Disclaimers: Not even remotely mine.
Spoilers: *Many* old Batverse storylines, as well as all
of War Games, Nightwing #99, and Birds of Prey #76.
Summary: Dick isn't the one. Neither is Tim.
Ratings Note: PG-13.
Author's Note: This is a hand-wave -- I'm way behind
on my reading, and pretty much entirely unspoiled
for everything from this week (11-17). Which means
that I'm fully aware that *this* story almost certainly
contradicts the most recent canon. (I don't want to
be spoiled. I'll read when I get a chance.)
Acknowledgments: To Jack and LC for audiencing
He looks hungry all the time now, and Tim can never
decide which is more disturbing -- the literal or the
On the one hand, a Dick who forgets even the energy
bars and supplements that, from time to time, keep
*all* of them going, is, of course, terrifying. On the
other hand, when Nightwing is working, Tim
doesn't have to look in his eyes.
He's already flinched once ("Timmy, please..."), and
that's... it's already too much.
Outside of his own mind, the seventh dealer of the
night drops hard and fast -- too -- but Dick catches
the man before his head can bounce off anything
harder than his boot.
"Glass jaw," he offers, and gets a grunt in response.
They keep moving.
Thinking about... it, like this, from the relative safety
of the abstract...
It's really just another kind of flinch, isn't it? Another
way to avoid connecting the dots which really
couldn't be any more *blatant*.
Dick's life had been systematically and thoroughly
*destroyed*. So quickly, so *efficiently*, that
Tim honestly isn't sure he would've been able to
do anything to help, even if he *had* been in the
*He's* neither the best at this sort of thing, nor
the most advantageously placed. At least, he
Blockbuster is dead.
And watching Dick work now is a lot like how it
had been to follow Bruce in the first few months
after Jean-Paul had been neutralized, before the
whispers of a newer, crazier, and honestly lethal
Bat could fully dissipate.
It isn't at *all* like the way it had been after
Jason's death --
He ducks, reflexively, and the surprisingly well-thrown
knife clatters against the brick behind him and falls
to the ground and... out of play.
It's the second attempted rape of the night, and,
judging by that crumbling snap (and the taut,
vicious line of Dick's left leg), this one is going to
need at least one pin in his hip. The victim stays in
range long enough to take one of Leslie's cards
from him, but she's good enough in those heels to
make chasing her for more into an act both
time-consuming and, perhaps, just a bit more
traumatic than necessary.
The wannabe rapist is bleeding lightly and zip-stripped.
Dick is a shadow above and to the northwest.
These people aren't afraid of anything as simple as
It hadn't been that long ago, really, when there had
been a table in the Cave, large enough for all of
them, present out of an entirely *good* idea --
a place, with the bat-stamp of approval, for all of
them to touch base. At the very *least*, and on a
basis regular enough that the night shift at the
closest Fat & Fillin' had come to expect them, and
to know their orders well enough that Tim had felt
the need to distance himself from their crullers
when he was in civvies.
The part of him which wants to sneer at donut-
related nostalgia is easily silenced by the wet slap
of a mugger's blood across his cheek. Dick
pauses for long enough to scrub off what Tim
misses with his own gauntlet.
And it's not the donuts at all, of course. It *hadn't*
been that long ago when he could reasonably
expect Barbara -- if not Bruce himself -- to drag
out whatever moderately well-kept (these things
have always been relative) secret he, Dick, or
Batgirl were sitting on before it could...
There's a part of him, even now, which is still waiting
for Bruce to swoop out of the darkness to tell him
he's wrong about this, to point out the half-dozen
clues he'd missed ("At least yours was a *compliment*.
Sort of."), to look at him with that old, familiar mix
of satisfaction with his fundamental cynicism and
contempt for his faithlessness.
Perhaps he would say something along the lines of
how of *course* Tim would come to such a
conclusion, and then he would explain -- tersely,
curtly, and coldly -- what had *really* happened
to Roland Desmond and how it bears only the
faintest sort of connection to the shadows under
"West Side," Dick says, and only the brow-wrinkle of
a raised, yet hidden eyebrow makes it a question.
But it is one. "Sure," he says, and Dick leaps.
It would be easier if he could hold *himself* in
contempt for this feeling, but he can't. It's not as
though the fantasy -- and it *is* one -- is remotely
irrational. It's *not* as though it ends with Bruce
having already set everything to rights, or even
with Dick wrapped in a blanket and eating a large
bowl of Alfred's soup while teasing Tim for being
It's just that it asks for a clarity of thought from
Bruce (and, perhaps, the universe) that simply
hasn't existed since before Bruce came back to
the Manor to find Vesper Fairchild bled out in
(Had it *ever*?)
It's not a serious question, even from within the
comfortable silence of his own thoughts.
Bruce *did* have this. Bruce *was* capable, and Bruce
is... Bruce only loses his clarity when he loses *them*.
Once, he'd told himself that he was allowed a measure
of... that, when Bruce, or Bruce-related
*circumstances*, pushed him away, he was allowed
to *stay* pushed, if only for a little while.
Batman, after all, didn't just need a Robin, he needed
a Robin he could *count* on, on who could be...
Who could stay...
(It wasn't raining, and it wasn't cold. He hadn't needed
his overcoat at the gravesite, and Steph's mother
hadn't known him, or anyone. And hadn't cared.)
Bruce isn't the one who pushed him, not this time. Not
even in that sneaking, awful, *emotional* way, ever
so dependent on Tim's own vulnerabilities.
Bruce -- he knows this -- would welcome him back to
the Cave. If not with open arms...
There's an image -- nauseatingly vivid -- of the last
time Bruce had touched him when there hadn't
been wounds to stitch or bullets to avoid or drugs
to wash out of their systems. A *hug*, and the
sleek blackness of Bruce's cape, and his mother
He has a lot more dead, now.
He knows, with the clarity of horror, that the only
reason he hasn't (yet) received another is
because *his* parents had been at the grave.
Because there were rules which went beyond
He should be with Bruce. He'd *berated* Dick,
once, for just this sort of absence after Jason's
death, and used it, ultimately, to make himself
Robin. It doesn't matter that he'd been wrong
to approach Dick in the way he had, that he'd
been woefully *ignorant* for all of his files
Steph. Steph is. Is --
West Side. It shouldn't have been a question at
all, not now. The territory is an extended
stretch of thinly -- perhaps even accidentally,
at this point -- held control. Demonstrations
that barely manage to stay on the right side
of the line between 'civil disobedience' and
'riot,' armbands in purple and black, whole
neighborhoods silent and empty save for the
heavy, endless pressure of watchful, hidden eyes.
Onyx nods at them, uses them, and dismisses
them after a little more than an hour.
"They need a *face*, Nightwing. And --"
"It isn't mine," Dick says, and nods as though he
understands and breathes as though he doesn't.
The comm in Tim's ear catches it, of course.
If it had been him, Steph would be there for Bruce.
For *Robin*. He's never been Steph, and he can't
*He* was only ever...
He shoots his grapple before he can think, jumps
before he can reconsider, and lands perfectly. He
knows how to make these leaps more exhausting,
more demanding on his body and mind -- and
thus, right now, blessedly distracting -- but he's
never been able to make himself *use* that
'Decel Therapy,' Dick had called it, once, while
trying (and failing) to explain the lack of efficiency
in some of his movements to Batgirl. 'It's cheap,
easy, and doesn't require bad guys to hospitalize.'
Dick isn't moving very inefficiently at all tonight.
Everything is clipped, even, perfect, and....
And he's an accomplice to murder, if not, in fact,
a murderer. 'Accomplice' is a word for lawyers.
Bruce either doesn't know -- unlikely -- or doesn't care
to stop *pretending* he doesn't know. Tim *isn't*
the best at this sort of thing, or even the most
*cynical*, when it all comes down to the end of
things. If *he* knows...
Gotham hasn't precisely settled so much as it has
settled into reasonably predictable lines. In some
neighborhoods -- precincts -- Tim really does have
to watch his back as much for the cops as for the
In others, he's as safe from them as he's ever been.
("*I* just wanna know what the fuck happened," and
Allen's exhale was acrid with smoke.
"If wishes were horses," Montoya said, with an
impressive impression of lazy carelessness in her
voice and an even more impressively well-aimed
*look* towards Tim's shadow.
"That's fair," he said, and made his exit.)
The rooftop is one of his own, shadowed, sturdy,
defensible, and utterly familiar -- despite the fact
that this is the first time he's been on it in better
than six months. From here, Wayne Tower is
the closest thing to a beacon. It rises behind
Dick spends another long stretch of seconds
examining their position. Waiting.
It's his cue to call Oracle, and, perhaps, say
something moderately amusing about Dick -- until
Dick cuts in and asks for an assignment for them.
Oracle isn't there, anymore.
"Should I... I could call Batman." He doesn't,
actually, know what Batman is doing tonight.
Dick stiffens the way he does *every* time anyone
says 'Batman,' or 'Bruce' these days, no matter
how much warning he receives. And he doesn't
say anything. Or look at him.
Tim nods as though it was an answer (with Batgirl
or Oracle, it would have been -- certainly with
Batman), and toggles the comm for the police
Three armed robberies, all well in hand. A hostage
situation which is infinitely more questionable --
and thus possible. If it was in another neighborhood.
The Slope, six units there or en route, and neither
of *them* are going in until and unless it becomes
a clusterfuck. More of one than any hostage situation
ever is, in any event.
"Was it... Spoiler?"
Tim closes his eyes. If he'd gotten the chance, he
would've asked her if Spoiler was the right name,
and she would've laughed (perhaps breathless, at
that point), and asked him what they'd do about
the inevitable confusion. He would have smirked,
as best he could, and suggested 'Robinette' for
her, just to see if she'd...
No. She wouldn't have been strong enough to
punch him. He would've been able to see her
wanting to do it, and --
He dreams, sometimes, when he isn't *really*
asleep, of curling the unbroken fingers of her left
hand into a fist, and of pressing it against the
line of his jaw. "Got me again, Steph," he'd say,
and she'd call him a dork, and Leslie would see
that she was wrong, that there *was* something
she could do, and --
"Hey," Dick says, in the rough, quiet voice he
uses when he's about to -- "Tim."
Break protocol. "Sorry," he says, and Dick is
cupping his face gently. "I... zoned."
"I change my mind, kid. That watchful look that's
been pinching your face all night *is* the better
Undoubtedly, it's back on his face *now*. "You.
You asked about her just to --"
"*No*." Dick's voice isn't quiet at all. "I asked
because I'm an idiot, and because it was an honest
He's almost sure that if Dick's lenses were up, his
eyes would be searching Tim's own. Searching them
*out*, as if to invite both of them back from the
brink of something terrible.
Something Dick could protect them from.
He's *not* sure. "Which question was that? Exactly."
Dick's hands flex on his face, and then relax. "Why
*you're* not working out of the Cave, right now.
If you... if you blame Bruce."
"Because you're going to try to convince me
otherwise, if I do?"
And now Dick's hands *tighten* on his face. It's
not strange, in and of itself. Dick has never
seemed entirely convinced of the efficacy of
communication which isn't physical as much as
it's verbal. And they're talking about Bruce.
"Because I want to know how you *feel*. I. I
cant judge you, Tim."
Anymore...? It doesn't matter. "I'm angry because
he knew she was dying and didn't tell me when
he had the chance." I was right *there*.
The pause he offers Dick to interrupt or rebut
him goes unused.
Tim closes his eyes behind the mask again for a
moment. "I'm angry because I know why he did
it, and why he thought he had to. Why he
thought it was... the better idea."
"And it isn't enough," Dick says, for him, and
strokes his cheekbones with his thumbs.
Dick nods, and pushes his right hand into Tim's
hair. "He needs you."
Because it's Dick, and because Tim has been...
neutral, those three words are only a statement
of fact as he understands it, and not a rebuke. "I
know. I... can't." And he needs you, too. Whether
or not either of you believe it when the truth
The terrible thing is that Tim can *hear* the laugh
that quiet, shuddering breath was supposed to be.
"I can't, either, little brother." Dick's teeth are
showing in something like a smile, but the hair-ruffle
turns into a yank.
It hurts enough that Tim twists away -- *flinches* --
reflexively. That he *tries* to, because Dick's other
hand is still splayed over Tim's cheek and jaw.
Holding him. "Dick --"
"You know why, right? Why I can't?"
It doesn't matter that their lenses are still up. He
can feel Dick looking at him.
"Yes," he says, when he can't put it off anymore,
and Dick gasps and pulls Tim into his arms as
though Tim has just said something wonderful.
Something to be *grateful* --
No. It's just a more thorough clutch, conscious or
not. Dick would only have to move his left leg a
little to effectively -- if not efficiently -- immobilize
Tim waits for this, too.
"You don't have to keep my secret, too, Tim. Just
because I... this *isn't* for you to bear, I promise
you. I --"
Dick doesn't fight when Tim pushes him away, and
barely makes a sound. It's irrational to the point of
insanity, but --
"I understand, Tim. You --"
He's cold. "I need to know why."
The smile on Dick's face is the ghost of the right one.
"The reason, not the excuse, right?"
Tim nods. He already knows the excuse.
"It wasn't coincidental -- or even a lucky guess -- that
Blockbuster went after Dick Grayson *and*
"He knew," Tim says, and takes a breath. He knows,
Dick nods absently, starts to pace, and... stops. He's
only slightly too far away to grab Tim again in
*one* move. "I still had him, Tim. Confessions, a
stack of... I knew what I was supposed to do, and
I *did* it."
Bludhaven. "Was it the police department?"
"No," Dick says with an absent sort of vehemence
and starts to move again. "The DA. The...
Tarantula's brother was on Blockbuster's payroll.
He destroyed..." Dick stops again, and he probably
isn't remotely conscious of the fact that he's on
the balustrade closest to Wayne Tower. "I didn't
make copies," he says.
It's interesting to watch, interesting to *be*, in
an awful way, because Tim knows exactly who
Dick's hearing, right now, and it isn't him. Still.
"He didn't have to tell me that he'd go after you --
all of you -- next, but he did. And he'd already
gone after Barbara, and..."
Another piece, of limited use. "Tarantula's attack
on Barbara was an attempted hit."
Dick nods, hugging himself. Tim isn't sure what he's
supposed to do, right now. *Who* he's...
But Dick has already given him the script. He just
has to read his lines. "You turned her."
"Again," Dick says, with ugly amusement.
And slept with her too, then. "She was there when B --"
No. Use the name. "When Desmond came after
you for the last time."
"I let her pull the trigger. I..." Dick trails off again.
If he were just here to be himself, he'd be almost sure
it was his cue to start pointing out the pointless facts.
*Not* faster than a speeding bullet.
*Not* capable of guiding a bullet into a human brain
without a gun.
*Not* (entirely) at fault, and -- he *wants* to. He
*could*, for this.
But if it were supposed to be him, Dick would be
*moving*, and forcing Tim to work just to keep up.
There would be a backdrop of the more traditional
sort of vigilante therapy, and there'd be no time for
trailing off into silence and staring at the ground.
It doesn't matter what he wants.
"Why haven't you gone to the police?" It's precisely
the kind of stupid question Bruce would ask,
designed more for the opportunity to examine the
quality of the response (and the man) than for
Dick gives him a fleetingly *hopeful* look. It's a bit
like being waved at from the platform when the
train is already moving.
But he's still *here*. "Dick."
"Because I don't want to," Dick says, with a smile that
manages to be *better* than all the others.
He wonders if Bruce ever feels as though talking to
them -- any of them -- is an exercise in exposing
your weak spots for nerve-strikes. No. Right now,
Tim wonders how *often* Bruce feels this way.
"We don't get to --"
"Don't we?" *This* look isn't fleeting at all.
And it isn't... Tim pauses, and deliberately gives
Dick his -- *his* -- 'I'm thinking' face, and...
He doesn't know. He *isn't* sure.
"What do you want me to say, Dick?"
Dick rocks on his heels for a moment, laughing
anxiously with his body and gnawing on his own
"You're the last one, Tim. I think I actually thought
it would be *me*."
Tim frowns. "I don't --"
"The last one of us who knows what the right thing
to do is, all the time. The one of us who wouldn't.
Wouldn't ever..." This laugh is out loud, and
something like a bark. "*You* knew it wouldn't be
me. Didn't you?"
Oh. Tim stares down at the roof.
"*Yes*. I knew." He looks up again, and forces
himself to *keep* looking at Dick's face. "But I
thought you... I thought it would be because Bruce
crossed the line first."
Dick nods as if this is only predictable -- or predictable
for them. "Are we ever... is there such a thing as
Always, for you. *No*. "A man --"
"Is dead, because I chose to let him be killed instead
of jeopardizing..." Dick's gesture takes in the whole
of Gotham, and his smile hurts, and it's for Tim.
"I smelled like his blood for days, you know."
"We all reeked of other people's blood, Dick. I think
I *still* --"
"There's a difference."
He was wrong. There's no script for this. "Lady
Macbeth doesn't suit you."
"No, it doesn't," Dick says, and the laughter is
gone again. "But you know what happens if I turn
"Of course I do." Gordon's MCU, pet prosecutors,
and stack of uncalled favors wouldn't be able to
save them, even if it *hadn't* been a Bludhaven
crime. Dick wouldn't go down as hard as he
could -- but the rest of them *would*. "Look...
just tell me what you want me to *say*."
Dick closes the distance between them and cups
his face again, tilting it up and leaning in like --
no. "I want your advice. What do I *do* now, little
He's so close. He's. "Tarantula. Bruce has
sanctioned her activities. But..." He shrugs, and
stops himself. It's weak.
Dick just looks at him.
"Stop waiting for her to make the confession for
the both of you. I..." Blinking rapidly behind the
mask is almost as good as closing his eyes. "Bruce
doesn't *want* to know. Right now, maybe, he
can't *let* himself know. Maybe. Maybe he shouldn't
know at all."
Dick grins at him, slow and open and... pleased. It's
the look which tends to make Tim wonder how Dick
would look at him if he ever stabbed the man in the
"Dick, I'm serious --"
"I know. And you're right. She's mine to deal with.
All of it is. Better than... than I have."
Christ. "She knows your identity, too."
The grin trembles and holds. "I won't... I wouldn't
kill her, Tim. I'm not --"
There's a part of him which can't decide whether to
be satisfied, relieved, or both. It's the right answer,
finally, and the right *quality*, and he hates that
part of himself so much he wants to vomit. "No,
you aren't," he says. "But it's already changed you.
You know that, right?"
"Oh, I know." The laugh lines are deep, shadowed
grooves. Dick has lost too much weight. "You don't
know how much I've missed you, Tim."
So close. "You're not going to tell Bruce. You...
you're going to play the plausible deniability game
"God, please don't call it a *game*, Tim --"
He reaches up to hold Dick's wrists and pull, a little.
Dick's fingers are going to leave bruises --
"Jesus, sorry --"
-- on his face, if they aren't careful. They haven't
*been* careful, none of them, and that's --
"Tim. There... there is something I need you to say."
Another smile, for him, and in another life Tim would,
perhaps, be able to believe the lie of Dick's lenses
and not *know* what's behind them. But maybe it
wouldn't be a better life. "You protected us." And
bled for it, and hate yourself for it, and -- "You
crossed the line, even though you knew there
were options, and. I..."
"What would you have done?" Dick's voice is gentle,
and it doesn't matter.
Because he doesn't think he ever would've been in
the same situation, and because he wishes he
didn't know what he'd do with a gun in his hand
and Black Mask on his knees.
He knows he wouldn't need the gun, at all. It
wouldn't be good enough.
"I'm not the one, Dick. Not of us, not... I don't
know if any of us are."
"Tim..." Dick's wrists flex in his hands, and when
Tim lets go Dick rests them on his shoulders,
and squeezes. "If we're just... if we're just going
through the motions, and protecting ourselves,
and... I don't..."
He doesn't bother asking Dick what he wants him
to say again, because Dick doesn't know. "Didn't
you ever wonder if that was all we were really
doing? If we'd just been... lucky?"
Tim lets himself smile, a little. "No? What about
now?" I can't make it better for you. I wish --
The pressure on his shoulders isn't painful, but
it's still a lot more intense than it was. Tim waits,
Dick doesn't say anything.
When he pulls Tim into his arms this time, it *is*
a hug, though.
Even if Tim isn't entirely sure who it's for. If
either of them.