trip two days earlier to massive paparazzi coverage and Commissioner Gordon standing at the gate with a court summons. While Jake had looked stunned in the coverage, Janet's face hadn't changed other than a couple of seconds of scorn and anger.
She'd immediately insisted on Tim being turned over to them and had blatantly glared when Jim had told her, loud enough for all the microphones to easily pick up, that the court had decided that Tim wouldn't receive appropriate care if returned to them. Temporary custody had already been awarded to Bruce, pending the hearing and any further legal action.
Three incredibly long seconds passed that the news had replayed until it was nearly burned into Dick's brain. Jack had seemed to crumble into himself while Janet stiffened and glared so fiercely that Jim took a half-step backwards. She'd turned and strode through the crowd of paparazzi with only a snapped "Jack!" over her shoulder to her husband as he fumbled with the subpoena while making little noises that might have been questions about Tim's condition if only he'd been more coherent.
"I hate that we have to let them in here," Dick said as he spotted a black car driving up to the gate. The paparazzi immediately started snapping pictures though all of them stayed outside when the gate slid open for the car. "She's going to hurt him, Bruce."
"I know," Bruce sighed. "There's a court appointed escort. He'll make sure that they don't upset Tim too much."
"I'll keep an eye on Jason," Dick said and then grinned when Bruce snorted and smiled for a second.
Given how angry Jason was about the whole visitation thing, Dick thought that they'd probably need Bruce and Alfred to keep Jason from punching the Drakes in the nose. He'd ranted about the whole thing all last night during patrol. Dick wasn't sure what the criminals of Gotham had thought about Robin cursing at the Drakes while beating them up but then he'd been busy dealing with his own criminals. Gotham had been bad enough last night that Batman, Nightwing and Robin had all been needed out on the streets. Alfred had been the one to sit with Tim in case he needed anything.
Dick pushed all thoughts of crime fighting out of his head as Alfred opened the door for Mr. Brown and the Drakes. Mr. Brown smiled at them. Jack looked at them with his heart in his eyes. It looked to Dick as though he actually did care about Tim, though he obviously didn't show it to Tim very well. His hands were shaking and he wiped them on his pants three times before Bruce and Dick had walked the ten feet to greet them. Janet looked as though she was carved from ice, especially her hard, bright blue eyes.
"Mr. Brown," Bruce said in his more sober Brucie voice, "Welcome to Wayne Manor."
Before he could greet the Drakes, Janet leveled a glare at Mr. Brown. "Where is Timothy?"
"We have him in one of the first floor bedrooms," Bruce said, now in one of the tones that Dick recognized as Batman's voice. "He's unable to sit up without assistance and he won't be able to walk for a very long time, possibly as much as a year. The swelling on his spine has gone down and he's able to feel his legs again, which is a blessing. We were worried that he wouldn't be able to walk ever again."
Janet nodded once as if the information on Tim's condition was irrelevant. Alfred led the way to Tim's room. From the stiff line of his back Alfred had several cutting things that he wanted to say to Janet Drake beating against his lips to get out. Mr. Brown made a point of being between Bruce and Janet, in a move that was so blatant that his intention to keep them from interacting any more than necessary was painfully obvious.
The stiff line of Bruce-Mr. Brown-Janet filled the hallway (so much so that they should metaphorically be elbowing out onto the lawn) which meant that Dick hung back and walked by Jack Drake's side. He was shaky enough that Dick sort of felt sorry for him despite the man's failure to be an effective parent to Tim. Before they walked into Tim's suite, Dick patted Jack's shoulder and smiled sympathetically at the raw look Jack threw back.
"Master Timothy's bedroom is in here. I will thank you not to upset him," Alfred said stiffly enough that Mr. Brown winced. Janet glared back at him. "He is still quite weak and very nervous about this meeting."
Dick pushed forward so that he could see the moment when Tim first saw his mother.
The bedroom was light, the curtains open and golden light pouring in to mingle with the bright colors of the room. He looked pale against the green sheets and warm red comforter, though much better than he had been when he first came home to the Manor. Jason hovered by Tim's side like a dark glowering shadow. The bandage around his head was smaller than it had been and his too-large nightshirt almost hid the IV hookup on his wrist.
The instant that Tim saw Janet he went milky white as his eyes went wide.
"Tim," Janet said in the sort of voice that Dick would use for greeting a business acquaintance before a board meeting.
"I know you," Tim whispered. His hands started shaking on the comforter.
"I should hope so," Janet replied much too sharply. "I'm your mother."
"No, you don't understand," Tim said in a slightly stronger voice though he was still wide eyed. "I don't remember anyone else. But I do remember you."
"That's good," Mr. Brown said just a bit too brightly for both the tension in the room and for Tim's condition. "What do you remember?"
Tim looked at Janet and opened his mouth. After a second he closed it again and shook his head 'no'. That was all it took for Jason to sit on the edge of the bed and put a hand on Tim's shoulder. It took a moment for Dick to realize where the hiss came from. Janet went so stiff at the display of support and affection that the hiss had to come from her.
"You're coming home," Janet announced. "You belong with your parents."
"I…" Tim gulped and started shaking harder.
"That's not up to you," Bruce said in such a blatant Batman growl that Dick was surprised that the cowl hadn't appeared out of nowhere.
"Agreed," Mr. Brown said. "The court will decide what's best for Timothy."
"I don't want…" Tim started and then stopped as everyone looked at him. Jason murmured something quietly to him but Tim ignored him and hugged himself. "I don't want to talk to her right now. I don't want them here. Make them leave me alone!"
Mr. Brown blinked but he nodded and turned for the door. Jack was already heading for the door with tears shining in his eyes. On the other hand, Janet took a step closer to Tim until she was nearly close enough to touch his feet. She didn't reach out to do it. Instead she curled her hands into fists.
"You're my son," Janet said. It was almost a hiss.
"Go away!" Tim cried. "I don't want to talk to you!"
"That's enough," Bruce, Alfred and Mr. Brown said at the same time.
"I'm declaring this visit over, Mrs. Drake," Mr. Brown snapped so harshly that he seemed like a completely different person from the determinedly smiling man from the foyer. "Leave the bedroom this instant or I'll be forced to recommend that custody be transferred permanently to Mr. Wayne."
Janet glared at him, glared at Tim and then stormed out of the room with nothing more than a snapped "Jack!" as she headed for the door. He responded as though she'd jerked his leash, hurrying after her with nothing more than a sickened glance back at Tim's bedroom.
"I don't like her," Tim whimpered as Jason tried to soothe his trembling. "I don't. I don't want to talk to her. Please don't make me talk to her."
Mr. Brown frowned before following the Drakes with Bruce and Alfred on his heels. Even though he should have followed them, Dick came and sat on the other side of Tim's bed. It shook with the force of Tim's exhalations which were just shy of being silent sobs. He'd screwed his eyes shut and was biting his lip.
"It's okay," Dick said as soothingly as he could. "It's okay, Tim. You don't have to deal with her. We'll make sure that she doesn't bother you."
"Yeah, and if she tries to I'll hit her in the mouth," Jason offered.
That got a ghost of a laugh from Tim. He opened eyes that shone with tears and smiled so weakly at them that Dick had to take his hand. Tim squeezed Dick's fingers tightly despite his continued shaking and near-sobs.
Dick's mind filled in all sorts of horrible things Janet must have done to Tim as they sat with him. He created elaborate arguments in his head where he confronted Janet about her abuse and made her bend enough to admit that Tim was better off where he was. The fantasies were like mist against the reality of Tim's misery.
"She never wanted me," Tim whispered fifteen very silent minutes later. He wouldn't meet either of their eyes. "She told me once. That's what I remembered, her telling me that she'd only had me because Jack needed an heir. She said that I should study hard and be good so that I'd make a good heir for Jack."
"I think I'm going to punch the bitch in the mouth," Dick said before the hot rush of fury at Janet Drake had faded. The words sounded so growly that Dick looked behind himself to see if Bruce was there but no, it was his own voice.
When he turned back around Tim was staring up at him with wide eyes and a tiny smile on his lips. Jason was staring at him with a huge grin. Between their expressions and Dick's embarrassment that he'd said it without thinking first, Dick's cheeks went red. He patted Tim's hand and then smiled much more brightly as Tim laughed so quietly that it almost couldn't be heard.
"Sorry, did I say that out loud?" Dick asked and then grinned as Jason started snickering.
"You did," Tim said and then sighed. "That's not right, is it?"
"How old were you?" Jason asked. "I mean, in the memory."
"Um, I think I was five," Tim said thoughtfully. "I remember looking up at her and she was very tall. There was a stack of gifts on the table next to us. Jack wasn't there. I think he was at work. And… she… I think she said it because I asked if they'd be there when I opened the presents. I wanted them to see how much I liked the presents that they chose for me. She… sort of sniffed and looked down at me and said that I was only there because Jack needed an heir, that I shouldn't expect so much from them. The housekeeper sort of gasped and she went on to say the whole thing about how I should study and learn to be a good heir as if that was the only thing that mattered. Then she walked away and left me alone again."
Tim's injuries were the only reason Dick didn't crush him in a hug. That he was too fragile to hug hurt at that moment. Dick needed to hug Tim more than he needed to breathe. He contented himself with swallowing hard against the emotion clogging his throat and squeezing Tim's hand. Jason's whispered curses hung in the room.
"No," Dick said. The word was thick and his tongue felt awkward as he continued. "That's not right. That's not right at all, Tim. Parents are supposed to love their children, not push them to the side and treat them like that."
"Fucking bitch!" Jason growled. "She's a goddamned monster!"
"No, she's probably just a sociopath," Dick said and then chuckled at Tim tutted at Jason.
"Am I a sociopath?" Tim asked. He seemed to think that he must be.
"No, you're a boy who's been through a horrible childhood but who's going to have a much better chance at life now," Dick said. "I better go make sure that Bruce doesn't do the punching for us. Stay with him, Jason?"
"You couldn't get me away from his side with a crowbar," Jason declared.
Dick laughed and ruffled Jason's hair, which got him a mock-growl from Jason and a little grin from Tim. When Dick squeezed Tim's fingers before letting go, Tim squeezed back and smiled. The walk out to the entryway was barely long enough for Dick to wrestle his emotions into something approximating submission. When he saw Bruce's concerned expression all his control disappeared. Dick hugged Bruce the way he wanted to hug Tim, clinging to him while Bruce rubbed his back. Alfred and Mr. Brown were staring when he let go.
"You have to keep her away from him," Dick told Mr. Brown while wiping his cheeks unapologetically. "Tim… what Tim remembered was his mother telling him that she'd only had him because Jack needed an heir. She did it on his fifth birthday, with the presents sitting there. You have to keep that woman away from him until he's stronger."
Mr. Brown winced and nodded slowly. "I was convinced that this was a misunderstanding when I was first assigned to this case, but…" He sighed and adjusted his wedding ring on his finger. It was a simple gold band with a tiny diamond set into the metal. "I think that you might be right, Mr. Grayson. I certainly can't approve any more visits for Janet Drake. I will recommend allowing Jack Drake to visit his son but Janet…"
He sighed again and then left, Alfred going along with him. The black car was gone, so obviously Jack and Janet had left Mr. Brown behind. A couple of minutes later Alfred drove out with Mr. Brown in one of the smaller cars Bruce kept. Dick smiled as Bruce wrapped his arm around his shoulders.
"We have to win this case, Bruce," Dick murmured.
"We will," Bruce replied. "One way or the other, we will."
He was too weak.
Tim wasn't sure where the thought came from because his memories were still a complete muddle. He had a few very distinct memories, like the horrible one of Dick's parents falling out of the sky or the one where Janet told him he was only alive because Jack needed an heir. The good ones didn't make much sense so he hadn't said anything about them to Dick or Jason or Bruce.
Dick as a young boy in a bright green and gold suit laughed as he swung out on a line towards a different building. He had a mask on and pixie boots but no pants for some reason that made no sense at all to Tim though in the memory it was hugely significant. There was another memory with Jason in the same suit, smashing his fist into a man's face. The man had one half of his face twisted up with horrific scars. They didn't seem like they should be good memories but something in Tim lit up with joy every time the images flitted through his mind.
The urge to pace was a constant pressure inside of Tim, forced down by the equal and opposite knowledge that he shouldn't display weakness in that way, not that he could pace anyway. Having met Janet, his mother though she didn't feel at all like what he thought of when he thought the word 'mother, he thought that the need to not show weakness had to come from her.
She'd trained him to be strong, to be controlled, to be cold, but Tim wasn't strong. He couldn't be cold. Unlike Janet, Tim had emotions and things mattered to him and he hurt inside. A real mother would have hugged Tim when she saw how hurt he was, or maybe not given how much his body hurt. She would have held his hand and said something comforting.
Of course, a real father would have stayed and made sure Tim was going to be okay. Maybe asked if he hurt and told him to be brave. Jack had run away. That seemed… normal to Tim, or if not exactly normal in the true sense of normal then it seemed like the sort of thing that Tim expected Jack to do.
Janet tried to drain all of Tim's emotions away and Jack turned a blind eye so that he didn't have to think about it.
Tim shifted position and then winced as his back sent a stabbing pain through him. He noted that his toes were numb again while panting his way through the wave of pain. By the time his heart rate had slowed he could wiggle his toes again. Well, actually it was more like twitching them but that was still better than nothing. For days he'd been certain that he was paralyzed no matter what the doctor had said.
If he was paralyzed he was no use to anyone.
The thought made Tim frown and wonder if it came from things Janet had told him that he'd forgotten or if it had come from inside of him. It was so hard to tell with his memories in such a mess.
"I wish I could remember," Tim whispered.
"You will remember eventually, Master Timothy," Alfred said from the doorway.
He was carrying a tray full of food so it must be time to eat again. It didn't seem like hours since Tim's last meal but the medication that the doctor had him on did make him fall asleep unpredictably so he might have lost some time. Alfred set the tray on the bedside table and then as gently as possible helped Tim sit up against a mountain of pillows.
"I will be bringing you another dose of pain medication after you eat, Master Timothy," Alfred said with just the right inflection to make it clear that he wouldn't listen if Tim said that he was fine.
"O-okay," Tim panted. Much too weak. He spent the time while the pain subsided chastising himself and then chasing the worry of where the thought came from in ever decreasing circles in his mind. "I wish my memory would come back."
"It will, Master Timothy," Alfred said reassuringly as he arranged the tray on Tim's lap in exactly the right way to keep the blankets from pressing down on him and the tray from resting on his legs. "All that is required is time and patience."
The meal was hearty soup that was almost thick enough to be stew with a soft wheat roll that was still warm from the oven when Tim picked it up. He had milk to drink and a large chocolate chip cookie that looked almost like a meal in and of itself.
"Cookies…" Tim breathed.
Tim could feel bushes around him. There was a leaf dripping water down the back of his neck. As he looked through the telephoto lens of his best camera he could just make out Alfred Pennyworth pulling cookies out of the oven in Wayne Manor's private kitchen. He'd spent two weeks, off and on, stalking the main kitchen but no one ever seemed to go there. Jason, who looked to be about thirteen, came in and said something bright and enthusiastic as he took one of the cookies and saluted Alfred with it. Alfred smiled fondly and nodded while saying something that Tim couldn't hear. A longing for one of those cookies swept through Tim with enough intensity that he nearly couldn't press the button on his camera when Alfred turned around and presented a perfect profile to the camera.
"…aster Timothy? Are chocolate chips not a variety you care for?"
"W-what?" Tim asked.
He blinked the memory away and wondered yet again why he'd been hiding in the bushes outside Wayne Manor to take secret pictures. None of his isolated memories made any sense.
"A new memory returned to you?" Alfred asked.
His eyes were very intent but very kind as he gazed calmly at Tim. At some point during the flashback he'd sat on the side of Tim's bed. Tim could just feel Alfred's hand on his knee, though only as a slightly greater warmth, which probably meant it really was time for more of the medication that made him fall asleep so unpredictably.
"I, well, yes," Tim admitted even though he didn't want to. How could he tell them that he'd been stalking them for what seemed to be years? "All about cookies."
"Excellent," Alfred said and smiled. "Are you in fact fond of chocolate chip? I have recipes for a great many varieties and little cause to make them. Chocolate chip is Master Jason and Master Dick's favorite, you see."
"I… don't know," Tim said and blinked because he really didn't know what sort of cookies he liked. "Um, maybe you could try batches of each and I could sample them?"
This time when Alfred smiled it was as though he was a completely different person. He was so obviously happy about the idea. "I should be delighted to do so, Master Timothy. Now eat your dinner, my dear boy."
Tim blushed at being called 'dear' by anyone but he ate the food. It was good, warm and filling. By the time he was done his back ached and his toes were numb again. The cookie was good, sweet and crunchy, but a bit too sweet for Tim's taste. Alfred carefully helped lower Tim back to the bed again, wiping away the tears Tim couldn't hold back without a word. While Tim tried to deal with the pain and the fact that he couldn't feel his knees or thighs Alfred put up a new IV bag and gave Tim his medicine. The little prick of the needle felt enormously painful added to the rest of the pain he was experiencing.
"Hurts," Tim whispered.
"I am sorry, Master Timothy," Alfred said with honest regret in his face and voice. "We have a new bed coming in with an automatic lifting function that should make meals much easier."
He wiped another tear from Tim's cheek. His fingers felt cool and dry. After a moment Tim nodded. Alfred sat down again and pulled out an old article that had gone yellow with age. Tim watched him and then carefully took it when Alfred passed it over to him.
The article was about Bruce Wayne taking Dick Grayson in as his ward after his parents died. Another memory swept over Tim. He could remember carefully cutting the article out with a pair of round-tipped scissors that his nurse allowed him to use without supervision. Relief that Dick would be happy and loved and safe swept through Tim.
"I cut this out," Tim whispered.
"Yes, you did," Alfred said. "I know that you are discomforted by the lack of memories Master Timothy, but they will return. As your body heals your memories will come back to you. I truly believe that it is a matter of time before you are restored to your normal self. Be patient."
"I want them back now," Tim pouted and felt like a spoiled brat for being so unhappy and wanting things.
Alfred chuckled and adjusted the blankets over Tim's chest. "Now it is time for you to sleep, Master Timothy. Master Dick will be in shortly to sit with you while you rest. Do your best to allow him to fuss over you. He wishes to hug you quite badly which is not wise given your condition."
Tim blamed the little squeak and laugh on the pain medications. The blush and happy feeling in his heart was all for Dick who seemed to hold a special place in Tim's heart even though Tim didn't know how to make sense of that. Yet. He held on that 'yet' as Alfred gently ran his cool, dry fingers over Tim's hair, smoothing it and lulling Tim to sleep.
He dozed off, still fretting about being weak though now the 'weak' thought was battling against questions about cookies and stalking and why he had a telephoto lens for his camera. The last thing he remembered was Alfred's lips pressing against Tim's forehead in a gentle kiss that felt like the very first kiss he'd ever gotten from anyone though Tim really wasn't sure about that.
"Well, at least this hearing is an excellent excuse not to have another boring board meeting," Bruce said with his best breezy Brucie voice.
Lucius snorted and shook his head at Bruce. There were enough reporters in the cramped court room that neither of them could be as open about anything as they wished. While Bruce had spent the time it took to drive to the courthouse verifying that their case was as strong as possible, Lucius had spent it bringing Bruce up to speed on everything going on at Wayne Industries. Their little game of never openly acknowledging that the other knew about the Secret danced between them as they discussed the Joker's 'mysterious' death in Ethiopia and the new budget for the research department to discover if an 'anonymously' supplied sample of Scarecrow's fear toxin could be synthesized and an antidote created.
All their real business was dropped as they headed into the courthouse. Bruce was glad that Jason and Dick were at home. In the three weeks since the Drake's abortive visit Tim had gotten much stronger. His wounds were healing very well, though he still had a lot of trouble moving his legs. Dr. Clemmons had been quite right that the swelling and close impact of the bullet had severely impacted Tim's ability to walk.
He could sit on his own now, though only for brief periods of time, and every time Bruce talked to him Tim asked when he could have a wheelchair so that he could get out of his bedroom for a while. Bruce thought that it would be less than a week before Tim would be somewhat mobile, always presuming that the court case went well.
If it didn't Bruce was halfway seriously contemplating kidnapping Tim and taking him overseas to prevent his return to the Drakes. Janet had already told reporters that she didn't believe Tim's condition was as serious as it was being portrayed, which had set off ranting from everyone in Wayne Manor other than Tim. Even Alfred had had sharp words for Janet's foolishness. Tim had just sighed and shrugged as if her response was to be expected.
"Huh, they beat us here," Lucius said as they settled at their table at the front of the courtroom. "I would have expected them to arrive late."
"No, that would endanger her chances," Bruce murmured and then grinned at Lucius' sharp look. He knew perfectly well that the tone wasn't appropriate to Brucie but that was part of the fun of their game.
"Jack looks a little better," Lucius replied. He discretely elbowed Bruce into a less alert and focused position in his chair while pulling out their paperwork.
"I suppose," Bruce said and this time it was very much Brucie's voice.
Jack looked as though he'd decided that nothing was wrong at all or perhaps he'd convinced himself that the whole situation was some sort of ploy on Tim's part to get attention. He looked confident, polished but with the right sort of casual edge to look like the perfect father who had no idea why anyone would suspect him of neglecting his only son. When he noticed Bruce staring at him, Jack smiled and nodded at him as if they were friends. Bruce just stared back and let the reporters snap as many pictures as they wanted.
Behind him, Janet sat still and calm. She looked like an ice sculpture of a woman created by the perfect artist. Not one hair was out of place and her clothes were perfectly pressed, the seams settled in exactly the right places on her body for them to hang exquisitely. Her gaze was locked on the door to the judge's chambers. Only her hands betrayed any tension. They were locked together on the table. The knuckles were white.
While their tables were quiet, the reporters and other observers in the court chattered and whispered and took pictures of everyone involved. The talk fell and then rose again as Jack stood and Janet took his arm to keep him there. He said something reassuring to her that she hissed at but he pulled free and walked over to smile down at Bruce. Left with little choice, Bruce nodded at him once and raised an eyebrow. Across the room Janet was glaring daggers at Jack's back.
"I figured this was probably the only chance to talk to you," Jack said. His congenial smile had faded a notch. "We didn't get much time with Tim the other day and frankly I was kind of upset seeing him hurt that way. I mean, he's my son. No man wants his son to be hurt."
He paused and then shuffled his feet as Bruce's glare increased in intensity until it probably matched Janet's. Jack swallowed hard as he brushed his hands over his jacket nervously.
"Anyway, I was just wondering how Tim's doing," Jack said. "I mean, the lawyers are sending reports to us but it's not the same as hearing it direct, you know?"
Bruce exchanged a look with Lucius, who nodded that he might as well go ahead. "The medical reports are accurate. Tim's injuries have healed to the point that he can sit on his own for short periods of time but there's still significant numbness and weakness in his legs. He's going to need extensive physical therapy to be able to walk again."
"Wow," Jack said, swallowing again as he rubbed the back of his neck. "That's going to make it hard for him to play ball, I guess."
"What?" Bruce asked and he didn't have to act confused by the nonsequitor.
"Oh, well, Tim likes baseball and football," Jack said. "At least I think he still likes them. We used to toss the ball around when I had time when he was younger. His hobbies, you know."
"Tim's hobby is photography," Bruce said in entirely too scathing tones for such a public venue. "His preferred physical activity is martial arts. He does not have and never did have any interest in baseball, football or other organized sports. I would have thought that his father knew him better than that, but I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. That's why we're here, isn't it?"
Jack skittered backwards a couple of steps and then hurried back to Janet's side. His cheeks were burning and his hands shook on the table as he gripped it. He pointedly did not looking at Bruce and Lucius' table any more. A few million pictures had been taken during the entire little encounter, not that Bruce had paid any attention to them at the time. Now he was intensely aware of the many cameras surrounding him.
He huffed and slouched down in his uncomfortable chair with his arms crossed over his chest. Hopefully he looked the part of the thoroughly aggravated playboy with good intentions but it hardly mattered for very long. As a couple thousand more pictures were taken of the two tables and their parties, the bailiff announced Judge Coombs and they all had to rise.
"Be seated," Coombs said.
Getting him on the case was a boon that Bruce was entirely grateful for. While many of Gotham's judges were corrupt, Coombs was one of the truly honest ones who could be relied upon to render fair judgments. Probably the only reason he'd been assigned to a neglect and custody case was the high profiles of the two families involved. Normally he handled far more serious cases, such as Batman's many enemies.
"Let's begin," Coombs said, nodding to Lucius to begin.
The legalese that followed washed through Bruce's mind. He maintained his irritated demeanor as it was far more appropriate than looking worried. Jack was doing a lovely job looking worried about the case after their little discussion. Janet still looked like icy perfection but there were wrinkles around her eyes and mouth that betrayed her irritation with Jack. Bruce suspected that Jack would be on the receiving end of Janet's temper after the hearing was over, no matter what the judgment was.
As Lucius presented their case, the Drake's lawyer tried to object and poke holes in the data but every time he was overruled. Eventually Coombs told their lawyer to shut up or he'd be found in contempt of court. That let Lucius finish presenting their case in a timely fashion and then the Drake's lawyer set to work on the defense.
To Bruce's surprise, he immediately played the emotional card. His defense talked endlessly about the bond between parents and their children without addressing the specifics of this set of parents and their child. Lucius raised an eyebrow at that and let the man talk. From the expression on Judge Coombs' face the decision had probably already been made and the defense lawyer's efforts were in vain. Once the defense had been presented Coombs sighed and looked at both tables.
"I have some questions before I render my preliminary decision," Judge Coombs said. "Mr. Wayne, why didn't Timothy attend this hearing?"
"He's not strong enough to," Bruce said calmly. "Tim's able to sit up for short periods of time but after two or three minutes the pain and weakness is too much and he has to lie down. I'm hopeful that he'll be able to attend later hearings though he will have to use the handicapped entrance. Dr. Clemmons says that he will be in a wheelchair for quite some time until he regains the usage of his legs. We're hopeful that he'll be able to walk short distances with crutches in the next few months."
"And your other sons?" Judge Coombs asked. "Why aren't they here?"
"They chose to stay with Tim," Bruce said. "They both said that when he comes to the future hearings they'll be there with him. They're actively involved in his physical therapy so they'll insist on helping him."
"Hmm," Judge Coombs murmured. He looked at Bruce for a long moment and then turned to the Drakes. "Mr. Drake, if Timothy is returned to your custody, what are your plans?"
"Um, well, we planned on bringing in a nurse to help him out for a while," Jack said with a quick look at Janet. "And of course, you know, continuing the therapy and stuff."
"Will you be helping out with Timothy's physical therapy?" Judge Coombs asked so pointedly that Bruce had to bite down on the urge to smirk in victory. He obviously already knew the answer to that question.
"Uh, I don't know anything about that sort of thing," Jack said with enough alarm that he looked terrified for a moment. "I'd leave that sort of thing to the professionals. Tim's tough. I'm sure he'll be fine."
Judge Coombs lips went thin and he sat back in his chair. After a moment he looked at the paperwork in front of him and then nodded once. He seemed intensely aware of the reporters in the room as he looked back at the Drakes.
"It is my judgment that Timothy Drake be temporarily removed from his parents' custody pending a fuller hearing which includes Timothy's own testimony on his life previously and his life now," Judge Coombs. He continued without pause as Jack went white and Janet stiffened as if she'd been slapped. "Given the reports of his response to the one visit with his parents, contact between Timothy and Jack and Janet Drake will not be allowed without chaperones supplied by the court. I will not allow any such visits until Timothy's doctor states that he's strong enough to withstand them.
"On the matter of the alleged negligence of Timothy Drake by Jack and Janet Drake," Judge Coombs continued, "the neglect case will be forwarded to the prosecutor for criminal proceedings."
He turned and nodded to Bruce and Lucius still with a calm, severe expression. Bruce allowed his nervous butterflies in his belly to show on his face. Just because the Drakes no longer had custody of Tim didn't mean that Bruce would get to keep custody.
"At this time," Judge Coombs said with heavy emphasis, "Timothy appears to be doing well in his current location. The court will award temporary custody to you, Mr. Wayne, pending a full evaluation by Child Protective Services and a second hearing. Final custody of Timothy Drake will be decided at that time."
"Thank you, your Honor!" Bruce said.
Brucie's bright grin felt perfectly natural for once, especially with Lucius grinning and patting Bruce's shoulder in congratulations.
"You're welcome," Judge Coombs said dryly. "Court is adjourned."
Bruce relaxed back into his chair as the people around them erupted into animated conversation. Both Jack and Janet immediately stood and headed for the door, Janet in the lead with Jack trailing behind her. The only thing he could see on Janet's face was fury. Jack looked so lost that Bruce almost felt sorry for him. They both ignored the questions flung at them.
Once they were gone Bruce stood and helped Lucius gather the last of his files. They headed out, Bruce doing his Brucie routine, modified a bit for the situation. As much as he wanted to show his delighted, almost vindictive, relief that Tim wouldn't have to deal with the Drakes anytime in the near future, Bruce didn't let that bleed through. He did let the cameras see relief, joy and his very real worry about whether or not Tim would be able to walk on his own someday.
They ended up having what amounted to an impromptu news conference on the front steps of the courthouse. Bruce answered some questions but only those related to how Tim was doing. Anything related to the case he referred to Lucius who did a stellar job being the triumphant lawyer who just won his case. By the time they managed to slide into the limo waiting for them, Bruce was more than ready to be out of the public's eye.
"I assume the hearing went well, Master Bruce?" Alfred asked from his place behind the wheel.
"Perfectly, Alfred," Bruce said and then grinned as Lucius chuckled.
"Couldn't have gone better," Lucius agreed. "I'm going to be getting a legal team together to handle the case for me as I do have too much to do running Wayne Industries but I'm very happy with how this went."
"Judge Coombs recommended the neglect case to the prosecutor for a criminal trial," Bruce said, savoring every single syllable of the sentence.
Alfred's eyes smiled at him in the rear-view mirror. They shared a look that Lucius ostentatiously didn't notice. As Alfred pulled away from the curb and took them back to Wayne Industries for the delayed board meeting Bruce finally allowed himself to be relieved.
Tim officially belonged with them now. There were still a lot of hurdles to address, both physical and legal, but Tim had just taken one step towards being a true member of their family. Bruce hoped that it wouldn't be a case of one step forward, two steps back. All they could do was keep supporting Tim and defending him against the Drakes.
Eventually he would legally belong at the Manor as he already did emotionally.
"Man, I wish they'd let TV cameras into the courtroom," Jason complained for the fifty-third time in the last two hours.
"I know," Dick agreed with an impatient sigh.
Tim watched them watching the TV news go on about the trial and what it all meant while trying to stay vertical despite the ache in his back. Six minutes, forty-seven seconds was his record for sitting up and he wanted to make it to ten minutes. If he could sit up for ten minutes without wanting to cry then he'd be able to use the wheelchair that sat next to his bed to get out of the bedroom instead of just for going to the bathroom.
The reporters were amazingly rude about Jack and Janet Drake, which Tim found appropriate but wasn't sure why yet, and almost gleefully rude about Bruce, which he found so annoying that it was hard to concentrate on sitting up. Certainly, Bruce had a reputation but everything that Tim had seen said that his reputation wasn't deserved. Something inside of him that kept nudging at his memories said that there was a great deal more to that reputation that he hadn't quite remembered but it wasn't clear yet what that was.
Hopefully more memories would come back soon. He'd remembered lots of little moments, all of them related to stalking Bruce, Dick and Jason or to stalking Batman, Nightwing and Robin. It all seemed tied together but there was something key that he'd forgotten and hadn't gotten back yet. Tim could feel it lurking in the back of his mind. It was hard not to probe at the memory like poking a sore tooth. Alfred kept saying that it would come back in time. Tim was starting to think he was right about that but he still wanted his memories back now.
"Hey!" Jason said and bounced on his side of Tim's bed. "They're coming out. It must be over."
"Oh," Dick breathed and the word stretched out to several gleeful syllables full of joy and spite and vibrating cheer. His bounce on the foot of Tim's bed defeated Tim's efforts to sit up. "They look so pissed. They must have lost!"
Tim automatically checked the clock as he gingerly lowered himself back against the pillows at the raised head of his adjustable bed: nine minutes, three seconds. Closer.
"Where's Bruce?" Tim asked and sighed as both Jason and Dick looked at him with concern because the words came out pained and exhausted. "Tired. Where is he?"
"Should be out in a second," Jason said as he moved to tug Tim's blankets up a little while Dick moved to sit in the wheelchair next to Tim. "He's probably helping Lucius with his files or gloating or something."
"They really do look pissed," Dick said with that grin that felt like the noon-day sun. While his eyes were locked on the TV again his hand had curled around Tim's hand to squeeze his fingers gently.
As they waited, Jason taking Tim's other hand and sitting at the head of the bed with him, Tim tried not to fall asleep. The medication that had been knocking him out so unpredictably was being stepped down with the promise that he'd be off of it in a week or so, but there was still enough in Tim's system that lying down tended to immediately equal falling asleep.
"There they are!" Jason gasped. His grip on Tim's fingers woke him up out of a light doze.
Bruce and Mr. Fox walked down the steps together, stopping to answer questions as the reporters waiting outside shouted at them. It was hard to follow most of it as tired as he was but Tim heard one thing perfectly clearly.
He got to stay at the Manor.
There would be some sort of CPS investigation and more hearings and Mr. Fox said something about a criminal neglect case, but none of it mattered half as much as the news that he'd get to stay.
"Hell yeah!" Jason shouted as the commentators returned while the cameras showed a picture of Bruce sliding into his limo with a dark expression that made something go ping in the back of Tim's mind.
"Take that Janet!" Dick cheered just as loudly.
They did high fives over Tim's head, which made him grin, and then Dick was hugging him just a bit too hard for how sore Tim's back was. Jason pulled Dick off and then hugged Tim too, much more gently. Then they were hugging each other and pounding each other's backs as Alfred walked in with a plate of cookies that were white with brown sugar dusted on top.
"Snickerdoodle, Master Timothy," Alfred said with that gleeful look in his eyes though the smile didn't reach his lips.
"Awww, no chocolate chip?" Jason complained as he took a cookie.
"Huh, well, thanks I guess, Alfred," Dick said. He studied the cookie and nibbled at the edge of it without showing much enjoyment in it.
"Thank you, Alfred," Tim said and meant for so much more than just the cookie. The look in Alfred's eyes brightened still more so obviously he'd gotten the message Tim intended to say.
He nibbled at it (still too sweet for his tastes) and yawned his way through the fifteen minutes, forty-five seconds of commentating on the custody hearing and Bruce's chances of keeping Tim long-term. Then they segued to a story on Batman and the little thing in the back of his head went ping again.
Both Jason and Dick got very quiet as the Batman story played. Dick's open, gregarious expression went serious and focused while Jason looked ferocious. By Tim's side Alfred sighed and shook his head ever so slightly.
The image of Bruce's dark expression as he slid into the limo mixed with Batman's grim face mixed with Dick looking serious and the early Robin grinning Dick's brilliant smile. That mixed with the later Robin swearing like Jason plus the way the two Robin's hair looked exactly like Dick and Jason's hair.
Tim ate the last bite of his snickerdoodle and snuggled a little deeper into the covers because sleep just wasn't going to wait much longer.
"That's what I was missing," Tim thought or maybe he said it out loud. He wasn't sure as tired as he was. "Bruce is Batman."
Sleep grabbed him before he could tell whether he'd said anything out loud, but the worry that he had said it instead of thinking it haunted his fragmented dreams and made it hard to rest. When he blinked his way back to awareness (two hours, nineteen minutes later) Tim found Alfred sitting on the side of the bed while Bruce paced at the foot of his bed. Jason and Dick were both gone.
"Oh," Tim said, his heart freezing with the fear that he'd just done the one thing he never should have.
"Do not worry, Master Timothy," Alfred said. He put a hand on Tim's arm, unerringly locating Tim's clenched fist. "Master Bruce was already aware that you knew the Secret."
"What?" Bruce asked. He frowned at Alfred as if he had no idea what Alfred was talking about.
"Master Bruce is far more concerned with the upcoming CPS investigation than with the return of that particular memory," Alfred continued, his eyes twinkling with amusement that made Tim laugh silently. "I am afraid that I have several things that must be done. Do try and convince Master Bruce to have one of the cookies."
That made Tim's silent laugh turn into a little snicker that was audible. Bruce's lips were twitching as Alfred left. He had his grand butler mannerisms on, down to bowing to them before closing Tim's bedroom door behind them. Tim watched as Bruce chuckled, sighed and then came to take one of the snickerdoodle cookies with a raised eyebrow.
"CPS?" Tim asked.
"I'm actually not that worried about it," Bruce said though he bit the cookie with unnecessary force. It crunched loudly as he chewed. "I've been through this twice before and frankly we're far more prepared for the investigation this time than I was for Dick."
"Then what?" Tim asked and then felt his lips twitch with amusement as Bruce's face went Batman grim. The glare Bruce leveled at the wall should have scorched the wallpaper. "Oh, my parents. The news said something about visits."
"Not until the doctor says you're strong enough for it," Bruce said while brushing the snickerdoodle crumbs off of his tie and pants. "It's just that I hate the thought of them coming into my home and hurting you."
"They won't," Tim said. He shrugged and was quietly delighted that the shrug didn't make his spine feel like it was on fire. That was a huge improvement over the last few weeks.
Bruce frowned at Tim, not with any anger. There was worry for Tim in his eyes which made Tim's cheeks go red. He still wasn't used to anyone worrying about him other than the housekeepers back home for that brief period before they were let go for being 'too attached'.
In a move that was heart-stopping-ly daring, Tim reached out and took Bruce's hand. Bruce met him halfway. His grip was firm but not painful. Tim's hand felt tiny compared to Bruce's palm. It emphasized just how big Bruce was and how small Tim still was though maybe Tim would grow more now that Alfred was feeding him so much food.
"I was missing something important," Tim explained. "Alfred said that you knew about the pictures?"
"Yes," Bruce said. "We have the box that you had hidden under your bed. I don't understand why you took them though."
Tim sighed and shifted his shoulders against the bed. Dick or Alfred must have lowered him back down again when he fell asleep because his bed was flat once more. As Tim thought about how to explain it, Bruce waited in calm silence. The lack of questions was more comforting and reassuring than any flood of words could have been.
"When I was three, almost four, my parents took me to the circus at my request," Tim finally said three minutes, fifty-six seconds later. "It was one of those things that I knew even then would mean that they would leave for months but another little boy I knew from one of my father's parties had gone and raved about it so I wanted to see the circus too. That was the day Dick's parents died."
Bruce nodded and waited though his eyes did flick over to the picture of Tim with Dick all those years ago before returning to his face.
"Dick was… the first person other than my nurse to be openly nice to me," Tim murmured. "My nurse hugged me as much as she could but Mom always discouraged touching. She said it was inappropriate. So Dick's hugs were huge and then he lost his parents while I watched. It was horrible and I… felt bad because I wished my parents had died instead of his that day. I worried about him and my nurse helped me follow the news of what happened to him so I knew when you took him in.
"Then a year later Robin was spotted on the streets and that was amazing," Tim continued to Bruce's attentive expression. "I was awed that a boy could do things like that. My nurse was gone by that time but Mom and Dad approved of my reading the newspapers so I was able to talk them into my own subscriptions to them which meant I got to cut out articles and keep them. I learned to cut more 'appropriate' business related articles pretty quickly so that they wouldn't notice what I was focusing on. And then one night the news had a clip of Robin doing Dick's quadruple summersault while on patrol and I realized that Dick was Robin, which meant that you had to be Batman."
This time Bruce blinked at him as if stunned that it was that tiny of a detail that had given them away. Personally, Tim realized that he'd always wondered how the world could miss it as it seemed totally obvious to him. After a second Bruce laughed a ghost of a laugh and nodded for Tim to continue.
"I don't remember yet exactly when I decided to start taking pictures of you instead of just clipping articles," Tim said thoughtfully. "Or more accurately, I remember when but not what prompted it. I do remember asking my parents if I could get into photography. Mom thought it was a waste of time but Dad was more than happy to set me up with everything I needed. So I started sneaking out from time to time. It was easy since Mom and Dad left for four months after I got my camera and dark room. I quickly realized I needed to learn to defend myself, so I asked for martial arts lessons when they returned and got those. By the time they returned I'd figured out how to sneak around unseen and the martial arts training had made it easier to do what I wanted to."
"Why?" Bruce asked.
Tim's cheeks went red, then redder and then his ears started burning but Bruce's hand was around Tim's and he was lying in a hospital style bed in his room in Wayne Manor so admitting it shouldn't feel quite so enormous.
"Because… I wanted to have someone who actually cared about me," Tim admitted in such a tiny voice that he was surprised when Bruce's expression changed to show that he heard and understood. "Dick and then Jason represented the life I wanted and couldn't have."
"Oh Tim," Bruce sighed. "If I'd know about you sooner I would have taken you away from them then."
"No, you wouldn't have," Tim countered even though the words made his heart leap. "You would have been paranoid and worried about what I knew for a long time first. You'd have made me prove that I was worth it."
This time it was Bruce's cheeks going red despite the way his lips twitched into an amused smirk. He nodded that Tim was probably right about that. Tim didn't have all of his memories back but the framework of recalled memories gave him a pattern that was clear enough that he was sure he was right even without Bruce's confirmation.
"When do I get to work on walking again?" Tim asked after the silence had stretched to a companionable five minutes and onwards into a slightly uncomfortable sixth minute.
Bruce's eyes grinned at him. "When you can sit up for ten minutes at a time without being exhausted afterwards."
"Nine minutes, three seconds," Tim said quickly.
"And the exhaustion and pain?" Bruce countered as the grin migrated down into his lips where it transformed into a humorous smirk.
"Um…" Tim said as he made a face, "it's not as bad as it was?"
That made Bruce laugh as he leaned over to ruffle Tim's hair with his free hand. "Don't overdo it, Tim. There's time."
Tim ducked his head out from under Bruce's hand and smiled. There was time now and he didn't have to hide what he'd done from them. Well, he'd certainly hide it when the CPS people came in to talk to him but that was only appropriate. They weren't people that Tim felt he could trust, no matter if they had Tim's better interests at heart or not.
After all, they'd never saved him from his parents the way they should have. That had taken Batman and Robin or maybe it was more accurate to say it was Bruce and Jason. Either way, Tim was safe and happy and healing. That was what really counted.
Joel sighed and straightened his tie as they pulled up to Wayne Manor's front door. The building was enormous and the sheer amount of money it had to take to maintain the place grated against his nerves, except for the fact that Bruce Wayne was one of the biggest philanthropists in the entire city, possibly the state. Resenting him for maintaining his family home seemed… crass, somehow.
"I can't believe they're letting that drunk keep those kids," Ryan complained as he shut the car off. "Worst place in the world they could be."
"We don't know that," Joel said with a tired sigh at the return of the entirely too familiar rant. "Besides, he doesn't drink that much. It's been verified a few times. He's just not the brightest bulb in the pack, you know?"
There was a huge pile of lumber, bricks and earth off to one side of the stairs, with several more of them set in front of other doors along the front of the Manor. Joel could see some men digging what looked like ditches between the piles and doors. He wondered if they were installing a watering or security system but dismissed that in favor of focusing on doing his job.
They got out and headed up the stairs to the front door. It swung open before Joel could knock, which startled him enough that he nearly dropped his clipboard. A severe butler who looked like he was getting close to retirement age looked at them and then quirked his lips in a little smile that made Joel feel like he was eight years old and had just passed his great-grandmother's inspection for Sunday dinner.
"Gentlemen," the butler said, "please do come in. I am Alfred Pennyworth, the butler for Wayne Manor. It's a pleasure to meet you."
"Ah, nice to meet you, too," Ryan said suspiciously enough that Joel elbowed him. "I'm Ryan Onstad. This is my associate, Joel Lands. We need to talk to Mr. Wayne and Timothy Drake."
"Master Bruce is currently assisting Master Timothy in preparing for your interview with him," Alfred said so calmly that he had to be expecting both the attitude and the borderline demand. "If you will follow me I can give you a brief tour of the Manor. Was there any in particular that you needed to see?"
"Given Timothy's injuries we need to verify that he'll be able to get around," Joel said when Ryan looked disgruntled.
Alfred nodded and gestured for them to look out the window at the stack of supplies. "Master Bruce has brought in contractors to retrofit the Manor with ramps, paved walkways and elevators. We anticipate that they should be done in the next two weeks, though of course full curing of the concrete will take some measure of time."
Joel blinked, looked at Ryan who looked as stunned as Joel felt and then looked back at the stacks. The voice of his cousin who worked construction echoed in Joel's head, telling him how many thousands of dollars it took to install a properly engineered wheelchair ramp. He gulped, dollar signs ticking over in his head, and turned back to Alfred who had absolutely no expression on his face.
"How much is that going to cost?" Joel asked and wasn't at all surprised that his voice came out squeaky.
"Master Bruce's general contractor estimates that it will cost something over three million dollars by the time all of the retrofits are completed," Alfred said much too calmly for the way Joel's head spun. "If you will follow me?"
He walked towards a short flight of three stairs that already had a ramp installed in the center of them and led them down a hallway. Grab bars decorated the wall in strategic locations, though they were made of sturdy wood instead of metal. Joel noticed that ever dozen feet or so there was a chair that a tired person could sit on. He pointed them out to Ryan who nodded and glowered as if he thought that they'd always been there.
"The grab bars have been fully installed on the first floor," Alfred said as if he'd heard Ryan's thoughts, "and are still in progress on the other floors of the house. By the time the elevators are operational, we expect to have them everywhere in the manor. It was somewhat more expensive to have them clad in wood but Master Bruce felt that maintaining the look of the Manor was as important as providing for Master Timothy."
"And the chairs?" Joel asked, already sure that he knew the answer to that one.
"We are in the process of purchasing more," Alfred replied. "These have been gathered from all reaches of the Manor to ensure that Master Timothy will have places to rest once he begins to walk again."
"What happens if he doesn't stay here?" Ryan asked. His expression was a mix of defiance and wide-eyed shock. "What if we pull him out of here?"
"The retrofits will continue, of course," Alfred said with a raised eyebrow. "Master Bruce has decided that the Manor should be accessible for everyone. There are frequent tours of the Manor and Master Jason commented that it was a shame that not everyone could enjoy them. Between that and Master Timothy's condition the decision was made to retrofit the Manor fully."
A black haired boy of about fifteen ran up to them before Joel could think of something to say to that little stunner. He glowered at Joel and Ryan but ignored them in favor of Alfred who smiled a tiny smile at him. Joel blinked as he realized that this had to be Jason Todd, the second boy that Bruce Wayne had adopted. Jason was larger than Joel had expected, bulky in a way that reminded him of some of the brawlers down in the Narrows, but clean and well-dressed unlike them.
"Alfred, you might want to get down to the kitchen," Jason said so urgently that Ryan and Joel both stiffened. "Dick's in there and he's trying to cook Tim some lunch."
"What?" Alfred snapped so sharply that all three of them winced. The great-grandmother comparison seemed even more apt.
"I tried to stop him!" Jason protested. "He just wouldn't listen. It's lunch time and Tim needs his meds but he can't have them without food so Dick…"
Jason shrugged as Alfred sighed and rubbed his forehead. When Alfred raised his eyes to meet Joel's it made Joel stand up straighter. That great-grandmother inspection feeling returned tenfold. Even Ryan seemed to feel it because he squared his shoulders and brushed his hands over his suit as if to smooth it down.
"Gentlemen," Alfred said in exactly the tone of voice that meant 'don't you dare disagree with what I'm about to say', "I am afraid I must request that you follow Master Jason. Master Richard and cooking is a rather explosive combination at the best of times."
"Sure," Joel said to the back of Alfred's head. He was already hustling down the hallway in a fast walk that was just shy of an all-out run. "Um."
"Wow," Ryan breathed.
"Yeah, no shit," Jason sighed. "Dick and gas stoves is a bad, bad thing. Hell, he can make a mean sandwich but he was talking soup and sandwich when I came to get Alfred."
"That… happen often?" Ryan asked in exactly the wrong tone of voice for it to be a casual question.
"Oh fuck you if you think I'm going to give you ammo to take Tim away!" Jason snapped. "Dick being a dick is common but hell, he's trying. That's a hell of a lot better than what he'd get at some goddamned foster home with strangers taking care of him and a bunch of kids needing attention. You think Bruce is a waste of flesh and none of us should be here, don't you?"
"Ah, well," Ryan said as he eased back a step from Jason's ferocious anger.
"Well fuck you very much!" Jason snarled. "I know bad homes, you moron. I grew up with an alcoholic for a dad and a druggie for a mom. Bruce is so far from a bad parent that it's the other fucking end of the scale. He's good and kind and he really fucking cares about us. You don't get that from a fucking foster home. Hell, I was upset about the hospital in Ethiopia and Bruce helped me set up an audited grant to improve the place so no one would have to go someplace that crappy ever again. And that's just Ethiopia! He helps all sorts of people in Gotham and people talk trash about him for it!"
Joel waved his arms at Jason and stepped between him and Ryan. There was a little sound like a kind of whimper from Ryan. Jason swallowed hard and unclenched his fists. His cheeks went red but Joel could see that he was worried about Tim.
"We're just here to investigate," Joel said without his normal soothing tone of voice. A kid like Jason wasn't going to appreciate it. "Ryan's got a chip on his shoulder because he thinks Wayne's a drunk but I'm the one writing the report, not him. So calm down, will you?"
"Sorry," Jason said. He looked honestly apologetic about the outburst so Joel nodded and let it go.
"It's okay," Joel said. "Emotions always run high on custody cases. Nothing surprising. We do still have to ask, you know. Just not like that."
Ryan winced at the glare he got from both Joel and Jason and shrugged an apology that Jason sort of nodded at. Neither of them said anything but they both relaxed a lot so Joel counted it as a win for their side. Which might actually be Tim's side from the way things were looking. When Jason waved for them to follow him, they headed up the hallway, past a closet that was obviously being modified into an elevator. One door further up the hallway opened and Bruce Wayne stepped out.
He smiled at Jason who grinned back at him so openly and welcomingly that Joel revised his totally private and never spoken to anyone opinion that Bruce Wayne might just possibly be a closet pedophile. No molested kid ever looked at their molester that way, especially not a kid as street saavy as Jason.
"Mr. Lands," Bruce said as he came over with an offered hand and a vapid grin. "I'm so glad to see that it's you. We met at a charity function for the Children's Hospital."
"Ah, thank you," Joel said. "I'm surprised that you remember me. We only spoke for a few minutes."
"Oh, I'm good with names," Bruce said. He waved it off as something not worthy of attention. "My lawyer Lucius said that your partner today would be Mr. Onstad. A pleasure to meet you."
"Ah, thank you," Ryan said.
He managed not to sniff for the smell of alcohol as Bruce wrung his hand and beamed at him. They all froze as something very loud and moderately explosive happened up the hallway. Jason jerked, looked at the doorway and then ran down the hallway yelling the sort of expletives that Joel was used to hearing from drug users who were in withdrawal.
"Oh dear," Bruce said. "I hope Dick didn't try cooking again."
"That happens often?" Ryan asked, this time completely without the leading tone of voice.
"Not for two years," Bruce said and sighed as more shouted expletives echoed down the hallway. "I suppose we're good for another two years or so now."
Laughter came from nowhere. Joel waved Bruce and Ryan's curious looks off. He sure as heck wasn't going to explain his own cooking failures as a teenager, though honestly, Joel thought that his might be worse. There didn't seem to be any fire alarms going off so the explosion must have been mostly harmless. Hopefully they'd get to see Dick before they left so that Joel could look for scorch marks.
"We just need to check Tim's room and ask him some questions, Mr. Wayne," Joel said.
"That's fine," Bruce said. "I've been through this twice before with Dick and Jason. I do have some idea of what to expect. Bear in mind that Tim is rather nervous about this and still quite weak. He specifically wanted to have the interview in his sitting room rather than in his bedroom."
"Why?" Ryan asked.
Bruce laughed and smiled wryly enough that Joel had to grin at him. "I think he's tired of lying in bed, honestly. Nearly a month in bed is a bit much for any twelve year old boy to endure."
Ryan was the one startled into laughter this time. They went into the bedroom which of course turned out to be a three or four room suite with French doors that led to a balcony that overlooked the gardens on the other side of the Manor. The room had grab bars already, with no area rugs to catch on crutches or make it hard to roll a wheel chair. As it stood, there was plenty of room for a wheelchair to maneuver.
It took him a moment to notice Tim. He was sitting in a big comfortable recliner that looked as though it was a recent addition to the room. Tim smiled so shyly that Joel immediately revised his planned approach. While Jason, Bruce and probably Dick seemed to be open and outgoing people, it looked to him like all the reports of neglect were true.
He was too small, too tentative, and definitely too cautious as they came over to sit on the couch opposite him. Everything in Joel shouted 'neglect' and 'possible abuse'. Tim looked more like ten than twelve. The wheelchair sitting next to his lounge chair seemed impossibly small until you took in how small Tim was. Of course, the bright blanket over his legs hid his true size, as did the dark long-sleeved shirt Tim had chosen to wear, but still, much too small for his age.
"Tim," Bruce said in the exact same cheerful, bright voice that he'd used for greeting Joel, "I think I'd better check on Dick."
"What was that?" Tim asked and his expression opened up enough that he nearly looked like a different person. Joel thought that Bruce might already be the center of Tim's universe.
"Dick seems to have decided to try to cook you lunch," Bruce sighed.
"He can cook?" Tim asked while blinking with enough startlement that Ryan had a hand over his mouth. "I thought he said that he wasn't allowed to cook."
"No, he can't cook and no, he's not supposed to try," Bruce said ruefully.
"Go!" Tim said and made flappy hands at Bruce as if to shoo him away. "Make sure he doesn't burn the Manor down."
Joel managed to hold the snickers in until after Bruce left the room but both Ryan and Tim had such curious expression that he felt almost compelled to explain. From Tim's expression he might already realize that Joel had his own cooking issues but Ryan was completely puzzled.
"Sorry, just had my own 'adventures' in cooking when I was a teenager," Joel said. "Ahem. Sorry. Sorry. I'm Joel Lands and this is my associate Ryan Onstad."
"Timothy Drake," Tim replied automatically and then winced as if he expected to be scolded for saying something obvious.
"How is your back doing?" Joel asked.
"Better," Tim replied. He made a face when Joel cocked his head at him. "I can sit up for ten minutes at a time now, though moving around in my wheelchair still hurts. The PT is pretty hard but I can move my feet almost as freely as I used to. The doctor says that if I keep working this hard at my exercises that I'll be allowed to try standing and walking with crutches in a month or two."
"I should check the bedroom and bathroom while you do the interview," Ryan said.
"Of course," Tim said before Joel could reply. "My bedroom is through the door on your right. My office, which I've yet to get into is the one on the left. There's also a spare bedroom that's been turned into my exercise room through the door closest to the French Doors. Bruce, Dick and Jason keep adding and revising things to make it better for me."
Joel exchanged a surprised look with Ryan and followed him over to stare into the exercise room. It looked almost exactly like a hospital's PT room, with weights and a mat and the appropriate exercise machines and balance balls, all arranged in a way that made it easy for Tim to move around in his wheelchair. The bedroom was equally impressive as Tim had a proper hospital adjustable bed with a lifting bar over it so that he could move himself about if he needed to. The bathroom couldn't have been more perfect if it tried. As Ryan started checking a million boxes on their checklist, Joel came back over and sat down opposite Tim.
"You're happy," Joel commented and then smiled as Tim blushed brightly. "That's what we want to see, you know."
"I know," Tim admitted as he fussed with his blanket and smoothed it over his legs until it lay perfectly even.
"Were you happy with your parents?" Joel asked probably too gently for how intelligent Tim was supposed to be.
"I don't…" Tim sighed and made a little face. "I don't remember everything yet. A lot of memories have come back but not all of them. I…"
He stopped again, staring unseeingly at his hands which had clenched on the blanket. His knuckles were white. When Joel reached over to touch Tim's hand he started and stared at Joel as if stunned that anyone would ever initiate physical contact with him. Joel mentally marked the neglect charge down as confirmed and the abuse as 'probable' though he tried not to let that show.
"What do you remember?" Joel asked, keeping his hand on Tim's. After a moment Tim uncurled his fingers and very hesitantly wrapped them around Joel's. It felt like he'd just earned Tim's trust and it hurt that that was all it took, a simple human touch.
"That touching wasn't allowed," Tim whispered. "That I was supposed to be the perfect heir for my father. That anything I asked for would make my parents go away for months at a time. That I wasn't supposed to think or feel or have opinions that disagreed with my mother's. That my father couldn't remember from day to day what my interests or hobbies were, even though he always seemed proud of me when something came up."
"Do you remember why you went to Ethiopia by yourself?" Joel asked curiously because that was the water-cooler question of the day all across the city.
"…No," Tim said after a long moment of staring into space with a ferocious frown that was more appropriate for a person four times his age. "There was… something I had to see, to photograph, but… I can't remember what it was."
They both started when the door to the hallway opened and Alfred (with a scowl and scorched mustache) came in with a tray of soup, sandwiches and what looked to be oatmeal-raisin cookies. He was followed by Jason (smirking), Bruce (who looked dismayed but not worried) and Dick, who had smoke stains across his cheeks and forehead, burnt hair and a hang-dog expression that threatened to make Joel start laughing again.
Tim pulled his hand away from Joel and started laughing silently at Dick who groaned and rolled his eyes.
"I just wanted to make you some soup so you could take your meds, little brother," Dick complained as he flopped onto the couch next to Joel without a care. He smelled of smoke and scorched tomatoes.
"Hmm, maybe next time just let Alfred do it," Tim said and there was a laugh in his voice that made Joel grin.
Ryan came out of the bedroom, still checking off boxes and muttering as he wrote up notes. He nodded to them, did a double-take when he noticed Dick's condition, and then headed into the exercise room with Jason in tow as if Jason was worried that Ryan would break something. Joel could hear them snarking at each other as Ryan did measurements and recorded his observations.
"There's a good bit more that we have to check," Joel said while Alfred served Tim his lunch and made sure that he was comfortable in his lounge chair, "both in the manor and on the grounds. While Ryan works with Jason could you show me the improvements you're making to the manor, Mr. Wayne?"
"Of course!" Bruce said so brightly that he looked like a particularly genial dunce. "I'd be glad to."
"There… aren't any issues, are there?" Tim asked nervously enough that Joel paused halfway to standing.
"No," Joel said as he straightened his legs and then smiled at Tim. "No problems at all, actually. This is… pretty much exactly what we want to see when someone takes in a child in need, Tim. I don't anticipate that I'll find anything major. Do you want me to come back after we've finished our investigation to tell you what's been decided?"
"Yes," Tim said and the worry and shyness disappeared into hope and determination and relief. "Even if you have to wake me up to do it. I want to know."
Joel nodded and smiled as Dick and Alfred fussed over Tim who took it with exactly the lack of grace that an abused and neglected child would. Once out in the hallway with the door firmly shut, Joel sighed and looked at Bruce whose dunce expression had slid into something sad and angry.
"They hurt him so bad," Joel murmured.
"And I have to let them come visit him," Bruce growled.
"Not until everyone signs off on it," Joel grumbled back at him. "And I'm not going to sign off on that until after Tim's talked to a proper psychologist."
"Thank you," Bruce breathed.
Joel nodded and gestured for Bruce to begin the tour. They headed back to the closet that would be an elevator in a few days where Bruce began chattering about all the changes they were making to the manor for the sake of one small boy.
No, Joel thought as he took notes and asked questions about carrying capacity, emergency functions and safety interlocks, he wouldn't approve Jack and Janet Drake to visit until Tim was much stronger and much more confident. It shouldn't take too long, not with a family like this behind him.
"Just a few more steps, Tim," Dick said while watching and waiting behind Tim with his arms at the ready in case Tim collapsed as he worked his way across the parallel bars towards his waiting wheelchair.
He only got a grunt back from Tim but that wasn't exactly surprising. Tim was busy holding himself up while he tried to force his legs to do what he wanted them to. Two and a half months had given Tim back sensation in his legs but it had also given him persistent muscle cramps, uncontrollable jerkiness whenever he used his legs and enough frustration that sometimes he sounded like he was taking swearing lessons from Jason.
None of them paid any attention to the grumpiness. Given the amount of pain Tim still felt he was complete justified in being grumpy and frustrated. It never seemed to slow Tim down, though Dick regularly held him through silent waves of tears at how much his body still hurt.
What worried Dick was that Tim seemed to be giving up. He was more likely to reach for his wheelchair than for the crutches and more likely to sit still than to try to move. It wasn't that he refused to do his PT. Tim just wasn't trying outside of PT anymore. But Dick had a plan to deal with that little problem.
"Two more," Dick said.
"Tired," Tim snapped. He sagged and let the bars support him for a moment. "I'm tired, Dick."
"Come on, you can do this Tim," Dick said. He ducked under one bar and moved to stand between Tim and his chair. "I know you can. Just a few mores steps and you can take a break before the psychologist shows up. Look, I brought you a special reward."
"Cookies?" Tim asked and then grinned as Dick groaned.
"No, not an Alfred-reward," Dick complained even though he was grinning. "A Tim-reward. I brought a bunch of your pictures in so that you can look at them when you're done with your exercises."
Tim jerked and his eyes went wide. He immediately hauled himself upright, braced his arms and focused so hard that he looked as old as Dick instead of twelve. Tim's legs still moved jerkily but he held himself up much better than he had before. Dick beamed, moving back to push Tim's wheelchair forward for him.
When he reached the end of the parallel bars Tim caught Dick's shoulder and carefully eased himself down into the wheelchair. Dick helped, wrapping an arm around Tim's back and then grinned when Tim hugged Dick. He was quivering with excitement.
"Where are they?" Tim asked.
"Over on the table," Dick said. "You do realize you've been slacking off, don't you?"
Tim went beet red and then he sighed. "I know. I'm just frustrated. It never seems to end."
Dick hugged Tim again, rubbing Tim's back gently until Tim squirmed. He sat on the floor next to Tim's wheelchair so that Tim could look him in the eye without straining his neck. "It'll get better, Tim. It's already getting better. When you got here you couldn't even feel your feet. Now you're walking and doing things. You can go outside, move, live."
"It hurts," Tim admitted in a tiny little voice that hurt to hear. "I feel like the pain is never going to go away."
"I can't promise that it will," Dick said sadly. "The doctor said that it should but I can't promise anything. I do know that you're strong. You've done such incredible things already in your life and you're only twelve, Tim. I believe in you. You'll do so much more, go so many places, and be so incredible if you keep trying."
Tim squirmed and smiled at Dick, the shy little smile he used when he was trying to hide how pleased he was that someone had noticed him and liked him. He rubbed his legs for a moment before taking a deep breath and meeting Dick's eyes. Dick grinned at him. Seeing that determined look in Tim's eyes always made him feel better about everything.
"Can you get me my crutches?" Tim asked.
"You bet!" Dick said.
He scrambled to his feet and brought Tim's crutches over. They were regular crutches that went up under Tim's armpits rather than the half-length ones that the doctor suggested for later, once Tim's legs were a little more reliable. Most of the time Tim needed a boost to get up on them but this time he took them, set his jaw and hauled himself up without any assistance at all.
Normally Tim swayed badly before starting to walk but this time he used the momentum to immediately start walking. He was awkward and clumsy, knees and feet completely uncoordinated as he struggled towards the table in the corner. Dick hovered behind Tim, ready to catch him if he fell, but Tim kept on going without stumbling once. By the time Tim crossed the three yards separating the parallel bars and the table Dick was sweating nearly as badly as Tim was but both of them were grinning.
"Did it!" Tim gasped as he reached for the table and then finally lost his coordination.
"You did!" Dick cheered.
He caught Tim as he overreached and then nearly fell on top of the table and the pictures neatly stacked there. They laughed, Tim clinging to Dick's shoulders and Dick trying not to bounce in sheer excitement. Once Dick eased Tim into his chair Dick did bounce and then hug Tim so tightly that Tim squawked and lightly hit Dick's side.
"That was incredible!" Dick said. "You've never gone that far, and all by yourself too! No bars, no helping, just you!"
Tim laughed quietly as he set his crutches on the floor. "I guess I'm doing better than I thought I was."
"Yeah, you adorable little stalker you!" Dick said and grinned as he passed the pictures over to Tim.
The stack of pictures that Dick had chosen were all ones that had intrigued him for one reason or another. About half of them were stalking pictures. The other half were simple pictures of the city, the Drake's house or people from the Drake's social circle. Tim took the stack with shaking hands and smiled at the top one.
"That's the first picture I ever took of Jason," Tim said. A grin stretched his face and Dick settled down opposite him to listen. "It was over on Fourth and Madison. I knew that you were gone but I hadn't figured out who the new Robin was. I actually went out that night specifically to try and get pictures so that I could do some analysis."
"Did you have a hypothesis at the time?" Dick asked.
"Oh yes," Tim replied while smiling at the picture. "My theories said that it was fifty-five percent likely to be Jason, Bruce Wayne's latest adopted son, thirty percent someone from the Fox family, and fifteen percent someone brought in from outside to play the role for some other reason."
"I repeat: Adorable little stalker," Dick said and then laughed when Tim glared at him. "Go on, tell me all about them. We've all been super curious about why and when and how you took all of these."
Tim laughed and turned that picture over and placed it on the table face down. He grinned at the second one, which showed Dick dancing with Kory at a high society function they'd held at the Manor shortly after Dick and Kory had gotten together. Dick scooted closer and leaned his chin on his hand so that he could watch Tim studying his photos.
"That one was hard to get," Tim said thoughtfully. "I had to learn how to disarm the security system for brief periods of time before I could even attempt it. And then I had to climb that big oak tree behind the Manor and use my best telephoto lens with a specially adapted tripod to steady the shot well enough to get anything worthwhile."
It was easy to nod and laugh, nod and stare as Tim pointed out particular things that had been important or difficult on each picture. Dick hadn't realized that so many of Tim's memories had come back. He wondered if Tim talked about it with Alfred or Bruce or Jason because he certainly hadn't said anything to Dick about it.
"How long have you remembered this stuff?" Dick asked when Tim moved on to the ninth picture.
"The things in the pictures?" Tim asked with his eyes locked on the picture. "I'm… actually remembering it all as I see them. They're… kind of like triggers, I guess. My memories have always been wrapped up in the pictures I took, the ones I couldn't take and the ones I wanted to take."
Dick's jaw dropped open as the door opened and Jason came in with lunch for the three of them. "You mean you'd have remembered sooner if we'd given you the pictures to look at?"
"Huh?" Jason asked, his head swiveling between the two of them.
"Um, maybe?" Tim said. He shrugged one shoulder and blushed as they stared at them. "I mean, I doubt that it would have worked right away but now it seems to be working very well."
"Feed him," Dick snapped. "I'm getting the rest of the pictures right now."
"Uh, okay," Jason said. He snorted as Dick ran for the door. "So what's going on?"
Dick didn't stay to listen to Tim's response. There were over three thousand pictures that Tim had taken, about half of them secret pictures from the box under Tim's bed and the other half pictures he'd never bothered to hide. Bruce and Dick had gathered every single one that they could get their hands on. If he'd had any idea that showing the pictures to Tim would help him get his memory back Dick would have shown them to Tim months ago.
Three file folders of secret pictures and six public photo albums made for a huge stack but Dick managed to carry them back to Tim's room relatively easily. They still had about an hour and a half before the psychologist showed up for his first session with Tim. That might be enough time to go through the majority of the secret photos and start working on the public ones.
"Huh, I had no idea," Jason said as Dick staggered through the door with the stack of albums precariously balanced on one arm. "Dick! Let me help with that. Damn, don't break anything."
"Trying not to," Dick said and then breathed a sigh of relief when Jason took half the stack. "Start with the folders. Those are the secret pictures. Then we can go on to the albums of your other pictures, Tim."
"You really took all of these?" Jason asked.
Tim nodded. When Dick offered the folders of photos he took them so eagerly that Dick felt even worse about keeping Tim's pictures away from him. It had seemed like a good idea when Bruce suggested it but now he thought maybe he should have said no. Of course, even Alfred had gone along with it so maybe they'd all been idiots.
"Eat the stew, Tim," Jason said. "I made it. Don't let it get cold."
"Rub it in," Dick complained and then pouted when both Jason and Tim snickered at his ban from the kitchen. "I still think Tim needed the soup."
"Mmm-hmm," Jason said so smugly that Dick not so lightly punched his shoulder. "Eat up."
Tim snickered as he ate and looked at pictures. As Dick ate the (really tasty, darn it!) stew and fresh biscuits, Jason asked questions about Tim's pictures between prompting him to eat and being prompted by Tim to eat his own food. To his relief, Tim didn't seem upset by not having had access to his photos for so long.
"Still an adorable little stalker," Dick murmured and then laughed as Jason flapped a hand at Dick to try and get him to stop interrupting Tim's explanation of how he'd gotten up on the tower on Barthall Avenue without being seen. "Really adorable."
Joel smiled as Bruce beamed at him and wrung his hand. It was nice visiting a home where the parents actually welcomed him, especially given how nasty the custody case for Tim was getting in the media. The horrible things that Jack and Janet Drake were saying to the press about Bruce and his family didn't appear to have any effect on him personally. He was as open and kind as he'd been for every single one of the CPS visits so far. Of course, given the way his lawyers were attacking the Drakes in court and in the media, he might have decided to ignore the bad press entirely.
"Good to see you Mr. Wayne," Joel said. "This is the court psychologist, Angela Reyes."
"A pleasure to meet you, Ms. Reyes," Bruce said, wringing her hand just as genially.
"Is Tim available?" Angela said once she'd managed to liberate her hand. She surreptitiously wiped her hand on her skirt.
"Of course," Bruce said. "His suite is just this way."
"The modifications to the Manor are done?" Joel asked as they headed up the hallway to Tim's suite.
"All except for some of the walking paths through the grounds," Bruce said. He pointed through one window towards the distant seashore. There was warning tape blocking the paths and lawn off. "We're having some trouble stabilizing the cliff enough to put in paved walkways and guard rails down to the beach. My contractor estimates that in another couple of months it will all be finished. In the meantime we've blocked the area off so that no one can be hurt."
Angela stared at Joel behind Bruce's back. She hadn't believed him when he'd briefed her about the level of commitment that Bruce had shown to updating the Manor for accessibility. The elevator looked like it was in operating condition when they passed by.
"How is he handling the publicity of the custody process?" Angela asked in that perfectly neutral voice that Joel knew meant that she was certain things had to be going poorly.
"Quite well overall," Bruce said thoughtfully. Tim wasn't in his sitting room but Joel could hear the boys talking in his exercise room. "He watches the morning and evening news, reads the Gotham Gazette, but doesn't dwell on them. Lucius comes by once a week to brief him on the latest events. Tim hasn't felt strong enough to go off of the property yet but he is making an effort to get out into the garden every day. So far, there haven't been any issues for him."
He blinked absently as Angela frowned. Joel had to wonder how much of the absent-minded act was natural (probably at least seventy-five percent of it) and how much was Bruce feeling Angela out before trusting her. The Waynes had their own psychologist who had been providing weekly reports on Tim's mental progress to CPS and the court. Despite Bruce's protests, the Drakes had won the right to bring in their own psychologist to speak to Tim who had been rather frustrated by the complete lack of cooperation Tim gave her.
Joel had sat in on that particular set of interviews at Tim's absolute insistence and he'd come away with the impression that Tim was as bright as Bruce was dim-witted. The Drakes' psychologist had ended up spluttering rather quickly, especially since Tim hadn't pulled any punches in his assessment of his parents' likelihood of maintaining the physical therapy or providing for Tim's physical limitations.
The Drakes certainly hadn't made any adjustments to their house like ramps, elevators or even a stair lift for Tim's wheelchair. From what Joel had seen, Janet seemed to believe that Tim would magically be able to climb the stairs on his own. His comments to Janet Drake on the need for retrofitting their house to meet Tim's needs had been met with enough ice to freeze the northern hemisphere, which he'd been compelled to note in his reports on the Drakes.
"And your other sons?" Angela asked.
"Jason has… issues with CPS and custody cases," Bruce said carefully enough that Joel snorted in an attempt not to laugh out loud. "Large issues given how he grew up. He's looked at every aspect of this process as a threat, I'm afraid. However, he's been quite committed to Tim from the beginning so he's doing everything that he can to help. Dick has taken a leave of absence from college to help Tim recuperate. I'm not entirely sure that he finds the media attention intrusive. He was a member of Haley's Circus until his parents were killed. He's quite familiar with their focus on him after all these years."
Angela's little hum made Joel want to bite back a sigh. He suspected that she'd already made up her mind about Tim's place in this household without ever talking to him. As much as he wanted to say something he didn't. If he'd learned anything over the last couple of months it was that Tim was his own best advocate. Once she talked to him she'd see how much better off he was now and how mature he was for his age.
"They're over there?" Angela said, gesturing towards the exercise room.
"I believe so," Bruce said. "That's Tim's exercise room. He was doing his physical therapy prior to your arrival but they should have stopped for lunch. I suspect that they were talking and lost track of time."
Angela took the lead and carefully pulled the door open as if she wanted to sneak up on the boys. Joel shrugged at Bruce's curious look, gesturing for him to follow Angela. He looked around the sitting room and smiled to see several new improvements had been made in the last couple of weeks. Every time he visited something new showed up to make Tim's life easier. This time it was a rolling desk that's base slid under Tim's chair, giving him something to rest his books or computer on as he worked. Last time it had been the special ramp installed on the porch that allowed him immediate access to the garden's new paths.
"So when did you take that one?" Jason asked as Angela opened the door.
"And where is it?" Dick asked.
They were looking at a photo album with Tim, their heads bent over the book so that they could study the pictures inside. Tim smiled as he rested his fingers on one of the pictures. His expression was sad and intent, a little distant in the way it often was when he spoke to Joel of his parents. Angela frowned, craning her neck to see what they were looking at.
"It's the big oak tree behind our house," Tim said. "I took it two days before my eleventh birthday. I'd just gotten a call from Dad saying that they wouldn't be home for my birthday, which wasn't a surprise. Mother had said that they wouldn't when they left six weeks earlier. Dad thought that he'd called me on my birthday and since I could hear Mom listening on the line I didn't correct him on the date. She hates it when I correct Dad on anything."
Tim sighed and actually smiled while caressing the picture. Angela had an appalled expression that Joel could just see from the corner of his eye while Bruce simply listened as if he'd become inured to hearing Tim say such terrible things.
"It took about two hours to get this shot," Tim continued while absently running his fingers around the edges of the picture as if to settle it into place more firmly. "The light was really bad and I tried four different lenses before I thought I had a good shot. When I developed the film I saw that only this one had turned out. There's no processing at all, just a crop and print."
"Little brother, I really want to punch your mother in the nose," Jason sighed.
"And your dad," Dick complained.
"It's not that unusual for a father to forget his child's birthday," Tim protested while turning the page. "And Mother always listened in on our discussions to make sure I didn't embarrass her or Dad."
Angela pulled back and quietly shut the door so that she could stare at Bruce with more than a little horror on her face. She shook her head and then moved to the French doors so that they would be less likely to be overheard. Joel and Bruce followed her.
"When did they start leaving him home?" Angela asked as she flipped open her notebook.
"Within a week after his birth," Bruce said sadly enough that Joel patted him on the shoulder. "They left for months, came back for a couple of weeks, left again for months. The pattern continued until the day Tim was shot saving Jason's life."
"He had a caretaker, I assume," Angela said.
"No, he hasn't had a nanny since he was five," Bruce said and this time his anger was quite obvious. "The Drakes had a daytime housekeeper who watched over him but at night he was alone. According to some of the things Tim has said the housekeepers left him their phone number in case anything happened but he was left in the house without any supervision from the time he was five years old."
"That…" Angela growled something under her breath that Joel was glad he couldn't hear.
He trusted her to be as unbiased as possible but this case was one that inspired passion in everyone involved in it. It didn't seem as though her anger bothered Bruce. After a moment she shook her head and made a few notes on the pad of paper. When she looked at Bruce her expression was serious and concerned.
"Why did you take him in, Mr. Wayne?" Angela asked.
Bruce sighed and stared out at the garden for a long moment. "My parents were killed in front of me when I was nine years old, Ms. Reyes. I went through a lot of pain and loneliness growing up, though Alfred did his best to raise me as my parents would have wanted. Despite the therapy I've been through and my trip around the world, I think my parents' death will always be with me."
He looked at Angela and his expression was serious enough that he almost looked intelligent. The seriousness of the look transformed him from an amiable idiot into someone who might at one point have had promise. Angela took a deep breath and then let it out again when Bruce sighed and looked out at the garden again.
"I watched Dick go through exactly what I had when his parents were killed, Ms. Reyes," Bruce continued. "After having gone through that loneliness and pain I couldn't sit by and let him suffer alone. Becoming his foster father was the best thing I've ever done. I really believe that. It was good for Dick but it was good for me and for Alfred as well. He was a ray of sunshine in this house that we desperately needed and have always appreciated. I truly feel that I've been blessed to help him grow up into such a strong young man."
He smiled then. "Jason was much the same, though his personality couldn't be more different from Dick's if they tried. Where Dick is good cheer personified, Jason has always been ferocious. I think that once he grows up he'll make a real difference in the world. He's too determined not to. Dick and I had been having our problems when Jason came along. Jason brought us back together, got us talking to each other again, even if we did have some fights that the media was more than happy to dwell on."
"And Tim?" Angela asked. "What about him?"
"Tim… Tim is complicated," Bruce said thoughtfully enough that Joel had to raise a hand to hide his smile. The frown made Joel think that Bruce couldn't quite figure all of Tim's depths out, which wasn't surprising. Joel was surprised by Tim every time they talked.
"Complicated in what way?" Angela asked. "Intelligence, drive, personality?"
"Circumstances first," Bruce replied. "You're aware that I'd taken Jason to Ethiopia to see the pyramids there, yes?"
"There really are pyramids in Ethiopia?" Angela asked with enough surprise that Bruce grinned at her.
"Oh yes, quite a few," Bruce explained as if he'd been dying to talk about it for ages. "They're very different from the Egyptian pyramids, only a couple of stories high and quite narrow. They mark the graves for various Ethiopian royals. Quite fascinating. I'd seen them during my trip around the world, mentioned it to Jason when his school was doing a segment in World History on Egypt and he asked what they were like. They really do have to be seen to be fully appreciated so we took a week to go see them."
The little noise that Angela made was enough like Joel's disbelieving laugh that they both smiled at each other. Bruce chuckled and shrugged as if it wasn't anything remarkable to him. It probably wasn't special to Bruce Wayne, the man who gladly spent millions of dollars retrofitting the Manor for one small boy who might not actually get to stay with him.
"At any rate, I stopped at a rug weaver that I knew to commission a rug for the blue salon and Jason got bored," Bruce said. He tensed which made Joel want to pat his arm though he didn't. It wasn't really appropriate given Joel's position as the CPS investigator for the case. "He wandered away and was set upon by some street thugs. He would have died, Ms. Reyes. They were quite intent on ending Jason's life. If Tim hadn't appeared out of nowhere and jumped on the leader's back, Jason would be dead. Instead, Tim nearly died."
She gulped at the pain in Bruce's eyes, reaching out to put her hand on his sleeve. Bruce let his hand rest on top of hers for a moment that seemed almost too intimate for Joel to be witnessing.
"That was what I found when I arrived," Bruce continued after a moment. "My son beaten half to death and Tim bleeding his life away. We got Tim to the hospital and went to find his parents. I assumed that he'd wandered away in exactly the same way that Jason had."
"But he was alone," Angela murmured.
"Exactly," Bruce growled. "I had Alfred and Dick investigate after I told them about the near miss and… he's been alone for so long, Ms. Reyes. I know what it is to be young and alone but not like that. Tim wasn't alone because his parents were dead. He was alone because they simply didn't care about him. I know that many in the media believe that I'm doing this because I feel guilty for getting Jason into a situation where he could be hurt but I'm not. I'm doing this because of a young boy who has spent his whole life looking at other families and wishing he had one that cared about him."
"Is that boy you or Tim?" Angela asked sharply enough that Joel blinked at her and opened his mouth. She waved a hand at him to shut up.
Bruce chuckled and smiled wryly at her. "A few years ago I would have said that it was me. Now… it's definitely Tim. No matter what happens with the custody case I hope that I can give Tim enough love and belonging that he can deal with the trauma his parents visited on him. He shouldn't have to be alone anymore. No child should ever be that alone."
Angela nodded thoughtfully. They all turned as Jason came out of the exercise room carrying a stack of photo albums. Tim was behind him, wheeling his chair like a pro with Dick right behind him with folders of pictures and a tray covered with empty dishes. They all blinked to see Bruce, Joel and Angela there, especially Tim who blushed and ran his hands over his clothes as if embarrassed that he wasn't better dressed.
"On the table?" Jason asked Tim.
"Yes, please," Tim said. "Dick, can you put the loose photos in my bedroom? I need to put them in an album eventually."
"Sure," Dick said, nodding to the others as he followed Tim's orders.
Tim wheeled over and looked up at Angela for a long moment that made her shift as if she was uncomfortable under his gaze. Eventually he nodded and offered on slim hand to her. "Nice to meet you. I'm Tim Drake."
"Angela Reyes," Angela replied.
"I assume you want to talk to me alone," Tim said and smiled tightly when she nodded. "Bruce, maybe you can show Joel the final work on the paths and go over the paperwork?"
"Absolutely," Bruce said. He patted Tim's shoulder fondly. "Call if you need anything."
"I will," Tim said and smiled so warmly at Bruce that Joel couldn't help smiling too. He turned back to Angela and she shifted position again. "Why don't we go sit down, Ms. Reyes? I'm sure you have a lot of questions for me."
Tim waited until everyone else had left to wheel himself over to his lounge chair. The new hospital style rolling table slid out of the way easily and Tim carefully levered himself up and then into the lounge chair. After sitting so long in his wheelchair it was a relief to have the padding supporting his back. Dr. Reyes watched him with narrowed eyes and only sat opposite Tim once he gestured for her to take a seat on the couch. The many photo albums on the coffee table separated them. It made for a nice little barrier that Tim was grateful for. He hadn't been looking forward to this interview at all.
"You take photographs?" Dr. Reyes asked as she opened the newest photo album and blinked at the pictures inside as if surprised by the quality. "These are yours?"
"Yes," Tim replied. "Photography has been my hobby since I was six."
"Where do you get them developed?"
"I develop my own pictures, Dr. Reyes," Tim said just snippily enough that her eyes left the album and returned to Tim's face. "Of course I haven't been doing much since my injury but I had a dark room in my parent's house. I find the process of developing photos fascinating and endlessly creative, especially black and white photography. There's a… purity to it that I find quite appealing. If I stay here I intend to ask if we can set up a dark room in the Manor. Until I'm a bit more mobile there's little point to asking. I wouldn't be able to spend the time necessary to do it currently."
"I see," Dr. Reyes said. She carefully shut the photo album and centered her notebook on her knee before smiling that 'you're such a bright boy' smile that adults had gotten around Tim ever since he was tiny whenever he made it obvious how intelligent he was. "Your parents approved of it, I take it?"
"Not at all," Tim said.
He settled back into his lounge chair and smoothed his sweat pants over his legs. It would have been nice to be better dressed, showered, before she showed up but looking at his photos had been so much more important. Tim was desperately glad that he'd seen them before she showed up. His memories were much clearer now than they had been. Dr. Reyes made a little noise that was obviously intended as a request for Tim to go on. Despite the temptation to make her request it out loud, Tim didn't indulge in his mild anger at her. It wasn't her fault that she wasn't on his side.
"My mother strongly disapproved of photography as a hobby, actually," Tim said. "My father encouraged me when I asked though so she couldn't say too much about it. Mother feels that it's a waste of time, that I should be putting my effort into studying and being a better heir. She disapproves of anything that takes my focus away from preparing to take over my father's business."
"You're twelve," Dr. Reyes said as if attempting to confirm his age for her own sake.
"I am," Tim agreed. He deliberately said nothing further as she stared at him.
It took her a moment to formulate her words into something coherent or perhaps less wrathful. "And your mother thinks that having a satisfying and creative hobby is a waste of time?"
"Have you met my mother?" Tim asked and then sighed when Dr. Reyes shook her head no. "I think that if you spent any time around her you would find that she fits the textbook definition of a sociopath. I've never noticed that my mother had any emotions other than annoyance when she doesn't get her way and impatience when others can't keep up with her. She's a genius, a trait that she passed on to me, and cares very little for what others think of her. Only those things that matter to her are worth bothering with."
Tim wasn't at all surprised that Dr. Reyes had to take a few moments to scribble in her notebook. He imagined that she was writing things like 'hostile, uncooperative, and answers were coached' but he might be wrong about that. When she looked up her expression had enough anger that maybe she was noting things about his mother rather than about Tim.
"You're quite intelligent."
"I've been reading at a twelfth grade level for two years," Tim answered her implicit question. "I was in advanced calculus before my injuries. I don't know my exact IQ but I do know that it's quite high."
Dr. Reyes studied him for a moment and then frowned. "Did they neglect you?"
"How do you define neglect?" Tim countered. He couldn't resist a tight little smile at the irritated look she gave him. "It's a valid question. My mother's psychologist defined it only as a lack of food, lack of clothing, or lack of shelter. She seemed quite determined to define lack of love and attention from my parents as 'encouraging me to be independent' or 'respecting my maturity and intelligence'. Bruce's psychologist views my parents' persistent absence from my life as a clear sign of neglect, at a potentially criminal level. I have never lacked for food, clothing or material belongs, Dr. Reyes. All basic physical needs were met and anything that I expressed a desire for was supplied as long as I presented it in a logical and unemotional manner. However, once I had expressed such a request my parents would leave for a minimum of two months. If it was a major request, such as my darkroom, they would leave for as much as six months at a time. No nanny or caretaker was present in our house at night from the time I was five years old; however I had contact numbers and was responsible and intelligent enough to know what to do if something did happen. So. How do you define neglect?"
"Did they ever hug you?" Dr. Reyes asked as if she expected that he'd say no, never.
"My father, yes," Tim said. "Occasionally, when he was there and I did something that had been brought to his attention. I believe that he is proud of my intelligence and that he feels he's been a good father. I have never received any form of physical affection from my mother. She doesn't believe in hugging or otherwise touching people."
"She might be a sociopath," Dr. Reyes muttered while scribbling notes on her pad with enough force that he suspected that the paper would be curled and bent by the time she filled the page.
Tim nodded and let her write for a few minutes. It would have been nice to have someone there to back him up but Tim thought that Dr. Reyes truly would make an attempt to be unbiased. He was quite certain that she would be the deciding psychologist when they had the next hearing. Jason's advice to not give away anything echoed against Alfred's advice to be honest and complete but not effusive. Dick's hug still seemed to be wrapped around Tim's shoulders and Tim could swear that he could still feel Bruce's hand resting on his shoulder.
"You've gotten quite good with your wheelchair," Dr. Reyes commented once she was done writing.
"I've had a lot of help," Tim agreed, wondering where that line of questioning was going. "Dick's former girlfriend Barbara's been coaching me. She's been in a wheelchair for several years now. And of course the doctor and physical therapist have a bunch of exercises that I do every day."
"So you do get out?" Dr. Reyes asked.
"I haven't left the Manor's grounds yet," Tim said and let her see the narrowed eyes. "I don't have the stamina for long periods of time yet, though I did manage to walk three yards on my crutches today for the first time. That was quite nice."
She nodded and noted that down. "Do you think that you'll keep improving?"
"As long as I'm here, yes," Tim said and sighed at the sharp look she gave him. "Dr. Reyes, I'm quite aware that my parents haven't made any adjustments to their home for me. There are eleven steps to get into the house in the front and nine in the back. My bedroom is on the second floor. If there are no ramps or lifts then I would be crawling up those stairs as things stand. I'm not strong enough to use crutches continuously yet and likely won't be for a couple more months at best. I may never be off of them and I know my mother will not make allowances for 'weakness'. She doesn't believe in coddling people."
The word 'coddling?' hovered on Dr. Reyes lips as she stared at him with outrage. It took her a long moment to get over the outrage enough to note something on her paper and then meet his eyes again. He thought that she was trying to get her objectivity back. Tim wasn't sure if he should feel as good as he did at succeeding in knocking her off balance but it was nice to see that he had managed to get her to react.
"What does she consider coddling to be?" Dr. Reyes asked fiercely enough that she sounded as if she was related to Jason. "Do you have any examples?"
"Eight months ago I caught the flu," Tim said and smiled grimly as she started that he had a ready example. "I felt terrible and had a fever but it was a school day. Mom and Dad were home. When I checked, my temperature was one hundred and three degrees. Mom insisted that I go to school despite that. When I got there I threw up and nearly passed out. The nurse allowed me to stay with her until my mother could come and pick me up at lunchtime. She was upset that I'd been allowed to stay out of class. She stated, and the nurse recorded it, that I should have been returned to class until she came to get me. The only reason that I went home early that day was that school policy didn't allow me to stay once the school knew that I was ill."
He couldn't help but chuckling and shrugging in the face of her outrage.
"It's not the only example," Tim continued. "The school has many recorded instances where Mom was upset that people allowed me to relax or get medical care or things like that. You can always check their records, or at least the lawyers can. I can think of six occasions in the last two years."
Dr. Reyes' hands shook as she set down her notepad and pen so that she could rub her temples for a moment. It was tempting to say something else but she wasn't truly his enemy so Tim let her gather her wits and get her temper under control. Once she picked up the pad and pen again he smiled at the look she gave him.
"You're very intelligent," Dr. Reyes said. "You know exactly what you're doing to me, don't you?"
"Of course," Tim said. "I learned manipulation at my mother's knee, Dr. Reyes. You're not my ally. You're not my friend. You are not on my side. I have no reason whatsoever to trust you."
"I am on your side," she protested.
"No, you're the court's psychologist," Tim replied. "Your job is to assess whether or not I'm strong enough mentally to be returned to my parents. Child Protective Service's job is to remove children from unsafe homes. My parent's home is not unsafe. It's lonely and, depending on your definition of neglect, possibly abusive but it's not unsafe. I would have difficulty moving around but it could be argued that it would motivate me to work harder on my recovery. You're not on my side, Dr. Reyes. You're on the court's side. You're the adult point of view, the supposedly unbiased point of view. Anything I say can and probably will be used against me at some point in this process. I'm well aware of it."
This time she set down her notes and stood. Dr. Reyes walked over to the French doors and stared out at the garden. Tim nudged his lounge chair around so that he could look at her back. She looked upset, so tense that he thought her shoulders must hurt. They stayed like that for several minutes, long enough for him to relax back into his chair and her to start twitching.
"Silence doesn't bother you," Dr. Reyes observed without looking at him.
"No, it doesn't." Tim smiled sadly at the way she shook her head. "There's nothing wrong with silence, Dr. Reyes. I actually find it rather comforting."
"I don't think I can be unbiased about this case," Dr. Reyes sighed. She met Tim's eyes finally. Her expression was profoundly disturbed.
"Why?" Tim asked.
She studied him narrowly for a long moment and then chuckled. "You'd make an excellent psychologist."
"Thank you," Tim said and grinned as she laughed. "So why?"
"I don't think that I can keep up with you," Dr. Reyes admitted. She came back and sat down on the couch without picking up her notes.
"Do you need to?" Tim asked and let his grin show when she glared at him for turning the tables on her.
"I would have said yes before I met you," Dr. Reyes huffed. "All right, let's get the requisite questions out of the way. How has the publicity of this case been affecting you?"
Tim considered the question for a long moment, though not long enough for it to be uncomfortable for her. She let him think about it, which was nice. His mother's psychologist had leaped to fill every silence with words, no matter what had been said moments before.
"So far, it's only indirectly affecting me," Tim said eventually. "I do watch the news and read the paper but I haven't had to deal with the reporters personally and frankly, the things they're saying have so little to do with the people on either side that it's not terribly upsetting."
"Can you explain that?" Dr. Reyes asked with enough puzzlement that Tim took pity on her.
"Their descriptions of Bruce, Dick and Jason have almost nothing to do with the people I interact with daily," Tim explained a tiny bit more gently. "In the same way, their reports on my parents have little resemblance to the people I grew up with. Bruce is described as a drunk, a complete imbecile and possibly a pedophile. The man I've come to know rarely drinks at all, though he will wave a drink around as though he's drinking it. He's not as stupid as he seems though I think that's because he's convinced that no one will like him if they realize he's not stupid. I don't think that Bruce has the slightest interest in males, frankly, and I seriously doubt that he'd ever think of touching a child that way. I suspect, and I have absolutely no proof of this, that someone in his childhood made advances on him at some point."
"Oh wow," Dr. Reyes breathed.
"Seriously, I have no proof of that," Tim repeated urgently enough that he hoped that she believed him. "It's just the way he reacted when Jason told me about some of the people that used to try and pick him up before he was adopted. It was… suggestive, shall we say?"
She put a hand over her mouth for a long moment as she stared down at the photo albums. After a moment she nodded and conspicuously didn't add to her notes. Tim waited and then cocked his head to the side when she met his eyes again.
"What do you think of the women that Mr. Wayne gets involved with?" To Tim's surprise she seemed honestly curious.
"Interesting question," Tim commented. "I think that he dates them because he desperately wants to be liked, Dr. Reyes. I think that they date him because he's Bruce Wayne, rich, beautiful and officially eligible. I don't think either side expects anything to come from it. It would be good if he did find someone to settle down with but… well, Bruce does have a lot of baggage and there aren't many people in his level of society that are able to deal with that."
"Very true," Dr. Reyes laughed. "All right, do Jason and Dick involve you in their activities?"
"As much as they can given my physical limitations," Tim said. He smiled a real smile because he couldn't think of Dick and Jason and not smile. "Dick has friends at his college that call him all the time. They'd like to come and meet me but I've said no so far. I really don't have the energy to deal with a bunch of strangers. I'm thinking that I'll let them plan a party for after the hearing. It will distract them and keep them from worrying."
She narrowed her eyes at him, obviously seeing his doubts about the hearing coming up entirely too soon for his comfort. Instead of noting his response down, Dr. Reyes leaned forward and studied him closely enough that Tim's cheeks went red.
"You expect to be returned to your parents," she noted.
Tim sighed and wished again that he'd kept better track of time. It was so much easier to look and feel confident when he was well dressed. Sweaty workout clothes didn't help him stay confident when she saw through his façade. His fingers trembled as he smoothed the sweat pants over his thighs. One thigh twitched, probably from nerves, so Tim rubbed at it gently.
"Tim, I'm really not your enemy," Dr. Reyes said entirely too gently.
"You're not my ally, either," Tim repeated, this time in that hurt voice that he tried to keep hidden from anyone who was not Dick, Jason, Bruce or Alfred. "Your job is to send me home. I know that."
"Where's home, Tim?"
That question startled Tim enough that he met her eyes. Compassion and understanding was all he saw there. Tim looked away, gazing around the suite that Bruce had reworked to fit him. The ramp down to the garden caught his eyes, as did the special table by his chair. He ran one finger over the wheelchair that Alfred had so proudly given him once he was strong enough to sit up for more than ten minutes.
"Does it matter?" Tim finally said once he was sure that his voice wouldn't shake.
"Yes, it does," Dr. Reyes replied. "My job isn't to send you home, Timothy Drake. It's to make sure that you have the best chance of becoming a strong, healthy adult. Judge Coombs is the one who will decide where you end up in the end. So. Where's home?"
"I never had a home," Tim whispered. "There was a house and I lived in it but it wasn't a home. Mom and Dad didn't think of it as home. Neither did I."
"Do you have a home now?" Dr. Reyes asked and he really wanted to hit her for being so persistent.
"It's not my home," Tim said and had to shut his eyes against the tears that wanted to well up at that truth. "I can't claim this as my home, Dr. Reyes."
"But you want it to be," she said with enough certainty that he had to laugh a little despite the tear that escaped his control.
"Yes," Tim whispered while brushing the tear away. "I do."
Angela shut the door to Tim's suite and breathed a quiet sigh of relief that the interview was over. As often as Joel had warned her that she should keep an open mind, she really hadn't been prepared for Timothy Drake. Or for Bruce Wayne, for that matter. She wasn't sure that he was as stupid as Joel thought but she also wasn't sure that he was as intelligent as Tim appeared to think. Either way, the two of them had her head reeling.
Jason Todd glared at her from one of the chairs strategically placed in the hallway. She automatically took in the arms crossed on his chest, the sneer, and the very fine trembling in his foot. Rather than react to the threat in his posture, she sighed and settled in a chair opposite him and allowed her exhaustion to show.
"Yes," Angela said. "He's… something, isn't he?"
The sneer changed into a little smirk filled with pride. Jason's foot started twitching rhythmically as he nodded. "Kicks everyone on their asses. Weren't prepared, were you?."
"Not at all," Angela agreed. The twitch got worse and the sneer came back. "You really do look at all of us as the enemy."
"Fuck yeah," Jason growled. "You assholes don't help the kids who really need it and you take kids who don't need help away from good homes. Seen it way too fucking many times."
He seemed to be thinking of specific instances as he glared down the hallway. It took her a moment to realize that the direction he was looking was exactly towards Gotham's worst neighborhoods. As tempting as it was to start asking him questions about which corrupt case workers he was thinking of, she didn't. Angela knew better than to butt heads with the head of CPS in Gotham, especially while she was sitting in Wayne Manor. They all knew that Bruce Wayne had all but bought the man outright a long time ago.
"Why did you wander away in Ethiopia?" Angela asked purely for her own curiosity.
Jason glared at her again. The impact of his eyes was nearly physical. She tried not to let it show and after a moment his cheeks started going red and he hunched down in the chair as if he was a turtle pulling back into its shell. She smiled at him, and then chuckled as he went even redder.
"It couldn't have been that boring," Angela commented.
"Oh fuck you, bitch," Jason complained with nowhere near the same level of fire in his voice. "You've never listened to Bruce talk about drivel for ages on end. Carpets and color patterns and the proper shade of eggshell blue for fucking goddamn ages. Enough to drive anyone out of their goddamned mind with boredom. I just… thought I could hack it, you know?"
He looked so much younger as he said the last sentence, much more like a fifteen year old boy than the ferocious young man that he had been before. Angela nodded and sighed as she stood up again. Jason scrambled to his feet, glaring down at her. He was going to be as big as Bruce Wayne when he was mature. It showed.
"I thought I could handle Tim," Angela said and then glared as he cackled at her. "We were both wrong."
"Heh, yeah," Jason snickered. "He kicks ass."
As tempting as it was to ask more questions, to interview Jason about his relationship with Tim, Angela really didn't think she needed to. The seat of the chair Jason had been sitting on took a good long while to rebound from the weight of his body while Angela's chair already looked as though no one had sat in it for ages. Jason caught the look and glared at her. This time his ears blushed along with his cheeks.
"Okay, so I waited outside just in case he needed something," Jason grumbled. "It's a big damn building and Tim's been freaking out about this for ages."
"It's fine," Angela said reassuringly. "Frankly, I'm glad you're here. I'm not entirely certain where Joel is and he's my ride."
That got her a little snort of amusement as Jason led her down the hallway. It was away from the front door, or at least Angela thought that they were going away from the front door. She hadn't paid as close of attention to their route coming in as she should have. They went out a side door and into the backyard, which was as large as several parks put together. The pathway along one long line of tall hedges was obviously new, with raw dirt dusted with grass seed along the edges.
"Hey, you're done!" Dick Grayson called as they turned a corner and spotted the others. He said it so brightly that Angela had to fight a smirk. "How'd it go? Is Tim okay?"
"He decided to take a shower," Angela said and then craned her neck as she realized that Joel was down on the beach with Bruce, looking at something in the cliff face. "Um, what…?"
"They got all technical about stabilizing the cliff for the new walking paths," Dick laughed. "Apparently Joel's cousin is a contractor who's good at this sort of thing. I think Joel's trying to talk Bruce into bringing him in to work on the problem."
Angela sighed and waved as Joel spotted her on the top of the cliff. He gestured as if asking if it was okay to take a little longer for his discussion. She nodded and made a shooing gesture at him that got a big grin and laugh from both Joel and Bruce. Rather than watch the two of them bond over complicated building projects that made no sense to her, she turned back to Dick who was having some sort of silent discussion with Jason.
To her eye it looked like Dick was as worried about Tim as Jason had been and was trying to get some level of reassurance that Tim would get to stay. Unfortunately, Jason didn't appear to be able to give him anything. They both started when they realized she was looking at them.
"You know, you can just ask," Angela said. "I can't reveal anything confidential but then I suspect Tim's told you two far more than he told me. He doesn't exactly trust easily."
"Really?" Dick asked and then glared at Jason when Jason snorted. "Oh come on, you know that he's been really wonderful with us. Once he woke up and started getting his memories back he really seemed comfortable with us."
"That's because you were right on the edge of going crazy from the need to hug him," Jason said and grinned as Dick blushed. "Nobody could feel threatened by you."
"Hugger?" Angela asked Jason. Dick went red.
"Like you wouldn't believe," Jason replied. Dick's ears went red.
"Hmm, probably a good thing," Angela said. "Tim needs so many hugs so badly."
They both went sad and grim. The expression looked relatively natural on Jason's face but it completely transformed Dick's face. He looked like someone had just ripped his guts out. Bruce's description of him as a ray of sunshine seemed to be quite appropriate, especially after Jason patted Dick's shoulder and the sadness disappeared into a grin and a tackle-hug that made Jason splutter and flail his free arm.
"Leggo!" Jason growled.
"Awww, but you looked sad, little brother," Dick said and laughed at the punch Jason aimed at him. It missed as Dick ducked out of the way.
"Fuck off, I don't need a hug," Jason grumbled.
"Maybe I could wait inside?" Angela asked them. Dick grinned at the way her lips were twitching, bowing at the waist and gesturing grandly for her to take his elbow.
"I'd be glad to show you inside," Dick said. "I'm kind of bored out here anyway."
"Butterfly brain," Jason grumbled without any heat. "Tell Alfred that Tim's done with the interview. He said something about even more cookies and some tea once it was over."
"More cookies?" Dick asked.
Dick blinked at Jason who shrugged as if he had no clue whatsoever. Instead of saying anything else, Jason scrambled down the cliff towards Joel and Bruce, leaving Angela in Dick's care. She mentally shrugged and took Dick's elbow. He lit up so brightly that she had to bite back a laugh; he must have been a joy to be around as a child.
"Cookies?" Angela asked as they walked across the grass towards one of the many back doors of the Manor.
"It's weird but ever since Tim showed up Alfred has been making different varieties of cookies," Dick said with obvious enough puzzlement that her grin couldn't be held back. He sighed and patted her hand absentmindedly. "He has this incredible chocolate chip cookie recipe that we all love but he keeps making other varieties instead. Not sure why. When Jason and I asked about it all he'd say was that sometimes variety was nice."
"It's for Tim," Angela said firmly enough that Dick laughed. It was a beautiful thing to see him laugh, all grins and sparkling eyes and joyous noise.
"Well, yeah," Dick replied. "That's obvious. We just can't figure out why and none of us will ask."
They went up one of the new ramps and Angela found herself in a kitchen that would have been at home in her grandmother's house. It was impeccably clean, with old cabinets that looked as though they'd been repainted sometime a few months or so ago coupled with the newest appliances possible. A rather severe man with a thin mustache looked at her and Dick, smiling as thinly as his mustache. He had to be Alfred Pennyworth, Bruce Wayne's caretaker and butler for the Manor.
"I take it that the interview is over," Alfred said. A kitchen timer binged and he took oven mitts to remove a sheet of what looked to be blueberry scones from the oven.
"Yup, all done," Dick said. "Angela said that Tim was taking a shower. Jason suggested tea and cookies."
Alfred nodded and then smiled as Angela peered at the scones. He put one of them on a perfect china plate with tiny yellow rosebuds painted on it and offered it to her. She grinned and took it even though she really shouldn't. Eating on the job wasn't something that she normally did but they smelled lovely and were at exactly the right doneness as far as she was concerned. Dick shrugged and leaned on the counter to watch the two of them.
"Oh this is lovely," Angela said around her first bite. "Thank you!"
"You are quite welcome, Ms. Reyes," Alfred said with enough pride in his properly British expression that she had to fight another grin. "I do endeavor to please."
He let her eat in peace while gathering up tea cups and boiling water. It looked like a ritual for him which made a lot of sense given his obvious ancestry. Dick watched Alfred work with the sort of bone-deep contentment on his face that made her think that tea with Alfred was something that he thought of as the cornerstone of reality.
"If there's tea, everything's right in the world?" Angela murmured to Dick.
He blinked at her and then laughed out loud. "Exactly! Though I do still prefer chocolate chip cookies, Alfred."
"I'm quite aware of that, Master Dick," Alfred said and the smug amusement in his voice made Angela laugh and then cough as her bite of scone tried to go down the wrong pipe. "Perhaps some tea, Ms. Reyes?"
"Yes please," Angela gasped, still coughing and laughing.
The tea was as perfect as the scone had been. She sipped it and then smiled ruefully as Tim rolled into the kitchen. His hair was damp and he'd changed into slacks, a button-down shirt in pale blue and an overly large black sweater that looked like something Alfred might have worn. Tim blinked at her and stiffened defensively.
"Joel's bonding over construction projects with Bruce," Dick said. "They're down getting muddy on the beach."
Tim swallowed a laugh, amusement sparkling in his eyes. They were a little bit red, as if he'd cried in the shower once she'd left. Given that she'd sat on the couch and written up her notes before leaving the room and encountering Jason, he'd certainly had the time for a good long cry. She didn't mention the red eyes. Neither did anyone else.
"I made blueberry scones, Master Timothy," Alfred said. "Would you like to try one with your afternoon tea?"
"That would be lovely, Alfred," Tim said and smiled up at Alfred as though he was the best person ever.
They shared a look that spoke of a shared secret, probably the whole cookie thing, and an enormous amount of affection. As Tim settled by the little table in the corner of the kitchen, Alfred brought him tea and one of the scones, along with butter that might be hand-made. His hand lingered on Tim's shoulder affectionately. Dick came over and sat opposite Tim, taking one of the scones to eat along with his cup of tea. Alfred smiled at the boys as if having them there in his kitchen was what made everything right in the world for him.
'And Tim thinks that this isn't his home,' Angela thought while finishing off her scone and sipping her tea.
The thought hurt, which she knew she really shouldn't allow. It did no good for her to get emotionally involved with the subjects she interviewed for the court. They weren't her patients and frankly, given her position in this whole mess, she couldn't accept them as patients anyway. They all looked up as Joel, Bruce and Jason came in the back door. All three of them were covered with smears of mud but Joel and Bruce had the biggest grins on their faces that she'd seen in quite some time.
"Scones?" Bruce asked and blinked at Alfred in obvious confusion.
"Indeed, Master Bruce," Alfred said.
"These are really good, Alfred," Tim commented as he devoured his scone. "Just right."
"Excellent, Master Timothy," Alfred said and again there was a moment of communication between them that seemed to pass over Jason, Dick and Bruce's heads. "I'm so pleased that you enjoy them. Would you like some tea after you wash up, Master Bruce?"
"Oh yeah, I probably should wash first," Bruce said and grinned at Joel who laughed.
"Boys," Angela sighed explicitly because she was the only female in the room. They laughed at her, even Tim. "I do have an appointment to get to Joel."
"Let me wash the worst of the mud off and we'll go," Joel said.
He turned back to Bruce as they shared the sink with Jason. Alfred sighed at the mud on their shoes and shook his head in dismay. They talked about rebar and ecological preservation while washing for long enough that Angela cleared her throat and tapped her wristwatch at Joel.
"Heh, sorry," Joel said. "I'll get that contact number for you by my next visit, Mr. Wayne. Better get going."
"Of course," Bruce said and smiled that dim-witted but exceedingly amiable smile that Angela was half sure was fake. The other half of her was convinced that he'd fried his brains with drugs at some point in his life and that it was anything but faked. "Thank you very much and thank you for coming, Ms. Reyes."
She put up with another hand-wringing and then they were escorted out of the manor by Alfred who actually waved back when Joel waved goodbye at him. Once they were driving down the lane towards the great gate that blocked the outside world from coming in Angela sighed. Joel looked at her from the corner of his eye.
"You okay?" Joel asked.
"That boy is so smart," Angela said. "And so damaged."
"Going to fill me on your decision?" Joel asked.
"The house and family are quite suitable," Angela said. "I think Tim would do well here. I still need to interview the Drakes to get a comparison though. You know the court usually wants the child to go back to his bio-parents."
"Well, interviewing them is on the agenda." Joel asked as if he knew that Tim staying with the Waynes was a forgone conclusion. "Couple of days, right?"
"Yes," Angela replied with a tired sigh. "If Janet's anything like Tim I'm going to have the worst migraine of my life by the time I'm done interviewing her. He was… intimidatingly intelligent."
"I'll get a water bottle for you so you can take your meds afterwards," Joel promised and then smiled at her grateful look.
If it weren't for some tight scheduling on a different case, Angela would have called it a day and gone back to the office to type up her notes. As it was, Joel dropped her off at her next case interview with a promise to be there in an hour to pick her up again.
She did her best to push Tim out of her mind as she went up the stairs to the apartment that held her next appointment. It took a moment but eventually she was able to shove Tim, Jason, Dick, Bruce and Alfred out of her awareness. When she knocked, the foster mother for little Tammy Breding opened the door and smiled nervously at her.
"I hope I'm not late," Angela said to Mrs. Wilkins.
"Oh no, not at all," Mrs. Wilkins said. "Please come in. Tammy's been waiting to talk to you."
Angela doubted that but it was all right. She wasn't there to make judgments on the foster home. All she had to do was assess how Tammy was doing and whether or not she was ready to go home. Tim's 'You are not on my side' echoed in her head as Tammy looked up from coloring in a dinosaur picture. She really should have rescheduled the appointment, Angela thought as she sat down next to Tammy and smiled at the four year old girl who looked much better after spending a week in the Wilkins' home. The gauntness had left her little face.
"How are you today, Tammy?" Angela asked and hoped that she'd be able to keep her emotions under control long enough for the interview to be over.
Jason and Joel were both quite right. No one could possibly be prepared for Timothy Drake.
Jack stared out the front window, waiting as patiently as he could for the court psychologist to show up. The whole custody thing was insane. They weren't bad parents. Tim had everything he needed, everything he wanted. No matter how busy he was with work or traveling Jack had always made sure that Tim had his needs met.
"Quit twitching," Janet snapped at Jack. "Do you best not to act like a complete moron, Jack. This interview is very important to getting Tim back."
"Yes, dear," Jack said.
He did his best to calm down despite the way her stiff glare was making him twitch worse. They'd been over what they were going to say so many times that Jack thought he could recite the whole thing from memory. Really, it wasn't all that hard to remember and frankly Janet did have some very good points.
It wasn't their fault that Tim had left the country. They'd left him home for years without any issues whatsoever and there was no reason to think that he'd suddenly decide to fly around the world without telling them about it. Heck, if he'd asked Jack would have been perfectly happy to arrange for an escort so Tim could see whatever he wanted. Maybe after they had him back they could take a trip with Tim. He was old enough now that it would work. Traveling with a small child was horrific but Tim could take care of himself well enough that it would probably be fun.
An older white sedan pulled up in front of their house. The court psychologist, Angela Reyes from what Janet had said, got out. She leaned back into the car for a moment, saying something to that stupid social worker who was so obviously biased against them. Then she shut the door and walked up the stairs to the front door.
As Janet had instructed, Jack waited until she knocked and then opened the door himself. Dr. Reyes smiled at him in exactly the same way that Janet smiled when she was trying to be nice despite wishing to verbally eviscerate someone. Jack swallowed down a huge surge of nervousness and gestured for her to come in.
"Hi," Jack said. "Um, come on in. We've been waiting for you."
"Thank you," Dr. Reyes replied and said nothing else at all as she scanned the entryway and apparently counted the stairs leading up to the second floor. Her eyes narrowed as she stared at the plush carpet they'd put on the stairs a few years ago.
"Um, we thought that we could talk in the living room," Jack said. "It's um, right this way."
"That would be fine," Dr. Reyes said.
The twitches were back a thousand times worse once Jack led Dr. Reyes into the living room. They'd bought a new sofa shortly after returning from their trip, mostly because Janet had decided that the old one was too worn to be appropriate for these sorts of interviews. He'd kind of protested that, not that Janet had listened. It was a nice tan leather, soft but not too soft and very traditional.
Janet had her best smile on, the one that actually extended up to her eyes. It wasn't perfect as her eyes were a little too cold for a real smile, but it looked pretty damn good all things considered. Dr. Reyes studied Janet and then nodded once, very slightly.
"Dr. Reyes," Janet said in her warm voice, the one she used when people needed to be talked around. She offered one hand which was something close to the end of the world given how much Janet hated touching people. "Welcome to our home."
"Thank you," Dr. Reyes said.
They shook as though they both wanted to have hand sanitizer or lots of soap and hot water once they let go. Jack almost went to get some but Janet was waving Dr. Reyes to the chair opposite the couch, which placed Jack and Janet strategically underneath the family portrait that Tim had taken a year and a half ago. From the way Dr. Reyes' eyes narrowed she was quite aware of the manipulation involved in their positioning.
"I was hoping you could tell us how Tim's doing," Jack said. He took Janet's hand, not because he was supposed to but because he really needed it to be able to do this. Janet's hand felt sort of like holding a wet fish but that was normal. "The lawyers keep passing on information but it's not the same as seeing him or talking to him."
"I'm not supposed to discuss information related to the case," Dr. Reyes said with another of those narrow looks. "However, he did look to be doing well. His memories have mostly returned from what he told me and his strength is improving slowly. I'm sure that it was all in the reports."
"I'm so glad to hear that," Janet said as she smiled again. "Our Tim has always been a strong boy."
"He's quite intelligent," Dr. Reyes said while flipping open her notebook. "He said that he got his intelligence from you, Mrs. Drake."
"Heh, my Janet's the smartest person I've ever met," Jack said proudly, even though it wasn't part of the plan they'd agreed on. "Tim's just like her that way. Amazing what that boy can do!"
Dr. Reyes smiled a much more real smile that time, though her eyes were still quite chilly. Janet squeezed Jack's hand firmly enough that he knew better than to add anything else. The urge to babble about Tim and his intelligence, Tim and his hobbies (which really was photography and not baseball the way Jack had thought), Tim and their hopes for his future was enormous. He resisted.
"I like to think that Tim is one the smartest people I've ever met," Janet said with pride in her voice that seemed to actually be real. "I have high hopes for him."
"Have you had his intelligence tested?" Dr. Reyes asked as if she was honestly curious. It was only the look in her eyes that made Jack doubt that it was pure curiosity prompting the question.
"No, I don't think that's beneficial for children," Janet said with a dismissive little snort. "So many people get caught up in the number assigned and unfortunately it's rather subjective. Better to encourage Tim to learn at his own pace than to let some number dictate his progress."
"So Tim's education is the most important thing for him?" Dr. Reyes asked.
"Well, of course," Janet said and squeezed Jack's hand so firmly that he didn't even dare open his mouth. "Certainly he should have hobbies that he enjoys but childhood is a time for learning. A child's brain is so much more capable of absorbing knowledge and retaining it than an adult's that it only makes sense to emphasize educational development over other activities."
Dr. Reyes nodded and made several notes on her pad of paper. Janet's grip on his hand was so tight that Jack kind of wondered if she was aiming at breaking bones but he didn't say a word. There was no way he was speaking up at this point unless spoken to.
"Mr. Drake," Dr. Reyes said, and her eyes felt sort of like getting stabbed in the gut when she looked at him, "I am somewhat curious as to why there haven't been any changes made to the house. Tim is in a wheelchair and looks to be for months at best."
"Oh, well, the doctor's reports that we're getting said that he's doing well on his physical therapy," Jack said, infinitely grateful that she'd asked something that he'd been well coached on. "We'll have to carry him inside when he first comes home but after that he should be okay to get around. They said that he's getting up on crutches and everything. It should be fine."
"We have faith that Tim will make a full recovery," Janet said and that smile was so far from a real or even halfway convincingly real smile that Jack nearly winced. "Between his determination and the therapy we're sure that he won't need those things for terribly long."
"Really?" Dr. Reyes said.
The way she drawled that single word was enough for Jack to know that they probably just lost any chance of getting Tim back. Janet seemed to realize it too as she stiffened and dropped Jack's hand so that she could smooth her skirt down over her legs.
"Yes, really," Janet said in the not quite ice-cold voice but close to it. "Tim is strong and determined. He'll do well. He knows what's expected of him."
"Hmm." This time the hum was speculative. Dr. Reyes looked at a previous page's notes and raised one eyebrow. "I find that quite believable. That's a very nice portrait behind you."
"Oh yeah," Jack said with enough enthusiasm for the change of subject that Janet would probably yell at him later. "Tim took that a year and a half ago. Developed it all by himself too. He's really good at that sort of thing."
"How long has he been taking photos?" Dr. Reyes asked.
"Oh years now," Jack said. He blinked at Janet who was glaring at him like he was being an idiot again. "Since he was like eight or something I think. Not sure. But he does have a really nice blackout room in the basement. Could show it to you if you wanted?"
"No, that's fine," Dr. Reyes said, noting something on her pad and shaking her head as if dismayed by his answer. "Is he supervised as he works to develop his photos?"
"Why would he need to be supervised?" Jack asked without thinking first. He blinked at Dr. Reyes who sighed and rubbed one finger over her forehead as if it hurt.
"The chemicals involved are rather toxic, Mr. Drake," Dr. Reyes said patiently. "From what Tim told me he's been taking and developing his own photos since he was six years old. That's rather young to be allowed to interact with toxic chemicals so I had assumed that he had some level of supervision when he was learning. Even now I would assume that he would be supervised at some level."
Jack gulped as he tried to swallow his heart back down out of his throat. By his side, Janet had gone stiff and cold. He kind of felt like the temperature in the room had dropped by twenty degrees, not that he was going to say a word about it to Janet. She hated it when he corrected her on anything.
Dr. Reyes looked at Janet and narrowed her eyes. She smirked as Janet narrowed her eyes in response and then made a few more notes on her pad as the silence in the room stretched to the point that Jack felt like he was going to claw his way out of his skin. Neither Dr. Reyes nor Janet looked like they were going to be the first to speak. After what felt like sixty years of silence Dr. Reyes looked at Janet and turned back to Jack.
"Silence bothers you, Mr. Drake?" Dr. Reyes asked in such a mild voice that it felt like a direct threat to his testicles.
"Um, well, a little," Jack admitted because he had no idea how to answer that question other than mostly honestly. "I'm more used to stuff going on around me. You know, work, trips, stuff like that."
"What does that 'hmm' mean?" Janet snapped and there was Janet at her most vicious.
"Tim has no problems with silence," Dr. Reyes said. "He was quite comfortable waiting for me to gather my thoughts."
"Which implies?" Janet asked and the challenge in her voice made Jack cringe a little.
"It implies nothing at all," Dr. Reyes said in that very mild tone. She smiled a patently false smile at Janet. "It's somewhat unusual for so young a boy to be completely comfortable with silence but Tim is. Just an observation. Tell me about your plans after Tim comes home. Do you intend to spend some time helping him with his therapy?"
Janet's teeth made that grinding noise but she took a deep breath and let it out slowly before answering. "We've already contacted several professionals to help Tim with his therapy, as well as a nurse to help him with day to day living until he's back on his feet."
"Hmm. So you won't be participating in his therapy sessions?" Dr. Reyes asked. She deliberately looked at Janet and then at Jack and then back to Janet with a challenge in her eyes.
"I would never dream of interfering in his therapy," Janet said and that was almost an appropriate smile. "I have no idea how to help with such things. It's better to allow the professionals to handle that sort of thing."
"I see," Dr. Reyes said while noting that down. "What about things like getting dressed, brushing his teeth or bathing? Will you be making adjustments to his bathroom to assist with that?"
"We planned on getting one of those shower chair things," Jack commented and then winced as Janet glared at him for interrupting. "You know, renting it. Tim's not likely to need it for terribly long so there's no point in buying one outright."
The glare came from both Dr. Reyes and from Janet. Jack shivered and sort of scooted back into the sofa to try to get away from their eyes boring into him. They seemed to dismiss him after a moment of mutual annoyance at him that Jack couldn't quite figure out. He hadn't said anything wrong. They really weren't going to buy things like that. Janet truly didn't think Tim would need it.
As Dr. Reyes wrote down several more notes that Jack kind of thought probably said something on the order of 'husband is moron and should not be allowed to open his mouth in public', Janet's fingers curled like claws and then relaxed as she forced her shoulders down once again. By the time Dr. Reyes looked up Janet appeared to have gotten her emotions under control again. Jack wished that he had that level of control but he'd never been able to do anything like that.
"You enjoy traveling, don't you?" Dr. Reyes asked. It was blatantly a question strictly for Janet so Jack clenched his jaw to keep from saying anything at all.
"I find it quite fascinating to see other cultures," Janet said. Her sickly sweet smile was back. "Travel is a wonderful way to broaden the mind."
"I see," Dr. Reyes said. "Did you ever mention Ethiopia to Tim?"
"Not recently," Janet replied a bit more tightly. "We went when he was eight but we haven't been back since then."
"Has he ever expressed an interest in traveling with you?" Dr. Reyes asked.
"Oh, we would never bring Tim along on our travels," Janet said with a little snort of disgust. "It's quite appalling when people insist on bringing their children with them. They're never prepared for the journey, frequently cause disruptions for everyone around them and they simply don't get much out of the experience until they're much older."
Jack's little fantasy of taking Tim along when they went somewhere interesting died on the spot. He thought Tim was more than mature enough to come with them but obviously Janet didn't agree. From the expression on Dr. Reyes' face she found Janet's attitude about it confusing. They looked at each other for a long moment and then Dr. Reyes made another of those notes that were starting to make Jack seriously twitchy.
"How old is old enough to travel?" Dr. Reyes asked.
"In my opinion no one under fifteen should be allowed to travel," Janet declared. "By that point the child has matured enough that they understand the need to be polite and respectful."
"So you wouldn't have given permission for Tim to go to Ethiopia even if he had asked?" Dr. Reyes said. It wasn't really a question.
"Certainly not," Janet huffed. "I still have grave issues with the airline for allowing Tim to travel at all. There should have been more questions asked. No twelve-year-old is mature enough to fly around the world by himself."
Oddly, that seemed to earn Janet points in Dr. Reyes' eyes because she nodded as if she completely agreed with Janet on that point. The agreement worked to calm Janet down, just as people agreeing with her always did. She looked almost calm by the time Dr. Reyes looked up from her notes again.
"Do you plan on taking any legal action against the airline for allowing Tim to go to Ethiopia?" Dr. Reyes asked.
"Our lawyers are looking into it," Janet said in the voice that promised doom and destruction to whoever was annoying her. "There are laws about such things and they were blatantly not followed. Tim would never have been in any danger if someone had taken appropriate steps."
"Such as ensuring that there was appropriate supervision in the home?" Dr. Reyes asked and smiled so sweetly that Jack whimpered and collapsed back into the sofa's embrace.
Janet made an infuriated noise that had Jack scooting away from her side. She glared and curled her fingers into claws that dug into the perfectly smooth fabric of her skirt over her thighs. For all the reaction she got from Dr. Reyes, Janet might as well have been smiling and nodding her agreement.
"Timothy is a bright, capable, talented young man," Janet said according to the script but in exactly the wrong tone of voice. "He has never shown any signs of flights of fancy or foolish behavior. We've been able to trust him for years. It's a terrible pity that we missed what must have been warning signs of impending adolescent rebellion but these things do happen. Obviously we'll have to consider placing stricter restrictions on Timothy's activities from now on. The photography had seemed to be a reasonable hobby for him but given his behavior I must say that we have to reconsider allowing him to waste time on it."
"I think I've heard enough," Dr. Reyes said.
Her eyes had gone so narrow during Janet's little speech that Jack sort of felt like he should be checking Janet for laser burns. As Dr. Reyes stood, Jack scrambled to his feet. It took a moment for Janet to stand with them. When she did, she was vibrating with fury.
"I'll submit my report to the court this afternoon," Dr. Reyes said as she walked towards the door. "Thank you for your time."
"And your decision?" Janet asked in a tone that was kind of like a whip cracking.
"I think you already know my decision, Mrs. Drake," Dr. Reyes said entirely too gently. "You might consider getting treatment. Tim thinks that you're a sociopath. I would disagree with that diagnosis but then I suspect you already know which personality disorder you fall under. Either way, it's not for me to comment on. I'll see you in court in a week or so."
She walked out and headed down the front stairs. Jack watched the door slowly swing closed. He went over and gently shut it properly before locking it again. Behind him he could hear Janet's breath hissing between her teeth. The very last thing that he wanted to do was turn around and look at her so Jack went to the window. Dr. Reyes was fastening her seat belt. She smiled as the case worker offered her a bottle of water. The smile looked terribly pained. Once they drove away Jack had no choice but to turn back to Janet.
"Idiot," Janet snarled.
She stomped away into the house, probably going to her office to cool off. Jack sighed and went out into the back yard. There was a pair of old baseball gloves and a tired-looking baseball sitting just inside the back door. The baseball felt slightly damp when Jack picked it up to roll it between his hands. After a second a drop of rain fell on the back of his neck. Several more drops fell by his feet.
"We're never getting him back," Jack whispered to the baseball. "Our little boy is gone."
Jason glared at the reporters clustered in the hallway leading to the courtroom where Tim's fate would be decided. They were fucking vultures, the lot of them. Well, not Clark who looked like he wanted to say something to Bruce as they passed but the rest of them sure as hell were. Flashes kept going off in their faces despite Jason and Dick walking in front of Tim's wheelchair like body guards and Bruce walking behind him to protect the rear.
"Vultures," Jason grumbled once they were inside the nearly as crowded courtroom.
"No kidding," Dick mumbled.
They had to literally open a path for Tim's wheelchair. None of the reporters wanted to give way for them. Jason was pretty sure that all they wanted was to stick microphones in Tim's face and snap rude fucking questions but after Jason threatened to punch the first reporter to open his stupid mouth and the bailiff tossed the asshole out on his ass no one dared talk to Tim.
By the time they got to the seats set aside for them Tim's face was white. His hands were shaking like leaves in a storm. When Dick took Tim's hand, Tim gave him such a grateful look that Jason had to hug him and to hell with the jillion pictures the fucking reporters took. They settled down with Tim in the middle of the rest of them despite the awkwardness of the limited handicap accessible seating in the court.
On the other side of the room Jack was staring at them, at Tim, like he expected someone to rip his heart out for just letting his eyes rest on Tim's face. There was a long moment where Janet stared at Tim with a blatant challenge in her eyes that Tim met with shaking shoulders and trembling hands that didn't match the deliberately calm expression on his face. Once she turned away she didn't look at Tim again.
"You okay?" Jason murmured to Tim just loud enough for him to hear it over the chatter of gossip between the reporters behind them. Somehow Clark had ended up directly behind Tim's wheelchair so that was better anyway. Nobody was getting through Clark to get at Tim.
"Fine," Tim whispered. His hand shook in Jason's when Jason squeezed his fingers. "I just wish I could have used my crutches instead of the wheelchair."
"Timmy, you can't walk that far yet," Jason huffed.
"I know," Tim sighed. "I still would have preferred crutches."
Tim had worked incredibly hard to get ready for the hearing, to the point that Dick and Jason had switched from trying to encourage him to work out to trying to get him to stop working out. The report on Dr. Reyes' interview with Jack and Janet seemed to be what had spurred him into the insane work to get his legs back in shape. It looked like her testimony would be a slam dunk for their side to Jason but Tim seemed to have taken it as the exact opposite.
Despite the big party they had planned for after the hearing, Jason was one hundred percent certain that Tim thought that he was going to be sent back to his parents. That made no fucking sense but Tim seemed to be seriously pessimistic about their case.
"All rise!" the bailiff shouted over the crowd's chatter.
The voices rose and then fell to a quiet wave of whispers. Tim tried to stand and then glared when Jason and Dick put their hands on his shoulders to keep him in his wheelchair. Judge Coombs strode in, nodded to the lawyers and then settled behind the bench.
That was about the end of the comprehensible stuff for Jason. Tim and Dick seemed to understand most of what the lawyers for either side were talking about as they presented evidence and argued with each other about what was admissible and what wasn't but it was all just noise to Jason. He didn't even have to pretend that he was clueless.
There was testimony from all of the doctors, both Dr. Clemmons and the Drake's doctors who had been in exactly one fucking time to poke and prod Tim before declaring that Tim was just fine. The social workers took the stand and talked way too fucking long about the way that Bruce had dealt with Tim's care versus the way that the Drakes hadn't dealt with his needs. Once that was done, several fucking hours later, even the reporters were getting tired of all the jabber.
Next it was time for a parade of psychologists and physical therapists to take the stand and talk about what they'd seen with Tim. Jamie, Tim's physical therapist, was about the only one to talk in plain language. He had so much praise for Tim's efforts that Tim practically glowed from his blush, despite the fact that he repeatedly warned that there was no guarantee that Tim would get full function back.
Dr. Reyes managed to transform herself into a superstar in Jason's eyes when she got up on the stand and said under oath that she believed that Janet was a pathological narcissist with abusive tendencies who had very likely emotionally and mentally abused both Jack and Tim. Her descriptions of Bruce weren't very flattering but it didn't really matter because she said that he was really good for Tim, Jason and Dick. The Drake's lawyer tried to object to just about everything she had to say but Judge Coombs overruled him every single time.
"You ready?" Dick whispered to Tim as Dr. Reyes was dismissed.
"Yes," Tim said even though it was fucking obvious that he was about to shake his teeth loose from sheer nerves.
"It'll be okay," Jason whispered to him as he squeezed Tim's hand. "Just tell the truth. You'll be all right, Tim."
Tim nodded and then gulped as the Drake's fucking lawyer called him to the stand. Bruce's lawyer objected but Judge Coombs looked at Tim for a long moment that felt like about twenty years and overruled him. It was the first time he'd overruled Bruce's lawyer all freaking day.
The whole court went dead silent as Tim wheeled from his spot up to the stand. It took a bit of maneuvering for him to get into position but he did. Jason thought he looked even tinier than normal as he was sworn in. All of the reporters surrounding them were so quiet that every single quaver of Tim's voice was perfectly audible as he swore to tell the truth, nothing but the truth, so help him God.
"It's good to see you, Tim," the Drake's weasel of a lawyer said like he was fucking friends with Tim. "How are you doing?"
Tim stared at him for a long moment while rubbing his thighs and then cocked his head at the jerk. "Fine, given my physical condition and the fact that I'm in court to testify on whether or not my parents neglected me."
That got a little snicker from the crowd that seemed to give Tim enough reassurance to calm down and stop shaking so hard.
"Which of course they didn't, as our case so far has shown," the lawyer said brightly.
"That depends on your definition of neglect," Tim said before the man could continue babbling his bullshit. "Which I'm somewhat surprised hasn't been defined for the court as of yet."
"If you define neglect as a complete lack of emotional support, physical displays of affection and healthy emotional connection to a child, then yes, I was neglected," Tim continued strongly enough that the entire court whispered for a moment. "If on the other hand, you definite it as a lack of food, shelter or safe living conditions, then no, I was not. So. What definition of neglect are you applying? I'm not aware of the legal definition in this state."
"Ah…" This time the lawyer had such a deer in the headlights look that Jason couldn't help but grin openly at him. "Yes, well, ah, moving on, can you tell me about your schooling, Tim?"
"You haven't answered my question," Tim commented sharply enough to make the lawyer wince. "How can an inquiry into neglect charges and the appropriate custody of a child be made if you don't have a known definition of neglect?"
"Your Honor," the Drake's lawyer said with a desperate appeal in his eyes.
"I find his observation quite valid," Judge Coombs said way too fucking mildly. "Bailiff, read statute for the court record."
The Drake's lawyer cringed as the bailiff found the statute on child neglect and read it out loud in such a clear voice that Jason fancied that it carried out into the streets. Dick was grinning as the part of 'failure to provide the child with proper supervision or guardianship' was read. The bit that made Jason smirk was when Judge Coombs had the statue on emotional abuse read and it included 'willfully isolated from ordinary social contact under circumstances that indicate emotional or social deprivation'. That was such a perfect definition of Tim's life before they met him that it made Jason want to jump to his feet and shout 'ha!' at Janet Drake.
Tim nodded thoughtfully once Judge Coombs made his ruling on the definition. Janet Drake looked like someone was going to die very messily once the hearing was over.
"Well then," Tim said with a tiny little smile that looked like a big fucking threat to the lawyer's balls. "By those definitions I was neglected and somewhat emotionally abused. My parents left me home alone from the time I was five years old. There were no adults in the house though I did have contact numbers for the day-time housekeeper if anything happened. The lack of supervision has been a persistent issue my entire life. There have also been instances where my mother objected to my obtaining medical care for colds or other minor injuries. I was strongly discouraged from participating in extracurricular activities and socializing with other children my age."
"But they have seen to your care in other ways, yes?" the Drake's lawyer said so desperately that it was obvious that he was afraid he'd already lost the case. "You received the best education possible and your hobbies were strongly supported."
"Yes, I had food, shelter and clothes," Tim said while frowning at the man as if he was being stupid which Jason seriously thought he was. "Yes, I went to the best school in town. I wouldn't call requiring me to have perfect grades on everything 'support' however. My mother never has approved of my photography. She stated many times that she felt it was a waste of time. My father did support it however and has been very approving of my educational progress, when he was around. Which wasn't often."
The Drake's lawyer flipped through his paperwork with shaking hands that betrayed how off balance he was. It took Jason a moment to realize that Tim was very carefully not meeting his parent's eyes as he waited. Tim's face was still too pale but he wasn't shaking anymore. When the lawyer turned back to Tim, Tim flinched minutely but didn't react otherwise.
"No further questions, your Honor," the Drake's lawyer said and then huffed at the huge swell of whispering and pictures being taken.
Bruce's lawyer smiled like a shark getting ready to bite as he stood up. "Tim, why did you go to Ethiopia?"
"I don't exactly remember," Tim admitted with a blush that made him look even younger than he was. "I know there was something that I wanted to photograph but I don't remember exactly what it was."
"Did you think that your parents would object to you going off on your own to take photos?"
"I had no reason to think anything of the sort," Tim said, cocking his head at the man. "I've been traveling through Gotham to take pictures on my own since I was eight years old. On occasion I've taken a cab out to some of the suburbs to take pictures. My parents never objected to that. In fact my father gave me a credit card specifically so that I could get the money I needed for my photography without having to ask for it."
"So if you'd wanted to go to New York and take photos, you had no reason to think that it would be inappropriate?" he continued.
"None at all," Tim said. "I have done that on one occasion. It was an overnight trip. I stayed in a good hotel in New York, took the photos I wanted and came home the next day."
"Did you show those photos to your parents and tell them where they were from?"
That question made the entire courtroom go still and silent. Jason held himself so still that he felt like he was vibrating from the tension. Tim's eyes flicked over to his parents for the first time all day before coming back to rest on his hands.
"What was their response?"
"My father thought that they were beautiful and praised them extensively," Tim answered quietly. "Mother sniffed and asked if I'd passed all my tests at school and if my homework was done."
"Neither of them said anything about your traveling alone?" the lawyer asked a bit more gently.
"How old were you?"
"I'd just turned eleven," Tim answered and that made the whole courtroom go up in fucking flames. "It was sort of my birthday present to myself."
The reporters started talking, then shouting to each other to be heard. On the other side of the courtroom the Drake's lawyer was shouting to try and get that whole conversation removed from the record. Judge Coombs bellowed from his bench while hammering his gavel to get people to shut the fuck up. After about five minutes he had all of the reporters thrown out so that only the two families remained.
"No further questions, your Honor," Bruce's lawyer said so smugly that everyone on the Drake's side glared at him.
Tim finally got to leave the stand. He was shaking when Jason took his hand so Jason hugged him tightly. The court room seemed way too fucking quiet with everyone else gone but it was better not having the vultures watching and listening to them. Tim got hugs from Dick too, clinging to him for a moment longer than he'd hugged Jason but Dick was finally getting Tim to accept that hugs were good so that made sense.
Judge Coombs sat through the final arguments with such a blank face that Jason had no fucking clue what he was going to decide. The Drake's went with the whole 'this is just a misunderstanding' tack while Bruce's lawyer laid it all out again while hammering on the whole lack of supervision and appropriate care angle.
"How long will this take?" Tim whispered once Judge Coombs retreated to his chambers to make a decision.
"Shoulda asked where you wanted to go," Jason grumbled since he had no fucking clue how long it would take.
"That doesn't really matter for a case like this," Dick sighed. "It's about what's appropriate, not about what Tim wants. I don't know how long he'll take, Tim. Judge Coombs is very thorough. I'd expect a couple of hours at least."
It took three hours, seventeen minutes, not that Jason was watching the fucking clock or anything. They all, except Tim, stood as Judge Coombs came back in. He settled, they sat back down and then Judge Coombs sighed. When he looked across the room it seemed like everyone, Jason included, flinched away from his gaze. The only person who didn't flinch was Janet.
"This should be a simple case," Judge Coombs said eventually. "In general, we prefer for a child to be returned to his or her parents, especially when the parents are able to provide for them. Jack and Janet Drake are eminently capable of providing for their son's well-being."
Tim's grip on Jason's hand got so tight that he could feel the bones grinding together.
"However, there is clear evidence that the Drakes either do not care to properly attend to their son's needs or do not understand what proper care entails," Judge Coombs continued. "Given the evidence that has been presented today, I am unable to return Timothy Drake to his parent's care at this time. I have seen no signs that he would receive the medical care that he needs, nor that he would have a more appropriate level of parental interaction and supervision if he was returned to their home."
Judge Coombs leveled an intimidating frown at the Drakes. Jack flinched away from it while Janet raised her chin and glared back at him as if she wanted to knock his teeth out.
"Jack and Janet Drake have ninety days to complete and pass a court-ordered parenting seminar as well as to make the proper adjustments to their home to accommodate Timothy's physical needs," Judge Coombs said. "Failure to do either will result in the termination of their parental rights."
When he turned back to Bruce's side of the court room, even Bruce vibrated with nerves.
"I am highly reluctant to summarily remove Timothy from his parent's care permanently," Judge Coombs said just a bit more gently. "It's clear from the testimony today that Tim is prospering in your care, Mr. Wayne. Unless and until his parents complete the required training and retrofits to their home, he will remain in your care. This is not to be taken as permission for adoption proceedings to begin. The court hopes that in time the Drake family can be reunited in ways that are beneficial to everyone involved. Supervision of his stay in the Wayne household will continue. Court is adjourned."
The silence held until Judge Coombs left the court room and then Jason let out a whoop that made Tim start and Dick start laughing. They all but crushed Tim by hugging him at the same time while Bruce let out one of the real sighs of relief that Jason was used to hearing over the comms when he just barely escaped from a tight spot.
"This is not over," Janet snapped at Bruce.
"Good luck with the modifications to your home," Bruce said in the perfect Brucie voice while smirking Batman's evil fucking smirk at her. "I could give you the contact numbers for my contractors if you like."
She growled and stormed out of the courtroom with Jack and their lawyer on her heels. None of them so much as looked at Tim as they went. That made Jason want to growl at them but Tim's little sigh was too much like Bruce's sigh of relief for him to stay mad.
"Hey," Dick said so enthusiastically that both Jason and Tim stared at him, "this means that the party is a go!"
"Oh crap," Jason sighed. He draped one arm around Tim's shoulders and grinned as Tim leaned into his side. "I hope you're ready, kiddo. Dick's going to be unbearable. He'll have to introduce you to fucking everyone."
Tim snickered at Dick's little crow of dismay before offering his hand to Dick who squeezed his fingers while beaming.
"That's okay," Tim said and smiled one of his incredibly rare really big smiles. "I'm… looking forward to it."
"So many people," Tim murmured to Jason as they entered the ballroom together.
"You don't have to talk to them all," Jason told Tim. "They can pound sand if you're not up to meeting them."
"N-no," Tim said hesitantly. "I just need a moment."
"No problem," Jason declared as he glared at everyone in the room so forbiddingly that no one got close to the two of them.
Tim really hadn't expected that the party would fill the ballroom in the Manor. It wasn't that the room was packed with people like the occasional parties that he'd had to go to for his father's business. Those parties had been hot with too many bodies filling too small of a room, loud, intrusive and just as annoying to Tim as they were to his Mother.
No, this party filled the ballroom because everyone there seemed larger than life. There were so many people, far more than the handful that Tim had assumed, and all of them were tall and strong and intimidating to Tim. Part of that was because he was in his wheelchair, of course, but Tim was sure that he'd be just as intimidated if he'd been standing and perfectly healthy.
For a wild moment Tim wished desperately that he had his camera. It was always so much easier to cope with crowds when he had that security of looking through the viewfinder instead of meeting people's eyes. But Tim knew that pretty much everyone here was a hero. Taking pictures of them seemed inappropriate to put it mildly. Instead of hiding in a corner or running away, Tim made himself examine all the people attending the party to see if he could identify who they were.
It was easy to pick out the Titans. When Dick walks in they all grin and congregate around him as though he's the sun and they're planets orbiting him. Koriand'r was obviously Mercury because she immediately draped herself over Dick's shoulders and hugged him as though she was never going to let him go. Dick laughed and kissed her while squeezing her fingers. The huge red-head has to be Arsenal. Tim hears Dick say something about Roy, so that means he actually is Roy Harper, which means that the blond man in the corner talking to Bruce and Clark has to be the Green Arrow. He'd figured Green Arrow's secret identity of Oliver Queen quite some time ago. It was obvious that he was Roy's former guardian. There was enough tension between the two of them that it showed even though they were on opposite sides of the room.
The woman with black hair chatting with Roy, Dick and Kory had to be Donna Troy, Troia. She was pointedly not looking at Diana Prince, Wonder Woman who was sipping punch while talking to Dinah Lance. Tim had figured out that she was the Black Canary a couple of years ago, when he was trying to figure out everyone associated with the Green Arrow.
"Hey," Jason said, nudging Tim's shoulder and breaking his concentration.
"Hmm?" Tim asked.
"How many of these people do you actually know?" Jason asked.
There was such a knowing look in his eyes that Tim went beet red and fussed with how his pants lay across his legs. It wasn't something that he'd admitted to anyone, not even Alfred, because he knew how protective superheroes were of their secret identities. He understood it, completely, but he hadn't been able to stop figuring it out.
"All of them?" Jason asked with enough surprise in his voice that Tim looked up again.
"No, not all of them," Tim replied hesitantly. "But um, most of them?"
"Seriously?" Jason asked.
Tim blushed harder because Clark was blatantly staring at him with his jaw dropped open. "I um, sort of thought about it a lot after I figured out Dick's identity."
Jason snickered and bumped his knuckles against Tim's shoulder again. He looked absolutely proud of Tim, which was a relief, even though Clark was coming over with Bruce and Oliver. Bruce and Oliver both looked puzzled. The conversation in the room lulled as Clark approached and then stopped when Clark knelt in front of Tim and smiled as hesitantly as Tim felt.
"You knew?" Clark asked.
"Um, yeah," Tim admitted. "Sorry. I… well, it's really not much of a disguise, you know. The glasses I mean."
Oliver burst out laughing at that while Bruce frowned. Behind them Dick blinked and then grinned so brightly that he looked like the sun coming out. Garfield changed from an ox to a hummingbird that hovered high enough that he could see Tim clearly.
"So how many of our identities do you know?" Clark asked. That made everyone in the room jerk and stare, other than Bruce, Dick and Jason who put his hand on Tim's shoulder as if to protect or reassure him.
"Um, most?" Tim said slowly. "You and Batman and Nightwing and Robin, of course. I figured out Dick first. And then when Batman joined the Justice League I started noticing things there, so Green Arrow, Wonder Woman, and you. And um, Black Canary after that. And then the Titans. I know most of them, all of the original Titans anyway. I'm not sure about the new ones. Batgirl. She was easy, of course. And, um, well, Zatanna. Aquaman. Some other heroes who aren't here, too."
"How?" Oliver asked with enough shock that Tim squirmed.
"Um, well, physical appearance coupled with particular people disappearing immediately followed by the hero appearing plus following the teams that Bruce, Dick and Jason got involved with," Tim said. He wanted to cringe away from the glares he was getting from Arthur and Dinah but he didn't.
"He's a genius," Jason declared so defiantly that even Arthur stopped glaring.
"And desperately lonely with no one to supervisor or care for you," Clark murmured quietly enough that only Tim heard him.
Tim wanted to protest that one but after the hearing today that made no sense. Everyone knew how he'd been treated, knew that he'd been allowed to do things that other kids his age generally weren't. He shrugged instead and then blushed like his face was on fire as Clark hugged him so tenderly that it was barely a hug at all. It felt more like being wrapped in warm steel covered by a cheap suit.
"Sorry," Tim murmured into Clark's shoulder, Superman's shoulder.
"Don't be," Clark said once he let Tim go. "It's quite the accomplishment. You never told anyone?"
"Of course not!" Tim said, horrified. "I never wrote it down or said a word to anyone about what I knew. That would be entirely too much of a risk. They're not my secrets. I would never say or do anything to endanger those secrets."
Somehow that seemed to reassure everyone in the room. Dick swooped in to hug Tim so tightly that it was hard to breathe. He spent the next hour introducing Tim to every single hero in the room with such a proud smile on his face that most of them were grinning by the time Tim actually got to say 'pleased to meet you'.
Diana gave him a hug that felt a lot like Clark's. He could feel the strength in her body but it was the press of her breasts against his chest that made his blush return. Garfield settled into his lap as a cat while Dick introduced the Titans. He purred and made jokes about how silly secret identities were once Tim started tentatively petting him.
After that, Bruce took him around the room to meet the Justice League, about half of which he'd known before the party. Hal Jordon was pleased that Tim hadn't figured out his identity prior to them meeting. Ralph Dibny was stunned that Tim hadn't known him and made jokes about how he hadn't thought he'd been half that effective about his secret identity.
Eventually Tim headed for the buffet table and got himself a sandwich and a scone to eat. To his amusement Alfred had made six varieties of scones as well as a pile of chocolate chip cookies that Jason and Dick both raided when they joined him there.
"You doing okay?" Jason asked around a too-big bite of cookie.
"Mmm-hmm." Tim nodded, swallowed and then sighed. "It's strange actually talking to them instead of watching and taking pictures."
"You could take pictures if you wanted to," Dick offered and then winced as Jason turned to stare at him. "What? They're all official guests to the party. There's nothing wrong with him taking pictures of the guests of one of Bruce's parties."
Jason and Dick had a glare-innocent look argument that made Tim grin at them. From their expressions Jason thought that Dick was being obnoxiously stupid about the idea. Dick seemed determined to pretend that butter wouldn't melt in his mouth even though there was enough mischief in his eyes for an army of people.
"I wouldn't anyway," Tim commented as the non-verbal argument seemed to make Jason get angry. "I don't have a dark room to develop the pictures."
"Want one?" Jason asked. "You know Bruce would make you one."
"Eventually," Tim mused as he finished his food and brushed the crumbs off of his lap. Cranberry scones weren't as good as blueberry but they were still better than chocolate chip cookies. "I would like to get back to my photography but there's a lot of standing involved so I think it should wait until I'm stronger."
Jason nodded as though he thought that was a very poor excuse. To Tim's amusement (and worry) Dick looked like he was plotting ways to set up a wheelchair-accessible dark room in the basement for Tim to use. They both stilled as Bruce came over and joined them.
"Tired?" Bruce asked.
"No, not too tired," Tim said thoughtfully. "This isn't as stressful as I expected. I'm used to my father's parties."
Bruce, Dick and Jason all made faces at that, Jason looking like someone had just stabbed him. It made Tim grin to think that maybe those parties were as bad as he'd thought. When he'd attended them he'd always thought that he and his mother were the only ones who hated being there. Jack always seemed to revel in them, talking to everyone and beaming as he greeted his guests, gossiped and worked the room.
Roy called to Dick, waving for him to come over. Before Dick went he gave Tim another hug and slipped something into Tim's pocket. It turned out to be one of the almond-caramel bars that Jason apparently loved so much. Jason squawked and went after Dick to search his pockets for any more of them that Dick might have hidden away. That led to the two of them wrestling in the middle of the room while various heroes watched and commented on their technique.
"Not the sort of party I'm used to," Tim commented.
Bruce chuckled. "We don't get many parties like this. It's rare for there to be an occasion and a quiet enough night that we can get together this way."
"I suppose it would be very rare, wouldn't it?" Tim mused.
They silently watched everyone else, Bruce's eyes following the others as if he was cataloging something. Tim simply took in all of his heroes in one place, so relaxed and casual that they seemed like ordinary people except for the fact that it was obvious that none of them were ordinary at all. Eventually Bruce's hand settled on Tim's shoulder and squeezed.
"What first gave us away?" Bruce asked so quietly that Tim barely heard him.
"Um, Dick," Tim said just as quietly. "Or more accurately Robin. He did the quadruple-summersault and it was caught on camera. I'd been following both Dick and Robin for ages so it was easy to make the connection. Once I knew who Dick was I could figure you out, then Jason when he joined up. And from there it was just a matter of seeing how people matched up with the secret and public identities."
"It's a very tight-knit community," Tim explained. "It seems like you all spend your time working together and then socializing together too. Sort of. Or at least you all know each other one way or another."
"Good point," Bruce murmured. "We'll have to be more careful about that. Why?"
Tim blinked at him for a moment and then studied the weave of his pants. He knew the question was more why had he spent all that time studying Bruce, Dick and Jason more than why figure out the other heroes identity. It showed in Bruce's eyes. Explaining it was something that he'd hoped to avoid.
"Um, well, it all started the day Dick's parents died," Tim whispered. He smiled even though he knew it was a terrible smile as Bruce knelt down next to Tim's wheelchair. "Dick was so nice, so open and then his parents died that way. I felt so bad for him but my parents were… cold about it. Mom said something about it was their own fault because they performed without a net. Dad said it was a shame but he used the same tone that he uses when he sees road kill on the side of the road."
That made Bruce glower. Tim nodded his agreement with all the things Bruce wasn't saying. He was very careful about saying anything harsh about Tim's parents, which Tim appreciated, but in this case Tim really did think that his parents were in the wrong.
"Anyway," Tim continued, "unlike my parent's response, you were so warm and helpful for Dick. You helped him right then and then later when you took him in. I… it was shortly after that that my nurse was dismissed for being 'too attached' to me. I think it was because Mom found out that she was comforting me when I had nightmares about Dick's parents falling. I sort of realized that warmth and love were something I was never going to get. Seeing the warmth in Dick's life made it… easier for me to deal with mine."
He shrugged, flatly refusing to look at Bruce's face because he knew perfectly well that the ghost of Bruce's parents would be in his eyes. They sat in silence for a long moment and then Bruce hugged Tim tightly enough that he felt as strong as Clark or Diana, other than the slight trembling in Bruce's hands.
"You do get love," Bruce whispered. "Every child deserves to be loved, Tim. I'll never let them hurt you again, I promise."
"Don't make promises you can't keep, Bruce," Tim sighed even as he leaned into the hug and allowed himself to hug Bruce back. "If they do the retrofits and parenting class I have to go back to her. Them."
Bruce growled and it was Batman making the noise, not Bruce Wayne. Tim hugged him harder. They both knew that it was the truth, even though no one in the Manor would admit it out loud. He wanted to stay here, with Bruce and Dick and Jason, but the court would send him home if his parents did what they were required to do. That his mother would be very bad at the parenting class and would fight the lessons every step of the way didn't matter. She would do what she had to and then Tim would be back where he started from, though at least Jason was alive and he'd had this wonderful time to remember for the future.
"You're doing much better," Bruce commented as he watched Tim work his way across the exercise room with his crutches.
Tim grunted, the sound a mixture of appreciation for the compliment and a declaration of complete and utter disagreement. Truthfully, Tim was doing much better. His legs were still exceedingly unsteady and Jamie walked behind him waiting to catch if Tim lost his balance, but the ungainly lurching and lack of control that had marked his first efforts to walk were gone. The gait was slow and awkward but Tim's feet went where he wanted and his knees supported his weight about half of the time. It was significantly more progress than Tim's doctors had expected, which was about what Bruce expected out of Tim. He was nearly as driven as Bruce was.
"Okay, that's enough for the moment," Jamie declared once Tim had made his fourth trip across the room. "On the mat and do your stretches, Tim."
This time Tim sighed. Bruce thought that the sound was mostly frustration rather than relief at the reprieve. He came over and settled down with Tim to help him stretch his arms and legs out. After a moment Jamie stopped cleaning up and came over to watch.
"Those are really good stretches," Jamie said. "Where'd you learn them?"
"Tibet," Bruce said and laughed a light Brucie laugh at the surprise on Jamie's face. "During my trip around the world thing years ago."
"Huh, I think I'm going to need to learn those," Jamie said.
Tim's lips were twitching with amusement as Bruce pulled off his jacket and his shoes so that he could show them the secret moves he'd learned from Ra's. They certainly weren't something that would get Jamie into trouble, not when he obviously intended to use them to help his patients regain their strength and flexibility, but from the look in Tim's eyes it was clear that he saw that if they were speeded up and given a bit more force they would be fairly deadly attacks.
By the time Jamie and Tim had learned all the stretches that Bruce was willing to teach them, it was time for Jamie to leave for his next appointment. Tim managed to get to his wheelchair by himself while Bruce helped Jamie finish the final bits of cleanup so that Alfred wouldn't have to.
"Don't push yourself too hard, Tim," Jamie said as he left. "Remember that you have to give your body a chance to heal between workouts."
"Yes sir," Tim sighed and the complaint in those two little words made Jamie grin and ruffle Tim's sweaty hair. "Stop that."
"See you tomorrow, kiddo," Jamie laughed. He nodded to Bruce and left, whistling a classical music tune rather than his more common country-western tunes.
"I should shower," Tim said.
"Okay," Bruce said. "After you're done I have something that I want to show you."
That made Tim stare at him with wide eyes that went slowly narrow as he saw that Bruce still had on his Brucie mannerisms. Tim snorted and shook his head before heading into his bathroom to get cleaned up. Half an hour later Tim emerged, dressed in his favorite slacks, the T-shirt Jason had given him and the sweater that Alfred had pressed on him shortly after he started using his wheelchair. His eyes went narrow when he saw that Bruce was still sitting on the couch waiting for him.
"What?" Tim asked warily. "Have you heard something about my mother and father?"
"I've heard several things about them," Bruce said. He stood and headed for the door with Tim wheeling at his heels. "Your mother's managed to verbally eviscerate the teacher of the parenting class so severely that they were nearly expelled from it three times. Your father's doing a wonderful job of retrofitting their home. He excels at the classes, not that I think that's much of a surprise. They have two new servants on the staff who have special training for dealing with issues regarding disability. Your bathroom back home is in the process of being made wheelchair accessible and there's now stair lifts on all the stairs."
"They are going to get me back," Tim sighed.
They entered the elevator together. Bruce pushed the basement button which got a raised eyebrow from Tim but no question. He snorted and smirked when Bruce just looked at him. Laughter had to be obvious in Bruce's eyes but Tim seemed quite determined not to ask any further.
"I have some doubts as to whether the teacher of the parenting class will ever approve Janet," Bruce said as they reached the basement and exited the elevator. He headed for the other elevator, the one that Tim had never seen or taken before. "We are making plans in case she does. One way or the other you're never going to be at her mercy again."
"You really think you can get away with that if the court does give me back?" Tim asked.
His eyes were full of confusion as they went around a corner, through a false door that he hadn't been told about and then into the elevator down to the Cave. It was old enough that it had open sides, allowing Tim to see the shaft that Bruce had fallen down so many years ago. By the time they reached the bottom and exited to the Cave Tim was shivering with awe.
"Actually yes," Bruce said. He led the way into their control center. "I do think I can. Or more accurately, Batman can."
"Oh wow," Tim breathed.
Dick and Jason looked up from their place in the training area, both of them grinning at seeing Tim in the Cave. They'd come down to work on Jason's tumbling while Tim was busy with his physical therapy. From the look of it, Jason had been getting frustrated while Dick was his normal enthusiastic self.
"Tim!" Dick said and the tone was close enough to a squeal of delight that the bats sleeping further out in the cave squeaked back at him.
"There are bats," Tim whispered and then stared at Bruce with the biggest grin that he'd yet seen on Tim's face. "You have bats in your cave."
"They're part of why I'm Batman instead of something else," Bruce chuckled.
He went to put his hand on Tim's shoulder but Dick got there first, hugging Tim tightly enough that Tim squawked and thumped his ribs until Dick let go. The grins on Jason and Dick's faces were as wide as the one still on Tim's face. Tim sat through the hugs and then laughed breathlessly at Bruce.
"This is amazing," Tim said. "I had no idea that there were caves under the Manor."
"They're quite extensive, actually," Bruce said. He pointed down one dark passage. "That exits on the seashore about half a mile away from here. The other passage over there exits on our neighbor's ground. There are dead end passages all throughout the caves. We have one very large passage serves as the secret entrance for the Tumbler. That's under the waterfall."
"The really cool part is that we're using the waterfall to power everything down here," Jason said. "It's continuous all year long, even when it freezes hard outside, so we can use the force of the water to generate our electricity."
"Oh, you gotta come see the display area!" Dick said as he bounced on his toes as though he was Tim's age. "We've collected some of the coolest stuff!"
Bruce laughed and let the boys sweep Tim away. They'd do a lovely job giving Tim the tour of the Cave, which gave Bruce time to check on his monitors of Jack and Janet Drake. Most of the information he'd given Tim earlier was from watching their lives rather than from more official channels. As friendly and generally complaint as Joel was, he was quite serious about confidentiality regarding the case.
Jack was at work, leading a meeting of the top executives of his company with enough enthusiasm and good cheer that his people paid nearly total attention to him. Everything that Bruce had seen of Jack Drake since this began showed that he was a good person who had married the wrong woman. Unfortunately, Jack allowed Janet to rule his personal life and to dictate a great many of his business decisions. For the most part they worked out for Drake Industries but several significant weaknesses in the company could be traced directly back to Janet's edicts to Jack.
It was still tempting to make a move to destroy Drake Industries as a way to keep Tim safe. Alfred had talked him out of it, reminding Bruce that the company was Tim's legacy. He still felt the temptation. It would be such a simple solution to the problem.
Janet was supervising the work on their home. From the way her toes were tapping and the expression on her face someone had questioned her on something or disagreed with her. Bruce was somewhat surprised that Dr. Reyes had been as accurate in her diagnosis of Janet Drake's personality disorder. It was rare for a court psychologist to be that good, but then Bruce had spent enough money to ensure that the very best were assigned to Tim's case.
There was absolutely no possibility that Janet wouldn't take her irritation at the entire situation out on Tim if he was returned to his parent's care. Everything that had been done to the Drake's house was at the absolute minimum levels to comply with the court's orders. There were tiny things that had been done that Bruce suspected were deliberately designed to make it awkward for Tim to use his wheelchair while still being within legal bounds. It wasn't anything major. The toilet in his bathroom was one inch too close to the sink. The shower door opened exactly right to make it hard for him to approach it and the springs on the door were slightly too powerful, making it snap shut instead of gently close. There was nothing that one could point to and say 'this is abuse' other than one very glaring change.
Tim's dark room was gone.
The day after the hearing that had required Janet to attend parenting classes she had returned home and ordered that every single bit of equipment Tim had ever purchased for his photography be sold, thrown in the trash or otherwise destroyed. Dick and Bruce had managed to save a few items through intermediaries but not much.
"Wow," Tim commented as he slit up next to Bruce by the monitors. "Do you have cameras everywhere in Gotham?"
"Most everywhere," Bruce said.
He let Tim play with the controls and wasn't at all surprised that he immediately found the cameras in his parent's home. Tim winced at his mother's expression, rubbing his legs as if he wished that he could stand and walk and run already. Bruce put his hand on Tim's shoulder and smiled at the tiny start of surprise.
"I won't let her hurt you, Tim," Bruce said.
"She won't hurt me physically," Tim sighed. "She never was physical about anything. Is my dark room gone?"
"Mmm, I expected that after the last hearing," Tim sighed. "Oh well. I'll figure something out eventually."
"We saved some of the equipment," Bruce said, "and we're buying replacements for the rest of it. It will be useful for all of us, not just you."
"Really?" Tim asked as if he didn't want to believe Bruce.
"Really." Bruce said and smiled. "Batman, Nightwing and Robin certainly can't take their crime photos to the local camera shop for developing. Having our own place will let us stop bothering Oracle for it."
Tim nodded slowly and then checked the various monitors that showed the city. As he explored the system Dick and Jason went back to training together. From the profanity coming from the mats Jason didn't think he would ever master the new moves that Dick was attempting to teach him. Bruce thought that given enough motivation Jason would succeed, probably in a matter of a few weeks. It was just a matter of providing inspiration to both him and Tim.
"This is really amazing," Tim murmured a few moments later. "No wonder people say Batman sees everything."
"That's Oracle, actually," Bruce chuckled. "Her system is far more compete and complex than mine. What would you change?"
The question made Tim jerk and then turn to stare at Bruce. Seated as Bruce was their eyes were nearly on a level, allowing Tim to look him in the eye. Whatever he saw in Bruce's eyes made Tim blush brightly and fuss with the controls for a long moment before he answered. Bruce could tell that Dick and Jason were listening in despite their continued training. Sound carried well enough in the Cave that they could hear the entire conversation with ease.
"Um, well," Tim eventually said, "there are some gaps in the system. I don't know if they're deliberate but um, a person could get from Arkham to the downtown core without being seen if they knew what they were doing."
"Show me," Bruce said.
He brought up a detailed map of the city and listened with more than a little pride as Tim showed him a chain of blind spots that would indeed allow someone to escape and wreak havoc in the downtown core. It neatly explained how the Joker had gotten from Arkham to the First National Bank during his last escape.
"Very good," Bruce murmured while noting down locations to plant new cameras and monitors. "This is how you took so many pictures of us, yes?"
"Mmm, well, I didn't know for sure that you had cameras watching the city but it seemed like a reasonable deduction," Tim admitted. "I never tried to hide. It seemed that it would be more effective to act as normal as possible and then slip into my hiding spots when I found dark shadows."
"You'll make an excellent Robin," Bruce said and then laughed as Jason shouted with delight, Dick set the bats off with his delighted cry and Tim's jaw dropped open.
"M-me?" Tim spluttered. "I can't be Robin! Jason is Robin!"
"Yes!" Jason shouted as he launched himself at Bruce for one of his exceedingly rare voluntary hugs. "I'm gonna start designing my new suit right away and you do not get to help, Big Wing!"
"Awww, come on!" Dick whined. "My Nightwing suit is perfect."
"The latest one is good," Jason huffed. "That early one was a monstrosity."
Jason ran for the stairs to tell Alfred the good news with Dick on his heels, still complaining about how 'fabulous' his suit design skills were. No noises came out of Tim's mouth for a long while. To Bruce's surprise when Tim finally did manage to make some noise it was a choked off sob that had Bruce spinning and then hugging Tim tightly.
"I'm not good enough," Tim whimpered. "I can't even walk."
"You'll be good enough in time," Bruce promised. "It's not today or tomorrow, Tim. This is a year or more down the line. Even if Jack and Janet get you back I want you to train and become the next Robin. You're perfect for the job. You don't have to but I hope that you will."
Tim leaned into Bruce's chest as he tried to stop crying. Rather than attempting to reassure Tim that it would be okay, Bruce rubbed Tim's back and held him as he fought to regain his self-control. There was time for Tim to come to terms with the offer. If he never regained full mobility then Tim would make excellent support staff. Bruce didn't think that would happen. Given the amount of progress Tim had made so far, it was inevitable that he'd regain everything that he'd lost.
"It's so strange," Tim mused as he stared at the last pictures he'd taken of Robin.
Bruce's offer still seemed to echo in his mind along with the sounds of the bats in the cave and Alfred's quiet congratulations. It didn't make sense that someone like Tim had the opportunity to become Robin. Not because of his continuing mobility problems and the lingering pain in his back but because things like this just didn't happen to him.
All his life he'd been the invisible child. Other kids had friends and parents who paid attention to them. They got to ask for things without pondering the consequences of the request. Hugs came freely and meant more than 'oh, you're here, are you?' Tim was the one who blended into the shadows, who watched and listened. Hugs and love and incredible offers that he couldn't have imagined in his wildest dreams didn't happen to Tim.
"Except that it did," Tim sighed.
He flipped the photo over and looked at the date on the back. Someone, probably Alfred given the exceptionally neat left-handed writing, had labeled it for him with the date, time and location. It had been five months, nearly six months, and Tim wasn't certain how so much time had passed. To him it felt like days, not months. The fact that he hadn't taken a single picture in that entire time hit him like a blow to the stomach.
It wasn't that he didn't know what had changed. His wheelchair was a constant reminder of everything in his life that was different. Tim rubbed his back as he looked at the photos and tried to decide if it was a bad thing that he hadn't even tried to talk Bruce into creating a dark room for him. Granted, his stay in the Manor was probably temporary but he could have asked pretty much as soon as he was mobile.
"Why didn't I ask?" Tim asked the pictures.
"Ask what, Master Timothy?" Alfred answered from the doorway. He chuckled when Tim jumped. "My apologies. I had not realized that you were that deep in thought."
"It's okay, Alfred," Tim said.
There was a tray full of food in Alfred's hands so Tim gathered his photos up to make room at the table for lunch. He tucked them alongside his leg where they'd be safe. It looked like enough for everyone including Bruce. Tim helped as much as he could with getting it set up, well aware that Alfred was still waiting for an answer. When Alfred cleared his throat Tim sighed and smiled wryly.
"I was just wondering why I hadn't asked for a dark room, Alfred," Tim admitted. "I know that Bruce would have made one for me once I was mobile."
"It is a question that we have all pondered, Master Timothy," Alfred said thoughtfully. "Your hobby is obviously very important to you. It seemed somewhat odd that you did not wish to return to it as soon as you were physically able to."
His questions stood there in Alfred's eyes, making Tim actually consider the question more deeply than he had been. It was more than the pain and mobility issues, more than his conviction that he wouldn't be allowed to stay in Wayne Manor. The whole impulse to take photographs was wrapped up in things that he hadn't felt since he woke up here.
"I guess…" Tim mused and then sighed.
"I guess it's that I haven't really wanted to, Alfred," Tim said while staring at his soup and sandwich.
"May I inquire as to why, Master Timothy?" Alfred asked entirely too gently which told Tim that his face must have gone grim and unhappy.
"Well, photography was always my way of capturing a little of the warmth and beauty in other people's lives," Tim said. He fidgeted with the silverware and napkin so that he didn't have to meet Alfred's eyes. "I didn't have any of my own so my photos let me steal tiny bits of other people's joy. And since I got here there just… hasn't been that need."
Alfred's breath caught as Tim explained but from the little he could see from the corner of his eye Alfred's expression didn't change much. After Tim was done, Alfred smiled and put his hand on Tim's shoulder. The warmth of that touch allowed Tim to meet Alfred's eyes.
"Master Timothy," Alfred said, "I am glad that you feel loved and welcomed here as you are very much a part of this family no matter what comes from the court. I would suggest that it is always good to capture moments of beauty, no matter where you find them. Such moments are fleeting and you have a true gift for capturing them."
Tim blushed and smiled as he smoothed his pants unnecessarily. He still wasn't used to being praised. Alfred patted his shoulder fondly, exiting Tim's sitting room as Jason came in with Dick on his heels. A couple of seconds later Bruce came in and smiled at Tim. It was that tiny little smile that was so much like Tim's smiles when he actually meant them that Tim wanted to wonder if Janet might not have had an affair once upon a time. The sheer silliness of that though let Tim laugh quietly.
"What?" Jason asked.
"Oh, just being silly," Tim said and shrugged. "Have a name for your new identity?"
"Bluejay," Jason declared as he glared ferociously at Dick who groaned dramatically.
"Come on, Jay," Dick complained. "You can do better than that! What about Marauder or Falcon or Eagle or something?"
"I like the name Bluejay," Jason snarled at Dick. "Shove off. I decided I wanted that name years ago so you can just fuck yourself, Dick."
The way he said Dick's name absolutely turned it into an insult that Dick ignored as though he hadn't heard it. Bruce ignored them as they continued to tease each other while eating lunch. From what Tim could see Bruce had no opinion whatsoever on 'Bluejay' as Jay's new name.
It did make a certain amount of sense to Tim. Bluejays were tough birds that attacked predators in their territory. They were also curious and prone to gathering shiny things to play with, which was another good description of Jason, not that Tim was going to tell him that. And the blue, black and white colors would look good on Jason, though too much white would make it hard for him to hide. After a second Tim thought that maybe Jason would use a lot of white specifically because he didn't like hiding.
"I like it," Tim said as Jason clenched a fist to smack Dick's shoulder. "Bluejay suits you, Jason."
"Thanks," Jason said and went pink.
He dropped the fist and fussed with the remnants of his soup as if he was too embarrassed to meet the others' eyes. Tim lightly kicked him under the table and then laughed at the way Jason jumped, checked under the table and then grinned that it really was Tim kicking him. The amount of joy Jason and Dick took in Tim's ability to move still stunned him every time he noticed it.
"Want to head outside?" Jason asked as they worked together to gather up the dishes so that Alfred wouldn't have to.
"Mmm, no," Tim said thoughtfully. "I was going to do some reading before my afternoon workout."
Tim took his fair share of the dishes to the kitchen on his lap and helped make sure that everything was in the dishwasher exactly as Alfred liked it. Once they were done with that, and Alfred had gently scolded them for doing his job for them, Tim went to the library to think. It wasn't that he had something in particular he wanted to read. He didn't. Tim just wanted to take the time to think.
'I could be Robin,' Tim thought as he took down a history book that would look convincing enough. 'I could, if I agree. If I get to stay here.'
He desperately wanted to stay. Being Robin was what he'd fantasized about for so many years that he could barely remember a time when he didn't want to be Robin or at least have Robin know him. The problem with that was that his parents were going to get him back and then Tim wouldn't have anywhere near as much freedom of movement. Janet absolutely would not allow Tim the freedom he'd had before given that he'd 'abused' it.
Tim pulled out his pictures again and frowned at them. Truthfully, he'd never had freedom. Janet had simply assumed that Tim would do exactly what he was told, not one bit more or less. He'd taken his freedom, taken what he wanted with the limited tools that were available to him. It wasn't that he'd been helpless and had acted out. All his life Tim had calculated the costs of actions and chosen quite deliberately which ones would take him closer to where he wanted to be.
And where he wanted to be was right here, in Wayne Manor.
"I can't let her take me away again," Tim mused.
There had to be something that he could do that would ensure that Janet didn't get him back. If Tim could just figure out how to find that thing then he would be free from his mother's demands. He put the book back and then headed down to the cave. No one was there but Bruce had said that he could spend time there if he wished, as long as it didn't conflict with his physical therapy or the other visitors associated with his case.
"Ma'am, I don't understand," one of the new servants was saying when he turned on the monitors in his parent's home. "Why is it so important that we ensure that Tim stays home other than school? He's old enough to go out with friends after school."
"Timothy is my husband's heir," Janet snapped at her. "He's already proven that he's prone to poor judgment. I will not allow him to risk his already fragile health by going out. He will be staying home, is that perfectly clear?"
"Ah, yes ma'am," the servant said with such wide eyes that she looked terrified.
Tim watched his mother for the next hour, following her through the house, out to do some shopping (and really, Bruce had to fix some of the blind spots in his surveillance network) and then back home in time for a painfully silent afternoon where she sat and read while the servants scurried around as quietly as possible. He counted eight instances where Janet referred to Tim as his father's heir as if that was the only thing that was important to her.
"You're looking thinky," Jamie said as Tim wheeled into his exercise room. "Sore back or just pondering life, the universe and everything?"
"Forty-two," Tim said automatically and then grinned when Jamie laughed.
Two hours of PT left Tim sweaty, exhausted and aching in ways that reminded him of the early days after his injury. The pain pills his doctor had prescribed tempted Tim but he hated the way that they clouded his mind so he didn't take one after showering. Instead he focused on Janet and how he could get what he wanted with the minimal amount of fuss.
"She hates weakness," Tim mused while getting dressed. "I can't change that, not for a long while, if ever. But being physically weak doesn't mean emotionally weak."
He pondered, considered whether to use his crutches some more or settle for the wheelchair. In the end his sore back decided on the wheelchair. Tim went back down to the cave and found Bruce there reviewing what he'd been reviewing.
"Looking for something?" Bruce asked.
"Mmm, sort of," Tim said. "Do we have recordings of her parenting classes?"
"Are you sure you want to see that?" Bruce asked as he brought the recordings up. "She's rather… harsh."
"I lived with her my whole life, Bruce," Tim said baldly enough that Bruce winced ever so slightly. "I know how she gets when confronted with stupidity, lower-class people and being told that she's wrong. I imagine that it's quite horrific. I'd be stunned if their tires weren't flat after every single class."
Bruce snorted. Tim smirked at him. They sat and watched the latest recording of the parenting class together. Janet came in angry while Jack looked hopeful and gregarious. She got glares from everyone else while Jack got either sympathetic looks or incredulous looks, as though people couldn't understand why he was married to Janet.
"Oh my," Tim breathed as the teacher had everyone sit in a circle and start sharing stories from their children's lives.
"Terrifying, isn't it?" Bruce murmured with enough amusement that Tim started snickering.
"Horrifying," Tim said. "Did you have to attend these?"
"I almost wish I had," Bruce admitted and shrugged when Tim stared at him. "Well, not these classes but some sort of parenting class. Adding Dick to our lives was… challenging. I had no idea how to be a proper parent to him."
Jack's story of Tim was full of praise for his photos and general intelligence. Janet's was a very specific instance where Tim had passed a test with little or no coaching from his parents. The teacher shook her head at Janet and noted something down but she moved right along to the next set of parents.
"She's very deliberately ensured that neither of them misses a single class," Bruce said a few minutes later.
"Can you fail these?" Tim asked. "There are no requirements that I can see. No standard against which they're judged."
"The only way you fail is by missing classes," Bruce sighed. "Janet established that during the first class."
Bruce turned to look at Tim, one eyebrow raised curiously. There wasn't anything that Tim could say yet so he just shook his head and kept watching his parents' behavior at the class. He'd never seen them away from home, away from him, so it was rather enlightening. When dinner came, Tim stopped and then after eating returned to the computers to do more study of his parents.
Bruce, Dick and Jason went out as Batman, Nightwing and Robin. Tim watched them through the monitors, grinning so widely at getting to see them this way that his face hurt. It was a busy night so Tim did his best to inform them of places and people who were in trouble. All the while he kept thinking about Janet.
"Go to bed, Master Timothy," Alfred said what felt like an hour later but which turned out to be closer to four hours later. "I shall take over for you."
"Oh, wow," Tim said and blushed as he yawned. "I didn't realize how late it was."
As Tim pulled the covers up and turned out the light he sighed. Janet was so determined to get Tim back so that he would be Jack's heir that he simply didn't see any way to keep her from winning custody of him back. Despite all the testimony from CPS, Dr. Reyes, Jamie, Bruce and everyone else, she would inevitably win.
A thought occurred to Tim just as he started falling asleep, jolting him back to awareness.
"Oh," Tim breathed and then grinned into the darkness of his bedroom. "All of those people are not going away. If she gets me back, she'll never get rid of them either. Even if they back off once I go home all I need to do is call and they'll be right back in our lives."
He grinned at the ceiling. If he was right, and he'd have to ask Joel tomorrow when he showed up for his weekly visit, then Tim had the weapon he needed to stop Janet already. All he had to do was confirm his suspicions and then it would be relatively easy to ensure that he got to stay at Wayne Manor.
Joel grinned as Tim rolled down the hallway, zipped down the ramp to the foyer and smiled up at him. He'd come so far in the last few months, opening up exactly as they always wanted to see when CPS intervened with a child's life. To Joel's inner amusement, Tim had the big comfy sweater Alfred had given him on. As far as Joel could see Tim all but lived in the thing.
"Morning," Joel said. "You're looking cheerful."
"Am I?" Tim asked as if he was surprised by that.
"Yup." Joel chuckled at the way Tim craned his neck to see his reflection in one of the mirrors. "Bruce up and around yet?"
"No, not quite yet." Tim laughed quietly and shrugged. "There was apparently a big date last night and he was up late. I went to bed before he came home so I'm not sure how it went. I think Alfred has some tea ready if you want to wait until he comes down."
"Actually, I was kind of curious about the cliff," Joel said hopefully enough that Tim shook his head at Joel in mock-dismay.
"We can always go see," Tim offered and then laughed when Joel nodded enthusiastically.
They headed for the back door together, following the paths that Bruce had put in for Tim's wheelchair until they came to the construction site for the cliff. It looked to Joel like his cousin was doing an incredible amount of work to get the cliff stabilized and the path put in. They had a miniature bulldozer working carefully at carving at the slope to a more manageable gradient and establishing the rough contours of a winding path down to the seashore.
Joel thought that he could see places where there would be retaining walls added in, plus there were a bunch of trees that he knew had very sturdy root systems and a bunch of quick-spreading ground covers in pots off to one side.
"I think your cousin and his team is down there but I don't recommend making the climb," Tim said after a minute. "We had some rain yesterday and the soil is very wet."
"Every time I come here I end up covered in mud," Joel laughed.
"That's because you can't stay away from the construction site," Tim pointed out.
Instead of indulging Joel's inherent joy in getting muddy, they headed back to the manor at a slow walk. Or a slow roll for Tim who very obviously still insisted that he could propel himself without any assistance from other people. He liked that Tim was so self-reliant even though Joel knew that a lot of it came from his mother's obnoxious insistence that Tim be perfect at all times.
It was strange to be completely alone with Tim. Normally Joel showed up later in the day when Bruce, Dick and Jason were available but this was the only time available in his schedule today. Visiting with the inhabitants of Wayne Manor was always a joy, so he sort of missed Tim's new family's presence. He wasn't sure when visiting Tim Drake and Bruce Wayne had become a welcome respite in his busy day but somehow it had.
"Can I ask you something?" Tim asked just before they turned the corner that would take them around the hedges and let them take the closest ramp up into the Manor.
"Always," Joel said.
Tim stopped and bit his lip nervously. When he looked up at Joel for once he looked exactly like a neglected twelve-year-old boy. So often he projected enough strength and intelligence that it was easy to forget that Tim was just a kid. Given how his confidence had grown since Bruce took custody it was even easier to forget his age. Joel knelt down so that their eyes were on a level.
"My mom is doing okay in the classes, isn't she?" Tim asked and that was a worried little voice Joel hadn't heard since the earliest days of his assignment to Tim's case.
"Mmm, I wouldn't say she's doing well but she has attended all of them," Joel said.
"And they've made all the changes needed to the house, right?" Tim continued in exactly the right fearful tone to make Joel's stomach lurch for him.
"Just," Joel agreed. "But Tim…"
He stopped when Tim shook his head no. Tim looked at Joel before he looked over the beautiful grounds that had been completely reworked just for him. Joel could almost see the thoughts ticking through Tim's face. The cheerful happiness that he'd seen when he arrived faded away into a sort of blank stillness that spoke of a child trying to make himself give back a wonderful thing that he'd thought was a gift but which actually didn't belong to him.
"Then I have to go back," Tim sighed.
"There's no guarantee that Judge Coombs will decide that way," Joel said even though he knew that it was very likely that he would. Coombs always did favor keeping bio-families together.
"No, that's what he said," Tim said and there was a faint sheen of tears in his eyes. "He said at the last hearing that if they did the classes and fixed the house I had to go back to them."
"Tim, we do pay attention to the happiness and health of the child," Joel said as he allowed himself to put one hand on Tim's knee. "You're doing really well here. You weren't doing well with your parents."
"But they've learned better," Tim whispered without meeting Joel's eyes. "That's what the class is about. They know what they're supposed to do and they'll do the minimum so that you all go away and leave us alone. You'll take me back and leave me with them because they're 'better' now."
Joel bristled automatically. "We are not going to abandon you, Timothy Drake. I'll still be assigned to your case and we will be making sure that things continue to go well, even if you do go back to your parents. I know it seems like we'll just leave but there will be a lot of supervision before CPS will trust your parents to do what's right. And there's the legal case. When I talked to the District Attorney he was leaning towards attempting to prosecute your parents for neglect."
Tim finally met Joel's eyes. The tears were still there, but Tim seemed to have them under control. Joel was glad that he had managed to reassure Tim a little bit. He made a note to make sure to tell Angela to check with Tim on his fears of going back to his parents, and to word his recommendation to the court that Tim stay with the Wayne family in the strongest terms possible.
Joel went still as Tim put one hesitant hand over Joel's. He hardly ever touched so the little hand over Joel's felt like a huge step forward.
"You'll be there?" Tim asked hopefully. "For at least a few weeks?"
"Months, Tim," Joel said. "Years if the criminal case goes forward. There will be appeals and all sorts of supervision for years if that happens."
Tim nodded and smiled that too-hesitant smile that Joel virtually never saw anymore. "Can I… have your cell phone number when I do get sent back? So that I can call you if something happens?"
"Yes," Joel said. "You can have it now if you want it. You can call anytime you need to Tim. I might not be able to come right away but if you're hurt or in need I'll always make sure someone comes to help you."
That appeared to be enough to make Tim relax. He nodded and pulled his hand back with a little blush that emphasized his age. Tim fussed with his clothes as if embarrassed that he'd shown so much emotion. Rather than hug Tim the way Joel wanted he stood and they went back into the Manor together. Bruce was waiting for them, hair rumpled and wrapped in a royal blue robe. The fuzzy blue bunny slippers on his feet almost destroyed Joel's efforts not to laugh but somehow he managed not to embarrass himself by laughing until there were tears in his eyes.
"Wanted to see the cliff?" Bruce asked with a knowing grin that made Tim start snickering.
"Of course," Joel said. "You look like you need to wake up a bit more."
"Late night," Bruce yawned.
"Good date?" Joel asked hopefully. It really would be easier to get the court to allow Tim to stay if Bruce were married or at least seriously involved with someone.
"Mmm, acceptable," Bruce sighed somewhat sadly. "I doubt we'll date again. Unfortunately she wasn't fond of Gotham's night life."
"Huh, that's too bad," Joel said.
Tim rolled along beside them as he and Bruce chatted about Gotham's mostly non-existent night life, dating with children and the ongoing work to the cliff. Every time Joel looked down at Tim the hopeful and trusting expression reminded him of why he'd gone into this line of work instead of construction like most of his family.
He really had to make sure that everyone on the case helped Tim stay. This was a much better home for him that the Drake's house.
"Hey kiddo!" Jamie called as he walked into Tim's exercise room. "Good day, bad day or Gotham day? And where's your cheering squad?"
"Busy with board meetings and school. Given the news from last night I'd say Gotham day," Tim replied. He was seated at the little table in the corner with a newspaper spread out in front of him. "Batman and Robin were really busy last night."
"No kidding," Jamie groaned. "There were sirens all night long in the city. Woke me up so many times."
Tim gave him a sympathetic look as he closed his paper and folded it up. To Jamie's delight, Tim went straight for the crutches though he could see that the chronic pain that had been plaguing him was bothering him. The way he held himself and the movements of his legs were just a bit too stiff for it to be a good day for him.
They worked through the standard routine, lifting weights, using the balance ball that Tim always threatened to set on fire, and then working on his flexibility. As always, Tim was an ideal patient, dedicated, hard-working and willing to push himself where most people would have long since given up. It wasn't until the end of their session that the pain obviously got the better of him.
"Hurts," Tim complained as Jamie gently helped him stretch his back.
"I know, kiddo," Jamie said sympathetically. "But if you don't do the work you don't get the function."
To his surprise that got a bitter, despondent look instead of the normal nod and redoubled effort. Jamie frowned. When he cocked his head at Tim all Tim did was duck his head and glared at his legs while plucking at the sweats covering them.
"Hey," Jamie said as he sat next to Tim on the mats. "What's up?"
"It's just…" Tim stopped and shook his head while staring towards his table.
It took Jamie a moment to realize that Tim was actually staring at his wheelchair as if he wanted to set it on fire instead of the balance ball. Tim winced when Jamie put a hand on his shoulder. Touching was always a tricky thing with Tim given that he'd been raised in such an obviously touch deprived environment. Normally he leaned into Jamie's touches but whatever it was that was bothering him today was bad enough that Tim leaned away from Jamie's hand.
"Come on, give," Jamie said.
"I won't be working with you much longer," Tim admitted in such a horrible little murmur that it made Jamie's guts clench into a knot.
"Why the heck not?" Jamie demanded. "Kiddo, you're not doing that much better. You've got a good few months to a year before you're going to be back on your feet full time."
"My parents," Tim sighed and he still wouldn't meet Jamie's eyes. "I talked to Joel and they've done what Judge Coombs ordered. They're going to get me back and I know they won't want you to work with me. Mom doesn't think physical therapy is necessary. She has a nurse, I know that, but there won't be any more structured PT for me."
Jamie's mouth worked but there weren't any coherent noises coming out of his mouth. He grabbed Tim and tugged him into the sort of hug that Dick usually gave the poor kid. Tim gulped and then buried his face in Jamie's chest despite the sweat that he knew had to be making him stinky. The poor kid was shaking and he kept making little tiny whimpers like a puppy that had been kicked often enough that it knew making noise was bad.
"You just, you can't, he won't!" Jamie finally managed to say while gently massaging Tim's back because what the heck else could he do.
"He will," Tim insisted and sniffled while rubbing his face clean of his tears. "He will, Jamie. Judge Coombs said."
"He'd be a damned idiot to send you back to that bitch," Jamie growled and then went blazingly red when Tim pulled back and stared at him with wide eyes and twitching lips. "Sorry."
"You swore," Tim said as if that was the most incredible thing ever. "You never swear! You're worse than Dick about swearing."
Jamie laughed ruefully as he rubbed the back of his neck. He shrugged. Tim laughed and rubbed his cheeks as if he wanted to wipe away any traces of any tears he might have shed. While they finished the last of the stretches Jamie tried to think of a way to reassure Tim.
"You know I report to the court on how you're doing, right?" Jamie said as he helped Tim up from the floor.
He managed to stand on his crutches pretty solidly but three steps later his back was obviously killing him. Jamie brought over Tim's wheelchair when Tim nodded that he needed it. The kid really did need to start taking his pain meds properly but Jamie could understand not wanting to walk around in a fog all the damned time.
"Yes," Tim said once he was settled in his chair. "Why?"
"I've been saying all along that you're not going to get proper care from your parents," Jamie said gently. "Sure, you're doing really well and I'm pleased with your progress like whoa but… the pain isn't going away, Tim."
Tim winced at that and nodded as if he hadn't wanted it said out loud.
"Would she allow you to take your pain meds?" Jamie asked even though he was pretty sure he knew the answer.
"I doubt it," Tim sighed and there was so much defeat and exhaustion in that sigh that it hurt to hear. "Mom's always thought that pain medication was for weaklings. She has a very high threshold for pain and expects everyone else to respond the same way as she does."
"She's an idiot and I don't care how smart she is," Jamie grumbled. "I'm putting in my next report that you should not be returned to her care unless there are weekly medical checkups. Your injury was really severe, Tim. You're going to need the meds for years. And yes, I know you're not taking them like you should."
Tim winced and groaned. He made every face imaginable when Jamie brought him one of the little white pills that made his pain manageable.
"No toughing this out, kiddo," Jamie ordered him. "If you don't treat the pain your body will get so used to it that you'll be constantly tense. You won't heal and you won't regain your normal function. You can't ignore it and will it away without facing worse consequences in the long run. Trust the guy who's got three specialized degrees in this sort of thing."
"Hate how hard it is to stay awake," Tim complained.
He took the pill, stuck his tongue out at Jamie and then to Jamie's shock actually took his hand. Tim's hand was so small. Jamie forgot sometimes how little the kid was. Even for a twelve-year-old Tim was small but most of the time he was so strong emotionally that Jamie forgot about it.
"Thank you for helping me, Jamie," Tim said and the words were good bye more than thanks.
"You're welcome, kiddo," Jamie said. He gently squeezed Tim's fingers. "Better go get cleaned up. I think Dr. Reyes is scheduled for a visit with you today."
"Another reason why I didn't want to take one of the pills," Tim complained even though he was already looking less drawn and stiff.
"You'll be fine," Jamie chuckled. "She likes you."
"No she doesn't," Tim protested. "She's intimidated by me."
"Yeah but she likes that!" Jamie said and then laughed when Tim rolled his eyes at him. "Shower. If I see her on the way out I'll let her know you're running a little late."
"Thanks," Tim sighed.
Tim went to his bedroom and Jamie headed for the front door. Angela's car was just pulling up as he went down the stairs. She nodded to him when he grinned and waved at her. From the look in her eyes she could tell that he was upset and trying to hide it.
"Tim's running a tiny bit late," Jamie told her once she stepped out of her car. "Expect him to be a little loopy. He had to take one of the pain pills."
"Ah, bad day?" Angela said as she nodded that she understood.
"Mmm, on a couple of counts," Jamie sighed. "Ask him about his mom and physical therapy. Not saying anything else, wouldn't be appropriate, but I'm sure you'll finagle a copy of my latest report once I turn it in this afternoon."
Angela narrowed her eyes at Jamie so he held up his hands as if to ward off an attack. She snorted and shook her head at him before heading to the stairs. Jamie chuckled and waiting until she was on the bottom step.
"Have a nice day!" Jamie called and then laughed as she glared at him.
"Get to work," Angela snarled at him even though her eyes were smiling at his persistent efforts to get her to lighten up.
He waved cheerfully and drove off, plotting how he could write his report to ensure that Tim had monitoring up until he was thirty. More than likely he couldn't manage that but Jamie was damned sure he could get the court to order the Drakes to continue the physical therapy no matter what that bitch thought about it. Tim needed it and Jamie was going to do his best to make sure that Tim was taken care of. Of course, if he stayed with Bruce then everything would be fine. Jamie had faith that Bruce would take care of Tim beautifully.
"Somehow I think that this is going to be a short session," Angela said with more than a little amusement.
"I'm sorry," Tim said grumpily. "I really didn't want to take one of the pain pills before you showed up but Jamie insisted."
He'd settled into his lounge chair as soon as he exited the shower. They'd talked about his progress, what Tim hoped to do with his life (and the continued answer that he would be his father's heir bothered Angela--he should have some dreams besides following in his father's footsteps) and the crime wave that Gotham had endured last night. All the while Tim's eyes were drooping, his body was nearly limp and he could barely keep his head upright.
"We don't have to have a long session today, Tim," Angela said sympathetically. "It's never my intention to make things worse for you."
"Let me stay here then," Tim yawned.
To her eye he hadn't intended to stay the words out loud, which said something for how powerfully the pill was affecting him. Angela frowned and studied him. Even with the pill in his system she could see clear signs of his chronic pain bothering him.
"How's the physical therapy going?" Angela asked and felt guilty for taking advantage of Tim's state. "I saw Jamie on the way out."
"Mmm, good," Tim mumbled. His head lolled to the side for a moment before he snapped it back upright. "Jamie's very good at keeping me motivated." He yawned again, eyes drooping. "Going to miss him."
"Is he being reassigned?" Angela asked in a quieter voice.
"Hmm?" Tim said and blinked at her. "What? Oh, no. No. Just… I'll be going home to my parents soon. They won't let him keep working with me."
"The court hasn't decided that," Angela said.
"Doesn't matter," Tim said and it was obvious that he wasn't going to be awake for very much longer. "Judge Coombs said. Doing what they're supposed to so I have to go back to them. Rather stay here. Happy here."
His eyes slid shut and his head slumped sideways against the headrest. Angela frowned at Tim but he was completely boneless and snoring slightly. She very quietly shut her notebook and slipped it into her purse. Tiptoeing in high heels was an effort that she hoped never to repeat, especially when rage at Janet Drake was making her want to stomp her feet and scream. Alfred found her by the front door with that strange butler's instinct that let him know that a guest was in need.
"Leaving so soon, Dr. Reyes?" Alfred asked.
"Tim fell asleep," Angela said. "He had to take one of his pain pills so it's not too surprising. I'll have a longer talk with him next time."
"Very well then," Alfred said graciously. "If there's anything that I can do, please let me know."
"I'll just be going," Angela said. She patted the old man's arm fondly. He so reminded her of her grandfather. "Let Tim know that everything's fine."
"I shall do so, Dr. Reyes," Alfred said with that tiny eye wrinkle that doubled as a smile for him. "Good day."
Angela nodded and left, pondering whether or not she could get a message to Judge Coombs to let him know that he needed to talk to Tim privately during the next hearing. The normal way of handling child custody cases simply wouldn't work in this case. Sending Tim back to that horrific narcissist was the worst choice possible for his continued health, development and happiness.
"Ah, you're awake, Master Timothy," Alfred said when he entered Tim's suite and found him quite awake and aware though obviously a bit worse the wear for the pain pill and physical therapy. "Dr. Reyes said to reassure you that everything is fine. She will return another time to continue your talk."
"Hmmm, good," Tim said.
His smile was so very much like one that Alfred would expect to see on Master Bruce's face when he was plotting something as Batman that Alfred paused and peered at Tim. Tim blushed, smiled and shrugged. There was a tiny wince after the shrug but nothing to be concerned about.
"I'm plotting, Alfred," Tim said and that was very much a look that would be more appropriate on Master Bruce's face.
"Well, do please inform Master Bruce of your plans, Master Timothy," Alfred said fondly. "I should hate to see the two of you working at cross purposes."
"Oh yes, I will," Tim said. This time he laughed, low and delighted. "I need Bruce's help for the next part of the plan. Don't worry. It should work really well to get Mom to back off."
"Ah," Alfred said. "Then I wish you much success with your plots, Master Timothy. Would you care to come down to the kitchen to help me make scones? I believe it's time for another batch."
"Sure!" Tim said with such obvious delight that he looked exactly his age and no older.
Alfred chuckled. Once Master Timothy had transferred from his lounge chair into his wheelchair they went to the kitchen and began work. He rather hoped that Master Timothy's plans were successful. The manor would be much lonelier without him in it.
"So what are you planning?" Bruce asked Tim as they finished dinner.
"Planning?" Jason asked. He looked at Tim with a frown that Dick echoed.
"I'm plotting, not planning," Tim replied with a wicked grin that transformed Jason and Dick's frowns into grins.
"All right," Bruce chuckled, "what's your plot?"
Alfred came in before they could start clearing the dishes off of the table for him. Jason still helped Alfred load everything onto the rolling cart that Alfred used for the process of transferring their meals from the kitchen to the small dining room off of the ballroom. Tim passed things to Jason with a much more cheerful expression than he'd had since the last hearing. Whatever his plot was must be making him more confident about the likelihood of his staying in the Manor.
"It's probably easier to show you some of the things I noticed than to try to explain it," Tim commented once they were done helping Alfred with the dishes.
"Cave?" Dick asked.
"Yeah," Tim agreed.
The elevator was too small for all four of them to use it at once. If Tim hadn't been using his wheelchair they might have fit but the wheelchair took up just enough room that it was uncomfortable for all four of them. Jason and Dick took the stairs instead, Dick shouting something about rotten eggs that made Jason curse at him.
By the time they made it to the Cave Jason had Dick in a headlock that he was using to pin Dick to the floor while demanding that Dick admit that Jason was the better Robin. Tim blinked at the two of them and then snickered when Dick used one of his wrestling tumbles to break the grip and then pin Jason.
"While they play," Tim said just loudly enough to make Jason squawk and Dick laugh, "why don't I show you what I saw?"
"Please," Bruce said.
Bruce watched as Tim used the computer as if he'd been born to it. The pattern of what Tim was seeing wasn't apparent until well after Jason and Dick stopped play-fighting (and the relief in Bruce's heart that it was just play fighting instead of the real fights that they used to have before Ethiopia was so enormous that he couldn't quite conceptualize it) and came over to hover behind Tim and Bruce respectively.
Recordings of Janet complaining about the CPS supervision were followed by records from the various people interviewing her that she had serious issues with anyone questioning her decisions combined with the latest reports from Dr. Reyes, Joel and Jamie. Each of them had written in today's reports that Tim was absolutely not to be returned to his parents without long-term and very close supervision due to Janet's personality disorder and the extreme likelihood that Tim wouldn't receive proper medical and physical care.
"What did you say?" Dick asked with enough awe that Tim snickered at him and Jason belly laughed.
"I might have gone all sad and misty eyed and tentatively held their hands while insisting that there was no choice about my going back to my parents because Judge Coombs said I had to if they met the minimum requirements," Tim said and then laughed at Bruce's expression. "I'm twelve and little. People always fall for the poor helpless sad little boy routine. Especially if they know I'm hurting and I'm in the wheelchair. It seems to be quite instinctive."
"That does work really well," Dick agreed. "Or at least it used to for me."
"Couldn't prove it to me," Jason grumbled but he looked proud of Tim rather than disgruntled about the stratagem.
"That's because you're going to be as big as Bruce and it shows," Dick said and then ducked away from Jason's attempt to headlock him again.
Bruce took over the computers from Tim to verify his assumptions and the reports that had been filed so far. There was a very good likelihood that Judge Coombs would have ordered supervision anyway but now it looked as though it was inevitable. That didn't prevent Tim from being returned to his parents though it would help ensure that he wasn't punished as Janet so obviously wished.
"What else?" Bruce asked.
"I need to be allowed to speak to my mother before the next hearing," Tim said and then rolled his eyes as Dick and Jason froze to stare at him. "I'm not relying on Judge Coombs. It would help greatly if I could speak to him and try and convince him that I want to stay here but that's not mandatory. What I really need is to be able to talk to my parents without Joel or any of the other CPS agents listening in."
"Why?" Bruce asked.
He knew he was frowning entirely too much like Batman but at the moment Tim's plan wasn't clear to him. When Tim smiled it was almost like looking in a mirror. Bruce saw that smile on his own face entirely too many times, usually when he'd come up with exactly the right plan to deal with a problem or found the weakness he needed to take down one of his opponents. Pride abruptly filled Bruce. Tim truly was the perfect choice for the next Robin.
"You've studied my mother since you met me, Bruce," Tim said as he pulled up the records on his parents' trips out of the country and cross referenced them against the amount of time Janet actually spent interacting with Jack and Tim. "I've spent my entire life studying her moods and reactions. I know her much better than you do. Every single thing here is designed to hit her weaknesses in ways that she can't bear."
"What are her weaknesses?" Bruce asked more for Dick and Jason's sake than because he didn't know or because he thought that Tim didn't have a handle on Janet's personality. He had to have a near perfect understanding of his mother after living with her.
Tim nodded at Bruce as if he understood exactly why Bruce asked. He called up the analysis that Bruce had done of Janet's personality and began editing with comments of his own. Dick and Jason drifted back over to watch and read over their shoulders.
"First, I think you're quite wrong about the possibility of her hurting me physically," Tim said as he typed. "My mother is very non-physical. She hates touching and I can only remember one occasion where she slapped me. That was shortly after Dick's parents died. I had a nightmare and my nurse was comforting me, hugging me, when Janet walked in. I think I was slapped more for the hug than for the tears, frankly. I'd be perfectly safe from physical harm but neglect and emotional abuse are quite likely."
"I really want to hurt your mom," Dick complained.
"Join the club," Jason grumbled.
"Second, Mom has a ferocious need to be right," Tim said. He added his agreement to that part of Bruce's analysis. "By setting things up so that the court requires very close supervision of me while I'm in her home, she's constantly going to be interacting with people who tell her that she's wrong. She can't talk to me that way. She can't treat me that way. She's wrong about the disability. She's wrong about the pain meds. She's wrong, wrong, wrong. I estimate that it would take about three days of that before she's screaming at everyone."
Bruce smirked. He thought that it would take more like a week but those first three days would very likely be trying for Janet to put it mildly. If any of the CPS workers saw Janet responding like that Tim would be out of the house before the echoes died. He grunted his approval and Tim grinned at him.
"Third, Mom can't stand having anyone supervising her," Tim continued. "Part of the reason she married Dad was that she knew that she would be the dominant one in their relationship. She wanted to escape my grandfather's control. Apparently he was… very controlling, very mentally and physically abusive. Mom was smart enough to get around him most of the time. Once Dad showed an interest in her, he became the perfect opportunity for her to escape her father and gain total control of her environment."
"You know," Dick mused, "I still feel kind of sorry for Jack. He's not a bad guy despite the fact that he's a total idiot to stay with Janet."
Tim nodded. "The final point is sort of a corollary to the third point. Mom loves to travel. She has very firm opinions about whether or not children should be allowed to travel and I wouldn't be allowed to go until I'm fifteen or so. I don't think that she's realized that the court would probably take me away the very day that she and Dad left for another vacation."
Bruce frowned as he studied the data Tim had added and then started chuckling. "You're going to threaten her."
"Oh no," Tim said with round eyes and an innocent expression that hid absolutely nothing of his amusement. "I'm just going to explain to her certain facts that she might not yet have figured out."
"What facts?" Jason asked.
"If she wins the case and gets me back then her life as she knows it is over," Tim explained. He laughed at their surprised expressions. "My mother values traveling and complete autonomy. She's set up her entire life so that she gets to do exactly as she wishes when she wishes with no one to tell her no. If Mom and Dad get me back that's absolutely over. I'm not above pretending to be worse off than I am for long enough that I can become an emancipated minor."
"So," Dick said and he was bouncing on his toes while grinning at the various recommendations requiring supervision of Tim's return to his parents, "you go back and she has Joel, Angela, Jamie, Judge Coombs, the district attorney and a dozen other people breathing down her neck all the time."
"No more travel," Jason said and that was distinctly a chortle of delight.
"No more freedom and people telling her she's wrong all day long," Tim said smugly. "The same level of supervision isn't required if I stay here because everyone trusts Bruce and Alfred, but there's no need for Mom to know that. Right now," he switched on one of the monitors showing Jack and Janet's home. Janet was verbally castrating Jack for being an idiot over his latest business decisions. "Right now Mom thinks that she'll win if she gets me home. I'll be back under her thumb and she'll have control over me."
"She doesn't realize that she'll be trading her preferred lifestyle for a very limited amount of control over you that comes at the price of extreme supervision," Bruce mused.
He chuckled and nodded. While he'd been perfectly aware that Janet was treating this as a war that she had to win at all costs, he hadn't connected the dots in the same way that Tim had. Her narcissism was extreme enough that Bruce had assumed that she would eventually back off when her anger at being denied custody of Tim was overwhelmed by her desire to get back to doing as she wished without interference. Bruce had intended to keep fighting until Janet's patience wore out. Tim's methods would ensure that she stopped fighting much sooner rather than later, and might allow Tim to have a limited relationship with his father.
Jason frowned and tapped the monitor with one finger. "Doesn't deal with your dad though."
"He's easy," Tim said dismissively. "All Dad wants is for me to be his heir and the chance to spend some time with me from time to time. I do want to take over Drake Industries eventually so that's not a problem. Agreeing to informal visitation rights would be more than enough to handle him. Jack will accept whatever Mom and I agree on."
"But for that to happen you need time alone with her," Bruce said.
All three of the boys reacted to Bruce's frown at that. He didn't like the idea of letting Janet spend even a couple of minutes with Tim. Convincing her to accept 'failing' was going to take more than mere minutes. Dick's arms snaked around Bruce's neck in a hug that was a reminder of younger days that Bruce had thought were long gone. When he patted Dick's elbow Dick shook his head now and kept on hugging until Bruce relaxed into it.
"I'd prefer that she come here," Tim said once Dick let Bruce go. "That might not be possible, of course. We might need to have a quick word with her in the courthouse before the next hearing. Speaking of which, is there any way to make sure that Judge Coombs actually does talk to me, Bruce?"
Bruce pondered the question before answering. He could get a message to Judge Coombs through Batman but that would cause more questions than it was worth. The record already showed that Bruce and his lawyers felt that Judge Coombs needed to talk to Tim directly before making his final decision. Jim Gordon could speak to Judge Coombs but he couldn't order him to do anything.
"I can suggest it again," Bruce said eventually, "but that's all that it will be."
"Can I send a message to him and ask to talk to him?" Tim asked.
Bruce and Jason both winced at that suggestion. As tempting a thought as it was, Bruce was ninety percent certain that it would rebound against Tim and result in Judge Coombs refusing to speak to him at all. Coombs was well known for his stubborn impartiality on the cases he was assigned to. Tim sighed and looked sad enough that Jason gripped his shoulder.
"Don't mess with the judge, Timmy," Jason said. "He's the best one for this case and everyone and their dog has already said that your opinions should be taken into account."
"I'd still like to ensure that I get to talk to him," Tim said. "Oh well. I suppose you can never cover all the variables."
"Quite so," Alfred said from the stairs. "One of them has just arrived. Dr. Reyes is back, Master Bruce, Master Timothy."
"What?" Tim asked at the exact same time and in the exact same tone that Bruce said it.
They scrambled for the elevator, Bruce, Dick and Jason taking the stairs while Tim took the elevator up to the basement. As Bruce ran for the stairs he heard Tim shout something about the new darkroom which gave them an excellent explanation for why Tim was in the basement. Bruce blessed his physical conditioning as Batman when he encountered Dr. Reyes in the hallway. He wasn't visibly out of breath though he suspected that Dr. Reyes wouldn't have noticed. She looked so infuriated that he raised an eyebrow at her.
"Dr. Reyes, I'm surprised to see you this late in the evening," Bruce said. "Is something wrong?"
"Where's Tim?" she snapped.
"In the basement," Bruce said. "We're working on setting up a handicap accessible dark room for him. Tim's chosen a room and has been marking out positions for his equipment."
"Hmm. He's not sleeping?" Dr. Reyes asked with a puzzled frown that was accompanied by a nod as if something that had been bothering her made sense now.
"No, he napped this afternoon until dinner," Bruce said while blinking at her in Brucie's best puzzled manner. "I think that helped him recuperate well enough though he is still using his wheelchair this evening."
"May I see him?" Dr. Reyes asked. The words were definitely not a request. Bruce suspected that she would have given a direct order with the full weight of the court behind her if he said no.
"Certainly," Bruce said. "I have no problem with that at all."
He took her down the closest set of stairs and through the hallways to the room that Tim had chosen. Dick and Jason were there with Tim. Dick was cheerfully using masking tape to mark out the boundaries of various tables and bins while Tim maneuvered his wheelchair into place to test whether they would work properly for him. All three of them looked up when Dr. Reyes came in with Bruce.
"Dr. Reyes," Tim said and his look of surprise was as perfect as Jason's suspicious glare. "What are you doing here tonight?"
"Tim, how much pain are you in on an average basis?" Dr. Reyes asked and there was much too much urgency in her voice than Bruce could explain at the moment.
"Well, it varies," Tim said and to Bruce's surprise he was obviously truly trying to hide something. "Between a three and seven on average."
"How bad was it today when I talked to you?" Dr. Reyes continued. Her hands were in fists that shook from her agitation.
Tim blushed brightly enough that Bruce frowned at him along with Jason, Dr. Reyes and Dick. He fidgeted and rubbed his hands over his legs. They were shaking worse than Dr. Reyes' fists. Bruce made a mental note to talk to Jamie and Dr. Clemmons about just how much pain Tim actually was experiencing. He'd been told that Tim was still experiencing some chronic pain but every time he talked to Tim about it he downplayed it.
"Um, bad?" Tim tried and then sighed. "All right, it was more like an eight or nine today."
"And why didn't you want to take your pain medications?" Dr. Reyes asked. "Don't say because you hate that they muddle with your mind. That's obvious and insufficient for that level of pain. I get migraines, Timothy Drake. I know what it's like to be in real pain that you can't do anything about."
"You talked to Mom today," Tim breathed. He made a face when Dr. Reyes made a get on with it gesture and sighed. "I don't want to get used to having the pills available. Mom won't refill the prescriptions. Dad's rarely around enough to rely on for that. I have to get used to dealing with the pain because I know Judge Coombs is going to give me back to them. The meds won't be there for very much longer."
"I'm gonna punch that bitch's head through the wall!" Jason shouted.
"Tim, that's illegal!" Dick protested at the same time. "She can't deny you medical care."
"I really do have to talk to Commissioner Gordon about the criminal case," Bruce sighed.
Dr. Reyes kicked her high heels off and knelt down next to Tim with her heels tucked under her. She stared at Tim who blushed under the scrutiny. He rubbed his legs again and eventually stilled enough that Dr. Reyes shook her head at him.
"You have the right to proper pain medication, Tim," Dr. Reyes said very gently indeed. "I had a… very long interview with your mother this afternoon. We argued about the necessity for medication for quite a while. That's part of why I'm so angry. She stated, for the record, that you are not actually in any major amount of pain so you will not need pain medication."
"That is so illegal," Dick groaned.
"It is illegal," Dr. Reyes agreed. "I know that one personally as my parents were religious objectors who refused to get medical treatment for my migraines for years. I suffered entirely too much pain because of their stupidity to allow anyone else to be tortured that way. How much pain are you actually in every day, Tim? Real answer this time."
Tim winced and stared at his hands which were clenched in his lap. "It's about a four when I wake up and rises to a six by the time I'm done with breakfast. By the time my PT is done it's usually a seven or eight. If I nap it goes down to about five. If not, it gets worse, to a nine or so. I try not to take anything until it hits eight or nine. That's when the pain becomes unbearable."
"Every day," Dr. Reyes said. She completely ignored Dick's moan of dismay, Jason's quiet cursing as well as the horrified noise that escaped Bruce's lips.
"Yeah." Tim sighed. "It has gotten better. Slowly."
"You cannot go back to that woman," Dr. Reyes sighed. She stood and put her shoes back on while muttering in Spanish under her breath. When she stared at Tim he blushed and fidgeted some more. "Be brutally honest about the pain with Jamie and Dr. Clemmons, Tim. They cannot give you effective pain medications if you're not honest and they can't report it to the court if you don't tell them."
"Yes ma'am," Tim whispered. "I'm sorry. It's just that Judge Coombs said…"
She gently cupped Tim's chin to encourage him to meet her eyes. Whatever Tim saw there seemed to reassure him. Bruce hardly dared to breathe for fear of interrupting the moment. It was a sentiment that Jason and Dick seemed to share because they were so still that Dick practically looked like a photo of himself.
"That's what he said but he listens to our testimony, Tim," Dr. Reyes said. "He also is someone who experiences chronic pain due to a car accident a decade ago. He won't subject you to that sort of torture."
Tim's expression shifted to hope that looked so utterly real that it broke Bruce's heart. Sometimes he forgot how good Tim was at hiding his true feelings from everyone. Dr. Reyes smiled and nodded. She turned to Bruce and he gestured for her to follow him back to the front door. Behind them he heard Tim squawk as Dick hugged him only for Jason to curse at him to be gentle. Tim's quiet laughter followed them up the stairs.
"He didn't tell you," Dr. Reyes said. She frowned at him.
"I knew he had some level of pain," Bruce said and his sadness was entirely real. "I had no idea that it was that bad. Tim kept saying that it was getting better."
"He can't go back to them," Dr. Reyes hissed. "He just can't!"
"It's not up to you or me," Bruce sighed. "That's up to Judge Coombs."
"Well, that man damned well better take my report about this latest visit seriously or so help me I'll start a campaign to impeach him," Dr. Reyes snarled. "Sorry to interrupt your evening. I need to go write up my reports."
"Good luck," Bruce called to Dr. Reyes' back.
She waved once but stomped out of the Manor without looking back. Alfred appeared by Bruce's side, a puzzled frown on his face. A few moments later Tim, Dick and Jason joined them. Tim was blushing, especially when Bruce put his hand on his shoulder.
"You may not need me to get Judge Coombs to talk to you," Bruce commented. "You should have told me, Tim. I know a great many techniques for coping with pain."
"It really is getting better," Tim sighed. "Slowly but it is getting better."
"New lessons starting tomorrow," Bruce said. "Pain control is definitely something you'll need as Robin anyway."
"Yes sir," Tim said. He laughed a tiny little laugh as Dick hugged him again, this time much more gently than he had been of late. "Thank you."
Tim scanned the hallway as the elevator door opened. His mom and dad were there. Somehow, Tim had no idea how, Clark had managed to clear the reporters out of the hallway. There was one bailiff at the far side of the hallway but right now the only ones who mattered were Tim, Janet and Jack. Their lawyer was already going through the doorway to the courtroom so they truly were alone for this moment in time.
Janet's eyes went narrow when she saw Tim in his wheelchair. Jack, surprisingly enough, lit up to see Tim. A little laugh escaped Tim's lips as he rolled over. The window for talking to them was probably already closing. Jason and Dick should be there any second, along with Bruce and Alfred.
"Tim," Dad said with that huge, heart-warming grin that had never meant half as much as it really should. "You're looking good."
"Thank you," Tim said. He turned to Janet who sniffed at the wheelchair. "I do still need it. I did want to talk to the two of you privately but I didn't expect to get the chance."
"Why?" Janet asked so forbiddingly that Tim normally would have shut down and excused himself.
"Because I wanted to warn you," Tim said. He held up a hand to prevent Janet's automatic snarl and Jack's gasp of dismay. "No, not threats. I just wanted to let you know that if you guys win the custody case and get me back, you're lives as you know them will be over."
"Explain that," Janet said.
She'd tensed so much that she looked like she was getting ready for battle. That was expected so Tim did his best to ignore it. Jack's mouth, on the other hand, had dropped open as he stepped back as if suddenly afraid of Tim. Behind Tim, Dick and Jason bounded up the stairs with Tim's crutches. Alfred and Bruce were right behind them. All four of them glared at Jack and Janet but they stopped in their tracks when Tim raised a hand at them.
"The court's going to impose so many restrictions on you that you won't be able to live life the way you want," Tim explained quickly. He could hear reporters coming and really wanted to end this before someone started snapping out of context pictures. "No travel, constant supervision, court-mandated classes and therapy, lots of things. Basically? If you win this case, you lose everything you value about your lives."
It was no surprise that Jack looked puzzled by that but Janet's eyes darted towards the courtroom as she thought over what he'd said. Just as the reporters entered the hallway, Tim backed away and rejoined Jason, Dick and Bruce. To his relief, none of the reporters went for their cameras immediately though one of them fingered his camera as Tim took his crutches and levered himself up on his feet.
"I shall wait here for you, Master Timothy," Alfred said. He put his hands on the back of Tim's wheelchair as if he was prepared to battle to the death to protect it until Tim's return. "Good luck."
"Thank you, Alfred," Tim said. "I appreciate it."
When he looked, Janet was frowning at him so intently that she had to be analyzing how well he could actually move. His careful, slow progress towards the courtroom had her lips so thin that they disappeared. Jack looked like he wanted to be sick. Tim sighed mentally at that. Jack never had been any good at dealing with either Tim or Janet being hurt or ill. He liked to think that it was because Jack cared about Tim and Janet so much but Tim was honest enough with himself to admit that it was probably just that Jack found illness and infirmity very disturbing no matter who it was.
The courtroom was chaos once they went in. Flashes went off in Tim's face as he worked his way to the seats reserved for them. Once again, Clark ended up directly behind Tim. Jason settled on Tim's right and Dick sat on his left, though 'sit' was a misnomer for Dick. He fidgeted, tapped his feet and generally glared at anyone who got too close to Tim to take pictures.
Janet's shoulders showed that she was pondering what Tim had said. They twitched occasionally as she ran over everything in her mind. Tim could almost literally see Janet piecing together all the interactions she'd had with the CPS agents, Dr. Reyes, and Tim's continuing physical problems. By the time the bailiff called for everyone to rise (and this time Tim didn't let Jason and Dick keep him from rising with everyone else) Janet's hands were locked together in front of her and so tightly clenched that he could see the white knuckles from across the room.
Once they sat down again, Jack threw a quick look at Tim over his shoulder. It was incredibly hesitant and worried so of course every reporter in the room took pictures at that moment. Tim sighed and nodded while smiling tightly at his father. Jack sighed and turned to stare at Judge Coombs.
This hearing wasn't substantially differently from the last one. The major difference that Tim could see was that every single person that took the stand for CPS strongly recommended that Tim stay with Bruce and gave firm recommendations that Tim be tightly monitored if he was returned to his parents.
Jamie and Dr. Clemmons' testimony made Tim blush so brightly that he felt like his face was radiating. Their assessment of his pain level and the reasons for his reluctance to admit to it was incredibly embarrassing. The worst part was when Janet jerked like she'd been slapped at Jamie saying that Tim had refused to take his pain meds because he was certain she'd deny them to him. Judge Coombs frowned and studied Tim during that part of the testimony, which didn't help his blush at all. It took several hours to go through all the new testimony, and for all the witnesses to be cross-examined.
Judge Coombs studied Tim, Jack and Janet once everyone was done talking for a long moment of complete silence. It lasted long enough that the reporters surrounding Tim twitched, though not so long that Bruce, Tim or Janet were uncomfortable with it.
"Court will recess as I speak individually with Timothy, Jack and Janet Drake," Judge Coombs announced. "I'll start with Timothy Drake."
Tim gulped but he tried not to let his sudden attack of nerves show as they all stood and the Bailiff gestured for Tim to follow him. He could feel Janet's eyes on his back as well as Bruce's. In his mind Janet's eyes felt cold and hostile while Bruce's felt warm and worried.
Judge Coombs' chamber was paneled in wood with a bank of bookshelves covering the far wall from ceiling to floor. He'd expected a desk but instead there was a simple table with law books scattered on it and two simple hardwood chairs. One of the chairs had a posture pillow on it that Judge Coombs put behind his back once he sat down. Tim took the other chair and allowed himself to fidget with his crutches rather than setting them on the floor.
"How are you doing, physically?" Judge Coombs asked as if he didn't quite believe the testimony that Jamie and Dr. Clemmons had given.
"Um, better," Tim said hesitantly. Now that he actually was talking to Judge Coombs he wasn't sure exactly what to say. "I'm able to use my crutches for longer periods of time. And my control is getting better too. It's just slow."
"Oh. The pain thing?" Tim sighed and nodded at Judge Coombs' flat stare. "It really is getting better. I mean, I couldn't sit up before and now I can do all sorts of things. Not what I used to but still. It is better. A little."
"You really don't think she'll refill your meds," Judge Coombs said when Tim finally stopped himself from babbling any more.
Tim winced and nodded reluctantly. No matter how much it enraged everyone around him, Tim truly didn't believe that she would allow him the pain medication that Dr. Clemmons had prescribed.
He'd gotten three new prescriptions since he admitted how much pain he was experiencing. One was taken every six hours during the day. That worked really well to keep his pain at a more steady level. A second one helped his back relax better than his original muscle relaxers. It didn't knock him out so badly which was a huge benefit. And the third was incredibly good when he had a flare up of pain or cramping. No matter how well they were helping, and they were, Tim didn't think Janet would accept that he needed them.
"Why not?" Judge Coombs asked as if he was honestly curious.
"Well, Mom has a very high threshold for pain," Tim explained while rubbing his fingers over the cuff on his crutches. "She doesn't have any empathy for others and has never been able to accept that other people feel or think differently than she does. To her, if she understands something then everyone else should with minimal levels of effort. And if she can cope with something then anyone claiming that they can't is just being pathetic and weak."
Judge Coombs jaw dropped open as Tim explained. He snapped it shut and peered at Tim. "You believe that she's a pathological narcissist."
"Oh yes," Tim said confidently because that was so obvious that it was practically painted on Janet's forehead. "I had thought that she was a sociopath but I didn't do much research beyond the lack of empathy thing. Once Dr. Reyes told me about her diagnosis I read up on that disorder. It's a much more accurate match to my mother's behavior."
"Huh," Judge Coombs grunted. He leaned back and rubbed his back for a moment. "Are you happy?"
Tim blinked at the abrupt change of subject. "Um, with Bruce? Yes."
"Really." This time the single word was filled with surprise and just a hint of derision, as if Judge Coombs couldn't believe that Bruce Wayne was in any way appropriate to take care of anyone.
"If you're trying to annoy me, you're succeeding," Tim snapped.
Judge Coombs laughed at that and marked a one in the air as if he'd just gotten a point. Despite the desire to glare like Janet when she was offended, Tim shook his head and shifted in his chair. The hard wood was making his legs twitch and his rear end go numb.
"So what do you think of Bruce Wayne?" Judge Coombs asked, still grinning.
"That he's the most generous person I've ever met," Tim replied. He smiled grimly at the surprise that appeared on Judge Coombs face. "I don't think that this is in any of the testimony but I never… I never ask for things, Judge Coombs. Never. Bruce still gives me things, as do Dick, Jason and Alfred. It's strange and nice and occasionally frightening."
The shock on Judge Coombs face made Tim feel better. This probably shouldn't turn into one of his verbal sparring matches with Dr. Reyes but Tim couldn't help but want to make Judge Coombs as off-balance as he was making Tim.
"I understood at a very young age that there was a price attached to my needing anything," Tim explained. He help up a hand as Judge Coombs opened his mouth. "Let me finish, please. It was never overtly stated but if I asked for something there was always a price tag attached to getting what I wanted. If I needed new school supplies, then I could expect my mother to be twice as intense about my grades. If I wanted a recreational book then I knew that my tests had to be perfect for the next quarter. If I wanted clothes or extra shoes, my parents would get them for me but they would leave for another vacation within a week after that, usually for a month or two. And if it was something truly major like my camera or martial arts training then I knew that they would leave for six months or more at a time."
Judge Coombs spluttered as his face went red. He didn't say anything as Tim continued other than making outraged noises that made the imaginary inner toddler that Dick insisted Tim had glow with glee that someone else thought it was horrible, too.
"So, I don't ask for things," Tim continued. "My parents always made sure I had the minimum needs met and if I truly wanted something I calculated out whether or not it was worth the price of asking for it. Sometimes it was, sometimes it wasn't. Frequently I would save my allowance to purchase things myself rather than asking.
"Then Bruce took me in and he just gives me things," Tim said with every bit of the awe that he felt at that. "Not just the accessibility items or clothes or books or whatever. He… I was tired one afternoon, hurting, and Bruce put aside what he was doing to just sit with me. He's very comfortable with silence, as I am, so we just sat together. It was nice. He caught me reading in my lounge chair one afternoon and decided I needed a table for supporting my book or laptop so he went out and found a hospital style adjustable table whose base slides under my chair to make things easier for me. And hugs. Time. Advice, not that I really intend on following his relationship advice. Bruce's track record in that regard is…"
Tim wobbled one hand in the air and Judge Coombs broke out laughing. He grinned at Tim for a long moment while nodding slowly.
"You want to stay because he's generous," Judge Coombs said.
"You didn't ask that," Tim protested just snippily enough that Judge Coombs smirked and raised an eyebrow at him. "You asked what I thought of Bruce. I want to stay because they love me and want what's best for me rather than treating me as though I'm a sadly independent replica of my father who should have no thoughts or ambitions of my own. I want to stay because Bruce will make sure that I get the best medical treatment humanly possible while Mom will insist that I do it all myself without any pain meds or further checkups. I want to stay because Alfred makes me scones and gave me his favorite sweater to wear, because Dick gives me hugs and tells terrible jokes to make me smile, because Jason protects me from everything that might upset me and then blushes when I call him on it. I want to stay because I'm loved instead of being an afterthought, an unfortunately necessary consequence to having sex."
"Ah." Judge Coombs nodded twice and then stood. "Good. You can go back now, Tim. I'll talk to your father next."
"Be nice, please," Tim said while forcing himself upright and then wincing at how his legs and rear end tingled. His legs weren't very cooperative. "Dad's not terribly bright, a little brighter than Bruce but not much, and he's very upset about the whole situation. I don't think he even realized that he was being an absent father. He's much better than his father was."
Judge Coombs put one hand under Tim's armpit, supporting him until Tim managed to get his legs to cooperate. From the expression on his face he regretted making Tim sit for so long on the hard chair but neither of them said anything about it. It was a huge relief getting to sit back down between Dick and Jason, both of whom looked worried about how awkwardly he'd been walking.
"He doesn't believe in padding on his chairs," Tim whispered as Jack disappeared into Judge Coombs' chambers and Janet twitched. "My rear end is numb."
Jason snickered while Dick offered to give Tim his jacket to sit on. The wait stretched for much longer than Tim's interview. Jack was in with Judge Coombs for nearly an hour and a half. When Jack came out he'd sweated through his shirt and was so pale that Tim wondered if Judge Coombs had smacked him or something.
In contrast, Janet's interview lasted precisely twelve minutes, forty-seven seconds. She came out so mad that Tim was surprised that there weren't claw marks on Judge Coombs' face. He looked nearly as annoyed as Janet did as he took the stand once more. This time Tim didn't try and stand with everyone else. His back was killing him.
Judge Coombs studied the papers in front of him for long enough that the reporters around them started twitching, though not long enough that Tim, Bruce or Janet were uncomfortable. When he finally looked up he stared straight at Tim who jumped and clutched Dick's hand. Jason wrapped his arm around Tim's shoulders as if to protect him from the verdict. Tim had one wild moment to wonder how hard it would be for Batman, Nightwing and Robin to kidnap him before Judge Coombs sighed.
"In general," Judge Coombs said while staring at Janet as if she was a particularly interesting species of bug that he wanted to smash, "we prefer to keep families together. It's been shown that it's better for children to be returned to their biological parents once conditions in the home have been improved. That's in general. Each case is unique, as every child and every set of parents is unique. This case… this case certainly proves that rule.
"Testimony to this court has shown that Jack and Janet Drake have met the minimum requirements set by this court," Judge Coombs continued. "Exactly the minimum and not one bit more than that. I find it troubling the way that certain of those minimum requirements were met. It is revealing of an attitude that is unbecoming in good parents. Additionally, the testimony regarding Timothy's pain management and the lack of support that has been openly stated would be given to him by his parents is profoundly worrisome."
He looked at Jack and Janet for a long moment that made everyone in the courtroom, including Tim, hold their breath. Tim fancied that the entire city was holding their breath with him.
"Not every person who is given a child is suited for parenthood," Judge Coombs said sadly. "This is a fact of life and would generally not be my issue to resolve. However, in this case I must judge not on whether or not Timothy's birth parents are more suitable or whether Bruce Wayne will do a better job. This case hinges on Timothy Drake's physical condition and the likelihood of abuse occurring through neglecting to provide for his medical needs. Given the sworn statements and private discussions that I have had with each of the individuals in this family, I cannot return Timothy to his parents. Custody remains with Bruce Wayne until such a time as his parents prove that they will prioritize Timothy's health and wellbeing over their own interests or my decision is overturned on appeal. Court dismissed."
The sound of him hammering the gavel against his bench was drowned out by shouts from the crowd of reporters, the snap of what felt like ten million cameras and Jason bellowing 'in your face, bitch!' at Janet. Tim leaned into Dick's hug and let himself shake with relief.
"Free," Tim murmured into Dick's shoulder.
"Let's go home, Tim," Dick murmured back. "Let's go home."
Tim stared out the window for the thousandth time and then started when Alfred put his hand on his shoulder. "I'm surprised that she hasn't shown up yet."
"You are so certain that your mother will come here, Master Timothy?" Alfred asked.
There wasn't any judgment in his voice, only curiosity and a bit of concern. Tim nodded. She would. It was inevitable that Janet would show up sometime soon. The hearing that had awarded Tim to Bruce instead of his parents had been three days ago, three long days filled with another rush of media attention plus a long officially sanctioned interview with Clark Kent that Tim had found surprisingly exhausting. Talking about his life with his parents and with Bruce was a lot more tiring than he had expected, especially since Clark was actually an incredibly good reporter who asked insightful and detailed questions.
Still, the attention was dying down a bit. Ivy had escaped from Arkham the night before and Dick had returned to New York for a big fight with the Titans that had resulted in some pretty major damage in the city. His five minutes of fame seemed to be over again as the news media moved on to newer, more interesting stories. Janet would visit sometime soon. His mother would never let things go without having gotten the last word.
He blinked and then smiled as Janet's 'average' car pulled up to the gate. It was the one she used when she didn't want to stick out quite so badly. "Yes, quite sure Alfred. Please allow her in. I do want to have a long talk with her."
"Mmm, as you wish, Master Timothy," Alfred said.
The disapproval in his voice was harsh enough that Tim wanted to wince for Janet's sake. He left his wheelchair behind and used his crutches to make his way down to the front door. Janet was already inside, glaring at Alfred's stiff back as he walked towards the kitchen.
"Mom," Tim said and grinned as she glared at him. "I thought you'd be here soon. We can talk in the small salon."
"You're moving better," Janet said disapprovingly, as if she thought Tim had been pretending in court.
"Of course. It's only nine in the morning," Tim said with a mock-innocent blink at her that made her glare even though her lips twitched into a smile for a moment. "I'm usually quite mobile in the mornings. By noon I'm beginning to having trouble moving. By mid-afternoon I'm usually contemplating using my wheelchair and after dinner I'm usually curled up in my lounge chair waiting for the pain pill to take effect."
"Ah," Janet said with a slow nod of comprehension. She seemed much less hostile than Tim expected. "The hearing was at 1:00 pm."
"Exactly. I was pushing it using my crutches and I knew it," Tim said. "That chair in his office certainly didn't help. Dad knows you're here?"
"He will shortly," Janet sniffed.
"Hmm, I imagine he'll rush over to try and keep us from fighting," Tim sighed. "We'll just have to finish talking before then."
Janet looked at him from the corner of her eyes, studying him the way she studied new people. He could see her trying to figure out what his angle was, what he wanted to get from her. Rather than blush or fidget the way most people did, Tim simply made his awkward way into the small salon and settled into one of the two wing chairs. Janet automatically took the other one, leaving the small settee uninhabited.
Outside, he could hear Jason hissing something to Dick who sounded urgent and worried. Bruce's deeper tones abruptly shifted into Brucie's lighter vocal patterns. Janet sighed and shook her head while looking towards the door with disgust.
"How can anyone believe that act?" Janet asked.
"Mmm, it's convincing enough for people who think that Bruce fried his brain on drink and drugs years ago," Tim said.
"Of course you know," Janet said with a nod. "He told you."
"No, actually I figured it out years ago, when I was quite small," Tim said. He smirked as Janet's head whipped around to stare at him. "I know the identities of most of the superheroes in North America. I've known them for some time. They were a bit… shocked by that when they found out. Superman was quite nice about it, really. The few I hadn't figured out were very smug to the others."
"I imagine so," Janet said.
She looked deeply amused by the thought of Tim having figured out all the superheroes identities. Tim rather thought that she knew who Batman, Robin and Nightwing were but from the way she looked at Tim she didn't know the rest. He raised an eyebrow at her as if to ask if she was going to ask him. Janet snorted and waved the non-verbal question away.
"I supposed that I should make some threats about revealing his identity to the public," Janet said exactly in the right way to make it clear that she wasn't going to do any such thing.
"That would be the more normal response," Tim said while nodding that he knew she wouldn't. "And then I'd have to make some sort comment about having full access to the CPS records detailing exactly how much supervision you'd have if you got me back."
"Hmm, they're that bad?" Janet asked so grimly that she must have worked out how horrific it would be for her.
"I warned you before the hearing because I already knew how bad it would be," Tim sighed. "Truthfully, as much as I would have appreciated the support on the medical side of things, the supervision would have driven me quite mad in a matter of a week or so. I think you would have been screaming at them within days."
Janet blinked twice at him before narrowing her eyes as Jason came to lean menacingly in the doorway with Dick lurking behind him. She turned back to Tim as if neither of them mattered. Bruce was behind Dick and Jason, wearing the glower that went with the Batman cowl rather than a Brucie frown. Obviously they'd heard Tim and Janet talking. All three of them moved aside as Alfred coughed, which allowed Alfred to come in with a tray holding a teapot, two teacups and two still steaming blueberry scones.
"Thank you, Alfred," Tim said happily. "You should try these, Mom. They're delicious. Not too sweet, flakey, just perfect."
"Tea and scones with your mother," Janet sighed. "Will wonders never cease?"
"Well, there's no reason to be uncivilized about this," Tim said as Alfred passed him his tea. "We're all getting exactly what we want, after all."
Both Janet and Alfred gave him looks that bordered on irritated. He smiled brightly at them, using the nice young boy smile he used for meeting his father's business associates. Alfred gave him a fond look while Janet snorted and shook her head at him with just enough amusement for Tim to know that she was actually enjoying this whole encounter. She always had enjoyed verbal sparring like this, as long as she was getting what she wanted.
"Do call if you need anything, Master Timothy," Alfred said.
The glare he leveled on Janet could have stripped paint off of the walls. She met it with a matching glare that should have frozen Alfred solid. Janet huffed and added lemon to her tea once he was gone. The first bite of the scone made her raise an eyebrow and smile.
"Quite tasty," Janet said.
"Aren't they?" Tim said with enough enthusiasm that Janet shook her head at him for being over the top. "I really love the recipe. Alfred makes them with a variety of fruits and nuts but blueberry is my favorite. Dick and Jason love chocolate chip cookies best."
"Hmm, too sweet," Janet replied. "How are we all getting what we want, Timothy? Your father is rather distraught about this entire situation."
To Tim's amusement Jason and Dick both squawked when Janet made the too sweet comment as if they'd finally figured out the cookies that Alfred had been making for Tim. Janet raised an eyebrow at them and then visibly dismissed them when Jason growled at her. When Jason clenched a fist as if he was going to follow through on his many threats to punch Janet's head through a wall, Tim waved one hand at him. Jason didn't calm down much but he did return to his aggressive leaning, this time with his arms crossed threateningly over his chest.
"Granted," Tim said while nibbling on a bite of his scone. "But that won't last terribly long. What he wants is to have me take over Drake Industries after he retires which I want to do despite Dr. Reyes' very vocal dismay at my 'lack of personal ambition', plus chances to act like he's a good father to me from time to time. So he can visit unofficially on occasion, about as often as our normal father-son moments, and when I'm older I'll take over Drake Industries."
"Truly?" Janet asked. She had her eyes narrowed in the calculating the angles way but there was a little smile on her lips as she sipped her tea.
"Truly," Tim replied. "It annoys Dr. Reyes quite a lot that I want to be CEO for Drake Industries when I grow up."
"Good," Janet said with a huff of annoyance at the mere mention of Dr. Reyes' name. "We cannot tell your father about Batman and Robin. You are going to be Robin, yes?"
"Hopefully," Tim said. He sighed as Bruce growled. "Really, Bruce. Where do you think that I got my intelligence? Of course she figured it out."
"It truly wasn't that hard to deduce," Janet said with a sniff at Bruce that made him go to the Batman glare of doom. "The money trail is rather obvious."
"Either way," Tim said before Bruce could interrupt with paranoid demands of silence, "You get to keep your lifestyle. Dad gets his heir and the occasional opportunity to feel like a Dad. I get to have Robin and training from Bruce's managers and my photography. Plus scones. All we have to do is act like an appropriately broken family for the court and media and we're all happy."
To Tim's surprise, Janet laughed. She shook her head at him while carefully setting her teacup down on the saucer with the handle exactly at the 3:00 position. He watched as she brushed off her skirt even though there weren't any crumbs on her lap, waiting for her to make the next move. It couldn't be this simple. Janet never let things be this straight forward.
"No demands for child support?" Janet asked with a sarcastic arch of her eyebrow. "I'm surprised that you're not insisting on receiving your inheritance early. It would give you a great deal more independence."
"Mmm, I suppose I could do that when I'm older," Tim said thoughtfully. "Though I think I'll only do that if I'm in need of some way to distract the media from investigating too closely into my activities. As it stands, I have a built-in disguise and really don't need to fuss about money."
"Ah. You oh so conveniently will never conquer the weakness and pain?" Janet asked even though it obviously wasn't a question. She looked as though she approved of the deception, which made sense. Janet always had approved of duplicity when it was intelligent, thought-out duplicity.
"The nice thing about chronic pain and spinal injuries is that they're so unpredictable," Tim said brightly enough that everyone, including Jason, Dick and Bruce, laughed at him. "I can be more or less okay one day and in a wheelchair the next and it will be explainable as 'oh, it's a bad day'. And bruises will just be me having fallen and hurt myself. Of course, it will take several months to a year before I have recovered fully but that's all right. I'm too young to be out there patrolling and I do need a great deal of training before I even think about it."
Janet chuckled and smoothed her hands over her skirt again. They all looked towards the entryway as the door banged open. Tim raised an eyebrow at Janet to ask if she was satisfied with how things stood. She studied him for one long moment and then nodded once. In the background he heard Alfred directing Jack to the small salon while Bruce, Dick and Jason moved into the room to hover behind Tim's wing chair.
A few moments later Jack hurried in he looked desperately worried, with messy hair and his tie looser than it should be. He winced as Janet glared at him and pointed to the settee. As he sat, panting a little as if he'd been running, Jack smoothed his hair and fixed his tie.
"Hi Dad," Tim said. He used the same old welcoming tone of voice and nice boy smile that reassured his father in the past. Jack was a creature of habit. It should work. "Mom and I were just talking about the custody case. She's thinking that it's probably better to stop trying to get me back. CPS will make things really difficult if you guys do get me back."
"Um, but, I thought…"
He blinked at Janet, then at Tim, in confusion. Jason had to be glaring at Jack as if he wanted pound on him because Jack flinched and then smiled hesitantly while rubbing his thighs as if to dry his palms off. The way Janet sighed at him didn't help things, except that apparently it did. Her disapproval was apparently so normal for Jack that he calmed down quite a lot.
"Well, I know you guys should probably make some noises about trying to get me back for the media," Tim said, "but really, there's no need. I was just telling Mom that I do still want to take over Drake Industries when I'm older, say after I get a Bachelors or Masters in Science or Business."
"You do?" Jack asked with such obvious delight that Dick snickered quietly behind Tim. "I thought you didn't want anything to do with us anymore."
"Dad, you'll always be my father," Tim said gently and fondly enough that Jack relaxed back against the settee's cushions. "Given everything that's happened I can't quite live in your house but honestly, you don't live there either. It's better that I live here. Just think, I can learn so much from Bruce's business managers. It will be very good for Drake Industries. Maybe later, when I'm older, we can set up a partnership between the two companies or something."
"Oh," Jack said, nodding slowly as his smile grew. "Oh, yeah. I mean, yeah, that does make sense. We're really not around that much and I guess you do need more care than we thought."
"Exactly," Tim said and did his best not to wince when the word came out as though Jack was a particularly stupid dog that had finally gotten a trick right. "Unfortunately, I'm not sure if I'll ever get all of the function back. I might need the wheelchair and crutches for the rest of my life. It's just better that I stay here. He can come and visit when he's in town, right Bruce?"
To Tim's relief, Bruce had his best Brucie mannerisms on when he turned around to look appealingly at him. Janet growled, but then she would growl about Tim asking for anything so that was expected. Her growl prompted a growl from Jason and a glare from Dick. Mixing his birth family with his new family, while keeping all their respective secrets, wasn't something that Tim wanted to do very often. The level of acting was making his head spin a little bit.
"Well, if you really want to," Bruce eventually said with just the right emphasis to make it seem like he didn't like the thought of it but couldn't come up with a good reason why he should tell Tim no.
"I do," Tim said and rounded his eyes hopefully.
Bruce's lips twitched into a smirk for a millisecond as he nodded approval. When Tim turned back to Jack he was beaming as if he'd just been given the best gift ever. From his point of view he probably had. Janet caught Tim's eyes and nodded ever so slightly.
She sniffed and stood so abruptly that Jack started. "Come along, Jack. We'll be leaving now."
She strode out of the room with her head held high. As she went Jack spluttered and then jumped to his feet. He came over and hugged Tim entirely too tightly for his back's comfort but he was shaking so Tim didn't make him stop. Tim hugged back and then let Jack go when Janet snapped his name from the hallway.
"I'll come back and visit in a week or so," Jack promised before hurrying after Janet.
It was an empty promise. Tim knew that. This promise was no different from the dozens of other promises that Jack had made to spend time with Tim. He was fairly certain that in a week or less his parents would be out of the country again, probably for months.
They all relaxed once the front door shut and Alfred came back to gather up the tea items. Tim smiled at Bruce who took Janet's chair while Dick perched on the arm of Tim's chair and Jason collapsed onto the settee as if he was exhausted. Dick's arm snaked around Tim's shoulders so he leaned into Dick's side.
"That went well," Tim said.
"I truly didn't expect her to be so reasonable," Bruce observed as if he was going over his analysis of her character and making mental notes on where he'd gone wrong.
"Well, she did get a warning and she is getting what she wants most," Tim explained. "There's no one disagreeing with her, telling her she's wrong. Of course she was reasonable about it. Either way, things should be much better now."
"You could have warned us that you were going to do that," Jason complained with enough heat that Tim thought he really meant it. "Just about had a freaking heart attack when she showed up that way."
"Mom's really not a threat," Tim said dismissively. "She just wants to be left alone and believe that she's the best thing ever. If Dad ever finds out about the Robin thing he'll probably be an issue but I don't think he will. Either way, I'm free. No more worries about them trying to get me back."
"Halle-freaking-lujah," Jason said.
"Amen," Bruce agreed.
"So when do you think you'll be strong enough to start training?" Dick asked so cheerfully that Tim grinned at him.
"I think I should learn to walk again before I try flying," Tim laughed. "But hopefully soon though it doesn't really matter. I've got time now. All the time I need."
"I still don't like that that bitch knows," Jason complained as he trudged to the elevator with Dick.
"She hasn't done anything," Dick said through a yawn that threatened to knock him off his feet. "Tim doesn't think she's going to do anything."
"Yeah, but she knows," Jason complained.
Dick patted his shoulder, nearly missing because his eyes were mostly closed and he couldn't be bothered to open them enough not to walk into walls. Which he did a moment later while waiting for the elevator to open. Jason snorted and shoved Dick into the elevator while pushing the up button.
It had been a long, hard night that had followed several other long hard nights. For whatever fucking reason, ever since Tim had gotten the okay to stay at the Manor for good, the city had come unglued on a regular basis. Batman was out patrolling during the day and Nightwing had officially returned from New York to help out. Unfortunately, Jason was stuck in school most of the day so he couldn't be out there as Robin without drawing too much attention to the connection between Robin and Jason Todd. It sucked but there wasn't a hell of a lot that Jason could do about it.
Getting Dick to his bedroom was harder than it should have been. Dick stumbled along with Jason shoving him in the right direction from time to time. He thought hard about making Dick take the stairs up to the second floor where their bedrooms were but he doubted that Dick's feet were going to cooperate with stairs.
"Elevator," Jason growled while pushing Dick down the hallway towards the elevator outside of Tim's room.
"Just left the elevator," Dick complained.
"No, the other elevator, you idiot," Jason huffed. "Come on."
He got Dick into the other elevator and then groaned as he automatically pushed the button for the first floor. Dick blinked at him when Jason cursed but he was obviously completely asleep on his feet. The door opened at the first floor and Dick tried to leave the elevator only to find Tim sitting there in his wheelchair, staring up at them.
"Shouldn't you be asleep?" Jason asked.
"Is Dick actually asleep on his feet?" Tim asked in reply while staring at Dick with a fascinated expression.
"M'fine," Dick mumbled.
"Hell yes," Jason sighed. "I'm trying to get him to bed. Why are you up?"
"Couldn't sleep," Tim said. "Or more accurately, I slept too much earlier today and woke up a little while ago. I decided to do some developing since I'm just not going to get back to sleep now."
"Huh," Jason sighed.
Tim joined them in the elevator which thank fucking God had more than enough room for all three of them, especially with Dick doing a very good job using the back corner as a substitute for a horizontal surface that he could sleep on. There was a little grin flirting around Tim's lips as they rode up to the second floor. It made Jason feel better about the whole stupid situation to have Tim there.
He didn't bother with stripping Dick once they got him to his room. There wasn't a point. After showering Dick had just pulled on his oldest pair of sweat pants so he'd be comfortable enough wearing them to sleep in. Jason shoved him into bed once Tim pulled back the covers. Dick started snoring once his head hit the pillow.
"Hmm, I think we need to call Kory to come and make him rest more," Tim murmured.
"If Kory comes over he isn't going to rest, Tim," Jason said and then snickered as Tim's cheeks went blazingly red. "Come on. Let's leave him to his snoring."
"You're not as tired," Tim commented once Dick's bedroom door shut behind them.
"Eh, I haven't been out all damn day and half the night," Jason said. He tried not to sound like he resented it but obviously didn't succeed.
Tim patted Jason's arm and smiled that wry little smile that always made him look a fucking decade older than Jason. He'd had just enough action out on the streets to be wired and not quite enough to be exhausted so Jason followed Tim back down to the basement where his developing room was finally set up.
"Didn't think you'd taken any new pictures," Jason commented.
Tim flicked on the regular light instead of the red one and rolled over to a cabinet that was full of negatives. "I haven't, at least not recently. I just wanted to play with some of my older photos, make new prints of them."
"Uh, okay," Jason said even though he had no fucking clue why that would be entertaining.
His confused look made Tim grin at him. He pulled out three little sheets with negatives, scanning through them for the particular pictures he wanted. While Jason watched, and then helped, he carefully set up the enlarger and tested various ways to crop the picture. It was kind of cool watching Tim figure out what portion of the picture would look best and how big to make it. Jason couldn't quite figure out why he finally settled on a long narrow picture that showed only the base of a big maple tree with lots of grass under it but Tim looked satisfied.
"Turn off the regular light and turn on the red one please?" Tim asked.
"Sure," Jason said. "Why that way?"
"Mmm, because it emphasizes the feeling of space and loneliness," Tim said while getting his print paper out of its special light-proof envelope. "Even though there are buildings in the original shot this way it looks like you're in the middle of nowhere and you're totally alone other than the tree. That's what I was going for when I took that shot. I just never had the chance to crop and develop it to emphasize that portion of the shot."
Tim carefully exposed the print for some arcane amount of time that Jason was sure was terribly significant before tucking that one away in a folder away from the light. He followed the same procedure with the other two negatives, each time cropping or otherwise changing the original shot to get something different from what he'd seen in the camera lens. By the time he was ready to develop the pictures Jason was actually getting tired even though he was ferociously curious about how the pictures would turn out.
"This stuff is kind of toxic, isn't it?" Jason asked as he helped Tim set up the developing baths.
"Yeah," Tim said just defensively enough that Jason grinned at him, "but not that toxic. They're chemicals, Jason. As long as you're careful and cautious you're fine. Trust me; I've been doing this since I was little."
Jason snorted and ruffled Tim's hair. He laughed that breathless little laugh that always made Jason want to hug the stuffing out of Tim the way Dick did, not that he followed up on the urge to do it. If Tim was in his wheelchair then his back was sore so Jason wasn't going to make it worse.
It was seriously cool watching the white piece of paper slowly bloom into a photograph as it soaked in the first bath. He'd figured that the picture would be color since the negative had been in color but it came out black and white. Tim grinned at his surprised whistle while fishing out his photos and settling them into the next bath that stopped their development, followed by something that fixed the photo so it wouldn't get fucked up later. A final rinse in plain old water finished the process, letting Tim hang his three new photos up to dry on the wires that crossed the far end of the room.
"That is so cool," Jason murmured.
He cocked his head to the side to study the photos. They really were different than what he'd seen when Tim initially set up the enlarger. Tim smiled and turned on the regular lights. After working in the semi-darkness for so long the regular light seemed way too freaking bright to Jason.
"Man, that has to mess with your eyes," Jason complained while rubbing his eyes.
"Not really," Tim chuckled. "You're just tired. What do you think?"
"They're really different," Jason said. He looked at the pictures again, trying to find words for what he was thinking. "I'm not the right person to ask about this. They keep getting angry at me at school when we have to do art or poetry or shit like that. I either like it or I don't. Figuring out why just frustrates me. Still really cool how you changed it from what you saw in the camera."
"Lots of people are that way," Tim said as if he was trying to reassure Jason. "Though actually, these are what I saw when I took the shots. It's… when I look through the view finder on my camera I'm not seeing everything that's there. I see portions of it, this tree, that house, those kids playing. I don't see the whole thing. I see the bit that I want to capture and then later, while I'm developing the shot, I'll crop out what I didn't see so that I can show just that one bit that caught my attention. And sometimes I'll add filters and things to change the picture more, make it darker or whatever. It's challenging and fun."
Jason nodded thoughtfully. He kind of thought it was like when Bruce ignored the majority of a room and focused in on just those things that gave him clues for a case. Or like when Jason was in a battle and the only things that really pinged his awareness were weapons and fists and people coming at him. It was kind of cool to see that that sort of selective awareness applied to artistic things too.
"Way cool," Jason said and yawned like Dick had been earlier. "Fuck. I think I better get some sleep."
"It is almost four a.m. Jason," Tim said with his littlest breathy laugh that almost wasn't a laugh at all.
"The question," Bruce said from the doorway and made them both jump, "is why you're up Tim."
"Couldn't get back to sleep," Tim said and shrugged. "That nap this afternoon used up my sleep allotment for the night."
Jason burst out laughing. He ruffled Tim's hair again and grinned as Tim mock-slapped his hand away. No matter what Dick had said about Jason bringing the family together, Jason knew that Tim had been the one to do it. Sure, Jason had tried to get Dick and Bruce talking again, mostly because Bruce brooding over Dick not being there had been fucking uncomfortable as all hell, but Tim had done so much more.
They all headed for the elevator, Jason yawning at last the way he should have been an hour ago. Yeah, Tim had been the one to make things right.
Bruce looked at Jason as his own person now, not like he was a poor replacement for Dick. Hell, Dick didn't look at him like it was a huge fucking betrayal for Jason to be wearing those goddamned short pants anymore and that was a huge relief. As proud as he was of the uniform, Jason was gonna be glad to let the green and gold go once Tim was on his feet again.
"Hey," Jason said just as the elevator opened on Tim's floor.
"Yes?" Tim asked, head cocked to one side as if he was surprised that Jason was coherent enough to ask a question.
"You are going to get back on your feet, aren't you?" Jason asked.
"Probably," Tim said thoughtfully. He stared down the hallway as if he was seeing the future instead of a bunch of wood paneling, expensive chair and ugly oil paintings on the walls. "I think I probably will. Not right away, if that's what you're asking but the things Bruce and Alfred are teaching me are helping a lot with the pain and the meds are making a huge difference. I think in six months or so I'll be… more or less okay."
"Cool," Jason said happily. "Not that I think you're lesser or something if you do have the crutches and wheelchair for the rest of your life. I just kind of hope that I get to be Bluejay someday soon."
Tim laughed as if Jason had startled the laughter out of him like startling pigeons when you swung down into a group of them on the roof. Bruce was shaking his head at Jason but that was one of his fond smirks. They both looked amused and happy and yeah, Tim really had made a world of difference for them all. How the hell long had been before Jason had gotten one of those fond hands on the shoulder after he was brought in? He thought it had been a really freaking long time.
"Maybe not soon," Tim chuckled, "but eventually. I do have a lot to learn."
"God, no fucking kidding," Jason groaned. "I'm still learning this shit."
"So am I," Bruce murmured and then grinned wickedly at both of their dismayed looks. "Get some sleep, Jason."
He left the elevator with Tim, walking along side Tim's smooth-spinning wheelchair as they discussed some pain control technique that Tim had been working on in the last couple of days. Jason dismissed them both from his mind as the door slid shut and he went up to the second floor. The hallways seemed to stretch as he walked to his bedroom, but the bed was right there in his face once he opened the door.
Jason collapsed into the bed with a grateful groan. It felt like about five fucking minutes later when Dick woke him up by shaking the foot of his bed. He automatically dodged Jason's flung knife and bounced the foot of Jason's bed again.
"What the fuck do you want?" Jason snarled at him.
"Janet and Jack are selling their house and leaving the country!" Dick cheered way too fucking loud for that time in the morning. Especially for a Saturday morning when Jason didn't have to get up for school.
He grumbled and then the words Dick had said finally connected in Jason's head. The covers went flying, landing half over Dick's head, as Jason scrambled out of bed and ran for the door. He heard Dick splutter behind him but Dickie-bird was on his heels a couple of seconds later. They both ran down the stairs and through the hallway to Tim's suite.
Tim was sitting in his lounge chair with Alfred standing right behind him. Bruce was perched on the sofa like he expected Tim to collapse in grief at any second. To his surprise, Tim looked perfectly calm. He might as well have been analyzing a news report for one of Bruce's Bat assignments as finding out that his parents were giving up on him for good.
"Hmmm." Tim cocked his head and then chuckled as the news reporters started ragging on Janet and Jack for abandoning their child. "Oh seriously. It's not as if they didn't leave me home by myself for years on end."
He muted the TV and then grinned at Jason's worried expression and Dick's excited one. Jason leaned over the back of the couch to study Tim closely. To Jason's eyes he really, honestly wasn't at all upset by the news.
"They don't mean a thing to you, do they?" Jason asked and then winced when everyone other than Tim glared at him.
"They never did, Jason," Tim admitted. "Certainly they're my parents and I love them in that distant 'ought to honor that' sort of way that everyone tells me is important but Jack never could remember my hobbies week to week and Mother made it clear that she wished she'd never had me when I was quite tiny. They never meant all that much to me on an emotional level. You guys are the ones that meant something to me. Dick and Bruce, and then later you and Alfred. You were my family, long before I ever got to know you."
Alfred's hand settled on Tim's shoulder. Bruce sighed and relaxed back against the sofa's cushions. That put him exactly in the right position for Jason to drape an arm around his shoulders, so he did it. To his surprise Bruce smiled at him for it. While Jason tried to ignore the happy flutters of joy in his stomach that Bruce would let him all but hug him like Dick, Dick grinned and came over to sit by Tim's feet like he was an oversized kitten waiting to be petted.
Tim poked Dick's head and then laughed quietly when Dick tipped his head back to look at Tim upside down instead of turning around like a normal person would have.
"So when are you going back to the Titans?" Tim asked.
"I probably should go back soon," Dick said reluctantly. "Roy's threatening to take over my locker in the Tower so he can store more arrows in it."
"Kory's going to dump your ass if you don't spend some more time with her," Jason said and snickered at the pout Dick threw at him.
"They could come here," Tim suggested hesitantly while looking hopefully at Bruce. "I'd really like to talk to them again. I thought that if my legs never do come back then maybe Victor could help make an exoskeleton for me. And I'd really like to learn more about projectiles and trajectories from Roy."
"They could certainly come over for the weekend," Bruce said.
Jason laughed as Dick burst to his feet to hug first Tim, then Alfred and then Bruce. He ducked out of Dick's attempt to hug him, shoving Dick at the door so that he could go call his friends and invite them over. Tim laughed as Dick scrambled away all but radiating glee.
"What?" Tim asked. His cheeks went red at Jason's fond grin.
"Just really glad that you saved me that day, kiddo," Jason said. "Really, really glad. That's all."
"I'm glad I did it too," Tim said so shyly that he seemed more like the Tim who'd woken up with no memories at all. "Things are… better now."
"Fucking amen to that," Jason said and meant every single word of it.
Robin gracefully landed on the roof of the warehouse on Thirty-Second and Main, near to the heating vent he used to use as cover when taking pictures. This had always been a good spot to see what was going on in this area of the city. He smiled as he let one gauntleted hand rest on the metal. It felt warm even through the gauntlet. After a moment he turned as Batman landed behind him with a slightly heavier thud.
The night was cold and crisp. His breath puffed into clouds in the air that seemed to freeze into ice crystals as soon as it left his lips. Batman's hand rested on Robin's shoulder, prompting a grin and casually waved hand at the snow that was slowly drifting down around them. It was cold enough tonight that very few people were out. Even the criminals that haunted Gotham seemed to have decided to stay in tonight rather than go out and cause problems.
"Got an attempted murder on Thirty-Second and Garrison," Bluejay growled through the comms. "With a runner that we're not going to catch. Victim's bleeding out."
"We're on it," Robin said as Batman grunted acknowledgement and headed off in pursuit.
As Robin fired his grapple gun and swung after Batman, Tim allowed himself a moment to grin with delight. The grin was perfectly appropriate for Robin so it should be okay. This certainly wasn't what Dick had wanted to do for his twentieth birthday but Tim thought that getting to go out as Robin for the second time while Bluejay teamed up with Nightwing was a pretty good substitute for the party that they were inevitably going to be late for.
Three streets later Robin spotted Bluejay's runner. He was carrying a gun and looked terrified as he ran. Ever four or five paces he would look over his shoulder for pursuit. Three seconds later Batman taught him why he should have been paying attention to where he was going.
Batman landed in front of the runner and knocked him flat on his back with a single blow to the chest that sent his gun flying. The runner groaned, blinked up at Batman for a second and then scrambled backwards to try and get away. Robin landed behind him. It took three quick blows for Robin to knock the runner out. His strength just wasn't up to the same level as Bluejay or Nightwing, which Tim found utterly frustrating. As Robin zip-stripped him, Batman collected the gun and called the location of the runner in so that the police could come pick him up.
"There is just nothing going on out here," Nightwing complaint. "O, I thought that you said there was a crisis."
"Oh, there was," Oracle said with just enough mischief in her synthetically disguised voice that Robin grinned at Batman. "I guess they heard that Bluejay was coming and cleared out."
"Fuck you, O," Bluejay grumbled. "You sent us on a wild goose chase?"
Oracle laughed. "Happy birthday, Nightwing."
"Back to base," Batman growled. He sounded nearly as annoyed as Bluejay.
They made their way back to the Cave. Tim rode with Bruce in the Batmobile while Nightwing and Bluejay rode their bikes alongside them. To Tim's amusement Nightwing and Bluejay raced each other, each trying to be showier with wheelies and other maneuvers that the other. That truly wasn't a very good idea with snow starting to make the streets slick.
"How's the back?" Jason asked once they got back to the Cave.
"Fine," Tim said. He grinned at the suspicious looks that Jason and Bruce gave him. "No, really. I'm fine. Not even that sore from all the swinging. It was a short patrol, after all. Are we still having the party?"
"We are indeed, Master Timothy," Alfred said from the locker room. "I have taken the liberty of laying out everyone's apparel for them. May I suggest that you attend in the wheelchair, Master Timothy? Some of the guests are expecting that you will be rather less mobile."
Tim sighed at that but it did make sense once he checked the monitors on the ballroom. The party looked to just be starting. It would be the perfect excuse for everyone being late to their own party if Tim was having a bad day and had needed his family's help to get ready. He thought that several of the guests were reporters so appearing to be weaker than he actually was would be an excellent idea.
"You look ridiculous," Jason drawled at Dick once they were all dressed.
"I look fabulous," Dick disagreed. He waved one hand at Jason airily. "Kory likes this suit."
His suit wasn't as obnoxious as it could have been. The dove gray fabric didn't have sparkly silver or gold threads shot through it like some of the suits Tim had seen in Dick's closet. The shirt was colorful enough that it sort of hurt Tim's eyes, but the jacket and tie toned it down enough to make it bearable. Barely. By contrast, Jason's much simpler navy slacks and blue shirt were elegant simplicity. Tim was amused that the suit that Alfred had chosen for Tim was almost a duplicate of Bruce's suit. It looked like a deliberate enough choice that he expected people to be cooing over how cute Tim was all evening.
Tim settled into his new, slightly larger, wheelchair. In the year and five months since he'd rescued Robin from the Joker he'd grown a bit. He was still entirely too small for his age but it wasn't as bad as it used to be. Hopefully in the next few years he'd grow enough that he didn't feel like the smallest Robin ever.
"Can't believe O sent us on a wild goose chase," Jason complained as they rode the elevator up to the basement together. Dick and Bruce had taken the stairs.
"You know she likes to tease Dick," Tim said reasonably. "It was probably her way of giving him some fun for his birthday."
"Still stupid," Jason grumbled.
He brushed his hand over Tim's shoulder, settling the fabric of Tim's coat into place before they transferred over to the other elevator. So far, the world outside of the Manor had completely accepted that Timothy Drake had never regained full mobility. Jamie didn't work with Tim anymore, which was a pity because he was a good friend, but Tim still did the exercises that Jamie had taught him. They were a solid foundation for his training as Robin.
His supposedly limited mobility and continuing exercises explained quite neatly why his legs looked strong and healthy. Tim's usage of a cane or the wheelchair wasn't because of muscle weakness; it was because of the chronic pain.
The only thing that Tim would change about his new life was the continuing pain. Every lie should have a grain of truth at the center but Tim would have preferred not to have to deal with his particular version of that truism. Granted, the pain rarely exceeded a six or a seven anymore but the constant low grade pain in his back was tiring at the best of times. Still, after having been shot in the spine, lost his memory and going through over a year of physical therapy, Tim supposed that low level pain on a daily basis was a small price to pay for all the good things in his life.
"I took the liberty of explaining to our guests that you were having a bit of a bad day today, Master Timothy," Alfred said as he and Jason rejoined Bruce and Dick outside the ballroom door.
"Well, that should help reinforce the wheelchair," Tim said.
"And you'll get to duck out early if you want," Dick said with one of his room-brightening grins.
"Eh, he'll close the party down," Jason said with a snort for Dick that nearly got him head locked.
"Is everyone waiting?" Tim asked Alfred.
"They are indeed, Master Timothy," Alfred said. He smiled at Tim, shook his head at Dick and Jason's rough-housing and then opened the door as Bruce made them separate and head inside.
The ballroom was much quieter than Tim expected, almost silent as the door opened. That silence disappeared into a cheer that made Dick jump and Jason automatically raise his fists. It took a second for Tim to realize that the ballroom was full of heroes instead of the party guests that he'd seen on the monitors downstairs. Barbara was grinning at him. When she saw him staring Barbara wiggled her eyebrows and held up her PDA. Tim laughed and then laughed harder when Kory swooped in to hug Dick and all but tie him up in her hair.
"That was sneaky," Tim said to Barbara.
"Well, of course," Barbara replied. She grinned at Bruce who just shook his head while smiling at her. "How else were we going to have a surprise party for Dick's birthday? And to celebrate your debut as Robin."
She elbowed Tim fondly which made him laugh. He thought about leaving his wheelchair behind but Barbara obviously saw him thinking about it and shook her head no. When he raised an eyebrow to ask why not she just grinned at him. Tim shrugged and stopped considering leaving it behind. He could keep Barbara company tonight if she wanted.
Across the room Dick was getting hugs from the Titans while laughing that they'd all been tricked so thoroughly. Jason had gone off to the buffet and had a stack of Alfred's nut bars that threatened to topple over anytime anyone got too close to him, though that looked like it was going to be a short-lived problem. He was eating them rapidly enough that Tim thought Jason expected someone to steal them from him. Of course Bruce was off in one corner talking to Clark and Diana, both of whom were grinning at his mildly disgruntled expression.
"Everyone was in on this, weren't they?" Tim asked Barbara.
"Very much so," Barbara laughed. "You wouldn't believe how hard it was to keep this a secret. I think the only reason we succeeded was that Alfred was in on it."
"He is the best at keeping secrets," Tim agreed with a grin that matched hers. "Did you have the other heroes clear things out for us or what?"
"Nope," Barbara said. She nodded towards the snow coming down outside the window. "The weather did that on its own. I used to tease Dick that he had the worst birthday ever for weather problems."
"Spring or summer is better that way," Tim agreed. "Hungry?"
"Sure," Barbara said with a wicked grin. "Race you!"
She took off as though her wheelchair had an engine stolen from the Batmobile. Tim squawked and set off after her. The heroes between them and the buffet laughed as Barbara and Tim used their bodies like poles on a slalom course. It was fun, so much fun that Tim didn't even care that he lost to Barbara. They got there just as Jason was down to a handful of the nut-bars. Barbara snagged two from Jason and stuck her tongue out at Jason when he objected.
"No fair!" Jason protested.
"Oh, stop protesting," Barbara scoffed. "You'll get sick if you eat all of them."
She gave one to Tim and ate the other with such obnoxious relish that Jason grumbled and cursed under his breath. Tim saved his for after one of the little sandwiches filled with beef and cucumbers that Alfred had made. Music started up. Pretty soon Dick was in the middle of the room dancing with anyone who would partner with him. Jason got dragged off by Donna after a few minutes despite his protests about having two left feet.
"Do you miss dancing?" Tim asked Barbara after a few minutes of watching.
"Sometimes," Barbara said. She looked faintly wistful but mostly content. "I think I miss flying more. What about you and photography?"
"I… still do some things with photography," Tim said with a little frown at her. "Not as much as I used to. There's so much more to do now."
"Exactly," Barbara said. Her sidelong smirk made Tim blush. "Sure, I lost a few things when I lost my legs but I think my life is much better now than it used to be. I'd love to be able to walk again, even at the level that you were after you first came here. Clark has some ideas about how to help that I'm considering, but even if those ideas fail my life is good. I do so much more good as Oracle than I ever would have as Batgirl that there's no comparison."
"I suppose that was a silly question," Tim said with a wry chuckle.
"There are no silly questions, Tim," Barbara said while patting his arm. "There are only silly boys wearing terrible shirts."
Tim burst out laughing. He raised his eyebrows challengingly and then took off towards the hallway with Barbara in hot pursuit. They reached the double doors at almost the exact same time though Tim beat her by a fraction of a second. Together they rolled through the hallways and then along the paths outside in the garden. Barbara hadn't been there for quite a while and never at night when the new lighting system had been turned on. They stopped on one of the paths and looked back towards the ballroom.
Light spilled out from the ballroom's windows. Snow fell around them, turning into shining stars slowly drifting from the sky as it entered the glow of the lights along the paths. Tim's heart clutched with the desire to take a few million pictures to capture the moment. Barbara chuckled and tapped Tim's shoulder with one knuckle.
"Got something for you," Barbara said.
"It's Dick's birthday, not mine," Tim protested.
She just grinned and gave him a small bundle wrapped in black fabric. When Tim opened it he stared. A camera. It was a small camera, easily small enough to tuck in the palm of his hand. He automatically tried to open it to see if it had film but there wasn't the normal catch on the back. Instead there was a little screen.
"It's a digital camera," Barbara said. "You can still print the pictures but you can also put them on the computer. Plus you can take pictures, review them on the back and then delete the blurry ones. You should have storage for several million pictures at a time."
"You bought this for me?" Tim asked and wasn't at all ashamed that his voice shook.
"Mmm, bought and then altered," Barbara chuckled. "There's always a time and place for traditional photography but this way you can carry it with you wherever you go."
Tim launched himself out of his wheelchair and hugged Barbara who laughed, cooed and then hugged Tim back tightly enough that his back pinged. He let her go, took a picture of her, several dozen pictures of the snow falling and then took even more on their way back inside. Barbara ended up rolling behind him and bumping his wheelchair to keep him from stopping for still more pictures.
"Go take pictures of everyone, Tim," Barbara said once they were back inside and brushing off the snow with towels offered by Alfred who was smiling at both of them. "You can show me what you get later."
"Thank you," Tim said because he thought he needed to say it at least a million more times.
"You're welcome," Barbara laughed. "Now shoo. I'm going to go see if I can coax Gar into sitting in my lap and letting me pet him. He makes an excellent lap warmer as a cat."
"I know. He did it to me the first party I went to." Tim grinned and rolled back into the party with Barbara and Alfred right behind him.
Clark had disappeared so apparently there was some sort of emergency somewhere but the majority of the heroes didn't look worried about whatever it was. Tim smiled and started snapping pictures of them. He couldn't share them with outsiders but that didn't mean he couldn't record this celebration for them to remember when things weren't going so well.
Tim smiled as Jason and Roy posed for his new camera. He laughed and waved awkwardly as Roy snatched his camera away to snap about four or five pictures of Tim. When Tim checked, three of them looked pretty good so he kept them.
Over by the fireplace a sudden memory of the deserts of Ethiopia washed over Tim. He could remember the hot, dry air that had seemed to suck the air out of his lungs. The smell of sand and spices hung in the air for a long moment, coupled irrevocably in Tim's memory with the sound of the Joker laughing as he beat Jason to death.
The memory faded away, leaving Tim staring out at Dick's birthday party. Light and love and laughter filled the big room. This time Tim wasn't on the outside looking in. He was a part of this party, one of the heroes that helped save the ordinary people of Gotham from the criminals that stalked its dark streets.
"I belong here," Tim whispered as he raised his new camera.
He didn't bother looking through the view finder as he snapped a picture. If it didn't turn out then there would be opportunities to take other pictures, better pictures. Tim smiled and tucked the camera away before rolling into the crowd to find Dick and give him a happy birthday hug.
Maybe he could get Roy or Donna to take a picture of Tim with Dick, Jason and Bruce. He'd like to have that picture on his bedside table for the nights when he woke up convinced that it had to all be a dream. Of course, all he had to do most nights was look around and he knew that it was perfectly real and perfectly his.