All innocence
by Te
September 12, 2004

Disclaimers: Not even close to mine.

Spoilers: Various old storylines in vague and
AU-ized ways.

Summary: It's scary when it's simple, but that
doesn't make the simple answers stop being right.

Ratings Note/Warnings: NC-17. Contains content
some readers may find disturbing.

Author's Note: Fourth installment in The Angels You
Need (formerly Spareverse) series. Starts a few
weeks after the end of "Miss World," and won't
make a lick of sense if you haven't read those first.
More notes at the end.

Acknowledgments: To Mary, Jack, and LC for
audiencing, encouragement, and many, *many*
helpful suggestions.


The thing is -- the fucking *scary* thing is -- how
simple it all really is, when you get right down to

Jason figures he's been around just long enough
to know how fucked-up things are when they look
simple, and worse, when they *are*.

Like this, like them, right now --

"*No*, I don't want a goddamned break!" Steph's
on the floor, on her knees *and* her fist. If she
was fine, she'd just be on her knees. He knows it,
Tim knows it, *she* knows it.

But she stands up, and she only wobbles for a
second, and her fists are up in a ready position
just that fast.

Tim's still hesitating, looking for something to
critique --

No, looking for a good reason to stop the spar
before he does serious damage.

"Come *on*," she says, and her cheeks are
flushed and her hair's a mess and Jason
wonders if Tim would count "Batman wants to
fuck Batgirl stupid" as a good reason.

Probably not.

And Tim flicks him a glance, which is as close
as he'll come to asking for help. With this,


"Where are you injured?" He's careful to use
something close-but-not-too-close to the
Batman voice, and he watches them both hear
it, feel it, and he remembers Bruce and the way
he --

He focuses. Steph is glaring somewhere past
Tim's shoulder, and then she's glaring at him.
There's a twist to her mouth that the woman
he'd thought was his mother, once upon a time,
would call 'muley.'

He lowers his own chin a little and focuses
harder, this time on looking serious. It's not

Finally, Steph breaks, blowing out a breath and
tossing her ponytail back over her shoulder. One
more good toss and the tie will fall right out.
"My back teeth feel loose and I'm going to have
some killer bruises on my ribs and my toes hurt,
but I'm *fine*, okay?"

Ribs. Damn. "Let me see," he says, and moves
closer, onto the mats.

"What, my teeth? I'll get a bridge -- *ow* --"

It's one of the things he's known how to do for
a really long time, actually. Since before Bruce,
and his Dad would come home flush from a
good 'job' and hit the bars and the bars would,
more often than not, hit back.

"*Watch* it," Steph says when he lifts her t-shirt
to just beneath her bra, which means she knows
*exactly* what he's doing and is really hoping to
God he doesn't find anything cracked or broken.

She has a Dad, too.

Out of the corner of his eye, he can see Tim
doing the statue thing. Not looking away from
them or anything, but by no means looking *at*
them. The fact that he hasn't actually *done*
anything with Steph while Tim was around has
at least as much to do with Tim knowing when
to make himself scarce -- he's damned good at
that -- as it does with him having any class.

And he already knows Steph's body well enough
to know that much of the area over her right
side feels wrong, like a fruit that's just a bit too
ripe. But... not too wrong.

"Tim, ditch the boots. Steph, you're good. But only
for another hour or so, and we've gotta tape you
up after."

"I *told* you," she says, and her voice is all about
being pissed and her eyes are all about being

Just as if Jason *would* actually bench her for
anything short of abject-fucking-need. Which,
really, just *no*.

He moves off the mats and heads back to his
books. He's got a paper due on Heart of
Darkness in two days, and he's *read* it --
*twice* -- he just has no fucking clue what it's

And he's not likely to, tonight, because...

Shit, it's simple. It's really damned simple, because
he remembers when he spent every training session
thinking Bruce was going to wake up and realize
how *insane* it was to train the kid he picked up in
a damned alley to be Robin, and because Bruce is

Dick is dead, and Barbara and Jim *Gordon* are
dead, just because of some damned stupid
break-in gone wrong of all fucking things, and...

And he's Batman. Batman is always about one bad
paper from flunking the hell out of English -- no
matter *how* much help Tim is -- and Robin is a
really intense kid who weighs about as much as
he did when he was *starving*, and Batgirl...

Just hit the damned mats again.

Though not with her head, and not on her bad

Small, *small* favors.

And he doesn't know what he's going to do if and
when one of the freaks busts out of Arkham, and
Commissioner Essen would totally call their parents
to yank them home -- if she could -- and Alfred --

They need help.

Which is why they're training Steph.

Correction -- which is why Tim *didn't* just scare
her off the first time, and why Alfred had just
asked if Miss Stephanie would require a room of
her own.

Because it's *not* just his stupid idea, or even the
fact that she's fucking hot as hell -- and can punch
Tim hard enough to make the kid grunt when she
can get through his blocks -- it's that it's all really,
*really* fucking simple.

They need her.

And she's not even *close* to all they need.


Tim sits on the console beside him, flexing and
stretching his fingers. Two of his knuckles crack,
and Jason remembers how, when Bruce would
stretch, there'd be this little symphony of creaks
from all the joints he'd abused over the years.

Jason has his own symphony, now, and it's just
going to get longer.

Tim's staring idly at the door leading into the
showers, where Steph has been for about ten

Normally, she'd be out already -- she's pretty fast
with that stuff for a girl -- but Jason doesn't think
either of them have any illusions about just how
good she's *not* feeling after that spar.

She'd said something about how her mom thinks
she's running with gangs, and laughed in a way
that was *almost* entirely real.

Jason is staring at Heart of Darkness.
There are words, and they're in English, and the
sentences aren't very long.

He's totally flunking English.

"I wonder what Bat -- Barbara did. Before," Tim

Jason only blinks a little. Tim *has* actually
started talking to him about more than the
work -- and he'd really like to know what brought
that on, because he's sure as shit it wasn't
*him* -- but usually not about the others.


"She was semi-retired by the time I came on,
actually," and Tim nods impatiently. Somewhere in
Tim's files, there's probably a notation about that.
"When she *did* shower here, Bruce and I would
just hang out like we are now. But that was pretty

Tim nods again, and... well, Tim still isn't looking
at *him*, but he's very clearly *there*, too.

"I always used to wonder what it was like for her
to go back to her *house* like that. Dick said her
Dad always worked long hours, though, so..."

There's a pause. Just a little one, but still kind of
obvious, and then Tim says, "Were you close? To

"Me? Not really. I didn't even meet her until I'd
been Robin for a while, and then..." And then she
was just there because Bruce was checking up
on me, I think. Jason would kind of like the whole
story about that, too.

And he's never going to get it.

"I think Dick was the only one really close to her,"
he says, finally.

He can pretty much *see* Tim filing that away in
that way he has that's all about the fact that Alfred
isn't, actually, the one who does the dusting in
Dick's old room these days. Not all the time.

"I miss her anyway. She was... man. You
should've seen her. I thought *I* had fun out
there back in the day, but she had this *grin*,
you know?"

"I've seen... pictures," Tim says.

Jason nods.

"I found something in the files about a
conversation she'd had with Bruce quite some time
ago. About how they weren't using computers as
much as they could. Bruce seemed to think she
had a point."

Jason... *blinks* and maneuvers as best he can
onto the new conversational track. "Okay? I mean,
yeah. Our computers have always been the best,
but I think I can see how Babs might think we
could do more with them. She was really into

Tim looks at him, and *looks* at him, but all he
says is "Like me?"

"Well... yeah. Kind of." In that way where he'd
never actually thought 'giant freaky computer
geek' when he'd looked at *Babs*, but...
whatever. It was clearly there from what she
could *do*.


And Jason thinks about saying... *something*
else, or maybe just punching Tim in the arm, but
in the end he can't really come up with anything
at all. If he's doing this -- *any* of this --
remotely right, it's completely by chance.

Jason swallows back a sigh and looks at the
damned book again.

"Steph told me she didn't mind if we showered
with her."

Jason snickers. "You *know* she'd stop saying
things like that if you'd just stop blushing."

"I'm *working* on it," Tim says.

He probably totally is.


The thing about the Batsignal is that it stopped being
cool and exciting sometime around when he'd
stopped being able to go to the big, cheap
meat-warehouse places -- even though they
*always* have the best bacon -- because they
smelled too much like old blood and he had way
too many memories about that.

Then, it was just about business, and about the way
Commissioner Gordon never, ever asked *him* any
specific questions about anything, because Gordon
knew Dick -- and maybe even knew who Dick
*was* -- and pretty much had to do everything
short of lobotomizing himself in order to pretend
that the Robin currently standing in front of him
was actually the Robin who hadn't *been* Robin in,
like, a year.

And was taller.

And leaner.

And just totally not *him*.

And, well, by the time it really *hit* him that he'd
never see Jim Gordon again, *either*, he hadn't
really had anything like the right kind of grief left
over for it, and it's not like he'd ever be able to
look at cops as anything but the Potentially
Helpful Ally, But Mostly Enemy, but...

He'd had sympathy, and respect, and not just
because Bruce did.

Hell, Bruce seemed to think freaking *Leslie*
walked on water, and Jason had always had a few
doubts about that, no matter *how* many times
she'd helped.

No, Gordon had been a good man, and an
*important* ally, and while he doesn't have
anything *personal* against Essen -- he even
remembers Bruce mentioning *Jim* mentioning
her favorably at least once...

Once again, he's letting Tim do the talking.
Because even though Tim's younger, smaller,
and infinitely freakier, his Robin voice gets way
less *attitude* from Essen than Jason's Batman

If he has to hear one more thing about voices
changing from that woman...


And it works. Essen just glares at him once before
asking Tim pointed questions about his parents
which Tim pointedly ignores, and then they get
down to business. It's just a string of armed
robberies with a couple of dead bodies and a lack
of court-worthy footage of the perps, and Jason
swallows back the bitterness and goes with the

Because it's not like he's ever going to be
remotely *upset* that the freaks are quiet and
locked up, and it's *also* not like he has all that
much more faith in them right now than Essen
does -- he'd be perfectly happy to have another
few months to use as on-the-job training for
*both* himself and Robin.

And one day she's going to need them for more
than just what the cops are too overloaded to
handle, anyway.

The question is whether or not she'll own up to
that before it's too late.

He skims the file over Tim's shoulder, but mostly
just pays attention to Tim himself. And before
turning the last page, Tim flexes his fist again.
Pop-pop go his knuckles and then he hands it
back, and then Jason gives Essen Batman's best
blank look of "I'll get this done," and then they're
moving, Tim following easily.


"I'm here," Tim says in his ear as they swing
around an apartment building full of people who'll
hopefully never realize Batman is sixteen until
sometime *after* Jason is safely dead.

"How are you?"


"Your *hand*, Robin."

The funny thing about the communicators is that
it's easier to hear the tiny, exasperated sigh than
it would be if Tim were just next to him.

"Start using the staff with Batgirl," he says, and
moves toward the convenience store where the
perps had left bodies behind.

"It's too soon for that. You *know* that."

"Not all the time. Just breaks, to give your hand
a rest."

Tim pauses, and lands behind him. "One spar out
of five."

"Two," Jason says, and grabs Tim's wrist. He
sees Tim's mouth move but the sharp exhale is
only in his ear. Disconcerting, especially since he
can't check the kid's pulse with them both in

After a second, Tim raises an eyebrow at him from
behind his mask.

"*Two*," Jason repeats. "Because it's also too soon
for more than just the basic hits, and it's *way* too
soon for me to take over."

Tim stares at the ground, and Jason stares at the
top of Tim's head while Tim breathes at him
through the communicator. And says, "there isn't
much *more* than the basic stuff."

A week ago, that would've made him want to beat
both of their heads against this handy alley wall,
because it'd only be *merciful*.

But Steph's getting better every day, and --

"I know. And I've got a plan."

Tim finally looks up. "Tell me."

"Heh. When it's *more* of a plan. Let's go do the
we're-sympathetic-yet-give-us-answers-now thing."

Tim rubs his wrist when Jason lets go, then slips
behind him. He hadn't *thought* he was holding
on too hard, but he'll be careful anyway.

The last thing they need is to fuck *themselves*

And the thing about eye-witnesses is that they
are, actually, useless more often than not in
*court* -- it takes too long for cases to make it
to trial, and the more trauma a witness has means
the more opportunities for a defense lawyer to
fuck him or her up -- but for things like this...

All he has to do is look serious and grim -- *not*
hard with the bloodstains still visible under not
*enough* fresh paint -- while trading questions
with Tim.

Tim asks the hardballs, he asks the softballs. It's
the way it always works, though it probably used
to work better when Robin wasn't nearly as
frightening as Batman. Tim loves that cape way
more than is remotely healthy, and *exactly* as
much as *he* would've loved it.

Three perps working the room, one driver. Black
SUV, of the type favored by drug dealers and
Dads who can't suck it up and buy a minivan.
Ski-masks, guns.

They get the best description by *far* of the
guns, which is interesting, but mostly useless --
they already knew the bad guys were using Glock
9 mms from the ballistic reports.

However, they *also* know that at least one of
the perps has freckled wrists, and that another
has surprisingly small feet for a man his size.

"As tall as Batman?" Tim asks, doing a credible
impression of an actual teenager.

"Oh, no, *much* taller. Er. No offense."

"None taken," Jason manages to say with an
entirely straight face, and wonders if he's too old
for hormone shots.

The Batmobile meets them a comfortable three
blocks southeast, and Tim hits the files.

"Have to be professionals. Experienced," he says,
hunched over his laptop.

"In the system, yeah. Look for --"

"Freckles, yes," Tim says.

"Heh. And to think people get pissy about the
changing racial balance in Gotham."

"Could be mixed heritage."

"Fuck. Christ, I hope not," he says, and steers
them into a neighborhood where there'll almost
certainly be people for them to hit.

"Hm. Not nearly as many of those in the system,"
Tim says, and the corner of his mouth is tilted up.

Jason snorts. "Affirmative Action is clearly failing
and... man. I'm pretty sure we both need to be
punched for having this conversation."

"Only for laughing at it," Tim says, and types
something quickly.

Jason keeps an eye out for morally comforting
gang members. Maybe a nice child molester.


It feels really, really good to lie on his back on the
mats. So good that he's thinking seriously about
getting some planks or something for under Bruce's
mattress, which is not, actually, all that soft.

Mostly he's thinking about Steph, and the bruises
up and down her chest, and her healing black eye,
and her tight, wet pussy, wrapped around him and

Rhythmically, because there's nothing like getting
a woman off a few times *first* to make her
really --

*Really* focused about driving *you* crazy.

"Gonna come for me, Batman...?" She says
'Batman' like it's just another tease, which actually
works way fucking better for him than when she --
or Tim -- says it seriously. Because -- *because*.

"What do *you* think?"

She grins and tosses her ponytail back over her
shoulder. And squeezes *hard* before starting to
honestly *ride* him.

"Christ, Steph --"

"Mmm. Yeah," and her mouth twists up like she's
concentrating, and some part of Jason braces
himself for *whatever* else she's going to do,
but it's nothing.

She's thinking. About something, and he thinks --

He thinks he'll think about it sometime *later*,
because she reaches behind herself and scratches
her short nails over his *balls* --

"Oh *fuck* yeah, squeeze 'em, just --"

"Jason," she says, and it's more like a growl, and
that just --

Just --

"God -- *damn* you feel good --"

He bucks up hard, hard enough to make her tits
bounce, and -- "oh fuck, oh *fuck* --"

By the time he can breathe again, she's off and
next to him, running her hand up and down
between her breasts and staring up at the

"*Fuck*, Steph," he says fervently, and Steph
grins lazily before looking at him.

"So when do I start *training* with you, Jason?"

She never actually calls him 'Jay,' and while
that's actually kind of soothing, it *is* always a
surprise. With her, anyway.

*Tim's* going to call him 'Jay' sometime after
the apocalypse.

He grins back at her and traces a finger lightly
over her shiner. "Give Tim a matching one of
those. Then we'll see."

"Hmph. He's *fast*."

"Yep. And tricky." He moves his finger down to
the corner of her mouth. Most people wouldn't
even be able to see the bruise she'd had there.
"But you can be tricky, too," he says, and strokes
over the edges of where the bruise used to be.

She smiles in kind of a weird way and catches his
hand, squeezing it for a second before pushing it

Correction -- pushing it away in a way that makes
it really obvious and *important* that she's not on
top of him or playing with the rapidly grossifying
condom on his dick or anything.

The warning bells in his head are muted, but
they're also absolutely there.


"This isn't -- we're not *going* anywhere, right?"


She snorts at the look of his face. "That's not, like,
pressure or anything. I don't think... well. We
shouldn't be."


"It's funny how Batman can be *Batman* and still
be such a *boy*," she says, and stands up,
stretching in a really attractive -- and correct --
way before heading for her workout clothes.

Jason ditches the condom and wings it at the
waste basket that had mysteriously appeared over
by the steps in a way that makes him want to
spend some time not thinking about what Alfred
does and doesn't know.

He really had thought he was used to... that, from
the guy, but just no.

"So... you wanna stop?"

"Yeah, maybe?" She shrugs and pulls her
sweatpants on before turning back to face him,
with a grin on her face. "I mean, it's not like I'd
say no to another chance to rock the Batmobile's
shocks at some point, but..." She nods toward
where the Batgirl uniform Jason and Alfred had
modified for her is waiting. "I kind of have other
things to think about, you know?"

He... absolutely gets that. "I get that. And... heh.
I wouldn't mind a little shock-rocking, either. You
just... you know. Let me know."

Her grin gets even wider for a second, more...
*full* of something. "I never thought I'd meet
anyone like you."

"We're not so different," he says, bracing himself
on his elbows.

"That's my *point*, Jason. The guys I know who
aren't so different from me... well. I don't see
you cruising my high school for other chicks like
*me*, you know?"

"Any of 'em have your right cross?" It's only
when she starts laughing as she tugs on her bra
that he realizes that he's half-serious. Way past
time for him to actually move the plan into
second gear.

"-- other stuff. I mean, I kind of think I should
be around Tim more."

Jason blinks and focuses. Way past time for him
to sleep more than four hours a night, too. "What
about Tim?"

She comes back and sits cross-legged in front of
him. He's got a great view of her from between his
knees and --

Focus, right. He focuses on looking curious. She
just looks thoughtful for a while before saying,

"I figure I should get to know him a little better. I
mean, he's the one who trains me, but I don't
think I've ever even had a *conversation* with

He thinks about telling her how many months it
took for *him* to have a conversation with the
guy, but --

"Plus, I know we make him uncomfortable."

"Hunh? Has he said something, or --"

Steph backhands his knee. "Not even. I can't
believe *you* haven't noticed -- wait, no, I
forgot, giant *boy*. Anyway. There's a difference
between 'Tim is being all serious and quiet
because he thinks he has to be' and 'Tim is being
all serious and quiet because...'" Another shrug.

Jason finishes sitting up and brushes a lock of
sweaty hair off her forehead absently. "And then
there's the fact that Tim just kind of *is* 'all
serious and quiet.'"

"I guess... and anyway, there's *also* something

Jason rubs at the scars on his jaw. "You know,
you don't actually have to convince me --"

"Hey, I'm supposed to be some kind of detective
someday, right? You should *encourage* this
stuff from me."

"Okay, okay." He puts his hands up. "What's the
something else?"

"You. It's like... six kinds of obvious that there's
*someone* you haven't gotten over," she says,
and her smile is teasing. "So who is she?"

He needs better alarms. He's pretty sure he
doesn't *look* like the bottom of his stomach
just fell out of his ass -- because Steph is still
smiling -- but that's about all he can manage.

"C'mon, *tell* me. I'll practice my nerve-strikes
on her for you."

He can't help it, he laughs so hard he chokes.
Because he can see it, in two different ways at
once. *Bruce* training Steph into the freaking
machine she could so clearly be, *and* Steph
digging up that dead body which isn't even
remotely Bruce and prodding at it until...

"Oh, like I can't just look for your freaking
yearbook --"

Yearbook. *Christ*. He wipes his eyes. "She's
not in the yearbook, Steph."

"Or see where you used to hang out --"

"She's Batman, Steph. Or she was." Suddenly,
the image of Bruce in one of Steph's belly shirts
is massive and overpowering, and he breathes
to keep from choking. "*He* was."

"Or -- oh. I... oh." Her eyes are as wide as they
were when she'd seen the Cave for the first
time. And then she starts blinking. "*Oh*."

Jason tries on his own lazy grin and waits.


And waits.

"Oh, *man*, and I was just all -- God, that was --
and I was -- *crap*!"

Jason snorts. "Does it make you uncomfortable?"

"It makes me freaking *surprised*. I never
thought... well, I mean, my Dad used to make
these *really* bad jokes, but --"

"I'd just like to state, for the record, that the
short-shorts were totally Dick's fault."

"Dad always called them panties," she says, and
her eyes are still really wide, but she's smirking.

"I *could* have Alfred put the high heels back on
the Batgirl boots."

"Aw, fuck you," she says, and punches his

They're still laughing and punching at each other
when Tim pulls into the Cave on his bike. There
really need to be more occasions when Batman
can ride a motorcycle. Just --

"I could come back," Tim says, and his eyebrow
is raised so far under the mask that it's not just
obvious from a distance, but painful-looking.

Crap, he'd forgotten to put his clothes back on.
"I --"

Steph stands up, brushing off the back of her
sweats with her hands. "Nah, I was just leaving,"
she says, grabbing her backpack and slinging it
over her shoulder. For a moment it looks like
she's about to say something else to Tim, or
maybe reach out, but in the end she just heads
for the stairs. "Later, guys!"

"Later, Steph!"

"See you tomorrow," Tim says, and waits for the
soft *clunk* of the clock closing before starting
to strip. "I need a shower," he says to a spot
somewhere over Jason's shoulder.

Uncomfortable? Jason shakes it off and stands,
stretching. "Amazingly enough... heh. Meet you
there, man."


He's actually mostly done by the time Tim joins
him, even though he's washing off a relatively
short patrol and, well, *Steph*.

Tim doesn't say anything, or look at him, just
starts the shower. And it *isn't* all that strange,
even now, but...

He punches Tim's shoulder lightly. "Hey, sorry
about that, man. Totally spaced. But... heh. It's
not like you're not used to seeing *my* naked

Tim nods and just keeps scrubbing.

And... crap. "Hey." He just leaves his hand on
Tim's shoulder this time. "You okay?"

Tim looks at Jason's hand for a long moment,
and breathes, and *then* looks up to meet his
eyes. "Yes."

"Okay, is that a 'yes, I'm fine,' or a 'no, but leave
me the fuck alone?'"

The corner of Tim's mouth twitches. "Guess."

Jason squeezes Tim's shoulder. "Was it patrol?"
He knows it wasn't patrol.

"Patrol was fine. Just some 'bangers." Another
twitch. "I think I interrupted a 'rumble.'"

"You totally called it that, too, didn't you? With
the air quotes and everything."

"Possibly," Tim says, and turns back to face the
tile. He doesn't so much push Jason's hand off
his shoulder as ignore its continued presence on
his skin. And... crap.

"Steph thinks you're uncomfortable," he tries.

Tim tenses under his hand -- tenses *fast* -- and
makes a very clear, deliberate effort to relax. Slow.
"Does she."

"Yeah, well, now *I* do."

Tim gives him the most unreadable look Jason's
ever actually seen, and says, "What you and Steph
do with your own time is none of my business."

"*Jesus*, man." Jason gives Tim a little shove and
turns to lean back against the tile. It's steamy
enough in here that it's not uncomfortably cold
against the scars on his back. "You know, you
*could* have said something."

Tim finishes soaping himself up and reaches to
twist the shower nozzle until it's past massage
and well into what Jason used to think of as
'watery bludgeoning.' "I didn't see the point. I
still don't."

"The point --!" Jason growls and bangs his head
back against the wall. "The *point* is that we
have to *work* together, man. Which means
when you're uncomfortable, you fucking well
*talk* to me."

"Noted," Tim says, and lifts his head to let the
water pound the hell out of his face for a few
moments before shifting aside just enough that
he can open his eyes again and look at him.
"Anything else?"

Batman never, never strangles his Robin, no
matter how much he wants to. Batman never,
never -- Jason breathes. "How 'bout telling me
*why* you were uncomfortable, Tim?"

The expression on Tim's face briefly shifts to
something pinched and... well, *uncomfortable*
before shifting right back to blank. "It's not
important," he says, and turns, and reaches for
the shampoo.

Which is still close enough to *Jason* that he
can snatch it out of Tim's hand before he gets
a good grip. "Not good enough."

"Jason --"

"Christ, you don't think I wanted to bring her in
just to fuck her, do you? Tell me --"

"Of *course* not," Tim says, and looks honestly
angry for a moment, even blinking under the
force of the spray.

"Then what the fuck *is* it, Tim? Just *talk* to

Tim just looks at him, blinking like an actual kid
instead of just a kid-shaped Robin, and then his
eyes drift down to Jason's chest. And for a
moment Jason thinks Tim's just avoiding his
eyes again, but...

It's the *right* side of his chest, and, when he
looks down, the welts Steph had left with her
short nails blend almost perfectly with the flush
from the shower.



Tim takes a hitching breath, and it's like
slow-motion, like the kind of nightmare where
everyone can move at normal speed except for
you, because all the air around you has turned
into syrup. He can see it happening, but he

He has no fucking clue *what* he wants to do
about it.

After about eight *years*, Tim's fingertips land --
lightly -- on his pec, and Tim swallows, and his
hand *spasms*, and --

"Tim --"

"It's." Tim swallows again, moves, turns the
shower off, and heads for the door. "It's not
important," he says, without turning around, and
then he's gone.

And *gone* by the time Jason can remember
how to breathe and, like, *move*, and get out of
the shower.



The thing is, Jason's never actually *met*
Huntress. Or, hell, *seen* her. Even for long
enough to see if she looks more like a 'Helena
Bertinelli' up close than she does in Bruce's file

The file itself is as detailed as anything else,

Address current as of the last time Bruce had
signed off on the profile -- about a month before
Two-Face... before. Everything's right there, from
the fact that she teaches at the same elementary
school Steph used to go to -- though not while
Steph was *there* --- to as much of her history
as Bruce could pick up or figure out.

Including the part where she'd been trained by
Asaro family assassins, which is, as far as Jason's
concerned, the *most* important thing.

Bruce had used it as one of the reasons he didn't
approve of her working in Gotham, and why
"stronger measures may have to be found to
discourage her," and if there's *anything* he
never doubted Bruce about it's the training, but...


*Bruce* had been trained by all sorts of fucked-up
people -- most of whom are now dead, and the
rest Jason wouldn't go near without more layers
of kevlar than are on *all* of his spare Batsuits --
and possibly heavy drugs.

The fact is, his training didn't stop until he was
injured, and started right up again as soon as
Bruce had gotten over himself and brought him
back to Gotham. And not just reminders and
Bruce-style PT, either. He was still learning
*new* things.

The *fact* is, while it would be better to learn
more from Bruce, or from someone whose skills
Bruce *had* approved of, it's really just not
possible -- unless they all try to take up the bow
and arrow or something.


The only reason he knows dick about Green Arrow
is that he'd come to the funerals and his beard
was pretty much impossible to ignore. And there's
the JLA connection for that, and... and, hell.

Tim isn't, actually, late.

Tim isn't even late for being as early as he *usually*
is, and it hasn't even been twenty fucking hours
and he *wouldn't* bail on this just because of... just
because of *this*, and even though Jason's not
actually worried about anything except for the paper
which only made it to ten double-spaced pages
because of judicious use of Courier font.

But he slips in the special not-quite-JLA
communicator, anyway.


"I'm here, Batman. What can I do for you?"

And he's going to get used to being called 'Batman'
by Superman pretty much *never*. "Well... are
you busy?"

"I can be there --"

"No, no, there's no emergency. Promise. I just
wanted to talk."

"Oh," Superman says, and it's pretty amazing how
easy it is to hear the smile in just one syllable.

But then, it's also *Superman*. Jason smiles a little
himself. "How are you?"

"I'm just fine, J -- Batman. Thanks for asking."

And a little more. "You know you can call me
Jason, Superman. I mean, as long as you're not
in the middle of a huge crowd of supervillains or

Superman laughs in his ear. "All right, Jason. And
you'll start calling me Clark..."

"Oh... right. Clark. Sorry."

"It's all right. How is Robin? Tim. We didn't get
the chance to talk after that nasty business in
Haiti. How are *you*?"

Tim's apparently lusting for my ass, and still really
damned freaky, actually. Jason snorts and rubs at
his temples. "He's not actually talkative at the best
of times, but he's all right. I'll send him your
regards." Please don't ask about his parents,
because they're giant fuckups and I'm not sure
they deserved a Supersave. Jason sighs. "God, you
have no idea how grateful --"

"Jason," Superman says, and there's a *weight*
to the word. His name. "I was happy -- grateful --
that I could help. I... you know I'm here for you."

Jason closes his eyes. "Thank you."

"You're welcome. Now, how *are* you?"

"I... I'm juggling, really."


"Yeah, well." How in *hell* are you letting me
actually do this? *Be* this? What are you
*thinking*? "I'm thinking about recruiting Huntress,
and I was wondering... well, I have Bruce's old
file, but..."

"Hmm. Well, *I* only know her through that file,
really. Bruce tended to keep the League updated
about... well."

Jason smiles ruefully. "People he thought might
be a problem someday?"

Superman sighs. "Well, it might be helpful to
remember that I'm not actually sure who -- save
for, perhaps, you, Dick, Barbara, and Alfred --
Bruce *didn't* think might be a problem
someday." A brief, but surprisingly humorless
laugh. "Including me."

"He trusted you."

"Much of the time."

There's something of a pause, and for a moment
Jason wonders what Superman is actually doing.
If he's flying, or listening out for meteors thinking
about crashing to earth, or doing Clark Kent
things like...

Well, Jason's not actually sure what 'Clark Kent
things' are.

And then Superman clears his throat. "Are you
thinking of making her... the new Batgirl?"

Jason blinks, because... wow. There isn't, actually,
any reason for Superman to know about what he's
doing. "Um... no. I'm hoping she can help Tim and
I *train* the new Batgirl, among other things."
Like helping us be *useful*. "Uh... you haven't met
her. Yet. I think..."

'I think you'll like her,' is what he was going to
say, and has to spend a lot of time trying to keep
from beating his head against the desk, because,
really, it's not like he needs them to *date* or

"I think she's going to work out well."

"I trust your judgment," Superman says, and
Jason shifts his focus to not screaming 'why' at
the top of his lungs. "And, in any event, I don't
believe Bruce ever doubted Huntress' *skills*."

"Because if he did, *you* never would've gotten
the file."

"Exactly. And, well. She *is* a teacher, yes?"

Jason thinks about Helena turning out to be the
sort of person who treats *everyone* like the
eight year olds she teaches, and has to smile

Steph will beat her bloody if she tries.

"Yeah," he says, and turns around smiling when
he hears Tim deliberately scuffing his feet on the

And *remembers* and feels the smile freeze on
his face, because Tim looks like he got pretty
much no sleep. He hopes to God Tim realizes
that's why Jason's face looks like whatever it
looked like before he got some fucking

And then Tim nods at him and heads for his
workout clothes.


"Jason? Is there anything wrong?"

Superman. God. He can start coping *any* fucking
minute, now. "Oh, no, Tim just came in. I. I
should go, actually."

"All right... it was good hearing from you, Jason --
I just wish I could've been more help."

"No, you really were, Clark. Thank you. Again."

"You're welcome," Superman says, and the smile
is back in his voice. "Again."

"Batman out."

Jason closes the connection, stands, and winces.
He hadn't been *exactly* slacking in his yoga, but
he also hasn't been doing nearly enough
considering how fucking tense he absolutely
*knows* he is.

And the patrols.

And the sleep. He probably wouldn't look *that*
much better than Tim if he looked in a damned

He rolls his shoulder in the socket experimentally
and tries not to think about crowbars and how
*nice* they'd look buried in a green-haired head.

Back and forth, back and forth. It isn't *bad* --
he has whole new definitions for 'bad' -- but it's
still --

"It's acting up," Tim says, and really, there
aren't too many people who can move quieter
than Tim when he puts his mind to it.

Not anymore, anyway. "Yeah. It'll be fine. I just
need to..." And then he has to trail off, because
a) Tim *isn't* touching him the way he normally
would be, and b) Tim is standing there with his
hands raised like...

*Exactly* like he's waiting for permission. Jason
grits his teeth and *focuses*, and pastes what he
hopes is an easy smile on his face, and says,

"Hey, go ahead, man. It's *not* like I'm going to
say no."

Tim nods curtly and reaches up to prod lightly at
his shoulder until he finds the muscles that are
tensed up, and Jason remembers...

Remembers a *lot*. Three and a half years ago,
too buzzed *and* too freaked-out to do much
more than just stare at the Cave, and how that
feeling had lasted a *while* into his training.

How one of the *first* things Bruce had started
him on, physically, was hand strength and basic
techniques for therapeutic massage.

*And* how it had just made him assume
absolutely *wrong* things about Bruce... even
though they were also sort of right. Just not
*that* way.

"God, that's good."

"You taught me," Tim says.

"I taught you *well*."

He can see Tim's mouth twitching out of the
corner of his eye and that *has* to be a good
sign. "Listen --"

"You don't..." Tim's hands pause, but it's only
because he's repositioning them. "It won't be a
problem. *I* won't be a problem."

Jason frowns. "I never thought you -- ah, wait,
scar --"

"Got it."

"I never thought you *would* be," Jason says, and
drops into a crouch to make it easier for Tim to get
at the upper curve of his trapezius.

"Until last night," Tim says, and doesn't actually
stop working his shoulder.

"Yeah... wait. Fuck, no. Not even --"

"It's *all right* --"

"No, *no*, wait." He never *used* to get
headaches. "God, a month ago you wanted me dead
and rotting in the *ground*, Tim --"

"It was never about you," Tim says. "Stop tensing."

"And -- okay, I'm just going to *skip* that. What
I'm saying -- yeah, I was fucking *surprised*, but I
*never* thought you'd be a damned 'problem,'

When Tim pauses *this* time, it's a real one,
his fingertips settled lightly and somehow
managing not to be on *any* of Jason's scars.
Finally, Tim says, "Okay," and starts working

Jason blows out a breath. "Jesus, I didn't have a
clue. We've been *showering* together, dude."

"We don't have to."

"What? *No*. I mean -- Jesus, Tim --"

"You're tensing again," Tim says, and his voice is
just a little *too* dry.

Jason reaches to cover the hand he can reach and
looks up to see Tim looking... blank. *Except* for
his eyes. "Some deeply, *deeply* twisted part of
you is actually enjoying this conversation, isn't it?"


"*God*, you're a dick." Jason snorts and lets go.
"Keep rubbing."

"Sir, yes, sir." Dry as a *bone*.

"Right. Look, *nothing* has to change. I don't have
a problem if you don't have a problem, okay?"


And, no. Jason reaches up again and grabs Tim's
wrist this time. "*Okay*?"

No gauntlets on either of them. Tim's wrist is as
lean as the rest of him, and the skin is smooth
and entirely free of scars. For now. And his pulse
is racing.

"Tim --"

"Okay," Tim says, and twists free. "What's up
with Superman?"

"Ah, Superman. That was part of my *plan*.
Well, sort of."

"You want us to liaise with the JLA?"

"Well, no. Though we *could* renew some
contacts with the Titans." And that's actually a
really fucking *great* idea, especially if it doesn't
work out with Huntress. "No, actually. I was
double-checking something in Bruce's files with

"I'm not good at suspense, Jason."

Jason snorts and rolls his head forward so Tim can
work his neck more easily. "Huntress. Have you --"

"Helena Bertinelli. Family murdered in front of
her, teacher focusing in Special Education, trained,
at least in part, by Mafia assassins."

"Okay, you *have*. Great. We're going to recruit
her. Thoughts?"

Tim digs his thumbs into the sides of Jason's neck.
"Isn't she supposed to be... volatile?"

"According to Bruce, and, frankly? I think he
thought *Alfred* was volatile sometimes."

Tim pauses, again. "He must have been very...
controlled," he says, after a while.

"Most of the time."

The last time Jason had looked at his back in the
mirror, there'd been a small, light scar near the
base of his spine which had nothing to do with the
Joker, or even with Robin. Just Bruce, and his

He shakes it off and stands. "Okay. I'm healthy
enough to warm up so that I'll theoretically be
healthy enough for patrol." He punches Tim's
shoulder. "Good job."

"I try," Tim says with his mouth.

Jason doesn't even try to guess what he's saying
with his eyes.


It's actually kind of soothing to see Tim pissed off,
because it just doesn't happen often enough.

And while the *reason* he's pissed is only barely
comprehensible to Jason -- the fact that he hadn't
checked the Delaware state prison records right
away for freckled armed robbers who'd been
recently paroled, as opposed to the New Jersey,
New York, Pennsylvania, and freaking
*Connecticut* records -- the fact remains that
he's pissed, and taking it out on their perps in
fine, Robin-ly tradition.

And really, once Jason had taken Frankie O'Malley
down -- whose feet really were very small for a
man his size -- the rest of the crew (including Billy
O'Malley, who appears to have more freckles than
skin) were well within Tim's weight-class.

Jason leans back against the wall and watches
Tim do things which will keep the Blackgate
infirmaries hopping.

It's... yeah. Soothing.

He's had a little time to think about it -- all of it --
and he's pretty much convinced that the biggest
reason he'd had for freaking in the shower really
*is* the fact that that was... really fucking
emotionally *honest*.

Closer to the boy who hadn't stopped scowling
until Jason had taught him how to throw a
punch -- that one in particular, actually, as
another perp goes flying -- than to the one he'd
been... well, *since* then.

Even when he'd showed the kid *Dick's* room
he hadn't gotten all that *much* of a rise out of
him. He didn't think it was possible *to* get a
rise out of him, but... Tim's hand on him.

That was definitely a rise.

And it doesn't matter that it's probably more
than *just* Tim being frustrated over not being
*perfect*, that this... really fucking
*uncharacteristic* display of brutality probably
has as much to do with whatever Tim's feeling
for *him* as it does with anything else,

Well, no. It absolutely *does* matter, because --

Because Tim actually threw this one close enough
for him to punch.

"Thanks," Jason says, and Tim grunts at him and
keeps working.

It matters, it all does, because as good as Tim is,
as good a *partner* as he is...

It means more, feels more *real* that the kid is
just a little fucked up over him, and, for once and
fucking finally, not just because he's the (wrong)
one who'd survived.

And that's probably fucked up beyond all human
comprehension, but *he* still sleeps in Bruce's bed,
and he hasn't let Alfred pack up any of Bruce's
fucking *clothes*, and Steph hadn't had to be with
them for a month before she could *see* it,
and --

And he knows what he knows.

And he's the *only* one who can teach Tim anything
at all about what it means to be a Robin, and so it's
sweet -- *fucking* sweet -- to see Tim switch the
staff to his left hand *just* to throw that last,
perfect punch with his right.

Just because he *can*, and there's no one on the
fucking planet who'd say that it was the right
choice, or the *efficient* choice.

And he's right here to say -- to *know* -- that it's
the *better* choice.

When Tim looks back over his shoulder at him,
there's nothing on his face that isn't usually
there -- which means there's nothing.

Except for other people's blood.

Jason looks around at the bodies and... yeah.
Everyone's snoozing. He smirks. "Sure you don't
want to kick any of them while they're down? I
won't tell."

Tim narrows his eyes behind the mask and wipes
the blood off his cheek with the back of his
gauntlet. "Early night?"

"For you? Yeah."

Tim rears back like Jason's slapped him. Dammit.

"*Not* because -- shit. Zip-strip these guys while I
call it in, all right? Batgirl called earlier and said
she *would* be able to get in tonight. She's
probably already waiting for you back at the Cave."

Tim just looks at him for another beat before

By the time Jason's crushed the life out of yet
another pre-paid cell phone, Tim's done and
heading for the door. Jason catches his wrist
and squeezes, just a little.

Tim stops in his tracks but doesn't turn.

"*One* day you're going to be able to pretend
to trust me for long enough that I'll be able to
forget that you *don't*."

It takes another beat for Tim to nod at him


Bruce's file had said Huntress -- Bertinelli -- was
'independently wealthy,' but it hadn't mentioned
that she owned at least half of this apartment
block. It took about an hour of solid watching with
the sense that *something* was wrong before he
connected the persistent image of a pinball
machine in his mind with the fact that the lights in
all the apartments were switching on and off at
intervals that weren't *nearly* irregular enough.

And, while one apartment full of fully-dressed
mannequins could've been a coincidence -- this
*is* Gotham -- the other three he'd checked before
going back to staking out *her* apartment?

Not so much.

The big donations to various homeless shelters
Tim had found when he'd pulled Bertinelli's tax
records last night suddenly look a lot more like
guilt than generosity, but he can't exactly fault
her security.

Tim could probably come up with something better
for the lighting situation, though.

Jason makes a mental note to have Tim check on
what she's doing about the fact that the parking
garage in there has to be filing reports to
*somebody*, considering the *city's* security
issues, too.

Mostly, he just watches. And...

Spends way too much fucking time thinking
*around* Tim. If he was still Robin, he could let
himself off the hook for this shit -- he has no
illusions about how relaxing his life really just
*isn't* -- but he's not.

He's Batman, and there's no room for him to let
himself off the hook for *anything*. Not until he
makes their team *better*, somehow, and not
then, either.

And he sure as fuck knows how to watch an
empty apartment and think at the same time,


("Lists are simplistic and limiting. However, they
can make the difference between brooding and

Fact -- he doesn't want things to change between
them. They'd just started actually *working* right,
and if it's fucked-up that it had taken seeing Steph
watching them with a really *obvious* sense of
insecurity a few weeks back for him to get that,
then it's also true.

Fact -- it doesn't matter. Things have *already*
changed. Probably before he'd noticed that things
were *okay*.

Fact -- he doesn't actually know how he feels
about that, beyond even more terrified of fucking
things up.

Fact -- he has to figure it out.

And that ate up two whole minutes and didn't get
him *anywhere*, but it still... it feels better. Like
meditation or something.

Like... he should be getting more sleep. He

Christ, does Tim *resent* Steph? The idea seems
ridiculous and *idiotic* -- pettiness is *inefficient* --
but it also kind of doesn't. Tim's *fully* capable of
resenting someone just for existing, and when he's
in a bad mood...

Well, the police band said the bus had picked up
their robber-murderers an hour ago. Jason's
willing to bet they hadn't found all the teeth,
assuming they'd bothered with looking.

And the thought makes his *gut* clench, because
it doesn't matter that it's stupid, and that Tim
*knows* they need Steph. The fact is, if Tim
decided to do it, he could seriously *damage* her.

And neither he nor Steph would be able to say if
it was a training accident or *not*.

And... great. Now he's seriously thinking about
Robin crippling Batgirl because of the bizarre
love triangle with Batman. Maybe -- just fucking
*maybe* -- Tim isn't the only one with trust


It's enough to make the sound of Tim's boots
hitting the rooftop several feet behind him *way*
too fucking ominous. Especially considering --

"She's sick. I sent her home."

"Sick how?"

Tim looks at him for a long moment, and Jason's
pretty sure it's only the mask that makes the
look blank as opposed to *searching*. "I'm not
sure, beyond the vomiting."

"Dammit. Please let it be some twenty-four hour
thing. We *don't* need this."

"No," Tim agrees, and settles next to him behind
the balustrade. "She wasn't feverish and her
pupils were clear," he offers.

"Hmm. Probably not food poisoning, then."

Another look, but Tim only says, "I asked. She's
still on the diet Alfred and I made for her,
deviating only if she can't get the right fresh
fruits and vegetables from her local

And that's... perfect and *perfectly* Tim. Jason
smiles, ruefully. "You totally interrogated her
while she yarked, didn't you?"

"I waited until she was done," Tim says stiffly.
"And I thought you'd want to know."

"Believe me, I'm *not*..." Jason sighs and puts
the binoculars down and *looks* at Tim. "I need
you, okay? Because you're fucking perfect, and
you did perfectly tonight. I *need* you."

And Tim doesn't say anything at all, and Jason
wonders if he can just get Superman to get the
Martian to hook them up with some kind of
temporary psychic link so he can just *beam*
this crap directly from his brain into Tim's own
without having to count on his stupid fucking
*mouth*, but...

Tim's blushing, hard enough to be visible without
his night-vision lenses or even the infrared. He
looks young and soft and... *soft*, and it doesn't
matter how much Jason knows about how soft
he *isn't*, and it doesn't matter that all he needs
is, like, a bit more gymnastics training to pretty
much be the best Robin *ever*, because...

And then Tim swallows with an audible click and
looks away. "I wouldn't... I wouldn't ever... I know
Batgirl is important. To the Mission. I know. I
wouldn't, because --"

When Jason touches his shoulder, Tim gasps and
*shudders*, so Jason squeezes. "I know."

And he does.

"I'll call Batgirl tomorrow if she doesn't call first."

Tim nods. "Huntress. Huntress is still out."

"Yeah. If you flip to the pb channel on your comm,
you can hear about what *some* dark-haired
female vigilante did to Scuvolla's Perfectly
Legitimate Italian Eatery about forty-five minutes

"Hm. What if she doesn't want to shift her focus
away from organized crime?"

"I was thinking of trying to tempt her with the
Tongs. Maybe those Russians moving in on the
South Side."

"They *are* enticing," Tim says, and his voice is
almost right again.

"I certainly hope so."

"You want us to have the assassin training."

Jason sighs and nods. "Dick barely got any, *I*
barely got any, but Dick was *Dick* and I had
Batman watching my ass."

"I wouldn't mind it," Tim says.

"Uh, huh. Just don't turn serial killer or anything on
me. I don't need the stress."

Tim's smile is small, but, for once, it isn't really
twitchy. "You *are* tense."

"Yep. Don't expend too much energy tonight. I'm
going to need you to beat the hell out of my spine

"Okay," Tim says, and pulls out his own binoculars.

Jason snorts and reaches over to punch fists.


He doesn't, actually, need to call Steph at all. She's
in the Cave before *he's* gotten back from school,
which he finds out when he finds Tim doing his
homework with Alfred in the kitchen, as opposed
to down in the Cave with the bats.

But Tim doesn't actually tell him anything beyond
"she seems... down," and so it *isn't* until he gets
down to the Cave and finds her cross-legged on
the mats with her never-used Batgirl suit folded in
her lap --

It isn't until she says "So I'm pregnant," that he
gets it.

That he *starts* getting it, because -- Jesus.
Jesus. So very much *not* a twenty-four thing
and... what the *hell* is he supposed to say,

He drops into a crouch in front of her, but she
flinches away before he can touch her face.

"Steph --"

She shakes her head and her knuckles are *white*
against the black and green of the armor, and
says, "It's not yours." And, "I need money," and
"I'm getting... I'm. For the abortion."

Jason blows out a breath and clutches his hands
together between his knees to keep from reaching
out again before he's sure she actually wants him

"Please," she says, and she hasn't actually looked
away from the suit.

"Are... are you sure it's what you want to do?"

Her hands start to shake.

Okay, *that's* a cue. He cups her shoulder lightly.
"Steph, we can... I mean, you have *options*."

Her hands stop shaking, and Jason's just about to
start breathing again when she looks up. And.


There are tears that haven't actually dropped yet,
and her mouth is twisted into something... into.

"Steph --"

"Tell me you don't think it's a good idea."

"I --"

"Tell me -- fucking *tell* me you don't need me
training even harder than I *have* been, because
you *don't*, actually, need me out there
*yesterday*. Tell me you and Tim aren't just
marking time with the petty criminals and assholes
like my *Dad*, that this was all your plan, that --"
She bites her lip hard, but she doesn't look away
from him.

She's waiting for him. It's *not* a fucking
rhetorical... *statement*, or whatever, because
she's *waiting* for him.

And the words are right there. She can carry to
term, and Bruce gave so much money to various
adoption agencies over the years... God, they
could fucking *pick* who this kid's parents will
be, and then watch them, and it would be...

It would be...

He looks down at her lap, helplessly, trying to
see --

"I'm *not* showing, but I think. Three months.
The doctor said -- and I was telling myself that
it was just -- that I wasn't bleeding because my
exercise routine had changed so much, and that
the few times I was sick was just fucking
*stress*, or maybe those -- those goddamned
*fucking* vitamin shakes and they fucking
*suck* --"

"I know --"

"You *don't*!" She twists away from his hand
on her shoulder and stands, shaking and still
holding the suit. "You -- you --"

"Steph, please, just let me --"

"You told me I had to want this, Jason. More
than anything, more than I was... was afraid,
and --" Her face crumples *hard* on itself for
a terrifying second, long enough for Jason to
stand, too.

But he doesn't try to reach out.

"So tell me you were lying. About everything
you said and everything you *didn't*. *Tell*
me now or just give me the fucking *money*
and leave me alone."

He can't, because he wasn't. Because... because
it's all so *fucking* simple he kind of wants to
de-safe the practice guns and blow his fucking
*head* off. Instead, he just looks at her, as
steadily as she can, and says, "I'll go with you."

And there's a sound, from over by the stairs,
and Tim says, "So will I. I. If you want me.

Jason watches Steph staring at Tim and has a
brief and dangerously hysterical moment to
wonder just what in *God's* name made Tim
decide that *now* was a good time to attempt
to bond.

And then he just focuses on praying to whoever
might be listening that *Steph* doesn't ask that
question, or Tim say anything else at *all*,
possibly ever, and maybe it even works.

Steph offers her hand to Tim, and Tim actually
*takes* it, and it's enough distraction for him to
move in and hug her. She smells like Tim's
shampoo ("It's *nicer* than mine.") and
brand-new body armor, and, after a minute, she
hugs him back.

"Fine," she says. "By all means let's go kill my
baby as a *family*."

And Jason winces, but Steph starts crying and
doesn't let go.

And when Jason looks over her shoulder, he can
see that she's still holding Tim's hand. Tim covers
it with his other while Jason watches, and stares
at the floor.


It's a day ending in 'y,' so Batman and Robin are
out on the streets.

It's *Tuesday*, and it's the nineteenth, and it's
been about a week since Steph told him about...

And he can't just think around *that*, either.
Especially since it's fucking *Tuesday*, and now
Leslie has a reason to look at him the way she'd
always looked at Bruce, only worse, because
she'd set it all up for them and today they'd all

Steph has had an abortion. And he doesn't really --
*he's* never thought about it, and never had to,
but Steph doesn't think about it as a medical
procedure, Steph thinks she just killed her fucking
baby, and since it was hers...

Maybe they did.

Mrs. Brown thinks Steph is at some girlfriend's
house. Steph hasn't actually *spoken* to the girl
in question since she started dating Steph's ex
(was *he* the father? Does he even want to
know?), but, while Mrs. Brown isn't quite as
useless as a mother as Mrs. Drake --

He has to ask about Tim's parents. He hasn't
gotten an update in -- too long.

Much too long. He has to --

They're on their way to Bertinelli's trying to catch
her before she goes out tonight, because there
*isn't* any more they can pick up from
surveillance and pulling her records and police
reports, and Steph is back at the *manor* now,
and she --

And they don't have time for any of it. For
anything at *all* except for the dealers who
made the huge fucking mistake of being in the

And... there's a moment when it could actually be
funny, because both he and Tim just kind of
*stand* there for a minute, until they figure out
that they're both waiting for the other to take
out their frustrations, and the dealers are
looking at them like they aren't sure if they're
*awake*, and...

It'll be funny when it's not Tuesday. He's sure of

For now, Jason just keeps punching his guy until
the noises get soft, and the crunches beside him
are all about how *Tim's* guy will never roll
another joint.

Tim had said something about hand-breaking being
'excellent insurance against recidivism' once, and
he doesn't have time to think about that, either.

They leave them for whoever gets there first,
because he doesn't have anything *like* the...
*anything* to deal with Essen right now, or
even a 911 operator, and he sure as *fuck* isn't
going to make *Tim* do it.

Because Steph hadn't wanted *him* in there with
her, but for *some* reason Tim was okay, and he
doesn't know whether to be terrified or grateful
or relieved or fucking *confused*, and they don't
have time.

They don't have time.

And right now, Steph is at least back at the Manor,
with Alfred, in the room he'd made up for her God
*only* knows when, and she's safe, and she's...

She's home.

And that has to be enough about that for now.

They rappel down from the roof and get to
Bertinelli's window just in time to see her tugging
on her tights.

The fact that Tim *doesn't* automatically turn
away says so much about what's going on his
head right now that --


Jason waits until she's covered up and then knocks.

And then they both edge the fuck *away* from the
center of the window, because that crossbow
comes up *fast*.

And doesn't go down again so much as get held in
a slightly less *purposeful* way.

"Good instincts," Tim says.

"Fucking A."

She opens the window with her non-crossbow-
wielding hand and moves back enough to let them

And to keep both of them in range. For some
reason, she's focusing more on Tim.

"What the hell do you want?"

"To make you a proposition," Tim says.

She snorts. "Look, kid, I don't even *know* you.
What's the problem, Batman? Last one bail out
on you?"

"Last one got his ass kicked by the Joker,
actually," Jason says in his normal voice, and
watches her *see* him.

It really is true about the Robin colors being

"And you don't know *me*, either."

For a moment, it's *really* obvious she isn't
sure whether to shoot them, or which of them
to shoot *first*, and he can *feel* Tim
calculating a pre-emptive strike, but then she
crosses her arms over her chest.

The wicked-looking point on the bolt winds up
pointed at the ceiling.

"So what *is* this, exactly?" she says, and
really, it's good enough.

"Just what he said, Huntress. We have a
proposition. We want you with us."

"You --" Her laugh is closer to a caw than anything
else, or maybe like one of those birds on nature
shows. Ospreys or hawks or whatever.

Jason waits for her to finish.

"Okay. *Whoever* you are --"

"The Robin who got his ass kicked, actually."

"-- the *last* Batman and I didn't exactly see eye
to eye. And I don't see why --"

"The *last* Batman," Tim says, quietly, "is dead."

The expression on her face is more of a snarl than
anything else, but Jason doesn't think she's
*angry*, exactly. But he also doesn't have time,
tonight, for bullshit.

"You've got skills and resources we don't, Ms.
Bertinelli. We have the same. Let's stop fucking
around and *do* something with it."

She blinks at him, rapidly, and for a moment
Jason is stuck between wanting to redesign her
mask and hoping to *God* they've gotten
through to her.

"The last Batman didn't seem to find anything
remotely useful about *my* --"

"Oh, Jesus *fucking* Christ, Bertinelli. Stop
being pissed off at a *dead* man and *listen*
to us!"

"You *don't* talk to me like that," she says, and
takes a step forward.

He doesn't have to look to know that clicking
sound is Tim's staff.

Neither does she.

This time, the snarl looks nothing but right on her
face, and Tim says, "Huntress. We don't, actually,
care about whatever you and the former Batman
argued about."

Jason nods. "As far as I'm concerned, if you're with
us? You can do whatever the fuck you want so
long as it doesn't fuck with what the *rest* of us
are doing, and so long as you make a sincere
*effort* not to kill anybody with those fucking
crossbow bolts."

She looks at him, and *stares* at Tim, and then
looks at him some more. "Fine. Then drop the
masks and let's see what we're dealing with."

Jason yanks back the cowl. Tim only pauses for
a second before pulling out the tin of solvent.

They both watch her breathe. Her nostrils actually
flare a little.

"Mother of *God*. You're both *infants*."

"Infants," Tim says, spinning his staff over his
fingers, "with resources."

"I... I need to think. About this."

Which is... better than it could be. Jason pulls a
pen and paper out of his belt and scrawls out the
number to the phone line which, as soon as he
hands it over, *five* people will know. "So think
about it. And make the call."

He pulls the cowl back over his face and heads
out the window, shooting his grapple and
hearing, as he flies, "And you need a better set
of timers for those lights."

He can feel Tim behind him after another


"I'm here," Tim says into his ear.

"Heh. Nice one with the staff."

"I've been practicing."

"You don't *say*." They should hit East side. It's
been a few days. He just wants to get back to
the Manor. To the *Cave*. And they need... "Do
you think she's --"

"Absolutely. You had her at the whole 'just learn
to *lie* to us when you kill someone in cold
blood' bit."

Jason chokes so hard he nearly flubs his landing.
Tim's own is perfect, and there's a smirk on his
face. "That is *not* what I said."

Tim smirks a little wider and taps his comm off
again. "At the very least, your plausible deniability
is in excellent condition."

Tim dodges the punch and blocks the second
and then *attacks*. The expression on his face
shifts just enough to look really fucking *brittle*
as they spar, but it doesn't stop looking *real*.

Real and *happy*, almost. Or at least just...

The moon is high and Steph is home and
Huntress is *theirs* and Tim is smilingly trying
to kick a dent in his cowl -- he's more flexible
than Jason was when he was *healthy* -- and

Jason's distracted enough that the leg-sweep
staggers him, but when Tim pounces it's still
easy enough to use his momentum to send
them *both* to the roof.

Tim's breath, when it whoofs out over Jason's
face, tastes like peppermint.

And Tim takes only about a second too long to
roll off and crouch beside him, instead of on him.

And Jason would be lying like a dog if he tried to
tell himself he didn't know *why* that made him
disappointed. He doesn't have time to lie to
himself, either. But. "She's ours."

"She wants your hot, manly resources, Batman. I
don't see how any vigilante can resist."

Jason snickers and slaps at Tim's knee. Slaps wildly
enough that it has *no* right to actually hit, but,
of course, it does. "God, you're fucking nuts
tonight, man."

"It's... been a day."

"I... yeah." A Tuesday, in fact. And Steph...

"I don't..."

Tim's voice is different enough, the change is
*sudden* enough that Jason's up on his elbows
before he can think about it. Too low and serious
without being *Tim*-serious. "What is it?"

Tim shifts beside him and looks down at the roof.
"I don't think she's mad at you. Batgirl. She's
just. I think she just needs a little time, and then,
you know, the two of you... well."

And Jason has to spend some serious time just
staring like a retard at that before it finally clicks.
"I... uh. Whoa. You didn't actually know, did
you?" Tim looks up sharply, and, right, suspense
equals bad. "Steph and me... I mean, she broke
up with me, like, two weeks ago. Not that we
were *dating*, but... uh. Yeah."

Nothing *visible* on Tim's face actually changes,
but Jason can *feel* him staring through the

"Yeah, she... thinks we're better as friends then
trying for... And maybe we'll... uh. In the
future..." Jason gives up and waves a hand.

"Are you sure it wasn't just because she knew
about the pregnancy?"

Which... *ow*, and really just *ow*, but... "I
think she was still pretty comfortable with the
idea that she wasn't *really* pregnant... at the
time, anyway. And... uncomfortable with other

"Oh," Tim says, and looks down again.

"Are you..." He covers Tim's kneecap with his
hand, and then just watches Tim... watching
his hand. "Tim..." He doesn't actually know
what he's going to say.

"You should get back to the Manor. I need to
go check on my mother," Tim says, and
stands, straightening his cape with a practiced
shrug of his shoulders.

And... he'd said *mother*, not *parents*,
and... crap. Jason stands, too. "Are you actually
going to tell me what's going on at your place?"
He tries a smile. "I kinda miss the reports on As
the Drake Turns."

The answering smile on Tim's face is tight and
painful-looking and humorless, but still very
real. "Not tonight. Just... not tonight."

"I... okay," he says, and puts out his fist.

Tim punches it, and Jason watches him leave.


Alfred's in the kitchen with tea when he gets in,
and... he can't actually read that for signs.

It's been a while since he's come in this early, after

"Master Jason," Alfred says, and immediately starts
moving around to pour him tea as well. He's pretty
much given up trying to convince the man he can
do anything more complicated than dress himself.

The tea is hot and strong and in no way

Jason's pretty much surrendered that battle, too.


"Miss Stephanie was asleep when last I checked.
I do believe that last mug of chamomile may have
done the trick."

Tea. Yeah. "And the horse tranquilizers you put in
it, too, right?"

Alfred gives him the look that pretty much
translates to 'I'd rather be smacking you with a
rolled-up newspaper than simply giving you a
withering look, but one does one's best.'

Jason grins at him over the rim of his mug. "Sorry,
Alfred. I'm sure the Valium was more than

"Hm. In any event, while the day has been a
deeply trying one for Miss Stephanie, I've no
doubt she'll recover. In *time*."

That last was more pointed than Huntress'
crossbow bolts. Jason nods slowly. "I think Tim
and I bought us a little more of that tonight."

Alfred raises an eyebrow. "Indeed?"

"I think we have a good chance of having a Miss
Helena in the family before too long. Cross your
fingers, hunh?"

If Alfred knows the name or how Bruce had felt
about her, he doesn't make any sign. He just
nods and sips his tea and says, "Miss Stephanie
may appreciate a bit more leavening to all of
the overweening masculinity."

"I hope so," Jason says, and finishes his tea in
a gulp. "I have to admit, I don't actually know
what to think about how... accepting you've

"Don't you?"

Jason does his level best to look clueless. It's
not hard.

For a moment, there's a small, secretive smile
on Alfred's face, and then it's hidden by the tea
cup again. "I haven't changed my mind about
how I feel about this... undertaking of yours,
nor have I changed my mind about the
importance of choosing one's battles.

"However, it's rather reassuring that you seem
to have abandoned your desire to rush headlong
toward suicide alone rather faster and more
thoroughly than Master Bruce ever truly did."

And Jason wants to stammer or maybe protest --
Bruce *had* learned, and anyway it hadn't
*helped*, in the end, because...


Alfred saves him by filling his cup again. "You
might consider taking this upstairs with you.
You have a nigh-unprecedented opportunity to
sleep nearly six hours before you'll need to rise
for school, and a wholly unprecedented
opportunity to do so without first having been
grievously injured."

Jason isn't sure about that. There were enough
points in *that* sentence that he isn't sure
why he isn't hemorrhaging all over the table.
But... "Thanks, Alfred."

"We live to serve, Master Jason."

There's a lamp on in Stephanie's room, but it's
small and weak and does a better job of making
the room look warm and soft-edged than it does
at actually *lighting* it. Her hair is spread over the
pillow, her breathing is even, and *whatever*
Alfred had given her is doing the job.

Time. He hopes it's just time she needs, or maybe
just something else he can actually *get* her a
little of.

He thinks about Bruce, and the number of times
he'd watched *Jason* sleep, and it's a little like
carrying some of the warm back into Bruce's
room with him.

Enough of it, at least, to make it relatively easy to
get to sleep.

And relatively easy to dream, and he's not even
remotely surprised that it's Bruce. Bruce's eyes on
him, dragging him up from sleep, and Bruce's
hand in his hair.

He laughs, a little, and feels vaguely surprised at
the fact that it's such an unfocused sound. Nothing
sounds better than laughter -- real, *sane* laughter,
anyway -- in a dream, usually.

"You need to *sleep*, Bruce," he says, and has
just enough time to realize that his speaking voice
sounds strange and muzzy, too, before he hears,

"I'm not Bruce."

At which point he's *awake*. And... not alone. Tim
is sitting on his heels on Bruce's side of the bed,
and Jason sits up and catches Tim's wrist before
he can get it all the way out of Jason's hair.
"What -- is -- is it your family?"

"Among other things," Tim says, and looks down
at Jason's hand for a beat before looking back
up again. "I'm no good at... this. Any of it. You're
the only person... so you need to tell me if I
need to go, or if it's just too... soon, or...

He's wearing a t-shirt and jeans -- which
suddenly, despite all the evidence to the contrary,
seems *wrong* -- and his pulse is racing under
Jason's hand and he feels...




And no matter how wrong it *seems*, it *feels*
good to sit up and pull Tim against him. The
cotton of his t-shirt is a soft tickle against Jason's
bare chest, and his mouth is wet and soft and
tastes like coffee.

Jason pulls back. It's dark enough in here that
it's actually impossible to have any idea what's
on Tim's face, but... "Is this what you came here

"Is it what you want?"

And... Tim. From anyone else, he's pretty sure
that would mean he'd have at least a few alarms
going off, even in the middle of the night after a
Tuesday. But it's Tim. And maybe he should
*still* have those alarms going off, but. He
pushes one hand into Tim's hair and gropes
around with the other until he can cup Tim
through his jeans.

"Jason." It's barely a breath.

"Yeah," he says. "It's what I want."

And Tim either has better night-vision than he
does or great instincts, because the kiss is hard and
dead-on, and he's pushing *hard* into Jason's palm,
and the noises are still soft, but...

Constant. One moan after another into his mouth,
and Tim covers Jason's hand with his own and forces
him to squeeze.

"Oh --"

"Easy, Tim, you --"

"Jason." Quiet and *desperate*, and now it's a
rhythmic squeeze, urgent and nearly painful on his

A part of his mind is saying something about
remembering being fourteen.

Another part is wondering why sixteen suddenly
feels fucking *old*.

It's easier not to think about it, and just roll them
back down on the bed. It's slow and careful, but
Tim still can't quite compensate for it, landing on
him in a sprawl, gasping and *grinding* his hips
against Jason's abdomen.

Lower, with those jeans, and it would be way
more uncomfortable than hot.

"Here," he says, and cups Tim's hips, pushing them
up until Tim is mostly balanced over him on his
hands and knees and Jason can work on his fly.

"Please --"

"Yeah. Yeah, just let me -- in --"

This gasp is soft and soundless as the rest, and
Jason barely has a grip on Tim before he's coming
all over Jason's hand and stomach.

"God, Tim."

"S-sorry --"

"No, no," and Jason wipes his hand over his own
stomach and the feel -- "God --"

Tim cups his face with one shaking hand and leans
in for another kiss. This one is slower, and he
tastes more like *want* than coffee, and then
Jason gets his hand down to Tim's ass, over his
stretched briefs --

"*Oh* --"

And the kiss is wild, messy just that fast, and
when he slips his tongue into Tim's mouth, Tim
sucks so hard it *hurts* and Jason has to squeeze,
and Tim doesn't grind back down against him so
much as *drop*.

And groan against Jason's jaw.

And lick his scars and *really* grind, and the
noises Tim's making sound almost *pained* and
all Jason can do is hold on.

He doesn't know *what* he wants, because he's
pretty sure that right now, right here, there aren't
any limits at all.

"Jason --"

"Yeah," he says, and cups Tim's hips again, yanking
him *down* until his teeth scrape the scars on
Jason's collarbone and Tim's dick is making his
own slick and *wet*.

Tim *bites* his collarbone and works his hips
hard and fast. No rhythm, just a gracelessness
Jason can't stop finding both terrifying *and* hot.

"I want you. Tim, I --"

"Need me. You said you *need* me --"

"Yes -- *fuck* --"

Tim's hands scratching down his sides and Tim's
hips *bucking* against his own, and -- "I want -- I
want --" Tim shudders, all over, and *makes*
himself stop thrusting. Jason can *feel* the effort,
and then Tim braces himself up on his hands. One
hand, the other moving over his chest, mapping
scars by what's probably touch *and* memory,
before Tim finds his nipple and twists.

"Oh *fuck*, Tim --"

"You like that. It feels -- you feel --" The sound
Tim makes is strangled and high, and he grinds
against Jason again, making Jason's dick flex and
pulse pre-come.

"Do it. Do it again -- fuck, *fuck* --"

He feels his head slamming back against the
pillow in the same way he feels his hands
tightening far too much on Tim's hips -- distant
and vague and unimportant against the bright,
sharp arcs of *feeling* thrumming down from his
nipple to his dick, against *Tim's* dick *leaking*
all over his own.

Against Tim's *voice* --

"Only one. You're the only -- and I need you so
badly, Jason, I just -- I have to --"  And Tim
*scratches* at his nipple and *moves* --

"Tim --"

Down the bed. Down his *body* until he's
straddling Jason's knees. "Yes, I... oh...."

Bending, Jason thinks. He has to be bending, and
it has to be kind of a stretch, and then he can't
really think at all, because Tim's nuzzling Jason's
dick and --

Mouth. His mouth --

Jason spreads his legs and Tim sucks on the head
of Jason's dick and grabs him at the base with
one hand while the other moves *between*.

Squeezing Jason's balls with the same rhythmic
little pulses he'd wanted for his own dick and
moaning. Muffled and low and vibrating *through*
him, and Jason tries to say Tim's name, but the
sound doesn't come out coherently at all. He has
to try again, he has to --

"Tim. Gonna -- gonna make me come --"

And Tim squeezes *hard* with both hands and
Jason shouts and comes, hearing his hips pop
and completely unable to feel it or care.

He listens to the sound of their breathing instead.
He's panting. Tim... isn't. The rhythm is steady;
it's just the *depth* that's ragged and off. And
he has no idea what that might mean, because
Tim just sucked his fucking brain out the head
of his dick.

Jason stares up at the ceiling and... there's no
and. He can't *see* the ceiling, and suddenly
that's just too much wrong. He gropes for the
bedside lamp and squeezes his eyes shut before
turning it on, and...

He'd forgotten to warn Tim, who's blinking
owlishly from down between Jason's knees. His
lips are swollen and his cheeks are flushed and,
even with the blinking, his expression is just --

Jason hears himself make a noise that doesn't
even try to be a word before it comes out of his
mouth, and then sits up far enough to grab Tim's
hand. He's clumsy and needy and *clumsy*, and
he didn't really need to smack himself in the balls
with Tim's hand, but it's worth it to be able to
push it back and *down*.

Where he needs it.


"You're hard again. I know you are, man. Just...
please. I need --"

And something just *flares* behind Tim's eyes,
and he twists his hand and *pushes* --

"Ah -- oh fuck -- oh *fuck* --"

Too long. Too fucking *long*, and he hadn't just
kept Alfred from cleaning out the closet in here.
The lubricant is right where Bruce had left it.

Jason swipes out a two fingers-full and reaches
down, and he just *means* to get some on his
ass, but Tim's fingers are *on* his, rubbing and
sliding and Tim's *looking* at him, and at their
hands, and at the whole room.

Everything here.

*Bruce's* room, and Bruce's bed, and --

"Tim --"

"Yes," he says, soft and clear, and shoves his slick
fingers in deep.

Jason bites his lip to keep from screaming and
only mostly succeeds, and Tim...  Fuck. *In* him,
ruthless and just a little too fast, just *enough*
too fast --

"Jason --"

"Do it. Fucking give it to me --"

And Tim groans and pulls his fingers out, and
Jason can *hear* him slicking his own dick, and
the room is hot and *close* and reeks of sex,
finally fucking reeks of *sex* again, and --

"Now. Do it *now* --"

Another groan, this one choked off with a gasp
when Tim pushes in -- "Jason -- Jason, you're --
oh *God* --"

Jason plants his feet and *arches*, and --

"*Jason* --" Tim clutches at the caps of Jason's
knees, twists his hips and *shoves* in --

"*Yes*, come on, just --"

Again, and he has to shove his fist in his mouth
to keep from shouting. Keep from --

"*Tim* --"

And someone's making a sobbing noise and
someone's fucking *whining*, and it's *not* the
same, nothing could *ever* be the same, but
it's good, it's --

"So fucking good, don't *stop* --"

Don't -- and Tim's fingertips dig into his knees,
incautious and painful and good, and Jason
grabs his dick and jacks himself hard, fast. Like
he does in the shower, these days, only this

Bruce's bed under him, again, and Tim over him,
scratching at his thighs and *in* him --

"Oh -- oh --"

"Fast. Do it *fast* --"

"Jason --" And Tim does, gasping and driving in
and in and *in*, and his eyes are squeezed shut
and his arms are shaking, and he's biting his lip
hard enough that there's a skinny little line of
blood running down his chin. Like come.

Like the fucking O'Malleys', and he's going to
wipe a gauntlet across his face at any moment
and fucking *grin* and Bruce will reach out --

Bruce will shove in --

So hard --

So --

And Jason hears himself groan something he
knows he'll eventually be *glad* was completely
incoherent and lets his head fall back --

"*Jason*," so strangled and *quiet*, and one of
Tim's hands falls lightly over the one Jason's
using to jack himself and -- "Jason, please..."

"Need you --"

"*Oh* --" And Tim's hand *spasms* on his own
and Jason can *feel* him, so wet, so --

And Tim collapses over him and Jason *can't*
stop jerking himself off, even though every
stroke pushes his knuckles hard into Tim's

All Tim does is grunt and pant, though, and
Jason's close, so *fucking* close it feels like he
maybe wouldn't even *feel* it when he came,
that it would just be that one last thing before
his brain stopped and he could --

Tim wraps his arms around Jason's chest.

Squeezes. "Jay," he whispers, and it trips Jason
over the edge, breathless and shaking.

Tim just holds on.

Tight, until Jason can make himself move enough
to stroke the long, still-perfect planes of his back.

And then Tim relaxes enough for Jason to actually


It's five, which means he's got about half-an-hour
before he has to wake Tim up to send him home,
back to whatever the fuck had driven him *here*

He has almost two hours before *he* absolutely
has to start moving in order to get to school.

He has no *idea* when or how to deal with the
fact that they, as Steph's 'girlfriend,' have to
figure out a way to get her back home, and,
presumably to school.

Most importantly, he has no more than
twenty-five minutes to come up with the brilliant
plan that will allow all of them to just blow the
day off and start fresh tomorrow.

Well, after tonight, anyway.

He doesn't have a lot of faith in what he can do
with twenty-five minutes, even considering the
fact that Tim has rolled off him to curl up on
Bruce's side of the bed. He has oxygen, and he

Twenty-two minutes.


Well, it's at least enough time to get to the
kitchen and begin hunting down wherever Alfred
hid the *caffeinated* coffees. He moves.

Jason... really doesn't want to think about how
much time it took to get from the bed to the
closet. Or how long it took to figure out the
freaking mechanism of his robe.

Jason gets the door open just in time for Steph
to knock on his nose.


"Ow. Also fuck. Also --"

"Jesus," Steph says, shoving him aside to stare
past him. "Is that Tim?"

"Yeah, shh. He's still sleeping."

"Really not," Tim says.

Or not. Jason rests his head against the gentle,
soft pillow of the doorframe. "Well, fuck it then.
One of you needs to make coffee. And not the
one in the can *labeled* coffee, because that's

Steph snorts and leans on the other side of the
door. "It's your *manor*."

"Mm," Tim says. "Also, you said *you* were
going to do it."


"You were cursing out your bathrobe, I think,"
Tim says.

Steph punches his shoulder. "'tard."

He's almost sure Barbara never called Bruce a
'tard. Almost.

"Oh, how wonderful to see you all up so early,"
Alfred says from the dimness of the hall, and
the near-presence of an exclamation point in
his voice is enough to make Jason *absolutely*
sure the man hates them.

Steph just groans. Or possibly Tim. It's really,
*really* hard to tell right now. "Alfred --"

"It's always so wonderful to see young people
fresh, well-rested, and positively bursting with
the joy of --"


"Hm," Alfred says, and Jason had never needed
to guess where Bruce had gotten *that* 'laugh'
from. "Indeed, Master Jason. I believe you'll
find what you're looking for in the cupboard
nearest the sink, behind the glassware."

Steph -- definitely Steph -- moans. "I think I
love you, Al."

"My heart is warmed. Good morning, all."

"God. I bet you could see your reflection in
his shoes," Jason says, and works on regaining
the ability to walk erect.

"Yep. And yours. You look like two-day-old shit,
by the way."

Tim does way too fucking good a job at the
Alfred-Bruce laugh. "Whereas you only look --"

"Like *one*-day-old shit. Yeah, I know, freakboy.
And fuck off -- he *drugged* me. What's your

Jason blinks until he can keep his eyes open.
"You *knew* the tea was spiked?"

Her grin is sharp and familiar and right. Her
eyes... aren't. Quite. "Hey, I slept, didn't I?"

Jason grins ruefully. Wider when he feels Tim
moving up to join them in... Jason's *other*
bathrobe. Which is both impressive --
considering the silence and the fact that Tim *was*
bareass naked about three seconds ago -- and
disturbing. Jason's robe is about --

"God!" Steph's tone is somewhere between
amused and disgusted. "You're probably a perfect
size two, aren't you?"

Tim raises an eyebrow. "Well, I can't say I've

Steph snorts. "Whatever. I'm just stating now, for
the record, that when we need to do the disguise
thing with, like, some freaking damsel in distress?
*Not* me."

Jason waves a hand and leads the parade toward
the coffee. "Noted."

"Do I get a say in this?"

Jason yawns. "You're Robin. Tradition. Legacy.

"Your arguments are less than convincing," Tim
says, and ties an extra knot in the belt.

"Obey the Batman, freakboy. He sees and knows

And Tim... laughs. Quiet, brief, but... still.

It has to be a good sign.

At the very least, it's not Tuesday.

"You know," Tim says, "some of the seniors at
my school have, occasionally, mentioned the
concept of a Skip-Day."

Skip-day. It's *definitely* Skip-day.


End note: I've played timing games with Steph's
pregnancy and Helena's timeline in general, but
more because I had a hard time telling what
happened when relative to the rest of the Batverse
than out of any great desire to play merry hell
with their characters. Here's hoping it wasn't
too jarring.

.Burn Black.