The night is not particularly special. Nothing’s really going on. Just a standard stake out. Except a couple of hours in—when Gothom’s unforgiving chill seeps into his bones and the silence of the polluted sky presses in on him from all sides—a sound comes from the southwest. Tim readies a batarang and swings wide. His foot is caught almost immediately and he’d pitch off balance if it weren’t for the way the trespasser steadies him.
“Woah there, bring it down a notch, replacement.”
Slowly the pounding of his heart lessens, and Tim looks over the Red Hood with scrutiny. The Hood is just as much a danger as any other villain out there. But his morality is a bit better, and his intentions are in the right place (the road to hell is paved with good intentions, Alfred always said) so Tim gives him the benefit of the doubt.
“What are you doing here?”
The Hood shrugs and digs into his jacket pocket. Tim takes a step back on instinct and he can practically feel Jason’s raised eyebrow.
Something flies through the air and Tim catches it without thinking. Upon closer inspection, they’re… “Hand warmers?”
“The gauntlets aren’t exactly insulated.”
Tim doesn’t know how he can forget that Jason was once a Robin too, but he does and it’s always a shock to hear him throw out tidbits of his reign of the mantle. Like it’s not a big deal—even when each mentions tears him apart.
He looks up to ask why. Why it matters and why Jason cares and why Jason would come out here for just some hand warmers.
He doesn’t get the chance because Jason’s already gone.
* * *
He gets the chance to ask a few weeks later, except, when Tim runs into him, the question is the farthest thing from his mind.
He’s in his civvies down on fifth where his favorite cafe is. It’s the best place to work when a case is giving him particular trouble, given that it’s a change of environment and he can get away from the demon brat’s scoffing. And two of the baristas pass him interesting information every once in a while with his coffee. It was absolutely nothing to do with the fact that they have the best white chocolate, raspberry scones he’s ever had the good fortune to taste.
They know his various orders by heart, and Tim’s chatting with one of his suppliers when the bell for the door jingles and the sound of heavy boots stops unnervingly close behind him. Tim continues the conversation easily, keeping his senses open, even when the cashier looks up over his shoulder.
“Well, well, who would’ve thought the little bird’s nest was way down here? Isn’t this a bit out of your way?”
The barista looks between Tim and Jason warily, hand creeping beneath the counter slowly where the button that calls the police is. Tim subtly shakes his head and glances over his shoulder.
“I could say the same for you.”
Jason just laughs and leans over him, arm slung across his shoulders. “I’ll have a black coffee, sweet cheeks. And I’ll pick up his tab.”
“I don’t need—“
“Do us all a favor and comply for once. It’s not a big deal,” Jason says. He slaps down a bill and winks at the girl, telling her to keep the change. She thanks him and when she catches Tim gaze raises her eyebrows. He rolls his eyes and picks up his order, grinding his teeth when Jason follows to his usual table.
“Can I help you?”
Jason ignores him. He leans his chair on the back two legs and props his boots on the chair next to Tim. He scans the newspaper that was previously in Tim’s hands and steals a chunk of his scone. Tim presses his nails sharply into his palm and tries not to hit him over the table.
“Is there something I can help you with?” he asks again, tone just short of scathing.
“Thought you could use the company,” Jason says, smiling at him over the stolen newspaper, before turning a page and going back to it. Tim grumbles, but let’s him be for the time being. He pulls out reports and paperwork and begins shifting through it with a red pen for annotations, and decidedly says nothing when Jason buys him a replacement scone plus a second latte. But if Jason nudges him with his boot again they’re going to have some problems.
* * *
Sometimes he finds pictures outside his back up apartment; left in the sidewalk with colored chalk. Or carved into the inside frame of his window at the manor. Once even in the margins of the book he was currently reading. Just little things. Little things he finds every once in a while just when he’s forgotten about them. It’s a bit baffling, and sometimes he doesn’t even think it could be Jason. Because that makes about as much sense as going to the movies during a stakeout.
Which, he hesitates to admit, is something he’s done. As unprofessional as it is.
Tim whips around and would’ve dropped Jason if he hadn’t rolled under the swing and popped up right in front of him, gloved hands wrapped around the staff. The movement traps them together and Tim isn’t sure how’s he’s going to get out of the lock without relinquishing his staff.
“What is with you and trying to sneak up on me?”
Jason shrugs. “You pick the lamest stakeout spots. Gotta keep you on your toes somehow.”
Tim huffs and frowns, but doesn’t back away. “This overlooks exactly where the suspect is going to come out.”
“Yeah, and when he does he’ll be with a couple dozen other people. Good luck getting the drop on him without taking out a civilian. Hell, maybe he’ll get wise and use a different exit.”
“Then what do you suppose I do, Hood?”
“Testy tonight, aren’t we? I’m just saying, during a tailing you really shouldn’t let him out of your sight, especially into a building as big as this one.”
Tim smiles then. Sweet and open, and it makes Jason hesitate. But he’s not quick enough as Tim releases one end of his staff and quickly slides it out of his grip from the other end. If Jason wasn’t wearing gloves he might’ve gotten friction burns. It still smarts a bit and he shakes his hands out with a hiss, watching Tim quickly change into his civvies.
“Color me impressed.”
“I had to work for the mantel too, y’know,” Tim says, but the edge is gone from his voice. “I’m good for a lot more than sitting behind the computer.”
“I’m sure,” Jason muses. It doesn’t matter that he’s wearing the helmet, his grin is an audible thing that has Tim biting back a snort.
“I assume you’re coming with me? For back-up?”
Jason removes his helmet and nods gravely. “This mission’s got to be a level five, it’d be irresponsible of me to leave you.”
“How brave and selfless,” Tim says and pretends to swoon. “My hero.”
Jason tips an imaginary hat. “All in a good day’s work.”
Tim pays for his own ticket (later he’ll find a folded up ten in his jacket pocket. He won’t be able to stifle his grin as he holds the soft bill between his fingers, looking at it almost fondly).
He starts for the theater when Jason grips his shoulders and steers him towards the concessions. “I can’t believe you were about to see a movie without popcorn. Frankly I am appalled and offended.”
Tim rolls his eyes, but allows himself to be directed to the congested line. This was why he didn’t get snacks: he hated the crowds and there was always a high chance he’d have something spilled on him.
The attendant begins scooping popcorn into a large paper bag. “Butter?”
Tim looks up at Jason expectantly, one eyebrow raised. Jason just grins like a kid his hand in the cookie jar and squeezes his shoulder. “A disgusting amount.”
“You know it’s fake right?”
“Fake theater popcorn is my favorite. Don’t even pretend you don’t love it.”
“I’d rather not suffer from early heart failure.”
Jason pays for the popcorn while Tim grabs napkins. “Has anyone ever told you that you suck the fun out of everything?”
“All the time. Now hurry up or we’re going to lose my guy.”
“Sure, sure, you just want to catch the trailers.”
* * *
Bruce hosts a charity ball for some orphanage or another, so of course Tim has to suit up and be on his best behavior. And, of course, Jason crashes it half way through, decidedly not outfitted properly and not behaving at all. Tim’s not surprised anymore.
“What are you doing here?” Tim asks quietly through a charming smile. The cameras never stop flashing and he knows not to cause a scene. Jason somehow opted out of that lesson.
“Would you believe me if I said I missed your presence and general disapproval of everything I do?”
“You wound me! Ah, well, it was worth a try, I suppose,” Jason says with a shrug. He appropriates a drink from one of the waiters and looks at Tim over the rim of the glass. Grins crookedly and watches him with an intensity Tim’s only seen a few times before. Nothing’s ever come of it, but it makes him flush. Makes him too warm and suddenly find the ground very interesting.
Some big shot CEO wanders close and Tim has to put his face back on and entertain, but it does not escape his attention that Jason is never far. He talks to a reporter or two, and bothers Dick and his date—always within earshot. Just as he’s growing worn out there’s a warm hand on his lower back, and Jason leans over him to address the reporter Tim’s been accosted by.
“I’m sure you’re having a riveting discussion, but dear old Daddy needs Timmy here.” He winks when the woman begins to protest and she quickly grows silent, her cheeks reddening. Tim wants to pat her shoulder and sympathize, but he’s already being turned and shuffled off in a vague direction.
“You sure are handsy,” Tim points out. “Or maybe you’re just bossy.”
“I can’t help myself when you’re so small. You make it way too easy,” Jason says, but before Tim can argue he’s being turned towards the balcony. “You wanna blow this popsicle stand?”
Tim takes a look around the glittering ballroom; at the stiff people and the dry conversations and the mass of cameras and notepads and handheld recorders. “Oh god, yes please.”
After, Jason accidentally leaves his jacket on the back of one of Tim’s chairs. He wears it the next day to the cafe on 5th, the worn cuffs dragging along the back of his knuckles in a way that makes his heart jump, and the barista giggles as she draws hearts all over his cup. Tim glares and sputters and scoffs, and very pointedly does not give her a tip.
Which somehow only makes her more amused and she pulls over her coworker to gossip.
(Jason comes back for it a week later, and Tim isn’t sure if he didn’t leave it on purpose. For an excuse to come back. To see him again. Tim wants to believe it, but can’t. He’s not all that special, after all).
* * *
It’s weird. The way Jason pops out of nowhere every once in a while. He never calls, or sends Tim any advanced warning. He’ll just appear out of the blue with his rakish grins and cheap cigarette kisses and expect him to play along. And Tim… does. He doesn’t know why, but he does. He plays nice and tells Batman it’s to “keep an eye on him” and let’s himself get caught up with whatever plan Jason’s concocted that usually has nothing to do with with patrol or fighting crime.
It’s nice. Something he looks forward to in the midst of the drag of high school and sleepless nights chasing down crime.
And oddly normal. Which is the last thing he’d expect from Jason, of all people. Like the day they were out grabbing midnight breakfast and got caught in the rain; how Jason had shoved Tim into his jacket with himself still in it and they’d waited it out in a dirty phone booth, Jason filling the time with stories from before. Before.
It still makes Jason tense up, and Tim is starting to think he doesn’t even realize it sometimes. Jason forces himself to talk about it, as if that’s going to make it less of a thing, as if it doesn’t bother him, but he occasionally goes stiff or his pulse fluttering just under his skin. His hands visibly clenching in his pockets. It’s always such a stark contrast to his voice, which will be light and joking. It makes Tim lean back into him a bit more, forcing his own muscles to relax. Sometimes it helps.
You don’t have to talk about it.
Yes I do.
* * *
It’s well after midnight when the doorbell rings. It’s not like anyone really sleeps at the manor, so it’s not an inconvenience, but it’s definitely out of the ordinary and they’re instantly on alert.
Alfred answers the door, expressionless as always, and Tim almost chokes when Jason leans against the door jam and asks, “Can Timmy come out and play?”
Tim can feel himself go red, and avoids Bruce’s stare.
“I’m sorry, Jason, but I cannot allow Master Timothy to go galavanting at all hours on that motorcycle of yours. It’s simply not safe.” Alfred hated Jason’s bike. He didn’t even live at the manor since the accident and Alfred still got on his case about it whenever he could.
Jason just grins and holds up a helmet. “Got an extra right here, Alfie.”
Alfred looks over at Tim, and he resists the urge to shrink back. Somehow Alfred’s stares always seemed more piercing than Bruce’s. Maybe Alfred should be Batman. He could simply stare down the bad guys with faint disapproval and disappointment until they grew flustered and apologized and promised to treat their mothers better.
“Have a good time, Timothy,” Alfred says suddenly and offers his coat. “Curfews are obsolete at this point, but breakfast will be at seven sharp.”
“Yes, Alfred,” Tim says and pulls on his jacket quickly, avoiding all their gazes. He pushes passed Jason and definitely does not make a sound when his ass is smacked. He feels like a teenage girl.
He waits by the bike, helmet gripped tightly in his hands, and it takes Jason a few minutes to follow. He’s got a canvas bag in his hand, and Tim would bet his stock shares Alfred convinced Jason to take some of their leftovers. He rummages through the bag with interest.
“It’s like making a deal with Faust,” Jason jokes. “I can only have the good stuff if I bring back the Tupperware. Alfie’s plotting against me.”
At Tim’s silence he looks up. “Oh, come on, I can read too, y’know. Just because I didn’t sit through AP English, like someone, doesn’t mean I’m an uncultured heathen.”
“I never said—“
“You were thinking it,” Jason says. He grins and takes a bite out of a slice of ham before packing it away and strapping the bag to the back of his motorcycle. “I quite enjoy the classics. The junk that passes for literature these days is just pathetic.”
Tim says nothing as he puts on the helmet.
* * *
It’s an ordinary day when it hits him.
Tim’s walking home from school, chatting with Kon and Bart, when it hits him square in the face like a brick. He stops dead in the middle of the sidewalk and gapes, thinking back to all the seemingly accidental instances. All the help with cases and outings and little things hidden where he’ll find them.
Bart waves a hand in front of his face. “Earth to Tim?”
“That bastard!” he spits. He spins around without another word and takes off, sneakers slapping against the pavement and bag bouncing against his hip painfully. He knows where Jason’s most recent place is. He’s never dropped by, but he’s always kept tabs just in case. He thunders up the stairs and pounds on the door, the paint chipping even more beneath his fist.
Jason opens it and cocks an eyebrow at him. There’s a cigarette hanging from between his lips, and Tim’s ashamed to find that it distracts him momentarily. “Where’s the fire?”
Tim glares and yanks him out of the apartment. “You’ve been courting me!”
Jason snorts and grins slow like curling smoke as he flicks cigarette ash onto the concrete. “It’s not the fifties, babe. But for such a good little detective I’m surprised it’s taken you this long. I mean really, maybe you should retire the Robin mantel.”
Tim jabs his finger into his chest. “We’ve been dating for a year and you didn’t think to, oh I don’t know, let me in on that little detail? You show up out of the blue and start paying attention to me with no explanation after harassing me for years. How was I supposed to know you just didn’t get bored or something?”
Jason makes a thoughtful sound and looks up briefly. “It’s been more than a year, actually, give or take. But it’s okay, I won’t make a big deal about dates if you don’t.” He looks entirely too smug and Tim grabs his shirt and yanks him down for a kiss that’s more angry than anything.
When he’s finally collected himself and doesn’t want to knock Jason flat, Tim crosses his arms and says, “Paying for all my stuff doesn’t constitute an entire relationship. There’s a few things we’re going to have to get straight and change if you’re being serious. Like maybe calling before you show up announced in the middle of my field trips.”
Jason just laughs and pulls him into his apartment.