“That does not look natural,” Jason says.
Tim grunts. He’d shrug, but then his shoulders would pop out of joint, and then nobody’s happy. “Working overtime at WE,” he explains, voice steady. “I’ve been letting patrols slide the last couple weeks. Gotta. Get back in the swing.”
“Which, of course, means becoming a human pretzel?”
“I’m getting limber,” Tim huffs, and the stretch is getting a little difficult now. His muscles are pulled tight and sore; it’s more effortful than it should be. This is what he gets for picking sleep over patrol. Like the guilt wasn’t pain enough.
Jason, standing by the mat, rolls his eyes. “Here, lemme help.”
And Tim. Would be eyeing him, suspicious, surprised, over his shoulder. But if he moves that way he might actually tie himself in a knot, so, easing into a different stretch, he settles for saying, “Why?”
“Maybe I’m trying my hand at this big brother schtick,” Jason suggests. Cutting. Footsteps getting closer. “The way Dickie talks about it, I figure I’m missing something great, you know?”
“Dick big brothers Damian, and you’re gonna take him at his word?”
Beneath him, Tim feels the mat shift. Jason’s settling weight. “Hey, he’s not all that bad. Someday he might grow up to be a functioning member of society.”
Tim feels one of Jason’s hands at his back, the other on his leg. Gentling him further into the stretch. It actually helps. Feels good. “He’s – an assassin baby, let’s not give ‘im. Too much credit.”
“I meant Dick,” Jason says, deadpan, and Tim snorts. “And there are some benefits to being a big brother.”
Jason’s grasp on Tim’s leg becomes firmer, one hand planted on Tim’s front to stop him from moving. Then, manually shifting Tim’s leg, he bumps Tim’s bare heel into the back of his head.
“Stop kicking yourself,” he says.
Tim snort-laughs, shocked. “Jason–“
“Stop kicking yourself, Tim, oh my God!” Jason says, doing it again. And again.
And Tim tries half-heartedly to wriggle out of it, but Jason’s grip is too strong and he’s laughing too much to focus, anyway. Of all the things he expected…
“Why are you kicking yourself?” Jason demands, sounding gleeful, automatically dodging Tim’s flailing leg.
“Shi– Jason, stop–”
“I’m not doing anything, you big dumb baby.” And then, “Ow!”
Jason’s bored and feeling kind of antsy.
Alfred’s out grocery shopping, Dick’s off doing God-knows-what with the baby brat, and Bruce is. Well, an ass. So who cares what Bruce is doing.
Which leaves Jason wandering the Manor alone.
And he’s humming his way down a hallway, admiring some of the more spooky Wayne-portraits lining the walls, when he stops. Grins.
He steps into the sitting room.
The Replacement is sitting cross-legged on the couch, laptop perched on his knees. There’s a structurally-compromised pen between his lips, and he’s got that look that says he forgot his glasses. Plus, the font on his screen is like, enormous.
Tim eyes him with something like nervousness. Takes the pen from his mouth. “Um hi,” he says. “Jason. I didn’t know– um, yeah. Hi. I have a lot of work to do? So, um, maybe you should just. Pretend I’m not here.”
Jason considers it. Then he nods, and Tim’s shoulders sink down a fraction. He offers half an uncomfortable smile, and then returns to his work, fingers flying across the keys. Chewing his lip, now, instead of the pen.
And Jason can’t keep the smile off his face, when he stretches exaggeratedly, says, “Ahh, empty rooms. So peaceful and nice.”
The babybird freezes momentarily. Possibly sensing his mistake.
And Jason moves closer to the sofa, still making a show of stretching. And then, making a face of disgust, “What’s a computer doing here?” he says, taking it off Tim. He closes the screen and sets it on the floor.
“Jason–” the kid warns, and then that’s all. Because Jason sits on him.
And it’s not exactly comfortable, what with Tim’s flailing, and his bony knees and elbows and face. But Jason wriggles around, then, spreads out comfortably. Until he’s lying down on his very own Pretender-couch.
“So relaxing!” he yells, over the muffled sounds of Tim trying to speak. And then, “You know what, Jason Todd? You really know how ta live. Ironic, considering your history, but you know, I’m just gonna say it! You’re a really cool guy.”
“Umhfffghn!!” the babybird says, or, something very much like it. It’s hard to tell, what with him being half-crushed under Jason’s super-buff self.
“Ahh, dang,” Jason says, loud, mournful. Shifting, ignoring Tim’s attempts to shove him off. “I have a really annoying song in my head. I’m just gonna. Sing it. Very loudly, seeing as I’m alone.” And he’s making a show of clearing his throat, deciding exactly which annoying song to sing for maximum effect, when–
Bruce is standing in the doorway, frowning. His eyes take in the laptop on the floor, the faintly uncomfortable way Jason is sprawled over the couch.
He smiles winningly.
“… Was Tim in here?” Bruce says.
There is a pause. Tim’s even stopped wriggling, evidently trying to figure out what’s going on. “No?” he tries.
Then there’s a determined “Gnnnhhhhff!” and Tim shifting beneath him. Jason keeps smiling. Bruce probably wouldn’t fall for it, if he tried to cough to cover the sound. But he considers it anyway.
“What’s that.” Bruce points.
“The hand, Jason. The hand that is grabbing at your leg.”
There is a long pause. Jason and Bruce both watch Tim’s hand, pale, scarred knuckles, successfully get free from under Jason’s bulk. Carefully sign ’S.O.S’. Then it grips his thigh, hard enough to bruise. “… what hand?”
If there was an award for Unimpressed Face of the Year, Bruce would be the winner. “Jason, I imagine he’s losing oxygen under there.”
“… who is?”
Bruce takes a deep breath. “Jason, just. Please stand up.”
“Just because you said please, B,” Jason says, beaming. Getting off both the couch and the kid (though not without a few bruises).
After he’s up, Tim just lies there. Red-faced, panting. Flat on his back and staring at the ceiling, hair and clothes in disarray. Bruce stands in the doorway, still shaking his head.
And finally, after a few long moments of silence, Tim starts; “Jason, you goddamn–”
“Timothy!” Jason says, throwing his arms wide. Feigning surprise. “Babybird! Goodness, when did you sneak in?”
Tim finally has an afternoon all to himself.
He’s miraculously ahead on his WE work, and he’s been doing overtime day and night on casework for Bruce and even Dick (“c’mon, lil brother, I’m sure you owe me a favour”), so it feels like the first time in weeks he can breathe. And tomorrow, he’ll be in San Francisco for his first weekend with the Titans in more than two months.
It’s a good day.
He’s at the Manor as part-reward, part-security precaution, on account of accidentally drawing Ra’s al Ghul’s attention again. And not in the good way. He figures that, while Ra’s might be an arrogant ass, he’s not so stupid as to try to take one of the Batman’s operatives from under his own roof.
Plus there’s cookies here.
He’s set himself up in Bruce’s amazing library, with his laptop, a stack of books, and even a blanket.
Alfred had told him no one else would be home for a couple hours, so he doesn’t even have to worry about awkward silences with Bruce or another murder attempt from Damian.
He’s comfortably settled, but he figures, hey. A cup of tea and a cookie or two can only improve his day, right?
And he’s downstairs for less than five minutes, just enough time to make himself a snack. Which is why he’s bewildered when he returns to the library to find his things missing.
His blanket is still there, exactly as he left it, but. The books and laptop are gone.
Tim blinks. Stares dumbly. Turns around, exiting the library. Then he comes back in. But his stuff is still gone.
He sets down his teacup and his cookies, carefully, on the ottoman. Feeling stupid, he gets on his hands and knees and checks under the couch. Unsurprisingly, nothing’s there.
He sits back on his heels. Pauses. This is either the stupidest super-villain ploy ever, or someone’s messing with him.
He stands up, dusting his knees, and does a brief 360º turn. He doesn’t notice anything out of place in the library, no neon-signs with Tim Drake’s Stuff and an arrow. But then, Tim ponders, he is looking at eye-level. And the key to hiding something is to put it low down, or– aha– high up.
And from here, now that he’s looking for it, he can just barely see the glint of his aluminium laptop-casing, at the very top of a bookshelf by the window. And the ladder, one custom built to match the walnut shelves, is suspiciously missing.
“Come on,” he groans, and then, “You got this, Drake,” because everyone can use a little positive reinforcement every now and again.
Praying that he doesn’t get caught, or at least that Alfred buys his entirely true ‘someone is mocking me by putting my belongings in high places’ excuse, Tim stretches, takes off his socks. Thinks very light thoughts, and, cringing, starts to climb the bookcase.
It’s a painstaking process, slow, because with each press of his foot, Tim fears a faint creak will turn to a groan which will turn to a crack, and then Tim will be banned from the library forever and Bruce will probably think he is very, very stupid.
But he does make it to the top. And he reaches out to pick up two of his books, when a small scrap of paper floats down from the top of the stack.
In the centre is a roughly drawn smiley face, in sharpie. It looks smug. Underneath, it says, Smile! and suddenly Tim has a bad feeling. He half-turns, as much as he can without falling, and.
Jason Todd is caught midway through stealing Tim’s cookies; grinning around the cookie that’s half in his mouth, he gives Tim a sarcastic little salute and turns jauntily on his heel. Away from the now-cold cup of tea and the empty cookie plate on the ottoman.
“Jason,” Tim says, and he turns. “You – you’re a monster. You can’t just take a man’s cookie, we aren’t barbarians. There will be repercussions for this!”
And Jason’s laughter stays behind, long after the man himself has gone.
Jason’s standing at the counter, trying unsuccessfully to fight the grin on his face.
Oh, fate. What are the odds that he’d duck into the exact café where Tim Drake happens to be lunching? Admittedly it does look like the kind of place the Replacement would like, what with its self-conscious hipster vibe, bizarre menu, and college student crowd.
He hasn’t spotted Jason yet, from his booth. He’s in jeans and a button up, crutches leaned against the wall. He’s listening pretty intently to the kid he’s sitting with, a stringy blond guy who’s gesturing violently while he talks. They’re both laughing.
And Jason’s got a couple minutes to spare while the barista makes his double iced-chocolate with whipped cream, sprinkles, and a dash of strawberry syrup. It’s a pretty complicated drink order.
He’s wondering if he should sidle over there and invite himself to join them, in order to give Tim a heart attack. Or if he should sidle over there just to eavesdrop, because. Well, it’d be fun.
And he’s halfway there when he hears Tim’s voice, raised over the noise of the café, amused but trying not to sound it, saying, “Yeah sure, send the crippled kid to get extra condiments–” and he’s edging carefully out of his booth seat, balancing convincingly on his crutches.
Jason grins. Quickly schools his expression into something more nonchalant.
And Tim. Tim does a literal double-take when he sees him. Honestly, it’s shit like this that has Jason poking fun at him half the time. Credit to him, he recovers quickly, but can’t seem to decide how he should react to Jason’s sudden presence.
“Hi,” Jason says.
“What are you doing here?” Tim says, blurts. And then, an afterthought; “Um yeah, hi?”
“I’m here getting my usual,” Jason lies outright, and gets the satisfaction of confusion flashing on the kid’s face.
“You don’t eat here,” Tim says, but it’s a little doubtful. “It’s nowhere close to your side of town.”
Jason lifts one shoulder in a shrug, then grins. “If I didn’t know you better, hotshot, I’d think you didn’t want me on your side of the tracks.”
“That’s not–” Tim says. Rolls his eyes. “Let’s start over. Hello, Jason. I’m here having lunch with my friend Ives–” he points to the spindly guy at the booth, who’s watching them openly. “I have to get extra condiments, because he thinks cancer trumps being shot.” He waggles a crutch. “Are you up to anything fun today?”
“Just following you,” Jason says, casual, and lifts a hand to wave to Ives.
He waves back, looking kind of bewildered. There’s mustard on his face.
And Jason turns back to Tim, says, “Pretty small world, huh babybird? Not that it’s not good to see you.”
Then Jason slings an arm around his neck, dragging him roughly against his side, and noogies him.
“Jason!” Tim sputters, flailing a little but keeping steady on his crutches, and Jason keeps it up a few moments longer, mussing the Wayne-perfect too-long hair. But a couple people are watching them now, so he stops.
Jason’s sure to set Tim properly on his feet when he lets go, and says, loud, smiling wide enough to crinkle his eyes, “It’s so good to see you, champ.”
“You taking lessons from Brucie now?” Tim mutters, and his face is red from exertion or embarrassment. Either way, Jason takes the credit. And the kid’s rubbing his head with one hand, but his hair’s still a disaster.
Jason keeps the smile on his face when he grabs some ketchup packets from the basket on the counter, walking back over to Tim’s booth with him.
“Hi,” he says to Ives, dropping the packets on the table.
“Hello,” Ives says unconvincingly, looking between him and the babybird. “I’m Ives.”
“I know,” Jason says. He winks at Tim then, who’s settling back into his seat, still scowling, and says, “Delightful as always, Timothy.” and swaggers to the counter to collect his enormous, beautiful drink concoction from the girl at the register.
He’s halfway out the door when he hears; “You know, Tim, I’m just gonna say it. You have weird relationships with older dudes.”
The Cave is dark and quiet. Alfred had turned off most of the lights in the medbay, to let his boys get some rest.
And Tim’s sitting by Jason’s bedside, listening to the soft hum and steady blip-beep of the heart monitor. Jason’s pale, still, eyes closed. His hair’s dark against the pillow, and there’s a bit of dried blood at his temple that Alfred had missed.
Tim presses his heels into the stone floor, leaning forward in his chair. Sighs. He’s resting his forearms on the cot; his head is heavy, his neck stiff and aching. Alfred must be exhausted.
It’s been a pretty shitty night.
So here it is, 4.30am, with Tim sitting in Bruce’s cave in a borrowed t-shirt and a pair of his old, too-small sweatpants. With thick socks that he suspects are Bruce’s to help keep warm.
And Jason’s long eyelashes, casting blue-gray shadows on his cheekbones, flutter. A few times. Then there’s a very soft, pained groan, and Tim says, “You’re okay, Jace.”
His eyes flicker open, dark and weary. And his surprisingly sharp gaze finds Tim, focussing on him. He opens his mouth but doesn’t speak. The question is clear on his face.
So Tim says, “Hi,” and “It’s okay. You’re going to be all right. You have two busted ribs, which I think you knew going in, and you’ve got a lot of stitches from the shrapnel. Lucky most of them were surface wounds, so they should heal up just fine.” He pauses, wetting his lips. Says, “Alfred’s biggest worry was how hard you hit your head. But he said, and I swear to God I’m quoting here, ‘Master Jason has always had a very thick skull’, so.”
He rocks back in the chair, then, chewing his lip. Then he touches his palm carefully to Jason’s forearm, avoiding the IV drip. And Jason doesn’t pull away, but he’s barely conscious, so it probably doesn’t mean as much as Tim thinks it does.
But what Jason does do is twist a little, trying to turn in spite of his obvious pain, and Tim says, “Alfred said you should stay put,” and then, “Dick’s fine too, don’t worry.”
Jay stops twisting then. He relaxes more fully, against his pillow. His eyes close again.
Tim says, “He’s asleep on the other cot. He got 16 stitches in his leg and ate a sandwich, so he’s pretty tuckered out.”
On cue, Dick rolls over and lets out a long, loud snore.
The corner of Jason’s lip lifts fractionally. Tiredly.
“He also told me to wake him when you woke up,” Tim admits. “But I figured you’d want peace and quiet for a little longer?”
Jason bobs his head in a shallow nod, opening his eyes. “You’re a real pal,” he croaks.
Bruce had gone a while ago to check on Damian and Alfred, where they were (hopefully) asleep upstairs. If he hasn’t fallen asleep himself, Tim’s sure he’ll be back in a few minutes anyway, back to keep an eye on his oldest sons, and probably get in some quality brooding time before bed.
And then Tim says, “Do you want to say something to insult me? To try make yourself feel better, I mean.”
There is a long pause. So long, in fact, that Tim wonders if Jason heard the question.
Then Jason’s mouth opens, and his voice cracks. He clears his throat for a second try, gesturing Tim closer. And when Tim’s half-leaned over the cot, head tilted, Jason whispers hoarsely, “You look… like a toddler. Who got dressed in the dark.”
And Tim can’t swallow his single bark of laughter in time, but that’s okay. Jason’s eyes are closed again but he’s practically grinning now, and when Tim pulls away, he takes hold of Tim’s wrist and squeezes once, gently. “Thanks, nerd.”
“You’re welcome,” Tim says, rolling his eyes. But he’s smiling too. “You huge dork.”
And Jason’s silent for a long few minutes; Tim thinks he might be asleep again. Then he croaks; “I’ma get you for that. Later.”
“Yeah,” Tim says. “Sure, Jace.”
Jason Todd is shivering on a balcony at the Manor. He’d decided to sneak a cigarette before bed, even though he knows it is impossible to hide these things from Alfred. And that he’ll get The Look tomorrow at breakfast, maybe a pointed comment or two. Even though he’s cut down, like, a lot recently.
Either way, it had been a last-minute decision, which is why Jason is dressed in boxers and a t-shirt instead of something more suitable for the outdoors. Jason tilts his face toward the sky, hair wind-tossed, and exhales. The puff of smoke is carried away by the breeze, and Jason watches it dissipate in the night air.
But cigarettes don’t last forever, and Jason’s pretty cold and it’s only getting later, so he heads back inside. He’s halfway down the hall when he hears a mumble from the parlour, though the words are indistinct.
Jason had been under the impression that everyone sensible (ie. everyone sans Bruce, The Batman, who God forbid gets a regular night’s sleep when he can instead sit and brood on a goddamn gargoyle downtown) was already in bed. So he opens the door.
The Replacement’s asleep on the couch, curled into a tight and painful-looking ball. One of his arms is flung over the side of the couch, and the kid’s mouth is open. Case-files are littered around him, and there’s a yellow legal pad full of his cramped-handwriting. And Jesus. They aren’t even Tim’s cases; the ones Jason recognises are Dick’s and Bruce’s, some of the ones that’ve been giving them trouble lately.
And while Jason watches, the kid shifts in his sleep, uncomfortably, mumbles; “Don’… s’g’nna be fine, swear” or something just as stupid. And Jason. Jason’s halfway back in the hall, fully intending to leave him there, when he sighs. Turning back.
At first he plans to just find a blanket or something, but the kid’s definitely going to wake up with muscle-cramps if Jason leaves him here. Hell, he’s probably stunting his growth, sleeping so contorted.
So Jason crouches down in front of the couch, wondering how to wake him. What would Bruce do… ?
He rests a hand on Tim’s dark hair, immediately feels like an asshole, and withdraws it. He settles for shaking Tim’s shoulder, says, “Come on, babybird, you didn’t even pick the comfy couch.”
“Mm… Jace?” Tim’s eyes flicker open, tired, confused. He blinks, drowsy.
“You fell asleep. C’mon, it’s pretty late, and you can’t sleep here.”
“I–” he says. Yawns, closes his eyes again. Half-rolling onto his front. “S’fine, I’ll just. Stay here. ‘m pretty tired.”
Jason frowns. “You know that’s like… not allowed, right?”
Tim looks at him questioningly, with his big blue half-asleep eyes, and Jason just sighs. Turns his back on the kid, still squatting close to the floor. Long-sufferingly, “Hop on, then. Up we go.”
“I’ll piggyback you to your room,” Jason explains, rolling his eyes.
“No th’nks…” Tim mumbles, sounding confused. Jason can hear rustling behind him, Tim getting more comfortable on the couch. Probably settling in for the rest of the night.
And Jason says, “I give you shit all the time. You’ll survive this one nice thing.”
Tim makes a sort of ‘hmm’ noise, managing to convey suspicion and skepticism in one syllable, and so Jason says, “Hurry it up. Before I make you.”
There’s a pause. The sound of Tim sitting up, his sleepy, almost petulant; “I can walk.”
“I know you can,” Jason says, grunts, while Tim’s warm weight presses against his back. “The problem is that you won’t.” He gets his hands under Tim’s knees, Tim’s arms loose around his shoulders. And he stands, hoisting Tim more firmly against him. “Direct to your room, huh? No pitstops?”
And Tim. Mumbles something tiredly against the back of his neck. Turns his face, so his cheek is pressed there.
“Okay,” Jay says, trying to keep the chuckle out of his voice. This little shit.
The babybird slurs, accusingly, “… smell like cigarettes.”
“Shit, kid,” Jason says. “You ever thought about being a detective?”
Tim huffs at that, and Jason feels the breath of it ruffle his hair. And it’s a few long, silent moments, Tim heavy and warm and still, when he mumbles, “ ’s is embarrassing.”
“For me, too,” Jason admits. “Don’t worry, though, if anyone catches us, I’m gonna tell ‘em I knocked you out and am hiding the evidence.”
“Heh,” Tim says. “ ‘kay.”
And Jason rubs a thumb over Tim’s thigh, feels him shift and still again. Arms tightening, chin hooked over Jason’s shoulder. Breath slowing back into sleep.
So they’re silent, the rest of the short walk to Tim’s bedroom, Tim’s sleep-warm cheek pressed against Jason’s.
Jason leaves the light off in the bedroom, not wanting to wake his cargo. He carefully lowers Tim to the bed, making a half-hearted attempt to arrange him vaguely comfortably. Or at least so he’s lying down in the right direction.
Then he drags the comforter over him, hesitating. He pets Tim’s hair, once, twice. Says, “Babybird,” as something of a farewell.
He’s halfway back to the door when he hears, distinctly, “Giant softie,” called from the bed.
“Kid,” Jason says, steadily. Turning around. “You don’t wipe that smirk off your face and I’ll kick your ass, you get me?”
“Ha,” Tim mumbles. His eyes are slits in the dark. “Yeah right.” And then, teeth showing in a tired smile, “G’night, Jace.”
Jason rubs his temples. He needs another goddamn cigarette. “… goodnight, Tim.”