Disclaimers: Everything recognizable belongs to DC.
Everything not, doesn't.
Spoilers: Several old storylines, in an AU sort of way.
Summary: Before it was about Batman, it was about
Ratings Note/Warnings: R, NC-17 with the alternate
ending. Both contain content some readers may
Author's Note: I spent a great deal of time staring
at this picture, by Pamelina, and wondering
what sort of things would need to change to get
Tim from here to (something like) there. In the end,
it comes down to Jason.
Acknowledgments: To Jack, LC, and Livia for
audiencing, encouragement, hand-holding, reminders
to eat, and innumerable helpful suggestions.
He spends a week with a crawling sensation between
his shoulderblades and a thick ball of lead in his
stomach. The first is because he can't believe no one
else sees it -- *it*, the most important and potentially
terrible thing *ever* to happen to Gotham.
The second is because it's just a confirmation of
everything he'd been trying so hard to think about
since the blurb in the society pages about Dick leaving
to attend college.
Everything he'd tried not to see in the tall, lean man
in that strange, wrong costume.
Tim remembers the excitement he'd felt when he'd
discovered that the local branch of the library carried
*all* of the New York papers, that he wouldn't
*have* to miss all of the work Dick did with the
Titans even though he was -- for the most part --
stuck in Gotham.
Now it's just *lead*.
Because Robin had stopped going out with Batman
after that last run-in with the Joker, and Dick had
*moved* to New York, and now it's 'Nightwing'
with the Titans and Robin is...
Someone else entirely.
He doesn't know for sure -- not yet -- but it's
pretty clear. There had been all *sorts* of articles
about the boy Bruce Wayne had saved (he
*always* saves them) from a 'life of abject
poverty,' and... *adopted*.
Not just become his guardian.
Dick is in New York, but Robin's still in Gotham.
And Robin is, apparently, someone named Jason
It's *not* right. The newspapers aren't even calling
him anything different. *Batman* isn't, apparently,
calling him anything different.
And he's wearing Dick's clothes and doing Dick's
job and everyone is acting as though nothing has
He's sure -- he's *pretty* sure -- that the
*important* people have noticed. Commissioner
Gordon must see them several times a *week*, and
far closer than *Tim* has ever managed to get --
and his Dad had given him a *very* good camera,
but there are still aren't many places where you can
get a really good angle on the roof of Central
(snipers, because of snipers and bad men and).
People like *him* have to know and...
Tim frowns to himself over his bowl of cereal and
forces himself to think, to be a *real* detective.
His mother is talking about the shopping in the souks,
and his father is reading the financial section of the
Gazette. He has more than enough time to fix his
expression and breathe and *think*.
The important people know, and *they* haven't done
anything. Which means -- *probably* means -- that
they know something *he* doesn't, and that it *is*
all okay, because...
Well, because it has to.
Everyone says Commissioner Gordon is a good, smart
man. Even the people at the parties his parents
sometimes drag him to, and *those* people never
seem to like anything at all. Not even Batman.
He *knows* there has to be a reason for all of this,
Well, Dick just *wouldn't* leave if he didn't think that
there'd be someone else to do his job. Why, he has all
*kinds* of evidence of things the Titans had had to do
without him because Dick was here. (where he
*belongs* and why did he have to *move*?)
Just because it doesn't *feel* right doesn't mean that it
*isn't* right. He's had all kinds of needles from doctors
from those times when his parents let him come on
their trips with them to tell him *that*.
He's known *that* forever.
He stares at the grainy, blurry picture on the front page
of the paper. The one where it's obvious -- even if only
to *him* -- that Robin just shrunk at least three inches
and also gotten *bulkier*. He stares and he --
"Careful there, Tim. You keep staring at the paper so
hard and you might just set it on fire like that Superman
fella." His father winks at him over his own section of
the paper and his mother laughs and says,
"Oh, Jack," like she's trying not to laugh. It's been a
good week. They've hardly fought at all.
Tim smiles at both of them and pushes the wrong
picture behind the fruit bowl.
There *is* a new Robin in town.
He's just going to have to see him for *himself*.
The street atlas is about ten years out of date and
still smells faintly of the gas station where Tim had
picked it up.
Still, it wouldn't do to use any of his parents' stuff for
this, and it works well enough. *This* is something
he learned how to do years ago, too. Because the
newspapers don't report everything, and the only
thing the *television* news is good for is the
occasionally amateur video that he wouldn't have
access to, otherwise.
The best possible way to track Batman and Robin's
(and it still doesn't feel right to just *call* him that,
as if it was just a title and not...) --
The best way to track their movements is just like this.
He takes as much address information as he can get
from the newspaper reports -- for this, at least, the
tabloids tend to be the most accurate -- and he marks
off the atlas accordingly.
Black for every Batman sighting, green for every
Batman *and* Robin sighting -- and he knows for a
fact that there *should* be more of those, but people
sometimes don't *mention* Robin. It never made
sense to Tim before, and he doesn't think it would
Red is for the Robin *solo* sightings, and there have
*always* been fewer of those than anything else, and
it isn't as though there's a lot, now, but.
Dick only moved out of Wayne Manor a *year* ago,
and there'd only been six months -- only, but it hadn't
*felt* like 'only,' not at the time -- between reports of
Robin -- *Robins* working in Gotham, and now he
has six little red dots, all in a cluster.
Which will almost certainly make what he wants to
*do*, easier, but it's just another thing that doesn't
Jason Todd only just turned fourteen.
There *are* no other kids of appropriate coloring and
build in Bruce Wayne's social circle, unless Tim knows
a lot less than he *thinks* he does.
Robin shouldn't *already* be working alone.
Robin shouldn't work alone *anyway*, because the
whole *point* of Robin is that he's Batman's partner
Tim bites his lip and closes the atlas. He has a much
better map of New York City to work with, and he has
a whole stack of clippings to go through about the
Titans, and he's not going to figure any of this out
The boy's smile sweeps over the crowd like a wave
and everyone sighs and waves and smiles back, except
He's tied up again, and the ropes smell like sugar and
sawdust and wrap him up from his knees to just below
They don't *taste* like anything.
When the boy leaps off the platform, the audience
rocks and moves in a wave, together, loving,
*watching*, and he does, too, he always does. His
mother's shoulder bumps him into his father's shoulder
into his mother's shoulder --
The boy waves at his parents and the audience --
The rope snaps and his mother doesn't cover his eyes,
she's too late and --
The boy's crying and the ropes dig into his arms, and
his father catches him and loops a looser strand of the
rope around the back of the chair.
"This is *important*, Tim," he says, and his mother
somehow manages to nod at him seriously even
though she's stuffing handfuls of cotton candy into
her own eyes and he can see --
The boy kneels by his --
The boy kneels, and cries, and the Dark Knight rides
past him, trampling --
Into the dirt, and the Dark Knight yanks *him* up,
chair and all, and --
Tim wakes up gasping, tearing at the sheets winding
It's a relief for more than one reason -- August is
*always* nasty in Gotham. Heat and stink and storms
that always take too long to figure out they're supposed
to *be* storms, lingering and building until it feels like
the air is trying to push his eardrums and sinuses *in*
He has a headache, and he isn't getting back to sleep.
He sits with his back against the headboard, and then,
when it picks up the heat of his skin, he moves to sit
with his back against the wall. When he turns his head
to press his cheek against the cool, smooth paint, he
can hear movement downstairs.
His parents' flight to Vienna is due to leave in another
six hours. The limo service will pick them up in four.
The sitter will be asleep (passed out, because she)
within eighteen hours.
Within nineteen, he'll be in the city. The *real* city.
He *needs* sleep.
Tim balls the sheets at the foot of the bed and lies back
down, and closes his eyes.
The hardest part is always getting *in* to the real city.
He can't just call a taxi in the middle of the night,
because there's no telling whether or not the driver
will just take one look at him and ask him where his
parents are, and it's not as though there are any
subway stops within five miles of *his* neighborhood.
But Tim has a bike, and it had rained enough during
the day that it's a little cooler.
Besides, he doesn't have to ride *all* the way -- just
far enough to where he *can* catch train, and, from
there, the subway.
No one asks questions on the subways if you keep
your head down.
Tim curls his hand around the keys for his tire chains,
and looks around as subtly as he can. You can learn a
lot about a neighborhood *long* before you get there.
You just have to know what to look for -- like the fact
that, by the time he's three stops away from his
destination, nearly everyone in his car is either speaking
Spanish, or English with an accent he's almost sure is
Puerto Rican in origin.
This matches the few surnames he'd picked up from
the Robin-specific articles, and he feels a weird mix of
satisfaction and worry.
On the one hand, it *always* feel good when his
theories pan out -- even the little ones.
On the other hand, the little Spanish *he* knows is of
the traveler's variety, and has a lot more to do with the
Iberian peninsula than with anywhere his *current*
traveling companions are from.
He's going to have to do better.
It's bad enough that he *looks* out of place.
Still, walking up out of the subway *isn't* like walking
into some strange new world or anything. He's never
been to *this* neighborhood, but it's Gotham on a
Friday night. He doesn't know any of the songs playing,
but it's right that they're loud, and competing with each
He's never actually been *inside* a bar, but it's right
that the doors are open and the sounds of people
having fun waft out on beer-scented air.
There are people kissing by streetlights, and there are
people just sitting out on stoops, and no one looks twice
at him -- it may be late, but it's *summer*, and there
are plenty of kids still out playing.
And he'll be --
Okay, maybe not *fine* so much as yanked into an alley
by his over-shirt, and this is why you're supposed to keep
them tucked *in*, but he didn't want to *look* like as
much of a --
"Looks like *we* got ourselves a rich boy," says a voice
from the shadows. Male. Probably not *much* older --
"Yeah, man, you just never know *who's* gonna wander
in." Another male, also young. His breath smells like
really good barbecue.
Tim should probably be thinking about other things than
barbecue, especially because he's pretty sure the small
pain in his neck and the large glitter at the edge of his
vision means that there's a *knife* to his throat, but
when he tries --
"*Fuck* the shoes, little bastard wears a size negative
"Lookit you with the math. Just get the damned watch
before he pisses on me on something."
When he tries, all he can think about is the fact that
the reason *why* Robin has so many reported sightings
in this neighborhood is that the felony concentration is
"Three library cards? Who the fuck needs three --"
"*Forget* the damn library cards, what about the
"Shit. Not much. Check his socks. Rich boys always --"
"Get in *trouble*. Man, you wouldn't believe the
assholes at *my* school."
And Tim has time to think "third male, but his
And then the boy with his socks is spinning around --
and *getting* spun by the kick that hits him square in
the jaw. Green boots, with the little --
"Shit! Don't try anything, man, I have a knife! I'll do
this kid, I --"
"Okay, so that's both sick *and* lame," and the boy
steps out of the shadows. Jason Todd. The line of his
jaw is an exact --
"*Fuck* you, Boy Asshole, I got this locked!"
Jason tilts his head to the side and blows out a breath.
Even with the mask, Tim is absolutely positive he's
rolling his eyes. "You know, I had a knife like that. When
I was *four*."
"Man, you're *asking* --"
He feels the splash before he hears the *crunch*, and
so, for just a moment he's absolutely sure his throat
has been slit. But really, he's almost *positive* there'd
be more blood than *that*, and --
"Broke my fucking node!"
"I know you're probably shocky, kid, but now would be
a good time for you to, like, *move*."
Robin's looking at him. He moves.
The other one's unconscious body is blocking the mouth
of the alley, and really, he *wanted* to see --
"You know, you'd think you assholes would start
*getting* it," Robin says while he punches.
One punch after another, and Tim thinks, "Dick would've
"This *isn't* your neighborhood anymore."
The muscles flex in Robin's arm. He doesn't look
fourteen. He's not that tall, but --
The ground is gritty beneath his socked foot, and sharp
beneath his bare one. The ground is cold and sticky and
he's going to be *dirty* when he gets home, and it
looks like this punch comes from Robin's *feet*, from
somewhere *beneath* the ground, and the mugger's
head snaps up and back and knocks against the wall
with a sound Tim's never heard before --
"Shit. I *always* forget to pull the uppercut."
And Robin drops into a crouch over the mugger, tugging
off his (bloody, it's) gauntlet and pressing his fingers to
the man's throat.
"I think he's breathing." And Tim wonders who'd said
that, but then Jason turns to look at him. He's...
"Yeah, I know, kid. Batman always says the pulse is a
better indicator. Thanks, though."
Tim swallows and nods, and after a moment Robin
stands up and sighs, pulling his gauntlet back on and
flexing his fist once. Twice.
"No help for it. Gonna have to call 911 for this
"You wouldn't do it anyway?"
Robin snorts. "Man, you're really *not* from this
neighborhood, are you? What are you *doing*
"Anyway, it's good to leave skels like this lying around
for other people to find. Sends a message. Do I need
to call your parents while I'm getting this loser a
Bus? What's -- oh. Slang for an ambulance. He'd seen
that on television, but cop shows are usually -- and
the gauntlet is waving in front of his face. Green, and
red with blood.
"*Are* you okay? You know your name and the year
and shit, right? Did they beat you up?"
"No -- I. I'm fine. I just." Tim bites his lip and feels
himself flushing. (There's blood in his face and Robin
can *see* it.) "You're Robin."
Robin grins again. It isn't like Dick's smile at all. "Yeah, I
When he ruffles Tim's hair, the gauntlet feels rough on
his scalp, ticklish and strange. Like a work-glove,
"Why don't you get your shoes back on while I zip these
Tim nods and does it, and then has to take the right one
off again to put his other sock back on when Robin
tosses it to him over his shoulder.
The mugger Jason had just kicked is snoring wetly.
The one he'd beaten is drooling, a little. The bruises on
his face seem to darken while Tim watches, and -- the
gauntlet's on his shoulder, and he looks up to find
Robin looking at him, really looking.
"This isn't gonna traumatize you for life or anything, is
He's always going to know what gauntlets feel like,
now. "No," he says.
"Uh... okay? Man. *Please* tell me you at least snuck
out of wherever you're from to go do something fun,
I came to see you. To see -- "Yes."
"Uh, huh." Robin takes his hand, shoves his watch back
on his wrist, and slaps Tim's wallet against his palm.
"There's an all-night arcade about eight blocks that
way," he says, pointing. "*Out* of this neighborhood.
Go blow some of your Daddy's cash."
Jason snorts again and shakes his head, and gives him
a push toward the mouth of the alley.
Tim feels him watching as he walks.
He has to put it in order. It doesn't work if you don't,
and it's always so...
Things should *work*.
So Tim starts at the beginning. Just *knowing* that
Jason Todd was an orphan whose parents had been
poor -- and involved in criminal activities, at least
according to the Inquisitor -- simply isn't enough.
Because all of it had left him with the impression of a
boy who (wasn't Dick) happened to catch the eye of
Bruce Wayne. All he'd had was the *inference* that
he'd also caught Batman's. And that had led him...
He listens to the tinny -- but still easily identifiable --
music from the sitter's headphones and tries to put it
Twenty-four hours ago, he'd been picturing a short,
bulky boy in clothes which didn't belong to him. In a
*life* which didn't belong to him.
And it isn't entirely his fault. Bruce Wayne isn't just
one of the richest men in the world, he's *Batman*.
When he wants privacy -- or privacy for someone in
his life -- he'll *have* it.
Tim had taught himself a great deal about computers
when he'd (finally, and why had it taken him so
*long*) set out to find more detailed information
about the Graysons than what had been printed in
the newspapers. In the end, he'd had to break a few
laws (seventeen, though possibly more since that
hacking law had been passed) to get it, but...
He'd *had* to.
And it's not like he'd been able to do anything useful
with the information that the Graysons' had always
paid their taxes on time, save in nineteen-eighty-six,
but knowing it had let him look closer at Haly's tour
schedule that year, and the hurricane that had trapped
them in North Carolina, and damaged their vehicles
It still isn't information he needed.
Sometimes, he thinks about all the information he
*has*, and it's like something yawning beneath his
feet. Not the information itself, but the fact that he
*does* need it.
He has to *know*.
Everything he's dreamed for years, and everything
He doesn't know what he wants.
He just knows that it's all wrapped *up* in this thing,
these *people* who live their lives with... with
*meaning*, and only ever go away when they have
When things would be bad if they didn't.
And his parents have jobs that give them all enough
money to do the sort of things most of the people in
Gotham never could, and the kids at school watch TV
and read books about things that are made up and
*useless*, and it just...
It feels *better* knowing that there are other kinds
of people in the world.
And if he can know something about them, then it's
almost like knowing them.
"Yah-huh," she says, and flips another page in her
history book. She's in college, and her father plays
golf with his. His mother doesn't think she's the best
choice for a sitter -- especially since she's the
*house*-sitter, too -- but his father had said
something about teaching her responsibility, and, so
far, she's only thrown a couple of *little* parties when
his parents are out of town.
She's good at cleaning up after herself. "I need to go
to the library. I probably won't be home until after
She rolls her eyes at the book as if he wouldn't see,
or as if she doesn't care if he would. "Knock yourself
out, Drake. Stay 'til *nine*."
"Maybe I will."
It will take at least an hour to remove all the blocks
that are supposed to keep the computers at the
library research-only, and the fact is that it would be
*easier* just to use his own system -- his mother had
bought the best -- but...
It feels like real detective-work to use a public terminal
for this sort of thing. To be *subtle*. He watches
Amber flip another page as he makes a show of
packing books he won't actually need for another few
weeks -- Tim will be shocked if it *doesn't* turn out
he hasn't read at least a month ahead -- in his bag.
It also feels right for the work he's doing to have just
a few obstacles. It *shouldn't* all be easy.
Tim rubs the small, red spot on his neck and goes to
retrieve his bike. *This* should mean something,
Jason Todd goes to Overlook Boys' which is actually
closer to Tim's house than his *own* school. Chances
are, Tim will go here, too of next year. (and then
they'll be in the same school and) Well, unless his
father actually *does* move them all to Switzerland
like he's been talking about since almost before Tim
He doubts it.
His father talks about a lot of things he doesn't do.
And the school... well, it looks just like *his*, only a
little bigger. The athletic fields stretch all the way to
a small stand of woods on one end of campus, while
the other is all manicured-lawns and new construction
on a computer lab donated by a company which only
*looks* like it isn't owned by Wayne Enterprises if
you don't know how to follow a paper trail.
He isn't actually sure why Bruce Wayne had used that
company for it, but he suspects it has something to
do with making life easier for Jason. One day, when
he was in the fourth grade, everyone talked about
where their parents worked. More of them worked
for WE than DI, but not that many more.
The other kids had looked at him strangely, and
then hadn't looked at him much at all.
It makes sense.
Tim has 'taken the long way' home from school two
or three days a week for the past month and a
He hasn't been *inside* all the buildings -- the
'magic trick' books have a lot of information on
lock-picking, but some of the buildings have *good*
locks. They're in Gotham, even way out here in a
place you couldn't really call a neighborhood at
He *has* been all over campus. He knows which
tree is the make-out spot, because there are always
condom wrappers, and he knows which building is
the smoking spot, because there are always butts
and there's always a lingering smell more like the
one in Amber's guest room than of cigarettes.
He knows Jason plays pick-up basketball on the court
that just happens to be on a direct sight-line from
The first time he'd seen it, he'd stayed so long that
he'd only gotten home five minutes before his father.
The second time, he'd made a note in his log and
He does it every day he *comes* to school even those
days when Tim *knows* he was hurt the night before.
Every afternoon, and Mrs. Willard has started making
wistful noises about the days when he stayed behind
to help out and do extra credit work.
Tim's going to have to do something about that, though
he isn't sure what. He never should've had such a
noticeable routine in the first place. He never...
He can't do anything about it today.
Dick's school had been all the way across town, and
Tim had only gotten to go there once. He'd seen a
dark head moving through a second-floor hallway, and
only the rhythm (graceful, like dancing, and) had let
him be sure.
Now, here... he can see everything, even without the
binoculars his father had bought for him when he'd
said he was thinking about taking up bird-watching.
Sometimes Tim laughs so hard he has to cover his
mouth so no one will hear, even though he's up in
Sometimes he sits in the autumn sun, with his cheek
pressed against rough bark, and watches Jason
*move*. He plays like he fights. Like he's *fighting*.
And it's playground ball, so elbows *will* fly -- he
knows this, it's the same when he watches the boys
at *his* school -- but it's still...
Today, there's a bandage high on the outside of Jason's
left thigh, peeking out from under his shorts. From here,
without the binoculars, it *would* be invisible, but Jason
plays every day, in the sun, and he's tanned.
There are boys taller than him out there, but none of
them are *bigger*, not really. He can see the way
Jason's muscles move under the skin, even from here.
When he takes it to the basket, one of the other boys
On the next pass, Jason takes an elbow to the cheek,
and everyone stops. Everyone *tenses*, and Tim digs
his fingernails into the bark of the tree.
Jason holds the basketball under his arm, and his hips
are cocked. He's saying... something.
Tim looks through the binoculars and reads something
like "... play, tough guy?" and *hears* it in Jason's
voice. Robin's voice. He can't tell whether the other
boy says anything at all, but Jason throws his head
back, and the sun gleams on his teeth.
Bruce Wayne has spent several thousand dollars on
dental work for his adopted son.
Jason smacks the other boy on the head with his free
hand, and the world starts up again.
Tim can't make himself put the binoculars down.
The boy pulls Tim into his arms and onto his lap.
He's smiling, and he smells like clean sweat, except
for his breath, which smells like chewing gum.
His mouth moves and he's making promises he won't
His mouth moves and Tim stares, and the legs of
their parents shift and move around them like thick
reeds. Blood spills down the other mother's legs, spills
and spills until it pools in the dirt and sawdust.
And Tim says "Dick, don't" and the boy laughs and
tousles his hair and Tim smiles --
And smiles, because the boy is smiling and everyone
has to smile when the boy does. It pulls on his face
and on something deep in his chest, and he's crying,
The other mother and the other father are going to
die, tonight, and no one knows but him. Nobody
ever knows but him.
And the boy's smile twists and sharpens and shrinks,
and the hand in his hair moves down and down until
it's pressed against his neck.
"There's no blood there anymore," Tim says. "I
washed it off."
"You're such a little goody-goody," the boy says,
and strokes Tim's neck with his rough,
He wakes up gasping and sweating, even though he'd
left the window open the night before. The wind
brings in the smoke of the Smith-Jansons' butler
burning leaves, and when Tim thinks about it, he's
cold enough to shiver.
His sweat smells dirty and the room feels *close*, like
arms around him that won't let go even though
they're supposed to. Even when no one's supposed
to hold him, because he's the one who *knows*...
Tim squeezes his eyes shut and shakes his head like
a dog. Sometimes the dreams stay too long.
He pets his own throat where the little red spot hasn't
been for weeks and weeks.
Sometimes they don't stay long enough.
You can always tell what people did on their Holiday
breaks. Sometimes their cheeks are as wind-burned as
his own (when he skis, he thinks of flying, and stays
out much too late), sometimes they're tanned,
sometimes the girls have beautiful, complex braids
that look completely wrong on their heads.
You can always tell, but they all still *talk* about it
anyway, as animated and *excited* as if any of them
did anything more important than spend money
somewhere other than Gotham.
Tim taps his pen against his chin and lets it all wash
In another five minutes or so, Mr. Billings will say
something vague about how they should use study
hall for studying, but Mr. Billings' tan is just as
intense as any of the others. The back of his bald
spot is still peeling, and if *he's* thinking about
anything other than wasting time in the Bahamas,
Tim will *eat* the pen.
And Tim feels... restless.
It's not new so much as suddenly *really*
The only person that's ever been remotely interesting
to talk to is Ives, and Ives doesn't even *believe* in
Tim had stopped trying to talk to him about it when
Ives had started talking about the myths and history
surrounding the story of Santa Claus. He *likes* Ives,
and he'd kind of like to keep it that way. It's easier
to talk to him about RPGs and whether or not they
could synthesize cafeteria food in the labs.
Jason's best grades are in Biology.
Judging from the few, standard high-school textbooks
Tim has examined, they'll probably do at least two,
and possibly three dissections this semester. Batman
would've trained him in the use of knives, even though
they don't use them. Batman would've trained him in
*everything*, and, for a few minutes, it's hard to
decide whether to lose himself in the dream of having
a teacher who really, truly knows *more* than he
does, and not just because he or she has had more
time to read more books, or to the image of Jason
spinning a scalpel over his fingers.
Maybe for the benefit of the blonde girl -- probably
Bethany Miller, though, if so, she'd grown a *lot*
since last year's yearbook photo -- he seems to like.
There's another hill with an entirely different sight-line
on the campus of Overlook, and Tim had curled up in
his coat and watched the girl moving over Jason, *on*
him, and watched Jason's hands in her hair --
"*Midterms* might be over, ladies and gents, but I'm
*reasonably* sure one or two of you have some
homework you could pretend to do."
Tim checks the clock, and -- yes. Billings is right on
time. Go him.
He smirks to himself and --
"Something funny, Drake?"
It's interesting. Of the people who *do* talk to him
at this school who aren't Ives or teachers, almost
none call him anything but 'Drake.' He wonders if
anyone calls Jason 'Wayne.' He looks over to find
Eleanor -- Ellie -- Barnes looking right back at him.
She's doing an impressive job of looking
simultaneously curious and bored, her braids have
small wooden beads at the ends, and her tan is
admirably even. Normally, her hair would be about
the same color and style as the girl who's probably
Her father doesn't work for his *or* Jason's.
He shrugs. "This is all pretty predictable, is all."
She snickers into her hand. "You're telling me."
For his thirteenth birthday, his mother gives him a
digital camera and a hug. His father's plane was
delayed by storms over the Atlantic, but Tim's
reasonably sure he *had* planned to wish him a
happy birthday before his phone call had become
unintelligible with static.
Ellie gives him a card with a cartoon cat on it and a
lot of teasing hints written inside about how the rest
of his present comes later.
He's reasonably sure she plans to take him on a tour
of the cemetery closest to her parents' house so they
can lean against a headstone and drink her mother's
gin while they look up at the stars.
She likes that sort of thing.
Well, he doesn't *mind* it. None of the teachers
make wistful noises anymore, Ives always thinks he
knows why he's being blown off, and Mrs. MacIlvenne
is really incredibly *invested* in making sure he gets
all the time he needs with his girlfriend.
Which is good, because it really *had* seemed like a
live-in housekeeper would make things a lot more
difficult than he could deal with.
As it is, so long as he spends two or three evenings a
week with Ellie, there's no one at *all* who'll say a
word about the other evenings.
He couldn't have planned this better if he'd tried.
"So, little teenager," his mother says, lounging back
on the couch with a travel guide to Madagascar
resting on her chest. "What did you *really* want for
She's smiling at him, one corner of her mouth twisted
up into something his father calls a smirk when they're
fighting. Tim looks down at the camera in his hands,
and thinks about the rooftops he'll visit the next time
she goes away, about how much better any pictures
he takes will look on his computer -- where they are,
at least, *reasonably* safe -- if he doesn't have to
scan them in first. "This is perfect," he says, and
"Hmm. Good. Your *father* is easier to shop for than
"I don't need much."
She rolls her eyes and blows out a breath. "How any
son of *mine* got to be such a little aesthete, I don't
know. Anyway, how's karate?"
"The sensei thinks I have potential. I was thinking I
could join the extra class."
His mother doesn't narrow her eyes, but she doesn't
look lazy or sleepy anymore. It's always really obvious
when she's *thinking*.
And he knows what it's about, so... he smiles and
raises his hands. "I haven't gotten into any more fights,
"Hm. I still don't know how you got into the one you
Of course she doesn't. She was in Morocco, at the time.
"He said something very... offensive about Ellie." And
Tim had been thinking about it for so *long*, and it'd
felt as though the blood would burn to red smoke in
his veins, and he'd wanted to see if it *felt* like a
punch came all the way from the ground beneath his
Mostly it'd felt like he'd broken all his fingers at once.
"Hmph," his mother says. "No *wonder* she looks at
you like you'll turn water into wine at any given
moment, kiddo." Her smile is both prideful and
absent. "You're her knight in shining armor."
"Maybe so," he says, and eats another bite of Mrs.
MacIlvenne's homemade layer cake. His mother goes
back to reading.
Tim stops being quietly angry at his father for insisting
he go with them to the charity ball when he sees
that Bruce had brought Jason, too.
He usually doesn't.
When he was much younger, Tim had wished he
could come up with a good reason to attend more of
these things with his parents, because Dick almost
*always* came. After three times in a row of inching
close enough to hear Bruce Wayne saying things
about Jason being sick or Jason just finding these
things dull, God only knows why, ha-ha, Tim had
They *are* dull, in all honesty. *Especially* the ones
like this benefit for the Children's Burn Center, where
everyone shoves whatever kids they might have into
uncomfortable clothing and drags them along to be
He'd been *very* young when he'd realized that just
because the other kids were as bored as *he* was
didn't mean they'd stop being *boring*.
All of them wish they were somewhere else, and most
of them don't even know where.
Tim thinks Jason knows.
He's taller than he was in the alley. Tim had *known*
that, but it's still...
He hasn't been this close to him since then. It makes
a difference. It makes the scar Tim doesn't have on
his throat itch.
And it's *been* a long time, but there's something
different about the way Bruce is around Jason, different
from the way he'd been around Dick. Something in the
hand that keeps migrating to Jason's shoulder, about
the way Bruce's body language doesn't match the usual
blandly hearty voice.
Jason has a healing black eye and one of the waiters
isn't slipping him ginger ale, at all.
Jason's eyes sweep over everyone in the room with
thinly-veiled contempt every few moments.
And Bruce's eyes aren't much better.
When they aren't close, Jason prowls around the edges
of the room like a caged animal. When they *are*
close, Bruce looks like Batman. Tim bites his lip and
sweeps as much of his hair as he can over his
forehead. He needs a haircut, so it hides his eyes, a
He's... he's *watching* them, and there's no way for
them to know it -- nobody knows Tim Drake, and
nobody should -- but there's a nagging feeling like
hopeful dread in his stomach, just the same. They're
both so well-trained, so *honed* for this...
They have to know *someone* here is watching, and
seeing more than billionaire Bruce Wayne and his
tragic adopted son.
And maybe, just maybe that's why they're moving like
this, why they're both so *watchful*.
I'm here, he wants to say. I'm right here, and it's just
me, and even though I'm just another rich kid playing
with my shrimp cocktail, I *know* you. I know both of
you, and I want you to know me so, so badly.
He'd never even gotten to *thank* Jason, not even
for saving his stupid neck and his stupid *wallet*.
Certainly not for his *life*. A girlfriend who gives him
all the freedom he wants, and... and a *reason*.
He wouldn't have had *any* of that if not for Jason,
and -- the sick feeling in his stomach is reflexive and
familiar. He hasn't forgotten Dick. He never
It's just that Dick had never saved his life, and Dick
had never... he'd always been so *far*. Never any
closer than the other side of his camera, and now
all the way up in New York City.
He would never be able to touch Dick, or be seen as
anything more than a little boy he'd met on the worst
day of his life. Tim honestly doesn't know how he'd
*ever* thought any different. It all seems like some
other little boy's dream.
Because it's not like Jason is *really* any closer -- Tim
isn't even a *brown* belt, yet -- but still...
He's the most *alive* thing in this whole room. The
most *real*. All he has to do to bring Batman to the
surface is get close enough to the touch, and Tim
wonders if it feels as magical to Bruce as it looks to
He feels himself flushing and stares back down at the
shrimp cocktail, pink curls like skinned fingers
scratching at the thick, red sauce. Dead and bland.
Just like everyone else in the room.
But... he's *trying*.
And maybe one day he'll be alive, too.
The funny thing is that none of the journalists covering
the story seem to have found anything odd at all about
the fact that Bruce Wayne and Jason Todd had been in
Ethiopia at the same time as the Joker while,
coincidentally, Batman and Robin were nowhere to
be seen in Gotham.
Well, no, the *funny* thing is that he'd thought he'd
gotten used to the stunning lack of *awareness* of
the world around him, but he really hadn't. It was
still just as stunning as it ever was, really.
A lot like a hammer to the back of the head and
punch to the stomach.
A lot like the fact that Jason is *dead*, in the
Robin is dead.
Ellie says he's moody.
Mrs. MacIlvenne has taken to making quietly dire
statements about the 'megrims' of teenagers to the
house at large, at which his father grunts laughter
and makes jokes about wishing he could call up his
parents to apologize, because *Lord*, does he ever
His mother is still in Paris. Theoretically, she's
working with their attorneys overseas on the details
of the new plant Drake Industries is opening in the
French countryside. The fact that she'd spent the
last week before her trip not-talking very, very
loudly to his father has nothing to do with it, of
Tim Drake doesn't -- *didn't* -- know Jason Todd.
He'd never so much as been introduced to the boy
at a party, and, by rights, he should just be thinking
of him as 'that Wayne kid.'
Just like everyone else.
Just like -- *everyone* else in the whole state,
because -- as of last night, anyway -- Dick was still
in New York City, with the Titans. There was a
private funeral. There won't be a larger one.
He has no reason to be at the grave.
He *has* no reason to go to the grave, because it
He stands up quickly. Too quickly -- the chair scrapes
across the kitchen floor, and, after a moment of
silence, Mrs. MacIlvenne sighs quietly and mutters
under her breath. His father peers at him over his
"You know, son, they *make* mood stabilizers for
kids your age, now."
His grades are good. The kid who he'd kicked last
night until there was blood on his sneakers -- he
*needs* boots -- doesn't go to his school. And he'd
been trying to steal Tim's wallet, besides. Ellie gave
him a teddy bear that sits, plushly obvious, on his
computer desk. He has no reason. No reason.
His father is still looking at him.
The most important thing in my life is rotting under
the ground, because a madman beat him to death,
His father sighs. "Right. Why don't we reschedule this
heart-to-heart for when the hormones settle down,
"Why. Don't we."
He walks until he can't hear the rattle of his father's
newspaper, until he's in his room, and the door is
closed, and the carpet is soft-scratchy under his
knees, and his face is pressed to the mattress, his
teeth are pressed in the mattress, and the blanket is
scraping his tongue dry and he --
He grabs blindly for the stereo remote and turns it on,
and cranks the volume loud. It's Jason's favorite band,
judging by the credit card records, and assuming
Bruce's taste in music hadn't changed dramatically.
It *was* Jason's favorite band.
He turns up the volume a little louder.
And *then* he screams.
Ellie still thinks cemeteries are romantic, and she
dresses like an indie comic character, and her musical
taste is about fifteen years out of date and full of
slow, inexpertly-sung vocals and bad production
She'd done an excellent job with the black dye in her
hair, though. It looks almost natural, and makes the
eyebrows disappear from her face. She looks as
ghostly as he feels.
" -- don't think 'Ellie' fits me, anymore. Why couldn't
my mom have given me a *cool* name, like... I
don't know, Raven, or something?"
"You'd hate the name 'Raven,' in five years," he says,
and wonders if the real Raven ever sucks out Goth
kids' angst for kicks. He leads them closer to where
he wants to be.
She sighs and twists the hand she has in Tim's own,
but not to get him to let go. "Yeah, you're probably
right. Still. Every time someone calls me 'Ellie' I want
to scream. It's not my *name*, and I don't even
know what my real name *is*."
He pauses next to an incredibly phallic monument to
some skeleton's successful capitalism. He...
"Tim? What is it?"
He understands completely. He looks at her, and cups
her face, and her eyes widen.
"No. But. Eleanor. I like... I like 'Eleanor.'"
She makes a face. "It's my *grandmother's* name.
You *met* her. She wears Laura Ashley For
"It's classic. It's simple. It's elegant. And almost no
one else our age has it."
"I... oh." She blinks, too fast, and her mascara is a
little uneven and a lot thick. "'Eleanor.' I like it."
Tim nods, and lets go of her face. They're almost
Eleanor hums under her breath, occasionally breaking
into high, breathy snatches from a song on the mix
tape she'd given him most recently.
"'Through the windshield we all fly,'" he says in his
own, toneless voice, when it's time.
"You *did* listen!"
"I always do. And I like that one." The monuments
are getting bigger and newer.
Eleanor swings their arms and bounces in a very Ellie
way. "I *knew* I'd find *something* you liked,
sooner or later. God, I've got so much more --"
"Here," he says, and tries to say something else, but...
he really can't. He's been within view of the
monument several times, but he's never been this
close. His palm is sweating, and he pulls it away from
Eleanor's and shoves it in the pocket of his jeans.
"What's... oh, hey, isn't that the --"
"Don't." She was going to say 'Wayne kid.'
"Uh... okay?" She scrubs a hand back through her hair,
settling it neatly on her head. He's never been able to
figure out how girls do that without mirrors. "It's a
He would've hated it. It was paid for by Alfred
Pennyworth, who had made *all* of the arrangements,
because Bruce --
"So... why here?"
He changed everything. He *was* everything. I was
dreaming about him before I knew what your mouth
tasted like. "I..."
"Oh, man. You knew him, didn't you? You totally did.
Avra *said* you used to hang out by the high school,
He needs to be more subtle.
"Why didn't you *say* something?"
Say *what*? He balls his hands into fists, stretching
out the pockets of his jeans.
"Don't." He takes a breath. "Just... I needed to be
He can feel her looking at him. It had seemed like a
good idea to bring her here. It had, after all, been
weeks since *he'd* chosen a destination for their
He didn't want to be alone. Jason isn't here. Jason
isn't anywhere, anymore.
After a while, Eleanor slips her arm through his and
presses close until her cheek is on his shoulder.
She's got two inches on him, so it probably isn't as
comfortable as it could be.
She's warm, and he isn't.
He's still alone.
"I'm not gonna try to make you talk about it, or
"I just... okay. I'm gonna shut up in a minute, but just
listen to me, okay?"
She rubs her cheek against his shoulder like she's using
it to scratch an itch and tightens the hold she has on
his arm. "Okay, some secrets are really cool, like the
fact that no one but me at our school knows that
you've got a really *nice* body under those clothes."
"Yeah, well, unless those rumors about the soccer
team are true, I don't actually care who sees you in
the locker room."
Some of them are true. More about the swim team.
She reaches down and tugs his hand out of his pocket
until she can hold it again. "And also I kind of like
having a secret ninja boyfriend. I *haven't* told
anyone about your black belt, I swear."
If she had, he probably wouldn't have been able to
avoid getting into fights at their school.
"It's just... this guy. Jason Todd."
"He was your friend or whatever, and now he's dead,
and you're all fucked up, and your parents just think
you're going through a phase or something."
He'll never understand why people feel the need to
state the obvious.
Eleanor squeezes his hand, and her palm is sweaty,
too. "Look, you should talk to *someone* about
He looks at her. "I'm the one who told you how to
convince your therapist you were fine, Eleanor."
She lets go and thumps him on the shoulder. He
doesn't dodge. "I'm not talking about some stupid
shrink, you jerk! Just..." When she scrubs her hand
back through her hair this time, it's less neat. "Talk
to his *other* friends. It's not like you're grounded
or anything. You just. You should be with someone
who knew him."
It's... a frighteningly good idea. She's staring at the
ground, and when the wind tosses her hair back
over her shoulder Tim can tell that she's blushing.
He wonders if she thinks 'someone who knew him'
will turn out to be a girl.
As near as he can tell, Jason had stopped seeing
Bethany quite a long time ago. And Claire, and
Rachel. It's entirely unclear whether Jason had had
any sort of relationship with Barbara Gordon.
He wonders if it would be reassuring to mention
that the only people he's *sure* are mourning the
boy beneath their feet happen to be adult male
urban legends and the British manservant who
He looks back at the angel.
Eleanor sighs, and hugs herself on the edges of
her vision. "I like the older cemeteries better. This
is just too... tidy."
'Perpetual care' might actually mean something
here, considering the size of Bruce Wayne's check.
It *is* too tidy. "Let's go."
When he woke up the morning after the trip to Jason's
grave, the thoughts and plans he'd had the night before
were abruptly terrifying, and unthinkable.
*How* could he just *go* to them? He wasn't even...
He was nothing.
So he'd apologized to his father, and endured Mrs.
MacIlvenne's winking comments about the benefits of
young love, and he'd gone to school, and he'd focused
on using the name 'Eleanor,' around as many people
as possible to help Ellie with her name 'change.'
Tim Drake is a good kid, a good student, and a good
Tim Drake *was* in a bad mood, but now he isn't.
He smiles in the mirror until it feels right.
Alfred Pennyworth visits Jason's grave every Saturday
Dick comes down from New York City sometimes.
Usually, he's with Starfire, and their disguises are a
reminder that life goes on, that the *world* goes
on, because the world's newspapers are full of the
news that Dick is dating a supermodel from
Somewhere Exotic, who just happens to have the
same cloud of 'hair' as one of the Teen Titans.
Tim Drake was okay, and everyone could see it.
And he lasts two weeks before he's studying the
newspapers again. It isn't... he *had* to.
Because there was an exclusive interview on the
news with a man who was, actually, a paid informant
for the FBI. From the hospital where he'd been
comatose for nearly a month.
They didn't know if he would walk again.
And no one had actually *said* the word 'Batman,'
He had to.
The black dots radiate out from the neighborhood that
used to be entirely red, a shadowy cluster of vicious -- *imprecise* -- beatings. His mother gives him pepper
spray for his key chain.
His father starts talking about Switzerland again.
And Tim goes to school and comes home and walks the
city and watches the people who don't believe in
anything, who don't *do* anything, move around as
though there are people watching, as though...
Once, when his father's flight had been delayed due to
a blizzard, they'd watched the nature channel together
for a few hours before it was time for Tim to pretend to
go to sleep before the dreams reached up and pulled
him back where he belonged.
It was a program about hurricanes, and the behavior
of animals beforehand. How they hide, and whine, and
How they *know*.
It isn't the first time he's wondered if Gotham was a city
full of dogs who'd learned to move on their hind legs
and bark on cell phones. Eleanor laughs when he says
it, her breath a cloud of gin and her tongue a virulent
food-coloring green with pink edges. He kisses her on
the roof of the condemned warehouse, and she bites
his tongue and pushes up hard against him.
Her breasts are getting bigger.
"You *know* this would be better with *actual*
He has a few theories about where her money and a
little subtlety could actually get her what she wants.
He's almost sure he shouldn't share that information.
Tim lets her snuggle against his chest, instead. She's
loose enough that the height differential probably
isn't making too much of a difference to her, at this
point. He strokes the tangles out of her hair, and
looks east and --
It's strange to the see the signal light up the sky these
days. The old, familiar mix of shared-secret-satisfaction
and this new... this new *something*.
Once upon a time, Tim had thought he was restless, that
the blood was rushing through his veins so quickly that
it would burn itself to ash. A good run would've taken
care of *that* feeling.
He doesn't actually know what would take care of this
"Your mom thinks I'm a skank."
She'd liked Eleanor better when she was Ellie. "Hm."
Eleanor giggles against his neck, and Tim represses the
urge to flinch at the tickle. "I'm the only one in my
*entire* group of friends who hasn't even gotten to
*third*. Parents are so stupid."
Everyone who can't look up and *see* the shadow
flitting across the moon and know it for what it actually
is. Somebody else's blood on the Batman's gauntlet.
Somebody else paying for a dead boy with pain. He
"We *could* do something about that, you know."
Tim blinks, and freezes, and Eleanor's arms slip around
his waist. She's still breathing against his neck, though.
She hasn't looked at the signal *or* his face.
"I mean... I don't mind." She isn't giggling anymore,
and Tim thinks, and unknots another tangle in her hair,
and stares at her blonde roots, and wishes.
"Why be predictable," he says into her hair, "when you
can be us?"
She squeezes him hard, and shivers a little. The
depressant qualities of alcohol... Eleanor had consumed
just enough tonight to slow herself down, and not
*quite* enough to avoid being able to feel it.
Tim strokes her hair, and watches the signal shut off,
and stares at the moon.
"There's this new club down at the docks," Eleanor
says. "Lots of fights."
Having made the decision, it's just a matter of deciding
how to implement the matter. His parents swallow
every story he can come up with about 'pick-up
basketball' and Mrs. MacIlvenne says 'boys will be boys'
at least once a week.
With a perfectly straight face.
His home life is taken care of. It's just...
He doesn't want to look like just another punk when he
talks to Bruce. *Really* talks to him. He doesn't want to
be another rich boy doing his best to fuck up the
expensive suit his parents had shoved him in, and he
It's a lie.
The truth is, the last thing he sees before he goes to
sleep most nights is the fading greens and yellows of
Jason's black eye, and the cuts on his knuckles feel like
a little boy's Halloween costume.
"I don't get it, Tim. Honestly." His father is addressing
the mirror while he fixes his bowtie. "First you love to
go to these things -- God knows why -- then you hate
it, then you love it again. Do you think you could *try*
to give me a little warning about these little mood
swings of yours?"
"Oh, give it a rest, Jack. I've managed to convince my
migraine it doesn't exist, and the last thing I need is for
you to raise the thing's self-esteem again."
His father snorts and yanks the bowtie straight. "God
forbid," he says and turns to lean back against the
other side of his armoire. "Look, you're exactly as
smart as that school I'm paying for says you are. I
*know* I don't have to explain PR."
There's someone there I need to speak to, and I don't
think I'm ready. There's something important, and I'm
His mother walks over and ruffles his hair, the edges of
her new manicure scratching lightly at his scalp.
"Marjorie Jameson's daughter will be there, too, you
Melanie Jameson's bulimia is progressing nicely,
especially since he'd give Eleanor that Ipecac to slip in
her Diet Coke. "I do *have* a girlfriend, Mom."
Her mouth twists and she looks at him the same way
she looks at his father, sometimes. He probably should
have said something more along the lines of 'Melanie
Jameson likes her men a little closer to Dad's age, with
at least as many credit cards.'
"Your mother *does* have a point, son. I know you like
Ellie, but you're just a little too young to be *this*
serious about her."
Or possibly not. He hasn't yet decided whether it would
be a good idea to tell his parents how much he knows
about the sex lives of his fellow students. "I'm just not
feeling... my best. Tonight," he says, and his mother
ruffles his hair again and moves back to her vanity.
"Your father promised we'd be able to get out of there
by one, kiddo, and I intend to keep him to that." She
winks at him. "So suck it up and take one for the
"Hmph," his father says, and checks his watch. "Your
mother will undoubtedly make her escape at one a.m.
no matter *what* happens. Just stay in her wake and
you'll be fine."
Tim nods and goes to get changed.
The new DI facility is up in Essex county, and will
undoubtedly be welcome to the two hundred or so
families who'll get good, steady, and fully unionized
employment. None of those families are *here*
tonight, however, unless any of the wait staff has
relatives up there.
He isn't, actually, sure why Bruce Wayne was on the
list of attendees his father had left lying on his
roll-top. The fact is, Bruce has skipped most of these
things since... since Jason died.
For him to be at *this* one, when he has no one to
drag with him but some coked-out debutante...
It has to be hard.
But his eyes are perfectly blank and vapid and,
whenever his date tries to latch onto his right arm --
the pictures Tim had gotten had been quite explicit
about there being *some* sort of wound there -- he
simply laughs smoothly and transfers her to his left.
There are dark circles under his eyes that everyone in
the room is whispering about, whenever they think
others aren't paying attention. Or perhaps when they
can be sure someone *is*, if whatever they have to
say registers as clever to themselves.
He watches Bruce shake his father's hand and listens to
him ask a half-dozen questions that manage to be both
boring enough to drive his date away and blisteringly
*stupid* enough to make the skin beneath his *father's* eyes twitch.
He's close enough to be able to smell Bruce's cologne --
it's one his father has never worn -- and he realizes that,
in truth, he's not all that *much* closer now than he was
a week before, when the only thing that had separated
them was a handy wall, Tim's camera, and the fact that
the Batman had been entirely focused on beating a drug
dealer's teeth out.
The realization shocks him dumb, and by the time Tim
can *think* again, Bruce is surrounded by several of his
And then it's time for his father's speech, and *then* it's
time to be dutifully 'introduced' to Melanie by his mother.
Melanie spends the whole time smirking and saying
things like 'oh, you go to *my* school?'
Tim spends the whole time pondering thoughts of
laxatives and dietetic brownies. His mother and Melanie's
take approximately six years to lose interest in the
prospective love match, but...
It's worth it.
Bruce has found a corner of the ballroom that was
somehow missed by the party planners and their
legions of inexplicably Japanese-style lanterns. It isn't
quite a shadow, but at least there's no one else
He walks away from Melanie mid eye-roll, before he
can second guess himself and the 'flesh'-colored
bandages on his knuckles.
Bruce's gaze sweeps over him twice before he gets
close enough to speak. By the time he *does*, the
man's eyes are bland again. It's like looking up at a
"Hello... Tommy, is it?" He has a voice that would
make a morning disc jockey on a pop radio station
It's not his real one. "You're doing an admirable job of
pretending, Mr. Wayne." Honestly, Tim thinks he could
Especially with the way his face screws up in a
confusion that isn't -- quite -- exaggerated. "I'm
The music and laughter feels like a wave held away
from his back by the thinnest of barriers. At any time,
it could crash over them both and the moment -- Tim
bites his lip. He'd had a *speech* for this. He'd had a
speech for this *before* it meant this much.
And he has absolutely no time to use it.
"I met Jason once, you know," he says, and makes a
point of looking Bruce directly in the eye. "That
*wasn't* the name he was using."
It's like watching an ill-made mask fall off. It's like
watching a *blindfold* come off, because Tim can
*see* what the real Bruce must look like, just for a
moment. The man who couldn't make his own son's
burial arrangements. The man who was a Bat.
And he knows -- *knows* -- Bruce can see him,
Just for a moment, and another, and Tim doesn't think
he's breathing. He isn't sure why his heart is still
beating. This is *exactly* what --
The mask slips back with devastating perfection. No,
Bruce's eyes are --
"I'm afraid I don't know *what* you're talking about,
young man," he says, and the hypothetical disc
jockey sounds irritated. "Now, if you'll excuse --"
"I have proof," he says, because it would probably be
rude to say 'you could've said something about *me*
being rude, or about grief, but you didn't and I
*know* you didn't.'
And Bruce isn't moving, not even to blink.
And the reason why Tim's heart is still beating is
because it needs to *race*.
And the look in Bruce's eyes... it wasn't the Bat,
before. *This* is the Bat. The one who puts people
who aren't *that* guilty in traction, now, because.
Because Robin is dead. Tim forces himself to
"I'd be lying if I said I didn't want anything from you.
But it isn't..." What you think. What *would* he
think? "That," he finishes, weakly.
Bruce's teeth show, white and just as ominous as
they should be. "Then. What."
He didn't have a speech for this. He'd never been able
to... he'd never gotten to *thank* Jason, or tell him...
he'd never. He feels his face heat and bites his lip
*hard* and forces himself to keep his eyes open. "I
miss him. I miss him and I. I think." I think I loved
him and I just need. "I miss him, too," he says again,
and watches Bruce stare at him.
Tim tightens his fingers around his glass of sparkling
grape juice and Bruce's gaze sweeps over his
bandaged knuckles like some kind of metal *rake*
before scraping back up to his eyes.
And Bruce looks...
It's like being searched. It's like... he doesn't know
what it's like. "I --"
"The manor. Eight a.m. You won't have school."
It isn't a question. And it's absolutely true -- most of
the schools have tomorrow off for a teacher's
convention. It isn't a question and it isn't a
*suggestion*. It's an order. Tim nods and nods and
has to force himself to *stop*.
It doesn't matter. Bruce is already moving back to the
party. When he looks back over his shoulder, there's a
smile on his face that makes Tim's stomach try to
swallow itself. And he waves.
Tim drinks his grape juice and wishes, for a moment,
that he'd taken Eleanor up on her offer to carry her
flask on nights like these. He focuses on getting his
breathing back to normal. On --
His father claps him on the shoulder. "Now, son, I
know you're a generous sort, but it might be a little
late to teach *that* one how to read."
He focuses on not knocking his father's hand off his
There were too many dreams last night to *really*
remember, but every step on the perfectly-maintained
path up to the manor's front door feels like prodding
on the mass of subconscious deja vu.
He feels like he's been walking this way his entire
He's irrationally positive that, were he to turn around,
there'd be nothing *but* path stretching behind him
until it met the horizon.
Or that maybe there'd be nothing at all.
The space between his shoulderblades itches, and the
back of his neck feels feverish, and it all makes his
knees want to shake until he *really* thinks about it.
It's *Wayne Manor*. Somewhere on these grounds is
the Batman's base of operations.
Of *course* he's being watched.
He laughs to himself, and it doesn't sound any more
wrong than all the birds singing in the trees, and it
doesn't *feel* any more wrong than the sun shining
down on him.
And when Bruce opens the door before he can so much
as *knock*... well, that's right, too.
Tim blinks, and swallows back a wave of nausea. He
*had* dreamed of talking to Bruce before, of being
*invited* here before. It could have -- he could
"Come in," Bruce says, and his voice is low and rough
and not remotely related to anything that might be on
a radio station.
Unless it's one Eleanor would listen to.
It takes a moment for his eyes to adjust, but the door
closes behind them and they're already moving. Bruce's
hand is big and hard on his shoulders, and the carpet
beneath his feet feels as soft as the one in his own
"Ah, Master Bruce. I take it our visitor *wasn't* a salesman?"
Tim can just make out the vague outline of the man
who must be Alfred Pennyworth.
Bruce says, "no. He's. A guest," and tightens his hand
on Tim's shoulder in something which may or may not
be a message, but *feels* like an attempt to make
sure he doesn't go anywhere.
Tim's heart is beating too fast again.
"Hm. Then I suppose I should *not* have released
Alfred comes closer and offers Tim his hand. "One
should always greet guests properly. Alfred
Tim raises his hand to shake Alfred's, and Bruce's
grip shifts on his shoulder *just* enough to allow
it. "Tim Drake. It's. It's a pleasure to meet you,
sir." His vision is finally clearing. Alfred looks
precisely the way he'd always imagined him from
the few mentions in his mother's Better Gotham
Right down to the completely undisguised *shrewd*
look in his eyes, and the fact that it doesn't seem like
it's entirely for him. "Drake. Why, that *does* sound
familiar. Perhaps it was something I saw while I was
doing the morning's dusting downstairs," he says,
and manages to not look at Bruce in an extremely
"Alfred." Bruce squeezes his shoulder again, and Tim
can't *see* Bruce's face, and he doubts that there'd
be anything *on* it, but his voice...
He sounds like he's pleading for something, and it
makes him feel... it makes him *feel*.
"Hm," Alfred says, and focuses on Tim so sharply he
wants to rock on his heels. "Master Bruce has suffered
a terrible loss recently, as you are undoubtedly
"Yes, I..." He has no idea how to finish that
"Today is, perhaps, not the *best* possible time to
strengthen your acquaintance, which is something of
which I'm sure Master *Bruce* is aware."
"If --" 'If you're sure,' is what he was going to say, but
it comes out on a hiss when Bruce tightens his grip
*painfully*. He watches Alfred's gaze shift to the hand
Bruce has on his shoulder.
And it's just a small thing, but something about it
seems large to Alfred, and perhaps to Bruce, too. His
grip slackens again, and Alfred stands straight and
And he isn't looking at Tim at all, anymore.
"I'll be serving tea in the *study* in fifteen minutes,"
and Alfred's expression is entirely blank.
After a moment's pause, a moment where Tim realizes
he's close enough to *feel* Bruce breathing -- and
Bruce *wasn't* before, he -- Bruce says, "That will be
fine, Alfred. Thank you."
And Tim remembers the manners he's *supposed*
to have. "Yes, thank you, Mr. Pennyworth."
The blankness slips off his face, leaving something
dark and almost *bleak*, but Alfred only nods and
And then Bruce is leading him again, like the movies
where someone taps a mule's shoulder. It's soundless
and swift, and the study turns out to be what most
people would call a library.
A quick look at the shelves after Bruce releases his
shoulder shows all the books *here* are fiction,
however, and Bruce is... looking into him, again.
It seems almost absurd that there had actually been
ten full hours when he *hadn't* been. Tim swallows,
and curls his hands into loose fists at his side before
he can think better of it.
"You're a fighter," Bruce says, and there's a
speculative question in his voice that makes Tim's
"Yes," he says, and pauses again. Or...
It's not a pause, not really. It's more a matter of the
volume being turned up on the universe. Bruce is
wearing slacks and a polo shirt and shoes he
recognizes from the catalogs that come in with his
father's name on them, and he isn't *doing*
He studies, and then has to blink. Bruce's *posture*
is only slightly different from one of the attack
stances he'd learned in karate class.
It looks more efficient.
"Is that..." Bruce gestures at his fists. "Did the two
of you fight?"
The two of them. The... Tim breathes, and *breathes*,
and realizes -- finally -- that *his* stance is just a
different *kind* of ready position. He can't make
himself move. "No. He saved my life. He -- there
Bruce raises an eyebrow. "In your neighborhood?"
Bruce undoubtedly knows everything that has ever
been written down about him, at this point. The fact
that there's a lot which never has been, and hopefully
never *will* be has never felt so...
"No," Tim says. "I was in the Ironbound. There were
a lot of... sightings there. Of Robin. I was looking for
"And he found you."
Bruce nods at him, and Tim had only *thought* the
level of scrutiny was high before. Now... now it's hard
not to look down at his shoes, just to be *sure* they
haven't been nailed very precisely to the floor. "Were
you looking for Robin... or Jason?"
"Jason. I -- I knew. When Dick left --"
"Start at the beginning."
And in all the times he'd imagined telling this,
*sharing* this, he'd never realized how good it would
He'd spent so much time, so *much* time imagining
ways to tell the story so he wouldn't hurt Dick, so he
wouldn't make Dick *or* Jason think he was a
complete *freak*, but he'd never...
Bruce stands, and listens, and *sees*.
Because it's a story about Robin. And no one could
ever know more about how *important* Robin is
"... and then, when he died. I. I just."
Bruce turns away, and it feels like being torn *away*
from something, even though he's just looking out
"One afternoon, I came in here for tea, and I... felt
"He was there."
Bruce points at the tree closest. "He was there, sitting
on that branch. He was supposed to be in school."
He'd often skipped. In the beginning, anyway.
"He was *grinning*," Bruce says, and the rough,
growling undertone feels like the one Tim had always
imagined in his own voice whenever he'd
considered -- idly -- trying to tell Eleanor something
of what he'd felt.
"I've been dreaming about that grin for almost two
years," he says, and flushes hard.
Harder when he hears Bruce *gasp*.
"There was no one. Who understood. Who I could
*tell*. I --"
Bruce can move exactly as fast as he should, as
silently and -- he takes Tim's hand and lifts it
between them. Tim hadn't bothered replacing the
band-aids, and the spring morning light is ruthless
on his knuckles.
"You have at least some training in karate."
"Yes, I --"
"That *isn't* how you got these."
"Jason didn't use karate on the streets. I..." He
frowns. "Not against the sort of fighters he was up
against when he saved me."
"Not for just two of them, no," Bruce says, and he
turns Tim's hand back and forth in his own, almost in
the way a physician would.
Tim wonders if he'd spent much time around his
father, when he was young.
"You wanted to fight the way he did."
Bruce's hand tightens on his own, with a very
specific amount of pressure. "No. *You* can't."
Tim blinks. "I --"
"You're quick, you're intelligent, and you have a small
amount of formal training. However, unless your bones
are lined with lead, you *also* weigh less than Jason
did when I found him half-starved on the streets. If
you persist in behaving like a street-fighter, there is
nothing I can do with you."
"Oh. I... I didn't --"
Bruce cocks his head at him. He's blocking the light
from the windows, and his eyes are black and
shadowed. "You are also, quite obviously, an
"Not to you."
The pressure on his hand increases. "*Never* to
"No. I -- I *wouldn't*."
Bruce nods, slowly. "Then tell me, Tim. Why did you
It's everything he's been waiting for.
It's everything he was afraid of when Dick moved,
and everything he'd *learned* when he washed the
blood Jason's gauntlets had left out of his hair.
It's the scar he doesn't have.
He tilts his head up, and stands up straight. "You've
been brutal out there. You've been... obvious and
Bruce's eyes burn into him like something... like...
"Batman needs a Robin. And so do I."
Bruce leans closer, and his eyes are back to being
blue. Blue and wild and *alive*, and Tim's hand
spasms in Bruce's grasp. Bruce doesn't so much as
blink. "You'll always have one. Even if I don't."
Because this might get him killed. Like Jason. Tim
licks his lips and Bruce's eyes smile at him.
Bruce knows exactly why that feels like as much of a
promise as the rest. He knows --
"I recommend doing your best to avoid the latter.
We wouldn't want me to be... inefficient."
The first indication *Tim* gets of Alfred presence is
the sound of a tray hitting the desk. And Alfred's
deep, heartfelt sigh. "I trust the two of you will salve
my pride enough to *consume* the tea here before
running off to the Cave?"
The laugh comes out before he can help it, and he
swallows back the second and *blushes*, but can't
hold back the rest. At all.
It's not as though the bleakness has left Alfred's eyes,
or that the pressure Bruce has on his hand has
stopped being... *intense*.
It's just *everything*.
"I'm sorry," he says, when he can stop gasping.
"Quite all right, Master Timothy, I'm sure."
"Thank you for the tea, Alfred," Bruce says, in a quiet
voice that the sound of Alfred's footsteps confirm was
as much of a dismissal as it *seemed* like.
In a quiet voice that just makes the feel of his hand
in Bruce's own even more... *more*.
He twists his hand away. Because he *has* to if he
doesn't want to embarrass himself. And because it
makes Bruce's thumb scrape over three of his
knuckles. Bruce's eyes on him are as avid as his
"When will you start teaching me?"
Bruce rests his hand on Tim's shoulder and pushes
him gently toward the tea tray. "When do you have
to be home?"
It's something else to thank Jason for, on so many
Sometimes he wakes up crying, because in his
dreams he gets to *say* it, say *all* of it, and
Jason's bloody gauntlets stroke his throat so, so
And he says it, and Jason nods, and punches him
too hard, and bounces his head off a wall that
doesn't actually exist, and, when he wakes up, he
remembers that it doesn't really *matter* that he
has the words for it.
That he knows exactly what he wants to thank
Jason for, because Jason is dead and gone and
he'll never *see* Tim.
But that's only sometimes.
*Most* of the time...
He has parents who fully expect him to come home
from 'school' late, because once upon a time Jason
told him to go have *fun*, and he'd listened.
And it's not like Mrs. *MacIlvenne* expects any
different from him. After all, he has a girlfriend, and
young love makes the clover spring into life, and
boys will be boys.
And Eleanor... well.
He's reasonably sure they are still, technically,
He's *absolutely* sure she's also sleeping with
Evan Grimes, who's a junior, and also happens
to be the biggest dealer in their school.
Her grades are still adequate, and she doesn't seem
to be *unhappy*, but... well, it really wouldn't take
more than an anonymous phone call about the
contents of her gym locker if something *does*
need to be done.
For now, breaking up with her would be problematic
in too many ways.
And he wants her to be happy. He owes *her* a
thanks he can never actually give, too.
In more than his silence and acceptance, anyway.
It feels like a balance happened, somewhere. The
universal equivalent of the way it feels when he's
bracing himself one-handed and upside down on the
balance beam, and Bruce is correcting his form for
maximum stability and endurance.
And if he misses the street-fighting...
He turns a page he'd actually *read* sometime last
week, in the time between waking up from the
dreams and getting back to sleep before dawn. There's
a rhythm to this, too, and it's all about timing. No one
will pay attention to him, so long as he turns the pages
just slow enough.
Once, he would've been lost to the absolute boredom
of his little act, and to the *pointlessness* of it. Of a
life where he'd had to expend useless effort just to
keep useless people from asking useless questions.
And it had tired him out deep down where he couldn't
*reach*, and it had left his actual, physical body just
*aching* with the need to do something real. To
Bruce makes him feel every day.
And there are other things. Other... *perquisites*, like
his father might say.
The Case watches everything. The Case *sees*
everything, and the mats are on a direct sight-line to
When he works his katas, he's not just doing it *for*
Jason, he's doing it *with* him. And every kick feels
like "look what you gave me," and every punch feels
like it comes from the whole Cave, from the ghosts
that make more sense than anything else ever did in
He's... he's so *close*.
And it doesn't matter that he won't be on the streets
No -- it absolutely matters. It's just one more
No one has ever told him he wasn't good enough,
before. No one has ever told him he'd had to *work*
for something, and showed him *why*.
Every bruise hidden under his clothes has a point.
Every dream that's ever woken him up tangled and
sweating and *alone* was leading him here.
Eleanor's hand flops down off the desk and swings a
little. Tim nudges her awake before the teacher can
decide to be a prick about the fact that study hall was
then, is now, and will always be fucking useless.
She smiles at him with fuzzed, dreamy eyes. Her
lipstick is as black as Bruce's cowl.
"Thanks, Tim," she mouths.
Tim winks at her.
And turns another page.
He can feel that the Cave isn't empty before he's
halfway down the stairs, which isn't actually strange.
There are any number of times when Bruce has
come home well before five from his office.
It's part of *his* cover.
However, on days like that, Alfred is usually very
visible in the manor itself, moving around, being
*there* for Tim -- for *both* of them -- to see,
and know about.
Tim has his suspicions about why that might be.
They're for another day.
As it is, the Cave isn't empty, and Alfred was
nowhere to be seen, and Bruce *had* mentioned,
yesterday, that there were meetings he absolutely
had to attend today.
He takes the steps one at a time, and deliberately
forces himself not to slow his pace any more than
that. If it's an intruder, he or she wouldn't *have*
to be armed *before* they got here.
But if it's an intruder, they almost certainly couldn't
know half as much as *he* does about the weapons
the Cave has to offer.
But when he gets to the bottom of the stairs and
turns... it's a dark head bent at the console. And.
"I could've tapped into most of this information from
the Tower," Dick says. "But some things are worth
seeing for yourself. Right?"
The fact that the only possible greeting that comes
to his mind is 'hello,' with a side of 'um,' is more
proof than anyone could possibly need that he needs
to keep his mouth *shut*.
Dick spins the chair around and stands. He's in
civvies, and, for some reason, it makes this even
harder. The Robin suit *Dick* had last worn would
still fit him perfectly. *Telling* himself that Dick is
Nightwing now, that Dick had *left*...
"Between Alfred's phone call and Bruce's files, I now
know not just every easily-discernible fact about your
existence, but that *you* know just about every
easily-discernible fact about *mine*." The smirk on
his face is sardonic, but not entirely cruel. "So I think
we can skip the introductions, Timmy."
He nods, more to himself than to Tim and walks
closer. And *keeps* walking, until he's circled Tim
("How you choose to size another person up is as
important as any and all information you take in.")
Bruce's voice in his mind is just a confirmation of
what he already knows. This is a message. "So
you're the new Robin."
And a test. "Not yet," is what he says when Dick is
looking at his face again. The nod he gets this time
is somewhat closer to being a response.
"I honestly didn't think Bruce would do this again."
"I came to him," Tim says, and *then* thinks about
the fact that the lack of stress on 'again,' is just as
telling as --
And Dick is laughing. "Yeah. I *got* that. You've
been stalking us -- all of us -- since you were *how*
I followed you. I followed you because I had to. "I
was three when we went to the circus, that night."
"And none of us ever saw it," he says, and something
about his posture suggests all the movement he isn't
"There's a difference between a nine year old with a
camera and an adult." I followed you, and then you
Dick nods, and it's back to not feeling like a response,
"I never would've... used the information," Tim tries,
and Dick waves a hand.
"It was Jason who brought you out of the woodwork."
Part of him wants to say something about how it was
his *death*, how Batman had been so... and Dick had
been in *New York*. But it's pointless, and obvious,
and also something of a lie.
The Case is watching.
"Yes," he says, and waits.
And Dick holds his eyes for a long moment, and then
there's another where he doesn't feel searched at *all*.
Dick's eyes are full of something that...
It doesn't belong to him. He *knows* it doesn't, but
that had never been able to stop him from looking.
In the end, it's Dick who turns away, and moves
toward the Case. He still walks like he'd rather be
dancing. Even for this.
"He was a good kid," Dick says.
He was more than that. For me and for Bruce. He
can't come up with a neutral way to say it, so he
doesn't say anything at all.
"When I came here to meet him, I just wanted to
take a good, long look at the kid Batman had
replaced me with. The one who'd changed his
mind about working with a partner."
He doesn't actually manage not to jump. Because...
Dick laughs and doesn't turn around. "Lemme
guess. You thought I'd quit." He strokes the Case,
outlining the mask in a lazy figure eight. "Thought
I'd thrown a tantrum and walked away from the
Mission. From *Bruce*." He taps the glass of the
Case three times, hard. "So did he."
"So here's my question for you, *Tim*. Does
knowing that change anything?"
Dick nods, long hair sweeping, a little, over the back
of his neck. "And what do you think *that* means?"
It's exactly like being punched. "It isn't... that isn't
what I *meant*. It doesn't change..." What Bruce
needs. What *I* need.
And Dick turns around, finally. The smirk is back,
and still gentle. "You almost sounded like a kid for a
Instead of a soldier.
"You might consider what *that* means, too,
Tim bites the inside of his cheek until he doesn't feel
like shaking anymore. Until he can stand up straight.
Dick raises an eyebrow. "Well, all accounts *say*
you're brilliant. So why don't you --"
"If I'd known -- if I'd *suspected* -- I would've come
Dick frowns, and it looks like honest confusion. "Are
you even *hearing* yourself?"
Tim resists the urge to ball his hands into fists. His
straight-finger strikes are infinitely more effective,
anyway. "You say you can get all the information
you need at the Tower. So why the fuck didn't *you*
know Bruce was falling *apart*?"
Dick's laugh is short and humorless and, again, doesn't
have a damned thing to do with him. He leans against
the Case and tenses. And barks another laugh. And
strokes his own cheekbone in a way that isn't idle at
all. "You know, that's really an excellent question,
"It wasn't *about* you, Dick. Whatever. Whatever he
did. It wasn't about you, and you know, I'm really
*fucking* sorry about that. It was about *Robin*.
"And it still is."
Dick smiles lazily at Jason's mask. "Kid's got a temper,
Jay. You *must* have been a wonderful influence.
Before you got yourself beaten to death, anyway."
"*Fuck* you, Dick."
When Dick turns to look at him, he doesn't look lazy
anymore. He looks dangerous.
And Tim doesn't give a shit. "I *am* smart. I'm not
an acrobat and if I throw a punch wrong I break my
fingers -- but I'm smart. And here's what I think: you
got shot. He panicked. He dropped you. He met
Jason. He -- he realized that whatever panic he felt
when you got hurt was fucking meaningless next to
the Mission, and how much more he could do if he
had a partner at his side."
"And then Jason died," Dick says flatly.
"And yeah, then he *died*, and I had no one --" He
growls and tries again. "Jason died, in the line of
duty, and he -- *Bruce* fucking lost his shit. Just like
he would've done if *you'd* died."
"And in comes... you."
"Yeah. In comes *me*." He takes three deliberate
steps forward, until he's close enough to feel all the
ways Dick isn't moving. "Because I saw what was
going on, and because I *needed* this, and because
I had every reason to believe you were still sulking
Dick's eyes are narrow enough that the blue is barely
"And I'm here now. And yeah, there's a lot I didn't
know, and a lot I *still* don't. I've got suspicions
and theories and, yeah, my fucking *temper*. But I
know the *important* things, Dick. I know what
*counts*. What about you?"
And Dick is silent for long enough that the sound of
Tim's own breathing makes him want to yank his
own lungs out and set fire to them.
Long enough that he wishes Dick *would* just kick
his ass and have done with it.
But Dick just smiles, again, with his eyes full of
everything that belongs to Tim *anyway*.
Because he'd taken it, and now it's his.
"I know I'm going to enjoy beating the shit out you in
the interests of training, kid," Dick says, and pushes
off the Case, walking toward the motorcycle Tim had
completely failed to notice before.
It's just another jolt, and he's had too many for this
one to make a difference, really.
"Congratulations," Dick says, and straddles the bike.
"Jason would be proud." He picks up the helmet and
pauses. And laughs. "I hate to ruin a good exit-line,
but since you're *here*, Bruce..."
Tim's too *full* to do anything more than look back
over his shoulder. Bruce is standing in the middle of
the staircase. There are too many shadows for Tim to
be able to make even a guess about what expression
might be on his face.
"You picked another good one," Dick says, and puts
his helmet on. And peels out.
And doesn't look back.
It *isn't* all right. Bruce is still standing there, in the
shadows, and Dick is never going to be his bestest big
brother, and Jason is still dead.
And nobody chose him.
He gives up and punches the wall next to the Case.
Twice. It hurts like hell, but nothing snaps.
And he isn't actually surprised that he hadn't felt
Bruce moving, but... "Yeah. I do."
"Good," Bruce says, and his voice is a weight on
Tim's throat. A hand and the scar. "Hit the
Because it's not all right, but it is what it is.
Nobody chose him.
And nobody had to.