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do falling trees still make noise

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The necklace gleamed in the moonlight. Diamond and thick, almost painful to look at. It was heavy. Tim turned it this way and that, admiring the soft shine of it. It was enthralling. He almost couldn’t believe he had stolen it right off that woman’s neck. In her defense, she had been distracted at the time.

 

Even so, it was beautiful. There was something about stealing something so weighty so early in the night that set Tim on edge. The adrenaline pumping, his shaky smile on his lips. . . If it had been any other night, the soft clinks of the diamonds against each other would have made him smile outright, laugh or dance or something.

 

Tonight was different.

 

Tonight was a bad night. 

 

A bad year, really.

 

It was made worse by the near silent flutter of fabric behind Tim. Even that noise was hesitant, like it didn’t want to intrude but had no choice in the matter. He scowled, the expression that much more vicious. It was a familiar one on his features now a days. Familiar, overused. He didn’t like frowning, but there wasn’t much to smile about anymore.

 

Tim rolled his eyes and pocketed the necklace. Well, not really pocketed it. The little black bag on his chest certainly looked like a pocket. But it could disconnect. Tim didn’t really have anywhere else on him to hide things - his suit was skin-tight, leather and kevlar weave. It hugged his curves, made him look sweet or dangerous depending on his intention, and yet there were no fucking pockets.

 

His respect for women went through the roof once he started wearing it. How did they survive without pockets in their pants and shirts? Tim was impressed.

 

He stood, the action more of a slow roll up onto his heels. He cocked out his hip, one hand on it. The other wrapped around the handle of his whip. He waited.

 

There was no sound. No shifting of feet, no laughter. No harsh breathing. No sound, just the still bitingly cold air of the night. Tim entertained the idea of just leaving, but he couldn’t. Things had been changing in Gotham as of late. There was no doubt in Tim’s mind that that was the reason for his sudden visitor.

 

Tim sighed, and turned.

 

Batman stood alone, silhouetted against the light of the moon, the screams of Gotham echoing in the background, the wind blowing his cape dramatically, his -

 

Despite himself, Tim drank in his old. . . was he a friend? An ally? Tim didn’t know anymore. Despite himself, he was in awe, just for a moment. 

 

Just for a second, Batman was much more than a man. Much more than human.

 

Unattainable.

 

Untouchable.

 

Reality came crashing down as Batman shifted.

 

His chin had been lowered, pressed almost to the red bat on his chest. Tim grit his teeth against the familiar surge of rage at the sight of him. It had taken longer to rise tonight. But that made sense.

 

Tonight was a bad night.

 

It was looking to get worse now that Batman was here.

 

“What,” Tim said, voice forceful in the silence of the night. It was steady, thank god. He forced it away from the aggressive tone it had taken, forced it into something softer. A teasing sort of coo he’d learned from Catwoman. “No Robin?” 

 

Batman’s white eyes narrowed, just slightly. Tim took it for the win it was and forged onwards.

 

“Gonna fall into the old man’s patterns?” He cooed, starting to pick his way across the roof. “Send the kids away while you have a spot of fun with your local kitty?”

 

“That’s not what this is,” Batman deflected immediately. He was tons more chatty than the old man. Tim always tried to use that to his advantage.

 

“You sure?” Tim made sure to swing his hips, one hand coming up to tug down the large circle at the top of his zipper. Just to show a little skin. The night air tugged out goosebumps, and it was all Tim could do to suppress his shiver. He whipped out a thicker Gotham accent. “I’m sure I could make it worth your while. I ain’t even done nothing bad this time, Mr. Batman.” 

 

He was close enough to touch now. Close enough to feel the heat radiating out from Batman. It must be hot under that suit. Tim had worn it once. Just the once, had been allowed to be more than himself. To be worth something.

 

The gap between them felt like a ravine. Tim eyed Batman, watched him closely. He shifted back. It almost went unnoticed - almost. Tim knew how Batmen spoke. Knew how to read it.

 

He bridged the gap, pressed himself along Batman’s body. The kevlar and body armor was rigid and uncomfortable against Tim, but he ignored it. How did Catmom do it? Half lidded eyes, parted lips, flash of the tongue - he dropped his mental checklist and ran on instinct, the action of seduction soulless.

 

He had done this far too many times.

 

“Let’s not do this, ok?” Batman said. He stepped back, lips drawn into a frown. Tim tilted his head like he didn’t understand and stepped right back into Batman’s space. Don’t give him room to breathe. “I’m not here to fuck. Or fight.”

 

“You never are,” Tim said, still in that same coo, like he was confessing his love, like he was begging Batman to stay, “and yet we always do.” His voice dropped at the words, his eyes lowering to Batman’s lips. He wore a half cowl today. Sometimes he wore the full thing.

 

Batman tugged it off. His hair was plastered unattractively to his forehead, sweat dripping everywhere. His face - young, handsome - was set in a hopeless little scowl.

 

(somewhere, deep inside Tim, he wished Batman took more time off - he looked older than his meager twenty-three years)

 

Tim sighed and stepped back. Took the movement for what it was and removed his large yellow goggles. “What do you want, Terry?”

 

“Cooperation,” Terry said. 

 

Tim crossed his arms, lifted his chin. He was already drafting up responses, verbal and physical, worst case scenarios. With him and the bats, it was mutually assured destruction with their identities, but there were so many ways to ruin men. Tim had studied at that royal academy for years at Catwoman’s side.

 

Terry waved a hand, as though to dismiss a notion. “Not like that. I’m not here to take you in or make you do anything.” He hesitated. When Tim didn’t say anything, he continued. “There’s a new player. I need you to gather information about him for me. It could be anything - what his favorite brand of pens are, where he eats lunch, literally anything would be good right now.”

 

Tim knew exactly who he was talking about. It wasn’t going to be an easy job, he already knew. “Remember when you used to come just to try and talk?” Tim griped.

 

Terry snorted and shook his head, a rueful sort of apology on his features. Like he was considering starting that up again. It was the last thing Tim wanted right now. “You made it very clear I wasn’t allowed that level of comfort,” Terry said.

 

He sounded fond.


It shouldn’t have shocked Tim so much to hear it. Of course Terry was fond of him. But. . . 

 

It had been years. The tone felt wrong on Terry’s lips. Tim took another step away and zipped himself back up. He tugged down his goggles, desperate for the emotional barrier. Terry frowned, expression soft. There was none of the anger that should be there. The anger that was usually there.

 

Maybe it was because of what night it was.

 

“Are you in?” Terry asked, like Tim was a child again, like they were planning a raid on Alfred’s refrigerator. Tim’s mood soured immediately. He glowered at Terry.

 

“Maybe I am, maybe I’m not,” he said, like he didn’t care. Some of the softness died in Terry’s face. Good. “You’re the one with a large extended family. Ask them to do your dirty work.”

 

Was Tim overreacting? Yeah, a little bit.

 

“I don’t want them near this,” the honesty in Terry’s voice grated on Tim’s nerves, “something about this feels - feels wrong, somehow.”  Tim snorted, the sound harsh.

 

“You know what feels wrong?” Tim said. He already knew that whatever was about to come out of his mouth was going to be poisonous. “Going to the kid you blame for your brother’s dead for help.”

 

There it was.

 

Terry flinched back, shoulders raising defensively. He looked hurt. Tim bared his teeth his most charming smile, just to watch Terry shift into a defensive position and pull his cowl back up. Tim thought about attacking him, decided Terry wasn’t worth it.

 

He waved at Terry and turned to bolt for the edge of the roof. It disappeared beneath him as he hurled his body from the building. 

 

That went well. He had made it out with the necklace, three batarangs he could sell out on the streets, and the family picture Terry kept in the suit for No Goddamn Reason.

 

--

 

The meeting place was the alley next to a shopping mall. Honestly, not the best place to meet up with an informant, but it was a kid. Tim fully intended to take the kid out to get ice cream or something afterwards. Or to get a new jacket. Or at least a new shirt? The kid might not accept even that, not from Tim, but he had to try.

 

Until then, Tim waited at one of the tables in front of the mall, playing with his phone. He was in costume, despite it being in broad daylight on a Friday afternoon. He covered up most of it with the oversized ragged brown hoodie he’d thrown on before school that morning. As far as most people could see, he was just some kid in tight leather pants with large goggles pressed against his forehead.

 

His informant was approaching. Jared Malik, thirteen years old, a runaway. Teeny tiny, dressed in rags, dirt clinging to his little hands. Tim felt bad for him, but didn’t say anything about it. It wouldn’t go over well and he needed to know what the kid knew.

 

“Stray,” the kid said as he came to a stop in front of the table. Tim grinned, pointed canines gleaming in the sunlight. Jared didn’t so much as blink - most street kids had seen far worse. The sharpened canines were just there to get Tim’s targets’ blood pumping. “The going rate’s gotten higher.”

 

“Of course it has,” Tim said, pulling out his wallet. He had wanted to go inside for this - this interview of sorts, but the kid had denied it. Tim pulled out a couple bills and one of the three batarangs he’d stolen from Batman and rested them on the table. He placed his hand over them - it looked like Jared was about to take them and run. “But that doesn’t mean anything to me. Cough it up.”

 

“Stray,” the kid complained. Tim raised an eyebrow and the little thing huffed in annoyance. He reached into a pocket and pulled something out. Tim took it as discreetly as he could. Drugs. This would definitely be going to Batman later - it wasn’t like Tim couldn’t take out a drug ring on his own he just. . . didn’t want to. There was no fun in it.

 

“Thanks,” Tim said, “and now for the information.”

 

“Whaddo you need?” Jared asked as he took the money and batarang. He kept the money in his hand, but took a second to admire the batarang with an excited smile before shoving it into a pocket. 

 

“Anything you’ve got on the Red Hood,” Tim said. 

 

The kid shuddered. 

 

Tim shifted forwards, elbows on the table, frowning. He planned to go to the nightwalkers after this - not right after, he had Tim Drake things to do, but later. Maybe around four am? He didn’t have school tomorrow, so the late hour should be fine. But basic knowledge of the lay of the land would be helpful.

 

“Oh, he’s nasty,” Jared said quietly, something wistful about it. Wistful? Tim must be reading him wrong. But that’s what it felt like. Tim’s frown grew deeper. “I think he’s building up a drug base. Planning to expand from there, then he’s gonna take down the old families.”

 

Tim pulled out another twenty dollar bill. The kid smiled at the sight of it. “How do you know all that?”

 

“Cuz that’s what he tells us kids,” Jared said, taking the twenty. He smiled down at it, added it to the little wad of cash in his hand. “Just a few more weeks, and then he’s extracting us all. Or so he says. Gonna give us money and somewhere to live. He’s even gonna send some of us outta Gotham!” Jared’s face lit up as he said it. Tim could understand the sentiment, but he knew enough to know that was a dangerous claim to make.

 

“Outta Gotham where?” Tim asked. The kid shrugged.

 

“Hell if I know,” he said, turning to stare out over the tops of the nearby buildings, that wistful look back on his face. Tim knew now that he hadn’t read it wrong - Jared had just been excited at the prospect of leaving this hell hole. “I’ll just be happy to be free,” he murmured. Tim didn’t usually see such hopeful looks on street kids. It warmed his heart.

 

“I can imagine,” Tim said quietly. He sighed and sent a prayer to whoever might be listening that no one would steal the look off of the kid’s face. “Why’s he nasty?”

 

Jared’s expression fell. “He’s got a thing for pale black haired kids,” he said slowly, eyes flickering over to Tim, watching for his reaction. “He takes them back to his apartment. None of them are allowed to talk about it, but he pays a lot.” Tim frowned. 

 

Anything would be good right now, Batman said. Tim steeled his heart.

 

“Any idea of where his apartment is?” Tim asked. Jared shook his head. 

 

“They ain’t allowed to talk about it,” he repeated. Tim sighed and sat back, watching Jared closely. He shifted under Tim’s gaze, but didn’t break eye contact.

 

“You think he’s fucking them,” Tim murmured. It wasn’t a question. The kid flinched, but put himself back together just as fast. He looked - disappointed. Disappointed Tim had said it? Disappointed in Red Hood?

 

“Ain’t many other things he could be doing,” Jared said with a shrug. He dropped his eyes from Tim, scowling. Disappointed Red Hood wasn’t just a good Samaritan trying to get them out of the hell hole that was Gotham?

 

“But why would they stay quiet about that?” Tim asked. He could actually think of a couple reasons why the kids wouldn’t just warn everyone else, but he felt bad. He felt like he’d stolen some of Jared’s precious hope. He hadn’t wanted to do that.

 

He watched Jared think about it. 

 

“I dunno,” he finally said, “they shouldn’t.” He looked up at Tim, expression twisted in confusion.

 

“Exactly,” Tim said, leaning back with a little smile. He and the kid stared at each other for a minute.

 

Then, simultaneously, they both looked away - Jared out at the rooftops, Tim at his hands. They were dry - it was hot and dry in Gotham for once, and his skin was suffering for it.

 

“You’re going to tell the Bat,” Jared said quietly. Tim raised an eyebrow. Jared shrugged. “All us kids know. Maybe you don’t directly work with him, but he asks you for help sometimes. And you do. You help.”

 

Tim looked over at him. “Didn’t know my personal business was so well known,” he said. He knew it would eventually get around that he helped Batman sometimes, but he didn’t think anyone would actually call him out on it. At least, not in such a low stakes situation. He’d always figured. . .

 

Well, it didn’t matter what he’d figured now.

 

“They said it’s cuz of the old Robin,” Jared said, excited now. Tim shouldda known gossip would cheer him up. That’s all anyone cared about. It was true in the ballrooms of the elite, it was true on the streets of Gotham. “Is it true? That you love him so much?”

 

The wind blew cold and sudden across them.

 

So they turned what should have been a warning tale into a love story. Tim felt whatever warmth in his expression die. Jared’s own excitement died with it.

 

“Keep guessing,” Tim said, harsher than he meant to. He tossed another twenty onto the table and tugged down his goggles. He left, hands shoved in his pockets to hide their trembling.

 

--

 

Tim was still shaking when he arrived home. Not his tiny apartment in the Bowery home, Drake Mansion home.

 

He’d stopped by his apartment to change out of his uniform and take a quick nap. Then he’d changed into something far more formal and hopped in an Uber. Two weeks ago he’d gone to get a suit fitted for this very occasion. It’d been hanging on the back of his apartment door for the better part of two days.

 

The Mansion was full of people. Tim rolled his eyes at them and entered through the back door, where all the staff were. They hurried out of his way, carefully not looking at him. Was his fury showing on his face?

 

He hurried upstairs. He still had the floorplan of the house memorized, even after all this time. Sneaking up to his room was childsplay.

 

Alone in dustless silence of his room, he brought up a hand to press against his face. He wasn’t scowling. His brow wasn’t crinkled with his annoyance. He dropped the hand. Must be the eyes. He was angry. The staff must have been able to smell it on him. He sighed and put his head in his hands.

 

“The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I have promises to keep,” Tim murmured, the words well worn on his tongue, “and miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep.” He sighed and pressed his heels to his eyes.

 

He straightened and headed into his ensuite bathroom. Splashed water on his face.

 

He was really out of it, Tim realized. He didn’t want to go downstairs and smile at all the old ladies with wagging tongues or listen to young rich assholes brag about whose yacht was more expensive. 

 

He wanted to be out on the streets, with the wind in his face and the moonlight falling on his shoulders like a blanket. Wanted the desperate screams of Crime Alley, the pounding of his heart midfight, wanted the burn of fists against skin, the pull of muscle, the quick footed escape.

 

He didn’t want to be handsome in a three piece suit and silvered words.

 

He wanted to be feral, out on the streets, foaming at the mouth. He wanted -

 

He wanted what he couldn’t have. Tim dragged himself out of the bathroom. At least he could change the three piece suit deal. They’d never suited him, not really. 

 

He swung open his walk-in closet doors, surveying the fancy clothing. He wasn’t really feeling any of it. He stepped into the small room, heading for the back portion. That’s where all his normal clothes were. 

 

And to be honest? He felt better in normal clothes. No matter how long he’d spent sneaking into parties or being forced to attend parties or just surrounded by people who made more in a couple of weeks than most did in a year, he wasn’t able to get used to the sheer wealth of it. How much would he make if he sold everything in his closet?

 

He hadn’t grown up with this wealth. Drake Industries only really started picking up when he was nine - at eleven they had moved into what was now called Drake Mansion. That was when Tim had been forced to drop his habit of sneaking out - at least for a couple months. It had only been a matter of time before his parents went on their first business trip. They hadn’t stopped long enough to come home after that.

 

“I hope you’re not about to do something stupid.”

 

Tim hadn’t heard her come in.

 

Janet Drake, released from the hospital after a three year long coma, stood tall in the entrance of his walk-in closet. Her normally pin straight hair framed her face in big beach waves, red painted lips drawn into a frown. She was foreign to Tim in a way she hadn’t been since their first gala.

 

She looked the same as she had then. The same red lips and glittery eyeshadow, the same light brown highlights she touched up once every few months, the same style of dress. This one was a deep red, the one from back then had been a light purple.

 

That was the first time Tim had seen his mother’s business side - cold. Stiff. Violent in a way that she wasn’t normally. Only, she hadn’t dropped the act when they came home.

 

“I never do anything stupid, dear mother mine,” Tim said, dropping his hand away from his clothes. She narrowed her eyes - light brown eyes. Tim had wanted them for as long as he could remember. He’d always thought she was beautiful - his blue eyes, his dad’s blue eyes, weren’t pretty at all.

 

“Of course,” she said, “you’re my son. I’d expect no less.” Tim turned away from her with a disbelieving shake of his head. He gave his jeans a longing look, but turned away from them. Instead, he dropped his dark blue suit jacket on the floor, watching his mother closely for a reaction. She rolled her eyes and stepped to the side of the doors. She gestured out, and out Tim went.

 

“Feeling alright?” Tim asked. He tugged off the tie he’d been using and dropped that on the floor too.

 

“Planning to go to the party naked?” She asked. Tim laughed and pulled out one of the drawers of his vanity. He pulled out a bowtie, one that was nearly the same color of the tie he just dropped and slipped it around his neck.

 

“Planning to stay by your side, actually,” Tim said. He turned to face Janet. She was watching him, curious but reserved. Was that a normal expression on her? Tim wanted to know. 

 

“You don’t have to,” she said, “weren’t you close with those Wayne boys?” Years of experience was all that stood between him and the angry expression that wanted to show up. This was his mother. He couldn’t show her any more weakness than she showed him; which is to say, none at all.

 

“We’re not close anymore,” Tim said, “and besides, I’m playing the dutiful son. It’s not everyday your absent mother decides to come home.” She raised an eyebrow and for the second time that night Tim was genuinely worried he’d be in trouble with a parent for the first time in years.

 

Truth be told, having absent parents was helpful. Not very indicative to a healthy, happy life, but very helpful if one had an illegal pastime.

 

“I was in a coma,” Janet said, lips twisting upwards into a wry smirk not entirely unlike Tim’s own, “not having an affair with one of your father’s mistresses.” Tim raised his own eyebrow.

 

“I didn’t know he had a mistress,” he said as Janet started for the door to the hallway. Janet huffed and shook her head.

 

“He had several,” she said, voice lowering as she stepped out, “but I could care less about him right now. I had full control of the company - and now, thanks to you, I still have full control.” She turned and headed down the hallway.

 

Thanks to him?


Did she know? Did she know about Stray? Tim hadn’t made any sort of official legal action against Drake Industries’ competitors. He wouldn’t know what to do even if he wanted to. But he knew how to extort people - learned it on Gotham’s streets. He’d protected Drake Industries that way.

 

Did she know?

Chapter Text

“What a night,” Janet said, her voice echoing through the not-empty mansion. The last of the night’s staff had just left, the guests had been gone for almost a whole hour now. Tim sighed and began to lock up the doors and windows.

 

He’d be sneaking back out in an hour or so - he had to get back to Gotham and speak to Catwoman. Something about a castle bust? Tim wasn’t really interested, but if he was planning it then there was no way she’d get caught. Not to toot his own horn, but he was kind of a genius when he had to be. And then after that he had to speak to the prostitutes in Crime Alley.

 

He finished and returned to the small family living room. It was pretty normal sized, as far as living rooms went. A tv took up a large portion of the wall, there were a couple windows displaying the grounds, and a couple couches and armchairs positioned around a coffee table in the center. Next to the door was a liquor cabinet Tim was technically unable to open.

 

After most of the guests had left, some of the more closely woven Gotham elite had retired to the family living room. They had been the sort of people to watch out for, the richest of the rich.


The Waynes had been there with their new adopted daughter - Cassandra Wayne. Tim thought she was cute! But that was about where their interaction had ended. He didn’t want to get chummy with her. Didn’t want to curse another Wayne.

 

The Waynes, Bruce and Alfred and Terry and Cassandra, had left less than a half hour into the conversation. Something about homeschooling and physical therapy.

 

Janet sprawled over one of the couches, the tv playing some documentary with the volume on low. She wasn’t asleep. Tim hesitated in the doorway to the living room, watching. It had been a long time since he had seen someone else living in his home. And it had been a long time since he had seen his mother sleep somewhere that wasn’t a hospital bed.

 

“Out with it,” she said into the silence. Tim frowned, but stepped into the room properly. She opened her eyes, but didn’t look over at him, chose instead to stare up at the high ceiling. “Whatever it is making you so awkward. Out with it.”

 

Tim considered the command. 

 

He could leave, he guessed, but he was in too deep now. She knew he had heard her.

 

Did she know about Stray? 

 

Did she always know? Did she just find out?

 

“It’s been years,” Tim murmured and carefully sat in one of the armchairs facing her couch. It was a little stiff for his tastes, sturdy and leather and smelling vaguely of Bruce’s perfume, but comfortable all the same. He sank into it. “It’s been years since you’ve been home.” One corner of her lips lifted in a grin. 

 

“It has,” she said, “but that’s not what’s making you awkward, is it.” She straightened to look him dead in the eye. Tim didn’t flinch. Didn’t look away.

 

If it were anyone else he’d have asked already. 

 

“Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t,” Tim said. She sighed. Tim shoved down the sudden flash of worry - had he disappointed her?

 

“Timothy,” she said, the firmness in her voice undeniable. That same firmness was echoed in her expression, but it faded. Softened to something less forceful. “I know we haven’t been close in a while, but I want to be able to better our relationship. I know you don’t need me and I know you don’t even live here anymore, but I would still like to be able to talk to you.”

 

“Mother-” Tim said. He didn’t even know what he was going to say. Never had, when it came to his parents.

 

“I know,” she held up her hand, “I haven’t really been the best mom. And I know you’re not comfortable with me. And I know you probably don’t even want to talk to me about whatever it is you’re going through right now - and I know you’re going through something. Just.” She stopped to watch him.

 

Tim hadn’t realized he’d gotten that expression from her. He’d seen it in the mirror, in his reflection on windows and puddles. That determined, accessing look.

 

Did she know?

“I’m sorry,” she said quietly, voice earnest. Tim felt like he’d been thrown for a loop.

 

“What?” He said - croaked , really.

 

“I’m sorry,” she repeated, “I’ve been a shit mother. I’d like to try and rectify that, if you’ll let me.”


“You haven’t been. . .” Tim whispered, but she shook her head.

 

“I have,” she said, “and I’ve hurt you because of it. I’m not asking for anything from you that you’re not willing to give, ok? Your time, your effort, you don’t have to spend it on me, alright? I just want you to know the option is open, if you want it.” She took a deep breath. “I want to make this right. But I want to do it on your terms.”

 

“I don’t understand,” Tim murmured. Janet’s face crumpled - she composed herself just as quickly.

 

“What don’t you understand, baby?” she said, the same way she used to say it when he was little. Back before the company took off, back before Jackson Drake got mean . “It’s still ok to call you that, right?”

 

“Yeah,” Tim said, almost automatically. Was it alright? He didn’t really know. He hadn’t had the choice offered to him before. She smiled. If it made her happy, then he supposed it was fine. “I dunno. I didn’t. I didn’t expect this .” He waved at her in general.

 

“Yeah, I kinda sprang it on you, didn’t I?” Janet said with a little laugh. “I should’ve waited till tomorrow. But I kind of expected you would already be gone by now?” Tim blinked, a little hurt.

 

“You did?” He said. She nodded, dropped her eyes. Dragged them back up to meet Tim’s, like she was trying to show him she was telling the truth. 

 

“You very clearly don’t live here anymore,” she said, voice gentle, “even if you still know your way around. I figured you would have already gone home. Wherever it is that you feel safe and comfortable.” Tim blinked and shifted on the armchair. It had been comfortable a minute ago - now the leather was too loud, the cushion too stiff. Tim’s lower lip was trembling.

 

“I’m going to go to bed,” Tim said suddenly. He stood. Janet nodded and leaned back, losing the intensity Tim hadn’t realized she’d draped herself in. Another thing Tim hadn’t realized he’d gotten from her.

 

“Alright,” she said, “good night, Timothy.”

 

“It’s Tim,” he blurted before he could stop himself, “no one’s - no one’s called me Timothy in years.” She frowned.

 

“Years?” She said. “You’re still in school, aren’t you?” 

 

“I-” Tim blinked, in surprise, “of course? I just ask to be called Tim instead of Timothy.”

 

“Oh,” she said. They stared at each other.

 

“Alright, I’m going,” Tim stood, a little bewildered.

 

“Alright,” she said. They stared at each other for a little longer before Tim waved a little and left the room. 

 

--

 

“You’re looking off today, kitten,” Catwoman said as she arrived at their agreed meeting place. They were in the diamond district, Catmom still panting with the exertion of a heist gone hard, fast, and successful. “Shaken. Some old man get his paws on you?”

 

“I haven’t been out tonight,” Tim said quietly. She walked over and plopped down next to him. The air around her was burning hot - he couldn’t imagine how hot she herself was. Well. He could imagine, but it had been a while since he’d pushed himself so far. “You doing ok?”

 

“It’s hot,” Catmom said and laid down across the roof. Tim laughed and leaned over to tug down her zipper. She sighed and reached up to tug her bodysuit part way down her arms. “Ah, that’s cold. Why is it so fucking cold in Gotham.”

 

“You’re the one who tethered yourself here,” Tim murmured. Catmom turned her head to smile at him.

 

“I did that cuz a little kitten was trying to fly,” she matched his tone. Tim frowned and turned his head away. She reached over and caught his arm.

 

“Selina,” Tim complained as she tugged him down, so his head was cushioned on her bare shoulder. She was warm. He relaxed against her, brought up a hand to rest on her scarred stomach.

 

“Don’t be angry,” Catmom said, “don’t be ashamed. That’s your past. That’s your life that you lived. Feel what you need to feel, but at the end of the day, you lived.” 

 

Tim’s heart ached. He shook his head.

 

She shifted them so his head laid on her outstretched arm, her other hand resting on his shoulder, the two of them close enough that her bra was squished up against his chest.

 

“Kitten,” she said quietly, “there’s no shame in survival.” Tim shook his head again and did what he did best - changed the subject.

 

“My mother decided she wanted to be back in my life again,” Tim said. She raised an eyebrow, but didn’t change back the subject. “She said she was sorry for being a bad mom and said she wanted to be close with me again. She said. . . she said she wanted to do this on my terms, whatever that means.”

“It means she’s willing to take this at your pace,” Catmom said, “and that she won’t force herself and her company on you. Do you want her in your life?”

 

“Yeah,” Tim whispered, feeling strangely vulnerable under Catmom’s green eyes.

 

“Then you let her in,” Catmom said, “and take as long as you need to. If she’s serious, she won’t push you about it.” Tim nodded. “She’s put the ball in your court - everything that happens now is up to you.” Tim nodded again. Catmom sighed and pulled Tim close enough he could smell the faint remains of her perfume under her sweat and body odor.

 

“I’m scared,” Tim breathed.

 

“I know,” she said and pulled away. “But you just muscle through it, alright? You’ll make it out the other side, whatever it is. You started planning out your contingencies yet?” Tim rolled his eyes.

 

“Of course I have,” he said, “who do you think I am? An amateur?” He hesitated and caught Catmom’s hand. She squeezed it, smiled. “I think. . . I think she might know about Stray.”

 

“You think?” Catmom said. “Not you know? That’s not like you.” Tim huffed.

 

“I know jack diddly squat about her,” he said, “it’s not like I’ve had the time to get to know her yet. It’s been years since we’ve had an actual conversation.” He sighed. “If nothing else, I’m probably going to let her in just to see what she’s really like when Father’s not around.”

 

“You had a shit father,” Catmom said. Tim shrugged. She smiled and patted his cheek. “Feel up to talking about that heist now?”

 

“Sure,” he said and sat up. “But I demand a payment.” She laughed and sat up as well, suit pooling around her waist. Tim reached out compulsively to trace a long scar along her abdomen.


She’d gotten it in a fight with the original Batman. It was one of the few times they’d truly fought instead of sneak away to do Adult Things. Tim had stared, watched, enraptured by the back at forth, the gleam of Catmom’s knives and Batman’s gadgets. It said something about the both of them that he couldn’t beat her hand-to-hand.

 

Tim had been seven or so years old, clutching a crappy disposable camera in his tiny hands, hidden out of sight. Neither had noticed him. He still had the pictures.

 

“Name it,” she said.

 

“I need whatever you know about the Red Hood,” Tim said.

 

“He’s lethal,” Catmom said immediately, “and if you don’t have to interact with him, then I’d advise you didn’t.”

“Yeah, but that rings true for most Gotham villains,” Tim said, “I need something else. Something more.” Catmom sighed.

 

“I know just about as much as you know,” she said, “his base is in Crime Alley, he’s crazy skilled, he doesn’t take prisoners if he doesn’t have to. He’s good to the people of Crime Alley - I’ve heard he paints, but that’s about it as far as personal details go.” Tim hummed.

 

“Any idea where he is right now? Or at least where he’ll be tonight?” Tim asked. She nodded.

 

“There’s a drug deal going down by the docks,” she said, “warehouse 24 if I’m remembering correctly.” Tim grinned.

 

“Thanks, Catmom,” he said and leaned forwards to engulf her in a grateful hug. “Send me the info about your heist - I’ll have a plan down for you within a week.”

 

“It’s a difficult one,” she warned. Tim smiled.

 

“The more difficult the better,” he said. She laughed as he got to his feet. He shook his head. “I need to stop having serious conversations with people. I’m emotionally exhausted.”

 

“Then stop,” she said, standing as well. She zipped up her suit and smiled - reached out to tug down his hat. He grumbled as she ruffled his hair before sliding the hat back onto his head. “Whatever you’re planning to do with him, do it fast. I heard he’s building up connections in Arkham.”

 

“He’s breaking someone out,” Tim said. Catmom shrugged.

 

“That, or he’s breaking in,” she said, “just be careful.”

“I will,” Tim said, and headed for the roof. She smiled and waved as he jumped off, grapple line latching on to a nearby building.

 

Time for the mind numbing boredom of a stakeout.

 

Great.

 

--

 

The worst part about stakeouts was how much time there was to think. Even if Tim put his whole mind into watching carefully, he still had a lot of space to go over whatever was currently bothering him.

 

And right now? That was a lot.

 

His mom, Batman, this Cassandra Cain-Wayne person, the Red Hood -

 

And on top of all that, Tim just. Tim’s heart wasn’t really into it. Into anything lately.


He landed on the roof of warehouse 24. No one was around, at least no one he could see. So he snuck inside through one of the windows. The warehouse was big, with an open floor. No walls or anything. It did have catwalks below the rafters - Tim would have dropped down onto them, but they were metal and he was wearing steel toed boots like a fool.

 

So he settled down in the rafters. He was a little worried about how stable they were, the wood was old, but he figured it would be fine. He just had to not fall. They’d stayed up this long under the harsh Gotham weather - they’d be fine under his weight.

 

Ten, maybe fifteen men stood around on the floor. Tim tugged out his binoculars from his belt and focused in on them. Most of them were mid ranked men, a couple goons. They stood around a couple crates in the center of the warehouse, guarding it. Tim frowned.

 

Did they know the Red Hood was coming? It had been a long time since Tim had found it in him to stakeout a drug deal - but he was sure they were more on edge than they should be. Tim worried his bottom lip.

 

Bad habit, he reminded himself and forced his teeth to let go.

 

He moved over, trying to find a better vantage point to see their faces from. At the very least, he might be able to identify whose men these were. Not a single one was in costume, so they probably weren’t any major players.

 

How fucked up was it that major players were all assholes with gimmicks?

 

Tim missed having to stakeout the Bats when he was younger. That was fun; he knew them and could take sneaky pictures to annoy them with later. This was just annoying. He didn’t know any of these people. Not personally, at least.

 

He could still take pictures, though, so he tugged out his phone and snapped a few. The quality was bad, but his could run them through police, military, and batcomputer databases while he waited. Once he’d gotten the men he’d identified as higher ranked than the goons (they were the ones who were standing off to the side, rather than actively guarding the crates), he started the search.

 

Then he took out his actual camera for better quality shots. These he could give to Batman - was he still giving his formation to Batman?

 

Tim held back a sigh and frowned down at his camera. He was doing so well and now he was thinking about Batman again. He hated stakeouts. 

 

But he didn’t have to linger on that thought for long. There was movement on the catwalk. 

 

Tim shifted to hide himself better among the rafters as a tall, muscled man walked silently along the catwalk. He was dressed in blacks: a tunic and baggy pants, neither concealing the body armor underneath, both with red trim. On top he wore a deep red vest with a hood covering up black hair. A belt full of weapons, a sword at his side - 

 

And when he turned his head, Tim caught sight of burning green eyes over a red muzzle. Tim swallowed and pressed himself closer to the rafters. 

 

The Red Hood had an aura around him. Tim didn’t know how to describe it. An intensity . Tim could feel it, even ten feet above him. 

 

The Red Hood turned away, looked down at the men swarming beneath them. He seemed to settle in to watch them as they stood around. What was he waiting for?

 

Tim wished he’d snapped a picture of the Red Hood. Those eyes. . . 

 

The Red Hood pulled an apple out of one of his pockets. Tim blinked as the Red Hood bit into it. The loud crunch caught the attention of the men down on the floor. They looked around at each other.

 

Oh, shit.

 

Tim darted to the side of the warehouse - the way he’d been positioned, he’d been directly above the Red Hood. When the men looked up to find the source of the chewing, they’d have seen Tim.

 

Safe on the other side of the warehouse, Tim watched as the men on the floor finally looked up to see the Red Hood. There were shouts - Tim wasn’t listening, focusing on the Red Hood. He kept his relaxed posture as he ate.

 

He only stood again when he finished the apple. He tossed the core to the side carelessly and leaned against the arm rail. Surprisingly, none of the goons had fired at him yet.

 

“Go set up your own drug trade!” One of the men yelled up at him. “We’re just trying to make an honest living here!”

 

“Sure you have,” the Red Hood said, voice pitched low and condescending, “that’s why you’ve been to jail and back seven times over this.” 

 

Had he really? Tim made a mental note to double check that. It seemed like the Red Hood was right, judging by the shock and then alarm on the man’s face. So the Red Hood did his research and knew who he was dealing with before he stepped out onto the field. Good to know.

 

Red Hood leaned further, looking this way and that dramatically. “It doesn’t look like your client’s here. Wasn’t the allotted time two hours ago?” 

 

The men shifted anxiously. Why weren’t they firing yet? 

 

Maybe Tim had missed something. It had been a long time since he’d done a stakeout of any sort, now that he was thinking about it. Normally he was a lot more prepared than this. He should have looked into Catmom’s tip instead of just taking it at face value. Fuck.

 

He hoped the Red Hood didn’t know Tim was here. There had been no indication that he knew, but Tim could be reading him wrong. Tim was, for the first time in years as Stray, out of his element.

 

The Red Hood was, however, completely in his element.

 

“Maybe you should go look outside,” the Red Hood said. He sounded like he was smiling. From this distance, any pictures would be blurry and out of focus. Still, he felt like he should try.

 

So while one of the men approached the door, the one that was directly under Tim ( bad planning, sloppy, unprepared, do better next time ), Tim slowly raised his camera and focused in on the Red Hood.

 

If he caught, he was gonna be in so much trouble. So much trouble.

 

Batman was going to have to scrape Tim’s remains off the floor of the warehouse type trouble.

 

Open and shut case.

 

Tim clicked as Red Hood turned to watch the man.

 

The man stepped back in after peeking outside, face white. He turned to the Red Hood, eyes wide. Tim lowered his camera. He couldn’t check how the picture came out just yet. He had the screen taped over to hide the light. Tim hugged the camera to his chest and watched as the man stumbled back to the other men.

 

“He’s dead,” the man said weakly. The men started shouting, mostly angry. Tim wanted to see the body. He was, at his heart, a detective. He wanted to know what happened - how long had it been since he last felt this way?

 

“You did this!” One of the men shouted - he was one of the obvious higher ups. “You slit the poor asshole’s throat!”

 

“Did I,” the Red Hood said, very obviously amused at the accusation. The men kept shouting - and even if it had been a while since the last time Tim had been stuck on a stakeout, he knew how to read people. This was about to get ugly. And ugly meant stray (pfft, Stray) gunshots.

 

There was a window near Tim.  It was old and rusted and looked like it might take a couple seconds to jimmy open, but it was big enough to fit him. He gathered his legs beneath him and waited.

 

He didn’t have to wait long.

 

Gunshots started going off and Tim jumped up, pulling a knife from his belt. He pried open the lock, glancing over his shoulder.


The Red Hood in action was a force of nature. Tim’s breath caught in his throat, watching him dance between the men. When had he gotten down from the catwalk?

 

Without really thinking about it, Tim raised his camera. He changed it to video mode, hands shaking, and started recording. Zoomed in as far as it would go, the camera would pick up more data than his phone would have.

 

He had to force himself to breathe - he knew this fighting style. It didn’t take too long to place it. It was one he’d grown up learning, after all.

 

The Red Hood had League training.


Tim shuddered. That must be where the intensity about him came from. Bruce had the same intensity. And so did. . . so did the second Robin.

 

Red Hood stood alone, surrounded by the dead. He cleaned his sword on the bottom of his tunic. His hood had fallen during the fight, exposing his undercut. Tim ended the recording, eyes fixed on the brown skin of the Red Hood’s neck.

 

He. . .

 

Tim shook his head and stashed away his camera, praying that the Red Hood wouldn’t notice him. Tim had been regularly working out, regularly flying from building to building, but he hadn’t fought for real in ages. Like this, he could probably barely hold up to Batman, much less the Red Hood.

 

League trained, comfortable with taking lives. . . No, Tim wouldn’t stand a chance.

 

Quietly as he could manage, Tim slipped out the window and clambered onto the roof. The body was on the floor, but Tim couldn’t go down and see it now. Not with the Red Hood still inside.

 

Tim hunkered down on the roof and pleaded to anyone who could hear not to let the Red Hood come up and see him.

 

--

 

She found him on the roof of Warehouse 24. 

 

Tim hadn’t moved. Hadn’t been able to bring himself to move. The Red Hood had left an hour ago, taking the dead bodies with him on a truck. Tim hadn’t managed to take any pictures of the man on the floor.

 

He’d spent the past hour staring at the stars, thinking about this and that. The databases had finally come back with the identities of the dead men. He’d been kicking himself for not getting an ID on the man Red Hood had killed outside.

 

That one guy really had gone to jail seven times.

 

The Red Hood knew his shit.

 

She found Tim after his third loop of the same few thoughts. Tim watched her approach, dislike curdling in his stomach, strong as anything. He kept his emotions off his face. That would give too much away. It would give her an edge over him.

 

It hurt, looking at her. At the bright yellow inside of her cape, at her red tunic, at her green leggings. Her blonde hair cropped short, so that no one could grab it. Tim hated how it looked on her, but he wasn’t about to say that.

 

Actually, he might say it. Why should he care if she hurt? She hurt him just by being here.

 

“Batman sent me,” she said. Tim bared his teeth at her because you know what? Fuck it. 

 

“Bold of Batman to assume I’ll give any of my hard earned information to you,” Tim said. She frowned.

 

“He said he asked you to research the Red Hood,” she said, “he just sent me to-”

 

Tim sat up, glaring at her, “what about me makes it look like I give a shit what Batman wants?”

 

She glared back, because when had she ever let a man walk over her? It was one of the qualities Tim used to love so much. She always fought back - it made provoking her so much easier. “Stray-”

 

The sun was rising, Tim realized, he had to go back to Drake Mansion. It wasn’t. He didn’t really want to go back but his mom. . . He hadn’t forgotten about it. He had actually made a decision. He wanted to try.

 

And if it turned wrong, if their relationship got worse, then Tim could simply bail. He could make himself an emancipated minor. And even if he couldn’t, he’d been living alone for years now. He didn’t need adult supervision. His mom knew that.

 

“Are you even listening to me?” She was angry.

 

“Of course not,” Tim said, annoyed, “I have better things to do.”

 

“Look,” she said, and she got that softer voice like when she was trying her best to stay calm.

 

“No,” Tim said and stood, “I’m not going to look. I’m going to go back to my shitty apartment and pretend you never happened to me.” She flinched back, her face twisting.

 

Yeah, ok, Tim felt a little bad for that.

 

“Tim,” she said quietly. Tim turned away and started for the edge of the roof.

 

“Fuck off, Spoiler,” he said, “I’ll see you at school on Monday.” And then he jumped.  

 

“I’m Robin!” She called after him, but he ignored her.

Chapter Text

“You’re up late,” Janet said, voice mild as Tim stepped into the kitchen. Tim stared blankly at her.

 

It was noon and Tim had only been awake for about an hour. A cup of tea, a long warm shower, and only now he was showing signs of intelligent life. His mother had been, as far as he knew, up since early. Probably working on company things or something, judging by the bottle of wine and the sheer amount of papers on the kitchen table. 

 

He wasn’t sure what she did with her time.

 

“I was up all night,” he complained and sat down in front of her. He hadn’t gotten a chance to speak to the prostitutes, and it grated against his nerves. But he couldn’t say that to his mother - she was in a bad mood, he could already tell. There were bags under her eyes. She hadn’t even put on makeup this morning. She was going to find a way to pin it on him, he thought, or maybe she’d keep with her newfound desire to befriend him. “Doing ok?”

 

“Of course,” she said briskly. Tim hummed.

 

“Doesn’t seem like it to me,” he said. If he pit the heaviness in his heart against her eye bags, which would be heavier?

 

“Oh, get your head out of your ass,” she snapped. Tim blinked, just the once, suddenly wide awake. He raised an eyebrow, masking indifference. He knew it he knew she’d be angry at him for no reason.

 

“I’m seventeen,” Tim said dryly, “my head’s gonna be in my ass for another eight years.” What happened to going at his pace, huh? Tim was upset.

 

“I can’t wait,” she said and sucked down the rest of her wine. “But I was referring to that Wayne boy.” Tim blinked again, startled.

 

“Terry?” He asked incredulously. Janet rolled her eyes, like he’d said something outrageously stupid. That was about as much as he expected from her. He shouldn’t have tried to live with her. Too much, too fast, probably.

 

“No, the little one,” she clarified, “the one who died, what was his name?”

 

Even hearing that much in her clear, emotionless tone was too much. The weariness in Tim’s heart seemed to grow and close over him. He shuttered off his expression, so she wouldn’t have to see, and shoved back from the table. 

 

She took this all in with cold brown eyes.

 

“Don’t give me that,” she said, voice just a touch softer, “Jack died and you don’t see me making a fool of myself.”

 

Tim only just stopped himself from bearing his teeth. “That’s cuz you don’t have a heart.” He had tried for a teasing tone, but the words were ladened down with his exhaustion. Janet leaned back in her chair, chin raised, expression set.

 

So, we’re doing this.

 

“Pull yourself together,” she said. Tim shook his head. “Tim.”

 

“I can’t,” he said, his voice breaking on the word. He ducked his head, teeth gritted against the swell of emotion in his chest. 

 

“You’re overreacting,” she said. 

 

“I’m seventeen,” Tim said around a huff of hysterical feeling laughter, “I think I’m allowed to overreact.” She frowned and stood. Tim watched, wary, as she circled around the table to kneel in front of him. She had never done this before. Tim didn’t know how to react.

 

“You’re right,” she said, voice suddenly gentle, “I forgot how young you are. You’re allowed to mourn him.”

 

And goddamn , but no one had ever said that to Tim before.

 

He turned his head away from her, hands coming up to cover his face. He tried - he tried so hard not to cry, not to let the tears escape his eyes. She had never liked it when he cried, even when he was a child. She’d dragged him teary eyed to galas, expected him to pretend like he wanted to be there. He couldn’t let her see them.

 

But she reached out to pull away his hands. He stared at her, eyes wide and glassy, gasping near silently for breath.

 

“You’re allowed to mourn,” she repeated, “just not where others can take advantage.”

 

“So,” Tim said, voice rough, “like you drinking more alcohol than you should and crying yourself to sleep at night?”

 

“Like you dropping your ambitions as Stray to mope around on rooftops,” Janet said, and Tim blinked in shock. She knew? She knew? “Oh, please, you think you can sneak around my house without me knowing? Guess again, little man.”

 

“Shit,” Tim said and slumped back against his chair. There were tears streaking down his cheeks, but he steadfastly ignored them. “Mother?”

 

“Yeah?”

 

“I know that was hard,” Tim said, “so thanks.” Janet blinked, surprised for the first time in Tim’s life. Then she shook her head and rolled her eyes.

 

“Don’t thank me,” she said and stood, “I’m just don’t want you to make a fool of the Drake name.”

 

“Ruthless,” Tim said, shaking his head. He wiped harshly at his face. The moment she left - the moment he was alone he’d have a good long cry all by himself. The moment she couldn’t see. 

 

“Unfeeling too, if the tabloids are to be believed,” she said, moving back to her seat at the table, “they’re saying I’ve already got another three cocks up my-”

 

“Ew, mom!” Tim groaned. She didn’t react negatively to the name - so it was ok to call her that.

 

“Don’t think I didn’t see you watching that Selina Kyle flirt with Bruce at galas,” she sniffed, refilling her glass with wine, “you weren’t subtle. So, did you crush on him or her?”

 

“I hate that I’m old enough for you to ask me that,” Tim grumbled. His mother laughed, the sound sharp and bright and exactly like Tim’s laugh, and if that wasn’t a kick in the pants Tim didn’t know what was. When was the last time he heard her laugh?

 

“You’re going to start hating a lot of things about me now that we can actually spend time together,” Janet said, almost preening, “I’ll get you to hate and love me almost as much as your father did.” Tim snorted, the sound coming out wet and tired.

 

“Joke’s on you,” Tim said, “I already hate and love you.” Janet smiled, sharp. This was the smile he was used to seeing on her face.

 

“Well there I go then,” Janet said, “and I didn’t even have to do anything. Would you or would you not die for me, Timothy?” Her voice was just a touch softer than it had been and that was the only way Tim knew she was making a joke. 

 

“I’d play nice up until I could legally sell you to a crack house,” Tim said as sharply as he could and she laughed. Was this the kind of joke she liked? 

 

“Perfect,” she said, sharp smile melting into an approving one. Tim made a mental note to speak a little less formally with her. “Did Miss Kyle teach you that?”

 

“You did,” Tim said, wiping at his face again. He’d stopped crying, even if his voice was still rough and shaky. That was good, for now. “Even if that wasn’t something you meant to teach me.”

 

“I like you now that you’re older,” Janet said suddenly, tone thoughtful, “you’re a real person.”

 

Tim smiled, and it ached. “I always was.”

 

“Don’t show me that,” she cooed and Tim adjusted his expression for a more savage smile. “There you go.” Tim snorted.

 

“Let me bare my heart to you, mother dearest,” Tim said, “so I can make you stew in your discomfort.”

 

“Like you can tell when I’m discomforted,” Janet said, taking another swig of her wine. Tim wondered how much she had. Was she tipsy?

 

“I can tell a lot of things,” Tim said with a little shrug, “including but not limited to your discomfort.”

 

“Creepy,” she said, “I like it.” She dragged a stack of papers closer to her, taking the first one off the top and putting it down in front of her. A dismissal of sorts. “I’ll make a businessman of you yet.”

 

“I’m already a businessman, you have nothing to teach me,” Tim said, standing. He wasn’t, but he had a pretty solid poker face when he needed it. She grinned, pleased.

 

“Then I’m making you Co-CEO with me,” she declared, carelessly signing the paper in front of her. Tim hadn’t seen her read it. “And we’ll see what we can do with your father’s legacy.”

 

--

 

Lady Shiva was in Gotham. 

 

Tim hadn’t seen her in years, but here she was. Sitting in a little cafe across from Tim’s apartment building. Tim frowned at her. She wasn’t armed, but there was no way she was here for anyone else. Her eyes were locked on his window. There was a cup on the table across from her. 

 

Tim groaned and walked over to his closet. There were worse people to see first thing on a Sunday. Sure, he had been planning to spend the day figuring the ins and outs of Catmom’s heist, but this would have to take precedence. If nothing else, he could ask about the Red Hood. Shiva wasn’t League, but she was well versed in information she shouldn’t have. Maybe she’d have a lead on the Red Hood.

 

Maybe she wasn’t here to kill Tim. He didn’t think she would, but he was out of shape. Criminally out of shape. He was going to have to start training again soon.

 

And by soon he meant as soon as this meeting was over because this was ridiculous. His mother was right. He’d been slipping. 

 

But Tim didn’t have time to think about that now. He tugged on a pair of ratty jeans and a hoodie. His whip and a collapsible bo staff were in the pocket. He didn’t dare bring any other weapons with him.

 

Tim slipped on a pair of combat shoes - uncomfortable, out of place in his current outfit, but reliable in a fight - and headed down.

 

The second he was out the doors of his building, Shiva’s eyes were on him. Tim smiled at her, glanced both ways, and scurried across the street.

 

“Timothy,” she greeted.

 

“Lady Shiva,” Tim said with a little smile. He sat when she gestured to the seat across from her. “It’s been a while,” he said and picked up the drink. It was tea, by the smell of it. Probably unsweetened. Jasmine?

 

“It has,” she agreed, “you are easier to find than you used to be.” Tim sighed.

 

“So I’ve heard,” he said. He hadn’t but it made sense. She nodded and took a sip of whatever she was drinking. Sitting closer to her, he could analyze the situation more clearly.

 

She wasn’t armed, but her clothes were flowy and easy to move in - a halter top (Tim could see the outline of a sports bra underneath) and puffy pants. Uncommon for someone to wear something so showy in Gotham’s cold air. Her magenta jacket was slung over the back of her chair, though. Her hair was tied up in a bun, long neck unadorned by necklaces or jewelry. She watched him with the air of someone observing an opponent.

 

Was she expecting a fight from Tim? He couldn’t give her one. He bet she knew he couldn’t.

 

“I have a favor to ask,” Lady Shiva said after a long moment. Tim raised an eyebrow.

 

“Very straight forward of you,” he said, “I’m sensing a trap.” The intensity of her expression didn’t change.

 

“But you’ll take it,” she said. Tim nodded. “Not going to ask what it is first?”

 

“Sure, it’s bad business,” Tim said with a little shrug, “but I trust you.” She’d been good to him when they’d last met. She’d offered to teach him how to fight better. At the time it had been a good idea. And then Tim had nearly died.

 

Good times, good times.

 

“Now that feels like a trap,” Lady Shiva said. Tim laughed. “It has to do with the Bats. Will you still do it?” Well, at least she remembered that he was on the outs with the Bats!

 

“Sure,” Tim said, “but I’m gonna want payment.” She raised an eyebrow. Waited. It was a little bit of a waste to ask for it now instead of for something big later on, but Tim had a job to do. And he was curious. He shoved away the part of him that wanted to hold onto the favor a little longer. “I need information on the Red Hood.”

 

“That, I can’t give you,” Lady Shiva said, voice darkening, “he got to me first.” Tim sighed. “But I will tell you one thing. I’m sure you’ve noticed he has League training?”

 

“It’s unmistakable,” Tim replied, “even if you’ve been out of the game.”

 

“You need to train, Timothy,” she said with a small shake of her head, “I could see it in the way you walked over. You’ve grown unused to the weapons in your pocket.”

 

“I know, I know,” Tim said with a little sigh, “I’m working on it.”

 

“Work faster,” she said, “especially if you’re tangling with the Red Hood. He almost won against me.” Tim’s stomach dropped. “He has some sort of relation with Talia al Ghul,” Shiva said, leaning forwards, “a close one.”

 

“Romantic?” Tim asked. Shiva shrugged.


“I don’t know,” she said, “but Talia was there when he fought me.  There was a lot of conversation going on between the lines.” Tim chewed on a nail, absorbing the information.

 

“Anything else you can tell me?” Tim asked. Lady Shiva hesitated.

 

“He’s young,” she finally answered, “older than you, I think, but no older than twenty.”

 

“He’s too young for Talia,” Tim said, face screwing up in distaste. Lady Shiva nodded.

 

“Now for my favor,” she said. Tim nodded and straightened up, ready to commit whatever she was about to tell him to do to his memory. He didn’t even have his phone on him. “Batgirl. Keep an eye on her.”

 

“Bruce’s new adoptee,” Tim murmured, “Cassandra Wayne. Why? What’s up with her?”

 

“That’s all the information I’m willing to give,” Lady Shiva said, “just know that she’s important to me. And that she has a tendency to push her limits. Don’t let her die, Timothy.”

“I’ll do my best,” Tim said, “I can’t promise anything more than that.”

 

“I realize,” Lady Shiva said, “based off your past experience, I’m not holding my breath.” Tim laughed humorlessly.

 

“Then why me?” Tim asked. “Batman is right there.” Lady Shiva shook her head.

 

“Batman didn’t train under me,” she said, “and Batman has not earned my trust.” She shrugged. “You are a good connection to make, Stray.”

 

“Thanks,” Tim said automatically. He finally took a drink from the tea Lady Shiva had ordered for him. It was Jasmine, he was right. Tim smiled down at it before looking up.

 

Lady Shiva was gone. 

 

“Batman didn’t train under you my ass,” Tim murmured.

Chapter Text

“Mom?” Tim called as he entered Drake Mansion, duffle bag in hand.

 

“In my bedroom!” His mom called, voice faint. The master bedroom was on the second floor, in the north wing of the house. It was the last door at the end of the hall. Tim’s bedroom was the one to the right of it. It only took Tim a couple minutes to reach it.

 

He knocked on the door and opened it carefully. Janet sat cross-legged in the center of the California queen pressed against the right wall. The left wall opened up into the bathroom. Tim knew from when he’d sneak in as a kid that to the right of the sink counter was a massive walk-in closet, and to the left was the shower and toilet. The counter was messy, covered in Janet’s makeup products.

 

On the other side of the room from the doorway was a wall full of floor to ceiling windows with a view of the grounds. Tim could see Wayne Manor in the distance.

 

“What’s with the duffle?” Janet asked. Tim glanced down at it.

 

“I’m leaving in a couple hours,” Tim said, “catching a flight to Pakistan. I’ll be back soon, just thought you might like to know.” Janet frowned at him. She had been reading a book, which she placed to the side.

 

“Why?” She asked, gesturing to the bed in front of her. Tim sighed and walked over.

 

“I have to go meet up with a contact,” Tim said. She frowned.

 

“I thought you weren’t doing anything with Stray right now,” she said. Tim shrugged, dropping the duffle beside the bed. He flopped on top of it, watching carefully for her reaction. She didn’t react to it at all.

 

“It’s difficult to explain,” Tim deflected. She gave him a Look. It made Tim laugh - it had been a long time since the last time since she’d tried that on him. It didn’t work on him anymore, he was surprised to realize. She didn’t really intimidate him anymore.

 

“Try me,” she said. Tim hummed.

 

“I’m investigating someone,” Tim said, “and I got a tip earlier today. Unfortunately, that tip leads me to Pakistan, so I’m gonna go and get that over with. It’s not really a Stray thing, but that’s ok.”

 

“Can’t you just call them or something?” Janet asked. “Why do you have to go?”

 

“Gonna miss me?” Tim asked, grinning.

 

“Yes,” she said. Tim stiffened, taken by surprise by her honest admission. “I’m going to miss you. I had a lot of time to think while I was in the hospital. I could see everything, I could hear anything, but I couldn’t move. You came in almost every day. I looked forward to seeing you. I’d done nothing for you - but you still came to see me when you could.”

 

“Oh,” Tim said quietly.

 

“I was terrible to you,” she said quietly, “and yet you still came and visited me in the hospital every day.” She reached over and took Tim’s hand. “You’re a good kid, Tim. I should have done better with you.”

 

Tim. . . didn’t really know what to say to that. He just nodded and looked away from her. What could he say to that?

 

Sure, there was a plethora of responses he could have given, but they all felt too impersonal. Too - too general. Too not them. Tim didn’t really know what he defined as ‘them’ either, but.

 

“Hey, Tim?” Janet said suddenly. Tim looked over at her. “What about school?”

 

“What about school?” He asked.

 

“Tomorrow’s Monday,” Janet said. Tim winced. He totally forgot about school.

 

“Could you call me in sick or something?” Tim asked weakly. “The return flight’s three days from now.” Janet crossed her arms over her chest, looking unimpressed. “Mom, it’s important.”

 

“I’m sure it is,” she said, voice cold, “but you can’t skip school for this.” 

 

“I can’t wait until next weekend,” Tim insisted, sitting up, “this is important.”

 

“More important than your future?” She said. 

 

“Yes,” Tim said, firmly. She blinked. Tim hoped she was surprised. “I have a varied skillset that-”

 

“I don’t want to hear it,” she interrupted, “tell me why it’s so important.” Tim really didn’t want to do that. He. . . he hadn’t expected this conversation to go this way, to be honest. He hadn’t expected his mother to care this much.

 

It was a little nice, to be honest. Not that he had to work harder to achieve his goal, but that she was actually taking an interest in his life. She’d never really done that before. At least, not since he was a kid.

 

“There’s a new player in Gotham,” Tim said quietly, “he’s set up shop in Crime Alley. I’m trying to get information on him - two sources can link his fighting style back to someone I know in Pakistan. Well I don’t know her know her, but I know her. You know?”

 

“Somewhat,” she said, lips twisting upwards, “are you sure this new player is worth missing school?”

 

“Yes,” Tim said, “he’s. . . well, let’s put it this way. The faster I can learn about him, the faster I’ll be able to manipulate him. If I can get him dancing to my tune, then - then a lot of things, mom.”

 

“Like what?” She asked.

 

“Less lives will be in danger, for one,” Tim said. Not to mention less kids would be in danger. “For two, I’ll have a powerhouse in my arsenal.”

 

“What do you need a powerhouse for?” Janet asked.

 

“I,” Tim closed his mouth. What was he even doing with Stray? “Well, if I ever get on the Bat’s bad side, he’ll be useful. If I need to overthrow the Bat or any crime bosses or if Gotham is put under attack, the Red Hood would be a solid ally.”

 

“Based on what?” Janet said. Tim raised an eyebrow. She sighed. “You’re sure he’s worth it?”

 

“Yes,” Tim said.

 

“Ok,” she said, with a little nod, “I guess you and I are going on a trip to Pakistan, then.”

 

“What?”

 

“Oh, didn’t you know?” Janet said with a little grin. “I’ve missed my darling boy while I was in my coma. We’re going on a trip to Pakistan. We won’t be back until Wednesday night.” She smiled at Tim. “Don’t give me that face. It’ll be fun.”

 

“I don’t want you caught up in this,” Tim said, voice darkening. He had to make her understand. She couldn’t go with him. “The people I’m going to visit aren’t nice , Mom. I’m out of practice, I won’t be able to protect you from them. I won’t even be able to protect myself. If you go with me -”

 

“Who is it?”

 

“Assassins, Mom,” Tim said, “I’m visiting assassins. A league of them. You can’t come with me. I can’t.” He glanced away. Grit his teeth. Forced himself to look back at his mom. “I can’t lose you again.”

 

She examined his face. 


“I’m coming with you,” she said, voice firm, “don’t worry. Nothing will happen to me.”

 

“You-!” Tim heaved himself off the bed. He paced, head buzzing from the thoughts running through it. They would kill her - kill them both. It was already bad enough that Tim was going to Nanda Parbat -

 

But now he was thinking about it. Didn’t Talia have a cover as a business woman? Had she had any contact with Drake Industries? He knew she’d had contact with LexCorp and Wayne Enterprises. Did his mother already know her?

 

This was going to be a nightmare.

 

“What do you know about the al Ghuls?” Tim asked, turning back to his mother.

 

“We were thinking about doing business with them a couple years ago,” she said slowly, “they run a small private shipping company. Why?”

 

“Ra’s al Ghul is the head of the League of Assassins,” Tim said quietly. Janet went stiff. Then, limb by limb, she relaxed. “Talia al Ghul is his daughter and frequently leads a rival party to him within the League itself. Last I heard about them, they were still at odds.”

 

“Oh,” Janet said.


“It’s most likely still a warzone there,” Tim said, “and I can’t bring you into that. Do you understand?”

 

“I understand,” Janet said, “but I’m still going. You’re my son.” Tim cursed. “Give it up, Tim. Nothing you can say will change my mind.”

 

Tim glared. But it wasn’t like she was wrong. He’d seen her at work before. He knew how stubborn she was. 

 

“Fine,” he said bitterly, “but if you die it’s not on me.”

 

“Agreed,” she said, smug, “give me an hour to pack my bags, and we’ll be off.” Tim didn’t bother to respond. He just grabbed his bag and headed for the living room. He’d wait for her there.

 

--

 

Seventeen and a half hours and one layover later, Tim and Janet stepped onto Pakistani soil. Another couple hours and they finally reached the hotel they planned to stay at. A short night’s sleep and they would fly to the Bacha Khan Airport in Peshawar.

 

Then they would travel to the Hindu Kush Mountains and then. . . 

 

Tim opened the door to their hotel room to reveal two beds, a cabinet, a small bathroom, and Talia al Ghul, flanked by assassins.

 

“Stray,” she greeted, green eyes glinting in the yellow, flickering lamplight. 

 

“Talia al Ghul,” Tim said.

 

There were two exits; the door behind him and Janet, the windows behind Talia and her guard. There were two vents big enough to escape in. 

 

The room was cramped and not made for fighting in, but Tim could do it if he had to. 

 

The two beds were pressed up against the wall and took far too much room. The cabinet across from them was large and bulky and only left two feet of space between it and the beds to move. Bottleneck.

 

He was unarmed, the assassins were decidedly not. Janet wouldn’t be able to fit through the vents, she wouldn’t be able to walk off the three story drop from the windows, she’d have to go out the way she came in. She was a liability, goddamn it, she should have just stayed home like Tim asked.

 

Talia sat on the other side of the room, back to the windows. The chair was a flimsy, woven thing, but she made it look like a throne. Tim hadn’t expected anything less from the Heir to the League of Assassins. Her eyes drifted towards Janet, expression unchanged.

 

“I imagine that this is your mother,” Talia said lightly. Tim nodded.

 

“Janet Drake,” his mom said, stepping forwards so she stood close enough for Tim to feel her warmth against the back of his shoulder. She didn’t extend her hand. Tim glanced over his shoulder - the door was blocked by another pair of assassins. “I believe we’ve met before.”

 

“We have,” Talia said and stood. Tim’s attention snapped back to her, but she only continued to stand. “You’re traveling light, Stray.” Did she mean his one duffle bag? Him coming with only his mother? His lack of weapons?

 

“As are you,” Tim said, referring to her assassins. Only four? It had to be a trap. Well, they were already trapped. It had to be - It had to be -

 

“Lady Shiva called ahead,” Talia said, “to tell me a little kitten wanted to talk.” She gestured at the beds. Janet immediately moved to sit. Tim didn’t. “Strange. You haven’t spoken to me since my son died.”

Janet moved, a quick movement, but Tim couldn’t afford to look away from Talia. If she attacked him, he wouldn’t make it out alive. Hell, he already probably wouldn’t make it out alive.

 

Truth was, he’d avoided her like the plague for the last three years. He knew she blamed him. Everyone did. Even he did.

 

“I’m sorry for your loss,” Tim said, voice even. 

 

“Are you?” she asked, but it came out sounding like a statement. Tim didn’t know where to go with that, so he stayed quiet and waited. Talia glanced over at Janet. “Did you think that by bringing your own mother, I would be more inclined to spare your life?”

 

“He didn’t bring me,” Janet said with a little wave of her hand, “I came separately.” Talia turned to her, eyebrow raised. “You and your father’s company wanted to do business with Drake Industries a couple years back. You guys backed out - I wanted to reextend a hand.”

 

Talia watched her for a long, tense moment. Then she smiled, clear and suddenly all business, and settled back in her woven chair. “Really?”

 

“Yes,” Janet said, “from my recollection, you guys are a small company. Drake Industries is always looking to support smaller businesses. Especially ones with such a reliable reputation.”

 

“Flattery won’t save your son’s life,” Talia said. Janet tilted her head. 

 

What was even going on? Tim was dying. He hoped his mother had a plan. He really, really hoped his mother had a plan.

 

“You’d inflict the same pain you felt when your son died on me?” She asked. “What have I done to you?” Talia looked, of all things, amused.

 

“True,” she said, “you haven’t done anything to me yet.” Janet smiled at her.

 

“Can you imagine?” Janet said, clearly finding the situation funny. “That Timothy was just going to burst into Nanda Parbat half cocked?” Talia frowned.

 

“That doesn’t sound like him,” she said, looking over to where Tim was standing.

 

“He’s been acting very not like himself lately,” Janet said, the humor fading. What was she doing? Tim frowned at her. “It took a little bit to realize it - he misses your son as well.” Talia’s face darkened. 

 

“Excuse me?” She whispered.

 

Janet shrugged. “Haven’t you seen it?” Her voice was terrifyingly blase. If this was her plan, Tim was going to riot. She was going to get them both killed. “You’ve been walking around in his world, there’s no way you’d have missed it. I’ve been confined to a single set of rooms for three years and I saw it clearly.”

 

Talia didn’t say anything, just stared at Janet. Janet had her business face on, despite the lightness of her tone. Tim looked back and forth between the two of them.

 

“Your son was friends with Tim, wasn’t he,” Janet said gently. 

 

After a long moment, Talia nodded.

 

“I believe “thick as theives” is a fitting expression,” Talia said, voice softer. Janet nodded with a small smile on her face.

 

“They spent every gala together,” Janet said, “and every night out on the streets together.” Talia nodded, something flashing across her face. “I think they were supposed to be fighting each other, but I’m sure if you watched Tim, his fighting style will be similar to your son’s.”

 

“It is,” Talia said after a couple seconds, “I’ve seen him fight before. Not recently.”


“That’s another weird thing, isn’t it?” Janet said. “He doesn’t fight anymore. Doesn’t steal anymore. He lazes about rooftops.” Janet hesitated. “Ms. al Ghul.”

 

Oh no.

 

“Please, Talia is fine,” Talia said.

 

Oh no, oh no.

 

“Talia, then,” Janet said, “Tim hasn’t said your son’s name since the day he died.” Talia’s eyes snapped over to Tim. Tim couldn’t meet them. He dropped his eyes, focused on his ears and not the way his sight was blurring. Shadows were silent, but Tim would be able to hear if they moved. If she or the assassins moved. . . “And he won’t tell me, but. . . I think he was there on that terrible day.”

 

“Mother!” The word ripped out of Tim’s chest. He clapped his hands over his mouth. He hadn’t meant to say anything. He was shaking. Janet didn’t so much as look at him.

 

“Have you ever seen him so emotional?” Janet murmured. “I haven’t.” Talia hummed. Tim turned away from them both to wipe at his eyes. “How about this - a deal with Drake Industries, a favour, and three stories about your son in exchange for my son’s life and a little information?”

 

“Information about what?” Talia said. 

 

“I don’t know,” Janet said with a sigh, “he won’t tell me. Something about it being too dangerous.”

 

“And yet he brought you here.”

 

“I told you, I came on my own,” Janet said, laughing. “I wanted to see an old business partner of mine.” 

 

Tim really wished they’d stop talking about him like he wasn’t literally in the room with him, but what could he do?

 

“I think I’ll take you up on that deal,” Talia said, “but there’s only one story I’d like to know. Turn around, Timothy.”

 

Tim took another second to center himself before turning around. Talia’s expression was hard. His mother patted the bed next to her. Tim walked over and sat next to her. She threw an arm around him - he slumped into her hold.

 

“What do you want to know?” Tim asked quietly. It was formality - he already knew what she wanted.

 

“How did he die, Timothy?” Talia said, voice scary soft.

 

And even though he’d expected it, Tim’s breath caught in his throat. He stared at Talia. She stared back with equal intensity.

 

“I don’t,” Tim rasped. She held up a hand to stop him, whatever warmth Janet had encouraged back into her slipping away.

 

“Tell me, Timothy,” she said, “your life depends on it.”

 

Tim twisted away, and hid his face against his mother. She rubbed a hand up and down his back. She and Talia were discussing something. They sounded far away.

 

Tim didn’t want to talk about it. He didn’t want to tell anyone about it. He wanted to hold his silence forever. He didn’t - he didn’t -

 

When he first came back from - from that ordeal, when he’d first came back, the only words he could bring himself to say were it’s my fault. The only person he had the heart to explain to was Catmom. She was the only one who knew, and he’d sworn her to secrecy. He’d promised himself he’d never speak of it again, not if he had to. Not if there was any other choice.

 

Some things were too painful to speak about.

 

His mother’s arm was still warm around his shoulders. Her other hand was stroking through his hair now. They’d stopped talking.

 

Tim didn’t want to -

 

But he had to, didn’t he?

 

His only other option here was to fight his way out. And even if he was up to date in his training, even if he could take on four assassins and Talia, he still had his mother to protect. He couldn’t protect her right now.

 

Tell it like a report, he told himself, like you’re reporting it to someone. Like you did with Catmom.

 

“He was arguing with Terry,” Tim said against his mother’s shoulder. “About how - how he didn’t feel like he was allowed to be himself. To. To love you and his grandfather. And.”

 

And here were the tears, rising up again. Like they always did. Tim was tired of them. They hadn’t even started and he was already tired of them. Tired of this situation.

 

Tim’s face screwed up against his tears. “He came to me and asked me what to do. And I told him - I told him that he shouldn’t be ashamed to love you. That you were his family too.

 

“And then he asked me if I wanted to come with him. He was leaving to see you. There - he said there was information on your location from a reliable source. He. I said I’d go with him. I said.”

 

There was a thing they had said, back then. We princes gotta stick together! They’d grin at each other and reach for the nearest limb and squeeze. Tim missed it. Missed that closeness. 

 

It was what Tim had said then, with a big smile and an even bigger hug, his nerves buried in his belly with his misgivings. Tim would have followed him to the ends of the world, back then.

 

“So we stole the Batplane, and we went. And we ended up in Ethiopia. And you weren’t waiting, like he said you’d be.” Tim sniffed. The tears were coming now. Tim tried desperately to steel his heart against the next few sentences. To not feel what was coming.

 

Still, he opened and closed his mouth a couple times before he could force out the words. 

 

“It was the Joker.”

 

It came out quiet, his voice breaking, but still too loud in the quiet of the room. 

 

He shuddered, huddling closer to his mother. He couldn’t look up now. He didn’t want to see the look on Talia’s face. He didn’t want to see the look on his own mother’s face. Didn’t want to feel the emotions swirling in his chest, despite his attempts to shove them away.

 

Every time he tried to talk about it, this happened. This terror.

 

Tim hated it. He hated it all.

 

“We were angry,” Tim whispered, “we’d turned off our trackers and put the Batplane in stealth mode. The Joker - for a week, the Joker had us. He kept us separate. I don’t know what happened to your son. I was. I was with Harley, she.” 

 

Harley had, to the best of her efforts, protected Tim.

 

( “It’s a good thing Mista J doesn’t respect my eight PhDs,” Harley murmured as she cleaned Tim’s newest wounds. “I couldda brainwashed you. I couldda tortured you. Made you forget who you are. Made you forget Robin .”

 

“You have to save him,” Tim whispered, “please.” He caught ahold of her sleeve, tugging gently.

 

“Think about it, kid,” she patted his head, hands gentle, “I can either save the ‘lil villain kid that might come in handy later, or Mista J’s arch enemy’s youngest son. You’re safer to save. He doesn’t care about you. Robin?” She shook her head and sighed. “For now, he only really sees me as a pair of boobs and red lips. If I sneak Robin out from under him. . .” She shuddered. “I’m sorry, kitten, but I can’t help your little birdie.” )

 

Tim tugged free from his mother. He stood and walked over to the bathroom. The two assassins hadn’t left the door, but they’d turned to face outside. Tim wondered distantly if they were Talia’s personal guard.

 

He headed for the sink and splashed water on his face. He didn’t look up. He couldn’t look himself in the mirror right now. Couldn’t see his too-pale face. Or the way his eyes weren’t as blue as they used to be.

 

( “He gave you too much,” Harley cursed, moving quickly around the room, “it’s gonna be permanent. Fuck, fuck, here I think this will help. You won’t be a ‘lil carbon copy of him, I promise. I won’t let it happen, I won’t, oh fuck.” )

 

It took a Herculean effort to return to the room. 

 

He sat on the bed. His mother didn’t reach for him. If she had, he would have flinched. He didn’t want to be touched right now. Thinking about it - thinking about it made him remember the way the Joker’s blows fell. The way Harley’s hands fluttered over him. 

 

“I could hear him screaming .” Tim said, shaking all over, voice breaking over the words, “and I’m sure he could hear me scream.”

 

He sucked in a breath. Don’t get stuck in the details, don’t get lost in the feelings. Get it over with.

 

“They - they did something to me,” Tim said, “and - and - and I. I became an, an extension of him. Of the Joker. They called me Junior. They gave me a gun, I. I couldn’t stop laughing.” 

 

Laughing gas, he knew now, and some new sort of Joker Venom that Tim had never allowed anyone to analyze from his bloodstream. It had all been destroyed that day. Harley promised.

 

Tim wanted - 

 

Tim wanted to go home. To feel safe.

 

He wasn’t feeling safe right now. He’d just - he’d just gotten that feeling back. And when his mother returned to the mansion he’d started feeling more. More grounded and now he just.

 

He wanted to not be talking about this anymore.

 

“The first time I pulled the trigger - the first time was a little flag that had “bang” written on it. One of those little joke guns. I.” Tim shook his head, struggling to keep his voice even.

 

“What happened the second time, Stray?” Talia asked, voice cold. Tim shuddered. He didn’t want to be here. He didn’t want to talk about this. Not to her. 

 

“There was a pile of explosives.” Tim whispered. It hadn’t been a big pile of explosives. Judging by the explosion, most were fakes. “Tied up behind him. I was out of the danger zone. He. . . He wasn’t.”

 

Tim couldn’t remember much of what happened after. He remembered being in pain. He remembered hearing screaming - it might have been his own screams. He remembered the weight of the gun in his hands and those beautiful blue eyes.

 

He - he’d been crying. When Tim shot at him, he’d been crying. When the warehouse exploded -

 

And then Tim couldn’t hear his soft whimpers anymore.

 

“Ok,” Talia said, voice far away, “that’s enough.”

 

There was a sharp pain in the back of Tim’s neck and everything faded away.

 

--




Tim woke up in his bedroom in Drake Mansion. He stared at the ceiling for a couple minutes, feeling emotionally gutted.





It took a long while for Tim to turn his head. 



He was having a bad day, he already knew. Moving was too much effort. His thoughts were slow and sluggish. 

 

He didn’t want to go anywhere or talk to anyone.




Catmom stood at the side of his bed, in costume. Janet stood in the doorway. They were glaring at each other.

 

“You don’t have the skill or the care in your shrivelled old heart to take care of him!” Catmom snapped, voice too loud for the soft light of the day. Too sharp. “If you hadn’t been so determined to abandon him when he was a kid, this would never have happened!”

 

“How dare you!” Janet gasped.



Tim reached his hand. His mother froze - Catmom turned to look at him.



“Tim,” Catmom murmured. She crouched in front of him, lips pursed. Tim was crying, he was pretty sure.

 

“Wanna go home,” Tim whispered. Catmom nodded. She lifted him with ease.




She felt safe. She felt like home .

 

Tim closed his eyes and let her take him away.




--

 

“What happened over there, Timmy?” Selina asked, running a hand through his hair. He was curled against her side in the safety of one of her bolt holes. The couch in this one was old and squishy. The tv played some political drama in front of them, but the volume was off.

 

“Talia made me talk about it ,” Tim answered, knowing she’d know exactly what he was talking about, “to save my life.”

 

“God, what a bitch,” Selina murmured, “I won’t let her touch you again, kitten.” Tim nodded, eyes filling with tears.

 

“Thank you,” he said. His eyes closed again.

Chapter Text

By the time Tim felt well enough to leave Catmom’s little safehouse, it was weekend again. He’d missed the whole week. He didn’t know how he got home from Pakistan and honestly? He didn’t want to know.

 

He left at night, wearing one of the older versions of his suit. It was a little snug around the hips, but that was alright. The rest of it fit fine.

 

He went to Drake Manor first. He had to speak to his mother.

 

“Hey,” Tim said, dropping into her bedroom. Janet jerked around with a quiet yelp. She composed herself quickly as Tim sauntered over to the bathroom area to admire himself in the mirror. Too pale, yes. Purple tinged eyes, yes. But he was still Tim. He wasn’t Junior. He would never be Junior. 

 

Behind him, Janet stood, back stiff and chin raised. There was a flush on her cheeks and a bottle of alcohol on her bedside table. Looking for a fight?

 

“Tim,” she said, voice gentle. No, not gentle. Uncertain.

 

“Part of the deal was information,” Tim said, turning to face her. Janet sighed and walked over to the duffle bag at the foot of her bed. Had she not unpacked? She pulled out an envelope and handed it over to Tim.

 

“She seemed to know who you wanted information about,” Janet said. Tim hummed. The envelope was unmarked. “Tim-”

 

“Thanks for this,” Tim interrupted. He wasn’t in the mood. He’d been gone for a solid five days. He was about to have a very busy night. “I’ll see you later, Mom.”

 

Janet sighed. Tim left before he could hear her answer. He clambered down the walls to where he left his motorcycle, tucking the envelope into his suit. He would look at it later. Now, for Wayne Manor.

 

Tim bypassed security easily - it wasn’t built with the intention of keeping him out. He drove up the long, long driveway (seriously, why was it so long?) and parked in visitor parking. Alfred was standing at the front door by the time he got there.

 

“Master Timothy,” Alfred said, with all his familiar warmth.

 

“Master Alfred-othy,” Tim said with a dramatic bow. He looked up to see Alfred watching him with a single raised eyebrow. Tim shuffled in place sheepishly.

 

“I’m afraid most of the family is out right now,” Alfred said. Tim shrugged up at him.

 

“That’s ok, I’m just here for the Batcomputer files,” Tim said. Alfred stood aside to let him in.

 

“And which files might those be?” Alfred asked, accompanying Tim into the first floor study, the one with the clock entrance to the cave. Tim supposed he could use the elevator entrance, it would be easier on Alfred’s knees, but it was too late to take it back now.

 

“The ones on the Red Hood,” Tim said as he moved the hands of the clock. Alfred made a soft sound as Tim ducked into the cave.

 

“Would that have anything to do with your absence this past week?” Alfred asked. Tim nodded and hurried down the stairs. The cave was empty, aside from Bruce Wayne himself. He sat at the Batcomputer, coordinating for Batman and Spoiler - and the new Batgirl.

 

“Hi, Tim,” Bruce said, looking over with a tired smile.

 

“Hey, B-man,” Tim said, heading for one of the smaller monitors, “I’m stealing your files.”

 

“I heard,” Bruce said, amused, as Tim plopped on a rolling chair, “did you want me to stop you?”

 

“No, thank you,” Tim said. He logged in with Spoiler’s credentials (Steph never changed her passwords) and scouted out the files he needed. “He’s been pretty dormant for the last few days, huh?” 

 

There had only been one Red Hood related incident in the last week - the one at Warehouse 24. There wasn’t much on it. Tim felt a little bad for the Bats, who obviously hadn’t had much success on getting anything from anyone about the newest member of their rogues gallery.

 

“The Red Hood? Yeah, he has,” Bruce said.

 

B? Is someone there with you?” Terry’s voice came through the computer. Bruce opened his mouth to respond, but Tim rolled over. He slipped the headset off of Bruce’s head and onto his own.

 

“Just a stray cat,” Tim said into the microphone. Spoiler cursed, prompting a laugh from Tim.

 

Hello ,” came another voice, quiet and accented, “ I am Batgirl.” She sounded almost like she was asking a question.

 

“You don’t sound much like Batgirl,” Tim said, rolling back to his station, “you must be new. Say it with pride.”

 

I am Batgirl, ” she said, voice louder and more firm.

 

“Hell yeah, you are,” Tim said, sending a command to print out the files. “It’s nice to meet you, Batgirl. I’m Stray.”

 

“Nice to meet you too,” Batgirl said. Tim smiled and rolled over to printer.

 

“You’re having too much fun with this,” Bruce said. He had obtained another headset from somewhere and was listening in on the conversation. Tim grinned at him and grabbed the papers. He folded them up and slipped them into his suit next to the envelope.

 

“Sure I am,” Tim said, “it’s not every day you sneak into the Batcave.” Bruce’s lips twisted upwards, eyes glittering with his good humor.

 

You didn’t even sneak in you nincompoop ,” Spoiler said over the comms.

 

“You’re just upset you didn’t do it first,” Tim said. Spoiler spluttered. “Well, adieu everyone, I’m out. If you need me, I’ve got a job lined up on Wilshire and Seventh. Good luck catching me!” Tim tugged off the headset and logged out of Steph’s account on the Batcomputer (but not before opening up a tab to play Never Gonna Give You Up by Rick Astley first).

 

“How are you, Tim?” Bruce asked gently. Tim tossed the headset to him; he caught it easily.

 

“I’m ok,” Tim said, “had a bit of an ordeal this week, but I’m all good now.”

 

“You sure?” Bruce asked. Tim nodded. “Do you actually have a job on Wilshire and Seventh?”

 

“No, of course not,” Tim said. He waved and bounced up the stairs.

 

“Goodbye, Master Timothy!” Alfred called after him.

 

“Bye, Alfred!” Tim slipped out of the cave and made a mad dash for the front door. Odds were that Spoiler, Batman, and Batgirl had started for the Manor the minute they heard Tim’s voice over the comms. The Batmobile was fast - they’d be here in a couple moments.

 

He threw open the door - the Batmobile hadn’t arrived yet, so he was able to carefully close and lock it behind him. And then for his motorcycle!

 

The engine purred beneath him, the rumble making its way up through his legs to soothe his heart. Tim always missed his motorcycle when he was away.

He hurtled down the driveway and out the front gate. He was really pushing his motorcycle, but the wind buffeting him was worth the danger. He was flying .

 

He flew past a fast moving jet black car - the Batmobile! He heard the screech of tires and risked a glance over his shoulder. It had u-turned and was heading straight for him.

 

Adrenaline pumping through his veins, Batman on his tail, Tim made for his city.

 

--

 

Tim returned to Drake Mansion early Saturday morning. He’d spent the whole night getting chased by Spoiler and, later on, Batgirl. Batman had stopped chasing after the first hour, shouting an apology as he swung away from where Tim and Spoiler were tussling.

 

It felt like a good night. He’d learned a little bit about Batgirl (she could snap him in two, he decided, even if she was too nice to), he’d annoyed Spoiler thoroughly (“just cuz you were out sick all week doesn’t mean I can’t beat your ass!”), and he’d gotten some training in. And he’d finally managed to talk to the nightwalkers in Crime Alley!

 

It was a good night. And now he had to write up his notes on the Red Hood and cross reference them with Talia and Bruce’s notes. It might take a few hours - the Batcomputer files were pretty sparse but Talia’s envelope was pretty thick. Tim wanted a quick nap before he settled down for a mind numbing data comparison.

 

He changed out of his uniform and into boxers and a superboy shirt. Maybe he should grab a quick snack from the kitchen?

 

He opened his door to see his mother standing there, holding a tray with milk and cookies on it, one hand raised to knock on the door.

 

“Oh,” Tim said. 

 

“Oh, indeed,” Janet said quietly. “Can we talk?”

Tim eyed her. Then he shrugged and stepped aside. She walked into his room and placed the tray on his table. Tim flopped onto his bed as she sat at the table. The envelope and the Batcomputer’s files were shoved under Tim’s pillow, with one of his spare knives.

 

“First of all,” Janet said quietly, “I wanted to say that I’m sorry. I didn’t think she’d ask you to-”

 

“It’s fine,” Tim cut her off before she could really get going. Janet didn’t look convinced. “Really, Mom, it’s fine. I don’t blame you for it. There were tons of things she could have asked. You didn’t hold a gun to her head and force her to ask me that.”

 

“I still feel bad,” Janet said quietly, “I went there with the intention of helping you anyway I could, and instead -”

 

“You did help,” Tim said, “I got that envelope of information, didn’t I?” He shrugged again. “It’s fine.”

 

“If you say so,” she said, clearly not believing him one bit.

 

“What was the other thing?” Tim asked. She said first of all - there had to be a second of all coming up next. 

 

“Can you. . . tell me about Stray?” Janet asked carefully. “I’ve realized that I don’t know much about you when you’re Stray.”

 

“You’re not disappointed in me for becoming Stray?” Tim said.

 

“No,” Janet said with a helpless looking little shrug, “for better or for worse, Stray is a part of you. I wouldn’t change that.”

 

Tim considered her.

 

She looked nervous, shoulders hunched and hands folded in her lap. She was too big in Tim’s chair, but still she looked small. Her eyes were on the floor, lips pursed as she waited. Was she trying to avoid pressuring Tim into answering? Did she think looking at him would pressure him?

 

But she wouldn’t be wrong. A single look from her, when Tim was a child and sneaking out at night was his biggest secret, had always had Tim spilling his guts.

 

Was she really. . . was she really interested?

 

Tim decided that she was. This was a lot of effort for someone who didn’t actually want to know anything about Tim.

 

What could he tell her about Stray?

 

He could talk about how he got started. It was years ago now, but he remembered it like it was yesterday. It’d been a busy night for Batman, the original Batman, and he’d missed a case. A young girl had been raped - Tim saw it, but Batman had missed it, called to the docks by some emergency.

 

The policemen that found them fifteen minutes later had called Tim a “stray kitten” - she’d wrapped him up in her arms and was running her hand over her head like he was a kitten. They’d both been shaking in the cold.

 

He could tell her about building his first suit - he’d cannibalized several outfits from a thrift store. The cat ears on the beanie was an indulgence he stopped allowing himself, but back then he used it to build up his image. Catlad or Stray. He settled on Stray, after a couple months of responding to both. He was his own thing, even if he studied at the Catwoman School of Theft.

 

He could tell her about his first job. . . 

 

He said, “It wasn’t originally a - a means to an end.” It certainly became one, a couple months before - before . He’d go buck wild, steal something big and flashy while coordinating for Catwoman on the low. They’d made a lot of money - Tim usually donated his share to soup kitchens and homeless shelters.

 

Not to mention his occasional bankrupting of Drake Industries’ competitors. 

 

“What was it?” She looked up at him, finally, light brown eyes glittering from the yellow light of the desklamp.

 

“Originally?” Tim sighed, dropped his chin close to his chest. “I just wanted to help. Originally, I was going to use the name to become a vigilante, like Batman. But I figured it would be smarter to model myself after Catwoman. She’s far sneakier than Batman, and she doesn’t have to fight criminals to make them stop. So I emulated her. Started with putting pedophiles in jail and stealing back stolen things and next thing I knew, I was helping Catwoman plan jobs and training with Spoiler under Robin’s tutelage.”

 

Tim reached out and grabbed a cookie as Janet took it in. He dipped it in a glass of milk, smiling as it soaked up the milk. 

 

“Wow,” Janet murmured, “if I’d known then-” She stopped, frowning. Tim popped the cookie into his mouth. When she didn’t respond, he swallowed.

 

“You’d have loved me more?” Tim filled in, half a joke, half not. She stared at him, eyes wide. Then she twisted her head away.

 

Oh no.

 

“I didn’t want you,” Janet said and it took all his strength not to flinch. It was clear Janet hated herself for feeling like this. She was cringing away from him . “Not at first. You came out and I couldn’t even stand to hold you. It was Jack’s decision to have you, to get his parents off his back. He said we could just leave you with a nanny or something when you were born. So that’s what we did.”

 

“They’re dead,” Tim said blandly, reaching for another cookie to drown out the hurt in his chest, “they died before he did. I never even met them.”

 

“I know,” Janet said, her voice tight, her eyes fixed on her hands in her lap, “some people just aren’t made to be parents. Jack and I were two of them, I suppose.” She sighed. “Even as a baby you were beautiful,” she murmured, “it hurt so much to know that I didn’t love you. Hated myself for it. But watching you grow up? Even from far away, it was amazing.”

 

“I understand,” Tim said quietly, thinking of Steph, “at least about the not loving me immediately bit.” Janet looked up with a surprised expression. “My friend got pregnant - she didn’t love the baby either, but she still tore herself up about it, and for putting the baby up for adoption instead of raising them herself.”

 

For a minute, Tim was worried she would ask for more details. Or that she’d scold him - or that she might even ask if the baby was his .  But she didn’t, her shoulders slumping, expression souring in. In something Tim couldn’t identify.

 

“I hate that you understand,” Janet said, “you shouldn’t have to.” Tim just shrugged.

 

“This was just the deck I was handed,” Tim said. Janet reached out and pulled him into a hug. She was shaking.

 

“I’ll do better,” she swore, her voice breaking on the words, “I’ll do right by you.” Tim sucked in a breath - she’d never cried in front of him. Never.

 

“Thank you,” Tim whispered and her grip just tightened.

Chapter Text

Tim was certain the Red Hood knew he was being followed. It showed in the way he melted into and out of sight. The way he kept glancing over his shoulders and used every League taught method of evading capture to try and get away from Tim.

 

Tim wasn’t even there, not physically. Instead he sat in one of his safehouses, piloting a high tech drone. He’d gotten it from LexCorp.

 

It was one of his shittier safehouses - it was the upper level of an abandoned building. It was an office building years ago, but then an attack from Poison Ivy left it uninhabitable for a long time. Only recently had the desperate homeless who took shelter there had left in the mornings, no worse for wear.

 

As it was, the only things really in the safehouse was a futon on the grimey floor and a shitty bathroom Tim hadn’t gotten around to fixing up. He didn’t want to spend too much money on this safehouse. It was a throwaway, he only really used it when he knew he might be tracked back to his location.

 

Speaking of technology, the stolen LexCorp drone maneuvered like a dream. Tim operated the controls with his gloved hands, sighing over just how smoothly it moved. The data transfer back to his safehouse was really good too. He’d set up wifi in the building a couple months back under a councilman’s name.

 

He had two data streams set up - one was sent directly to the monitor he used to follow the drone, and the next to a small disposable laptop next to him. It downloaded the files in five minute chunks, transferring them to the not so disposable harddrives Tim bought earlier that day.

 

Necessary? Not at all.

 

Over complicated? Maybe.

 

Did it Spark Joy? Absolutely.

 

Tim flew the drone up and over the Red Hood when he paused in an alley, one hand on the sword at his waist. Tim grinned as the Red Hood caught sight of it. He did a loop de loop in the air. The Red Hood put his hands on his hips, staring up at the drone. Tim swooped it lower.

 

He was gonna get the damn thing broken, judging by the fury in the set of the Red Hood’s shoulders. Tim swooped lower, flew it around the Red Hood. The Red Hood watched, but didn’t respond.

 

Tim grinned wider and tried to fly it closer, pulling away at the last second. He did this several times, from all different directions, trying to bait the Red Hood into an attack. 

 

(But he was still gathering intelligence about the Red Hood while he did this - where his hidden weapons were, what material his clothing seemed to be made of, if his combat boots had steel toes or not. That just wasn’t as important as annoying the Red Hood.

 

Tim was in a good mood, and consequences didn’t mean much to him right now.)

 

Instead the Hood stayed still, watching with wary green eyes. Tim withdrew the drone. There was a speaker option on the droid - if he truly wanted, he could speak to the Red Hood.

 

It seemed the Red Hood had a similar thought, because not a couple seconds later he spoke.

 

Do you come bearing a message? ” The Red Hood said, voice quiet and rough. Tim considered, then had the drone fly side to side like he was shaking his head. The Red Hood tilted his head, something glinting in his green eyes.

 

Some of Tim’s playful mood died out. What was the Red Hood planning?

 

Tim couldn’t even say with certainty that he could outrun the Red Hood right now. Sure, Tim knew the streets like the back of his hand, but there was nothing to guarantee that the Red Hood didn’t know the streets too. Tim would need another advantage - and he didn’t have any.

 

“So if you don’t have a message, then why are you here?” The Red Hood asked. He reached for the drone - Tim flew it back. The Red Hood paused, hand still outstretched, waiting.

 

Tim got the oddest urge to drive the drone back into the Red Hood’s reach, to allow him to take the drone. Tim shuddered.

 

“I shouldn’t have provoked him,” Tim mumbled. The Red Hood continued to watch the drone. Tim continued to watch him through the drone.

 

The Red Hood took a heavy step forwards. “This can only be a few people,” he said, “not many have the resources to steal something so pretty from Luthor.”

 

Tim flew the drone backwards. It didn’t occur to him to just leave the situation entirely.

 

And even less know how to track me down ,” the Red Hood said with another step forwards.

 

“Oh no,” Tim sighed softly, “I shouldda thought of the consequences.”

 

“Of the people who fulfill both those requirements,” the Red Hood said, voice getting lower and lower with each word, “only one would bait me in such an obvious way.”

 

Tim swallowed thickly, eyes wide. The Red Hood took up way too much of his screen. Tim mumbled a curse as the Red Hood’s gloved hands came up to catch the drone. Tim held stock still, even though he wasn’t the one caught between long, leather clad fingers.

 

“Hello, Stray,” the Red Hood murmured. Tim hesitated, and then - 

 

He turned on the speakers. “Hello, Hood.”

 

The Red Hood seemed to freeze for a couple seconds. His eyes widened slightly at the sound of Tim’s voice. The plastic and metal of the drone creaked under his grip as the Red Hood visibly took a breath.

 

Tim never made any attempt to disguise his voice - it was entirely too much effort to pull an original Batman and have seventy different voices. Tim couldn’t handle that and besides, he was growing up. Of course his voice would change. 


Had they met before? Did the Red Hood know Tim?

 

Tim couldn’t even say that it wasn’t a valid reaction. There were a ton of people who knew Tim in his civilian life. From classmates to teachers to the workers at his favorite cafes to Gotham’s elite, there were too many people that knew Tim’s voice. 

 

That reaction -

 

Stray ,” the Red Hood said, “ any reason you’re looking into me? You know I know you spoke to Lady Shiva and Talia al Ghul.” Tim picked up an accent in his words, a slight Arabic accent. It’d been whittled away into something resembling a Gotham accent, but Tim heard it over Talia’s name.

 

“You’re working with the Bats, aren’t you? ” The Red Hood said quietly.

 

Arabic? Tim didn’t know many Arabic people. There was - but no, he was dead. There was a student a grade under him whose mother died last year. There was an Arabic couple who ran his favorite falafel stand. Tim couldn’t think of many other people.

 

Then maybe the reaction was because he hadn’t expected Tim to respond? But that didn’t fit with the reaction.

 

“Maybe I am, maybe I’m not,” Tim said. The Red Hood tilted his head. Then his eyes crinkled up, like he was smiling under his mask.

 

“You’re not slick ,” he said, dropping a hand to his side. He pulled out a USB from a pocket and brought the drone closer, turning it this way and that. Tim sucked in a breath and tried to get the drone to escape the Red Hood’s hands. “Hold still so I can figure out where you are.”

 

Tim huffed, switching tactics. He couldn’t block off his location completely, but he did make a VPN a while back. He had it downloaded onto the disposable laptop, in case he needed it. It would make a sufficient enough distraction for whatever virus the Red Hood was about to upload for Tim to make an escape.

 

He turned on the VPN, watched as it bounced the signal all over the world. Tim sighed and reached to unplug his harddrives. The Red Hood raised the camera, watching carefully. Tim stared at him, caught by his bright green eyes.

 

A little pop up on his laptop notified him of a virus attacking his firewalls. Tim cursed and unplugged the hard drives. He couldn’t let the virus get to the hard drives. 

 

“I’ll see you in a few, little cat ,” the Red Hood said, a laugh bubbling out of his chest. Tim bared his teeth at the screen and cut the connection. He had to go.

 

For a moment he considered taking the laptop with him, but he gave it up. He grabbed a couple explosives he’d stored in his fanny pack (hey, fanny packs were useful, ok?!) for this very reason. He rigged them to the tv, laptop, and controller.

 

He threw himself off the side of the building, hitting the detonator as he went.

 

--

 

Tim slipped into Drake Mansion through his bedroom window, yawning. It was only midnight, but he had homework to catch up on. Might as well get a decent amount of sleep so he could do it all tomorrow.

 

He headed into the bathroom for a quick shower and changed into sweats and a loose t-shirt. He wandered out into the hall outside his room.

 

“I’m home!” He called. There was a brief pause, then his mother answered.

 

“In here.” Her voice came from her bedroom. 

 

Tim sighed and trudged over to her door, knocking once before opening it. His mother wasn’t in the main portion of the room when he stepped inside, but there were clothes strewn over the carpet and a half empty shot glass of brandy on the bedside table. The actual bottle sat opened on the table beside it. He walked over to the big bed on the right of the room, falling onto the patterned sheets. They smelled like his mother now - his father’s scent had long since left them.

 

Tim could barely remember what his father smelled like now. It wasn’t a disappointing realization, he and his father had never been close, but it was a realization all the same. He frowned at the sheets.

 

“Ok,” his mother said, voice joined by the sound of moving fabric and the click of heels, “tell me how I look.” Tim sat upright.

 

His mom stood in the entrance to the bathroom, dressed in a tight black dress that ended a little past her knees. Her hair was done up in waves - the highlights looked like she’d recently gotten them redone. Three inch heels, a small clutch purse, and light, smokey makeup finished the look.

 

“Are you going somewhere?” Tim asked, a little startled. Janet raised an eyebrow.

 

“Not right now, no,” she said, “but I do have a date tomorrow.” Tim blinked a couple times. A date? He decided to put aside the thought of his mother dating and focused on her outfit.

 

“Isn’t that a little intense for a date?” Tim said uncertainly.

 

“Well if my date can’t handle me, I’d rather know sooner than later,” Janet said, smile turning sharp. “And it’s only the first date. If she isn’t worth my time, she isn’t worth my time.”

 

She? Tim didn’t know his mother was into women. Tim didn’t know a lot about his mother, actually. He’d probably have to remedy that at some point.

 

“Right,” Tim said, drawing out the word. Janet rolled her eyes.

 

“So do I look ok?” She asked.

 

“Didn’t you just say you wanted to see if she could handle you?” Tim asked. His mother sighed.

 

“Yes,” she said, like it was obvious, “but I also haven’t been on a date since I married your father. And we both know he wasn’t one of the best men to have been married to. I bet if I’d showed up looking like this on our first date, we wouldn’t be here today.”

 

“That’s a bad thing, though,” Tim said, “so maybe you should tone it down?” She thought about it for a minute.

 

“Maybe I’ll add a jacket,” she said. Tim sighed. She grinned at him and headed back into her walk-in closet. “What color?” She called out to him.

 

“Light brown!” Tim called after thinking for a second. A moment of Janet audibly searching through her clothing (Tim knew from experience that she had A Lot of clothes. When he was little and his parents were gone, he’d hide out inside their closet and pretend they’d be home at the end of the day.), then she stepped out, the jacket slung over her shoulders.

 

“Looks ok?” She said.

 

Tim pretended to examine her outfit. Janet laughed, the sound soft and almost fond. Tim smiled back at her. “I think you look great. Intimidating. But great.”

 

“Thank you, baby,” she said. She wandered over to the bed and dropped onto it, eyes closed. “Should I wear a hat or something? Any accessories?”

 

“No hat,” Tim said, laying down again, “unless it’s windy. Maybe a bracelet or something? Do you have anything nice and delicate looking?”

 

“Why delicate looking?” His mom asked, opening her eyes to look at him. Tim shrugged.

 

“All the more to fool her with, mother dear,” Tim said, “when you go all CEO on her, she’ll have no choice but to be shocked and surprised.” His mother grinned.

 

“And hopefully very turned on,” she said. Tim’s face screwed up.

 

“Eww, Mom!” He yelled, sitting upright. His mother laughed. Tim laid back down with a little huff. “Gross.”

 

“Very gross,” she agreed. Then she sighed. “I’m gonna have to take this all off and put it all back on tomorrow. Can’t wait.” Tim nudged her. She hummed.

 

“Who’s it with?” Tim asked.

 

“It’s a surprise,” she said. Tim raised an eyebrow. “I don’t want you to get your hopes up, if it doesn’t work out. I don’t want to get my hopes up.”

 

“That makes sense,” Tim said quietly, “will you at least tell me if it goes well?” She nodded and reached over to very carefully boop his nose. Tim smiled. “Thanks.”

 

“No problem,” she said. 

 

They spent a couple minutes in silence. Tim wasn’t really thinking about anything. The whole way home he’d checked double checked that he wasn’t being followed. He was pretty sure the Red Hood hadn’t followed him, but who knew.

 

That was a stressful thought. Tim put it out of his mind and turned over so he lay on his side, facing his mother. She still had her head turned to him.

 

“You’re home early tonight,” she said, voice quiet in the silence of the room - of the whole mansion.

 

“I have homework,” Tim said with a little shrug. She laughed.

 

“To think,” she said, “the great Stray of Gotham brought down by homework!” Tim snorted.

 

“The great Stray of Gotham was brought low by the mouse he was chasing,” he said, “Prince Timothy of Gotham was brought low by homework.” She grinned and reached out to ruffle his hair.

 

“Well, then,” she said, “Prince Timothy of Gotham is going to have to go to bed soon. He has homework to do in the morning.” Tim eyed her, smile still lingering on his face.

 

“Only if Queen Janet promises not to drink tonight,” Tim said. His mother’s eyes flew wide. For a second, Tim was worried he’d overstepped. Then her shoulders relaxed, expression softening.

 

“You have my word,” she murmured, making eye contact with him, “no alcohol will pass my lips tonight.” Tim grinned at her.

 

“Good,” he said, “dad wasn’t worth it.” She laughed, the sound startled out of her.

 

“You picked up on it, huh?” She said. Tim shrugged.

 

“He wasn’t a very good dad,” he said, “and you’ve been more open since - since you got back. So I figured -” he waved his hands vaguely.

 

“Yeah,” she said, with a little shake of her head, “go to bed, baby. I’ll make breakfast tomorrow morning. Pancakes, like we did when you were little.” Tim beamed at her.

 

“Sure, mom,” he said.

Chapter Text

As a kid, sneaking out at night on weekdays had been significantly more difficult that sneaking out on the weekends. There were things to do on weekdays - school for one. Acrobatics, skateboarding, dance, violin, there were a slew of things Tim had to do on weekdays that stopped him from going out and taking pictures of his favorite hero.

 

In middle school it became easier as his parents started going on longer and longer business trips. In his freshman year of high school, his dad died. His mom went into a coma. Then Carrie was paralyzed. And a couple months later, Robin died too.

 

And then Tim could sneak out all he wanted, because for all that Bruce Wayne was Tim’s guardian, Tim didn’t actually live with the man. No one watched over him, he was free to do whatever.

 

Now, living with his mother, he just had to tell her he was heading out. She didn’t even ask what he was doing - she just gave him a thumbs up as she applied her nude lipstick with her other hand. He wished her good luck on her date, she wished him good luck on his investigation, and off they went.

 

It was nice? Tim had gotten used to not living with anyone. Living with his mother was almost like living with a roommate. Except his mother cared that he went to school and did his homework on time.

 

So Tim arrived at a safehouse and finished changing into his Stray outfit and off he went, the sun setting along the Gotham skyline. Tim didn’t have anything planned tonight per say. Just a vague guide of what he expected to do.

 

He’d heard Red Hood was making a move tonight. Black Mask had recently made a move into the Bowery (traditionally Scarecrow territory) and apparently the Red Hood was going to go and make a move on him

 

Tim figured it was a bad idea, but what did he know? He was a simple cat burglar.

 

Tim reached the Bowery relatively early - he ran the rooftops, looking for suspicious activity. 

 

It had been a long time since he had last just ran like this. No one chasing him, nothing trying to get his attention, just him and his feet, pounding against the floor. He had hacked into the Bats’ comms before he left, just in case he ended up needing them. But even their usual chatter was silent. They hadn’t gotten suited up yet, he guessed.

 

The Bowery was empty.

 

Tim paused on the top of a housing complex, frowning. He hadn’t seen hide nor hair of Black Mask’s men. 

 

In fact, no one was on the streets. It was completely empty. 

 

And while that wasn’t uncommon for Gotham, it was uncommon so soon after sunset. There should still be people hurrying into houses for another hour or so. Maybe even later than that.

 

Had he been set up?

 

“Fuck,” Tim swore. He had to get out of here. Something was very, very wrong.

 

He sprinted for the closest edge of the roof.

 

Maybe a meter from it, he was tackled.

 

Tim let out a yell. He twisted away, back flipped a couple times. He came up with his fists up.


The Red Hood rose to his feet. He towered over Tim with that same intensity from the warehouse. Tim swallowed thickly, eyes finding the Red Hood’s big, bare arms.

 

“Stray,” the Red Hood said. He wasn’t armed today. Tim narrowed his eyes. No sword, no guns, no belt full of things around his waist.

 

He wasn’t here to fight.

 

Tim didn’t drop out of his defensive posture. He waited. Obviously, he was missing something. What did the Red Hood want? Was this because of the drone thing from the night before last?

 

It was probably the drone thing from the night before last.

 

“Red Hood,” Tim finally said. The Red Hood tilted his head.

 

“You’re on edge,” he said. Tim rolled his eyes.

 

“Yeah, no kidding,” Tim said, “you tackled me out of nowhere.” The Red Hood shifted.

 

“I’m unarmed,” he said.

 

“That doesn’t mean anything to me,” Tim said. 

 

The Red Hood made a soft sound that was kind of resembled a laugh. 

 

“I was going to take this at your pace,” he said, “but obviously that’s not going to work. So here is my proposal for you, Timothy.”

 

Tim’s heart spluttered in his chest. Terror raced through his veins like a shot. 

 

He couldn’t let it onto his face. Or body language. He couldn’t let the Red Hood see just how terrified he was right now. “Timothy? Who’s Timothy?”

 

How did he know? How did he know?

 

“This game is beneath you,” the Red Hood said with a dismissive wave, “let’s not play it. I have a proposal.”

 

“Whoever this Timothy person is,” Tim said, “I’m not him.” 

 

The Red Hood took a heavy step forwards. Tim skittered backwards. His heel almost slipped off the roof - when had he reached the other side of it? The Red Hood made another noise, a harsh, frustrated sound.

 

“Timothy,” the Red Hood started again, and the frustration had reached his voice.

 

“Look,” Tim said, “whoever this Timothy guy is, it’s not me. So you can take your proposal and fuck right off.”

 

Oh no, that wasn’t smart. Goddamn it, Tim, use your head!

 

Tim couldn’t win the Red Hood in a fight.

 

Maybe he could run. His motorcycle was close by. If Tim could make it that far, he was home free.

 

No, not home free. Manor free. 

 

He couldn’t let the Red Hood track him back to Drake Mansion. He’d have to go to the Cave. Which worked. The Bats had contingencies for their contingencies of their contingencies’ contingencies.

 

Tim dropped his defensive stance. A dangerous move, but a calculated one. The Red Hood took another step. His body language opened up, like he had something more to say.

 

Tim turned and jumped from the roof.

 

How did he know?

 

Tim’s whip latched around a flag pole and he hurtled through the air. He skipped two buildings completely. One more building and across a street to an alley, that’s where his precious motorcycle was.

 

What if he knew the Bats?

 

Sure, Tim was a card carrying member of the city’s criminal element, but the Bats were important. They kept crime down and made sure the vast majority of the city was safe. If Red Hood knew who they were - if the Red Hood was planning to kill them -

 

“Stray to Bats,” Tim gasped into his comm. The Red Hood was pounding after him. “Stray to Bats, this is urgent!”

 

He threw himself into the air. The alley between the buildings was deep and too dark to see in. Tim flew over it and rolled when he hit the ground.

 

“Batman to Stray.”

 

Terry!

 

“Potential identity breach,” Tim gasped and made for the fire escape. Swinging down was faster, but Tim had a whip, not a grapple gun. Did the Red Hood have a grapple gun?! 

 

“What level?”

 

“A solid red,” Tim said, clanging down the rusty fire escape, “as in Red Hood!”

 

Terry swore. “Do you need an extraction?”

 

“No, I’m making for the Cave now,” Tim finally made it to the bottom of the fire escape.

 

He bolted across the street. He couldn’t hear the Red Hood. Tim yanked his keys out of his pocket.

 

He jumped onto the bike, slipping the keys into the ignition. The Red Hood was mere feet away. Tim twisted the keys and sped off the second he was able to. The Red Hood didn’t follow. 

 

--

 

When Tim pulled into the Cave, it was full of people.

 

Bruce sat at the computer, Clark Kent sitting next to him. His arms were crossed over his chest, eyebrows furrowed as he spoke. Bruce nodded along, every now and then making quiet interjections.

 

Steph was finishing suiting up. Cassandra Wayne stood in front of her, playfully shadowboxing as Steph laughed. Cassandra was fully suited up already. Her Batgirl uniform was black and yellow, with the mouth area of her mouth stitched up. Creepy. But cool.

 

Terry leaned against the Batmobile, staring at his phone. He looked up when Tim came to a stop a couple feet away. Terry locked his phone and shoved away from the Batmobile, heading towards Tim. 

 

Tim heaved a sigh and got off his bike. He pulled his goggles up, blinking away the residual yellow cast to his sight.

 

“Tim,” Terry said. He sounded serious. Tim braced himself for whatever lecture he was about to get. He shoved his hands into the pockets of his leather jacket; they were shaking violently. “Before we talk about Hood, I wanted to say something.”

 

“What?” Tim asked, voice coming out more tense than he meant for it to.

 

“I’ve never blamed you for what happened,” Terry said quietly, “and I’m sorry I made you think that I did. I don’t blame you. I never have.” Tim blinked a couple times, eyes wide.

 

“Oh,” Tim said quietly. Terry smiled, this small, sad thing.

 

“Oh,” he agreed. Then he leaned back, out of Tim’s space. “Now, for the Red Hood. He knows our identities?” He nodded towards the Batcomputer and started walking, Tim at his side.

 

“He knows mine,” Tim said with a sigh, relieved for the change of topic. He didn’t want to think about that apology right now. Or ever. “And I doubt my act was convincing enough to make him think I’m not. I panicked.”

 

“It’s been a while since you’ve been so active in the field,” Terry said with a little shrug, “it makes sense that you were taken off guard. Especially when it comes to your identity.” Tim hummed in agreement. “Do you think the Red Hood knows about the rest of us?”


“I don’t know,” Tim said, frustration coloring his words, “I don’t even know how he knew who I was.” He dug around inside his inside pocket, coming up with his sweatstained notes about the Red Hood. “But I do have some info on him. Most of it is pretty helpful and all of it is stuff you don’t have.”

 

“Thanks, Tim,” Terry said, then, “if you think the Red Hood won’t be a threat, I’ll take the kids outside.” Tim laughed, startled. 

 

“Steph’s one of the kids, huh?” Tim said. Terry grinned.

 

“You’re all kids to me,” Terry said. 

 

“Gross,” Tim said, wrinkling his nose, “speaking of kids, how’re Harper and Carrie? And Duke, I don’t think I’ve seen him in a while.”

 

“Harper’s almost done with her apprenticeship,” Terry said, “she’ll be a real life electrician soon enough. Duke’s in Blud, doing something somewhere. I don’t know what he ended up going with for his dayjob.” Terry frowned. “I should check in with him soon.”

 

“You should,” Tim agreed.

 

“I should,” Terry said with a sigh. He shook his head. “Carrie’s still studying. Did you know she wants to be a-”

 

“Psychiatrist, right,” Tim said, smiling. “How’s that going for her?”

 

“Pretty well, actually,” Terry said, “I think she really enjoys what she’s doing. She’ll come down here to study with B, sometimes. Then it’s us telling B “no chatter on the comms” for a change.” He stopped at the bottom of the steps that led up to the Batcomputer. Clark and Bruce were still having their quiet, intense discussion. “Thoughts on the Red Hood?”

 

“The Bowery’s deserted,” Tim said, “and Hood was unarmed. So go for it, I guess.” Terry nodded.

 

“Thanks, Timmy,” he said. Tim pulled a face.

 

“Excuse you, my name is Tim,” he said as Terry walked away. Tim huffed and stomped up the stairs. Stupid annoying. . .

 

“I don’t know,” Clark was saying quietly, “I just don’t know what to do.”

 

“You’ll figure it out, Clark,” Bruce said, “you’re a good man, and a good father.”

 

“I could stand to be better, if Jon’s attitude has anything to say about it,” Clark said, sighing. He and Bruce finally came into view as Tim came up the last few steps. The two men looked up at him.

 

“Hi,” Tim said.

 

“We’re heading out!” Terry shouted, voice ringing through the Batcave, “get moving, girls!” 

 

“Hi, Tim,” Bruce said, voice warm, “how are you? How’s your mom?” Tim smiled at him.

 

“I’m, uh,” Tim glanced at Clark, who nodded encouragingly, “I’m a little shaken. To be honest.”

 

“I heard,” Clark said, voice gentle, “as soon as your heartbeat picked up.”

 

“You were listening to my heartbeat?” Tim said, surprised. He and Clark hadn’t really interacted much. Of course, Tim knew he was Superman, but Clark was one of the Good Guys. Tim was, in all honesty, a criminal. A bad guy, technically. He honestly didn’t think Clark cared enough to keep an ear out for him.

 

“Of course,” Clark said, “you’re one of my kids, aren’t you?”

 

Clark Kent was the type of man who was able to melt glaciers with his heat vision, the combined strength of two fingers, and the warmth of his heart. Tim blushed, pink and splotchy.

 

“Oh,” he said, eyes watering, feeling upset and not really knowing why. Clark smiled at him, like dawn over the horizon, and stood up. He pulled Tim into a tight hug.

 

“The second it turned nasty, I would have been there,” Clark said, voice pitched low and reassuring, “I promise.”

 

“Thank you,” Tim whispered, surrounded on all sides by Clark’s frankly impressive muscles. Clark gave the best hugs. Big and warm and, instead of crushing your soul out of your body, he seemed to trap your soul against his chest and cradle it like something precious.

 

Was Tim kind of waxing poetic about Clark’s hugs? Yeah, a ‘lil bit.

 

He was very glad mindreading wasn’t included in the Kryptonian power starter pack.

 

Clark let go, looking down at Tim with that intense, concerned way of his. Tim smiled up at him in a way he hoped was reassuring but knew was tearstained and maybe a little miserable. Clark didn’t seem to see any problem with the smile. He ruffled Tim’s hair and kissed Tim’s forehead before turning to Bruce.

“I’m sorry, I’ve gotta go,” he said, “there was just a mudslide, you know how it is.”

 

“Go, Clark,” Bruce said. Clark grinned and, with another reassuring squeeze of Tim’s shoulders, flew up, up, and away.

 

“I didn’t know I was one of his kids,” Tim said quietly. Bruce turned to him with a small smile.

 

“Of course you’re one of his kids,” Bruce said. Tim stared at him. Bruce’s face fell. “Tim -”

 

“You know what?” Tim interrupted, wiping harshly at his face, “let’s just not talk about this. I’ve got a file to upload and a mom to tease about her date.” Bruce reached out to catch his arm.

 

“I’ll get the files,” Bruce said, “Tim, did you really not know?”

 

“I’ve had enough emotional bombshells for one day, I think,” Tim said. Bruce sighed and pulled Tim closer. He pulled Tim into a hug. Tim clung to him, giving up against the wave of upset welling up.

 

“Poor thing,” Bruce sighed, “you poor thing. You’re one of us, Tim. You’re one of us.”

 

--

 

Tim didn’t see his mother until after school on Tuesday. He arrived home to find her in the kitchen, staring expectantly at the oven. Tim looked at her, then at the oven, then back at her. 

 

“So, did it attack you or something?”

 

Janet jumped out of her skin with a shriek. Tim jumped too, his back slamming into the wall. They stared at each other for a couple seconds, before breaking out into laughing.

 

“Tim! You scared me,” his mom said, reaching out for him. Tim let her drag him into a hug, hoping she wouldn’t comment on the way he burrowed into her arms. 

 

His mom’s hugs felt almost fragile in comparison to Clarks or Bruce’s. Her arms were thin and her grip was gentle, but it was still nice in its own way. Tim had always loved his mom’s hugs. She was warm and smelled nice and felt like home.

 

His mom pulled back, smiling. “You didn’t come back last night.”

 

Tim rubbed at the back of his neck and said, “sorry. I fell asleep at the Waynes’.” She raised her eyebrows, looking mighty interested. Tim laughed sheepishly. “There was a situation, and then I had to go and type up some files for the Batcomputer.”

 

“Did you fall asleep in front of the computer?” She said, fond and exasperated in a way Tim had never really seen from her before.

 

“No,” Tim said, drawing out the word. She put her hands on her hips.

 

“Timothy Drake, you tell me this instant what happened,” she said, grinning all the while.

 

“Well,” he said, “Superman was there and he hugged me and then I got emotional about it ‘cuz I didn’t think he cared about me at all and then Bruce hugged me and then Terry’s volunteering to type up the files and Bruce wants to go sit on the couch in the family living room and watch a movie with me and then the next thing I know I’m waking up with my head on Bruce’s shoulder.”

 

“Huh,” his mom said, “awful touchy feely, that Bruce Wayne.” Tim laughed.

 

“Yeah, I uh, I guess so,” he said. She brought her hands up to cup his face. Tim’s relaxed into her hold, waiting.

 

“You still look tired,” she said. Tim shifted on his feet.

 

“It was a hard night,” Tim said. 

 

“Want to talk about it?” She asked. Tim shook his head.

 

“There was just,” he said, and sighed. “There was just a lot going on. I had a confrontation with the guy I’m investigating - which he initiated by the way, not me - and then Terry all of a sudden is like I trust your judgement and I never blamed you for what happened and then Superman -” Tim sighed. “It was just a lot.”

 

“I’m baking cookies,” his mom said, “want to explain it all to me while we eat them?” Tim shrugged a little.

 

“You have to tell me about your date first,” he said as the timer went off.

 

“Sure,” Janet said, pulling on a pair of oven mitts. She opened the oven door. Tim backed away. If he interfered this would just be a Mess. Tim wasn’t good at cooking and never had been. “It’s been way too long since the last time I made cookies.”

 

“When was the last time?” Tim asked.

 

“Before getting married, probably,” Janet said, “I just wanted to prove to myself I could still bake. Pancakes are one thing, but cookies? Jack liked this one little store in the Diamond District, so I stopped making any myself.” She put the tray onto the counter to cool. She grinned up at Tim. “Guess this makes me a cool mom, huh?”

 

“You were already the farthest thing from cool, mom,” Tim said, “this just made it worse.” She gasped in mock affront, her smile never dying from her face.

 

“Rude,” she said, heading for the cupboards. “Get the milk, will you?” 

 

Tim walked to the refrigerator and pulled out the milk. “So you’re going to become a baker now?”

 

“No,” she said with a little sigh, “I’ve got a company to run.” She put down the cups, taking the milk bottle from Tim. “Speaking of which, you should start coming in with me on weekends.” 

 

“I’ve got things to do on weekends,” Tim groaned as she started filling the cups, “I can’t come into work with you on weekends!”

 

“You can and you will,” she said, “we can learn about each other in a professional capacity. It’ll be fun!”

 

“Worst family bonding activity ever,” Tim said, taking back the milk bottle when she finished filling the glasses, “and I know a family that punches people as a family bonding activity.”

 

“Ooh,” Janet said, “maybe we should take self defense classes together!”

 

“Oh boy,” Tim said, making his mother laugh. “Now, you have to tell me about your date.”

 

“Oh,” she said, grinning, “it went very well. She liked the dress.”

 

“She didn’t think it was too intimidating?” Tim asked.

 

“I think that was why she liked it,” Janet said smugly. Tim raised his eyebrows. Janet smiled, reaching for the too hot cookies. “She spent the first twenty or so minutes stuttering and tripping over her words. It was pretty cute of her, if I do say so myself.” She withdrew her hand with a soft curse, shaking her burned fingers.

 

“Did you walk her home?” Tim asked. “And kiss her on her porch?” Janet dunked her fingers into her cold milk.

 

“Shouldn’t you be asking if she walked me home?” Janet asked. Tim shook his head. Janet wiped the milk from her fingers on a paper towel.

 

“We literally live in Bristol, Mom,” he said, “there’s no way she’s walking you home.” Janet rolled her eyes.

 

“Oh, logic, why must you burden me so?” She said with a shake of her head. Tim laughed. “No, there was no kissing. But there was the implication of a second date on both our parts, so hopefully we’ll keep going strong.”

 

“Congrats on a successful date,” Tim said. His mom smiled at him.

 

“Thank you,” she said, “now. Your emotions. Spill, little man!” Tim considered what he wanted to say.

 

“Superman said,” Tim said slowly, “ok. So - so I was in trouble last night. And when I got to the cave, Terry said he trusted my judgement? Not in those words, of course. But he implied it. And that’s more than I’ve gotten from him in years.” He sighed and waved a hand dismissively. “Of course, a good deal of that was me pushing him away. I was just. Surprised that he still thinks so highly of me.”

 

“You said he said he never blamed you?” Janet said quietly. Tim nodded as she took a sip of milk. “You thought he did?” Tim nodded.

 

“I thought he hated me,” Tim said quietly, “but I’ve been thinking all day, and. And I think that he was just trying to adjust. And mourn, I guess.” She hummed. Tim half smiled at her. “That explains why he treated me weird back then.”

 

“It would,” she agreed.

 

“And then Superman,” Tim hesitated, “he said I was one of his kids. He said he’d been watching over me. I was.” He shook his head. “I don’t know. I was upset. I cried.”

 

“I’d cry too if Superman called me his kid,” Janet said. Tim snorted.

 

“No,” Tim said, “Superman is my honorary father figure, get your own.” She laughed. “Nah, but then. Then Bruce said I was one of them, like, like he said I was a part of their family, and then - and then I cried a lot.” There wasn’t much else to tell. Tim tried for a cookie. It wasn’t burning hot, even if it did hurt a little to pick up. He dipped it into the milk.

 

“Do you feel better now?” His mom asked. Tim raised an eyebrow as he bit off the soaked bit of the cookie. “Now that you know these things and now that you’ve cried.” Tim nodded. “Then I think it was a good night then, wasn’t it?”

 

“Yeah,” Tim said slowly, “I suppose it was.”

 

“Hey,” she said, reaching for a cookie of her own, “what was the situation you mentioned? The one from the beginning of the night?” Tim frowned.

 

“Red Hood, the guy I’m investigating,” Tim said quietly, “he made contact last night.” He hesitated, then looked up to meet his mom’s eyes. “I’m going out again tonight to investigate further. I’m gonna see if I can’t follow him home at the end of the night, ok? I might not be home again until tomorrow night.”


“Alright,” she said quietly, and then, “take care of yourself.”

 

“I will,” Tim assured her. She nodded, popping the cookie in her mouth. “I promise.”

Chapter Text

Tim actually followed the Red Hood with his own, physical body instead of a drone. It was difficult, but no one said it wouldn’t be. Tim was, frankly, lucky the Red Hood hadn’t ridden a motorcycle home. It would have made Tim following him that much harder.

 

Instead, the Red Hood sauntered home, slipping through the shadows like he lived there. Tim wouldn’t be surprised if he did. He was League, after all.

 

The Red Hood’s “home” was more of a safehouse than an actual apartment. It was the top floor of a run down apartment building. Tim perched on the neighboring building. It was only a floor shorter than the other one, and Tim could see into the Red Hood’s safehouse clearly, even hidden by the junk usually associated with roofs. His binoculars were out, so he could peer through the living room windows as the Red Hood entered his safehouse.

 

Aside from a bunch of canvasses and painting supplies littering the tables, it looked largely unlived in. There were no pictures on the walls, no dishes in the sink Tim could only kind of see, nothing personal about any of the furniture.

 

So, Shiva had been right about the painting. And if kids were getting invited back into the Red Hood’s apartment - was he painting them?

 

If nothing else, it explained his insistence on the kids he brought home not saying anything.

 

Hood didn’t even bother removing his uniform fully - he dropped his jacket and tugged off his boots and flopped face first on the couch. Tim could almost imagine him groaning in relief as his body relaxed.

 

A moment later, and the Red Hood removed his mask, the red plastic dropping to the floor. For a moment, Tim thought the Red Hood intended to fall asleep there. 

 

But then he sat up, rubbing at his face with his large hands. Tim didn’t have a visual on his face. The Red Hood’s great shoulders heaved with what looked like a sigh. Then he stood, back carefully turned to the window.

 

He knew Tim was here.

 

Fuck .

 

Tim made the deliberate decision not to run as the Red Hood walked over to the canvasses. Tim lowered his binoculars. Was he going to show Tim what he was drawing? Was it the kids?

 

The Red Hood picked one up covered by a stained cloth and carried it and and easel over to the window. He placed the canvas on the easel and arranged it so it could be easily seen from the window. He stepped to the side, one hand on the cloth.

 

Whatever it was, did Tim really want to see it? What if it was kiddie porn? What if it was something worse?

 

Tim took a deep breath. Whatever it was, it was important. And if it was bad , he could get the Red Hood jailed. Or worse.

 

He raised his binoculars and peered through the window as the Red Hood tugged off the cloth.

 

Oil on canvas, the painting was so detailed it could be a picture.

 

It was Tim.

 

It was Tim , his eyes half lidded, lips drawn into a small, private, intimate smile. The kind of smile Tim had never really shown to more than three people. The kind he reserved for those closest to him.

 

He was dressed in white, the fabric soft and almost glowing against the dark background. His skin was a shade too dark, too golden, healthier than he was in reality. A crown of roses flattened his glossy black hair to his forehead, reds and pinks and whites and delicate petals resting against his brow. 

 

He was glorified. 

 

Romanticised

 

The most striking thing about him was the halo - Tim had never been anything holy, but the Red Hood clearly worshiped at his canvas.

 

Tim’s hands - long, slender, pale fingers, the little scar on his ring finger, the worn down torn up cuticles, in terrifyingly accurate detail because no one knew about the mole at the base of his wrist, no one knew about the way a scar hugged the curve of his middle finger’s nail - were cupped around a face. 

 

Brown skin, cropped black hair, almond shaped eyes and a little snub nose. Lips drawn back in a snarl, a mix of fear and anger and pain , and his eyes burned green , not blue, not as they should be. A crown of thorns was embedded in his skull, blood matting his eyebrows and dripping into his eyes, his wrong, wrong eyes. 

 

There was dirt smeared on his forehead and blood staining his teeth, and Tim fell away from the edge of the roof, heart pounding. His skin was crawling, bile and desperate sobs trying to force their way out of him. 

 

That was - that was -

 

For the first time in his life, Tim ran from that face.

Chapter Text

“You’re home earlier than I thought you’d be.”

 

Tim closed the door behind him, locking it with a deft twist of his fingers. His mother leaned against the wall of the foyer. Tim avoided eye contact with her, heart still pounding in his chest. The painting was burned into his retinas, he saw it every time he blinked.

 

“I’m home,” he said quietly. He was still shaking. His mother frowned at him, pushing off the wall.

 

“You ok?” She said, walking closer. Tim took a step away and she stopped. “You said you wouldn’t be back until after school.”

 

“I couldn’t find answers,” Tim lied, knowing it was obvious but not really caring. “So I came home.”

 

“Tim,” she said and for a moment Tim thought she was going to lecture him. Or that she’d tell him off or call him out on it or something along those lines. Tim braced for it. But then she sighed and shook her head. “What did I tell you about mourning?”

 

“Not where people can see it,” Tim said. She pointedly raised an eyebrow at him. Tim narrowed his eyes at her, but straightened his back, willing himself to stop shaking. He met her eyes. He tried for the barest hint of a smile. “Sorry.”

 

“Just be careful, ok?” She murmured stepping forwards to engulf him in a hug he didn’t return. Tim nodded and leaned forwards for a quick kiss on the cheek. His mom smiled thinly. Tim had worried her.

“I’m going to my room,” Tim said, “might as well get a couple hours of sleep before school.” It was only two in the morning. She nodded. Tim hurried up the stairs, careful not to go up too fast. 

 

As per the usual, Tim had done the vast majority of his homework during school and on the bus home. His room was clean, he didn’t have any ongoing projects (except Catmom’s heist), he had no work to do.

 

Tim stood in the middle of his room, door closed and locked behind him, shaking. He didn’t want to think right now. Didn’t want to face what he saw. What he thought he saw. What the Red Hood showed him.

 

Those eyes. . . 

 

Tim shuddered, heading for his walk in closet. He slipped inside it, heading to the very back. It didn’t feel like his parents’ closet, not really, but Tim kept some of their old perfumes in a little box at the back of the closet.

 

He pulled a couple out and sprayed it in the air, wiggling back so his back was pressed to the wall. Tim closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the wall.

 

The eyes in the painting matched the Red Hood’s eyes.

 

Tim didn’t want to think about it. He didn’t want to think about the paintings.

 

Were they all like that? Tim, glowing, ethereal, untouchable? And - and him , alive in a way Tim had never seen him, angry and scared and in pain? Were all the paintings like that?

 

That must be what the kids were for, Tim realized, raising a hand to chew at his thumbnail. Pale, dark haired boys. He was probably using them as models. Must be why Tim was tanner in the painting. The boys didn’t match Tim’s skin color.

 

God, Tim hoped the Red Hood wasn’t. Wasn’t him.

 

But the evidence added up, didn’t it? Older than Tim but under twenty, Arabic, from the League of Shadows, close with Talia al Ghul -

 

Speaking of Talia, this was why she hadn’t killed Tim, wasn’t it?

 

Tim sighed and leaned over. He curled up on the floor, eyes wide as he stared out at the dark of the walk in closet. He couldn’t get out of thinking about this whole mess, he supposed.

 

Just, so much had happened in the last two days! There was too much to think about and the Red Hood’s identity was just frosting on top of the cake.

 

Terry, Bruce, Clark, his mom, the Red Hood. . .

 

Tim rolled over so he faced the wall, curling up tighter, hands braced over his ears. He didn’t want to think about it. Any of it.

 

But his brain was rattling around his skull at the speed of light and Tim already knew that sleeping would be impossible. Even if he went to bed, he was going to be rolling around for hours. And then he’d have to go to school and pretend it was a normal Wednesday.

 

How did he come back from the dead?

 

Tim shuddered. He’d been there, as much as he hated to think about it. He’d been there when the second Robin died. He’d - he saw the autopsy. He’d gone looking for it himself a couple months after. It had been in a secret folder and was encrypted and written in code, but Tim had waded through it.

 

Seeing his best friend laid out and cut open was worse than killing him. 

 

But he was dead. He was definitely dead. Dead and buried. How the hell did he survive? How had he gotten out of his grave without anyone noticing?

 

It couldn’t be the Lazarus Pit. They didn’t resurrect people, just healed them.

 

Was the green of the Red Hood’s eyes from the Lazarus Pit?

 

Tim sighed and sat up. Was it possible to stay at home today? He didn’t want to go to school and pretend his world hadn’t just been turned on its head? 

 

Tim couldn’t sit still. There was too much going on in his head. He stood and headed out of the closet to start pacing. He wasn’t going to make any progress trapped in his room like this. But he also didn’t want to leave the safety of Drake Mansion.

 

Semi safety of Drake Mansion. Semi because nothing could top Wayne Manor when it came to security. If nothing else, Tim could go there if he didn’t feel safe enough. But for now - but for now he could work on the heist. He hadn’t gotten the chance to finish planning it out for Catmom yet, even though he said he would.

 

Tim settled at his desk and tugged out his laptop from his backpack. If nothing else, he could hammer out a plan that made sense.

 

--

 

Honestly, Tim never really used his lunch break for actually eating lunch. He settled himself down in the library and did his homework, surrounded by the usual hubbub of students getting tutored or collaborating on group projects. There was a little table near the back that Tim usually managed to snag for himself, and that was where anyone who wanted to find him could.

 

Today, he chose to abandon his homework for Catmom’s heist. 

 

It wasn’t going to be a simple one. She’d chosen to target the Powers family. Tim had never had to deal with them before, as they weren’t a competitor of Drake Industries. While they weren’t too influential as far as politics go, they had a great deal of money and a skyscraper with their name on it. It was an older one, the type to skip the thirteenth floor.

 

Which meant a secret room, hopefully full of treasures. And secrets! That was what Catmom was aiming for. Treasures and secrets.

 

Unfortunately, getting into it was going to be a task and a half. Why was there so much security on what should be a completely empty floor? Tim was eager to find out.

 

Surprisingly, or maybe unsurprisingly, there were windows on the thirteenth floor. No one looking up should be able to tell the difference between them and the normal windows, but the information Catmom had gotten him said they were bulletproof and shatter proof.

 

The main elevator didn’t open onto that floor, there was no landing in the stairwell, there were no dumbwaiters or air ducts, but there were bullet- and shatterproof windows. 

 

It was a puzzle, through and through.

 

But really, Tim just didn’t want to think about - about anything that happened in the past few days. And this was the easiest way to do it.

 

(Despite himself, he had thought about the Red Hood in his first couple periods. And. . . And Tim didn’t know what to do. What if the Red Hood really was - was Robin? What would Tim do then? What was he supposed to do?

 

Was he supposed to tell someone? Terry? Bruce? Or was he supposed to keep his mouth shut about it?

 

Why did the Red Hood seek him out? Why did he tell Tim who he was? Why-

 

Tim had put it out of his mind when the teacher called on him and he hadn’t been able to answer.)

 

He looked up at the sound of footsteps. Normally no one approached him unless to ask to take a chair from the table. But of course, the universe was incapable of being nice to him right now, so instead it was Steph, the set of her shoulders distinctly tense under her uniform blazer. 

 

“Hey,” Steph said. Tim pursed his lips and glared as she carefully sat down across from him. She was favoring her left leg and side. Rough patrol?

 

“Hey,” Tim said, tense. There was a sharp laugh from across the library - Tim glanced over to see a group of girls from their grade grinning at them. He returned his attention to Steph.

 

“Sorry about them,” she said quietly.

 

“Our last conversation was a little public,” Tim said, “it makes sense they would start gossiping.” 

 

He wasn’t referring to their last conversation, out on Gotham’s moonlit streets. He was referring to the screaming match from a couple years back, when they had to be dragged away from each other. It was when she’d worn the Robin uniform for the first time. It’d been the end of their civilian friendship.

 

“I’m not here to fight,” she said. Her voice was quiet and it was putting Tim off. Steph was loud, always had been. He couldn’t tell if she was being quiet to try and keep their conversation as private as possible or out of respect for the school library.

 

“I’ve been hearing that a lot lately,” Tim said with a raised eyebrow. What did she want? They eyed each other. 

 

“Timothy,” she said and he glowered.

 

“Stephothy,” he said, matching her tone. She blinked and then shook her head, lips pulling up into a smile. It faded slowly as she stared at the table.

 

“Can we stop fighting?” she said finally, looking up at him. “I’m tired, Tim.”

 

That wasn’t at all what Tim expected.

 

But he supposed it made sense. He’d finally started to put himself back together. He was starting to act a little more like he used to. Did she think he’d gotten over it? That he’d recovered completely?

 

And she was looking a little worn down. Not just because of her obvious injuries (how did she hide them from everyone else? How come the school hadn’t tried to contact her out of concern that she was being abused?), but her general attitude in class. 

 

“I’m sorry,” she said and Tim could hear the ache in her voice, “whatever I did, I’m-”

 

Whatever she did?

 

“How can you apologize if you don’t know what you did?” Tim spat, struggling to keep his volume down, “you know what my parents were like. You know that shit doesn’t fly with me.” He slammed his laptop shut and shoved it in his bag. He couldn’t stay here, he was going to hit her.

 

Whatever she did? Tim grit his teeth against his flare of anger.

 

“Tim-” Steph looked - looked distraught. She had her hands up, like she was surrendering.

 

“And you know what you’ve done!” Tim hissed. “I’ve told you what you’ve done! You know exactly why we’re fighting, so don’t come here with your crocodile tears and that chip on your fucking shoulder, you know what you did!” He stood, swinging his backpack up onto his back. She stood too, grabbing the side of the table when her in leg nearly buckled under her. For a second, Tim felt bad for her.

 

“Tim-” She said, reaching out to catch his arm.

 

“You can be fucking certain that we’re not on speaking terms until you lose the uniform,” Tim whispered. He pulled away, careful not to let her lose her balance. He stormed away, shoulders hunched up.

 

“Please!” She called after him.

 

“Go to hell!” He yelled. He really hoped the school library didn’t ban him forever.

Chapter Text

Tim was met at the front gates of his school by none other than Alfred Pennyworth. Tim grit his teeth, but smiled up at Alfred anyway. He wasn’t in the mood to deal with any more bats today.

 

“Young master Tim,” Alfred said by way of greeting, “I hope you’ve had a good day?”

 

“Good enough, thank you,” Tim said, “and you?”

 

“It’s been quite alright,” Alfred said, “Master Bruce asked me to come pick you up today. Is that alright with you, Master Tim?”

 

Tim shrugged. Going against Bruce’s orders never tended to end well. He just hoped Bruce didn’t know about Catmom’s heist. Alfred opened the limo door for him and he slipped inside, the weight of laptop seeming to grow in his bag. Incriminating evidence.

 

The ride to the Manor was uneventful. Tim decided the best course of action was to actually take out his laptop to do his English homework. Incriminating evidence, sure, but by doing this he had the chance to make sure everything was encoded and encrypted. It wouldn’t stand up to the previous Batman, but it would stand up against a brief glance and that was all Tim was willing to allow Bruce.

 

Tim packed up as they entered the driveway, remembering last second to shoot a text to his mother. She didn’t respond, just left him on read, but Tim wasn’t bothered. She was probably in a meeting or something.

 

Alfred didn’t even drop him off in front of the Manor or anything, he just drove right around to the garage entrance. The garage was actually underground, the level above the Batcave. Tim didn’t know when it had been added, but it was there, much newer than anything else in the Manor.

 

As usual, Alfred waited patiently for Tim to finish ogling Bruce’s newest cars (all modified to accommodate Bruce’s paralysis) before leading Tim to the elevator. But this time, instead of continuing up into the Manor, Alfred pressed the button for the Cave and provided his fingerprints when required.

 

Tim raised an eyebrow at Alfred, but the old man simply smiled gently.

 

The doors opened to a familiar smiley face.

 

“Duke!” Tim yelled and hurled himself forwards. Duke caught him, laughing. Tim clung to him as long as he could before pulling away, beaming. “It’s been forever! How are you?”

 

“I’m doing ok,” Duke said, throwing an arm around Tim and leading him over to the Batcomputer, “Bludhaven’s a mess but when hasn’t it been?”

 

“Right,” Tim agreed. He was pretty sure Duke could see the adoration in his eyes, but Duke was the cool brother. Duke was the one to go to when you were in trouble with Batman. He’d bail you out and buy ice cream and let you crash at his house. He’d been distant since the funeral, but that was ok. “Can you believe that Terry said he didn’t know what you were up to?”

 

“I can,” Duke said, “it was the first thing he said when he called me last night.” Tim raised his eyebrows. Duke steered him into one of the Batcomputer chairs and sat him down. “Something along the lines of abandoning my little brother.”

 

“But Terry’s older than you?” Tim said slowly. Duke rolled his eyes.

 

“You, Tim,” Duke said, kneeling in front of Tim, “I haven’t been giving you enough of my attention.” Tim stared at him. 

 

“Are you trying to do the feelings thing right now?” Tim whispered, leaning forwards. “Did Terry force you to come? Blink twice if you’re in trouble.” Duke laughed and ruffled Tim’s hair.

 

“I’m not getting forced,” he said as Tim cried out in dismay, trying to make his hair go back to how it was. “Terry just said you were having a hard time. Said he didn’t know how to fix it and asked for help. And since Clark’s bringing his kids over, figured I might as well try and smooth whatever happens over.”

 

Tim frowned. “Kids?”

 

“He’s got another son now,” Duke said with a little shrug. “They’ll be here in a couple minutes. He’s around your age, or so I’ve heard.” Tim groaned and slumped back in the chair.

 

“Oh no,” he whined, “they want us to be friends!” Duke grinned. “Duke, you have to save me.”

 

“It’ll go great,” Duke said, “you’ll have fun.”

 

“Wait, is he bringing Jon too?” Tim said, straightening up. Duke nodded. Tim grimaced. “Jon doesn’t like me,” Tim said honestly, “he yelled at me during the funeral.”

 

“That was years ago,” Duke said, clasping Tim’s shoulder. “Today will go fine, I promise.” Tim opened his mouth to say more, but Duke shook his shoulder gently. “I’ll talk to him, ok? You don’t have to worry about it.” The Batcave’s proximity alarms went off.

 

“Ok,” Tim said, voice quiet. Duke smiled and took a step back as three figures flew slowly into the Cave and landed in front of Tim and Duke. Which was already a little weird because normally Clark liked to come in fast and float down slowly.

 

Clark and Jon were in their uniforms, their capes flapping behind dramatically them even though the Batcave didn’t have much in terms of air circulation. The third one - The third one was visibly the smallest and wasn’t wearing a cape at all.

 

Sure he had on the standard red Superman shield, but aside from the colors that was where the similarities ended. Honestly his uniform looked like a bodysuit, it didn’t seem to have a divide between his red leggings and the blue under the shield (the fabric was black above it). A couple of black belts, black boots, a thigh holster of some sort, and a leather jacket - Tim was a little intimidated.

 

He was kinda cute though. Icy blue eyes, narrow face, something mischievous about the twist of his lips. . . 

 

“Duke! Tim!” Clark boomed, looking delighted.

 

“Hey man,” Duke said as Clark swept him up in a hug. “It’s been a minute, huh?”

 

“You look good,” Clark said, pulling away, “healthy.”

 

“I’ve been patrolling less,” Duke said with a shrug. Tim frowned up at him. “I’ve got an undercover mission coming up, so I’ve been preparing.”

 

“Good luck with the mission,” Clark said, smiling, before looking over at Tim. He draped an arm around the new guy’s shoulders. “Tim, this is Conner.”

 

“Hey,” he said with a little wave. Conner waved back.

 

“Hey,” he said. Jon rolled his eyes behind his father and new little brother. Tim pursed his lips as Clark turned to his eldest. Conner wiggled out from under Clark’s arm as Clark got his concerned parent thing going. “Wanna get out of here?”

 

“That was fast,” Tim said. Conner rolled his own eyes.

 

“I’ve been stuck with them for forever,” Conner said quietly, “it’s kinda jarring to go from living on your own to living with other people.”

 

“Yeah,” Tim said, standing, “I get it.” Conner raised an eyebrow, but Tim just smiled. “Wanna steal the Batmobile?” Conner raised his other eyebrow before grinning.

 

“Let’s do it.”

 

--

 

“That was awesome!” Conner yelled, laughing. Tim grinned up at him, laughing a little himself. He never really worked with anyone outside of Catmom (and, once upon a time, Spoiler and Robin). Conner was a refreshing change from that. Sassy, sure, but he followed Tim’s instructions.

 

Tim wasn’t sure that was because Conner liked him enough to trust him or because Tim had invited him to steal the literal Batmobile

 

Conner was floating in midair above the Batmobile, legs curled under him like he was sitting down. Tim had sprawled out over the hood of the Batmobile. They’d driven it over to the otherside of Gotham, out onto the docks. The sea air was salty against Tim’s skin.

 

“It was pretty fun,” Tim said with a little shrug. Conner beamed at him.

 

“Do you do that often, Stray?” Conner said, floating closer. Tim had changed into his uniform in the back of the Batmobile on the way over. Conner promised he hadn’t looked, but Tim didn’t know. Conner’s ears had been a little red.

 

And wasn’t that interesting? When Clark blushed, his whole face went red. With Conner it was just his ears. Whoever his mother was gave him a little more than his light blue eyes (Clark’s were more sky blue, and Jon’s matched his mother’s almost violet eyes). 

 

“Steal the Batmobile?” Tim asked. Conner shook his head.

 

“Mess with Batman’s stuff,” Conner said. Tim raised an eyebrow, and Conner shrugged.

 

“Sure,” Tim said. “I’m getting back into the habit again. But it’s been a while.”

 

Conner nodded. He looked like he had something else to say, but the expression dropped pretty fast. Tim decided not to call attention to it. Maybe Conner would tell him all on his own.

 

“So you just do this at night?” Conner said, waving vaguely at Tim. “No homework or anything?”

“No, I have homework,” Tim said, “I just do it at school so I have more time to do whatever after school.” Conner wrinkled his nose.

 

“Nerd,” he said, “I figured being a kid villain would make you a little less of a goody two shoes.”

 

“He’s always been a goody two shoes.”

 

Tim was on his feet in a second, eyes narrowed. The Red Hood marched up to them. Tim wondered idly how he managed to sneak up on them - not only on Tim for the second time, but Conner, who was supposed to have super hearing and stuff. Maybe he didn’t have any super senses? Tim had only really seen him fly. . . depending on who his mother was, it made sense that he would have a different power set than Clark.

 

Which wasn’t relevant right now.

 

“Who the hell are you?” Conner said, voice tightening. He floated down so he was on eye level with the Red Hood. Tim grit his teeth.

 

“An old friend of Stray’s,” the Red Hood said, which meant he really was - was Robin.

 

“Well,” Conner said, moving closer, “I’m a new friend.”

 

“Kon,” Tim said. Neither Conner nor Clark had introduced Conner under any other name, but Tim didn’t think he could just give out Conner’s identity like that. The Red Hood would probably figure it out quickly (he knew Clark too). But still. “You should probably go.”

“Stray,” Conner said quietly. He met Tim’s eyes and Tim was surprised to see Conner looking a little unnerved. He’d been, for the most part, pretty confident this whole time.

 

“Go,” Tim said, “take the Batmobile with you. I’m sure Batsy is looking for it.” He jumped down off the hood and sauntered up to the Red Hood.

 

The Red Hood’s eyes seemed to glow in the afternoon light.

 

Conner caught Tim’s hand and squeezed it. Tim blinked at him, a little surprised, but squeezed it back. Conner half smiled at him and, with another weary look back at the Red Hood, headed for the Batmobile.

 

They waited until Conner had driven off to start talking.

 

“He was very friendly,” the Red Hood said, almost too casual.


“I don’t see how that’s any of your business,” Tim said, voice as cold as he could make it. The Red Hood shifted in place. Then he sighed.

 

“I didn’t come here to argue,” the Red Hood said. Tim laughed.

 

“Why do people keep saying that?” He asked. “Do I just seem like I’m in a combative mood?”

 

“Yes,” the Red Hood said, “but that’s not what I’m here to talk to you about. Rooftop?”

 

“No,” Tim said, “whatever it is, tell me here.” The Red Hood hesitated, then squared his shoulders. Tim wished he could see the Red Hood’s face. He wanted to know what he was thinking. But that was the point of the mask.

 

“I came to see if you would respect your promise,” the Red Hood said quietly, stepping even closer than they already were. Tim could barely hear him over the sound of the ocean beating against the docks. Tim frowned. “In regards to my identity.”

 

So it really was him. Tim only just managed to stop himself from wrapping his arms around himself. Sure, he’d already realized it, but it was another thing to have the Red Hood in front of him. It was another thing to be confronted with that knowledge. Even if the Red Hood hadn’t outright said it. . .

 

“I’m a man of my word,” Tim said quietly. “You know that.”

 

By the crinkle of his eyes, the Red Hood seemed to be smiling.

 

“I also had a request,” he said. Tim raised an eyebrow. “There’s someone I want to take out. Do I have your support?”

 

“Someone in Arkham,” Tim said quietly, “someone you hate.” The Red Hood nodded.

 

“The Joker.”

 

The revelation wasn’t a surprise, even if Tim hadn’t thought it through before. Of course it was the Joker. How could it be anyone else? But still Tim couldn’t help but ask -

 

“Why?”

 

The Red Hood tilted his head slightly and Tim could remember Robin doing that. He could remember back when they were kids and he would - Tim made himself focus. This was no time for memories.

 

“Why what?” The Red Hood said.

 

“Why not me?” Tim said quietly. “I - I killed you. It was my fault.”

 

“No,” the Red Hood said, surging forwards. He grabbed Tim’s shoulders, grip firm. “You didn’t. It wasn’t your fault.”

 

“But-”

“No buts,” the Red Hood said. The words sounded much more at home in his mouth now than when they were kids and English was still new to him. “Stray. Timothy . You cannot blame yourself. Not for that. Not after all this time.”

 

“I pulled the trigger,” Tim whispered.

 

“You were half out of your mind with pain and drugs,” the Red Hood said, “it was clear on your face. I’m surprised you can remember it at all.” He shook Tim’s shoulders. “It’s not your fault.”

 

“No,” Tim tried to interrupt.

 

“It’s not your fault,” the Red Hood repeated, “that week would have ended with my death whether you’d been there or not. If you hadn’t pulled the trigger, the Joker would have.” He hesitated, sucking in a breath. “I’d rather have died at your hands than his.”

 

Tim stared at him. 


Then he snorted, leaning forwards so his head was pressed against the Red Hood’s chest armor. “That doesn’t help!” He said, shoulders finally relaxing. The Red Hood’s arms curled around him, the movement slow and careful. “You fucking sap.”

 

“So you’ll help,” the Red Hood said. Tim heaved a sigh and pulled back. The Red Hood let him.

 

“I’ll think about it,” Tim said, “I haven’t been on a real mission since - since back then.” The Red Hood nodded.

 

“Understandable,” he said, “we were partners in crime.”

 

“I was the crime,” Tim said, already heading away from the docks - and away from the Red Hood, “you and Steph were partners in justice.” He turned around to see the Red Hood shake his head.

 

“And yet you never went to juvenile lockup,” he said. Tim grinned at shrugged at him.

 

“Well, lucky me,” he said.

 

--

 

On one hand, Tim was a hundred percent down to murder the Joker.

 

On the other hand, Batman’s no killing rule unfortunately extended to Tim. It was an unspoken agreement, as far as Tim knew. If Tim didn’t kill anyone, Batman wouldn’t come after him.

 

He liked to think Batman also didn’t throw him in the slammer because of how close they used to be, but. . . 

 

Was Tim willing to put that at risk?

 

Tim was waiting for Catmom, working through kata with his collapsible bo staff as he did so. His whip was strapped to his waist. He didn’t know the timeframe for the Joker thing. How long did he have left before he had to go up against the Bats?

 

Could he even hold his own against them? He’d started up a rigorous training regimen since his meeting with Lady Shiva, but still. He already knew he couldn’t take Batman. Batgirl was probably equally as difficult to take down. Spoiler would probably go down easy enough, but staying down was another matter completely.

 

Was he really going to join the Red Hood? Was that something he could do?

Tim hissed and abandoned his kata completely. He collapsed his bo staff, frowning as he surveyed the surrounding area. He tucked the collapsed staff into the special slot in his belt.

 

Was killing the Joker worth the Bat’s anger?

 

But that was a stupid question, because of course it was.

 

Tim. . . 

 

Tim hadn’t seen the Joker since that week. Every time the Joker had been out in the wild since then, Tim had left Gotham. Or he’d pick a room in Wayne Manor, or he’d hide in parents’ closet, or he’d pick his most secure safehouse, or he’d -

 

Point was, Tim didn’t know if he could handle it.

 

But could the Red Hood?

 

“You’re a little out of it, aren’t you, Kitten?” Catmom said as she landed on the roof next to Tim. She coiled up her whip as she approached Tim. “What’s up?” Tim stared at her. What could he tell her?

 

“Met the Red Hood,” Tim said quietly. She tensed. Tim remembered her original advice - avoid if at all possible. Should he even tell her?

 

“Cat’s got your tongue,” she said. Tim shrugged and reached into his pocket. He tugged out the little USB with the heist information on it. He handed it over.

 

“It’s got two versions,” Tim said, “one’s a solo act, the other is doubles with me. It’ll probably only be valid till the end of the month. Unless they change up their security earlier, in which case you’ll probably be detected a couple minutes into the game.”

 

“Got it,” she said, “do you wanna play doubles with me?”

 

“I don’t know yet,” Tim said with a shrug. He hesitated. “There’s. . . there’s something coming up with Hood. I don’t know the timeframe, so.”

 

“I told you not to get involved,” Catmom said quietly. Tim shook his head with a little shrug.

 

“I don’t know how involved I want to be yet,” Tim said, “I might be a key player. I might end up watching from the sidelines. I don’t know yet.” Catmom eyed him.

 

“Am I gonna be caught in the crossfire?” She asked. Tim shrugged. “Do you know anything about what’s going on?”

 

“I know the objective,” Tim said, a little offended, “and I know the location.”

 

“Who else is involved? What kind of security is there? What’s the collateral? Is lethal force on the table? What’s your escape route? Who are you going to double cross in a pinch?” Catmom listed off, hands on her waist. “You’re missing the most important information, Tim! You can’t go into a job like this. I don’t know what’s going on or what the Red Hood has on you that’ll make you enter this kind of situation blind, but this isn’t smart. This is exactly the kind of behavior that will get you killed. And I’ve had enough dead children on my watch to last me a lifetime.”

 

Tim couldn’t meet her eyes.

 

Catmom sighed, the sound carrying heavy in the cold Gotham air. “Look, Kitten. I’m worried, ok? There’s a lot going on for you right now. I really think you should just leave this Red Hood nonsense behind and come rob the Powers’ building with me.”


“I don’t think I can,” Tim said quietly, “I can’t. . . the Red Hood’s important, ok? What he wants is important. I just don’t know. . .”

 

“What?” She prompted, when he didn’t continue his statement.

“I just don’t know how the Bats will take it,” Tim said. Catmom was frowning when he glanced up at her. Tim dropped his gaze again. “I don’t know if it’ll. If it’ll isolate me from them more.”

 

“I thought you wanted to be apart from them?” She said.

 

“I thought I did,” Tim said, “but they’re all. . . Except for Steph, they all seem like they want to still be allies. Or whatever.” He shrugged. “Even Superman.” He looked up again. Selina was staring at him, something soft and - and almost piteous in her expression. Tim grit his teeth against the wave of instinctive insult and waited for her to speak.

 

“I don’t know, Kitten,” she said with a little sigh, “superheroes have stupid views on morality.” She walked forwards and cupped Tim’s cheeks in her hands. “Whatever happens, know that I support you, ok? It doesn’t matter who you kill. Or who you have to betray.”

 

“Thanks,” Tim said. She didn’t pull away, just turned his head this way and that, like she was examining him through his mask.

 

“Is it so important?” She said. “Whatever dirt the Red Hood has on you? Is there any way I can get it back for you?”

 

“I don’t think you can,” Tim said, warmth filling him. “But thank you for offering.” She nodded and bent his head down for her to kiss his forehead.

 

“I’ll spar with you,” she decided, stepping away. “It’s always better to spar with a partner. Those kata you were doing earlier won’t cover all your bases for you. And you’ll need it, no matter which job you choose.”

 

“Yeah,” Tim said, backing up himself. He pulled out his whip. She smiled, but Tim could see the worry in it. She’d always been pretty transparent with her emotions. At least with him.

 

“On garde, then,” she said. Tim nodded.

 

“On garde.”