Disclaimers: No one and nothing here is mine.
Spoilers/Timeline: AU-ized mentions of events up through
Crisis, some OYL stuff, and rather a lot of older storylines.
The only real timing note needed, I think, is that OYL
doesn't *happen* "one year later," as opposed to right after
Summary: Counterproductive. Counterintuitive. One of
Ratings Note: Not especially harmless.
Author's Note: A porn-prompt from Petra went somewhat
Acknowledgments: To Petra for unwittingly setting this in
motion and then audiencing. To Betty for fabu beta and
not a little hand-holding. Neither of them can be blamed
Tim wakes up feeling strange, and thus annoyed --
They've all had too much experience with the random, the
strange, and the seemingly -- the emphasis need not be
spoken, at this point -- innocuous to risk doing anything but
what he, of course, does:
Over the course of the next twenty minutes, he checks
himself physically, intellectually, and emotionally as
thoroughly as he can, measuring his results against the
regularly updated baselines on Batman's and Oracle's
systems through his remote.
It's annoying because of the necessary time-consumption,
which is fine, but it's also annoying because there's always
*something* slightly off, slightly *strange*, and even
though he would have still had to schedule himself for a
more thorough check-up (he does; he'll be due back at the
Cave in two hours) if he *had* checked out optimal in all
Well, it should be the point, but it isn't.
Time-consumption *and* his own lack of necessary --
*vital* -- self-attention. It's nowhere near as serious as the
time when ignoring a minor twinge in his back had led him
to developing a small but lingering infection, or even the
time when he'd done so well at repressing his anger with
Bruce over cavalierly breaking security with Steph as
opposed to dealing with his own issues with Alfred,
that he'd wound up... well.
It had led rather neatly into driving an especially
ill-timed wedge into their working partnership during the
business with Bruce being wrongly imprisoned, the Cain
And it had been an especially chaotic time, all things
considered. He'd spent a lot of time angry at a lot of
The point was, he'd learned his *lesson* about these self-
checks -- at the time, he would've almost certainly been
*far* off his baseline for tolerant/judgmental -- and if he
just *did* them more often, he wouldn't be twenty-two
minutes off his morning schedule, and, possibly, he wouldn't
need to return to Gotham, at all.
Not that there was ever much *need* for him in Bludhaven
this early in the day -- there have been times when Tim's
found himself almost salivating at the idea of something
like a localized eclipse. Power-naps and so very much time
The guilt isn't so much milder now as it is... itself. His father
could've used this sort of thing, too, of course. The doctors
all *say* that he's coming along reasonably well physically,
but the depression that had led to his suicide attempt after
that financial crash...
Well, there had been pills, and there was still no sign where
the man had gotten them, and there was still no *real*
sign that he hadn't done enough damage to his brain -- the
Obeah man hadn't exactly left much slack --
It's just that it had taken Tim far too long to realize how
much *like* the man he was. Tim knows he's driven, and
certainly the little he's dabbled in learning economic and
business theory had been interesting enough, and if he'd
been paying more attention *himself* --
If he'd been paying more attention, he could've done
something, of course. And --
It's tempting to assume that it's the whole -- or at least the
*most* -- of the problem. That some part of him felt that
he wasn't allowed to wake up without *all* of the guilt,
even though, of course, Leslie had given him the short
and brutal course on 'survivor guilt.' Or --
Certainly it seemed that way. Certainly...
Tim frowns to himself and shakes it off. This is *why* he
has to get checked out by someone else. He can't let
himself get dragged down into his Dad's spiral again.
It doesn't matter.
Bruce is right on time, of course -- Tim has only just gotten
himself stripped and hooked up to as many of the various
monitors as he's capable of activating by himself. Tim nods
at the darker patch of shadow by the stairs. "I woke up
feeling a sort of..." He shakes his head and smiles ruefully.
"Spiritual vertigo, maybe?"
"More so than usual...?"
It's not, actually, strange for Bruce to joke about things like
this. But *he* sounds a little off, all things considered. Tim
narrows his eyes.
Bruce obliges by stepping into the light, and closer.
"You look like hell, Bruce."
"I say again..."
Tim cuts him off with a hand. "You know what I mean.
Should you be up here after me?" Bruce is, actually,
something of an object *lesson* when it comes to the
importance of periodic self-evaluation --
"Already done. With Nightwing -- I've dropped a third of my
usual patrol for the next several days," he says, and the
amusement gets a little stronger. A little more clear. "I
assure you that I'm entirely frustrated with the unfairness of
Tim snorts. An object lesson who has, finally, come to
understand the occasional need for subjectivity. The part
of him which will almost certainly always have more in
common with Dick than anyone other than *possibly*
Bruce will ever notice is horribly jealous and regretful
about it, of course.
He should've been the one who'd made Bruce -- *helped*
Bruce -- understand. Wait.
Steph... Steph would've noticed, if she'd ever gotten
the chance to know Dick, of course. He'd... it's not
that he'd forgotten. It's just --
He's allowed to regret Steph's decision to retire after that
ugly business with the Riddler, but not as much as he's
allowed to regret her decision to break up with him
subsequent *to* the retirement. The fact that he regrets
both makes him...
Sometimes, it's enough to remember that Steph will always
love him, the way he will always love her.
The 'vertigo' returns, but that's -- it's not really the right
word for it. Tim frowns. "Anyway, I'm reasonably sure
it's nothing. There hasn't really been anything --"
Bruce cuts him off with a quick and casual-for-Bruce check
of his pulse, temperature, latest wounds, and scars-to-be.
The grunt is an acknowledgment that Tim had, of course,
done so already. "Can you elaborate on the 'spiritual
"I --" Not really. Only inadequately. Not what Bruce is
asking. He'd been *planning* on doing that, anyway. Tim
shakes his head, again. Bruce is just as focused on
assuming the worst as he should be. "There were hints of
euphoria to it. A sense of... rightness? Release? The
"Well... yes," he says, frowning internally at the really kind
of *sharp* tone of Bruce's voice. He raises an eyebrow. "But
I was really only going for 'irritating.'"
He's expecting one of those grunting little Bruce-laughs for
that one -- Bruce has always seemed to find his (relative)
distaste for the dramatic amusing -- but what he gets is a
hand on his shoulder.
Tim raises the eyebrow higher.
Bruce... he almost seems to *flinch*.
Which is... strange. "Bruce...?"
"*Tim*, you -- you've uploaded a list of your recent
contacts with known users of psychotropic agents? You've
left me a sample of your blood no more than two hours
That isn't what the man had been about to say. "Bruce, of
course, but what --"
His wrists are done within a moment, and he nods toward
his ankles on reflex -- and Bruce takes care of those. "Bruce,
I -- theories?"
Bruce fingers are running over his bare toes, and --
On the surface, of course, he's only double-checking the
status of his toenails -- Tim *hadn't* yet managed to find
the time to replace any of them the way he's done with his
left index finger, but Bruce has no way of *truly* knowing
that -- but his fingers are moving far too rapidly and fluidly.
It's meant to draw Tim's attention away from the tension --
however brief and quickly released -- in Bruce's shoulders.
And the fact that he hasn't answered Tim's question.
When he's done, Tim taps the false fingernail pointedly
against the edge of the gurney, and Bruce nods, retrieves
the picks, and then checks his other nails.
And then his teeth.
"I don't suppose we can skip my other... potential storage
"Hm." It's less of a laugh than a somewhat *anxious*
excuse for one. "I'll wait until after you're unconscious,"
he says, and pulls the spray-bottle from his belt.
Tim sighs. "I'd appreciate if you'd share your theories first --"
The sense of anxiety is stronger now.
And something about it suggests that it doesn't just seem
stronger because Bruce is clearly *showing* it to him.
("There can be no secrets and no lies between us, Robin.
Not anymore," he'd said, stretching to fasten the new,
darker, and honestly scarier uniform. "To the best of our
abilities, Bruce...?" "And beyond, whenever possible.")
"Bruce, please." You promised, he doesn't say, and he
doesn't laugh. The fact that he still feels so *light* is hardly
"I have no theories whatsoever about your physical state."
"That isn't --"
'An answer,' he doesn't get to say before the gas is stinging
mildly at his mucous membranes.
There's also some question about the dose, but that's --
"You won't remember this conversation when you wake up,
Tim." Bruce's voice is sure, and steady, with just the
faintest hint of the shallowly soothing *music* of 'Bruce
Wayne is being charming.'
"That seems," he says, rolling his arms in the restraints,
and then his legs. He yawns, and shakes off residual
grogginess. "That seems counterproductive." He waves his
right hand as much as he can. "To say the least. All things
considered. Counterintuitive. One of those."
"You'll believe that the dose was normal strength."
Tim considers, but... "Not good enough. The standard
dosage isn't, actually, enough to put me entirely out
immediately, nor keep me entirely under for as long as you
seem to require, Bruce."
The hesitation isn't precisely professional, but... it's been a
very difficult time.
"Shall I explain...?"
"Do so," Bruce says, and the voice is rather closer to Batman.
"Shiva's meditation techniques are a bit more... well, hard-
*core* than your own. Certainly moreso than the ones you
taught me. I have a somewhat higher resistance to
poisonings of various sorts than might otherwise be
inferred, but only mentally."
"Why didn't you share that information?"
"Is that relevant?"
"You will answer all questions quickly and honestly."
Tim rolls his eyes, but less for Bruce's robotic predictability
than for the ridiculous image his mind abruptly offers of a
generic black gauntlet wrapped around the entirety of his
brain and squeezing like it's a particularly sensitive scrotal
Under this grade of hypnosis, he's not actually capable of
altering the image, and really -- he's not even capable of
much of a *stall*. "Because, Bruce, at the moment when
I realized that you *were* underestimating me in that
respect, I felt neither the need nor the ability to disabuse
"What did you do."
The temptation to nettle Bruce -- a *little* -- about just
how much time he'd spent making *sure* the causes of...
all of this weren't strictly physical is almost overpowering.
Because, of course, he can't do anything about it.
"I gave myself," he says, and refuses to give himself leave
to grit his teeth, "a rather more palatable -- some would
even use the word 'plausible' -- set of reasons to be lacking
my father, my stepmother, my girlfriend, and my best
friend -- hunh."
"It really was a mistake to force myself to believe that Kon
had simply been some degree of 'swallowed' by the Crisis --
just his 'soul,' of course. On the one hand, it's the lie most
difficult to disprove, and thus the safest. On the other
"You'd left yourself -- too much -- room for hope."
"Yes. Hence the 'vertigo,'" Tim says, and smiles, and hates
Bruce a little for having crippled him *just* enough that he
has no control over how much of the smile slides over his
He doesn't need to see the thing, and he doesn't need to
see the way Bruce *recoils* from it. He knows precisely
how... distasteful it is.
And, of course, it had to be just this way.
"So, when are you letting me *out* of this --"
"You know -- you *must* know --"
"It's untenable? Of course. Or it would be if I hadn't altered
the emancipation documents you so helpfully had prepared
to reflect a -- slightly -- earlier date on every record I
could find. If my father had... removed himself from the
picture -- as, in retrospect, he seemed in great danger of
doing several months ago -- there's no reason why *I*
wouldn't have done my best to remove myself from Dana's,
of course. She would need to get on with her life. I wouldn't
have been able to look at her.
"Additionally, the Titans would be a problem -- if I hadn't
tendered my resignation before beginning this process.
Starfire was very understanding, and recommended
"As it is... I own an apartment and my income -- thanks to
the remains of the Drake trust, the interest on my college
fund, and, of course, you -- guarantees independence. Mrs.
Brown barely knew my name and is only slightly more
sober -- judging by the time of day -- than my stepmother.
Who has long since been refused access to visitation by her
stepson. For some reason, her physicians feel I'm part of the
Bruce really should've removed the gauntlets for this. They
creak far too obviously when he clenches his fists that way.
"Other than that... well. Bart's responsibilities are rather
extensive at the moment, aren't they...? As it *is*, Bruce...
there is exactly one person *left* who could reasonably be
expected to a) know the entirety of the truth, and b) be
invested in *me* knowing it -- right now. Batgirl and I...
have singularly failed to develop anything like that sort of
"You weren't -- planning for permanence."
Tim snorts. "Please. *That's* untenable."
"And keeping you away from the man who considers himself
your older *brother* isn't?"
"One -- he's otherwise occupied. Two, the last impression I
gave him was that I would come to *him* when I was
ready to talk. Three, this particular scenario leaves me in a
far, far better position to avoid... intemperate -- and
worrisome -- action on the street than would otherwise be
And -- there's more, just a *little* more, but it's better to
Bruce isn't, actually, as irrationally stubborn as the
stereotype of an *ass*, but he's as human as Tim is. Better
for him to find his own way to the right place than to try
to simply *lead* him.
Tim shifts until he's as comfortable as he can be in the
"You -- when you wake up..."
Tim tenses --
"When you wake up, you'll be more street-ready than I am,
at the moment."
The fact that Tim is reasonably certain that the man didn't --
*entirely* -- intend that to be a post-hypnotic suggestion
doesn't change the fact that Bruce had set the rules of this
It *was* one.
And the look in Bruce's eyes... is all Tim really needs, right
Except, of course, for all the things he can't -- won't -- have
ever again. He just. He just needs to last a little longer.
The touch to his face is light, but not particularly gentle.
"I need you. Too much."
"Right now? Yes," Tim says. "I'm reasonably sure that there
are any number of grief-counselors who would assure us
that the situation will improve, with time. Now --"
"The dose was one point five times the normal strength,
due to your recent growth and my own paranoia."
"There's -- you will believe me when I say that your 'vertigo'
was a result of exhaustion, as well as your entirely rational
*distaste* for the nebulous uncertainty the Crisis has left
us, and all of the implications, hints, and possibilities it
forces us to confront about -- our dead."
"Neatly done --"
"Within several hours of returning to Bludhaven, it will occur
to you that you are more needed in Gotham. You will
doubtlessly feel some measure of chagrin that it took so
"Of course I will. God, Bruce --"
"I -- can't give Stephanie a memorial. I can't -- you."
Bruce's face. His own face. His -- he can't --
"I -- I can't even speak with -- it's not *enough* that Alfred
will understand --"
He can't. He can't. Not like this. Not -- "Please. Please --"
The gauntlet is painful on his jaw when Bruce covers his
But it won't bruise.
"When you return here, to the manor, you will immediately
begin to suspect that I have -- entirely characteristically --
underestimated the extent of my own emotional difficulties,
Tim closes his eyes.
"You will not demand answers for that until I've signaled
you that I have come up with a *tenable* lie to tell. The
signal will be... the next time I *try* to meet your eyes
without the cowl."
Tim opens his eyes. And nods.
Bruce snaps his fingers --
"Ergh." There *was* something wrong with the dose. "I
didn't grow that *much*, Bruce," Tim says, yawning and
shaking off residual grogginess.
Bruce's raised eyebrow is decidedly pointed, despite the fact
that it's aimed more toward the console than at Tim himself.
Tim doesn't roll his eyes. "Fine. But I've been assured by
any number of people that paranoia is unbecoming," he
says, and slips down off the gurney to dress. His lock-picks
are within reach, of course. "I assume that I've got the
"Yes," Bruce says, quiet and calm. "You're precisely as
physically worn as you should be, and. You... you need to
realize that the Crisis has left all of us..."
Really -- ergh. "Adrift? Pensive? Inclined toward flights of
Tim nods to himself and slips his jacket back on. "Perhaps
you can come up with an antidote of some sort before it
"Certainly, I've given the matter some thought," Bruce says,
Strangely, it's not really as *dry* as it could be, considering
everything. There's been...
It shouldn't be easier to be awkward with Bruce than it is to
be anything else, but... it is. And Tim needs to return to
Tim heads for his bike --
"I will, of course, inform you if anything appears on the
more extensive blood-work."
"And I'll inform you of any further... symptoms," Tim says,
laughing to himself and putting on his helmet.
"Noted," Bruce says.
Tim rides. If the traffic cooperates, he'll have time for a
*non*-drug-induced nap before patrol.