Beneficial to the Public
by Te
April 26, 2004

Disclaimers: Not even close to mine.

Spoilers: Major ones for "A Better World." Minor ones
for other episodes, and vague acknowledgment of the
older cartoons, too.

Summary: Tim loves his family. This doesn't actually
help anything.

Ratings Note/Warnings. R. Content some readers
may find disturbing.

Author's Note: I'm not sure who came up with the
original idea, but Jack has been pretty damned
instrumental in keeping it alive. Jack also made
a freaking *manip* -- linked at the end -- and I'm
very, very bad at resisting that sort of thing.

Acknowledgments: To Jack and L.C. for
audiencing and encouragement. Jack *also*
pointed me to the title. Heh.


Being Robin has meant catching up on a lot of
things, and catching up *fast*. Tim's pretty sure it
wasn't the same for Dick, but, well, Dick
*created* Robin. He's not so much the
replacement as the sequel, and everyone knows
that sequels pretty much universally suck unless a
lot of time and effort is put into things.

And he has.

And it's not like he *minded*, either. A lot of
the things he's had to catch up on are pretty
damned sweet, frankly. Like how to have a
family -- a *real* one. Not like the kind on
television and *not* like the -- he knows this
now -- freaking pathetic excuse for one his Dad
had tried and just completely failed to give

He loved his father -- he always will -- but this...

This is a place where people only disappear on you
if they're doing good things, important things like
saving the world and making sure no one's father
winds up dead. This is a place where, if he's
hungry, there's food he doesn't even have to
*cook* all the time -- and never mind stealing.

This is a place where no one looks at him like
they've forgotten that he's a kid who needs and
wants stuff. Where no one looks surprised or
pissed off if he outgrows his shoes.

And, okay, sure, things are a little rough these
days, and he knows he's coping about as well
with that case that's in the Cave now, with that
case that's the only thing any of them have left
of Babs but freaking *memories* -- He knows
he's not really coping any better than Dick.

And he *knows* that Bruce doing his thing with
the other Lords and basically never even coming
*home* these days for more than a fresh suit is
*his* way of completely not coping, but... well.
That's family, too.

No one is *supposed* to be able to cope when
people... when they die.

It's going to get better. That's the way it works.
Bad things happen, and then more bad things,
and everyone freaks out and wanders around
looking like how the people in war zones they
show on the news, and then it gets *better*.

Even if you have to *make* it better yourself.

He watches Dick flip and turn and twist like
something both boneless and suicidal on the
uneven bars and wishes Alfred was still around.
His own cocoa is pretty good, but... he shakes
it off. People die.

People die *everywhere* -- even if they're one
of the Lords and an honest-to-God
*superhero* -- and you just don't...

He frowns to himself, and reflexively braces
himself for a comment from Dick about brooding
that really just completely fails to come. The
thing about being part of a family, a *real* one,
is that there's always someone who has to at
least pretend they can cope, for the bad times.

It's scary that it's his turn, but it's okay, too.


Dick doesn't say anything, but he pauses
mid-spin. For a moment, anyway. The cocoa's
going to get cold. If he says that, he'll just
remind Dick of Alfred, which probably wouldn't
be the best thing he could do right now. At
least Alfred had just been old and sick the
way normal, every day old people get, though.
That has to be something.

Tim deliberately stands too close to the bars,
and braces himself not to flinch when the next
turn brings Dick's feet within a few inches of
breaking his jaw.

"Move, kid," Dick says, and moves up into a
handstand. And stays there, even though his
arms are shaking with fatigue.


He can't see Dick's face -- he's long since lost
the tie for his ponytail, and now his hair is a
tangled, sweaty mess over his face -- so he
just watches Dick's forearms tremble.

"Come down, Dick."

"I'm *training*. Remember that? When's the
last time --"

"Yesterday. When you slept long enough for me
to be able to get *to* the equipment, asshole."

Dick just keeps holding the stand. His forearms
are a little dark with blood, and his knuckles are
white. Tim hurts in sympathy, and tries not to
let too much of it into his voice.

"Besides, you're not training. You're just
punishing yourself like you think it'll do any

And *that* makes Dick look at him, and his
eyes are dull and bloodshot and almost alien.

Tim takes a breath and doesn't flinch. "Come
down, Dick."

Dick keeps glaring at him for a while, for long
enough that Tim wonders if he *is* going to
swing and aim *for* him with his feet this time,
but after a minute Dick's face...

It's like watching a cave-in or something. Like
watching the ground just collapse in on itself to
crush everything inside, except that it's Dick's
face, so the only broken things are where Tim
can't do anything about them. "Dick --"

Dick's dismount is the kind of thing that breaks
normal people's legs. Normal *athletes'* legs.
But it just makes Dick stumble, and keep
stumbling until he's close enough that Tim can
feel the heat pouring off him and smell all the
sweat. "I'm down."

"I noticed," Tim says, and shoves the lukewarm
cocoa at Dick.

Dick smirks and reaches for it, but his hand is
shaking so much that he drops the mug. It hits
the mats, so it doesn't break, but now there's
cocoa everywhere, and Alfred is going to be...

Tim bites his lip and looks away from the mess.
"It was cold anyway," he tries.

"Tim --"

"You can't... you can't do this, Dick. You can't
be like this."

Dick hugs himself with his shaking arms and
stares at the cocoa on the floor. "You've been
trying to change me for a while now, kid. You
ought to know by now that it doesn't work."

"Yeah, well. It's my *job* to keep trying." And
it comes out way too seriously, but it makes
Dick *look* at him again, at least. Even though
it's more like a blank, exhausted stare than
anything like... anything.

Dick reaches out to ruffle his hair, and it's the
creepiest and saddest thing he's ever seen,
because his face doesn't change. "You're
good at it," Dick says, and he takes his hand
out of Tim's hair and puts it on his shoulder,

And leaves it there, so... well, one of the
things about having a family is that you get
to *know* them, better than they know
themselves, sometimes. And a hand on his
shoulder is as good as an invitation, so Tim
takes a step forward and hugs Dick. He feels
almost feverish, and his shirt is *wet* with
sweat and he's still shuddering a little from
all the damned 'training.'

The Bruce-trained part of his mind wants him
to think about getting some fluids into Dick,
but it's more important to just hold on right
now. Especially when Dick finally hugs him

"I miss her, Tim," Dick says into his hair, and
his voice is low and rough.

"I know."

"We... she..." Dick trails off, and shakes more,
and that's pretty much the only warning Tim gets
before Dick's knees buckle.

It's all the warning he needs, anyway, and Tim
helps lower them to the mats. The cocoa soaks
through the knees of his jeans pretty quickly,
and Dick is holding on tight enough that it's a
little hard to breathe, but he can deal.

"It isn't... it isn't supposed to be like this."

Yes it is, Tim doesn't say, and just keeps holding
on. "It'll get better," he tries, instead, and Dick
snorts and Tim can feel him crying. He can't
actually hold on to Dick any harder than he
already is without getting uncomfortable too
quickly, so he pushes his face against Dick's

"I don't. Christ, Tim what are we doing? What
are we fucking *playing* at here?"

And for a moment, it makes him angry. Dick
should *know*. They're here because they can
be, and because someone *has* to be, and if
Babs was there... he bites his lip.

Eventually, Dick lets go and wipes at his face
with his hands. Tim looks at the floor and
thinks about where the all the rags and stuff are.
He'll have to clean up before the stains get too

"Thank you," Dick says. "And I'm sorry."

"It's okay." He tries a smile.

Dick snorts again and, this time the hair-ruffle
is almost right. "No, it's really not, but... well.
*You* are."

The smile feels better on his face. Family.

He watches Dick sit back, watches him frown at
the cocoa on his bare knees and wipe idly at it.
Tim can't decide if it's better or worse that he's
in jeans. At least Dick doesn't have laundry
nightmares ahead of him. "You know, Tim... I'm
serious. About this." Dick gestures vaguely at
the Cave.

"How do you mean?"

Dick looks hard at him. "None of this is a game.
It never was, but... I guess I just didn't really
think about that before. Not seriously enough,

Tim can feel his heart thudding in his throat,
or... it's hard to swallow. "You're not thinking
about *quitting*, are you?"

Dick looks at the floor again. "Maybe I am."

"Dick, you --" Can't, is what he was going to
say, but Dick holding up a hand to stop him --
from doing anything -- works nearly as well
as when Bruce does it.

"I'm thinking about it, all right. And maybe...
maybe we *all* should."

"Because Barbara died?"

Dick looks at him like he's insane. "*Yes*,
Tim, because --"

"People die all the *time*, Dick. Cops and
fire-fighters and --"

"It's part of their *job*!"

Tim tries to sound as reasonable, as *adult*
as he can. "It's part of ours, *too*, --"

"*No*. It isn't. It..." Dick frowns and stands and
starts to pace, just as gracefully as if he was
someone who actually slept and ate like a
normal person instead of just trying to burn
himself down to nothing. "Look, I shouldn't be
putting all of this on you --"

"Don't you *dare* treat me like -- like some
fucking *kid*, Dick."

And Dick stops. And looks at him, and it's... it's
the *right* look, sort of, because it's the one
they use with him when he's wearing the suit
*and* saying or doing something exactly right,
but it's also really sad in a way that doesn't
feel like it has anything to do with Barbara.

It makes him want to be wary, and that just
makes him feel kind of sick.

Dick reaches out for him again, but this time
he doesn't touch. His hand just kind of hangs
there for a second, just a little bit out of reach.
Tim isn't sure whether he should try to take it
or not, and before he can make a decision
Dick scrubs it back through his hair. "Okay.
Okay. You're right. I shouldn't treat you like
a kid. You... you're a soldier in this stupid,
undeclared war just like... us."

Tim nods slowly and watches Dick start to pace

"So... think about it, Tim. Think about what
being a soldier has *gotten* us."

*Family*. And a lot of other things, too, and
Dick should know that as well as *he* does.
Tim crosses his arms over his chest. "I *am*,"
he says, and tries to catch Dick's eye again.

"This..." Dick gestures at the Cave again, taking
in all the souvenirs, all the *proof* of
everything they've all done and somehow
making it look small and ridiculous. "We've
been doing this all *wrong*."

He can breathe again. He can *answer* that. "I
know that, Dick. They -- the Lords -- they *all*
know that now. That's what they're doing -- what
*Bruce* is doing. We're going to be doing
things in a new way now, and we'll be...
*everyone* will be safer." Bruce had told him
all about it on the way back home from the
Flash's funeral. And Tim has known for a long,
long time that using the words 'Bruce said' is
one the absolute best ways to get Dick to do
anything *but* listen to you, so he doesn't.

He waits, and watches, and thinks about saying
something along the lines of how Dick would've
heard it all, too, if he hadn't been being such
a brooding little *freak*, but, well, timing.

Dick moves to the penny and strokes it with
one hand before wrapping both arms around
himself again. "Dick..."

"A new way, hunh?" Dick's voice is flat and

"*Yes*. Listen, Dick --"

"I think that's what scares me more than
anything else, Tim."

"We --" Tim blinks. "What?"

Dick sighs and turns, leaning back against the
penny and folding his arms into a more neutral
position before -- finally -- looking at him
again. "Think about it, Boy Wonder. All of
them, the Justice Lords, up in their Tower
planning the future of the world."

Tim frowns. "I don't think that's what they're

"No?" Dick's smile is humorless. "Maybe I'm
being cynical. You talked to Bruce. *I* talked
to Superman."


"And..." Dick sighs again, and the look in his eyes
is... really bleak.

"Dick --"

"I just... I've never seen him angrier, Tim. Not
even after that thing with Darkseid -- the *first*
thing, and it was a little before your time, but --"

"When he did the mind-control thing?"

Dick blinks and looks at him.

"It's the *Lords*, Dick. Like I'm not gonna do
the reading?"

Dick grins at him. "Okay, point. So you *know*
how bad that was. And he still wasn't..." Dick
shakes his head. "I don't think he *believes*

Tim swallows bile. "Someone could say the
same thing about *you* right now, Dick."

Dick just keeps smiling. "Kid, the only thing I
don't believe in right now is *myself*. And
maybe... it doesn't matter. All I'm saying is
this: I don't think *any* of the Lords are in
the best shape to be making *any* plans
right now, world-changing or not."

And... okay, so he doesn't think the Lords are
anyone's family. They have Bruce to contend
with, and Bruce is hard enough for *him* to
deal with, sometimes, and he's not even a
big, suspicious metahuman. But... but. Maybe
they should be. "That's what *we're* here
for, Dick. All of us who aren't in the League
but are in this war." And it *isn't* stupid,

Dick just looks at him.

"We have to --"

"I have to go home. I have to go home, and
shower, and get out of these clothes -- and
thanks for not pointing out how much I reek,
by the way -- and... I have to think."

"Dick --"

"Don't push, Tim." There's nothing left of the
smile. "Not... not right now."

Tim bites the inside of his cheek hard and

And watches Dick leave. He supposes it's a
victory that he puts his helmet on before
taking off on the bike, but if he spills his legs
will be hamburger.

Tim misses Alfred... really a lot. He could've...
he should've given lessons, is all. The way Bruce
and Dick and... and Barbara had given lessons.
How to deal with family members when they go

And he guesses he shouldn't be surprised.
Barbara used to tell stories about how Dick had
been the kind of kid who smiled more often than
not, and always told jokes, and was just
*happy*, and it's not like Tim *couldn't* see
it -- it was always waiting just below the surface
whenever it was just the two of them, or the
three of them, and Bruce was nowhere around.
It's just that the *surface* has always been
about being angry, about Dick always being just
one incautious word from storming off.


And he's learned to trust Dick to come back, and
to *be* there when you really needed him,

Maybe he shouldn't, so much. Maybe one day
he's going to pull out of here on the bike and
never pull back *in* again.

Maybe this was the day.

He was never the one who could reach Dick,
who could make him see why there were good
parts to being one of them. He thinks, sometimes,
that Dick looks at the suit -- *his* suit and just
sees all the way it was like the one Dick had
worn in the Robin years. All the ways the
sequel was trying to be the replacement, even
though Tim would never even...

He needs to stop biting his cheek before he
bleeds anymore. He needs to... clean up the
Cave a little. At least get the cocoa. Working
will help the Cave feel less empty, and then
he can do his own training, and then eventually
Bruce will come back and they'll...

He isn't sure what they'll do. Not really.

But *Bruce* hasn't given up, and Bruce never
will. Sometimes families just get smaller, and
part of being an *adult* is knowing how to
deal with that.

Tim licks the blood from his teeth and stares
at the case. If you tilt your head just a little
to the side and squint, you can see past the
glare of the spotlight and all of the carefully
mended bullet holes become really obvious.
He doesn't squint.

He doesn't have to.

"*You* knew this was important," he says, and
touches the front of the case lightly enough
not to leave any marks. "I won't forget."


Bruce has been spending more time in Gotham.
He hasn't really said anything about it, but he
also doesn't have to. He wears his JL
communicator in his right ear, and the Bat-
communicator in the left. It isn't that the Lords
don't need him, or that he doesn't feel like
dealing with them -- though he probably
doesn't -- it's *him*.

It's Gotham, and the fact there's no Batgirl to
spell them anymore, and the fact that Nightwing
spends less time here than he has since before
he came *back*, and... him.

It's a lump in his throat that makes it hard to
breathe, because the *last* thing Tim wants to
be is a *burden*.

But, well. The world *is* changing, and Dick
had never even bothered to call and say 'I told
you so.' He probably knew what kind of
response he'd get. Gotham is... there are a lot
of things that need to be *done*, even beyond
rounding all the usual suspects up for their
one-way -- at fucking *last* -- trip to Arkham.

After their trip through the clinic, anyway.

It's kind of weird. Gotham is a lot safer than it
used to be at night.

And a lot crazier than it ever had been during
the day.

"It won't always be like this, Robin," Bruce says,
and it's not like Tim isn't used to having his
thoughts read off his face, either.

"I know."

The new suit had been a shock, but it looks
much better on a sunlit rooftop than the old one
would have. They're mostly coordinating right
now. Watching, and waiting. The demonstration
in front of City Hall is peaceful so far, but there've
been others.

The police are out in force. Montoya and Bullock are
the street command, but everyone with half a brain
knows that the Commissioner is out here,
somewhere. Doing his own watching and waiting.

Everybody copes with grief in their own way, and
the last time they'd met with Gordon all he'd had
to say was "it's about time."

Tim thinks it might have been different if it wasn't
his daughter, or if she hadn't died, but, really...
he didn't need Bruce telling him how much they
needed Gordon. How much of a *difference* he
could -- and will -- make. Whatever Gordon's
reasons, he's there for them, and they're going
to use him.

They're going to make this work, and *no* one
is going to stand in their way.

The Dick in his head wants to know what he's
doing looking at a bunch of civilians like threats,
but that really isn't fair. Whether or not Dick
would *say* something like that, he has to
know as well as any of them that the number
of real, honest-to-God non-combatants in the
world is much lower than anyone thinks.

He could be in school right now.

If he looks about thirty-seven degrees right
and about a dozen or so people-lengths into
the crowd, he could see a knot of his classmates.
And it's just... it could've been scary, and maybe
it even should be that so many people are out
here screaming for someone to do something
about the Lords.

As if anyone could.

Maybe it *should* mean more than it does to
him, but...

If he looks about *eighty* degrees to his right
and zooms in, he can see a family watching from
their window. A mother, a father, and two cute
little kids who might wind up orphans someday
because of a mugger, or because of some
supervillain with more weapons than sense, or
something else.

Dick was right. They *had* been doing this all

They'd been thinking too small.

He can feel the sun through his cape, but he's
still enough, inside and out, not to be sweating
too much. Not even when the bottles start
being thrown.

He looks at Bruce, and watches him watching.
Calculating trajectories and probably picking up
something subtle and important about how
things will go from the tone of the crowd noise.

"Not yet," Bruce says, without looking around.

Tim settles into himself and watches things
get uglier. Tear gas, most of which dissipates
before it gets up to where they are, but Bruce
taps his arm, anyway. He puts his mask on and
switches to infrared.

It takes a little getting used to. The jumble of
red bodies is hard to see against the sun-and-
friction heated ground, but he's been training.

After a little while, he can make out the police
from the others, because riot gear generally
registers as cooler right up until someone
finds a way to set it on fire, and anyway, they
move in a far more orderly fashion than
everyone else.

"I'm here," Bruce says, not to him.

Tim makes a point of paying more attention to
the crowd, just in case.

"I have my own riot to deal with right now."

It's a weird feeling, not knowing whether you
want to smirk or be terrified. Things are kind of
crazy all over these days, but, well. Omelets and


He's ready to break a few.

"I said *no*."

Sounds like Bruce is, too.

"Fine. Batman out."

One shared look and they're up and swinging,
cutting through the smoke and then getting
swallowed. People call their names.

People go down, right, left, and center. Tim's
new staves are weighted with a thin, solid bar
of titanium through the center. Other staves
have even neater tricks, but this is the one for
civilians. It doesn't take long. These people are
high on their own self-righteousness.

Most of these people wouldn't know a real fight
if -- there. Heh. It hit them in the face.

They scatter quickly.

"The ringleaders, Batman?"

Commissioner Gordon is the one who answers,
though, fading into view out of the dissipating
smoke and gas. "Most of them down, Robin.
The rest --"

"Need to be found, quickly." Bruce is using his
Bat-voice, and it makes Gordon look at him

He has a cut on his forehead, and his mustache
looks a little ragged. *He* looks... more than a
little ragged. He's lost weight, and he didn't
have much to spare. "You think there's more to
come from these idiots?"

"It won't be bottles next time," Bruce says, and
shoots his grapple.

Tim gives Gordon his patented Robin-can't-explain-
the-inner-workings-of-the-Bat shrug and follows.
The plane meets them, black and ominous
against the bright, afternoon sky. Tim wonders,
idly, when it'll get a new paint job, and buckles in.

"So who are we going after?"

Bruce pauses mid-pre-flight rundown, and stares
down at the console for a moment.


"I think I should take you home."

It makes his heart seize for a moment, and then
it makes it seize again, because... 'think.' And
'should.' He eyes Bruce hard, and watches Bruce
just continuing to stare at the controls like they'll
tell him something more than the encyclopedia
of information required to fly a Batplane.
Something more *important*. He has to think


"You need my help, or I wouldn't be here. I'd be
in *school* right now, but I'm not, so which of
the ringleaders are we going after?"

Bruce bites his lip, and it's just a little thing, but
it's also *Bruce*, which means that Tim wonders
why Bruce can't hear the way Tim's heart is
hammering in his chest. But he can't, and Bruce
*needs* him, so...

He pastes on something like an impatient look.
Are we going to sit here until *tomorrow*
afternoon? Come *on*, Bruce."

"I'm not going after the ringleaders right now.
Not..." Bruce takes a deep, shuddering breath
and finishes the pre-flight before giving Tim a
long, serious look. "I'm going to Washington,

It takes a moment to sink in, but *just* a
moment. He'd been there when Clark -- when
*Superman* had come to the Cave to talk to
Bruce about it.

All of the things they'd have to do before they
could get anything *real* done, and at the
time Tim had thought they were just
pretending that they didn't know Tim was
eavesdropping, because that was the kind of
thing they *did* sometimes, but...

Maybe they weren't.


It's not hard to look impatient at all, anymore.
"Let's roll."

Bruce's mouth pulls into a firm line, and he nods.

It's the kind of thing people will talk about --
quietly -- for the rest of their lives. Where were
you when Superman melted the president to
slag? Tim Drake will say: "I was home sick from
school, watching TV, and I *still* can't believe
it," because that's the sort of thing Tim Drake
would say, if anyone asked him.

*Robin* will say "Right about then, I was in a
semi-controlled fall through a few of the White
House sub-basements, while way too many of
Luthor's exo-suited thugs made things interesting
for me, Hawkgirl, and Lantern."

Assuming he survives.

His communicator is picking up Batman's reports
loud and clear, but he can't seem to make
*himself* heard, and anyway, he has more to do
right now than fiddle with the thing. And it's
painfully -- literally -- obvious that Luthor's new
and improved version of the Secret Service --
and what great fucking initials *there* -- have
yet to get the word about their boss.

His electrified staff is running out of juice, and
not even the d-cel line keeps him from dislocating
his left shoulder when Hawkgirl takes one too
many energy bolts to the helmet and he has to
catch her.

Tim wonders if school would've been so bad,
really, and takes the last ten feet or so to the
ground sliding. His hand is wet -- he's bleeding,
and he's too amped to feel it right *now*,
but --

But nothing. He plants himself in front of
Semi-conscious Girl and hears his shoulder
popping back into place more than he *feels* it,
which is good, because thug+exo-suit equals
enemy too freaking *big* to see around.

But then? He's fought *Clayface*.

He does a fair impression of the whimper he's
sure to be making assuming he lives long
enough for the adrenaline to wear off, and the
guy closes on him just like he should.

Right into the last solid jolt from his staff. The
guy screams so sweetly that Tim almost can't
regret the fact that he's down to a stick made
of the finest, useless space-age polymers and
few batarangs.

And then just the stick, because the batarangs
make a nice, big boom out of what was left of
the ceiling on top of another exo-thug. Which is
when yet another floor drops out beneath him,
and he has no fucking *idea* what he's going to
hook the grapple on, but he shoots it anyway
and... nothing.

He holds on to Hawkgirl and hopes they're
heading for the super-secret White House
sub-basement full of mattresses.

They aren't.

They are, however -- and thankfully -- heading
right down into the secret sub-basement of the
Manhunter, who catches them neatly and flies
them back up to a more stable level. *Extra*
stable, because Tim thinks it could be
pitch-black and they'd still all be able to see
perfectly by the power Lantern's giving off.

He'd never seen the guy in action before, but
he can definitely see why Batman approves.
He wraps some exo-thugs up in a bubble and
looks at them. Looks at *him*.

"I'm pretty sure Hawkgirl's just concussed."

Lantern gives her a worried look and wraps her
in... something. It's green, and it'll probably
protect her from a small nuclear blast.
Manhunter puts her down in a solid-looking
corner. And puts *him* down in front of

"Uh. I don't suppose you could juice me up
with that thing?"

Lantern snorts and shoots Tim's staff full of...
well, something, and then turns to Manhunter.

"There is a small army preparing to move out
into the city three floors below. I have already
sabotaged most of their vehicles, but I thought
it best to gather reinforcements before
attempting anything more... direct."

Tim spins his oddly-glowing staff and moves his
shoulder as subtly as he can.

Lantern *looks* at him. "You up to this, kid?"

Not subtly enough. Still. "I've fought with

Lantern narrows his eyes at him. Manhunter
*glows* at him. He can't decide which is more
disturbing. He looks right back, though. A
childhood with Batman gets you used to
disturbing things.

"Indeed," Manhunter says, and then he's being
encased in a green bubble and flown down
through the great big hole they've pretty much
blasted into the White House. Flown down to
go up against...

Well, the Manhunter had called it a small army,
and the thing is... the word 'army' is probably
the most important one there. As in *United
States* Army.

As in the reason why Batman, Superman, and
Wonder Woman aren't with them right now is
that they've assassinated the *president* and
probably have to do things like figure out
which members of the freaking *Cabinet* need
to die, too. Maybe Wonder Woman is smashing
the Capitol to bits or something.

And, yeah, okay, so it was also *Luthor*, but...

He feels something... odd, and looks up to find
Manhunter giving him another one of those
glowing looks. Reading him. There's a strong
temptation to think something obscene with
a strong side of 'read *this*,' and... Manhunter
smiles. A little.

Heh. Tim guesses he *did*.

Don't worry, he thinks, as clearly and distinctly as
he can. New World Order-lag isn't the same as
punking out.

Manhunter just glows at him a little more before
facing forward, and then they're down, and
moving, as quietly as they can, and... guns, a lot
of them, aimed directly at *them*, but Lantern
has a wall up before anything can so much as
miss them by too little, and there are no
exo-suits down here, and Tim has no freaking
*idea* just what Lantern did to his staff, or how
long it'll last, but he's been dodging bullets
for years.

And these guys don't even know what's
knocking them down.

He could get used to this.

"That would, perhaps, be for the best,"
Manhunter whispers in his head.


By the time Bruce stops... doing whatever he's
doing and joins them, it's all over but the loud,
pained, and often obscene shouting. Hawkgirl
flies him over, and helmet blackened and dented
over one eye.

She sets Bruce down and they move apart so
smoothly that it's... exactly like they've been a
team for a while. Tim smiles ruefully to himself.
He's so not allowed to be jealous of the
*Lords*. Not after all of *this*.

And everything else, too.

Bruce doesn't say anything, just cups his chin
and tilts his face up. And frowns.


Tim switches the staff -- carefully -- to his left
hand and flips the lenses back with his right. Bruce
frowns a little more.

"I dislocated my shoulder. It'll be fine."

The frown's getting downright *epic*.

And then Lantern comes up and claps Bruce on
he shoulder, earning a frown all his own.

"The kid did fine, Batman."

Bruce doesn't say anything. He says it just as loudly
as Lantern doesn't say anything. If it were Dick,
they'd be not-saying-anything about punching
each other soon, but it isn't, and the Lords are...

He's really going to have to figure it out. In the

"So what's next on the agenda, Batman?"

"*Your* agenda involves going home and..." Bruce
frowns again, but it's the I-miss-Alfred frown. Or
the I-miss-Alfred frown he's willing to show in
public, anyway.

Good enough. He pastes on the 'aw, Batman' face.

"You go on," Lantern says. "We can finish things
up here." He smirks. "We know you don't do the
public thing."

Tim takes that as his cue to start heading toward
one of the brand new exits they've made to the
surface and a world that, presumably, doesn't
smell like smoke and cordite, but Bruce tightens
his grip on his jaw.

"That's going to change," Bruce says. To both
of them.

Lantern raises an eyebrow.

Tim already knew.

And *then* they leave, Bruce holding on to Tim as
he shoots his line. Tim thinks about protesting,
but really... he's just fine with Bruce doing the
lifting. He pulls out a couple of emergency
painkillers and dry-swallows, and Bruce does an
excellent job of not looking at him while he
winces and tries to pretend it's just the taste.

He lets Tim walk to the plane on his own power,
but once they're in -- and out of view -- he
buckles Tim in himself, crouches in front of him,
and brushes his hair off his forehead. And looks
at him. Even for Tim, even now, it's hard to tell
exactly what's on Bruce's face with that cowl on.



"That... wasn't how I expected it to go." Bruce's
voice is strange. Like if Bruce Wayne was a real
person trying to sound like Batman, and failing
at it.

Tim frowns. "Well, you know. If you're going to
kill a *president*, things are going to get crazy."

"We didn't..." And Bruce sighs. "We didn't come
here to kill him."

Tim frowns. But... he guesses it makes sense.
None of them really *do* that. Or they didn't.
And anyway, if Batman *did*... it would've been
planned better. Still, it doesn't really explain
why Bruce is all... like this. His head's more than
a little fuzzy from the painkillers. "What's

Bruce just keeps looking at him, and for a
moment his face is blank. But then he smiles,
a little. "Too much. But..."

"We're going to fix it." Bruce brushes more hair
off his forehead, or tries to. The sweat is really
making it pretty disgusting.

"Yes," Bruce says, "we are."

And there's just the slightest hint of *extra* in
that 'we.' It makes Tim like it always does. Like
he could take on the world. Like *they* could.

And they will.

They *are*.

Just as soon as he sleeps for about a *year*.

Bruce smiles at his yawn. "Don't worry about
co-piloting this time around. You need your rest."

For taking on the world, he thinks, or maybe
actually says it. He's not sure. He really is tired.


The new uniform is pretty sweet. On a practical
level, he's never been as well armored in his
whole *career*, and the things he's got in his
belt would've made the Tim he was six months
ago come in his pants and, like, *yearn*.

Because six months ago the only grenades at
his disposal were tanglers, and he wasn't even
*allowed* to let loose with the shuriken. And,
okay, so part of it's a little messed up. That the
world they live in now kind of *requires* him to
be a walking weapon just waiting to go off on
some idiot's face before they go off on *his*,
but then they actually *are* making a

Joker is never going to kill anyone else's friend
and sorta-kinda big sister. Hell, Joker is doing
so well that the reports from Arkham say he's
getting *trustee* status.

The new president is kind of an ass -- it really
would've been better if Ross hadn't gone all
crazy like that -- but he's also never going to
put on a stupid power suit and terrorize people.

And Gotham is... well, that's the other reason
for the suit.

The Gotham night is pretty much *his*, now,
and back when he was scrabbling down at the
docks for a next meal, he never would've
imagined it could ever look like this. That it
could ever *smell* like this.

There hasn't been a garbage strike since the
takeover, and there *won't* be, and it's
starting to get to the point where the only
criminals he has to worry about are the really
stupid ones, and the ones who honestly need
*help*. That's actually the hardest part of being
solo more often than not these days -- figuring
out who to call when the target is down.

One channel on his outside communicator gets
whoever it is taken away. The other gets them
taken Away. It's a big responsibility, especially
since some of the people who go Away don't
ever come *back*, but Bruce trusts him to
handle it. Gotham was one of the first places to
*get* this organized, and the rest of the Lords
are working to make sure the rest of the world
does, too.

It's his job to keep it that way, so he has to be

And if someone goes Away when they should've
just gone *away*...

Well, they should've known better than to go
out after curfew.

He swings through the streets, and this part of
town is quiet enough that he can hear the
streetlights clicking through the changes as he
goes. There are a few people parked illegally,
but that's it, and that's *so* not a job for a

The fact that it *might* be one day is both
thrilling and terrifying, and he laughs as he
flies. And then *stops* laughing, because there
are people. Huddled around a fire in a trashcan,
but even from this rooftop he can tell that
they're dressed too well to be homeless.

And anyway, the shelters shut down just like
the rest of the city -- and are policed better than
they ever had been. That's the whole point:
every crime matters now. Not just the ones big
enough for the cops, or dangerous and crazy
enough for *them*.

Nothing slips through the cracks. Not ever.

He pulls out his directional and slips out the
outside-communicator, replacing it with the
plain old earpiece and...

"... stupid. We should at least be *inside*," says
the man in the cashmere coat.

"Suck it up, Jackson. There's no way to tell
which 'empty' buildings the fucking gestapo has
tagged and which they don't. Remember Luis?
No? Because nobody has fucking *seen* Maria
Luis in three weeks," says the man in the
fur-lined gloves.

*He* remembers Luis. She tried to kill him. And
this is just... *such* bingo. He's not really a
detective, but this kind of work is more about
being a spy, anyway. Following the rats to their
little holes and smoking the bastards out.

He sits, and listens, and checks his mini-CPU.
'Jackson' is probably William Peter Jackson, late
of Hudson U. Political science professor,
flagged in the system for his history of --
peaceful -- protest.

He still has his job.

He really *ought* to know better.

The others are harder to pinpoint, even when he
factors in probable income. The information on
Jackson's known associates is some fifteen years
out of date. They're going to have to do better.

Bruce says they've gotten some of the finest CIA
interrogators to work on getting them as much
information as possible, but they'd had to pull
a lot of *them* out of the woodwork kicking
and screaming. It took a lot to find the people
who knew all about the domestic spying the
government supposedly wasn't doing.

It's a shame they hadn't thought to keep Luthor
alive to make *him* talk.

Tim double-checks the recorder to make sure
it's going. This isn't about incriminating *these*
guys so much as getting as much out of them
as possible so they can follow wherever it
leads. So *he* can. It's still a rush.

He hopes it never stops.

"Nice suit. Good to see you're taking up your
career as a supervillain in style."

And that's so *not* from the doomed idiots in
the alley. He grabs his staff and spins and...

In civvies, of course. But Dick is *Dick*, and
there's no rooftop he couldn't get up to --
silently and easily -- even without all of his

Tim tucks the staff away and checks on his
targets. Still chatting up a storm, this time
about a possible strike on the Hall of Records.
They really *are* antiques. He slips the earpiece
out and watches Dick watch him. "What are you
doing here?"

"Making one last bid for *sanity*, Tim." He's not
whispering quietly enough, and he's got his arms
crossed over his chest like Mr. Disciplinarian

Right. "Dick, if you want to talk, we can do it
somewhere else. I'm kind of working here."

"'Working?' Is that what you call it? Is that
honestly what you *think*?"

Tim shifts until he can get a good view of his
targets while still looking at Dick. "You know I
was there when you completely failed to have
a conversation with Bruce. Nothing's changed."
You still threw your suit in his face. You still

"That was *Bruce*, Tim. I..." Dick glares at the
rooftop for a second. "Okay, I'm doing this
wrong. I can't try to tell myself that you aren't
Bruce if I'm going to *treat* you like him, right?"
Dick gives him a rueful smile.

Tim gives it back. He really can't... it's *Dick*.
He takes a breath. "I know you're worried about
a lot of this, and I know you've *been* worried,
and it's... you're right. It's huge. But --"

"It's wrong."

"Dick --"

"It's *wrong*." And Dick moves on him.

No, Dick comes *closer*. That's different. He
reaches out, and doesn't quite touch Tim for a
really long and awkward moment until he does,
closing his hand over Tim's shoulder and...

It's not like Tim hasn't spent a lot of time with Dick
when he was in civvies. When they *both* were.
It's not like his face is some big, special thing.
But his eyes are still hard to look at. Just huge
and bleak and obvious, even in the gloom.

Tim looks away.

Dick's hand tightens on his shoulder. "See? You
*know* it's wrong. You... God, those guys aren't
even *criminals*, Tim." His voice is... he sounds
desperate. "Tim, please. Listen to me."

He sounds exactly like someone who'd lost the
woman he loved, then watched his family go
crazy and kill the president and start taking
over the world. Tim bites the inside of his cheek
to keep from laughing. Perspective is a bitch.

"Please, Tim. You *know* it's not too late."

"Too late for what?" He forces himself to look
up, and Dick just... *searches* his face.

It's hard, it's *so* hard to see that. This is
where he's supposed to make himself look like
something Dick can understand, so Dick can
calm down again and they can be friends.

"Dick, we're not... you called me a

"I didn't *mean* that," he says, and it's really
much too loud.

Tim checks back over his shoulder to make sure
the targets are still nice and oblivious, and Dick
grabs his face and *forces* Tim to look at him.

"Dammit, leave those poor bastards *alone* for
a minute, Tim! You're not... you're not a
*storm trooper*. You're *Robin*."

And you're not Nightwing anymore. "I know
that --"

"You *don't*. You took an *oath*. The same
one I did. The same one *Bruce* did, and I
 can't... why am I the only one who remembers
the fucking *words* here, Tim?"

"We *are* protecting the innocent, Dick!"
Great. Now *he's* too loud.

"How? By sending them off to be re-educated?
Or are you just having them killed?"

Only the ones who don't *learn*. "Dick, you
have to be reasonable --"

And that's all he gets out before Dick's *shoving*
him back. He manages to avoid falling off the
roof, but only by *stepping* on his recorder. It
doesn't break -- *Batman* built it -- but it makes
the idiots in the alley pay attention.

He's made.

"You did that on purpose," he says, watching
them run.

"Someone had to."

He looks back, and Dick is giving him that dark,
stubborn look that always made Tim wonder
which of them was supposed to be the kid.

Well, now he knows.

Tim closes his eyes behind the mask, just for a
second. When he looks up, Dick has gone back
to looking like himself again. Or just looking
like that hungry, sad person who's supposed to
be *Nightwing*. "Don't do this, Dick."

For a moment, it looks like Dick is going to say
something, but he just shakes his head and
takes a running jump off the other side of the

Tim hears him hit the first level of the fire
escape, and then the next, and then it's too
quiet to follow. He swallows, and taps his *JL*
communicator. For a moment, he isn't sure if
he wants it to be Batman or not, and he feels
his heart trying to beat too fast.

"Wonder Woman here." Her voice is all business.
It's what he needs.

"It's Robin. There's a problem."

And it feels weirdly like cowardice to be relieved,
but, well. It's *policy*. This kind of alert goes
to the Lords, whichever one of them is on call.
And it's *his* job to raise the alert.

Whether he wants to or not.

No one ever said this was supposed to be easy.

He collects his equipment and slips in the
playback unit. It would be easier and more
efficient to just take it somewhere and lay it all
out in reports, but by then his targets might have
found places to hide.

That's not going to happen.


Sometimes he thinks the changes are too fast.
Not for *him*, per se, but... sometimes when he
sees Superman these days, he looks just a little
too *hard*. Like something that could maybe
snap with enough pressure. Like something that
*wants* to snap.

And most of the others are okay, but he's a little
worried about Bruce. The Lords -- and all the
on-ground operatives like him -- have done a
really good job of getting things in order. He
thinks most of the older heroes are kind of
surprised by that. It makes sense -- *years*
of chaos, of the so-called never-ending battle.

The thing is, though, you're not supposed to
*fight* a fire. That just gets you smoky if it
doesn't get you burnt. You're supposed to put
it *out*. And then stomp on the ashes.

Once you do... there's no fire anymore, and
you can go back to your *lives*. And that's
the whole deal. All of these people had been
thinking of themselves as firemen and women,
when really they were just the crazy people
who kept flinging themselves at the fire and
hoping that actually did something.

Well, they've learned, and now things are...

It *is*, kind of, a never-ending battle. It's just
that the enemies are different, and require a
different sort of response. And for people like
Bruce, that has to be strange. His whole life
spent making himself into this *avatar* of the
fight they couldn't ever win, and now that
they *are* winning...

Really, the truth is that Tim *wishes* it was
just culture lag. It isn't. It's the cases, and the
fact that there's a whole different reason for
Dick's uniform to be there than there is for
Barbara's, or *their* old uniforms.

Or maybe it's the same one.

Batgirl is dead, and so is Nightwing. They still
*call* themselves Batman and Robin, but Tim
frankly hadn't needed all of Dick's fucking...
*vitriol* to know that calling himself Robin was
as much a matter of convenience as anything
else, when it came down to what he *did*. It's
a new world, and they're new heroes, and
that's all there is to it.

And Dick... is Dick.

He'll never stop fighting, and he'll never stop
trying. He just had to pick the wrong damned
*side* to be stubborn for, and *because* he's
Dick, he's turned them into hunters.

And because Bruce is *Bruce*... Bruce could
never be Batman *enough* to do what has to be
done. It's disappointing, really. But having a
family isn't *just* about knowing and loving all
the good, strong things about them. It's about
knowing the other things, too, and finding
ways to deal with them.

He's good at that.

It's part of what's changing for *him*, and he's
good at adapting, too.

Lots of people have official roles. Aquaman had
been more than willing to take up the
responsibility for the oceans, and everything
that moved along their surfaces, and Tim's
willing to bet that there isn't a single Atlantean
who won't move heaven and earth to keep
*them* in power, as opposed to all of the
people who've been fucking up their homes
for thousands of years.

Manhunter takes care of liaising with all of
the aliens who want to make contact, and the
Lords as a whole are ready for any and
everyone who want to do *more* than that.

Superman is the World's Greatest -- or maybe
just Scariest -- Politician.

Other people have other official tasks, and
then there are the *unofficial* ones. The little
things that -- still -- have to be done quietly.

The world needs a Batman who works in the

But the world *also* needs people who can
work in the shadows. Like him.

So, while Bruce theoretically catches up on
the sleep he isn't really getting and really just
spends way too much time paying *way* too
much attention to the cases, he's doing what
he does best.

Making a mess.

See, Dick *is* Dick, which means he believes in
home and family as much as *Tim* does. That
was the mistake he made, and he's sorry for
it now. It was never that Dick was a quitter, it
was just that he went about things the
*wrong* way.

He wanted too much, or needed too much,
or... that part doesn't really matter. What
*matters* is that, in the end, Dick was *always*
going to come back to Gotham, and make a
little home for himself with all the little rats that
had managed to escaped all of their little traps.

Dick needs people.

And Dick is due to come running for these
people's screams just about... now.

Tim shuts off his flamethrower and tosses it,
watching Dick watch him, and some things are
too damned familiar.

Like the way Dick can't fucking *stop* checking
to see if all of his *rebels* are alive.

Tim rolls his eyes behind the mask. "I just fired
the shelters, Dick. They're illegal, you know."

Dick tenses, all over. He's lean and Tim can't
decide if he looks more hungry or more
dangerous. There are babies down here -- fat
ones. If Dick's eaten one full meal for every
three that he provides for these *people*,
*Tim* will eat his own damned tear gas

"*Speaking* of illegal..."

"Shut up."

Tim raises an eyebrow. "You know, Dick, now
would be a *really* good time to be *nice* to

Dick looks at him, at last. *Really* looks at
him, and Tim wishes he'd tried to make
himself sound a little less snide. He's never
wanted to see Dick look at him like that. Like
just another person to hold in contempt.

He shakes it off internally. No matter what, it
really is too late for that.

"They shouldn't have sent you alone, kid."

It's too late for 'no matter what,' too. "But they

Dick starts to circle in. No matter how hungry
he is, he still moves exactly like the deadly --
*dangerous* -- predator he is. "I've seen you
in action, you know. You're not easy to catch
on camera, but you aren't impossible, either."

"No?" Tim turns with him.

"You've gotten good, kid," Dick says, and pulls
out the escrima sticks.

He doesn't tell Dick to call him Robin. "I've
had good teachers."

"Not good *enough*," and Dick launches
himself at him.

Momentum lets him make it. That's *all* that
lets him make it. Tim's shot was perfect. He
steps aside and lets Dick fall.

He's had good teachers. He thinks about Bruce
setting up the targets. He thinks about Dick
folding his hand around the guns, one after
the other. Showing Tim every trick *he'd*
developed for dealing with this part of training
even though his hands had really been too small.
Even though.

He thinks about playing games of quick-draw with
the practice weapons, the ones that couldn't fire
a thing even if you loaded them with real bullets.
He thinks about. He turns Dick over.

The hole in Dick's forehead is small and neat and
smokes obscenely, but it's still better than what's
left of the back of his head.

Dick is... *was* Dick.

Dick believed, and played by the rules the rest of
them tossed out the damned window. Right to
the... Tim bites his lip, and leans in close.

"I came alone because I wanted to," he whispers,
and closes Dick's eyes.

And then he calls in the officers who'll take care
of Dick's... of the *people*. Dick hadn't called
him Robin, but he hadn't called him by *name*,
either. It's entirely possible some of these people
will make it back into the world someday.

He stands by Dick's body and marks their faces
in his own mind, one by one by one.

Eventually, it's just him and the body and the

"What do you want to do with the body, Robin?"

It's a really good question. By rights, they should
be making an example. It's entirely too easy to
imagine whatever idiots they *haven't* rounded
up deciding Dick should be a symbol of the
continuing 'resistance,' and some fool will
convince a hundred other fools that Dick isn't
*really* dead.

By *rights*, they should get nice and primitive
and hang Dick's head somewhere public.

He thinks about Bruce, and gives the lieutenant
the name of the cemetery where Bruce's parents
are buried, instead.

The man doesn't question.

Tim waits until he's alone, and calls it in.

"I knew you were right for the job, Robin."

"It's what I'm here for, Superman."

"Mm. What about Bruce?"

Stay *away* from him. He puts a smile on his
face so that one will be in his voice, too. "That's
what I'm here for, too. Robin out."

It's absolutely true, of course. Robin isn't
Batman's sidekick, or even his partner.

Robin is Batman's *balance*.

And a new Batman needs a new Robin, so... so.

He heads back to the Cave, and doesn't wash off
the smoke or cordite before joining Bruce at the
cases. He doesn't *try*, because it would be an

There's a long silence. The Cave is pretty dusty
in a lot of places, but the cases really just aren't.
He's not the one who keeps them clean.

"You did it," Bruce says finally.


Another long silence. Bruce has the cape folded
around him, and if he's moving, Tim can't see

Tim stares into Batgirl's blank, mannequin eyes
and waits.


"Because I was the only one who could who had
anything like the right."

He waits for Bruce to say something about how
no one had the right, so he could say something
about how he was *there*, at Bruce's *side*,
when he'd started actually using all of the nasty,
lethal moves he'd learned from nasty, lethal
people back when *Dick* had been a baby.

About how if there are rights, anywhere, they
have to be applied as evenly as possible, or
else everything falls apart.

About how Dick had *left*.

"What's going to happen to his body?"

Tim breathes, and realizes he hadn't been. "I'm
going to have them bury him as close to your
parents as possible without implying anything
about... us."

Bruce nods slowly, and finally turns to face him.
"Thank you."

And Tim. He tries, he really does, but he...

He hugs Bruce as hard as he can, pressing his
face to the armor over Bruce's chest, and it isn't
until his head starts to hurt that he realizes he's
trying to *make* himself cry.

He can't.

Bruce holds on to him, though, and that's good
enough. Especially when he pets Tim's hair.

"It's okay," Bruce says, and Tim knows he's
trying to convince himself more than he's trying
to convince *him*, but...

That's good enough, too.


"They're gone," Bruce says, just like Tim *hadn't*
seen them all walk through the portal.

He rappels down from the roof of the Cave and
joins Bruce in front of the thing. "I *noticed*."

"You're angry."

He glares at Bruce instead and breathes and waits
until he has something like control enough not to
say any of the dozen things he wants to. "Yes.
I'm angry."

"Superman was out of control. The others couldn't
have taken him down even if they *felt* like it --
and I'm not altogether sure Manhunter would

Which is... okay, point. Still. "The Kryptonite."

Bruce's smile is small and wintry. "Hasn't been in
the safe for a year and a half."

Tim blinks. "Oh."


He stops, and thinks about it. "You used them."


And it *does* make sense. It's just... "Word is
going to get out, sooner or later. Aquaman can't
hold the fort alone. Metamorpho *won't* when
he realizes you sold Lantern out. And the others
aren't good enough."

Bruce nods just as if what he's saying is as
obvious as it *is* and he isn't the one who *put*
them in an impossible situation. If there's an
afterlife, and he gets to spend any time with Dick
there, he's so totally going to apologize for all
the times he's even *thought* that Dick needed
to relax about his Bruce issues.

And, well, for shooting him in the head.

"You know, Tim... he knew you were there. The
other one."

The other *Batman*. "Well, that's... in character."

Bruce nods again and just keeps staring at the

"Bruce --"

"We're done here."

"You *made* us 'done here,' Bruce."

Bruce gives another one of those cold smiles. "I
suppose I could've waited until Superman decided
it would be good idea to shove the planet out of
orbit, but, oddly enough, I was feeling impatient."

Tim snorts helplessly. "Fine. You had a plan. You
didn't tell *me* you had a plan, but you had a
plan. So what's the next *part* of the plan,


"I --" He's not talking about Bruce Wayne taking
his young ward on a tour of their brave new
world that's about to fall into ruin and *chaos*
and. "Bruce, everything we've worked for.
Everything we've *done* --"

"How many people have you killed, Tim?"

He blinks. "It's hard to be sure. Some of those

Bruce looks at him. "I'm not sure it was worth it.
Any of it."

He blinks again. He... takes a slow, deep breath,
and another one, too. And then he just says it. "I
could question the *timing* of that thought,

"You could. You should."

Tim rubs at his temples, and... he doesn't even
try to regulate his breathing. "So... *what*?
What now? If you're having such a massive
amount of guilt --"

"I don't think I'm having enough."

"Bruce --"

"We're standing here in a dusty hole in the
ground, surrounded by ghosts, and everything
we've -- yes -- worked so *hard* to build is about
to come crashing down. Because it was built on
the *wrong* thing. We're in a *grave*, Tim.
Stop and think."

Tim stares at the floor and... stops and thinks.
You don't ignore an order like that. Not from

Or *he* doesn't, and that's the whole fucking
point. He would've, and *has* followed Bruce
everywhere, and into every thing, and watched
his *back* while he was at it. Because he's
Robin, and that's his job.

Batman's balance. So now Batman -- Bruce is
having a fucking apocalyptic crisis of faith,
and... and... he's supposed to believe. Fine. He
just needs to come up with something *to*
believe in.

And that's... not, actually, hard.

"There's only two things you can do when you're
in a grave, Bruce."

"I'm listening," he says, and the hunger, the
*anticipation* is right there.

Tim looks at Bruce, right into his eyes, and Bruce
is Batman and he's Robin, and that means the
masks and lenses don't mean *shit* when it's
important enough. "You can lie down and die or
you can... dig yourself *out*."

Bruce grins, fierce and wild, and cups his chin.

Tim grins right back. "Dying is for quitters."

He can breathe again. Almost normally, even.
Because Tim believes in family, and he believes
in *his* family.

Even if they are just two mass murderers in a
grave they've dug for themselves.

Bruce's hand is hard and steady on his jaw,
and... there are other worlds.

Maybe they'll find one with a Dick he won't ever
have to shoot.



The manip.

The attribution:

"A Modest Proposal:
For Preventing the Children of Poor People in Ireland
From Being a Burden to Their Parents or Country, and
For Making Them Beneficial to the Public."
-- Jonathan Swift.

Full text here.