Disclaimers: If they were mine... um. They aren't.
Spoilers: None, really. Owes a lot, conceptually,
to Gotham Knights 24. Takes place during Tim's
Summary: There is an urge.
Ratings Note: R.
Author's Note: I blame the old-school crack. And
the new-school crack. Essentially, I blame the
Something of a companion story to "Waiting
Acknowledgments: To LC for audiencing.
He isn't like the others --
The thought is rejected as imprecise nearly before
it's fully formed. Nearly. Not good enough. The
mistake is noted for remembrance, for research
into those avenues which may be responsible for
its presence. For now, precision is in order:
There is nothing about the boy which would have
caught Bruce's attention, given the general --
familiar -- run of his proclivities. Weaknesses.
Yes, that's an apt enough word.
The boy's breathing is rough, labored. His form is
practiced and even, but he does not yet have the
strength to reach...
He pauses. Judges.
After eight, the boy's inhale is slow. The control
there is admirable -- he would clearly rather be
panting like an animal -- but the lack of speed is
also procrastination. Perhaps half an honest effort to
force himself to *feel* the new oxygen moving
quickly into his bloodstream.
Certainly at least half an attempt to put off the
next lift, and the inevitable failure.
The boy's grunt is low, frustrated.
It's difficult to be sure how well the others would
have done at a similar point in their physical training.
Both of them were stronger than this when they'd
In the time the boy should be taking to reach his
fifteenth repetition, he makes another low sound.
He doesn't search for the eyes on him, even though
he surely expects them. Perhaps even... feels them.
It's another difference about the boy.
At what should've been twenty, the boy rises,
Shakes his arms in a move that is entirely conscious
and, then, moves into stretches which are even
They are not the ones he knew when he came here.
He had forgotten those as quickly as he'd been told
to do so.
When he is done stretching, the boy stands still.
The tension in the muscles of his back points back
toward the bench of his failure. The boy's eyes
narrow. And he moves into a jog.
Through the equipment at first, and then into a
roughly measured circular lap. His path will not
take the boy past where *he* is waiting, and the
nod he can't quite seem to stop from offering will
There's an... urge. It isn't quite an instinct, but it's
stronger than anything as animal as desire --
though easily as irrational. He is already in the
deepest shadows, and could not cloak himself
any better than he has.
As for the rest... going to the boy now, pausing
him in his routine even just to offer correction --
he should be jogging slower than he is, though
not by much -- would be... inefficient.
The boy's heart rate is up, and the failure on the
bench is nearly irrelevant. He is within the optimum
period of *increase*. His power, his stamina. He
will not stop the boy. No matter --
This, too, demands a greater level of attention.
Yes, even for himself. *On* himself.
This, too, is a *difference*.
The others had not been so...
They called to Bruce. This one does not.
He asks to be taught, not attended.
He demands a greater degree of intensity, not a
He takes pleasure, yes, he is not... he is still a *boy*.
He takes it in his victories. Their own, when the boy
takes it upon himself to stretch beyond the safety
of the Cave... via the electronic cloak of the
computers. The bloodlessness of it should surely...
When you give a kitten a mouse, it *will* test its
The computers have allowed the boy to sharpen his
own on any number of rats foolish enough to move
within his limited reach.
And when he smiles... he is never more the same,
and never more different.
The path of his second lap takes the boy past the
Case. He does not glance toward it, but neither is
it an accident.
When he smiles, the shadows even *he* can't
reach seem to almost *hint* at something more.
Something closer than he has allowed himself to
Than Bruce has done.
Within him, far beneath notice and far beyond where
even he can reach, just now, there is another boy.
A true one, for all that his body is a man's. The
one who cries and cries, and refuses to listen to
his reason, to his *promise*.
A lie, that child whispers, even though he had
never promised an end to pain.
When the boy smiles, the child within him shrinks
and shivers. It would be maddening, were it not
And -- *he* will not shrink from honesty -- did he not
At the end of his jog, the boy returns to the bench.
The nuances of the boy's expression are difficult
from this angle -- challenging.
He extrapolates on the tightness of the right side of
the boy's mouth, the narrowing of his right eye,
and forms a picture of determination, and, perhaps,
His heart, within, pounds and pounds and, yes,
weeps. The boy is in danger of overextending
himself, perhaps moreso than even the 'breathing'
room he has factored into the boy's schedule.
Too much, too soon.
He wants -- yes, that -- to stop the boy.
He needs to see what the boy will do.
The boy's hands flex on the bar once, again.
He makes another small sound, this one a near-
incomprehensible blend of plea and quiet scream.
And then the boy rises, and moves to the heavy bag
at a slow, deliberate pace which allows him to steal
his breath back from the grasping shadows.
It *should* allow him to do so, but it does *not*.
Because the boy is deliberate, because his path
could be held against a ruler. Because he'd stopped
And because he does not throw even one unpracticed
punch, despite the frustration and hunger that
bunches the muscles of his back.
That he can *feel*, because the muscles themselves
as are hard as they should be, but the boy's skin is
marred only by the scars of one of the softer sort of
The others had been more marked than this. More --
Under his gauntlets, the boy's skin will be warm
and slick and smooth and daring -- demanding -- him
to see everything that has not yet been done. The
lessons which can only be taught with blades and
bullets and the night beyond their Cave.
The rats the boy cannot yet reach.
And... yes, that word. *Yet*. A decision made in
the silences of himself, that can only be blamed
*on* himself, because the child is still willfully blind
to the boy's very presence. *He* isn't.
But it is, perhaps, equally troubling how easily the
'yet' has crept into his thoughts. Closer with every
freely made offer of subjugation, with every ounce
of the boy's dedication.
Another apt word. Another *true* one.
He had spent a great deal of time examining the
boy for the sort of dangerously pseudo-religious
fervor which would mark him out as unsuitable.
But he'd only needed to watch the boy sleep, to
listen to the screams and pleas he has not yet
been taught -- by him, *yes* -- to muffle.
There is no devotion in this boy, and little enough
faith in anything but the need to do something,
and to learn, and to grow stronger.
Devotion is blind, and thus incapable of seeing the
sorts of things which make the boy scream in the
So much more fresh, more valid, more...
So much more than the child at his core.
No, Bruce never would have sought *this* one out
on his own. He'd lost the drive for such things
very young, after all.
And the boy had moved on to kicks, where he is
at once far better -- the karate he had learned,
while basic, had not had to be entirely scrubbed
from his mind -- and more frustrating.
There are things even he cannot teach the boy in
terms of flexibility and... grace.
And while Dick is a more than adequate soldier
and weapon in his own right...
The boy is a boy, and vulnerable to the
blandishments of a softer -- more *human* --
existence. He'd lost Dick to the world of the Titans
and their ilk long since.
And while the difference in the boy suggests --
*tempts* -- with the possibility that he could *not*
lose him thus...
There is no reason to take the chance.
His mental clock reminds him that it's time for the
boy to rest. If he concentrates -- and if Alfred is
cooking something aggressively spiced -- he would
surely be able to smell what the man is preparing
for the evening meal. And the boy...
Is stretching with a slower purpose. Determined,
even in this.
He moves out of the shadows -- one pull against
another, equally great and only managing to miss
'disturbing' by their likeness to each other -- and
to the mats. He sees the boy register his
He sees the boy register his greater degree of
*proximity* in the tension of his shoulders, and in
the breath he takes before looking up.
In the complicated and shadowy pause of the
boy's eyes before he smiles.
"Bruce," he says, as game a liar as anyone he's ever
The boy has never spoken of his nightmares. Not
even to Alfred, though the way the boy looks at
the Case has, occasionally, made him wonder.
"I... I only managed ten on the bench," he says, as
disappointed in himself as he should be. "And I had
to take a break first."
No more, no less. He doesn't nod, or otherwise
telegraph his movements -- fast enough that the
tension doesn't have time to fade utterly before
he wraps the gauntlet around the thin, hard length
of the boy's bicep.
"I..." A question. "I wish there was a way to make
myself stronger faster." Unasked. The smile this
time is the wry equivalent of a real boy's. "Well, a
way that *wasn't* stupid."
There is no reason to respond. He tests the boy's
muscles for soreness he knows will not be there
to any great degree, and for all the expected
fatigue. There are no surprises.
Tension. Waiting. When he skims the gauntlet down
the boy's forearm, the pulse is, perhaps, a little
faster than it should be.
"Better, I think. I'm... every night."
He nods, and releases the boy's arm.
The boy looks up at him, and his eyes are neither
soft nor thickly lashed. The blue is the sort that can,
given time, grow sharp and cold. There is nothing
he need say, nor do.
Need can be an... imprecise term.
Meaningless against the whisper of the boy's hair
against the gauntlet, and the way the boy closes
his eyes and swallows soundlessly. Waiting for
whatever he chooses.
"Good work," he says, and moves to the computers.
"Thank you," the boy says.
The sounds behind him suggest the continuation
of the night's stretches.
The boy has left his scent on the chair.
He is... content.
Note: You know, I just continue to find it striking
that Tim was having nightmares -- and nightmarish
fantasies -- about the Bat long before he ever
.A new understanding.