The Waynes had a summer home.
Outside of Gotham. Outside of skyrocketing crime rates, muggings and shootings.
It was much smaller and more intimate then the manor. It was a cottage villa by the sea with whimsical iron gates and an emerald green lawn that the groundskeepers cut to resemble argyle patterns.
The summer home had only two sitting rooms and six bedrooms, and the air smelled like hyacinths in June and hydrangeas in August, and like salt ocean all year round.
Timothy had not known about Bruce Wayne’s summer home until he’d become an honorary Wayne. Until his parents had gone to Haiti with promises to bring Timothy back rare and wonderful treasures and Timothy had instead been presented with two solid polished boxes and the promise of a life that wouldn’t be so much different than the life he’d already been living.
But it would have appeared cold and callous for Janet and Jack Drake’s friends to take no interest in their orphaned son.
Timothy had known appearances were everything so with an empire strapped to his back he’d allowed his things to be moved to the manor with low expectations.
But all that was years ago and Timothy mostly didn’t think about it anymore. He mostly didn’t think about his parents and Haiti and tragedy and dying as he lived, which was alone.
Bruce wasn’t a bad man. Not like Timothy had thought he might be. Bruce was intelligent and thoughtful for a man with a dynasty, and honestly seemed to like having children in his large echoing empty house.
Every summer Bruce and Dick and Damian would escape to the sea. And now Tim would come with them, and they would stay for one whole month in a small town where Bruce Wayne’s largeness seemed far away and unimportant.
They would come when the small town had their yearly fair and Ferris wheels and streaming pennants decorated the town square. They would come and cover their fingertips with sugared cinnamon and cotton candy wisps and they would forget what it was like to be heirs to their respective kingdoms.
Timothy liked the summer home by the sea.
In the summer home by the sea Timothy didn’t have to be brilliant and cutting.
In the summer home by the sea Timothy could curl into a chair in the first sitting room and live another life through the pages of a book for days at a time.
The summer home by the sea reshaped Timothy and Dick and Bruce and Damian. It erased the bruises under their eyes and the tightness in their mouths. It loosened them for laughter and to languish and it softened them and let them melt together.
In the summer home by the sea Dick made jokes that Timothy actually laughed at.
In the summer home by the sea Damian kept kittens in a basket in the mudroom and fed them carefully with doting hands.
In the summer home by the sea Bruce gathered them all together at breakfast and slipped them tiny sums of money to go to the fair. And they pretended that the twenties in their pockets were all the money in the world and they stretched them as far as they could.
In the summer home by the sea Timothy Drake met Jason Todd, and his life became very different.
In the summer home by the sea Timothy Drake’s life changed.
Jason Todd lived in a town by the sea. He only lived there recently. Before that he lived surrounded by the sea in a place with tall stone fences and barbed wire tips.
But Jason Todd did not live there anymore.
Jason Todd was eighteen and they had to let him go.
So Jason Todd chose a town by the sea because he was used to falling asleep to the sounds of waves crashing.
Jason lived in a little apartment in the town by the sea and slept with the windows open so he could hear the ocean, and Jason sat on his cramped balcony with his cigarettes and his one broken lawn chair and watched the tide.
Jason woke at seven in the morning because it was a part of him now to do so and would have cigarettes and coffee for breakfast.
Then Jason would pick up his tool box and check his phone and go do some work so he could have coffee and cigarettes for breakfast and a little apartment by the sea.
When Jason fixed their fences and doors and windows and cut their lawns and pruned their bushes he would hear what they had to say about him. When Jason cleaned their gutters they would call him a felon behind his back.
They didn’t know they weren’t wrong.
Jason looked bad. Jason looked dangerous. Jason had spent two years watching his back and looking over his shoulder and being stronger than people who wanted to hurt him. Jason had strange hair with that bit of white in it and Jason didn’t talk like you were supposed to in the town by the sea.
Jason was a good worker though. The people in the town by the sea may only guess at where Jason came from. But they knew for a fact that Jason was a good worker. So they called Jason and gave Jason money to do the things they didn’t know how to do.
Jason didn’t need a lot to stay alive. So Jason took their money and paid for his things and folded up twenties very small and slipped them into a box under the floorboard. Jason didn’t touch the money in the floorboard. Even when he was hungry. Even when he was out of cigarettes.
When Jason was hungry he picked up his toolbox. When Jason was out of cigarettes, he went to work.
Jason didn’t know what he was saving for.
Jason was probably saving for the person he might be in a few years.
That guy would probably need all the help he could get.
Timothy was curled in a chair behind the summer house by the sea under an umbrella with Voltaire for company when Jason Todd cut the lawn.
Timothy didn’t look up at the guttural gasoline roar of the riding lawn mower. Timothy didn’t let it stir him from his absorption in the text in his hands.
But with the scent of newly cut grass shavings that wafted towards him Timothy also caught the acrid scent of cigarettes and his head jerked up.
Timothy hadn’t smelled cigarettes like that since before Haiti and before the polished wood boxes.
They said that scent memory was the strongest memory, and when Timothy smelled his mother’s cigarettes on the lawn of the summer house beside the sea he had to agree. It wrapped it’s hands around his throat and yanked him back into memories he hadn’t asked to relive. Memories of a woman with a straight spine and cold eyes. Memories of more disappointments than exaltations.
But when the memories cleared away all Timothy was left with was Jason. He didn’t know this man’s name but it was Jason all the same. Jason was cutting the lawn and his broad back was scarred and hunched and bare. Jason’s tshirt was tugged through the steering wheel of the mower and knotted there.
Because it was a warm day.
Jason was as far from his mother as he could get.
Timothy watched Jason cut the lawn.
Jason smoked four more cigarettes before he was done.
Jason was perched on the roof when he noticed the narrowed blue eyes trapped behind a pane of glass watching him. Jason was cleaning out the gutters with a trowel and a bucket and when he noticed the eyes they didn’t look away. They held his gaze calmly and without apology.
Jason went back to cleaning the gutters.
He had smoked three cigarettes by the time the pale face and blue eyes disappeared from the window.
And Jason didn’t think about them again that day.
Timothy wasn’t supposed to be in the summer home by the sea that year. Not really. But Timothy hadn’t wanted to miss the Ferris Wheels and pennants and cotton candy cinnamon sugar treats.
This year Timothy hadn’t been able to stay away even when his friends asked him to go on an adventure.
Before Bruce Timothy hadn’t had any friends, and now after he had many friends. He had Conner, who was strong and brave and sweet. He had Bart who was clever and quick and sly. He had Stephanie who was diabolical but only used her powers for good.
Timothy had friends.
And while Timothy was at the summer house by the sea, his friends were across that same ocean. They had backpacks and wrinkled roadmaps with coffee stains. They were seeing the world.
Timothy wanted to be with them but he couldn’t, not yet.
After the month in the summer home by the sea, Timothy would go to them. He would meet them in Prague.
There was still a month left of summer for adventures.
The summer home by the sea was the only place where Bruce and Tim and Damian and Dick could be themselves. it was the only place they could finally just be a family. Timothy did not want to wait an entire other year for that. So he’d stayed.
It was only a month.
Somehow Jason felt like all the houses on the street had white picket fences. Rows and rows of white wooden stakes pointing up at the sky.
Usually at least once a day in the heart of the city Jason would be mowing a lawn or weeding a garden or cutting down a dangerous tree and he’d find himself corralled in. It wasn’t a good feeling but it was a feeling he’d come to accept and ignore.
Jason’s apartment was picket fence-less. It was undomesticated. It smelled like motor oil most of the time. It was a safe haven and Jason liked to escape back to it and hide away from the wholesomeness of the smells and sights of the town by the sea.
Jason was weeding a garden with his tshirt tugged through one of his belt loops and hands filling up canvas gloves when he saw a pair of shoes on the sidewalk in between the slats of a white picket fence. The shoes were shiny. Too shiny. They didn’t even have scuffs from rubbing against each other in some cheap shoe box.
The shoes could belong to anyone here in this little town by the sea, where rich people pretended to be something else a few weeks of the year.
Jason shouldn't give a damn about a pair of rich shoes shining between pickets in a fence and mostly he didn't except there was something Jason felt he should maybe be noticing about them besides the fact they were shiny. Besides the fact they looked expensive.
And then there was the lurch. The tilt to the side and the fall. Jason heard a small whump of something small and human shaped hitting the concrete.
Surging to his feet Jason asked himself again why he gave a damn. Behind the small picket fence was a boy curled on the sidewalk. Blue eyes that had peered out at him from behind a pane of glass staring foward, unseeing with a phone clutched in his hand.
Jason reached down and picked the phone up, pressing it to his ear.
'-a tragedy. I am so sorry -all three presumed dead in the bombing-'
Jason quietly clicked the phone closed and slipped it in his pocket.
Then he slipped his arms under Timothy Drake sprawled on the sidewalk like a broken china doll and lifted.
He left the weeds half pulled, and walked.
Jason Todd did not know why, but he walked past the summer homes with their picket fences and emerald green lawns. He walked past wrought iron gates and sprawling hyacinths.
His cargo was complacent to go where carried and Jason carried it all the way to his broken lawn chair and loosened floorboard four walls and a rusted faucet apartment that smelled like a garage and felt like a closet.
Jason didn't need much to live. He stood by that fact. He'd lived with nothing for so long that things seemed wasteful.
The springs in his second hand cot screeched at the slightest weight, but the screaming coils did nothing but barely flicker the boy's eyelids as Jason set him down.
Timothy Jackson Drake lay curled on a cot that smelled like oil and his mother's cigarettes for a long while. Until the sun and dipped far past the horizon and stars winked into existence to frame a perfect cool summer evening in the town by the sea.
Jason slipped out to the balcony six times to smoke. On the seventh, the bundle on the bed had moved, sitting upright, staring blindly at a grease stain stamped into the floorboards.
Listlessly it stood and shuffled out the door.
Jason wondered if he should follow.
He smoked another cigarette contemplating it, and went to bed.
"I'm Tim." Was announced with eyes trained to the peeling filthy carpet in the hallway to Jason's apartment the next morning.
"Okay." Jason opened the door a bit wider. "You can stay a while if you want. I'm Jason."
Tim stayed a while.
Jason went to work.
Tim was still there when he got back.
They didn't talk much.
On the fourth day Tim arrived at Jason's door with a camera clutched in his hands like a life raft in drowning water.
"I used to take pictures." He offered, eyes trained to the side. "I stopped."
"Not much worth taking pictures of in here" Jason jerked his thumb behind him.
"That's okay. I don't need too much excitement."
At the times Jason bothered to look, Tim seemed to be cataloguing all the broken things in Jason's four hundred square foot space.
Minus any items currently breathing of course.
For one week and two days Tim knocked politely on the scarred particle board that passed for Jason's front door and moved around his space like a silent specter. Sometimes Jason stayed, sometimes Jason needed to work and he left Tim who was always quietly there whenever Jason chose to return.
Tim had timidly at first claimed tiny corners and tacked up five by eight glossies that grew into a small sprawling web. Jason spied flashes of blonde hair and quarterback shoulders when he let his eyes linger which was mostly never when he could help it.
It got to the point where if Tim didn't knock at the door with drug store photo envelopes clutched to his chest Jason wondered.
On a Wednesday afternoon Tim Drake's collection of snapshots had nearly filled an expanse of wall, hiding flaking peeling paint and concrete.
Tim pressed three pictures to the hole left, and this time Jason looked.
Cigarettes and coffee for breakfast. Jason was sitting on his broken lawn chair, looking out at the sea.
But it wasn’t Jason, it was what Tim saw.
Jason thought then about how being with people felt like lying most of the time.
No one could ever get across the truth of who they were to someone else. Not with all the words or silences in the world.
“All my friends are dead.”
Jason thought he should laugh but he was fixing his old rusted heater. Cold weather was only a month away at most, and his hands were holding together some intricate pieces. He had a screwdriver in his mouth and he spoke around it, lips awkwardly shaping the words with exaggeration.
“It’s been two weeks since then and I’m pretty sure I’m the only one who knows.”
Tim was balanced on the edge of the cot like he was about to take flight. His eyes strayed away from Jason to The Wall.
“I’m afraid I won’t cry, and they’re good people. They deserve a good person to cry about them.”
Jason hummed and scrambled fingers across a scarred floor for a needed screw.
Tim shifted. “I didn’t cry when my parents died. I was just relieved.”
Jason hummed again but didn’t say what he knew.
Some parents didn’t deserve their children.
But he didn’t think that meant Tim was broken on caring.
He was just scared to start, because it wouldn’t stop, and it would hurt.
On that day Tim started smoking Jason’s cigarettes.
Jason thought he would mind more than he did.
Jason was cutting Tim’s lawn and Tim was at his apartment and Jason wondered what was happening as he cut argyle patterns into the grass.
Since Tim’s shiny shoes had tipped between pickets Jason’s world had felt askew. Like it had stopped, waiting to be righted.
Had it been moving forward before then?
Jason couldn’t remember.
Jason catalogued his life as Before Prison and After Prison.
After Prison Jason seemed now like he was waiting.
The money curled under the floorboards fluttered through his mind.
Maybe he was.
Tim didn’t talk very much. But sometimes with hardly any words he said a lot.
Jason appreciated being economic with words. Making them matter.
“I was supposed to meet them. In Prague. Next week. We were going to finish Europe together.”
Jason saw a flash of blonde and quarterback shoulders behind glossy paper tacked carefully to his wall.
“Are you going to go?”
“I don’t know.”
When Tim went home, Jason counted the money under the floor.
Something was going to change.
A week went by and Tim smoked Jason’s cigarettes and told him they reminded him of his mother.
What Tim didn’t say is that it helped him to not care and be cold when his insides were shaking every minute of every day like he was going to shake apart, pieces scattered over the scarred floor of Jason’s apartment.
Tim knew he had to go.
Tim didn’t know if he planned to come back if he went.
It had been a month and Tim stood, staring at the epicenter of everything that had gone wrong in his world. It had been a month and mostly the blast area didn’t look much like a blast area at all any more.
“This is where they died.” Tim said. The air smelled sweet as it blew his hair off his forehead.
Jason was beside him. Jason who had secrets and eyes like the town by the sea with thunder rolling along the coast.
“What about you? Is this where you’re going to die Tim?”
Tim shuddered all the way through. Shuddering turned to shaking. “I thought it might be.” He whispered.
“You’re still here.” Jason said.
Tim breathed deep.
“I’m still here.”
He closed his eyes. Pictures fluttered behind his lids. Pictures of blonde hair, sweet smiles and quick jokes.
Pictures of family.
He opened his eyes.
When he reached out to Jason he took his hand instead of his cigarette.
It was a beautiful day.