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I'm Being Followed by a Moonshadow

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Kon was the first person to notice. It made sense, really. Tim had been spending a lot of time with Young Justice, lately. Cassie had seemed a bit uncomfortable, but the two, and Bart, had talked it over and decided...well, Bats were weird. If this was how Tim wanted to deal...maybe they should leave him to it. 

Didn’t mean they were any less worried when he took off, leaving only a note promising he was fine, he’d keep in touch, please don’t follow him or tattle on him and he wasn’t doing anything too stupid, promise.  

Or that they were any less firm on their stance when the Red Hood showed up, demanding to know where Red Robin had disappeared to. 

Although once Kon stopped to think... 

Kon was Tim’s best friend. He’d known him longer than some of his own siblings. And...he’d believed in him, stood by him, when most people thought he was...crazy. 

Red Robin’s quiet plans, the ones he didn’t show anyone. The way he hid from his family, the haunted look in his eyes. 

He’d assumed the rings were his parents’, and Tim had...let him believe it. 

He wasn’t so sure anymore. 

 

It had taken a lot of arguments before they’d reached an agreement. Jason was strongly in favor of chasing down the younger bat and dragging him home, backed, to everyone’s surprise, by Damian. Steph, Babs, and Cass fought to leave him be. Alfred tried to mediate, although everyone could tell he was leaning towards Jason and Damian’s side. And Bruce... 

Bruce said nothing as he watched, one hand up to cover his mouth but face blank and empty.  

Like he had nothing to say, or maybe he didn’t trust himself to speak? 

Maybe Cass would know. Dick would know. But Jason... 

It should be easier, by now. But nothing made sense and he wanted to scream

(There was a lot of screaming, actually. None of them were good at emotions and all of them—love, fear, desperation—tended to come out angry. Jason screaming that they  couldn’t lose Tim (he couldn’t fail his brother—both of them—like that), Damian snarling that Drake was out to get himself killed, Steph arguing that Tim could take care of himself, that dragging him back into this shitshow wouldn’t help—Cass tended to end up in tears and leaving the room, which tended to shut up everyone quick. Babs rarely joined in but to quietly remind them that she could keep track of Tim, he’d promised not to hide—that she’d know if he was in trouble. That their tendency to...suffocate...never ended well.) 

Scratch that. There was no agreement. They just argued until someone broke down and they had to break it off. 

Rinse, and repeat. 

But when Ra’s sent a message to Bruce-- 

There was no question. Everyone was up and in arms—Jason was off to Young Justice to demand information, Damian was sneaking off to 'contacts' he claimed he still had close to the League, Steph and Cass and Bruce and Duke started getting ready to storm League of Assassin’s HQ. 

Until the Skype call from Tim. 

He was his wry, sarcastic self. Flashed around his phone as he walked, showing off the airport around him. 

Ra’s is an ass. Promised I wouldn’t disappear—and he’d faltered, then, and Jason suspected he knew why (and dammit he wasn’t supposed to be the touchy-feely one--) and went on. Coming back to the manor...ten hours, Gotham airport, don’t bother with the jet my flight leaves in ten minutes.  

He kept that promise, yeah. Jason and Damian went to pick him from the airport. Alfred made dinner. Tim ruefully shared the details of a run-in with Ra’s. Cass demanded movie night. 

They all fell asleep in the living room. 

And come morning, Tim was gone, another promise-on-a-note the only thing left behind. 

(France, Babs told them. Nothing looks crazy right now.

 

Jason had been the first one to get the guts together to head to the heart of Gotham and climb through that tenth-story window. (When he’d noticed the silent shadow behind him, he’d said nothing. Just held the curtains back for Robin to slip through after him.) 

Except apparently, he wasn’t. The first. 

He found him in the hidden room. The one where Nightwing and Red Robin trained, kept supplies. Files, folders, coordinates and pictures open on screens all around him. 

Tim sat in a chair, head on the desk in front of him, fast asleep. One hand clutching at the rings hanging from the cord around his neck. 

Jason swallowed. He’d seen that necklace before-- 

Around Dick’s neck. 

Damian was staring at the screens, pale and wide eyed. He reached out a hand-- 

Tim jerked, and Jason jumped to grab his arms before Damian got a black eye. 

He blinked at them, hair sticking up in every direction and eyes ringed by dark bags. “What are you guys doing here?” 

“Drake,” Damian said hoarsely. Swallowed. “Timothy. Grayson--” 

Tim’s own face fell, grew more tired and a little...resigned? 

Jason glanced at the screens again. It was...Tim was...looking for something? 

No. Oh, no. Not something. 

Somebody

“Tim,” Jason swallowed, hard. “Dick is dead.” 

Tim looked up at him. And... 

Sometimes the best thing after a nightmare is company. Just...quiet company, someone to be there. Naturally, they all sought each other out when they needed that sort of thing. No one else would really...understand. 

So yeah, Jason had seen that trauma in all of his siblings’ eyes. 

Still. He flinched at how haunted his younger brother’s eyes were, at that moment. 

“I know,” Tim said quietly. “But Jason...we all were.” 

 

They’d all reacted differently. 

They’d all gotten the call from Gordon, dropped everything to run to the mortuary, found Tim clutching their older brother’s hand. (Cold. Pale. Stiff.) 

(“He wanted cereal,” Tim had said, numbly. No one else was gonna do it Dick would have so Jason had put an arm around the kid’s shoulders and pulled him close. He was the oldest now and Dick had made him promise.) 

(A gunshot to the head. Sixteen years of chasing psychopaths, of jumping into the middle of apocalypses and taking on metas and ghosts and literal gods--  

And he died Dick Grayson, gunshot wound to the head in a quiet alley, witnessed by a young lady and a little girl and a mugger. 

There was a reason Red Hood used guns. Martial arts and acrobatics were all very well—but bullets were fast.

After the funeral, Cass stayed in Gotham. (She wouldn’t talk. She wasn’t exactly loud, before, but now...There wasn’t anything--but she’d been all the way in Hong Kong, and grief didn’t have to be rational.) 

Jason stayed in the manor, too. (He’d promised, and damn Dickie for making him agree. (Damn Dickie for getting himself killed in an alley mugging of all things.) )For the first time in years, muggers were found dead in alleys with the discoveries preceded by Red Hood sightings. And Batman—Bruce-- 

Didn’t say anything. And maybe he really did understand the concept of hypocrisy. (All the troublemakers quickly realized to keep it down for a little while. Batman was out for blood. And Bruce...Bruce was hard to find, these days.)  

Damian (to Jason’s shock) was quiet. Holed up inside himself, even as he holed up in his bedroom or the family room where the six of them had always gravitated, with a whining Titus nosing at his knee and a sketchbook or book clutched in his hands even as empty eyes stared out windows and into walls. Steph—she stayed at the manor, too. Tried to pull Damian out in a way only she (and Dick) ever could. 

Alfred (like Jason) tried to swallow his grief. Be strong for everyone else. Went on running errands and making sure everyone was fed and on schedule. (But he often lingered in one of the longest-occupied bedrooms in the house, stopped and just stared at some object in his hands, or on the walls, during the quiet moments when he was alone--) 

Duke hadn’t known Dick as long, or as deeply, as the others. He was shaken by his death. He was...sad. But what scared him more was watching all the others...fall apart. 

And Tim— 

They’d gone looking for him, when he didn’t show up for two days after the funeral. There were a few little things missing from the apartment he’d shared with Dick—and a note. 

Won’t do anything too stupid...won’t hide. Will keep in touch. Be safe...promise...  

Chapter Text

There used to be a time, Dick reflected, staring out at the star-speckled scene before him, when I used to love this

There had been a lot more space missions with the Teen Titans, back when he was younger. Back when Kori was newly crash-landed on Earth. Back when things like Green Lanterns and Martians were still relatively surprising. 

The trip there, wherever ‘there’ was, was usually a whirlwind of planning and forced calm and last-minute training and pep talks, and likely the entirety of the time on whichever planet was mind-blowing kicking-bad-guy-butt or worse, mind-numbing politics...he’d always loved the trip back to Earth. 

When the mission was over. When he could stand at a window and stare out at the stars and comets and planets and just...just look. He didn’t need to plan, to think about anything, which was so rare for a Bat.  No next-case to start planning out, just a successful mission behind them. Just a peaceful lack of thought that left room for the wonder at the vast universe they lived in, and really, who could see all this and not feel awed? 

Now...he couldn’t be. Mindless. Like that. His mind was moving twenty miles a minute. Limited communications, and no plan to outline, contingencies to draw, team to keep cool and he was free to wonder what had gone on down on earth while he was gone, what he would find when he got back, was everyone he’d left behind okay...

“Not your fault, Goldie,” Jason’s voice whispered inside his head. “Now quit moanin’--only I get to moan bout my dyin' .”  

Dick smiled bitterly. There was knowing (though did he really know?) and there was believing, and they were two very different things. 

A soft touch on his arm. “You okay?” Donna asked softly. 

Dick smiled at her—not a beaming smile, Donna knew him too well to be fooled by that—just a quiet one, though he forced the bitterness out of it and stuffed it deep down inside him. 

“I’m fine.” 

Is everyone else?  

Don’t be stupid. We’ve got better comms...maybe not Bruce, maybe not Alfred even but Jason, Tim, Cass, even Damian—they'd get him news, somehow, if they had to. One way or another. Forget Bats, we’re Robins. 

He let his eyes sweep over the view, looking for green and blue. 

When I get home, I’m calling a movie night, he decided. 

And resigned himself to that gnawing pit in his stomach until he was back in his apartment with all his siblings close. 

(Safe. And alive.)  

Chapter Text

“Alright,” Jason said, eyes narrowed and scowl firmly in place, as though his brother were actually standing in front of him. “What do you want now?” 

“Do I have to want something?” Dick asked, and even over the phone Jason could hear the grin, faux-innocent and quietly amused. 

“Yes,” he said bluntly. Why dance around it? 

“I’m hurt, Jay. I was just calling to ask if you wanted to come over.” 

“Why would I want to do that?” Jason asked, still suspicious. “Why would I do that?” 

“I made carrot cake. Thought you might want to pop over for a slice.” 

Well. 

Damn. 

The thing was, Dickie could cook beyond the necessary culinary skills needed for survival in this lifestyle, which was more than he could say for a lot of their family. (Much,  much more, in Bruce’s case.) 

Something about family and cooking and shit, when he was a kid. Important stuff. 

The point was...Dickiebird made a mean carrot cake. It was like. His thing. 

Homemade carrot cake, to begin with, and Jason had never tasted one better (or, unfortunately, been able to match it himself.) 

But Dick never really put that skill to use, not unless he was cooking for more than just himself. Granted, he’d been cooking more since Tim had moved in with him. 

But carrot cake? By Dick standards, not a usual casual baking session. 

“With cream cheese frosting?” and damn it he hadn’t meant to ask but... 

“Yup.” And there was victory in his voice, that little— 

Oh, he was so obviously being baited. 

But. Carrot cake. Damn it. 

“Give me half an hour.” 

Chapter Text

It was a quiet night, Robin reflected, watching soft white flakes drift against the...relatively dark night. 

It was never completely dark in Gotham, as was true of all big cities. And...not quite big cities, too, even. 

Alright, so sometimes Damian missed pure dark nights, lit up by naught by the stars. 

As Todd would say, sue him. 

Under a sky gray with smoke and light, the snow that blanketed the dirty streets and grimy buildings was still white. Glinting and glaring underneath lampposts. Robin allowed himself a momentary distraction, holding a glove out to the air before pulling his hand closer to peer at surviving individual snowflakes, admiring the delicate, complex,  miniscule crystals. 

Hah! RR is DOWN!”  

Or perhaps it wasn’t such a quiet night after all. Robin lifted a hand to his communicator. 

Corner of 23rd and Washington, people,” Oracle reported. 

No babysitting, Goldie!” Red Hood howled. Nightwing was cackling over the line. 

What on earth...?  

“Babysitting?” Damian murmured. 

Mind hurrying a little, Hood?Red Robin complained. Annoyed. Sarcastic. But he didn’t sound...hurt. 

“Is anyone interested in explaining what exactly is going on,” Robin huffed. 

Something cold splattered against the back of his cape and he whirled-- 

Puffs of snow drifted around him, scattering off the billowing cape. A dark shape, flash of blue—a sharp salute. 

Would love to stick around, Dami—but I gotta catch up with Hood before he gets to Little Red.”   

Another flash of blue, and he was gone again. And Damian finally knew what was going on. 

Robin down, halfway down 14th,”  Oracle announced...gleefully. 

“Tt.” This was patrol.  

Well, damn. Sorry babybird, I’m gonna stop by the demon brat, he’s closer--”   

They were all adults

“Really, Hood? We’re supposed to be a team, here...”  

And vigilantes. Crime fighting vigilantes. 

“Little bat included,” Black Bat stated. 

This was no time or place for childish games

Annnnd RR is back in action, gotta step up your game, Nightwing.”  

“Hey! NO babysitting, Goldie!”  

“We’re four blocks away, Hood, max babysitting radius is three--”  

“Couldn’t you have opened a separate channel for freeze tag?”  Father’s voice was dry. Thank God. Father was always sensible. 

Sorry B,” Nightwing said cheerfully, not sounding sorry at all. 

Go step on a Lego, B,” Red Hood chimed in, definitely not sounding sorry at all. 

“If you would just move on and leave some of us to do actual work,” Damian huffed. 

It’s quiet tonight, Robin. Call it in.”  

Robin...blinked.  

Black Bat is down, Washington and Heron!”  

“Look out, RR, you’re next!”  

The snowball hit his arm, this time. And when he turned around-- 

Black, billowing cape against the grayed-out sky. 

Robin is unfrozen!” 

“Woah, woah, hold up, this many people we need another tagger--”  

Tactical exercise,” Batman offered. And disappeared. 

Robin smirked. Well, in that case... 

Chapter Text

There were days when Jason would be having...a perfectly good day. 

No fight with Bruce, or Dickie, or the Demon Brat. A nice dinner from Alfred. Teasing and jokes and laughing and general messing-around with his 'siblings'. 

And then he’d be walking, chatting with Goldie, and turn into a door that wasn’t there anymore.  

That kind of thing could sour a person’s day real quick. 

 

It wasn’t even just the manor, where there were missing doors and new hallways and everything was just...off. Red Hood had his own territory labelled on the Bat Map, and he knew it like he knew the double guns holstered on his belt. 

But the rest of the city... 

It was mostly little things. Old shops closed, new chain-supermarkets. Once under-construction buildings now finished, new towers blocking sights he should have been able to see. Half-built skyscrapers where the sky used to be empty. Overpasses and bridges, sidewalks where people had once wandered shoulders. 

For God’s sake, there was an entire street missing. 

He’d been dead. And the world had moved on without him. 

But he’d come back. Back to life, back to Gotham, back to the Manor... 

And yet as he stumbled through the city and what had once been his home, he could never quite fight that overpowering sense of loss

 

Dick noticed first. (Of course he did, this was bleeding-heart Goldie here.) 

And he started...starting games. In the moments when the night was quiet. Tag. Freeze tag. Cops and robbers. Blindman, once, with Dick as the blindman and Bab’s voice as his eyes (although Bruce had put a stop to that one pretty quick.) 

(Hide-and-seek in the manor. Usually set off by a prank, or a series of pranks, and devolved into half of those involved running for cover whilst the other half sought them out, swearing deadly vengeance.) 

And at first Jason was livid

Bad enough that he felt lost in the city he’d grown up in, lived in all his life. But for Dick to just rub it in his face... 

Dick’s voice would announce a game over the comms, and the sounds of a mad scramble from the four corners of Gotham would ensue. But Jason refused. (Even if he was the one tagged by a snowball. Even to the point where he’d turn off his comms if need be.) 

But dearest Dickie must’ve recruited the rest of their siblings into his fight, because sure the Demon Brat was always a pain, but Replacement was usually civil during patrol and Cass was usually nice

Now though? They all needled him. Crowded him, showing up wherever he turned, until he was streaking over the Gotham rooftops alongside the rest (although usually cursing them all out the whole time). 

But at some point, he realized... 

He knew that Red Robin knew that virtually nobody could find him if he melted into the shadows in the southwestern-most neighborhood of the Coventry. (There were too many of them.) 

He knew Nightwing liked to cover half a block on Kane Street with one massive sprint-leap-swing-jump-roll involving Wayne Tower (although no one else was as crazy, so no one else did). 

He knew there was an alley between two residences on Reynold Street so narrow no one ever really noticed it. (Black Bat liked to hide out there.) 

He knew there was a falafel cart usually parked at the Farrel Street entrance of Aparo Park that was Robin’s favorite. (After his first visit, he understood why.) 

He knew there had to be a faster way from Newton to Robert Kane Memorial Bridge than the overpass near Exit 15. (Because Batman always beat the rest of them there.) 

And he knew—and only he knew (as far as he knew, anyways)--that the quietest way through Chinatown was an abandoned underground railroad line parallel to Main Street. (There was old graffiti on the walls, though, and he would carry to his grave the idea that he’d left a few marks of his own.) 

(And after all that up, down, over, under, around and through—Gotham was his again.) 

Chapter Text

It was a secret he would carry to his grave. But Damian really, really hated the cold. 

He was born and raised near the desert, in a part of the world where the days were almost always hot. He could stand the cold, most definitely. No doubt about that. He could forge on through chest-high fields of snow. Grapple and fight and win in freezing waters. He could... 

But it didn’t mean he had to like it. 

He stood beside Father, fighting the irritating urge to wrap his arms around himself, curl up to preserve body heat because thermal suits or not it was still so god damned cold

“When will our transport get here,” he asked finally, knowing he sounded like a child but annoyed enough that he didn’t care.  

“Looks like they’re running late,” Father said, squinting up at the hills. 

“We have appropriate transports in the batplane,” Damian muttered. 

Father simply smiled and tapped his shoulder twice. “Mission objectives, Damian. We need to blend in.” He straightened, and Damian heard the faint sound of shouting and...barking? “Looks like they’re here.” 

As the sled pulled into view, Father started forward. Damian snapped to attention and stumbled after him, finally scowling and deciding to just take the easy route and step in the footprints the man left behind. 

Father immediately began to speak with the man at the sled—their contact. But Damian’s attention was drawn to someone else. 

Leaving his Father to it, he stepped over to the beautiful animals hitched to the sled. They panted and eyed him, and Damian smiled, holding out a hand. 

“Well hello, there.” 

(Truly, meeting the dogs almost made the cold worth it.)  

Chapter Text

It was a novelty for two-year-old Tim Drake, when Dick Grayson pulled him into a hug as their parents posed for the camera behind them. He’d rarely ever received a hug before, and would rarely receive one after. The warmth of the hug, the smile, even the excited “I’m gonna do an extra-special flip just for you!”, given so freely by someone he’d just met, stayed with him (even after falling and screams and bodies and a tear-streaked face--). He’d like to say it was for the rest of his childhood. But he’d have to admit it was his whole life. 

 

(Bruce didn’t know what he was doing, taking in an eight-year-old. He didn’t know how to raise a child. He was dark and (if Alfred was correct, and let’s face it, Alfred was always correct) broody, he was Batman for God’s sake--  

When it came to the sorrow, the grief, Bruce still knew what to do. He understood. And so he helped the boy beat back that darkness... 

And revealed a noisy, happy, ceaselessy energetic little boy beneath. 

And Bruce? Didn’t know how to deal with that. Not constantly. Not as his own child

He stumbled a lot, in those days. 

Dick though, didn’t seem to mid. He was still a happy noisy kid determined to drag everyone else into his happiness kicking and screaming, and eventually Bruce found that he didn’t resist so hard.) 

 

When Tim finally actually got to meet Dick Grayson, he was excited on multiple levels. 

This was Dick Grayson, the boy who’d given a random little boy his first experience of warmth and affection so freely. The first Robin, his childhood idol, who ran the streets just to help people who needed it. And Nightwing, who Tim couldn’t keep as well track of, but...leader of the Titans? International hero? Even intergalactic, if word was to be believed? Enough said. 

And after, he became Nightwing, his mentor. Dick, his Big Brother (long before Bruce had adopted either of them). 

 

(When Jason Todd first met Dick Grayson, he’d been excited. To meet Robin. THE Robin

And sure, the guy refused to actually call him Robin, and he was a bit of a jerk at times, but he offered a phone number, said he’d be there to talk to. But they were really too busy doing their own things, dealing with their own issues, to actually spend time together, get to know each other. 

It was only really after Jason came back to life that he really met mother hen, golden boy, freakin ray of sunshine Big Brother Dickie Grayson. 

Roy laughed at him when he grumbled about it. Told him that Dick was one of his best friends, too, so he was gonna explain. Dick’s sudden interest had nothing to do with guilt over Jason’s death, he claimed. 

“That’s literally what he’s actually like. You just knew him when he was going through a rough patch is all.” 

Further investigation and interviews (whining and amused explanations—that was not what it was, Goldie, shut up--) revealed similar info. 

Jason was so screwed.) 

 

Although he still couldn’t bring himself to say it out loud, Tim was comfortable enough with himself now to admit he’d missed Dick, during the whole Damian fiasco. 

Talking to clear the air had helped a lot. And even though Tim never doubted Dick would be there when he needed him, it was a little while before he could truly trust in him again. 

It was once Tim was older, more experienced, and relatively more comfortable in his own skin that he began to worry for Dick. Saw how his brother tried to take care of every member of their messy family, where someone almost always seemed to be fighting with someone and too many of them never wanted to admit to needing help, ever. 

Including Dick. Who always thought he had to be a rock, a tether, and thus tried to shove his problems out of everyone else’s view. 

(It worked more often than Tim would like to admit.) 

Big brother, resident ray of sunshine, best coverup actor in the family. Even if Tim better understood his brother’s humanity, held him to more realistic expectations, he was still enchanted. 

Chapter Text

Tim was going to explode.  

And it was stupid, really. He’d lived through apocalypses, through parents and best friends dying, he’d nearly died himself how many times, for God’s sake. 

So as of right now...nothing was wrong, really. 

(Sure, there was a case with Penguin that didn’t seem to be getting anywhere. And there were goddamn finals coming up, regents and APs and SATs to study for and final projects to hand in. And his dad was being a little bit of a jerk, and he was juggling knives trying to handle the man and a confused Dana, and Ari was acting weird and...) 

Still. This was just...everyday. No one was dying, the world wasn’t ending, there was no reason why he should want to bang his head into a wall and scream and cry.  

There was no reason for him to be biting back tears as he stepped through the school gates, brushing past other students without acknowledging any of them.  

The sight of a familiar figure leaning against a motorcycle in front of the school was enough to stop him in his tracks. To confuse him enough that a resounding hunh? overpowered his swirling thoughts. 

“Hey, little brother,” Dick grinned, his hundred-megawatt-public smile, though it quickly faded into something smaller. (softer. gentler. more real.) 

“Hey,” Tim replied automatically. Trying to collects his thoughts. And it shouldn’t be this hard. “What’s up?” Is something wrong?  

“Nothin’ much,” Dick said cheerfully. “I just realized we haven’t hung out much recently.” Liar. They’d had hot chocolate on a rooftop during patrol just last night. “Figured I better rectify that.” 

And confused as he was, Tim found he could never say no to an offer like that. 

The moment Tim had his helmet on and his arms wrapped around his older brother, Dick revved the motorcycle and shot off down the road. 

“Where are we going?” Tim yelled over the wind rushing past his ears, and felt his heart leap as Dick took his eyes off the road to shoot him a grin. 

“You’ll see!” he yelled back. 

Tim decided it’d be better not to talk, the rest of the way. 

It wasn’t long before he realized they were heading in the direction of the manor, and not long after that that they were turning into the gates and towards the imposing structure. 

“The manor?” Tim asked. 

“Not quite,” Dick replied. And said nothing more. 

He turned the bike onto a dirt path that passed the manor, slowing down as they twisted and turned past the stables and a fountain and some little shack that Tim had honestly never noticed before. Eventually Dick stopped the bike, motioned for Tim to get off, and left it leaning against a tree, throwing an arm around the younger boy’s shoulders and leading him off the path, into a wooded area and deeper into the Wayne property. 

They stopped around where Tim estimated would be the edge of the property. Dick plopped down on a log, and Tim lowered himself beside him. 

He could hear water, and closer inspection at the empty space in front of him revealed a creek. They were surrounded by trees, brown and green and (weirdly enough) some yellows, the soft chirping of birds in the trees, the pops and crackles of small animals moving about unseen, and Dick’s breathing beside him jumbling into a quiet melody. 

“Scream,” Dick said suddenly. 

Tim blinked. “Hunh?” 

“No one can hear, here.” As if to demonstrate, he threw back his head, screaming into the trees above them.  

Tim clapped his hands over his ears. A tad dramatically. “The hell, Dick!” 

Dick just grinned at him. “Your turn.” 

Tim blinked, slowly. Stared out at the creek. 

Scream?  

Well. This was awkward. 

Dick waited quietly. 

Tim cleared his throat. Coughed a little. Filled his lungs. 

Let the air out slowly in a deep breath. 

For God’s sake...  

He took another deep breath and didn’t give himself time to think about it just 

SCREAMED.  

And he didn’t really mean to, honestly, but as soon as he’d made that first noise--every bit of feeling poured into that release of sound. Every ounce of anxiety and drop of frustration, the loneliness and anger and doubt and fear and confusion-- 

Poured into that tortured cry, echoed around the trees and tapered off into silence. 

Tim huffed a little, an almost-laugh, and scrubbed the sleeve of his hoodie over his wet, stinging eyes. His face was wet. (it didn’t do much good.) 

Dick still didn’t say anything. Just tossed an arm around his shoulders and tugged a little, so Tim sorta unbalanced and fell into his side. He didn’t bother to pull himself back up. Dick didn’t seem to mind. (He squeezed his shoulders and loosened a little but didn’t let go. Held him as Tim took deep breaths, trying to stop the little hitches in his breath.) 

It was only when he was breathing like a normal person again that Dick finally spoke. “You wanna talk about it?” 

Tim huffed again. “I’m not even completely sure what it is,” he admitted.  

Dick hummed, running a hand up and down his arm.  

“That...helped, though.” 

“Yeah?” 

“Yeah.” 

Quiet. 

“Thanks, Dick.” 

Gentle pressure against the top of his head. 

“Anytime, little brother.” 

Chapter Text

There’s a tire swing hanging in a garden on the Wayne Manor properties. 

Dick and Bruce put it together, when Dick was nine and got it into his head that he wanted to make a tire swing. So after much wheedling, Bruce got one of many old tires from the garage where he tinkered with his cars, and a sturdy rope from the Batcave, and they set out to find the perfect tree. 

(They found it in a largely abandoned, overgrown field. Bruce wanted it closer to the manor, but Dickie begged, and Bruce was still learning to withstand puppy eyes. And so they wrapped the rope around the tire and a sturdy branch, and Bruce pushed Dick on the swing for half an hour before they had a picnic over the rough, weedy grass and headed back to the manor, Dickie seated on Bruce’s shoulders.) 

(He brought Barbara, Wally, Roy, and Donna to play on the swing at one time or another. And even as he got older, he would slip out to the field sometimes. Dick Grayson wasn’t allowed to fly in public. It would just be one link more between Bruce Wayne’s ward and the crime-fighting Robin. So he’d go out to the tire swing in an overgrown corner of the property, and swing, fly, out in the open air, in the sunlight again where no one could see him. 

It wasn’t perfect. But it had to do.) 

 

Jason found the swing one day while, bored and lonely, he was exploring the grounds. He’d wandered from cobbled roads to dirt paths, but it turned out the dirt paths made a damn labyrinth and he was now very, very lost. 

His first thought when he found the swing was “Thank God, a sign of civilization.” Which, okay, made little sense. 

But still. It was interesting. 

He poked at the tire. Tugged as hard as he could to see if the rope would snap. Then—tentatively—climbed on. 

He kicked himself off the ground. Pumped his legs, went higher and higher and higher— 

Jason laughed. (He hadn’t laughed like that in a long time. Not since he found his mom on the living room couch, staring at the ceiling.) 

(He never actually found his way back to the Manor. Bruce found him, just as the sun was setting. 

He went back, sometimes, later. After fights with Bruce, after bad nights. It was as good a place as any to be alone. Maybe better than most.) 

 

Tim, like Jason, found the swing during a quiet exploration of the Wayne properties. 

He studied the object with a detective’s eye. Fairly expensive brand of tire—no surprise there. Old and weathered enough to have been there several years. Rope was definitely bat-grade though—so not Bruce’s, probably had been put together for Dick. Or Jason? Tim knew precious little about Jason Todd, but he’d been older than Dick when he’d come to the manor. Too old for a tire swing? 

Still. He could imagine the boy bumping into the thing while exploring the grounds. And what kid could resist a tire swing? 

Tim couldn’t. 

He’d grown up a rich boy. His parents were never around, but they made sure he had books and toys and whatever else they thought a child needed to stay entertained (all of it usually quite expensive). 

Obviously, a tire swing was never an idea that crossed their minds. It had never crossed Tim’s either, to be honest. Not that there would have been anyone to build one with him if it had. 

It was too bad. The swing was fun. (Five-year-old him would have loved it.) 

(Life as Timothy Drake was busy, with patrol in Gotham, Young Justice, school, hanging out with Dick or Cass or his friends, and training, training, training. But sometimes he was alone at the manor, with nothing to do, and he’d head out to the swing. 

He could imagine Dick as a child, laughing as he flew through the air. Jason was a little harder to conjure. But the memories of his predecessors—his brothers, boys, people, not just Robin—were good company.) 

 

Cass tilted her head to one side. “It’s a tire.” 

Beside her, Damian tilted his head to the other side and let out a Tt. “It is hanging from a tree.” 

“Tire swing,” Cass said triumphantly. 

“Evidently.”  

Cass grabbed the rope, nodded approvingly. Then climbed onto the tire and looked at Damian expectantly. 

“Push me,” she demanded. Damian let out a long-suffering sigh, but obliged. 

The wind whipped her hair around her face as she flew, and Cass whooped. It felt—amazing, like swinging through Gotham skyscrapers and jumping off buildings, but—but doing it for no reason, it was fun

Once the swing settled into a light swaying motion, she shook her hair out of her face and grinned at Damian, who raised an eyebrow, unimpressed because. Really. A tire swing

“Your turn,” Cass said, hopping off. 

Damian let out a Tt, but. He was curious, he couldn’t deny it. 

He settled himself on the tire, clutching the rope with both hands. Cass braced her hands against the tire and pushed

It wasn’t long before he was soaring. He’d never quite appreciated Grayson’s love for air and flying and reckless, flashy moves, but this-- 

Considering how he spent his nights, it shouldn’t have been, really. But it was exhilarating

They stood side by side, again. Heads tilted in opposite directions. 

“Come again?” Cass suggested. 

Damian pursed his lips. “It’s a location worth remembering,” he agreed. 

Chapter Text

Damian sits cross-legged on the couch, small scowl on his face.  

It’s a quiet morning. Outside, the air is misty and within the manor he can feel the whisper of the chill in the air, although the manor is heated and warm. Pennyworth is in the kitchen, and Damian can hear the soft sizzle of something on the stove, the sink running.  

He has an assignment due the following day, and he wants to get it done right now. 

And truly, Damian can appreciate poetry. True, literal poetry. The...things...his classmates write? 

It’s atrocious. 

But here he is, notebook and pen, sweeping mind and memories for some inspiration to write a poem on the theme of routine, of all things. 

There’s a creak of leather, and Damian looks up to find Father, cup of coffee and newspaper in hand, settling into the leather armchair he prefers. (Jason will call it the “dad chair” and snicker when Father doesn’t know how to respond.)  

“Morning, Damian,” he says with a smile, and Damian nods back. 

“Morning, Father.” 

He turns back to his assignment. Routine. Being as they are, routine has a tendency to be defenestrated at moment’s notice, but he tries to think of what routine a normal day entails. 

He has always had to wake early in the morning for school. School is a bore, but Colin Wilkes is in the same class as him this year (thanks to a Wayne scholarship) and the boy can be...enjoyable to spend time with. (They often swap patrol stories from the night before. Wilkes is a good storyteller, even if Damian’s own stories are always the more exciting.) 

When he returns home immediately after school (he refuses to engage in any 'after-school activities', his brothers’ jokes about their ‘extracurriculars’ notwithstanding), he will usually have a small repast with Pennyworth in the kitchen, before spending an hour training. (It’s always been a good way to release his pent-up energy after hours upon hours at school.) 

There’s homework to be done, time for sketching or drawing or reading or, if he’s sneaky enough, research for cases before dinner. Then it’s down to the cave to prepare for cases, train with father, get ready for patrol. 

Patrol is the highlight of every day. 

He senses another presence in the room and glances up. It’s Timothy. He exchanges smiles with Father, glances Damian’s way and offers a tired looking half-smile (must have been up most the night, would explain why he’d spent it at the Manor) before flopping down on the other couch, book in hand. 

Stripped bare, Damian’s routine is simple enough. Thinking broader, he tries to correlate his whole family’s routine. 

Early mornings every day for himself, Thomas, and Pennyworth, but the others would sleep in given the chance. School for himself and Duke, Wayne Enterprises for Father, college or WE for Tim depending on the day, Dick off to GCPD, Alfred to his errands, and who knows what their final, legally dead brother did for a day job. 

Lunches, homeworks. Training and detective work, relaxation time and errands. Dinner rituals. Patrols. 

“Morning.” Grayson, of course, announces his presence to the room at large. Damian half-listens to a few words exchanged between Father and the oldest Wayne boy before the man was standing at his shoulder. 

“Whatcha doing, Damian?” 

“Homework,” Damian answers, settling his pen against the notebook. “And as amusing it is to observe the collections the system puts together for middle school poetry sections, the assignments can be...a pain.” 

“Need any help?” 

...he would’ve appreciated it, if he was being honest, but he doesn’t quite see how Grayson could help him write a poem, so he shakes his head. 

Grayson ruffles his hair and he sighs long-sufferingly as he bats the hand away. Why was Grayson even at the Manor, anyways. Working the same case as Drake? 

Grayson’s presence disappears from behind him, and he turns back to his assignment. 

Obviously, Damian can’t write about the lack of routine that fills their lives. Random siblings showing up at the Manor (50% of the time, to use the Batcave) or spending the night after a difficult patrol or long night. He can’t write about adventures with Jon or Colin. Gotham-emergencies, national emergencies, international emergencies, galaxy-wide emergencies, even, he’s heard, interdimensional emergencies. 

The couch dips. 

“Thomas,” Damian greets, without looking up. 

“Hey,” Thomas says. 

Maybe he could write about acclimatizing to new routines every time his father adopted another child. Hm. 

Although that may be deemed inappropriate. (Todd would get a laugh out of it, though. Maybe the rest of his siblings as well.) 

Father is nearing the end of his newspaper. Grayson had somehow slotted himself behind Tim, who is leaned against his shoulder, both of them reading the book. (He never quite understands how they do it. Sure, Jason reads out loud at times, Grayson and Drake too, rather...sharing the story. But Grayson and Drake would simply be reading from the same book at the same time

He had the feeling that reading-over-people's-shoulders was supposed to be an annoyance but Dick and Tim had made an activity of it. Enjoyed it, even. 

He’s getting off-track. 

He’d been hoping to take advantage of his teacher’s lack of expectations for the class to write a simplistic poem and be done with it. As much as he appreciated poetry, he could admit, within his own mind, that he wasn’t quite good at writing it. 

He resigns himself to writing something very abstract, because strip the secrets from the concrete details, put in 'normal-people-being-normal' replacements, and there’s just-- 

Mornings. Meals. School. Work. Errands. Time-fillers. 

“Breakfast,” Pennyworth announces from the doorway, and Damian gathers up his supplies as everyone shifts, beginning to rise. 

Really, take out all the important things to leave behind a ‘normal’ life and it was really rather dull. (How do people stand living such dull lives?) 

Chapter Text

Bruce pressed his fingers against his eyes as he contemplated getting out of bed. 

It had started snowing last evening. Batman had called off patrol early, when it became evident everyone would soon be snowed in. Once they’d gotten back to the cave Robin had immediately changed, and Damian headed up to the manor (he claimed there was something really important he had to speak to Duke about. Bruce just hoped Alfred would be able to head off any impending arguments between the daytime vigilante and their resident Robin.)  

Batman, on the other hand, had stayed in the cave until the earliest hours of the morning working on a Justice League case. 

Whilst Brucie Wayne had the notoriety for late arrivals that often allowed Bruce to snatch an extra hour or two of casework or sleep, it was a reputation he tried to avoid exploiting when it came to Wayne Enterprises. Bruce Wayne, CEO had to appear just competent enough to hold the company. 

Lord, the last thing he needed was to get kicked out of his own company. Logistically, it wasn’t too big a deal anymore thanks to Tim, who was still in line as Bruce’s replacement. 

But his kids would never let him hear the end of it. 

So although Bruce—who knew he’d really pushed it last night—wished he could have stayed in bed until two in the afternoon (something he had done in his younger years), there was an early morning meeting Lucius had said was important enough that, if it snowed, they’d be doing through a conference call. 

Reluctantly, he threw off the warm, heavy covers and sat up. His bedroom was warm and dark, and he enjoyed the current silence of the manor. Duke and Damian had a cordial enough relationship, neither fighting nor roughhousing, and whilst Bruce hoped both boys would become more comfortable with each other soon... 

All things considered, Bruce knew he should probably appreciate the quiet while he could. 

He finally stood up and threw open the curtains, filling the room with the pale, thin light of a cloudy winter morning. 

His window overlooked the grounds at the front of the manor. He stared absentmindedly out at the snow... 

Blinked, and looked harder. 

Rows upon rows of snowmen. A veritable army, arranged in ranks. 

All of them turned towards his window. 

Smiles and grim slashes, and some of them didn’t even have mouths. Some of them waved. Another had pointed pieces of bark sticking out of its head and a grim expression, and he just knew that was supposed to be a Batman. Another (definitely Jason’s) was somehow making a rude gesture with its twiggy arms. He recognized Dick’s soggy winter hat standing limply on the head of an angry-looking snowman wielding a sword made of two branches tied together with someone’s winter scarf. And that...that snowman was either smoking or sticking its tongue out at him. 

Bruce shook his head, lips turning up at the edges, and wondered if his kids had already made their escape, or if he’d be able to throw a few snowballs before the day was over.  

Chapter Text

Alfred sighed as he stacked his and young Master Damian’s plates. 

It was a shame, really, to spend the young man’s 13th birthday this way. Just the two of them, alone, down in the batcave, sharing the cake Alfred had baked. 

Miss Cassandra had sent her well-wishes from Hong Kong earlier. Masters Richard and Timothy had promised Alfred they would stop by, but the night was almost over and they had yet to make an appearance. Bruce was off gallivanting in space with the League (and alright, Alfred knew he was probably on some important mission but. The man had a child to raise.) Master Jason...Alfred was honestly unsure where the man was. Apparently the only person who did was Master Dick, who steadfastly refused to crumble under any interrogation. 

Alfred planned to have words with them all. (Except Miss Cassandra. A phone call, that’s all he was asking, just to let the boy know he had not been forgotten.) 

“Pennyworth--” Alfred broke out of his thoughts to turn towards the boy. 

It would, of course, be at that moment that the cave filled with the rumble of a motorcycle—two motorcycles.   

“Hm.” They both watched as the two bikes—red and black and black and blue—appeared in the tunnel and pulled to a stop at the platform. Nightwing swung a leg over his bike and leaned forward to catch Red Robin as he slid off his. Alfred stepped forward, alarmed, and opened his mouth to call out—but Nightwing merely steadied his younger brother on his feet before he headed towards the stairs leading down to the main level of the cave, Red Robin trailing behind. 

“Well, I certainly didn’t expect to see you two here,” Damian sniffed as the pair stumbled up to them. 

Alfred swept his eyes over his charges. Both had ash in their hair and streaked over their costumes, which were slashed in several places—Master Tim’s cape had been shredded.  

“Hi,” Richard mumbled as he approached. Behind him, Tim was slowly peeling off his mask with one hand. “Sorry--were s’posed to stop by—Titans mission went out the window. Happy Birthday, Dami.” He reached up and massaged the skin at the edge of his mask. “Need a shower dammit ‘m sorry berightback.” And so saying, he stumbled away. 

“Master Richard,” Alfred began, but Master Tim’s voice gently cut him off. 

“’s fine, Alfred, we got patched up at the Tower.” Alfred frowned. He wanted to know how exactly his boys had gotten injured, and how bad it had been that while they’d been in enough of a hurry to return that they had yet to shower, they’d had to receive medical treatment before leaving. 

But Master Tim had removed his mask, and Alfred could see the exhaustion in his almost vacant eyes. So he postponed the conversation for after the pair had had a good night’s rest. 

Abruptly, Tim dropped a basket onto the table in front of Damian. “From me’n Dick, happy birthday brat.” That said, he disappeared after Dick. 

Damian slowly raised his eyes from the basket to meet Alfred’s eyes. Blinked. 

Alfred blinked back. 

Well.  

Clearing his throat, Alfred procured his own present from the chair where he’d left it, resting it next to Tim’s basket. 

“Happy birthday, Master Damian.” He began to gather up the dishes. “I will be back momentarily. Please do wait for your brothers to return before opening the presents, Master Damian, it is tradition to open them in the presence of the givers.” 

 

When Alfred returned a few minutes later with fresh tableware, Master Damian was still seated at the table, fingering the basket. Richard was sprawled out on a training mat, a fleece blanket thrown over him, eyes closed and breathing evenly, and Timothy was curled up in the chair by the batcomputer, wrapped in his own afghan, watching Damian with tired eyes. (He would probably fall asleep there, soon enough. It wouldn’t be the first time, either.) 

Alfred could swear that Damian’s eyes lit up as he approached, before growing conflicted again as he glanced towards Dick, fast asleep on the floor. 

“Just go on ahead,” Tim murmured. “He’s wiped out, and...well. You really can’t wait to open that one, I’m afraid.” 

Damian glanced Alfred’s way, and he nodded, a little bemusedly. Damian immediately pulled the basket forward and flipped the lid. 

And froze, a shocked look on his face. 

Alfred stepped behind him to peer over his shoulder. There was a small...creature. Kitten-sized. Olive green. Scaly. Reptilian? Curled up and apparently asleep. 

“His name is Fred,” Tim offered. 

“Is that,” Damian said, and stopped. 

“Baby dragon,” Tim said. 

Damian frowned. “Fred?” 

Tim shrugged. “Roy started calling him Fred. It just kind of stuck.” 

The frown turned to a scowl. “That is a ridiculous name. We may have to change that.” 

“Good luck,” Tim snorted. “He’s already responding to ‘Fred’.” 

Alfred felt like they were missing the important things, here. “Master Timothy, where, exactly, did you and Master Richard acquire a dragon from?” 

What followed was a long and convoluted tale of a Titan mission gone wrong, and a baby dragon orphaned. At the insistence of several members, the team had dragged the poor creature along with them as they tried to make it out of their current situation. In this time, Roy Harper had christened the dragon Fred, Wally West’s reflexes had saved him from being burned, multiple henchmen had been attacked by a fire-breathing baby reptile, and Fred had grown attached to the hapless group—particularly Nightwing and Red Robin. 

At the end of the day, the Titans returned to the Tower with a baby dragon, and were forced to figure out what to do with him. Nightwing and Red Robin had suggested they had a place. (Partly, because someone had to; partly because they didn’t trust the rest of the Titans with a baby dragon; and partly because (and this, Master Timothy did not say, but Alfred knew) it was Damian’s birthday and the boys knew he would love the creature.) 

“Hm.” Damian reached out to brush a finger over the dragon’s head. The little creature stirred, then wobbled up, crouching on its front legs and stretching its tail out. It blinked, revealing bright orange eyes, and a small puff of smoke drifted from its nostrils. 

Alfred began to wonder if he would be forced to enact revenge on the boys for bringing a fire-breathing creature into their home. 

Chapter Text

They hit the grass in a roll, and Damian easily rolls out of his grip and into a crouch. It’s a move he’s taught himself after years’ worth of nights being shoved out of harm’s way by larger vigilantes. Tim knows it pretty well himself, after his tenure as Robin, even if he’d never had it down pat. 

Damian put a lot more effort into learning that move. 

It’s probably too...Robin. But. 

Tim’s spent his entire vigilante career compartmentalizing. Robin, and Tim Drake. So it’s more natural for him to land flat, shove himself into a sitting position. 

There’s small fingers tugging at his sleeve, and Tim rolls to his feet, grabs Damian’s wrist and backs up, staring at the flaming car now a few feet away. 

Tires screech, a van pulls to a stop a few feet away. “Oh my God, are you okay?” 

Tim whirls. He’s still clutching at Damian’s wrist (realizes a little dazedly that Damian is gripping his—an acrobat’s grip, like Dick taught them, like Bruce taught them, the one they used when they patrolled, when someone was falling) and the younger boy stumbles a little as he’s dragged along. 

“Yeah,” Tim says. Glances back at the car. One of Bruce’s. How. How? “We’re--we’re fine.” 

The driver who’s been speaking to them is a middle aged man. Family-style van—chip crumbs on the seats—the man seems comfortable in the car, Tim’s willing to be he’s a father. He smiles. It’s a nice smile. Reminds Tim of Dick, a little. 

Tim swallows. 

“Did you call 911?” the man is asking. He’s opening the door, stepping out. 

Tim takes an instinctive step backwards, shaking his head. 

Right. Call cops. Why is he backing up? It’s just a man. A fairly nice man. And even if he turns out to be a threat Tim and Damian can take him down together, easy. 

Cops. Tim should’ve called 911, should be calling, why does he keep glancing at the car? 

The man has stopped, pulled out his phone. “It’s alright, I’ve got it. Maybe you should sit down, son--” 

He’s still smiling. 

Dick. Tim wishes Dick was here. 

Damian squeezes his wrist. 

Tim kinda wants to cry. He wants his big brother. 

“Timothy?” 

Christ, Drake, get a hold of yourself

What the hell is wrong with him? 

“That was...unexpected.” 

Tim huffs. It comes out as a laugh. High pitched and he knows it sounds hysterical. He can feel tears slipping down his face. “No shit.” 

There’s a hand on his shoulder, and he jerks away from it. 

“Hey, easy,” the man murmurs, and kinda leads Tim to kinda lean against the side of the van, Damian following along. 

Tim glances at the car. 

Bruce...Bruce is gonna be pissed. Shit. 

“Hey.” He looks up again. “I called 911—they'll be here soon. Is there someone you should call? Your parents?” 

Tim nods. Tears his eyes away from the car. Reaches into his pocket. Freezes. 

His phone is in the car. They’d had it hooked up to the aux cable. 

Tim didn’t grab it when the front of the car had burst into flames. 

Obviously. He has priorities. 

Damian tugs his wrist, and when Tim turns, wordlessly hands him his own phone. 

Tim takes it. 

He lets go of Damian’s wrist, and Damian pulls his arm away as though he’s been burned. 

His face is carefully emotionless, but Tim is a master of emotionless faces. He sees the flicker of...something in his eyes. 

Tim wraps an arm around his younger brother, tugs lightly as he swipes Damian’s lockscreen pattern. (Distantly, he looks forward to when they’re thinking straight again and Damian can yell at him for knowing the password he’d never actually told him.) 

Damian is stiff against his side as Tim he raises the phone to his ear. 

They’re blessed, really. There’s so many people they could call. 

But the kind man with his kind smile is still watching and Damian is relaxing against Tim and Tim knows the kid has to be as shaken as he is, and Tim still wants his big brother. 

“Hiya, Dames.” 

Tim swallows. His eyes are burning again. “Dick?” 

“Tim? Timmy, are you okay?” 

Of course, Dick picked up something was wrong with just the one word. 

“Dick--the. The car.” His brain feels like it’s shutting down. Goddammit. He’s staring at the car again. Squeezing Damian closer. “It’s on fire.” 

“What?” 

“The car is on fire.” 

“Oh my God. Tim. Are you guys okay?” 

“Yeah. We got out.” He can hear sirens. “They--someone called 911. They’re coming.” 

“Okay,” Dick breathes, and Tim knows him well enough to hear the forced calm. “Where are you, sweetheart?” 

“New York Road,” Tim tells him. “We were coming back to Gotham.” 

“Okay,” Dick says. “I’m coming.” 

Tim can’t help but sag against the side of the van. Slides down, taking Damian with him, until they’re both sitting at the side of the road, Tim’s head resting against the car, Damian resting against Tim. 

There’s an ambulance and a fire truck and two squad cars pulling over, the sirens blending with Dick’s voice over the phone. The man (Tim doesn’t know his name) stands over them, watching as car doors open and people start jogging over. 

They’re okay. Damian. Tim. 

They’re okay