Disclaimers: If they were mine, I'd probably force them
to cuddle more.
Spoilers: Vague and AU-ized ones for various older
Summary: This isn't school and he isn't normal.
Ratings Note: PG-13.
Author's Note: Another missing scene from The
You Need series. Takes place somewhere in the
middle of "Hold on to me," and won't make a lick of
sense without the others.
Acknowledgments: To Mary, Jack, and LC for
encouragement and, like, reminders that this story
It feels momentous to watch her stretch, as if there's
some sort of deeper meaning in the crackle of her spine,
her soft and shameless groans. She's used to the Cave,
where the only people who'll see her like this are, well,
*them*. And yet.
It can't be entirely unconscious -- or even
unself-conscious. She still has the cowl on, just pushed
back over her mouth to provide fresh, 'unfiltered' air.
She doesn't look it, but she's still on 'public' behavior,
for the outsiders in their midst. Donna and Roy.
Everyone else has left for the morning. Donna and Roy,
for their parts, are doing the strange and familiar dance
of claiming -- reclaiming -- new territory. They're the
only Titans in Gotham now, though Starfire -- he's
supposed to call her Kory, but he doesn't think she
really wants that -- is due to return again in another
few days. Donna and Roy will sleep here tonight, again,
just as soon as they've finished the token argument
over who will claim the couch.
It's a little maddening to watch, really. Portentous as
everything else tonight and twice as useless. They'd
stopped a raid on Leslie's clinic today, but not before
Roy had taken a brick to the shoulder. He'll be fine,
and he *will* get the couch, no matter how much he
An exhausted routine for exhausted people. He thinks
he can see their words dancing in the air, along with
all the dust and cold. He thinks -- he knows -- he
needs as much sleep as anyone. He should be going
to bed. And yet.
Steph isn't looking at him -- she's actually getting
ready to jab Roy in the shoulder (as soon as he turns
his back) to help prove Donna's point -- but she
doesn't have to. Or.
It *feels* as though she doesn't have to. As though,
right now, they're sharing the same sort of silent
communication he shares with Jason when they're
at their best (fighting, fucking), and that Jason shares
with all of them.
It's probably an illusion. He should go. She isn't -- they
She's going to turn, now that Roy's moaning and
cursing in two -- no, three -- languages. She's going
to turn, and she'll say...
He doesn't know. He should go to bed. He's... he's
He raises an eyebrow, and wonders if any of them
realize how little conscious effort he has to put into
the motion. Some people shift on their feet, or clear
their throats. He raises his eyebrow.
And makes people uncomfortable and self-conscious,
whether he wants to or not.
He doesn't. "Batgirl --"
"No, it's nothing, never mind."
"No, I --"
Donna, Roy. Veterans of team dynamics, of vigilante
lifestyles of the teenaged and hormonal. Neither of
them are looking at him and Steph. The cliché of it
all wars with the absurdly ominous absurdity to
"Come in," he says, and tries to use his "we're Bats,
and we have to talk about vitally important Bat
things" voice, and she responds, but he knows he
didn't really manage it.
It's still better with the door closed. When she
finally pulls her cowl off the rest of the way, he
feels as though *he's* breathing easier, as
She snorts. "Yeah, three *months* ago." The smile
is an invitation (it almost always is, with Steph) --
Quake Survivors 'R' Us. "Seriously, even five damned
*minutes* with this thing off is as relief."
Ominous, portentous, meaningful. "Will you be going
out in civvies tomorrow? Today."
She shrugs, but it isn't casual. "Yeah, probably. I was
thinking of following a few cops around. Play a round
of Secret Identity Chicken with Essen."
Continue pulling away from us. "Is that..."
"Wise? Practical?" It's her Batgirl voice, or something
enough like it to make Tim draw up a little, or maybe
"Fun. I was going to say."
Steph blinks at him for a moment, and then she grins --
rueful and real and absolutely apologetic. "I forget --
you guys had *months* of her bullshit before I came
along. God. You'd think she'd stop *bitching* now
that we aren't the only capes in Gotham."
Tim smiles and puts the kettle and the wash-pot on
the hot plate. He's rewired the thing extensively -- and
has had to repair it twice -- but it'll be a few minutes
before either kettle or pot are warm enough for...
anything, really. "I probably shouldn't have assigned
the Titans to be her backup."
"Oh, you *didn't*!" She laughs more than the joke
is worth -- especially since she knows as well as he
does that it was practical, too. The more time
Essen spends with young heroes, the better, but...
It's still good to hear. Steph laughs like any girl,
anywhere. Like the ones at school. She makes him
feel something like normal when she laughs at his
After a bit, she sighs and stretches again, though.
"I'd better go before Donna passes out. She wraps
herself up like a little Amazon burrito and totally
hogs the covers if you let her."
And it's strange, because the part of him feeling crushed
under the inevitability of it all is... small. Compared to
the part which is watching her watch the water fail to
boil. The part that's telling him it *isn't'* inevitable.
Not if he doesn't want it to be.
He swallows. "Did you want to... I thought you'd
want to wash up."
She blinks at him, and it's another look he's used to.
The one that reminds him that this *isn't* school,
and *he* isn't... But nothing is set in stone, right?
"There's enough," he says, and wonders if other
people feel as though they're treading water
every time they open up their mouths to speak.
"Water, I mean."
And he thinks, maybe, the waiting, ominous feeling
*will* just turn out to be exhaustion (loneliness),
because he's absolutely out of words, and the ability
to tread --
But she smiles, brilliantly and gratefully --
"God, I'd *love* to." And she starts to strip.
And this... really *isn't* the Cave (because the Cave
is a grotto, and a graveyard, and --) and there's
really nowhere for him to *go*...
But they *are* Quake Survivors, and team-mates
besides. He's bandaged those ribs, and stitched
that thigh while Alfred was busy with Helena. And
anyway, he doesn't --
"You might wanna step back, Tim," she says, laughter
not really muffled at all by her armor. "I'm pretty
sure I've been living with this funk for, like, a
*year*, and it's long past ready to break free."
"You're sweaty, not dirty --"
"I meant... I don't mind your sweat." Girls smell
better, it's just a fact. He *likes* the way Jason
smells -- a *lot* -- but it's still a little rough when
he hasn't --
"Uh, huh. Sure you don't have a cold? I've got some
extra Zinc-Cs to shove down your throat if you do."
He thinks about protesting again, but she's... well,
He smiles back, and she gives him a curious look.
"Are you..." She waves, and Tim realizes that he's
still in his full uniform while she's standing there
in her sports bra and... shorts?
Tim shakes it off and starts stripping, but she definitely
caught the look.
"Yeah, I usually wear panties, but then I *usually*
don't wear the armor for two-to-three days in a row."
Tim frowns. "It chafes?"
"Yours don't? No, wait, never mind." She glances at
his thighs and snorts, and it takes a minute for Tim
to get it, after which he, of course, feels like an idiot.
Their tights are made of the same blend of materials,
but their bodies are just *not* the same. *Her*
thighs are nearly as broad as Jason's now, and with
Tim shakes his head.
"We'll have to see about a re-design for you, Steph."
She nods absently and tests the water in the wash-
pot. "Yeah, the bike shorts are doing the job for
Another grin, and Tim tosses her one of their few
use-them-for. "Being used for actual babies, still."
Tim nods and makes a mental note to get more for
her. And then remembers that for things like that...
It's not as though Titans Tower -- or *Victor* -- is
ever offline. The trick is to separate the private
notes from the public ones. Victor doesn't really
need to know that he's wondering about the state
of *Helena's* inner thighs just now.
A directed thought and the note is printing
somewhere deep in the Tower. Starfire will bring
them supplies when she returns, and really, it
doesn't have to be such a...
It's *fine* that Victor's gone.
"Still with me... Tim?"
She was going to say 'freakboy.' None of them do,
anymore, and he actually kind of misses it. "Just
grocery shopping," he says, and tries to look
She shakes her head and reaches for him, fingertips
shiny with not-warm-enough water, and --
He wants to lean in, but doesn't, and she pauses
before her fingertips reach his face, smiling ruefully
"You totally just ordered me some baby powder from
Superhero Express, didn't you?"
And she makes it sound... like more than it is. He
shrugs. "There are other things we needed, too."
This time, when Steph smiles, it makes the lines of
exhaustion on her face dig deep, and Tim thinks he
sees what she'll look like in twenty or thirty years.
More like her father than he mother. He wonders
how she'll feel about that.
"I'd hug you," she says, "but my grime and yours
would just get married and have funky little grime
kids or something."
"That's ridiculous, Steph." He crouches to strip off his
boots. "My grime is gay."
She laughs loud enough this time that it's actually a
little painful -- physically so. He'd rather blow an eardrum
altogether than show it. For... for a lot of reasons, really.
By the time they're done scrubbing, they've changed
the water twice, refilling with the hottest water they
could stand from the kettle, which in turn they filled
from the tank. And he knows *he's* only clean by the
loosest definition of the term. Still, he doesn't really
have to *look* at the towel after he's done
scrubbing. Not until Alfred appears out of nowhere
and demands all their laundry.
It's a lot harder to dissuade the man -- or even want
to try -- than it used to be. And... how *is* he doing
the laundry? The clinic and the few sturdy-enough-
to-be-used hospitals have fully functional generators
*and* running water now, but surely all of their
equipment would be in use --
"You look like you're calculating the GNP. Or maybe
just trying to set fire to the towel with your brain."
Steph wrinkles her nose. "Not that I'd blame you."
He raises an eyebrow -- on purpose -- at her own
towel. "I'm not sure how you're managing to keep
contact with... that."
"Did you *see* my underwear?"
"Well, I wasn't looking..."
She snorts *and* makes a face. "I'm thinking about
*boiling* them. At the very least... I'm so not ready
to put them back on."
And that's... if *he* had to put his own briefs back
on... "Where do you keep your spares?"
Steph sighs. "Still at Helena's. I *meant* to go
back for some today, but..."
But she wasn't really expecting use of his facilities.
The reason why people tread water isn't because
they're afraid of drowning so much as that they're
afraid of the possibility that they won't.
Or maybe it's just him.
He doesn't know. "I... you can. You can always..."
He gestures to his hot-plate. "If you want to."
Steph's smile is curious, or maybe thoughtful. It's not
a blank wall, but he still feels like he's beating his
head against it.
"And I have... well, I don't have..." He gestures at
the crumpled and somewhat grey tangle of her
underwear. "But we could maybe rinse these out and
let them dry overnight --" The sun is nearly up, but
*that* hasn't mattered in a long time. "And I have
extra t-shirts. And. Um."
Tim stares at her hips helplessly. They're making the
long-suffering towel suffer more. "Emphasis on 'tight,'
"Are you saying my ass is fat?"
"Fatter than *mine*," he says. "I am, after all, a
perfect size two."
Steph snickers and drops her underwear in the pot.
"I don't care if they spend the whole night bunched
in my twat. Hand over the clean undies, Boy
Imagery aside, it's really *nice* to give Steph something.
It's not like a present, it doesn't have to mean anything
or be *scheduled* or *planned* or *allowed*. It just
A favor between... between friends, and the way she
sighs when she tugs on his t-shirt (one of the ones
Jason had outgrown, captured before Alfred could
discard it) is just...
"God, that feels *wonderful*." She wriggles and tugs
at the briefs. "Okay, *those* don't, but they damned
well feel *clean*."
"Glad to be or service," he says, and tries not to
smile *too* wide.
Steph sighs and knuckles at her back. "Hokay, I'm
good." And then scrubs at her underwear while the
kettle heats, again. "My kingdom for a gallon of
"Won't that damage the bra?" It's armored and the
same green of the accents on her uniform, and the
"Do I *look* like I care at this point?" She's elbow
deep in lukewarm water and her own dirty
underwear. She... well.
Tim smiles, helplessly, and dumps the water down
their as-yet-barely-functioning-toilet. "I suppose not."
Steph sighs and rinses the clothes in kettle-water. "I
should bring some stuff back here from Helena's, now
that the new girl has raided my wardrobe for enough
clothes to get by."
Tim refills the kettle from the tank. They'll have to refill
the *tank* in a day or two, tops, and... well, *one*
of the benefits of not living alone anymore is that
Donna's strength will make it faster.
Victor could've done it, too.
Sometimes, he wishes that Victor wasn't so *good*
about giving him his privacy after his latest scars
heal. It'd be nice to have his voice. Even if it meant
being as careful with his thoughts as he is with his
speech. Trying to be.
"Does it hurt?"
"What?" Tim blinks, and realizes he's rubbing at the
port. Careful with his *speech*? He's not even
If Jason were here, he'd... he wouldn't be looking at
Tim, anymore. At the moment, Tim can't decide if
it'd be better or worse than Steph's bizarrely and
*wrongly* tentative curiosity. Like she's afraid to
hear the answers of any questions she asks --
Tread water. "It doesn't hurt. I was. I was just
"About?" Stephanie wrings out her underwear and
hangs them in the bathroom. "I mean, you don't
have to tell me. You just looked kind of far away for
a minute, there."
You look far away all the time now, Steph. I was
thinking about Cyborg. I miss him. I think Jason
would have him dismantled, if he could come up
with a good enough reason. I wouldn't forgive him.
I'd hate myself for wanting to . I -- "I'd rather not
talk about it. Right now." Tim bites his lip. "Sorry."
"Hey, it's okay," and her smile is almost right and
almost real. She knuckles, again, at the small of her
back. It's a signal, and it's not enough of one. Not
really. "Okay, I'm gonna hit it. Donna should be
asleep enough not to bitch when I unwrap her
from our blankets."
Let it go. Let *her* go. "Wait."
She pauses at the door, the same casually hip-shot
stance she uses *every* time she feels like teasing,
or is just really that tired. "Tim, *are* you okay?"
She turns to look at him from over her shoulder.
"Really. I mean, you don't have to give me *details*,
I just --"
"I'm fine. I just. You don't always have to sleep out
there. This isn't. I mean." It's funny how the floor just
gets more fascinating with every second she spends
Her breathing has the precise brand of calm steadiness
that Jason has taught all of them for times when the
world is moving too fast *and* slow enough that it
isn't strictly necessary to go on instinct.
"I just don't want you to... I wouldn't kick you out.
Her breath stops, and then goes back to normal.
There's a note he can't quite define in the sudden,
brief laugh. "I'm thinking that mattress gets crowded
when Jason is here."
Crowded, noisy, *good*... "He isn't here now. You
know he took the morning shift with Helena."
Steph laughs again, more simply this time. "Sewer
duty. God, they're gonna *reek*." She finally turns
around entirely, resting her back against the carpeting
on the door. "I'm not gonna envy you this room when
Jay *does* get back," she says.
When she shifts... the briefs are tight enough that they
gap over her... mound instead of shifting with her. It's
probably obscene on some level he can't quite reach,
just now. There's too much... there's too *much*.
"Do you... envy me other times?"
Steph's smile is sharp and honest. "The bed? All the
time. The sex? Sometimes. I don't have to tell *you*
how good Jason is."
"But... man." She frowns. "Toss me your switch?"
He does, and she cuts slits in the leg holes. They're
probably a lot more comfortable now. Still. "I *liked*
"And when they *make* Robin's Secret Designer
Tighty-Whiteys, I will *care*." She grins and
stretches, "Better," and tosses back his knife. "Did
Helena make you start taping that thing to your
He knows Steph doesn't like Helena's methods, and he
has a good idea why. "It seemed practical. You can
never have enough weapons," he tries.
"Says the kid with a *laser* in his hand."
"Among other things."
She shakes her head and turns to look at the bed, still
smiling. "I wasn't actually trying to change the
"I don't exactly have room to complain if you were."
"Heh. True. But I wasn't." Steph pushes off the door
and moves toward the bed. "You were serious."
"Then come on, before we catch a chill."
It feels like it takes a large fraction of eternity to get
settled, to stop jabbing each other with their knees
and elbows and just... 'relax' probably isn't the
He still feels like he's waiting for something. As if,
even when exhaustion finally *makes* him sleep,
some part of him will still be cataloguing the
atmosphere of 'almost, but *more*.' Cataloguing
and making him...
He doesn't know.
Finally, Steph snorts and shoves him onto his side,
spooning up behind him and laughing, softly, into
his hair. "I *know* this position works with you.
I've *seen* it."
"You've seen... a lot."
Steph grunts slightly, and pushes a little closer. The
hair on her legs is as long as Jason's now, but it's
softer. "Yeah, I have, but Jason knows I never minded
a little PDA."
"You and Jason --"
"We *both* knew you *did* mind."
Steph knees him -- ungently -- in the back of the
thigh. "It's not like you guys are practicing money shots
in the Cave."
The Cave is gone. "I'm not..." Sorry for that. Tim
frowns and shifts.
"Ohh... are you seriously apologizing because you
hooked up with Jay? And how can I be surprised
*and* totally unsurprised that we haven't already
talked about this?"
"I'm sorry I needed him. The two of you... were very
You can always tell when Steph is thinking hard. Her
breathing slows and steadies -- *almost* like one of
Jason's exercises -- except that there's a faint catch
to it on every other exhale, a note caught on the
edge of becoming a hum.
It's strange to be in a position -- literally -- to find
it soothing. The last time he'd heard it, they were
tracking Croc through the brand new underground lake
where Arkham's old records archive had been.
"I'm trying to figure out... well. Why you're so
*weird*." She squeezes him, perhaps for emphasis.
"I was raised by wolves."
"No, you were raised by *androids*. Wolves have,
like, a social structure."
"You'd prefer me to sniff your ass and hump you?"
Tim chokes on a laugh.
"Oh, like Jason never peed on you."
"Why do you think *I* broke up with him?" And the
smile -- the *invitation* -- is still in her voice, but
there's something else, too.
"I ... imagine it had to be something like that," he
tries, and knows it's *weak*.
"Mm-hm..." And Steph strokes his chest, evenly
and weirdly calm and *easy* through his t-shirt. "Or
maybe Jason was just a really good fuckbuddy when
I didn't want one of those." Steph sighs. "Another
one of those."
The baby's father. "I... oh."
"Mm-hm. And really, I wouldn't dream of trying to
figure out... trying to wrap my *head* around
whatever the fuck is up with you and Jay... but I'm
guessing 'fuckbuddy' doesn't cut it."
"No... no, it doesn't." And it seems like something
she *would* talk to him about. Like she wouldn't
*mind* being his ear, or his shoulder, or... or
*something*. But Jason needs her for that, and
deserves her for that, and already *has* her for
that. So... so.
Steph squeezes him again. "Which is not to say I
haven't *thought* about being the meat on you
"But mostly... mostly I'd like this. More of this."
Steph laughs in his hair again. Gentle and sleepy and
soft. "I'll pee on you later if it'll make you feel better
about the whole thing."
"Or hump me?"
Not just sleepy -- *going* to sleep. "Steph."
"I want... I want this, too. Even after you leave."
Steph tenses behind him *hard*. "Remind me to
teach you about, like, proper bedtime conversation
Tim winces. "Sorry."
"No, no..." Another sigh, and another squeeze.
He's pretty sure this one is just as different from the
others as... well, as the others have been different
from themselves. How could one person have so
many ways to *squeeze*?
"I'm not... I'm not ready to talk about that yet.
"Oh, I didn't... I just meant..."
And still another squeeze. "I'm not going anywhere
yet, and even when I do... I won't go too far, you
No one ever means that. Or means that as much as
they think they do. "That's... good to know."
"Hmm," she says, and rests her chin against the top
of his head.
This close, hearing and feeling combine and shift
into something deeper, visceral and impossible to
define so much as experience.
Her breath, and her heartbeat, and her warmth, and the
catch of her underwear -- *his* -- against his own.
"m' little brother," she says, and sighs out a long, low
yawn. "Always... always wanted..."
She's asleep very quickly after that. And...
Tim decides to follow her example... even though part
of him is still waiting.