The first time he stopped a suicide, he had just turned thirteen. The suit still felt wrong, too loose in all the places where Jason’s bigger presence would have been a better fit. Too small, too brainy, not brash enough, not good enough.
He would never think himself worthy, but he was all Batman had. There were no other candidates, not ones he could have thrown the job at without risking Bruce’s identity, so he’d have to make do.
But even so, he had been gaining a little confidence over the past few months. His training with Shiva, and Dick’s and Bruce’s focus on making him as ready for the streets as humanly possible, had ensured he never encountered a situation where he couldn’t handle himself, or get back up in time to avoid any casualties.
Except for right now.
“Hey! Don’t do it, please!”
Yeah, maybe yelling at the man precariously balanced on the edge of a how many feet tall building wasn’t his wisest moment. He’d berate himself later. Now was freak out time.
Said man stumbled for a second before regaining his footing and turning to look at Tim. He couldn’t be more than forty, with a bit of an overgrown beard and tired eyes. He had something clutched in one hand, tanned and calloused from work, the other over his chest, probably due to the scare of having a bat suddenly appearing behind him.
“R-Robin…”, he gasped, shook out of whatever reverie he was going through for a second. “W-what… I mean, why are you…?”
‘Okay, Tim, breath. Can’t call B, he’ll notice, get startled and jump. Can I catch him if he does? My grappling hook is made to withstand more than my weight, but if I can’t handle the strain of swinging us both to safety…’
He couldn't risk it.
“Good evening, Mr…?”
Surprise and good manners made the man automatically answer, “Ed. Ed Harrinson.”
Encouraged, Tim took a tiny teeny step forward. Ed’s entire body shock and he leaned backwards. Tim froze, fear keeping his breathing and heartbeat hostages for the time being, stopping the first and kick starting the second.
“Mr Harrinson, I’d like to ask you to step away from the edge? I’ll call an ambulance for you, and…”
“No!”, the man screamed, suddenly over his surprise, a look of determination trying to masquerade his obvious exhaustion. “If you call an’one, I’ll jump.”
Tim wisely kept the ‘you were gonna do it anyway’ to himself. He nodded slowly, hands emerging from the confines of his cape to show Mr Harrinson the lack of a communication device.
“I won’t, then, but may I come closer? Please?”
It was on the last word, high pitched and wavering, that the man cracked. With wary demeanor, he waved him over, pointing to a patch of rooftop a little far but close enough for Tim to feel comfortable- or as comfortable as he’d get, in these circumstances.
As he approached, he could feel the man analyzing him. The little gasp when he stood by his side didn’t go unnoticed.
“You are… smaller than I imag’ned. Too small for a bat. My boy’s taller than you” he mused, likely to himself, but Tim grasped onto that bit of information and clutched at it with both hands, desperately.
“I’m short compared to my peers, so maybe I’m the same age as your son. How old is he?”, he asked, in his most conversational tone. Fear still had a grasp over both his lungs and heart.
Something in the man’s face shifted.
“He… he just turned fifteen.” Older than Tim, then. Ed continued, “He’s… ”, in a second, the sadness was replaced by pride, “he’s grown up p’tty well, if I say so m’self. A fine young man, that kid. He’ll go places.”
For a beat, Tim tried to imagine his own dad here. As much as he’d hate to see Jack in Mr Harrinson’s place, he couldn't help but wonder if he’d be talking about him the same way Ed spoke about his son.
He… didn’t think so. If on the verge of death, thoughts about his son would probably be the farthest from his dad’s mind.
“You sound like you love him very much. He’s a lucky guy” he said sincerely, a tendril of hopefulness still twisted around his stomach. His hands weren’t shaking any longer, finding solace in the fact that the man in front of him didn’t look like he was about to jump right that second.
Mr Harrinson’s face fell.
“Got served an’ unlucky hand, with an old man like me”, his eyes went back to the abyss, to the empty, poor litten streets below them. “Go ‘way, kid. Leave m’ be. Notta business what I do. Gotta do this f’r my kid.”
Fear came back, full force.
“I- Sorry, but I can’t help but think about your son”, he blurted out, the only bit of information he had about the man was his only tendril of hope. “Someone who loves his child as much as you seem to must be a good father. A father that… would be missed dearly, if lost so young.”
Mr Harrinson looked even more devastated. Tim was doing this all wrong, wasn’t he?
“There’s no other way t’ keep’im safe!'' he yelled, and for a minute Tim thought he had decided to jump then and there. Instead, he dropped to his knees, hands to his head, paper still clutched in one fist. “They’ll get to him if I don’t! Once I’m dead, they’ll just leave’im alone!”
Tim crouched next to him, tentative.
“Who is ‘they’, sir? Maybe I could help…”
Ed was already shaking his head.
“Nay, they said not to go to the bats. Kill my boy, they will, if I do. Seen them offing others for less, so I believe them.”
“Ah, but I’m too short to be a bat, am I not?” he smiled, wobbly at best but sincere. “Besides, who’s gonna tell them you spoke to me? I”, he gestured to his mask, “know how to keep a secret.”
He considered for a beat, before tired shoulders fell, defeated. He offered the slip of paper towards him, unseeing eyes on the street below.
Robin read the note carefully, noting the sloppy penmanship and cheap paper as well as the message itself.
“I know”, he whispered, “I know working for the Black Mask wasn’t my best idea. But m’boy needed to eat, and the landlord was gettin’ impatient. And now, for whatever reason, boss wants me dead. And if I make ‘im dirty his own hands, he’ll dirty ‘em twice and send me with my son for company to the other side. Felix is too young, and he’s good . Can’t let ‘im pay f’ his old man m’stakes, ya hear me?”
Tim thought his words over carefully.
“Mr Harrinson… I don’t think this comes from Black Mask himself”, for one, Blackie wasn’t one to avoid blood on his gloves, nor to send such a shitty note. The man lived for the drama, like most A-listers did, and he’d never forgo the aesthetic of an expensive peachment and beautifully worded threat. Also, if he wanted this man gone, he would have put a bullet in his head the second he clocked in; and if it were revenge he was after, he wouldn't have gotten a warning note but his son’s head sent to him instead.
He folded the paper and put it into one of his multiple pockets, free hand going to the man’s shoulder.
“I know Black Mask’s M.O, mister, and this is not it”, no need to spook him further by describing what it was, though. “Probably just a colleague who wanted your position, or has a grudge for whatever reason. And that, I can help you with. If you work with me on this one, we can both make sure Felix has his Dad making breakfast for him tomorrow morning, and all the days after that. After all”, he smiled, no longer uncertain now that he had firm ground to work with, “your son is going places, and he’ll have to be well fed to reach them, right?”
Mr Harrinson’s smile must have had magical properties, Tim thought. There was no other explanation for the way it returned his breath back to his body.
The next time he saw a jumper, a few months later, he was slightly more ready for it. Bruce had congratulated him on his work with Mr Harrinson, and the subsequent raid they could make on one of Black Mask’s warehouses thanks to the man’s information, but Tim hadn’t been satisfied until he had read every single mission report on the batcomputer about attempted suicides. And succeed ones, too. Need to know what went well and what didn’t, after all.
So when he saw the fifty-something woman crying on top of a tower in City Hall District, he didn’t almost-crash in his attempt to get there in time. He landed softly, making just enough noise to let her know she wasn’t alone, but careful to not startle her.
“It’s a little cold up here, Lady. If you’d like, I can walk you home?”, he tries for cheeky, despite the cold fear nesting in his stomach like a grumpy, spiteful bird.
The woman, sitting by the edge, turned her head to look at him. The movement called attention to her long, strawberry blonde hair, neatly braided, and her pretty diamond earrings. The face under her perfect make up was gaunt and pale, tear tracks cleaning paths of skin to his trained eye.
Despite him interrupting what probably were very private thoughts, she smiled at his approach, kind and polite. It didn’t reach her eyes, but the intent to put him at ease was generous enough.
“I may be a lady, but any adult worth their salt would insist on walking the young child home, instead of the opposite. Besides”, she patted the rooftop under her,” I live here, so it’s not a long walk at all.”
Tim stepped closer, carefully.
“May I sit?”
“I could use the company for a bit”, she accepted, head turning back to the city below.
They sat there for a few minutes in silence, before Tim’s soft voice broke it again.
“Is there anything I can do to help convince you not to do it? Please?”
The lady smiled. “You are a very sweet boy.”
“That’s… not an answer. Can I at least know why?”
“Won’t it torment you, in the future, if we speak now?”, she asked a question of her own, turning to face him again. Despite her words, there was nothing but kindness in those deep green eyes. “If you don’t know me, I’m just another one who jumped. If we talk, I’m afraid I might stay with you long after I’m gone. You are too young for that kind of weight.”
“That’s easily solved, Miss;”, Dick’s rule of thumb; if unsure, always call a lady Miss before Mrs “don’t do it.”
She spared him a long, meaningful look, and he slumped over.
“Not my best, I know, but I’m kinda freaking out now?” She wasn’t like Mr Harrinson, no motive he could see, no strand to pull and unravel her pain. “Please, just… why?”
She patted one of the hands gripping his own knee. His other hand rushed over hers, sandwiching her cold, slim fingers between his gloved palms.
“There’s nothing left for me. I have a nice job, live in a pretty side of town, have friends, and still… it feels so empty. So… Meaningless. Why even bother?”
Tim chewed on her words silently. He was way out of his depth. A tangible, physical problem? He could solve those, no biggie.
Depression, though… that was a different giant to tackle. Was he even prepared enough to?
A strong gust of wind made the lady with braided hair shiver. Without thought, Tim unclasped his cape and draped it over her slim shoulders.
“Aren’t you cold?” she asked, head tilted like a curious woodland animal. Tim felt strongly protective of her, of this kind, sweet lady, who said she had it all, except the one thing that mattered to her.
“I’m used to it”, he shrugged. “This suit is very warm, but cold air often trickles down from the neckline and… well. Gigs of the job and all that.”
The lady tutted, frowning for the first time since Tim arrived.
“That won’t do, young man. You need a scarf. The nights will only get colder from now on.”
He shrugged again.
“I just… don’t have the time to buy one. And I had one, but… There’s these kids who often hang out by the park, and they were so cold, I just couldn't swing by and ignore them. So I gave them my scarf to share between them. I’m just kinda bummed that I don’t have more to make sure they all stay warm.”
The braided haired lady hummed for a second.
“Well… I knit”, she started, carefully. “I don’t have children or grandchildren to give my final products to, so they’ll go to waste after I’m gone. If you’d take them out of my hands, you’ll do me a favor.”
Tim wanted to say no, unwilling to make this any easier for her, but the chance of getting her away from the edge was enough to quell his voice.
She went and came back within minutes, a big cardboard box balanced over her shaky arms. He rose to help her, meeting the woman halfway through the roof, a good distance away from the abyss.
“This red one would look good with your suit… oh, and the green one, to keep with the theme! Or maybe the yellow one… Shame pink would be such a bad fit for your colors, because that wool is the best I worked with…”
Tim’s hand carefully took said carf out and looked it over. There were about six others in the box.
“I could take this to those kids I mentioned before… It’d still not be enough for all, but more to share between them means less cold.”
She hummed again, looking at the unfinished projects on the bottom of the box.
“If… If you give me a few days…” she muttered. “I mean, I’m in no rush”, a hand vaguely gestured towards the rooftop’s edge. “I could spare a few days finishing those, and you could take them to these kids you spoke about… and maybe, I can help make a few children less cold with this silly hobby of mine.”
Elated beyond words, Tim nodded vigorously, waxing poetry about her work and about just how excited little Ellie would be with this soft, pretty pink scarf.
His patrol route could use a few detours, after all, if that meant keeping Braided Hair Lady away from her roof.
He was just returning from a late supply run when he bumped into The Cats.
It was in an alleyway, a block off from Mrs Eloise Denvarow (formerly known as Braided Hair Lady). The older woman had caved after three months knowing each other, of Tim passing by her apartment once every other night to pick up her baked goods or knitted masterpieces, to distribute between street kids and working girls, and told him her name. It was said in passing (“Stop with that ‘Lady’ thing, honey. It’s Eloise”), as if lacking importance, when in reality it meant the world to him. Sure, he’d already known, having run a background check on her the minute he came back to the cave after stopping her from jumping, but there was that implicit vow between them, that she wouldn't tell him her name and jump, wouldn’t make him carry its weight on his shoulders forever, so it was… it was a promise, on her end, a reassurance, and Tim wasn’t even embarrassed that he cried in her arms like a baby for ten minutes.
So here he was, a month after that, still riding that high, when the desperate call from below caught his attention.
There were two teens on the dirty ground, nested among cracked bottles and old newspapers. The girl was lying in the boy’s arms, with him screaming for help.
“Robin! Thank fuck!”, he almost sobs, arms visibly tightening around the girl. Tim wants to ask how he knew to call for him, and if the proximity to Mrs Denvarow’s place was luck or not.
But it wasn’t the time to ask.
The girl was pale, which only highlighted the bruises on her face. Someone with a big fist punched her. It doesn't seem likely, considering just how distraught the other kid is, but he checks his hands just in case; fortunately, too small for that kind of damage.
She’s also breathing erratically and, when he puts a gloved hand to her neck, he realizes just how crazy her pulse is.
Fear Toxin? Except Scarecrow is still in Arkham as far as he knows, and even if he had gotten away recently, he needs time to develop his precious chemicals. Joker’s Venom and Mad’s Hatter drugs don’t have quite this results, and Ivy doesn’t usually attack street girls just for kicks; they are also too far from her usual turf for her to be a viable suspect.
So, that leaves very few choices.
“Overdose?”, he ventures a guess, hand already fumbling through the pockets on his belt.
The other boy sobs harder, nodding while looking down at the girl in his arms. Tim gently takes the girl from him to position her straighter, to help her down the vial he finally found in his belt. It was supposed to help flush out any chemical in a few minutes, tops; they usually used it when a new type of Crazy Criminal Drug made its way to the streets and they didn’t have the time to properly prepare an antidote. It was strong, and vicious in its path to devoid the body of any and all external agents, which was why it wasn’t a preferred method; who’s to say the civilian in need of a flush isn’t in some important medicine? The Big Flush, as Dick calls it, lacked any kind of finesse or discrimination.
But it was their best shot right now, so there goes nothing.
There’s silence while they watch the girl’s progress. He doesn’t bother asking if he called for an ambulance; they are obviously minors, probably homeless, and even if the Wayne Foundation takes care of children’s hospital fees, they’d avoid it to keep themselves out of the foster system.
But then, the kid kept talking.
“I… I found her near Grant Park. I… I didn’t know what to do, so I dragged her here. She/” and then he breaks again, hands grasping one of hers, as if letting go meant he was giving up on her and he couldn't bear it.
“Grant Park is only five blocks away,” Tim thinks out loud, mind already a mile away “and Moench’s Row illicit night clinic is about the same distance from there as this place. Why did you bring her here?”
“She… Alley… Oh, her name’s Allison, by the way. And I’m Thomas. Tom.” Introductions, miraculously, seem to do the trick here and calm him down. “Nice to meetcha.”
Tim’s not deterred by his toothy grin, but he has to admit he’s kinda cute. Like, stray cat cute.
Huh. Alley, Tom, cat… Yeah, that checks.
“What happened with Allison?” he presses softly, one arm still keeping Alley up and against his chest, the other hand on her pulse point, taking note of the way the heartbeat seems to be stabilizing. The puking fest was gonna start soon.
“She… It was on purpose.” Tom confesses, eyes going clouded for a while. “She tries to not be home, yknow? I met her in kindergarten, and even then she’d try to hide behind the teacher’s desk in hopes they’d forget about her and close the building with her inside. Anyway, we pretty much live on the streets these days, and Alley… she’s very depressed. I convinced her to see someone a while ago, even stol/ I mean, earned the money for it myself”, he’s quick to correct, eyes glancing up to see if he was smooth enough to cover it; which he wasn’t, but Tim was in favor of letting that small one go, “and they gave her a prescription for antidepressants. She’s been kicking it down the road, but she’s gotten a lot worse and I wouldn't lay off her case about it, so she sneaked back home to get some money from her folks to pay for it.”
By the way the kid looks at her bruised face with unmeasurable guilt, Tim knows she didn’t go unnoticed.
“And… I don’t know. We were supposed to meet up by the Commerce Street Highway, but she was late, so I walked around for a bit and… I saw her there, on a bench. She was/ she was still conscious then, and she told me… she said ‘these aren’t what the doc gave me, but they took the pain away all the same’.” Again, Tom chokes on his own emotions. If he had any free hands, he’d try to put one on his shoulder for comfort. “I don’t even know what she took, or where did she get it from!”
Tim has heard whispers of loan sharks and drug dealres camping toghter by the Fashion Distric, just north of Grant Park, so he can make an informed guess as to how that happened. Also, he now knows what he’ll do the rest of the night, once these kids are safe.
When Tom has gotten a grasp of himself, he pushes again.
“So, why did you bring her here?”
He shrugs, a bit abashed.
“Well… I mean, everyone knows about how Mrs Denvarow is the one giving clothes and food away, and that you help her distribute it. Well, not everyone, but… you know, the street kids. We flagged her building with a yellow skull and everything.”
A yellow skull grafitti, Tim’s mind translates, is the street equivalent of a ‘don’t fuck with this place’ sing. A sort of protective sigil. He wonders how he missed it.
“And… This is kind of your thing, right? So I figured you’d be better prepared to deal with it than some overworked clinic that might even not have enough free equipment to help us. Good think I did, too” he gestures at his friend, whose face is now looking flushed; a sign both of growing health, and of the upcoming puke. Tim’s quick to turn her so her back is to his chest, head tilted down just in case.
As if rehearsed, Alley chose that exact second to empty the contents of her now flushed stomach. Tim would need a sample of that, to catch the responsible dealer.
Tom held her hair away from her face while Tim kept her steady, and she blinked bearily at them after it was done, still not completely lucid but a world away from the girl she was ten minutes ago.
“She’ll still need a hospital.'' Tim informs Tom sternly. The boy had taken his friend in his arms again, softly rubbing her back to help with the uncomfortable ache leftover after puking your guts out. “The Moench’s Row clinic should be able to help with any side effect, but she’s safe for now.”
He nods, thanks Tim again and again and politely refuses his help to take her to the clinic. They part ways, both parties probably thinking this would be the last time they saw each other.
Still, their situation sticks with Tim during the rest of his patrol, and he decides to stop by the clinic, just to check on them. His knuckles still ache from the absolute beating he delivered to the ones who gave Alley the money and sold her the drugs, so he’s in better spirits and hopes to spread it to the kids.
Alley is awake when he visits, and her shy, little smile is enough for the rage inside of Tim to die down. The bad guys dealt with, the civilians safe, everything in its proper place.
He sleeps a bit better that night.
He almost doesn’t see him.
Actually, he probably wouldn't have, deeply lost into his own head, had the guy been anything other than a redhead. That exact shade of orangy-brown auburn, that he would have to pick up from his workbench at Titan’s tower after Bart had decided to ‘keep him company’ during his all-nighters.
It was ironic, how now he would give anything in the world to have those same strands of hair fucking up his experiments, if only for the impish, ‘please-don’t-kill-me-I’m-an-angel’ smile he would receive in exchange.
“Hey”, he greets, landing softly at the man’s right, sitting a few feet away from him, too tired to even stand up on common ground. “What’s happening?”
He shouldn’t be doing this. He really, really shouldn’t. His own mental health was less than stellar, and even thinking about it made him feel worse. He didn’t deserve to feel bad, not when civilians were in the hospital after his latest fuck up, Cass was missing, Cassie barely hanging in there, the family a mess with Damian’s lovely introduction, and… well. Every other person he knew…
Point being, there must be someone else, in a better inner place, that could speak to this guy. But since no one seemed to be patrolling this route, Tim could only hope to stall him long enough for a more capable vigilante to show up.
The guy looks startled, then angry. He has green eyes, he notices, under the glasses. Not sure why that sticks to him.
“What are you doing here? You’re not going to try to stop me, are you? You’re not going to swing down and catch me in mid air or something, are you?”
He seems defensive, but Tim notices a bit of hesitancy. He has worked with less.
(He wishes he had more energy to do more with what little he has)
“No. If I did, what’s to stop you from doing it again later, or tomorrow? I can’t be with you every second. If you want to do this, you are going to, no matter how much I don’t want you to. And I don’t want you to, just so we are clear.”
The guy still looks suspicious, but he hasn’t taken that last step forward, so… a win?
“I just needed to sit down for a minute. ‘been thinking about all the ways I’ve screwed up lately, and…”
Auburn-hair deflates a little, turning away from Tim to examine the night sky. “Well, that makes two of us.”
The bat signal lights up the night. His newfound companion looks at it, then him. “Do you need to get that?”
“Nah. Batman will, and if he needs help he’ll call me.” Tim shrugs. He needs a coffee-power-up. He needs to sleep. He needs for his loved ones to not be dead.
He needs to see if there’s anything he can do for this guy.
“So, do you want to tell me why you’re doing this? So someone can go to your family and friends to let them know?”
After all, if it was him who did it (and… wasn’t that food for thought?), he’d like Bruce and Dick to know why. To not… to not blame themselves.
Redhead looks annoyed again. Uh. A short fuse, this one.
“Don’t try any psychology, or try to make me feel guilty about hurting anyone… this isn't about anyone but me.”
He shouldn’t say it, but… “That’s pretty naive, but whatever. Tell me anyway.” He smirks a bit, then. “Unless you’re in a hurry or something.”
He hears the guy (he really should ask his name) breathing in deeply, probably weighing his options, and waits. It doesn’t take him long to give up and tell his story. A cold, clinical part of his mind recognizes the symptoms described almost unconsciously by the guy as depression. He would know, after all. The other part of him, the part that made him Robin, that made him human, discarded the label; there was much more to this guy than his illness, and he would treat him like it.
“So here I am,” he finishes, now sitting side by side with Tim, both their legs hanging above the bustling city. “Now’s when you tell me how stupid this is. That other people have much bigger problems, there’s hunger and war, and I’m weak because my problems are nothing next to stuff like that.”
Tim thinks of a father, desperately thinking his death would save his son’s life, when in fact it would have only made it worse. He thinks of a woman, so full of love and warmth, looking into the abyss and feeling empty inside. He thinks of a couple of kids, one hanging to life with nails and teeth, the other hanging to her just as fiercely.
He thinks about himself. About looking at a future version of himself, hating what he sees, and deciding to drown the bud before it can even flower. He thinks of sickly green water, of cloning equipment in a laboratory, of a phone falling to the ground after delivering him with more bad news.
He’s still in a bad place, still probably not the most capable person to be doing this, but a part of him is sure this is the right answer. The only answer.
“No. Your problems are worse than anyone else’s, because they are yours. I’ve... felt bad like you have, and some pretty bad things have happened to me.”
Red hair looks as tired as Tim feels, so it’s a surprise that he has enough energy to glance at him worriedly, hand stretching a bit in his direction in a half-formed attempt to comfort.
“You guys make it look so easy, swinging around, having fun… Things get bad for you, too?”
Tim looks down, and smiles. It’s a sad, bitter thing. He thinks about parents lost before ever connecting to them, about a girlfriend going away, a sister lost to the madness of their lives, about two best friends gone, one even dying in his arms.
He gives no details. Doesn’t talk about it all, just shares a little bit of himself. It’s only fair, after hearing about this guy’s demons. Misery loves company, doesn’t it?
“So what do you do? How do you deal with it?” the guy asks when he’s done, looking at Tim by the corner of his not-very-dry eyes.
Tim forces himself to remember. “One of the things I’ve learned is that it gets bad for everyone sometimes, Superman, Batman… everyone. I remember that I’m not alone, that things do get better. Sometimes on their own, most times when you work at them. And when I have trouble remembering those things, I find people to talk to.”
Most of those were dead, but Tim is hit with the epiphany that not all of them are. He still has people. He still…
“And you’ve got people like that? That you can talk to?” asks the guy, tone both worried and hopeful. Tim stands up, does his best to look calm.
“Yeah. Your folks, and old friend, even a trained counselor you’ve never met before… someone who has a totally different perspective because they’re not as close to your problems as you are. Maybe they give you advice, and that’s great… or maybe they just listen. Sometimes, that’s all you need. Anyway, that’s how I deal with it when things suck. And it works. Want to come down from there and give it a try?”
The guy gets back to his feet, as Tim watches from behind. Having been in this situation before, the fear grabbing a hold of him isn’t new, but it's different. He thinks he's too worn down. It takes the edge off of any emotion.
Except hope. Hope still hurts like a sharp knife when it’s snatched away. He prays it won’t be, right now.
Green eyes (Jason- that’s who they reminded him of) look down, deep in thought. Then he turns, smiles at Tim. There’s hope in him too.
“Yeah, why not?”
They get down together. He gives him a few numbers and they have breakfast together. The guy promises to call his English teacher, at least. Tim promises himself to call his brother.
At least, he still has Dick.
He’s been putting off doing his rounds since he came back, he knows. But…
It changed him, a bit. Going around the world, dealing with his grief while staying on his toes, ready to break down one second and having to field off attacks from all sides the next, with the Demon’s honeyed whispers echoing in his ear and mind.
He’ll never tell anyone, just how tempting it had been. How much he had wanted to reach for that offered hand. To lay his head on someone’s shoulder and let the responsibility bleed from his.
Tim will never tell anyone, but he’ll always know. And it’ll always make him hate himself a little bit more.
So, he’s different now. And he’s scared- that the people he gave hope to, that he talked with, that he could never stop thinking about, even halfway across the world- that they won’t like this new, worn down him.
That Mr Harrinson the Good Father, Braided Hair Lady and her sweaters, the inseparable Stray Cats, the girl with the bright yellow cardigan, the kid with the scarred wrists, the woman with beautiful star-like freckles that she’ll hopefully pass on to her baby, the gentle giant man with calloused hands, the petite but fierce young teen with defiant eyes and dead name, the soft spoken girl with the loudest laugh, auburn-haired boy and his hopeful and sympathetic green eyes… and so, so many more. They all knew him, maybe not at his best, but certainly better than now. The boy that kept them from jumping had been a bright, magical Robin. The teen that came back to their city was dark, weary Red Robin. It felt kinda like he had cheated them, returning this broken version of himself to their doorsteps.
But he had to go check on all of them. Even if Cass (and it was such a relief, that even after he lost everything else, the return of his sister could at least be a speck of light in the mist of misery surrounding him) had promised to do so, there were so many of them… and she couldn't possibly remember everyone, all the time. And if anyone had fallen through the gaps… if anyone had stood on a rooftop, waiting for their Robin to save them, only to think ‘nobody cares’ as he didn’t show up…
Tim gets sick only thinking about it. If it did happen, then he needs to know. He has to carry their names with him, that’s the least he can do for failing them.
So he’ll go check on them… anytime now. Soon. The moment he gathers enough energy to climb back to his feet and get his grapple hook out.
...The city looks full of life, beneath him. Like it feels the return of its Knight. The end of the internal quarrel among it’s vigilantes, that almost tore it all apart. The relief in Nightwing, the hesitant peace in Red Hood, the mellowing of Robin.
(He was feeling poetic tonight, in the worst ways)
Maybe it also feels Red Robin’s emptiness. Maybe that’s why it's so lively down there, like the ground is calling to him, just as it did when Ra’s broke the window with his body.
He thinks... he won’t have to check on anyone, if he jumps. And that way, there will be no name to carry with him to his grave.
“Don’t do it, please!”
He startles. Hadn’t even noticed when he got to his feet, nor that one of them was hanging over the abyss. The fact that he wasn’t alone on that rooftop any longer hadn’t even breached his usually perfect spatial awareness.
They didn’t call for him , but the voices sounded distraught, they were close, and he was a former Robin, so he turned around, tired, but with obedience and service too ingrained in him to consider denying help to whoever it was.
It turned out, he wouldn't need to go make his rounds any longer. His rounds had come to him.
There were… too many people on this roof. It was way too crowded.
It was one voice now, not a mixture of them, so he could identify the one yelling his former alias. Allison broke from the mob of people (and there were more still, filling in from the open rooftop door, like a never-ending stream…) to run to him, looking like she might have just jumped into his arms, if not for Tom clutching her hoodie to stop her a few feet from him. Good move, considering he was still balancing precariously on the edge.
“Alleycat?” he whispered, a little blown. She looked so different (magenta looked amazing on the tips of her hair, and she totally pulled off that lip piercing), but he’d recognize those eyes anywhere. He’d been so relieved, when she first opened them after that dangerous overdose.
“We were so fucking worried, dude”, came from Tomcat just behind her, still gripping her hoodie (still keeping her safe; some things never change).
“Where were you?” Maddie, not longer yellow but still wearing a cute cardigan, stepped up too.
“I’m… I’m not Robin”, he blurts out. They… knew it was him? It… like, obviously there was a new Robin, Damian was (still, but probably not for much longer) smaller than him, but to immediately know that he was…
“Yeah, no shit. I’d know that long hair and noodle limbs of yours anywhere, kid. Known you too long to be fooled. And the new kid’s really trigger happy with that lon’nife of his... You’re still the Robin I prefer, and fuck if I understand the name passing you heroes do” Mr Harrinson spoke from the back of the crowd, one hand clutching his kid’s shoulder, the other arm around…
“Braided Hair Lady?”
Eloise smiles at him, soft and warm as ever, a little shy when his eyes go to the arm hugging her close and back to her. He recognizes some of her handmade scarfs around the necks of plenty of people on the roof.
“I… wasn’t aware you all knew each other.”
A petite young teen steps forward, walking until they were shoulder-to-shoulder with the Strays.
“Most of us met through the app, and then introduced the others. There’s more, of course, but not everyone could meet here. Samantha’s baby was born just two months ago, so she chose to stay home, but we promised her pictures, so you’ll have to say cheese soon birdboy. Also, I found my name. I’m Cal.”
Allison’s smile broadened and she sneaked an arm around Cal’s waist.
“They are the new Straycat. Calico cat’s are the cutest shit ever, aren’t they?”
Well… Having someone as badass as Cal watching Tom and Alley’s back would sure make Tim feel a lot better about both kids being out in the streets.
Were they still on the streets? He’d need to find out and fix that, soon.
Then it hit him. “What app?”
Auburn-hair smiled from his place, at the front of the crowd just behind the Cats.
“Felix over there,” he pointed over his shoulder at Mr Harrinson’s son, who smiled shyly at Tim, eyes shining in gratitude and admiration like they always did when Tim did his rounds and checked on his dad, “defended you in a GothamHeroes forum once. Some bratty douchebag was complaining about you landing over his car or something and this kid went for his fucking troath.”
“I was in that chat too,” spoke Tom, smiling a little too savagely for a kid that sweet. “He tore the idiot to shreds, speaking about how you saved his dad’s life and took it upon yourself to make sure he was still okay even weeks after you met. I mentioned how you saved Alley and Mrs Denvarow, we exchanged numbers… then we met Cal during one of our rounds handing out Mrs D’s scarfs and food. They were weary of everyone else, but trusted us because they heard you talk about the clothes and baked goods... And Cal’s friend Gina worked with Samantha on the streets and told them about her story...”
“Soon, it seemed like people personally saved by you were just… popping out of the snow like daisies” Blair laughed, and it was still the loudest, brightest noise. The night seemed a little clearer, the air a little fresher for it. “Felix made his own private chat and added us, and we added everyone else we knew… The word went around about it, and more and more people joined in…”
“It’s really a wonder how you had any time to fight crime, seeing how often you were apparently comforting jumpers on the roofs” Ailbert, still as gigantic and gentle as always, raised a hand from the middle of the group. He had a little girl on his shoulders, probably the baby niece he had taken in after his sister’s death.
“Then the new kid appeared and Gotham went to hell on a basket, and no one saw you around any longer”, Elijah, wrists no more scarred than the last time he saw him, his arm tangled with Maddie’s, went on. “We were… well, we were a bit confused.”
“Speak for yourself, Cal jumped Red Hood one night, held him at knife point and demanded to know what the fuck happened to our Robin. We were like, zero chill.”
“Sorry, they did what?” Tim was definitely in the twilight zone now.
“No thoughts, head empty, only murder”
...Tim needed to give Jason a quick call. Also sign Cal up for anger management. And probably, judging by the way both Alley and Tom were looking at them, get one of the adults to give them the talk.
Mrs Eloise smiled at him, and like always it served to calm his nerves. That woman was a different kind of magic than Alfred, but magic indeed. “Anyway, dear, what matters is that we were worried about you. And then this incredible young man, Aaron,” she waved at him, and he winked one of his green eyes in response, “suggested we kept in closer contact with one another, so anyone who spotted you could inform the others.”
Aaron shrugged, his auburn mane of hair bobbing with the movement. “It just seemed like it’d be easier to have an alarm set up, since messaging everyone would take so long… and then someone suggested making a map of Gotham so we could have clearer routes for the kids handing out Mrs Denvarow’s stuff… and someone wanted a shared blackboard to write theories on where the fuck you were with others… and a few demanded a space to share photos, possible sightings or old selfies with you… It kinda spiralled and I thought it’d be less of a chaotic mess if I made an app that could do all of that, instead of all of us using multiple apps for the different fixtures everyone asked for… Since this is Gotham, we also added some Rouge Alarm for whenever a criminal was set loose. It helped keep us safe, and if we knew when crime was happening, we could pay attention to which heroes answered the call…”
“And then, you fought that firefly guy the other day”, Felix said, still by his dad’s side, still looking as awed as ever when looking at tim. “I was in the crowd, and I recognized you within a minute.”
“I don’t really understand technology that well, and the group chat was such a mess that day” Ailbert lamented, but he was still smiling. They all were.
That hit Tim then, hard.
They all looked so happy to see him. To have him back. They had been waiting for him to be back, banded together to make sure they’d all know when he did.
“You looked so sad the last time we saw you” Blair added softly, sadly. “And… when you saved Aaron, you told him about such sad things…”
Elijah winced “And I heard the Midnighter fell from Wayne Tower a few weeks ago, but then he was never seen around again, and your suit looks kinda similar, so that was probably really you… and, that fall…”
“We were very worried” repeated Eloise, but her eyes didn’t lose their warmth. “But you’re back now, and we can keep track of you and each other now, so it’s all good. It’s wonderful to have you back, love.”
This was an out of body experience.
Something must have shown on his face, because Cal snorted.
“We adore you, you dumbass. You are our hero.”
Alley smiled. “You are our Robin.”
Tim fell into her arms, and away from the roof’s edge. The rest of the crowd was upon them in seconds, all eager to pat his back or joke about the cowl hiding his hair from their hands.
He met eyes with Aaron, over Alley’s shoulder. He looked like the hope Tim had helped plant in his heart all those months ago had flowered, and the petals filled his heart.
(He was feeling poetic tonight, in the best ways)
“You should download the app too, so you always have someone to talk to. Look it up. It’s called BirdWatchers, because we’ll always look up and out for you. Because when we wanted to jump, you lended us your wings to fly instead.”
It was like this fucker wanted Tim to cry.
“Welcome home, Red Robin.”