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The 51st Annual Gala for the Children’s Wing of Gotham General Hospital was being held, as it was every year, in Wayne Manor.  There had been decorators and caterers hanging around all week – thankfully, the big ballroom was in the guest wing, and they’d closed that off from the family wing years ago.

 

It had been the first party Bruce had attended when he’d come back to Gotham, restarting his father’s tradition to host the gala in Wayne Manor, and Tim knew that it held a special place in his heart.  Brucie Wayne act or not, everyone could tell that Bruce cared deeply about the cause.  Tim had caught Bruce agonizing over his speech four days ago, and had escaped before he was forced to be a sounding board.

 

The gala was always well-attended, but there were even more people this year – this was the first major gala since the whole media storm that had come with Jason’s abrupt return from the dead, and the sharks were circling for any sign of blood.  Tim could see the top of Jason’s head in the midst of a group all vying for his attention.

 

Jason had been vehemently against attending right up till Bruce had ordered his presence, making the valid point that Jason couldn’t stay secluded forever, at which point Jason subsided into a sulky grumble.  Tim had honestly expected him to keep arguing, Bruce’s favorite gala or not – Jason had never shied away from butting heads with Bruce until both of them were furious and frustrated – but he had been strangely subdued ever since his death certificate had been overturned.

 

Of course, that could also be the injuries – Jason had recovered enough to use crutches, but the fixed smile on his face made it clear that he wasn’t happy about the situation.  Tim caught his eye as he passed the group – all sharp-eyed heirs and heiresses, eyeing Jason with a distinctly predatory gaze – but Jason gave a small shake of his head as he answered someone’s question, tilting his head towards them while he stayed balanced on one leg.

 

Bruce meant well, but trapping an injured vigilante with magically-heightened rage issues inside a crowded ballroom was not a good idea, and Tim had worked out a signal if he needed to extract Jason.

 

Jason was doing much better than Tim had expected, though – Tim hadn’t actually envisioned Jason shooting people, but he expected more visible signs of displeasure and a slow depletion of patience.

 

“Tim,” Dick said, approaching him from the snacks table, “You know Bruce said phones away, right?”

 

“Bruce knows full well that I’m running his company,” Tim muttered, fiddling with his phone, “And it’s only six o’clock on the West Coast.”

 

“Fair point, little bro,” Dick draped an arm over his shoulders, “Worried about Jaybird?”

 

Tim realized that he was still staring at Jason.

 

“Concerned about how long his patience will last,” Tim admitted.

 

“Jason knows how to keep his temper,” Dick laughed, “As much as he doesn’t like to do it.”

 

Tim shot Dick a skeptical look.  Nothing about the guy that had nearly murdered him on top of Titans Tower had conveyed that he knew the definition of restraint.

 

“This isn’t Jay’s first gala, baby bird,” Dick ruffled the back of his hair, “And he knows he can slip out if it gets to be too much.  Come on, B wants us to mingle.”

 

Tim sighed and slipped his phone back into his pocket as he turned back to the party.  That was the double-edged sword of being the CEO – he had a ready-made excuse to step out and pretend to handle an emergency, but more people wanted to talk to him, and all of them wanted to talk business.

 

Tim lost count of how many times he’d said ‘that’s fascinating, you should set up a meeting so we can discuss that in further depth’ before he was afforded a small amount of breathing space.

 

Bruce was schmoozing at the far end of the ballroom, Dick was flitting between groups, charming as always, Jason had taken a seat to pick at a plate of hors d’oeuvres, the group of heirs replaced with Lucius Fox and one of the women on the Wayne Foundation board, and –

 

“Timothy Drake,” Sidney Cassamento smiled, stopping in front of Tim with his hand outstretched, “Well, it’s Wayne now, right?”

 

“Mr. Cassamento,” Tim shook his hand on autopilot, feeling his smile stretch his skin, “What a surprise.  I didn’t know you were back in Gotham.”

 

“Business called – you understand, of course.  I hear you’re frequently in San Francisco.”  Cassamento’s smile was charming, and Tim tried to suppress the shudder crawling down his spine.

 

“Yes, but I can’t stay away from Gotham for long.  I understand you were gone for quite some time,” Tim said blandly, as though he didn’t know exactly when Cassamento had left.

 

As though he hadn’t been the one to force that banishment.

 

“Almost six years,” Cassamento sighed, “So many things have changed since I was last here.  Your family, for example – it’s grown quite large.  I’ve met Richard and Jason before, of course, and you with your parents, but I don’t think I’ve been introduced to the others.  I hear Bruce adopted a daughter?”

 

“Cassandra,” Tim said, keeping his voice level, “Unfortunately she’s on vacation.”  Vacation meaning Clocktower, where she, Steph, and Babs had joyfully abandoned the party to patrol Gotham in their absence.  Tim may or may not have been checking his phone in hopes of getting an update of an Arkham breakout, or anything that would save him from this gala.

 

“And Bruce has a son now, right?”

 

One part of Tim burned – we’re all his children, you asshole – but the greater part paled at the glimpse of hunger in the older man’s eyes.

 

Damian.  The man was after Damian.

 

“I’m sure he’s around here somewhere,” Tim said, waving a hand at the crowd, “You know kids, they like to disappear into corners to play games on their phones.  I’ll be sure to introduce you if I can find him.”  He brought his phone up, “Oh, I’m sorry, I have to take this.”

 

He stalked away from the man, scanning the ballroom with increasing tension as he typed frantically into his phone.

 

Sidney Cassamento, he sent to Babs.

 

What about him? was the reply.

 

When did he get back to Gotham?  When Tim had first encountered the man, he hadn’t been Robin.  He hadn’t known Bruce.  He had done the best with the limited resources he had, all aimed at keeping the man away.  It had resulted in a series of small fires in the international branches of the man’s business, forcing Cassamento overseas to stamp out the problems.

 

Out of sight, out of mind.  Tim had forgotten about him, his thoughts steering towards villains closer to home.  It was clear now that that was a mistake.

 

A week ago, Babs replied, why?

 

There – a scowling, bored expression near the windows.  Need your help, Tim typed, can you access his private accounts?

 

Babs didn’t ask any more questions.  She responded with an acknowledgement, and Tim slipped his phone back in his pocket as he neared Damian, crooking a finger – not snagging his arm, that was a surefire way to lose some fingers – and heading to the small alcove created by a flower display.

 

What?” Damian snapped, having followed Tim behind the flowers, “I haven’t broken any of Father’s rules, I only insulted the ones too stupid to understand, and it’s hardly my fault if no one wants to talk to me –”

 

Thirteen years old or not, Damian definitely exuded a murderous aura, and while the other guests didn’t know that Damian had at least three knives on his person, some part of their instincts recognized that it was a bad idea to poke him.

 

“This isn’t about that,” Tim said levelly, “I need you to stick to a member of the family.”

 

“Excuse me?”

 

“You heard me,” Tim said, “I don’t care who, but you need to stay close to someone.”

 

“I don’t need a chaperone –”

 

“This is serious, Damian,” Tim hissed quietly, and motioned Damian to a gap between the flowers.  He searched the crowd until he found Cassamento and pointed him out, “You see the man in the dark blue suit, hair slicked back?  Sidney Cassamento.  He’s dangerous.  Do not talk to him.  Do not accept food or drink from him.  I can’t explain everything now –” his phone beeped with a text from Babs – “But you need to listen to me.  Stay with a member of the family.

 

Damian glowered at the crowd, “If there is a villain at this party, we should alert Father.”

 

“Not every criminal is a villain, and I don’t want to ruin Bruce’s night,” Tim said.  Not Bruce’s favorite gala.  Not while Tim was handling it.  He scrolled through Babs’ message, and tapped back a quick reply.  “Just promise me that you’ll stay close to Dick or Bruce.”

 

“A danger to me specifically, then,” Damian said slowly, and Tim was reminded that Damian wasn’t an idiot, no matter how often his biases blinded him.  “Not Grandfather’s – the League has standards.”

 

Damian –”

 

“You owe me a full explanation,” Damian said haughtily, “I am allowed to use violence if I’m attacked, and I’m borrowing the Redbird.”

 

“Done, non-lethal, and one night only.”

 

“One week.”

 

“Three nights, and that’s my final offer.”

 

“Very well,” Damian said, and stalked back out into the crowd.  Tim watched him until he reached Dick, and slipped out of the alcove, his attention back on his phone.

 

Tim, Babs had written, what the fuck.

 

Tim swallowed, and typed up a response.

 


 

He had stayed near the alcove, tapping away on his phone, continuing his conversation with Babs and occasionally sorting through the material she sent him.  He answered any guest’s probing queries with a tight smile and a pat response about work never ending, and, for the most part, was left alone.

 

Which was why he nearly startled out of his skin when an ex-assassin appeared at his elbow, expression in a default scowl.  “Father’s speech is starting,” Damian informed him, “And Richard is not pleased that you’re spending so much time on your phone.”

 

Tim raised his gaze – yes, Bruce was standing at the dais at the far corner of the room, tapping the microphone as he smiled at the crowd.

 

“Also,” Damian said, “Cassamento has left the room.”

 

What?” Tim choked, scanning the crowd – he couldn’t see any trace of the slicked-back hair and smug grin.

 

“He went through the doors to the east corridor twenty seconds ago,” Damian said, and Tim immediately made his way towards the doors, trying to keep his pace unhurried.

 

“Was he alone?” Tim asked, feeling shivers break down his arms as he kicked his pace up a notch.

 

“I didn’t see anyone with him,” Damian retorted, clearly struggling to keep up with Tim’s longer strides without resorting to jogging, “I thought you said he was after me.”

 

Tim ignored him, and tried to calculate how many families had come here with children, and how many of those fit into Cassamento’s preferred prey – kids who wouldn’t raise a huge fuss, or who wouldn’t be believed if they did.

 

Like, for example, a kid that spent ten months of the year with only a housekeeper because his parents were out of town.

 

Tim heard the low sound of voices almost as soon as he entered the east corridor – the conversation was coming from the far end, where the corridor opened into a balcony, and Tim hurried towards it, only to pause when he registered the voices.  Damian nearly stumbled into his back.

 

“– memory problems,” Jason said, “The doctors say I may never recover them.”

 

“Oh,” Cassamento said, “That’s a shame.”  Tim came to a full halt, extremely confused – Jason was about as far as you could get from Cassamento’s type.  “I met you, you know, back before…”

 

“My little tour away from home?” Jason laughed lightly.

 

“Ah, yes, forgive me.  I didn’t want to bring up any painful memories.”

 

“You’re good,” Jason hummed.

 

“So, you don’t remember me at all?” Cassamento asked casually, and Tim’s blood ran cold.

 

He was moving forward before he even made a conscious decision to, almost sprinting towards the end of the corridor, ignoring Damian’s shout.

 

“Nope,” Jason said, three seconds before Tim burst through the drapes.

 

Cassamento startled back against the balcony railing.  Jason, leaning against the other side, blinked at him.

 

“Timothy,” Cassamento said, “Hello again –”

 

“I’m so sorry to interrupt,” Tim said, snagging Jason’s elbow, “It’s just that Bruce gets a little antsy when he can’t see Jason, you understand of course, bad memories and all.”

 

“Of course,” Cassamento repeated, clearly confused.  Jason was frowning at him in a clear what-the-fuck expression, but let Tim drag him out of the balcony without protesting.

 

Damian was waiting for him in the corridor, scowl on the way to a full sulk, but Tim ignored him as he practically dragged Jason back to the ballroom.

 

“What’s the matter with you?” Jason murmured, before his voice dropped low, “Trouble?”

 

Yes, but not the way Jason was asking.

 

“No,” Tim said curtly, and managed to get Jason back through the doors before the older boy started protesting.

 

“Tim,” Jason said, his eyes narrowing, tugging his arm out of Tim’s grip as he straightened on his crutches, “What’s going on?”

 

“I demand to know that as well,” Damian scowled, “You have been behaving extremely uncharacteristically, and it’s clear that Cassamento is not after me.  I want an explanation now.”

 

“I’m sorry, what?” Jason asked, “Someone’s after Damian?”  Something in his eyes seemed to clear slightly, his body tensing to a more dangerous stance.

 

Tim exhaled slowly, and cast a glance around them.  Bruce was still talking, and the majority of the crowd was close to the dais or hovering near the snack table.  There was no one near eavesdropping range.

 

“Cassamento,” Tim whispered, “Has a thing for kids.  He hasn’t been in the country for six years, and I’m working on finding the evidence to lock him up.  In the meantime, stay away from him.”

 

“I can take care of myself,” Damian said, angry again, “And Todd is not a child.  You’re being hysterical, Drake.”  He stomped off with a haughty sniff – thankfully in the direction of Dick, who caught sight of his approach, his gaze drawing back to Jason and Tim.

 

Dick frowned, and made a shooing motion to indicate that they should get back to mingling.  On the stage, Bruce ended his speech to loud applause and the crowd began to disperse again.

 

Tim clutched his phone tightly and took a deep breath.

 

Jason was still standing next to him, staring distantly at the crowd.  Shit.  Tim had forgotten that Cassamento checked off all the boxes on Jason’s murder list – he needed to make sure Jason didn’t go after the guy.

 

“Jason?” Tim said quietly, drawing his brother’s gaze back to him – except Jason didn’t look angry.  He didn’t even look surprised.

 

Something in the pit of his stomach went cold.

 

“You knew about Cassamento,” Tim whispered.

 

Jason blinked, and raised an eyebrow with an unamused smile, “Half the people at this party are scum, Timbo.  You get used to it.”

 

He didn’t sound angry, or even resigned.  He sounded…blank.

 

“No,” Tim pressed, “You knew him.”

 

“So, you don’t remember me at all?”

 

Six years ago, Tim had been twelve.  Jason – Jason had been fifteen.

 

“I’ve met Richard and Jason before, of course.”

 

Jason was already turning to leave.

 

“Jason, wait.”  Tim’s throat was dry, his fingers cold.  “What did he do to you?”

 

Jason stilled for a half-second before he finished turning away, his expression twisting before it smoothed back out to the same polite mask Jason had been wearing all evening.

 

“Nothing he didn’t pay me for.”

 

Please, please let that not mean what Tim thought it meant.

 

But Jason vanished back into the crowd before Tim could stop him, surprisingly agile on his crutches, and Dick and Damian reached Tim before he could go after Jason.

 

“Did something happen?” Dick asked, concerned, “You’ve spent the whole evening on your phone – is it W.E. stuff, or Cass?”

 

“It’s fine,” Tim said, stepping away from Dick as a group surged forward – Dick narrowed his eyes, but he was caught up in a conversation as Tim slipped free.

 

Damian followed Tim, glaring as Tim scanned the crowd, searching for both Cassamento and Jason.

 

He found Jason first – he was near the wall leading to the west corridor, apparently listening intently to an old woman.  Even at this distance, Tim could see that his expression was glazed over.

 

“Damian,” Tim said softly, “I need you to get Jason out of here.”

 

“What?” Damian said sharply, “Father said that –”

 

“The situation’s changed,” Tim said, thinking they should’ve never made him come.  “Jason’s compromised.  You need to get him out.”

 

“Drake,” Damian said slowly, and Tim turned to see the brat looking at him like he’d lost his mind, “Todd is perfectly capable of taking care of himself.  He doesn’t need my protection – unless you mean that I’m supposed to stop him from killing your target, in which case, I definitely don’t care enough to go after him.”

 

Tim felt like his nerves were leaking out of his skin, his fingers silent and still and at odds with the way he felt like he was shaking apart.  Bits and pieces of a puzzle he didn’t want to complete were coming together in front of him, and he didn’t want to see.

 

He grabbed Damian’s shoulders, and pulled the boy forward, forcing him to face towards Jason.  Damian went very still, but Tim didn’t have the energy to worry about the structural integrity of his fingers.

 

“Look at him,” Tim hissed, “Look at him.  Do you seriously think that nothing’s wrong?”

 

Damian was silent for a full five seconds.  “He’s just bored,” Damian said flatly, “As am I.”

 

“No,” Tim said, cold and fierce, “He’s been acting strange the entire night.  When have you ever seen Jason keep his temper?”

 

“He’s managed to hold it together after he got injured,” Damian tutted lightly, “I don’t understand why you’re so concerned –”

 

Tim’s phone beeped, and he cursed.  “Look, you want the Redbird for a week?  Fine.  Get him out – without violence.”

 

“But Father –”

 

“I’ll take the blame, Damian, just get him out of here.”

 

Damian pulled out of Tim’s grip, giving him a strange glance, and Tim realized that he was actually frightening the younger boy.  “Fine,” Damian muttered, casting one last glance at Tim before striding towards Jason.

 

Tim pulled his phone out.  Babs had left fifteen messages, and Tim had to sit and reply to each of them – and then sort through a data dump and respond to a series of questions that were getting increasingly pointed.

 

The last one made his breath catch in his throat.

 

Tell B by tomorrow, Babs had written, or I will.

 

Tim scowled down at his phone and responded with a terse acknowledgement.

 

“Are you sure everything’s okay?” Dick asked, and Tim jumped, startled.  Dick gave him an odd look.  “You seem…tense.”

 

“I’m fine,” Tim stuttered, and Dick’s eyes narrowed.  Tim cursed inwardly, and backed up a step, scanning the crowd for a distraction – Bruce, in the distance, was frowning slightly, but the crowd had begun to disperse, several going through the doors to the gardens or standing around in small knots.

 

“You’re not fine,” Dick said levelly, and then he frowned, “I don’t see Damian or Jay anywhere – did something come up?”  He looked like he was already tensing to go down to the Cave and suit up.

 

“Nothing came up,” Tim murmured, “Everyone’s fine.  Jason and Damian…weren’t feeling well, so they left.”

 

“Weren’t feeling well?” Dick looked even more concerned, “What do you mean, weren’t feeling well?  What happened?”

 

“Nothing –”

 

“Tim,” Dick said, slowly and precisely, “What.  Happened?”

 

Tim took a deep breath.  “They’re fine,” he insisted, “Nothing happened.”

 

“Tim,” Dick said warningly.

 

“You wanted us to mingle, right?” Tim said, near desperately.

 

Dick’s eyes narrowed, fixing Tim with the expression that Nightwing usually reserved for recalcitrant criminals.  His mouth twisted, and then he spun on one heel and headed for the door.

 

“Wait,” Tim said, hurrying after him, “Where are you going?”

 

“If you won’t tell me what’s going on,” Dick said, low and tight, “I’ll find someone who will.”

 

“Dick, wait –” But Dick wasn’t stopped – he sidestepped any guest who got into his path, quickly leaving the ballroom and heading for the family wing.  Tim followed him, the knot in his stomach growing tighter and tighter as Dick unlocked the entrance to the family wing and continued on his path.

 

Dick headed straight for the study without talking, opening the clock and heading down the steps.  Tim followed him, miserable, trying to compose the explanation in his head – he was handling it, this whole thing was his mistake, if they could all just go back to the party and pretend they’d never seen Cassamento –

 

Wait.  Where’s Cassamento? he typed quickly to Babs.

 

The reply came a few seconds later – Left the party.  Headed home.

 

Tim felt one of the knots of tension ease inside his chest.

 

The tension in the Cave was clear before they left the last step – Damian was glaring, Jason looked incredibly confused, and the silence was like a string ready to snap.

 

“What’s going on?” Dick said, stalking forward, “Who’s not feeling well?”

 

“Not feeling well?” Jason repeated blankly.

 

“Tim said you left because you weren’t well,” Dick crossed his arms.

 

“I left because Damian dragged me out,” Jason frowned, turning to Damian.

 

“Drake told me to!” Damian said shrilly, “He’s been acting strangely this whole night –”

 

“Jason isn’t well,” Tim argued, a lump growing in his throat.

 

“I am perfectly fine –”

 

“Tim, what’s going on –”

 

“What,” Bruce’s voice cut through the growing clamor, “Are all of you doing down here?”  He walked closer, “Is this a Code Bat?”

 

“No,” Tim said, but his voice was quickly drowned out by Damian’s complaints and Jason insisting he was fine and Dick asking more questions.

 

Enough.”  Bruce eyed each one of them, “Someone explain to me what’s going on.  From the beginning.”

 

Dick looked at Jason.  Jason looked at Damian.  Damian looked at Tim.

 

Tim swallowed.  “It’s a long story,” he said slowly.

 

Bruce narrowed his eyes.  “I’m not leaving without an explanation,” he said firmly, sitting down in the Batcomputer chair.

 

Damian crossed his arms.  Dick brought Jason a chair to get him off the crutches.  Tim checked his phone again, but there were no new updates.  It was a waiting game now.

 

“Sidney Cassamento,” Tim started slowly, “He’s a businessman.  With a taste for kids.  He – he hasn’t been in Gotham for six years, and I didn’t know he was back.  I’m working with Babs to get evidence to the police – I just wanted Damian to stay out of his way.”

 

Dick looked like he’d swallowed something sour.  Bruce had narrowed his eyes a fraction.

 

“I’m perfectly capable of defending myself,” Damian muttered, and Dick reached out to tug him closer.

 

“We know, Dames, but sometimes you shouldn’t have to defend yourself,” Dick murmured, holding him close.  He looked up at Tim, “Is Cassamento still at the party?”

 

“No,” Tim shook his head, “He left.  Police should have a warrant in a half-hour.”

 

“Okay,” Bruce said slowly, “Thank you for taking care of it, Tim.  But I still don’t understand why you all left the party.”

 

“I was forced out,” Jason grumbled, “At knifepoint, the little brat –”

 

“Drake told me to!” Damian hissed, “I was just –”

 

Tim,” Bruce said sternly.

 

Tim swallowed, and said quietly, “Jason’s not well.”

 

Everyone spun to look at Jason, who raised a confused eyebrow, “I have no idea what he’s talking about, I’m fine –”

 

“You’re not,” Tim shook his head, “You – you kept smiling and nodding, and you haven’t gotten angry all night, and you didn’t even make a single threat when I told you about Cassamento.”

 

“I’m fine,” Jason repeated, but the words were hollow.

 

Tim met the green-eyed gaze, watching as it didn’t quite focus on him.  “You’re looking through me right now,” Tim said softly.

 

Bruce surged out of his chair, stalking towards Jason with a worried expression.  Jason didn’t even flinch, which did more to raise the tension than anything Tim had said.

 

“Jay,” Bruce slowly reached out to cup a hand over Jason’s cheek.  Jason let him, his face still blank.

 

“What the hell,” Dick said softly.

 

“Did that vile piece of filth do something?” Damian glared, “Did you accept food or drink from him?”

 

“I’m not drugged,” Jason said, and now he sounded tired.

 

“You’re acting uncharacteristically,” Damian pressed.

 

“Wow,” Jason muttered, “Is it that hard to believe that I just didn’t want to spoil the party?”

 

“Did you drug yourself?” Dick asked, horrified.  Jason shot him a glare, but it was still weak.

 

“I,” Jason enunciated slowly, “Am not drugged.”

 

“Jay-lad,” Bruce said softly, “We can all see that something’s wrong.  Just tell us, please.”

 

“Nothing’s wrong, I’m fine, why are you all acting like I’ve been replaced with an alien just because I was polite for a few hours?” Jason asked, getting more agitated, “I know how to behave at these stupid parties, I did it before too!”

 

“Did what before?” Bruce asked.

 

“Just – just step away, so I don’t get angry, so I don’t punch anyone or – or snap out that several of your old buddies visit Crime Alley, and some of their tastes run to the young side, or let them realize that I recognized them –”

 

Dick had gone sheet white.  Damian was staring between all of them, face blank but eyes narrowed.  Tim – Tim felt like he was going to be sick.

 

“Jason,” Bruce murmured, his expression twisting to horror.

 

Jason buried his face in his hands.  “I don’t understand,” he said, muffled, his voice cracking, “I just did what you wanted.  I behaved!”

 

“Jay,” Bruce said, in a voice that was fracturing apart.  He crouched in front of Jason, one hand on his knee, staring desperately at his son.

 

“He touched you,” Dick said, in a voice that decreased the temperature in the room, “That piece of shit –”

 

“It was years ago,” Jason said, still muffled, “And I got compensated for my time –”

 

“That, Little Wing, does not matter,” Dick said, his tone forbidding, “Tim.  Where is he?”

 

Tim resisted the urge to step back when cold blue eyes landed on him.  “Babs is tracking him,” he said meekly.

 

“I’ll touch base with her, then,” Dick said, his voice frigid, already stalking towards the lockers.  Damian shot an uneasy glance at Tim.

 

“I – we left everyone at the party,” Tim said weakly, because there were choked sobs coming from Jason’s covered face and he didn’t think that them being here was helping.  Bruce gave him a nod, and Tim ushered Damian back to the stairs.

 

As they left, they could hear Bruce’s low, coaxing tone, “Jason.  Jay.  Can you please look at me?”

 


 

It took another three hours for the guests to leave.  Their short absence from the party had been noted, but easily explained – Tim mentioned something about Jason being on his crutches for too long, Dick leaving for a work issue, and Bruce having to deal with some logistics problems – and Tim kept Damian with him as they mingled with the remaining guests as the gala died down.

 

Bruce showed up two hours in, Brucie mask firmly on, but tenser than it had been at the start of the evening.  He gave a brief nod to Tim’s inquiring look, which Tim took to mean that his conversation with Jason hadn’t gone too badly.

 

In custody, Babs had sent an hour in, broken jaw courtesy of N.

 

The last major knot of tension eased.

 

Finally, the stragglers were politely but firmly shooed off, and the ballroom was left for the cleaning crew.  Tim followed Bruce and Damian back to the family wing, and Bruce bid goodnight to Damian and a waiting Dick before motioning Tim into his study.

 

Something curdled in his stomach as he took a seat.

 

“I’m sorry,” Tim blurted out as soon as Bruce closed the door, “I’m sorry – I should’ve kept better track of him, I should’ve found the evidence years ago, I should’ve flagged his name or something – I’m so sorry for letting him get an invite to gala, and upsetting Jason, and –”

 

“Tim,” Bruce said gently, cutting off his words.

 

Tim swallowed down the rest of his apologies and waited for the reprimand.  He knew that this was Bruce’s favorite cause, and the first time after he got Jason back, and he ended up ruining everything

 

“Tim, this is not your fault,” Bruce said softly.

 

Tim raised his head.  That was not what he’d been expecting.

 

“It is,” Tim countered, “I knew about him –”

 

“When?” Bruce asked.

 

Tim quailed again.  “Six years ago,” he said, quiet and miserable.  Six years, and he’d just forgotten, even after he became Robin, even when he had access to all the resources to lock Cassamento away.

 

“Six year ago,” Bruce repeated, “When you were twelve.”  There was something dark and seething in his tone.  “Tim.  How did you know about Cassamento?”

 

Oh.  That was why he was looking so upset.  “He didn’t – he didn’t touch me,” Tim shook his head, “He didn’t – it was just words –”

 

“Tim,” Bruce said, his tone quiet and barely restrained, “It’s not just words.  It’s harassment.  You were twelve, and it never should’ve happened.”

 

“I didn’t – but Jason –”

 

“It never should’ve happened to Jason, either,” Bruce said, his gaze intent on Tim, “But right now, we’re talking about you.”

 

Tim shook his head again, drawing his knees up and wrapping his arms around them.  “It’s not the same,” Tim whispered, “I – I could’ve done anything – I could’ve called the police, or told you, or told my parents, or anything.”

 

“You were twelve,” Bruce said, gentle but firm, “The fact that you didn’t trust anyone enough to speak to them is not your fault.”

 

“I just made him go away,” Tim said quietly, “And then I forgot about him.  Like he couldn’t hurt people anywhere else.  Like he would’ve just stopped if he wasn’t in Gotham.  I – I just thought about myself, and no one else, and –”

 

“Tim,” Bruce said, cutting him off, “You were twelve.  You weren’t trained to deal with the situation.  You weren’t responsible for dealing with the situation.  You were a child, and you were supposed to be safe, and I’m so, so sorry that you weren’t.”

 

“It – it’s my fault,” Tim’s voice cracked, and even before the tears finally slipped free, he was encircled in a warm embrace, sobbing into a ten-thousand dollar suit jacket.

 

“No, bud, it’s not,” Bruce said softly.

 

“I – I couldn’t even – I ruined the party for you – for Jay – for everyone –”

 

“Tim,” Bruce said firmly, “I’m going to tell you the same thing I just told Jason.  Each and every one of you is more important than a party or a press conference or my reputation.  You didn’t ruin anything, kiddo.”

 

“I – I didn’t even – I just forgot about him, how could I –”

 

“Because you were trying to cope,” Bruce murmured, “It’s okay, Tim.”

 

“It’s not.”

 

“It is,” Bruce said decisively.

 

“You can’t just decide that.”

 

“Sure I can, bud,” Bruce said quietly into Tim’s hair, “I’m Batman.”

 

“That’s a stupid argument,” Tim mumbled.  There was a large wet spot on Bruce’s suit jacket, but Tim couldn’t bring himself to care.

 

You’re a stupid argument,” Bruce murmured back, and Tim dimly registered the room shifting around them as Bruce stood up, Tim still curled in his arms.

 

“That doesn’t even make any sense,” Tim grumbled.

 

“It doesn’t need to make any sense,” Bruce said, walking out of the study and towards the stairs, “You want to sleep in the master bedroom tonight?  Jay’s already there.”

 

Tempting.  Tim didn’t want to let go of Bruce right now.  But – “Jason needs you.”

 

“He won’t mind.”

 

Tim made a wordless, dissenting noise.

 

“We can ask him again, if you’d like.”

 

Tim made a sleepy protest and snuggled closer into Bruce’s embrace.

 

Bruce knocked softly on the bedroom door before he entered, and Tim raised his head at the muted grumble.  “Bruce?” Jason called out, almost slurring his words, “That the baby bird?”

 

“One little brother, delivered safely,” Bruce said, depositing Tim on the bed and tugging off his jacket.  Tim didn’t have the time to voice any of his protests before green eyes – significantly clearer than before, even half-asleep – latched on to him, and warm arms tugged him under the covers.

 

“My clothes are going to get wrinkled,” Tim pointed out as he was enveloped in warmth and bundled against a broad chest.

 

“Does it look like I care?” Jason muttered drowsily, “Dad’ll just buy you another.”

 

Bruce, halfway into the bed, froze, his eyes shining.  Tim extricated one arm from Jason’s death grip and beckoned Bruce closer.

 

Bruce slowly eased the rest of the way into the bed, and they all pretended not to notice his suspiciously wet cheeks as he ruffled Jason’s hair, and then Tim’s, before tucking the covers carefully around them both.