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Tim the Psycho

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‘What are these?’

Tim flinches in spite of himself, because fuck, I should’ve remembered to cover them up-

Jason’s fingers are already running over the slice marks on Tim’s inner thigh, his smile already dissolving into amused curiosity. Trust him not to immediately get it - Jason’s terrible, but he’s so nice it’s alarming. For all the bad things that have happened to him, it wouldn’t occur to him what the marks meant to Tim. What they meant about him.

Tim drags Jason’s hand away, and places it on the side of his ass where he knows Jason will be mildly distracted, and says absently, ‘Old case. Mistimed a dodge. Gotham, y’know?’

And then, to seal the deal, he commands Jason’s attention with a kiss.

Tim’s eyes are closed, but there’s water in their corners that he just can’t control. Jason can’t know... he just can’t, especially him of all people. He makes it out like the shine in his eyes is endearment, as much as he can, because in a moment like this where Jason is above him - shielding him from the world - he should have nothing to fear, and only something to love. And he does, really, I do, but he also has to hide some things. Things he’s not ready to share, might not ever be...

They kiss deeply, and thankfully Jason carries on like Tim hoped he would. He is convinced that everything is right and good with Tim. And his touch helps, which is a first. Tim couldn’t have known how soothing and reassuring and distracting intimacy would be. It was helpful, he’d concluded. Enveloping. He wants to be able to shut off sometimes; I want it so bad... If he relaxed more, he’d have fewer problems.

So, like he asks of himself, he loses himself in Jason and intimacy and fuck, I needed this, and with his head resting in the crook of Jason’s arm he even manages to fall asleep.

Tim dreams of nothing.

And when he wakes up, he doesn’t even need to move to know that Jason isn’t there. Tim might have even scared him away, but that was always going to be an issue, wasn’t it? More likely, he just didn’t want to disturb Tim. Tim, who doesn’t sleep enough. Tim, who always looks like he carries and bottles. Tim, who bares the weight of the world on his shoulders. Tim... who doesn’t eat enough, who doesn’t value his life enough. Timothy, who should cry more and laugh less humourlessly, who should feel something when he is cut at.

Tim’s still sore, in a way that he appreciates. He wants to get up and move and be productive but he also wants to stay completely still. He imagines being completely still, almost dead, still as a corpse, not so much as a twitch, there’s no point to anything, is there-?

Even when he’s alone, he can feel danger. Like the calm before a storm. Foreboding. He’s always on edge, a final straw away from catastrophe. Tim has been told that he is dangerously close to perfect before (by Jason... and Steph, and Kon), and this is why. It’s his superpower. Tim understands the truth that nothing is ever safe, no one is done, nothing is ever over - he never fails to react.

The price is that it is harder to think for himself. To... to actively participate, to choose himself over the rest when everything is important. All things are equally important, but still some things are more important than others. I’m not making sense, just shut up, Tim... Tim’s mind doesn’t listen to him. It doesn’t have an off switch. 

An alarm goes off, and Tim hates it, hate that fucking noise so much- he reaches for it, and when he finally has his phone in his hands he throws it at the wall. It scratches the wall, and clatters in shattered pieces on the wooden floor. It reminds him of a shrapnel grenade. Tim can make out from the sound that he could fix it later if he can bring himself to. 

Tim can’t rest. But he doesn’t move from his position either, can’t even bring myself to get up just yet, and the next time he bothers to engage with his surroundings, the whole day has gone by and the sun isn’t even leaking through the curtains anymore. It’s stopped. There are sounds coming from the rest of the apartment. The general hubbub of cooking, sounds like stirring, maybe Jason’s making soup, shitty radio pop music that Tim would switch off if he was there. Silence and company make for better atmosphere. And still, he hasn’t even gotten out of bed. He’s wasted the whole day. Jason is out there, living and being productive and doing things, and I am wasting away.

Tim’s concentration has flown so far out the window that he doesn’t even notice when Jason opens the bedroom door. He’s not sure for how long Jason has been watching, just staring at him from the threshold, judging him, assessing the situation, but when he does finally react, it’s with a careful turn, and a fake-sultry twist and a small smile softer than slept-in bedsheets. With his best submissive bedroom eyes (because how else can he play this), Tim greets simply, ‘Hey...’

Jason’s face is so easy to read.

He’s not convinced.

‘You been in bed all day?’ He says, face blank with what Bruce would call concern. God, is it wrong that the similarity is turning him on? Tim hates that he can’t help his thoughts sometimes.

He lies easily, ‘No, not all day. Just trying to catch up on all that missed sleep you’ve been telling me so much about.’ He puts a bit of snark in his tone, makes it playful, aloof, a little sarcastic. Amiable, pleasant, but not too compliant. Jason likes a little resistance. Shows of strength. Talent, even. An opportunity to play detective because they are the mission, they are always on job, I am way overthinking this.

Jason chuckles into a sigh, and replies, ‘Well, either way, get up and freshen up. Dinner’s almost ready. I am not waiting for you.’

He will wait, though. Always does. Tim huffs testily, and in a voice not unlike the teenager he could’ve been in another life he grouses, ‘Yes, mom.’

Jason doesn’t dignify that with a response. And, if he’s seen the broken phone on the floor just to his left, or the mark on the grey-blue wall, then he hasn’t made that clear either. Jason’s head is shaking as he exits, though, in that disbelieving amused way. We are not amused. Tim can’t wait to seduce him back again over bowls of soup.

Tim makes it to the bathroom with that thought in mind, and showers quickly. He scrubs at his thigh a little more harshly than usual, but that’s understandable, all things considered. That’s what Tim tells himself, to avoid the issue like usual, whatever gets me to move on the fastest I guess, so that he never has to confront the issue again. Head-on confrontations are less his style. Sounds more like Jason to him.

He stares at the face in the mirror. Probably stares longer than he spent washing. Tim doesn’t understand what Jason sees, doesn’t trust it, but he is himself convinced that there is a ghost underneath all the flesh and skin and bones and blood. There’s a monster somewhere; Tim’s spent forever looking for it.

When he arrives at the dining table, dressed casual and baggy, he masks his glee. Jason is sitting there with a bowl of untouched stew in front of him, with another one placed at the seat across him. Both are still steaming. There’s a plate of toast too, also untouched for barely a crumb looks disturbed. Jason puts the magazine he’d been hiding his face behind to the side, and picks up a spoon. Tim slides into his seat and follows his lead without a word.

But, as they eat, Tim pokes Jason with his feet, and Jason reacts and shoves him back, and their legs become intertwined. Softly grazing and stroking one another’s, all under the table while they eat in companionate silence.

There is also a knife, beside the plate of toasted bread, besides a tub of butter, that as of yet remains untouched. Blunt, serrated edges, the kind that would mangle the simple slice and butcher a cut. Uncouth. Not a useful tool, but a decent dining utensil. For a split second Tim imagines driving it into his own leg, wondering how deep it would go, wondering what the quote-end-quote ‘sharp’ edge would feel like as it pieced his skin, would be fucking riveting-

‘How is it?’

‘I- ‘S good, Jay. Did you make it less spicy than last time?’ Says Tim, picking up a slice of toast and dipping the corner of it into his bowl, and munching away in a practiced, casual-lazy, monotonous, focussed-on-eating type of way.

Jason doesn’t know the half of what goes through Tim’s head.

Jason feigns being affronted, and says, ‘You calling my food bland, Timmy?’

No,’ Tim says (because oh, how we love to argue), ‘Last time I could only handle that one bowl. This, though... I’m gonna take the whole pot, Jay.’

He hasn’t eaten all day, so the hunger is authentic. Now that he’s eating, and his hands are doing something, and his face is getting some good exercise, he feels a little better. More himself. More prepared. Tim knows better than to waste away like this. Tim continues, because Jason requires, needs, deserves constant affection, ‘I really like what you’ve done with the chicken as well. Is it like curry, or just black pepper and paprika-?’

‘It’s, ah... probably the red chilli power. And there’s turmeric.’

Tim lays it on a bit thick, but it’s part of my charm, I think.

‘Hmm, I like it. Balance is right.’ Tim says between chews, because the taste in his mouth doesn’t match the gutter his head fell in. Nothing is balanced, nothing is even, he is always conceding and swinging returns but that’s the job I do best, and if he says it enough maybe it will suddenly become true.

Despite what Tim said, Jason has finished another helping and a half just as he finishes his first. The bread, the chicken, the broth and the spices... it was basic and cleansing and simple but hearty. Just like Jason. Wholesome. Substantial. Hearty. Warm and cosy when they cuddle in bed, when they have nothing to do except we’re always doing things and we never have time to stop and take stock, fuck it’s so frustrating-

Tim blinks, and just like that he is back where he started, Jason’s chest on top of his, and hands wondering. They’ve eaten dinner, teamed up to tackle the dishes, watched a movie (Tim vaguely remembers seeing katanas and hearing gunfire), and lightly made out. They cuddled; Tim had hugged Jason’s arm and rested his head on it like he wasn’t comfortable anywhere else.

And after, when Jason has decided that Tim needs to capitalise on his evening off, his strong careful hands find their way up Tim’s leg again. But when they expertly dodge Tim’s inner thigh and move straight up to the side of his hip, Tim freezes. His lips stop working. It’s like his heart has stopped beating because he suddenly can’t feel anything.

I’m such a fucking idiot.

 


 

Jason has been sat outside the bedroom door for almost an hour. The noise from the other side has all but stopped, except for the occasional pad of Tim’s feet as he paces. Jason’s never known him to pace. Never known him to sob during sex. That’s a lie, Jason, don’t you remember that one time, with the...? Tim and Jason have been shy, and gotten over it, together, a long time ago.

But this is different. Tim had flipped, gone pale and run cold and shoved Jason off, Jason who didn’t understand what was wrong at all. Tim had pushed him off, and kicked him out of the room, and locked the door. Locked himself in the bedroom.

‘Tim... talk to me.’ Jason says, calling out for the tenth time. He doesn’t understand. He just wants to know what he did. He’s trying not to sound frustrated, and especially not angry, because I’m not, really, but Jason hates when Tim does this. He doesn’t appreciate being kept out of the dark, but that’s not the only issue he’s having. Of course they have their own problems, their own secrets... Jason doesn’t like Tim assuming that he can’t help. It makes him feel shitty and worthless and weak.

‘Timmy, if you don’t open this door, I swear, I’m gonna break it-’

Tim opens the door, wearing shorts and an oversized tee that says ‘sleep is for the weak’. Jason thinks it’s his, but it might just be Tim’s. Sounds more like something Damian would say, and Tim would probably get a kick out of wearing that in front of the kid. It’s the kind of subtle thing that would make Damian paranoid, thereby pissing him off. It’s a long game; tactical... something Tim would discuss doing but never go through with, unless Jason convinced him to do it.

Jason is good at getting Tim to do things that would make him feel good, especially when Tim talks himself out of doing anything fun, or liberating, or... selfish. Tim is selfless.

Tim drops a plain white t-shirt into Jason’s lap, and looks down at him with red eyes. ‘Could I borrow a cigarette?’

Jason blinks slow, but the look on Tim’s face doesn’t change. To be fair, Jason would waste Cuban cigars on Tim. So, he nods, sliding up from his vigil and slipping the shirt on. He goes to his jacket, by the door, and fishes out his cigarettes. Tim’s already made it to the balcony door, sliding it open and stepping out without waiting for Jason. Jason fiddles with his lighter as he walks out to join him.

Jason leans on the brick of the balcony, staring out at the city that should be sleeping. Traffic. Glow of yellow light. The sky isn’t falling. No screaming. Good. He’s a good foot away from Tim, and for good reason - he still doesn’t know what he did, or if he’ll do it again, what if I hurt him even more, and that upsets Jason a lot.

But maybe it isn’t something he did. Tim comes closer, and though they aren’t exactly bumping shoulders, they’re breathing the same air. Tim watches tentatively as Jason pulls out a cigarette, puts it to the flame, and then Tim reaches out for it-

And Jason brings it to his own mouth, turning his face away from Tim’s as he puts the packet on the balcony, with the lighter. Do it yourself.

Tim accepts the challenge. He takes his own and lights it all casual like, as if he’s been smoking for years. As he takes it in, Jason sees the frown threatening to crack Tim’s porcelain face. Tim exhales, and admits, ‘I thought these helped.’

‘You’re not exactly a chain-smoker, are ya?’

‘Still...’ Tim says, sounding tired of talking even though they’ve just started.

Jason looks at the cigarette in his own hand, blistering away, and explains, ‘I only smoke when I’m nervous.’

‘You smoke all the time.’

‘Ain’t that telling you anything, baby bird.’

Tim doesn’t respond, but crosses his arms over his chest like he’s cold. There’s barely a breeze, but maybe Tim can feel it with his legs out like that- his leg, the scratches... that’s what this is about, isn’t it? Jason turns fully to Tim, and promises, ‘It’ll be ok, Timmy.’ Eventually.

‘Don’t lie to me.’ He scoffs, without derision. Saying it himself, Tim confesses, ‘I’ve been... make up and stuff. Covering it all up for all this time. You know how much effort it is? It takes me two hours in advance to prep just on the off chance that we end up fucking in the shower-’

Why does that sound like an accusation? ‘You’re nuts, Tim. What made you think that you had to hide this from me? Do- do you like doing it? Do you get, like, a... a kick?’

‘No! I- it’s not-‘

‘It’s not right. But... I also know you won’t stop. Not just because I say so.’ I don’t mean anything to you at all, do I?

Tim stubs his unfinished cigarette out on the balcony, and says, ‘So what are you gonna do?’

Jason shrugs.

In all honesty, he doesn’t know. Half of him wants to call in the cavalry; storm into Wayne Enterprises and speak to Bruce, man to man, no cameras, no bugs, no unwelcome extra audience. Because Jason feels like he doesn’t know Tim at all, suddenly. Tim is... Tim is cute, and clumsy, and funny, and makes him feel good when he’s not and he’s betraying me. Jason is left second-guessing everything he thinks he knows about Tim.

The other half of him, admittedly, wants to break something.

He’s almost too scared to ask, but he needs to know and he can’t help it, ‘Is... Is this why you’re with me? Because I tried to slit your throat?!’

‘No, Jason, no!’ Tim cries, because there are tears falling down his face again just when they’d thought they were calming down. ‘I swear, us has nothing to do with- with me.’

Tim is struggling to put to words the feelings in his head, and Jason can see him straining, failing to compute. Jason understands that much. Tim has squeezed his eyes shut, and his breathing is stuttering out of control. ‘Jason, please, I don’t... please don’t leave me!’

Jason catches Tim in his arms, and hushes him as he cries. His victim training has kicked in, but this is so different because Tim baby please don’t cry. Jason has got him, and sways with him just to centre him. Tim likes it, he’s told him before as they stayed up in bed together. That’s what love is to them.

‘Tim... why the fuck would I leave, huh? You’re everything I have, baby...’

He whispers more of the same into Tim’s hair, and eventually shaky breaths abate to slow and steady ones.

‘I don’t want anyone else- don’t tell anybody.’ Tim orders, voice muffled against Jason’s chest.

But Jason doesn’t take orders. ‘Tim,’ he sighs, ‘You know that’s not up to me now.’ There’s a protocol to follow. Tim knows it, has practiced it, and has avoided it.

‘Jay-!’

Jason, still holding Tim, begins walking him back inside. With each step, he speaks, ‘You’re gonna be just fine, alright? I’m not going anywhere.’

Jason has nowhere else to go.

There’s no point trying to go back to bed now. He pulls Tim to the sofa and puts on an old cartoon, some movie about a fox and a dog. He lets Tim snuffle and whimper, and occasionally hit him out of frustration until all of his energy dies out and he is just cuddling stoically. The movie calms Tim down, but it also calms Jason. He needed it more than he realised.

Tim still seems... off. Broken. And what’s worse, it caught me completely off guard. Jason hadn't seen it coming, even when the broken skin was under his fingertips. He’s made every effort to be loving and still he’s failed. Sitting there in relative silence, with Tim finally drained of all... feeling, it feels like a cop out. Jason should be doing more. Jason wants to do something.

‘Jay?’

Jason turns, and Tim is still looking at the television. ‘Yeah, baby?’

‘I’m sorry I ruined sex.’ He says quietly.

‘Tim, that is the last thing you should- you have nothing to be sorry for.’

Tim snuggles in, and starts tracing constellations on Jason’s arms. ‘I’m... I’m sorry I wasn’t honest. But I can’t ask you to fix me, Jay.’

You don’t have to ask me, Tim.

Jason wants to say it aloud, but Tim is sucking out the drive in him to fight. He doesn’t want to upset him, especially now. He doesn’t want to make things difficult for him. It wouldn’t be fair.

‘You- you being here is enough, I think.’

Jason disagrees. ‘I’m taking your knives. Your razors. You- everything, when you need things you’re gonna have to ask me. Ball point pens, forks, scissors, everything - your fucking business cards... I’m taking all the locks off all the doors. You’re gonna talk to me now, we- we’ll talk to someone, together. You’re not allowed to cut yourself again, Timmy. I can’t lose you, baby bird, I cannot... you hear me? I’m gonna take care of you.’

Jason has never been more serious, more scared, or more sure.

‘Take care of me, or you taking care of me, Jay?’

Jason looks at Tim with a raised eyebrow, and when their eyes meet there’s a mischievous glint that fills Jason’s chest like concrete. Jason can’t help it; he laughs, and puts his arm around Tim and squeezes him tight.

I will always protect you.

Chapter Text

‘You training for the Olympics or something?’

Tim doesn’t mean to bother with speaking to Damian, who is still trying to uproot my position in the family, in Bruce’s life. He still doesn’t understand what Tim has done for them... that without Tim, there might not have been a Batman for his mother to dump him with. But when he sees the kid striking a sandbag over and over - with only meagre wrappings on his shot knuckles - he can’t help but be mildly concerned, interested. He’s never bothered with Damian before.

Damian doesn’t look away from his target, but punches it again. ‘I was imagining it was your face, Drake.’

‘You... You do that, baby bat. Whatever keeps your motor running.’

Tim moves to the bat-computer, like he meant to. He’s got Jason’s reports to upload, some of his own to finish (start, I mean - he has them all recited in his head, they just need typing), and then he planned on opening an old case file he’s found a new lead in. The usual. Tim solves mysteries. He’s more of a detective than a soldier - it’s why he struggles with instructions sometimes. It’s why Jason supposedly loves him so much-

He whispers to himself, ‘Oh... Isn’t this interesting?’

Within a few minutes, he has dozens of tabs open. And, several notifications that he hasn’t paid any attention to before. Damian, the little worm, has been accessing old training records. Files and videos, reports, documents, notes, medicals. A few of Jason’s, most of Bruce’s, none of Dick’s, or Cass’s (they probably show him plenty enough in person). But he’s been going back to every single one of Tim’s. Bruce allowed them to, for their progress. Tim had given up on an old project of his, to make combative holograms based on each of their fighting styles for training. He thinks absently that Bruce might’ve picked it up where he left it. It was normal for them to learn from each other, but this... what was Damian trying to achieve?

Tim spins around in the bat-chair and eyes Damian throwing stars at targets near the cave’s cliff, that black hole of a gap between the main cave floor and where the vehicles are kept. It looks like a bottomless drop, Tim’s veered close to the edge hundreds of times, has wondered what it would be like to slip and fly, or drop like lead, to sink to the bottom, I bet Damian would scream if I pushed him, and it wouldn’t even be that hard, he’s so distracted right now...

But no, that’s not what he does. Tim is more concerned that Damian appears to be studying him. That sounds like something he’d do, sure, but... Tim? Really? What does Tim know that Damian couldn’t have learnt from the League?

He’s still looking at Damian when the boy turns around, finally sensing that he is being watched. He sees Tim, and glares. He puts his stars down on a bench menacingly, and begins walking over. He shouts, ‘What is it, Drake?’

Tim sighs deeply, because yeah, we’re doing this. A plan is already forming in his head, a little espionage with a drop of interrogation and a hint of counselling. The derision will be all for Tim. He brings his fingers together and deals, ‘You’ve been acting suspicious. Your history... it’s all me. There isn’t even any porn, or memes! What the fuck, kid?’

Damian looks very affronted at Tim’s words. ‘I- I resent that, Drake! You think that I would waste my time with such... eccentricities-?’

‘Sheesh, Dames, you need to get out more-’

Damian doesn’t like being interrupted, so of course, he cuts Tim off right back, ‘And what is my computer history to you? Isn’t it well-known that I study my enemies?’

Tim wants to break out into a wide smile, because this is too easy, but he plays it cool. Everything is a play, every word contributes, and all of them means to an end, ‘You don’t need to study me, Damian.’

‘I would prefer not to, but I don’t slack, however much it pains me.’

‘You misunderstand.’ No surprise there. ‘What I mean to say, is, day by day, you’re becoming me, Damian. Think about it,’

And oh does Tim love saying that. Think about it... it’s short and sweet, not a true command, but it never fails to create conflict in the mind of his subject. Timothy knows just what buttons to push. He would love to know what makes Damian tick, what’ll push him over the edge, he wonders if it will feel like dipping the kid’s brain in acid, sizzling it till it’s all gone to mush, fuck, that kid pisses me off so much-

Damian shakes his head. ‘I don’t understand-’

‘Dick wants you to be more socially aware, he’s given you hints and tests, suggestions... he’s quite good at making you learn without even realising you’re doing it, isn’t he?’

Tim is giving Dick a lot of credit. Though, to be fair, Tim is only bitter because of what happened when Bruce disappeared. The stress, I didn’t deal very well with that at all, did I? No... Tim still admires Dick. The sprightly child that inspired hope and brought light to the darkest alleys in Gotham. He still had a hang-up over that idol.

Early in their relationship, Jason got a lot out of Tim’s hero-worshipping complexes.

Tim speaks with familiarity, purposely sounds even a little nostalgic to drive home to Damian that he’s been doing this a long time, that he knows what it’s like, that Damian isn’t anything special, ‘Your dad, he needs a support unit. But he also needs someone there to confirm what he sees. To match his suspicions. A good listener. Someone to notice things he might not, to carry evidence-‘

‘Enough! I know what Father requires and I don’t need you to tell me-!’

‘But that’s the whole thing, isn’t it? I also know everything Father needs. Dick did, Jason did for a while, then I did it, and now you’re doing it. Just like me. Only thing is, Bruce didn’t let me go. He got stuck with you, and is making do. He’s been giving you suggestions too, hasn’t he? I think you suspect what he means every time he sets you a target. Every time he gives you something that used to be mine... haven’t you even been reading my old case files? Alfred probably tells you to loosen up a bit, too. I bet you’re even using my filing system-‘

Damian smirks, of all things. ‘You megalomaniac... You think, because Father holds you in such regard, that I want to emulate you? I aim to be better.’

Tim would be more convinced if Damian’s feet weren’t shifting to a confrontational pose, if his hands weren’t balled up into firsts by his sides.

‘You’re afraid I’ve already set the bar out of your reach, Damian. Even if you can’t admit it to me, which is totally fine by the way, a part of you believes it or you wouldn’t want anything to do with me. Of all of us, your Dad and I put the most criminals away together. Do you want to know why I’m so good at the job?’

Damian doesn’t so much as twitch because of course he doesn’t, but I’m gonna answer anyway, ‘Because I love it that much more than everyone else.’

Tim hopes he’s unsettled Damian as much as he unsettles the rest of them. Even Alfred used to be at a loss with him, sometimes, but he was always able to adjust. You can’t not love Alfred.

‘Spar with me.’ Demands Damian, turning his back and walking to the training area because what possible threat could Tim pose? I guess I’ll have to show him.

Tim gets up even though he has more important things to be doing, and because he does feel a little like a megalomaniac right now, powerful, correct, satisfied. He couldn’t miss an opportunity to mess with the boy. This, the same kid that inadvertently ruins everything he touches, and Tim is hard-pressed to forgive him regardless of how tolerable he was becoming. Even when Damian isn’t asking for it, Tim feels like he is supposed to forgive him - it’s the kind of thing the family would want of him (even when they kept Jason at arm’s length for much the same reason).

As they walk, Tim hits below the belt, says, ‘Such an al Ghul. Settling dispute and conflict with violence. Very nice, not at all cliché.’

Damian graciously ignores it. Once they’re there, Damian takes his hoodie off and folds it, places it in the corner, to show he’s prepared. The glitter of scars on his arms, on the skin exposed by his tank-top, don’t draw a lot of sympathy from Tim. Tim doesn’t fall prey to mind games, Bruce should be so proud.

Sighing, because mentioning precious darling murderer Grandfather doesn't shake Damian as much as he’d hoped, Tim takes his watch off and chucks it to the side. He doesn’t care that Damian is already warmed up from punching imaginary faces, is pumped by annoyance and filled with drive, doesn’t care that Damian appears to be taking this seriously. Maybe the chance to vent some steam will be good for both of them. Jason would laugh at the idea of them bonding.

‘No weapons, I assume.’

‘What d’ya mean? I got two guns right here.’ Tim says mockingly, flexing his arms tauntingly, because his aren’t thick like Bruce’s, or Jason’s, or even like Dick’s or how Damian’s are sure to become. Maybe, he’s been spending too much time with Jay...

For a second Tim thinks that maybe he won’t get the joke, but Damian gives him a look, the kind that makes Tim believe he’s monologuing in his own head, about how stupid Drake is or something similar. Someone’ll have to teach him how to hide his thoughts better.

‘You ready?’

Damian nods.

‘Let’s go.’

Damian rushes forward but he’s like a cobra, hesitates with each strike before trying for a quick incapacitation. At first he’s clearly trying to read Tim, but Tim doesn’t have a preferred style. He does what he needs to, is the most inventive. Dick uses his flexibility and agility to his advantage, but Tim was never that comfortable taking all the risks that made such techniques so daring, so successful. Jason was more of a ninja-brawler, but these days he rarely fought with his fists.

Tim is more like Bruce than he likes to admit, and maybe that’s what Damian hates so much about me. Tim lets Damian attack at first, but each action pulls something different out of him. While Damian is systematic, trying to put what he’s learnt into practice - just like Tim used to when he was still green - Tim is more experienced, has seen these steps before. Damian tries for a nerve strike but Tim grabs his arm, his grip threatening to dislocate Damian’s wrist, almost trapping him in a submission hold already-

Tim throws him back, and Damian even skids a little. But within a second, he’s coming back for more. This time, Tim skips forward on his feet and swings a kick at Damian’s head - but Damian must have seen him do this on one of his tapes, because he dodges and ducks under Tim where most of Tim’s opponents take a hit. Tim centres his balance by pushing off of Damian’s shoulders and recreates space between them again.

‘You’re good. But don’t be afraid to buckle when someone tries to use your stance or your weight against you. If you crumble, they have nothing left to gain-’

‘Terrible advice.’ Damian dismisses, before zipping forward. He’s like a fucking mosquito, the way his punches come in and out, poke, sting, prick, and Tim dodges most of them. He lets Damian hover closer, but when Damian leaps forward, fist blazing, Tim flows with it and pulls Damian over him, throwing him away. Damian stumbles and has to catch himself with his hands before he face-plants the ground.

‘See?’ Says Tim, still fighting fairly defensively. They exchange blows a few times, Tim lands an elbow to Damian’s face that has a little more force than he’s proud of, but they’re good. Eventually he even begins to get a little bored of Damian’s tag-in-tag-out tactic.

He finally catches Damian’s body with a booted foot and Damian drops, and rolls over to regain some of his stamina. Tim takes a second to breathe, and turns to see if Bruce or Alfred have come downstairs, because he still needs to use the computer to get his work done, and if someone else commandeers it before he’s finished... Maybe if I- ‘Fuck!’

He forgot he and Damian were still sparring. He dropped his guard, and Damian capitalises by head-butting him in the face. Tim’s nose bleeds, and his sinuses feel like they’ve burst in his head. He buckles, and spins, and the fight pauses again when Tim backs away and has to recover.

Damian thinks he’s so clever.

‘I never understood why Father and Grandfather respect you. It doesn’t make sense, when you fight like a circus clown.’

‘Dick respects me, too.’ Tim says, with blood in his teeth, even though in truth he isn’t sure that Dick respects him at all. Instead, he says, ‘You’re almost adorable when you’re jealous.’

Damian’s mouth twists in distaste, but he can’t help but sneer back, ‘Richard is driven by emotion. He isn’t able to help it. You... you think you’re so funny, don’t you?’

I do, actually. Tim shucks blood off his fingers and says, ‘You know it, bat-brat. Didn’t you see the Tim Drake-Wayne segment on Ellen-?’

Damian lunges forward, tries to leap into Tim’s space and catch him off guard again but this time it doesn’t work. It was probably Tim’s use of the Wayne name that vexed Damian enough for him to strike. Damian, despite being the freshest child, the most recently-bled, the most of an interloper, hates having his space and claim intruded upon, and doesn’t everyone love giving him things, pandering to his insecurities. Tim might’ve even admired Damian’s displays of character if the kid weren’t so deluded into thinking that nobody noticed how much of a child he still really is. So much about him is off, unnatural, awkward. And yet they all want him.

Tim blocks with his forearm, and swings a fist again, misses. Damian is fast and intent on breaking Tim’s stances. Damian has the advantages of being smaller - he is more mobile, and lighter than Tim even though they are both lithe and muscly and in prime physical condition. Mentally... could be worse, I guess.

Tim isn’t concentrating. He missteps, is forced to back up with a change in direction that he doesn’t favour - and Damian realises immediately. He takes a hold of Tim’s ankle and tugs Tim off his feet, and with a yelp he can’t control, Tim goes down. The kid is getting better, but this is more Tim’s fault than Damian’s.

Looming over him, Damian yaps like an annoying little dog, a stupid parrot, and hisses harshly, ‘You’re nothing to the mission, you know. We could all go on without you being here, and everything would function like clockwork. The tapes show nothing of value, and whether you love the mission or not, it doesn’t need you... Father adjusted fast you know, and we’d quickly forget you were ever even here, if you went missing no one would go looking-’

Tim pounces off the ground like a lion. Like a machine. Completely and utterly inhuman.

Tim takes Damian’s throat in his hands and is suddenly crushing it, out of nowhere he practically picks him up in a two-handed chokehold before slamming Damian down on the floor. Damian’s body bounces against the training mat but his head smacks down hard, and his hands jump to Tim’s, attacking his forearms. Tim, who is kneeling over him, who has suddenly taken Damian’s entire existence in his constricting hands. He can feel Damian’s stupid, crass, offensive windpipe under his thumbs. He’s gonna brand Damian with his thumbprints...

Clawing, digging of nails. Writhing. His eyes are wild. Frantic. Scared. There’s blood dripping from Tim’s nose down onto Damian’s paling cheeks, in slow pats. Mouth opening and closing. He’s almost screaming silently-

Tim, stop, you’re gonna kill him- Tim’s hands retract just as quickly as he’s reached out, and the breath Damian takes, it’s loud and desperate and deep and staggered and strained. Sounds traumatic, even.

He doesn’t think about it, just like he hadn’t a thought before it had started. Instead of breaking down, looking at his hands in shock like what have I done, instead of letting the ice chilling his spine freeze him over entirely, Tim takes slow breaths and sits back like exhaustion is the only thing plaguing him.

And then, when Damian is slightly coherent again, Tim warns in a low, sedated tone, ‘The next time you speak to me, you will choose your words very... very... carefully, I do not wanna hear another threat come out of your shit-talking mouth, ever again.’

Damian’s gasping is still haggard, but he nods and scrambles back hurriedly as Tim picks himself up from the floor. He doesn’t even have the energy to edit the cave footage. Let them see what I’m really capable of. Tim can take a little heat - that, that’s always been true of him. Though, Damian might wipe it all himself, out of some twisted sense of ego or shame, or maybe even some sick type of respect. Maybe for the sake of his pride. Embarrassment. Tim doesn’t care anymore - if he has to demand the kid’s respect through fear, if I have to channel a bit of Ra’s al Ghul to make Damian submit, he’ll do it. Tim does not care about protecting Damian, for he can protect himself when he needs to. Bruce or Dick should have taught him to heel a long time ago.

Damian’ll be wearing turtlenecks for a while, Tim suspects.

Let it be someone else’s problem.

Chapter Text

‘Some days you just can’t get rid of a bomb, am I right?’

There are nervous, awkward, fake business chuckles all around the table, even one enthusiastic thigh-slap as Bruce makes his awkward, mildly inappropriate, billionaire-playboy jokes. Tim snorts, because really, Bruce? But he allows Bruce to continue with his discussion with the board members of his company, Tim’s company. Wayne Enterprises is almost as much his baby as it was Thomas Wayne’s, or maybe his father’s before him. Bruce never mentions his grandparents, actually...

Bruce is talking about Batman, funnily enough. Batman and the Red Hood of all people had been spotted trying to resolve a crisis on the edge of the Burnley District - yes, very close to home... Jason just hadn’t been able to resist making a presence. It had all gone to shit though. And the two of them hadn’t been able to do much aside from pissing each other off and arguing over salvaged evidence.

Tim had happened to overhear them on the comms, and had watched it all go down from a safe distance; there may have been popcorn, and there had been an explosion for a grand finale. In any case, Batman and the Red Hood were still on uneasy terms, so it stands to reason that they still weren’t at the stage where they could team up with the result of a successful outcome.

Baby steps.

Bruce is doing a great job of pretending like the whole issue doesn’t bother him, besides the fact that it wasn’t too far from his mansion. He sounds concerned and well-meaning, but with enough of a hint of out-of-touch and self-centred and condescending that no one would ever suspect that he is anything other than what he wants them to think he is. Frankly, Tim suspected that part of Bruce is a little bit like that in truth, because he was raised with money, it’s not uncommon in socialites and celebrities, and even I can be a little like that sometimes. The members of the board listen to his crap, they nod and smile at Bruce when the tune demands it of them, but Tim can see the boredom and simmering irritation in their body language and in that one guy’s facial tick. Everyone is playing their part, feeling exactly what they should be feeling, whether they realise they’re being played or not. Either way, everyone in this room must think they are so fucking smart

Tim finds the whole thing annoying - he’s lost half an hour of his scheduled day for this bullshit, and his schedule is important.

The meeting begins again, more properly, as if Bruce hadn’t burst in just a few minutes late (‘fashionably’), and Bruce is already goofing off. Halfway through the first item on their agenda, he pulls out his phone and begins texting - but of course, he isn’t on silent and so every character comes with a tt-tt-tt-tt as he fires them off, typing at fucking light speed. Tim can barely make out the name of the contact, but he’s eighty per cent sure it’s actually just Alfred, or a burner cell. Maybe he’s making preparations for a case, or a new research project, I’ll have to hunt down Mr. Fox at some point, see if he’ll tell me what’s cooking. Tim’s seen him use these opportunities to have genuine conversations with Selina Kyle during the day, but there’s no way I’m digging into that, not again.

At least, Bruce’s attendance brings a little freshness to the event; everyone is working a little harder, is acting that bit more enthusiastic... they may not respect the boss, but he’s still the boss. It doesn’t matter if Tim is still legally the one who has to sign off on anything they decide, because Bruce is a billionaire, he calls the shots whether he’s in his office or on vacation, on a frigging tropical island with a cat burglar in his bed. Though, Tim finds a little consolation in the self-earned respect that most of the board members have for him. He put a lot of effort into the company, takes his job very seriously... without it, how would they possibly fund Batman?

The Head of Marketing, some old dude in a grey pinstripe that Tim might have tried to replace a couple times, who looks like the human equivalent of a rotten apple core, jumps the queue of the agenda and mentions the charity campaign - and just like the deadbeat money-hoarder he is, he questions the effectiveness of the charity department connected to the company as a whole. Tim found himself shaking his head as words continued to fall out of this man’s wine-sipping, cigar-cradling mouth. Tim didn’t know what his problem was; practically every outreach centre, food bank, soup kitchen, and free health clinic throughout the Bowery and the Narrows had ‘Martha Wayne Foundation’ stamped all over them. They... they didn’t need to advertise how good they were any further than stopping anyone else from falsely claiming that the relief is their effort, especially when no one else gives a shit. When Tim came to the company, the WE Charity department looked suspiciously inept. He’d fixed it already.

Another board member, a much younger woman whose interview and promotion Tim remembers, pipes up and brings a related matter to attention - all the billboards that had been paid for, advertising WE-funded housing projects that had been shelved for the meantime. The billboards were still up, and they were creating confusion. How is this not being dealt with within the marketing department, Tim wondered in slight bewilderment. This was a multimillion-dollar company, and yet they are plagued with interdepartmental politics and I thought the point of replacing all the hacks when I got in was to stop this kind of thing from happening. The other end of the table is beginning to dissolve into thickly-veiled sniping and griping - apparently, Tim hasn’t been paying enough attention to his underlings as he should have been. He had expected better.

And with a minute of him being super engrossed in his thoughts, suddenly every face is turned his way and everybody is looking at him expectantly - except for Bruce, who is looking for something under the table like a fucking idiot. How do people put up with this shit, Bruce’s shit?

Tim looks carefully around the table, plants a thoughtful look on his stupid, stupid Tim face, and says neutrally, ‘I’d like to hear what Mr Wayne thinks about this issue.’

Genius. Maybe he’s salvaged it.

The heart palpitations threatening to tear his chest apart abate as all the gazes swing towards Bruce, whose head back pops up again. He looks at Tim, and the look of surprise in his eyes is almost too noticeable for Tim to believe it isn’t more than just that. There’s always a second, a third meaning, a billion ways each signal could go. Tim would’ve gotten tired of reading through Bruce a long time ago, but no one else would be able to pick up the slack. No one else cared as much as he did, and if he stopped then all the secret messages risked getting lost. Everyone else has other things going on; my job is to pick up the slack... Tim Drake; handler of information. He needed to know Bruce better than Bruce knew himself, to stay helpful.

He looks at Bruce and thinks, we’re all so fucking incompetent.

Bruce takes a hit and asks for the entire conversation to be explained over again - Tim can’t be sure that it’s solely for his benefit, but the feeling of failure and frustration creeping along his periphery suggests it is and the idea sticks. It’s like a rough sponge pressing down on his cheeks and pressing harder and harder without letting up, it’s... even success feels like failure.

It doesn’t make sense, and Tim knows it doesn’t, but a part of him still believes that if he was worthy he shouldn’t have to strive to succeed, so having to do so feels inherently like failing. It’s a struggle, and... It sounds like something Damian would taunt him with, which is ridiculous because Tim has internalised the ‘lesson’ deeply. What’s worse is, I know what’s wrong with me and I can’t do a thing about it. He never can.

Some of the board members exchange information, Bruce speaks, says something about the acquisition of an insurance firm and a media conglomerate and some other such business, and Tim flakes out with a bland, empty, ‘I agree...!’

Afterwards, agreements are made and paper trails are coursed - he will have a lot of signing to do by the afternoon, unless Bruce really wants to spend the day at WE. Tim will probably be late for dinner, he’s determined to leave nothing unfinished by tonight - and Jason will not be happy, especially when Tim lies and says it wasn’t his choice. He’ll see through the lie - Tim has seemingly lost the ability to lie to Jason, apparently, because suddenly the bigger man is reading him like this week’s edition of Detection Digest (Tim’s making that up, of course, Jason doesn’t believe in subscriptions) and calls him out on every little thing. Maybe Tim has lost the will to bend the truth. Now... now that Jason knows about his worst secret, everything else feels less bad. The will to disguise everything is more of a reflex than a conscious choice.

People are getting up from their seats now. Tim stands, suddenly feeling the absence of smooth stiff squeaky leather underneath him, where he’d been sat for so long that he’d lost some of the feeling in his thighs. His body is trained for so many things, but sitting in uncomfortable chairs made purely to look business class wasn’t one of them. Bruce thanks everyone as they go, and Tim makes to leave quietly when Bruce puts a hand on his shoulder. ‘Timothy? Let’s go grab a bite to eat, all this business is making me hungry-‘

‘I’m sorry, Bruce, but I really shouldn’t. I’ve got tons of work to do-‘

‘It’s non-optional, or I’ll fire you.’ He says, winking, and Tim has no choice but to comply, because there are still board-members within earshot and Bruce is already walking him out, leading Tim with an arm around him so he can’t even slip away. It’s not fair, and Tim feels like a child, he feels false with every polite smile in the hallway as Bruce takes him to the private elevator that’ll take them to Bruce’s private garage. They reach the silver doors gilded with a giant ‘W’ that slide open smooth as sheer, and when they step inside Bruce presses for the top floor, to his office - not the basement. Tim’s never actually been inside Bruce’s office, not even when he did that small stint as Bruce’s personal assistant - he’d been set up a floor below, with a phone to man, one more endeavour to add to the list of pointless things I’ve been involved in.

When the doors close, Bruce moves out of Tim’s personal space, and shrugs his shoulders. ‘I’d say that went well.’

Tim sighs, and says grimly, ‘So, what’s happened? Is everybody ok-?’

‘What do you mean? Why does something have to have happened for me to come and see my own company? To see how you’re-?’

‘Bruce, we both know you’d rather be at home doing the other work linked to what happened the other night,’ dismisses Tim, being vague because we are still at the office, ‘There’s nothing for you to do here.’

Bruce’s act finally seems to be wearing off, because he stands straight and stiff and says calmingly, ‘I disagree. And, everybody’s fine. As far as I know.’

The elevator makes it, and opens, and Tim steps out after Bruce, letting him lead them to his office. Tim’s own office is closer to the work floors; it’s actually in the set of suites that used to be part of the Research & Development department, but Tim had that moved to its own building down the block once he’d been around long enough for everyone to trust him. A couple of months, and everything had gone his way.

Bruce’s office, when they finally get through the frosted glass doors, is more of a penthouse suite than a workspace. There is an entire wall of glass, gigantic window panels that stretch from floor to ceiling, and the sunlight that shines through hits the desk like a prism so there’s light bouncing all over the place. Thankfully, they’re so high up that there’s little risk of a security breach, but Tim also knows that an average body would fall for minutes if it fell from here, they’re that high. Bruce is so paranoid - rightly so, but still - that there isn’t even a helipad on the roof. So, the whole place is office. It’s a bit like a hotel room - there is a lounge area, fitted with fine leather sofas and a low glass coffee table, and a fully-functional bar. Gigantic computer screen, gigantic television, his private meeting room.

Tim’s already making plans to break in someday and have Jason fuck him against these windows, because when else would anyone ever get the chance to do that?

The only thing that doesn’t make Bruce look like a major playboy is the massive oil portrait of his parents, which hangs near the doors. It’s not exactly the same as the one in the sitting room of Wayne Manor, but the air of it is alike. It’s the reminder of what they’re all there for. What they’re there to do. Tim pays his respects mentally as he walks past, and asks Bruce, ‘So, what have you got in mind?’ What are you interfering in? Why don’t you trust me to handle this shit-show you created?

Bruce walks past the lounge, and steps into the meeting room, and motions for Tim to join him.

When Tim steps inside, he almost balks. There is a lavish spread of Asian cuisine - Tim recognises some of it as Thai, some of it is Vietnamese, and there’s a little Japanese too. There is a stack of flat white plates by the side even though it appears as though only Tim and Bruce will be eating. Everything looks and smells good, good enough that Tim actually feels hungry for it all, over a protein bar and an espresso. ‘Bruce...’

‘I wasn’t kidding when I said I was hungry. I haven’t eaten pho in forever.’ Says Bruce, who’s already thrown his suit jacket over one of the chairs and undone his tie. His top button is next, and he rolls his sleeves up a bit even though he’s wearing an expensive shirt that deserves better, and he begins walking around the table to make himself comfortable.

Tim isn’t like that. He wouldn’t feel comfortable unless he looked one hundred per cent presentable in his workplace, even sequestered in Bruce’s privacy. Bruce can afford to slack where he cannot. Tim’s tie remains perfect. Tim’s jacket stays on his body where it belongs. Where Bruce shoves a napkin down the front of his shirt, undoing extra buttons to do so, Tim folds it careful on his lap. Tim’s holding on to his control over himself, because it feels like everything else is slipping out of my grasp. Tim waits for a second as Bruce begins to load his plate, before lifting chopsticks to do the same.

His mouth is full of fried rice when Bruce says, ‘I noticed you tried to access my report from the other night, the summary of my work with Jason-‘

Tim doesn’t deny it, because he had done that, he was going to read it to laugh through, but his phone had run out of battery before the download could finish. He didn’t know Bruce would notice so quickly though. ‘Work? I think you two do everything but work.’

Bruce, to his credit, doesn’t deny that, and says, ‘Yes, I... it’s mostly my fault. I shouldn’t’ve dismissed him so quickly.’

Bruce admitting to a fault? Tim opens his mouth to speak but Bruce sighs, and continues, ‘But the only tools he brought were a revolver and a crowbar slung over his shoulder - not even a grapple, or- or smoke grenades! What was I... I don’t know what I was supposed to think.’

Jason had taken a Smith & Wesson model 629 classic (8 3/8 inch barrel) .44 Magnum. Bruce would never be able to trace it, though he most probably has already tried. Tim bought it under an alias, and sanded off the serial number himself. Lifted unmarked ammunition from one of Penguin’s warehouses. It had been a spontaneous gift, Jason had asked if Tim was his sugar daddy, Tim had joked, yes, but no one knows about the second one I keep hidden away in my old school backpack.

Unlike Bruce, Tim respects the efficiency of guns. He’s been on dates with Jason to shooting ranges, he’s not a stranger to a handgun by any means. There have been phases in the past few years where he’s carried one in his briefcase, he’s that comfortable around them. There’s something almost admirable about the quick dispatch, the mechanics and engineering, the simplicity... and Tim understands why Jason likes them so much. They boil down to draw, aim, fire, and move on until all you’re left with are consequences.

And doesn’t Tim know how to prepare for all of those?

Before Bruce can add to the spillage of information, because I really don’t feel like I’m the best person to be having this conversation with, Tim says shortly, ‘You did what he wanted. It’s stressful because... he’s punishing you, Bruce. It’s... he’s working on forgiving you by getting it out of his system. I think you have to just let him. Eventually he’ll run out of steam but until he does you’re just gonna have to put up with it.’

Bruce tenses up, out of fear, out of rejection, out of frustration, out of sadness. But, most importantly, he agrees, because he nods and puts food in his mouth. Maybe he’ll say no more on the issue. That would be really good.

But Tim rarely gets what he wants, does he?

‘So... how is he treating you?’

Tim’s toes begin scratching at the soles of his shoes because no, he cannot react to that loaded question, not if Jay and I are staying a secret from the big bad Bat. Jason didn’t trust Bruce to understand them, and maybe... Tim didn’t want to agree with him, but, Bruce needs Tim in as focused a condition as he can have him. So maybe the question makes sense; Bruce has a weak spot for Jason, and he wants to know how many other people in his circle are similarly affected. Jason has almost killed Tim a couple times, yes... this is Bruce being sensible. Tim has to satisfy Bruce’s insecurity and comply with Jason to preserve their own.

‘Me?’ Tim says, feigning a hint of shock, distant curiosity, a little bit of are you trying to provoke me, ‘Jason doesn’t treat me any type of way. But, I mean... he’s ok to work with. Sometimes. When he’s not aiming a gun at me he’s pretty quiet, actually. He’s good with kids. I bet he’s a giant teddy bear when he’s not in his feelings.’

‘Right, I see.’ Bruce is agreeing, but he’s shaking his head. ‘I just... Like Alfred would say, Jason does my head in,’ Alfred would never say that about Jay, ‘It’s like a part of me shuts down whenever he’s around.  I’m still trying to work out if it’s the rational part of me, or the good part of me, or what...’

I can’t listen to this. It’s bad enough hearing his biggest idol tear his own character apart over mistakes that had been made a lifetime ago, but it’s the realisation that Bruce isn’t his hero. Bruce isn’t; Batman is. Batman and Robin were the ones he chased at night with his camera. Batman was the one he wanted to save, when he joined the cause. It was all twisted and melded before in his head, when he was still an innocent child, when I didn’t really understand anything even when I was convinced I did.

‘... and I don’t think Jason will come home even if-’

Tim is barely listening. It’s a bit sickening to know that he prefers Batman over the man under all the armour and detached judiciary. Batman rarely makes mistakes, rarely picks the wrong side, is ethical. All of the problems start with the emotionally-inept, business-minded, traumatised son of Gotham. It’s wrong, and it makes Tim feel guilty for thinking it, but I can’t idolise someone who makes so many mistakes.

But the dichotomy of himself and Bruce is awkward; Tim doesn’t allow his emotions to interfere with his choices, usually. He can hold that over Bruce, until he stops feeling and the stress of nothing drives him to cut his own flesh to maintain his control over his feelings. It’s not a healthy way to deal with it, Jason tells him so vehemently, but it worked for him. Bruce doesn’t have any outlet, he doesn’t let himself, and so he bends where Tim doesn’t. I don’t bend... I snap.

Tim takes a moment to be seen eating, because Bruce would notice if he didn’t, and then follows up with, ‘Did he try to attack you? That night?’ It’s a safe, ‘intuitive’ question for him to ask, to show that he’s been listening.

Tim already knows the answer, though. Bruce couldn’t know that Tim had been watching it all live, he would probably never know. Bruce answers, ‘No, not exactly. He showed up - I hadn’t anticipated that, so there was immediate fallout - and then I brokered a quick truce while we dealt with the immediate problem. Can you believe Jason tried to throw the bomb out of a high-window? I had to order him to drop it, because there were too many buses and trucks outside for us to prioritise the empty warehouse, and he starts arguing with me. We- we got so caught up in ourselves that we ran down the timer. There was a ticking bomb in my son’s hands and all we did was shout at each other.’

And Tim can’t help it - it’s so absurd that he starts laughing through his gritted teeth, he’s trying to hold it in but it’s funnier hearing about it from Bruce than watching it through heat vision for himself. Bruce is looking at him now, with genuine confusion, and his face is already melting into Batman-grade blank stoicism as Tim recovers. ‘I’m sorry, I just- do you know how horrible that is? I just- it’s just so ridiculous! Even when there’s a bomb in the room you two can’t keep it together for a few minutes, I-’ 

You’ve dealt out so much emotional pain, Bruce, but you’re just as stunted as we’ve become.

Bruce grouses, as if his respect for Tim is dropping, as if it was ever that high in the first place, ‘I don’t think it’s very funny, Timothy.’

‘You brought it up. If you can’t handle what I have to say, don’t bring it up with me.’

Now Bruce’s attention is ripped away from everything else he’s probably thinking about. ‘Tim, do you have something you want to say to me?’

Tim takes a sip of cool water, and says with a leaked degree of scathing he can’t seem to control, ‘No.

‘Be honest.’

‘I have nothing to say to you, Bruce.’ Tim says quietly, and the words feel like gun-smoke in his mouth. They don’t really have any sort of relationship, do they? Not beyond what they represent, here in their suits, and at night when they’re out in their other fucking suits; employer and employee, commander and follower. Owner, and tool. Tim can’t help but feel... cheated, running behind after a hero that doesn’t really exist.

‘Tim, you can speak to me openly, it’s part of your job to tell me when you don’t like something-’

And that’s the wrong thing to say to me, Bruce. No one has to tell him what his job is, ever.

The decision that follows is one of the easiest he’s ever made. ‘I’m going off, this afternoon. You’ll see I have weeks of holidays saved, I’m cashing them in right now.’

‘Tim, you can’t, don’t, you’re overreacting, I just wanted you to talk to me-’

‘I’m the acting CEO of this company! I can do what I want. And... I need to get out of here.’ Tim says, and when the words fall off his tongue they feel truer than anything else he’s said today.

Bruce is stunned, almost... definitely caught off-guard, which makes everything that little bit worse. ‘What did I do, Tim? You’re stonewalling me, and I only asked you to be plain with me-’

No, Bruce! I am not doing this with you. N-Not so you can force me to perjure myself or-’

‘That’s not what this is, at all, Tim-’

Bruce thinks he’s misunderstood, but if anything, I understand a lot more now. Tim shoves his chair back, and is already stepping out the door before Bruce can make it around the table. He slams it shut behind him and sprints out to the elevator, doesn’t have time to appreciate the afternoon skyline, and then he’s finally spamming the doors-closed button like it’s his life on the line. He texts for his car to be brought out front immediately, because he hit Ground instead of Basement/Executive Car Park by mistake. Tim doesn’t make mistakes, not until Bruce is breathing down my frigging neck-

His fingers type wildly as he steps out the elevator, and he’s not even looking at where he’s walking as he makes his excuses, dishes out some orders, sends off emails cancelling everything, wiping his entire schedule. He has an amassed three weeks of vacation time banked, and he takes two of them effective immediately. The board members will certainly be very confused, having spoken with him barely an hour ago, but Tim doesn’t care what they think of him, or how Bruce explains it to them. Not now that he’s thrown all his responsibility away- oh fuck am I gonna regret this... but- but I can’t turn back now...

He walks out of the building, where the sky is becoming a grey-pink-orange colour and his car is sitting by the curb, guarded by a valet and a driver. Tim doesn’t care. He strides up to them, demands, ‘Keys.’, and slips into the front seat underneath a dark-silver butterfly door.

‘Tim, wait!

Bruce is after him still, bursting out the front door, rushing down the great stone steps of WE, gracing the street with his fucking presence, but Tim doesn’t care. Car-door closed, he leans forward and hits the ignition button, and the car smoothly whirrs into life. He’s hammering down on the clutch, lifting and jagging the gas-pedal, and pacing away before Bruce can even make it any further and before they know it, they’re both out of each other’s sight. Looks like someone’s gonna be early to dinner tonight, for a change.

I’d rather run than face a truth like that again.

Chapter Text

  1. Master Of None - Beach House
  2. Snap Out Of It - Arctic Monkeys
  3. We Might As Well Be Strangers - Keane
  4. We Appreciate Power - Grimes
  5. Shook Ones Part II - Mobb Deep
  6. Tension - Fergie
  7. Liar - Camilla Cabello
  8. Sacrifices - Drake Feat. 2 Chainz & Young Thug
  9. Never Be Like You - Flume Feat. Kai
  10. Heartless - The Weeknd
  11. ATM - J. Cole
  12. Redrum - Skepta
  13. My Love - Justin Timberlake Feat. T.I.
  14. Numb Numb Juice - ScHoolboy Q
  15. Say It Right - Nelly Furtado
  16. 1999 Wildfire - BROCKHAMPTON
  17. Feel Good Inc - Gorrilaz Feat. De La Soul
  18. 95 Til Infinity - Joey Bada$$
  19. Endorphins - Sub Focus Feat. Alex Clare
  20. Motorcycle Patches - Huncho Jack
  21. Queen Bitch - Lil’ Kim
  22. Perfecto - Mac Miller
  23. Nothing Breaks Like A Heart - Mark Ronson Feat. Miley Cyrus
  24. Lonely Hunter - Foals
  25. LOYALTY. - Kendrick Lamar Feat. Rihanna
  26. Put That On My Set - A$AP Rocky & Skepta
  27. In My Place - Coldplay
  28. Partner In Crime - Ocean Alley
  29. You - Shaznay Lewis
  30. Try Again - Keane
  31. The Blackest Day - Lana Del Rey
  32. Heaven Or Las Vegas - The Weeknd
  33. Strapped - A$AP Twelvyy
  34. No Complaints - MetroBoomin Feat. Offset & Drake
  35. I Did Something Bad - Taylor Swift
  36. Speed - Kali Uchis
  37. Tap Out - Jay Rock Feat. Jeremih 
  38. Psilocybin - Jhené Aiko Feat. Dr Chill
  39. CHAMPAGNE ROSÉ - Quavo Feat. Madonna & Cardi B
  40. Middle of Nowhere - Tinashe

Chapter Text

‘Can I get a scotch, neat...’

Alvin runs a hand through his hair, and sighs. It used to be longer than this, but he had suddenly hated looking at it, hated how it looked it in the mirror, and so he had rushed to get it trimmed. He only just got it cut that morning, so even though he’s washed it through a couple times and neatened it up with a little bit of wax, there hasn’t been enough time to let the haircut marinate and it just feels new and uncomfortable.

The bartender misunderstands his discomfort for nervousness, and says intrusively, ‘You got I.D.?’

Alvin hands his driving license over, had already had it in his fingers to fiddle with, because he’s used to this. He knows how he looks. In his matte-electrum tan bomber jacket, with his buzzed blond hair (it’s whiteish because of all his stress, he jokes) and black studs in his ears that match his thick square glasses. He looks like some punk-hipster adolescent, like he’s from a boy-band or something. But, he’s exactly twenty-one, and his old man had been sneaking him the odd beer since he was about twelve, maybe thirteen. So, he calms down and adds to his order, ‘Make it a triple, please.’

The bartender hands him his card back, and Alvin slides it back into his wallet, which he keeps in his inner breast pocket. It’s the hardest place to get into, for petty thieves. Then again, lacking convenience isn’t a deal breaker in Gotham, not for those who have turned to crime. Everyone has a reason... some of them can even be noble, if not just a little misguided. Keeping his belongings tucked away wouldn’t stop someone from pulling a gun on him in an alleyway, in any case.

His trouser-pockets dig uncomfortably when his work-phone vibrates on top of his personal mobile. All he wants is to dig it out and throw it away, but he can’t. But, he can dismiss it for a little while longer, work will have to wait.

While the bartender potters about behind the counter, handling a bottle of whisky that looks almost untouched, vintage, dusty, Alvin takes discreet glances at the rest of the clientele. The place is dark, dimly lit, but Alvin makes out tables of people. Clinking of glasses and slapping of dominoes in the corner, there’s room for a pool table but Gotham’s too violent for the owner to trust her people with cues. There’s faint music playing - Alvin can hear a piano smoothly riffing above everybody’s heads, the other guy sitting at the bar is gently tapping his feet on the footrest of his stool, like he doesn’t even know he’s doing it. There are plenty of people, roughish and suspect and calm and seemingly decent and humble all at once, but Alvin is alone and the sight of crowds puts him on edge a little bit.

The bartender sets a coaster down in front of Alvin and pours out three fingers of dark gold for him to judge. Alvin doesn’t, he just watches the glass fill up with his tired eyes, because this is the most thrilling thing I’ve done all day. He runs his hands through his hair again-

‘Quit that, you’re gonna mess up your style.’

Alvin’s movements falter, a little bit of I’m used to listening to others, a little shock at the audacity of a stranger. He twists and says briskly, ‘Ex-Excuse me?’

The man who’d been tapping his feet swivels a little towards him, and says easily, ‘Sorry, I just... you look lost. You... alright?’

The first thing that strikes Alvin about the man is that he’s bigger than him, broad in the shoulders and in the chest. Not in an unsightly way, not even in that peak-human-condition way that the Superman is. He’s got a red and blue plaid shirt on, and Alvin can tell how much the guy likes it, the way it stretches around his arms like he’s grown into it, he’s definitely had it for a while. There are even missing threads where a square pocket over his heart used to be.

Alvin doesn’t mean to become interested, he has enough things of his own to think about, so he says stiffly, ‘I’m fine.’

The man, annoyingly, kisses his teeth behind his beer-dried lips. ‘I hate when folk say that.’

Who is this guy? ‘When they say, what?’

‘I’m fine never means you’re fine. I mean, actually, ignore me...’

‘No, please, tell me.’ Alvin says, turning. On second thought... maybe letting himself get sucked into conversation will help him relax - he did this to himself, after all. It’ll keep him occupied at least. His phone buzzes again, and he ignores it.

The man says, scratching his stubbly beard, ‘I don’t know, you- you seem like you have something to get off your chest is all. Know what I mean?’

Saying yes would be admitting it, Alvin thinks. His eyes flick towards the bartender, who is tactfully avoiding the exchange entirely. Sighing, Alvin says, ‘Maybe.’

The guy in plaid picks up his beer by the neck of the bottle and takes a sip. As Alvin takes a dainty taste of his own drink, the guy says, ‘You don’t seem like the type to wallow in a bar.’

‘Who says I’m wallowing.’

‘Alright. Moping. You’re moping. And the nervous ticks were gettin’ annoying.’

Alvin takes a proper drink from his glass - the bartender has given him one of those posh-looking crystal tumblers, one of the kinds that look like they’re made of diamond. More of his face goes into it than he’d thought as he pulls it to his lips, so he can’t spy on the man to see what he thinks of him. Not that he’s shy in telling me... ‘Yeah, ok. I’m... I just have a lot going on right now. Lot of baggage. I’m experimenting with coping mechanisms, actually.’

The guy nods like that’s good news, like it’s something respectable. Then, ‘So… what’s with the ring? You look a little young to be married already.’

Alvin isn’t married. But it’s true that he wears a plain gold band on his left ring finger. Usually it keeps people away, it makes him seem older, it protects him behind safe presumptions. This guy didn’t get it though, and maybe that says more about what kind of a guy he is, that he has yet to judge Alvin on his appearance alone.

But Alvin isn’t in the mood quite yet. ‘Sorry, mister, but I don’t think it’s a conversation for polite company.’

‘Why, your girl upset with ya, ‘s that it?’

Alvin bristles, because he thought he looked pretty obviously gay, and he’s annoyed that it hasn’t gotten across, until he realises that he’s been staring down at the shiny dark-varnished wooden surface of the bar for too long. And this guy reads him like a fucking book. ‘Oh, c’mon pal, it’s the twenty-first century. A little boy-on-boy action ain’t hurting nobody.’

Maybe he judged too quickly. Alvin looks back up at him, and for fucks sake he blushes, and begins to say, ‘It’s stupid...-’

‘It’s not stupid. And I can tell just by how uncomfortable it’s making you to talk about it, that you’ve had a rough time of it too. For the record, it’s wrong that you got the short end of the stick for something you can’t control.’

Alvin just nods at the perceptiveness, and takes a sip of his whiskey, and settles the glass between his hands. Concentrating on the swirl of the golden liquid, he says absently, ‘My parents died when I was young... This ring is kinda all I have left of them. So yeah, I wear it.’

‘I’m sorry to hear that.’ He says gently, kindly.

‘It’s ok.’ Alvin says, ‘So long as I have it on, their memory doesn’t... doesn’t bother me so much, it keeps them close.’

‘I don’t really get on with my folks that much myself.’ The stranger contributes, prolonging the conversation at an awkward juncture. 

‘Why not?’

‘I don’t think they very much liked me, is all. I left home a while ago, and I only go back when it’s for something really important.’ 

‘It’s kinda sad, but I get it, is understandable.’

‘I understand you plenty too.’ The man says, cryptic. He catches Alvin’s eye, and winks.

‘You know a thing or two about boy-on-boy action too then, is that right?’ Alvin says, but now he’s smiling a little. It makes sense; he’s kind, he’s taking time out to bother with me, and Alvin has enough of a radar for this kind of thing to have had an inkling. It helps that the man is honest, is making every effort to keep the conversation even, as revealing for Alvin as it is for him. The bar is too cliché a place for this, but it’s happening all the same. Alvin’s a sucker for kindred spirits.

He laughs, though the humour sounds brittle, ‘I ain’t ever chatted to a guy as young as you, though.’

‘Keep going.’ Alvin says, finishing his drink, ‘You might surprise yourself some more.’

The guy smiles, there’s a flash of canine in his smirk, though his head is shaking like he can’t quite believe Alvin. ‘You’re actually so cute, you know that?’

Alvin shares a chuckle with him, because he’s sure the guy doesn’t mean cute in the overt way, and the man pays for a refill of his glass. Where he’s from, people are not so blatant, so clear with their intent nor so openly declarant. This is an interesting change of pace, and Alvin... I want to see where this goes.

It’s been a while since he’s had any fun at all, Alvin realises, watching his glass being topped-up like it’s a frame-by-frame replay of earlier on, like he’s getting to live time over again; he’s been so caught up with his job, and moving on from college, and... with making decisions about a social life I don’t have, that he forgot to take moments out to reconstitute himself. Relaxing isn’t something that Alvin finds easy, but that’s all he can think to call this next drink with the stranger at the bar. It’s tension-relieving.

‘If you couldn’t tell, I don’t get hit on a lot.’ Alvin confides, fingertips ice-cold and yet more warm now.

‘Really? You sure you see what I’m seein’? I’m sure if I wasn’t here right now, someone back there would maybe tried keeping you company already...’

Alvin shakes his head. ‘I’d have turned them down.’

And he says, ‘Why ain’t you turned me down then?’

The first thing that comes to his head, that spills out of his mouth, ‘You remind me of cowboys.’

The stranger, in his plaid, in his worn blue jeans, with his southern accent and his gritty beard, his wavy black hair, looks as if he’s going to refute it for a second before sputtering, joking, ‘What in tarnation?!’

And Alvin laughs, he can’t help it. Laughs so his specs jump on his face, like he hasn’t laughed in a while, it makes his abdomen tight, and his smile is uncontrollable. Alvin’s laugh is cackle-y and snickering, but there’s belly-strength in it now. ‘Yeah, you’re straight out of a western.’

‘So, if I’m a cowboy, what job’ve you got? Actually, what do you do? Student? You’re legal, right?’

‘Yes, I am, and... Dropped out. Now I fix bikes. Buy and sell old cars. Nothing big, but, I get pretty busy.’

The guy nods, impressed if the curl in his lips is anything to go by. Alvin wishes he could see the guy’s eyes behind his dark shades. They chat a bit, drink a bit more, but the entire time the guy keeps his shades on – a mystery…. Very intriguing. Alvin always was a puzzle guy. And Alvin and alcohol usually don’t mix, usually he becomes a mess - he chose a bar to spend his evening specifically to fuck with himself - but, for once, he feels like a heavyweight. He waves his hand at the bar tender, a little obnoxiously, definitely unnecessarily, and says to his company, ‘What’s your favourite drink?

The reply is, ‘Whatever you like.’

Alvin replies, ‘Oh come on, be brave-’

‘It’s not about that. I just don’t make a habit of getting drinks off my dates... ‘S usually my job.’

Alvin carefully avoids bringing attention to the use of that word, and says, ‘I’m not a princess - can we get two more of his beers?’

The bartender looks for a second like he wants to roll his eyes, or maybe Alvin’s imagining it. But, he pulls two bottles from under the counter - there must be a fridge or something down there that isn’t directly visible - and pops the caps off for them. And despite what he says, foot-tapping man accepts it, downing what’s left in his other bottle before replacing it with the fresh one. And, he says, ‘You like taking charge, is it?’

That’s true. ‘Yeah... up to a point.’ Also true.

He’s being coy all of a sudden, all on purpose. The man called this a date, so Alvin is going to press at him a bit, test the waters... maybe, he’ll get a bite.

The guy reads him accurately again, comprehension on point, he says, ‘Ah, you’re one o’ them types.’

‘What d’you mean by that.’

‘All talk,’ He explains, ‘Big teasing, lots of story-telling and full o’ ideas until you’re actually over the threshold. I bet you’d only end up doing everything I tell you to do.’

Alvin... he’s not not one of those types. Even though his new friend doesn’t seem that enthused by it, that’s part of the kink, right? You... you find someone to hate you the way you think you’re hated, so it all feels real. It gives you control, in a contradictory sort of way. It’s poetic, almost. This guy... he’s a piece of straw in the mouth away from being a fetish.

Alvin tries to find his companion’s eyes through tinted glass, fingering the side of his tumbler as if he could write him secret messages in condensation. ‘You know, I never got your name...’

His voice is challenging. ‘You really want to know me?’

There’s no hesitation. ‘Yeah.’

‘Stand up.’

They both get up, and the guy drops a couple bills on the counter - way more than necessary, but Alvin lets it go. Something else is on the menu now.

He takes his hand, leads him out of the bar, out into the street, and they walk a bit. Alvin’s place isn’t that far, but that’s not where they’re going. The man in plaid is leading him quickly and Alvin has to take more steps than him just to keep up. Dragging Alvin along, the man turns in a narrow alleyway that Alvin wouldn’t have ever thought to go down and leads him in. And when they’re far enough that the main block is distant, he says, ‘Turn around.’

Alvin does, places his hands on the brick wall like he’s about to get frisked by the authorities.

And the man rips his trousers down, traps him in place by the material bunched around his ankles, looking his feet together. There’s no soft jazz here. Less concern, this is straight-up synergy. It hadn't even occurred to him how fucking hard he was, how turned on he'd become, not until his trousers had forced their way over his crotch, until his hot cowboy was touching his very skin. This is happening so fast, holy shit-

And then he’s pressing forward, kissing Alvin’s neck and fucking dry-humping my bare ass in open space like they’re in the privacy of a bedroom. His hands run over Alvin’s open thighs, the soft hair barely anyone gets to touch, presses into his ass and his hips, and when he quickly prepares him, Alvin whimpers and pants and fuck-

Shh, baby bird, you’re doing fine.’ And Tim’s eyes widen because he can’t stay in character either. Not even long enough for Jason to get inside him all the way, he’s edging in and all Tim can do is shake and gasp, all Jason can do is pant into Tim’s ears-

His ankle is vibrating like mad, and it cuts him out of the moment like an axe through firewood.

His phone is vibrating like it’s ready to explode, because he’s getting a phone call instead of a slew of aggravating texts. He- he can’t ignore- but Jason-

I’m done with this. He gently shoves Jason back and leans down, fishes out the offensive device and answers and barks, ‘What the hell, Dick? I’m busy...’

He listens, struggling to concentrate with the feeling of Jason running down his leg, he’s sure his pants are getting wetter with every second. But... the moment, the whole night is ruined before it can really start.

I just can’t catch a break.

 


 

‘I hate him.’

Jason is still wiping himself, tucking himself back into his briefs where Tim has already covered himself back up, having quickly hiked up his trousers and called it a night – Tim is always so easy, so ready to continue, he doesn’t care about what state he’s in. Jason’s always been a bit more careful; self-preservation kept him alive when he was little, and it was the same feeling now that was holding him back from bringing up the psychoanalytic observation of his with Tim for discussion.

Tim would deny, he would deflect, he would digress and the whole conversation would get side-tracked by a distraction, a verbal technicality, any distraction to divert the saccade of attention away from Tim’s problems… it’s lucky I’m so good with my words, Jason thinks sometimes.

But now, Tim seems angry; Tim is rarely ever angry, and even when he does get riled up, it’s always that bit more logical – Tim gets disappointed, he gets frustrated, he gets overworked, he doesn’t get angry – that’s more Jason’s forte. But now… he looks furious. Jason is worked-up too, their whole act took a lot of planning, a lot of fucking dedication, and in spite of his feelings towards his costume and persona, he’d actually been having fun. Jason had let his reservations go for Tim’s sake. He wasn’t going to hold it against Tim, if he wanted the cow-poke thing because it reminded him a bit of Superboy. It probably wasn’t even to do with that, more likely a subconscious thing if at all, and Jason trusts Tim to know what he wants.

Everyone’s a freak, really. Us especially.

Jason didn’t even have a second to give Tim warning, had barely gotten into him before he was finishing and Tim was pushing him away because the interruptions had boiled his blood so.

Jason hates Dick too. ‘What did he want so badly?’

Instead of answering, Tim holds the phone out. ‘Jay, take this please, before I smash it and have to get another new phone, I just can’t do this…’

He takes it, and sees all the unread notifications, collections of small texts that contain no meaningful content whatsoever.

‘Can I shoot him?’

‘Think you already shot enough tonight, Jay…’ Tim says, managing to distractedly make fun of Jason as he paces.

‘What did he say?’

Tim pauses. ‘It’s Poison Ivy, or Scarecrow, or something. Dick can’t work out which one of them he’s stumbled across and a couple of his ongoing cases are getting muddled up. I swear, he’s such an idiot sometimes.’

‘Ivy and Scarecrow? That sounds big. Shouldn’t he be ringing Daddy-?’

‘I don’t trust him. For all I know, I turn up and it turns out to be nothing major at all, or it could just be some ploy to check up on me. He keeps going on about how he wants me to go over his evidence for him, like, oh Tim, double-check it for me, please help me do my reports, do the tox-screen on this compound Tim – like, when am I supposed to sleep between all that?’

‘Forget him.’ Jason says, suggests, ‘Lemme take you home and we can finish this night on a high note. Go out with a bang…?’

Tim sighs. ‘I’m… I’m not, not in the mood now. I’m tired.’

Jason wants to press, but he doesn’t. He can’t demand that Tim tells him everything – he doesn’t need to, when he can see the steam beginning to wear down, the hesitation setting in. And just like he doesn’t want, Tim admits bitterly, ‘And now I might have to go, still.’ Tim says ‘might’, but that means he’s planned it out in his head already. The possibility is that bit more definite.

‘No.’

Jason isn’t having it. Clearly, Dick plain-and-simple doesn’t appreciate Tim at all, and Tim doesn’t have the strength, just isn’t good at saying no to him, so it’s up to me to draw the line. He shoves the offending mobile in his own back-pocket and says, taking Tim’s hands, ‘You’re taking tonight off, like we planned.’

‘Jason, I-’

‘Why do you bend over backwards for that poser? Sometimes, it makes me so mad, Tim. You promised me you were going to take it easy.’

‘Do you think I want to go? The last thing I want to do is fix his mess-‘

‘Then don’t.’ Jason implores, trying not to get agitated, because Tim always does this, always falls for the bullshit-

‘I…’

They stand there, and Jason can only watch with bated breaths, with a dreadful knowing in his body. He can see the gears churning away in Tim’s head, the way he’s taking for ever to decide… the time Tim uses to make his choice is the same time Jason uses preparing himself for the disappointment, deciding what leftovers he’s going to heat for himself once he’s gone home alone, what time he’ll stay up till before he’ll fall asleep, with or without Tim. I took a day off, I’m damn well gonna finish it. Jason is doubly-upset because he knows how angry Tim will be at himself later, but he can’t stop him – Tim is too stubborn, and Jason has fought him too many times to trust his own talent, he refuses to physically restrain him.

I wish I could make all your decisions for you.

Chapter Text

‘Jason? I need your help!’

Tim waits at his desk, kicking his feet and doing everything in his power to remain nonchalant. Non-combatant. He feels like he wants a fight, but he won’t, I won’t let this piece of shit computer get the better of me-

His hard drive needed replacing. Tim has a bad habit of using smaller-storage solid state drives often, but he’s trying to break it, this is the first hard disk drive he’s handled in a long time. His laptop changes fairly often too, but Tim is good with that. He’s good with computers, he can re-programme most devices in under an hour. He has licenses and product keys for virtually everything, almost every useful program known to modern mankind.

So when the drive tray doesn’t budge, not even with his veteran touch, his first thought is confusion. And then... trying something else to no avail... doubt. And when plan c fails... suspicion. No evidence... confusion again.

‘Yeah?’

Jason’s voice is distant, sounds several rooms away - if he heard me, then why doesn’t he just come all the way? Tim last saw him in the bathroom, showering. There had been an offer, to join him, but... Tim declined, had waited for him to finish before using the utilities with privacy.

Tim’s been avoiding letting Jason see him totally naked for a while now. Sure, they still have sex, they still cuddle, Jason still touches him whenever he can, but Tim just... it’s only sometimes, when he remembers or is feeling low or is just buzzing with foreboding, that he just can’t allow it. It isn’t a feeling he can put to words; shame doesn’t quite cut it, he doesn’t want to use that word, but it sounds... oddly appropriate, but aren’t I supposed to know better? 

‘Can you come here please?’ He says, talking to brick and plaster, trying not to sound too driven-up-the-wall.

While he waits, Tim analyses the laptop again. There are only so many times he can look at it before it stirs hate within him - technology is supposed to be his thing. Of course, all the Bats and Robins and Birds or whatever are supposed to be tech-geniuses, but Tim was the prodigy. He was better, quicker, his brain was terabytes of storage waiting to be tapped, and yet-

‘What d’you need?’ Says Jason, finally arriving. He looks dishevelled, not in the hurriedly-dressed way, more like he’s been pulled from something he was doing, like his head is still someplace else, like he was busy. But he asks very easily... like it doesn’t bother him to help Tim.

Tim is suddenly interested in what Jason was up to.

Tim doesn’t mean to sound distracted or just plain old pathetic, but it happens anyway. ‘I... this thing is stuck, and I can’t get it out...’

Jason comes over properly and leans over Tim’s shoulder. Though Tim is sat in his swivelling desk-chair, Jason’s body looms comfortably over him, similarly to how they are when they cuddle. Jason’s chest is one of Tim’s favourite things. Jason hums thoughtfully, and Tim swears he can feel the air pressure in Jason’s chest rising and falling through the chair as he breathes. ‘Looks pretty normal to me,’ He says, assessing, ‘Have you tried wedging it out?’

‘I don’t want to break anything.’

His desk is cluttered in the way he usually makes it; pads of paper, pens resting on top, then the whole ensemble strewn upon books that Jason will close for him if he leaves them open, and then everything he’s using for his current task piled on top. His laptop is the only thing he’d made space on his desk for, and even that had been made by staring at the untidy collection of messy redundancy for a minute before shoving everything back. He’d tipped the file he had prepared for Batman over the edge and hadn’t bothered to pick it up.

Ok, there was also a mug of masala tea resting on a coaster of folded paper to his right, but he needed that. He could close his eyes, and pretend the warm earthenware was full of caffeinated coffee. Tim had suggested the compromise because he didn’t mind drinking tea, and Jason was beginning to worry that he lived off coffee.

He doesn’t know about the caffeine tablets Tim keeps in his wash-bag.

Thinking of his wash-bag, Tim twirls the tiny screwdriver in his hand. He’d surrendered all his sharp items, his pocket knives, his razors, his fucking scissors... but Jason hadn’t been as thorough as Tim had expected - he still had his screwdrivers after all, and even some other tools. Maybe Jason hadn’t seen them put to use like that before, couldn’t conceive of the ideas Tim thinks of, how many times since this hard drive issue began has Tim wanted to drive a screwdriver through something, through someone... No; of course Jason can imagine it. He’s both been tortured, and tortured others. He just trusts me more than he realises.

The power of that is unsettling. There are so many things Tim could do that would ruin them, he could create devastation within moments if he wanted to, because Jason was trusting him not to. What right does Jason have, to trust Tim?

Jason gives the chair a weak shove to the side, and Tim scoots over to give him some room. Jason looks at the drive bay closely, and says, ‘You want it out? From the-‘

‘Yeah, the plastic, there. Usually you lift it, and it just comes up. But for some reason this time it’s like, welded in, I can’t get it to budge...’

Jason gives the plastic tab an experimental tug, and like Tim says, it doesn’t budge. He looks at Tim, and says, ‘You weren’t kidding. You sure it’s not glued down or something?’

‘Yeah, it’s not. I’ve undone all the screws.’

Even that had been a task of its own. At first, he’d confused himself by picking the wrong screwdriver, and then he’d scratched a few of the screws trying to undo them the wrong way... my head is all over the place today. Like Tim himself has a few screws loose... maybe that’s hitting the nail on the head a little, there’s probably a subtler way for Tim to rationalise his frustration.

And, it doesn’t help when Jason shoves his fingers into the laptop, digs underneath the drive tray and tugs at it, flips it out of place with a shattering snap. Tim is immediately convinced that he’s only just gone and broken it, except... it’s all in one piece. He’s managed what Tim could not. It was only supposed to click out of position, but Jason got the job done. It needed a little more force, is all. 

Why couldn’t I have done that? It was so easy...

Jason is smiling to himself as he places the part down on the desk, he’s satisfied, ready to tease Tim, there’s a hint of gloating ready if Tim proves amenable...

Tim wants to stab him. Wants to stab himself. He could take it, it would be- he’d teach himself a lesson, maybe he’d finally learn- something's not-

'Timmy, you good?'

Jason's worrying brings back some of Tim's sense, because what good would it do to worry him? He can’t rationalise telling him what he thinks of his help, even when he asked for the favour. Why did he ask, if he didn’t want it in the first place? Am I a giver-upper, is- is this all I’m capable of-?

'Tim!’ Jason has to raise his voice, his face isn’t even that far away, and it’s another voice ringing in Tim's ears, in his head, that he just doesn’t want.

Jason is kneeling in front of him suddenly. Tim jerks when his chair spins away from the desk, but Jason is telling him to breathe, and to calm down, and all Tim can think is which one do I do first? His palm is hurting, the steel handle of the screwdriver in his hands digging under the pressure of his diamond grip. His knuckles are white and his wrist doesn’t stop shaking until Jason takes it in his hand.

'Tim, do- do you...' He begins, but falters. He doesn’t want to ask, never wanted to be in this position where asking would be necessary, but Tim forced it upon him so it’s understandable when he backtracks, '... Can you let go of this for me?’

Do you want to hurt yourself, Tim? That’s what he really means.

Tim answers the silent question with an empty nod, and a small, silent whimper, because what can he say? He nods, but his fingers have to be pried open. Jason has probably realised his mistake now, has determined that there are more things that need to be confiscated before the cutting amnesty is true.

Jason takes it, finally, says thank you like a fucking adult to a needy, whimpering, tantrum-throwing child, and then he adds, ‘I think you’ve done enough work for one day.’

‘I can’t stop.’ Tim replies, voice trembling.

‘You can do all this stuff later.’ Jason demands, taking his hand. ‘Can we go do something else?’

He thinks I can’t handle it, I- I fucking knew it, he should’ve never found out- Tim fights emptily, ‘Jason...’

Jason is moving to pick him up like he’s nothing, if he doesn’t comply. ‘No, I’m here now. You’re doing something else now. Let’s go...’

This isn’t going to work forever, I just know it won’t...

Chapter Text

  1. Lord Willin’ - Logic
  2. Backyard - Travis Scott
  3. Earned It - Chief Keef
  4. No Frauds - Nicki Minaj Feat. Drake & Lil Wayne
  5. Space Bound - Eminem
  6. Audio Delite At Low Fidelity - The Black Eyes Peas
  7. Summer In November - SiR
  8. The Party & The After Party - The Weeknd
  9. Cyanide - Daniel Caesar
  10. Let Me Love You - Mario
  11. Plan Of Attack - Curren$y, Trademark Da Skydiver & Young Roddy
  12. borderline - Ariana Grande Feat. Missy Elliot
  13. Touch - Shift K3Y
  14. SUMMER - The Carters
  15. Lay It All On Me - Rudimental Feat. Ed Sheeran
  16. One Kiss - Calvin Harris & Dua Lipa
  17. Haunt Me - Sade
  18. Drew Barrymore - SZA
  19. Teenage Dream - Katy Perry
  20. Who’s That Chick? - David Guetta Feat. Rihanna
  21. Fall Away - The Fray
  22. Yours - Alina Baraz
  23. Choppa Won’t Miss - Playboi Carti Feat. Young Thug
  24. Cry For You - September
  25. Dirty Picture - Taio Cruz Feat. Ke$ha
  26. Let’s Groove - Earth, Wind & Fire
  27. Lights On - Katy B Feat. Ms. Dynamite
  28. You Make Me Feel - Kylie Minogue
  29. Soda - Azealia Banks
  30. Check On It - Beyoncé Feat. Bun B & Slim Thug
  31. Butterflies - Michael Jackson
  32. We Belong Together - Mariah Carey
  33. Cry Me A River - Justin Timberlake
  34. Kinda Like It - Black Atlass
  35. Aneurysm - Nirvana
  36. Scared Of The Dark - Steps
  37. No Vest - Pivot Gang
  38. Black Hole Sun - Soundgarden
  39. When The Party’s Over - Billie Eilish
  40. Sugar Honey Ice Tea - Kelis

Chapter Text

‘Don’t you dare request back-up, Bird Boy. We’ve got this.’

Tim’s hand falters, his fingers inches away from his comm. Does Black Canary not realise that they’re super-outmanned? He looks at the approaching gang of burly but otherwise nondescript henchmen and sighs. Suppose I don’t have much of a choice now... He says lamely, ‘Fine... Bird Woman.’

‘Clever.’

Thanks... Tim shakes his head resignedly, and raises his fists because like fuck am I not looking forward to this- Canary rushes forward and jumps into the fray while he lags behind, letting one of the crooks come at him with a chunky fist. Red sidesteps and jabs at the man’s shoulder, and then his side till he falls to his knees. Before he can finish him off, though, another guy comes at him with a lead pipe in his hands.

Tim always found that amusing; what new interesting thing would someone try to knock him out with? Sometimes it’s easier to think of things as games, competitions... makes it all simpler to digest, to compartmentalise. He’s supposed to get a boost when he wins, but I feel like a loser most of the time, don’t I? Half the time, Tim can never quite decide who he’s playing against.

He reverses the lead-pipe guy’s strike, grabbing the thing and yanking it down and out of his grip. Red Robin is fast, and before the man knows it, the lead pipe is clattering on the floor and Tim’s fist has been driven into his gut plenty of times, and he goes down.

They never meant for this to get so messy, hadn’t planned it that way; they were on simple reconnaissance. Now that they’d been spotted, it would be damage control and gathering information. Interviews.

He overhears Canary goading her opponents, ‘Didn’t you ever learn not to hit a lady?’ As if that wasn’t the most backwards things to say... Tim’s a feminist, sure, and he’s fought plenty of women without hesitation. Über-dangerous women. His own mother- let’s not go there just yet. He knows better than anyone that women can be excellent combatants; Cass, Princess Diana, Helena, Selina, to name a few... and Dinah Lance is so fucking capable. He’s read up on how good she is - if she had been better connected, slightly more famous, she might have even been a founding member of the Justice League. She’s one of the few other heroes that Batman will work with when the need strikes - and Batman hates outsiders as much as he loves being one.

Hadn’t she and Bruce almost had a thing once? Maybe it had been just to make certain significant others jealous; it wouldn’t be the first time someone in their line of work had pulled a stunt like that.

Tim is guilty of the rare flirt - if not poorly, but still... it’s actually surprising how many people have fallen for his tricksy romantic antics. Tim and Jason love playing games, and... maybe it was cruel, but their courting was like chess, in that there were pawns.

So Tim doesn’t expect these thugs to hesitate any more than he would, and he wouldn’t. Not because of her sex, anyway. There’s a mental shrug with that thought, because what, it’s true, he couldn’t pander to stereotypes and outdated standards of propriety when there was a job to do, lives to save. If anything, he would be extra courageous because Black Canary was savage. Red Robin didn’t aim for the throat nearly as much as she did, and it was disarming to watch, alarming to witness. It was also so straight-forward; maybe I should fight more like that.

Focusing once again, Red Robin dispatches another couple of thugs and within no time the crowd is getting smaller, and the litter of unconscious men is getting wider. He’s running out of clear room to step onto, and there’s only so many jumps he can land until he’s doing unnecessary harm to the knocked-out goons padding the alley floor.

‘Outta the way, boys!’

There’s a momentary reprieve, when all the low-tier criminals disperse and retreat, and some tougher-looking henchmen huddle forward to fill the gap. Red Robin does a panoramic scan; they’ve got pipes, pen-knives, one has a fucking machete, brass knuckles... they’re meant to look meaner.

Tim wants to roll his eyes, because this is just a warm-up.

Canary seems to agree, because she cartwheels forward and her heeled boot lands in someone’s cheek with a sick sinking sound, like the thud of an anchor on an ocean floor. Tim would have winced if there was time, but he needs to catch up, Canary is making combat choices far faster than him, and he needs to up his game if he’s going to put on a good, fair showing.

While Canary starts up a fire-escape, because one of these guys is a lot harder to take down than they thought, Red Robin picks up the pace. That man, he’d picked her up and thrown her right into one of the alley-walls, and Red Robin was going to need to be fast if he wanted to help her out. One guy, Red Robin grabs his thigh with two hands and gives it a firm inward twist to dislocate his leg (four-to-six our surgery at most, followed by four-to-six weeks of recovery). He screams a little, which makes Canary check back on him as she flies up the metal grating. The others seem to take the hint though and begin to back off. Machete-guy is the first to go. Good fucking riddance.

Some are braver and come at him. He takes a brunt punch to the upper arm but a head-chop is enough to discombobulate the attacker. Twisting legs, dislocating shoulders, and one experimental throat-jab that almost scares him when the guy chokes, for a millisecond he thinks oh fuck I’ve gone too far, but he’s ok and just collapses in wheezes.

The left-overs run away.

Tim hogties the throat-jab guy, and lifts him by the arms down the alley, away from the unconscious pile of criminal bodies, zip-ties him just to be sure, and cuffs him to Canary’s bike- oh fuck I forgot about Dinah!

When Red Robin returns to assist, he sees that he needn’t have worried; Canary has made it all the way to the top of those stairs, and he marvels at the way she stands there like a fucking super-heroine, and how she says menacingly, ‘Enjoy the trip, asshole!’ She kicks the thug who had been chasing her, and he tumbles back down the metal stairs like meat through a broken processor, thunk-thunk-thunk.

Tim watches her follow the man down, rolling him right to the bottom with her heeled toes till he’s near the bottom. She hefts him up by his no-longer-white shirt and throws him away over the balcony, off the final rung, and he lands with a horrible thwump in a dumpster below.

Holy fuck. Canary’s a bad bitch.

Hey, my eyes are up here.’

Canary is watching him as intently as he’s watching her and though he’s been caught, Tim doesn’t blush, and Canary doesn’t even look that annoyed. Instead of apologising, he says curiously, diverts the attention away from his studying of her, ‘How do your stockings never tear, I swear you just got scraped against a brick wall-?’

‘Ballistic grade fibres. I could have a bomb explode in front of me and my legs would probably still be standing when the smoke clears.’ For effect, she poses a leg out and gives Tim a proper look. There’s a teacher in her somewhere. ‘You want a pair?’

She means it as a joke, but Tim isn’t on the same page, and he confesses without thinking, ‘My boyfriend’d probably like that.’

She stands a little straighter, and says, ‘You mean you haven’t been gunning after Oracle this whole time?’

What, Barbara? No offence, but, just... no. ‘Um, no?’ He says, suddenly light on his feet, it’s like his body knows he wants to walk away from this conversation.

‘Sorry, I just, I don’t know you very well. Obviously. But you’ve been doing lots of work with us Birds and-‘

‘Robins are birds too, y’know.’

‘Sure, but, aren’t you a Bat?’

I don’t think I am. Tim isn’t sure. He could be. He might have been, at one point, or maybe he never had been in the first instance. There had been that one time, when he was younger, when Bruce had been the only ever Batman, he’d been Robin, and Batman had patted his shoulder, ruffled his hair, told Robin how useful he was... Maybe I had just imagined it.

His blank, vacant stare is apparently enough of a response for Canary, who just nods and says knowingly, judging, ‘I see...’

Tim feels like he has to defend himself, defend the family, ‘Look, it’s more complicated than you think-‘

‘Is it? I mean, from what I’ve heard, you... didn’t you bring Batman back from the dead or something? Isn’t that a big deal? I’d have thought they’d want you working with them-’

He laughs without humour. ‘You’d think, wouldn’t you... It doesn’t matter. I’m here now, aren’t I?’ But the mission is the mission - I continue whether I’m getting good grades or not.

Canary smiles, plays, ‘As if you don’t appreciate my company.’

‘Gosh, not everything is about you.’ Tim says, but he’s smiling gently too. He appreciates the effort to cheer him up. That is, if that’s what she means to do by pulling away from the topic of how under-appreciated I am...

That is, until she takes a complete one-hundred-and-eighty turn in conversation, until she says coyly, ‘So who’s your boyfriend?’

Does he need to get into this? Part of him is already prepping a lie, letting it sit in his mouth, see if he’s up to it this time... Black Canary isn’t exactly anyone special to him besides being a vigilante-colleague-role-model-type, maybe even a friend... she would be a useful ally, but Tim is tired of finding people useful and/or lacking. Doesn’t want to scale people based on how efficient they are at fulfilling social niceties, how grandiose they are, what ‘crimes’ they’ve committed... Tim doesn’t make the rules, and if he wants people to stop judging him by them, maybe he should stop doing the same to everyone else.

Tim sighs, I wonder if I’ll regret this, and tells her, ‘You know the Red Hood?’

Sceptically raised eyebrows. ‘The guy who killed all the drug-pushers, the rapists and the mobsters, occasional torturer and marksman for hire, almost had a crime syndicate? That guy?’

His assuredness fizzling a little, even though Canary has proved that she herself is a brutal fighter, the way she hadn’t even had to use her superpower, Tim isn’t sure she’ll handle the answer. But, he insists, ‘Him.’

Canary laughs, and says, ‘No, seriously.’

‘Yeah, um, seriously...’

She doesn’t seem to hear him, dismisses the idea as she brushes it off and says, ‘You’re so funny, Red. He’s very lucky, your boy. You seem nice.’

It’s weird that he finds referring to Jason as a boy odd. Weirder still, that he would’ve expected it if she’d called him that. It reminds him that she’s from a different generation, that she’s closer to Bruce than to Dick in age, and that she’s probably seen everything. As if it would diffuse the tension setting in his back, he adopts this new status, Tim banters, ‘You almost sound jealous. I mean, I don’t mind blondes-’

‘Oh please... I have a man, thank you very much, he’s-’

‘Straight-shooter?’

Tim couldn’t help himself, but Canary gives him the darkest look, and Tim steps back, retreats, starts walking away, says, ‘Hey, I know a lot more than is appropriate about a lot of people, so let’s not get into this, it’s nothing personal-’

‘I hope you’re not digging through my trash at least.’

Who does she take me for? ‘Not recently, anyway.’ He says, to mess with her. He knows he’s off any hooks because she wants to smile, because Tim is funny, but she’s trying her best to stay vexed and serious.

‘Whatever... I guess we better get the info. Let’s- oh, how about good old good-cop-bad-cop. I wanna get mean with this punk.’

Red Robin shrugs, nods, gearing back into detective-mode. He’s usually good cop; Dick is cheerful but he gets angry, and we haven’t actually worked together in a long time; Robin is not much of a detective yet, so doesn’t really handle investigative interrogations (unless he’s been running vigilant without adult supervision); Jason, Red Hood, and Batman are just plain scary to those who don’t know them, don’t work with them on a regular basis, so of course Red Robin is the safer, cuter option.

He vaguely remembers one time where he and Commissioner Gordon had been interviewing a suspect, and he’d been trusted with instilling purposeful fear in the heart of the criminal - Tim had settled to do his best with a medium-well-done Batman impression, and... it had been mildly humiliating.

‘Be my guest.’ He tells Canary, following her to the bikes.

When she sees that the man is strung to her motorcycle, she groans. ‘You couldn’t just truss him up to a pipe or something? Or your bike? This was a gift, you know-’

‘No, I couldn’t. And, I’ve seen you drive off cliffs.’ Red Robin says back in rebuttal, though really, he could have been accommodating. He didn’t think that she would mind, but maybe that was something for him to file away. Don’t fuck with the Canary Cycle. She huffs, walking to the ensemble with pointed anger.

Hey. Get up.’

The thug groans when she stomps on his gut, shakes him awake with her foot. He takes shaky breaths, and says weakly, ‘P-Please don’t kill me-’

‘Believe me,’ Red Robin says, trying to be earnest, ‘she will if you don’t start talking right this second.

Oh God,’ He sounds like Tim barely hit him, like all he needs is a glass of water to sort his throat out. Maybe I can afford to hit harder.

‘Where are the chemicals being made!?’ Canary yells, twisting the guy’s ankle. She’s not being loud, but there’s something in her volume that goes right to their brainstems.

‘I- I don’t- oh Christ-’

Red Robin kneels, gets to the guy’s level. ‘We know you know. The only way you’re getting out of this and away from her is by telling us everything.’

The guy looks at Canary again, who is standing over them like a sun about to set them into darkness, still holding the guy’s leg up and threatening to rip it off, and he caves. Who wouldn’t, right?

Canary is brutal in a way that they don’t have to be with Bruce’s training. Intimidation is not as easy as he makes it seem, though, he can intimidate everyone except brutal women who are above the idiocy men pose.

The guy gives them a loose address, which is enough - Tim at least will be able to find some clues there if he goes there quickly. He’s sent the information along and sends Oracle a request for guided police acquisition. They need to grab all these bodies he and Canary have dropped. The quicker GCPD falls on this place, the better. He needs to get on it soon; even if the place has been supposedly abandoned, there will be clues-

‘Hey...’

Tim turns, and Canary steps towards him with slow, careful steps. Nervous, careful. Tim doesn’t get it-

‘Oracle mentioned, when she was briefing me, that you’ve been... having a tough time. Recently. And, I know it’s not really my place to say anything-’

Yeah, it isn’t-

‘-but I’m a good listener. I’ve done that kind of thing before, for other heroes and-’

‘I’m not a hero. I- I mean...’

Tim didn’t mean to say that, because of course he knows how that sounds, especially to people that only know him as a Robin. It sounds terrible, inadequate, self-depreciating, I sound damaged.

But Canary nods, because maybe she understand, and she says, ‘Well, we can talk as friends then.’ And she hands him a little white business card with only a mobile number embossed on it. ‘That’s for one of my burners, if you want to talk let me know and I’ll text you my actual cell, ‘kay?’

Tim just nods, the- the same way victims do when they get told what to do next. The same way orphans do when they’re told where they’re going to live next. It’s trusting, and vulnerable, and he isn’t supposed to show it but Canary is so strong, if anyone could protect me- no, he has Jason for this... No, I shouldn’t need any of this, period

This is nice of her though. It’s been a while since someone outside his well-crafted circle has shown an interest in him as a person and not a co-worker.

‘And the Red Hood thing, I know I can’t really say anything because I don’t know you guys that intimately-’

Canary has a reputation for singing-puns, but that’s music to Tim. Barbara, Bruce and Dick don’t know when to stop digging into a mystery, can’t keep themselves out of something as soon as they give themselves a need to investigate. It’s rare for someone to admit that they see a case they won’t pursue, in their line of work.

And maybe she believes him after all, about the Red Hood. She’s probably going to ask questions someday, but she’s got tact. She’ll be patient and wait till there’s an appropriate time for them to discuss it.

‘- but if things go pear-shaped you can tell me and maybe I’ll be able to help you out.’

Tim suspects he knows what she means, he’s heard it in harsher words from the family, and says, a bit awkwardly, ‘I don’t think that’ll be necessary, but, thank you.’

Jason isn’t going to kill him. Tim might come after Oracle though. I’m gonna be having words with her at least. She doesn’t have the right to judge him, to decide who should take care of him, to decide when he needs help at all ’cause I’m a fucking adult, and this is becoming embarrassing. It’s- it’s not Canary’s fault, though.

Canary unties the snitch from her bike and begins to kick off. ‘Hey, Red Robin, follow me. We’re getting burgers.’

Red Robin runs to his bike, to chase behind her, because he can’t quite figure out how to decline. He should, but he finds himself following anyway. He’s not that hungry, but... there’s a friend to be made here. A relationship where nothing needs to be proved is fucking welcome, to be honest. So, lost though Tim is, he disappears into night traffic behind Dinah with the rumbling of her motorcycle in his ear.

Aren’t Tim and Red Robin supposed to stay separate?

Chapter Text

‘Red! You in-? Oh Christ... Yeah, found him. Yes, I- shut up, I’m not... You can fucking say that to him yourself. I’m not your errand boy.’

Shaking the conversation with Babs off, Jason jumps in to drag Tim from the freezer. And there’s no doubt about it - Tim is freezing. His suit looks stiff and brittle with frost and Jason wants nothing but to rip it off there and then, but we’re fucking vigilantes so we’ll need to move fast. He picks Tim up, has to dig him out from under cardboard boxes and plastic sheeting; he’s light, but there’s all this cold on him and it’s soaking straight thought Red Hood’s jacket, Jason can feel it through his body-armour.

The single hanging bulb swinging over their heads is pissing Jason off so fucking much.

Tim is barely conscious, he looks grey while the blue of his veins is painfully pronounced, but he’s awake, maybe coherent enough that he seems to understand that he’s being saved. His grip on Jason’s jacket is almost non-existent though, and his scrabbling for purchase is only going to hurt his fingers in the long run.

Jason can’t believe Tim was in here for twenty-odd hours. It’s a gift from God that he’s still alive, as far as Jason is concerned. Selina would say Tim’s down a life for this.

‘Red, I’m taking you home ok?’

And the breath he takes is shattering. ‘N-Not the cave. H-H-Home. N-Need you...’

Jason doesn’t understand how it’s possible for Tim to chatter, to make sound at all when Jason’s joints are already feeling uncomfortable from the considerable lack of temperature, but the effort was spent so it must be important to Tim. And... Jason doesn’t think of the cave as home, but the fact Tim has clarified that he agrees is worthy of note. Jason will think on it later.

For now, he steps out into the kitchen area of this abandoned restaurant, and carefully threatens through his communicator, ‘Got ‘im. He’s fine. I’ll call you tomorrow.’

And then, he turns it off entirely. Oracle will just get in the way now. Jason is sure she’ll be tracking them from here, but he is making it very clear to leave them be. At least, I hope she gets it, for her sake-

‘So c-cold...’

‘I know buddy, I’m gonna warm you up right now.’

If there was a heating system in Red Robin’s suit, he’d have turned it on, fuck... why don’t we have this kind of shit? The one Bruce designed is a bit too extensive for their everyday body-armour, so they keep winter suits, but who can anticipate being locked in a walk-in freezer? Tim would probably think he should have, but it’s an impossible situation.

Jason carries Tim to tonight’s car; he almost felt bad for stealing this Buick Riviera, but it has no business being in Gotham anyway. It’s a good car, has a powerful turbocharged V6 engine (ok, maybe Jason had been stalking this car for a while) and tight steering despite being such an old car. Jason can’t believe the schmuck who used to own it left their garage door unlocked. The Riviera isn’t quite a corvette, but it’s gonna do the job. Jason bends his knees so he can open the door with one of his hands while the other holds Tim to his chest like a baby. When the door unlocks, he pushes Tim in and hastily does his seatbelt for him. Tim is too weak, too cold and too out of it to appreciate the leather interior.

He puts the car through its paces, for sure, even if most of the roads are pretty quiet. There’s some skidding and wheel-spinning, and one almost-collision that was not my fault - Jason is actually one of the best drivers in the business, got to drive the Batmobile earliest in his Robin career. He’s only driving this way for Tim.

‘Timmy, talk to me...’

He’s worried, he’s not concentrating, but Tim is approaching shock and needs care. Their whole relationship is Jason trying to pry words out of Tim, words that he doesn’t owe Jason, but this time it’s a physical emergency, and repeating himself doesn’t feel stupid. And, thankfully, Jason hears a shallow breath beside him, and an exhausted, ‘Need...

‘What d’you need, baby? Talk to me.’

‘W-Water.’

And Jason pulls over suddenly, and they both jerk forwards. He rips a water bottle out from the side-pocket of the car and twists it open. He holds it to Tim’s mouth and lets him take a careful sip. Just a small one, Jason’s hands are shaking so some of the water spills over Tim’s cracked lips, runs down his chin. The water is cool but against Tim’s skin it feels heated.

Jason sort of drops the bottle down in Tim’s lap, and starts driving again. There’s no time limit, but Jason is determined to get Tim treated as if there is. He doesn’t mean to rush, but... that’s just how he is. Having said that... I get Tim everything he wants.

When they make it to Jason’s, to their place, he parks in the building garage and has to fireman-carry him up the stairs. They can’t risk the cameras in the elevator, and Tim is in no condition to trundle up the side of a building, or to swing through windows. Their whole day-existence relies on discretion and drawing attention to themselves is the last thing they need; the last thing Jason wants. And, Tim feels both heavy and light, like an anchor in water. He has to be hefted, but Jason can do it so easily. It’s a wonder how Tim manages to pack such a punch, Jason thinks sometimes.

Tim goes quiet two thirds of the way up, but Jason stops and slaps his cheek till he opens his eyes again. ‘Come on Tim, you want coffee? I can make you coffee...’

It’s a lie, totally a bribe, and Tim sighs, agrees to fight his exhaustion a bit longer. He manages, ‘Slept in the freezer, Jay... tried to s-save energy... big no-no.’ The words take huge effort but Tim is one of those who likes to up humour in serious situations. Jason doesn’t mind, even if he thinks it’s terrible - at least this way he can tell that Tim understands that he’d been in a dangerous position, is still in danger. Tim’s always muttering under his breath that there’s danger everywhere, when he thinks Jason can’t hear him.

Jason agrees.

He unlocks the door and is so fucking happy he left food to warm in the oven - they probably won’t get time to eat right this second, but the heat of the kitchen has spread through the apartment and that’s just fucking great.

He places Tim precariously, hurriedly, on the floor of the landing, goes back to lock the door and install the security alarms again (it’s muscle-memory at this point). Tim is still shivering, so when Jason comes back, he doesn’t know where to start.

‘Let’s... get you out of this shit.’ He decides. Tim can’t really help, but he’s shown Jason where all the clasps and locks are on the suit, how to undo them when they’re in a particular hurry. Jason tried to be gentle, but it takes a bit of tugging because the suit is damp and Tim is stuck in it. It takes longer than Jason would’ve liked - Tim’s jock-strap snaps against his waist by mistake, and Jason has to ignore it, moves on to slip the rest of the Red Robin suit from Tim’s legs because life-or-death priorities, sorry Tim.

He checks - Tim’s still awake, brilliant... ‘You good while I get some stuff?’

Tim shakes his head, and so Jason decides to be resourceful. His helmet bounces on the hardwood floor. He shucks his jacket and his armour off, and pulls his t-shirt off, and uses it to pat Tim dry in lieu of a towel. Tim’s not exactly wet, but it’s important to get rid of any pesky cold moisture. Tim’s skin still feels frosty, like a beer can out of a cooler, and that’s not good.

The rubdown seems to help, and Tim’s breaths are heavy but steadier. ‘Jay, I’m...’ Tim starts, but gives up.

Jason gets it.

Jason carries Tim from the doorway to the couch, gets Tim to straddle him and he wraps his arms around Tim’s torso, brings them together bare-chest to bare-chest. He gives Tim a squeeze, and Tim purrs and vibrates and hums like his engine is starting up again - which is all types of good. And then, as a second thought, he grabs the throw, pulls it out from behind him, and drapes it over Tim’s shoulders, returns his hands back into position.

Tim rubs his cheeks against Jason’s neck, the side of his face. He whimpers, and Jason has to remember that now isn’t the time to get sexy. Jason buries his head against Tim’s neck, and Tim sighs and his shaking slows considerably.

‘How’s this?’

Tim doesn’t speak, but he nods and sniffles and sobs in relief, fuck I hope it’s relief. Tim is weak, and he can’t quite squeeze Jason’s middle with his cut-up thighs, but Jason knows he wants to. He lets go of him for a second to readjust them, so there’s more skin contact, and Tim says quietly, ‘Thank you...’

‘You don’t have to- hey, you’re gonna be ok, ok?’

Tim rubs a lazy hand over Jason’s chest, feels Jason’s heart, and grips at the skin like he wants to wrench it out for himself. ‘So tired, Jay...’

Jason shushes him because Tim can’t be allowed to knock out just yet for his own safety, he skips over the many thousand meanings those words might have, and says, looking at the defrosting suit on the floor by the door, ‘I should get you something warm to drink, heat ya up.’

Stay... p-please... you’re warm.’

Jason sighs against Tim’s skin, Tim whose skin is still chilly but beginning to blush. With his hands tucked against Jason’s furnace of a torso, his legs against Jason’s, his back pressed with a blanket, he’s like a bunch of flowers. Blooming roses on his cheeks. If he had any bruises on him, they’ve been iced off because Jason can’t spot any and Tim is probably too numb to feel anything but heat.

Fuck, I should have checked, I can’t even do first aid properly... Maybe Tim would be better off at the cave- but he didn’t want the cave... he wanted me.

‘Actually- didn’t you say... s-somethin’ ’bout a coffee-?’

‘Timmy, you know you can’t have caffeine, right. I can make you a decaf.’

Tim huffs, but there’s a weak smile full of cheek pressing against Jason’s throat. He says with a hoarse voice, guiltlessly, ‘Was worth a shot.’

In apology, as a treat, Jason gently rubs Tim’s waist and lightly, barely, massages his back, works his way down until he’s going over Tim’s thighs. All of his muscles are tight and Jason can sense knots that weren’t there after the last time Tim let him... the next time Tim screams, I swear it’ll be because of something good, something he likes, something he wants, something that I’ve done just for him.

‘What’re you thinking.’

Jason is brought out his musing, and there’s a tired knowingness in Tim’s eyes, a ghosting of bliss on his drowsed face. Jason hugs him harder, and says, ‘I’m just glad I found you and you’re here, with me, and not still in that fridge.’

‘Sure.’ Tim is cold and stiff but the way he presses his icy lips to Jason’s skin is anything but frigid.

‘Timmy... lemme get you a coffee.’

It’s a compromise, and a poor one, but Jason is weak, so weak when it comes to Tim, and he’s not sure what Tim is even trying to achieve. He’s always up to something, and... whether he knows he’s doing it or not, he’s a master manipulator. That sounds terrible, coming from me... but Jason doesn’t mean it in a bad way. He likes the danger- oh what the fuck am I thinking...? Tim needs medical attention.

He plants a kiss on Tim’s shiny red nose and lifts him off. Tim resists, actually cries out, but Jason won’t listen this time. They need to be a little more serious, it’s like they’re forgetting that Tim was in a freezer for almost a day. How he’s not dying is a mystery.

Tim has more Bat-training than Jason really knows.

Jason flicks the oven off. He boils water in a huge pot that he usually uses for stews, because they might need more later, and he doesn’t like microwaves, and while he waits, he digs out more blankets, some towels, finds fresh clothes for both of them. Tim is practically naked, and without Jason’s body heat he’s stopped thawing. And, even worse, when Jason finally gets back to him Tim has a troublesome frown on.

‘It’s cold.’ He says miserably, jaw shaking. He’s trying to make Jason feel bad, and fuck is it working. But, at least, the middle finger being flipped his way is pink and not blue.

Jason doesn’t respond, because he’s doing his best, what Tim wanted when he forwent the care of elders with more experience in hypothermia and temperature-shock, and vigilantism. Instead of being goaded by Tim’s words, he takes a towel and shakes Tim’s head, fucking up his hair so that it’s sticking up - he’d cut it short before, almost buzzed it, and it had been different but Jason hadn’t gotten used to it, and Tim was already letting it grow again. Now it was a more normal short. Tim tries to pull him into a cuddle of some kind but he hasn’t got the strength, he hasn’t eaten anything in a while and needs something soon. When Tim is dry again, Jason swaps his jock out for real underwear and helps him into sweats and a heavy over-shirt, both made of soft washed-out-red velour that Tim likes, that Jason likes to feel on Tim. He’ll let him shower when he’s not cold to the touch, when he can stand on his own feet.

Tim’s heart it still beating fast, like he’s been running, and Jason doesn’t like that. He kisses Tim’s forehead for the reassurance, to relax Tim, to relax and reassure myself, Jason thinks with a resigned sigh. He’s losing his edge. Tim makes him soft.

Jason puts some socks on Tim’s toes to keep them toasty, drops another blanket on his lap, telling him, ‘Be right back.’

Only once he’s scooped a mug-full of water out of the pot and stirred this shitty decaf coffee around a gazillion times does he realise that Tim has managed to walk to the bathroom all by himself. Jason hears flushing, and then the sink running, and, and still running... He leaves the coffee on the countertop and starts walking over. ‘Tim? How the fuck are you walking right now, are you insane-?’

Jason pokes his head in just as Tim is about to collapse.

He jumps in and catches Tim, who is still mildly awake even now, his eyes squinting under the harsh bathroom light. He splutters, ‘I n-needed to...’

Jason understands, but the fear in him makes him growl, scold, snap, ‘Then you shoulda fucking said something. I’ve only been asking you what you need for the past hour or so, ain’t I? Haven’t I?’

He waits for Tim to nod, but the movement is frail and not at all gratifying. If Tim doesn’t agree to be benched, Jason’s going to force it, I swear.

And in his fucking delirium, maybe the light’s gotten to his head, Tim breathes, claims, ‘My favourite Robin...’

Fuck Tim, why? Why’d he have to say that? Jason... he knows that Tim loved him as Robin but that kid shouldn’t exist anymore, especially not in Tim’s eyes. It’s one of those things that worry him, he wonders if Tim loves him or the memory of what he used to be. And... it dredges up all kinds of guilt, and regret, and anger-

Instead of falling into that particular black hole, Jason focuses, drowns the feelings, prioritises and drags Tim out of the bathroom.

Once Jason has Tim sitting pretty on the couch again, coffee in hand because Tim’s fingers haven’t quite warmed up enough just yet to hold it himself, he lets himself settle a little. The stress and exhaustion of his patrol had completely disappeared once Tim’s life was on the line, hanging by a degree, when his life was in my hands, but now that he was safe (for now, JJ...) it was all coming back to him like a backpack of bricks, weighing him deep into his seat. Tim’s head resting on his shoulder is a consolation, but Jason is already counting down the seconds till Tim does something else that scares the fucking shit outta me

‘I would’ve been fine if the f-fucking guards had listened to their boss. Then they’d have w-walked, and I wouldn’t have had to sneak in through the kitchen.’

‘Did I ask you for a fucking report, Tim?’

N-No. I just-‘

Jason put the coffee to Tim’s lips, lets him - forces him to - take small sips as he explains, ‘I don’t give a flying fuck. You’re working too damn hard and you need to give it a rest for a sec, ok? You coulda died. I don’t want to know that you almost died over, like, fucking guards or intel or drug-lords or whatever. It’s bullshit. Hear me? I don’t...’

Tim pulls away, and says meekly, for the coffee and the sympathy, ‘... Thanks.’

‘I don’t mean to snap at you, Timmy. My- ‘s my bad.’

Jason doesn’t want to give Tim the wrong impression; the information isn’t superfluous, it’s just... it’s painful for Jason to admit how scared he gets by the idea of Tim suddenly not being around, of not being able to come home to Tim, of not getting the chance to just sit and hold you and breathe into you and fucking love you. The look on Jason’s face is bitter at the universe, not at Tim.

Tim rushes as best as he can to speak, slowly admits, ‘No... you’re right. I got... sloppy. Got too much going on at once, Jay...’ He takes Jason’s hand and promises, ‘It won’t happen again.’

Jason knows better than that. This life that they lead... death is always around the corner. And besides, when Tim talks like that Jason knows that everything that could be wrong is wrong. Tim, for all his genius, misunderstands everything.

Before he can correct Tim, Tim says, ‘When I’m good to, I swear I’m gonna f-find those guys and kick all their asses.’

When Jason is about to retort, to tell Tim exactly what he thinks of that plan, that’s it’s stupid, Tim sneezes.

It’s a small sneeze, a cute kitty sneeze, and Tim tries to hide it, tries to bury himself in blankets and couch like it didn’t happen but Jason heard it, fucking saw it, and alarm bells have gone off. It’s like a klaxon in his head, because while Tim usually handles himself just fine (sans the mental health stuff), Jason forgets sometimes that Tim doesn’t have a fucking spleen.

He hates Bruce that little bit more, hates himself for caring too late, for not being there when Tim didn’t have anybody, when he really needed me the most. It was a shock to learn what that particular scar on Tim’s torso was from, though, it’s a relief from all the recent second-guessing pertaining to the origins of Tim’s other scars. Fuck, there’s so much wrong with that, this shouldn’t even be a thing. Tim deserves better.

Maybe that’s why he can’t stand the cave anymore.

Tim’s too slow right now to defend himself in time, to insist that he’s fine or whatever, that he isn’t going to get sick, but Jason is not taking any risks. Tim is blasé when it comes to basic health but even if he’s smart and trained and capable, Jason isn’t going to let him off.

All that work doesn’t go into him, just to make him more qualified at sacrificing himself.

‘I’m getting meds.’ He tells Tim, hugging him deeper into his blankets, handing him a tissue to wipe his face with. Tim bristles at the idea of medication - always does when he has to be reminded - but plain and simple he needs to have something.

Can almost hear Tim’s internal monologue; sometimes you trust me, sometimes you don’t, Jay, do you love me or not? Or some shit like that probably, Jason thinks.

He drops a paper pack full of pills and cold bottles and needles onto the coffee table and flicks the tv on now that the tension from the danger of imminent death has sort of died down. Tim glares at the bag, but the way he slumps onto Jason’s shoulder is as good of a thanks as he’s going to get, Jason reckons. He plants another kiss on Tim’s reddened face, satisfied with the warmth creeping under the skin there.

Whether you’re trying to get yourself killed or not, you cannot die on me.

Chapter Text

‘Jaybird... you gotta touch me.’

The way Tim edges forward, the subtle predatory sway, still in his Red Robin suit, the way he stalks towards Jason like he’s good enough to eat, Jason knows something is off.

Tim went after the freezer-guys. Turns out the case he picked up off of Dick is jumping from hideout to hideout and of course Tim is willing to play chase. He’s so fucking good at it, until he gets tired – he’ll refuse to admit it, but when he needs a break and doesn’t take one, he crashes hard.

And Tim doesn’t behave like this out in the open, catching Red Hood resting on a rooftop at the end of his shift is hardly his most virile hour. Tim usually saves it all for their privacy, releases the beast behind closed doors. He certainly doesn’t call me ‘Jaybird’ outside of the bedroom.

Alright, that’s not strictly speaking true, but Jason is suspicious because it feels uncomfortable. Tim looks uncomfortable. He’s... his skin is shiny with sweat and his shoulders itch under his suit, Jason can see it.

Suppose the proof’s in the pudding, then. ‘Nah... You’re good, babe.’

‘What...? No!’ Tim shouts, and his voice is hoarse and bitter and confused and disappointed and extremely unreasonable, in a matter of seconds - what’s with the overreaction? What is Tim trying to achieve? His distress brims on his face.

‘You’re supposed to love me! Why can’t you just-?’

There’s a vaguely-green smear on the side of his neck... is that a bruise?

Jason changes tack and interrupts Tim’s whinging, not really that subtly but considering the state Tim is in, Jason is sure he won’t notice, ‘Tim, slow down. You- you have to gimme a sec, ok... Damn, you, you want me to fuck you, don’t you?’

He waits, sighs through his nostrils as Tim visibly calms, as he stops twisting on the spot, steps forward like a puppy, all tentative and begging for closeness. ‘That’s all I want. I got all ready for you, Jay. I got the intel I needed. Now I can- you can have me all to yourself, like you want. You know me... I’m not so flexible, until I am.’

Jason doesn’t know what Tim thinks of him, and clearly, it’s not at all accurate if this is what Tim thinks I want. Yes, Tim hasn’t really been relaxed around him in a long while, yes, Jason has been trying to fix it, but... it doesn’t occur to him why Tim is in such a fucking rush. Why is he forcing the issue, his issue?

‘Alright then.’ He says, trying to sound interested and not turned off, ‘I’m just getting ready for you, ok? Stand right there, you’re just how I like you.’

Tim falls in line so easily that Jason can kinda guess what’s happened now, not that it’s all confirmed. Jason rambles, keeps Tim busy while he looks for a sedative in his jacket (because he doesn’t play with consent), he stalls blatantly, ‘Gimme some ideas, baby-bird.’

Tim’s words always were his weapons, but now it sounds like he has no control whatsoever. ‘I want you inside me... on the couch... You can pick me up if you want, carry me to the table and fuck me over it... pound me however, wherever... Do I... do I look good enough to eat?’

Jason can’t quite meet his gaze. He says, still only coming up with lint and smoke grenades, ‘S-Sure, what else?’

It takes Jason a moment to realise that Tim isn’t answering, but is watching. When Jason finally brings his attention back to the hungry, melting, poisoned Red Robin, Tim is saying quietly, making Jason suddenly doubt everything he’d assumed, ‘You’re not even listening to me, are you?’

Jason doesn’t mean to be read so easily, but, come on, it’s Timmy.

And Tim sounds fine when he says that. Normal. Despondent, disappointed, resolved, unhappy with what he’s learnt but willing to make do, always so fucking ready to work with minimal resources. He sounds given-up, and Jason doesn’t like it. Doesn’t like how much more comfortable he was in that split second before he processed what Tim had actually said. Maybe the excitement is dying.

Jason doesn’t think that’s necessarily such a bad thing.

‘Of course I’m listening, baby,’ He plays, closing the distance between them so that Tim doesn’t have to, sedative now discreetly in the palm of his hand, ‘You know I want you as bad as you want me.’

‘Yeah?’ Always looking for reassurance.

‘Yes, baby, so stop taking me otherwise.’

‘Ok.’

Tim’s never acquiesced so readily before, so without complication, without that unique brand of instinctive denial - another warning sign. Maybe he’s just choosing to stay in character now. Jason needs to fix this now.

Ok... now, did you... you take something there? Gonna tell me?’

Jason can only suspect, but Tim’s shrug is as much of a confirmation as he needs. Tim says airily, smirking, ‘Did I take the edge off? Did I- hmm… I guess you can just find out and tell me in the morning, right...?’

For fuck’s sake Timothy.

‘Come ’ere.’

Tim jumps into his arms, it’s the noisiest, mouthiest, smashiest kiss he and Jason have ever had (not that Jason is doing more than accepting and withstanding it, taking it, too caught off guard to actually reciprocate like the actor he should be, like Tim probably could because isn’t he prepped for every situation they could ever think of), but, he squirms in discomfort when Jason grips his neck and gasps in pain when Jason stabs him with the sedative, misses the vein because Tim’s so difficult, yelps when Jason has to stab him again.

That’s when he can see the needle marks, and yes, there are three now - not two. Tim slumps onto Jason’s shoulder in half a minute, keening like a dying animal, and Jason doesn’t know what to think anymore. He stumbles with Tim’s shifting weight, and finds his physical centre, steps into balance again.

There you go, good boy...’

Jason is talking, but he can’t meet Tim’s eyes still. Not yet. There’s a look of betrayal there that he knows isn’t justified but it worries and scares and shames him all the same. Fuck... why did Tim hit himself with something? Is this even to do with me anymore?

‘Jas-ompfff...’

Oh my darlin’ boy.

Chapter Text

Red Robin.’

Tim paces right past Bruce, who is sat at the computer dressed in full armour sans-cowl, who has left important files open with disregard of who might see them in order to face Red Robin with full attention.

Red Robin walks past him and towards the cave’s armoury, and waves at Damian, who was on guard as soon as he noticed Tim’s presence. Good.

You, grab your kit. We’re going on a mission. Leave your fucking sword behind, we need to travel light.’

And, the fucking cherry on top, Damian listens. He stops sharpening the throwing star in his hand, and sets everything down to hurry over to his locker. They all have one - Damian’s is near the end, between Stephanie’s and a spare that Jason keeps some old tech in (even though he has a locker between Tim’s and Dick’s, at the other end). He goes over and pulls out a roll of black suede, inside of which he keeps fucking throwing knives. Tim won’t tell Damian no again out of spite because he’s willing, for once, to give him the benefit of the doubt, won’t be caught being uncompromising, but he eyes Damian pulling out modified league-of-assassins gear and decides he’s seen enough - it’s on the right enough track - whatever else Damian does tonight, Tim doesn’t want to be able to say he knew it was coming if shit does hit the fan.

Tim’s locker is bare compared to the ones belonging to the others; he only keeps a spare suit, a spare belt, his first collapsible bo-staff, a basket full of smoke grenades and a lock-box full of spare keys inside his. Everything else, he keeps elsewhere. Tim has a few external safe-houses that he keeps fully replenished. He’s rarely even here anymore to warrant stocking his locker. He doesn’t carry a lot, where’s the challenge in having everything at hand?

Tim pulls out the spare suit and gives it a once-over. It’s old, and worn, but it’s clean and at least it’s the right size; he makes another mental note to rebuild his dark-suit, or to re-design his current one, because maybe Batman is right, black should be in season full time. Tim is getting sick of cardinal red and canary yellow. Maybe the new stuff could look similar to Jason’s league-of-assassins uniform stuff... yes, Tim has plenty of ideas. But for now, the fresh suit will have to do. He tugs off the one he’s wearing and folds it loosely, just for Alfred’s sake, before abandoning it on the bench at his shins.

Damian says, as he ties off his laces, ‘What did you just do?’, because the suit Tim is removing is in tatters, and has clasps torn and is missing the utility-bandoliers that made it so unique. He looks like he’s had a rough time of it, and even Bruce, who usually brushes that kind of thing off, is approaching to find out himself.

Hmm... well, I had a fight with Jason this morning, when he kicked me out for trying to sex him up with Ivy serum in my system. I tracked the bitch down for the last time, and almost got sliced to pieces? How about that?

Tim shrugs, and says, ‘I was doing my job, when Dick ruined everything and made a mess out of my case. He got captured. So now, you and I are gonna save his ass.’

Make no mistake... I hate when this happens.

Bruce, who Tim is blatantly ignoring as he pulls on his suit, calls carefully, ‘Tim, I’ve got some of the updated formula synthesising, it’s almost done. Take it before you go, alright?’

And Tim, who... can’t ignore that, nods without looking at him and says in return, trying not to sound petulant and agitated and downright frosty, ‘I will.’

‘Alright then. Good luck.’ And then Bruce goes back to the computer without another word.

Jason calls him irresponsible, but Tim had sent samples of his blood for Batman to test of his own accord, as if he’d been struck with a serum by accident. Just because he found some of Ivy’s kit and tested it, knew what it was and had decided to use it, use it for something honourable... maybe Tim is still reeling from being rejected, turned away, thrown off. He was only trying to give Jason what he deserved, what his own stupid head and stupid body haven’t been able to do.

He can understand why Jason hasn’t quite forgiven him yet, though. If he thinks really... really hard.

Tim doesn’t understand Bruce, has never seen Bruce pull this tactic before. He’s... complying? Giving me space? Doing what Tim wants for once to prove what to him, exactly? Bruce usually never sounds anything other than distant and... untrustworthy, because what other word is there to explain how on edge Tim feels hearing the man behind Batman speak? But Tim somehow also gets the sense that Bruce is trying to care, and I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with that right now.

So instead of dealing with it, accepting it, thanking Bruce for one more thing he’s done that Tim never asked him to do, he turns to Damian and says, ‘Make sure you’re maximised for discretion.’

Tim doesn’t explain why, doesn’t tell him that he’s going to be expected to pull off a heist, a hostage rescue, but Damian doesn’t hesitate to add a cloak to his ensemble. He looks fine, stealthy, covered in black ninja gear and Bat-grade padding that will take small impacts with minimal repercussions. Luckily, there won’t be any bullets involved - at least, hopefully none going the kid’s way.

And I’m so sick of the Robin suit.

Once Red Robin himself is suited up again, he leads Damian to his bike and hops on. ‘Try not to slit my throat while I’m driving.’

Damian kisses his teeth at him but slips a helmet on all the same, clambers up behind him, wraps his arms around Tim’s waist like a good Robin, and Red Robin drives off without another word. They travel in relative silence, but Tim finds it in himself to brief Damian at least a little bit. Outlines the skeleton of a plan he has. Damian makes a suggestion, but it’s not delicate enough and Tim has to shoot him down. At least he’s trying, Tim supposes. He just didn’t feel like dealing with Bruce tonight, so Batman will have to skip this one. It’s mainly just Dick on the line...

‘Do you think Richard will be under her control?’ Damian asks, back-flipping off the bike a second later, pushing off of Red Robin as he slides to a stop. They’re outside Gotham Memorial Park - it’s a small cathedral in downtown, surrounded by graveyard, and trees, all encased in a spiked wall that is way too high for its own good. Tim vaguely remembers there being a heritage centre here too, but he doesn’t remember ever going, of if it’s even still open.

He says hopefully, ‘I doubt she’s even hurt him or anything. Isley used to have a thing for Batman y’know. She might try and use Nightwing against us as leverage if anything. Like, personal vendetta style.’

He rambles with confidence, but there are a million ways this could go, especially now that they don’t really have any element of surprise, now that she knows that he’s coming for her one way or another. Poison Ivy isn’t a typical criminal either, she has causes, a drive she perceives as bigger than herself. And... it’s not that delusional either. She’s not totally stupid, and maybe her solutions are exaggerative, drastic, petty and simply unacceptable but the problem she continues to shine a light at is... awkwardly credible. Tim would respect it, if she went about it differently. But it’s too late, she’s done too much for them to trust her. She’s manipulative in all the wrong ways. Untrustworthy.

They tread to the main gate, but there’s enough foliage crawling out and onto the paving outside that Tim deems it unsuitable from the offset. There’s something fishy about the whole scenario, so he tells Robin, ‘Scout that side. We should find high ground and jump in. Maybe to the south side? I can’t hear much commotion here.’

It’s pretty silent, all things considered. It’s creepy enough venturing into a graveyard under the crippled light of a full moon, empty and full of unresolvedness. It doesn’t help that there are more trees now than there’d been before, so the rustling of foliage only adds to Tim’s constant state of mild disquiet. 

He twitches instead of jumping out of his skin when Damian treads on a twig, for fucks sake, Damian. Tim did not bring him just so he wasn’t alone, he swears. If he was afraid at all it would be because... well, his head is in too many places, it makes it easier for things to shock him. Remember your training... Refocusing on the job at hand, Tim notices, ‘There, look.’

There’s a garden shed, of all things. It’s more like a small house, it clearly has plumbing and multiple rooms, but it’s perfect; the roof is just shy of the wall, they can enter the site a little more discreetly from there. While Tim scopes the windows briefly for signs of activity, Damian looks for a way up.

‘Red Robin, here.’ Calls Damian, when he’s halfway up a drainpipe. ‘We can go-’

‘Hold your horses, Robin. We’re not in a rush.’

‘But there’s a mission, she has Nightwing-!’

Wait.’ Tim has to bark.

Damian slides smoothly back to the ground, and stomps over. ‘What are we waiting for?’

‘I called in some back-up.’ Tim says, because even though he brought Damian with him, there’s no trust here.

Damian calls him on it - what he thinks to gain by doing so is lost on Tim, however. ‘You don’t trust me.’

Tim tells the kid the truth, the reality. ‘No offence. We’re not exactly very loyal to each other, are we?’

‘Loyalty to Father is enough, and... We don’t fight each other at every meeting anymore, so. I call that progress.’ Damian says, though the sentiment is buried under layers of grouse, frustration and impatience. He neglects to recognise that he’s the aggressor, but ok, whatever.

Tim remembers the last time Damian got hot at him, and says with dripping curiosity, a hint of knowing, can’t help but bring it up to remind them both who dominates whom, ‘No one ever found out about that time, sparring in the cave... I- I don’t care how, and why, for the record.’

Damian’s face is simmering now underneath his mask, like he wants to respond and wants to express his reasoning but is frustrated that he can’t find the words to do his explanation justice. Maybe his mirror neurons are firing around his throat, perhaps he’s reliving the moment.

So before he can say anything, Tim adds, ‘But yeah, we’re on the same team, you and me. Even if we don’t get along all the time, we have to be able to function as if we do.’

‘We are ‘functioning’ right now, are we not?’ He says, and before Tim can respond, before he can question it-

‘Sup Robins!’

The Red Hood skirts in, driving that car he stole. It’s an old classic type, but in the dark Tim can’t be bothered to check if it’s the exact same one, or if Jason’s just hoarding. He likes to collect. Luckily, it doesn’t make a lot of noise and only crunches gravel as Jason drives right up to them. He leans out the window and says, ‘Miss me?’

Though the question is directed at Red Robin, Damian huffs disbelievingly, ‘Please... This is your back up?’

He looks at Tim with heavy disapproval, and Red Robin defends, ‘He’s your father’s son too. We’re a team, remember.’

That’s not quite the reason Jason is here, though. It was one of Jason’s conditions - if Tim was going to complete Dick-face’s case for him, then Jason was going to provide, what had he called it, ‘moral support’? That was basically his prerequisite for making sure Tim isn’t going to fall off the deep end. Tim loves Jason but having him here is just one more thing that Red Robin can’t control and he’s almost worried to see what Jason will say once they’re back home and this is all over with.

It is also a stark reminder that they aren’t exactly on the best terms right now, but, no one knows that they’re together so nobody can know that they’re fighting, because, how do they explain it? He can pretend like he doesn’t want to kick Jason between the legs, like he doesn’t want to grab the helmet on his head and twist it three-sixty, tear Jason’s head off like a bottle-cap. At least until this shit is all over. I’m a great actor.

‘One big happy family.’ Agrees Hood, all fake cheer and sarcastic thumps-up, he’d be grinning with teeth if they could see through his helmet.

Tim wonders briefly if that’ll ever be possible, if their being a real family is still even on the table, and then, he forgets it. There’s no point wasting energy on that particular fantasy.

Ok. Now... Let’s get this shit over with.’

Why do I do this to myself?

 


 

‘Really? Back already?’ 

Red Robin stands at attention, staring at Ivy’s back while she continues doing whatever it is she’s up to. There’s a long table before her, upon which there are some empty beakers, a conical flask full of lively lime fluid, and a couple of empty plant pots. There’s unopened soil bags at her bare feet, and Tim is of a mind to order her some shoes and send them to Arkham for her. Anonymously, of course.

She continues like his presence doesn’t bother her, as if it doesn’t matter, playing as if she has all the power when really there’s fear of the threat Tim poses in her shoulders and her neck. Keeping her head down.

Having said that, she has already trumped him once today.

Red Robin says easily, ‘What’s your rate? I don’t think I have enough cash on me to pay you for babysitting Nightwing for me-‘

His joking, his attitude, makes her turn around to check him out, because he’s acting like he doesn’t care.

‘For all intents and purposes, why don’t we just pretend I’m fostering? That way, you can leave now.’

‘I can’t do that.’

Her hands find the edge of the desk, and she leans on it with heavy tension. ‘I’m done with all the interruptions. I’m getting really sick of you boys and your-

Red Robin says blandly, as tired of this routine as she is, ‘Miss Isley, please just surrender... I know it’s hard watching mankind scorch the earth but-’

‘You’re kidding, right? Do you know how much it hurts? To sit in their cell, to bake in their radiation while the flora screams-’

‘Miss Isley, please.’ Red Robin repeats, this time more earnest, imploring, gently pushing, without the patronisation. This will be so much easier for everyone if she goes with them quietly, even though he knows it just isn’t in her nature. Tim doesn’t mind fighting her - if anything, he needs the opportunity to prove that he can’t be beaten, that he won’t let some buxom plant bitch get the better of him over and over again. I’m willing to do what’s right for the sake of others, that’s all.

She isn’t having it. ‘Never.’

Poison Ivy spins and throws a flask of liquid at Tim, but it bursts in the air before it can hit him. Tim is careful to keep his mouth closed for this part. Jason fires again, this time at Ivy herself, but it narrowly misses her as she scrambled under the table.

Red Robin has lost track of Damian, but it doesn’t matter - like they discussed, his job is to find Nightwing. Hopefully he’s off doing it and not playing inglorious-bastard. Tim is going stir-crazy knowing that I can ask everyone to do whatever, but that doesn’t mean they’ll fucking listen to me.

Red Robin attacks like they were all trained to - efficient, vigilant- but suddenly vines burst forth from the ground, and Red Robin is forced to side-step, to watch, awkwardly dancing between sprouting spikes as petals the size of van doors erupt around Ivy’s table, enveloping it, threatening to sink back down again and disappear into the soil.

I’m not having that.

While Jason hurries towards them from his sniping spot, wherever that was, Tim tries his best to pry the flower apart, Ivy’s not getting away again, I won’t fail-

The pod bursts open of its own accord, and this time Ivy flies at him with a cobra punch. Tim drops when she lands on top of him, and there’s a scuffle. They roll on the floor, Ivy tries to run her venomous lips on his exposed skin, tries to bite him like a feral dog, maybe she picked that move up from Harley Quinn,  but he’s fine, can keep her off him long enough to-

‘Get the fuck off him!’ Jason shouts, dragging her off and locking her arms behind her back. She kicks and snarls and twists, but Jason has her trapped. Tim and Jason make a great team, there’s no denying it; he’s sure Batman has noticed, is sure Oracle and Nightwing have commented on their fluidity and matured camaraderie in the past.

Red Robin gets up, dusts off his cape, and pulls out a Bat-sedative spray from his utility belt. He goes to spray her when-

More fucking plants. Tim doesn’t understand why they can’t just drop her in the Amazon, to un-deforest the fucking planet, it would be so much simpler to come to some kind of consensus with this bitch instead of having her continuously try to murder them all. There are vines and roots pulling at his feet, and there’s too much pollen going up his nose-

Tim hears that awful ringing scraping sound of a sword being drawn, before he can actually confirm it with his eyes. He finally spots Damian behind him, and- and holy shit, he’s shearing through the vines and foliage like cutting into butter, and it’s... insanely effective. Tim made a mistake in telling him to leave it behind, in not thinking of bringing one himself. Where the hell did he hide that thing? I need to focus more...

He feels the swipe near his trapped arms and is, frankly, upset by how grateful he feels for it. Damian of all people does not deserve his gratitude. Fuck! Things are not going Tim’s way at all... ‘Ivy’s getting- away-!’

Damian takes a run up and flips his sword so that it’s in his hands by the blade.

‘Robin, NO!’

The one time it counts, Robin doesn’t fucking listen, he launches his sword like it’s a curling stone, flicks it underarm, and it soars through the air, spinning, fifty-fifty Damian’s going to kill her, Doctor Pamela Lillian Isley, rest in peace-

There’s a resounding thunk when the sword handle bonks Ivy’s temple, and she drops to the floor in a resounding heap... resounding success.

Tim thinks she’s dead anyway. The way his heart has stopped, maybe he is too.

‘Are you dumb?!’ Before he can control himself, before he can check who’s watching, Tim runs forward, looms over Damian, and slaps the boy’s head hard.

Damian snarls, ‘I knew what I was doing-’

‘I never want to see that again. I told you to leave that thing at home. I should be breaking your fingers.’

Tim picks up the sword, still a little sticky with sap; it’s the one from Ra’s, Damian’s favourite (though he wouldn’t ever admit it) - and, as Tim weighs it over, he can understand why. It’s light, swift, the edge hasn’t been compromised, even with all of Damian’s handling. Actually, now that Tim looks more closely, there is the smallest nick on the handle, a claw mark that rips through the small intricate carving found there. A minor blemish, but still. ‘You’re crazy... You can have this back when I decide you understand how to follow instructions.’

‘You can’t-!’

‘I swear, you fight me on this and I will hit you again-!’

‘Robin.’

Tim and Damian look over, as Dick limps over; he looks the worse for wear, there’s a smarting bruise on his temple that matches the one on Tim’s neck, but his suit looks largely intact and he obviously doesn’t need any immediate medical attention. Success.

The look he gives Tim is dark, but he passes over him in favour of pulling Damian in. In a half-hug, he tells the kid, ‘I’m so proud of you.’

Are you fucking kidding me? Red Robin finally eyes Ivy’s rising and falling chest, and says, ‘You’re kidding me, right? He could have killed-’

‘But he didn’t.’ Dick says, as if it’s that easy, as if that’s it, case closed.

Tim doesn’t want to let this go, I won’t-

‘I am so done with this Scooby-Doo super-villain shit, I swear to God-’

Tim isn’t listening to Jason. Granted, he is paying mild attention to his surroundings as he always is, I just love being hyper-aware, but really, he’s watching Dick and Damian unabashedly. Dick fusses and fawns over the kid, brushes dew and foliage and whatever else off his precious charge, like a fucking mother hen, but Damian has the decency to at least look uncomfortable, the blush on his face is more from shame than embarrassment, Tim can read him well enough. Damian must be able to feel Tim’s gaze tearing through his head, into his fucking soul.

Tim hopes Damian is intimidated.

It takes Jason a second longer to read Tim’s body, but when he finally understands, he calls for attention, kicks gravel in Dick’s direction, ‘Hey, ass-wipe, aren’t you gonna thank us? We solved your fucking case.’

Tim shuts his mouth - he was just about to correct Jason, to call him out and say no, you didn’t do shit, I did all the work, but... having someone on his side feels better than alienating him will later, if they end up fighting about this. In a perfect world, Tim would be able to have this conversation without needing the support of anyone. People would hear his grievances and maybe even put some effort into correcting themselves for his sake.

Perfect worlds are for super-villains, fanatics, and plain old fucking idiots.

Nightwing shifts his weight around, says easily, ‘Alright. Thanks? Hey, I know a great ice-cream parlour-’

Oh my God. ‘You’re actually such a cunt.’

Jason huffs a laugh, doesn’t quite believe where Tim is going with this, there’s a startled look on Damian’s face because he probably hasn’t heard that word before, doesn’t know what it means maybe, but Dick’s face is tired and growing bored. The ungrateful asshole even has the audacity to amend, ‘Ok. My bad.’

‘That’s not enough!’ Tim yells, driving the sword in his hands into the crumbly earth under their feet. It sinks hard and shakes on the spot, and now Tim can flex his free hands, more weapons at his disposal. ‘Not after everything I’ve done. For you.’

You happy Jason? Isn’t this what you’d predicted, that... that helping Dick Grayson would blow up in my face, again? Tim doesn’t know why he thought otherwise. Every time he expects the best because that’s what everybody expects of him, and for what?

‘Red Robin, take a breather-’

‘If you weren’t a son of Batman I swear I would pummel you right now.’

It’s an empty excuse, not exactly what is really stopping Tim from going apeshit. Dick knows that, too, at least, he’s well-trained enough to read through Tim’s rhetoric. He’s convinced Tim is hostile, though, because the increased poise in Tim’s greaved arms looks undeniably dangerous. Dick shrugs Damian away, steps forward because he’s a performer, can’t refuse a challenge, certainly cannot avoid the theatre of all this, ‘You trying to threaten me-?’

He obviously doesn’t think Tim will follow through, so he says- Jason cuts him off, steps forward and pushes past Red Robin as if he isn’t there. ‘Hell, if he doesn’t kill you, maybe I will. Purposely withholding information, foisting off your cases - you know he almost died? I had to play nurse because of you! Playing fucking games... Did you even know what you caused, the stunt you pulled?’

Tim knows Jason is playing it up a bit, even if his own anger is partially genuine, it’s part of their little act, as if they don’t get on, and Dick reacts as expected. He says, slightly apologetically, still not earnestly enough, ‘I... Oracle might’ve mentioned-’

Jason fights, ‘So then you know. Stop bothering him, because you bother him and then you bother me.’

Dick’s eyebrows twitch, and that’s it for Tim. He knows what it means, even if most of the movement is hidden behind a scuffed domino mask. It’s an aborted eye-roll, a dismissal, an ok whatever, and that’s not fair.

Tim shakes his head, laughs with humour that the others can’t possibly understand, because he almost feels bad for Dick, ‘You really think you’re so much better than us, don't you?’

Damian won’t look at him, but this isn’t about Damian anymore, not in the way he probably thinks. Tim’s almost over that, especially because Dick is being a pest and a prat and needs major checking and correction. He’s starting to sound like the real brat.

Dick says carefully, ‘What if I did? Would you hold it against me? You’re not petty, Tim.’

The reply is quick, decided, and brave. ‘You don’t know me that well at all, do you... did you ever?’

‘Maybe not, then.’ He says, undecided. ‘I can’t tell whether there’s something seriously wrong with you, or if you’re just having a bitch-fit-’

‘Oh please, save us the circus act.’

Dick grimaces, full of sarcastic, impish mischief, ‘I did you a solid, handing you a case like this, you needed something to do during your supposed time off, no-?’

‘You don’t know that half of what’s going on with me. Don’t you dare pretend that you even care. If you did, you would listen to me when I tell you to fuck off.’

Dick’s stance looks weak, open, but he still manages to give off an unimpressed, unconvinced air as he crosses his arms over. ‘Did I do something to you? There’s like literally no reason for you to be coming after me like this-’

Tim is trying so hard not to scream, ‘You sent me on a wild goose chase, to like a dozen different places all over fucking town, when you already knew where Ivy was planning to be. You had the tips right fucking there-!’

‘I did not.’

‘The manila folder on your desk at work.’

‘I... you broke into the Blüdhaven LEC-?’

‘It’s like you don’t even know how irresponsible you are. Maybe if you did your job... You’re just the same as them, the corrupt cops, if not worse. Plain lazy, you know.’

Tim’s voice is quieter now, but he’s said what he said. Dick frowns, waits for him to continue, while Jason and Damian continue watching the fucking show.

‘Not only were you gonna hide this shit from me, make me do all the work over from scratch, but you- you hide a lot from us, don’t you? Hmm, Red X?’

Damian and Jason shouldn’t be hearing this, but both have been drawn into this conversation, it’s way too late now. Periodically, they go to say something but then they catch themselves, torn between supporting an argument and hearing details to secrets they aren’t privy to. There’s going to be a fallout sooner or later.

‘Where the fuck did you read that-!’

‘Bruce has his list of people to keep an eye on. Robin has his. I have mine.’

Dick’s grim frown evolves into bared teeth, he snarls and shoves Tim back, as if that’ll separate him from that particular truth, ‘Shut up! You wouldn’t understand-’

‘I understand plenty.’ states Tim, straightening up like nothing is happening, now that he’s coming out on top. It’s almost nice to see the inquisitive, questioning, second-guessing look in Damian’s eyes; clearly, Dick isn’t all that he made out to be, there’s more to his story than any of them knew. Well, Bruce knew, and I always do my research... The threat of intelligence might be more impactful against Dick than a physical challenge.

Like father like son, it seems. ‘If you don’t like what I have to say, that’s on you; for continually involving me in your bullshit.’

Tim doesn’t mention that Jason warned him, doesn’t think too heavily on it. He’s sure there’s an I told you so coming to him later.

‘Stopping crime isn’t bullshit-!’

Tim is stepping closer, invading Dick’s space, close enough to poke his chest, ‘It is when you play games on the fucking job! If you did what was best for the greater good, I wouldn’t complain. But you’re fucking with me, aren’t you.’

Dick goes to raise his arms in surrender, the way a negotiator would with a hostile assailant, but he groans as something in his abdomen pulls. Damian hurries to catch him before he drops, helps hold him steady. Tim wishes Dick would just go down, would just fall unconscious now, wishes he would quit before he digs himself into a bigger hole; but of course he won’t.

‘You-’ He huffs, ‘You don’t... your problem is you don’t trust anybody. Did it ever occur to you that maybe I know what I’m doing? That Robin knows-?’

Robin does not know shit. His kill count is higher than ours combined. More accidental deaths than the Red Hood, than Batman, even. Marginally lower success rate, granted, but... Bat-stats don’t lie, Nightwing.’

Tim doesn’t mean to wail on the kid so much, and Damian himself stares into space, maybe he’s actually shocked that this is what he amounts to, in Tim’s eyes. Damian equals lower success rate - it’s not something Tim’s ever discussed, but maybe if he looked into it, Bruce has too. If Bruce knew how Damian was really shaping up so far, still failing under Dick’s mentorship? Fuck, doesn’t that sound like music-

‘You- you’re crazy.’ Dick says, pushing Damian away (hopefully Damian will take that the wrong way), though what he meant to say is an emphatic, have a heart, Timmy. Probably. Just like he doesn’t know Tim, Tim isn’t sure what about Dick Grayson is still true nowadays. ‘You’ve definitely not been around long enough to tell me that I don’t know what’s best for- wait, hold on. Is this... is this about Robin? About- are you still upset with me ‘cause I-?’

Yes, of course it is. Of course I am.

‘There are more things wrong with you than just that.’ Tim says, admits it to them all. ‘But it’s funny that you jumped to that almost immediately. You feeling guilty-?’

Jason’s heard enough, he steps closer cautiously. ‘Alright you two... Red, back off-’

I must sound hysterical, ‘No! He needs to be told that he’s wrong, he- he’s still not getting it, why isn’t he getting it?’

‘You-‘ Dick halts, and looks to the others, ‘You guys are seeing this too, right? You are not right in the head, Tim-’

And Tim draws the revolver from Jason’s primary holster and whips Dick over the head with the butt of it, so fluidly that Dick doesn’t block, he drops to his knees with a cry in front of them.

Jason doesn’t wait for Tim to calm down, for Tim’s breathing to return to normal, for Tim to fucking breathe at all, before roughly grabbing his forearm and disarming him before something that can’t be undone happens. Dick has crumpled at their feet, looks a little dazed even, but the anger on his face is more shock than hate. ‘The fuck is wrong with you?!’ He says, as Damian slides in to help him up.

Tim answers compulsively, throws his hands up deliriously as if there is even an answer to that particular question, because he has answers for everything, ‘So many things, apparently...’

Red.’ Says Jason, reaching out and rubbing Tim’s arm for a second before he is shrugged away. Jason is trying to remind Tim that he’s there for him, but... Fuck. What can any of them say to that?

This is getting too much, it’s time to end it. ‘No... he needs to know; I’m not your lackey. I’ve earned the right to exist above your fucking thumb. And... I am not above violence. Get in my way again, get caught by a villain while I’m in the middle of taking them down, and you’ll be in worser shape than you’re in now. Capisce?’

And like nothing has happened, he tosses his bike keys on the floor, in the dirt, in front of Big D and Little D. ‘Robin, take him back to Father.’

Damian swipes the keys, and his sword, with as much dignity as can be mustered after having one’s character assassinated before grabbing his charge. Dick takes a little persuasion, is grumbling the whole way but allows himself to be hefted off. Apparently, some people are just beyond intervention. Maybe Dick is thinking the exact same thing, in his own twisted way...

And when they’re gone, Jason shoves him. ‘Pull my gun like that again and I swear I’ll- I... Just don’t do it. I swear, however much he deserved that, it- that so wasn’t a good look on you. Fucking painful to watch, actually...’

What look? Did I scare you, Jason? Scared of me, or you scared for me? Jason really needs to pick one, and soon. He sure likes to chat when he’s nervous.

Tim grants him a noncommittal hum of acknowledgment, before getting back to work. He can deal with his feelings later. Maybe.

The Red Hood goes to bring his car in, bring it closer, and Red Robin finally starts moving, remembers that Poison Ivy is technically still not in their custody. He’s out of zip-ties, but luckily there’s rope nearby. No idea what Ivy was going to use that for... He hogties her, checks again that she’s still alive, and takes that needed breather.

Fuck, wasn’t tonight just a mess? Tim doesn’t know what got into him either, but it felt... it was like... I don’t know, but it was good. Relief, and strength, and grief? Frustration? Sourness? There are so many words and Tim couldn’t possibly pick any of them.

At his feet, Ivy stirs. And... Tim just starts talking again.

‘You know... your sex-serum needs some work, Miss Isley?’

Her head must be pounding, but she groans through any concussion and says, ‘Oh...? You, ha, so...’ And through her discombobulation she finds some scientific spark, ‘What was it like? Enjoy it? Can give you another taste...’

‘How about no. You couldn’t even get me laid, you know.’

Ivy doesn’t find the humour in his words. ‘That, and you’re still alive-’

‘Yeah yeah, I get it, men are terrible...’

As if he hadn’t just defended the supposed worth of her life to his family of morons.

People are terrible.’ She says, shifting so that she’s on her side, can’t rest on her back because her hands are tied there. Tim eyes her, losing synergy with her train of thought as she expands, ‘They poison water with chemicals. Mow down forests, pave over earth with tar and garbage until there’s nothing natural about life anymore. Do you get that?’

Tim wants to remind her that she’s human too, well, mostly, but he’s tired and kind of sure that she’s never going to accept it, it’s what keeps her crazy, why she’ll never understand, she’s going to remain stubborn till the very end.

Just like Dick.

‘And what if society can be convinced? If- if everybody changes, for the better. Why not?’

‘Don’t be stupid...’ She says, like she’s the only one capable of logical thought.

And Tim laughs darkly, sighs and shrugs. ‘Maybe humans are the scourge of the planet.'

‘Then why fight for them?’ She asks, argument final.

Tim thinks he used to know, once upon a time. He’s just forgetting, that’s all. Instead of answering, he knocks her out with a quick sleeper-hold, pinching in her neck until she falls unconscious. She slumps on the floor and Tim sighs again, disappointed, sympathising, pityingly, standing over her when Jason finally catches up.

We know not what we do.

 


 

‘Beep beep, baby bird.’

Jason flashes the headlights, as he rolls up on Tim and friggin’ Mother Nature. He stops close, lifts the handbrake, but Tim has already popped the backseat door open before he even has a chance to get out. Red Robin trundles her in; drags her across the dirt and dumps her across the seats. Doesn’t bother belting her in - if she drops into the foot-space, that’s on Tim.

Tim doesn’t say anything as he shuts the door, circles the car and slips into the front-passenger seat. Jason doesn’t move.

‘What’re you waiting for? Let’s go.’

Jason lifts his helmet off and foists it on the floor between Tim’s legs. ‘Hang on.’

He drums his fingers on the wheel trying for idle, and mysterious; they don’t really have time for this, they are still in the middle of a cemetery with a super-villainess in the back, but they will go when Jason knows where they stand.

He twists in his seat, faces Tim. ‘Are we ok?’

The answer is instantaneous. ‘I don’t see why not.’

‘Really? You wanted me to have sex with you while you were drugged up to fuck. I don’t- that’s not alright.’

‘I made a mistake, ok? Can you just... drop it, please? I can barely think about it right now, what with the whole Robin drama too.’

‘You’re fucking scapegoating...’ Jason mumbles, but he lowers the brake and sets off anyway. Fuck... no, this was stupid. Of course they’re ok. They’ll be fine. Right?

When they’re on the road, heading to GCPD headquarters, Jason says assumingly, with a hint of amusement (the kind that’s supposed to disguise how awkward he feels, but Tim can probably sense that Jason is a little disturbed), ‘He deserved it, you know.’

Tim doesn’t say anything. He shouldn’t - what is there to justify? Feelings, annoyance, betrayal, impulsiveness... he can’t admit to those, not when he’s in that suit- Jason pokes him, because Tim’s staring out at the road ahead with blank attentiveness even though Jason is the one driving. ‘Hey, your lights on yet?’

‘I- Yeah. I’m fine.’

Jason pretends like he didn’t hear that, because it damn well isn’t true. ‘Still salty about being replaced, is it...?’

‘Fine, I’ll rephrase... I’m a lot better now.’

Yeah, I bet.

Jason gristles in his seat, ‘I’m probably never gonna hear the end of it either, you know - ‘Ohh, little wing, if you didn’t have guns he wouldn’t have attacked me, you’re such a bad influence’ or some other shit like that.’

His impression of Dick makes Tim snicker bitterly despite himself, because the realisation is setting in that he and the first Robin really are on such bad terms now, ‘I hit him hard, didn't I?’

Yeah, Red, you did. I mean, it was cool and all, but I said this was coming. Didn’t I? Maybe not this soon but-‘

‘Yeah, yeah, you told me. I didn’t listen. I’m sorry.’ Tim says, like a well-chided adolescent. It’s how he should sound. Petulant. Jason wants him to feel like he can make mistakes, because that’s healthy, but... Tim doesn’t play, does he? He doesn’t mess up, usually. It can be so fucking frustrating...

Jason’s still a little in awe, though, if his tone is anything to go by. ‘You threatened the fuck out of him, baby bird... It was kinda hot.’ He admits, drifting around a junction in broad night traffic.

Tim shakes his head with lifted mood, and says through a halted laugh, ‘You make me sick, y’know.’

‘Like you didn’t know what you were doing, c’mon, I know some of that shit was practiced...’

Tim looks at him, they make eye contact, and Tim breaks first, because when Jason raises his eyebrow suggestively Tim can’t help but laugh. Ivy’s form rocks in the back, bumps against the leather seating.

‘You liked it, though... The power. I can tell. You needed that.’ Jason says to him, confidingly. He also says something about seatbelts that Tim ignores, and they carry on. Ivy needs dropping off, and Tim must also be using the ride-time to mull over his actions. Did he like fighting for his respect? I wonder... If it had been Jason, in that position, after the trials they’ve endured? He’d have done the same thing; Abso-fucking-lutely I would have.

Jason almost wishes he kept the helmet on, to auto-tune out his sighs. ‘Well, er... F.Y.I. I’m deciding now that I ain’t mad at you no more, alright?’

‘Oh?’

‘Worrying about you is just gonna ruin my blood pressure. Already died young once.’

‘You asshole...’

They’re laughing. Together. It’s a welcome distraction from all the family issues. It... it’s healing. Laughter isn’t usually their medicine. Maybe they’re glossing over their problems, perhaps it’s wrong of him to forgive Tim so easily, but... what does it matter?

What’s the worst that could happen?

Chapter Text

‘Happy Birthday Jay.’

What had Tim said to him? That, today was his birthday so he shouldn’t have to do anything taxing, or boring, or exhausting or whatever? Jason’s never listened to Tim when he gives instructions like that, is too stubborn, can’t be bothered, doesn’t like the particular shade of attention that comes with the effort being spent on him.

Birthdays at the manor had been a thing, once upon a time, but even those had been trivial - Jason just didn’t understand what the efforts of Bruce and Alfred were supposed to mean, nor how he was supposed to feel in response. Had he had a birthday in the past? Probably. Sure. Yeah, his mom, well, not his mom- fuck, why’s this gotta be so complicated?

So, years on, Tim makes efforts and Jason can tell how meaningful they are. Not to say that previous efforts by others weren’t, but, this is just different in a way Jason would never admit out aloud. He gets why Tim does it too; Tim might have grown up with money but his parents were estranged from him. Jason doesn’t ask, doesn’t feel like he has the right to. Tim doesn’t talk about them, ever, but that’s all Jason needs to know. Maybe, if Tim ever had birthdays, they were displays for show, fanfare for the sake of fanfare and nothing more. So of course, when given the chance to get it right, to celebrate somebody for who they are, for the right reasons, to do them justice, Tim would take it.

Every year, he does something different for Jason.

And this year, Jason is gripping onto Tim’s head under the duvet, roused from his sleep and gasping for dear life, grasping for purchase because he needs more, wants more, is allowed to want it all because today’s his special day.

‘Tim, I gonna- ohhh!’

We deserve the best.

Chapter Text

I’m gonna die here, aren’t I?

The words form briefly in his head, before his concentration is ripped away.

The mountain lion edges out of the pine-bushes, too fucking quiet, mild rustling, but Tim noticed, heard a crack of twigs and had spun on the spot. It had been fucking stalking him. It wants to eat me. As it steps out, Tim manages a good look at it.

In the second that it was still and relatively docile, Tim made out the thick scratch of a scar across the thing’s face, paved across its flat nose, beneath beastly green eyes that flashed in the rosy light of the setting sun. The charred-bark coloured fur through which Tim could see killer musculature, overtly lean, possibly starved, long grey whiskers and tufts of Lazarus-shock-white where its ears are - Tim had seconds to process those details, to waste his final rational moments, before the thing was skipping forward, bounding his way, I’m gonna die I’m gonna die I’m gonna-

It hisses and yowls at him, roaring like a scratching record as it pounces onto Tim - it weighs a fuck tonne, Tim can’t support the impact, and they both go down. Tim tried to roll, but he’s stuck, can’t move, his brain is supplying instruction after instruction but they don’t go any further than Tim’s head. The same head this cougar wants to rip open- the thought makes Tim lurch; his arms fly up just in time and catch the beast’s maw.

When the animal’s canine pierces the palm-mount of his left thumb, he screams.

He should have done that from the start; hands up, scream and shout, holler and jump, perhaps if he looked fierce it wouldn’t have gotten this far- who am I kidding? This is just the kind of bullshit that would, could only happen to him.

The cougar scratched right through his winter coat, clawed through his pants with its swiping feet. It grips after his head, but Tim is blocking, he kicks back out in meek desperation. I can’t... what can I do, what can I do-?

When claws scrape his neck, gauging the arrangement of vessels in his throat, Tim’s body picks up with adrenaline. Tim’s heart hammers between his ears, as he pushes back against the hot fur and popping muscle - his bloody hand doesn’t even hurt anymore, there isn’t any time for it to hurt right now, he wrenches his wrist from the cougar’s grip and grapples with it.

They roll over, on the ground, and for a second Tim is on top, his foot trips over the cougar’s tail, and then he’s underneath again. It swashes on the ground with its feet, looking for purchase as it bites out, snapping its teeth bare inches from Tim’s bleeding face, he’s so scratched up already-

Tim manages to knee it in the gut, is still hollering and shouting in its face as he tries to ball his body in, but this cougar is relentless. Stupid Jason taking all my fucking knives away... maybe if Tim had some actual kit this would be over already. If Tim makes it out of this, there’s no way Jason isn’t going to change his mind.

Pulling at its marred fur, kicking at its gut at the cost of his stability on the floor, nothing makes it stop. This thing has been in fights before, clearly, and that’s even more terrifying, the fact it’s still alive, coming for me. It’s almost insulting - that, after all the times Tim thought about killing himself, the choice he’s always had in the back of his head might get stolen from him now, by a wild cat.

Not tonight. Tim finally manages to hook his legs on the hips of the cougar, and he twists. It drags the fangs away from his face and the paws up off his shoulders for a second, shifts the cougar’s weight enough for Tim to roll, and when he does, it’s like coming up for air. They topple over, and Tim sways, has a chance to look at where they are-

They’re on the edge of a cliff, he can see treetops and misty clouds, and not much else. And Tim’s only just pulled their momentum over, and he can already feel the tug of gravity as his squeezes his thighs onto a cougar for dear life because they’re tipping, we’re gonna die, he’s gonna take his thing with him, what kind of a suicide pact is this-?

They tumble over, Tim and the cougar both scrabbling for purchase and finding only each other in the spin.

It’s just a hill. Not a cliff, though the distinction doesn’t impact Tim’s conclusions - he’s at death’s door whether he’s falling a billion feet or not, because he’s still tangled up with this demon of a cat. They tumble, rolling down the steep incline, where the trees are spaced out. It will certainly be harder to hide - for both of them.

Not another coherent thought flits through Tim’s brain as they continue to roll, like it’s never going to end, if they weren’t smacking against the ground, taking it in hard turns that were only getting harder with each passing second, Tim would have thought that they were falling. It was almost graceful, the way they twisted, taking each other’s position with steady beat, moving in time; but, every smack to the head was ruining the rhythm, he couldn’t focus enough to grasp where they were, what state they were in, where he was hurting most, if he was dying...

Tim wishes there was snow. At least, then, his death would look picturesque. Blood-soaked snow, snowflakes falling- no, cascading gently on his carcass... It would make him feel more worthy...

At least, for a second, the cat is shaken enough for Tim to breathe. They’ve landed in a clearing, they’re covered in mulched leaves and scratches. Tim almost doesn’t have the strength, feels the cougar’s paw comb through his mottled black hair. It’s almost sickening how, for a moment, he is prepared to lean into it, can compare it to fever dreams of Bruce, his parents, almost reminds him of being in bed with Jason-

A meow changes his mind. The way the cougar snarls, shaking the confusion out of its head, it’s gaining awareness. Prescience. Presence. Its eyes continue to glow. The way it cows down, as if it is prepared now, it can sense that Tim is losing his mind, can feel impending victory...

Fuck that. I’m going to kill you.

Tim wrestles back furiously, and it startles, scratches his lip, and fuck is that going to be hard to cover later. Maybe it’s got a taste for him, can smell his rich, hot blood, Tim can’t decide if that’s a compliment or not, he- the cougar gets his jacket sleeve caught in its mouth, and drags him out of position. He has to anchor his elbow down on its neck, while its legs are pinned down with his own. One had, his right, remains free, but his strength is waning. This thing will escape if he doesn’t act quickly. It’s not- that wouldn’t be fair. This isn’t going to finish with him getting eaten, it won’t-

He grasps a stick, goes for the neck, just underneath a springing tendon, but it doesn’t work, snaps in his hand under the pressure, won’t penetrate. If that irritated it, the cougar didn’t show. It continued to write, trying to shake its mouth free. Its arms tried to grab his torso but could latch on. Tim drops his hand out again, feeling the ground, searching, hunting for a - a rock.

It didn’t fit in his hand, was chunky and unwieldy. No tang, or hilt, or grip. No handle... not like any weapon Tim had trained with. This was base... instinctive. Nothing could have trained him for this, not... not any video Batman had could have prepared him, there is not enough Lazarus water on the earth with which to live off of until he could get this experience.

Humans and tools - a combination as old as time. Time to contribute to the legacy.

Tim manages to smack it over the side of the head, near the base of what he presumes is the skull, and its teeth release his arm, perfect.

It’s so strong, still fussing, but in its state of confusion, through the stars that must be clouding its vision, it can’t react. Tim takes quick advantage and gets his bearing. This next move has to be accurate. One chance - treat everything like you only have one chance, and then the effort will follow naturally... no hope of failing, Tim. You have no choice, Timothy-

A war cry. The momentum of two hands. The first strike comes down on the flat of its forehead, and Tim hears the snap of something - it might be his own fingers, but it doesn’t matter - he glimpses green eyes rolling back and that’s good enough for him.

Up... Down. This time, its grip goes slacker, it relaxes under him, acquiesces to him, he can feel its body calming down...

And then, it started thrashing, like it didn’t know what it was doing, like it had finally realised what it had gotten itself into-

Tim brings the rock down to its head again, it’s dazed enough that it can’t block with its paws anymore, just continues scratching at his sides, trying to toss Tim off, but, it’s... it’s too late...

It takes a few more minutes before the rock is coming up red and the cougar has stopped moving, stopped scrabbling, stopped crowing, stopped breathing.

He almost can’t believe it. Its body is still hot underneath him. Its breath is still warm, like the longest exhale he’s ever felt, like embers in the wind. He won’t see those leaf-green eyes peer at him in any sort of way, ever again.

Tim revels in it.

The only one who gets to kill me, is me.

 


 

‘Timmy...? What’s this box?’

‘Don’t open that!’ He cries, hurrying to the doorway, hands still damp from washing them. He flies over before Jason can get his hands on it, and says, slightly out of breath, trying not to sound like he’s running on an empty tank, ‘It’s, er, something from L.A.’

He should have just brought it in once it had arrived and hidden it away. He hadn’t had the energy earlier, so he’d chosen to leave it, and now it was coming back to bite him. Jason has that same look on his face, like the night he found out Tim had been cutting himself; mildly curious, amused curiosity, at-ease disbelief because he can never guess what goes on in my head.

Tim doesn’t feel much like explaining. Jason, of all people, would probably get him best and still misunderstand. There’s no point trying to explain. And anyway, lying is second nature.

‘You not gonna tell me?’

‘No.’ Tim says honestly, inviting no questions, ask me no questions and I’ll tell you no lies... He picks up the box, it’s heavier then he thought, so he lazily drags it into the apartment and near the sofa. It can stay there for a while. At least, until Jason is out and he feels free enough to open it.

He’d only been gone for about four days. Tim had to collect some things from Titan’s Tower, agreed to take it easy, Jason didn’t want to leave Gotham while Dick was still recovering nor while Bruce was busy corralling Robin. They’d made an agreement, he’d call every day, regular updates, no evading answering questions... stupid romantic stuff like that.

And then, of course, Tim had disappeared. Wouldn’t explain how he ended up in the mountains. Story is, he turned up back at the tower on what was supposed to be his last night in L.A., bleeding out on their doorstep, high on adrenaline. He’d almost been seen by city authorities too, but he’d made it off scot-free all the same.

That’s not entirely true... Jason had been furious. Sure, he’s hugged him tight when they were finally reunited, and when Tim woke up from an anaesthetic-induced sleep and called him, slurred his words over shitty signal, Jason had yelled a lot. Most of it was how much he missed Tim, though, not how angry he was. That he saved for when they were back at the apartment, face to face, after Tim had recovered.

Three days later, and some of Tim’s stitches are already out - thankfully, most of the wounds were superficial. His lip is still stitched, however, as well as his neck, and his sides and his thighs. The cougar ripped diagonally through Tim’s self-harm scars, but that wound he’d hidden, managed to hide it amidst all the others and patch it up himself. Nobody else is allowed to know about it, and that’s that. Bad enough that Jason knows, has seen what a mess he’s become.

Tim doesn’t quite see it that way all the time, however. And... that’s kinda why he has the box.

‘Aight...’ Jason lets it go, appears to anyway, he lets Tim move the box out of the way as he goes back to his dinner. He’s reading at the table, some porn magazine (apparently, it’s for a case), but his concentration is split between that, Tim and the box, and his plate. Tim isn’t suspicious, because if he had reason to, Jason would have tried to hide his behaviour. Tim doesn’t... I am not inadequate. Tim doesn’t feel like sharing his body is a priority anymore, and he gets now that Jason isn’t asking him to, either. It just took Tim a while to connect the dots.

‘Tim, your meds.’

When Tim makes it to the kitchen area, Jason has his pills lined up on the table, with a giant glass of water. Tim doesn’t like drinking that much in one go, makes him feel bloated and ill, he’s used to sipping litres throughout the day, but Jason isn’t going to let him go unless he complies. Tim takes them all, doesn’t bother asking what each one is specifically, just makes a handful of them and drinks them all down in one go-

‘Hey! You could choke.’

‘I’m fine.’ Tim insists, heeding Jason before he has a bitch-fit and drinking more carefully.

‘And hey, come here, sit with me, you’re gonna aggravate that hand-‘

‘Do you mind?’ Tim stops him, suddenly noticing the thrum of irritation surging up his arm from his stitched hand. The bandages are heavy and tight like they’re made of frigging papier-mâché, but Jason has been insisting upon looking after him, changing the wrappings and balming Tim's aching wounds each day, plainly doesn’t trust Tim to do it properly. Tim’s hand stopped bleeding a few days ago, but Tim keeps toeing the line, forgetting that he needs to rest. It doesn’t help that he’s on a bunch of antibiotics.

‘Yeah, I do. Chill, Tim. You need rest. Picking fights with fucking mountain lions...’

Tim ignores his words, chooses not to react, but he does sit across from Jason. ‘I, actually, I... I managed to do some soul-searching. And stuff.’ He adds, trying not to sound so... moist.

Jason puts down the magazine, lowers it with seriousness. ‘What? What d’you mean.’

Tim says, ‘Just... wrestling with killing machines and stuff, it’s put some things into perspective and-‘

‘Put what things into perspective, Tim?’ Interrupts Jason, concerned, pushing Tim closer to his actual point.

Tim rests his hands on the table. ‘I don’t want to be sad anymore, Jay, I... I’m gonna try. I want to change, ‘cause... I really want to be happy right now.’

Jason is smiling softly at hearing that, which is reassuring. ‘Yeah?’

‘Yeah, Jay, really.’

‘Ok then.’ He says, and he gets up from his seat to lean over the table and kiss Tim. Gentle, respectful, but blissful all the same. He tastes like flowery herbs, he must have been experimenting with his cooking again, he tastes so sweet like rose-pollen, lavender or marigold or something. ‘I love you, Timmy.’

‘Love you.’ Tim is getting better at saying things out aloud. He understands that it’s better to be open, because one day, you just might not have the chance anymore.

They sit in silence after that, and Jason carries on. But... Tim can sense nervousness. So, because he’s being open and that, he calls Jason out, ‘You still want to know what’s in my box, don’t you.’

'Look,’ Jason says, placing his fork down, ‘I’m just not accustomed to having unidentified packages in my apartment is all. Like, I just associate that kinda packaging with explosives and shit, so... Oh, and, the way you behaved over your little excursion was shady, baby bird. Can you blame me-?’

‘How far did you get, watching cameras?’ Tim says, biting the bullet. He’s sure Jason cased him after finding out what had happened; had Tim actually died, Jason would have tracked each moment leading down to it, out of a sick sense of entitlement, or guilt, or for closure or something... Tim doesn’t know why Jason puts himself through it, but he accepts that Jason won’t change.

I like him just the way he is.

Jason recounts wearily, not caring that Tim will know for sure that Jason has since stalked him, ‘I dunno... you- that taxi you took, I saw you get in it. But when it got to the airport, you didn’t get out, and the taxi just picks up a new passenger, and goes off again. There were cameras all along the highway, and I still haven’t found a delay long enough to explain when or where you got out.’

Jason’s so incredibly close. Truth is, Tim paid the guy to stop in the middle of the road, at just the right spot, left him a bunch of cash for his discretion. From the edge of the highway, he had trekked on foot up a hill and steadily into the forests. The lengths I have to go to for a walk...

‘You scare me when you pull that disappearing shit, y’know. Especially when you turn up after a while bleeding to death for no reason-’

‘I didn’t go out there meaning for any of that shit to happen, ok?’ Tim says, trying not to start an argument so soon after telling Jason that he’s comfortable with himself now; Tim doesn’t have time for doubt anymore, doesn’t want disagreement and his occasional need for complete privacy to get in the way of progress, my progress. ‘I just wanted to be by myself for a while. Believe me, it’s not like I’ve designed some new twisted training schemes for myself...’

‘Well, for the record, I don’t like it. Don’t do it again.’

Jason gets up and deals with his dishes, and Tim peeks at his magazine - it actually has articles in it, amidst the frottage and titties, and typical Jason, he’s highlighted certain phrases and circled others in marker. He treats everything like literature analysis, Tim thinks, finding droll humour in the fact.

Jason doesn’t care that he sees, ignores where Tim’s attention really is and uses it to say more things that bite at his mistakes. ‘I asked you nicely, to keep in touch with me. You couldn’t even manage to do that-‘

‘I was busy trying not to die, Jay, I don’t know what more you want!’

‘What I want to know, Tim, is what that fucking box has in it... Like, babe, you’re killing me.’

Those last three words change Tim’s mind. So, he relents and warns, ‘You’re gonna freak out.’ Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Jason promises, walking behind Tim, who hasn’t moved from his chair, ‘I won’t freak out.’

Tim slips off his seat and follows, watches as Jason picks the box up and carries it to the coffee table, sits on the sofa like he’s getting a fucking present. ‘I mean, there’re very few things that could shock me.’ He says, inspecting the duct tape, ‘You know what I’ve seen.’

‘You need scissors?’

‘Yeah. They’re in my cabinet.’ Jason passes Tim a key, and Tim goes over to the wardrobe by the wall, near the balcony door. Jason keeps some of his guns there; inside, there are a range of rifles, carbine, assault, a Dragunov sniper rifle that he taught Tim how to use (‘In case of an emergency, like a zombie apocalypse or some shit, Tim, I dunno. Don’t you wanna be prepared?’). There are hand-guns, revolvers, a vintage pistol with brassy-gold engraved plating that Tim is pretty sure Jason lifted off of Deathstroke. It is pretty to look at, though, so fair enough.

‘First drawer.’ Jason says. Tim pulls it open, and yep, there’s all my stuff. Packed here and there, everything sharp that Jason thought Tim might cut himself with is here. Tim digs around, and underneath some stray bullet shells he finds a ferocious-looking pair of fabric scissors.

When he passes it to Jason, he gets a quirked face in return. Jason must be thinking, like, seriously? Tim shrugs his shoulders and sits beside him. Maybe if he’d been allowed a knife, he’d have gotten away from the mountain lion with fewer scrapes... He‘ll never tell Jason that this thought has crossed his mind, however.

Jason tears open the box and Tim has to chide him. ‘Gently. God...’ And once the lid has been pried apart, and the top layer of the packing material has been littered on the floor around them, Tim’s secret is out.

‘Is this what I think it is?’

Tim murmurs, with awkward petulance, ‘What d’you think it is? Do I look like a mind reader-?’

‘It looks like you... skinned a mountain lion.’

‘I, er, yeah, I mean, obviously I didn’t do it myself...’

Jason recoils from the box, probably wishing that he hadn’t asked now, and Tim can almost hear Jason’s blood pressure rising. ‘Tim! What the hell-?’

‘I knew you wouldn’t understand. I told you to mind your own business but you didn’t listen, like-’

‘I didn’t know you were shipping yourself dead animals, Timothy, Christ alive-!’

‘It doesn’t matter!’ Tim says, grabbing the box, and putting it on the floor to the side of the table, and he pulls the skin out and drapes it over his lap. And his intuition was right; it feels almost like a blanket.

Jason catches himself, controls his reaction, says more carefully, ‘Ok, baby bird, I’m- I’m just confused, I... Why on earth do you have that?’

Jason does look very undecided about the whole thing, but Tim decides that in this case, what Jason thinks doesn’t matter to him. It can’t. ‘I... I killed this cougar with my bare hands, Jason. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. The... it was a rush I‘ve never felt. It made me feel like I was living, Jason. More than I ever felt in my life. It was, I don’t know how to explain... Liberating? Shocking, it, I was bleeding so much but I beat this thing and I lived when I could have just as easily died, and... I had to have this made so I’d always be able to remember what it felt like. I don’t want to forget.’

Thankfully, Jay decides that Tim has explained himself enough. ‘How did you-?’

‘I’m rich, remember? Tim Drake made a few calls, called in a favour or two. It cost a lot, but I’m glad I paid, like, what’s the point of having money if I can’t use it... And I didn’t have to do a thing. Called a guy, gave some information, and all I had to do after was wait. And they fixed it a little, see?’

He flips it so Jason can see; the inner side has been tanned quite nicely, preserved properly. The fur, now that it’s been washed and cleaned and treated, looks different to what Tim remembered; there are ochres and umbers that Tim hadn’t noticed, and it feels so soft this time. The last time he’d felt this pelt, it had been part of a creature trying to murder him. Now... it‘s become my trophy. Whoever dealt with the pelt had fixed the head too, where Tim had smashed into it to break the cougar’s skull. It that hadn’t been in pieces, maybe he’d have kept that too...

Jason, with Tim’s encouragement, hesitantly gives it a pat and a stroke, and says, ‘I really don’t think it suits our decor, you know.’

‘Don’t worry. This - I don't want it out on display or anything. I just wanted it. Y’know?’

They’re always checking between each other, after all this time they still can’t just know when they agree with each other or not, that they’re thinking the same thing. Sometimes they do, but when it’s for something personal, they just can’t tell, can’t be sure, don’t trust their feelings. Jason nods, and says, ‘Can you put it away now, please? Freaks me out a little...’

Tim doesn’t make a joke, doesn’t call Jason a pussy, because he’s being relatively understanding and I really need this. Instead, he takes it, and hangs it up in the bedroom along with all his clothes, like he’s going to wear it someday. When he comes back, he says, joking casually to break the ice, ‘I can’t wait to show it to Damian-’

‘Baby, even I think that’d be a little cruel.’ Jason says, the shock wearing off him now the box-mystery is dealt with. Tim drops into his lap, and curls up. He presses a hand on Jason’s chest, feeling the muscle underneath, judges how comforting he finds it against the pelt he‘s acquired, against the murderous cougar threatening to rip him to pieces.

Why can’t he quite decide which feeling he appreciated most?

‘It’s alright.’ Tim says, ‘I know it’s a bit disturbing. Kinda why I wanted to keep it to myself...’

‘Hey.’ Jason wraps his arms around Tim’s waist, kisses the top of his shoulder. ‘I’m still in love with you, remember? If anyone should get to surprise me every now and then, it’s supposed to be you, right? And anyway, at least I didn’t open the thing and find, like, Gwyneth Paltrow’s head or something-’

Tim laughs, rests against Jason, leans into him. ‘Right...’

There’s nothing to be ashamed about. Tim is just... surrounding himself with things that make him feel safe. That’s all. And... if he looks at the pelt every now and then, feels it and remembers what it was like to beat the thing to death with his bare hands and a rock, then, well...

I know what power feels like now

Chapter Text

‘This... This isn’t about casework is it?’

They’ve both had long days, but Tim especially; he hasn’t really slept in a while, and today’s one of those days where the sun is shining through the windows like a torch, everything is yellow and bright and headache-inducing.

Tim falters, but continues talking like Jason hasn’t said anything, because he’s going to confirm Jason’s hypothesis anyway. ‘I’ve tried everything. I tried cutting myself, I tried jumping off tall buildings, I tried pretending everything is fine, even! I’ve tried you, and nothing -!’

Jason stands up, all of a sudden, takes car keys off the table, and pats himself, exhibits all the behaviour of one making to leave.

Tim’s engine stalls. ‘Wh-Where are you going?’

‘Out. I’ll be back later.’ Jason says, stopping for a second. He appears to second-guess himself, before pocketing his keys and turning around. But instead of saying anything, instead of explaining, or apologising or admitting to anything, he briefly steps into the kitchen and slides out a case of beers from the lowest cupboards. The bottles clink against each other as he hefts it under his arm.

‘What? Why?’ Tim says, looking confused, angry, betrayed. He knows this is to do with something he’s done, because Jason won’t even look at him-

Jason says exhaustedly, ‘You... You could’ve just said, ‘I’ve tried sex’, or ‘I tried talking’. But you said, you tried me.’

Tim stares at him. ‘What the fuck is the difference, Jay? You know what-’

Jason’s eyes burn like harsh sunlight when they finally meet Tim’s own. ‘No, I don’t know what you meant. I hardly know what you mean by anything these days. When you work it out for yourself, when you’ve tried everything... You let me know.’ Jason barks through his teeth. It- Tim is insulted, because that’s how Jason wants it to sound. Because he feels insulted. And when Jason gets angry, he dishes out as good as was dealt. Tim doesn’t understand why Jason feels like that though.

Jason leaves before Tim can get the last word in, slamming the door so hard the frame shakes.

Tim isn’t going to sit and cry angry tears. Not this time, at least. Instead, he grabs his own keys and decides to give chase. ‘Jay- Jason! Wait!’

When Tim makes it into the hallway, barefoot in burgundy sneakers that don’t belong to him and wearing the bomber jacket that belongs to Alvin, the elevator is approaching a different floor above them. So… Jason didn’t take it. Tim hurries to the stairs, peers down, can hear Jason taking clipped stomps, can hear the shaking of glass within cardboard, but Jason himself is nowhere to be seen.

When he finally clocks that the noise is coming from above him, you’re so fucking stupid, Tim, he jumps up the steps. Jason is really fast though, has already made it to the very top. Tim almost falters when he hears the roof-door slam shut, the way he can feel the stair frames vibrating in aftershock. But of course Jason doesn’t want to talk to him, doesn’t want to see him, he knew that when he began following him. There’s no turning back, Tim.

Jason has jammed the door. Tim barges it experimentally, but he knows he can’t break it. Fuck... why is Jason being like this? He tries, lamely, ‘Jay! Open the door, please?’ But he’s sure Jason isn’t listening. He looks at the door again, imagines Jason standing on the other side, grimacing at the handle and wondering whether he should open for Tim.

Tim pulls his keys out, considers them for a moment. None of these will open to roof door, but... Tim is ingenious. He picks the thickest key, the key for his office at work, and like he suspected it slots quite nicely into the screws keeping the door hinged. It takes a moment, but he manages to unscrew the first, one slightly above his head, and it clinks onto the floor as he throws it out of the way. He has to tip-toe to reach the highest two, but the screws come loose all the same, and eventually, he has them all off.

The door is heavy, but Tim doesn’t intend to hold it. Especially when the first gunshot rings out - the sound of explosion, of shattering debris, Tim simply cannot wait any longer. Door opened, he rests it on the ground and carefully lays it down, flat on the floor (well, as flat as he can in what little space there is). And, finally, he can step out into the light.

Jason punts another beer bottle in the air, a heavy underarm throw, and the beer flips and spins above their heads- and then he fires another shot, and it bursts. Glass glitters in the sky, and the entire mess falls past the rooftop edge. No mess. And, Jason is already prepping the next one-

Tim doesn’t know where Jason could have possibly gotten that gun from. ‘What are you doing-?’

‘Didn’t I tell you to leave me alone!’

No, you didn’t. ‘Jason, please!’

Jason huffs with tense frustration, more than a sigh, he exhales like he wishes he could breathe fire all over their problems, ‘You- You’re such an asshole.’

And then, he shoots another bottle out of the sky.

It’s daytime still, so what Jason is doing is making a scene, and Tim is concerned as fuck about that, so worried because Jason is shooting things because of me. ‘Jason, stop it.’

‘Stop what? You realise that if I don’t put these bullets through these bottles one of ‘em could be going in you next-’

‘I’m sorry. I am. Can we talk? Without the gun? I... I don’t like rooftops.’ You’re scaring me.

Tim knows that he’s making this all about him. Jason is probably sick of that, but... what else can he do? Whenever he’s tried to be subtle, whenever he’s tried to keep people in the dark, whenever he’s not been entirely open and honest, whenever he’s tried to leave signs, no one notices. He hasn’t been in the habit of forcing hands in a long time, but, perhaps he’s not so bad at it. It even kinda works for him.

He feels guilty, but, he’s exhausted so he doesn’t care what emotional burden he’s adding to.

Jason grouses, ‘Go back inside then. I’m not going anywhere until I’m done here. I...’

‘You need to feel better. I get it.’ Tim says easily, even backing off a little.

They’re talking now, instead of just plain shouting at each other, but Jason doesn’t appear any calmer, the way the intensity of his gaze and his articulation never falls away completely, ‘Oh don’t start, Timmy, you’re just gonna guilt me into-!’

‘I have to! It’s not like you’re so fucking easy to talk to!’ Tim strides forward, and picks a bottle up by the neck, and like a bowler he throws it, all of his strength to send it flying, maybe it’ll disappear in the distance-

It shatters before Tim’s eyes, and Jason’s gun begins to smoke.

They share a look; of course Jason would be like this, can’t let Tim just vent and win. He thinks he’s going to solve all my problems, doesn’t he? If Jason could, Tim isn’t sure he’d even allow it. And he still believes that he can’t tell Jason everything, otherwise what would Jason think of him? That- that he’s some kind of nightmare come to life, right? He can’t be plain - and anyway, Tim suspects that Jason would get a bit bored of him in the long run, if he wasn’t at least a little interesting. Heroes need to save. But the question must be; who can a hero save if not a victim? Tim had made a choice, hadn't he? Hadn’t I? He’s not meant to be a victim anymore.

So Tim tries again, grabs another bottle before Jason can stop him, this time throwing higher, towards the sunlight, trying to blind Jason. The bottle soars, easily a seven-out-of-ten performance- Jason lines the shot in a second and the bottle disappears, with another loud pop.

‘You can’t...’ Jason starts, but whatever he wants to say apparently hasn’t been planned correctly, for he trails off. Tim can’t win? Tim can’t argue with him? Tim can’t what, Jaybird?

‘I don’t want to be alone.’ Tim says, trying not to sound so fucking pathetic, trying not to feel like he is losing.

‘I told you I was gonna be back, didn’t I?’ Jason challenges, helping himself to another beer. This time, instead of wasting it, he pries the top off and takes a sip. It’s still early to be drinking, but... they don’t exactly have very regular clocks. And, Jason is making out like Tim is an inconvenience. That’s not fair...

Tim sulks, ‘I’m sorry. Really. I shouldn’t have said-’

Jason hurriedly stops drinking, pulls the bottle from his lips and swallows quickly, ‘No, it’s good that you fucking said it, instead of lying to me. I think it’s only fair to let me know when I’m being fucking used, don’t you think? You’re apologising for the wrong thing. I don’t- You know... I actually get affected by your opinion of me, right? That’s how being your boyfriend works, yeah?’

‘I...’

Jason takes the half-drunk bottle in his hand, grips it like a javelin, pulls back and releases. Beer spills from it regardless, and the change in weight affects the trajectory, but Jason still destroys it with a clean shot. ‘Yeah, I figured you wouldn’t know that. ‘Cause... I’m nothing to you, aren’t I? Just some- some security. Someone to keep you warm when you feel like ice inside. Right?’

Tim doesn’t like this at all. He aggravates, ‘Jason, shut up, that’s not true-!’

‘But you fucking act like it is, Tim. Don’t you see? Like, you say stupid shit like that and I can’t- For someone who hurts all the time, you sure can dish it out can’t you?’

‘That’s not fair! I never-’

‘Never what? Speak without thinking? You do it all the fucking time.’

‘Stop interrupting me!’ Tim can’t think, can’t stand for this... ‘You’re making a mistake.’

Jason’s grip on his gun loosens. ‘A mistake? You’re threatening me now? Fuck, you are a real piece of work Tim-’

‘Fuck off Jason. You don’t even want my apology- you’ve just been waiting to have a crack at me too, haven’t you? Just like everybody else-’

‘Do you hear yourself?’ Jason says, but, chances are he doesn’t give a fuck about Tim’s answer. There are another seven bottles in the box for him to get through. He has more important things to do, certainly more important things than me to concern himself with.

‘Don’t you hear me? I’m telling you that I understand. I was wrong, I- I never meant it, I swear, I’m sorry Jay.’

Tim is shaking, and the way Jason doesn’t move or shift or react is unsettling. But just when Tim thinks it’s hopeless to expect anything, because it’s been minutes of pause, wildly staring at each other, with grief like someone has died, Jason nods stiffly.

‘Ok Tim.’

Tim had almost thought everything was lost. He exhales desperately, hadn’t noticed how he’d been clenching his throat with worry, breathes in relief.  He wants to hug Jason, but he doesn’t think he can - Jason won’t appreciate it, has nowhere to holster his gun, probably doesn’t want Tim touching him at all right now. The nod was enough. He can walk away.

As Tim catches his breath, Jason adds, ‘We’re good, ok? Get back inside.’

‘Yeah. Ok, Jay.’

Jason waits as Tim leaves, but when he’s a flight or so back down the stairs, Tim hears another shot ring out. Lovely... Tim shakes his head, walks slowly, treading. Maybe he does need to learn to be more considerate. Jason isn’t a thing. He’s Jason. Fuck, I’m so dependent... He supposes there’s nothing he can do anymore. He’s gotten his peace, that’ll carry him over for now. Jason can wait, will want to wait, will try to fix himself.

But Tim knows that Jason hurts too. Isn’t offended that Jason didn’t think so - he understands that. Maybe Tim had been thinking about himself quite a lot recently... It will take Jason time to adjust. Compromising can hurt. Tim of all people knows that. How much has he lost to compromise? Tim doesn’t get how he can compromise with Jason any more than he already is... he’s sharing more than ever, aren’t I?

Perhaps, Jason is finding it hard to accept that he doesn’t like what he has learnt, even though he asked to be brought into the know.

Blessed are the peacemakers, right?

 


 

‘Tim’thy!’

It’s late evening when Tim sees Jason next. He knocks loudly on the door a couple times, remembers he has keys, and manages to let himself in. Tim is out on the balcony, so he doesn’t bother answering. He can pretend he didn’t hear.

He turns his head, and spots Jason laying waste to the hallway, dropping jackets, flipping shoes out of place. The way he stumbles to the bathroom; he’s drunk. Tim is of half a mind to just grab his grapple-gun and leave, spend the night on patrol or something, anything but this, because... Jason will be honest with him. He already has Jason’s forgiveness, he doesn’t want to know how genuine it wasn’t, Tim doesn’t care, it will only hurt to know the truth, I want to pretend a little longer

The balcony door slides open, and Jason pops through. ‘There y’are. How’re you feeling?’

‘I-’

‘Good, good. Great. Stupendous.’ Jason rambles, clearly not very aware at all. He goes back inside, and Tim feels obliged to follow. He has to make sure Jason makes it to bed ok.

Jason gets into the bathroom and is in there for about an hour. The shower runs for most of that time, so Tim thinks he’s getting off easy. Until today, Jason has been pretty low-maintenance, has preferred to keep to himself until he decides he doesn’t want to (apparently...). Tim waits, watched the bathroom door, until Jason steps back out again. He’s wearing the same clothes, but Tim can tell he’s showered - maybe not completely, but now he smells like soap and his shirt sort of sticks to him like he hasn’t dried himself properly. His hair isn’t wet though. He’s taken his jeans off, probably left them in the bathroom. Tim can take care of that later.

Instead of making any move to call it a night, however, Jason makes his way to the kitchen next. The clatter of saucepans is obnoxious and uncomfortable, it makes Tim want to hit him. ‘What are you doing?’

This time Jason answers him, if a little crassly, ‘I am trying to make something to eat, bitch-’

‘Seriously? Jason, stop.’ Tim says, taking Jason’s arms. ‘Lemme heat something up for you. Least I can do.’

He looks up through his eyelashes, and Jason’s whole face is glazed over. He bites on his lower lip like an undecided child, but his face is pulled taut in that way that can only be achieved by an overworked adult. His eyebrows are pulled in. Tim can make out the white roots at the front of his hair, where he hasn’t dyed it in a while. He’s able to hide it for now, but he’ll need to do it again soon. Tim can help, he knows all about covering things up.

Jason lets Tim lead him to the table, lets himself be sat down. Jason even waits patiently, quietly, must be entertaining himself, while Tim microwaves Thai green curry and rice, and a bag of spring rolls. Tim had ordered earlier, decided to try eating his troubles away.

It hadn’t really worked for him, but he understood the habit a lot better now. 

When he sets the plate down in front of Jason, with a fork, Jason gets to work. Tim sets himself down across from him, and watches. Jason munches, stuffs his face, pushes his food around the plate, but doesn’t say anything. At one point, he pushes the spring rolls Tim’s way, and Tim takes one out of propriety.

When his mouth is full, Jason talks, maybe he learnt to do that from Bruce, ‘Is it too hopeful to think we might still fuck tonight?’

And Tim laughs, wondering how thunderous things are going to get. ‘Maybe. Thought you didn’t want me?’

Jason doesn’t like hearing that. His head swings, and, fuck... how drunk is he? ‘Didn’t I not say I want you, Timothy Drake? I said I was fine, so I’m fine. Comprende?’

‘Yeah.’ Tim complies. Hearing his full name is weird and alarming and stirring all at once. Especially the way Jason slurs it, it’s unnatural. Jason isn’t making sense, but somehow, Tim feels like he might get him that little bit more now.

Jason’s hand, the one that’s free, clenches, itching to grip something that isn’t there. A bottle, maybe. My body... more likely. ‘You wanna fuck now? Let’s fuck now.’

Tim pushes his seat back, takes Jason by the collar, drags him up and pulls him along behind him. He can’t deny Jason, who is just as deprived as he is, yearns just as much as he does - it’s why they make such a great team. Weak, despondent, suffering - they share everything, don’t they?

When Tim kisses Jason, he can taste lime and coconut and tequila and spice and rum and- it’s terrifying. Jason is more than happy to reciprocate, is running his tongue on Tim’s teeth like he means to, though he doesn’t, and Tim doesn’t care if this is messy and unwieldy and just plain fucking odd, it’s lovely.

Tim pulls at Jason’s top, and he takes it off. There are bruises on his arms that Tim hadn’t seen, and as he kisses Jason’s neck, he presses into them. Jason wants to feel his pain too, Tim remembers. Jason grabs onto Tim’s hips, turns him around and walks him to the bedroom, as if he needed any encouragement... he can already feel how ready Jason is, can see it through his thin boxer-briefs. Jason must expect great things.

What Jason doesn’t expect is to be turned over on the bed. To be prepared. To be filled to the brim. To enjoy it so much, or to lose himself in it.

But that’s what Tim makes possible.

Tim knows now, knows how to distract him, even when Jason has tried and failed to numb himself with alcohol. Tim knows how to make him feel, because he’s the same. Jason is just as empty as he is.

We were fucking made for each other, huh.

Chapter Text

  1. Flipside - Lana Del Rey
  2. Water - ScHoolboy Q
  3. Malibu - Miley Cyrus
  4. A Knife In The Ocean - Foals
  5. Figure It Out - Royal Blood
  6. Gunz N Butter - A$AP Rocky Feat. Juicy J
  7. Real Slim Shady - Eminem
  8. Up North Trip - Mobb Deep
  9. Trigger Bang - Lily Allen Feat. Giggs
  10. Inglorious - Slowthai Feat. Skepta
  11. Bad Babysitter - Princess Superstar Feat. The High & Mighty
  12. In The Heat Of The Moment - Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds
  13. If You Really Love Nothing - Interpol
  14. I Ran Away - Coldplay
  15. What’s Beef? - The Notorious B.I.G.
  16. The Glory - Flatbush Zombies Feat. Denzel Curry
  17. Fire Water - Ice Cube
  18. Brothers - Kid Cudi Feat. King Chip & A$AP Rocky
  19. Eye For A Eye (Your Beef Is Mines) - Mobb Deep Feat. Nas & Raekwon
  20. Chinatown - Liam Gallagher
  21. DJ - Amanda Blank
  22. 1 Thing - Amerie
  23. Something Foreign - SiR Feat. ScHoolboy Q
  24. Ronnie Drake - Isaiah Rashad Feat. SZA
  25. Overstimulated - Jhené Aiko
  26. Belong To You - Sabrina Claudio
  27. Comin’ Out Strong - Future Feat. The Weeknd
  28. Needed Me - Rihanna
  29. Empire - Kasabian
  30. Crave - Madonna & Swae Lee
  31. We Got That Cool - Yves V Feat. Afrojack & Icona Pop
  32. Hurt Feelings - Mac Miller
  33. Fuck It I Love You - Lana Del Rey
  34. Creep - Radiohead
  35. Wild Wild West - Offset Feat. Gunna
  36. Chase The Money - E-40 Feat. Quavo, Roddy Ricch, A$AP Ferg & ScHoolboy Q
  37. I Guess You’re Right - The Posies
  38. Love Me Harder - Ariana Grande Feat. The Weeknd
  39. Struggle - Tove Lo
  40. Smiley Faces - Gnarls Barkley

Chapter Text

‘You are not counting.’

Tim is shaken out of his thoughts, swung back into the present, and he corrects his feet as he pulls Cassandra around him, half-leading her gently within the crowd of dancing couples. Her pearl dress flutters behind her, and she takes the reigns, drags him along with it.

‘Sorry.’ He says, not fully meaning it because you know, ‘I was just-’

Yes. Thinking too hard.’ She tells him, smiling with serene grace.

Cassandra’s always like that, so accepting and... chill. He knows her though; knows how sinister that very same look can get. Criminals are lucky the Black Bat suit had a full mask.

Tim doesn’t mind doing the gala runs, making appearances at Wayne functions as is his duty; Dick, Jason and Damian all hate it, for different reasons, but Tim manages himself just fine. It’s in his blood - it wasn’t a matter of choice for him, it was just the done thing. And Cass, on the other hand, she actually enjoys it. It’s a chance for her to observe, to lose herself in a crowd without fully melding away, without melting into the mix. She can hear new sounds, learn new tastes, gets to warm up her body-reading skills... Lady Shiva never taught me that. Cassandra finds ways to keep herself entertained whatever the setting.

Cassandra stops him as the music reaches its final cadence, makes it look like he’s stopping her like the leader would, and she even plants a gentle brush of a kiss on his clean cheek. ‘Relax. Must be casual.’

Tim can’t just relax like that.

It feels insolent to have been asked, but Cass gets a free pass because they’re in the middle of a job - but still, telling him to calm down is one of the worst things one might do to help him when he’s this strung up. It never works, don’t waste the effort. He looks around, and people are dispersing, so Tim pats her arm and bids her to follow him back into the crowd. He likes that not everything between them has to be said; Tim is tired of words.

He’s been stopped so many times already; people who knew his parents, employees of WE asking him how his vacation went, rich people who’d like to get into business with him, who want a taste of his family’s prestige, maybe Bruce’s prestige... Tim never thinks much of his name, useful as it is, and sometimes being Timothy Drake or Timothy Wayne can be annoying as hell.

Cassandra Wayne is Bruce’s darling - they’ve done quite a lot of publicity together, they’ve been to charity events; she’s been idolised for working with Bruce and WE to establish charity for the deaf and mute; because of her, WE offers sign language classes to all of its employees. It’s small things like that which people praise her for. It also helps that she’s never been caught off-guard by the paparazzi, never been caught in a scandal, no blunders on record. She’s taken to the press-life, the performing, the propriety, more smoothly than any of them except Tim who was born into it, and maybe Dick, who was an entertainer by trade.

Tim‘s reputation is not very good in comparison; ok, maybe that’s not true, but he’s known for being a businessman. They’re generally terrible somehow, because capitalism, right? I’m no saint. Additionally, he’s tweeted unsavoury memes, been to clubs with odd celebrities, there was that weird two-week period where everyone thought he and Kourtney Kardashian were getting married... Maybe Tim’s biggest controversy was signing over his family’s company to Bruce - a lot of republicans slammed him in the press for that. Tim didn’t care if Drake Industries became just another subsidiary under Wayne Enterprises, or if it was dissolved entirely, whatever, it wasn’t important on its own anyway.

It was even bigger news when Bruce named him (acting, Tim) CEO, making him one of the youngest bosses in the history of business, ever - he hasn’t actually checked to see if he’s on the Forbes list yet, but... It’s a flex.

Tim has to parade himself about like he fits in, but there are always other things he’d rather be doing. Having said that, there are worse things he could be doing too. It doesn’t help that Cassandra doesn’t agree with him on the Stephanie-debacle.

Oh yeah.

He keeps forgetting and remembering... Stephanie Brown is back. Somewhere. She had left; he had been led to believe that she’d died, but in truth she’d been living it up, and... now she was coming back. Jason had broken the news to him, because apparently that was the easiest way, everyone had discussed him behind his back, and... Tim had cried. Had collapsed to his knees, not in relief that his ex-girlfriend had been found and was indeed alive, but because his once best-friend had let him believe she was gone forever and had so betrayed him. Tim hasn’t decided yet how he wants to handle the issue; it’s inevitable that he’ll have to, but… He’s sure he cried a hole through Jason’s t-shirt with the acid in his tears.

And Cassandra doesn’t see, doesn’t understand, what the problem is.

Tim takes his fourth glass (I’m pretty sure it’s the fourth) of slightly sour, minerally champagne from a passing waiter and gulps half the glass down in a deceptive sip.

Cassandra thinks that it’s alright for Stephanie to have lied to him, justified, that Tim wouldn’t have handled Steph’s plan in a way that was conducive to her success at whatever she was fucking doing. Clearly, Cass thinks very little of him, then - he of all people is capable of keeping a few secrets, Stephanie Brown’s secrets. He really would have died over it, he has so many secrets to keep already, what would have been a few more?

It also bothers him immensely that he still doesn’t know what she’s been doing this whole time. Bruce hasn’t said anything to him yet, there are simply no files on Stephanie’s antics on the Bat-system for Tim to hack, and if Cass or Jason know, then they’re waiting for Stephanie to come and tell Tim herself. Probably something about her rights and her being ready... but I’m done with waiting.

I’m going to kill her when she finally shows her fucking face-

Cass gives him a weird look, is probably reading the rage in his eyes but can’t glean the context given their environment, wouldn’t understand him even if she did, gives a quick swivel as she assesses for a threat she might have missed, even when she’s sure she hasn’t. She’s very good like that. She even takes the glass out of his hand before he’s finished with it, placing it deftly on another passing tray without needing to look.

‘Father is coming, little brother.’

Bruce Wayne hasn’t had much to drink yet, so his stride is sure and even, Tim can pick out the spreading slapping sound of Bruce’s shoes over everybody else’s. Usually Bruce plays it up a lot more, but tonight he’s being well-behaved. There’s not even a random model hanging off his arm tonight. He must be briefed on Tim’s condition, because he says cool and serious, just leaking Batman, ‘Your target is here. I suggest you get into her purse before Selina does. I’ll never hear the end of it otherwise-‘

‘Don’t worry, we’ve got this.’

Tim is working even when he’s pissed off to fuck, because he doesn’t play by halves. Crime doesn’t sleep, so why should he?

The mission: a reporter is doing a piece on the vigilantes and by some act of God managed to swipe Nightwing’s phone of all things. Mind, it’s pretty battered and shattered and all sorts of broken, but if the SD card was still intact, they risked exposure. Information is power, after all. This woman is paranoid too, has kept the thing on her person since she got her grubby mitts on it.

Nightwing is such a fucking cunt. He literally has no qualms, either, he plain doesn’t care, apparently. What possible reason could he give for this fuck-up? What competent vigilante even carries a phone when they’ve got comms and all sorts of other tech made specifically for their double lives-? There is no explanation good enough, but, no one besides Tim cares about it now. They’re all such pragmatists, ‘what’s done is done’, there’s a way to clean up the mess - there always is.

Tim is going to steal it back. When the team (Dick Grayson is not a team player) needs bailing out, who better is there?

Bruce jests, but their honour is on the line. There is a competition ongoing - Catwoman thinks she can nab it back for them despite not being invited to, and now it’s a race against her to get it. Tim knows she’ll charge them a fee too, and though Bruce will certainly pay her somehow... if Tim is worth anything to the team, Bruce won’t have to, there won’t be a need for it. He thinks this is a bit of a test too, from Bruce and Selina together, a ‘let’s see where all that training got him’ type of thing. They question whether he’s capable.

He’ll prove them wrong.

He’s roped Cass in using sympathy and allegiance and something inadvertent that she sees that he doesn’t, at least not overtly. Stress? Maybe she’s read him for the depressed little shit he is, the complete mess that I am, and wants to ensure the task is done properly. Nobody trusts him, even when his history is full of achieved objectives and minimal drama.

He signs to Cass, ‘Let’s move.

It’s difficult to be discreet in their civilian skins, but that isn’t the plan. Tim is famous, there’s no denying it, so instead they’re going to use that to their advantage. He only has to appear lonely and dying for a conversation for a few seconds before their mark spots him, and he knows it’s her from a single passing glance. Fucking journalists.

The woman is of an average height, is wearing a turquoise dress that clashes horribly with her red hairband, and her blush is way too heavy. He doesn’t like anything to do with her to be honest, probably was never going to, considering how strung up he was. She brushes her sandy hair back, almost like a nervous tick, maybe she’s psyching herself up to talk to him. There’s no real reason for her to be afraid of anything anyway; Timothy Drake is going to be an interesting distraction.

Before she can make her way forward to him, to engage him in questioning, Tim hears someone calling his name over the crowd. Someone is being pointed in his direction, an old bloke with one of those Russian-tsar moustaches and a gold pocket-watch which hangs across his chest like a bandolier. Tim notes that the lady doing the pointing, discretely creating distractions for him, is wearing a black form-fitting dress with deep purple shining through the chiffon. Selina. He’s seen that amethyst necklace somewhere... it looks like she’s hacked off pieces of the missing Duchess of Windsor and made something completely her own... it’s actually a wonder how Gotham gets any place to send their jewels within the grasps of her people.

Fucking theatrics...

Tim is determined to get this show going either way. On cue, the reporter enters his circle; he says absently, checking the state of his hands to appear disinterested, with a touch of rude, mysterious, nonchalance, ‘Journalists aren’t usually allowed at these things.’

And the poor thing stumbles, because she hadn’t even got an introductory word out.

He cuts her off again, has one of those pretentious self-involved one-sided conversations, ‘Yeah, I know, you must feel incredibly lucky, right? You get to, I don’t know, mingle with all the stars, the politicians, everyone that gets their pictures taken. Enjoying yourself?’

He doesn’t mean to sound so direct, and, frankly, rude, but his mood was already sour and this bitch was becoming engaged in him whether she liked it or not. And anyway, he’s not exactly interested. He just has to keep her occupied. Her mouth opens to respond but before any drivel can pour out Tim cuts her off.

‘Never mind. I suppose this must be mildly entertaining for you.’ He says, before poisoning his lips, ‘Journalists... We must be like shark-food to you. Tonnes of material for you to whip up here.’

The reporter’s face twists up for a second, possible affronted, I don’t care, but before she can get a word out, someone bumps into her.

Pearl dress, not purple.

The relief is so good, too, knowing he’s won, it runs down the muscles along his spine as if Jason is standing right behind him, massaging all the tension out of his posture.

Thank fuck this is over.

Tim finally deigns to look upon this journalist, this poor wretched soul, and-

‘Stephanie?’

The name slips out of his mouth before Tim can consciously hold it back. It’s the confusion in Stephanie Brown’s eyes, blue like hot fire, that gives her away - Tim can see it plain on her face, underneath her stupid disguise. She doesn’t understand why I’m being like this. She had never gotten used to how well the boys could act undercover and was always taking things to heart. And now that Tim has realised, he can see her more clearly - the shape of her face, the lightly-dusted freckles in places she missed with foundation, the lighter blonde roots where the rushed dye job hadn’t reached - Stephanie was never great at faking it till she could make it. That was Tim’s thing. She’d gotten too used to being invisible to function in the spotlight.

The illusion shattered, Stephanie hurries to explain, bumbling in a mockery of that witty honey voice he used to remember, had just gotten used to remembering with more nostalgia than pain, ‘Bruce doesn’t know, I swear! I wanted to see you, and- and you’ve been hiding- Tim...’

And Tim bolts, spooked like game, and Steph is lost behind him. His hands find a tray of flutes and he drains one because Jason has convinced him it sometimes helps, the crowd be damned. The look on his face is not suitable for the occasion, he knows it, but he can’t get himself under control, he’s- no, he refuses to lose his breath, this is the last fucking straw-!

‘Brother, breathe.’

Cassandra is back already, hefting him towards an exit because this just won’t do now, will it, Tim, but Tim’s chest is heaving and he can’t help but shake her off, grimace at her touch too. ‘You fucking knew, that- that she was here, didn’t you?’

Her gentle face, her apologetic smile gives her away. Tim wants to rip her glossy lips off, pull out each pearly tooth of hers, wants to claw Cassandra’s stupid smart mouth right off her head. ‘I hate you, you know that?’

Cassandra doesn’t react; if his words affect her, if she hasn’t already read his mood from his face, she doesn’t show it. He can’t hear himself think anyway, not over the noise of the crowd feuding with the Vivaldi playing, can’t listen out for signs of danger through it, he- he needs to leave.

Why doesn’t Cassandra realise how much danger she’s in?

She says, reminds, but with casualness, like it’s insignificant news, ‘Stephanie is alive.’

Obviously,’ Tim seethes, stringently keeping his words in, refraining from spewing verbal abuse that everyone very fucking well deserves right now, this is some kind of unadulterated horror made just for him, isn’t it, who is punishing me? He keeps his voice clipped and low, but it’s wobbling and hoarse because his throat is convulsing, he can’t stop his state of mind affecting his body, ‘Stop fucking with me, Cass!’

‘Stop being upset.’

Like it’s that easy. ‘I swear, if you don’t get out of my face right now I’m a-’

‘What will you do? You cannot freak out here. Father is counting on you.’

Tim swipes a porcelain vase of flowers; quite a spectacular arrangement, quite pretty, full of pale pink half-bloomed peonies, irises the colour of Caucasian blush, filled to burst with trimmings and tendrils that swirl into the air - honey bracelet, tree fern, myrtle, leatherleaf fern... Tim thinks he can smell lemon leaf if he concentrates, though he can’t see it at this angle. There are pot marigolds the colour of electrum and asters that look white, sky blue or lilac depending on how long someone stares at them, concentrates enough to see their complexity... Tim doesn’t. He bats it by the neck and slides it over the edge of its setting, off the table, and it shatters spectacularly on the floor.

The splash of china is muffled under the foliage, but the bluff has been called - there are some gasps, there are enough people still near them that they attract attention, there’s a nervous glance or two and peaking curiosity and general confusion. Tim is not above creating a scene. Not now, not when he’s being ambushed and is surrounded by enemies-

Tim steps back and Cass steps aside as the help, waiters or catering or whoever they are, slide in to deal with his mess. Tim doesn’t say anything, doesn’t need to, Cassandra must understand by now. She’ll always be an action over words person. She also has to learn that Bruce’s opinion is of no consequence to Tim; not recently, anyway.

But Tim checks, and Alfred is nowhere to be found, hasn’t been all morning; he’s probably orchestrating something somewhere, or maybe he’s watching the security cameras. He might even be minding the cave for them all. Tim would like to think someone other than himself is seeing through all the bullshit, can understand where he is coming from with his opinions. He scans the room and doesn’t see anyone either. But then... Tim spots two faces he doesn’t want to deal with again, both of them together; Bruce, talking to the awkwardly ill-dressed journalist, Stephanie, looking sad and grave and contented all at once, he has a hand resting gently on her upper-arm as he listens to her talk, she’s speaking so quickly, and suddenly Bruce’s eyes are scanning the crowd as well, his attention saccades at light-speed, jumps to where the sudden noise had come from-

‘I’m leaving. Follow me, and I will slit your throat.’

Tim strides out of the hall, leaving wet footprints as he does, leaving Cassandra to stand contritely alone (at least, he hopes that’s what her stiffness means, that that is why she relents and doesn’t chase after him). He notes that he’s been more violent with his threats as of late, and he is sure everybody else is noticing too; Dick has seen how Tim disciplines Damian, Cassandra has now heard the viciousness of his anger for herself - maybe a part of her finds it comical, even, Tim isn’t sure he can accurately tell. Jason, though, has seen him go for Dick but so far has been the only one to show any appreciation for the apparent change in Tim. If anybody else did the things he did, Tim would be covered in unsavoury labels. Villainous. Blood-lusting. Crazy. Unreliable. Paranoid. Irritable. Sociopath.

Tim has history though, and, at the very least, I know what I am.

And he doesn’t think it matters what Bruce thinks of it, at the end of the day. He won’t say anything to me anyway, at least, as long as I continue to function. Tim refuses to be the cog that jams, I am not the faulty part in this fucked up machine.

He’s just got a habit of finding unconventional strategies that work for him.

Tim is halfway out to his car, has walked about a third of the way up the Manor drive, when he hears shouting and realises that he is being followed. Just... not by Cass or Bruce - Bruce, who must have learnt from last time how useless trying to catch up with him is.

‘Tim, wait! God, don’t you know how hard it is to sprint in these...!’

Tim buries the quip about how Catwoman would be able to handle it, instead he drags his feet on, but doesn’t keep up a facetious pace. He can see her shadow encroaching his own as he walks. ‘Selina, please, I’m really not in the-’

‘I know you’re upset. Don’t worry, I’m not going to force you into some uncomfortable talk for the sake of me being nice, alright?’ She says, obviously not willing to let it go despite her words to the contrary.

He keeps walking on, a little less determined. ‘Then what...’

‘Honestly? I was getting bored of that party, so. Think of something more entertaining for us to do, Tim.’

‘Fine.’ He decides, quite suddenly, choosing not to care anymore. What does it matter? He pulls his keys out of his pocket and holds them out to her. ‘You wanna babysit me, be my guest.’

She doesn’t hesitate, she takes the keys, but she says, ‘You really don’t mind?’

Looking back at the Manor, Tim exhales. ‘Was getting pretty sick of it myself.’

She slides beside him, links their arms together now that’s she’s caught up, has caught him. They’re about the same height, though she’s wearing short heels that give her maybe an extra inch and a half? Tim is just judging at a glance. They step easily up the gravel path, approaching his Volkswagen Jetta. It’s his low-key Tim Drake-Wayne vehicle of choice. He helps Selina in to the driver’s seat, shut her door for her, and she has the engine humming by the time he’s belted in shotgun. Selina hands him her shoes to hold, and... Tim braces himself.

It’s so hard to trust anybody, these days.

 


 

‘Tim, honey, do you mind getting the door?’

He kinda does actually, so full of pizza as he is, but because this is Selina and she’s basically in charge of him (because he knows what is possible if he doesn’t listen), he’s already halfway-submitting, sitting up in his seat and rocking his weight forward, getting up to his feet. Whoever knocked obviously doesn’t mind waiting, so Tim doesn’t care about keeping his guard up; without looking through the peephole, he twists the handle and-

‘Hey- Tim. Great. I thought we might be needing this.’

Bruce probably wasn’t expecting him to be here - that must be why he faltered. But, cask of sherry in hand, he follows Tim back into the apartment and shuts the door behind himself, hands the cask to Tim and slips off his black overcoat, hanging it up with sloppy familiarity. Now that Tim thinks to look, Bruce probably has a designated hook on Selina’s wall - instead of putting his coat on an empty one, he drapes it over Tim’s tidy suit jacket.

Tim doesn’t mind, and, frankly, the display of compulsion makes Batman that bit more human in his eyes.

He carries the unopened bottle to the table, sets it down with the intention of ignoring it, but Bruce has already gone and lifted three glasses from Selina’s cabinets. He pops the bottle open, and wordlessly hands it over for Tim to inspect; it’s a super-aged, high-alcohol dinner wine, and this is probably not the best occasion for it, but fuck, what do I know? He gives it back to Bruce and purses his lips approvingly, nods with even interest.

‘And what exactly are we toasting?’ Selina remarks, eyes still focused on the television screen. She and Tim have been playing on her PlayStation for the past three hours, and neither of them have gotten bored of it yet.

Bruce, pouring out three heavy-looking servings, shrugs and says openly, ‘Not sure. Getting through another gala? They’re not exactly... Um, is there anything you want to toast, Timothy?’

Tim doesn’t even have to think about it, says almost instantly, ‘Not a thing, B.’

‘Well then...’ Bruce says, picking up his glass and sitting down on Tim’s right. ‘Salud.’

Selina pauses her game; she and Tim take their own glasses and clink them with Bruce’s before they drink. Tim is almost ashamed to have downed it in one go, keeping his glass knocked back long after the adults have put theirs back on the coffee-table. The flavour was far too complex for him anyway, not something he was in the right mind to appreciate. Dry, not salty, not too sweet.

Bruce and Selina must be able to see that he doesn’t care, but they clearly don’t mind, it’s especially clear to Tim when neither of them say anything nor appear to make any notice of his behaviour at all. Glowing light from hooded lamps and wide wax candles dances across their faces as it refracts through the glasses, but their expressions don’t illuminate anything particular. Tim almost felt guilty about how determined he was to waste the sherry like this, and... it was a different thing, spamming Wayne champagne at the gala. But hey, Bruce doesn’t not approve, so...

They don’t top up his glass or anything, which is fine; he’ll be considerate and wait. That’s what polite society would do. Or, Tim supposes, they wouldn’t ever allow themselves to get into this position but what does it matter now, the potion has been drunk. Let it work its magic. He can distract himself by pressing his fingers down onto the couch cushions; pudgy and soft as they are.

Selina gets up, ejects the disk and slots a different one in, changes the game. ‘Mr Wayne, there’s a second controller somewhere by your feet.’

Bruce looks down, and sure enough, it’s tucked under the settee, closer to Tim since he was the last one to use it. Bruce picks it up, dusts it off, and grips it like he’s used one before, why does he know how to play PlayStation-?

He must be reading Tim’s mind, because he says in explanation, ‘Sometimes the only way to settle a debate is through a wager.’

‘Oh? We’re wagering something, are we?’ Selina says, laughing. She still has her make-up on, though even in grey sweats and a slightly-oversized sapphire ultramarine deep-ocean sweatshirt, she pulls it off; dark lipstick, not quite burgundy, with heavy lashes and effortlessly light eyeliner, and silver-accented smoky eyeshadow. Everything else about her looks so natural Tim wouldn’t have ever noticed nor appreciated if he didn’t just know; perfectly subtle contouring, blending, concealing, vigilante-grade cover-up- most people wouldn’t know, but Tim knows about the Lichtenberg scar that extends from her neck to her waist, down the left side of her back. It’s faintly visible even by her jaw but looking at her now Tim would never have been able to tell. It’s only because he knows where to look.

He daren’t ask how she got it, though. He knows parts, but he’s not that stupid that he’d dig any further for that story.

Bruce explains with too much casualness, ‘Usually it’s stolen art, or something. If I win, she has to put whatever she took back where it came from.’ Neither of them outline what happens if Bruce loses.

Tim doesn’t think he’d be able to take the answer, anyhow. ‘Fair enough.’ He adjourns, ‘Have at it. I already beat her at soccer, and kart-racing, and-’

Ok Timothy... You really want to give him a false sense of security?’

Before Tim can say anything, Bruce scoffs, ‘You know all about breaking through security, or don’t you?’

And, Selina simpers. That was... that’s flirting. Oh God.

As the fighting game Selina has chosen loads, Tim decides fuck it, and shakily tops his glass up. There’s no way he’s going to be able to stand their company stone-cold sober. He’s casual about it, and it pays off. Maybe he’s overthinking it. Tim puts so much effort into appearing - being - responsible, so why not take a chance and believe that they’re genuinely convinced, at least for now?

Bruce and Selina pick characters, declare rules, and settle into a routine Tim hadn’t ever imagined could possibly exist; deciding how many stages they would use, how many times they could change character, how long a match could last... Tim is still processing the idea of Bruce playing video games in his spare time. Wait till I tell Dick...

And about two minutes later, they’ve regressed into children the way Tim prematurely matured. Bruce half-shouts as Selina’s character trolls him with zoning fireballs, ‘You’re cheating.’

Selina laughs, but there’s pointed determination in her voice like they’re resuming an argument they have time and time again. ‘Excuse me; if it’s possible in the game, it’s allowed. If it was cheating, would I be able to do this?’

And her character assaults Bruce’s like his is a rag-doll, so terrifyingly merciless, and Tim can’t believe Bruce is alright playing something quite so violent. He watches, feeling awkward, but neither Bruce nor Selina seem perturbed by anything, they’re obviously familiar with this game, they’re admitting that they play it, that they approve of it.

When it becomes Tim’s turn to play Bruce (Selina is giving them both a chance to warm up, apparently), he purposely picks a character with light artillery. Guns, grenades, bolo-ties - actually, the character on screen reminds him of Jason. It’s a dirty tactic, full of psychoanalysis and dishonour. Tim knows what he’s trying to do, and he knows that Bruce will know too.

And Bruce, having watched him choose, comments, ‘Good choice.’

‘Really? You think this is cool?’ Tim says disbelievingly, unable to hold it in, it’s just ‘cause of the alcohol, he doesn’t mean to be so straightforward, especially with Bruce. When things don’t make sense, when data stops computing... Tim is inherently trained to raise questions. Bruce tolerating guns, even virtual ones, seems so fucking odd to him. Bruce seeming cool is odd.

Bruce raises his shoulders, and says without shame, perhaps he’s a little tired of hiding too, ‘It helped me, was part of some aversion therapy I er, undertook. Years back... It was very helpful.’

Tim never once thought that Bruce would actually ever go to therapy. Bruce is one of those ‘do as I say and not as I do’ types; or at least he’s supposed to be, according to the impressions he always gave Tim. Tim didn’t think Bruce would be the type to openly admit it, either - perhaps that’s been one of the things Bruce learnt from going.

When he talks about his own therapy, Bruce almost sounds... Nostalgic. Endearment is not quite the word for it, but, it’s not so far off.

It can’t be that good, can it...?

When their match starts, Tim sets his guns ablaze and decides to co-opt the opportunity to crush Bruce’s competitive spirit, to garner more information. I’m a whore for info, remember?

He asks, trying to mask his edgy desperation with serious, sane curiosity, ‘So was that really her?’

Bruce is perceptive enough to know who exactly Tim is referring to, and says, ‘I had a hunch she was telling the truth, but... you know me... I had Alfred take samples and run some scans. Blood, hair, DNA, saliva, biometrics, I gave her the security test myself.’ He looks at Tim, and both of them draw their attention to each other and away from the screen (though Tim’s fingers are still imputing moves, he doesn’t care if it’s cheating). ‘She passed, Tim.’

Tim shakes his head, feeling the marl of the grainy plastic under his fingertips. ‘She can’t have... it must be wrong.’ This has to be some kind of prank.

‘It was her, Tim. And she’s got quite the story... And I, I’ve allowed her to stay at home for the time being, she didn’t have somewhere concrete to stay, so...’

‘That’s good.’ Tim says, detached, accepting that the Manor was officially out of bounds for the time being.

It’s uncomfortable hearing Bruce defend someone who perpetrated injustice, but the die is cast; because it’s Bruce, Batman; hearing that is enough to plant a seed of doubt in Tim’s mind. However deep down it is, it exists all the same now. Tim can’t help it. He’s been conditioned, whether it was purposefully or not.

He still hates her. But...

Filing that away for now, almost satisfied with how upset he feels now - he knows that he got what he asked for, even if it wasn’t the pleasantest of pills to swallow - Tim stalls by re-concentrating on the game.

Of course, Bruce doesn’t track that Tim is trying to move on. ‘You can... Disagree, if you want. If you want to run your own tests or, you know-’

‘Be stubborn?’

Not the words I was going to use, but...’ And Bruce trails off awkwardly, ‘I really don’t mean it that way.’

Tim nods, is perfectly used to Bruce’s missing attempts at being aware of my feelings, assures, ‘I get it, Bruce.’

Bruce says what he thinks should be the case, as opposed to giving advice or commenting upon what the state already is. He comes off as patronising and sarcastic where he means to be genuine, and... for someone in his position, of his stature... it’s a little unacceptable.

What Bruce meant to say was that it would be perfectly natural for Tim to grieve anew, to be angry with his shortcomings and to find coping difficult in general. But the sad truth is that Bruce hasn’t said that to Tim at all, and now, Tim hasn’t the instructions to follow. Part of him, Tim can feel it in his head, the lack of permission stops him from coping, restricts his thoughts and won’t let his mind relax. At all.

It blows so fucking hard, being like this.

Sometimes, Tim wishes he could just shut off. Save progress, and shut down, and start everything up again some other time. He’s done similar before; he’s tried disappearing, stopping contact with people for short periods, for days at a time. When he doesn’t think about anything, when he doesn’t have to confront anything, it feels nice for about ten minutes. Any longer, and he feels remanded. It’s not enough to run from his life. It never feels right when he tries.

Bruce would probably be disappointed if he knew.

Before Tim realises, Selina is easily prying the controller from his grip; he beat Bruce, he’s half-concentrating and he fucking won. Crazy.

No, it’s just a game. It doesn’t matter. Don’t- you don’t get to fucking revel in this, Tim. Tim has to do something real for it to be impressive. All this... fuck, the bullshit he does in his spare time...

Tim picks up the sherry and tops up the few sips Selina drank before filling his glass again. He’s being cool, appropriate, respectable, he’s trying to be adult about everything. Selina smiles at him, but it’s full of quirk; is he being a rebel, to be earning her... approval? Is drinking alcohol like this defying expectations, defying Bruce? Does it really matter? Selina picks up her glass and swirls her drink as the next game loads. ‘Tim, what’s your usual poison then?’

Poison’s not the greatest word for her to use; Tim fights down the countless sarcastic remarks, the dark jokes, the sadly/brutally honest replies he could let loose. He should be careful here. Bruce is listening, for one, and... maybe the information will work against him someday. Tim can’t be entirely sure how that would happen, exactly, but... true all the same, right? Everything’s always going to be used against me somehow-

He jokes starkly, ‘Coffee?’

Bruce laughs, chuckles, it rumbles and reverberates in Bruce’s chest, and he corroborates, ‘Very true. Timothy’s heart pumps caffeine.’

Selina laughs, and Tim does too, but... no, hearing that does upset me. It doesn’t sound fair for Bruce to make light of anything to do with him. At least seven children have directly relied on him for guidance and mentoring and support, and what state are they in? One died, one is wheelchair-bound, one is plain psycho, one is just pissing me off right now, one is a fucking asshole and the last... She...

Tim can’t deal with that right now.

‘Hey Bruce. What’s your favourite colour?’

The clicking of analog sticks slows momentarily, and Bruce says, as if he misheard, ‘What?’

‘Your favourite colour.’ Tim says, staring at the side of Bruce’s face. He heard Tim speak, so why doesn’t he just answer? All these years, and... Tim doesn’t know this one little thing about Bruce. And, now seems as good as any a time to find out.

Selina leans in, and says in earnest, ‘It’s black, right? It’s gotta be black.’

‘Why do I have to like black? Just because it’s a practical choice-’

‘Bruce, please, how can you deny-!’

‘B. Seriously.’ Tim says, and the other two stop.

Bruce finishes with the controller and looks at Tim. ‘Honestly? I don’t really have one.’

You’re kidding me. ‘Bruce, please, can you, for once, just try? It’s not that hard, you just had to pick one, so fu-‘

‘What’s yours?’

Words fall out of Tim’s mouth. ‘Grey. I like grey.’

The lack of conversation that follows is oddly stilted, and the only word Tim can think for it is broken. Like he’s heard it before, like it’s all he fucking hears. When he sits with Jason, the silence is comfortable but it’s... a repeat. How many times does he have to sit in something before the novelty un-wears? As he contemplates, Selina and Bruce move around him, and his fingers keep pressing buttons and playing games in relative silence. A conversation begins behind him, words and low tones and echoes and questions and above-decisions.

Tim tops up his glass again.

Maybe another time after that, too. Just to be safe.

‘Tim, what are you doing tomorrow?’ asks Dad, and Tim shakes.

‘I... Meetings. I have two appointments from nine to eleven and then there’s a lunch I can’t miss. Technically I have the afternoon off but I have a project running in R&D that needs reorganising. I have three cases to go over and, I bet, two to start. I-’

Tim doesn’t miss the pointed look Selina aims at Bruce; incredulous, outraged, bewildered disbelief. Bruce must not miss it either, because he says, ‘Ok, no. You’re free. Tomorrow, consider everything handled.’

‘Yeah?’

A handle ruffles through his hair, ruining the careful styling. Tim’s hair has suffered from quick dye jobs and he’s being very careful not to lose anymore strands. ‘Hmm. Did you get a haircut?’

‘Yeah. And, F.Y.I., sherry is meant to be paired-’

‘Yellow. My favourite colour is yellow.’

Tim breathes out, suddenly conscious of the blood vessels in his arms. ‘... Oh. Ok.’ And then, ‘Are you sure about tomorrow? Really, it’ll be hard to move everything after I’ve already been away for-’

‘You shouldn’t have this much on your plate, Tim. You... I can’t believe you’ve been doing this much for this long.’

He doesn’t mean to; Tim suddenly imagines the split-second before a bullet tears through the roof of one’s mouth; it probably tickles, and then sears, and then cuts out completely when the bullet finally reaches the centre of the brain. Gun residue probably tastes strong and smoky and acrid and disgustingly bitter. But... bullets are small. The brain is huge. Can the people still see, can they still process sense, can they still be aroused for seconds after they pull the trigger on themselves? Tim imagines that they probably can, that those painful final seconds would be sad and full of penchant regret, yearning for the other, forever-lost solution to whatever problem drove them to that point in the first place.

Has Bruce ever wondered what it would feel like?

Tim has.

Bruce sits down beside him, and says, as if the moment warrants it, ‘Buddy... you know, you’ve done a really good job.’

Good job, Tim. When was the last time he’d heard that? It sounds like his eulogy, tastes like stainless steel on his palate. Damn... He dismisses, ‘Shut up Bruce.’

‘I mean it.’ Bruce insists more, which also sounds queer and unnatural. Unfortunate. It’s not uplifting at all. It feels too late to mean anything significant. It simply doesn’t feel genuine, nor does it appease any part of Tim’s psyche. If Tim had still been wearing a tie, he’d have tried to choke himself out or something. Anything but this...

‘K.’ Tim says quietly; he shrugs, rubs his eyes and leans back in his seat, Selina’s weight joining them on the couch.

They sit together in silence, watching Selina’s candles burn. Wedged, between them, Bruce and Selina, warm with wine and eyes prickly from blue light, because he’s not blinked in almost ten minutes, Tim feels safe in a way he never felt as a kid. Unadulterated. Usually, he’s in a constant state of sinking, drowning, panicking in hot water, but now, he’s floating... Bruce’s shoulders are soft and encasing against his head. Selina’s hand-holding is soothing, dampening all the sensation that threatens to completely override his mind.

Selina doesn’t talk. Bruce doesn’t ask him anything.

And silently, Tim can cry.

And it’s ok, because he’s going to forget this ever happened. He’ll erase all the evidence, he’ll undo Bruce’s efforts in the morning, will make all the appropriate calls. It’s a one-time indulgence.

Where was this, when I needed it before?

 

 

Chapter Text

‘Tim Wayne.’

The voice is loud, accentuated, competing with the thrumming hubbub of the club, but Tim can tell whom it belongs to all the same. He pulls his face out of his martini and pulls his most accommodating face on. ‘Vicki! Come, sit.’

He waves his security down, and they let her slide in between them. ‘I didn’t see you at the function-’

‘No invite, I’m afraid.’

Vicki Vale; well-educated, slim, pretty, she has one of those well-proportioned faces that’s just made to be on television. Tim notices how sharp and symmetrical her eyeliner is, and, it’s like she’s ready to be on the news in some form or another tonight. Maybe she’s hoping to be caught with Tim. He doesn’t see why not, what does it matter, he’s not been up to anything outwardly interesting lately. She edges into the booth, straightening her flutter-sleeve, knot-back skater dress. Scarlet red suits her tan complexion and her dark reddish-brown hair.

Tim picks up a fresh flute and without asking, he pours a heavy serving of flat champagne, a swish away from drowning his hands, spilling on his sleeves. When he offers it to her, she takes it with careful grace, no distaste on her face, and asks, ‘So are you celebrating?’

‘Not especially. Why? Is there something I should be celebrating?’

Vicki laughs, has a smile on, but there’s only quizzical joviality in her eyes. Perhaps he’s not what she was expecting; though this isn’t the first time they’ve met, or spoken, this is the first time she’s sought him out specifically, and off the clock.

Tim rarely entertains the press, but there’s alcohol in his system and part of trying to feel better about himself is being a better person, so says Jason, so Tim figures, let’s be generous.

Vicki drinks deep, trying to lull him into a false sense of security with simple informality (it’s a trick Bruce had mastered when Tim was still a friggin’ baby), and she says, ‘Who knows what goes on in that head of yours.’

It’s not a question, actually, it’s a weirdly intrusive thing to say, but Tim answers, ‘I do, of course.’ And with a laugh, he drains his own glass again.

He’s upping his Bruce-ness. He turned twenty-one, and had a board meeting. He became Red Robin, and the only presents he got were hits being put out on him. Explosions. Assassins. He takes a vacation and ends up getting more stressed than anything else. So... Why not play fucked-up playboy for once? It’s a new experience for him, forcing himself to be so relaxed, carefree, indulgent.

It’s not really that out of character; Tim Wayne (he’s slowly been dropping Drake, because double-barrels are that bit more inconvenient, and it’s doing wonders on Bruce) is stepping out of his shell and into the spotlight. Some like him, it’s almost expected that he go through some kind of wild party phase. He hadn’t had any character before, much other than diligent worker, young bright CEO, industrial, corporate heir. Nothing about his personality. He appears next to interesting people; what he says and what he thinks and what he does can hardly be used to get to know him.

And maybe that’s why Vicki Vale has shown up tonight.

Ever inquisitive, she adds, ‘So where are all the dancers? The candy to go with all the drinks?’

The table is littered with glasses to be fair, almost like Tim is about to start playing them or something. There are plenty of bottles, but until now Tim has been sitting quietly alone. Comfortably. He’s just watching the club scene. Granted; he may not be very good at playing playboy, can’t cross particular lines while he’s in a relationship with Jason, probably comes across as a bit sexless or whatever considering how awkward his social history appears to be, some people must be of the opinion that he’s trying too hard. He goes on the odd dinner date here and there, for propriety’s sake, but he doesn’t date date.

He doesn't need to, when he has Jason.

Maybe a little crassly, because he doesn’t exactly think a successful woman such as herself should really be putting down women who earn their living in a particular way, Tim says, ‘What, you mean you’re not here to dance for me, Ms Vale?’

She adjusts, getting more comfortable in her seat, proving that she has no interest in getting up or going anywhere, that I haven’t fazed her, and says, ‘Not quite. Though, I’m not working either. You can relax.’

‘I don’t think anybody can relax around you.’

She’s the kind of woman to take that as a compliment, and Tim knows it. And he immediately doesn’t believe her, either... Journalists of her calibre don’t take breaks. Probably to fuck with him - definitely to fuck with me - she says nostalgically, ‘You sound just like your father.’

Tim decides to ignore that; pretends he hadn’t heard it. Bruce... maybe it’ll play well in the papers.

Vicki, probably accustomed to this kind of dismissal, says in note, ‘So your vacation is coming to an end.’

Tim shakes his head, playing tiredly amused. ‘How is it that everyone knows I’m not at work at the moment? It’s so strange...’

‘The way I’ve heard it, things barely seem to move without you at the helm-’

‘You give me way too much credit.’ Tim says, business acumen creeping into his tone, pandering, drawing her a certain way, tugging the conversation away from that idea. Yeah, the company does revolve around me a bit at the moment, it’s not Tim’s fault; being the young executive he was, he’d been forced to make some adjustments, to take particular measures. He asks for as much information as he can get on everything - every job, every person, every decision. Whatever occurs, Tim is more determined to hear about it.

He works under the guise of inexperience, feigning ignorance and childish innocence... the payoff is sublime surveillance. Everyone straight up tells him everything. And the cherry on top; they feel superior. It’s win-win. WE is a good company.

Vicki doesn’t buy it, though, and Tim can tell. She says, ‘Yeah, right. You know WE stock dropped when it was made public that you took your first extended holiday since, like, ever? That’s pretty crazy.’

‘Pretty crazy’ aren’t exactly the words Tim would’ve used, but he gets what she means. It’s hard to perceive, to consider that someone like him as so much influence. But who trusts stock? When he was assigned acting CEO, stock plummeted. And then, when his successes began to surmount, they reacclimatised. Tim never cared, he didn’t care what the economy thought of him as a person, he never thought anything of it, he was just doing his job, like always.

Tim replies, wondering if pouring himself another drink would be doing too much, ‘So I have a reputation. What of it?’

‘Nothing. I mean, why should it-’

‘Vale, what the fuck do you want?’

Tim doesn’t mean to sound cutthroat, disrespectful, savagely straight-forward, but if that’s how he comes across then so be it. He plays the game, but he doesn’t always enjoy it. And anyhow, someone needs to keep a track of the pace. Conversations depend on pace. Information depends on the quality of the conversation.

Tim is just fed up, at this point.

She is unperturbed by him, unashamed of trying to come for him when he is most vulnerable, unaffected by his brashness. ‘I want to know what’s going on with you.’

‘What does that mean?’

‘I have some information. About a... a purchase you made. A weird one-’

‘Can you get to the point? I’m a kid, remember, I do a lot of things adults would find weird-’

And it’s here that Vicki Vale catches him out. ‘You are not a child, Timothy Drake-Wayne. At least, certainly not a normal one. Be real with me.’

‘Like you’re real with people? You know I don’t do interviews just like that.’

‘You’re not a minor anymore.’

‘Didn’t think my maturity was ever in question.’

‘Isn’t it? Look at you, you’ve only just turned twenty-one-’

‘Will you get to the point already?’ Tim repeats. With the way she’s playing with him, he’s already deduced that she has something specific against him. Definitely against; whatever story she’s started, it won’t do him any good. She’s enjoying herself too much, and Vicki Vale isn’t in the habit of being nice for nothing. She’s not a happy helper. Vicki doesn’t care whether she takes down a senior or a child, so long as they hold power, she can strip it from them with the power of public opinion.

She skirts around it again, and posits instead, ‘Ok. What do you and dentists have in common?’

‘... Huh?’

Tim doesn’t doubt that he’s definitely not sober enough for this; Bruce wouldn’t be so risky, not with a veteran like Vicki, but Tim needs this experience. Next time, he’ll be able to get his head around her a lot faster. Is it something to do with his behaviour the other day? Maybe a rumour is spreading... he didn’t think the mill ran this quickly. All he did was push over a vase-

‘You, and dentists. Have a guess.’ She says, making sure he hears her over the techno. Her tone is deadly.

‘I, fuck, I don't know. What do we have in common?’ Tim asks, doing his best to sound unworried. 

‘Both kill wild cats for sport.’

She leans over, shuffles a bit around the booth so that there’s no space, and she pulls her smartphone out. The screen glows uncomfortably in Tim’s eyes as she presses her fingerprint to the scanner, as it opens, and as summaries cross the width of the screen for him to peruse. He... how did she-?

‘What is this.’

She pulls the phone back before he can finish reading her report, the evidence, documentation surrounding the purchases he made, the money he pushed into certain people’s pockets. But he knows everything she does. ‘I’m going to make something out of you, Tim.’

Tim stands, so abruptly that he shoves the table and a few bottles slip of the end. He doesn’t care if he’s charged for it, he’ll pay for new shoes for all of his detail. ‘Get up, we’re leaving.’

Vicki seems to have wanted this all along, but she resists anyway, ‘What? Where-’

‘I’m gonna take you to dinner. You wanna talk- let’s talk like adults, then.’

Tim waves at his security, trying to shake off his fluster, and they move swiftly. They’re trained well, Bruce uses the best, and like no man’s business they create a path for them. Tim, Vicki trailing behind, sidles through the crowd of drugged up youngsters and drunken adults, party freaks... fuck, I wish I was one of them, and not… me.

There’s a particularly tight gap in the crowd, and Tim automatically takes Vicki’s hand, pulls her through, as much as he wants to let her fall and be trampled on, he can’t. She doesn’t let go or shake him off; if anything, maybe she’s surprised by his gentlemanliness. Vicki outright threatened him, he’s within his rights to react negatively.

I’m no ordinary kid.

‘Pull up my car.’ Tim orders, and three of his men go ahead while he and Vicki amble through the lobby, and the rest of the team mingle around them and trail stolidly behind. Vicki’s heels clack jarringly, and she paces on her feet while Tim tries to check himself. His suit is a bit of a mess; his deep purple tie is garish against his white shirt; in his black suit, he almost reminds himself of the fucking Penguin. There are shiny splash marks all over the legs of his trousers, and with undone top-button and ruffled hair, he looks every bit the party aficionado. The only question is whether he can sell it.

He still has Vicki’s hand in his when he exits the club, leading her to his car in front of all of the press. It’s probable that Vicki’s own camera crew are mixed in somewhere, getting the juicy scoop prepared. Tim doesn’t think so though; this feels more personal, like she’s been following him on her own. She’s letting him hold her because she’s playing calm and collected, acting self-assured, trying not to show that he’s actually getting to her. Tim knows because he catches himself doing the same thing.

When Jason cares really hard, it fucks with Tim so much and he has to pretend that it doesn’t, because the fact that it does proves that he’s damaged and fucked up and even though he and Jason know it, he’s rarely able to admit it. Jason pushes Tim’s buttons in good ways and bad ways, but when do I ever react appropriately?

Tim leads her to the side-passenger seat and says gruffly, ‘Make yourself comfortable.’ She probably doesn’t know him well enough to, but Tim hopes that Vicki internalises that he doesn’t really mean it.

She smiles, somehow capturing Tim’s distaste of the situation in the shape of her own lips, and slips in while Tim gets in beside her. And it’s almost funny, Tim thinks, all the women that get into a car with me are dangerous in some way or another. Maybe she has a penchant for it, too; not once does she question whether it’s safe for him to be driving, in his condition...

When they arrive, the black sky is an intermediary swirl of freshness before they slip into a restaurant - not particularly a favourite of Tim’s, but one he knows inside and out. He has a decent relationship with the staff too, doesn’t even need to butter someone’s palms to get a quite table this late at night. And Vicki walks sedately, as if they have all the time in the world, as if she’s never seen this side of him before, as if there is another side of him to be seen. Tim has to watch his pace, something he hates.

Tim reaches his table and drags the other chair out, dumping it down with no intention of sliding it back for Vicki. Tim sits with his back facing the wall. ‘So, go on then. Outline whatever trouble it is you’re stirring this time. I’m dying to know what agenda you’re pushing-’

‘I don’t have an agenda, Mr Drake.’ Vicki denies, ‘I’m trying to get to the bottom of the story that was left on my desk. I’m doing my job. Whether it’s noxious or annoying to you is none of my concern-’

‘Yeah, I bet.’ Tim seethes.

‘Although,’ Vicki starts, because nothing she does doesn’t contradict something she’s said or done before, ‘I think it’s fair that everybody knows how little of an animal-welfare advocate you really are.’

It’s such a minor thing. Simple. Stewardship, being caring... Tim has been a fucking hero, so how can she-? It’s hard not to take the jab personally. Of course Vicki Vale wouldn’t know the half of it. That’s how good Tim is at balancing all his jobs. But... coming off as a villain, being portrayed as one this early in his life? It’s asking quite a lot of him, isn’t it?

Maybe it isn’t. Perhaps that’s why Bruce can be such a hard-ass sometimes. Venting frustrations on others must be really cathartic.

A waiter sidles over, and before he can open his mouth Tim says, ‘The Filipino spaghetti. Adrian knows how I like it.’ The waiter nods, and looks towards Vale- ‘She’s fine. Bring me a glass of water. Please.’

The waiter moves off, out of firing range, and Vicki gives Tim a low look, probably feeling herself very high-and-mighty. ‘So this won’t be a long conversation? I thought you were quote-end-quote 'taking me to dinner'-’

‘Just ask whatever questions you’re going to ask and let’s call it a night.’ Tim says, the farce of not being fed-up with her unravelling. He won’t answer any of her questions fully regardless, and, at most, it might be useful to know what she doesn’t know. If Vicki knows however much about what he had made, what does she want his statement for? Tim would have just written the bloody article already.

He expects her to grill him on his supposed hunting, but she pauses. Gears are whirring in her head, there’s some angle she’s sure she can work, that must be it...

She’s doing this to piss him off. She’s out to get me.

After a moment, Vicki asks directly, ‘Why?’

‘Why what?’

Why did you have a predator pelt treated and tanned et cetera?’

The waiter finally returns with Tim’s water; Tim shrugs, and picks up the glass. ‘I... found myself in the possession of a skin. What else was I going to do with it-?’

She lets the evasive phrasing of his words slide. ‘Throw it away, maybe? Burn it? Hell, selling it would’ve been a better option-‘

Selling it wasn’t an option.’

‘Why not?’ Vicki hounds, her arms adjusting behind the edge of the table, her hands probably flexing with the itch to pull out a pad of paper and a pen. Luckily, Tim knows she has neither. As for recording devices... He doesn’t know, frankly. He’d tipped the security at the club, has tried to ensure that they’d be especially wary with patrons tonight (Tim always does when he’s in attendance, the way that he abhors funny business), but who knows what Vicki Vale is capable of. He doesn’t make a habit of frisking people. He’ll just have to be very careful with what he says.

‘Because I wanted it. I’m rich; it’s eccentric.’

‘It’s murder.’

She sounds so emphatic, almost genuine, it’s comical. She can so easily label him a murderer... it’s a joke, right? She doesn't know what I give to this city... Tim became somebody to protect everyone else. He isn’t himself; but he isn’t a murderer. And... Jason- no. Murder is an ambiguous word to use, it’s inappropriate. Being a hero... It’s so complicated... Vicki could never understand. No one would be able to.

‘It was self-defence...’ Tim mutters, teeth clenched and grinding.

Vicki doesn’t catch it, so low is Tim’s voice. ‘What?’

So lost in thought he’d become, Tim had not even noticed his meal being set in front of him. Blood-red sauce, hot fleshy pasta tinged with it, soaking in it... ‘I’m not a murderer.’

‘Tim... are you ok?’

Tim’s seen that look before. The mixture of shame and pity and awkwardness, look of regret. Vicki doesn’t get to judge him. It’s not fair.

‘I’m fine.’ He says automatically. And then, when he’s thought about it, he orders, ‘You should leave. I  think this interview is over.’

‘Tim-’

A few drinks cannot engineer the end of him, not like this. ‘It’s Mr Drake! You don't know me. Now get out, before I have my detail drag you out.’

He doesn’t know why he brought her here. Even as he watches her leave, staring at the back of her dress for signs of a wire, he can’t work out why he thought this might have been a better idea than just dismissing her at the club. To waste her time? Reconnaissance? Everything’s a fucking job with me... Maybe it was a benefit-of-the-doubt type of thing. Or, more on-the-money still, perhaps he’s having an episode of self-sabotage. Yes... that makes more sense.

Tim sips his water and looks at the food in front of him, all the while considering the lengths to which he’ll have to go to so that this whole thing goes away. He’ll have to make her dance to his tune somehow, there must be some kind of button he can press. Stupid, stupid, stupid... Tim always chooses the worst times to act his fucking age.

Aren’t I just despicable?

Chapter Text

‘I have a major bone to pick with you.’

Even tucked in a hospital bed, Barbara looks bookish and pretty, as always. She has her laptop set up on her table-tray; the only hint Tim gets that she’s still operational is the conspicuous black external drive plugged in on the left. In her vestige of normalcy, she’s kept her hair down - it looks better that way; Tim doesn’t really think ponytails suit anybody anyway. He could so easily pull her head by hair, slam her head into the wall-

‘It’s not one of my vertebra, is it? Because I really need all of those right now.’ She says, typing a final sentence.

Tim blinks slow, maybe a fraction of a second slower, but long enough for his frustration to flow out the creases that squeezing his eyes creates in his face. It’s taking a lot of effort for him to be here, to stay put long enough to have this conversation. He won’t be able to hold out, bearing her sass much longer. Supposedly, she’s deserving of some good quality rest and relaxation. Her personal health journey is reaching a head and Tim is here for her. But while that’s true, I really want to clear my air.

So Tim states, ignoring her humour, her attempt to unsettle and analyse him, ‘You talk about me behind my back. Like a lot.’

Barbara, for all her wit and wisdom, is no good for me. She steals, she betrays trust, she spies, she... She said everything was going to be ok, once upon a time, and now it’s not and I’ll never be able to believe her again.

She lets her hands fall slack, a show of granting him her full attention, and she acknowledges, ‘Tim, what exactly did I say that’s wound you up like this-?’

She knows what he’s talking about. To save time, to cut out the back-and-forth, he insists, ‘You’re gossiping to your co-workers about my personal life. I want it to stop.’

Barbara huffs, dismisses me, and pulls a stray newspaper closer. There’s a pen in her hand suddenly, and Tim is left struggling to understand what he said that reminded her to finish her fucking crossword. ‘You’re being paranoid, Tim. You know how much you sound like Bruce sometimes-?’

‘Stop deflecting. I’m really trying to ask you nicely, Barbara.’

She doesn’t know about all the planning. She doesn’t know about the mind-map he made, about the paper he wasted writing responses and explanations and rebuttals. It took him good parts of his time to allow for this conversation, and it’s already hard enough just trying to live without having any freak-outs.

He had planned down to the application of emphasis on specific words, but even now, as he watches Barbara’s face, he knows he’ll have to wing the rest of this. She’s almost as good, as bad, as he is.

She keeps looking to and from his face. ‘I... I don’t know what you want me to say Tim. I’m sorry... that you feel uncomfortable with the manner in which I operate-’

‘My life has nothing to do with the way you conduct yourself at work. At night or during the day.’

Barbara’s hands twist at the newspaper in her lap, and she says, ‘You’re lucky someone cares. When was the last time you asked me how I was, huh?’

It’s like she’s scrunched up mental trash and chucked it at him, like a ball of scrap paper, so Tim dismisses her. ‘We’re not friends, Barbara. You are not my friend.’

This makes her stop, and for once Tim gets the feeling that she’s actually listening. He hates it, when he feels like people hear him but don’t listen. It’s something he deals with often, and he’s got ways of dealing with it, but short-term feigning of being in a state where everything is just fine... It doesn’t really cut it anymore.

Barbara isn’t even mad at him. ‘And yet you’re here anyway-‘

‘Just once,’ Tim sighs, ‘Would it hurt to just straight up ask me if I’m ok? You- You meddle and scheme and spy in the background but that doesn’t do anything for me. It- I... If you actually asked me, I think it would actually feel... nice. That would be helpful. All this other stuff you do, it aggravates me Babs. It does make me paranoid and it gives me stress and I can’t.’

When she doesn’t respond, he adds tentatively, ‘I get that you care, really. And I’m grateful, truly, but... I’m over having things go on and on behind my back.’

Tim isn’t used to Barbara taking him seriously; sure, they share a lot of interests and skill-sets and are acquainted with the same people, but she doesn’t see the comparison. He’s never begrudged her for it. He assumes that she just never had time for developing that deep level of camaraderie between them - and, to be honest, neither did he.

Her eyes shine behind her oval glasses. ‘Ok, Tim. I’m sorry. I won’t meddle.’

There’s something in the way she says it, that has Tim doubting. Of course, with information-hoarders like them, it becomes like an addiction. There’s compulsion, obsession, unshakable requirement of source material - Tim knows what’s coming next. He dreads it.

It’s with this sense of confirmed foreboding that he accepts her words, as she tags to the end of her apology, ‘But you need to start being honest with me.’

There’s always some kind of trade off. It’s business with them.

We really aren’t friends.

‘What do you mean, Barbara?’ Tim says, lazily feigning innocence. He’s exhausted with this game, but he knows he can’t just quit playing. There’s no simplicity to anything.

She gestures wildly, and remarks, ‘You and Jason. Like for real, how close are you guys? Do you tell him everything? And, I’m still hearing from Steph that you’re dodging her. And don’t get me started on this whole Vicki Vale situation-’

‘It’s none of your business-’

‘It is when you pose a risk to your own life, Tim! I know what an overloaded plate looks like.’

Tim waves her down, dismisses her concerns, and tells her haughtily. ‘Oh please. Overloaded? Where was this concern for the heaviness of the- the weight on my- I carry everybody! Nothing is out of my ordinary. Just because I hold myself to higher standards than everyone else, it- it doesn’t mean that I’m suffering. You should be trying to thank me by helping me... And you can help me by listening to me.’

‘Your head is so far up your own ass-’

There’s a steady knock on the door, and then a quiet, ‘Is everything ok in there?’

Dick. The previous look on Barbara’s face, the one that made Tim want to bare his teeth and growl, dissolves. Tim rushes, jumps into the seat beside Barbara, close enough to take her hand. ‘Please... Can we...?’ Can we save this for later?

Tim thought... He wasn’t supposed to feel this powerless anymore, things weren’t supposed to not go his way.

She breathes calmly, ‘Ok.’

The door opens before either of them can respond, and Tim was correct (no fucking surprise there); Dick trundles in, followed by Bruce in one of his sharp pinstripes. In Bruce’s hands are a bunch of flowers, all fluorescent yellow and pink. It looks like a ghastly bouquet, but Barbara smiles widely when she sees it and accepts it.

Bruce looks between Tim and Babs, and as Dick kisses her cheek and settles on the other side of the bed, Bruce says, ‘I hope I’m not interrupting... My secretary couldn’t rearrange my eight o’clock, had to rely on this one to drive me-’

Dick laughs, ‘You say that like you were worried about my driving, when you taught me-’

‘No interruption, none at all.’ Tim says, slipping into an easy, open posture, with a casual smile. It opposes every fibre in his being to do so, but he can force it anyway. It’s what he’s good at. He's well-versed. Plenty of practice.

As Bruce replaces the wilting roses by the windowsill where the sun is blindingly strong, Tim wipes his face, discreetly tries to disguise his tension for simple tiredness. He hopes his stress isn’t obvious. It might hurt Bruce to see it. Dick is too busy concentrating on Barbara and playing with her fingers to care about him. He doesn’t have to talk to communicate with Babs, but I must be like a brick wall to him.

Bruce pulls over a chair by the faraway wall and sits by the foot of the bed. His brogues ring against the linoleum floor with every step. ‘So, have you heard anything?’

‘I’m passing all the tests, still. Now that I’ve decided, I’m determined not to give them a reason to not do it.’ Barbara taps her knees. ‘I’m kinda excited... Even if it-’

‘It’ll work.’ Says Dick, his voice reassuring and caring and supportive. It makes Tim squirm, like his stomach and his lungs are going to burst inside his chest.

But Bruce nods and hums, ‘Good.’ and the approval washes over them all. Dick Babs, Tim... they know how good Bruce-approval feels. It helps relax him, Tim is just as conditioned as the rest of them are, there’s no point denying it. Bruce turns to Tim, ‘It’s nice to see you here.’

‘Yeah, well...’ Tim looks at Barbara. ‘I figured now’s as good a time as any. Right?’

‘Tim was just telling me about your secret video game penchant.’

Smoothly, Bruce says, ‘You know I don’t have secrets from you Barbara.’

Barbara scares him. It’s not immediately clear how she could possibly know that he knows Bruce that well. It’s possible she knew already, likely considering the way she monitors their computer usage. Bruce probably doesn’t even try to firewall her, maybe he’s the only one she trusts and so she won’t follow him as closely. Tim knows when he’s failed - he’s on her radar. He shouldn’t be, he can’t be, but he is.

He can work with this, I just need to plan ahead-

‘Bruce doesn’t play video games.’ Dick says, his gesturing arms stretching his wild-blue-yonder Harrington, ‘He demolishes them. When I was littler, we got - what was it? That James Bond game-’

‘Goldeneye.’ Bruce supplies.

‘- He totally crushed it. Wouldn’t move from the television until he’d finished the game. And then he never touched it again.’

Bruce shrugs, and, it’s funny. Tim gets it. It’s fucked up, because here he was, wondering when he stopped sharing things in common with Babs, when the real question should have been since when were Bruce and I the same?

‘PlayStation man through and through.’ Tim says, staying neutral for the sake of his nausea. Fighting with Babs, fighting with Dick, fighting Bruce... It’s doing too much, apparently. Maybe the odd act of rebellion is his drug, and this is the withdrawal. He has to deal with this, this is his consequence. Be uncomfortable, surrender to the watchful eye of Oracle... maybe he can wait it out.

Tim stands. ‘Babs, really. Good luck. I’ll try and call, before they take you in. Let me know if you need anything...’

Babs doesn’t ask him to stay. And, that’s just fine.

They should all put their energy into something more useful; instead of wasting it, thinking after me.

 


 

‘Robin?’

The moment he slips his com in, Oracle pounces on his frequency. It’s only because she’s manipulating him, because she used that name, that he deigns to speak with her. He’s not that surprised, but she’s achieved something, proven how able and sly she is (just like he always thought), so he says, ‘I’m amazed. You know you’re in a hospital bed, right? You’re allowed to take a break, O, really-’

Oracle’s voice is tuned and muffled just slightly, but Tim is used to it. ‘I was waiting for you to call, like you said you would. And of course, you didn’t.’

‘Why, ‘and of course’? How can I possibly have a reputation for letting you down? Have you really been listening when Dick opens his mouth? I thought the general consensus was to just assume he speaks pure bullshit, and to ignore him. In one ear and out the other, like Al would say-’

‘Didn’t work with Damian, though, did it?’

There it is.

Tim abandons putting the rest of his suit on, his cape still draped over his chair. ‘What are you talking about-?’

And now, for the first time in memory, he hears coarse anger through the Oracle disguise. ‘You know exactly what I’m talking about!’

What would Jason do? ‘Maybe I do. You don’t. You should stop sticking your fucking nose where it doesn’t belong-!’

‘How dare you!’ She shouts, and the voice modulator crackles and hisses in his ear, so harshly he almost rips the comm away. ‘I thought you, of all people, knew better! I mean, Tim, for God’s sake, you almost killed-’

Tim starts moving; he buckles his utility belt, and grimaces, grouses, ‘Maybe I don’t know better.’ Maybe he could do with a fight right now-

‘Yeah, maybe you don’t.’ She agrees quickly. ‘So I’m watching you like a fucking hawk-’

‘You’re stalking me, for- that demon goads me, belittles me, he asks for it constantly, and, I do all the good I do to protect him, and all the other gremlins just like him! It’s not fair.’

He can hear the frustration in her voice, it slinks in her throat like poison, ‘You don’t get to let it get to you, and you know it. The fact you couldn’t keep it together... I have no choice. Let’s just say; everyone has their list, right? You... You’re on mine now.’

Is nothing sacred? For fuck’s sake-!

And she adds, ‘I’m watching you. But I’m mostly still worried-’

‘You shouldn’t be worried about me. There’s a lot more going on in the world. You have better things to be doing, than hanging onto my every word. There are worse criminals-’

‘You can’t tell me what to do.’ Babs says, and, well; isn’t that the crux of it all.

‘I... I have to- You have to listen to me-’

Uptight, she argues, ‘I don’t have to do anything! Or are you going to threaten me too, like you threatened Cass-?’

Tim pulls the communicator from his ear, grips it like it hurts him, and yells, ‘Jason! Tell her, please!’

Jason’s hurried footsteps precede him barging into Tim’s workroom; he hurries in, looking like Tim has roused him from deep sleep, and he says, ‘What? Tell who-?’

‘This stupid bitch!’ Tim cries, throwing the communicator. Jason fumbles the catch, but the communicator bounces off his chest and into his cupped palms. He slips it in, and almost immediately has to shout back down it.

‘Woah- woah! Barbie, what the fuck- yeah, it’s me...’

As Barbara hounds Jason, Tim watches him, and grimaces. He wants to sob, his face is crumpling already, and in Jason’s company, in their privacy, he would let it take over but he can’t, because Barbara fucking Gordon might hear it-

‘And what?’ Jason shouts, sounding offended, and before Tim can wonder why, Jason continues righteously, ‘Why does it matter, that Timmy and I are friends? You gotta problem with me? Am I not kosher enough for the fucking replacement?’

Tim doesn’t mind him saying it. He’s heard it plenty of times. What does one more time matter? At least, this time, Jason’s defending him. It feels helpful, which is a damn sight more than I can say for Babs.

Barbara must disagree, she must say something placatory, because Jason’s next words are calmer, ‘I... I see.’ He looks at Tim, their eyes lock, and then, he says very clearly, ‘Know what? I don’t care. It’s no worse than the little brat deserved. You’ve seen how he is. He should be-’ Babs tries to cut him off, but Jason can raise his voice louder than she can, ‘He should be thankful, that Tim is so damn good at saving everyone’s asses! Without him, there’s no fancy Wayne Tower, no bottomless money-pit, no Batman, nada! Face it! You owe him. I thought you liked him-’

And Tim actually hears the vehement, ‘I do!’ for himself.

But Jason finishes the argument. His voice cracks, his face melts, the unkemptness of his hair and his t-shirt, his grey sweats, everything looks destroyed and frantic and sad, and in a hoarse tone he promises, ‘If you don’t leave him alone, if he tries to kill himself again I will blame you, and I will come and put a bullet through your skull. Eat that.’

Oh Jason...

When the gentle sizzling hum ceases, Jason puts the communicator down on Tim's desk.

Tim’s place is warm; there’s an old, enamel strip that radiates around each room, maintains the heat. Tim keeps it ambient, especially as the winter months approach, he can’t afford to get sick, he can afford to pay for the extra cost. Nowadays, he’s usually at Jason’s anyway, so it doesn’t matter. He rents a cheap place. The rest of the building is falling to pieces, but it’s perfect for hiding his equipment, his operations... It helps that he owns the whole building.

The yellowed bulb above their heads shadows Jason’s face, and the easy reassurance he’s tried to plaster over his face comes off troubled and difficult. ‘She says you almost killed baby bat.’

‘I... W-We were sparring. He attacked me first- I didn’t kill him, did I? It's fine, it's not as bad as she- I'm not like that!’

‘Barbara is scared. Should I be scared?’ 

‘No. Never.’ Tim says. He doesn’t even have to think about it. Regardless of the consequences; it seems like they’ve both lost Barbara as an ally for this. ‘But Jay, I hate her. I hate her, I hate her-’

Jason walks forward, and pulls Tim into a hug. Tim grasps at the soft shirt, presses his head against Jason’s body, breathes in his sweat and his skin, the faint remnants of his cologne, and shudders against him.

I hope he believes me.

Chapter Text

About three years ago:

 

‘It’s a little late to be sitting on the edges of bridges, isn’t it? You might slip if you’re not careful.’

He had sensed she was there minutes ago. He doesn’t know why he hadn’t just fallen out of his seat, gotten it all over with before she could get close enough to talk. His body doesn’t listen to his brain, it forces chance after chance upon himself.

This isn’t gonna happen tonight, is it?

‘Huntress.’

‘Tim.’

‘It’s Red-’

‘You’re in civvies, baby. It’s Tim.’

He starts, looks down at himself; Jason’s tan jacket, the one without the bullet-holes, a white shirt with brown stains soaking from underneath - it aggravated several unhealed wounds to get up here, apparently. Tim hadn’t felt anything. Rarely does these days. Getting to this point had been automatic, mostly. Lazily, Tim toes a shoe off. Watches it fall, counts the seconds, until it disappears into the water, into the bay, dissolved, gone, no longer existent-

‘Tim-’

‘Don’t say it.’

I’m not ready to be talked down.

And then, because he can’t help himself; ‘What are you doing up here?’ He asks, even though they both know he doesn’t care what the reason is. She doesn’t know that I’ve changed my mind, tonight- right now isn’t going to work, I’ll have to live a little longer. But he’s allowed to live on the edge. To embrace the horizon. To... to fantasise, even a slip away from succumbing to the temptation. It’s a binary thing; either he’s killed himself, or he hasn’t.

Her voice is soft, she takes soft gentle steps as she approaches, suddenly standing right beside him before he can even think of a reply. She replies, ‘What are you doing up here.’

Tim doesn’t know what he’s doing, doesn’t have any motivations, nothing to persist for- maybe that’s the reason. Resting his heavy head on her shin, putting testing weight on her knee, signing trust, he sighs, ‘I dunno.’

‘No one’s seen you in weeks-’

‘No one reported me missing.’

She wants, itches to card her fingers through his hair, to do something comforting. But her gloves are grimy from the climb up so she doesn’t. She takes a slow breath of the acrid Gotham salt air, and says, ‘Everyone would notice if you were gone, Tim. Believe me.’

‘What would you know...’

He doesn’t mean it to be rude, necessarily, and she doesn’t take it that way. Instead, she drops down, sits with him. The metal beneath him doesn’t even shake with the shift in her weight as she does so. He’s too numb to feel it, even if it had. Huntress tells him, ‘I know what it’s like to lose people. To lose them to stupid things. Isn’t that enough?’

Tim thinks it probably is, but he doesn’t tell her that, just stares out at the waves and the skyline. Gotham is terrible.

‘I think this is the first time I’ve thought the waterfront looks kinda pretty.’ She says, not really trying to engage him in conversation but managing it anyway.

‘Yeah... it’s something, alright.’

He hasn’t quite decided where he should go from here. The grey sky had absolved into a plum orange that probably looked great. Tim can only see the pollution... The sky is falling.

‘Tired?’ She asks, as he leans more her way, bumping shoulders.

He says softly, ‘I just... I don’t wanna be here. Is that so... bad?’

‘No. It’s not.’ Helena says. ‘It happens.’

The sunlight is sheer and delicate, as it falls on his face Tim can feel his skin absorb it. How long has it been since he’s sat outside for this long, relatively undisturbed?

‘I threw my phone away.’ He tells her, by way of explanation.

‘Hmm.’ Huntress kicks her legs, leans over and has a look down, experimentally. Her hair whips in front of her face, and for a second Tim considers making a move. But it wouldn’t be fair. She says, ‘How high up do you think we are-?’

‘It’s enough.’ Tim says, again, as if it explains something. The wind whips around them, chasing the perimeter of the bridge as it cuts through the sky, and instead of briefly embracing it, Tim begs it to steal his breath away and never give it back. ‘... I don’t want to go.’

‘I know babe. It’s ok.’

She sits with him, and they sit in silence. Tim can’t close his eyes, staring at the sun till it hurts, as if it will burn through the soft tissue of his face and finally end him. 

‘Don’t tell anybody.’

‘Tim... I can’t- it’s too late. Some of them already know.’ She even sounds empathetic, there's a sort of wince in her voice that makes him wonder if she's sorry for it, if she understands what he feels...

He can't stop the list forming in his head; Oracle. Jason, maybe. Huntress herself, obviously. ‘B?’

‘I don’t think so.’

‘Then him. Don’t tell him.’ Tim says, defiant, begging her to argue with him. It’ll give him another reason to push off the ledge-

‘Ok.’ She says. Tim doesn’t trust it - she’ll say anything to me, right now - but he takes her at her word anyway, despite his better judgement. She’s been nice to him, gentle with him, she hasn’t pried, hasn’t grabbed him and swung to safety.

Safety is such a loaded term for us.

With every blink, the sun moves and the sky changes colour. Tim can’t focus on anything. Everything is transient. It’s nice to lie to himself and think that maybe, later, everything about him and his life will have changed too, that, what he expects to be there when he comes back won’t be there to trouble him. It’s a really really really nice lie.

Who am I kidding, there’s nothing for him to go back to. Jason’s intimacy will disappear, and that will be the end of that. It will be impossible to cover this up and pretend it never happened, and if the others don’t co-operate with him the way he thinks they won’t, then, everyone will find out eventually. Then he’ll lose whatever else he still has. Everything... the air flying through his fingers isn’t helping, but it’s telling him the truth, it feels exactly how things are, everything is slipping from his grasp.

I’ll have to do something about myself. We’ll all forget. I can... I can find a way. Can I...?

Tim is not sure he’s even bothered anymore.

When the sky almost matches the hue of her suit, Helena asks slowly, ‘Do you wanna sit, still, or...?’

Tim shakes his head, sighs. His voice wobbles but he musters control, enough to answer, ‘No, I... You can save me now.’

Nobody can save me.

Chapter Text

‘Black, or white?’

Tim shrugs, and says, casual and cheerfully indifferent, ‘I don’t mind. You choose.’

Alfred nods, and rotates the board to switch armies, moving the ivory pieces in front of himself. Tim watches, trying not to be blithe even when his mind is all over the place. He watches Alfred shift his chair closer to the table, getting serious, and tries to focus as Alfred makes his first move.

W: e2.e4

Alright, that’s pretty... nondescript. Tim can’t decide how he wants to play this, hasn’t played in a while all things considered, but he does have a reputation to defend. He’s supposed to be pretty good at this - not exactly a grandmaster or anything, he certainly didn’t have time to waste practising or playing in tournaments or anything like that... but, he’s not got anything else going on today. He has to make an impression, has to be able to best everyone in the house at something.

B: c7.c6

W: d2.d3

B: Qd8.a5

‘Check.’

W: c2.c3

B: Nb8.a6

‘I keep forgetting to ask; how has your holiday been?’

Tim chuckles, but his tone is seasoned with withered humour. ‘Holiday? I might just have to take another week off just so I can call it a proper vacation, Al. I’ve been so busy-’

‘Yes, so I’ve heard...’

Alfred waits, making his move (W: g2.g3) and because Tim knows what Alfred is waiting for, he explains, ‘Between Richard’s case, and- her coming back, and W.E., I haven’t found much time to, er, vacate.’

‘You know that’s not how that word works, right?’

Al, please.’

Alfred grins beneath his moustache, now sitting back a little more, far more relaxed. ‘I’m sure you’ll find the time to fit in everything you’d like to do. If anybody could-’

‘- It would be me. I know.’ Tim finishes for him, moving his piece in reply (B: Qa5.c7), not meaning to be rude but also relishing the point he’s making. Everybody says that about him - he can most definitely argue that there exist higher expectations of him than of anyone else in the family. In the family... at this stage, do I even qualify anymore? Tim hopes Alfred isn’t offended; he’s sure Alfred will be able to glean his feelings from his tone alone.

W: Bf1.g2

‘I understand you’ve had quite the week, sir.’ Alfred says, clearly pushing for a therapeutic tack. Tim doesn’t mind that Alfred has judged him, has decided that Tim needs his assistance, he’s not offended; it’s what Alfred does. He’s very good at keeping his concerns to himself when they aren’t called for, but, when charges in his care are miss-stepping, he is quick to leap in and correct them. Tim has seen him do it to Bruce, to Dick, to Jason, and to Damian.

All the girls usually seem to have their shit handled, Tim thinks wryly. He tries not to get frustrated, either, because his week has been trying in ways he hadn’t considered possible. He didn’t think he’d have to deal with some of the problems he’s been having.

B: Qc7.d6

‘Nothing more than usual. There’s always something on.’ He says, but the contriteness in his tone is clear.

‘Indeed.’

W: Ng1.f3

Alfred catches Tim’s eye, and says more pointedly, ‘Are you going to tell me, then? Or must I guess what you’ve been up to? We haven’t spoken properly since-’

’Yeah, I realise. I’m sorry.’ B: Qd6.f6 ‘I’ve just been so busy-’

‘With?’ Alfred says, simply, drawing more words from Tim, who had a feeble reply ready and processed. Alfred is good at pulling things from him, is so insistent, and it somehow always works.

W: O-O

Tim takes a second, thinking of what to say and deciding what move to make. Castling... Alfred has prepared a solid opening, and Tim’s- he’s fucked it. What was he doing? Looking at his pieces, undeveloped, his Queen astray... maybe Alfred can tell from that alone that he’s not doing too well. That’s not good, Tim must make amends, must put the doubt to rest.

B: d7.d5

‘I... I spend so much time thinking about everything else, everybody else. I... I’ve been focusing on me, I guess?’ (W: Rf1.e1) Tim confesses, ‘I’ve been avoiding Stephanie, and camping at Jason’s, and just trying to stay out of everybody’s way.’

B: Bc8.g4

W: Bc1.f4

Tim stares at the contrasting bishops, neighbouring each other in the middle of the board but not threatening each other, as Alfred tells him, ‘I’m glad you’ve got your priorities straight. You know it’s important to look after yourself then. At least one of you boys is sensible. But I wish you would talk to her at least-’

‘No, Alfred. I don’t owe her. Please don’t tell me to talk to her. I’m not... ready yet.’

Tim forcefully slides his queen over (B: Qf6.e6).

Alfred exhales, ‘Well then.’ W: b2.b4 ‘Maybe you’d start talking to Master Richard instead-’

And Tim laughs angrily, ‘Yeah, no. That’s not about to happen either.’

B: f7.f5

W: e4.e5

Ugh, I hadn’t thought of that. Alfred adjusts his collar, and asks cautiously, ‘So you haven’t forgiven him yet?’

‘I’m not exactly in the habit of forgiving people who almost get me killed. Alfred, don’t look at me like that. That’s exactly what he did, and he didn’t even apologise.’

‘I heard differently.’ Alfred says, smiling, because he knows why Tim is frustrated and he finds it amusing. Maybe Alfred is more narcissistic than Tim ever realised. Or maybe I’m just being stupid. Regardless, his annoyance with Dick won’t just go away, not because Alfred just asks it to.

B: Ra8.d8

W: a2.a4

Tim stares at the wall of pawns advancing to his right, and considers. It’s hard to think when throwing fist after first through Dick’s face till his perfect smile crumbles apart tooth by tooth is at the forefront of his mind.

B: g7.g6

W: b4.b5

Why attack now, when before he avoided it? Tim doesn’t see the reason behind Alfred sacrificing the wall he’s built, building walls is a long-term thing. Pawns can be dangerous this close to the other half of the board. He saves his knight (B: Na6.c7), and Alfred doesn’t hesitate to capture the pawn left behind (W: b5xc6).

‘Congratulations.’ Tim says, a little sarcastically, as Alfred collects up the piece.

Alfred toys with it in his hands, and says, equally jestingly, ‘Thank you very much, Master Tim. I do believe you’re not up to your usual game.’

‘We’re just getting started, aren’t we?’ He replies.

He doesn’t really care, to be honest. His head is elsewhere. Stupid Dick, and stupid Stephanie.

B: b7.b6

W: d3.d4

Alfred’s pawn-game is really something...

B: a7.a6

W: Nb1.d2

‘Your tea is getting cold, sir.’ Alfred says, lifting his own cup and taking a deep sip.

Tim nods, picking his own up too, and drinks more slowly. It’s still hot, and prickles the tip of his tongue uncomfortably. ‘You know how I feel about tea, Al.’

‘You like it, really.’

Tim shrugs. ‘It’s not coffee.’ B: Qe6.c8

‘You, sir, were drinking coffee far too early. No wonder why you’re that much shorter than the others.’

Tim laughs, ‘Wow, are you really going there? Low blow.’

W: a4.a5Low blow is hitting the nail on the head a bit, isn’t it?’

B: b6.b5

Oh shit. Tim sees the mistake he’s made only when it’s too late. He fell for Alfred’s little trap. It’s fine, he can play it out, he still has other pieces...

‘Something the matter?’ Alfred says, concern in his voice but not on his face. He can be so funny like that.

Tim shakes his head, denies quickly, ‘No. Just peachy...’

W: Qd1.c1

Ok... think, think, think.

B: b5.b4

‘The, er, the Manor’s looking tidy as ever.’ He says, for no reason other than hope that conversation will distract Alfred into making a mistake.

Alfred quirks an eyebrow, suspiciously. ‘Is it ever not tidy?’

‘No... I just mean, silverware’s looking especially shiny and all. It’s nice.’

He’s not lying. They’re sat by a window, playing chess on a small round table, like they always used to, but the room expands further. This is the manor dining room; tall windows through which daylight streams in between heavy burgundy curtains. Along the long mahogany mantle, Alfred’s precious silverware gleams in the light. And far away, at the very other end of the room, Thomas and Martha Wayne beam down at them. Tim’s studied the portrait enough times, has seen the copy in Bruce’s office, to recognise all the exact details even at a distance.

They must hate his guts, to keep returning to this house in spite of everything.

W: c3xb4

Well, so much for that.

‘Think I’m out of practice.’

‘Well I’ve been saying for ages, that you should drop in. It’s your own fault.’ Alfred says without malice. That, Tim adds all on his own.

B: Nc7.b5

‘I know. It’s not enough though.’ Tim says quietly, almost as an afterthought, without thinking at all.

‘What ever do you mean?’

Fuck. ‘I... I just don’t- Alfred. It’s just- This place, it...’

There aren’t any words for it. He can’t outright say that this is not his home, because that will just upset the man.

But Alfred seems to read him, and, he turns sulky. ‘I think I understand.’ He says, but he almost seems agitated as he presses his knight forward (W: Nd2.b3).

‘I don’t know how to explain it, Alfred. I’ve been living elsewhere for so long and, no one else even minds. It’s been for the best-’

‘Has it? Are you doing as well as you mean to convince me? You- you look tired, if I say so myself.’

‘I’d rather you not say it.’

B: h7.h6

Alfred averts his cobalt eyes, gives Tim a break, and looks back at the board.

And Tim doesn’t like the silence now. It’s not comfortable, or easy, or comforting; it’s comparable to being spied on, because he knows Alfred is thinking about him, is calculating a move, is trying to work around him or change his mind about something or... Can I not go a day without someone trying to influence me? Ok, that’s wrong... Tim can’t lie to himself. He wouldn’t have come here if he didn’t want Alfred’s influence, his advice, his concern.

He’s here because he’s selfish.

W: e5.e6 ‘Did Master Bruce say something to you?’

‘Nothing out of the ordinary. Nothing yet.’ Tim says, understanding where that came from. Bruce isn’t exactly the best when it comes to the emotional health of others. It’s almost funny, that Alfred jumps to that conclusion. Bruce is the kinda guy that can bring you in just as quickly as he can alienate you from everybody again.

Maybe I am the same.

Alfred remains puzzled. ‘Your turn, Master Tim.’

Tim gives up. B: g6.g5

W: f4.d2

‘What did you do that for?’ Tim asks, suddenly frustrated, how very outwardly of me.

‘Do what?’ Alfred asks, very whatever-is-the-matter.

‘All game, I keep offering exchanges and you-’

‘Master Tim... the point of offering an exchange is that it is optional, is it not. I don’t have to do it. It would be a hindrance to me to lose my bishop there, to something as basic as a pawn. Don’t be silly.’

Tim looks at the board, and laments. He’s being stupid, he’s being crass, he’s being thick-headed, he wants to sulk. Jason is rubbing off on me too much.

B: Qc8.c7

‘See, now why did you do that?’ Alfred grills, confused, disappointed.

‘Do what?’ Tim says, defensive out of habit.

Alfred takes the fucking piss, ‘All game, you’ve been moving your queen back and forth, back and forth, wasting turn after turn. It’s like you’ve forgotten how to play...! I- I wish you would just tell me what’s on your mind, Timothy.’

‘Alfred. If I- you don’t want to know. Believe me.’

‘Well. If you aren’t going to play properly...’ W: Re1.e5

‘Ooh, I’m so scared.’ Tim says. This is stupid and irritating.

B: Qc7.b8

W: h2.h3

B: Qb8.d6

I can’t. This is impossible.

W: h3xg4

‘My bishop...’

‘Sorry, sir. You’re going to lose.’ Alfred says. He’s a big fan of tough love, apparently.

B: f5.f4

W: g3xf4

‘I hate this game.’ Tim whinges.

‘No, you don’t.’

‘Alfred... Please.’

‘... No.’

B: Qd6.b8

W: f4xg5

Alfred looks at him and says slyly, ‘Ha! One pawn overtakes the other. How often do you see that?’

Tim finds it very difficult to stay enthused by the glee of others. He knows Alfred is just saying that to depress him.

B: Qb8.d6

Alfred sighs. ‘If you’re doing that to annoy me, it isn’t going to work. A win is still a win.’

‘Believe me, I’m not.’ Tim says over his shoulder, scratching his head, distracted. His hair is still recovering from the righteous bleaching and dyeing routine, and he’s almost always finding fine strands on his shoulders. He’s shedding like a cat, but he can’t bring himself to ask Alfred if he has any advice on that. It’ll beg too many questions. I can just ask Jeeves or something.

W: g5.g6

B: Qd6.b8

‘If you’ve given up, why not just sacrifice her? God.’

Tim laughs, because Alfred is being just as much a child as I am about this. ‘I’m not making it easy for you, Al. Come get me.’

W: Bd2.f4

B: Qb8.c7

W: Re5.f5

B: Qc7.a7

Tim mixes it up, and Alfred jeers, ‘Finally! I was wondering what happened to your spark of imagination, dim as it appears to be...’

‘Alfred...’

W: Nb3.c5

B: Rd8.c8

W: Nc5.b7

Tim touches his queen, almost picks it up and takes the knight, when he remembers the pawn. Fuck! ‘You’re... you’re wily, Alfred.’

‘I don’t know what you mean, Tim.’

B: h6.h5

W: g4xh5

Tim plain forgot about the rook, the castle now protecting the pawn on the square he had just been occupying. Useless, Tim...

B: Rc8.a8

W: Nf3.h2

B: Ra8.c8

‘You’re doing it again.’ Alfred complains, and Tim shrugs, quirks an eyebrow back at Alfred.

‘It’s not like there’s much I can do.’ He says. And then, after the fact, he says in displaced afterthought, ‘And speaking of frustrating and annoying, how’s Baby Bat?’

W: Bg2xd5

‘Master Damian is fine, I believe he is painting in his room. You should say hello, at least, and then someone besides myself will be able to corroborate your presence here today-’

B: Rc8.a8

‘I don’t think so... and, painting? I didn’t know the League had fine art classes.’

Alfred scoffs, but defends, ‘You’d be surprised, he seems to have quite the eye.’

W: Nh2.g4

B: Ra8.c8

W: h5.h6

B: Rc8.a8

W: g6.g7

B: Rh8.h7

‘... And there it is. I’m afraid, Master Timothy, your game is lost, to me.’ Alfred chuckles, and moves his final piece.

W: g7xf8=Q

Alfred pulls a second white queen from his breast-pocket, does he just carry one of those around with him, wherever he goes, and promotes his pawn. ‘Checkmate, son.’

Tim skims the entire board, and finds the majority of it irrelevant - Alfred has played an efficient, skilful and tidy game, has barely had to take any pieces. And though he believes it, he hates what is happening. He detests the look of the board, the huge number of enemy pawns in his half, the simple lack of development of his pieces... It’s wrong.

It doesn’t matter. It’s just a game. Tim says, sapped of all energy, ‘Good match, right?’

‘It wasn’t.’ Alfred says, suddenly his voice is low and strict. ‘Now if you won’t talk to me, I shan’t bother inviting you back here.’

‘I... Seriously?’

Alfred sits back in his chair, and suddenly, facing away from the light. In the shadow, his eyes disappear and Tim can’t read his expression. ‘Right now, Tim.’

So, Tim decides. ‘You know... You’ve seen a lot of wild things, right? Like, rich people stuff?’

Alfred nods.

‘I... I have a cougar skin. In my house. I killed it. It’s mine and- Vicki Vale. She wants to- she thinks I advocate for animal cruelty. But I don’t! It’s...’ And seeing Alfred’s falling face, the blank confusion, he finishes, ‘... complicated?’

‘It sounds very complicated. But what else is the matter.’

‘Alfred! I just told you-’

‘Please.’

It’s that old-man voice, it arises sympathy, pity, honesty, and Tim hates that Alfred is strolling through the park, walking all over him, while he traipses through a mine-field of traps. Tim is an easy target. He is so useless. He can’t get even the simplest things right anymore.

Tim beats Alfred. That’s how it always used to be. He can’t do this... Things are changing too fast. Usually, a cougar-skin-level controversy would have done the trick. Now...? Fucking ridiculous...

With venom, with frustration, because it feels like the snake in his stomach has finally risen and wrapped itself around his oesophagus, he swears, ‘Dick. He’s the problem. I can’t- I can’t breathe, knowing he’s still welcome here, after what he did to me. I-’ Tim stands up, and cries, ‘I brought Bruce Wayne back to life, for all of us, but you all got to keep him and I was thrown aside. I’m always being tossed away, and... I can’t stay here because of it, I’m sorry.’

Tim can’t believe he’s just said that. There's gotta be something in the fucking tea... There’s a moment of silence, where Tim catches his breath, and Alfred watches, face steeled and polished and reserved and all kinds of serious and considering. Tim doesn’t know what to expect-

‘Master Dick is not your problem, then.’ Alfred says, curving what Tim thought was going to be the juiciest morsel of his confession. He was wrong to think that this was going to be solely about him.

‘What-?’

Alfred realises, ‘It’s... It’s all of us, isn’t it? We didn’t protect you well enough, and we didn’t support you. I didn’t support you... and I was wrong and, in the end,  I never made sure that you knew how grateful I was. I... I don’t know what to say. Part of my job is listening to orders, Timothy. I trusted Master Dick, as I trust Master Bruce, and... you need to know that I trust you. I do apologise.’

Tim hates this. He steps back, and says, retreats, ‘You can’t. It’s not- it’s not enough. I have to hear it from him. From all of them. On their own.

Alfred stands, so abruptly he almost knocks over the table of chess pieces, ‘Alright. Master Tim, I will say nothing, I promise. But-’

Tim resigns, because he wants this to be over, and he sighs, ‘It’s ok, Alfred. I’ll... I’ll still come and visit.’

Alfred knows he’s lying. ‘I have something else I want to ask you, then, before next time.’

Tim shrugs. ‘Shoot.’

‘Why on earth did you knock over one of my vases, that other day?’

Tim doesn’t answer. Instead, rather rudely, he asks back, ‘How’s Barbara? How did her surgery go?’

Alfred knows what Tim is doing, what he’s trying to achieve, it’s so obvious, Tim is being obtuse on purpose. He answers, ‘Call her and find out yourself.’

And Tim says, ‘Fine.’

Why is it, that when I get a piece of what I want, I hate it?

 

 


 

   

‘Took long enough...’

Damian mumbles a contrite thanks into the air - it’s a habit he’s trying to develop, he expects that politeness can become automatic if he conforms to conventions, makes the effort, he doesn’t want to have to think about it for it to work for him. None of the others seem to have a problem with it when they really need to keep their heads down.

Some more than others. But... there isn’t a day now that doesn’t go by without Damian at least briefly considering his own regret. He should have been polite with Timothy from the start, and none of this shame, that feels like a weight around his neck, would exist to so constantly remind him. It’s chronic, how often he thinks about it, I just want to let it go.

The Manor is quiet, feels empty, Alfred is nowhere to be found and Damian is alright with that. He has everything he wants, for now. Walking from the foyer, mail in hand, Damian treads back to his room. The hallways are tapering and narrowing down with each passing while, as he ages, and rather than being comforted by the fact, that the halls are not as intimidating or as troublesome as he used to think they were, they are... Constricting, cramped, confining. Every piece of furniture or art or whatever seem like cheap novelties, tacky, pointless. Damian never understood the uses of it all; Bruce Wayne was powerful in so many ways; why was there even a need to show it, or fake it, when everybody already knew it in one way or another? The need for such all-pervading disguises was beyond Damian.

When he makes it to his room, Damian shuts the door behind him with his foot. The automatic lock clicks.

He walks to his desk, and places the small box in his hand down. He considers it for a second, the well-maintained brown cardboard, the band of facetious alloy-coloured tape, and decides that the knife he carries strapped to his forearm at all times might be above the task. He rummages briefly for a pair of craft scissors from the top drawer, before he opens it and uses a single side to score the box right down the middle. He wants to keep it relatively intact - it will be useful for storage later. The smell of torn cardboard is gentle and unpleasant, but the contents within are refreshing and pleasing.

Damian tips the box out onto his desk, and five-millilitre tubes pour out. Damian turns them all over, reads the names, and crosses them off his mental list until he’s sure it’s all there. And it is, dare the company not satisfy the Wayne Estate. It takes a second for Damian to get over himself, he handles each tube in turn, tilting the aluminium tubes over between his fingers, being ever so careful not to press.

Beautiful.

He begins sorting them on the desk, creating a fan of silver contrasting with the cocobolo. Damian sorts them, titanium white into yellows into blues into earth tones. He doesn’t need the reds, but for the sake of a competent universal palette he had bought them; scarlet red, and alizarin crimson. The red-tone he had intended was the indian red, darker and bolder than a venetian red.  Damian didn’t particularly care for the memories of blood splatter that came with red paint.

Now he has five yellows; nickel titanate, bismuth, naples, indian, and cadmium. But he’s done paintings without any of them, has repurposed one of his favourite colours for yellow; quinacridone gold. It goes well with indian red and indigo.

Indigo is a fine colour. It’s a better blue than blue, Damian thinks, even as he considers the cerulean, antwerp, manganese and indanthrene. He sorted them all next to burnt umber, if and when he needs to mix his own black- Damian surprises himself sometimes. He forgot that he’d ordered ivory black.

He uses his palette like the old masters’, demure and virtuous. Damian expects that he shan’t even need all the colours he now has. Maybe he’d been overzealous with the shopping basket, the internet makes everything so easy. And, it’s rare that I treat myself.

There’s a knock at the door, strong and sharp enough that the tubes on his desk shift and roll.

‘Who is it!’ Damian calls, and, annoyingly, there is no reply.

Drake.

Damian stomps over to the door, undoes the gold-brushed latch and swings it open, determined to have this interruption done and over with, he says busily, ‘What do you want?’

There’s a box in Tim’s hands. Tim himself looks mild and, for now, Damian is unintimidated. It’s rare that Damian sees Tim in anything other than some kind of suit, and the cuffs of Tim’s rosy pastel-toned shirt scream out for a blazer. Tie-shy, he just about qualifies for casual attire. Damian doesn’t actually know Tim well enough to guess what he’d prefer to be wearing.

The truth they both know, the secret that exists just between them, is that Tim will never think of the Manor as home again. Damian knows that it’s partly his fault, and, well... he doesn’t care. Even as Damian does nothing to impede Drake’s imposition- Timothy looks uncomfortable to be here, all on his own. He is suffering all of his own accord.

Good, Damian thinks sullenly.

‘Alfred tells me you’re painting now.’ Tim says, neutral and calm.

His eyes don’t match his voice - when Damian notices, he realises that something is wrong with Drake. It doesn’t affect me, but Damian notices all the same. Half of him wonders what Drake is bothered by, and the other half of him assumes it’s something to do with how he hates me, so it doesn’t matter, ignore it.

‘I’ve always been painting. I don’t know why Pennyworth thought that would make for good gossip-’

Tim sighs through his nostrils. ‘Please don’t talk to me about gossip... I’m getting enough of that from everybody else. I just-’ And their attentions are brought back to the box as Tim raises his hands, ‘I had all these art supplies in my room, and most of it is unused still. I thought you could use them.’

Instead of slapping the box away, instead of declaring that Tim’s mere ownership was enough to taint it all, instead of distrusting the gesture like he’s sure he should, Damian pauses... And then, he does what is polite. He takes the proffered shoebox, and says, ‘Oh. Thank you, then.’

It’s strategic, Damian tells himself. Satisfied, he shuts the door on Drake.

He’s not satisfied. Damian hates Tim.

That’s not true, be honest... Damian hates what was said about him, by Tim. The fact that anybody would internalise that level of dislike, of him, and... that somebody else could defend it too? Even if it was just Todd, the damage was done.

He’d killed someone his first day in Gotham. Damian now recognises the mistakes in his previous behaviour. He’d gotten over it. He’d gotten over Father’s feelings about the matter, had accepted that forgiveness. And now... none of the progress he’s made feels adequate enough.

Damian takes Tim’s shoebox to his bed, and sits down, and slides the lid off with more difficulty than he expected. When it finally comes off, scraps of paper slide out and almost spill onto the floor, had Damian not swiftly caught it all. Damian has to restrategise; he takes the pile of papers from the top, and decides to deal through those first before fully exploring the contents of the box - he puts that aside, behind him and away from the edge of the bed, lest paint spill on something Alfred cannot clean with simple soap.

The papers are varied, Damian quickly realises; some of it is common A4, some of the sheets are actually photograph-paper, blank but stained. And then, there are two that are of the thick watercolour paper that Damian recognises. It’s not exactly the same as what he uses - the surface has been sanded, or painted over in white in preparation of a project - but Damian cannot make here nor there of the scribbles of HB pencil that weave around the pages. One of the pages is just lined paper, a stream of code that doesn’t start at the top of the page and doesn’t finish at the bottom - Damian should probably bring that to Drake’s attention, but he won’t.

At least, not until he’s worked out what it pertains to.

In the next few papers, there are more clues to Tim’s artistic habits; birds, a few concise robins and snowbirds and ravens and owls illustrated so cleanly and realistically that Damian almost can’t believe they flew onto the page from Drake’s hand. If it weren’t for the scrawled signatures underneath every single one, as if Drake was worried no one would believe he was capable- ok, maybe Damian is proof that signing was warranted. What does Drake mean to prove to me, by showing me this? He puts the good art behind him and continues, and- there. Finally, something interesting; Tim’s original designs for the Robin costume- what has eventually evolved into Damian’s costume.

Damian’s first instinct is to resent it. He remembers seeing the suits Richard and Todd had used, and being internally-horrified. He’d never been expected to bare his legs at night by the League. He’d been confused, frankly, but he’d never brought it up to any of the men involved in the previous designs. He hadn’t been brave enough to condemn that which he so desperately wanted, and... he’d been so thankful, for Tim, once he’d seen how Tim had rectified the suit. Damian has immediately snapped up the one-piece with proper legs the first chance he’d gotten. Damian still hasn’t brought himself to give Timothy the credit that is duly his.

He looks at the schematic, with all the calculations written neatly on the side, the scaling, the postulated materials, and Damian realises suddenly what this is.

This has nothing to do with Father.

This was Timothy Drake... dreaming up the suit he’d die to wear, that he’d give up whatever previous life he’d had, for. This suit, the drawing, it was... Tim’s dream.

... And I snatched it away.

Damian considers it for a second, and, just as suddenly, he knows; Drake is manipulating him. But how could he have known that Damian was emotionally maturing, that he would be capable of making the inferences required to ‘understand’ for himself what his crime was? How does Tim do it? It’s a power none of the other Robins have possessed, but Damian knows that won’t be true for long. He wants to learn it, he wants to possess Tim’s power, Damian wants to supersede-

‘You’re becoming me, Damian.’

Damian shoves the box away, fights the urge to be sick, or to shower again, or to burn his clothes... anything to get rid of the feeling that Drake has wormed his way into his head. Parasite... Damian looks at the tubes of paint, scattered on the floor, with thin brushes and palette knives; tools of my demise...?

The pot of gelatinous fluid, browned and yellowed like lemon crippled and dried to rot, rolls under Damian’s bed; Damian wants nothing to do with any of it, anymore. It’s all an extended threat, and he sees right through Tim because Damian is an artist, he sees the values, he sees the whole picture, he has interpreted the truth from the facade.

But still, he is unsettled.

Damian leaves the mess of paper and equipment as it is. It is not an act of cowardice... Damian is simply preserving the integrity of the scene of the crime, Timothy Drake has attacked me, has dragged Damian into a fresh bout of psychological warfare.

Damian hasn’t done this before. Not really. Not this way. Damian knows he doesn’t have the experience, is not subtle and gentle and covert the way Drake is.

He almost wishes they were sparring again; at least, Damian would have the opportunity to draw blood, would have the opportunity to gather all the evidence he needs to convince the others of what he’s known all along. Timothy is not as worthy as they all seem to think he is.

Damian tries to move on, to focus on the new palette he was going to enjoy building, but Drake’s placid face and puddle-coloured eyes refuse to dissolve away in his mind’s eye. And, he had been trained for this, but, Richard and Father have been doing everything they can to strip him of the League’s discipline, and now he feels threatened in his own safe-space. Therefore, nothing will feel safe. Not until the threat is dealt with. But you can’t do anything to Drake... Maybe Damian has it all wrong, and he’s drawing lines without reference, but intuition doesn’t lie.

I will suss him out.

Damian has to work through a breathing exercise, five undisturbed minutes while he tries to pretend like Tim’s failed attempt to derail him isn’t still contaminating his room, before he can finally relax. He pulls out his emptied palette box, which is a crisp white, and a box of empty pans, and he considers his haul of paints.

He should prioritise; warm and cool primaries. But, there’s something so clever about the way he uses quinacridone gold, indigo and indian red, it’s his work with this limited palette that he’s so proud of, he rarely needs more than that, if he’s really focused he can mix whatever colour he likes, he-

Damian slams the empty palette box on his desk. A jar of linseed oil... Drake painted with oils, not watercolours. His motives are ulterior, he is scheming, he is doing something to me-!

It’s frightening, because Damian is already half-convinced that he made himself a target by treating Drake the way he has. Damian almost understands, a part of him does, even if he doesn’t believe it’s the truth, Drake doesn’t mess around, he could easily weave truth and lie together so tightly that no one would be able to pick them apart, if he wanted to. It’s his own fault; Damian opened himself up to this, made a point of making Drake his rival, his enemy, not his teacher, not his idol, not his comrade...

The colours on the desk look pointless, and bland, and his pride in his artistry washes out, and his chest feels empty. He squeezes his fists till his knuckles turn titanium white.

What have I done?