Disclaimers: No one and nothing here is mine.
Spoilers: Vague/AU-ized ones for Justice League
episodes up through "Hereafter," (especially "A
Better World") various older storylines from JLA
and the Superverse, Batverse storylines through
War Games, Gotham Adventures (especially #44),
*and* several episodes of the Gotham Knights
Summary: Tim is Tim. Except, of course, when he
isn't... at which point things get complicated.
Ratings Note: R.
Author's Note: I don't know *what* to say about this,
beyond asking for good snack food at my
intervention. What you need to know for this story...
uh. Okay, this idea started out life as some of the
most gratuitous chatpr0n I've ever committed --
LC *so* helped. (One word: frosting.) It migrated
through even *more* gratuitous chatpr0n crimes,
eventually mutating into more of a dirty inside joke
than anything else. When it was outlined, it came
out as a comedy. And then I started writing.
Uh. Yeah. More notes at the end.
Acknowledgments: To Jack and LC for enabling,
audiencing, encouragement, hand-holding, brain-
storming, and countless helpful suggestions.
Everything is normal -- perfectly so, in more ways
than he has the time to really consider just now,
especially when taken with the reasons he's in
the suit again. With...
No. Not now. Other things.
He'd forgotten the way even a brand-new decel line
could make you *aware* of the way you're using
your strength, of how much you've *worked* to be
able to do it just right, until your cape is blotting
out some small portion of the sky and --
And then it isn't normal at all. It is, in fact,
something like being on the other side of what
would happen if some god reached down and
decided to give the world a good 80s-style
Possibly he's been reading too many Discworld
Still, though, there's *something* not entirely right,
anymore, though Tim isn't entirely sure what's
For a long moment, the only *real* thought in Tim's
head is "the *hell*?"
Which isn't abnormal, in and of itself. He was born
in Gotham, and he fully intends to die here one
day. Moments of "the hell?" are kind of one of the
most consistent things in his life, like how Alfred's
cocoa tastes so good that he usually doesn't mind
that Bruce keeps changing the locks on the liquor
cabinet -- not to even *mention* the wine cellar --
and how he'll never be able to decide whether the
explosive batarangs are better than the birdarangs
he sharpens himself, which can cut through his
Just one of those things.
Though really, he'd *sincerely* like to know why
Bruce is *here*, instead of on watch-duty for the
And... why he's wearing *that*.
The first thought is that he hadn't seen Bruce in
that uniform since right after he'd come back after
recovering from what Bane had done, and to
wonder what sort of statement he's making *this*
The second thought is that no, actually, he's
never seen Bruce in that uniform at *all*.
And it's not as though Bruce doesn't make slight
adjustments to the uniform constantly -- as near as
Tim can tell, the *longest* he's gone without
changing something is about two months -- but
this seems... older, somehow.
He pauses on the edge of the rooftop, just a bit
beyond Bruce's reach, and lets himself think about
it, since Bruce, for doubtlessly bizarre and irritating
reasons of his own, isn't saying anything. It doesn't
look as *solid* as the uniforms Tim's used to.
It... it looks almost like a *costume*.
Tim takes another step back and scans the part of
Bruce's face he can see. It's a full moon, and it's
Gotham. The light is good enough that he'd be
able to see if there was anything off about Bruce's
face, his stance, his...
There's *nothing* off about that.
Tim narrows his eyes behind his mask.
Bruce -- and it *is* Bruce, he knows it, even though...
something -- *also* narrows his eyes. Better.
Until he *smiles*. "I'd ask you why you're wearing
Dick's old uniform, but something tells me that
wouldn't be the most productive use of my time."
"I..." There's so much wrong in that sentence that... he
can't even *begin*.
He has about thirty seconds to think "that's *not*
Bruce," but... no. He *knows* Bruce, and even under
what looks like about thirty *pounds* of armor he's
never seen before... it's Bruce. Still, though,
"*Jesus*, Batman, are we going into a *war* zone
It *feels* like about thirty pounds of armor, too,
and Bruce is just *standing* there. And, well, it's
not like Bruce does *much* when Tim pokes at him
when they're out on patrol, but *still*. He stops
prodding at the bat on Bruce's chest -- which
seems both more and *less* stylized, but he isn't
sure why, and also is sitting over the kind of armor
which Tim *knows* would cause him to break a
finger if he hit at it too hard -- and looks up.
"What's going *on*?"
And it's funny -- in kind of a fucked-up way, but,
again, *still* -- but he's never really seen Bruce
look at him like that before.
It's a little like the way he looks when Tim busts in
on some fight on a night when he was, technically,
supposed to be off-duty and drops as much of the
building of the moment on the bad guys busily
trying to tenderize Bruce (*could* they in a suit
like that?). Only multiplied by about a thousand.
Probably the best way to handle it is the way he
always does -- look innocent and smile, since it
always makes Bruce's own expression even out
nicely -- and then they can get down to the
Except for how Bruce just looks *more* weird when he
does. He stops prodding. "Uh... Batman?"
Bruce takes a breath which sounds almost *pained*,
all shuddery and deep and *obvious* about trying
to get back control --
He'd lost *control*. Tim reaches for a batarang,
and starts to --
It's seriously a question. "Uh, *yeah*. Did you get
hit on the head again, Bruce?"
Bruce shakes his head. "Who... *what*?"
Tim knows, from experience, that it's rarely as useful
to wave your hand in front of the shocky person's
face as it is in the cartoons, but he does it
Frankly, things have yet to become less disturbing.
While it was refreshing to move quickly past the
usual -- and usually *painful* -- misunderstandings
which surround those moments when one gets
forcibly removed, in one way or another, from
one's own dimensional space, it's still incredibly
disconcerting to *already* be back in the Cave.
*This* universe's Cave, in any event, and...
It's not that different.
Except for the fact that the only Case is a *case*,
with one of *his* uniforms in it, save that he isn't
that tall yet, and it had belonged to *Dick*, and --
It's extremely... different.
Bruce isn't so much staring at him as through him,
which isn't especially strange. The cowl is off, and
his face is entirely correct, in both expression and
structure. It's his 'thoughtful' face.
The fact that he hasn't removed the ridiculously
*light* suit is both disconcerting and not.
Tim doesn't actually want to *know* if he has the
same scars. (He won't have them. It's not possible.
He stops pacing. He realizes he'd *been* pacing.
Bruce's voice is *hesitant*. "Yes?"
"Who are your... guardians?"
There's something almost laughably ominous about
the hesitation and caution in Bruce's voice. "Jack
Drake and Dana Winters-Drake," he says, and folds
his hands beneath his cape, and waits for --
"Hm. Drake Industries moved out of Gotham
years ago. Still, an interesting coincidence that you
were adopted by people with the same last name
as your biological parents."
"Well, Dana is my stepmother. My mother -- I was
The fact that Bruce honestly looks as though
*he*, at least, is back on firmer ground isn't
"You never questioned your background, Tim?
Were you an only child?"
Tim clenches his hands around his forearms
beneath the cape. "No. And yes."
"An only child with, at best, an incidental resemblance
to your parents and you never...?"
*That* isn't especially helpful, *either*. "No, I
didn't. Obviously. And we'll leave aside the 'why' for
The birdarangs are the same even though the batarangs
really just *aren't*, and, if anything, there are even
*more* weapons for him to play with. Well, for this
It's probably worth it that he's stuck wearing Dick's
old uniform like a giant target or something. It's not
like *his* uniform is especially stealthy or subtle,
Red, black, gold, *and* green?
Completely senseless. Though possibly it's as
armored as *Bruce's* uniform. Unlike the one in
that freaky-scary case in the corner, which totally
As opposed to someone he's never heard of.
He doesn't need to think about it. He adds fourth
and fifth 'rangs to his grasp and makes the arc
he's juggling a little more complicated. Nothing
like what *Dick* can do, but...
He wonders where Dick is. Well... he wonders if
he *wants* to know.
Something else not to think about. Well, at least
not until Bruce is done typing things and making
ninety-nine-point-nine percent silent "I'm thinking"
He jumps up on the beam without looking -- the
exercise equipment is in all the right places -- and
tries to balance and juggle simultaneously. A
check over his shoulder -- Bruce is still being *grim*
at the console. Whatever.
He adds one of his own batarangs to the shuffle,
Either Bruce has figured something out, or they
have to go save the city from invading psycho
killers. Tough call. "Yeah?"
"You were never adopted."
Tim raises an eyebrow. "Uh... other than by you?
And Bruce doesn't say anything else, but he does
it in a really *specific* way. A really... Tim looks
back over his shoulder again, and, sure enough,
Bruce is *looking* at him.
"You're. My... son?"
Tim snorts, smirks, and goes back to juggling.
"Yeah. You take me to the Knights games and we
play catch in the freaking arboretum." He snorts
again. "You're my father *legally*, Bruce."
"I. Of course."
He's still looking. Tim can feel it, and a whole
*pile* of questions, too, and, if life was anything like
fair, he'd have *way* more interesting answers.
*His* Bruce gives him looks like that, too,
sometimes. Nowhere *near* enough. He moves
onto one leg, and then onto his toes. No way he'll
be able to keep this up, but, well. Something to
"And you live... here. With me."
Tim nods and regrets it. He's going to have to get
his gauntlet repaired. If they even *work* with
the same materials here. "Yeah," he says
distractedly, and, focuses on getting the 'rangs back
in order. "So who's Jason Todd?"
Bruce makes a sound so choked that Tim has to
backflip off the beam to avoid slicing himself up.
The 'rangs fall in a dangerous little rain and bury
themselves in the beam and the mats.
And Bruce doesn't *look* like he's dying. "Bruce,
are you *okay*?"
Bruce seems to think "grip the arms of the chair
and stare" is an adequate answer.
And since Tim really doesn't *want* to know if it
*is*... well. He pulls a grin onto his face -- it's
always so *easy* with Bruce -- and does his best
Robin swagger until he's close enough to aim a
soft punch at Bruce's jaw. "Or you *could* just
show me what *other* cool toys you got here."
"Have. We... hmm."
Tim still isn't ruling out 'major head trauma.'
All things considered, the blend of wildly disturbing,
comforting because it's wildly disturbing, and simply
comforting shows no real sign of letting up.
The room Alfred -- no change *there* -- had shown
him to this morning is the same one he'd stayed in
after his mother had died and while his father was
recovering. His... adoptive mother and father.
*This* room, however, very clearly belongs to a
boy who isn't *him*, because he'd never found a
reason to gouge holes in the wall, never had the
*time* to hang quite that many posters, and had
never owned an Eminem CD in his life.
Which actually *was* quite comforting, until he'd
seen the folder full of obviously disorganized
photographs next to the equally obviously brand
new album. And...
It's not enough that the boy in the photos wears
the kind of clothes he only pulls out for 'Alvin
Draper,' or that he frankly isn't sure he's
*capable* of smiling that broadly, or that --
It's not enough. Clearly, he *is* capable of that
sort of facial expression, because the boy is...
It's easier to see why Bruce had let him into the
Cave and manor after only the most cursory of
blood tests. The DNA results won't be ready for at
least another twelve hours and... and.
The bed smelled just like his own. At his parents' --
his *adoptive* parents' -- house.
He -- that *other* Tim even uses the same brand
of styling gel. And shampoo. And soap.
And he has a great many pictures where Bruce
and/or Dick and/or *Barbara* are... *touching*
him. Barbara. The dates on the photos...
And perhaps he'll wait until after breakfast to think
about it. The manor is the same as ever, mostly.
A few of the antiques and objets d'art are missing,
and a few of the ones he remembers being broken
are, in fact, right there, but... the same. Their...
*Tim* had been given free rein to mutilate his own
bedroom, but the rest of the manor is precisely
as sacrosanct as it should be.
Tim is breathing nearly evenly again by the time
he reaches the kitchen, where... of course. He lives
here. Alfred probably insists on serving him in the
He shifts direction and finds Bruce already there.
Waiting to... eat breakfast *with* him.
Well, he only nods at Tim and sips his coffee. It's
not... entirely out of character or disturbing.
Tim nods back and takes a seat at the place
Alfred had set for him.
*Next* to Bruce.
"Did you sleep well?"
It's a trick question. It *has* to be a trick
question, because he's *Bruce*, and, yes, when Tim
looks up, he can see the man scanning his face and
posture. Tim knows precisely how dark the circles
are beneath his eyes. He raises an eyebrow.
Tim raises his eyebrow higher.
"Ah, wonderful." Alfred moves into the room with
a covered tray. "I was beginning to suspect that
the concept of breakfast as something civilized
people engage in once a day had been lost
Tim breathes. Alfred. Alfred is fine, and normal,
"It's been a *week*, Alfred."
A... week? They do this every *week*? Tim feels
his eyebrow trying to raise itself again, and
forcibly blanks his expression.
And feels Bruce *and* Alfred looking at him.
"Are you quite all right, young sir?"
It's tempting to look pleadingly towards Alfred.
That sort of thing tends to be incredibly effective,
In... his own universe. Tim swallows, and reaches
for the coffee. Now *Alfred* is frowning at him.
"Really, Master Timothy, allow me to *pretend*
your gustatory habits do not *entirely* degrade
to Master Bruce's level while you're out of my
Tim freezes with his hand on the mug. The...
*Alfred's* mug. His own mug is... already filled
with *tea*. "You don't let your Tim drink *coffee*?"
The silence is intense enough that Tim can hear
the birds singing outside the window. He chances
a look at both of them, and both of them are...
staring at him. Tim leans back in his seat and
straightens his posture reflexively.
After a moment, Bruce clears his throat, and Alfred
blinks and straightens, too, tray still held in his
hands. "Ah. I had... forgotten."
Tim thinks of the photographs and looks at Alfred
again. "The mistake seems to be... an
Alfred raises his own eyebrow.
Tim *feels* Bruce continuing to stare at him.
"Indeed," Alfred says after a moment. "Although I
imagine this *will* pass with some alacrity."
Bruce clears his throat again. "I've... developed some
theories as to what almost certainly occurred..."
And *another* throat-clearing.
The last time Tim had seen Bruce this *obviously*
He *hasn't* actually seen Bruce this discomfited.
He forces himself to focus on the immediate issue.
"You said your Tim was patrolling in the same area
as I was, last night. Separated... dimensionally."
Bruce nods, and looks noticeably relieved. "At the
time you were scheduled to meet with... your Bruce,
the two of you would've been, almost certainly, in
nearly the same physical location. Perhaps precisely
Tim feels more than hears Alfred setting the tray
down. "You believe your Tim wound up in *my*
universe." Which is... slightly less than completely
ridiculous, and thus, given his existence,
"One can only hope he's bringing joy to an old
man's heart by asking for tea with his breakfast
right now. Dare one even dream the boy is forcing
some other Alfred to dust off a carton of orange
Alfred responds to Bruce's look with another twitch
of his eyebrow. Tim knows better than to allow the
familiarity of the moment to tempt him to relax.
"How much experience do you have with this sort
of... inter-dimensional problem, Bruce?"
"Clearly not *enough*. However, the League dealt
with something similar some months ago. I have
to go into the office today for a few hours,
however... I know how I'll be spending the rest of
Tim nods curtly. "Of course. Where are the relevant
For some reason, the question makes Bruce *blink*
at him, and Tim is irritated until he realizes that
this Bruce has... no knowledge whatsoever about
his own extracurricular studies. He steadies his
breathing and holds Bruce's gaze.
"I expect the physics to be somewhat more advanced
than what I've studied, but I *do* have something like
a layman's background in this sort of thing."
Bruce nods slowly. "I... I thought you might feel
more comfortable coming into the office with me
Tim narrows his eyes. "I can access the Cave's
computers from your office?"
Bruce looks at *Alfred*, and... it's just as faintly
desperate as the one Tim had managed to avoid. And
Places a mug of coffee in front of him and says,
with an absent tone which is nearly perfect, "This
particular Master Timothy seems... rather more
inclined to spend the morning toiling away in the
dank fastnesses of your Cave, Master Bruce. One can
never predict the whims of young men."
Tim drinks his coffee and makes a command
decision not to *ever* think about the entirely too
obvious resignation and *hurt* in Bruce's eyes.
"Of course," Bruce says eventually, and at least
his *voice* is correct. "The files are cross-referenced
extensively," he says to a spot somewhere near his
eggs Florentine. "Look for everything with the
phrase 'Justice Lords,' and... and you'll make a
Tim nods, and focuses on his own plate.
Tim -- the *other* Tim -- is absent from school today.
*And* home. His adoptive father had already shown
up demanding to know what was going on, and had
been such a jerk about it that Tim *couldn't* stay in
Which probably should've been a *bad* idea, but...
He'd read up on Jack Drake, *and* this Bruce's files
on Tim and his relationships, and frankly it just
hadn't seemed like too much of a stretch to face the
man with the *evidence* of the fact that he
*wasn't* his son.
Especially judging by both Bruce *and* Alfred's
reactions to *him*.
*Logically*, he knows that the sterile blankness of
his room in this universe has more to do with the
fact that Tim hadn't lived here since Jack Drake had
been in a coma than it did with the kid's personality,
He'd *read* the files on their Tim.
He'd read their *Tim's* files.
Whatever else the guy was, Jack Drake knew his
own kid when he didn't see him.
And Alfred had said something about how this
wouldn't make things any easier for the young master
when he *did* return home, but a) not his problem,
and b) this Tim apparently doesn't have to fight to
get Alfred's *coffee*. The guy could live with it.
It's just incredibly bizarre for there to be a Robin --
a *Robin* -- who lives... God only knows where. Not
*here*. And he *knows* he's not really
It's Bruce, and it's Alfred, just like home. Alfred
makes cocoa, and Bruce is... Bruce is *Bruce*. But
*their* Robin doesn't sleep here, and, apparently,
*barely* works here.
Never mind the fact that there's nothing of his in
the manor -- there's a bare *minimum* of the
guy's -- *incredibly* boring -- clothes down in the
Cave, and a few pairs of sweats, and some trainers.
It's not *normal*.
He's only been here for a *day* and it feels right
here. Not *his* Cave, but a Cave. Not his *Bruce*,
Even if Bruce seems determined to bury himself
in theoretical *physics*, as opposed to doing
anything even *remotely* entertaining. It's not like
he doesn't get it -- he doesn't want to *live* here,
or anything, and it stands to reason that everyone
in this fucked-up little broodiverse would want *their*
Tim back, but...
But he's actually bored.
And the chair is bolted down, and *this* Bruce is just
as big as *his* Bruce, which means that his flip up
onto the back of the chair only causes a *tiny*
squeak... and a small, surprised noise from Bruce. It's
been a while since he'd heard *that*.
*This* Bruce isn't used to...
Well, he actually isn't sure.
Tim grins and balances on his hands, firming his grip
and shifting enough to feel his hair brushing against
the back of Bruce's cowl. "Break any thermodynamic
laws yet, Bruce?"
Silence, and a pause.
Long enough for Tim to wonder what he can do to,
well, poke *harder*, but...
"Perhaps by dinner tonight," Bruce says, and there's
a dry little smile in his voice.
Score. "Heh. Careful. Don't wanna have to take you
in. You *know* what they do to rich boys in jail."
It makes him pause, a little. It would probably be
*weirder*, all things (that *case*) considered, if this
Bruce's laugh was exactly the same as *his* Bruce's
laugh. Or maybe it just shouldn't be *as* weird that
it's this different.
It's not that his Bruce laughs out loud -- that's an
excellent sign that he's being drugged or mind-
controlled, actually -- it's just that his Bruce has
never laughed like it's something that had gotten
punched out of him while he had his back turned.
Tim doesn't, really, want to ask about Jason again, even
though he's pretty sure he'll get the same non-answer
as before. And it *looks* like the same kind of chair,
He settles his left hand and lifts his right, balancing
and 'bracing' -- totally different thing when you're trying
to stay up *and* hold your form -- for the swing of the
chair when Bruce makes him pay for this by lifting his
Bruce doesn't lift his feet.
Tim frowns. "Hey --"
"You..." Bruce takes a breath, and Tim would bet his
*actual* allowance that the man's neck is hard as
brick beneath the cowl.
Since when does he need to wear the suit all *day*?
"I'm sorry. You were saying?"
"What? No, it's nothing. What's up?"
Bruce stopped typing a while ago. There's a part of his
mind which has been keeping track of things like that
for a *while*, now. Bruce is running his gauntleted
fingers over the keys, like maybe he'd forgotten what
he was typing in the first place.
Tim reaches back with his right hand and taps on the
"Hm. You trained extensively with Dick."
His Bruce also *occasionally* asks questions which
*sound* like questions. "Uh-huh. Didn't your Tim?"
"I thought so," he says, and there's a wintry, rueful
smile in his voice.
"Hunh. Maybe your Dick just didn't come around as
often." Maybe because your Tim is a total freakshow.
"It... took time for my relationship with Dick to
improve. After..." Tim can *hear* Bruce swallow.
He'd *never* felt the eyes behind Dick's old mask the
way he feels the eyes behind that Jason kid's. Way too
creepy. He shrugs it off, and then he makes it literal.
Shrugging while holding yourself upside-down on
one hand is an interesting enough exercise that he's
momentarily less annoyed by the fact that Bruce is
bracing the chair. "Probably some kind of multiversal
constant. 'Dick and Bruce have to be bitter for a
while, or else the sun winks out of existence.'"
Another question. Tim pretends it wasn't, and switches
to his right hand. The blood is starting to throb a little
in his temples. "So if your Tim *doesn't* do any
acrobatics, what *does* he bring to this little party?"
Bruce's hands freeze on the keyboard. Tim can hear
that, too. "He has. A keen investigative mind."
Tim snorts. "And you *don't*?"
"Mm." The laughter is back. "The training he received
from Lady Shiva *was* extensive."
"Shiva. World class assassin."
Tim blinks. "Hey! How come *I* didn't get that?"
"I believe it was... accidental."
"You *believe* it was accidental? What does that
"Tim. Often keeps his own counsel."
Enough that it's *beyond* obvious that even five
*minutes* of conversation with *him* makes Bruce
come over freaked. Freakier. The blood is starting to
pound, so Tim firms his grip and --
Okay, so it would actually be easier to just flip back
off the back of the chair, and he usually only does this
if he doesn't just *want* Bruce to stop working for a
minute, but kind of *needs* him to, but there's
something to be said for staying in practice, and
bending his knees and letting his legs fall back over
Bruce's head until his toes are touching the console
And *then* flipping *forward* is just fun. Especially
since he'd managed to compensate enough for those
terrifyingly sharp new Bat-ears to avoid getting stabbed
in the kidneys. He stands on the console and grins
back over his shoulder at Bruce.
The stare is just as blank as blank can be, and then
Bruce deliberately -- he can *feel* it -- pushes his cowl
back, and it's not blank at all.
Tim scratches idly at his thigh and rocks a little, heel to
toe to heel.
"I'm nothing like him, am I?"
Bruce's expression is so *steady* that Tim doesn't think
he'll actually get anything like words, much less an
answer, but then Bruce narrows his eyes and *looks* at
"Very few of the people who know him would see any
similarities whatsoever, beyond your facial structure.
Even your musculature is different. And, of course, the
way you carry yourself. The way you... move." Bruce
tilts his head, just a little. "However."
Tim turns around so he doesn't have to keep twisting
his head on his neck, settling his feet to either side of
the extended keypad and leaning back against the
main monitor. "However?"
This Bruce's gaze is a lot like being dragged over
something you don't realize is full of broken glass
until you're already half-bled out. "When was the last
time you did something *truly* impulsive, Tim?"
Tim blinks and pauses. It's the accusation he's been
waiting for from *his* Bruce. The underlying *thing*
which means he's never really surprised when his
Bruce turns away, even if it's only until he stops
pushing. It's... he swallows. "As opposed to things that
just look impulsive?"
"Which," Bruce says, "and yes."
The image in his mind is of one of the formally
informal obstacle courses his Bruce has sent him
through, of the choice to take the flashiest route --
as opposed to just the *right* one. The lecture which
Even then, it was a choice. He'd *known* he could
do it his way -- do it *faster* -- with room to spare
for any mistakes he'd made.
Even then... "I don't really remember, Bruce." He
grins again. "Why? Are you saying your Tim is a
calculating, manipulative little bastard?"
"Hmm." Another raking look. "Perhaps it's
Bruce's JL -- no 'A,' which deserves thought at some
point when he's not actively trying to figure out a
way to breach dimensions -- files are illuminating
reading. For the most part, they aren't even especially
disturbing, so long as he can stop thinking about the
fact that their Wally West has, apparently, as much
in common with *Bart*, personality-wise, as he does
with the Wally in his own universe
And, of course, so long as he can completely fail to
pay attention to the fact that there've only ever
been *two* human Green Lanterns, that the only
time Superman had ever 'died' was an exercise in
accidental time travel, that the names Cassandra
Sandsmark, Cissie King-Jones, Anita Fite, Bart
Allen, and Kon-El exist nowhere within the League's
files -- or *anywhere* within Bruce's system, that, in
fact, this universe's apparent total metahuman
population -- before the 'Big Bang' incident in some
place called 'Dakota' -- would, if applied, to *his*
universe, suggest some form of *Holocaust* --
Well, there's a great deal that doesn't bear extensive
thought, but the JL files themselves almost never
cause him any large degree of existential pain. Their
missions leave the same sort of broadly melodramatic --
and apocalyptic -- sort of impression as the files on
the computer in *his* Batman's Cave.
No amount of dry, concise, and entirely professional
prose can take the pure, operatic complexity out of
a mission which involves being accidentally sent
back in time due to the machinations of an immortal
Or, for that matter -- and for the sake of fairness --
being accidentally sent back in time due to the
machinations of an immortal soul-eating demon.
There's a comforting consistency to it all, and to his
reaction to it -- he doesn't, actually, plan to do this
until he's killed in the line of duty. Certainly not if he's
ever forced to deal with the sort of missions the
League deals with on a regular basis.
He *values* his sanity.
There's a '*what* sanity?' in there, unspoken
because... because there is, apparently, no one in
this universe to speak it.
Tim closes his eyes for a moment and forces his
breathing to steady. Correction -- *tries* to force it
to steady. The failure would be dangerous if he were
in a mission situation. However, if he *were* in a
mission situation, he wouldn't have to use nearly so
much of his concentration on the -- ultimately futile,
of course -- attempt *not* to concentrate.
It... it's somehow not *enough* that this world has
a Batman, that he's Robin, and that, somewhere --
somewhere in *Gotham* -- Dick is Nightwing. Worse
than that -- it's not enough that Barbara is still
Batgirl, that the Commissioner had never been forced
to view pictures of her slowly bleeding out from a
bullet to the spine.
That he's *Robin* in a world where no other Robin
had to die. (Is it better if they never existed at all?)
Of *course* this Bruce is so... *similar* to the one
Dick still believes in -- still *sees* -- to the extent
where... well. Even he had been forced to wonder,
more than once, if, perhaps, Dick's optimism and
*faith* weren't more of a handicap than an attractive
And where... where's Batgirl -- *Cassandra* -- in
And. Stephanie. Steph -- he's not thinking. He can't.
(Never a Spoiler here. Never a third Robin, much less
a fourth. Never a *Steph* --)
His own... discomfort should be irrelevant, if not
immediately possible to *control*. This is the world
all of them have dreamed of, in one way or
*This* is the world where it's abundantly obvious,
at *all* times, that there's a *reason* for all of this.
Where none of them had to sacrifice in order to
continue fighting battles which are, at best, Pyrrhic.
And he isn't getting anything *useful* done. At
this rate, he'll have *nothing* to offer this world's
Bruce but his own burgeoning emotional difficulties.
Unacceptable, on far too many levels.
No matter *what* this world is, how *good* it is,
it's abundantly clear he doesn't belong -- no matter
how psychologically distressing that clarity actually
There's even a cliché for it -- that the only thing
worse than not getting what you want is getting it.
No, *that's* actually helpful.
The day he willingly allows himself to embody
something that blisteringly banal is the day he
obviously needs to surrender all hope of a
productive life and focus on getting into
law school, or perhaps run for class *president*.
He smiles to himself and opens his eyes.
Somewhere in the multiverse at *least* one Bruce --
one *Batman* -- had already found a way to design
a portal which allowed him -- and others -- to travel
between dimensions at will, with both accuracy and
While he could wish that *this* Bruce had at least
made some *effort* to acquire the plans for study, if
nothing else, well... there's a certain degree of
Which is, of course, entirely appropriate for --
"And how did *you* get away with skipping school
This universe. The chair is spinning before he can
even come close to reminding himself that the voice
is no indicator of the *man*, though he can allow
himself some degree of forgiveness for it in *this*
case, if no other. Dick has his arms crossed over his
chest and a wry smile on his face. A *questioning*
Directed at Tim's clothes.
Dick's clothes, in this universe. Damn.
There's a whining -- *whingeing* -- voice in the back
of his mind making noises about how it's entirely
acceptable for a visitor to an unfamiliar dimension to
have some degree of leeway about clinging to what
*is*, in fact, familiar. And it would have been entirely
too disturbing to dress like... *him*. And Dick's hair
hasn't been that long since he'd moved to Bludhaven.
There is, perhaps, a very useful paper which could
be written on the fact that irrelevancies are far
easier to dismiss when they don't arrive
pre-packaged with emotional *complexity*. And Dick
is still looking at him. "Dick --"
"Wait, let me guess -- Batfamily-specific costume
party? If Bruce is wandering around here in Babs'
uniform, I'm gonna have to leave."
It's entirely possible *that* alternate universe would
be less stressful than this one. Tim focuses, as best
he can. "Unless you've already spoken with Alfred, I
believe there's a mistaken assumption being made
about... me," he finishes weakly.
Dick frowns. "And I'd be talking with Alfred about...
your sudden devotion to grammar?"
The smile in Dick's eyes has a curiously doubled
effect. A part of him is ready and entirely too willing
to do or say nearly anything to *keep* it there. (It's
been too long) The rest of him, thankfully and
terribly, is pointing out that it isn't, actually, a *Dick*
smile. Starting with the fact that it's *only* in his
And gone, more quickly than he'd ever have
considered possible. "Tim? *Are* you actually sick?"
He hasn't anything resembling a clue about what
could be on his face or in his seated posture to make
it so immediately obvious to Dick that something
is, in fact, incorrect. Though he could, perhaps,
hazard a few shallowly-educated guesses. Strange
not to have Dick's hand checking his forehead, though,
or even his pulse. "I'm not... the Tim you know," he
says, and pauses to give Dick time to make a joke of
"What does *that* mean?"
He shouldn't have paused. Dick, abruptly, doesn't
look anything *like* the one *he* knows. Starting
with the fact that even their roughest spar hadn't
started with anything like Dick in *that* ready
position. Tim blinks rapidly and needs still another
moment to make himself stop.
"*Talk*, kid, or --"
Thankfully, he's been quite thoroughly trained --
accidentally and not -- in defusing potentially violent
situations. He tugs off his mask as quickly as he can
without removing an unfortunate percentage of his
eyebrows and makes sure to keep his hands in view.
Even the flash of confusion in Dick's eyes doesn't
"I *am* Tim Drake. I'm just not from your...
dimension. The working theory, at this point, is that
the Tim you expected to find is currently trapped in
my dimension. It's ridiculous and an act of violence
against the *concept* of logic, but a) it's not
inconsistent with what I've read of your experiences,
b) much of my story is easily confirmed, whether
by the tests Bruce has already done or the tests
you're almost certainly trained to perform yourself,
and c) in this universe, this *was* your uniform.
You know precisely where all of my weapons are."
If not the armor.
Dick doesn't stand down. He does, however, move
to a ready position for an attack which would do
infinitely less potentially permanent damage,
considering Tim's *own* position. For several
moments, his expression remains closed and blank,
however it *does* eventually shift...
To an *angry* confusion which is both obvious and
actively shocking. It takes an effort not to gasp, but
Dick's snort is humorless, and his gaze never leaves
Tim -- even while he shakes his head in something
impossible to define as anything other than disgust.
"*Any* day now this life is going to stop being this
ridiculously fucked-up. And I'll start believing that
when they drop me in Arkham with the *rest* of the
Tim raises an eyebrow, helplessly.
Dick blows out a breath and shifts to a stance
which has all the obvious comfort of the habitual.
Which means, if this Dick's training was anything like
the Dick in Tim's own universe, that Dick's *default*
stance is one from which he could only maim Tim in
a *handful* of ways.
"Start talking," Dick says, and waves an absent
hand. "Take the interrogational aspects as read."
It is, perhaps, unseemly that Tim feels better than
he has all day.
This is probably the first time since he started
*training* that there's been a night when he hasn't
been allowed to patrol and when he's *still* been in
this good a mood.
Part of it is the reasoning, of course. He's not
benched for homework -- as near as he can tell,
this universe's Tim is about two *months* ahead on
that -- or because Bruce was having one of his
periodic moments of deciding that, even now, there
was something too dangerous for both of them.
It's because of the *uniform*.
And frankly? He gets it. In probably the worst
possible way. Babs is a paraplegic who looks at him
like a tragedy waiting to happen from behind their
monitors, because yes, actually, the people who'd
failed to give him up for adoption -- it's been a
while since he'd thought of them as 'parents.' Parents
happen to *other* people. -- just happened to have
*way* too much in common with the people who'd
failed to give Jason Todd to a Decent Family. Because
he's *like* him, and it's pretty fucking obvious that
Jason could've used better armor. Or something.
*Somewhere*, there were capital letters. Maybe
more than in his *own* universe, because *his* Bruce
had never had anyone like... like.
The reasoning is, in all honesty, the kind of thing
which makes him glad that his Bruce had taught him
*early* what fear meant, accidentally and not.
Scarecrow and Jason Blood and -- and.
Babs looks at him like *she's* the other side of the
mask in that *Case*, because in *this* universe,
there's a dead Robin and a broken Batgirl and an
*assassin* Batgirl and an assassin-trained *Robin*,
and just *dating* people gets them killed or maimed
or *worse* -- will *his* Babs ever be the kind of
person who'd apparently sooner swallow nails than,
well, *play*? Who'd sooner --
*This* Babs had told him *everything*, ripping him a
new one about his attitude (like it was *nothing*)
while she was at it, and that's --
He *likes* that.
He used to get *pissed* whenever it even *looked*
like they -- his family -- were trying to hide something
from him, and Bruce, for his part, totally still *does*
try sometimes, but. Does he *want* his Babs to be
more like this one?
Because it *is* better to know, but... It's everything
that would make the nightmares his Bruce has every
night look like wet *dreams* and...
He gets it. It's gotta *feel*, to them, like Tim's got a
dead kid's name tattooed all over every part of him
that means anything.
And while *his* uniform has way more protection
than Jason Todd's ever did -- and he is *not* asking
about the panties, ever -- well.
He can go with Bruce's... concern. Especially since
neither he nor Bruce had questioned the fact that he
has no real intention of patrolling in Dick's -- *their*
Tim's, because it *is* better armored than Dick's
had been -- uniform, much *less* questioned that
he *would* be patrolling.
He's Robin, after all. In a universe where no one
stays home just because they've got a history test
in the morning.
Where staying home means people *die*.
He feels himself breathing faster -- too fast -- and
doesn't bother trying to correct it before moving into
the next routine. He *isn't* Dick -- he's *better* on
the uneven bars, better at pretty much *everything*,
when his blood is up.
And anyway, the cape on their Tim's uniform is all
wrong. He'd hang himself on it if he tried out *half*
The wood slaps painfully against his palm and bends
just the way it should, springy and fresh like the
equipment is just as alive as it should be.
As *he* is, and never mind that fucking Case.
He doesn't even *look* like Jason Todd.
Tim takes the next routine faster still, and he knows
the Dick in his universe really does *believe* Tim
does it with his eyes closed just because he can, and
he's mostly fine with that. Sometimes he's almost
positive that the Dick in his universe stopped
making an effort to look at people -- *into* them --
somewhere around the time Babs chose Batgirl over
Could anything like that even *happen* in a world
like this? Do they even *have* that luxury?
No, they don't. They *can't*, just like *he* can't do
this with his eyes open, because he just doesn't
process visual input as quickly and smoothly as he
does touch and auditory.
The toneless whistle of his passage, the slap which
hits his left palm --
Not high enough. Fuck.
At this point, it isn't a decision so much as it's a
survival instinct. His next turn -- his *last* -- is
off-center enough that he only sticks his landing
because his body knows from experience that the
alternative would hurt much, much more.
Alternatives *are* luxuries, and luxuries... are for
other people, too.
He doesn't realize that his eyes are still closed until
after he's registered the slow but not at *all* sardonic
applause. And how close it is.
He turns and opens his eyes, and... Dick lets out a
Nice haircut. Tim grins and takes a bow.
Dick laughs and... grins at him. Open and...
*shockingly* open. "You've obviously been practicing,
but *when*? Did your parents let you get near a
gym with some real equipment?"
Parents. *Let* him near gym equipment. Too much
and *too* weird. But that's nowhere near as important
as the fact that Dick is ruffling his *hair*, just like they
were still --
"Seriously, you're looking *good*, little brother. Does
this mean I get to teach you some of the
Little brother? Not like he and Dick weren't *friends*,
mostly, but since when...? And he already *had*
taught him -- No, wait, *not* his Dick. "Uh," he
manages, and snorts at himself internally, brushing
Dick's hand out of his hair. Try *again*. "You really
*haven't* had a chance to talk with Bruce or Alfred,
There's a cloudy kind of confusion in Dick's eyes
that's so soft it's mesmerizing. Like a *snake*.
Tim takes a step back before he can think about it,
"Tim? What's..." And just that fast, just that
*thoroughly*, Dick *looks* at him. *And* into him.
And his expression is so horrified that Tim reaches
for the batarang which... is attached to the uniform
that isn't *hardcore* enough for him to wear. Oh
"I'm *not* Jason."
Dick's game-face slams down the way most people
rear back when they can see the punch you throw
coming. "And I don't care *what* you *look* like.
You're *not* Tim."
And even though the *context* is wrong... familiar
is familiar. And Dick can kick his ass, but he hasn't
been able to stare him down since the days when
he'd still thought he could maybe *be* Dick's little
brother -- as opposed to *himself*. The smirk feels
easy and right on his face. "Correction -- I'm not
*your* Tim. But I'm pretty sure Bruce is going to
get back to trying to fix that as soon he's home
The horror is back -- in Dick's eyes, anyway.
Probably he could've handled this better.
He's almost sure that the fact that the best part of
his day involved barely convincing Dick not to beat
him bloody is a sign -- a profound one -- that
his existence is fundamentally flawed.
He lets his face twist into a sour smile. *That* song
is on one of the few CDs he has in common with
his... other. The profundity might, perhaps, consider
giving it a *rest*.
It's one thing for a Bruce -- *any* Bruce -- to fail
to bring back *some* amount of the plans for an
invention -- a *weapon* -- which could put a
Green Lantern ring to shame.
It's another thing entirely to be forced to listen to a
Bruce -- *any* Bruce -- lecture him with grim, perfectly
pitched sincerity about how the knowledge hadn't
brought any good to the universe it had been created
in, and how some things were, in fact, better left.
He can't actually decide whether or not he wants to
give some of that to the Bruce -- *his* Bruce, perhaps
naturally -- who spent hours of his life thinking up
*war* games which wound up getting half the city
burnt to blood-soaked ash (*Steph*), or whether he
really *does* want to point out that the best way to
defend against a weapon is to *understand* it.
The practice guns are, after all, kept in precisely the
same cupboard in *this* Cave as they are in his own.
In any event, he's really going to have to find a way
to thank *his* Bruce for curing him of his basic faith
in the intellectual consistency of Batmen in general.
Perhaps with a beating.
For now, however...
"... understand that your world is a different one,
Tim, however --"
He doesn't use anything like his command voice. He
never has, with Bruce -- though he's beginning to
suspect that the longer he spends in this universe,
the more likely it will become that the failure will be
less a matter of ingrained habit and reflex than of
*will*. At this point, however, it's still just his voice.
Nothing even remotely worth the reaction he
receives. That *look*. Bruce... ah.
"You're accustomed to lecturing your Tim."
"I try to teach him." Bruce's voice is admirably
neutral. His eyes, however, are searching and
Bleak. Hm. "You're beginning to wonder if my universe
isn't more like the one with 'Lords.'"
Bruce raises an eyebrow, turning his chair just enough
that he manages to loom without standing. The fact
that Tim *has* a chair -- in his own... size -- in this
universe is abruptly less horrifyingly precious. There's
a part of Tim which *needs* that, responds to it like
the first citrus fruit of the winter, or some other
improbable legacy of his Atlantic-crossing ancestors --
unnecessary and twice as humiliating.
Bruce is looking at him like someone who may,
someday, need to be taken down for the greater
The familiarity of it is bracing and luxurious. He...
really needs to go home.
"I don't think I've crossed the line, Bruce," he says,
and smiles. "But, then again, I wouldn't."
And that was almost a laugh. Not in the way he
measures such things with *his* Bruce, but... well.
*Almost* almost-a-laugh. The sort of improvement
he really shouldn't be so grateful for. The thought
that he could perhaps use some of his free time to
come up with a more precise system of
Bruce-centric weights and measurements is....
equally troubling in terms of his psyche.
And Bruce has, once again, lost all traces of humor.
Really, even a Bruce shouldn't manage to look so
bleak without actual death.
Tim isn't sure if the feeling is pity or guilt, but...
"Perhaps you'd find it easier if you... are there any
especially conservative dress clothes in your Tim's
closet? I was forced to stop looking after the fourth
pair of jeans with a wallet chain. "
Bruce frowns. "I'm not sure what you mean."
"Something you have to force him to wear. Something
you... wouldn't expect from your Tim."
Bruce stares at him, blessedly unreadable for a long
moment, before the corners of his eyes crinkle in a
very precise sort of smile. "Do you really believe it's
the way you look that's the problem, Tim?"
"I certainly understand that it isn't the only one."
A downward glance, closer to a sweep of the floor
between them than a truly avoidant glance. Well,
closer in every way but the actual truth. "He was
there," Bruce says finally. "In the Lords' universe."
"You. I've spent a great deal of time wondering
what *that* Tim must have been... I didn't ever
actually see him."
Well, at least the guilt or pity or whatever it was
is gone. "And now you think you know."
"No," Bruce says, and covers Tim's hand with his
own, blithely ignoring the way Tim's eyebrow is
crawling into his hairline. It's actually almost
painful, but he can't exactly make himself *stop*.
"But I think I may be nearly as naive as you think
"And I think, perhaps, I've also underestimated
the value of innocence."
It's tempting to point out that *that* revelation
really shouldn't have required quite this much
time to develop, but...
There's a difference between being the second
Robin and being the third.
"*I* think... that a good rule of thumb is that, so long
as you keep encountering alternate universes
peopled with darker versions of yourselves, you're
allowed to stop worrying."
Bruce blinks and laughs. An actual one, albeit brief,
followed by a rueful smile. "Then wouldn't that
make this universe, for you --"
"Disturbing beyond belief?" Tim smiles. "I've
grown accustomed to the feeling, just in general."
And I'm rather curious about Nightwing.
The last time *his* Bruce had looked at him like
that, he'd only seen it because the gunman he'd
thrown hadn't broken through the plate glass
window -- yet. But he can't say he doesn't... know
it, that somehow *blithely* savage pride, that --
He also can't say that it isn't -- strangely and, yes,
disturbingly -- easier to (believe) *feel* than it
ever truly was before.
He pulls his hand out from under Bruce's and folds
it beneath his cape. (What *had* Dick looked like
in... this?) The obviousness of the move is
unavoidable. Acceptable against the alternative,
even with Bruce reaching for him. It's not like
he'd *actually* touch --
Except he does. A thumb on the collar of his cape,
a searching look, and an utter disregard for... for
everything he is, everything *they* are.
Because, here, he isn't. And they're not.
"It isn't the way you look, Tim. It couldn't be. The
two of you share, as near as I can tell, no more
than a handful of facial expressions. Your body
language is entirely different, which makes sense,
considering the fact that your musculature is
obviously different. You're no acrobat."
"No. I'm not." He doesn't tilt his head away. "What
*is* the problem... as you see it?"
"Hm." Bruce is still smiling, but it doesn't seem as
though it's for him, especially. "A part of me wonders
if I shouldn't have been more insistent that Tim
develop his intellectual abilities. A part of me
wonders why your Bruce never insisted that you
develop... more of your physical ones. Most of me
is terrified, but not for the reasons you think. Or
perhaps the reasons you think I *should* be."
It's really more of a matter of wist, at this point.
Bruce's hand is hard on his cheek.
"I don't want to...become accustomed to you."
"And I am, I think, invested in avoiding the most
likely methods to set things to rights. I wonder
about my motivations."
Tim narrows his eyes. "Your self-doubt is intriguing,
Bruce, but --"
"Do you think he could be... satisfied? In your
Tim snorts, helplessly. "I doubt my Bruce has
much to offer him," he says, and pulls Bruce's hand
away from his face. "Considering."
The new gauntlets are ready -- the first part of his
new suit that is. They are, after all, just a smaller
version of Bruce's own. Designed for a person with
a need for maximum protection *and* flexibility.
It's disappointing, almost, how good they feel on.
It seems like they should be more... uncomfortable.
The extra armoring is only obvious when he works on
the heavy bag, and then only because of the loss of
sensation. He wants the rest of the suit.
It's all over the news. What a freaking *mess* this
Gotham is, even months after that huge gang war
had settled down. After...
There's a lot of death in this place.
He's never met anyone named Stephanie Brown,
and certainly never dated anyone quite like that.
This a world where Robins die. And he can't...
Tim loves Bruce, and believes in him, and *trusts*
him -- to do the right thing *and* to do his best to
make sure he has what he needs. He'd like to think
he doesn't actually know how his Bruce would cope
(or fail to) with a universe where even his best
efforts couldn't keep his family alive and whole,
where it wouldn't even *matter* if he actually
managed to *talk* to Dick and Babs, or get them
to talk to each other.
Where everything is just as close and sharp as...
He'd *forgotten* this feeling. Too much good food
and comfort. Too much *safety*, in a world that
isn't safe at all. It's all coming back, though. That
low-stomach feeling of need, hunger that defeats
the last meal, no matter how big and recent it
There's only ever been one way to deal with fear.
Accept it, and *fight*.
He wonders if the other Tim would let the lack of
adequate *protection* keep him in tonight. He
wonders what it says about him that...
The monitor is off, and she's busy, but Babs is right
there. Waiting to never run again, or kick, or smile
like the worst thing that had ever happened to her
was fucking up with Dick. He's not turning into
some over-cautious freak, and he's known for
*years* that fear keeps you alive when nothing
It's enough, for now, that he still wants it.
Even though there's no real guarantee that Bruce
*will* come home tonight -- or come home in one
He wants to be out there, with him, if...
If this universe just keeps being *itself*.
Still, it's better -- easier to *breathe* -- when the
car pulls in. When Bruce steps out, running his
gauntlet over the latest set of bullet scars on the
When he walks like he isn't injured too badly.
When he pulls off the cowl...
"You were training all night."
It isn't a question. He lets himself half-fall back
against the console. "Gotta get used to the new
Bruce raises an eyebrow, and starts to strip.
It's the first time... with *this* Bruce. And he was
ready for it. He was...
Bruce has so many scars.
"What is it?"
Bruce's eyes are searching. 'Curious' isn't the word
for it. Curious is how he looks when a crime goes
down that doesn't look typical.
Curious is how he looks when the Arkhamites --
except for Two-Face -- act like themselves. This
"Your body," he says, and swallows. I don't know
whether I'm freaked or turned on. For some reason,
he can't say it out loud. It's usually...
"I'm fine," Bruce says, and closes the distance
between them. He's stripped down to his jockeys.
On a cursory glance, Tim counts four scars that
start above the waistband and keep going. "It
isn't the gauntlets. Is it?"
"They're perfect." I'm not.
"Hmm." And Bruce... looks at his hand. Stares at it,
really -- so intently that Tim can almost *see* the
wound that isn't, actually, there.
"What is it with *you*?" He knows.
The hand is on his face before he can blink, and
it's... Reflex. Bruce is touching him, he *has* to
"He touches you."
"You knew that." Why don't you touch *your*
"Mm." Bruce's hand tightens on his jaw. "You
aren't his lover."
"Not for lack of trying."
For a moment, the corners of Bruce's eyes crinkle,
and he looks older, stranger, different. And then
it's gone, replaced with that bald, impossibly
It's hunger. It's --
"Try," Bruce says.
He doesn't know where to put his hands. The scars
are everywhere, and most of them look angry, alive.
"I. Have I misjudged?"
And when he cups Bruce through his jockeys, it feels
just right. Hotter, wilder than it ever did in his best
fantasies. Scarier and more...
"You smell like sweat," Tim says, and lets his tongue
slip over the looping path of one nasty-looking scar.
"You taste like leather."
Bruce grunts and lifts him, humming softly when
Tim wraps his legs around his waist. "You will, too,"
he says, and bites the shell of Tim's ear. "Soon."
Dick's apartment looks just as unfamiliar, from the
outside, as the random-seeming address had
The neighborhood is as mid-gentrification wild as it is
in his own universe, which means that he's almost
certainly been on its equivalent rooftop at least once,
The place has no meaning to any member of his
family. None that he knows of.
Though 'random' is, perhaps, overstating.
The map of Gotham he's had in his mind for years is
quite clear -- Dick's loft couldn't, actually, be farther
away from the Manor without being outside the city.
Tim pauses just beyond the first set of hidden
cameras -- placed perfectly, of course -- and...
He's in civvies, but the best thing he'd found in their
Tim's closet was a school uniform. Brentwood. Of
course he'd never been forced to leave it, here. His
clothes. What could've easily been his clothes in
He doesn't have a good reason to be here, beyond
the mild possibility that Bruce might be more likely
to actually *do* something useful to get him back
home -- and his own Tim *back* -- if he wasn't
around to provide any sort of temptation to adapt
It should probably be comforting. Batman needs a
Robin. He's Robin. Ergo...
He isn't *designed* to be needed by a Bruce like
that. And he doesn't trust himself not to... try.
Easier to be here, even if Dick doesn't want him
here. Why *would* he want him here?
He should've chosen a less efficient route. One which
would've given him, almost certainly, the opportunity
to do more with his travel-time than stop a mugging
and thus work off a little --
He was absolutely correct not to do that. It isn't as
though the Tim in this universe has more than one
undamaged uniform. And.
He lets the cameras catch him, waits for a thirty-count,
and then knocks on the door.
He only gets two before Dick opens it. He's wearing a
pair of sweatpants and a towel around his neck. His
ponytail hangs wet down his chest. He looks...
He doesn't have enough scars. There's little to offset
And Dick is raising his eyebrow. And smirking. "Tim."
He tries a smile. It's... not difficult. "Of a sort."
Dick smirks a little wider and leans against the
doorframe. "Bruce getting on your nerves?"
Interesting that it's the *first* question, though...
perhaps not entirely unexpected. It's something he's
been ready to work with since the days when Dick
wore the cowl, when he'd been faced -- for the
*last* time -- with his own naiveté about Bruce and
Dick's relationship. He'd figured it out far too late
to do anything about it -- or tailor his reactions
accordingly -- at the time, but *now*... "I'd say
you have no idea, but..." He raises his eyebrow,
deliberately. "That would be imbecilic."
Dick snorts and makes a lazy sort of gesture toward
the interior of his apartment. "Come on in."
"Here," Bruce says, and it's not really directed at him.
It's more of an expression of discovery than anything
else. Of being *learned*.
He can work with that.
Tim arches up against the hold Bruce has on his
shoulders, curling his legs up further and digging
his knees into Bruce's ribs. The mats are hard and
unforgiving against his back.
"Here, *too*," Tim says, and watches something
flare behind Bruce's eyes.
The kiss is hard, fast and awkward and relentlessly
brutal. He shoves against Bruce enough to get him
to pull away and licks blood off his mouth.
And smirks. "Want to know where else I want it? Or
would you rather guess?"
"J -- Tim." The flush on Bruce's face is no longer *just*
Which should probably seem perfectly rational, but...
no. Bruce *isn't* Dick.
Not even this one. He twists his arms free -- Bruce
*lets* him twist free, but doesn't get far enough away
to keep Tim from shoving his hands into his hair.
"Is that why you want to fuck me? Because I'm like
*him*?" The panties make *way* more sense now,
Bruce tugs against the hold Tim has in his hair, but
it's a *testing* move. "Do you require a list?"
Tim grins. "Only if you want to keep calling me
Dick's coffee is as good as Alfred's. Dick's apartment
Or rather, perfectly reasonable... considering.
He can't quite imagine *his* Dick living anywhere
with quite this much open space. This little...
There's a minimalism here which Tim can't help but
find appealing, and only the gymnastics equipment
looks especially 'lived-in.'
And Dick is prowling every inch of all the open space.
Not doing backflips, and he hasn't walked on his
hands at all since Tim has been here, and yet. All
of the motion is right there, just beneath Dick's skin.
The control he's exerting is as obvious as --
"So that's the whole pathetic story. Bruce, me, Babs..."
Dick snorts humorlessly and waves a hand. It's only
slightly looser, fraught with slightly less potential than
Violence. Anger. Confusion. Everything Tim had never
even considered when he'd revealed himself to
Dick the first time, everything he'd failed to...
Somehow, it feels less obscene to regret his failure
to make himself more appealing to Dick (to
*manipulate*) in a world like this one. In a world
where Dick... hmm.
"They didn't give you... what you needed."
Dick freezes, the look on his face both stricken and
not particularly aimed at *him*. "That sounds so...
selfish. Christ." He scrubs a hand through his hair.
"Am I selfish?"
The question isn't particularly for him, either, but...
"It isn't selfishness if it's what you *need*, Dick.
None of this works," Tim gestures vaguely toward
the city, "if *we* don't work. As a... family. Or
something like it." It's the point of Robin, after
all. In... some way.
"Is that what we are?"
Tim shrugs and finishes his coffee. "You did refer
to it that way."
Dick smiles at him, sharp and... knowing. Dangerously
so, with him in another boy's clothes. "You know, I
get it with Tim -- the one from *this* universe. What
makes him so... invested in making things run
smoothly. Fucked as it is, we're the best thing that
ever happened to him. You, on the other hand..."
Tim raises an eyebrow. "Just because a given situation
is the best... is no guarantee that it can't also be the
worst. And you know that as well as anyone, I think."
The hit is a direct one, and there's a part of Tim which
can't help but find it satisfying, even though he's
reading the score in Dick's wide, blue eyes.
He *never* wants to --
And Dick, of course, moves fast when he wants to do
so. Faster than anyone, even Bruce -- if he puts his
mind to, say, crossing the room until Tim is trapped
on the couch. "What do you get out it? In your world."
Violence, anger, confusion... "A reason."
"That's all?" Dick's voice is soft, vulnerable enough
to belie the sharpness of his expression.
Tim tilts his head up enough to hold Dick's gaze with
his own. "It is, often, the only thing I can count on.
In... *any* part of my life."
Dick turns away first.
"I... think you know that, too."
When Dick looks up, his eyes are dark and narrow...
but not, especially cold. "I'm the most familiar thing
in this universe for you."
"I... think it would be more accurate to say that I
find your --"
Tim bites the inside of his lip and doesn't let himself
think about any of it. Not his world and not this
*act* and not the particular wrong of *using* this.
Dick crouches in front of him. On other people,
the position would be an invitation, an offer of
relative vulnerability. It still *is* an invitation, but...
Vulnerability has nothing to do with it.
"What are you here for?"
It isn't a decision to be honest. Because this is Dick,
and, no matter what, it's *never* a decision not to
lie to him. "Whatever I can get."
"You know, I really *like* the Bat-handcuffs, but I
have to admit, the zip-strips are pretty useful."
Dick's tongue is hot, wet on the back of his neck. His
hands are hard on Tim's waist, and his hair is
ticklish. Long and wet and damp and --
"Do I even want to know what your relationship is
like with the Dick in your universe?"
He laughs like Bruce.
He... really isn't going to say that out loud.
It's only a pause *because* it's Bruce. For anyone else,
the constant stroke of hands over his back would be
just another part of this, of the sex they're having.
Certainly, it's been like this every *other* time he's
had sex. Whether it was the girls from Seneca Day,
or, well, Clark.
He's reasonably sure that it would be that way with
*anyone* else, that a pause, a hesitation, would be
measured in more than just the soft, growling breaths
Bruce is tickling the back of his neck with. But it's
*not* anyone else, and he'd never thought he'd be
That he *could* be distracted from this.
Everything he's wanted -- almost.
He scrubs his face against the pillow, already damp,
hot with his sweat and spit. Bruce's hands slide up
to his shoulders and... stop.
"Mm-hm." His voice is scratchy, his throat is sore.
Bruce isn't putting anything *like* his full weight
on him, but it's still hard to breathe. He wants it to
be harder. He twists his wrists, not entirely
surprised that he'd freed the left one reflexively,
even though he doesn't remember doing it.
The strip on the right one has a soft, nasty little
whisper as it slides over the ironwork of Bruce's
headboard. He can't make it any louder.
"Hmm." Bruce strokes down over his right arm, hard
and slow. He doesn't ease the pressure when he
gets to where the strip has welted Tim's arm. He
*increases* it --
But. Only for a moment. Tim growls and does his best
to buck a little, but the best he can manage is a
shuddery little rock. It's easier to move the bed than
it is to move Bruce. Which is just as appropriate as
it's frustrating. It takes a moment to decide which of
those things to go with, but...
"Bruce, you've had me tied down for two *hours* --"
Tim smirks. "Oh, weren't *you* counting the time for
"Hmm. It isn't a spar if you aren't trying to win, Tim."
Tim rocks a little more. "Trying? I *did* win, Bruce."
For some reason, *that* makes him stop. One hand
locked around Tim's wrist and the other hard -- almost
painful -- on his shoulder.
His legs are flexible enough that it isn't, technically,
an adequate pin... for him. As opposed to Bruce's
"Is this. A game to you."
It's tempting to pretend he can't hear -- can't *feel* --
everything that's baldly, *painfully* serious about the
question, and about everything in it. But he *knows*
which Robin was the last one in this bed, and he's
But he's no fool, either.
"Bruce. You're the only one I *can* play with."
The panting breath is low, injured-sounding.
"And this... is the only way we can play." It's a venture
as much as it's a statement, and he knows Bruce can
hear that. He would've known it even if Bruce
*hadn't* tightened his hands enough to make Tim
Bruce moans and holds on even *tighter* for a moment,
so that when he finally lets go -- and lets Tim's right
wrist go -- the first thing Tim *has* to do is rub at
himself. And turn over, and stretch, using the room
he abruptly has with Bruce kneeling at the foot of the
However, Bruce *is* still on the bed. He's just making
it seem exactly as huge as it actually is. The way it
had felt... heh.
"What is it?"
"You know I *tried* to get my Bruce to touch me."
"The alternative manages to be both incomprehensible
and utterly plausible."
Tim smirks and sits back against the headboard,
twining his wrists in between the scrollwork and
letting his arms hang. "Which is why I think about
*half* the times you've said 'Tim' you've actually been
referring to *me*."
Bruce... examines him. There's no other word for it,
even with the way his eyes are smiling. Maybe
especially then, because it's the same smile *his*
Bruce uses -- when, for whatever reason, it wouldn't
work for him to actually use his *mouth* to smile.
Confident, bright. Mesmerizing. Tim knows aliens
whose eyes are more human-looking than Bruce's
when he smiles. And... yeah. "No, I'm not complaining,
or surprised. I'm just... commenting."
Bruce nods slowly, and completely fails to blink.
Tim flexes, solely to accent his musculature.
"When Dick was your age, his arms..." Bruce strokes his
left bicep, and his right. Most of his right, before
pausing over a scar and tapping it.
Tim glances at it, even though he doesn't actually have
to. "Two-Face. Double-edged blade."
He thinks about asking about Harvey Dent. If, maybe,
this universe is ugly enough that Bruce had finally
gotten over the fact that once upon a time, Dent had
been a friend. There are a lot of reasons why he
doesn't, actually, want to know. Starting with the
fact that he hasn't stopped having the nightmares
where he can't get Dick to start breathing again.
"Tell me. Why you were laughing."
"You're far enough away... I crawled into my Bruce's
bed once." Tim shrugs. "The number of times I've
watched you read in bed, or eat when you were
injured... it was the first time the bed looked as big
as it is."
"Hmm." Bruce digs his thumbs into the muscles of
Tim's arms, finding points of strain he'd stopped
noticing when Bruce had started kissing him.
"You overdid it."
"Only if I'd been planning to go out tonight."
"And if I'd needed you?"
The reflex is to point out that Bruce had been the
one who'd benched him, or possibly even to
question the timing of the conversation. But Bruce's
games are never fair -- and rarely make any sense.
And timing is irrelevant. "The rules are different
here. I could use... a primer."
Bruce's eyes flare at him again, cold and blue and
demanding. Funny how this Bruce seems *more*
innocent when he looks like that.
Like maybe he doesn't mean to make Tim feel like
this. Or like he doesn't expect Tim *to* feel like
this. He doesn't know if he wants to correct Bruce
"You're always on call. That's all you need to know."
It's the right answer. The only answer. He just
didn't see it coming.
There's something about Dick walking back naked
from the kitchen with two bottles of water...
There's a derisive laugh somewhere in his head,
sharper even than the self-mockery he deserves. It's
Dick, and his body is the one he'd memorized in
glimpses and speculation years before they'd ever
shared a shower.
Which, well, had frankly saved him.
Except that now he isn't precisely sure what he'd
been saved from.
The only lights come from the street -- the blinds in
the bedroom are sharply fashionable and efficient
as most everything else in the loft, and they're open.
Dick is a sketch in shadows and artificial blues, and
his hair is a straight, gleaming black sweep over
his back. A few strands falling over his shoulders.
Dick -- this Dick -- has no problem whatsoever
registering his attention. The explanation is simple
and terrible -- this Dick, for whatever else his life
has been -- is accustomed to needing to *look*
for... for everything. He can't decide if he wants to
ask about Dick's childhood with Bruce -- there had
to be differences, and vast ones, even though
Tim can't quite see what they might be.
Dick has never been a Titan, or a police officer.
Certainly never an Outsider.
Dick has never been...
All the things he'd been long before Tim had met him
the second time. Long before he had the words to
put to his -- he can call it this, now, because
prevarication is pointless -- obsession.
"You look like Bruce."
Tim raises an eyebrow.
"The watching. Your face is in shadow -- I remember
when I learned how to do that reflexively -- but I
lived with Bruce for years. I know what it feels like."
Tim hums. "Perhaps it's more accurate to say I
*feel* like Bruce, then."
Dick's laugh is a low rumble in his chest -- he never,
as near as Tim can tell, lightens it for others -- and
his eyes, when he steps back fully into the light,
are scandalized. "I really *don't* know that much
about him, Tim."
Another laugh, brief and sharp and honest and,
perhaps, even more disturbing than the ones
without humor. Dick should never...
But Dick *had* been like that. Like this.
"Okay, see," Dick says, as he flops back onto the
bed, "non-committal grunts are against the rules
when the topic of conversation touches on the
sex life of my alternate self."
Which... he has a point. "I'd be deeply surprised
if the Dick I knew had ever... been with Bruce."
Dick nods, doing a passable impression of someone
who isn't surprised or relieved -- some things
never change, not in any fundamental way -- and
takes a swig of his water before handing Tim his
There's no headboard on Dick's bed -- it seems more
like a less-than-committed futon than anything else --
and the wall is cool, nearly icy against Tim's back.
Combined with the water (and everything else,
surely), it makes Tim shiver.
Everything else. Definitely everything else. He
manages not to choke on his water, but really not
much else. It's tempting to ask his own pointed
question -- about assumptions, about assumptions
regarding *himself*. And yet.
He's been here for less than two days, and he's
so far beyond that being the point now that it's
laughable. He looks at Dick -- there's really no
alternative when you're naked in bed with the
alternate universe version of the man you've been
in love with for longer than you've been
post-pubescent -- and says, evenly, "no."
Dick raises an eyebrow. It isn't *quite* an expression
of disbelief so much as it's an expression of disbelief
in his *tone*.
Tim shakes his head. "You would've beaten my Bruce
to death with escrima sticks years ago, Dick --"
"-- and I wonder how positively you'll feel about
me when -- if -- I spend much more time in this
"Hm." Dick sits up beside him and chews absently
on his thumbnail. One lock of hair falls over his
forehead, and Tim has to fist his hand around the
bottle to keep from reaching out. And then he has
to devote a large amount of his consciousness to
the question of whether or not he *has* to
At this point, with *this* Dick.
"You've never met... *our* Tim. I'm not sure how to
explain my thoughts."
Suspicions. He has a few of his own. "He was a street
kid when Bruce took him in."
"He's... playful. Talkative. Exuberant. More of a typical
teenaged boy than not."
Dick blows out a breath and looks at him with
narrow speculation. "You picked that up from his
"And from your -- all of your -- reactions to me."
"Detective training from Bruce."
Tim smiles, a little. "A lot of... free time as a child."
When Dick meets his eyes, this time, he looks like
nothing but himself. Open, waiting. Sympathy on
call. "There's a story there I wouldn't mind hearing,
Tim swallows back the reflexive defense of his
parents he's never, actually, had to use, and settles
for nodding. "All right."
And Dick goes right back to... being himself.
Sharp-eyed and knowing. "So what else?"
This part is harder -- more about what he suspects
about the others' relationship to their Tim than
anything else. Diplomacy is more complicated once
you're already naked. He can't say it's a surprise,
but it hardly seems fair. "None of you expected
there to be a second Robin."
Tim tosses the bottle of water lightly from hand to
hand. He knows it won't distract Dick. "He knows that.
He has his... ideas about what that might mean in
regards to how all of you treat him."
Dick narrows his eyes. "What --"
"I'm *not* the second Robin. But I studied him,
and continued to do so. It..." Tim looks down. "It
seems clear that there's something of a difference
inherent to... that sort of shift."
"Who... you're the... *third* Robin?"
Tim winces, and remembers telling a Dick that he'd
owed Bruce something. "Robin used to be you.
In my world, it's a title. A responsibility. A...
something which doesn't -- can't -- die."
Dick stares at him hard. "He died. The second Robin."
Tim nods slowly. "The conventional wisdom is that...
he was reckless. That Bruce didn't work hard
enough to make him *ready* enough to be an
operative. That..." He waves a hand. "There's a lot
of speculation, but not much *fact*. The only one
who really knew him, as near as I can tell, is Bruce."
It makes Dick -- expectedly -- blink and look away,
refocusing on anger of his own. "And Bruce is Bruce."
He smiles, a little. "And sometimes even moreso."
Dick leans back again, and takes another swig of
water. "You think *he* was sexually involved with
Bruce. This... other Robin."
"I have no proof."
Dick's snort is back to being humorless. "And that's
not a denial, kid."
"I think that the Tim you know has more in common
with Jason -- that was his name -- than with me, at
least in some respects. He wasn't an acrobat,
either -- you had *no* part in training him. I think
that the fact that you're surprised by how easily I
can deny a relationship -- or a desire for one -- with
Bruce speaks to this theory as well as anything ever
could." Tim breathes, and is somewhat set to
congratulate himself for spitting that out. However,
when he looks at Dick again...
The color -- he is, actually, more tan than *his*
Dick-- has leached out of his face and replaced itself
with something far closer to nausea. "You think
*our* Tim is involved with Bruce?"
Not *yet*. Maybe. How much claim *do* you have
on him? "I'm not sure."
Dick scrubs a hand back through his hair. "*Jesus*.
Jesus, that's --"
"I didn't know Jason -- he died before I ever got
the chance to formally meet him -- and I don't know
your Tim, Dick. I'm really only --"
"Theorizing. Which is, in fact, what you bring to this
little party. Right?"
"Christ. *Christ*. What did... did Bruce *do* something
He kept *touching* me. No. He wanted something
from me. *No*. He looks at me... "No. I sincerely
doubt he would, Dick. Really --"
He doesn't realize he's been reaching out toward Dick
until Dick catches his wrist and holds it. "The doubt.
Is it because you know *Bruce* knows it's wrong,
or is it because you know you're nothing like the...
like our Tim?"
Dick gasps, softly, and starts to stand before abruptly
punching the mattress, making it jump. "That
doesn't make any *sense* --"
"Dick. There are a few things which would surprise
me more than, say, finding out that the Dick from
my universe *had* ever been sexually involved with
Bruce. One of them would be stumbling over a
universe where Bruce has any real conception of what
he... what he *does* to us. What he makes us
become. What --"
"And you think that *excuses* him?"
"No," he says. "*I* never did."
Dick's teeth click shut loudly enough to be heard,
and he looks at Tim again. *Sees* him again.
Tim will never again underestimate the need for that
sort of thing in his life.
He misses Kon.
But Dick is right here. Almost.
He lets himself reach out, lets himself tuck the lock of
hair behind Dick's ear again. The streetlights switch off
with the suddenness of Gotham's perennial need to
conserve power. It isn't dawn -- yet.
It is, technically, one of the most dangerous times to
be in the city, depending on what part you're in.
He can't decide if this loft -- this bed -- is one of
those parts or not.
Dick's hands in *his* hair... don't actually make the
question any easier to answer.
He knows he's exhausted the way he knows that the scar
on his right arm is going to start being a -- literal --
pain sometime around mid-January, and stay that
way until April or so. It's a brain kind of knowledge,
and has little to do with his body.
Still, it's kind of a relief when Alfred takes one look
at him and pushes the carafe of coffee just beyond
his reach and serves him herbal tea and orange
He's going to need his sleep today, after all.
Bruce seemed surprised to see him at the breakfast
table, but he...
He can't even call it recovering. It's a lot more like a
sort of greedy acceptance. Like maybe he's the
eighth or ninth big, hearty meal for a man who'd
been starving for the better part of a year.
The fact that he knows -- *knows* -- that Bruce had
spent much of the morning in the Cave, and he's
*almost* sure that he'd been working on the
problem of how to get him home, but...
But he can't say he'd be surprised if he wasn't
working as hard as he could have done.
It's just as scary as it should be -- it *is*, because
this *isn't* his home, but.
But the biggest mistake *his* Bruce ever made
about him was that he assumed -- Tim *knows*
he did -- that Tim didn't actually know what he was
angling for with him. He does. He *always* has.
Because it was never *Bruce Wayne* that Tim
Batman is waiting behind Bruce's eyes over his
mug of coffee, and the bruises on his skin don't
belong to anyone else.
And even if he can't have this forever...
"I want you to focus on your stretches, and on the
meditations you've been taught today."
"Sure," he says, and gives Bruce his own waiting
over the rim of his glass of orange juice.
Even if he can't have this forever, he's going to
take every bit of it he *can* now. No matter what.
He can feel Alfred's eyes on him. On both of them.
"Hmm," Bruce says, and smiles with his eyes.
Dick slept with one hand over Tim's sternum and his
hair falling in a curtain over his face. Which certainly
explains his ability *to* sleep in the day with the
For his part, he didn't get much sleep at all, but...
This bed still feels better, more natural than the one
which is waiting for him at the Manor.
And rest is as good as sleep, sometimes.
Dick announces that he's awake by increasing the
pressure on Tim's chest. There's a searching look
in his eyes, somewhere between shocky and
accepting. There's a private schoolboy's uniform
scattered on the floor of Dick's bedroom -- the look
really *does* make a great deal of sense.
He looks at Dick steadily, and waits.
"I changed my mind. I think I do want to know
what your relationship is like with that other... me."
The frown is absent, nearly reflexive.
The adaptability of the Gotham vigilante. "Why?"
"You were a virgin."
He hadn't said otherwise. "Yes."
"I *knew* you weren't our Tim, but I still..." Dick sits
up, and Tim watches his hair fall into a new
configuration. It only curls at the roots, but it's thick
enough to be a little tangled. "I let myself go with
what I knew about our Tim's experience. That was
"I don't regret anything."
Dick's expression is wryly amused. "And you don't
have *any* idea why I might be curious about
what would make you give it up for the functional
equivalent of a complete stranger?"
"Perhaps I was just ready."
"Mm," Dick says, and rolls over him, straddling his
waist and resting his hands on Tim's shoulders.
"But *who* were you ready for?"
Tim thinks about it. On the one hand, he might
never get home, and he'll have to pay for every
word he says. By that logic, he's already said too
much. On the other hand, it's *Dick*...
And he's already said too much.
"I was at the circus the night your parents were
killed. With *my* adoptive parents."
"Jesus." It's barely a breath.
"I spent the next ten years... following you.
Following Bruce, by extension. I learned that you
were also Batman and Robin. It... changed my life."
"I did. No, *he* did."
"And he never did anything to make you pause,
make you..." Dick frowns.
"Think twice about my lifestyle choices?"
Dick nods, still frowning, and Tim can't help but
let this smile onto his face.
He knows the only person he looks like is himself,
when he smiles like that. "I wasn't the second Robin,
Dick. And *my* Dick... calls me 'little brother.'"
And sometimes 'Timmy,' but that's nothing he has
any intention of encouraging.
Dick stares at him for a long moment, unreadable
only because it takes a moment to remember that,
with *this* Dick, he *has* to look into his eyes --
which isn't precisely a hardship. When he does,
it's all there. Fear and confusion and regret which
has nothing to do with him. A dawning sort of
speculation -- a *different* sort of speculation --
that absolutely does.
"That isn't who I am. You... you *know* that."
"I have a great deal of information, picked up from
every source I could find, about how my Dick was
with Jason. *You* know I'm not... your Tim."
Dick closes his eyes. Squeezes them shut, really.
When he opens them again, the knowing look is
back. "You're treating it as a matter of going back
in time to the man your Dick used to be when
Jason was alive."
"You haven't proven me wrong."
"And when I do?"
Tim smiles a little wider. "I'm not in the business of
predicting the future, Dick. Someone told me that
there was no point in living anywhere but the
"That *wasn't* me --"
Tim reaches up, and pulls a tangle out of Dick's
hair. "No, it was Barbara, actually. She's smarter
than you. And me, for that matter."
Dick flips them both -- off the bed and onto the
floor. He's got Tim in an almost entirely playful
headlock before he freezes, smile crystallizing
into something photographic and artificially
immortal on his face. It doesn't last, but --
He still does it.
The uniform is only a little bulkier than his own.
The *new* uniform is only a little bulkier than his old
one. He can tell Bruce wants it to be even more heavily
armored -- he'd have to be deaf, dumb, blind, and
possibly comatose to miss *that* -- but it isn't nearly
as bulky as he'd feared.
Bruce can do the acrobatics he uses easily in *his*
suit, but a) he doesn't rely on them as much, and b) he's
Bruce. For him, sometimes, it *is* easier -- or just as
easy -- to punch through a wall as it is to go around and
*get* whatever's behind it.
He's never going to be as strong as Bruce, and he may
not ever be as tall as *Dick*. He needs every bit of
momentum a triple somersault can give him.
And he *totally* needs these boots. He hadn't *known*
he needed them, but... wow.
"Your new boots have significantly more titanium in
the soles," Bruce says, completely unnecessarily.
*Suspiciously* unnecessarily, and Tim gives him a
look -- gives the back of his cowl a look, anyway --
but then... ah.
That *was* the crack of a broken jaw. Another broken
"I take it your... other Robin doesn't play for keeps?"
Bruce pauses, and doesn't *quite* look back over his
He knows that tone. That's the 'no sex now, we're
He *likes* that tone.
A lot. Heh.
"Yeah, fine," he says. "Let's... work."
Dick keeps his suit behind a wall in the sitting room,
which is both disturbing and not. The security is
actually better than what he's used to with *his* Dick,
considering the fact that he'd need some time to fake
a retinal scan, and that the material of the keypad
doesn't hold Dick's fingerprints at *all*, but...
He'd never have believed that a Dick *would* keep
his uniform quite so close to everything... hmm.
Tim pauses, mentally, and lets his hands continue to
grow accustomed to the slightly old-fashioned
Perhaps that's the problem. There isn't much of an
'everything else,' at all.
No photographs of Titans, of course. None of
Barbara -- though Tim thinks that might not have
always been the case.
Not even one photograph of Bruce.
It's thrilling and terrifying, though he has to admit that
much of the terror comes from the fact that the only
Haly's Circus paraphernalia is what he'd found in the
scrapbook -- the carefully tucked *away* scrapbook --
he'd found on a cursory examination of Dick's loft
while Dick himself had been sleeping this afternoon.
A Dick who doesn't hold on to even the connections
which aren't especially... disconnected can't help but
Moreso, perhaps, than the communicator which
has been silent all night as they've patrolled.
It isn't that he *wants* to hear from this universe's
Batman or Batgirl. (He doesn't want to *know* this
Batgirl. He... he doesn't.) It's just that the city feels...
Empty in a way that reminds him of the things he's
not thinking about from his own universe. He's never
going to have Stephanie's voice in his ear again.
Dick's laugh in his ear is the same as it has always
been, really. Soft for the fact that they're actually
working, intimate because, through the comm, it may
as well be whispered against his ear. The mild
goose-prickles and easily tamped-down shiver are
also quite familiar.
"Is there --"
"No," Dick says, curt again. Professional. "I need to
know if you're quiet because that's the way you
work, or if you're having a problem."
"Both, but the latter is nothing which needs to
The laugh this time is both louder and somewhat
shocked. "You actually get away with answers like
that where you're from, don't you?"
"We don't have the luxury for anything else,
On the next scheduled rooftop, Dick actually pauses
for a moment, eyeing him obviously through the
simplified -- and distinctly generic -- mask.
Dick's gauntlets are as thin as they should be, rough
only as they brush his cheeks on their way into his
hair. His mouth is hard enough that the kiss is less
an invitation than a statement. What the statement
*is*, however, remains questionable.
He lets the question show on his face, and Dick's
answering smile is just a little cruel. "Pretend you
have the luxury. Or -- I know -- pretend you're
not in that other universe."
If there's anything unspoken there, it's just more
sarcasm. Interesting. "Don't you think that would be
dangerous on other levels?" How much do you
"Everything's dangerous." Dick's thumb is pressed to
his lower lip, starting to drag it down. A little. "Right?"
"Less dangerous than sex on patrol. Usually."
The mask is, somehow, infinitely less generic when
Dick smiles. Or perhaps just when Dick smiles like that.
Like someone who has never been given anything
like reasonable proof that trust, openness... *any*
of that was anything but another way to --
The sound he makes is both choked and high-pitched.
He hadn't, actually, expected Dick's hand on his
throat. It doesn't matter that the cape protects him
from... just about everything Dick could do with one
hand. It's. "Dick."
"Less dangerous than you getting obvious about the
Tim raises an eyebrow. "I'd apologize, but then you
The next laugh is against his ear, and manages to be
both honest and teasing. "Tell you what, kid. You
pretend you're on vacation, and..."
Tim slips one hand out from under his cape and
presses his gauntlet against the deep, steady rise
and fall of Dick's chest. "And?"
"And I'll pretend I'm taking a long overdue vacation
"Shouldn't we switch clothes for that?"
He's been slammed against enough walls that this
doesn't hurt at all.
He's actually all ready to make Bruce pay for keeping
both hands on the wheel -- it's pretty difficult to
practice his acrobatics too *much*, after all -- but he
isn't even out of the car (which is as much of a
futuristic tank as everything else in this universe)
before he kind of *has* to adjust his plans.
Dick -- this weird, *other* Dick -- is at the console,
in Bruce's chair. He's surrounded by printouts and
talking with... the *Atom*?
Hmm. Well, he *is* a physicist.
Dick doesn't even turn around, which, well, okay --
point *for* Bruce jerking him off in the car, but...
Bruce is doing the Bat-stalk over to Dick. It doesn't
actually matter that Tim is reasonably sure that
Bruce would like to kick Dick out, at least for a few
hours, because --
"What have you found."
"Not enough. I'll call you when I need you."
Hunh. It's nice to see that this Dick isn't a *complete*
freak of nature.
Except for how it doesn't matter that Bruce is still in
the cape and cowl -- Tim can see how much that
response just *didn't* fly. Fuck, he can *feel* it.
He jumps up on the hood of the Batmobile and looks
around for the post-patrol tray from Alfred. Might as
well get comfortable.
Dick blows out a breath and his uniform is thin enough
that Tim doesn't *have* to know him to see all the
tension there. Interesting. "Ray, hold on." Tim watches
him close the channel and, after another second, shut
the monitor down as well.
He kicks idly at the car's grill and waits for it.
"Something impossible happened, Bruce." When Dick
turns around, Tim can see that the lenses on his mask
are up. He wonders what that means for this Dick.
Which isn't to say it happens all that often with his
*own*, but --
"Instead of immediately working to *fix* it, you made
him..." Dick's glance rakes hard over him. Tim raises
an eyebrow. "An active operative. And a new *suit*."
"The old one --"
"Was, apparently, just fine for the universe he *belongs*
in. Christ, do you..."
Whatever the lens-up thing means for *Dick* here, it
means *he* can see everything in the man's eyes.
It's... intense enough that he's actually kind of okay
with the fact that he's apparently been relegated back
Some things really *don't* change.
And Bruce *hasn't* looked back toward him, but the
hand that *isn't* fisted at his side is... hmm. It's not
so much a gesture as... he's not sure. He just knows
it's for *him*. Tim waits, and watches.
"Look. I get it. I know he's..." Dick looks back toward
the monitor for a moment and scrubs a hand back
through his still-not-short-enough hair. "I got it a
long time ago. I'm not. I'm not going to ask you to
Funny how this Dick's laugh for Bruce is kind of the
"I'm not going to ask you to change." When Dick
looks back at Bruce again, the lenses might as well
be down. "I'm just asking you to stay out of my way."
Tim would *really* like to know what's on Bruce's face
right now. What, *exactly*, is making him hang his
head like that.
"At the very least..."
And *now* Dick is looking at him again, except for how
he's pretty obviously just looking at the wrong Tim in
the wrong suit.
"You've gotta be wondering what the fuck he's doing
in *your* universe... Tim."
Well, actually, not really. "His job. I'm guessing." Tim
jumps down off the car and heads for the stairs.
"Lemme know when it's time for me to jump back
through the rabbit hole."
He can't really tell *what* that is in Bruce's voice,
and he doesn't know if it's the cowl or the man, but...
His Bruce is never that hard to read. Even when Tim
wishes he was. Still...
It's all kind of obvious. The case, and Bruce, and Dick,
and everything Dick -- thinks he -- gets. "You know
where I'll be."
If he'd planned it, the blinds would've been closed.
Not that it would've mattered -- this particular 'family'
doesn't have everything *they* do, but they're still...
who they are -- but still.
He's always found value in plausible deniability. What
could reasonably not have been seen, what could
reasonably not be known.
Both for the watcher, and the watched.
And it isn't as though he's not accustomed to the latter
role -- he had, after all, *chosen* to be Robin.
Though it does make him more aware than he'd
thought would be possible (at least, in Dick's bed)
that he isn't where he belongs. (Where he's
*always*...) After all -- that particular black-on-black
sweep of cape still has some degree of ambiguity in
Though Batgirl wouldn't have stayed quite so long.
"I'd be angry at you for losing your focus, but I think
I should choose to be flattered."
Dick's hair only stops feeling like a particularly sleek
blanket over his upper back when he moves. "Hm."
Dick groans softly and braces himself over Tim's
back on his hands. The ends of his hair would tickle
if Tim moved. Since he isn't moving, it just raises
gooseflesh on his arms and the back of his neck.
"Mmm," Dick says, and Tim knows he's seen it.
And Dick's thumb at the apex of his spine doesn't help
with that in a wonderful way. "Yes?"
"Penny for your -- doubtlessly disturbing -- thoughts."
If it was *his* Dick... it isn't. "How much difficulty is
it going to cause that Bruce knows we're... doing this?"
Dick's thighs flex to either side of his own, but the
sound he makes... is a laugh. "Well, I absolutely
asked for that. How -- no, wait. Do I *want* to
know how you know he already does?"
It's probably for the best that Tim isn't actually in
a position -- physically -- to make an incriminating
glance towards the window. "I'm going to say 'no.'"
Dick shifts further up onto his knees and plants his
palms on Tim's back. And rubs. "And there's no
'maybe' in there, right? He knows."
"Right. And you're asking for my objective opinion --
*honestly* asking. Otherwise you wouldn't have
said anything at all."
Tim pushes up, a little, against Dick's thumb. "Yes."
"Then I'd have to say... I don't know. My head's
still spinning with all of that... with everything you
said about Bruce and second Robins, so I'm basically
gearing up to tell Bruce off for being a hypocrite."
"Except that this Bruce wouldn't be doing so." Tim
thinks about Bruce's hand on his own. "Probably."
Dick snorts and moves his hands -- away. When Tim
turns over, he's tying his hair back.
It seems like the sort of thing which is as much of a
Bruce-related reflex as it is -- presumably -- a
"You're analyzing me again, kid. I can feel it."
"Analysis isn't the same as comparison."
"Really? In *this* situation?"
Tim smirks. "I could ask how much you're thinking
about the other Tim at the moment." Dick has, after
all, *stopped* touching.
Dick pauses for a moment, and then finishes tying his
hair back and rests his hands on his thighs. "I bet you
let *him* pin you when you were sparring until you
couldn't possibly avoid it."
Why assume he still can't? "Now *you're* comparing."
"Maybe I'm just changing the subject," Dick says, and
lets his hands slide off his thighs onto Tim's own.
"It's a valid choice."
"Mm-hmm," Dick says, and slips his thumbs into the
creases between Tim's thighs and abdomen. "But
let's just say this -- I don't think he'd fight you, right
now, on building that programmable portal thing
Tim spreads his legs when Dick shifts to straddle
only *one* of his thighs. "You don't say."
Dick's smile is coldly sharp, but still honest. "I *do*
say. I also say that I'm going to be somewhat
unhappy if he tries to make your trip one-way."
"Right here, kiddo." His hands are warm and hard
on Tim's ass. Lifting him a little, apparently just
for the hell of it.
"You should probably keep in mind the possibility
that Bruce might just want *me* gone... as
opposed to wanting to deprive you of something."
"Why, little brother --"
"That wasn't very friendly at *all*..."
He wakes up fast and utterly -- the way he did back in
the days when Bruce hadn't let him out on the street
yet, and would come back from patrol and look in
Which makes total sense, because when he turns
over, Bruce is right *there*.
It's tempting to pretend he can't see the... *everything*
on Bruce's face. To just let the covers slip a little lower,
a little tighter around his lap.
But it isn't his Bruce, and he knows that the only
reason he *can* see all the everything on this Bruce's
face is that he's supposed to.
He doesn't say 'who died?' out loud.
"I'm awake. Hit me."
For a moment -- a really *long* one -- Bruce just
keeps looking at him. Staring at him, only...
No, that's not it. He's absolutely being memorized.
"You *could* just take a picture, Bruce."
He didn't realize anyone could look angrily amused,
or that that particular combination could be so...
"Or you could just come back to *bed*."
And Bruce actually closes his eyes. "It's not finished
yet. The... machine Dick is building. However...
we've been contacted by... someone. Who is further
"What? I..." But he knows. He *absolutely* knows,
because the longest stretch of time his Bruce had
spent in Gotham since not-*really*-joining the
League was after that massive fuck-up with the
Justice Lords. "My Bruce?"
Bruce's eyes are open again, and full of a *warning*.
Tim can't quite decide who it's supposed to be for.
"Apparently so. There were, it seems, plans for
this sort of thing."
Well, *yeah*, but... "Plans he'd *use*? You have
no idea how close he came to destroying everything.
He... Babs and I had to *yell* at him just to keep
him from doing this freaky self-hypnosis thing..."
Tim frowns. "He *built* the portal?"
And Bruce is unreadable again. "I believe he's
suggesting to Dick which parts could be cannibalized
from the car to speed the process on this end."
"He had *your* Tim and he's trying to get *me*
Tim snorts and kicks off the covers, taking a moment
to dig his toes in to the mattress one more time.
"Well, *yeah*. C'mon, remind me where my tights
are. Time to talk to *Dad*."
Bruce hands him his pants and Tim dresses quickly,
and moves toward the door. And stops, because
Bruce's hand is *iron* on his shoulder.
"When. You talk to him."
Tim looks at Bruce's hand and thinks about twisting
away, just because... just because. But he just
looks at him. "Yeah, Bruce?"
The hand tightens a little more, and Tim bites back
a wince. "You. I know this isn't your... home."
Tim narrows his eyes and smiles. "It *feels* homey..."
Bruce breathes through parted lips, and *looks* at
him. "You don't have to do anything you don't wish
Tim smiles a little wider and shrugs away. "State the
obvious much, Bruce? Like you couldn't *use* two
Just because Bruce's hand isn't on him anymore
doesn't mean he's not being *touched*.
And the first thing he thinks when he sees the monitor
is 'when was that video of me taken?'
But it isn't the second.
Never mind the bizarrely *sleek* look of the alternate
uniform -- the color scheme alone is so far from *Robin*
to be more than a little disconcerting -- the last time
he'd stood that close to Bruce, they were trapped in
an outflow pipe.
And he'd never had a scar there.
Or a bite-mark *there*.
"Well, *this* is disturbing," Dick says, and comes up
"All the more reason to *fix* it," Dick says... from the
other side of the monitor.
"*About* that..." the other Tim says, and... and Tim
wonders what it says about him that, at this point, he
*is* actually the easiest one to focus on.
Especially given the way the other Tim is looking at
him... and at Dick.
Tim schools his expression to blankness as much as
possible. "Yes. About that."
The other Tim positively beams at him... no. *Clark*
beams. He isn't sure how to describe a smile that
manages to be both quite that broad and quite that
obvious about all the sex that's been... had. Between
He folds his hands under the cape.
He doesn't bother to look. It's the Bruce on *his* side of
the half-built portal, which means that 'Tim' wasn't for
*him* at all.
The other Tim cocks his head and, after a moment,
turns to meet Bruce's eyes. "Yeah?"
He can *hear* Bruce swallowing, and feels Dick's
hand on his shoulder before he realizes that he's
"Are you... are you all right?"
"Never better, Bruce. I kinda *like* it here."
Dick snorts behind him, and Tim's about to duck his
head to hide his own smile -- in retrospect, he really
*should* have known -- when there's movement on
the other side of the monitor. Dick.
Looking at him.
"That's my question, too, little brother."
For a moment -- a long one -- Tim can't quite *feel*
Dick's -- the *other* Dick's -- hand on his shoulder
anymore. He knows it's there by the confusion on
his Dick's face.
He shakes it off internally. "I'm... quite well."
Correction -- he'd only *thought* he'd shaken it off.
It's not gone until he feels the whisper of Dick's hair
against his face, and *hears* the whisper of, "So
*that's* how he says it, hmm...?"
And then it's not so much gone as... infinitely more
... fucked-up. It's the only way to describe it. Because
the Bruce in this universe is *looking* at him -- he
can feel it.
And *his* Bruce is...
Tim's *never* seen a look on his face like that one.
Like... like he's hungry.
Only not like *this* Bruce, or not quite, or...
Tim feels himself frowning a little, and it doesn't
really matter that the other Dick...
... that the other Bruce -- the *wrong* Bruce is right
there, next to them, that that *other* Tim is right on
the other side of the monitor with *his* Bruce and...
He can't really look *away* from Dick.
Because the confusion in his eyes is being replaced
with something entirely different, something that
has *everything* to do with the fact that the other
Dick's head is still bent close to Tim's own, that his
hand is still on Tim's shoulder.
"Oh," Dick says, and --
It's pretty much the *smallest* sound he's ever
heard Bruce make, and it has *nothing* to do with
the freaking *volume*.
Tim crosses his hands over his chest --
-- tighter under his cape and frowns.
"I take it back," Dick says from close (too close, not
close enough --) to his ear. "This isn't just disturbing,
His Bruce looks like Dick had just, for no discernible
reason, decided to drop his pants.
The other Bruce just looks irritated for a moment
before refocusing on the other *Tim*... who is
watching him with a somewhat... measuring
The observer and the observed, at once. How...
It's enough to allow Tim the capacity to once again
feel something like the (wrong) ground beneath his
feet again, at least. He takes a breath.
"I think what hasn't -- quite -- been said aloud, yet,
is that neither of us are entirely sure how... urgent
the need is for us to switch places. Again."
The other Tim smirks, causing the small scar beneath
his eye to pull in a manner viscerally alien enough to
make him *quite* easy to look at.
The other Tim looks exactly like Alfred when he has
his mouth all pinched like that, which is pretty
damned disturbing, but... "What he said. Seriously,
Bruce..." And he should probably at least *look* at
his Bruce when he says this, but... but. "From the
looks of things, he's more street-ready than I am --"
"That's *not* true, Tim --"
And, *okay*, it just doesn't stop being freaky when
his Bruce sounds that...
Well, if it *was* his Bruce.
Fuck. But... it's not like he can't *use* this.
"*I'm* getting confused," he says, as broad and
exaggerated and annoying as he can.
The *look* on that other Tim's face... starts out with
*exactly* the contempt he'd expect from someone
who didn't know him, but fades *right* -- so right -- into
speculation. "Then let's cut this short. I think it's
fair to say that having us where we are does no
harm. And... I could use the vacation."
And yeah, *that* was probably entirely honest,
considering. Even though it makes the Dick from
*this* universe look a little sick.
"There's harm... and there is harm."
For some reason, it's quite a bit easier to hear that tone
from this *wrong* Bruce than it is to hear from...
Especially since he can tell from the way *this* Dick
is squeezing his shoulder that he *will* be examining
it in detail at whatever naked, sweating, and terribly
inappropriate moment Dick chooses.
"I think he misses you... Tim." The other. Pushing -- it --
Though it is, perhaps, entirely *appropriate* for the
other Tim to find it easier to focus on *Dick*, at this
point. "And *I* think there's no need to make this
more... awkward than it already is."
"Like you *haven't* been fucking with Bruce's head
every chance you *got*."
"Not on purpose, and --" Tim feels himself snarling
and stops himself with an effort, focusing instead on
Bruce. The... other Bruce.
The one beside him. This is quickly growing painful
on far too many levels.
"Bruce. Your reports mentioned a certain degree
of... freedom of movement."
"And suddenly I'm in the Persephone place," Dick
says with an entirely too obvious look at his...
The other Tim snorts and actually rocks on his *heels*,
a little. "Where's *my* seeds?"
Tim watches the Bruce beside him frown and thinks,
seriously, about the possibility of bonding with the
man over a long, mutual, temple-rubbing.
It would probably be easier on his sanity, in the long
run, than paying any attention whatsoever to the
way his Bruce is abruptly looking at *him*. And the
way his Dick is... staring at the other Tim and Bruce.
He'd like to explain it to Dick, or just talk about it,
perhaps, because Dick doesn't need *him* to explain
anything. Just... the difference between the ways
they all relate to each other. Something to, perhaps,
cause Dick to stop looking at *them* and start
looking at him again.
Except for the fact that that manages to be both
pathetic and an utter failure to take into account
the way it feels when Dick does.
"Tim. Your father. Your friends. You... do you really
want to stay there?"
It probably wouldn't help to mouth 'say yes' at freaky
It... would actually probably hurt, a lot. Because his
Bruce hasn't even *looked* at... at the *other*
Bruce, and his Bruce...
Tim makes a point of moving enough to catch the
other Dick's attention -- it's possible a backflip
wouldn't have been excessive at this point -- and
clears his throat for emphasis.
The look on the other Tim's face makes him want to
mention something about how sometimes being
obvious is really the *only* way to get anything like
what you want, but it's *just* possible that Dick
hasn't fucked him enough for it to be remotely
worth saying, yet. And...
"Anyway," he says, and shoves Dick aside enough
to get into Bruce's chair and put his feet up on the
console. "We're just talking about a little...
vacation. Right, Tim?"
Tim wastes a moment looking at him like he's
maybe *willing* Tim's boots to dissolve themselves
before he sighs and looks down at his hands. "It
*is* a somewhat less stressful dimension."
"Heh. I didn't think you *had* hands for a minute
Dick -- the *other* Dick -- actually snorts beside
him, which is kind of impressive, considering the
fact that he still sort of looks like he wants to cry
"In *any* event," the other Tim says -- and Tim
is kind of wondering where *his* Dick's hands
are -- "Neither machine is completed, and I know
I'd like to have time to examine and test it
before jumping through."
The other Tim, to his credit, does an admirable
job forcing his face into an expression which could,
perhaps, be construed as thoughtful.
He can work with that.
"And... I'm fully aware of my responsibilities," he
says. To his Dick, more than to anyone else.
The other Dick is tugging lightly on his cape.
Which makes sense. It really is, at this point, a
"The machine *will* be completed," Bruce says to
the other Tim.
"Yeah. Don't... go far," his Dick says. To the floor.
"Noted," he says, and the other Tim says, "Roger,"
and Tim spends a small eternity wishing for the
ability to teleport. It wouldn't have to be for
It isn't going to happen.
"It would probably be helpful for both of us to
stop back in our respective dimensions --"
"You know, it really is *extremely* bizarre that
we're all having this conversation. I'm just saying."
And then the other Tim... *winks* at him.
"I'm doing my best to repress, now that you
"You *do* that. But yes, you're right. Your clothes
are really pretty lame."
"Yes, well," Tim says, and raises an eyebrow
behind his mask. "You *would* think that."
The other Tim spins Bruce's chair back and forth.
"You're totally walking around in my good little
schoolboy clothes when you're not in that suit,
Dick grabs the back of the chair and holds it still,
and the other Tim...
Fascinating. The irritation is a thin skim over the
rest of his expression, which is almost exactly
like what would happen if he gave a 'buck up, little
camper' speech to himself while looking in a funhouse
mirror. *Definitely* to himself -- because the
other Tim's behavior might be *aimed* at everyone
else, but it's *for* him. Them.
"When you *do* come back, Tim..." Dick's expression
is a mockery of control. "I'd like to talk to you."
Tim watches Dick utterly fail to notice the way
Bruce -- their Bruce -- is looking at him and nods,
slowly. "Of course."
Dick nods back. "Then... we're done, for now."
The other Bruce nods curtly on Tim's other side.
"Nightwing out," he says, and shuts the
communication down from his side.
"Thank God." Dick squeezes his shoulders. "I think
we can get in a decent patrol --"
"I could use Tim here, Dick," Bruce says, and shuts
their own monitor off.
And it's *absolutely* fascinating -- in a similar manner
to his first autopsy -- to watch *this* Dick utterly
fail to notice the way it's pretty much killing Bruce
to *say* this. He... clears his own throat.
"I have done some research in this area. Though
mostly in an attempt to get it to *stop* happening."
Dick gives him a long look. With his mask on, it's
disturbingly blank, but he seems to find whatever
he's looking for, and his smile is almost correct.
"Too much or not enough, kiddo?"
He offers his own smile. "That's a difficult question
to answer. At the moment."
"Maybe I'll just ask again later."
He perhaps should've expected the way Dick's
hands linger on his shoulders before slipping free.
If only to give himself the capacity to not flush.
Bruce, for his part, is eyeing the darkened monitor
as though it has the answers to the... multiverse.
"I'll see you later, Dick."
"Yeah you will. Anything out there in particular for
me, Bruce? Since you'll be busy."
"I would... appreciate it if you went by the docks.
Batgirl could... meet you."
"Roger wilco, Bruce. Over..." Dick grins at him.
He's counted about ten shots which were very clearly
aimed at him tonight. He's pretty sure that means it
was a quiet night.
And it's really nothing *like* the first time that he's
wondered if, maybe, their connection to Gotham was
about more than all the shared obsessions and
massive issues, but it's just a lot more *more*
tonight than it's ever been at home.
Like maybe the city as a whole *knows* their
vigilantes are just a little more fucked-up than
He got to see the new Batgirl, finally. New Batgirl.
So wrong he can't even wrap his head around it.
He didn't get to *meet* her exactly, and he's pretty
sure that the look on her face under that *fucked-up*
full-face cowl had more in common with "I'm so
horrified by you that I'm about to *puke*," than it
did with "hey, sort-of new Robin!" but...
He'd gotten to see her.
That's... that's something.
*What* that something is... is pretty much beyond
Their actual patrol -- his and Bruce's -- had been
surprisingly long, in terms of distance covered.
Only not, because...
Because Bruce was *showing* him.
The other Tim's territory. What he usually covers
by himself. And it totally makes sense. A nice little
eye-shaped chunk of Gotham sitting neatly
between the Drakes' townhouse and the Cave. He
knows -- *now* -- that the rooftops they'd
paused on were the other Tim's favorites.
Good sight-lines, lots of cover. Places where he
can take meal-breaks or patch himself up. Two
general rendezvous points on either narrow part
of the 'eye.'
And Bruce had spent the night watching him,
measuring, maybe -- no.
It's not like they'd talked about it in detail --
though they probably *should* -- but Bruce has to
know how little time, relatively, he'd spent
patrolling alone. He works with Bruce, or Dick, or
Babs, or all of them.
Except that *here*... that's not going to happen.
And he's back in the Manor -- Dick's still in the
Cave, and... really not yet -- but Bruce is still out
in *his* chunk, and... and.
"Robin to Batman."
"Where are you?"
"Still home. I... got a minute?"
In the background -- with the comms, some part
of his mind always wants to translate 'background'
to 'outer curve of his ear' -- he can hear grunts
and pops and bony little cracks. "One moment,"
Bruce says -- in Bat-voice -- and Tim waits.
No obvious changes in the Manor, of course.
Except for when he opens up the door to 'his'
The bed is turned back, made with red sheets he
hasn't seen before -- in either universe. Which
is... hmm. He moves to the closet and... it's
Jeans and t-shirts, mostly. A few hoodies. Lots of
black, lots of red, and... green? Why green?
Does he really want to ask? And when *had* Alfred
He closes the closet again.
The thing is, you don't just start talking to Bruce if
you have something you actually *need* to say. You
only do that when you're totally on-board with
having the conversation hijacked to fuck only
knows where, or with just being shut out. So...
"The other Robin knows that territory. I don't."
"You're more familiar with the East side. Hm.
That's Catwoman's territory."
Catwoman? The *hell*?
"Robin wasn't working there. He was. Touring. That
Touring? And he thinks about that whole bit about
the other Tim's adoptive parents, and how they
might have 'let' him work out... right, hijacked. "I
really *haven't* worked alone that much. Not..."
And it makes him embarrassed and it makes him
want to punch *his* Bruce, but. "Not seriously."
"You'll have a partner. Until you're ready."
He doesn't exhale as much as he wants to. He
doesn't have to be *completely* useless. "Good."
"Not a thing. Robin --"
And then he *does* exhale, because that *wasn't*
the Bat-voice. Not really. "Yeah?"
"Thank you. Batman out."
Tim thinks about taking the comm out -- he really
*isn't* used to wearing one this much, although
the ones here *are* more comfortable than the
ones back home -- and then he just strokes it a
It's precisely as interesting a question as it should
be. The dial -- the Dial, perhaps -- is unmarked
save for the hashes. A turn would show him places
he'd never been. And, perhaps, places he should
One of the hashes is just a bit bolder than the others.
It sits at around the halfway mark between the
hash cross-scored for this universe, and the hash
cross-scored for his own. The important thing to
remember is that it's all quite arbitrary. The dial itself
could easily be much bigger, the 'tuning' much finer.
A machine at his hands just waiting to put paid to
the idea of singularity. A world for every choice.
The bold, uncrossed hash, for example...
Another Cave. An empty one -- obviously so, and
suspiciously so. The view is broad, but not perfect.
The dust and silence could very well stop beyond
the portal -- and it *is* a portal. The settings are
nearly perfectly mirrored, the Dial on the other
side turned to...
The most obvious sight through the portal is, of
course, the Cases. Batman, Robin, Batgirl, Nightwing.
Only the latter two have earned the upper-case
"case," judging by the reports.
Tim could find the rest of the so-called 'Justice Lords'
if he switched one of the monitors to this world's
Slabside. There's no good reason to do that, which
is something for which he finds himself thankful.
In truth, there *isn't* much he can do, here. He's
reasonably sure -- as sure as he can be without
testing -- that things are as stable as they can be
on this end.
Bruce's sketches and notes -- still smelling faintly
of dust, and thus being obvious about the fact
that their prior place of storage was someplace
not even Alfred could get to -- show a much
more *finished*-seeming portal, but...
He turns the Dial to find a blank wall of rock at the
coordinates of the Cave. Some universe where the
seismic activity in the Northeast had been profoundly
different. Perhaps with a Bruce who... no, he
doesn't want to know.
Another turn offers him another Cave, another view
of the Case -- no, *two* Cases, and the skirt on
the other suit --
He switches the monitor off.
"You can, perhaps, see why I was... hesitant."
Bruce isn't looking at him -- he can feel it. Tim
squeezes his eyes shut and covers his face with
"Her name is Stephanie Brown."
He listens to Bruce breathing.
"She's dead in my universe, too."
"I've... never come across her. Here."
"No, you haven't. I checked. The man who would've
become her father was killed in a car crash when
he was seventeen. The driver was drunk. She was.
Bruce rests a hand on Tim's shoulder. "She was
"She was more than that," he says, but he lets Bruce's
For anyone else, that soft exhale would be a sigh.
But it's Bruce, still. "Tim... when?"
"You were... close."
"She was my.... We dated. For just about two
Another not quite sigh. "I've been... trying to
understand. What it must be like, for you. The Lords
looked at this universe and saw... hm. Some of
them saw only the chaos, and the 'good' they could
do. Some of them saw... a brighter world than their
own. A better one."
Tim bites his lip harder and digs in with the heels
of his palms. "Is this where I remind you that *my*
family has yet to destroy the world, or even make
any inroads toward subjugating it?"
"A matter of degree, perhaps." There's a wintry sort
of humor in Bruce's voice. "I wonder if, perhaps, the
Tim from that universe might not have found some
measure of happiness here, some variety of peace.
If the Lords had brought him... would he have
sought out Barbara? Dick?"
"No. Not me." Bruce squeezes his shoulder and then
lets go. "Somehow, I think the only Robin with any
desire for my company has found an entirely more
satisfactory version in your universe."
Tim blinks and sits up. "That smacks of self-pity,
Bruce's look is even and amused. "So it does. And,
despite our earlier discussion of the matter, it
doesn't bother you, or surprise you that he would.
I'd like to know why."
"I'm sure you can formulate your own theories."
"Hm. We have a perfect opportunity here, Tim.
Perhaps the one combination of worlds which isn't
doomed to damage both in some apocalyptic
manner. I've given you access to my files."
Tim raises an eyebrow. "Quid pro quo? Is that why you
wanted me here?"
Bruce actually leans back in his chair, and his smile
has some degree of predatory satisfaction. "Would it
make you more likely to cooperate than if I called it a
He'd been with her when she gave birth, he'd held her
when she cried. She'd held him when he'd... when
he'd let her, but when she died... No. Not this Bruce.
Tim takes a breath. "Touché. I shouldn't continue to
react to you the way I would for... Batman."
Bruce narrows his eyes. "He's lost the ability to
separate the two in his own mind. Far more than I
Tim gestures for him to continue.
"You only call him 'Bruce' when the situation demands
it, and when it seems politic to do so. You don't,
actually, mean it. For his part..." An even narrower
look, and Bruce folds his hands over his stomach,
armor creaking. "He views you as his successor, and
treats you accordingly. Your training has been
extensive and *intensive*. He's aware -- perhaps
damagingly so -- of his own mortality."
"Fear-based responses have worked for him more
often than they haven't." I don't want to be Batman.
Bruce nods, half-absently. "Objectivity begins to
break down, as it almost certainly must. I know
myself. I know how... difficult I can be when I can't
conquer my fears effectively, or even use them
efficiently. Barbara, Dick, Tim. Perhaps this
Stephanie. Perhaps... were there others, in your
"It depends on how you define 'others.' The Batgirl in
my universe is... different."
The curiosity and horror flares and flickers in Bruce's
eyes. The fact that it fades again is, perhaps, as much
for Tim's benefit as his own.
"You're... doing well."
"I've never tried to make any of them into my heirs.
Not..." The glance toward the blank monitor is brief
and troubled. "It would, probably, be more accurate
to say that I've never felt myself to be in a position
where I *had* to do so. Where it would be
dangerous *not* to do so."
"What... what do you think you would do if your Tim
were killed?" He bites the inside of his cheek and
forces himself to meet Bruce's eyes again. "If he'd
*been* killed. A year ago. Perhaps a little more."
Bruce closes his eyes. "Fifteen."
There's no point in pretending he doesn't understand
the question. "The Joker. He's also responsible for
my Barbara's paralysis."
Bruce's eyes remain closed. His mouth is a hard, pale
line reminiscent of nausea. "He's alive."
"We don't kill."
"No." When Bruce opens his eyes, the smile in them
is entirely familiar. "You don't kill. You adjust, adapt,
and... prepare for a darker future."
Tim leans back in his own chair -- a chair which
doesn't exist in his own Cave -- and focuses on his
breathing until he can think again.
Bruce nods, watching.
"Are you seriously suggesting that we would've been
better off if we did the very things you and your
League condemned the Lords for?"
"Are you suggesting the same thought hadn't
occurred to you? How much of the pain in your life
would cease to exist if... *Jason* had survived?"
"I... wouldn't be Robin."
"There's a passion in you when you say that.
Bruce raises his own eyebrow, but doesn't call him
on his own self-pity. "Not entirely. Even now. I look
at you and I see..."
Tim shifts enough to let the cape fall over himself
more effectively. "I can guess, Bruce."
It's still no use when Bruce reaches for him, when
he takes Tim's hand and *holds* it. "There's
something I never had to teach my Tim, that I
wonder how much of a hand your Bruce had in
*controlling* in you."
"He..." Another glance toward the blank monitor,
another flare of *trouble* in Bruce's eyes. "The
proof of a multiverse full of choices. The visible,
tangible *fact* that every choice has significance."
"That every choice is, perhaps, the wrong one.
For someone, in some way."
Tim snorts. "And so the lesson is... what? Keep
"Keep *choosing*. With all of yourself. With the
courage of your convictions. With... faith."
He's a little too tired to laugh, but... "You have no idea
how many times, and in how many ways, that attitude
has... damaged things."
Bruce squeezes his hand, and smiles into his eyes.
"And yet my world remains the better one."
Tim looks at their hands and lets them stay, for the
time being. "Until your luck runs out."
"Or... until I let it change me."
It's strange to look at their hands together, actually.
Knowing how much artificial size his gauntlets allow
him (as opposed to those of the other Tim), and
seeing how much bigger Bruce's hands *still* are.
"Am I a cautionary tale for you?"
"Would it honestly surprise you if you were?"
He curls his free hand into a fist. "No."
"Not much surprises you at all."
He looks at Bruce as steadily as he can. "I try to
Bruce strokes over his gauntlet. The pressure of his
thumb is vague, diffuse. "I would be lying if I said
you didn't serve as a reminder. But the implication
in the idea is that I consider you to be hopelessly
*broken* in some fundamental way."
Tim raises an eyebrow.
"You have to understand, Tim. Your inability to be
comfortable with *me*..."
As opposed to Dick.
Bruce smiles, and releases him. "It's less than telling.
As these things go."
Tim nods and stares at the Dial. "What are you going
to do? When your Tim and I switch places again."
"Are you asking because you're curious, or because
you're considering my answer as potentially applicable
to what your Dick might do?"
Tim lets himself smile. It really is unavoidable.
"Careful, Bruce. If you keep fencing this accurately,
I'll be forced to go back to glaring in your general
direction from a handy shadow."
He finds Dick walking the beam with a lazy sort of
carelessness which *he's* only just beginning to
have the expertise to duplicate -- with his eyes open.
And even with *everything* -- the partially
dismantled car, the three-quarters built *thing*
designed to get him back home, the Case -- it's still
tempting to strip to his shorts and join him.
Maybe even more tempting than it would be if he
He settles for taking up residence in Bruce's chair
and watching. There's a weird little dial thing that
Dick's tossing from hand to hand, and he looks...
Nothing *too* unexpected.
"Tim," he says, without looking.
"Is that what you prefer? No other nickname?"
He really only likes being called 'Jay' when Bruce is
making those choked little sobbing noises against
the back of his neck. "My father called me 'Timmy,'
sometimes. No one else."
Dick nods and holds the dial in one hand, flipping
backwards into an effortless one-handed stand.
"Did you want them to?"
"At the time? No. Later..." Tim shrugs and spins
the chair a little. "Are we going to have a
Dick laughs, only a little breathless, only a little false.
"When you say things like that -- correction. When
you say things like that, and it's *hard* to hear
you laughing at me, you sound like my Tim."
Yours? Maybe. "I just want to be clear."
"Uh, huh." Dick's dismount is as lazy as everything
else, and as perfect. He closes the distance
between them, and... his mask is gone, entirely.
Tim hadn't noticed.
"Jason was wary of me because I was an immature
asshole. And because, I think, he was always a
little worried I might take Robin back. What's your
Dick cocks his head. "Or do you *need* a different
one with someone who has a face like mine?"
Tim shrugs. "We all go with what's comfortable.
"The path of least resistance? Is *that* what you're
Tim grins and spreads his hands. "No one has to
explain any of this to you. Or Alfred, or Babs. Or
anyone else. You all know more than I do about... it,
Dick nods slowly. It's the sort of thing which usually
means that Dick is doing his detective thing, and
nothing *Tim* can do will actually catch his
attention -- short of fucking up. But he also doesn't
"I... heh. It's kind of interesting to watch you do
Tim holds his expression steady. "Do what?"
Dick leans in, resting some of his weight on the back
of Bruce's chair. It's tall enough that, even now, he
isn't actually looming. "Pretend this is just some
game to you. That you're *not* picking up on
everything all of us are and aren't saying and --"
"Did you need me to put *my* uniform back on,
Dick? Because --"
"See, here's the deal, kid," Dick says, and gives the
chair a spin as he lets go again. "You're doing what
*my* Tim does when he's playing a role. That's...
huh. 'Alvin Draper.' Only you actually *mean* it.
No -- you're *better* at it."
Tim forces the chair to a stop with his feet. "Possibly
because *I* don't need to play."
"As much." Dick grins at him. "Is that what they
need from you? Playful little kid with a smart mouth?"
"You're making some pretty serious assumptions
about how we work --"
"And live, and... everything else. So correct me. You're
Possibly a heart-to-heart would've been *less* of a
pain in his ass. "Maybe I never had a reason to do
things differently. Personal or otherwise."
"Things were pretty grim when you showed up, right?"
"'Grim' is a lot harder to do with Babs around. *My*
Dick's mouth twitches. "Ouch. But that wasn't a no."
Tim thinks seriously about giving some deep, thorough
attention to, like, the console, but decides to meet
Dick's eyes. Curiosity. Amusement. Something darker
which may or may *not* be for him. He offers
another small shrug. "Batman needs a Robin."
For some reason -- no, really, let's *not* guess -- it
makes Dick's eyes narrow, and... this isn't a game
he wants to play, particularly.
"Just say it. You've decided it's a mistake to think of
me as Jason reincarnated in the wrong body, and
are trying to figure out where me and your Tim...
overlap. I'll make it easy for you -- we're both
calculating, and manipulative, and lying half the
"Is that what Bruce told you?"
Tim grins -- it's the one that really is *especially*
for Dick. His, anyway. It works, just the same. "He
seems to think it's part of the attraction."
Dick's laugh isn't shocked so much as scandalized.
But it's still a *laugh*.
It makes it a little harder to keep a grin on his face.
That one, anyway. "Dick --"
"And see, I'd *like* to take the fact that, for whatever
reason, my Tim *still* wound up gravitating toward
your Dick --"
"Is *that* what you're calling it?"
"-- as a reason to be comforted. But." Dick spreads his
own hands, the weird little dial dancing across the
fingers of his left hand.
"So you *want* me to set you straight? Tell you
about all the ways my Dick is just plain good and
sweet and kind and nice-to-wayward-little-Timmies?"
And that, finally, makes Dick look away. "If it's the
"No. Wait." Dick holds up a hand.
He still has his gauntlets on. They look thicker than
his Dick's. "I'm waiting."
"Pretend you don't have anyone *to* pretend for.
Your 'ignorant street-kid with a heart of gold' act
doesn't get me hard, and I'm not going to bitch you
out if you hurt my feelings. What does it look like to
And really, if he *does* start treating school halfway
seriously now, Dick will probably act *smug*. Tim
fights back the scowl that wants to be on his face
and settles in more comfortably in Bruce's chair.
Dick just looks at him.
Fine. "So, one, it's really freaking obvious that your
Tim has a stick up his ass about the same size as his
staff. He's..." Tim sighs, and doesn't look at Dick. "He's
what I pretend to be with *other* people."
"Yeah, I'll *bet*. Two, he's got issues with Bruce. I
don't know who he *thought* he was going to get
when he put on the suit, but he got *Bruce*, and
instead of *dealing* with that -- like *you* have..."
He shrugs again.
And glances up to find Dick gone all unreadable again.
"The other... *my* Dick isn't like you. He's... he's
*nothing* like you."
"You didn't know me three years ago, kid."
"When your hair was long?" Tim smiles again. "You're
really just proving my point, Dick. Because my
*theory* is that your Tim *did* know you back then.
And that heading over into my universe... was a
chance to turn back the clock." There isn't even a
speck of dust on the Case. "He's not the only one."
Dick gives him that blank look for another several
moments, still and tense and so...
"Well. Maybe he isn't *nothing* like you --"
*This* laugh is a weird kind of helpless. Like maybe
Dick can't help but find some things amusing,
whether he wants to or not. "I can't decide on whose
behalf I want to be pissed at you."
"Start with Bruce."
"You remind him of Jason --"
"I remind *you* of Jason, Dick."
"-- but you said it yourself. Part of the... *attraction*
is that you're still Tim."
Tim avoids looking down again. Barely.
"Or is that too hard to buy?"
Dick drops into a crouch in front of him. Tim *doesn't*
"Is that... heh. Correct me if I'm wrong, Tim, but
that surely looks like a capital-I *issue* you have
with Bruce. How did *that* happen? Didn't you
*deal* with that?"
"You tell me."
Dick's smile... it has the nerve to be an *invitation*.
"How do you think Bruce would feel if he knew
you thought he was just using you for your ability
to convincingly fake an attitude problem?"
And that... "There you go, proving my theories
again. If you're not careful I'll have to start calling
myself a *detective*."
Dick's smile falters. "What --"
"Your Tim went for the familiar, Dick. And then he
*went* for the comfortingly unfamiliar." He leans in,
a little. "Because I'm pretty sure even *my* Dick's
first thought wouldn't be defending Bruce's
judgment if we started talking about how I was
Dick's mouth actually hangs open for a brief,
satisfying moment before his expression shifts back
to that ruthless sort of amusement. "So should I
apologize for treating you like an adult... or for
not buying into your kiddie act?"
"Neither," he says, and snatches the dial out of
Dick's hand and slaps it down on the console. "You
should put your machine together, and go back to
brooding over why *your* Tim likes *my* Dick
better. It's a good look on you."
"Don't, Dick, really. I got over trying to have actual
conversations with you --"
"You don't *know* me."
It's enough to stop Tim halfway to standing. Dick's
voice, and... yeah. Dick's *face*. No mask, and.
And he doesn't, actually, think *his* Dick ever looked
at anyone *but* Bruce like that. Still.
Tim sighs and shoves his hands into the pockets of his
new jeans. "Isn't that the point, though? That we
don't get to pretend we're family *and* we don't
get to pretend we're strangers?"
"You're asking *me*?"
Dick is smiling at him again. Another invitation that's
somehow supposed to mean something even
though... even though he's *Dick*. "It's easier, with
Bruce, because I can see everything he wants from
me, and because I can give it to him. Because it's
almost the same as..."
"As what you wanted from him?"
Tim takes a breath and forces himself to meet Dick's
eyes again. "I'm just saying... maybe your Tim
thinks it's just as easy with my Dick."
Dick looks like he's been punched. "But why... he
has to know I... *you* know I --"
Or maybe the heart-to-heart would've been just as
bad. It's *incredibly* disturbing to want to *hug*
Dick. "Dick, I also know that my Bruce misses me.
That he likes me, and cares about me..." He shrugs.
"I'd still be surprised if he wanted to *fuck* me."
"But Tim wouldn't... *I* wouldn't... it can't just be
It's *really* tempting to ask Dick just which of
them he's trying to convince, but... it would also be
something of a lie. He could, maybe, deal with a
world where lying to Dick is actually *more*
difficult than the alternative. "We're *not* family,
but we aren't strangers, either, remember? I'd also
be surprised if it *was* just sex."
Dick frowns, and it makes him look older in a way even
the haircut doesn't. It fades off his face within an
instant, though. "That doesn't make things any
Tim snorts. "See, that's why I need you people to
be *clear* with me. If I'd known I was supposed
to make it easier... I would've stayed upstairs."
Dick shakes his head, smiling again. "Is that a
Tim smirks and skips a few steps back toward the
stairs. "Not at all."
The blow Dick aims at his head is a light one, or
it would've been if he'd let it land. For a moment
he thinks Dick *wants* to spar, but... he backs
off. "I just have one more question."
He's... only a *little* disappointed. "Shoot."
"What are you going to do if your Bruce... surprises
And which way does he think their Tim will jump
if *Dick* decides to be surprising? Or would that
just be the easier question to answer? "I'm not
sure. There's... it's Bruce."
Dick's smile is gentle. "Both of them, even."
"Now *there's* a thought..."
"Oh... God. Please stop now."
"Heh. Good night, Dick."
It's too late for patrol, really. Close enough to dawn
that his suit is starting to feel more like an
exclamation point than a reasonable blend of
practicality and tradition, just past the edges of the
Even his version of Gotham is reasonably safe at this
Still, it's been a long time since he's been able to
leave the manor without needing to do *something*.
Since they'd lived next door, actually -- when he
hadn't really *left* the manor at all. Just walked
to the brighter, less mysterious house on the other
side of the tunnel.
He'd come to think of it as 'normal life training
wheels,' after a while. As though spending the
better part of a year living and working and
training from the manor had caused him to require
a certain period of adjustment.
Who could've guessed?
He can't actually begrudge himself the need. It
*has* only been a few days, and he *had* spent
the last several hours working with Bruce and
seeing... too much. The sun won't be up for
another fifteen minutes, and it will only take three
to get from here back to Dick's apartment.
He can allow himself another few minutes to look
A mugging so providential he's tempted to be
More than a little tempted, actually. It's autumn,
but it's not actually cold enough for an overcoat and
a beret -- unless the woman is ill -- and...
It *isn't* the first time a victim has stayed around to
watch him damage his or her assailants -- or
even the twentieth -- but she's reaching for her purse
"Aw, c'mon, stay *still*, birdboy!"
Harley Quinn. Looking for him in particular.
"And where's your *real* suit? The pretty one!"
For the other Tim. Interesting. Robin was always
supposed to, apparently, damage her henchmen,
so she expected... yes. A trusting Tim. A
*faithful* Tim. Why, that could've been
Tim grins and pulls out his staff.
It *is* a good morning.
It's not a patrol, really. He's early, and Batgirl --
would she let him call her Cassandra? -- isn't set
to meet him for another half an hour or so. He's
in the near corner of the other Tim's 'eye' and
just sort of... feeling the city.
Trying to learn it, a little.
It's one thing to react to whatever it throws at
him -- he's *good* at that, especially since, as near
as he can tell, the nicest thing *this* Gotham is
going to throw at him is bullets -- but...
It's Gotham, and he *doesn't* know it. It doesn't
actually matter *how* much time he'll wind up
spending here -- wrong is wrong.
And it feels a little like the first few patrols, even
with Bruce way the hell over by the docks. Everything
new, even when it's old.
Everything including... hunh.
He's older, and fatter, and he's dressed like a normal
person as opposed to a cross between a circus clown
and, like, a stewardess, but he's pretty sure he knows
who *that* is. Even if he *is* in the wrong city.
The sweet little directional mike -- there's even an
'R' on it -- Bruce had given him provides enough of a
confirmation. Nose, hair color, and accent. He
wonders what Wally is up to. He reaches for his
remote HD and...
He doesn't, actually, have to.
"Oracle, it's Robin."
"What can I do for you?"
Turn. The voice scrambler. *Off*. Right. "Captain
Boomerang. Still a bad guy here, right?"
"Cameras on the mask?"
"You're live, kid. Hit me."
Tim peers over the edge of the balustrade again.
Boomerang is still right there, muttering at what
looks like a tabloid.
"Mmm. Looks like a good, old-fashioned parole
"Is that a beating offense here?"
Artificial computer voices really *shouldn't* laugh.
"Sorry, kid. Just a call to the PD."
"Not even a punch?"
"I'll make sure BG gives you a nice workout. Oracle
Dick takes his communicator out when he goes to
sleep. While it's possible that it's as much a function
of what they'd spent much of the night doing as it
is of a general attitude toward the world...
It's possible he could stop analyzing this at some
"Are you there?"
Though probably not now. "Yes, Batman. It's
It's not quite ten in the morning. He should be in
school, watching the places where Darla isn't. He
won't be. "I'll be there in twen --"
"Thirty," Dick says, with a groaning sigh. He sits
up and breathes warm and sleepily against Tim's
ear. "We'll be there in thirty."
"Thirty. Batman out."
Tim flips the comm back to stand-by and raises an
eyebrow at Dick. "There was something we needed
another ten minutes for?"
Dick leers at him for a moment and then laughs,
scrubbing at his eyes. "If I'd gotten another hour
of sleep, that would be an affirmative, kiddo. As it
Dick slips one hand into Tim's hair from the back
and tugs. "You're going to be late."
For a moment, he thinks seriously about mentioning
something -- or perhaps just *asking* something --
about which role he's actually playing for Dick. But
"And yes, the petty rebellions *are* the habit of a
And he doesn't actually care.
"Wait, I -- he -- *quit*? Really?"
Tim watches Dick leaning in over the brand new
console. Bruce -- his Bruce -- is cowl-less and looks
exactly not-uncomfortable-enough to shut the
The other Bruce is back in last night's Batsuit, probably
for some very good -- or at least *interesting* --
paranoiac reasoning. In the suit and out of range of their
brand new portal. Hm.
"I *told* you we didn't have to rush," Tim says, and
pulls on his gauntlets. "Never mind *that*
conversation --" Though really? *Fat* chance. " -- the
only thing my Dick isn't late for is *work*."
"Hm." Bruce does manage to turn away from the tense
lines of Dick's back long enough to look at him.
"And that grunt refers to...?"
The lenses are down, but Tim can see all he needs in the
set -- and it *is* set -- of Bruce's mouth. It's one of the
"No, that was a serious question. You're not as easy
to read when you don't have your hands --"
Bruce is not-looking at Dick so strenuously that Tim
almost *does* expect him to look up, but...
Dick tenses up even *more*. "He lives *that* far
Yeah, maybe not. Tim double-checks to make sure the
lenses on his *own* mask are up, then rolls his eyes.
Bruce narrows *his* eyes at him enough that the cowl
is glaring at him.
Tim grins. "So *make* me be honest."
Tim grins and starts backing toward the stairs. Also
"Aaand we're here. *How* sure are you that this is
going to go smoothly, Bruce?"
That was *his* Dick. Dammit.
On the other side of the monitor, his Dick holds up
Tim raises an eyebrow. "I'm reasonably sure it's
supposed to be a canary."
Dick snorts behind his hand. "Okay, yeah, nice
"Glad you approve... Nightwing. Are we ready?"
The other Tim comes into view, checking his belt. It's
new. Trust Bruce to make sure the cross-pollination is
well and truly thorough. Tim resists the urge to snort
The other Tim winks from behind his mask. "Yep. So
what's the plan?"
The Bruce on this side clears his throat -- *his* Bruce is
still offscreen. "I'm still not sure that the two of you
sharing relative physical and true temporal space is
entirely irrelevant. However, *this* machine doesn't
seem to discriminate based on redundancies."
"In *English*, that translates to 'anytime you're
Tim lets his mouth twist. It seems like the thing to do.
"Somehow I guessed."
And it... doesn't feel like anything at all, until it's
over, and the...
"Yeah, it *did* feel like this before," the other Tim
says... from the other side.
He isn't surprised that they'd moved at the same time.
He would *rather* be, but...
"Like maybe..." The other Tim looks back at him over his
shoulder and grins. "Something's *wrong*."
A statement of fact, an honest attempt to, perhaps,
*bond* with him, and a calculated reminder of what
he doubtless feels is their mutual agenda.
The other Dick slips past Tim's... alternate. "See you
Neither of them are wrong, entirely.
"Everything is secure on this end," his Dick says.
"And on this one. Batman --"
The other Dick's hand covers Bruce's own. "Why don't
we keep this channel open? Just in case."
Dick pauses with his own hand over the console, then
nods. "All right. We can do that. But there's no reason
for a *complete* lack of privacy, so... Nightwing
behind-the-curtain," he says, and throws one of
Bruce's extra capes over the monitor.
"You've got to be kidding me." Tim doesn't actually
need to see the other Dick's expression. At this point,
he can feel it.
"I'll buy some drapes later, guy. Out."
It probably shouldn't be this compelling to watch the
two of them interact. Or, well... to watch and listen.
Still, his Dick has a point, of sorts. "I need to call
home." And to shower.
Bruce scuffs his boot on the floor and steps out of
the shadows. "Upstairs?"
Tim pauses with his hand on his collar and starts to
raise an eyebrow. And stops, because... because
he's going to want --
"There are clothes. In your size. Unless you wanted
a spare uniform."
-- a change of clothes. He nods.
He isn't entirely sure when Dick got that close. "Yes?"
"Were you planning to head straight home?"
"It would probably be best --"
"No, really, that's still weird to me. *Home*?"
Tim glares at the covered monitor. "Best for me to
talk to my parents in person as quickly as possible."
Dick nods at him. "Then... when you can."
He can feel both of them watching him go.
He can't really drag this out anymore. He can *feel* both
of them looking at him, and... yeah. It's a lot less
comfortable being the center of their attention when he
hasn't really *tried* for it.
Feels a little too much like all those times when he'd
fucked up in front of one or both of them.
Tim turns away from the monitor and looks at them
both for about as long as he can manage without
wanting to... No.
He's not playing it like this. "I need a shower." He
gives Bruce another look. "And I know where my
Dick bows to him and gestures toward the stairs.
Bruce... Bruce *looks* like he wants to say something,
or maybe like he already is -- just somewhere
behind his eyes.
Except for how he'd stopped hoping that would really
mean anything a long time ago.
Maybe he and the other Tim can wind up, like, adjusting
the hot water at the same time and flip themselves back
"It's you? Tim, is it *really* you?"
Tim pauses with his tunic half-undone and winces. "Dad.
The other Tim... you *met* the other Tim?"
"He... introduced himself. Tim... I. I don't understand
any of this..."
God. Tim closes his eyes. "Dad, no one does. Not
really. There are theoretical physicists who become
queasy when they try to think too deeply about
these things. There are *sorcerers* who do."
"All of whom you're intimately familiar with, because
you've spent the past three years --"
His father sighs. "When are you coming home? I...
I told your guidance counselor you were ill, and..."
"That was for the best, I think. I... there are some
things I still need to do here."
"No." That, at least, is an answer he can give clearly.
Why didn't you tell me I was adopted? Is that why
neither you nor mom... "Not with Batman."
He listens to his father breathing on the other end of
the phone line. If he listens more carefully, he could,
perhaps, hear the small clicks and whirrs of all the
machinery Bruce and Barbara have installed to make
even this line secure.
"I... think I can be home for dinner."
"That would be... I had to tell Dana."
Oh, hell. "How is she doing?"
His father's laugh is exhausted and more than a little
shaky. "For what it's worth, I'm not sure which of us
she's more angry with, son."
"Well, that's... fair."
"Are you all right?"
Tim's almost positive there was a point in his life
when a question like that *wouldn't* be intensely
difficult to answer honestly. "I'm not injured, Dad.
The other universe..." Is less dangerous. Safer for
the two of you than this one. "I'm all right."
His father sighs again. "Small favors, eh?"
Tim lets himself smile, a little. "Something like that.
I... see you later, Dad."
"All right, son."
Same soap, same shampoo, same shower. There's
nothing different. He wasn't in the other world for
long enough that this *should* feel strange... even
if the other world *had* had any major differences.
All Alfred had done was hand him a bag with the
other Tim's supplies from the Cave.
It's weird because it isn't.
Because there's nothing waiting for him *outside*
the bathroom but...
Specifically, Bruce sitting on his bed, surrounded by
his clothes. His new uniform is... behind Bruce. Bruce
is holding one of the hoodies he'd planned on --
"You're packing. Already."
"Uh, drying off, actually," he says, and scrubs at his
hair. "But in a few minutes, yeah. Why?" He knows
why. He... really, seriously knows why. But...
Bruce frowns at the hoodie and... actually crumples
it a little in his fist. Like maybe if Tim reached for it
now, he'd have to make a serious *effort* to get
Bruce to let go.
"Was this... was this all you'd planned on taking?"
There's something bizarrely, *frighteningly* hopeful
in Bruce's voice.
Tim shrugs and dries his back. Carefully -- there are
a *lot* of bruises. "I don't need much. And Alfred --
their Alfred -- already bought some clothes for me."
Bruce's fists are tight enough on his hoodie that his
knuckles show white.
"I actually *like* that one, Bruce --"
"How long. Do you intend to be gone?"
He's not playing with Bruce. Or even playing *at*
him, not really. It shouldn't feel like he is. It
shouldn't... Tim crosses to the bed and grabs the
hoodie. Bruce... lets go immediately. Tim feels
himself frowning. "Bruce --"
"Tell me. Please." Bruce still isn't looking at *him*.
"I..." Tim goes back to his closet and drags a t-shirt
(red) out at random and pulls the hoodie on over
it. "Look, Bruce, you *built* that thing. It's not like
you can't *get* me whenever you need me."
Tim catches himself glaring at his underwear drawer
(all Alfreds everywhere agree -- it should be the
fourth one down) and stops. “Bruce. Even if the
other Tim *doesn't* decide to come back here as
soon as he can swing it, one, there doesn't seem to
be a problem with two of the same people existing
in the same universe at once --"
"We haven't tried with the two of you, Tim --"
"Two, it's *not* like they *couldn't* use two trained
Robins over there."
"You'll forgive me for not especially wanting to send
you back to the universe where *two* trained Robins
have already been brutally murdered."
The girl, right. His girlfriend-who-wasn't. Tim drags on
his jockeys and pastes a grin on his face before looking
back over his shoulder at Bruce. Who *still* isn't
looking at him. "But not *this* one."
"It's an unacceptable risk."
"Jesus, Bruce. Do you think you could *stop* pretending
you don't want me to go back there because it's more
*That* makes Bruce look up. "Will you stop pretending
your reasons for *wanting* to return have to do with
the good you can do?"
Tim sucks a breath in through his teeth. "Okay, fine.
We'll do this -- *one* more time. You don't want me.
*He* does. You? Don't get to *tell* me who I can
and can't fuck -- and *don't* give me shit about my
language right now, because --"
"I never meant to... limit you. You know I've never
tried to... get in your way."
Until *now*, and... "Yeah, Bruce, I *know*. Even
when I *wanted* you to, you didn't."
"I trusted -- I *trust* your judgment. I knew... I knew
you'd grow tired of... the inappropriate ones."
"*Bruce* --" Tim bites off the snarl which wants to
come out. He has a choice. He can ball his fists and
look like he can't control himself or he can cross his
arms over his chest and... look like he can't control
himself. He paces instead. "Just tell me what you
want from me. For once, just *say* it."
"You don't believe I want your happiness."
Pacing was the right choice. He's far enough away
that it would be pointless *and* useless to throw a
punch. "You know how to *make* me happy."
"No, Tim. I know what you... want."
"You were going to qualify that even more, weren't
you? What I *think* I want, right? Are you seriously
*still* second-guessing me? On *this*?"
Bruce closes his eyes.
"Yeah, okay, whatever, Bruce." He digs through the
or. Jesus. That *other* Tim -- for a suitcase and
heads back to the bed.
Bruce isn't actually in the way. Tim just *wants* him
There's no point.
He doesn't stop shoving things in the suitcase.
"You... I understand why you believe I don't want
you... in that way."
He... he stops. "*What*? What the fuck did you
just say to me?"
"Is it..." Bruce exhales, slowly. "Is it so intolerable that
I wanted more from this -- from *you* -- than only
Tim stares and forces himself to keep staring, at least
until he can start *looking*. Because his Bruce has
never been as stone-faced, as... *potentially*
frustrating as the Bruce in the other universe, and
he isn't now.
It's just that the last time Tim had felt like this, he'd
had a few *obvious* targets to hit.
He scrubs a hand back through his hair. Gel needed,
stat. "What are you saying, Bruce? Really."
Bruce's eyes are open again, but he's only looking at
his own hands. "You allowed me to feign obliviousness
for quite some time. And then you allowed my refusals
to stand. I... I always thought you'd come to
"Understand *what*? My father is *dead*, Bruce, and
my friends are my *own* age." For the most part. And
for certain definitions of 'friends.' And -- no. Just, no.
"You're a good partner, and you've given me... you
gave me everything, Bruce, okay? I *get* that --"
"I won't treat you like... like some..."
"Rentboy?" It's obvious -- *really* obvious -- that all
of this is pretty much the exact opposite of amusing
to Bruce, but... that doesn't mean it's not *funny*.
"You thought I was serious, didn't you?"
Bruce looks kind of bleakly confused, but at least
he's looking at *him* again.
"Crawling in your bed..." Or back onto his own, as
the case may be. "Talking about how *grateful* I
was, how *eager* I was to make it *up* to you..."
Bruce catches Tim's hands before he can get them
into his hair. Again. "Don't."
"You *totally* thought I was serious. Christ, Bruce, I
wouldn't *let* you treat me like that. Not seriously,
anyway. For a game..."
He twists his wrists until Bruce lets go. "I joke all
the *time* --"
"You *pretend* to joke all the time," Bruce says, and
his eyes are steady and just a little hard. "Especially
when you're serious."
"I..." He's not wrong. But for *this*... "You could've
asked. I would have --"
"Tim. Tell me... tell me that it's not what you want
from me. That... that it wouldn't be like *that*."
Which... isn't entirely possible. Tim smiles at Bruce,
and lets everything into it that he can. It feels
different on his face, and maybe just a little new.
"And if I kind of like the idea of you owning me,
And Bruce looks just as hurt as he... as he
*should*. Because it's Bruce, and he isn't... he's
"Let me go."
The noise Bruce makes is actually a little too quiet
And then the suitcase is digging into his back and
one of his hoodies is doing a reasonably good job
of suffocating him, because -- "I said 'no.'"
"Bruce -- *ow* --"
Teeth on his lip and hands -- *one* hand -- around
his wrists and... weight. Bruce.
On him. Hmm. "Bruce?"
Tim winces as he raises his arms. He hadn't, actually,
slacked on his stretches while he was in the other
universe -- he'd learned that lesson before he'd even
gone to *Paris* -- it's just that he hadn't really given
adequate attention to all the muscle groups he'd
wound up using.
It's a thought he doesn't really feel comfortable
having -- an *amusement* he doesn't feel comfortable
wallowing in -- here.
In the other universe, making himself aroused in any
one of the manor's showers would've been
inappropriate (and, perhaps, a little dangerous).
Here... it's more than a little obscene.
He reaches for the cold water control and hits...
Showering in the manor -- in this universe -- really
was supposed to be one of the activities he could
reasonably do with his eyes closed. At least he's
not *especially* hard anymore.
"Really not. And... no, I'm not asking."
He's going to start breathing again reasonably...
there. "Dick --"
"Mm-hmm. Right here."
Very *much* here, and naked from the waist
*down*, and... pulling off his shirt. "Dick...?"
Dick's shirt musses his hair as it comes off, and then
he steps closer. The spray on this shower is wide
enough... Dick grins at him.
Tim takes a step back... into a corner. "Um."
"Hey," Dick says, and plants a hand next to Tim's
right ear. "Welcome home."
He can do better than that. He can -- he's had *years*
to learn how to do better than that, including while
in showers together. Granted, that was always the
*Cave* shower, as opposed to one barely forty feet
away from a *bed*, but --
"Dick, what are you --"
Doing, he was going to say, but Dick has two fingers
on his mouth. *Pressed* to his mouth.
No, dragging over his lips. His cheek, and then
behind his ear and -- "Ah --"
"Sorry. Forgot about *that* bruise."
He knows, from experience, that if he allows himself
to think about how much he's flushing, he'll just
flush *more*. Of course, the alternative is focusing
on Dick. On...
"Light touch okay...?"
"Why don't I take that as a 'yes?'" And Dick grins
a little wider.
And it's... it's *his* Dick. Never mind the shorter
hair -- the scars are all exactly where they should
be. The laugh lines are back where they belong.
"Dick, what --"
"All these bruises on you," he says, stroking the
side of Tim's throat. "Either he's got an oral fixation or
this is what makes you noisy. Which?"
Both. "Do you really want to get into the... technical
And the smile on Dick's face doesn't fade, but it
does... *change*. It's harder, and it's...
It's not cruel so much as it's very *direct*. At him,
into him... "Dick --"
"I want to know what you *like*."
Dick's fingers dig in to the back of his neck and he
presses his thumb beneath Tim's chin, tilting it
up. And leans in. "Other than *me*," Dick breathes
against his mouth. "Right, little brother?"
"You don't --" Heat against his thigh. The only
reason he doesn't look down is because he *can't*.
"I don't what?"
It's hard to breathe. "This isn't... Dick, this isn't
what we *do*."
"Hmm." It's not a kiss. It's a slow -- *wet* --
He can't keep from gasping. "Dick --"
"You're right. We *haven't* done this. I wonder
why that is...?"
The words are, actually, right there. You don't
want me. You *never* wanted this from me. He
can't say them, and that only has a little to do with
the fact that Dick is close enough --
Closer, now. Hard against him. "I wonder why
*he* gets to have you and I... didn't."
The spray from the shower is blocked by Dick's
body, but Tim isn't cold. He doesn't think it's possible
to be cold, like this, with Dick dragging his mouth
over Tim's other cheek and breathing hot and damp
into his ear.
"I *do* wonder, Tim. Because I can *feel* you --"
Tim squeezes his eyes shut.
"You want me."
"I -- yes."
"Tim..." It's a rough-voiced moan, and Dick grinds
against him hard enough that Tim's ass is shoved back
against the tile. "Tell me. What does he have that I
"About eight inches... of hair."
Dick snorts against his ear, ticklish and sudden, and
then starts laughing outright. It's just a quiet
chuckle, but Tim can feel himself settling down a
little. Relaxing, because...
Because Dick is laughing, and that means --
That means it just takes Dick a little *longer* to kiss
him hard, to tease at Tim's tongue with his own
until he can suck it into his own mouth and --
He doesn't stop until Tim is moaning.
"I can grow my hair out again, little brother."
"Please, Dick --"
"You were gone for barely more than three days,
Tim. You've known me for three *years* without...
without even *hinting*..."
Dick's grip on the back of his neck is actually a
little too hard. He can't bring himself to say that
"What did he say to make you... what did he
It's better that he can't see Dick's face. His voice is
enough to make Tim shiver. But it's still an honest
question, and... he's never been able to ignore
Dick. "He needed me."
The breath Dick takes is sharp enough to make
Tim tense. When had he *relaxed*? "And I *don't*?
He squeezes his eyes shut a little harder. "Not like
this. Not... Dick, I -- *oh* --"
It isn't the hand on his dick. It's the fact that Dick
is holding them *together*.
Squeezing. "I --"
"I want -- I *need* -- everything from you I can
"Oh God --"
"So just..." Dick squeezes *hard*. "Tell me when
it's too much."
"Tell me..." Dick licks his ear, slow and wet. "Tell
me when you can't give anymore."
"Yes -- I -- yes, Dick --"
"Or..." Dick smiles against his cheek. "Just keep
Tim isn't sure when his suitcase had fallen off the
bed, but it's on the floor *now*. His clothes are
scattered pretty impressively.
Bruce cups his hips, digging in with his thumbs and
dragging Tim further onto the bed.
He can't see his suitcase anymore.
"Tim," Bruce says, and it's almost more of a breath
than anything else. And it's *there*, so it makes
him flex and jerk. "Hmm."
He really doesn't care about his suitcase.
The bed smells like him, which means that Alfred
hadn’t had a chance to change the sheets from when
the other Tim had been sleeping here.
Which, in turn, means that if he were to breathe
deeply and concentrate, he'd almost certainly be
able to smell Bruce.
"God, Tim --"
He's not smelling the *sheets* anymore than he
"Oh, your *mouth*..."
Bruce is stroking his back. Long, even touches with
the palm of his hand and lots of pressure on every
single one of Tim's bruises -- new and otherwise.
It's really soothing *and* kind of painful.
Tim smiles and stretches, and listens to Bruce hum
low in his chest, like maybe *he's* the happy
housepet in this bed.
"You know, Bruce, the *other* Bruce was giving
me my own chunk of the city to patrol."
Bruce pauses with his hand between Tim's
"And a motorcycle."
"You're too sore for that."
Tim frowns and shifts a little and... "Really *not*."
"You will be."
Even with the curtains closed, it's abundantly clear
that it's nearly sunset, and...
It's full dark by the time he gets out of the bed.
And it's basically night by the time he's showered --
again -- and dressed.
"When do you think you can get out again?"
It's less asked than whispered against the back of
his neck. The back... damn. Tim strips down again
and throws a turtleneck on under his overshirt.
"I'd apologize, but that's only about half my fault."
Dick is... helping him button his shirt.
Sort of helping. "Dick, I *do* have --"
"Yep, I know, just being needy. It works so *well*."
Tim looks at Dick.
Dick... winks at him.
"I... I'm not sure how much time I'm going to need
for this, Dick. My father told my stepmother about
me being Robin."
"Ooh. Hm." Dick chews a little on the second knuckle
of his right index finger.
Tim nods. "Yes. So you see my --"
"I guess I should just hang out on your roof until
Dick grins. "Kidding."
Yes. Yes, of course. He'll just start breathing again
now, and --
He's surprised that it takes two days to get to the
Cave's new addition again, but not really shocked.
He's not surprised at *all* that the other Tim is
about an hour late, and has developed a growth
on his back which bears a strong resemblance to
Tim spins in his chair -- normally he'd take Bruce's,
just on general principle, but his own is more
comfortable -- and waits for the other Tim to shoo
"We're about as alone as we're going to get, on
Tim can feel his Bruce hovering in the shadows
The other Tim shifts beneath that massive cape of
his and Tim grins.
"You're bruised as hell under there, aren't you?"
The other Tim frowns, but it's only partly at him.
"The oral fixation appears to be genetic." And then
he *does* focus on him. "Though I suppose a
case could be made for it being learned behavior."
Tim smirks and throws his feet up on the new
console -- carefully. "The lessons of childhood *are*
"Oh... stop. Really. Make him stop."
The other Tim raises his eyebrow and turns just
*slightly* around, glancing offscreen. "I could say
something about keyholes now, Dick."
The other Dick's sigh seems... way more disembodied
than it should be. Or maybe less. No-relative-distance
vid-calls are complicated. And he really needs some
time on the bars, so... "Freaky other Tim..."
"Yes, Completely Normal, No Really Other Tim?"
Heh. "What's the plan?"
And it's not that the other Tim had been smiling
before, it's just that he's very *much* not smiling
now. "I'm... is Dick there?"
He can't say he doesn't get it. "No one lurking in my
shadows but Bruce. Is your Bruce...?"
He didn't know he could make his mouth look that
narrow and *tight*. He'd be tempted to try, but...
"No," the other Tim says, at last.
Again, not really a surprise. It's just the way they
work -- all of them -- apparently no matter the
The other Tim is watching him exactly as closely as
he should be. After a moment, the corner of his
Tim looks down toward the Dial, and the other Tim
follows his glance. He strokes one of the hashes.
The other Tim is doing the same. "There really is only
*one* way --"
"-- to do this," Tim says, and jumps.
He doesn't turn until he can feel the Dial under his
... and has already spun it. Then he scratches off the
cross-mark and shuts the monitor off. Wherever it
shows now... he doesn't need to see. The vaguely
warm and itchy space between his shoulderblades
which *had* been all about the way Dick was
It's just as different now as it should be. "It's
"Tell me why." Bruce is... very close.
Tim turns around and looks up. *His* Bruce had
stopped the looming thing years ago. He raises an
eyebrow. "I'm not entirely sure *why* your Tim
did -- we haven't had much opportunity to talk --
but as for me... some things really do require
more than an interdimensional phone call."
Bruce pushes his cowl back and stares at him with
a distinctly skeptical look on his face. "You came
back to say good-bye?"
"That's it? *Just* that?"
It's possible the other Tim had learned that eyebrow
thing from this world's Dick.
Tim puts on his most innocent expression. It isn't that
he expects it to work, but --
"*Jesus*, that's disturbing."
It's an excellent distraction.
"All right, Bruce, it's true that there are other things I'd
like to do here. The relatively low number of
metahumans, for example --"
"Okay, *fine*, I *like* this universe." Tim shrugs. "I
wanted to visit."
Tim sighs. This Bruce is just as capable of staring him
down as the other. Perhaps more, considering the
fact that this Bruce has yet to find a way to, say,
make him vibrate with rage.
Rage tends to be helpful in situations like this one.
And Bruce is still looking at him.
He sighs again. "Like I said before, Bruce. It's
temporary. We know where to set the Dial and we
both have every intention of going back home."
Bruce is... still staring at him.
Tim lets himself sigh one more time and makes a point
of sitting in the other Tim's chair. Nicely cushioned.
"Tell me about this... Dakota."
Dick narrows his eyes. "Why do you want to know
about the Titans?"
Gratuitous end-note: For the sake of this story, I decided (obviously, I hope), that toon!Tim was just an alternate universe version of comics!Tim. That they were both around sixteen or so, and that the events of the flashback in Return of the Joker hadn't happened in toonverse. (yet, anyway)
I picture toon!Tim looking rather a lot like this, and comics!Tim looking essentially the same -- on cursory examination.
However, in terms of characterization, I think my comics!Tim in this story has a lot more in common with the way Geoff Johns writes him in Teen Titans than he does with any other incarnation.
And then there are all the things which piled on each other, demanding I at least try to write *something*, if not this. In no particular order:
1) The fate of all even-numbered Robins nearly everywhere.
2) The ubiquity of second and third generation heroes in toonverse, vs. the absence of first and fourth (and beyond).
3) Man, that portal in the Lorderverse is still THERE. How *often* are these universe-bending McGuffins allowed to work perfectly? How often are they allowed to continue to exist? Here's a hint: NOT FREAKING VERY. That invention was, by all appearances, a perfectly functional portal to whatever other universe you could name.
4)Additionally... well. Timmies get around, you know? Less so in toonverse
to be sure, but... yeah. Round round get around they get around. And so on.