Chapter 1: Chapter 1
Gotham City: October 14 th , 2151
Jason doesn't listen to Bruce (the fifteenth Wayne to go by that name, as it happens). It is that not listening that has him wandering around in the middle of the day when he should be training or studying or some other bullshit that he won't ever do. Bruce isn't his dad, won't ever be. Besides, he's got his own two stupid sons, Dick and Damian. It's not like he'll ever be their biological brother. He was just some street punk with a dead mom that no one else had wanted.
Alfred says to Bruce, when he thinks Jason's not listening, that it's all just nineteen-year-old rebelliousness. Jason doesn't think so. He thinks Bruce hovers too much. Therefore, he keeps him away by staying away. And even in Batman's city, it would be really hard to find one man who didn't want to be found. The tall, super-scrapers and the constantly moving hovercraft kept him hidden from everyone.
Warehouses, of course, hid him even better. No matter how innovative this city got, it seemed the warehouses never changed. Bruce said they'd been here since the first Batman, only getting repairs every so often. They are just warehouses after all.
Jason pulls a pack of cigarettes out of his pocket, along with the decorated lighter than had been his mother's. Smoking pisses Bruce off. It pisses him off even more when Jason comes home smelling like smoke, because that means he was out and smoking.
He wanders around Warehouse 17, the one closest to the docks. He's never been in this one, though he's pretty sure he's smoked outside it before. He pushes around boxes, looking for something to pilfer, since he's out disobeying rules anyway. He muscles some crates over, to see what's behind them (because only valuables are packed behind heavy crates).
Instead of some major stockpiling of any sort of good, a person is behind the stack of crates. He doesn't appear to be breathing and his dark hair and pale face are covered in dust. A dead body that had yet to decompose? It was a tad cold. Well, he'd check to see if it was a corpse. If it was, he'd call Bruce — well, Batman — which would postpone the inevitable punishment he will get for being out here, smoking, and looking for stuff to steal.
He touches the young man's face (he can't be any older than Jason, probably a year or so younger), pushing a little, just to make sure he wouldn't be calling the Bat for nothing.
Jason reaches for his comm when the man takes a deep breath, almost as if he'd been without air for a lifetime. He opens his eyes and Jason's shocked at what a bright blue they are. The blue eyed man shakes his head, scattering dust everywhere. His eyes flicker to every corner of the warehouse and he looks confused. Lost. Lonely?
Then his eyes rest on Jason. The breath shudders out of him.
"Jason." His voice is raspy, and sad. Jason takes a step back, then another. The sadness in that man's voice doesn't mean he trusts him. And it certainly doesn't make it okay that he knows Jason's name. He reaches out, toward him, and Jason takes three quick steps back.
"Who are you?" He asks, getting into Batman's favorite fighting stance.
The man smiles, a sad miserable thing, and stands.
"I'm Tim," he says. "Tim Drake."
Chapter 2: Chapter 2
Gotham City: October 14 th , 2151
Jason looks so confused. He always does, every time, because Tim always throws out Jason's name, every time. And he is always named Jason. The others change it up (though not very often) but Jason is always Jason. Fate isn't very original. Even after — give his internal clock a minute to adjust — one hundred twenty-one years, since the death of the first Bruce Wayne.
"I don't know a Tim Drake," Jason says. Tim's batteries are below fifty percent, so he needs to throw out the take-me-to-the-Batcave card. Later, he will answer Jason's questions. Maybe. Secrets, while hard to keep, eventually became a part of Tim's life. But Jason always cracks him. It will be better, he thinks, if he just cut to the chase this time. After he charges his batteries.
"How is Batman?" Tim says, nonchalantly, ignoring Jason's obvious dig for information. Jason freezes, his left arm twitching in nervousness.
"Batman. The city's protector. Your boss. The man who adopted you." While sometimes Dick and Damian are Batman's biological sons, Jason never is. Or, if he has been, it is when Tim is in stasis and no one comes to wake him.
Jason is looking close to a freak out. He doesn't know whether to try and knock Tim unconscious or to call Batman for back up. He seems to decide on the former, and leaps forward, pulling his fist back. Tim sidesteps and grabs Jason's arms, cinching each hand around Jason's wrists. Jason has always been taller than Tim, but Tim has never had to hold his arms above his head. Jason struggles, but there is no way he's getting out of Tim's grip.
"If you try and hit me, you'll just break your hand." Jason's eyes alight with defiance. Tim's heart squeezes, making it hard to stand. This is tiring. All of this is so tiring. "But, to save you the trouble of shattered fingers, I can just go with you to see Batman," he doesn't know the name of this one. Besides, saying Batman works better to let Jason know that he isn't kidding.
Jason stops moving, staring at Tim with more anger now than defiance. Tim almost lets him go, to save himself from Jason's anger. But he won't, not until Jason tells him that he'll take him to Batman.
"Okay," Jason says, finally, his belligerence all used up. "Okay, I guess I'll take you to Batman." Tim lets his wrists go and Jason starts off at a jog out of the warehouse. It takes no effort for Tim to keep up (but, then, it never had, not even before the accident). His batteries whine at him, causing a twinge of hunger to roll through his stomach, as if he still had one.
It really isn't that long a jog, not with all the shortcuts Jason knows (has always known). The manor looks almost the same, maybe a little shinier, a little brighter. The gates are more technologically advanced than they were the last time Tim was here. The driveway is still long and Tim can pick out the distinctive bulges in the ground, below which the Batcave sits. Jason is muttering to himself, trying to come up with an excuse. Not just for bringing Tim here, of course. He reeks of cigarette smoke (and sometimes when he wakes Tim, he smells like beer), and Batman always hates it, no matter who the Batman is at the time.
Jason opens the door, only to be greeted with a snide, "Father's going to be furious with you, Todd." Oh, yes, fate really was unoriginal. He was actually the full blown Jason Todd this time. Damian comes into view, looking just like the Damian from back home. Dick pops around the corner, looking almost exactly the same as well, only his eyes are a slightly brighter blue, a Wayne staple.
"Who's your friend, Jay?" Dick asks, smiling. "Cuter than your usual crowd."
Tim smiles back. Jason snorts. "Don't hit on him. He could be some asshole. I've never met him before today. Claims he knows Batman." Dick's eyebrows go up and Damian looks as if he's about to start hissing. Tim looks around, taking in the rearrangement of the furniture, the giant picture of the first Bruce Wayne above the fireplace. Sadness threatens to drown him again.
Now it's time to make a guess, and hope fate is just as predictable this time as he hopes it is. "So, is Bruce around? And is the Batcave in the same place?" All three of them almost fall over, or their expressions say they want to. Tim just blindsided them with information he's not supposed to have. So, his name is Bruce.
As if summoned by his name, Bruce Wayne, of some unknown number, steps into the room, looking just as Tim's Bruce had.
Before Tim can speak, or even begin to explain himself (as he has many times before), Jason jumps into the conversation.
"He says he wants to speak with you, and—he knows you. Both of you." Bruce's eyes widened, only a little, as could be expected of someone with Bruce's name.
"And who is this 'he?'"
"Tim," Tim says. "Tim Drake. I was Robin." A small smile sits on his lips, he can feel it. "A long time ago." His batteries chime forty percent. "So, is the Batcave still behind the grandfather clock?" Tim loves surprising them. It almost makes him forget that they don't know who he is, that he belongs nowhere. Before anyone has the presence of mind to stop him, he's behind the clock, down the stairs, and hooking up to the computer.
"Welcome back, Tim," the computer tells him. It—sounds like a she—seems to have gotten more personality since his last visit. So many changes...
He is jacked into the computer via his own USB cord at the back of his skull. "Okay, find my file please—"
"What are you doing?"
"Looking up my file to prove to you who I am. If you pull out my USB jack, I'll go into a coma. So, don't touch." His personality has changed too. He's gotten far too chatty. "Security code BATZ, final designation Zeta, file name, Drake-Wayne, Tim."
"Accessing, one moment. Here you go, Tim." The female voice rings through the interface.
All his information pops up on screen: pictures of him alone, with Dick, with... Jason. His medical records, grades, accomplishments.
He unhooks himself gently and vacates the seat. "Here you go, feel free to research all you'd like. By the way, your AI is cool. Nice." Stop talking, Tim. He was never this talkative.
Bruce is scowling. Damian is furious, Tim can feel it. But Bruce sits down, looking over his files. Then he comes up on the one that Tim had thought he'd deleted years ago.
"That's what you meant by Tim Drake." Bruce says quietly. As if he knew. As if he had any idea what Tim had been through.
The image on the screen is Tim, his body below his waist missing, his stomach in tatters, shrapnel peppering his heart and lungs. At that point in the image, he was babbling, trying to keep talking, dying even more with every breath. Jason's just outside the image's range, screaming. Batman is working on a mixture to preserve his brain.
"Holy shit," Jason says.
Dick agrees. "Holy shit indeed."
Chapter 3: Chapter 3
Gotham City: July 19 th , 2011
Jason's throat is raw by now. It hurts to scream, but he can't stop. Tim is bleeding out, soaking the ground with his life and his guts. He's talking, and Jason wants to move closer, but Batman won't have it. He is mixing some fluid together, a bluish color. Jason can see the pieces of the four year old Tim had tried to save.
"He's a bomb! Tim he's a—"
But the kid had looked so much like Jason (even Jason knew that) and Tim couldn't just let the him die, even though he wasn't Red Robin this time, didn't have the time to change. He has always been a sap. The child had wrapped his arms around Tim's legs ("Helpmehelpmehelpme!") and then, by remote, the child had exploded, taking Tim's lower body with it.
"Jason—" He can hear Tim's breathless voice over the blaring of the sirens. "Haa, I thought I could diffuse the bomb—"
Batman beckons Jason and he walks around the perimeter of the blast area. "Jason," Bruce's gruff voice comes out of Batman's mouth, "we need to save Tim's brain."
Jason wants to smack him, ask him if he's panicking too much, or something. But Bruce is serious. He pulls out a small buzz saw and moves over to Tim. "Bats, what are you pla—"
"Be quiet Jason. Be quiet." Tim is still babbling as Bruce moves the liquid filled container closer to Tim's head. He presses the buzz saw against Tim's skull and begins to remove the top of his head. Jason can't take it, and vomits away from Tim's body. By the time Jason has the guts to turn back around, Tim's body—and Batman—are gone.
Jason gets to the Batcave as fast as he can. Tim's brain is in a container on the table, floating there, hooked up to a new life support system. Batman is working on a metallic skeleton, solid and shiny.
"What... what's going on?" Jason's voice is shaky. He cannot take this. Oh god, Tim. That's Tim's brain. Oh, fuck.
"I have to save him, Jason." The cave is so empty. Dick and Damian are nowhere to be seen. "I have to save him." Jason can understand, really, he can.
So he sucks in his breath, controls his stomach and says, "what can I do to help?"
He doesn't know how long he goes without sleep. The body takes on Tim's likeness. It doesn't surprise Jason that Bruce has a contingency plan for everything. Jason pulls synthetic skin over the muscles, reinforced with metal ridges of their own. Bruce works on getting Tim's face right. When the skin is pulled around the body, it does look human. But it doesn't look like Tim.
"His scars," Jason says. Bruce stops moving. He had removed his cowl a long time ago. "I know where all his scars are. We need to add them." It makes Tim himself. It makes this body his. Bruce pauses, then nods. Adds every single scar that Tim has, the proper size and thickness. Jason dresses him. Bruce is the one to add Tim's brain to the skull of the new body.
At first, nothing happens. Jason can feel his world caving in around him. But then the body takes a deep breath, and Tim's eyes open, the same color blue they have always been.
"...happened... what... happened..." And that voice is still Tim's. He sits up, his movement's stiff and painful looking. Bruce was thorough. Tim is still Tim.
Jason moves forward, wrapping his arms tightly around Tim. The skin squeezes just like his old skin did. Tim hugs back just like he did before. Tim is still Tim, one hundred percent. Suddenly, Jason is tired. He has been awake for God-knows-how-long. This stress, he isn't used to this stress. He had been so close to losing Tim. All that blood.
"He's a bomb! Tim's he's a—"
"Why are you so stupid?" Jason asks, tightening his fingers in Tim's shirt. "Why are you so fucking stupid?"
Tim huffs a laugh into Jason's collarbone. "I seem to have caught it from you." He pulls back, sighing. "What happened? There was a buzz saw, I heard it..."
Bruce says nothing, just puts a hand on his shoulder. Then, he explains, slowly, that Tim is no longer normal, if he ever was before. "You have been... edited." Bruce says, never really an expert with words. "You can now mentally interface with computers, your already eidetic memory has been improved."
Tim looks so innocently confused that Jason thinks he'll throw up. Again. "How?"
"The only thing salvageable from your old body was your brain. Tim you're..." Bruce gestured, at a loss for words. "You're more mechanical, than organic." Leave it to Bruce to sound so wonderfully supportive. "And, with all the microprocessors and the nutrient supplement in and surrounding your brain, your potential is almost limitless. You can effectively live forever." He tries to make it sound positive.
But Jason knows, and he knows Tim knows, that while his life was saved, he has been condemned to eternity. Jason also knows that Tim is wondering if he will turn into an angry, horrible person like Ra's al Ghul. He's wondering if loneliness will kill him where age no longer can. All these things are running through Tim's head and all Jason can do is watch his expressions change. There is nothing Jason can do about it. And he doesn't regret it, not yet. He couldn't have let Tim die, just like Bruce couldn't.
Tim stands on shaky new legs.
"I want to eat something."
Bruce sighs sadly. Tim clenches his fists, knowing what that sigh means. Jason looks at him, wondering if Tim can even feel hunger now, or if he just wants to eat to see if he can.
Jason runs his hands through his hair. This is the beginning of Tim's new, long life.
(He still doesn't regret saving Tim. Tim is his everything.)
Chapter 4: Chapter 4
Gotham City: October 14 th , 2151
Dick is watching the screen as records pop up about Tim's reconstruction. Alloys used, which microprocessor was put where, and the like. But his eyes slide to Tim's face, a mixture of anguish and pain. Tim clears his throat and says, "Is there a room with an outlet?" It sounds like it could be directed at any of them, but the computer answers in her femininely tin voice.
"There is an outlet to your specifications in your old room," she says, "which has remained unoccupied since—"
"Okay," Tim cuts the computer off and is back up the stairs and gone. Damian is seven different kinds of furious with Tim's arrival, as if it seems like Tim wants to steal anything from them.
"...Can he stay?" Dick asks after the silence gets too thick for him to bear. All three of them look at him. Damian with rage, Jason with incredulity, and Bruce with a sense of obligation. And pity.
"Yes," Bruce says, putting the computer back into standby, leaving the files in a more accessible folder.
"Why!" Damian's question is more of an outburst, a sign that he's going to list the reasons why Tim should not be in their home. "He could be a monster! All these years alone, there is probably something wrong with him. Not to mention that there are plenty of places to go for displaced robots." Dick doesn't understand Damian's anger.
"Tim," Bruce replies in his controlled voice, "is not a robot. He is a person, you understand?" Bruce, while appearing cold and aloof, does have his many soft spots. Jason is one of them, parentless and alone, as the first Bruce Wayne had been. And now Tim, with his years' worth of loneliness, inflicted upon him by the men who had loved him so (in different ways, but just as strongly).
"I just don't want him here," Jason argues. It is the first time he and Damian almost agree. "He's... not really human, like you say. I mean, yeah, he's got human thoughts and stuff, but who's to say he's not being run by his microprocessors rather than his brain? Maybe his brain's decayed and he seeks to make more of himself—"
"You," Dick interrupts, "have been watching too much TV. I am going to tell him he can stay." Jason and Damian start arguing against Bruce's word of law, even though it's futile.
Dick, as he climbs the stairs to the unused room that he assumes had been Tim's, thinks about seeing himself on screen, even though it hadn't really been him. Had it? Jason didn't seem to notice, but he had been there too, with Tim. Every time Tim looked at Jason, his eyes became glassy and miserable. Something is strange. Had he been alive as long as Tim had, or did they just keep coming back, a cruel joke played by some deity that had it out for Tim?
He knocks on Tim's door. He hears movement, then "come in." Tim is sitting on the bed, but a cord from his lower back is plugged into the wall, a sign that his body was most certainly not human, if anyone had believed the files were lying. His shirt is lying by the bed. Dick imagines that's because shirts look ridiculous when bunched up behind the waist. Tim's body is littered with scars. How do cyborg people without real skin get—
"You can ask the question. All you need to say is 'how do people without real skin get scars?' I don't mind questions."
His blue eyes are staring at Dick, a small amount of humor thinly veiling the perpetual sadness in them.
"Okay. How do people without real skin get scars?" Humor the kid, after all.
"Jason knew where all my scars were. He had them put on me. To make this thing feel like my body." Dick swallows at the lightness of Tim's voice. Is it forced? Probably. "Not your Jason. Well, not entirely, anyway."
"What is that supposed to mean?" Never in his twenty-seven years of life has Dick been confused so many times in the span of forty-five minutes.
"Complicated," Tim says. He doesn't say any more and Dick isn't going to pry. Tim will tell him eventually, he thinks. After all, Dick seems like he's going to be the most supportive of their new houseguest. Then again, Tim seems to have a thing for Jason and he is pretty charming and his looks are really quite disarming. If Dick weren't a red-head kind of guy, he would probably go for Tim. Jason, Dick thinks, doesn't stand a chance against that constant sadness and the shock value of this guy's smile.
"You can stay. Bruce gave the okay, in case you were wondering." Tim nods and continues his silence. "So," Dick says, not really ready to leave yet, "do you have any cool stories about the first Batman?"
"I found out who the first Batman and Robin were on my own. I have plenty of stories to tell. You interested?" Tim looks him up a down. "After all, you're older than my seventeen years." He grins. It looks like an expression he isn't used to making, but it's still pretty on him.
"Oh, no. Don't play the age card." Dick sits on the bed without an invitation, but Tim doesn't seem to mind (God, he's got a lot of scars). "How old are you? Twice my age? Three? Four?"
"Age is classified until I get to know you better and until you trust me." He shrugs. "And, anyway, it doesn't really matter. I've been through so many generations of Batmen and Robins that I've stopped counting. Batman usually dies way sooner than he did back when I was Robin. This city just gets more dangerous." His eyes cut over to Dick, pulling out of the distant past. "So, where a generation is twenty years, I see about two or three Batman per generation. It makes Wayne kids jittery, as if their life expectancy is somehow shortened. It isn't. I try and stop it." His voice gets quiet. "Doesn't often work."
Dick steers the conversation away from generations of people he has had to see die. "Stories, Timmy, stories." Tim's mouth quirks at the nickname.
"Want me to start with my begging to be Robin, or stuff that Nightwing told me?"
Nightwing. What a cool name. (His own title was Nightowl. Maybe he'll change it).
"Stuff Nightwing told you."
"Okay, so, Nightwing, when he was Robin, used to tell me about his outfit. And I had to wear it once mind you, it was awful..."
Dick sits there, and listens.
Chapter 5: Chapter 5
Gotham City: October 15 th , 2151
After Dick had left last evening, Tim went back into stand-by to charge his batteries. Stand-by helps him charge faster than when he's wide awake and processing. Before, he would have called it sleep, because his dream-sequence featured memories past in the place of actual dreams.
Tim had turned that feature off a long time ago.
It is eight in the morning, earlier in the morning that he would have liked to be up, but his batteries were chiming fully charged and he had never been able to sleep through that. He gets out of bed and pulls on the shirt he had carelessly left on the floor. He shuffles down the hall, his processors catching up with his body. He goes downstairs to the kitchen. It is more habit than anything. After all, he can't eat.
The kitchen, in contrast with the rest of the house, is a mess. There are dishes in the sink and there is a film on counter and the microwave and the oven. Alfred would be colossally disappointed. So, Tim starts cleaning, the actions making him think of Alfred and all the cleaning he would always help out with. Bruce was always busy and Dick was always messy. Damian was too snobby to help out. Tim loved to volunteer.
"Clockwise circles, Master Tim. Those work best." He can hear Alfred almost as if he's right there. In fact, if Tim wanted to he could—
No. If one of them walked in and saw him doing that, they might toss him out instantly. So Tim continues cleaning in silence. The counters, utensils, and utilities are all spotless by nine. He starts on the dishes. Alfred's favorite soap is nowhere to be seen, so he settles to what is available. (Gosh, Tim misses Alfred.)
Alfred has been the one person Tim has never seen again. It could be that Alfred was already maxed out on rebirths. Maybe he didn't want to be born again. Tim didn't know. What he did know was that Alfred would know exactly what to say to get him out of his moods. Alfred always knew.
"Why is the great former-Robin doing dishes?" Jason. Tim holds in a wistful sigh and does not answer. "Why," Jason asks instead, "do you keep coming back here? I looked up all your records, you know, and the database says you're back here almost every decade."
Tim does stop washing the dishes. "Where else would I go?" It is a question he asks himself often. Where would he go if not here? Who would take in a possibly deranged mechanical entity? Pretty much no one. It would seem that barely even this place tolerated him anymore.
"Anywhere but here," Jason murmurs.
Perhaps Tim should just shut himself down. Could he do that? He hadn't ever really tried, to be honest. He felt, at one point, that that would be cheating. And who was to say his brain wouldn't still be active? He'd have to kill it too, not just shut down his body. He wouldn't do that. After all, Bruce had spent a lot of money on this contingency. It would hurt him, whether or not this Bruce knew he was Tim's Bruce, if Tim were to just throw his life away when Bruce (and Jason) had tried so hard to save it.
He wants to explain to Jason. He wants to tell him everything, all the times they have encountered each other. But he won't. And if it continues going this way, Tim may never tell him. He shakes his hands off, then dries his hands on his jeans.
"Dishes are done," Tim says.
"Jeans went out of style ages ago, you know. No one wears denim anymore."
"Are we having a fact-telling competition? I'm certain I'll win." There. That was Tim's old snark. He walks past Jason, his stomach turning inside out. It had been a bad idea to come here. It had been a bad idea to set himself into stasis in the same place as always. It had been a bad idea to try and save that child. All of this was a bad idea. Still is, because it's not like he's going to leave.
Where else would he go, after all?
Tim walks past Jason and out of the kitchen onto the living room with Bruce's serious face above the fireplace. He walks further, to the grandfather clock and behind it, silently moving down the stairs. (His silent steps had aggravated Kon and Jason. They hated his sneakiness.) The new Bruce is down here, studying some new mission more than likely.
"Are you doing alright?" Bruce asks without turning around.
Tim considers telling the truth. Lies, as much a part of his life as they have been, need to stop sometimes. But his feelings are as private as he can make them. As long as Bruce doesn't turn around, Bruce won't know that he's upset. (Though, in reality, he probably does know. Batman is always perceptive.)
"Do you have anything that needs fixing?"
Bruce pauses, and then does turn around. Yes, Tim can tell by his face he knows how Tim is feeling. Maybe not personally, but he has picked up on Tim's lack of subtlety. He needs to work on that next. He really has let himself go.
"I think we have the old Batmobile, actually. Think you can make her worthy of this era?"
Tim smiles. "Mister Wayne," he says, because he knows this Bruce isn't his Bruce, "I can make anything you have worthy of an age a hundred years from now. The tools are with the vehicle, I assume?"
"You assume correctly." Silence settles for a moment. "And it's Bruce to you. This family has always been yours."
Tim's smile falters. No matter how many times the current Batman has accepted him unquestioningly, it always catches Tim off-guard that he really can accept him so unconditionally. It makes Tim long for home. But he clears his throat, his voice coming out shaky, his synthetic voice box conveying every emotion stuck in his throat.
"Thank you. It means a lot, Bruce."
"Anytime." Tim thinks he can hear his Bruce in this one.
Chapter 6: Chapter 6
Gotham City: July 21 st , 2011
Dick is impressed with the current display of emotion. Damian has bestowed upon Tim his first hug, ever, in the history of history. It makes Dick's heart pull a little. It makes his heart pull a lot more when he remembers why Damian is hugging Tim in the first place.
"You are so moronic," Damian says, his voice muffled by Tim's chest. "I do not know how you got to be so moronic. Perhaps you caught it from Todd." Tim chuckles, holding the boy as tightly as he dares.
"That's what I said."
Damian sniffles and it isn't hard to remember that he is only thirteen. Dick wants to join in on this momentous hug, but he'll ruin it, even though that isn't his intention. He lets Tim rock Damian back and forth, turning them in small circles. Dick can see how much this raw emotion affects Tim. It brings out the older brother in him, that intense need to comfort someone else for a change. And Damian doesn't even seem to mind. He may later. But, then, he may not.
"Why would you do that?" Damian's voice is getting worse. Dick thinks that he is most certainly staining Tim's shirt with tears at this point. "Why would you put your life so blatantly in danger?"
"Because I also inherited Bruce's penchant for world-saving."
"You can't save everyone."
Silence settles again and Tim continues rocking slowly from side to side. Dick and Damian had been waiting outside the Batcave for almost two days, ever since the news reached them of Tim's injuries. Both of them know about Tim's augmentations, but that doesn't mean that Tim isn't Tim. Though the way Tim continues to hold Damian suggest he's afraid of crushing Damian's human bones with his metal strength.
"I won't do it again," Tim says. "I promise."
Damian finally pulls away, wiping his nose with his arm. "You should see to it that you don't ever do it again," some of the snob back in his voice, "because I have just gotten to like you and I would hate to have to bond to your replacement." Damian and Tim have been close-ish for a while now. Damian just can't help but keep up appearances.
"Will do, boss." Tim says. He turns to Dick as Damian runs upstairs, probably to recover some of his dignity by blowing his nose. He holds his arms slightly away from his body, and forward, already expecting the hug Dick gives. And Dick hugs tightly. He can feel the inflexible metal body beneath his arms and Tim still makes the choking noise he always has when he is getting hugged too tightly. That means he can feel it.
"When I heard, I almost died."
"So did I."
"I thought it was."
Dick laughs anyway, his own eyes stinging. "Your jokes have always sucked."
"That's what Conner thinks, too. I need to work on them." Dick smiles. He loves his little brother. He's so glad his little brother is still around to receive his hugs and his love. (He had been so worried. Jason and Bruce hadn't come up to give them any information at all, not until Tim walked up with them.)
"So where is Jason, one of your heroes?"
"He's upstairs, asleep. The long hours caught up to him." Dick nods. "I can't blame him." Tim sighs, still not squirming out of Dick's hug. "He's not sleeping well though. At least, he wasn't when I came down here. My stupidity has given him nightmares."
"It wasn't stupidity. It was—"
"He looked like Jason," Tim interrupts. "The child looked like a younger Jason. I saw the bomb, under the kid's shirt, even before Jason had yelled at me. But that kid... someone would one day love that kid as much as I love Jason. That kid had a future and a life. I was going to save it." Tim's breath is shaky. "I failed and traumatized Jason. And probably Bruce. It was selfish, and dumb."
Dick just hugs him tighter. Tim's breathing flexes Dick's arms. (Batman went all out with this, giving Tim regular breathing.) "It wasn't selfish. It was selfless, you moron. And it may have been ill-planned, but you wanted to save that kid anyway, regardless of the fact that you had no body armor, no real back up, and no real plan. Timmy, you're a great and wonderful person. The world could use more like you."
"We'd all be dead from trying to save the world."
"Well. Then you would all need a Bruce and a Jason."
"And a you." The accident (as it has been referenced since) has made Tim really sentimental. Mortality can do that to people (though, technically, Tim is immortal now, thanks to Bruce and Jason).
"Thank you." They stand there for a few more moments until Tim pulls away.
"I really want peaches." He says wistfully. Dick's mouth twitches in a smile. "Don't look at me like that. I just... I really crave some peaches."
"I'm sorry. Maybe one day Bruce will make it so you can eat."
Tim shrugs. "Maybe." He rubs the thumb and forefinger of his left hand together. "...do you think Bruce and Jason will be able to forgive me for this? Making them go through all this misery?"
"I'm absolutely certain that they harbor no bad feelings toward you at all. There's nothing to forgive." Tim looks skeptical, but Dick's used to that look. "Come on, let's go watch some TV."
"Actually," Tim says, "I'm in the mood for some games." It had been a pastime of theirs, to play video games with each other when Tim was just starting off as Robin and spent a lot of late nights at the Manor.
"I think, as of last time we played, we were at the Water Temple in the Ocarina of Time."
"We still have that?" Tim looks happy, but incredulous.
"It's a collector's game. Yes I still have it."
"Then let's beat it. Again."
"Our best time so far is four hours and fifteen minutes."
"We can top that." Tim says. They sit down in front of the TV and Dick pulls out a practically antique Nintendo 64.
These were precious moments to Dick, these moments with Tim.
Tim scoots closer so that their knees are touching, as they had when they'd both been a little smaller (Tim had been much shorter).
Oh yes, Dick loves his little brother.
Chapter 7: Chapter 7
Gotham City: October 18 th , 2151
Tim hasn't been seen for the past couple of days. Jason is wondering is he just up and left (which wouldn't be a problem with him, that's for sure). The dishes are always clean though, and Tim seems to be the only one that enjoys doing dishes. He passes Bruce in the kitchen, his search for Tim momentarily paused.
"Have you heard that Dick wants to change his title?" Bruce asks.
"No. What does he want to change it too?" Dick is crazy. Nightowl is perfectly sufficient. It's better than his because all he could come up with was Red Robin and that's what Tim turned into eventually. His title was recycled.
"That sounds ridiculous. And it's been used already by one of Tim's family members." Jason says this with a sneer.
"They're your family members too." Bruce says absentmindedly. Jason scoffs and continues his search, leaving the kitchen, to hear Bruce murmuring to himself. "Nightwing, of all the titles."
Okay. So, the only place he hasn't checked is the Batcave. And if Tim isn't there, then he's gone, out of his hair. (Deep down, his guts twist. He isn't sure why and he doesn't like it.)
Tim is in the Batcave, atop the antique Batmobile, tinkering with something in the hood. And the Batmobile is hovering, pushing ion particles into the ground, scorching the air around it to cause lift. Tim is covered in grease and car soot, probably mingled with some latent dust (though Bruce took excellent care of that vehicle). Tim looks up from his work and gives Jason and up and down once-over before turning his gaze back to his project. His eyes had looked exhausted in that one glance. Were his batteries charged?
"Hi," he says to Jason, without looking up again. To the computer he says, "Update the new Operator's Manual. Chapter nine, subsection four under 'Hood-hidden Gun Well.' To oil the gun lift, a socket wrench was needed to access the mechanism. You recall?" The computer assures him that it did indeed recall. "Okay, up the size of the wrench by half. The wrench caught the bolt and didn't let go without a lot of work."
"Updated," the computer chimes.
Jason watches for a moment before he says, "You've been down here the whole time?"
Tim glances up again, then back down. "I've done the dishes," he says. "But, yes, I have spent most of my time down here for the past two and three-fourth days. The Batmobile needed updating. I'm updating it." Jason noticed the old, orange, dusty cord winding behind the computer banks. That cord was hooked to a newer looking black one, protruding from Tim's lower back. "Besides," Tim continues, "I figured it would be in my best interest if I stayed out of your way." He smiles wryly as he works on the gun well.
Tim slides the cover over the new gun he added and moves to the interior of the car, hitting a button near the steering wheel. Jason moves forward to get a closer look. Tim hits the button and the gun cover slides backwards. A gun turret rises up (where did he find the space for this?) and auto aims toward Jason, the closest living thing in range. Tim hits the button again and the gun well closes up.
"Stun rounds," Tim answers Jason's unasked question. "The turret uses high powered stun rounds. They hit and produce enough electricity to stop a person or a vehicle without too much damage. The turret registers its target and powers up accordingly."
Grudgingly, Jason admits to himself that the work on the Batmobile is impressive. Though, by all the scrap metal off to the left, only the chassis was salvageable enough to modernize.
"So," Tim begins after the silence stretches too long to be comfortable, "did you come down here looking for me to make sure I was gone or did you have a question."
Jason thought about lying, how would he know? But fuck-all if he wasn't sure Tim would be able to pick it out regardless of the fact that he shouldn't recognize a lie. Jason decides to say nothing. Tim nods as if he knows what that means. The man's perception is excellent and Jason isn't sure if it's because he has always been this way or because of his mechanical augmentation.
"I need to shower. While I may not stink, I'm filthy." He turns to the computer. "Final save on the new Operator's Manual for the Batmobile. Send a copy to Dick, Bruce, Jason, and Damian." He taps his chin. "Though I doubt Damian is old enough to drive." He shrugs and unplugs himself from the extension cord with a tired sigh as it retracts into his lower back. Running batteries while charging keeps a thing going, Jason knows, but it keeps it going at minimal battery life.
It is showing in Tim's face.
Tim wipes his forehead as if sweat were there. It must be habit more than anything. He smears the grease already there closer to his hairline. When Jason notices this, he realizes he is paying far too much attention to Tim's face. But Tim doesn't seem to notice, just smears grease on the shirt he has had with him and begins walking toward the stairs that denote the grandfather clock exit to the Batcave. Jason follows.
Tim stumbles when he reaches the stairs. When he reaches the third stair, he collapses and slides back down. Jason, startled, backs away from the staircase he had been about to ascend, watching Tim come to a stop on his back at the bottom.
"Oh fuck." His batteries must have died. Is he still alive? His chest is rising and falling. He must have entered his... whatever mode—standby— automatically. Jason crouches down next to him and looks Tim over. He looks so human. It's... impressive. Jason can even see small scars on his stomach, since the shirt bunched up a little on Tim's way down.
"I know where all his scars are. We need to add them."
The voice that is most certainly his own is loud and painful in his head. He had never said that, as far as he can remember, and the voice has more raw emotion in it than Jason can ever remember feeling. But despair begins to fill him up, choking off his windpipe.
"We need to add them."
Jason almost falls over from his crouch position, the voice booming in his skull. But Tim is still at the base of the stairwell, his battery slowly draining. He focuses on Tim's face and the voice gets quieter and quieter until it is lost in the confines of his brain again. (Jason now notices how odd it is to see Tim 'sleeping.' He does not have the air of sadness he carries when he is awake.)
Jason knows he cannot just leave Tim here, no matter how suspicious he is. He bites his lip, considering his options. Then, he gives an exaggerated sigh and grabs Tim under the arms and begins pulling him up the stairs. And he is heavy. But it's nothing Jason cannot handle.
(Memories are shadowy and blurred but he thinks he remembers Tim being lighter when he was awake. Anti-grav additions, run by his batteries—)
No. Jason isn't remembering anything because he has never met this man before.
But, as Jason tugs Tim up another flight of stairs to his room, he cannot help but notice how well Tim fits into his arms. It is odd and it is scary. What's so special about Tim?
What, Jason thinks, is so special about us?
Chapter 8: Chapter 8
Gotham City: October 16 th , 2151
Tim jerks awake, his limbs bracing for action. It feels as if the heart he doesn't have is beating in his throat. It only takes him a moment for all his internal systems to calm him down and notify him of his current location and the time. It's ten o'clock in the morning. The thing to rip him from his charging was the chiming of full batteries. It surprises him how long he's been asleep.
What surprises him the most, however, is how he got to his room. He knows he collapsed on the stairs, going into automatic standby due to his batteries falling below twenty percent. He cannot drag himself places in standby. The only person to know he was down in the Batcave was Jason, at the time. Jason would not have carried him up here. It is unrealistic to hope so.
Tim is still covered in grease. He sighs, knowing he'll have to clean the bedspread later. He pulls is cord out of the wall, hearing it zip back into place and shutting the hatch over it. He needs to shower. No, he really needs to shower. Tim has always loved this room because it has its own bathroom. He stretches, his joints popping, reducing the friction between them. There are clothes on the bathroom counter. He assumes Dick left them there and is once again struck by how solidly he was in standby. Shampoo is also located on the counter. The bar of soap is in the shower.
The shampoo smells of peaches.
It's a quick shower. After all, he does not sweat, so scrubbing off the dirt is his only goal. Though it doesn't mean he doesn't miss how he used to smell.
What a strange thing to miss, Tim thinks to himself as he dries off and dons Dick's clothes. They are a little big, if only because Dick's hips are a little wider and his shoulders and chest a little broader.
Tim takes the stairs down three at a time, landing lightly at the bottom, making his way toward the kitchen, where the most noise is. Dick is in there, making waffles. It doesn't really shock Tim that Dick is the source of all the dirty dishes. He is humming to himself, a new tune that Tim has never heard, but it sounds like something Dick would like.
"Morning," Tim says by way of greeting.
"Good morning. Bruce and Damian took out your Batmoblie last night," Dick smiles. "Says it's perfect. What he meant was it made him want to go pick up girls because that thing is stylish. Damian was even moderately impressed. He'll probably start—"
"Hounding me on how to upgrade tech," Tim finishes.
"Thanks for the clothes," Tim says, sitting on the table top, next to Dick's finished waffles. He wishes he could be hungry. "By the way, have you seen Jason?" He tries to sound nonchalant. Dick looks at him and Tim knows his efforts were fruitless.
"Nope, haven't seen him this morning." Dick doesn't mention Tim's tone. "But I did see him last night, wandering the halls. Looked angry, as usual. But he also looked distressed. Did you whack him with a wrench or something when he went down to the Batcave?"
Tim smiles. "If I wanted to clock him really nicely, I'd have punched him myself. No, I didn't throw a wrench." Silence settles in the kitchen and Tim shuts his eyes, tapping some beat that he hasn't heard in years, a Katy Perry song that Dick absolutely loved.
"Do you believe in reincarnation?" Dick asks suddenly. Tim almost slips off the table. He opens his mouth to reply, to say that of course not, it's ridiculous. But Dick presses on, "Don't lie to me, Tim. I'm asking this seriously. Because you're just too familiar to me. It's serious Déjà Vu. All the time." Tim shuts his mouth. He doesn't know what to say. No one's ever asked before.
"What does it matter?" Tim says, trying on his nonchalant voice again. It works better this time.
"It just..." Dick clenches and unclenches his fists. Tim hasn't been here a week and he's already stressing everyone out. I shouldn't have come here. "It's just... that first day, when Bruce looked over your files, I saw me. And I saw Jason and Damian, only they were back with you." He pauses again. "Have you told me recently that you had been craving peaches?" Tim slowly shakes his head. He hasn't mentioned peaches since that day a long time ago when he had played the Ocarina of Time with Dick. "That's what I mean!" Dick throws his hands in the air.
"What do you mean?" Tim knows, but he's trying to keep himself as far away from his own feelings as possible.
"I mean I remember you clearly telling me you were craving peaches." Dick says quietly. "And... I feel like you're just taking you place back as my little brother." He says this even softer.
No one ever puts this together. The only one who ever gets close to guessing is the current Batman. But no one has ever asked about reincarnation before. No one has mentioned the familiarity of Tim in their lives. He just falls into a new routine every time. Tim just lives with the knowledge that they're all the same people, happy to be in their presence for short periods of life at a time. It's worth it, every time he gets woken up just to see everyone again.
Dick is looking at him with such an intensity that Tim doesn't know what to say. Finally, he sighs and says, "I do."
"So you go through life, a little while at a time, watching the same people leave you. Over and over." Dick sounds so sad. Tim shouldn't have come.
"I didn't say that, I said I believed in—"
"I'm not stupid Timmy," he falls into Tim's nickname.
"Are you sure?"
"Not funny," but Dick's smiling anyway.
"I thought it was."
"Your jokes suck."
"So I've been told. Many times." Mostly by him and Conner. Dick glances at him and places the last waffle on the plate next to Tim.
"Did you and Jason have a thing?" When had Dick been this perceptive? (Of course, he was always the older brother, perceptive in ways that Tim didn't understand until Damian had come along.) "Because you look so sad when you look at him. More sad than usual, anyway." Dick shrugs.
"No," Tim says quietly, sliding off the counter. "No we didn't have a thing." He smiles at Dick, knows it's faulty, and retreats to the Batcave, looking for something else to work on. He had answered Dick truthfully. He and Jason had never had a thing, ever.
We had something so much better.
Chapter 9: Chapter 9
Gotham City: February 19 th , 2023
Alfred's funeral is the first. The casket is in the earth, waiting to be buried. Everyone is glancing at Tim. They all know that that careful calm is hiding something horrid and broken. All of the Batfamily present feels this way, but they knew that eventually, they'd be joining Alfred, if there existes an afterlife. Tim is immortal. This is only the first of many funerals. Dick makes eye contact with Jason and Damian glances between them.
Jason indicates Tim with a slight jerk of the head. He is staring at the rectangular hole in the ground where Alfred's body lay, adjacent to Bruce's parents. Bruce is staring at Tim. Jason wonders if Bruce regrets saving him, condemning his son to an eternity of funerals. Jason hasn't started regretting it yet. He doesn't think he ever will, especially after getting to hold Tim as close as possible every night when they go to sleep.
Bruce gives the final words to Alfred and all of Alfred's grandchildren (because that is what they are) begin to bury him. It is a slow process and no one says a word. Everyone is wearing a face of misery. Everyone except Tim, his unlined face free of all expression. Dick is sporting new lines on his face, dirt clotting in them to make them more obvious. Damian's broad shoulders flex under the fabric of his suit, maturity having settled on his features years ago. Bruce's movements are stiff, age catching up with him as well. Jason knows the white tuft of hair in his head is spreading, making him look older than he is.
And Tim is still the same.
When Alfred is freshly buried, they all go back into the house, Tim following much farther behind, continuously glancing over his shoulder. While his face is still unreadable, Tim's eyes indicate his thoughts. Or maybe Jason just knows him that well. Everyone will be like that one day. I'll be the only one left.
Loneliness gets to people like Tim. He is empathetic, experiencing and adjusting to other people's emotions. It's just the territory that comes with being an introvert like he is. Jason can see this aspect of his personality is eating at him. Everyone congregates in the living room, standing around awkwardly, not sure how to address the loss they have all suffered. Tim wrings his hands in front of him an ends up speaking first.
"I'll take dish duty," his voice is quiet. Ever since Tim's accident, he and Jason had moved back in. He'd always loved doing dishes with Alfred. He is gone before anyone can say anything. Bruce looks after him as he walks to the kitchen. There are many dishes in the large sink. Tim wants to get busy, Jason thinks. Damian crosses his arms and cocks his left hip out, his blue eyes weighing out whether or not to follow his youngest older brother.
"This is going to be his life forever, isn't it." Damian is really good at making questions statements. He sounds upset by this, in the disgruntled way that only Damian can. He cuts a glance towards Jason and gestures to the hallway that leads to the kitchen. "Go comfort him."
No one says that they lost Alfred too. It is different, they know, what Tim is feeling. But how can he regret helping save Tim's life? How can anyone say that they wished that Tim was dead instead? Jason moves toward the kitchen as the family circle breaks up. He hears mumbling from Tim at the sink, though it doesn't exactly sound like Tim. The closer he gets, the clearer the other voice becomes.
And it sounds just like Alfred.
"Tim?" Jason says carefully. Tim jumps a little, tightening his grip on the stainless steel pan in his hands. The metal bends under his strength.
"I figured out," Tim says, loosening his grip on the pan, "that I can perfectly replicate voices. Any voice." Jason stands next to him and begins the process of helping Tim wash dishes. "I was trying to make it seem like Alfred was here. I was copying things he would say. Then when I started saying more things, I just... slipped into Alfred's voice." He glances at Jason from the corner of his eye. "I can imitate you perfectly too, if only I had your mouth."
Jason snorts. "You'll never stoop to using my fucking language. You're too smart for that."
"As if you're not."
"I'm not. Dumbest Robin there ever was, that's me."
Tim shakes his head. "I think you're brilliant and I'm the smartest Robin that Batman ever recruited."
"Technically," Jason replies, "you recruited Batman. There's a difference." Silence settles into the sound of rushing water and the quiet rubbing of sponge on stainless steel and china. Jason isn't sure if the silence is uncomfortable or not. Tim hasn't mentioned his immortality and Jason hasn't mentioned Alfred. It is just the silence of company, he thinks. At least, he hopes so. Jason hasn't always been the best as understanding and responding to social cues.
The dishes don't take that long to clean. Tim is an expert and really, Jason is there to keep company. He ends up defaulting to drying the dishes after Tim washes them. They're both still in their suits. The cuffs of Tim's sleeves are sudsy, probably ruining the expensive fabric.
It is only after all the dishes are done that Jason and Tim go upstairs. They shed their clothes and change quickly into sleep clothes, the chill of February giving them both goosebumps. Tim is in bed already after Jason emerges from the bathroom, clean shaven. He is staring at the ceiling, tracing the patterns above him with his eyes. Jason is used to this, this silent contemplation of things in the pattern of the ceiling. He sometimes wishes he could see into Tim's head.
"I love you," Tim says, giving Jason that glimpse he's looking for. Tim doesn't just blurt things out. He thinks about what he wants to say, so it surprises Jason that there was no lead up, that the previous conversation over dishes held no hints about Tim's thoughts.
"I love you too," Jason slides into bed next to him. Tim rolls and slips his arms around Jason's waist. Then he squeezes, as hard as Tim dares to squeeze anything. Wetness seeps through Jason's t-shirt, and it's obvious that Tim's crying. His shoulders are trembling just a little.
There really isn't anything Jason can do except squeeze back as tightly as he can and not let go.
Chapter 10: Chapter 10
Gotham City: October 16 th , 2151
Damian finds Drake in the Batcave, as if he intends to live there forever. As if he intends to usurp the title of Batman from him. Well, he has news for Drake: Damian is in line to succeed Batman, not Drake. From what Damian understands, Drake never took up the mantle, and after being alive (if one could call it that) that long, it oozes incompetence if he never once managed to hold on to the cowl.
Images are flashing up on the computer screen, pictures of Batman (an older version), along with pictures of dark haired, light eyed boys. The screen stops on one that looks so much like Todd as to be baffling. Then, it minimizes and Drake turns around to look at him, an eyebrow raised. He is so ridiculously condescending that Damian wants to challenge him to a combat to the death. It is unlikely that his father would approve, which nips that plan in the bud.
Damian speaks first. "I demand that you share with me your technical secrets."
Tim looks at him, a hint of a laughter blossoming for an instant on his face, then disappearing. "Okay," he says.
Damian opens his mouth to demand further with threat of death, but stops, realizing what Drake had said. "...what?"
"I said 'okay.' After I go off my own way again, Bruce is going to need another tech-kid. I can teach you about modifications and stuff. It's not that hard." Drake turns back to the computer and pulls up details blueprints.
"Wait, no argument? No defense of your mastery over technology? Don't you want your position of Robin back?" Damian is horribly confused. How does Drake think? Sharing his technical knowledge will impede any hope he has of gaining the title of Batman. Why would he share it so freely? It is a trap, a lure? This doesn't make any sense. It makes even less sense when Drake starts to laugh, startling the bats clinging to the roof of the cave.
"You think I want my job as Robin back?" He says this through chuckles. It sounds ridiculous.
"Well, don't you? Why else would you come back?"
"Damian," Drake says this with affection, the way Dick talks to him, as if they are brothers, "I can break a man's wrist with three fingers." He holds up his thumb, forefinger, and middle finger. "I can crush a man's spine with one hand." He clenches his fist. "I can lift the front of a bus with one arm. I can flip that bus with two. I'm not going to take the future cowl from you."
"I am obviously missing the joke here. You just listed reasons you could take the cowl from me. Or from father."
Drake snickers. "You misunderstand. Supers were never allowed in this city when my Bruce was running it. After my accident I relinquished my title as Red Robin because I no longer fell into Batman's 'not-Super' rule. I can run faster than he could, I can jump higher. I'm stronger than I ever was before I blew myself up. This city doesn't need me, with my augmented abilities. It needs you and your family. I'm just here, making sure my place is still available in the family, not in the heroing business." Drake shakes his head with a snort. "As if I'd take Robin from you."
Damian is baffled. Drake is crazy. Being alive so long has made him mentally unstable if he just didn't want to be Batman. A microprocessor must have shifted, or a synapse just isn't functioning properly. Damian would try and wrest the title from an intruder. After all, he had tried to take out Dick before he went out on his own. (Damian is very defensive of his birthright, regardless of the fact that it's Dick's birthright too.)
"So do you want to learn the magic of technology or are you just going to stand there with your jaw on the floor? Because I've got this new thing I want to make. It's a Batarang with stunning capabilities. It has little claws that latch on and then generates electricity." Damian moves closer to look at the blueprints, still having trouble keeping his jaw closed (Drake didn't want to be Batman. Insane!) "Since Bruce almost never goes back to get them, I figured that we could give them the potential to recharge, but making sure it's not a waste of money or energy to just leave them where they end up." Drake looks at him. "You follow?"
"Of course. I'm not a simpleton." Damian is defensive of his pride, too.
"I didn't accuse you of being a moron, I just talk quickly on occasion. Especially now, since I've gotten so chatty." Damian does not quite catch the reference, but he knows the joke is hovering at the back of his mind. "Okay, I've got the skeleton of the new tech over on that table," he stands and walks away. Damian follows at his heels, eager to see this new weapon.
It is shaped like a bat, as always, but there is a square place for a small discharge mechanism. Damian assumes that is what the rectangular object next to the Batarang is. Drake takes the mechanism apart and begins explaining, enthusiasm for technology layered in his voice. Damian feels that perhaps Drake would have made a good teacher, if only he had aged. His explanation is very thorough, to the point where Damian wants to put it back together on his own.
He does an exemplary job. When Drake smiles, Damian feels a smile try and force its way onto his lips as well. He does not understand where this smile comes from, only that this person treats Damian as family. A sense of loss, a sense of missing Drake wells up inside him. His hands tremble as he waits for the feeling to subside. Instead of disappearing, it lingers.
"Are you alright?" Drake asks, ceasing his fiddling with the prototype Batarang.
"Why wouldn't I be?" Damian snaps and looks away. He adjusts his position so that his back is now to the staircase. He will excuse himself and make a break for it. "Well, thank you for today's lesson. I assume we can do this again?"
Drake nods. He is concerned, Damian can tell. That concern makes him sick on the inside. His stomach rolls and he feels as if he will pass out. Perhaps he is ill. He needs to ask Dick to make him soup, if that is the case. He needs to be well enough to patrol the city with Batman. If he passes out on a mission, he'll be grounded until he is well again. Damian and his father have differing meanings on what "well enough" means.
Damian practically runs up the stairs, feeling Drake's gaze on his the whole way up.
The despair of missing an older brother follows him beyond Drake's stare, and settles in the pit of his stomach, threatening to sink him.
Chapter 11: Chapter 11
Gotham City: April 23 rd , 2030
Bruce's body isn't even cold yet, and here Jason is, bleeding out and dying, intensifying Tim's anguish tenfold. And there is nothing Tim, or Jason, can do about it. The knife is still protruding from his abdomen, but Tim doesn't want to remove it even though there is nothing—and he means absolutely nothing— he can do. Jason wishes he would just yank it out. Seeing it from this angle is really disconcerting.
Right now, Jason thinks, it has to suck to be Tim. It just has to. Two people in one day.
He still hasn't regretted saving Tim. Now he'll never have the opportunity to. Well, he supposes it's no big deal. He's getting old anyway. He feels like a creepy old man whenever he's with Tim, even though Tim doesn't seem to mind.
Right now, Tim is minding Jason's current problem. He's gripping Jason's blood soaked shirt, getting blood on his own hands. Jason wants to tell him to stop, because he'll never be able to unsee Jason's blood lathered on his palms. But there is blood gurgling in his esophagus. He's going to be dead soon, he can feel it.
Beautiful tears are running down Tim's beautiful face, glistening in the ugly lamplight.
"Jason you can't leave me. Please. Don't go, don't go—" His voice gets choked off by a sob, but he continues anyway. "Hang on, hang on, okay? Dick will be here and then I'll staunch the bleeding and you'll be fine, I promise. Just... don't go. Don't go." Tim's so upset. Jason wants to reach up and hold Tim's face and tell him how sorry he is, but he lost feeling in his arms three minutes ago.
"What will I do without you," he murmurs, his voice trembling miserably. "Who will I have? Don't go. Don't go, Jason. I love you. I love you. Don't leave me—"
Jason cannot tell Tim that everything will be fine. He wouldn't tell him that, even if he could. It would be a lie. Jason has lied to enough people in his life, but he will not lie to Tim. Not desperate, miserable, beautiful Tim. Jason cannot help but remember that even when he hated Tim, he had thought the kid was pretty. It was that pretty face that he had so wanted to ruin. Now, looking up at the tear streaks and the misery there, he is very glad that he didn't permanently damage Tim's face.
Jason feels bad, a little bit, thinking that Tim looks so beautiful when he is so broken. But, then, it was what he thought when Tim had taken his place, following along the heels of how much he'd like to ruin his face. I'd like to make that kid cry. It'd be fucking beautiful. He hasn't told Tim that before. Tim probably already knew anyway, because that kid knows everything.
Ha, kid again. Jason's getting old. Or. Rather. He was getting old. He doesn't have to worry about that anymore.
So this is what it's like, Jason thinks, to be in pain-induced delirium.
Thinking about that makes him think about Tim's torso being ripped into by that bomb years ago, when Tim was babbling about how he wanted to diffuse the bomb and how it hurt, very much, and how he was very, very sorry for causing Jason any pain—
And now Jason is crying.
He hadn't even cried when Tim had been injured, yet here he is, thinking about it in context and knowing this is what Tim felt, only Jason had been farther out of Tim's vision for most of Jason's screaming. Tim is trying to wipe at Jason's tears, leaving his own on his face now, but it isn't really doing much. Kind of like the knife still in his gut, just sitting there.
"Pull—" Jason's voice is a wretched gurgle. It makes Tim flinch. "It—out. Pull it—out. Knife."
Tim starts shaking his head but stops. Jason really wants that knife out of his abdomen. Tim grips the hilt and pulls. More blood blooms from the now-open wound and Tim looks as if he will be sick. His face goes white, whiter than normal. But he can't be sick, can't even really go white, because there is no blood to make him colored red.
Jason feels the warmth slip out of his body with the blood.
Tim adjusts Jason's position, lifting Jason's head and upper body because he now—finally!—knows that there is nothing he can do. The streetlamp is giving Tim's head a lovely glow, making a silhouette with glowing blue eyes. Jason smiles and Tim's tears keep coming, as if in an even larger volume than before. Oh. It's because there is blood on his teeth, coating them and making them red and runny. It must be horrifying to see.
The light behind Tim's head gets brighter and Jason's muscles relax. Tim is shaking.
"An angel, Tim," his voice is still gurgley but at least he doesn't have to pause, "you're a fucking angel, halo and everything..." His fingers twitch and Jason really wants to wipe the tears off Tim's face (but he really does appreciate them. Who would cry for Jason, if not Tim?). Tim keeps trying to wipe at them, now that he's given up on Jason's (which are still coming), but he is just smearing blood all over his cheeks and under his eyes.
And, again, Jason thinks that it must really suck to be Tim. "Sorry," Jason croaks, "for dying the... same day as... Bruce."
"You should be," Tim replies, anguished, a hoarseness finally creeping into his voice. One can only cry so much, even a mechanical one. "You should be horribly sorry, you asshole."
"Language," Jason chimes, as much as he can.
"English," Tim tries to snark back with one of the worst jokes ever. It's not like it's surprise but Christ couldn't he have thought a better one to send Jason out with? Jason does have to give him credit, though, because at least he tried to make a joke, even though Jason can see Tim shattering to pieces right before his very eyes.
Then all of Jason's muscles relax fully, and he feels his head loll to the side, the lamplight behind Tim's head growing its brightest so far.
"No!" Tim says, though his voice sounds watery and far away. "No, no, no, no! Jason!"
And then Jason cannot hear anything.
Chapter 12: Chapter 12
Gotham City: October 18 th , 2151
Tim's forearm is covering his shut eyes. But his forearm and his eyelids cannot keep out the constant playback of Jason's first death. Had there been a trigger word in the book he had been reading? Or was Tim just having trouble coping with a Jason who hated him all over again? It could be either, really. But the pain of Jason's death has driven him to his hiding place in the library and the only person who knows he likes to hide out here—
"Tim?" —is Dick. "What are you doing?"
"I'm lying on the floor of the library," Tim says. His voice sounds bitter and a little angry. He hopes Dick doesn't take that personally. He moves his forearm and opens his eyes, looking up into the moderately concerned and slightly agitated face of Richard John Grayson. Scratch that. Richard Wayne.
"You didn't ask why I was on the floor of the library. You asked what I was doing. If you want a different answer, ask a different question." Tim is frustrated with himself, sounding so mean to the one person in this era that accepts him and all of his baggage (so far, anyway).
"Okay," Dick sits on the floor next to him. Tim doesn't sit up. "Why are you lying on the floor of the library?"
"I am seeing Jason Todd die." No point in lying, since Dick put up so well with his attitude. It sets Dick speechless.
But only for a moment.
"Like... the first Jason Todd?"
"Yes," Tim says quietly. "And I don't know why I'm seeing it now. Sure, it's something I'll never be able to escape, but..." Tim smiles wryly. "Well, perhaps I'm setting myself up to see it. After all, this Jason..." He trails off, not sure what he wants to say. Dick waits to see if Tim will find words and eventually, he does. "Well, this Jason is still, I like to think, my Jason. But..." He gestures vaguely at the ceiling.
"But...?" Dick presses. He's always been the one who won't let Tim wallow in his own self-pity alone. It's why he is the big brother.
"But maybe I only have so many shots with him." Tim sighs. "I look for him in the halls, you know. Even though he has nothing nice to say to me and in response I insult him, I still seek him out. It's like... a long time ago, when Jason and I would beat the sense out of one another, because we weren't sure how everything fit... it was... complex, our violent relationship. This is similar, but with words. I can handle getting mauled and beaten. Words... words I cannot handle." Tim turns his head to look at Dick, who is wringing his hands together.
"You always are the sensitive one, aren't you." But it isn't really a question. Tim nods anyway.
"That's what everyone tells me."
"Because it's true," Dick shrugs. Neither one of them speak again until Dick figures out what he wants to say. Tim had already spilled his guts. His required speech is done, his obligation filled. "You know," Dick says after a while, "I think... I think Jason is confused. When you're not in the Batcave, he is there. Researching... you..." Dick grimaces, because they both know it sounds strange and a little creepy.
But Tim is an expert creep. After all, he's been following the same family for a long, long time.
"So he does think about me," Tim says wistfully.
"Sure he does. Damian does too, but he's so young that he really has no idea where all his feelings are coming form normally, much less with you giving him glimpses of a brother he can't remember fully having. So."
Tim puts his forearm back over his eyes, but keeps them open. His eyelashes tickle his synthetic skin.
"I should not have come here. Not this time."
Tim can picture Dick's incredulous look. He had not meant to say it out loud. It is normally a thing he thinks instead.
"Excuse me?" Dick sounds offended. "Tim, my life would be poorer without this... this revelation about your existence. I'm sure everyone's life would be poorer without you in it. Jason's, surely, because there is a hole in him somewhere that no one but you was made for. I cannot believe you said that!" Dick scoffs and scoffs again, seeming to be truly appalled by Tim's words. Tim almost regrets them, but then remembers the words Jason spits at him when they see each other and cannot bring himself to apologize. Because he means it. But he does need to ask something.
"You really think your life would be lacking if I hadn't shown up?"
"Absolutely." The sincerity in Dick's voice makes Tim shut his eyes, tightly.
"You," Tim says, "have always been the best brother."
"I know," Dick replies, and Tim is sure he knows and will always know what to say when people are upset. Whether or not it helps, Dick knows what should help.
"Dick," Jason's voice reaches into the library, followed closely behind by his person, "Damian said you were in here and I—" he stops when he sees Tim. His eyes glaze over and he almost takes a step backward. But then he plants his feet, takes a deep breath, and continues, "and I needed..." He trails off, looking confused. "I... nevermind. I can't remember." His eyes lock with Tim's.
Tim feels himself getting embarrassed for being here.
"You needed my access codes to old files, right?" Dick prompts, ever the people-reader.
"Yeah, actually." Jason makes a face. "How the fuck do you do that?"
(Tim misses that language. English, he can hear himself saying.)
"I'm the best brother ever and I know stuff." Dick stands and stretches. His spine pops once, twice, three times, plus four more times in quick succession. Tim thinks Dick knows how much he hates that sound. He always used to pop his knuckles. Dick smiles down at Tim, a smile tinged with sadness. Jason's eyes slide back over to Tim and then back up to Dick.
"Yeah. Later Timmy."
Tim makes a 'mm' noise at the back of his throat. Dick leaves, loudly, and Jason berates him for his brotherly enthusiasm. They're not related, Tim can hear Jason say.
Tim sits up and tries to straighten his hair. The knife in Jason's abdomen resurfaces in his vision and he flops backward again, groaning quietly.
All of Dick's pretty words, and still Tim feels the same as he did before.
Chapter 13: Chapter 13
Gotham City: October 21 st , 2151
Jason is hovering outside Tim's room. Apparently, he's winning everyone over. Jason is wondering if he is following in their footsteps. He doesn't think so. But there are things Jason has to know. However, he's having problems just entering Tim's room, because there are voices. Not voice, voices. The door is slightly ajar, so he can see that no one else is in there, but he is hearing voices—plural—and they all seem to be coming from him. He recognizes a few. He hears Dick and Bruce. He hears that Superbrat from Metropolis.
"I miss you," Tim's voice says, ragged and sad.
And then Jason hears, "I miss you too." That voice is his own. He hadn't heard that one yet, but it is most definitely his. It sounds raw and raspy, but it is without a doubt the voice that comes from his voice box every day.
He does not admit that "I miss you too" was on his own lips. His stomach tightens and his throat constricts. Jason makes the move to go into Tim's room, without knocking.
But Tim looks over his shoulder from the bed. "Just because you're standing there doesn't mean that I'll stop doing whatever I'm doing." He is angrier sounding than he has sounded in the short time he has been here. He doesn't say anything else, just turns his head back toward the window. His arms are moving as if he's fidgeting with the comforter. Jason moves into the room, regardless of the fact that he was not invited in. His head hurts.
"How can you do that? The voice thing?"
Tim sighs painfully. "I learned to mimic other voices when I was wrought with grief. That work for you?" Something is bothering Tim, building up in him. Had Damian said something when they had worked on tech down in the Batcave? He knew they had spent time together. Did Dick say something in the library three days ago? (Jason feels like he knows this isn't Tim's personality. It is strange.)
"Why did you mimic my voice?" Jason asks, instead of addressing Tim's tone.
Tim turns his whole body around this time. His eyes are filled with something horrible and ruinous. Whatever this thing is inside him, it is eating him up.
"None of your business," he says harshly. "Why I was—it's—" he chokes himself off, running a hand over his face. He doesn't finish speaking, just lapses into silence. Jason knows that Tim doesn't act this way with Dick. From what Jason understands, Tim tells Dick everything. It makes Jason feel... jealous? None of this makes sense. The feelings made no sense at all. Tim hadn't been here more than two weeks and he is ruining Jason's world. Everything is shaky and dangerous. He has to avoid hallways just to keep from seeing Tim and feeling these... these things.
"Your secrets aren't fair, Tim." Jason hisses. "None of this is fair."
Tim rocks back as if he was slapped. Then he is up and out of the bed, gripping Jason by his collar, pulling him down a hairsbreadth from Tim's own face. Jason doesn't feel taller that Tim, even though he has to look down to see the anger on his face.
"I know things about fairness. Nothing is fair. Not life. Not death. Not half-life. Not half-death. Nothing is fair. I've come into your life and I'm wrecking it, I can tell. I've turned everything you've ever felt upside down. I get it. I really do. I ruin things. But I cannot stop coming back."
Tim's voice seems to echo in his head and then turn around to form new words. The words are being screamed at him, full of despair.
"Don't go, don't go—"
Tim's lips are parted with the intensity of whatever he is feeling.
"Jason, you can't leave me. Please—"
Jason's head hurts. Tim's voice is echoing loudly, ricocheting and reverberating in his head.
"What will I do without you?"
Jason leans forward, suddenly, capturing Tim's parted lips and holding them. Tim gasps into it, just as shocked as Jason is by this kiss. Jason grabs him, tightly, pulling him as close as he can get. Tim grabs at the back of Jason's shirt, clutching at the fabric and pulling as well. There is an anguish between them, years of something, longing and want and—God, there's something else there—love, maybe—
An angel, Tim, you're a fucking angel, halo and everything...
Jason pulls back as if he has been burned. He pushes away from Tim forcefully (An angel, Tim—) and stumbles backward. He thinks that if he had fallen, he would have crawled out of there, if he had to.
"What are you doing to me?" Jason says quietly. "What are you doing?" The accusatory tone seems to be hurting Tim. (And, fuck it all, hurting Tim hurts him.)
"I'm not," Tim looks so baffled and lost and broken, "doing—I'm not doing anything—I..." Jason scrambles out of the room, because if he doesn't he'll succumb to that again. He'll... he'll cave in to Tim. He hides in his room, curling himself up against the wall, clawing at his abdomen. He hears running down the hall, and down the stairs.
Jason hears Dick. "Tim where are you—"
The front door slams, rattling the manor, probably bothering the bats. He doesn't know where Tim has gone and he tries desperately not to care. But he feels Tim everywhere, fitting against him as if he's a puzzle and Tim's the other piece. There is a murmuring in his head, his voice and Tim's, mingling together in quiet whispers. Jason can see a dark room, can feel Tim in bed next to him, curled up and sleeping.
The desperation behind his kiss, the desperation behind Tim's response, what does it mean? Why does Tim feel so integral to his life? He feels a sob threaten to escape his throat. He holds it within him, along with the pain he feels at the lostness of Tim's look. He holds it all with inner fists.
It takes everything inside him not to run after Tim.
Chapter 14: Chapter 14
Gotham City: April 23 rd , 2030
Dick Grayson now knows what it is like to arrive too late to save Jason Todd. It is almost as if Bruce is still alive, in him somewhere, because of this hopelessness. And it's not just Jason's dead body that makes him stop so close to his objective, yet so far away. It is Tim, screaming. His voice is raw and he's probably been like this for a while now. Bruce and Jason in the same day.
The cowl that Damian has coveted for so long cannot hide his concern. (Shit, Damian's thirty now.) Tim doesn't even seem to notice that they're there. Dick doesn't mention it. Neither does Damian. Dick just observes for a moment. The blood. The knife. From this angle, is almost looks as if tears are drying on Jason's cheeks. (But Jason Todd doesn't cry. Didn't. Damn.)
Tim finally looks over to them, His eyes are sparkling, the already shed tears leaving tracks in the blood smeared on his face. His eyes cannot get blood shot. At least Bruce made it so he could cry. After all, Tim will be doing a lot of it.
"If I—If I'd left the knife in his stomach—" choking "could... could we have—saved him?"
Dick looks at the knife, serrated and rather large (what had happened). He can't judge for sure, but he knows what he has to say, to make this less painful.
"No. We couldn't have."
"I wasn't... able to save—save him like he and Bruce—saved me—" Tim holds Jason closer, "Maybe—I didn't try—hard enough."
Damian says nothing, but Dick knows he is hiding clenched fists under his cape. Dick gestures. It's Batman's honor to do this. Tim won't let go of Jason unless he does this.
Damian slides a taser into his palm and steps behind Tim, placing the prongs just below the place on his skull where his USB jack is. He fires a small jolt, small enough not to damage anything but big enough to tell Tim's batteries that they need to be in standby. Tim's eyes flutter, the last of his tears slips past his lashes, and he slumps over, onto Jason's corpse (because that is what it is. Jason's soul is no longer there).
Dick thinks that this image would make a tragically beautiful book cover.
Dick gets Tim, hooking one arm under his legs and using the other to support his back. The antigrav units in his joints only shut off when his batteries get below fifteen percent, so he's as light as he was when he was flesh and blood. Tim's head falls into the crook of his shoulder and Dick can think that he's just carrying Tim to bed like he had many times when Tim fell asleep reading. Except Jason's blood is hardening on the boy's clothes.
Damian slips the knife into an evidence bag and picks up Jason's body. They try not to talk on the way home, but it is hard.
"What do you think happened?" Damian asks.
"I think," Dick's voice is shaky. He needs to fix that. "I think that some loser with a big knife tried to mug them, Jason was going to get tough, but then maybe two more showed up and threatened Tim. Jason probably forgot that a) Tim can hold his own and b) that he can't... well, he can't..."
"Die," Damian finishes. "Tim can't die."
The manor is quiet and empty, Bruce buried earlier in the day. Rain starts to slam against the windows.
"I'm going to the Cave," Damian says, taking Jason's body with him. (He really needs to close Jason's eyes. Tim hadn't had he presence of mind to do so.) Dick adjusts his hold on Tim and scales the stairs to his brother's room. He places Tim on the bed and sets him up to charge his batteries, regardless of the fact that Tim can go for about a day and a half, maybe two days without charging.
Dick can take comfort in the fact that Tim shut off his memory dreams a couple years ago. At least he'll be peacefully unconscious until morning. Dick sighs, wringing is hands. He isn't sure he wants to leave Tim but he wants to know—wants to investigate—what happened to Jason. While he's pretty sure what he described is what happened, he isn't absolutely sure.
Dick likes to deal in absolutes.
But first, he removes Tim's shirt (it is too far gone to clean) and wipes the blood away. It's the best he can do, what with Tim being deadweight until he comes back from the taser-induced coma. Even when he wakes up, there is no guarantee that he'll want to move. Tim is affected by things and this is something that will haunt him to the end of eternity.
It is at this point that Dick realizes that he, himself, is getting old too. His hair is getting more gray in it that he would like. Tim will have to deal with this in time as well. At least Damian's sort of young, though thirty doesn't bring out the youthful vigor in him that thirteen did. Tim's tears will be shed at his funeral, and Damian's, and so on and so forth.
Hell, even Kon-El is aging to the point where Tim will outlive him too. Kryptonians age only marginally slower and the kid (no, not kid anymore) has already died once.
Damn. That word sums up everything that has happened. And as Dick slides down the stair railing and heads toward the Batcave, he wonders if Bruce ever did regret saving Tim's life. Jason didn't. Everyone knew that.
It is strange, how much Jason and Tim supported one another, even though Jason had tried to kill him and Tim had probably been tempted to return the favor more than once. But Tim is an empathetic person and when Jason suffers (suffered) Tim suffers (and he suffers still).
"How's the research?" Dick asks, walking up behind Damian.
"I've been going for only ten minutes. What was said about Rome's building and the time it took?"
Damian won't ever grow out of this attitude. Dick likes it. "Well," Dick says, "I'm going to call Wally really quick. Okay?"
"Make it quick. I need you to... ah, do the... autopsy."
Dick nods. "Alright. I can do that. But since you gave me that task, I'm spending an extra five minutes on the phone." It's a lame attempt at humor, and if Tim weren't in bed and if Tim weren't ruined on the inside, Dick is sure he would have mentioned it. ("And you think my jokes are bad?")
It is a comfort, though, to hear Wally's voice. At least someone precious lived through today.
Chapter 15: Chapter 15
Gotham City: October 21 st , 2151
Tim's sneakers are awful at sneaking. But that's probably his own fault. His feet are pounding the pavement, trying to shove it behind him (because these shoes have great grip). He is gasping, as if he has lungs. It makes him feel like this running is getting him somewhere, that his body is actually doing something. It is running, the gasps remind him. Because if he doesn't run, away from that house, he'll do something he'll regret.
(He still feels Jason's lips on his and—)
He won't regret it when he does it, but he'll regret it after. After is the important part. For Tim, his afters effect other people's afters. His only afters are more afters forever and ever. There is no after-life.
Tim only stops running when he reaches a lift that will take him all the way up to Upper Gotham (where, apparently, the people there seem to think that the wretchedness of Lower Gotham cannot get them). There are hover cars and taxis. There are sky bridges, linking all the buildings together, so people of the upper echelons do not have to mingle with the filth down here.
He smacks a button into the panel, up to the uppermost skybridge. His feelings are so...Tim is so—nothing. Tim is nothing. He elbows the wall of the lift leaving a rather large dent. He cannot find it in himself to care. This lift, not his problem. He steps out of the lift to see brighter sunlight than he's ever been used to in this city. But, then, crime doesn't touch Upper Gotham (Tim has never been up here, but he thinks these people are crazy if they think this place is crimeless).
He slips himself into an alley and crouches in the shadow of a building. Just hiding. Thinking. Looking at Gotham beneath his feet, the Gotham he grew up in. The floors and skybridges are all made of a thick, solid, almost unbreakable glass, which makes Tim's contemplation possible. It is a good thing, he thinks, that he isn't afraid of heights.
Heights. Swinging from heights. Robin. Jason. Jason's fists, Jason's words, Jason's lips—
Tim feels crushed, all over again, by Jason (his Jason) kissing him then pushing him back.
His eyes linger on the skybridge. Skybridges, it would seem, do not need railings (there is no crime—you get the point, right? The absolute nonsense—!). From this height, Tim's body could survive, of course. But his brain would be turned into putty. Worse than putty. Liquid. That would certainly kill him. Certainly.
Tim is up an on his feet before he even finishes thinking about his liquid brain. He is just so done, so suddenly and irrevocably finished with this living. He doesn't have the energy to do anything but love someone who will not love him back this time. And it is wasted energy.
Tim walks to the edge of the skybridge and looks down. He is not even sure this metal body would come away unharmed from a fall like this one. Tim takes a deep breath, reaching into himself. This is it. This is all it, done, over, because Tim will not take one more minute of this neverending life.
Tim steps off the edge of the skybridge, right foot first. Someone screams.
Then his right arm is snagged backwards and the arch of his left foot is still pressed against the edge of the bridge.
"What are you doing?" Dick. Of course.
"Again with the ridiculous questions. It is obvious what I'm doing. What you mean is 'Tim, why are you trying to kill yourself?' If you want the right answer ask the right question."
"Tim," Dick's voice is strained to breaking, "why are you trying to kill yourself?"
Tim could pull forward and still jump. But judging by Dick's grip, Tim would take him along. So Dick tugs backward and Tim stumbles a little. He lets Dick move him away from the edge.
"I have been alive one hundred, fifty-seven years. I'm old. I'm tired. I—" am alone "I want to go home. I'm Atlas, and this... this thing that happened—" made the burden too much. "I cannot hold my world up anymore. It's crushing me. I'm going to let it crush me. Let it crush me."
And then Dick punches him. In the face. Hard. And it hurt, a lot. If he'd been made of bone, he'd be missing teeth, coughing blood. Dick probably held nothing back for the reason that Tim isn't made of bone anymore.
"You are selfish and awful sometimes!" Nothing new. "I just told you—I told you that without you, my life would be poorer! Do you not listen?"
Tim, much to his own surprise, punches back. Not as hard as he could have. That would have killed him. But hard enough to bruise. Because Tim needs to hit something. Doesn't matter what, or who (and maybe Dick gets it).
"I am tired! Leave me alone!" And he keeps punching. Dick keeps punching back. Pedestrians had vacated the bridge when Dick threw the first punch so now they have room to claw and kick and knee each other. "Leave me alone, leave me alone, leave me alone!"
"No!" That word is so firm that Tim stops hitting. Dick rolls him over and continues his punches, even though his knuckles are bloody. "I will not leave you alone, because when Jason comes to his senses he will kill me if you die! I'll kill me if you die! Tim you're my little brother and I love you. Okay? So I'll never leave you alone. Ever. Because you're not alone. You've got Bruce," Thwack, "Damian," Thwack, "me," Thwack, "and you will have Jason!" Thwack, Thwack, Whumph, a stomach shot.
Tim, with that, and with all this rolling around and punching (in public) feels his anger and the need to scream bleed out of him, like the blood from a long time ago as he almost died.
"...do you feel better?" Dick asks, not moving. Blood slips down from a split lip.
"Yes. Actually." He tries to move, knows he could if he wanted to shove Dick off. "Get off me. You're fat."
"I," Dick is incredulous and only moderately offended, "am not fat. I am curvaceous! Besides, you don't have a stomach to crush."
"But I know a fatty when I feel one."
"Well, sor-ry that everything I eat goes to my ass."
"You should be. Get off." Dick smiles. Tim smiles.
Dick scoops him up, bridal style, the way he used to hate when he was moderately incoherent from sleep and had dozed almost into oblivion while reading on the couch in the living room, while Alfred cleaned up whatever it was he cleaned.
"Hey." Tim says. Dick holds him tighter (God, this is embarrassing) when they get into the lift. "Hey," he says more forcefully. Dick looks down, still smiling. "I love you too."
And Dick looks so happy that Tim thinks maybe all this needed to happen, just so he could put that smile on his brother's face, a thing he was never able to do back in his own life, and the ones after.
Jason isn't around when they get back. It doesn't surprise Tim, but it does threaten to bring back the sadness, that overwhelming tidal wave that had caused him to run—
He takes a deep breath and, for the first time since Jason died, accesses his memories, deliberately. He accesses the ones with him and Jason, happy (so very happy) and he feels okay. Well, okay enough not to jump off of any too-high things.
"Dick?" Tim says, sliding out of his arms.
The hug is a quick thing, but Tim hasn't had much practice. Dick hugs back anyway.
(Tim will practice his hugs. Perhaps Jason will appreciate them. It can't hurt too much to hope.)
Chapter 16: Chapter 16
Gotham City: October 24 th , 2151
Damian sits at the table eating toast with strawberry jelly, basking in the solitude of—
"Tim, where are you going?" —the morning. Dick has been fretting for days over Drake. Fretting. Like a mother hen.
"Grocery shopping," Drake replies. He sounds amused and exasperated. Damian tries to continue eating his breakfast, seeking the place inside himself that meditation is supposed to calm down. It almost never works, but in this situation there may be hope.
"But you can't!" Dick looks panicked. Drake rolls his eyes. "Damian go with him!" The meditation technique fails. His peace has been ruined. Is it really so much to ask for a little quiet when he is eating breakfast? He can't get it anywhere else, not with Todd scouring the databanks for whatever in the Batcave, Dick bouncing around everywhere, and Drake carrying his own personal rain cloud wherever he is.
"No," Damian replies. "You have no authority to tell me what to do, brother dear," He says the last part with a demeaning sneer.
Bruce walks in and out of the kitchen in a heartbeat, looking over some case file that he and Damian are sure to pursue later tonight. But he does not leave before saying, "Go with Tim, Damian." He and Dick share a look that passes multitudes of information in the shortest amount of time possible.
Damian wants to learn how to do that one day.
All awe aside, Damian angrily shoves the rest of his toast in his mouth and follows Drake out the door. A headache is starting to blossom behind his eyes, making him more irritable than he was when his breakfast was interrupted. His family is just so... dysfunctional. Strange. He isn't sure if it bothers him or not.
"You're babysitting," Drake says, walking at a leisurely pace toward the lift that will take them to the lowest skybridge and thus the marketplace where this blasted shopping will occur.
"How do you mean?" Damian asks, not entirely interested. He could be doing more important things like training or studying.
Drake stops walking and points upward, tilting his head almost all the way back, his eyes following his finger. "Top bridge, three days ago?"
"Is that a question or a statement, simpleton?"
Drake doesn't sigh. His lips quirk upward, the shadow of a shadow of a smile. "Three days ago, more appropriately two and a half but three works, on that highest bridge all the way up I tried to jump." Damian tilts his head backward to see the highest bridge and he frowns.
"I am not sure you could survive that, even though you have this odd Super complex."
"Damian," his voice is a sigh this time. He resumes the walk to the lift. Damian follows, "that was the point."
"I was going to jump, land somewhere down here, probably hit a few aircars, and die. Dick is worried, so he sent you with me so you could make sure I didn't try again. Regardless of my practically constant reassurances." Oh.
The lift ride to the lowest bridge is silent. Overwhelming loss sits somewhere in Damian's abdomen, the same feeling he had when he had asked (demanded, actually) Drake to teach him about technology. It swells up and threatens to reach the tips of his fingers and the ends of his toes. His throat closes with it, this sense of almost-losing, of the possibility that someone could have been torn away but isn't.
They step off the lift in a weird synchronization and begin walking.
"Why do you hate yourself so much?" The silence was getting to be far too much for Damian to stand, not with this babysitting nonsense that Drake was spewing.
"Every time you smile, or chuckle, or scoff, or speak, you have the air of self-depreciation. You hate yourself, considerably. Why?"
"What's likable about me?"
Damian has "nothing" on his tongue. But he stops. "You are trying to trick me! You are using my moderate disdain of you to your advantage. You knew I would say 'nothing is likable about you' and you would use that to support your argument."
Drake smiles again and Damian knows he isn't crazy. Self-loathing is in that smile.
"You have always been infuriatingly astute."
Something slides into place in Damian's mind. It feels as if locking mechanisms have failed and are opening... something. Something familiar and important. Pain spreads from his temples to the back of his head, causing him to stop walking. Pedestrians just flow around him, color and noise. Damian grasps this feeling of understanding tightly, and waits.
Then, the memory of being rocked and hugged, of hugging, of being so close to losing someone that he had just admitted he loved, a brother. Drake—Tim.
Anger follows on the heels of this memory, of many memories.
"Damian?" Drake—Tim's—voice sounds cloudy and muffled by Damian's anger. Tim—Drake—Tim—wasn't going to tell him, ever, was he? He had been about to jump off a bridge, leaving Damian with sme half-filled hole of a brother he couldn't quite remember but desperately wanted to. This man—
Damian shoves him and Tim stumbles, baffled.
"You weren't going to tell me!" Damian's voice is high pitched and childish. It sounds like a tantrum. Maybe it is. "You were going to jump of a bridge and not even tell me we were brothers!" The accusation hangs between them, hovering. Tim says nothing, the river of people flowing around them, pretending they don't exist. "That we are brothers."
"Excuse me," one pedestrian apologizes for bumping into him, a British accent giving him a sophisticated air. He is dressed in the uniform of a bartender. "I did not mean to interrupt. Carry on," and he brushes by. Drake's—Tim's—eyes follow him.
"A bartender," Tim says quietly. "I'd have never guessed a bartender."
"Stop your mumbling and talk to me." It is selfish to say, but he demands Tim's attention. Right. Now.
"I have no idea what you're talking about," Tim says, shoving his hands in his pockets.
"How many times to I have to tell you I am not stupid?" The anger fades to frustration, allowing more thoughts to mingle together. Todd. And Tim. Jason and Tim?
Tim worries his bottom lip between his teeth. It is his giveaway, Damian knows that much. He is about to talk.
"Why would I have told you? It wasn't... it isn't... It wasn't important to my arrival here. It—why would it be? Does it change anything?"
Tim is so stupid and dense. How could Damian have been jealous of him, this boy who knows nothing?
Or, perhaps, he is only playing stupid.
Damian doesn't know what to say now. Because this does change everything.
He settles to circling Tim's waist with his arms, a tight, quick hug. There will be no comforting rocking this time. Damian is sure that he will not be able to keep his composure if there was.
"You... matter." Damian admits softly. "And now I know you matter." He pulls away, and straightens his shirt. "Well, come on. We have shopping to do. Make it quick, Drake." Damian shoves Tim again, more gently this time. Tim still looks confused, but a smile looks like it's trying to form. He cannot see the hatred there that has been constant on his brother's face.
(Brother. Tim is his brother. How could he not have known?)
This silence is more comfortable than the ones they have shared.
"Hey," Tim says when they are among the aisles of the supermarket, "do you like Devil's Food cake?"
"I cannot remember consuming it. Why?"
Tim grins, but says nothing.
While the self-hatred is gone, there is an emptiness to that grin, a sadness deeper than Damian's understanding. It makes his heart squeeze.
It is amazing how lonely Tim can look when he is surrounded by people.
Chapter 17: Chapter 17
Gotham City: October 26 th , 2151
Jason is tired. Really, really, really fucking tired. Sleeping is difficult for him. He dreams and he dreams of Tim. But those dreams are so... not... dreamlike that they feel like memories. Memories of things way too far back to really remember, yet there they are, in all their life-turning glory.
Jason can barely even shut his eyes because when he does, he sees himself kissing Tim days ago and that, by far, is his most vivid memory. He really wishes he could just flush his brain.
But the point is he's tired and he can't sleep—can barely close his eyes—so. So he doesn't know what to do. The Batcave has long since given up all of its information on Drake-Wayne, Timothy J. (The J stands for Jackson but Jason somehow knew that before he started his fevered information search). Damian and Tim have been spending a little more time together than normal, usually bantering over something stupid, sometimes with Dick trying to hug one of them for being just so adorable and brotherly, ohmygod.
It is as if Tim has filled a hole that none of them realized was in the family. Even Bruce was being more... relaxed... whatever... than normal.
But there is still a hole in Jason and it is depthless. It feels like Tim should be in that hole but Jason's pushing against this force with all his energy. Why should he accept this so... blindly? It just doesn't make sense. (But he really wants to blindly accept Tim and just... grab him. Hold him close. Something.)
And there his thoughts circle back.
Sleep will probably never find him again.
Regardless of how long he sits in bed and stares at the ceiling like he is doing now. And this is getting him nowhere. Absolutely nowhere. Further from nowhere. Worse than nowhere. He needs to do something, anything, to get out of this inner contemplation, this constant evaluation of his feelings (even though his feelings can't just with the goddamn program and change).
God he's tired.
Jason gets out of bed. Moving makes his sleepiness marginally better. Then he's out, downstairs. Dick is in the living room with Damian and... Tim. Tim is standing dramatically, quoting Hamlet, changing his voice to fit the characters. Jason walks by. Tim's gaze glances over him, leaving a searing trail from Jason's head to his shoulder. But Tim's eyes are back on his audience of two.
"Now Hamlet, where's Polonius?" Tim's voice is stern. His arms are crossed. In fact, Jason is sure that that is Bruce's voice. "At supper." He says joyfully. That voice is his own. Of course he would play the crazy one who relishes in wordplay. "At supper? Where?" Bruce again. "Not where he eats, but where he is eaten." Tim.
Damian is enthralled. It's odd to see him so... focused on something that doesn't involve beating the shit out of some criminal and saving the day. It's probably because Damian has talent in imitation. The focus is probably his vowing to perfect it and surpass Tim. Maybe play aloud The Most Lamentable Tragedy of Titus Andronicus. (Little psycho.)
And Jason does not want to be here, can't fucking stand this place right now.
Jason's footsteps echo around the Batcave as he shuts the grandfather clock behind him. Bruce isn't here, which means he is either in the library or out investigating things as Bruce Wayne, being flirtatious and happy and rich. It gleans him more information than one would think.
Jason changes into his Red Robin attire. He yanks up the cowl, hiding his tired eyes behind the white lenses. Tiredtireditired. Judging by police communications, something is occurring in the warehouse district, something big. Who would raid the warehouse district? There is nothing there.
"—Warehouse 17," Jason hears in his cowl as he swings toward the warehouse district, the chill of fall sweeping into his lungs along with the dirty air that permeates Gotham. That is the warehouse where he met Tim. Found Tim. Whatthefuckever. The closest warehouse to the docks.
He tries to remember its contents. Heavy boxes. Machinery? Weapons cached from gangs? GCPD isn't that stupid, to leave guns in a pretty much unprotected area of Gotham (after all, it's below Upper Gotham. Important shipments get delivered straight to the companies). The cold air tingles his lungs as he runs toward the warehouse, leaping up to the roof using his grappler. He catches words in the audio enhancer of his cowl.
"So what have we got, boys?" He knows that voice. The tiredness that has been haunting him for days slips out of him. The Jester, some wannabe Joker, an emulation of the past. White face paint and green hair dye. Also, atrocious fashion sense. What does he want with this place?
"There's some lead," a henchman says, "a lot of other rocks. Not valuable."
"Holy fuck. Not quite. Motherlode," another says. "Kryptonite."
"The Bats will sure want this back, don't you think?" The Jester cackles. Shivers race down Jason's spine. Then they race back up. "He and the Super one, they're partners, right?" More laughter. "This is going to be absolutely exciting."
Jason creeps toward the skylight. All warehouses have them. It's one of their principle, practically required design flaws. Jason pops the case and dives into the warehouse, rolling into a fighting stance. It is predictable and instant, he henchmen fighting him. It's a comfort, something he understands. And fighting is exhilarating. Jason fucking needs this, this way to burn out all this anger and confusion.
He doesn't expect the crowbar on the back of his neck. Or the laughter that follows.
Jason falls over.
Careless. Stupid. You didn't even mark the Jester's position. Fuck.
And the crowbar keeps coming and coming and coming. The henchmen have stepped back. He can hear them chuckling to themselves. "Oh so this is one of the former Robins, huh?" "Oh I'm shaking." "Bet he wishes he brought the Bat now, huh?"
Then something deep inside Jason's screams. The sound rips out of his mouth. He has been here before. Maybe not in this exact same place, but this, all this has happened to him before. He'd gone after—gone after the—Joker—and—
"Oh that one looked like it really hurt." Thwack. Metal on skin. "But that one looked like it hurt a lot more. So let's try and clear this up, okay, pumpkin? Which one hurts more? A?" Thwack. "Or B?" Thwack. "Forehand?" Thwack. "Or backhand?" Thwack.
"You know, the first Boy Blunder had some manners. I'm just going to have to teach you a lesson so you can better follow in his footsteps. ...Nah. I'm just gonna keep beating you with this crowbar."
And it all makes sense. The feelings. The emptiness. Tim. Everything.
Chapter 18: Chapter 18
Gotham City: April 26 th , 2030
Dick is gently playing with Tim's hair. Tim's head is in Dick's lap, but it would appear that Tim doesn't really know where he is. He probably does. He just cannot face it yet. Damian cannot blame him. Even with his eternally youthful skin, there are shadows under his eyes and he seems paler than he usually does. It is so very sad. And so very understandable.
Tim's eyes are moving back and forth, as if he is reading words on a page. Passages from Shakespeare's Hamlet slip past his lips. His voice changes for different characters.
Jason is Hamlet. Horatio is Tim.
Dick is obviously listening to Tim's vocal performance. It is... a lament, in Tim's own way. An expression of grief in someone else's words. King Hamlet's Ghost is Bruce. Damian is sure this surprises no one.
"How long has he been up?" Damian murmurs.
"A couple days."
Tim blinks at them, pauses, then continues. Dick stops playing with his hair and Tim's eyes flutter shut. Then Dick puts the small electrical device back in his pocket and starts playing with Tim's hair again. He would have made a great father, Damian thinks. He nurtures so well. He hums a circus tune, moving out from under Tim's head and stretching. He looks exhausted. He moves to pick Tim up but Damian puts a hand on his arm.
"I'll do it this time. You have that babbling hero to call, do you not? The red-headed one."
"Wally," Dick says. Damian knows that, but pushes Dick's button's anyway.
"Right. That one. Go do that gossiping thing you always do. I'll take Tim upstairs."
Dick smiles, his teeth bright and white, as they have always been. He skips off to the kitchen, where he nearest phone is located. It is uplifting that a man getting so old can still find it in himself to skip and prance places. Especially in the city of Gotham, where such happiness is often smothered by the black clouds that seem to permeate the sky.
Daman scoops Tim up in his arms like a child and carries him up the stairs. Damian did not think he would ever fall into the role of older brother, and yet here he is, cradling his once-rival in his arms.
He opens Tim's door with his foot and slips in, his feet silent on the still immaculately clean carpet. Since Alfred's... departure, Dick's room has gotten rather messy, and Damian will admit that even his room has seen less cluttered days, but Tim's room is still perfect, almost entirely free of dust. His bed is even made and creased to perfection. That is a major indicator of Tim's presence of mind. He does know what has happened, he just cannot deal with it right away, cannot talk about it.
Damian understands. He hasn't been able to talk about Bruce. Not with Dick. Not with anyone. He falls back on his own imitation skills, pretends Bruce is alive and here and Batman. It eases the pain for a single moment, but the wave comes back full force when he realizes that Bruce's voice is coming from the vibrating of his vocal cords.
If Tim were conscious, maybe they could talk about it. Maybe, before the Mission takes Damian's life, they will. He wants to. Tim might want to.
He lays Tim down on the bed and inserts his charge cord into the wall. Even the creases Tim's weight makes in the comforter seem to be neat and tidy. Damian sees something peeking out from under Tim's pillow and gently tugs on the fabric.
He knows what it is the instant he touches it. It is one of Jason's leather jackets. Damian pulls his fingers back and smells his fingers. It smells like stale cigarette smoke (because Jason was really bad and the whole quitting thing), leather, Gotham, and a smell that was probably distinctly Jason. Damian slides the jacket out from under Tim's pillow and shakes it out. It is definitely one of Jason's older ones. A couple scorch marks on the sleeves, a stain of gunpowder. The elbows have small holes in them.
Damian covers Tim with the jacket, leaving the comforter under Tim's back. The manor is warm enough and the smell may comfort Tim when he wakes up. Why would he have it otherwise? It is what Damian uses one of Bruce's old nightshirts for. (Granted, Bruce had only used it when Alfred made him sleep, but it still smelled of him. His cologne. His soap. Gotham.)
(Damian wishes that they didn't have such morbid things in common. He wishes they had started off like normal brothers instead of realizing it through Tim's almost-death and new life.)
As Damian looks at Tim, he clears his throat. Should he do this? Would Tim be angry with him? But Damian just sighs and brushes stray hairs from his older—younger—brother's forehead.
"Goodnight Babybird," Jason's voice rumbles out of his vocal cords, seeming to shake his whole body. Jason's voice is much deeper than his own. Was. Was much deeper than his own. (Though, technically, since it is still his voice, perhaps "is" would be appropriate.)
Tim opens one bright blue eye and looks at Damian. His lips twist in what would have been a smile at any other point in Tim's life. There is a small flash of white teeth.
"Goodnight, Damian," Bruce's voice is a whisper coming from Tim. Damian feels his eyes water. Tim pulls up the collar of Jason's jacket and inhales before rolling over and going back to sleep.
The words thank you go unsaid between the both of them. But that doesn't mean they aren't there. Damian shuts the door softly behind him and shuffles down the hallway to his own room. He can hear Dick still on the phone with Wally.
Damian grabs the nightshirt from under his pillow and he climbs into bed and hugs it close to him.
"Goodnight Father. Sleep well."
Chapter 19: Chapter 19
Gotham City: October 26 th , 2151
"Jason's gone. His distress beacon's going off."
Tim knows the shortcuts to the warehouse district. He doesn't mean to harp on his memory but it is, well, perfect. These shortcuts have come in handy, because Jason is out here, in this district, and he is in trouble. Tim doesn't know what kind of trouble, but he knows that it doesn't matter. Because in this time period, distress beacons are automatic which means Jason's vitals have activated it.
"Jason's gone. His distress beacon's going off."
The signal is coming from Warehouse 17, where Tim always holes up when life just begins to be too much again (more specifically, when someone dies).
But no one's going to die tonight. No one. Jason will not die.
Tim shuts off the anti-grav units in his joints. There's a slight feeling of weightlessness followed by a massive feeling of weight gain. His senses adjust to the new feeling of gravity affecting his whole body, and just as suddenly as he felt the weight, it didn't affect him anymore. He limbers up, adjusting his reflexes to fit the force. Then, he forces his fingers between the two, massive, sliding metal doors of the warehouse and pushes. The metal bends under his strength and he enters the warehouse. The henchmen of whoever-this-is—some imitation Joker—stand, struck.
Tim had shown off for this affect.
Jason is in a small pool of his own blood. The Jester is standing above him, crowbar in hand. Tim moves forward—
And the fight breaks out. The six henchmen all fly at him at once. Without the anti-grav units, Tim's strength is quadrupled, which means the rage boiling in his belly needs to be controlled, mastered, or he will kill these people.
One punch. Shattered jaw. Henchman out.
Two punches. Fractured sternum and shattered collarbone. Also out.
Four punches. Shattered pelvis, reverse knee fracture, dislocated shoulder, cracked fifth cervical vertebrae. Two more.
Roundhouse kick. Cracked temple. Out.
Elbow strike. Compound fracture of radius and ulna. Out.
Then Tim moves toward the Joker imposter. Jason's breath is a bubbled wheeze. The noise of him breathing is so similar to the sounds from when he died that Tim's control freezes up and snaps. He thinks he might kill the Joker. But he wraps his rage in tape and holds it down.
"So, a would be hero!" He swings the crowbar. Tim grabs it and twists it backwards. Says nothing. "The stoic kind. I know someone like you. Bat-for-brains sets his mouth like you do, boy!" He cackles, the laughter echoing off the boxes and the ceiling and lifting out into the night through the missing skylight.
Tim pulls back and punches him. Then he socks him again in the chest, doubling the man over. Tim breaks both his knees and has the would-be Joker's head under his left sneaker.
He could step on this man's head and pop it like a watermelon.
"Well, hero-boy? Are you going to end this where no one else in Gotham can?" Laughter. That wretched laughter from the man who had almost ripped Jason from him—
But he hears Bruce, his Bruce, his father, lectures him in his mind. Tim remembers Captain Boomerang and how he tried to kill him. This... this wouldn't be right.
Tim crouches and leans close to the not-Joker's ear. "I have a joke for you," he says in his own Joker's breathy voice. He chuckles. "See, Batman doesn't care about you. Doesn't care what you do, who you kill, you'll be stuck here on this Earth until you end it yourself." Tim laughs, loudly, Joker's laugh spilling from his lungs. "Gotham's going to suck the life out of you, like is does out of all of us! Ah-ha—ahahaa—" and Tim laughs and laughs and laughs until the Jester starts laughing too. Then Tim smacks him on the back of the skull and he goes quiet.
Tim stands and flicks the small switch on the back of his top, right molar. He hopes the comm signal is the same, or at least similar.
"Tim?" Dick has been waiting there.
"I've got some wannabe Joker here. He needs medical attention. I'm taking Jason to Gotham Memorial Hospital. Okay?"
"The Jester," Dick provides. "And roger. We'll be there as soon as we see him off. Be safe." A pause. "How is Jason?"
"I'll let you know when I know." Tim keeps the channel open, changing clothes with Jason as quickly as he can without injuring him further. There are cuts and blood everywhere, formed bruises black and purple on Jason's skin. Tim's clothes are a little small on Jason, but that's fine. At the hospital, Jason's clothes will be moot anyway.
Tim picks him up as Red Robin, cradling Jason against his chest. He remembers to turn his anti-grav units back on before he begins running.
"Tim," Jason's voice is that gurgle-wheeze of before. One of his lungs has collapsed, Tim is sure.
"Shh," Tim whispers. "Quiet Jason." Jason groans.
Gotham Memorial Hospital is a skyscraper all its own. Differing levels have differing quality of care, as Tim finds out when he reaches the foot of the hospital's scraper. The room is crowded and there aren't enough people on staff to handle the cut fingers and bloody noses.
"Help," Tim says, putting his Red Robin voice on after years of disuse. "Help him."
"You'll have to wait," A doctor says miserably.
Tim doesn't want to say this. He doesn't want to name drop. He doesn't— "This is one of Bruce Wayne's sons. Save. Him."
That gets the attention of everyone in that room. Some of the people wail as Jason gets taken from Tim's arms and rushed up to the upper levels for better care. Tim turns his back on all of them, sweeping out of the hospital with his cape rushing behind him. His eyes are burning. They have to save Jason. They have to. Tim cannot—will not —lose him like this.
He slips into and alley and pulls down the cowl that reeks of Jason's sweat and Jason's blood. This smell is too familiar, too sad—
And Tim puts his face in his hands, tears running down his palms.
Be okay, Jason. I love you. I love you. IloveyouIloveyou, please be okay.
Jason ends up being in surgery for six hours.
But he's alive. And that's all that matters to Tim.
Chapter 20: Chapter 20
Gotham City: October 27 th , 2151
It's early in the morning, and Jester's case file is open on Dick's lap. He flips through the images, the open cases that are moderately linked to him, the closed ones that are definitely linked to him. Jason is in hospital bed, Tim's clothes long thrown away due to Jason's blood (and the blood of the criminals Tim pummeled).
"Nnghh. Tim." Jason's voice is a wheeze without any real sound behind it, just air pushed through the throat. "Where is—is Tim?"
Dick looks up to see Jason rising, or, rather, trying to rise but struggling. His arms are trembling, wounds on his sides reopening. He does however, manage to get into a sort of sitting position before Dick has the presence of mind to put pillows behind Jason's back to hold his brother up. Jason's black and purple all over. In Dick's professional opinion (because he too has suffered momentous injuries) Jason should be shedding tears of immense pain.
"Hey, hey, Jaybird, it's okay. Don't move so much. You need to heal." The fluorescent lights make his suffering more obvious, defining the wrinkles on his face.
Jason's slaps his hands away as Dick tries to help. "Don't call me that. Where's Tim?" His eyes flicker all over the place, searching , desperately.
"He left with Damian. He said he didn't want to ruin your healing Zen." Actually, had said something that had made Dick's heart twist and roll and squeeze, because he had sounded so sad and had made it sound like absolute fact.
"Why would he want me to be here anyway? For all I know, his wounds could get infected and he could die in even more pain than what I saved him from. I'm bad luck."
He had said it with a smile, of course, but Tim's smiles were the saddest kind. From what Dick can remember (and he can remember quite a bit about back then) Tim's smiles have almost always been sad.
"I need to find Tim," and Jason moves like he wants to swing his legs out of the bed and go, but that isn't going to happen because Jason is in no condition to go anywhere. His pelvis is cracked and as Jason grimaces, Dick thinks he can hear the bones grinding on each other. Jason's muscles put up protest a moment longer under Dick's force before Jason collapses against the fluff of pillows.
"What's the not-so-sudden fixation?" Dick drags the plastic chair he had been sitting in closer to Jason's bedside. Jason covers his face with his hands and Dick thinks he's pretty sure he knows where this is going. It surprises him that it took Jason getting beaten almost to death for this conversation to happen. But Jason's always been thickheaded (as indicated by his surviving getting almost beaten to death).
"I didn't know." His speech is muffled by his palms, but it's understandable enough. Dick knows he is ashamed. "Or, I did but—fuck. Fuck. I didn't really know and then... the Jester... motherfucker. I remembered. Babybird. My Babybird." When Jason pulls his hands away, his face is the epitome of despair. "I am stupid, really fucking stupid, and I need to fix it. I need to find Tim because—" His words get choked off with a sound that is somewhere between a sob and a moan.
Dick, for once is however many lives he's had, is at a loss for words. Jason rubs at his eyes, even though Dick can't see any tears. He takes his younger brothers hand (gently, because a couple of those fingers are in splints) and squeezes it, softly, once.
"Hey now, don't worry so much. We'll get you home as soon as possible. I can probably get Timmy to come back tomorrow, even." Dick smiles. Tim will be so happy about this. So happy.
Jason's voice is the smallest he's ever heard it in all the memories he has. "What if he doesn't come? Dick I made out with him and pushed him away like he had a goddamn disease." That had emotionally damaged Tim. But... Dick decides that the best course of action is not to mention that Tim tried to throw himself off the highest skybridge to liquefy his brain and, thus, die.
Dick has always prided himself on his tact.
"Jason," Dick says, avoiding the confrontation that Tim and himself had had on that skybridge, "Tim loves you. Will always love you, as I'm sure you already know." Guilt sweeps itself across Jason's face. It doesn't hurt too much to rub Jason's face in the fact that Tim loved him from the very start of their encounters so far and that Jason was much less than polite. "He'll come see you. He can't help himself. After all, he saved your life. He just knew, ran, and—"
"Wrecked some people's shit?" A smile touches Jason's split lips.
"Oh yes. The Jester's not going to be moving for an excessively long time. Same with the people he brought with him. Man, Tim was—" Dick searches for the word, "—harsh, but effective. He didn't kill anyone. Just. Made them think twice, I guess. It was a massacre. Without the dead people."
"Do you think any of them landed a punch?"
"Pfff," Dick scoffs, smiling. "No way. Tim bent the Jester's crowbar backwards."
"Damn," and there's such a fondness in Jason's voice and his face that Dick wants to call Tim up right now and tell him to come visit, that Jason's ready to get on his injured knees and beg for forgiveness (and what with Jason drowning himself in his own guilt, Dick doesn't think he would be exaggerating). But Tim had left with a certain destination in mind (and Damian had followed without asking, just toddled along after Tim. Adorable, really).
"Now get some sleep. Your injuries won't heel as fast if you don't rest up, Jaybird." Dick pulls away one pillow, forcing Jason to lie back down in a more sleep-inducing position.
"Don't call me that, Dickiebird." Jason's sneer is only half-hearted, and he rolls over to the shoulder that's bothering him less. It doesn't take him too long to fall asleep. After all, there is a painkiller in his IV. (How else would Jason still be moving with those injuries?)
Dick thinks Jason dreams of finding Tim, because that's all he mumbles in his sleep.
Chapter 21: Chapter 21
Gotham City: October 27 th , 2151
"Where are we going?"
Tim's hands are tucked in the pockets of Dick's pants, bracing against the chill of October. His clothes had not been salvageable (except for the sneakers), so Dick had brought a shirt and a pair of pants of his own. The pants were made of something that could have been cotton, but not really, and they were most certainly not denim (because, of course, that had gone out of style a long time ago).
"We're going to find a friend of ours."
"'Friend' is a term I hardly ever use, so I have no idea who you have in mind. Why did you not stay at the hospital to be there when Todd awakens? Isn't that what the other half of a couple does?"
"Jason and I aren't exactly a couple."
"That is a lie and you know it. I know it, and I have the social graces of a brick wall." Tim snorts and almost chokes on his laughter. Tim remembers saying that exact thing ages ago and Damian had puffed out his chest in an indignant fashion. It had been hilarious then but it was a keel over and die laugh now. In fact, this was almost as good (or, bad, rather) as one of his jokes. Oh. Man. "I am being serious."
"I'm sure you are, Damian." Tim's voice box wants to split because the laughter is there, just stuck. Stuck behind all the sadness and things he should say. But it's most certainly there. "But I was being serious too. We aren't a couple. Not right now. We were—"
"—more than once, if I may remind you—"
"We were, but now we're not. He doesn't want to see me. I'm not being seen. So. I'm accommodating, you see."
Damian opens his mouth to retort, but Tim shushes him before his vocal cords can tremble out a response. Tim had just been going off of a hunch. He and Damian had seen him on this level when they had been disagreeing. But there he is, Alfred Pennyworth, entering a bar (it is called God Save the Queen, and Tim wants to kick himself because, duh.)
Tim grabs Damian's hand (what would he do if Damian got lost?) and pulls him after him. Damian is sputtering and spitting about being manhandled.
The bar is dim on the inside and rather nice, though Tim can't exactly rate bars (though there was that one time in the strip club and he never, ever, ever wants to relive that moment, because cross dressing for justice had been bad enough, but ugh.) But, then again, Alfred has never been one to work in a classless place. (Alfred is high class, after all.)
"You two look a bit young for alcohol." Alfred says when they get up to the bar. His eyes crinkle with his smile (of course he knows, Alfred knows everything). He does look swell in his bartender's garb, bowtie included.
"I'm a lot older than I look," Tim replies. Alfred smiles a little wider.
"I believe you."
It takes Damian a couple minutes to realize what they are doing there. It is only after Alfred puts a Coca-Cola in front of him that Damian's eyebrows go up and his face is a masterpiece of confusion.
"Indeed, sir," Alfred says, grabbing a couple glasses to clean. "How are thing at home?"
"Dick's a mess," Tim says, "and there are a lot of microwavable meals in the freezer." He wants to leap the table and hug Alfred. A bartender. Really? He had just had no idea. (But here Alfred is, moustache and all.)
"How is Master Jason?" No one seems to notice Alfred's odd use of the word. Tim wouldn't have cared any if they had noticed. It makes Tim feel. Happy. A little. And that happiness is located somewhere near the middle of his chest (close to the hollowness where Jason ought to be) and pulses with warmth. Jason's place shivers with cold, and Tim grips the wooden bar hard.
"He was." Tim let's go, or he will splinter the wood with his fingers, anti-grav units or not. "He was beaten. By the Jester. With a crowbar."
"But he is alive." Damian says around the straw in his soda. "And Tim here refuses to stay at the hospital. Be the voice of reason. I believe we have been severely lacking it since your... departure." Damian inhales about half the glass in one gulp.
"Thank you for the complement, Master Damian." Alfred grabs another glass to rub, "And why aren't you at the hospital, Master Timothy?"
"What Damian forgot to mention is that Jason and I aren't together."
"What Tim neglects to mention is that he saved Todd from the Jester, a proverbial knight in shining armor if you will, and that Todd may or may not have recollections about the past." Damian looks over at him and Tim wants to shrink down and slide into the floor. "Tim is very good at withholding information from those who would readily receive it."
Not this again. Tim is very sorry for not telling Damian, he had just had no idea that he would be receptive at all (because, honestly, Damian hates him whenever Tim shows up the first time. It gets harder to read people with every incarnation).
"It would seem to me, sir," and Alfred looks pointedly at Tim, "that your argument is unsound if Master Damian can take it apart as he seems to be doing. It isn't exactly my job to tell you what to do anymore, Master Timothy," (tell me what to do, that would actually be great, because I can't seem to ever make the right decision—) "but I do recommended, highly, that you see Master Jason at your earliest convenience. While he is thick-headed, he is not stupid."
Tim runs his hands through his hair (his synthetic, not-human hair, would Jason even put up with this this time?) and sighs.
"Is this the only reason you came to see me? To bicker like old times?" Alfred is smiling. There is no sting to his words.
"I came to see you because." Tim. Tim had needed it, needed to at least make sure it wasn't Alfred. But it is and Tim is glad. "I wanted to say hi."
Alfred chuckles. "Well. Hello then. Feel free to stop by at any time. I am almost always here." He places the last glass on a rack. "How is Master Bruce?" Alfred asks this hesitantly. He misses him, Tim can tell.
"Father is fine, as always." Damian replies, working on the vestiges of his second soda. "I make him go to sleep on time." He sounds proud of this. For a moment, Tim pictures Dick cuddling Damian because this is a moment that Dick would be cooing Damian you're just so wonderfully adorable, ohmygoodness.
"That is good." Silence. Pause. Alfred looks between them. "Well. Are you going to go?"
"Well, of course." Damian pushes his soda glass away. "Tim needed to hear it from someone reasonable. Now that he has, we are going back."
"We are?" Tim asks. Why is he never informed of these things?
"Naturally. Come now. Places to be, and all that." Alfred chuckles and waves them off.
"Tell Master Bruce and Master Richard that I said hello, would you?"
"Of course Alfred," Tim smiles, waving, as it is now Damian's turn to tug him down the street by the sleeve of his shirt. He doesn't have it in him to protest that much. Alfred's word is Law. Who was Tim to argue with that?
(It was what he had needed to hear. How did Damian get so smart as to point that out? For once, Tim is feeling as if he is the one doing the catching up. The feeling is strange.)
"Walk faster. Todd will be on painkillers and could be awake right now and here you are just taking your precious time as he falls back into a painless stupor."
Tim walks faster, hiding a tenuous smile behind his free hand.
Chapter 22: Chapter 22
Gotham City: May 2 nd , 2030
"I'm leaving," Tim says. His voice is quiet, but Damian and Dick are quiet too, so his voice carries. The words cause Dick's right cheek to twitch. That twitch makes a stone settle miserably in Tim's stomach. But he is leaving. The gray in Dick's hair makes Tim's eyes sting with tears and Damian looks so much like Bruce it hurts. (But everything hurts nowadays. Pain is something to acknowledge and pack away at this point.)
And Jason's absence only punctuates his need to get out of this place.
"You can't go!" Dick stands, holding hands away from his sides in anguish. Tim causes a lot of people anguish, himself being one of them. But he can't let Dick keep him here. Tim cannot keep going to funerals (though he feels that that is what will end up occurring throughout his eternal life, regardless of if he leaves or not).
"Yes, he can," Damian says. Tim had been looking for words to pry himself from his family. He is glad that Damian understands. "He is watching us grow old." Damian looks pointedly at Dick. "Especially you, white-top." Tim does not want to think about how Dick will look when his hair actually does turn perfectly white. He bites his tongue to keep from voicing his despair.
Dick runs a hand through his hair. "I think the gray makes me look distinguished."
Damian rolls his eyes. "That is not the point. The point is he is watching us die, albeit slowly," (oh yes, Damian does understand, better than Tim had thought) "and he can no longer keep watching us get old." Damian's blue eyes (Bruce Wayne blue) cut over to Tim. "Am I right?"
Tim nods, slowly and silently. There is nothing more to really say. Damian wrapped it up perfectly, practically tying it up with a bow.
Dick worries his lower lips between his teeth. "Where will you go, Timmy?"
"I don't know," he replies. "But I have figured out how to put myself in a state of stasis to keep my brain alive but use almost no battery." He has been working on his perfection of stasis for the past week (since Damian pulled him to his sense by using Jason's voice).
Dick grabs him and hugs him, squeezing with everything he is. Damian stands and hugs Tim when Dick finishes. Tim returns both embraces with tragic squeezes of his own. (For a moment, he second guesses himself and his desire to leave.)
And then Tim leaves. He steps out into the evening and begins to walk. He has no destination in mind. His objective right now is merely to wander. He has not been outside the manor for much else besides short walks with Jason. The city is still dirty and ugly (but Tim has never thought of living anywhere else). Darkness only makes the filth more obvious.
Jason only stayed in this cesspit because of Tim. And he died for staying here.
"Hello, Detective." Tim stops. The murky alley of uptown Gotham muffles the voice, but Tim knows it, and knows it well. He glances up from the pavement to rest his eyes on the regal posture of Ra's al Ghul. "I was under the impression you were dead."
"I had heard that you were dead. Again. Seems we're pretty even. And alive." Tim replies. "Should have known you can't stay dead."
"Indeed, Detective." He can see Ra's' glinting as they look at him.
"It's Tim. Bruce is the Detective."
"It is my understanding that Bruce Wayne, Alfred Pennyworth , and Jason Todd are all deceased. Unless they have turned into what you are now?" Ra's steps into the range of an alley light and raises and eyebrow. (And of course Ra's knows. His information network is almost as good as Barbara's.)
"No. No, I'm the only one like me."
"Then you are the Detective now."
Tim shakes his head. "I'm not." And he won't ever be. It's Damian's title now. He had earned it, tooth and nail. "But cut to the point. What do you want, Ra's? I have places to be." Not specific places, of course, but it is not a lie, not really.
"I've come to ask you to join me. Your immortality could greatly benefit my cause." Not our cause. Talia must be dead now. Tim is not surprised. He wishes he was.
"I won't join you Ra's."
Ra's shrugs. "You have an almost infinite amount of time to decide. I can wait. Throughout the centuries, I have learned to be a patient man." He steps back into the shadows and Tim feels a pang of need for Bruce. "If you change your mind—"
"But should you change your mind, I am sure you will know where to find me. Until then, good evening to you, Detective."
Tim winces and Ra's is gone. Tim resumes walking, his pace a little more brisk than before. He changes direction from Uptown Gotham to the Warehouse District. Tim knows that if he gives himself too much time to decide where to hide, he will take Ra's up on his offer. (Tim hates himself for knowing this, but who would want to spend eternity alone?)
Warehouse 17 is the only one that is unlocked. Here are tons of boxes, most of them heavy and even more of them are decades old. Tim rearranges the boxes in the back of the warehouse to conceal the place where he intends to stay for a while (maybe forever). He tries to avoid thinking about Ra's. About Bruce. About Dick. About Damian.
But then he settles down behind the boxes and shut his eyes. He runs through his memories, all the happy ones. They run together and flicker in a continuous stream. The stream lulls his mind and systems into a calmness he has not felt in a long time. He shuts off his breathing, his anti-grav units, his motor skills.
Tim makes sure his brain is working, that all the electrical impulses are occurring where and when they need to, to preserve his personality, memories, and intellect.
Then Tim lets go and embraces silence.
Chapter 23: Chapter 23
Gotham City: October 27 th , 2151
Damian feels a certain measure of pride ay having tugged Tim all the way back to the hospital to see Todd. He cannot bear the intense lovesickness that follows them both around like a dark raincloud, casting shadows on everything (the two of them included).
But then Tim freezes, his sleeve slipping from Damian's grip.
"What, exactly, are you stalling for now—"
"Damian," Tim's grabs him by the collar and tugs his backwards to stand behind him. "Go inside." Damian does not move. He does not understand. It is possible that this is another stalling tactic, but Tim's voice did not sound like a stalling tactic. It sounded tense and scared. And angry.
A late middle-aged man bleed from the shadows. His posture is perfect, his eyes glimmering in the white light of Upper Gotham's streetlamps. Alarm bells ring in Damian's mind. He craves his memories and tries to reach out for the origin on the alarm, but the thoughts slip through his fingers, swirling in with the colors and sounds of his other lives.
"You would keep me from my grandson, Detective?" Regal voice. Familiar.
Tim obscures Damian's view of the man by stepping between them. When Tim speaks, his voice is openly hostile, begging for a fight. "I've told you time and again, Ra's. I'm not the Detective." Rough. Vicious. Deadly. "And Damian isn't your grandson in this incarnation." It is practically a hiss.
"Then he is not your brother either."
Damian catches flashes of Ra's al Ghul. Catches flashes of his mother. Ra's' attempt on his body and his life. Damian tenses his muscles for a fight.
"Damian," Tim says, quiet and dangerous. "Go inside. I'll follow in a minute. Okay?"
"Should you not follow, I'll be forced to bring Dick out here." Tim snorts, but doesn't look away from Ra's as Damian slips inside the hospital. But what kind of little brother would he be if he did not eavesdrop? He needs to make sure Tim stays safe enough so that he can speak to Todd, thus allowing themselves the opportunity to address this constant unresolved sexual tension.
He also wants to know more about his onetime grandfather (probably now with greats attached to it).
"You know and I know that you aren't here to see Damian."
"Always cutting right to the chase." There is a pause. Damian hovers in the lobby, listening. "I've come to ask you to return to me. You were an excellent companion." Damian thinks he can hear a snide smile in Ra's voice. "And an excellent spy."
There is silence. Damian does not understand what Ra's is talking about. But Tim obviously does, because the silence is tense with hatred, still and black.
"You killed Jason." Tim's voice is despair personified. It is the sound of Jason Todd's first death (Damian does not think that he has ever truly forgotten that sound). "I will never return to you."
"That is what you said about joining me, if you recall, Detective. How, exactly, is tempering your immortality working?" Pause. Nothing. "Does your silence indicate your failure? Your continuing loneliness?" Another pause. "I killed young Jason as I should have done when my daughter brought him to me at the beginning. He is a distraction, to her for the Batman's love and to you for Jason's love. He always will be a distraction. You proved that to me then as you are proving it to me know."
Tim says nothing that Damian can here, but there is a murmur.
"Short visits like these are all I need to bring you in. As I have said before, I have become an infinitely patient man. Detective." Ra's spits is like an insult, breathes it out like praise. Tim says nothing in response. Silence is all that is left outside . It takes many moments for Tim to enter the lobby and when he does, his posture is stiff and angry.
Damian falls into step next to him as they walk to Todd's room. "What was Ra's talking about?"
Tim's jaw works as if he is chewing on the words before spitting them out. "I killed Jason Todd when he was born the second time." The words are choked out of him, like hairballs. And when they are out, he looks lost, shaken, pitiful.
"I heard that Ra's killed him. From you."
"...it was my fault."
Damian doesn't pry any further. But that is only because they have reached Todd's room and Tim absolutely will not expound upon this thing while he is with Todd. (But this is not over, not by a longshot.)
Todd is looking groggy, when they enter. He must be on morphine or some variation. But he notice when Tim enters the room. Damian can feel their connection. He thinks that Dick can feel it too, because a smile graces his face (and he gets a flashback—flashforward?-of a gray-haired man with the same grin).
"Hey, Tim." Jason's voice doesn't match the dazed expression on his face.
"Hi." Hesitant. Tim pulls up a plastic chair to Todd's bed. Damian takes a seat on the floor near Dick's feet. "How are you feeling?"
"Like I've been beaten with a crowbar."
Todd smiles, a little, and reaches up with his uncasted arm toward Tim's face. Tim flinches away, looks embarrassed. But Todd doesn't put his hand down. He lets it hover there, an offer or something they have both been lacking for a long time,
"Babybird." The interruption is a sigh. A word without sound, but it stops Tim's question. Kills it. "Babybird," Todd breathes again and his hand touches Tim's face. Tim leans into it. Damian feels Dick ruffle his hair. ("Good work, bringing him back here, little D," the ruffle says). "Babybird," Todd breathes out the name once more, his eyes watering, Tim wipes at his eyes with one sleeve.
"Jaybird." Tim replies. It is a secret conversation in a language Damian doesn't understand. He wonders if he will ever get to have a conversation like this, with meaning. "My Jaybird."
Jason's smile turns into a grin. "My baby."
Damian leans against Dick's knee and lets his eyes close. He is tired. They are all tired.
Damian falls asleep against his oldest brother's legs.
(No one tells him that he snores.)
Chapter 24: Chapter 24
Gotham City: January 14 th , 2056
Jason Taylor is seventeen years old when his life changes for the second time. He is wandering the Warehouse District—Bruce had sent him here as Jason to search for a stash of drugs that had been stowed away here by a member of Cobblepot's gang about three days back. Jason doesn't know why he had followed orders (he's really bad about that). Batman isn't much older than he is. But his voice has way more power in it than Jason's ever will. That's probably why he's searching out a drug drop in the fucking snow.
Warehouse 17 is the only one without a lock and his fingers are too numb to try and pick any more, so he shoves in, moving the metal door with his shoulders.
And there's the duffle bag. Bingo. (But now it feels like all that lock picking was a complete and total waste of time.) Jason checks the contents , picks it up, and begins checking behind the crates and boxes to make sure there aren't any more bags, though by what Jason has seen, this stash is a pretty large profit on its own.
There's only one more stack to check behind. He shoves a small tower of boxes aside and almost drops the duffle bag in shock. A dark haired boy that looks a lot like Tim Drake from Bruce's father's photo albums in the attic is just... lying behind these boxes, unmoving and silent. It's pretty fucking creepy and, shit, this kid (well, they look the same age, but whatever) looks dead.
Jason tugs on his hair, because the Tim-lookalike isn't blue with cold and thus could still be alive.
The boy makes a strangled gasping sound and opens his eyes. They flicker everywhere. Then they fall on Jason. He backs up, even though he can't go anywhere, due to the wall behind him. So. He tries to back up, away from Jason. He looks terrified and his chest is heaving (though Jason is pretty sure that his chest hadn't been moving at all a moment ago).
"Whoa," Jason puts down the duffle bag of drugs and holds up his hands placatingly. "Are you okay, uh, kid?"
He blinks and his breathing slows but a pained expression trembles onto his face.
"Jason?" It sounds like a prayer, a hope, a something. His voice grabs something in Jason and squeezes hard. The pain makes him afraid to breathe. But he manages.
"Uh. Yeah. Do I know you?" Jason is pretty sure that he doesn't know this kid, but he will feel really fucking awful if he does and it slipped his mind.
"I'm T—...I." Words seem to fail him. His eyes ease over him. The gaze leaves a rail of warmth after it. It's a caress and Jason feels confused. He doesn't like it. "I guess you don't know me. You look like—" his words come back only to fail him again. His expression gets even more despaired. "Nevermind. Uhm. I'm Tim."
"Do you... need some place to stay? My, ah, caretaker probably wouldn't mind. Bruce likes strays." The skin around the boy's eyes tighten and he swallows. It looks like he is trying to swallow rocks. He blinks rapidly for a second, then his face smooths out. He looks a lot like the Tim in those albums...
"That would be nice." And then Tim looks like he just notices the weather. "Jesus, it's freezing."
Jason grins and holds out his hand. Tim takes it. "Well, yeah. How long have you been sleeping out here? You should have been blue and dead if you stayed the night. There's snow outside."
Tim rubs the back of his neck as Jason picks up the duffle bag. "I'm a little oblivious when I... sleep. I guess." Jason nods and leads the new stray-boy home. Bruce should take this kid. He took Jason in, after all, even gave him the title of Robin. (The second kid Bruce took in, John, is next in line, and then there's his own six-year-old, Daniel who's next in line after that.)
"Heads up," Jason adjust the weight of the duffle bag on his shoulder and watches as his breath puffs out in white mist. Tim's breath doesn't mist, but he's breathing, Jason can see that. "I have two younger... brothers? They're a handful."
"What are their names?" Tim stretches his arms above his head and sighs.
"The middle kid, his name is John and he's twelve. The youngest is six and his name is Daniel. He's a brat, so watch out for him."
Tim smiles. Jason's stomach flips. "Is John's middle name Richard?"
"...yeah. Did you know that or are you a really good guesser?"
The smile falters but ends up sticking, only looking more sad. "I'm a really good guesser. Baby names are my specialty. Introduce me to any pregnant females and I can come up with at least fifteen different baby names. Boy, girl, androgynous. It's sort of like magic."
"That is a weird magical power."
"That's why I said it was like magic. It would be the lamest magical power ever." The manor rises up before them and they are silent on the walk up the driveway. Tim knocks and Jason adjusts the weight of the duffle bag again. John answers the door, Daniel hovering behind him.
"Took you long enough," Daniel chirps. "When I become Robin, I will never be this slow."
"Yeah, yeah. Fucking twerp."
"Language, Jason." Bruce shoos the children out of the doorway and takes the duffle bag as Jason passes it to him. "Who's your companion?" His eyebrows go up and then back down as he takes in Tim.
"I found him in one of the warehouses. Sleeping, in this weather. Unbe-fuck—fricking —lievable, right?"
"Indeed. Well, come in, Tim. Good job on finding the drop, Jason."
Jason grins. Praise from Bruce is golden (even though Jason has issues with orders and stuff, he still loves praise. But. Don't tell Bruce or anything. It'll go to his rich-boy head).
Tim says nothing. Bruce puts the duffle bag on the couch and turns to look at him. "It's nice to finally meet you, Tim. My father had a lot of nice things to say about you."
"And some not so nice things, I imagine." The two children are listening from the stairwell.
"He blames it on childhood ignorance."
Tim smiles a little. Jason is lost. "We both had a lot of that." His eyes take in the kids, then move back to Bruce. What does he see that Jason doesn't?
Bruce has a small smile of his own. "Well. You'll always have a home here. Your room is still as it was when you left."
"Thanks. I." He pauses. Looks down. "Thanks."
(What the fuck.)
Chapter 25: Chapter 25
Gotham City: January 17 th , 2056
Tim wipes down the table in the dining room, finishing up that cleaning and moving to the living room. There is dust everywhere. And, yes, he understands that Bruce is busy and that there are two children (and Jason) who are, as children (and Jason) have always been, messy. But seriously. Tim had been planning to be asleep for a very long time. If (when) he leaves again, who will clean this house? Alfred would be disappointed.
(Where is Alfred, anyway? Everyone else is here.)
And Tim is definitely leaving again. No doubt. He cannot stay here with Jason. This Jason doesn't even know him (and, besides, while he most certainly has Jason's face, who is to say that this is even his Jason?).
How can Bruce not see Damian in Daniel? Damian was his father. Was Dick alive when Damian had Bruce? If he was, how can Bruce not notice? How—
"This has been bugging me since you got here." Tim feels himself tense at Jason's voice. It is hard, forcing himself to relax. He lays the dustrag and the Pledge on the wooden coffee table before turning around to see Jason standing really close to him.
(This Jason is still taller than Tim.)
"What has been bugging you?" If Tim still had a beating heart, it would be pounding out of his ribcage at this moment.
"How do you know Bruce? Or. How does Bruce know you? Because none of us know you and that whole thing with 'welcome home, Tim' and whatever was a major, serious mindfuck." God, he even curses the same. (This really isn't fair.)
Tim sits on the couch. Jason also sits. And they are still close. Their knees are touching.
He taps his fingers against his kneecaps. "I knew his father. Damian was my." Hm. How to put this. It is going to sound strange, no matter how he tries to sugarcoat it. "Damian was my little brother."
Jason blinks. "What." Then he holds up a hand. Tim hadn't been going to answer the not-question anyway. "That's not possible. You look my age. My age. I'm seventeen, by the way. My name is Jason Taylor." Jason winks and Tim can feel his face heat up. (Is this what Jason would have been like if he hadn't been beaten, blown up, and revived?) "And, yeah, Bruce is around my age somewhere, maybe I could believe you were his brother but not his uncle."
"Huh." Tim feels his lips twitch in a smile. "I'd never thought of myself as his uncle. Guess I am though."
"No, really." Tim leans back. (He thinks it's the same couch from the time before he left. It feels the same, anyway.) "I'm sure it's in my file somewhere in the Batcave." And telling Jason this will get him away from Tim because Tim cannot deal with this.
Jason frowns, looking at Tim hard.
"Well. Bruce wouldn't have known you if you were lying." Then Jason smiles. "I'll check it out tomorrow, just to make sure you're on the up-and-up. It's be fucking disappointing to find out that you're a liar. I'd have to tell Bruce what an unacceptable influence on the children you are."
Tim raises an eyebrow.
"It's the language thing, isn't it?"
"You speak English. It's not the language thing. It's the cursing thing."
Jason grins and Tim dies a little on the inside. "I feel like I've heard that joke before."
Tim withers and sputters, his not-stomach flips, his un-heart shrivels. And he thinks his eyes are watering. But he clears his throat and smiles (and it feels real, dammit, and that's as good as it's going to get).
"It's a really common and sort of lame joke. So."
"Yeah, but it's funny because you think you're fucking hilarious. I can tell."
Tim snorts and stands, grabbing the Pledge to continue his dusting. "I am hilarious. My jokes are funny."
Jason laughs. "It's funnier to watch you defend your God-awful sense of humor." He continues to snicker. "In fact," his voice becomes a drawl (and Tim has heard this voice before. He thinks that if he had a stomach he would throw up), "it's kind of cute."
Tim makes a show of rolling his eyes and cocks his hip out ("Oh-ho, getting sassy on me, Babybird?") "Are you flirting with me?"
"Fuck yes, I'm flirting with you. You're pretty. And you might have magic powers that keep you young. It means that when I get older I'll always have a piece of arm candy."
"What makes you think I have magic powers?"
"You were really vague on the whole 'I'm Technically Bruce's Uncle' thing." Jason grins again.
Tim doesn't know how to feel about this Jason. It is Jason, Tim is sure of it. His Jason. Alive. But. Different. And Bruce is Bruce, John is Dick, Daniel is Damian. Okay. (Seriously, how can Bruce not notice that his son is his father?) But he doesn't understand how this works. Did he get sucked into a different universe? (That wouldn't make any sense. Bruce knows him.)
Tim wants to understand. He likes understanding.
He hates not understanding.
"Are you okay?" Tim starts and realizes he has been holding the dustrag to a picture frame for at least a minute. He puts his hand down and looks the picture over. It is of Damian, holding baby Bruce. He looks so happy (Tim didn't think Damian would ever be happy).
"Yeah," Tim says. "I am."
"That sounds like a lie. So you are a liar." Tim can hear the smile. But then he hears it go away. "You've been doing that since you got here. Spacing out and not saying anything. It freaks John out. Daniel thinks you've gone off the deep end."
Tim is not surprised that Daniel thinks he is crazy. He is just glad that Daniel doesn't know he was the third Robin. (Tim would never hear the end of it...)
"So. Do you want to talk about it? Or something? I've been told I'm a fucking fantastic listener. Also. I've been told I'm good in bed."
Tim can't help the laugh that forces its way out of his chest. "You are coming on a little strong."
"You're just not warming up to my charms yet. I'll wait. I can be patient."
Tim smiles. It's it small, but this one is genuine (if a little painful). "You'll wait, huh." ("Baby, I'd wait for-fucking-ever for you. So. I'm not rushing you or anything. Don't feel like I am. I'll always be here. But you needed to know that I love you.") He continues dusting. "And no. I don't want to talk about it. But thank you very much for the offer."
Tim sees Jason get off the couch and move in the direction of the kitchen. "Okay. If you change your mind, on either count, I'll be here."
"I'll keep that it mind."
(When Jason is out of the room, Tim feels the tears overwhelm him.)
Chapter 26: Chapter 26
Gotham City: November 1 st , 2151
The muscles in Jason's legs are painful. But, hey, at least they work, and at least his nerves are functioning properly. Besides, he has been cooped up in that hospital for days, so moving feels good, feels right. (And Tim keeps brushing his fingers against Jason's, which sends motivational electricity everywhere in his body.)
"Hey," Jason's voice echoes around the foyer, the walk from the hospital still singing in his legs. "We're all home!" Tim, Dick, and Damian has been home and back, of course, but it still feels good to say it anyway.
Bruce doesn't run to them, but he is going at a brisk walk when he enters the foyer. Jason freezes when Bruce hugs him (because holy shit this has never happened before, as far as he can recall). He doesn't squeeze, or anything, but Jason can feel his bruises throb at the contact anyway. Tim's fingers brush his again (there's that electricity) before going deeper into the house with Dick and Damian following him out.
Bruce lets go then, holding him out at arm's length. Needlelike prickles bloom on his skin as Bruce looks at him. He looks relieved, which is good, but Jesus, he's looking at Jason like he had actually died at the hands of the Jester (which, he guesses is sort of true, but not this time). But he isn't dead right now. Thanks to Tim. But Bruce's stare is freaking him the fuck out.
"Uh, good to be back," Jason says. Bruce's eyes harden, flickering like flame in glass. (What had he said?)
"I'm sorry, Jason."
"What the fuck for?" Bruce raises an eyebrow. "Sorry. Whatever are you sorry for?"
Bruce snorts, and it is an undignified sound that he doesn't think he has ever heard Bruce make before. But his face falls back into its icy seriousness because Jason can laugh about the sound.
"I am sorry for not saving you." Jason has to strain to hear him. "I am sorry that I did not get there in time." As Bruce says this, he seems to deflate. And he seems smaller than Jason has ever seen him (again, at least as far as Jason can remember seeing him).
Jason shrugs his sore shoulders, trying to fix his expression into one of amusement rather than its current incredulous state. "No need to be sorry. Tim saved the day. Kicked some ass, took some names, and saved the damsel." Though Tim has sort of always been the princess. But Jason flutters his lashes for effect anyway.
"That isn't what I meant, Jason."
He catches a long ago laugh, high pitched and scratchy, crazed and unstoppable. The beeping of the countdown. The burn of the explosion pressing on him and searing his skin. Jason swallows and meet Bruce's eyes. He wonders what memories live in all the Bruces that have ever been, and what memories Bruce is seeing now.
How does he remember my death at the hands of the Joker?
"It's okay," Jason hears himself say. "I've told you before. Even when I was in the warehouse, I knew you wouldn't make it."
"I." Bruce sighs. "I am also sorry for not killing the Joker, is what. I am trying to say. Or, rather, I do not regret my choices, but I regret the way they made you feel."
Perhaps Bruce has been fretting over this since Tim saved him. Because Jason is certain that Bruce snd himself have never had this conversation before.
"It's. It's okay. I understand, I think." Jason grins a little and Bruce looks surprised by it. Hell, Jason is surprised. Because he does actually understand. "Besides, if the Joker turned out anything like the Jester, he suffered." (But Jason still hates the Joker, still sort of wishes Bruce had killed him, even though he hasn't been that Jason until the Jester had shown up.)
Bruce sort of smiles and sort of frowns. "That apology was long overdue."
"What is that saying?" Jason tilts his head in a sarcastically thoughtful manner. "Better late than never, yeah?"
Jason gestures in the direction of the living room (assuming that is where the others went). Bruce follows after a moment. When Jason turns to look at him again, Bruce is Bruce, his strong presence wrapped around him, the small man from before merely a memory.
Tim, Dick, and Damian are in the kitchen, as it turns out, but the kitchen is caked in flour. Tim is gripping he flour bag, his face a mask of emptiness and Damian is glaring at him. Dick is looking between the two of them, obviously confused, holding his hands up. Damian dusts flour out of his hair and sneezes, sending more up in a cloud of white dust.
"What happened," Bruce sounds mildly amused. Distress passes over Tim's features and Damian's scowl deepens.
"I, uh," Tim wrings the bag of flour. "We were going to make lunch. But. My strength got away from me." Bruce's eyebrows go up. Jason walks over to him and reaches out a hand. He isn't quite sure how to go about this. They haven't touched in such a long time, not really, and Jason had been an asshole not even a week ago. How does he ever begin to apologize for that? "Uhm. I need to get more flour. Your kitchen is always so lacking."
You need an Alfred hangs in Jason's head. He wonders if everyone hears it too. Tim is obviously thinking it. He wipes flour off his face, or tries to, but it just seems to smear. He places the flour bag on the table and eases by Jason, backing away and smiling. His face says I don't want to get flour on you.
"Are you going to go covered in flour?" Jason asks. "You look like a fucking ghost."
Tim grins. There's something behind it, something secret, but he's out the door before anyone can ask, leaving a powdery, white handprint on the doorknob.
(Jason and Tim haven't gotten any time alone since Jason figured it out. Or. Rather. Since the revelation hit him. Like a crowbar.)
"Damian," Dick begins trying to clean up the flour, brushing some out of his own hair, "what did you ask him?"
Damian wets a washcloth and wipes at the flour. Bruce and Jason start to help as well (but Jason can't really do much because one of his arms is still splinted). He is still scowling, and his grip on the washcloth is making his knuckles go white.
"Nothing," Damian says, scrubbing at the tile floor. It almost looks as if he's trying to beat at the floor. "I didn't ask him anything."
It is obvious that no one believes him.
Chapter 27: Chapter 27
Gotham Underground: November 1 st , 2151
Rain had freed his face of flour, but it has clumped in his hair and gotten into his clothes. He must look strange. But, he's under Gotham, so it doesn't matter as much as it had when he had walked here. The white-green glow of the underground lamps makes it seem as if he's in a science fiction movie. Which, he supposes, he kind of is. Anything involving Ra's al Ghul is practically science fiction.
He knows that there are guards tracking is every movement. Wherever Ra's is, there are sure to be assassins. Tim can take them, more than likely. Not to mention the fact that Ra's doesn't want Tim dead (for some reason that just escapes him).
"Detective." Ra's melts from the shadows, in an audacious cape, as if he is Batman (and he isn't, no matter what his "noble goals" say). "This is much faster than the last time I requested you join me. I cannot decide if I am impressed, pleased, or disappointed." Ra's' eyes take him in, resting first on his hair, and moving slowly down his body. (It makes him feel disgusting and slimy). "Did something happen in your kitchen, Detective?"
"Ra—Ra's? Ra's was he—re. Did. How did—he get—"
"I didn't come to join you. And what goes on in my kitchen is none of your business." It isn't. It has never been. Not even when there was blood on the tile and the walls and the cabinets. Even when Ra's had been the cause of that (no, don't do that, it had been my fault, mine). "I came to tell you to lay off." Tim's eyes narrow.
"You came all the way here just to tell me, inelegantly, to leave you alone?"
No. No that wasn't the only reason. It would be a stupid reason. Tim clenches his fists. He feels the room tense at that, even though he can't see the assassins. But he thinks he hears some clothes shift, a blade move an inch from its sheath. He meets Ra's's eyes, feeling his skin tighten.
Tim crouches down, untying his right sneaker and taking it off. He hears move blades shift, though he still cannot see his watchers. He pops the tracking device from the toe out and stand back up, holding it in the palm of his hand. He examines it, for a moment.
Then he crushes it.
"That is what I came to do, Ra's." Taking a deep breath, he drops the pieces of the tracer onto the floor before him. "I knew about this. I knew about it but I didn't do anything. You know that, though, that I'm not that stupid. It's why you keep following me, because you think that I'm waiting for you to say the right words and I'll join you. I came to show you I was crushing it because I want you gone. I want you to leave me alone. I want—" he swallows, "you to stay away from me."
"I will kill you. I will kill you, Ra's al Ghul. I will tear off your arms and rip apart your insides for what you have done. I will kill you, I will kill you, I will kill you."
"We will see about that Detective."
"We will see about that, Detective."
Tim wonders if he has post-traumatic stress disorder. He probably should, after everything. And, at Ra's' words, he feels himself seize up, his joints freeze and his head swim. He can see himself getting sucked back there. He has to push himself back into the present, through the anger and the despair. These are symptoms of PTSD, he is sure.
"There is nothing to see about." Tim sets his shoulders and lifts his head. "Because the next time I see you, it will be to kill you."
That night at the hospital, Tim had decided this. The next time Ra's hunts him, Tim will kill him.
"I will kill you."
Ra's shrugs, a simple roll of the shoulders. He doesn't look even moderately concerned. "If you say so. I believe otherwise." He raves his hand, a simple gesture made regal because it is Ra's al Ghul. His fingers flick outward and Tim can imagine rings on them, and him telling subjects to kiss them as if he were king. It is a disgusting thought. "You may go as you please. My assassins will not harm you."
Tim hears seven (at the very least) blades slide into sheaths with hard clicks. He knows that there are probably eight more that are silent.
Tim doesn't acknowledge that Ra's had given him permission to go. He simply turns and walks down the ugly, gray tunnel lit by ugly, white-green light. He makes his way back to the surface of Gotham (and he can hear some assassins following him, knows that they want to kill him for even presuming that he had the right to speak to their leader).
It is still raining when he reaches the outside. Tim scrubs his hands through his hair viciously, trying to get the flour clumps out of his hair. His nails dig into his scalp and it hurts but. He can't stop thinking. Can't stop thinking about the second Jason and the kitchen and all that blood.
And Damian. (Tell me about your relationship with Grandfather. What did you do? Our hospital conversation is not over.)
He needs to get that flour. Even though he still has clumps of it on him, wet and sticky, he needs to get it. (Even though it was a feeble excuse to leave, but he at least needs to keep up the premise of getting flour.) He feels around up in the pockets of Dick's pants (he has a habit of leaving money in them) and finds a five. He thinks he can pick up flour with this. He shoves the money back into his pocket and begins walking.
His eyes sting and Tim is glad that it's raining.
"How did—he get—"
How did Ra's get in the house, Tim? (Oh, you know, I led him here and everything. There is a tracking device in my shoe.) Guilt will eat at him forever for this. Forever and ever. He hopes no one remembers this. He never wants them to relive that. He is the only one that deserves to suffer through those memories. (The joyous Jason of those memories is starting to show itself in this one. It hurts to look upon but it hurts in just the right way).
Tim gets odd looks at the supermarket, soaked and with bits of flour on his person. But he is trapped in the past right now and cannot be bothered with their stares.
"I've got you, I've got you, Daniel. I've got you, don't cry."
He holds the flour close to him, as one might to a shaking six-year-old boy who had just seen—
Tim adjusts his hold on the flour wrapped in the plastic bag, shifting it so it the hold no longer reminds him of holding a child.
Chapter 28: Chapter 28
Gotham City: January, 20 th , 2056
It had taken Jason a few days to actually grow the spine required for snooping into Tim's file. Okay, so it wasn't exactly snooping because Tim knew about it, but still. It had taken a few days. That's the man point. And now that he's before the computer, he's still not too sure that he can do it. After all, this is pretty much private information, but Tim doesn't seem to want to talk about it.
So Jason opens the file named "Drake-Wayne, Timothy J." The name makes something inside him tingle and he has never felt that before. Jason's drawn to him, wants to grab him and hold him close, press his face into his hair.
But he hasn't wooed him yet. Jason's getting there.
There are photo sets, folders of things, text documents. Jason starts with the documents. The documents turn out to be reports on Tim. Jason can't help but chuckle a little because the first Batman is sort of complaining that Tim is so perceptive. "I thought I had concealed our secret perfectly. Of course it's Dick who gave us away." There is another report from Nightwing (Dick Grayson, Robin number one, the forefather of Jason's current position). "This kid is brilliant. He was three years old when he saw me at the circus yet he remembers my quadruple somersault, pegging me as Robin/Nightwing instantly. And he's persistent. He'll need that to convince Bruce to take him."
More reports and information about this kid (Robin number three, also a legend) some from Nightwing, some from Batman, some even from Tim himself.
And then there's one that has a little red flag next to it. But it isn't password protected so Jason doesn't feel all that bad when he opens the file.
(This file is associated with image file 1126-5b and 1126-5c)
Before reading any further, Jason minimizes the document, scanning the image folder and opening the image file denoted 1126-5b.
He almost throws up. His heart seizes. His throat feels raw and he thinks he hears screaming (and, oh God, it sounds like him). Image file 1126-5b is a picture of Tim, missing his lower body. Blood is staining the pavement beneath him. But he's obviously still conscious. His mouth is blurred form speaking and it appears that he's trying to move his hand.
Jason minimizes the image. Opens 1126-5c. It's a sketch, more like a blueprint actually, of a metal skeleton. Height specifications and everything.
He minimizes that too, opening up the document from before.
(This file is associated with image file 1126-5b and 1126-5c)
Tim's lower body had been entirely destroyed. I sliced his brain from his skull.
This is not something I decided to do lightly. However, it was decided under duress. I do not regret this decision. I do not think I shall. Tim is my son, and beloved by everyone in this house. It would have been unacceptable to leave him to bleed out and die.
I took his brain (the specifications for the nutrient fluid are in document 1126-5a) and put it in the mental skeleton (as given above, image file 1126-5c).
That is all I will say. This should not be repeated. Tim will suffer for my selfishness, my unwillingness to see him die. I am condemning him to immortal life. I am condemning him to an eternal fate of what I could not bear. Forever will people die.
But I do not regret it. I will not apologize for saving my son.
Jason trembles, closing the document before he can read the timestamp. Okay. So. No wonder Tim didn't want to talk about it. He probably feels like a fucking science experiment. A science experiment that never dies. Jason isn't sure what to do with this information. He's usually pretty good about military tactics. Get information. Use information. Win.
After closing all the files, he pushes away from the computer, practically tripping out of the chair (good thing no one saw that), and heading up the staircase by a really, really, really fucking outdated grandfather clock. (Seriously, who even has an analog clock anymore? Bruce fucking Wayne, that's who.) He takes the steps two at a time, but finds his brothers (and Tim) dancing in the living room. And there is music. Tim's singing.
But he sounds like a group of women from, like, forty-eight years ago, which is a little strange. But Tim's coaching John through the motions, and even uppity little Daniel is participating.
"You are the reason that I breathe, you are the reason that I still believe — oh. Jason." Voice change. Dramatic voice change. And he looks embarrassed (it's fucking adorable, God, nothing is more adorable than this guy, he really needs to date him — Jason stop thinking like a fifteen-year old boy).
"How did you do that."
"Ah, do what?"
"The voice thing."
"Uhm." Tim smiles a little. "Acquired talent. That's all. Nothing." He clears his throat and looks away.
For some reason, that image makes him think of the files he just read and his heart squeezes and sputters. He locks eyes with John, who's own eyes have been flickering between Jason and Tim since they realized he'd appeared from the Batcave.
"Hey, John." John blinks. Jason flicks his eyes to Tim, making sure his younger brother gets it. "Group hug."
John practically leaps onto Tim, embracing him with the fervor that only a child can manage. Daniel wraps his small arms around Tim's waist (yes, even he knows the group hug) and Jason makes it over in three strides to hug all three of them. He has to resist the urge to bury his face in Tim's hair, so he settles on resting his chin on Tim's head.
"Did you train them?"
"Tim, baby, that would imply that these little things can be trained. So no." Well, sort of. But it's a long story that doesn't really need to be told. So Jason will avoid it. He turns his voice down and says, quietly, "I did the research I said I'd do. And I'm still willing to talk if you ever need it." And the Jason lets go, and the hug dissolves. John takes Daniel's hand (because that kid is way too perceptive) and runs off, humming the song that Tim had been singing not even two minutes ago.
"Willing to talk, huh." It isn't a question, more of a resigned sound. Jason's stomach tightens.
"Yep. Also, totally still willing to pursue you romantically."
Tim taps on his head with his knuckles. "You understand that there's metal underneath my skin. You get that I don't age."
"Picked up on that, yeah. I mean, maybe I missed something between the lines..." Jason trails off with a smile. Tim suddenly crosses his arms and his tone is all brisk business.
"Well, I'm very difficult to please, so you might want to get started on entertaining me. I could have suitors lined up, if I wanted."
"I'm your humble servant, princess. Just you wait, I'll impress you so much you'll never think of anyone else."
(Tim probably hopes he didn't see, but Jason noticed the way agony flashed across his face in a split second. But Jason doesn't say anything. He'll make Tim happy. He just has to work for it.)
Chapter 29: Chapter 29
Gotham City: January 15 th , 2056
Third date. Tim's third date with this Jason. And, quite frankly, he is irresistible. He's sweet, he's funny. And he is Tim's Jason. He is and Tim knows it, deep in the alloy of his now-metal bones. He can feel it where his heart used to be. When Jason smiles, Tim starts. When he flirts, Tim blushes. He wants to be with Jason. Wants it more than anything.
"I have never seen this part of Gotham before," Tim says, looking over the edge of one of the too-tall buildings. It's even taller than Wayne Tower and Tim hadn't even been sure that was possible at one point. He can see the construction of skybridges, connecting taller buildings to one another.
"That's because it's new." Jason points at the skybridges and his sneers. "They're trying to make an Upper Gotham, to keep crime out of the wealthy people's hair, you see. Bruce says the manor isn't going anywhere and that if we end up in Lower Gotham, then so be it." He takes a step closer to Tim. Their arms are touching. "Fucking stupid, if you ask me." He says this like a secret.
It isn't one.
Tim tilts his head, only slightly. He's not going to ask for a kiss. That has never been his style. Instead, he twists his lips upward, a wry thing. It has always made Jason focus on his lips and then—
Yes. The focus on Tim's lips leads to a kiss. A kiss like this one. All consuming and beautiful. It makes his non-stomach tighten and his shoulders relax.
Jason pulls away and Tim grins.
"You planned that, you little sneak."
Tim licks his lower lip. "I've been told my lips look delicious when my smiles are sharp." Jason had said that, before they had even really considered being together. Tim had been sixteen, an angry and bitter year for him, and had smiled, vicious and angry. A smile like a knife, Jason had said. Then he'd kissed him.
It had been Tim's first kiss, and nothing like the one he had just had.
"Well, they do, but instead of baiting me you could just ask." Jason grins. Tim feels his mind drop the hundreds of feet below them.
"That would defeat the purpose of you courting me." Another sharp smile. Jason's eyes flicker back to his lips and he flushes. (Ah, what would the first Jason have said? Fucking precious.)
"Stop that." There is no force behind these words. Just a smile and a wink. (Tim melts on the inside.) Jason's phone goes off, a ringtone of the Batman theme from the seventies (and that's, what, almost ninety years old now?).
"Jason's on a date, why are you interrupting." He cocks his hip to the left, keeping eye contact with Tim. (Those eyes will forever be one of Tim's weaknesses.) The corners of Jason's lips are pulled downward. "Yeah, yeah, I'm on my way boss. I'm ready to wreck the Joker's shit." He shuts his eyes. "In the middle of a date. Be right there boss." He hits a button, somewhere, that ends the call, before looking at Tim apologetically. "Sorry. Duty calls. Want to come?"
Tim smiles. "No, no longer qualified. Besides, it's new, being the one who's getting cancelled on early." He flicks his fingers in the direction of the manor. "Shoo. Be a hero. You'll have more opportunities to win my affections."
"Heh," Jason heads for the edge of the roof, just above a set of stairs. "You say that like I haven't already won, Babybird." He winks and jumps. Tim listens to his footsteps race down the stairs, frozen in place by the nickname. (Does he know? Does he know? He can't know. He didn't know me when he saw me. Does he know?)
"Hello Detective." Tim whips around, holding his arms away from his body, prepared for anything.
But it's just Ra's. He brought no guards with him. At least, none that are visible. Tim relaxes, marginally. It is never good to completely relax in the presence of the Demon's Head. (But, then, it's a bad idea to completely relax in public.)
"Ra's, I've told you—"
"I see you have found Jason." Ra's says, tapping thoughtfully on his chin. "I also see he is heading to meet his fate with the Joker." His eyes fix on Tim's face. Tim's skin crawls as if beetles have wormed under his skin. "That is how he met his fate last time, is it not?"
Ra's knows what's going on, Tim is certain. But he says nothing.
"I could prevent this, Detective."
Tim crosses his arms, says nothing.
"If you would provide me with information. Services." Ra's glides forward, as he always has been able to, and takes Tim's chin between his thumb and forefinger. "I could watch over your family for you. After all, you haven't done has well a job as you might with my help."
Flashes. Flashes of Jason, dying as he bleeds out. Flashes. Bruce, stabbed through the throat (I've told you that you need to put more armor at your throat Bruce.)
"I don't need your help," his voice sounds forced, and Ra's knows it. The words feel like glass in his throat.
"Your expression says otherwise."
Tim meets his eyes and sets his jaw. Ra's has yet to let go of his face. "What can you do?"
"I can prevent any harm to come to your family. All I ask is that when I call, you come." A small smile stretches his lips over his perfect teeth. "Your family will never come to harm as long as I watch over them, Detective."
This is an empty promise. Nothing is this easy with Ra's al Ghul. Nothing.
But Tim aches on the inside with the desire to see his family live full lives. Full, happy, meaningful lives. And Jason would be safe. Perfect and safe and untouched.
"You just want me to work for you." Ra's leans forward, his breath whispers over his face. Tim does not flinch. "That's it."
"That's it. Detective." Ra's' voice oozes sincerity. It's silk being dragged over skin.
"Of course. I was raised with honor."
Tim pulls his face out Ra's hand and raises one eyebrow. "Well. Well, generous offer. No strings. Sounds too good to be true."
"You underestimate your value to my cause."
Jason. Bleeding out on the pavement.
"A fucking angel, Tim."
"Okay. We have an agreement, Ra's. Send your people after the Joker."
"Of course, Detective."
(Barbed wire scratches under his skin. Tim feels as if he has just signed his soul to Satan.)
Chapter 30: Chapter 30
Statue of Liberty, New York City: November 14 th , 2151
The wind bites at Jason's face and tugs at the copper green of his scrub-like clothes. This had been Tim's idea and, frankly, it's not something that Jason had ever wanted to do before. But now that they are up here, on the crown of the Statue, he wonders why he ever thought this was a ridiculous idea. Because their little, sea-blue boat is bobbing against the base, hiding from the security that's always around this place.
"You know," Tim says, leaning back on his hands, "I was hoping that there would be some motion sensors or pressure sensors to get into."
The wind pulls at Tim's hair. The boy is beautiful, has always been. "Well, you know how Americans love their history. Adding sensors to Liberty's skin would involve a lot of remodeling and would take away the antiquity." Jason's breath puffs before him, a white cloud of moisture that Tim lacks.
"Well it was too easy to climb up here." He points in the direction of Gotham. "I think I can see Wayne Tower from here."
"I wouldn't be surprised," Jason scoots closer, keeping the weight off of his healing arm. "You do have perfect eyesight."
"Yeah, glass eyes do prevent cataracts pretty well." Like fresh concrete, Tim smooths over the bitterness in his tone with something light and airy. Jason focuses on Tim, trying to super impose all the Tim's he thinks he can remember over Tim's face. Nothing much changes, just different shirts and things. That, and the expression in his eyes. His last memory of the first Tim, tears. His strongest memory of the second, a flirtatious smile. The most jarring memory of the third, the week where he locked himself in his room.
Jason only gets bits and pieces, but the bits and pieces he does get are heartshattering. (How could I have been so angry at him? How could I chase him off like that?)
Jason moves even closer, brushing up against Tim's shoulder. "Ever been up on the Statue of Liberty before?"
Tim smiles wider. "I have not. Dick, all the time, says I plan everything out too much. I over-think things. And I do, of course, so I thought, 'why not do something ridiculously stupid and climb up one of the most loved monuments in the country with Jason. It'll be thrilling. And spontaneous.' So here we are."
Jason grins, beginning to play with Tim's fingers. "I think we should do this all over the world. Climb precious monuments I mean. Just think of all the trouble we could cause. It'd be fucking awesome."
"Pyramids are next on the list then. We'll conquer Egypt's monuments and go around the world before we come back here." Tim pauses. "I like that idea." Jason can tell that he does. His lips haven't fallen out of a small smile. However, his eyes are distant and sad. Well, actually, they're more troubled than sad. Jason takes deep, quiet breath before diving into what could be bothering him.
"Hey, Babybird, what did Damian say that pissed you off so much?" It's been a common question the past couple weeks. Tim hasn't even made the pretense of wanting to answer it. But now, he looks out toward the horizon of the Atlantic and heaves a sigh.
"He just asked a question relating to Ra's al Ghul. He met us outside the hospital, the day both of us came to see you the first time? Early in the morning, I'm sure you remember." Jason nods. Of course he does. It was the day Jason woke up with the oh god I'm a terrible fucking person I shouldn't be forgiven for this feeling. "Well, Ra's came to see us, made a couple of low verbal blows. Damian was just being curious about what Ra's said. Ra's just... bad memories. That's all. The flour bag didn't have a chance against me. It wasn't that big a deal."
It's a lie. But it's a lie that twists a knife in Tim's gut, because, glass eyes or not, he is painfully expressive. Always has been. At least as far as I can fucking recall.
"I feel bad for the flour," Jason says, instead of pressing further. "You sure did fuck it up."
Tim smiles, small and wan. "I sometimes forget how strong I can be, even with my anti-grav units on." He blinks, once, slowly, and begins digging in his left pocket (they really do need to get him some clothes that are actually his, because Dick's pants are a little big around the hips). "I have something for you. I almost forgot about it." He holds out a little data card. There's something about his face.
"What is it?" Jason takes the card, flipping it between his fingers.
"All my memories. Minus some rather disconcerting ones." Tim isn't looking at him, as if he's embarrassed (and just aw, because he's so fucking adorable. Jason doesn't know how he resisted.) "Well, all my memories with you. Even some before we became us. I thought you might like them."
Warmth crawls up Jason's neck as he smiles. "I didn't know you could do that."
"Well," Tim's still not looking at him, "I can talk with computers, so there's no reason I shouldn't be able to copy and paste memories."
Jason has to physically move Tim to get him to meet his eyes. Jason presses his forehead against Tim's, planting a small kiss on his nose. "Thank you. For this. It'll help fill in some gaps." Okay, Jason, deep breath, come on, you can fucking do it, man up. "I love you, Babybird."
Jason watches as Tim's eyes fall shut and a teeth-showing smile pulls at his lips. The corners twitch as if he's trying not to smile.
His voice is a whisper when he replies with "I love you too." His eyelashes look damp, but Jason doesn't have the time to comment on it before Tim kisses him. (And it's a pretty romantic spot to kiss on, because who can say I was kissed on the crown of the Statue of Liberty, are you fucking jelly? Jason hates the term jelly, but it's appropriate, so.)
And the kiss is perfect. Feels like it has always felt.
(And Jason knows that something is bothering Tim. But he'll ask later. He wouldn't dare interrupt this kiss.)
Chapter 31: Chapter 31
Gotham City: January 21 st , 2056
"Are you in love with Tim?" Daniel watches as Jason sputters in the chair before the computer, looking as if he might actually flail at the audacity of the question. Daniel does not often make cases based on his age, but if Jason does get particularly offended, he can always say that it was youthful curiosity that prompted him to ask.
"Why the fuck do you want to know?" Jason says first. But then he amends that. "How did you even come up with that?"
Daniel blinks. What a silly question. Do adults normally ask this sort of thing? Father always answers his questions. But, then, Jason is not Father. "John says that Tim looks at you the way his mother and father looked at each other. He says that Tim loves you very much and that the solar system revolves around you. Which is ridiculous, because obviously the solar system revolves around the sun. Hence solar. John just looked at me like I was missing something."
"And you ask me because?" Jason spins the chair so that he's facing him, his elbows resting on his knees, his fingers steepled and tapping against his upper lip.
"Because John says it would be a criminal injustice for you not to love Tim back when he looks at you like that. I ask because I am concerned about a criminal living under my roof. And when I inherit Batman, this will be particularly unacceptable."
"…so. You're asking me to move out."
Daniel grimaces. "No. I asked you if you were in love with Tim. Did my question get lost in translation? Is there an issue here?"
Jason sighs and leans back. "No. I'm just. Confused. Is all."
Daniel blinks. "Then do you have the dreams too?"
Jason winces. Daniel takes a moment to metaphorically pat himself on the back because he is more perceptive than John gives him credit for.
He rolls his eyes. "Please. I just saw all of your facial muscles contract in a wince. You have the dreams where Tim was Drake and you were his big brother and he was my older brother. John as them to, he says, and sometimes he just wants to go and hug Tim. But he isn't big enough."
"Daniel," Jason smiles. It's his tolerant big brother smile as opposed to his habitually flirtatious smile. (Though there is this smile that he only uses on Tim and Daniel isn't sure what kind of smile that is.) "Yeah. I mean. Yeah. I have dreams sometimes."
"Are you in love with Tim in your dreams?"
He flushes. Daniel begins to rock back and forth on his heels. It is chilly down in the Cave and it is almost training time. He is getting restless.
Jason sort-of smiles when he answers. "Yeah."
Daniel shrugs. "So you are not enacting anything criminal in my house?"
"I. I think I do. Love him, I mean.'
"Then the answer to that question is 'no, Daniel, I am not.'"
Jason rolls his eyes. "No, Daniel, I am not."
"Excellent. I would hate to have to ask Father to remove you from the premises." Jason smiles and starts to laugh. He does that a lot in response to what Daniel says. Jason pushes himself out of the chair, ruffling Daniel's hair (which is a little bit on the frustrating side because he had actually combed it today).
"Hello everyone," Daniel turns to see Tim descending the stairs to the Batcave, with John's arms wrapped around his neck, his head resting over his shoulder, obviously enjoying the piggyback ride he's getting from Tim.
But Tim looks tired. Exhausted. And Daniel wonders if he has been charging properly. He will need to ask Jason about this. Jason is always concerned about whether or not he does what he is supposed to. From what Daniel can recall from his dreams, Tim appears to be an absentminded person. (But, then again, they are just dreams.)
"Where have you been?" Jason teases and his flirtatious smile returns. Daniel wishes that he hadn't used that tone, because Tim has been leaving the house at odd times every day this week and with Jason's tone it will appear to be a joke.
Daniel isn't joking in his curiosity.
John drops from Tim's back, and Tim lets go of his legs. John makes a show of flipping onto his hands, going through a walking routine before flipping back onto his feet.
"Not much of anywhere. Walking. Learning the new city." Tim smiles. Daniel thinks he might very well be lying. But Jason smiles back and embraces him. John shuffles over to Daniel, and leans to his ear to speak.
"See, I told you so. Tim loves him."
And Daniel does note that he doesn't look quite as tired as he did when he first came down the stairs.
"I was asking Jason if he loved Tim," Daniel replies, tuning out the quiet murmur of Tim and Jason speaking. He will be nosy later when he isn't speaking to John about Important Things. (Like relationships that Daniel doesn't really understand. He did not grow up with a mother and father who looked at each other like John's parents. Just Father who looked at him like he was the world.)
"He said yes. I told him that was a good thing, seeing as how I would have evicted him for his insensitivity."
John snickers. "You know, you never struck me as the protective type when it came to Tim."
Daniel snorts. "Well, if they are to be married he will be my bother anyway, correct? It only make sense that I fear for his emotional well being." And he thinks that John might just burst into laughter and then Tim and Jason will look at him in an odd fashion.
What had he said? He was being quite serious. John always makes everything into a joke and this most certainly wasn't one.
But he does not burst into laughter. He just shakes a little, silently. Daniel's eyes wander back over to Tim, whose tiredness is back, in full force. He tugs gently at the sleeves of the hoodie he is wearing and Daniel focuses on a browning spot there.
It looks like blood.
And his youthful curiosity (concern) is prickling his skin again.
Chapter 32: Chapter 32
Gotham City: February 17 th , 2056
Tim watches his target (Ra's' target), knowing that he has to take this man out (stupid of him, thinking he can keep money from Ra's al Ghul). But Tim won't kill him, just incapacitate him. He feels a little ill, as he has been feeling for the past few weeks. But Tim cannot protect his family from everything (the knife protruding from Jason's abdomen) and Ra's has been holding true to his word. In fact, Batman is getting bored.
It's a good thing.
So, really, the only problems Tim is having involve the work Ra's has him do and Jason. Tim's Jason problem bothers him more than his Ra's problem. Because Tim's feelings are getting explosive. He had almost said I love you today. Jason hadn't seemed to catch it. But. Well. Tim cannot risk what they have. It hasn't been long enough for Jason to reciprocate Tim's feelings. (Tim has had a whole other lifetime to feel the way that he does.)
When would be the right time to say it? Because Jason certainly deserves to know. Tim adores this Jason so much that it hurts. He's so funny, so nice. He is the Jason-without-the-Pit. But he is still so Jason, so obviously himself that Tim cannot feel guilty for loving him.
He'll wait a month more, maybe two—
The target moves, pushing himself off the bench nervously. Tim leaps from rooftop to rooftop, stopping his Jason thoughts, focusing completely on his objective. The target turns down an alley, trying to hide from the people he knows are shadowing him.
Good news for the nervous man. It's not people. Technically, it's not ever really a person.
The bad news, however, is that it's Tim. And Tim is better than a person, better than a group of people. And he is thorough. And he would do almost anything to protect his family (dead Bruce, dead Jason, dead Alfred). Because of these unfortunate facts, the man didn't expect a teenaged boy to drop from the rooftops. He didn't expect shattered kneecaps or a fractured sternum. He didn't expect an unusable hip or a glass jaw.
But when Tim is finished, he is certain the man does expect the words that come out of his mouth. "Ra's al Ghul sends his regards." Tim leaves the man in the alley, using his cell phone to call an ambulance. Ra's would disapprove. But Ra's disapproves of a lot of things.
In fact, Tim has been getting the distinct impression that Ra's intensely disapproves of Jason. And that could very well be because Tim has a tendency to put off, refuse, or arrive late to meetings with Ra's. Because of Jason.
Tim really could care less about what Ra's thinks. So it's not really much disapproving of Jason as disapproving of Tim's attitude in weight Ra's against Jason. (Jason always wins out. If Tim didn't know better, he'd say the old man was jealous.)
He begins to walk home, checking for blood on his hoodie (though technically the hoodie is Jason's). He thinks maybe he ought to invest in getting a suit if he's going to be intimidating. And a blue tie. He has always been told that blue brings out his iciest glare. That would be useful. His missions would involve a lot less violenc—
The manor door is open. Only slightly, but still ajar. He nudges the door open with the toe of his sneaker. The smell almost knocks him over, but the almost absolute silence keeps him upright. Blood-scent fills his mouth as if he still has the blood to taste.
He keeps his eyes before him, searching the dimness of his home for a threat. Destruction is everywhere in his field of vision. Broken pottery, walls, the television...
The carpet squelches beneath his feet. He swallows, glancing down. Twelve-year-old John is facedown, in a large pool of slowly congealing blood. His throat has been slit. Relatively recently. Bruce is two feet away, face up and gripping a batarang. His throat has also been slit. Jason is four feet from Bruce, on his side, gasping in bubbles, a red smile on his neck, pulsating blood in tie with his heartbeat.
Tim tries to ignore the sound of his squishing shoes as he strides over to Jason and kneels beside him.
"Tim," Jason wheezes, "...what. Tim. Ra's. How did he...?" A gurgle. Tim's skin does hot. And then icy. He lays a hand on Jason's cheek.
"Try not to talk. I. I can call someone. Or." He stops, knowing there is nothing he can do.
Jason seems to know this too. "Ra's. Find... find Ra's. Still. Still here." The blood slowly stops pulsating from the slit in his throat. And then it stops, the rest oozing out only because of the remaining momentum and gravity. The furious spark leaves Jason's eyes and his body relaxes.
Why does this happen to me, what have I done, I held to my word, why would Ra's do this to me, why, why, whywhywhy—
"Detective," Ra's appears leisurely from the direction of the library decked in his battle garb and playing with a clean knife.
"You," Tim's voice is a hiss. He's up, ready to rip out the throat of the man who had broken his promise. He will break all of his bones, turn the man to putty, make it so that not even the Pit can bring him back. "Why," he growls, low and angry. "I kept my word."
Ra's' eyes take in his posture, his desire to attack. "I think not, Detective. You have been refusing my requests, putting off my assignments, and coming late to my meetings. Your family was a distraction, most especially young Jason. I fixed your problem."
"I'll kill you," Tim says, surprised at the flat calm that is his voice. "I will kill you. I'll end you." Ra's smirks as Tim moves forward, murder singing through his circuits. Not murder. Vengeance.
"You will do no such thing. Because I have Daniel in the library, alive. If you kill me, one of my assassins will kill him." Tim stops in his tracks, the monster in him calling for blood. "Thus, I would advise letting me leave."
"Get out," Tim spits, "get out of my house. Right now. Get out." He starts towards the library, only flinching at Ra's farewell.
"Ra's al Ghul sends his regard, Detective."
The assassin is gone when Tim makes it to the library. And the door is unlocked.
Daniel is on one of the plush chairs, curled up and silent. Tim checks his vitals, cooing to him: I'm here now, okay, I'm here now, because he cannot like and tell him that it is okay. Daniel registers nothing. Shock.
He wraps the child in a blanket, searching for the proper comm frequency in his head.
"Hello, Commissioner?" He says when he finds it.
"This is Gordon. Who is this?" The voice rings in his head, sounding much like Gordon. Perhaps younger.
"Tim. There's been a triple homicide at Wayne Manor."
"Please hurry." He disconnects, petting Daniel once before preparing the documentation he's going to need to take control of the estate and adopt Daniel.
He's too old and too young for this.
Chapter 33: Chapter 33
Gotham City: November 17 th , 2151
Dick stretches his arms upward, popping his spine as he walks to the kitchen for breakfast. He is deeply in the mood for cinnamon rolls, and he's pretty good with those. Damian likes them too, sneaky little devil, making a grab for the food—
"Popping your spine is bad for your back."
He is not ashamed to admit that he yelped with Tim's voice came from nowhere. Strangers don't get into the house, so he is certain that the indignity will not leave the security of these walls. So he peers over the couch to find Tim splayed on the floor, hands tucked behind his head, feet propped on the coffee table, making for a weird position, especially from this angle. "Good morning, Timmy. Any particular reason you're on the floor?" He leans on the back of the sofa and Tim shuts his eyes with a sigh, his chest deflating like a real chest.
"The carpet has been changed once, you know."
Dick blinks down at him, even though he can't see it. "Really? I'd have figured that since everything else in this place is ancient, the carpet would be too." Tim snorts, and pushes himself up from the floor, stretching, though Dick can't hear his metal joints pop (do they even pop?).
"Want to help with breakfast?" Dick watches Tim, noting twitches of the cheek, the flutter of his eyelids (only happens once), and the flicker of his eyes.
"Sure," and Tim leads the way, allowing Dick to get a look at the carpet. (There's nothing there, but it feels like there should be.) He scratches absently at his throat, and shrugs off the feeling, joining Tim in the kitchen, watching as his little brother pull out eggs and milk and butter and flour, snickering when Tim grunts in displeasure about how he needs to shop more often.
"So," Dick pulls out a bowl and a whisk (he knows Tim's Pancake Face, it hasn't ever changed as far as he can recall), "how are things with Jason?"
Tim's elbow jerks and he smiles but doesn't (his expressions have always been confusing, a book waiting to be read, but too technical for just anyone to understand). "Uhm we're." He bites his bottom and finally decides on a smile. "We're good. I think. He shared my room." A grin, now. Teeth and everything ("See, I told you so. Tim loves him.")
"Oh-ho, shared your room, did he?" Dick wiggles his eyebrows (his neck itches, sort of like a smile across the skin, and he'd scratch at it if his hands weren't covered in flour by now). Flour arcs towards his face, hitting him in the face. Dick sputters. Oh he's going to make Tim regret that (but the self-satisfied smile on Tim's face tells him otherwise).
Dick flicks flour at him anyway, landing it in Tim's hair, and getting and indignant noise for his trouble. Dick laughs, he can't help it, and he's sure he's woken up the rest of the house by now. He's proven right when Jason walks into the kitchen, hair mussed and clothes sleep-rumpled.
"Rough night?" Dick pretends there isn't flour on his face and Tim tries to brush the flour out of his own hair. Jason grunts.
"Aw, didn't get any, Jaybird?"
The flat gaze he gets from both parties causes a giggle to rise up and out of his mouth, and he covers it, getting more flour on his face but.
"Morning, Tim." Jason passes by him on the way to the fridge, stealing a kiss and Tim's face goes slack and then happy, a smile crinkling his eyes (feelings rush up everywhere, his little brothers all happy again).
Jason scratches absently at his neck (Tim freezes just then, but only for a moment, before slowly pouring pancake batter onto a warm skillet). "So, pancakes? Shit, I can't remember the last time I had pancakes."
Tim's mouth twitches.
"But you probably do, don't you, Babybird?" Tim flips the first pancake.
"Who, me?" He flutters his lashes down at the food, and Jason smiles and Dick's heart swells all over again. (These two are an emotional rollercoaster, the perfect kind.)
"Creep," Jason laughs, nodding to Damian as he shuffles into the kitchen, hopping onto the counter on the other side of the oven. He rubs at his eyes, and scratches at his neck. (Is there a throat bug? Should Dick be concerned?)
"I am tired," he announces to the kitchen (third pancake up and ready for eating).
"Didn't sleep well?" Dick asks.
"Obviously." A sneer, with no force. (His sneers have gotten a lot less intense since Tim's return.) "I had a nightmare." It's a grumble rather than an admission of anything, but Tim touches Damian's arms with two fingers, before placing two more pancakes on the plate.
"Here you go, everyone."
Damian says nothing else about his sleep (Dick supposes that it was about as much confiding as anyone really gets out of him anyway) and everyone eats breakfast except Tim. And yet on Dick's third pancake, it gets stuck, and his neck screams for a split second. He runs his thumb in a smile across his neck, and swallows, the pain gone, leaving only an itch behind.
"You alright?" Jason talks around a pancake of his own (earning himself a grimace from Tim, who watches with a mix of disgust and envy).
"Yeah, just an itch."
Damian watches him, blue eyes narrowed, tracing his features and lingering on his neck. But he says nothing, cutting a piece of his pancake and popping it in his mouth.
"The carpet has been changed once, you know."
Dick keeps eating, keeping his pain to himself.