“Fuck! FUCK! You—little shit!”
Jason’s gone, running down the dark alley as the pimp crumbles and grasps at his slashed knees. He’s yelling at the retreating child and at his friends, skinny and bulk in a group of three, to go get him. The hooker—Sparkle, right?—is already getting away, her 4 inch heels smacking against the ground as she makes her escape; good, she didn’t deserve getting that smack. She didn’t deserve a lot of things. “I’m going to kill that fuck!” Jason hears the pimp growl and the child is laughing, even as he runs for his life, swerving down slimy streets and over trash cans.
Yeah, he’s a brave little shit—but brave little shit or not, his mom is gonna be pissed if he comes home with another black eye again.
The rain is beginning to fall and Jason can feel the slippery cement become more so as he goes, shoes squeaking as he pumps onward. The thugs are behind him and today they’re gaining faster than usual, their footsteps thundering loudly as they close in. He’s going blind as he maneuvers between buildings, only sure by the screeching cats and reek of decay that he is still home sweet home. “Fuck!” He mumbles as the box cutter, still rusted with the pimp’s blood, escapes from his sweating palm and falls into the littered abyss. He doesn’t stop; he can’t stop—those assholes are really pissed today.
Still, for whatever reason, Jason takes a moment’s hesitation to stop. Quickly, his eyes fly over the black trash bags, trying to catch a glimpse of silver before—“I see him!”
“Double fuck!” He’s gone again, ducking down deeper into the flowing fabric of his father’s too-big jacket, trying to morph into the dark scenery. The sleeves are wide and he has to grip them to keep them still, a glaring nuisance in light of his situation—but it’s been cold and Jason’s old jacket had been ripped to shreds earlier that month; he hasn’t told Mom yet about it. He doesn’t need ‘nother jacket anyway, one was good and one was fine.
What he needs is a fucking hiding spot.
The alley he stops in is a little wider, a little cleaner, and a lot too open for what he needs to do. The rain is dropping faster, drips turning into sheets, and Jason curses, wiping the water from his eyes as the men from behind trample on faster and faster. “Shitshitshitshitshitshit!” The words flow through chattering teeth in a stressed chorus, fear shaking along on the ends. Fuck, he is not gonna get caught today. Fuck that and fuck them and fuck the asshole who started thi—
Metal against metal bangs together, and above him something seems to have crashed down heavily. Jason’s heart nearly pops out of his chest as he dives down, startled. The fuck? Is the sky falling down? Is he being shot out? Or worse—do those goons have enough firepower to drop a bomb on him? (Jason would have to admit that’s pretty damn impressive but—)
He lifts his head and sees an ancient fire escape, the rusted ladder pulled down to the ground, and a black small shadow clinging to the bars. It trembles and whimpers, clumsily trying to move over the holed platform only to stumble and slip back down on its unsteady feet.
He repeats; the fuck?
Is it a rat?
The fucking Batman?
No. No. Hell no. None of the above. It’s too big, too nervous to be an animal—too tiny to ever be considered Batman.
Jason stares and the shadow looks back down through its arms, bright wide blue eyes glowing under the frame of tousled ebony hair. The creature peers and Jason sees quivering pink lips as those eyes—eyes he couldn’t stop staring at, eyes that were the brightest blue he’d ever seen—begin to fill with water. It sniffs.
It finally dawns on Jason. Fuck; it’s a kid. A little fucking kid.
A little, crying kid.
(With the bluest eyes ever.)
“Wha…” He opens his mouth, confused on the how and the why, but the rain gets into his eyes and he turns, rubbing it out as his ears pick up the voices and thuds of heavy boots coming near. The kid stands alert—he can see baby peach skin and a rounded nose wrinkling—blue blue eyes brightening up and getting even wider, and his face twisting with fear and panic. The kid whimpers again and Jason knows he’s holding back a frightful wail.
He isn’t gonna hold it for long though.
“Shit!” He curses—if Mom knew how much he was doing that, she would take the old wooden spoon to his behind. Scrambling fast, Jason heaves himself up the ladder, hissing at the burn of old rust biting into his skin, and claws his way onto the platform. The kid curls into the corner, pressing into the brick wall in an attempt to blend, and he looks about two seconds away from breaking apart.
He seizes the front of the kid’s shirt and slaps his hand over his mouth when the little brat releases a high-pitched squeal, tiny hands flinging out and gripping his skin. He pushes them against the wall, forcing the little sucker to stay still as they crouched, hiding them underneath the metal stairs.
Beneath them come heavy scrapes as the men scatter down the passage, gruff voices yelling back and forth at each other as they blindly went. Jason can’t tell if it’s his heart pounding or the kid’s or both, but he holds on and squeezes the kid tighter with every booming step until the voices are whispers in the wind and only the sound of rain drops shattering against concrete are all that’s left.
He waits another minute before he lets the kid go, nearly shoving back against the red iron.
“What,” He snaps and the child flinches at the anger in his voice, “are you doing up here? Got a death wish or somethin’?”
“I…I…” His voice squeaks nervously as he tries to stand like a newborn kitten. “I wasn’t doing anything…I wasn’t…” He whimpers and Jason can just see the tears swelling on the kid’s face. Fuck, goddamn it, he didn’t mean to make the brat cry.
“Alright, alright. Don’t start with the waterworks,” He says, crawling closer towards the collapsed, trembling form. He pats his head, smoothing over neat and shiny hair, “You ain’t in trouble. Okay? Jesus.”
Those big blue wonders turn up towards him, salty lines mixing with dropping rain on his innocent face. Too innocent; he’s too little to be outside without Mommy’s hand, much less on a fire escape. He is way too out of place on here, with his clean hair and soft skin and the fresh clothing and…whole hell!
Jason’s eyes widen just a tad at the gigantic camera, perfect even without a case, which hangs like lead from the kid’s tiny neck. The lens stares without a flaw, gloss finish making the black base glow between them. It’s huge, he thinks, it’s probably a good $800 dollars. He could pawn it and they would be eating so good for a couple of days. A fucking gold mine in his hand and the kid is carrying it around like it’s a fucking play thing—how has he not been ambushed by now?
Rich kid with his fucking camera in Crime Alley—he really doesn’t belong here.
Jason shakes the temptation off (voices chanting take it, take it, he won’t fucking miss it, take it) and licks his dry lips, nervous knot coiling tight in his chest from the guilt of wanting to rob a little kid. He stands and lifts the kid, sniffling and wiggling and all, up to his shaking feet. He’s tinier standing, barely up to Jason’s shoulders, and with the big old camera covering his entire stomach, he doesn’t look more than six.
The kid rubs at his eye with balled fist and a pouting face, as if he was trying to look tougher now that the monster gone. “…I just wanted to see Batman…”
Batman? He—Jason almost growls, stifling the sound halfway (might scare the brat), and rubs his fingers over his face. “You gotta be kidding…” He says and he feels the brat weakly scoff at him. He went through the darkest neighborhood, at night, so that he could try and see Batman? Reporters aren’t as stupid as this kid! “There’s a new thing called TV; why don’t you try it? Much less dangerous.”
The kid gulps and glares, “N-no. I…I wanna see the real thing. I wanna see Batman!”
(I want this, I want that, Jesus kid; don’t you have enough shit with that camera?)
Jason snorts, rolling his eyes. ‘Nother stupid dreamer.
“I gotta see Batman…” The kid whispers, or more like chirps, quietly and his little shoulders fall in defeat. His fingers move to the camera strap, fidgeting over it timidly, as he shrinks even more into his green sweater. His face falls and Jason sees the hurt, the need, the obvious desire of…a hero to look up to? Attention? Love?
He sees something and he doesn’t like it—he doesn’t like that he is familiar with it either.
“You’re in the wrong place.” Jason says. Kid’s head flies up and stares at him in confusion. Jason sighs, “Batman doesn’t come ‘round here less he has ta. It’s not his place.”
“…oh…” Kid looks back down, back to the defeated face with the crumbling shoulders and broken eyes. He can almost feel the kid’s heart sinking.
“I know where he does go, though.”
And back up again. “Really?” A smile breaks across the pale skin, dimples forming as the child stares expectantly up at the older, and he seems to even start hopping with joy. “C-can you…can you take me there? Please?”
Jason doesn’t know if it’s cause he’s getting softer or cause the kid is so excited, but he melts, taking the kid’s slowly soaking arm and tugs him forward. “Yeah, sure. Why the hell not.” The kid’s arm slips from his grip and he grabs Jason’s open hand, little fingers holding tight to his own.
Jason looks at him and asks, “What’s your name?”
The kid smiles shyly and answers, “I’m Tim.”
He takes him to the old theater and holds his shaking hand as they walk over the shattered glass and splintered wood, yellow advertisements from a dozen years ago still littering the ground in front of the forgotten ticket booth’s face. Tim lags behind him, hanging onto him as they move through the now-heavy rain, and Jason has to promise him that, no, they aren’t going into the building’s black abyss mouth so that he will keep moving along.
The entire trip there, he has to promise the frightened six year old (excuse him, six and three quarters) that they aren’t going anywhere near the cluttered allies or the howling, neglected buildings which grace the streets. He has to keep promising that they won’t, that no one comes around here anymore. That Jason isn’t gonna let anyone hurt him anyway—so stop being a scaredy cat, why don’t you?
He asks Tim how the hell he got here in the first place, squirming and crying and all, and Tim tells him he just walked.
“Walked? Walked from where?”
Tim drops his voice and his face goes flat, hands engulfed by damp fabric pulling hard at his camera strap.
Tim doesn’t say any more and Jason doesn’t ask—rule one down here; you shut up when they shut up.
He gets Tim up on another fire escape, grunting when the boy climbs onto his shoulders and together they push his little body up to the higher level. They go up together and the fire escape moans in protest with every step, old steps cracking with time and age as they go. Tim scampers up first, hands and knees hitting the metal as he runs, as though his limbs are glued to his body—and, again, Jason is reminded of a cat, especially when the rain plasters Tim’s hair to his rosy cheeks.
Cute kid, he thinks to himself as Tim touches the roof and almost trips. He catches him by the collar and pulls him back from the hard cement, laughing at his embarrassed blush and too-bright eyes. Real cute kid.
They huddle close against the rooftop wall and try to hide from the pouring rain that makes their clothes stick and their vision blur. Tim sticks to Jason’s side, head pressed to his neck, and he uses their bodies to hide his camera from the water. He tells Jason over the rain about how much he likes Batman and how much he wants to meet Robin; that they’re his favorites, his heroes. He likes to watch them—because it’s almost like he knows them then, he says.
“Do you like Batman, Jason?”
“Eh. He’s okay. Nothing special. He’s no Superman.”
“But isn’t that what makes him so cool?”
“Sure, if you like a giant bat over the whole ‘faster than a speeding bullet’ thing.”
“Batman’s different. He…he protects good people.”
“Don’t Superman? And, hey, I’m good at protecting people!”
“I’m protecting your lame brain from falling on your face.”
Tim smiles, toothy and wide, he sees it, and he ducks his head back into his sweater to hide the pink flush away.
They wait and wait for what seems like hours, but Batman never comes with his black cape to engulf the night and Robin never shows up to bring color to the sky. It’s only the rain and the sirens that come, blanketing them the black of abyss of a colorless Gotham night. With every minute, Jason can feel his heart sink into his stomach; an odd disappointment shuddering through his body. Not for him—Batman is never a good sign for anyone in his line of living.
He feels bad for Tim, with his fascination and wishes, to be forced to wait for hours only to get nothing.
Part of Jason tells him Tim has got to learn that life has a way of crushing your hopes sometimes. Jason tells that part to shut the fuck up.
His hand has somehow curled around Tim’s small shoulders and he has opened the large jacket to cover him from the rain, though it did no good. The kid’s body feels cold against his hotter one, the tip of his nose and his fingers are red underneath the matted hair and fabric. Jason looks down between them and sees Tim’s eyes closed.
He sighs, “I’m sorry,” and Tim opens them up again. The light blue color tears through the gray and the black of the shadows widely, blinking out the daze and mist.
He looks at Jason curiously, “For what?”
Jason motions out his hand, “No Batman. Sorry, kid.” He really is sorry; he doesn’t really understand why, but he is.
“Oh…it’s…okay.” Tim shrugs and he doesn’t look nearly as disappointed as he should have, “You…we tried, right? And…” He smiles a little shyly and Jason can’t help but smile back. “It was…fun. Really fun talking to you, Jason.”
“Hee…likewise, Timmy.” Tim wrinkles his nose at that, said a while back he doesn’t like the name—Jason doesn’t care. The two of them silent back against the wall, listening to the howl of the wind, and Jason thinks maybe they’re not ready to move yet. Despite the biting cold and the hard rain, he is sort of comfortable with him. He likes it here.
He likes it here with Tim.
“Jason?” They listen to the howl of the angry wind to the roar of thunder and lightning before Tim’s voice breaks through, tiny and soft.
Tim is silent, muffled words underneath his palm, before he says to Jason’s side, “When we get older…will…will you marry me?”
The ten year old surges up suddenly and almost knocks Tim down, his sneakers scraping loud against the pavement. Tim seems to be shaken, gawking at him in what can only be bewilderment on his tiny face. Jason gawks back, stormy eyes wide, and he can barely form words as the blood rushes up his neck and to his cheeks.
“You—You…!” He hasn’t been caught speechless since he was a brat, and even then he had a backhanded retort on hand. He tries to answer, heart in his throat as Tim stares on questionably with those two damn wide fucking eyes. “Want us to get married?” He finally manages to say, his voice a little too high and a little too loud.
Tim is at least blushing, too, and his eyes are lowered, though he still nods calmly and without any hesitance. “Y-yes. Please?”
The ‘please’ is so sweet, so soft, that it catches at Jason’s heart strings and drags a “Why?” out of his open mouth.
“Cause…you’re nice and brave and cool and you care about me, I think, andIreallylikeyou?” The words fumble out of his mouth and tumble to the ground, sounding loud and clear as it echoes through Jason’s head. And once they fall, Tim seems to hunch and bow into himself, head tilting away as he flushes red.
Shit, Jason thinks, shitshitshit the kid has a crush on me shit!
He doesn’t know what to say or to do, and he can’t stop awkwardly staring at the child, hardly feeling the rain beat onto his head like a drum. His thoughts mash together into a colorless unhelpful mass, keeping him from saying anything to stop the slowly spreading frown on Tim’s face, growing with every second Jason withholds his reaction.
He’s stuck, more so than he’s ever been, and the only thing he feels is his heart pounding violently, reminding him that he’s alive.
His fingers drag across the thick of leather of his jacket and, finally, he managed to say something.
“I’ll…think about it…”
He doesn’t know if it’s right or wrong, but it makes Tim pick up his head and there’s hope in those blue eyes.
“Really?” He squeaks.
That part of him is speaking up again and lecturing him about the fact that he shouldn’t get the kid’s hopes up. They just met, hell, they’ll probably never see each other again. If they do, there’s a chance Jason won’t ever swing that way—he punches that part in the face because Tim is smiling at him again.
Smiling as he shivered, cold water finally settling into his skin.
Jason peers down at his body, holding his sleeve. “Yeah…uh…tell you what…” He peels the jacket off quickly and scoots back towards Tim, throwing the heavy material over his back. He helps the kid into the sleeves, watching as the article eats his body whole in a sea of burned brown, and zips it up to the collar.
“When you grow into that, we’ll tie the knot, okay?”
Tim’s eyes (blue, blue pretty blue) light up and Jason shoves down the regret daring to build up under his skin.
He doesn’t hesitate to say ‘yes’.
And he doesn’t mind much when little pink lips press against his red cheek.
That was the only night Jason had ever met Tim. He never got his last name or where he lived. They sat in the rain until late and then Tim had to leave—refused to let Jason take him to the ‘somewhere’ he didn’t really need to be.
Dad was pissed that Jason had lost one of his jackets, even if it was shit. Mom was pissed Jason had come home so damn late.
Jason wondered, between the scolding and yelling, where Tim went off to.
Tim blinked out of his life like a phantom and Jason didn’t think about it much. He couldn’t—life didn’t let him. He grew up, he took care of Mom, and he stole. It was only when Batman (Bruce, Dad, Daddy, Father) wrapped him in his first son’s colors that Jason thought about the bright blue eyed boy with the $800 dollar camera and the too-big leather jacket.
He thought about him and he wondered and then…he forgot. Forgot and drowned the rest in gunpower, rage, pain, and bitter sorrow.
(He sometimes comes to him in his dreams; Jason wishes he’d stayed forgotten every time he wakes up.)
Replacement bleeds over the floor, onto his cape, and marks Jason’s arms in red when he picked him up, cursing as he shot blindly into the dark, aiming for the shattering booms of the opposing guns. Red Robin’s heavy, heavier than he looks, and Red Hood has to press his dead weight over his shoulder just to keep them steady long enough for him get his grappling gun out and shoot it out the window. They swing across the Gotham night, Red Robin’s cape rippling in the wind, and the idiot has the audacity to say something.
“You…didn’t get the file…”
Jason grits his teeth under his helmet, “Yeah, well, kind of hard to do anything when you get yourself fucking shot!” In and out, Tim had told him earlier—all they had to do was get in, get a file, and get out; then they wouldn’t have to deal with each other again.
And then Tim went and got himself shot through the shoulder.
Stupid dual cases—this is why he works alone.
Tim mumbles something unintelligibly, words in a slur as he bounces in and out of their reality and the blood pours like rain from his wound and out into the air. He says something about his apartment—Jason assumed he wanted to go there, rather than the Batcave. (Poor widdle Replacement still upset over being replaced? Aw, cry him a fucking river, Tim.)
“Asshole.” Jason mutters, but uses his arm to pull on the line and change direction, nevertheless.
He lands on Tim’s balcony with ease, juggling the vigilante’s unconscious figure against his armored chest. He keeps Tim’s head high on his shoulder as he unlocks the glass door, shutting off the alarm system with careful hands—fucking Replacement, so paranoid that he’d actually hook it up to explode if it was breached. Not-so-gently, Jason drops Tim on his bed and got to work dismantling the armor’s booby-traps and peeling off the skin tight material. The bed dips under his weight as he strips the boy down to his underwear, hand flittering over the dark red hole which blossoms with almost black blood.
Tim moans in his sleep as Jason adds pressure.
He quiets down soon enough, hardly making a sound as Jason plunges in and gets the bullet, stitching him up hastily and smearing the blood over the white sheets beneath them.
(Replacement better not bitch about that. Fucking saved your life and you’re worried about the fucking linen?!)
When he’s done, Jason stands, peeling off blood-spattered gloves, and finally takes off the helmet. He breathes in, dropping the second face onto the carpeted floor with a muted thump, and peers at the still body on the bed. The Pretender’s bare chest is rising, up down up down, scarred skin looking so much paler when dark red sits near it. Jason wonders if Tim is naturally that white or if it is another side effect of the trials he is putting himself through.
Jason then wonders why he gives a fuck.
He sways and goes to the flat closet doors, sliding them open with one motion. He’d get the Replacement into something and then he’s gone, he thought. He isn’t going to play babysitter any longer; kid’s alive, his job is done. He shifts through the dress shirts, the tailored cocktail jackets, and the many vests, wool and light alike, with no proof of finding anything suitable for putting the boy in. Fuck, does this kid always dress like he’s on the way to Cinderella’s ball? You’d think an eighteen year old would have a pair of shitty sweats laying around.
Jason kneels down, seeing piles of fabric hidden under a few boxes, and grasps burned brown leather, dust, decades-gone smoke, and cracking age lifting a scent to Jason’s nose. It’s familiar to him, memories of cold winter nights being wrapped up in his father’s old clothes and his cigarette smoke flooding Jason’s brain.
He pulls the folded jacket and the sleeves flop over his knee, certain spots darker at the shoulders and elbows.
Jason stares, thinking hard as to why his heart feels as though it weighs a dozen more pounds. He picks up the jacket, stands, and drags it into the dim light of the white room.
He sees WT printed by weak sharpie ink into the collar.
A decade of memories rush over his eyes, blinding him with the images of angry pimps, a dark alley, rain (so much fucking rain) and the brightest blue eyes Jason had ever seen in his fucking life. A child stares up at him in a drenched green sweater, sneakers awkwardly posed together, and he smiles shyly as he fumbles with the large camera hanging around his neck.
The carpet is breaking, shattering, and disappearing underneath his boots and Jason has nothing to grab onto as he falls, sinking deeper and deeper into the absolute nothingness that comes with the new realization. It’s Tim.
Replacement. Pretender. Robin. Red Robin. Timothy Drake-Wayne
Tim Drake is his dream ghost, the little brat in love with Batman from somewhere that drifted out of his life before Jason could let him in.
His Tim is Replacement Tim.
Jason’s knuckles tighten and he hears the crisp squeeze of ancient, neglected leather come from it. He is dumbfounded, like that night so many years ago, staring at the gift he gave to a child he now hates (but not really; he hated the Replacement, the void Tim filled—his presence which forced Jason to become the forgotten ghost of Wayne Manor)
(He hated the Robin Tim would play; he never really hated Tim.)
“Jason…? What are you do—“
He doesn’t know how long he stood there, caught in the hurricane of his memories and feelings, but Tim is awake and he is by his side before his voice pushes Jason from his stupor, tearing the jacket from Jason’s hold. The teen holds the jacket to his chest, hands cradling the material to him as if it was the most precious thing in the world, and Jason sees the red forming on his too-pale cheeks.
Tim’s hair blocks out his eyes and then he shifts to look at Jason’s face (whatever it may say) and he sees them.
The brightest blue eyes he had fucking ever seen.
His fucking Tim.
(All grown up twelve fucking years later.)
“…other people’s closets!”
Jason shakes his head, coming down from the rush of his blood, and he knows Tim had said something. “What?”
“I said: you can’t just go looking through other people’s closets!” Tim’s face blazes dark red, both by anger and embarrassment, and his eyes (blue, blue, blue) dart around, focusing on anything but Jason’s face.
“I was…nevermind, that jacket—when did you—“ Jason starts, pointing at the item in question, and when he does Tim backs up like a frightened animal. He squeezes the jacket tighter, protectively, while shaking his head.
He shakes his head again, bites his lip, and his eyes move to look into Jason’s—earnest, wide, and telling.
Tim looks away again, biting his lips as he begins to back away, hiding the jacket behind his back. Jason wills his legs to work and push him forward, crowding Tim until the back of his knees hit the bed and he has no means of escape. “You’re him?” Jason states, unable to hide the smile that spreads across his lips.
It is a vague question, but Tim would know. Tim’s the smart Robin, he would take the hint.
“I…” He bows his head, “Yes.”
Jason nods, “How long have you known that I was—“
“That Jason? Always; you never really tried to hide who you were. You…” He makes an irritated sound, his good hand threading roughly through his bangs, “You were still protecting people so…I put two and two together pretty easily.”
Jason cocks an eyebrow at him, “And you were never going to tell me about it? Not even return the jacket?”
“What was I supposed to say? ‘Hi, I don’t know if you remember me, but I’m the kid who asked you to marry him when he was six years old, here’s your jacket’?!” He glares at him, huffing angrily and blowing his hair out of his face. “That’s pretty goddamn hard when I’m being threatened at gun point, Jason!”
He has to agree, that is pretty impossible but…
Jason stops and smirks at the smaller male, amusement in his eyes. “So you do remember the promise we made?”
Just like that, Tim freezes, limbs stiff and hard, and begins to splutter as the red dips down his cheeks and to his neck. In that time, Jason grabs the jacket from Tim’s loosened grip and drapes it over his nude shoulders gently with a pleased hum.
“Still too small, Timmy.”
He still hates that name—he wrinkles his nose, as if he is thoroughly confused, “What?”
“The promise. I was going to marry you when you fit into the jacket.” Jason says, smirking, “If you can’t tell, you’re way too small. So, no go.”
“What…oh…” Tim’s head bows and his shoulders sink like the six year old so many years ago. (Never grew out of being disappointed, did he?)
Jason sweeps the jacket off his shoulders and folds it up. He gives Tim a quick once over as he holds it under his arm, “I’ll give you a consolation prize.” He says before spinning on his heel and walking away, only stopping to grab his helmet.
Tim follows, shivering as he goes for the open balcony door. “Are you going to tell me?” Jason could hear the excitement in Tim’s voice, covered by nerves, and he is glad he had never grown out of that either.
“I’ll tell you in a couple weeks. I’m still thinking about it.”
Jason is gone with the blow of the wind.
Two weeks pass and Jason asks Tim out on his balcony, wearing the burned brown jacket. He asks him to bring his camera along.
They are gonna go Batman stalking and they are going to do it right this time.