Disclaimers: Not at all mine.
Spoilers/Timeline: A few for some aging storylines. Set
vaguely around ROBIN #114 or so.
Summary: "You always did have your mother's
Ratings Note: Mostly harmless.
Author's Note: Well, I set out to write something
entirely different, but I'm not displeased by the fact that
this came out as something of a prequel to Lewis'
"A Boy and His Mask" storyline.
Acknowledgments: To Betty, Petra, and Jam for audiencing,
encouragement, and helpful suggestions.
"I thought we might -- well, we haven't been fishing in a
long time, Tim."
There's a caution to his father which Tim understands a
The last time (the first time) Tim had ever let anything
*slip* to his father, he had still been mostly confined to a
wheelchair, and Dana had been 'Miss Winters, at the
There'd been any number of reasons to keep that sort of
thing to a minimum since then, but his father is neither a
fool nor especially forgetful anymore.
Tim mentally checks over his schedule and smiles at his
father. "This weekend would be good."
Assuming -- assuming rather a lot for Gotham, but still.
Bruce doesn't mention it when Tim makes it to the Cave
that night -- after his patrol -- which means precisely
Tim's system had alerted him when the notification he'd
sent to Bruce about his schedule had been received. And...
he's not sure. It's not the first time something of this sort
has happened -- there's a part of him which can't
extricate his memories of the 'quake from the memories
of his face plastered all over the evening news -- and it's
not as though Bruce has ever *blamed* him for his...
"It's not an emergency," he says, to the back of the cowl.
Bruce will know how to get to him, if it's necessary, of
"It's... maintenance." It's more than that. It's his *father*.
A non-committal grunt is as good as a laugh, sometimes.
It's not a joke Tim especially wants to share.
Unfortunately, it's also not a concept he has any capacity to
He showers, and heads home.
In the sun, it's almost impossible to remember when his
father's hair had had no grey. The mustache he's currently
affecting -- again -- is another problematic point, but --
"Aren't teenagers supposed to have a *hard* time being
bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in the morning?"
Pretending so has always been immensely helpful to getting
to the point where he *could* be so.
"Tch. You could make a man in his *thirties* feel old, kiddo."
And it's still his father. "A caffeine addiction could be
dangerous, Dad. At your age."
His father snorts, and ruffles his hair.
It doesn't --
It's not strange.
Bruce has forwarded last night's reports -- from Gotham.
There's nothing out of the ordinary. It's a courtesy and it's
There's nothing from Bludhaven, though, even though he
checks twice. He frowns.
"Ives getting up to something, son?"
Tim doesn't blink. The fact that he'd been frowning at his
laptop is problematic enough. "Some new RPG. I... have
no idea what he's talking about."
A snort from the other side of their cabin, the sound of
cabinets opening and closing. His father is preparing dinner.
"Is it wrong that I still miss the little wizard hats?"
He does, too, sometimes. But. "Dad."
"Right, right, I burned the negatives, etc. I don't suppose
they have take-out, out here?"
It's tricky -- it always is -- but he manages to make it to the
Cave a few minutes *before* patrol on Monday.
Time enough to -- there.
There's nothing out of the ordinary from Bludhaven, either,
and it's not like he expected there to *be* anything like...
anything, but... still.
Something small and obsessive and his loosens in his chest
just the same. Dick is the only one of them who writes
reports in the same sort of voice -- almost -- he uses to
Bruce announces his presence in the Cave with the sound
of the belt clicking shut. Another courtesy. But...
"Was there something you needed, Tim?"
"Just staying informed." Why didn't you send the Bludhaven
"Hm." It's not a laugh this time.
He's just not sure what it is.
The time it takes him to realize that is enough -- more than
enough -- time for it to be too late to say anything, but Tim
doesn't hear the car start.
And, when he turns around, Bruce is still there.
Tim raises an eyebrow.
"Did you... have a good time with your father?"
Correction, *Bruce* is still there. And Tim does his best to
integrate *that* little piece of information at speed. "I --
yes. Thank you."
The last time he'd been fishing before the past weekend
was with Bruce. It hadn't been a vacation so much as
making sure there wasn't anything mutated or dangerous
in the grim little tarns the Cave had developed after the
'quake, and before the repairs could be completed.
"The... the wrist-technique you taught me --"
"I'm glad," Bruce says.
Worked, Tim doesn't say.
And he's on one of his bikes before the sound of the car
He likes having breakfast with his parents. It's not always
something he can afford to schedule in -- sleep-debt -- but
when he can, he does.
Dana always pays a great deal of attention to what he eats
in a way which is... it's nice, if challenging.
Once Bruce takes the time to set up the shell companies
that could market -- in a very specific way -- the nutrient
shakes he'd developed, things will be easier. As it is, there's
no way to get around eating balanced meals around a
And she has a habit of confiscating whatever snack food he
and his father stash around the townhouse and replacing it
with bags of unsalted trail mix.
"Dana, for pity's sake -- for *Tim's* sake!"
"As if he won't *share* that stuff with you, Jack! I *know*
The glare on Dana's face has the comfortable unreality of --
Sometimes he thinks of calling her 'mom.'
"Say. You haven't been spending much time with Bruce
Yes and no? His father is reading the society pages.
Doubtlessly, the picture of Bruce escorting the
Featheringstone heiress to last night's gallery opening had
caught his eye. And... "Well, high-school. You know." He
"Hmm. Admit it, son, it's the fact that he keeps calling you
'Tommy,' isn't it?"
Tim laughs and shakes his head, and pretends he doesn't
know what his father is really asking.
"Robin, I need you. R-point G-twelve."
"Got it. Give me ten."
Tim kicks the spray-paint cans into the gutter instead of
using them on the unconscious gang members, fights
back -- gently, this is a Robin thing, and therefore he's not
entirely off-script -- the twinge of regret, and moves.
He's given up on trying to predict what, precisely, the words
'I need you' will turn out to mean when spoken by Bruce --
It hadn't taken long for it to sink in that he'd never really
*count* as additional muscle -- he still hadn't even had the
*suit* when he figured that out -- and it still isn't quite
reflexive for him to be a diversionary tactic, colors or no.
Most often, he works with Bruce these days when there's
some object lesson or another to be picked up, but the use
of the word 'need' makes that questionable.
He doesn't know.
Bruce doesn't let him land on the rooftop before leading
him elsewhere, and Tim gives up on trying to second-guess
They wind up at a crime scene.
Bruce lets him pick the lock, and it's -- it's another murder
scene, but his nose had already given the hint about that.
"Deniably official or...?" Tim asks, and crouches by the trail
of nearly-dried blood-splatter.
Which almost certainly makes this a teaching trip. Tim
releases the catches on the belt-pouches he has reserved
bad-guys and sets to it.
There's a nine millimeter shell-casing under the couch, but
no evidence of gunshot damage. And not even a head-shot
would've left quite this much blood all over the apartment.
And Batman is watching.
"One, that we know of."
"Hm." Tim follows the trail to the bathroom, and is
unsurprised to find the outline of the -- presumably
known -- corpse delineated in as much blood as
police-chalk. It's funny how people bleeding out almost
always seem to head to the bathroom, but it also makes a
kind of sense.
Most people keep their first-aid materials there, after all.
And there's nothing else for him to take.
He searches the rest of the apartment, instead. No signs of
children, no -- "Who owns --"
"Hm. Known associates?"
"Not in the system." There's a cold little laugh lurking under
the edges of Bruce's voice that has everything to do with
Tim's assumptions about the victims of violence. His
"The question had to be asked."
"Yes," Bruce says. "It did."
It would be asinine and pointless to turn to Bruce for some
degree of further explanation, and so he doesn't.
The gun-case 'hidden' in the bedroom closet had been
holding *something*, but that something hadn't been fired
recently. Hm. "In evidence?"
The bedroom is cluttered, but not ransacked or rifled by
anyone but the police. Tim strokes the pocket with the one
missed shell-casing and thinks.
And heads back to the living room.
On first glance, there's nothing especially strange about the
blood trail, but... there's a bit of splatter that doesn't quite
match the image burned (permanently, of course) in Tim's
mind of their victim shuffling off to die next to his
There's no difference to the *look* of it, of course, but Tim
uses his tweezers to yank some of the stained carpet fibers,
When Dick does this sort of thing, he uses his body as
much as anything else. Tim can easily picture Dick shifting
into the probable position whoever had gotten shot had
been in, adjusting to account for where the blood which
may or may not have been his (or hers) had been...
It's a questionable sort of visualization, but its his own.
"Blood in the hall?"
"Not that I've found."
So, no. A minor wound, maybe a graze.... but where was
the bullet? "Second victim or killer?" It's not really a
question, and Bruce doesn't answer.
Tim bites the thumb of his gauntlet absently, notices he's
doing it, stops.
When he searches the apartment again, there's still no hint
of where the missing nine millimeter might have been kept,
which, of course, doesn't mean that it *hadn't* been kept
In the end, he sucks it up and heads back to where Bruce
is -- still -- waiting in the living room, blank and still.
"I need more information."
If he'd ever been able to sacrifice his own grades, Barbara
Gordon could be his tutor. As it is, the last time he'd visited
the Clocktower in daylight had been a weekend, and it's
not as though he has time to wait. He's just going to have
to have a shorter patrol tonight.
She always lets him raid her kitchen, though, and she's
Oracle, which means that there are Tim-specific snack
foods exactly where they always are.
He watches her watching Black Canary and waits, quietly
entertaining an image of his stepmother taking up a life of
vigilantism solely to work up the skills to break into the
Clocktower and remove every food product lacking in
It's possible she'd be distracted by the exercise -- and
rehab -- equipment for long enough for Oracle to rescue
the Chocoblasts, but it's unclear.
Eventually, Oracle takes off the headset. "Do you need me
or my toys?"
Not for the first time, Tim considers saying something
along the lines of 'I always need you,' and, not for the first
time, Tim remembers that he's not that kind of Robin.
"Mostly the toys, but... anything new I should know about?"
"And play with?" She smiles at him over her shoulder.
"Gimme a few days, Boy Wonder."
He's exactly that kind of Robin.
She waves him toward the systems deliberately firewalled
away from her primary, secondary, *and* tertiary ones and
gets back to work.
He breaks into the GCPD's systems first, confirming that
the case had been given to Homicide rather than the MCU.
It explains -- in part -- why they're doing this even more
quietly than usual.
From the police, he learns that the murder weapon had
been at least four but no more than six inches long, and
serrated. There'd been no sign of it among the knives
-- unhelpfully mismatched -- confiscated from the victim's
The .38 had been registered to the victim, and was clean.
There were no roommates listed on the lease, and the
victim had spent the last two years working in an internet
café four blocks from the apartment. The neighbors knew
nothing about the victim's life or relationships.
There's a certain -- mild -- frustration peculiar to being in the
Clocktower for this sort of thing, as opposed to the social
visits he so rarely gets to make. He knows, deeply and not
entirely irrationally, that *Bruce* has already solved the
But this is his job.
Nothing in the victim's credit records.
The victim had never been married.
The victim's parents were alive and retired up in Sussex
County. The victim was an only child.
The victim had attended Hudson, but had been involved in
neither fraternities nor sports nor any other extracurricular
Tim pauses and calls up the image of the apartment again.
No pictures other than the parents, no places on the walls
where other pictures might have been, no albums. No real
keepsakes of any kind, other than an old and
masculinity-safe plain old jewelry box full of ticket stubs for
various local concerts. A loner.
He calls up the autopsy report again. No old wounds
suggesting a history of depression, which matches the
entirely average medical records perfectly.
Tim gnaws on the thumb of his gauntlet and lets himself
frown at the monitor.
"You're pretty much dying to get out there and punch
people right now, aren't you?" There's a laugh in Barbara's
voice it's tempting to share.
But... "It's an... interesting exercise."
"In a gruesome way. Of course."
The café has been closed for an hour by the time he's done
double-checking everything. He saves a copy of their
employment records to disk, slips the disk into a pocket,
and leaves Barbara for his truncated patrol.
He loses the next afternoon --
He spends the next afternoon helping Dana install shelves
for her growing collection of ceramic figurines.
She doesn't go for any of the standard sort, which is nice.
Tim has always found those somewhat horrifying, in
He tosses the one of a dog peeing on a car tire -- the
paint job on the urine is very detailed, and the expression
on the dog's face can only be described as 'devious' --
from hand-to-hand while Dana's back is turned, and
doesn't think about murderers or serrated blades or --
"Have you ever considered taking a shop class, Tim?"
He blinks. These are words that have never been spoken to
him in any way whatsoever. "Um...?"
She laughs and yanks the little dog out of the air,
mid-toss -- she's really very good -- and puts it near the
exact center of the eye-level shelf. "I know, not exactly
your thing. God, if I got grades like you do when I was
in high school..." She shakes her head and starts placing
the other figures.
Tim positions himself so he can toss them toward her
instead. "You think I should?"
"I think you might enjoy the change. You're good with your
hands, *too*, in case you haven't noticed, genius."
It would almost certainly be less brain-numbing than the
visual arts course his guidance counselor has been
suggesting for his second semester elective. "I... I'll
consider it," he says.
Dana laughs again, and turns to face him, hands on her
hips. "Really, Tim, you don't have to play humor-the-
stepmom. It was just an idle --"
"No. I mean... it really does sound like a good idea. A fun
She looks so pleased that it's impossible not to smile back.
He finds a rooftop overlooking the café and waits. They've
gotten an Indian summer this year, and there are -- full --
tables out on the sidewalk.
They're breaking a few zoning regulations, but this is a
quiet enough neighborhood that laws like that are willfully
He sees her -- *knows* her -- before an hour has passed.
There are sweat stains on her bright orange t-shirt even
though it's not really *that* warm, a bandage that doesn't
quite hide the edges of a minor wound on her left arm --
the casual observer would undoubtedly think it was a
cut -- and she breaks three separate mugs in the course
of an hour.
The third brings out a woman in her thirties who's either
the manager or one of the co-owners, and Tim points his
directional mike toward their conversation.
"Angie, Jesus, you weren't this bad your first *day*!"
"I know, Mel, I know, I just, I'm..."
Distracted? Overwhelmed with shock and/or guilt? 'Angie' is
Angela Connors, and has been working at the café for a
year. Full-time, for the past eight months. 'Mel' would be
Melanie Jackson. Co-owner, then.
Jackson puts her hands on Connors' shoulders and leans
in, speaking more quietly. "Look, I know you worked with
John more often than not... should you really be working
Connors begins to cry.
And Bruce announces his presence on the rooftop with a
scuff of boot-heel on gravel. Courtesy.
"She may very well confess while we sit here," Tim says,
after a moment.
And... there's no reason to ask. There's no *good* reason
to ask, and he really shouldn't, and it's pointless, but...
"When did you know?" *How*?
For just a moment, there's the smallest fraction of a smile
on Bruce's face. "When I saw where you were pointing
"Your case, Robin."
Tim considers that while he watches Jackson try to
simultaneously comfort Connors and move them both
further away from the clientele. "It will take the GCPD
another day or two, at least, to shuffle through the
information I did." The *lack* of information. "Unless they
decide to skip the personal life stuff, of course." Longer
than that for the DNA evidence from the carpet.
"They never do."
And neither do they, of course.
He doesn't have the slightest clue why this was... his.
He watches Connors give Jackson her apron and lets his
attention drift back to the actual conversation.
"No, I... it's okay, Mel, I'll just walk. I have my wallet. I
don't need to change, really. Um. Yeah. I'll go."
"Just try to get some rest, honey, okay?"
Connors nods jerkily and starts walking away from the
restaurant. There are a few too many businesses -- other
than the café -- still open in this neighborhood for
comfort, and so he shadows her back to her apartment
instead of cornering her in an alley.
And Bruce shadows him -- but doesn't follow him when he
breaks into her bedroom window.
He folds his arms under the cape and listens to her cry in
the bathroom for several minutes.
When she comes out, she doesn't notice him immediately.
Not even after she turns on the bedside lamp. When she
He waits a beat. Another.
"Tell me why."
Her eyes widen and there's sweat beading on her forehead,
just that fast. "I -- I don't --"
"I said; tell me why."
And she starts to cry again. He gives her a count of thirty.
In the end, Connors calls the police herself, while he
Bruce isn't there when he finally leaves the apartment, and
there's no way to tell when he'd left. Probably when she'd
*Probably*. He doesn't... he doesn't really *get* Bruce's
behavior, he doesn't think, or --
Tim shakes it off and focuses on patrol, instead.
And on his eventual report.
Bruce is still working -- over -- his own territory when Tim
finally gets back to the Cave, so he just types in the
report and goes home.
His father has started taking naps in the evening,
sometimes. He always does it in the family room, in front
of the television.
Tim does a little homework in front of CNN -- there are so
many reasons why he's glad his father is allergic to strictly
local news -- and...
Dad, he doesn't say, last night I solved a murder. It was
one of those stupid, random *Gotham* things I hate for
you to hear about, because if you ever decide to move
again, I don't think I'll be able to go with you.
Anyway, it was interesting enough for all the idiocy,
because it's actually entirely possible that the murderer
could've gotten away clean if she was just slightly more
of a sociopath.
You probably don't find that kind of thing interesting. But --
It really *is*, you know?
She took the murder weapon *home* with her. It was in
her *dishwasher*. And usually that's stupid, but it was
just a kitchen knife the victim *hadn't* put away the night
before, and she's lucky enough to have the kind of water
pressure in her apartment --
Anyway, I wouldn't be surprised if the labs couldn't get
*any* useable evidence off the thing.
Why did it happen? I mean, that's not really -- okay, I guess
it is important, in a way. Basically, she was attracted to the
victim, despite the fact that he was something of a cipher.
She tried to get into the bands he seemed to be interested
in, but this was a guy who *only* went to concerts
whenever the crushing emptiness of his life chased him out
of the apartment.
But he happened to mention he had a *gun*, and she
could work with that, so she showed up at his place with
the nine millimeter her mother had insisted she carry once
she moved to Gotham, whipped it out, scared the hell out
of him, and, for whatever reason, this guy's *first*
response was to go for the knife.
I can probably extrapolate how they wound up switching
weapons during the struggle, but, however it happened,
she was better with the knife than he was with the gun.
End of story.
But -- she'd never done more than share a few smoke
breaks with him at work. They weren't dating. She'd never
been to his apartment before -- she'd pulled the address
from the employment records.
No one they worked with -- that I can tell -- even knew she
was attracted to the victim. I'm reasonably sure her boss
thought she was a particularly discreet lesbian. She didn't
even keep a diary, or anything like that.
I mean... I don't even know how to talk about how
incredible it all is. She could've gotten *away* with it. One
little shell casing -- that the CSU missed -- and just a few
signs of anxiety at work that *could've* just been grief
over losing a nice-enough co-worker. She'd gone to *work*
the next day, Dad, she --
If I'm honest with myself, I probably wouldn't have been
sure myself if she didn't have a really obvious -- if minor --
wound on her arm. And if I hadn't been able to tell it was a
bullet graze rather than a cut, because...
He likes watching his father sleep. He doesn't have
nightmares very often, at all.
Right now, there's the faint hint of a smile on his face.
Dad, he doesn't say, for the thousandth time, I'm Robin.
Tim's schedule had Bruce at WE in meetings well into the
evening, but Bruce is in the Cave when Tim stops in, just
It makes being here -- now -- even worse. There's nothing
he has to do. He could read over his report (he doesn't
need to) from nearly anywhere -- given the time to bypass
the security on it.
And he doesn't need anything from here before patrol.
Tim sighs at himself internally and heads for the secondary
systems. He might as well do what he'd come for.
Going over and over the report like this feels precisely like
all of the times he has never, ever seen Bruce fondling
some trophy or another. It's gratuitous. It's shameful.
Why did Bruce give him the case in the first --
("The trophies?" Dick laughs. "They were mine, then
Jason's. I'm pretty sure we weren't supposed to *get*
Tim stops scrolling and bites the inside of his cheek.
He doesn't need to ask. He doesn't...
He looks over at the main console. Bruce is fully suited-up
for the night, but the cowl isn't on.
The back of his head is no more approachable than the
back of his cowl. No more *accepting* of this sort of...
That's a lie.
"The case was a gift," Tim says.
Bruce doesn't respond. It's just that he also stops typing.
"Bruce, I --"
"Some would consider it a detection exercise."
Some would, yes. If they didn't -- couldn't -- hear the lie in
Bruce's voice. If, perhaps, they were able to put some sort
of name to whatever *else* it is that Tim can hear. Tim
can't, quite, and he's reasonably sure it doesn't matter.
He turns back to the monitor and says, quietly, "Thank
Tim is reading over another (pointless) essay for English
when he hears his father coming up the stairs.
He can't just turn around and wait for him -- he'd figured
out when he was fourteen that that sort of thing looked
suspicious to people who weren't... to his father.
He settles for continuing to read and silently thanking his
father for stepping on the one tile in his doorway that has
a squeak. "Hey, Dad," he says, turning around, "what's
His father has two tickets in his hand. "Knights home
opener -- finally -- this Saturday. Interested?"
Saturday is his... he gets so much *done* on Saturdays.
"You already made plans?" It manages to be a question
only because his father is... his father.
"I..." There's nothing... Gotham is *quiet*. He *should* go.
His father laughs. "Teach me not to consult with the
teenager *first*," he says, and his laugh is almost light
enough, almost casual enough.
"I --" He has to own this. "You should go with Dana," he
says, brightly as he can.
His father frowns. "You think so...? She's not really much
of a basketball fan..."
"Dad," he says, "you can explain to her the necessity of
beer and hot dogs."
When his father snorts, he always rubs a little at the
mustache, like it itches or something. Tim really can't wait
for him to get tired of it again. "You always *did* have
your mother's deviousness, son."
It feels a little bit like... he isn't sure.
He patrols alone that Saturday, just as he does *most*
Saturdays. The game went into overtime, judging by some
of the chatter on the police band, which, added to the fact
that his father never, ever takes the subway -- and
especially not when he's with Dana -- means that he time to
make up, a little, for the hours he'd missed on...
Why a gift?
It distracts him enough that he almost spray-paints a kid in
the face, as opposed to just on his suspiciously expensive
In the end, the frown-y face is just uneven enough to be
"Your form is slipping."
He jumps internally -- Bruce can see it, of course -- and
tosses the can back over his shoulder into the Dumpster.
"Maybe I *should* take that visual arts class."
Tim double-checks his zip-strips and shoots for the
rooftops. Bruce shoots his own grapple just barely not
simultaneously, and Tim wonders, again, what people
*think* when they hear that sound.
It's not like a scream, or a gunshot. How could they not...?
"What do we have, tonight?"
Bruce... pauses. It's just a little thing. Something about the
way the cape is falling. And then there's a smile on his face.
It's a curious thing, he thinks, to simultaneously feel
dread and excitement. Or it should be, maybe -- he's used
"No new murders. I'm afraid."
Tim blushes hard and chokes, a little. "That's not -- you
know I don't --"
And this is where Bruce adjusts Tim's route for the night,
or pulls him onto *some* other case, but he's just watching
the east from the shadow of the water tower.
Approximately three and a quarter miles in that direction,
his father is either looking for his car or beginning to
negotiate the traffic. He wonders if Dana is tipsy. He --
He shakes it off and raises an eyebrow at Bruce. Batman.
"Let's go," Bruce says, at last.
And there really isn't any time to be surprised before Tim
either has to shoot his grapple or play a tiring -- and
humiliating -- game of catch-up.
So he decides not to be.
And decides to let that be the reason.
.The best way down.