Disclaimer: Not at all mine.
Spoilers: Up through "Fresh Blood," in a vaguely AU-ized
Summary: "How is it that you -- *you* -- never figured out
that you don't fucking *get* to play it both ways?"
Ratings Note/Warnings: Sexual content, as well as content
some readers may find disturbing.
Author's Note: Probably the most important thing to know
about this story, going in, is that I'm basing nearly
everything on the events of ROBIN #120, Grant's work in
BATMAN and DETECTIVE COMICS in 1989, the underlying,
nebulous feel of GOTHAM KNIGHTS #50-55, as well as a
conception of the "War Games" storyline I'll discuss more in
the end notes. This isn't Johns' Tim.
Acknowledgments: To Petra, Jam, Ruby, and Jack for
audiencing, encouragement, suggestions, and direction.
Dick sells him the warehouse without a word, when he asks.
Because it's Dick, words are neither necessary nor expected.
There are hands on his shoulders, and the inescapable --
and pointless -- questions in Dick's eyes.
He's not all right. There's nothing Dick can do. He's not
going to do anything foolish. There's nothing Dick can do.
Tim says as much of it as he can in the carefully calm
motions he uses to twist -- and pull -- his way out of Dick's
grasp. In the use of his most familiar -- to Dick -- form
when he flies.
It might have been better -- on any number of levels -- to
conduct their legal business in civvies. Neither of them are
in civvies very often, these days, however.
He knows Dick watches him go.
The warehouse is pristine when Tim arrives to begin the
process of adapting it for his own use, of course.
On first glance, Dick has left nothing but the exercise
equipment he knows Tim uses the most.
It takes nearly fifteen minutes to find what else he'd left
behind, because Dick is both very good and very optimistic --
even now -- about just how much Tim will take on face
value from any member of his -- family.
The trunk is ugly, heavy, and scarred. It's nothing Dick
would choose for him normally, Tim knows, but it has the
advantage of blending nearly seamlessly with the rest of the
There are only three things inside. The note says, "Call
when you're ready for anything else." There are a few stray
ink marks near the bottom of the page. Tim is reasonably
sure he knows what Dick didn't write.
He's absolutely sure he's going to have to reevaluate his
assumptions about Dick's relative levels of optimism.
When he gets a chance.
Tim leaves the Spoiler uniform in the trunk, because he
only has a space for...
He only has a space for the Robin uniform, just now. He
doesn't bother with a plaque -- the Cave had been breached
far too often over the years, and it would be imbecilic to
assume this place won't be, eventually --
He doesn't bother with a plaque.
Stephanie knows that *he* knows, after all.
She always did.
"It's always terribly heartwarming to see young men
acknowledge and learn from the lives of their elders."
It's good that Alfred is here. It is.
"I know you *usually* take one sugar in your coffee,
Master Timothy, but perhaps some measure of scalding
bitterness would be more welcome...?"
It is. It's good. Really.
"One must always try to provide the services *most*
required, after --"
"It's good. That you're here."
The coffee is very good.
He isn't sure whether he's surprised or not when he starts
catching glimpses of Batgirl while patrolling.
A year ago, he knows, he wouldn't have been surprised at
all. But then, when he was *fifteen*, he'd still had reason --
thought he had reason -- to believe that Bruce had his
doubts about his abilities.
("At least with you he meant it as a compliment.")
He turns, slightly, but there's no one beside him to smack
his ear, or punch his shoulder, or smile at him, love him,
always loved him, always --
There's no one.
This is the choice he made. All choices have repercussions.
She drinks tea in precisely the same way as she consumes
any other food product -- efficiently, gratefully, and
In Gotham, he knows, Alfred is still working quite hard in
his own way to find something -- anything -- which would
register with Batgirl as more than 'nourishment.'
It's entirely possible he'll succeed, eventually. After all,
Batgirl asks *for* tea sometimes.
For now, there's the usual moment of feeling absurdly
hedonistic for his appreciation of lapsang souchong,
followed by an amusement he's perfectly aware Batgirl can
"He'll be... glad. You laughed."
Tim raises an eyebrow at her over his cup. She hasn't said
anything about the Case.
She doesn't say anything else.
"You were sent to watch over my *emotional* health?"
Batgirl shrugs. "Yes. But that's not what he said."
Tim shakes his head.
"You think a lot of things are... funny," she says. It's a
Stop looking at me. They are. It's a defense mechanism.
Stop looking at me. You can't see --
Tim nods his thanks, and finishes his tea.
"So you're the reinforcements?"
He's almost sure he's supposed to register the sneer in
Captain Rohrbach's voice, as opposed to the worry.
He's not entirely sure how to express that to Batgirl without
being excessively obvious, and so he slips into the stance
he knows, already, that Batgirl understands.
("They are our allies, but many of them wish it were
He can see, in his peripheral vision, that she is mirroring
Rohrbach blows out a breath. "Fine. There are too many
weapons on the docks, and they're too good. The rumor
"Penguin," Tim says.
The expression on her face is closer to angry than
exasperated. Tim removes all traces of humor from his
own, and considers, for a moment, before saying,
"Nightwing's reports are always quite detailed." The
slightest stress on 'are.'
She looks at him. She hears him.
If this were Gotham, the meeting would be over. However,
Rohrbach has done an inadequate job of hiding a very
new-looking floodlight under a tarp, and Dick's very
detailed reports had been nothing but optimistic about their
opportunities to liaise with the authorities here.
And then there had been the matter of Blockbuster.
"We can be contacted," he tries, cautiously. "If that would
The curious thing is that Batgirl no longer seems
questioning, at all.
Rohrbach, for her part, snorts. "Is that so?"
He wonders, not entirely idly, if Dick had meant anything
particular by 'liaise.' He wonders where Dick has gone.
"Does your partner speak English or not?"
"Not often," Batgirl says.
Rohrbach grunts, not entirely unamused. The meeting is
She doesn't say -- or do -- anything about the Case while
patching him up, again.
The temptation to --
He wants to ask her what it was like, for her, to be Steph's
friend. He wants to ask her why she doesn't blame him.
He wants --
"We can talk," she says, flatly factual, just as though --
"No," he says.
She doesn't look at the Case before she leaves. She doesn't
Before, Tim would have assumed Oracle had given Bruce
the heads-up. Now, it's something of a mystery as to why
Bruce knew to look for him here, in Gotham, but not an
especially troubling one.
Perhaps one of the police officers he'd saved from those
gang members had said something over the radio.
Perhaps one of the police officers who'd tried to shoot
him when he paused too long on *that* rooftop.
"Yellow doesn't quite seem like the best idea for Gotham,
There's no response to that, but then, there doesn't really
need to be. Bruce watches the city from over Tim's
shoulder -- it's not that he can 'feel' it, it's that there are a
dozen tiny cues his senses are picking up quite naturally,
but it's a feeling just the same -- for another moment and
then crouches on the ledge beside him.
"I have a question which will almost certainly be
unanswerable," Tim says, and then swallows multiple times
against -- against --
"Don't -- say my name. Like that."
Bruce stiffens beside him and -- it *is* Bruce. It almost
always is, if you've the experience (and, perhaps, the
complementary psychosis) to see it. It's Bruce, naked and --
*vulnerable* behind too little armor.
There could never be enough.
And the smile -- the small, ungenerous smile -- is Bruce, as
well. "You may have a point about the... timing, Robin."
He does. But he wasn't referring to the timing. And both of
them know that.
"How do you deal with the *guilt*?"
More of that -- that *humor*. "I'm -- I'm serious, I -- I think
it could interfere with -- I -- she should have never -- I
should've -- you always told me to discourage -- oh
And it's shameful that the first coherent impulse he has to
run, and it's utterly predictable that Bruce doesn't let him.
Only Bruce gets to run. Only -- no. And it's less of a hug
than an effective upright pin.
("Steady.") "I --"
"It's what. It's what she chose."
("Cassandra," he's going to say, one day, "laughing at wildly
inappropriate times doesn't keep you sane, but it allows a
certain degree of necessary illusion.") "Don't you --" He
breathes until the laughter sounds -- less. "Doesn't it ever
get hard to keep *telling* yourself that?"
Bruce lets him go. Bruce --
"I'm sorry," Tim blurts, and then swallows back bile.
"Yes," Bruce says, "it does."
It's not a shock to find himself with a Batgirl-shadow on
patrol the next night, though, to be fair, it could just as
easily be because of what a good job he hasn't been doing
on looking like he can cope *here*.
Which isn't a good thing at all.
The Haven isn't Gotham, on more levels than can be listed
easily. He's beginning to think the most important level
features all the ways in which it's a newer city, younger
and, perhaps by necessity, unfinished.
Criminologists disagree -- vehemently -- over whether or
not it had been the coming of Batman or the coming of
what everyone *used* to refer to as the 'freaks' which had
shifted the entrenched balance of the justice system and
organized crime, but everyone agrees that there had
*been* a balance to shift.
Bludhaven had been too poor and too close to places more
interesting to attract anything remotely organized until the
information age made the city's lack of resources irrelevant.
Dick had... disrupted Blockbuster's organization with a will
almost from the time the man had begun building it, but...
It just makes Bludhaven into something vulnerable,
something tempting for those people who find other cities
too crowded, or too exciting. It's his -- their -- job to make
it into something much closer to a trap.
And there's really no telling how much of that Batgirl caught
just by looking at him. So he raises an eyebrow at her
when she joins him instead of just shadowing. (When she
can see that he wants her to.)
"Deciding... about the city?"
"What to do with it, yes."
She looks at him a little *harder* for a moment, and it's
probably a sign of -- something -- that Tim always feels a
little smug when she can't immediately read him.
As opposed to disturbed.
"Burn it. Start over."
Tim feels something squeeze and -- "*What*?"
Batgirl smiles at him through her cowl, cautiously. "Joke?"
Tim blinks... rather a lot. But he's laughing on the inside,
and Batgirl's smile becomes infinitely less cautious.
("You only call me 'Stephanie' when it's bad news. And then
it's like you're my mom and I've been making out with my
*mom*, and would you just fucking *stop*?")
("Spit it out, Boy Speech Impediment.")
"I used to -- there was -- you saw the Case. In the Cave. I
There's nothing. There's --
"It used to make me feel less alone."
Nothing. Of *course*, there's nothing. Of --
Tim stares at the floor. The small spotlights in the case pick
out ancient oil stains which are far more obvious without
Alfred has suggested a new paintjob. Alfred --
Tim closes his eyes, breathes, and looks up, once more.
Perhaps it had been a mistake to adjust the mannequin to
more accurately correspond to Steph's -- to what her body
had been like. If he looks out of the corner of his eye, from
a distance, when he's tired enough --
If he looks, there's the curve of her hip in the seconds
before she cocks it, teasingly --
(" -- I make this look *good*." Because that's what she
would've said, if they'd ever managed to talk after -- after.
Because she did. Because --)
But it's not, of course.
There's not enough of a reason for him to be here.
He's reasonably certain that, given some thought, he could
come up with the sort of lesson plan for Detective Work 101
which Batgirl could pick up on solely by watching his facial
With Batgirl, the only real obstacle is her tendency to find
too many things irrelevant. He could... hmm.
Tim turns, deliberately, to face her.
After one last sweep of their surroundings, she backs away
from the ledge and stands, turning and spreading her arms.
She knows she's being examined.
"What does it mean when I take off my mask?"
"With -- *for* who?"
Tim smiles. "What does it mean when I leave it on?"
An impatient gesture.
Tim nods and smiles a little more. "Why won't I talk to you?"
"Because you think Steph dying is *your* fault. Because
you know I was -- she was my *friend*. Because --"
("Sometimes, Cassandra," he'll say to her, one day, "how
you hold your face is how you hold yourself. Which is to
say, when I focus on smiling -- in a certain way -- I -- I --")
"How do you know that?"
There's a frown behind the cowl. She knows this is a test.
She's not sure which one it is, yet.
"The way you -- you *know* --"
"Other than the movements."
The frown gets deeper. "Steph *talked*! About *you*. And
you and *Batman* are the same and --"
"Congratulations, you're a detective."
When Batgirl is angry, the only sign is stillness. Correction,
when Batgirl is angry and has no intention of punishing the
person with whom she's angry in some viciously physical
way, there's stillness.
The silence is a matter of course, and she'll -- ("I'm not
going to ask you to apologize, Batman." "Good.") --
It's not enough.
"I want. I need -- I can't be here, I don't think. Or --"
"You -- want to go home."
Tim stares at his hands. At the gauntlets, which could very
easily be a deeper, more stealthy green without
compromising the integrity of --
She's silent -- still -- for several more moments. And then
she pulls her grapple. "Next time," she says, "*say*."
Tim watches her fly.
He turns the spotlights off -- and kills the generators --
before he leaves, but he can't...
The first thing he and Dick had done, after Bruce had left
them Gotham in the wake of the Jean-Paul fiasco, was to
rebuild the Case, exactly where it had been.
Dick had made -- tried to make -- a joke about the other
aspects of the legacy.
Tim had tried to laugh.
They hadn't said Jason's name.
They hadn't needed to.
And they hadn't needed to ask if Bruce would really come
The Cave is empty, but cool, familiar to the point where the
concept of 'familiarity' became laughable.
This is --
Tim holds the bundle of the old -- the last retrievable --
Spoiler uniform against his chest for a moment and stares
at the floor, the dinosaur, the nick between the
twenty-second and twenty-third degree of the penny,
relative to its position on the floor, the --
He looks at the -- other Case. He goes.
"Jason, I think -- I used to imagine the two of us out there
together, you know? I remembered the way you fought,
and it actually got easier to picture once Bruce started
"He didn't teach me -- he made me so *different* from how
you were, and I used to imagine that it would -- would
*have* -- just made us better out there, you know? Back
to back, complementary skills... you know.
"You were my best friend for a long time -- to the point
where I used to feel guilty about deserting Ives.
"Everything I know about you suggests you'd be laughing
hard enough to hurt yourself, right now.
"I hope so.
"I think I would've liked your laugh. I think --
"You never said a word to me, not really. I mean, of course
you didn't, but --"
"Is it fucked-up that it probably made it better, in the long
run? I mean, you could never tell me to take a hike,
obviously, but also I could make you into the sort of person
He doesn't jump. It's not that he'd heard Bruce come
down -- he's capable of that sort of thing now, but it
requires a degree of watchfulness which he can only
maintain when he's not busily making a psychotic ass of
himself -- it's just that he knows perfectly well that Bruce
always -- *always* -- knew when Tim was talking to
One day, he was really going to have to interrupt. Or try.
"Anyway, Jason, what I wanted to say -- I just wanted to
thank you. You probably didn't mean to, but you really
made a lot of things easier."
"Tim, please don't --"
"You helped me -- you -- I mean, it's not like I was going
to compare myself to *Batman*. It's not like I was going to
try to be good enough for *him*.
"But if I could be good enough for you...
Tim bites the inside of his cheek. He knows Bruce can see
him -- feel him -- acknowledging him. But. "I'm not done.
Bruce doesn't move, of course.
"Isn't that just like him? *Always* watching. Did it ever get
kind of -- perversely -- comforting for you?
"I think it kind of has to for a Batkid. But then, you *were*
different. Hm. Anyway, I...
"I wanted to tell you about my day, a little, if you don't
The scuff of rubber against stone -- boot against floor --
behind him seems like a warning, though he isn't precisely
sure of what.
"You see, I spent the whole trip here from Bludhaven --
were you ever there? Was there ever any *reason* for you
to be there? -- plotting out how to phrase my first few
sentences to my Dad after walking into the house. You
know, why I had to take the -- undeniably drastic -- step of
purchasing a new residence in a different city, and how all
that didn't actually mean that my -- heh - lifestyle choices
were inherently damaging.
"And then I passed the cemetery where he's buried. I
forgot, you see. I don't have a Case for my Dad. I don't
think that's in the rulebooks. No, I'm trying to make a weak
joke -- he would *loathe* a Case.
"By rights, I should've given him a Viking funeral. He was
always very proud of our partially -- *very* partially --
Nordic ancestry in a moderately disturbing way. It's
probably a good thing we weren't close when I was an
adolescent. I would've made far too many "arbeit macht
frei" jokes, and then I would've had to retroactively shoot
myself for being an ass --
"I'm digressing. In any event, he didn't specify any sort of
funeral arrangements in the Will, and Dana is a
traditionalist, especially when heavily sedated."
"God, Robin --"
"Shut *up*, Bruce, I'm *talking* to *Jason* --"
"Look at me."
"Do you think I should? What would *you* do, at this
"Robin, I'm *telling you* --"
"Tell him to 'fuck off?' Certain conversations with Dick
The spin is fast enough to unbalance him -- slightly -- but
Bruce blocks Tim's punch exactly the way he should, and is
also quite predictably watching for the next blow.
So he waits. He breathes, slowly and deliberately. And --
He only manages a glancing blow with the head-butt, but
it's satisfying, as is Bruce's soft grunt of surprise --
As fights go, it's one of the better ones he's had in recent
months. There'd been neither time nor excuse to... *dally*
with Mr. Fun, as opposed to taking him out using
everything -- everything -- he'd ever learned from Shiva,
and, while he's taken beatings, he hasn't had the
opportunity to *learn* in much too long.
It's not that he didn't already know all of Bruce's favored
tactics for restraining a dangerous and irrational opponent,
but once Tim can move things into the need for a
There, like that. If Tim had ever tried to use a chop like
that, he'd almost certainly risk paralyzing his opponent.
"This -- this is the sort of thing --"
"Robin, you have to --"
"I've *missed*, really, what with all --" Tim laughs, flipping
up and over a kick Dick had taught *both* of them -- "with
all of the distractions --" The kidney blow doesn't knock the
breath out of him, but it does make him forget *how* to
breathe for several important seconds. However --
("If you stop, you'll die. You might die if you don't.")
It's serious, now. Serious enough that it's all reflex and
motion. There's no detective work here, at all. Only the two
of them, and the Cave, and the sheer number of available
weapons to the fighter willing to make the most damage.
The batarang is a classic, but it still flies -- and still falls
when Bruce knocks it down.
Harley's mallet is unwieldy, but it forces Bruce to dodge
just enough for Tim to land a kick before getting driven
Until he's back to -- to --
The front of the Case is always warm. Bruce could've
chosen a different sort of spotlight... in just the same way
Bruce *could've* chosen a lifetime of, say, charity work for
the Wayne Foundation.
"Stop this," Bruce says.
"I can't --"
"Robin. I need you to stop this."
Tim hears the breath hiss between his teeth
overdramatically and tenses before Bruce's hands land on
his shoulders. And then a little more after, but only for the
sake of pettiness. "You -- fucking --"
Bruce's hands slide to his throat, up over his cheeks and
into his hair. When he has a good grip, he forces Tim to
face him. And then just...
For a moment, he considers making the effort to twist free
so he can move far enough away to stand straight, turn,
and hold his arms out from his body.
If Batgirl were here, she'd hear him laughing very loudly,
indeed. But she isn't.
"I'm still on-program, Bruce --"
"I never considered otherwise."
Jason would probably -- possibly -- have said something
along the lines of "maybe you should," but there are --
there are always limits. "Did you consider that I was in the
midst of a psychiatrically necessary catharsis?"
"I thought," Bruce says, "I was helping."
The laugh spills out of his mouth before he sees it coming.
Not unlike vomit, really. Certainly, his knees are trying to
Certainly he feels desperately --
One of the things he's never been adequately able to
express to Bruce is the fact that if he were to offer physical
affection at times -- carefully scheduled times, even -- that
*didn't* coincide with acute emotional breakdown, then
it's possible Tim wouldn't dread them quite so much.
Still, he can always try *now*.
"Bruce," he says, into the moderately shredded silk of the
man's Bruce-Wayne uniform, "I have nightmares about
"Really. I mean -- it's been something of a *theme* of my
"You'll get used to them."
"Please God, no."
The laugh is soundless, but, this close, it moves them both.
"I really --"
"When you're actually serious, your speech patterns are
nearly pathologically avoidant of modifiers."
"I've... been spending time with Dick?"
Bruce laughs again, silently again, and pushes him away,
back against the warm, smooth curve of the Case where
Jason's mask can burn little holes into the back of his neck,
letting in all of that --
Tim sighs, and closes his eyes.
"You haven't made this much of an effort to... entertain me
since you were fourteen."
"Perhaps I'm simply being distracting. I did mention my
efforts to..." He waves a hand, frivolously, obviously.
Bruce squeezes his shoulders and looks -- *looks* at him.
The worry is paternal enough to be desperately amusing...
for a moment.
It freezes him -- the words, the *tone* -- in a way it hasn't
It hasn't. Of course, Bruce had never had the opportunity to
cause this particular variety of emotional distress. *Tim*
had always made the... overtures. And Tim had set the
rules for this aspect of their relationship. The privilege of
the newly sixteen.
"This isn't -- this really isn't --" Tim bites his cheek.
Bruce looks -- smug.
"Fine," Tim says. "But the likelihood of it being anything
but traumatic is low."
"Life is risk."
"Slavery is freedom, ignorance..."
He wonders -- he has to wonder -- what it must be like for
Bruce to *do* this with someone who can't shut up,
someone glibly talkative, febrile.
Someone who can't stand still.
If Bruce were someone -- slightly -- different than who he
is, someone less prone to, say, periodic bouts of crippling
self-loathing, Tim would be tempted to think it might make
As it is...
As it is, it makes it itself *and* he's being unnecessarily
He quiets himself as best he can as they move through the
Manor, and makes a mental note to come back and
examine, at some point, the fact that he can't remember
the last time it was this difficult to *do*.
For now -- language was never really a part of this, for
them. It's part of what makes it -- made it? --
Bruce makes it easier with a great deal more kissing than
had been their usual. The physical restraint is par for the
It would be perfectly reasonable for this -- for them -- to
Tim to make a snide comment about the extraordinary lack
of likelihood that he would make an escape attempt when
Bruce has that sort of grip on his dick -- 'penis' would be
even more pointed -- but Bruce is really quite good with
his tongue, and, again, it's more helpful than not.
"Are you going to stay in Gotham?"
"I have to put the Spoiler uniform away."
"Mm." Bruce stretches beside him with that enviable relative
lack of motion which has been -- always been, if Tim is
being honest with himself -- part of the attraction.
"I... let's never discuss the fact that it's in bed with us right
now." Or that he had, apparently, been clutching it
throughout the entirety of their fight.
"I hadn't been planning on it, Robin."
It's not that he'd thought Bruce *would*. Still. "Clarity is
Bruce's smile is a wintry sort of absence of a frown, aimed
toward the ceiling. "I've certainly always been fond," he
says, then turns to him very deliberately.
"I'll come back when I'm done." For at least a while. "For at
least... a few days."
Bruce nods. "You'll find your city status report in the usual
place. If you're detained, use rendezvous point A-2."
Tim blinks. "You -- we're working *together*?"
"Someone," Bruce says, affecting both a yawn and a
horrifyingly plummy undertone, "once said *something* to
me about the benefits of, what was it? Partnership...?
*Something* like that. There was," and he waves a hand
lazily, frivolously, obviously "something about *grief*, of
all things --"
"I -- I also have any number of nightmares about that voice,
"Hmm. You're usually a better liar, Robin."
"I'm going to *start* having nightmares about that --"
"Batman *needs* a Robin."
Tim bites his tongue viciously hard. Considers. "I really do
despise you, Bruce. Quite a lot, even."
They don't have -- they didn't have a 'place.' There were
rooftops Steph always seemed fond of, and --
She'd been to his home, over the years, exactly twelve
times. There'd been more than one home.
He'd been to her house rather more than that, but, while
he has faith in his ability to find a place within the
building her mother wouldn't, necessarily, discover... not
Her father's gravestone lacks -- still -- any inscription save
the necessaries, and, somewhere, Steph is livid that he'd
ever even consider it. Perhaps she's mollified by the fact
that he ignores her grave entirely. Perhaps.
He's going to have to use the rendezvous point. He's...
Tim crushes the small package in his hands.
And gets back on the bike.
Tim sits tailor-style in front of the Case, in the dark.
He stands and turns on the spotlights.
He sits back down, and sets the suit beside him.
("Earth to Boy Buddha, come in, Boy Buddha...")
Tim sucks in a breath and forces himself not to -- not to
("See, I'd totally have more respect for your efforts to
meditate if you didn't always look like you were trying to kill
people with your brain.")
"Everyone... everyone's different, Steph..."
("Yeah, free to be you *and* me." She snorts, moving
though his room with a predatory eye. She knows there are
"I've got a question for you, actually."
("Yah-huh. Oh man, you listen to Depeche *Mode*? I'm
*not* dyeing my hair black.")
"You have no idea -- correction, I would've liked to ask you
if you understood, now, more about why that statement
made me laugh hysterically."
("You know, when you want to talk about something, you
actually look -- and I'm not criticizing -- like you're kind of,
you know, constipated.")
"I'm *getting* there, I'm -- this isn't easy --"
(She's rolls her eyes. It's fast, rather than dramatic. It's
honest. She's exasperated. "Duh! Games don't lead to
bruises on my *nipples*! I... well, I mean, not that *kind*
of game, and... wait, *is* the whole 'let's wait' thing your
way of easing me into some kind of kinky whips and rubber
thing? Because I can't pull off the Catwoman look.")
"I need to know --"
("I love you, you know? Jerk.")
"I need -- need to --"
("How can you *do* this? How are you letting this
*happen*? I was *there* when you figured out this was
your real fucking life. When you finally -- I *waited* for
you to -- I *watched* you take this for -- for fucking
"Oh God, Steph, I just --"
("You know what? *Fuck* you. Not your Dad -- he's just
being the same selfish, short-sighted *bastard* --")
"He had -- his reasons -- I --"
("How is it that you -- *you* -- never figured out that you
don't fucking *get* to play it both ways? Don't you think I
miss my Mom? Don't you think I wish -- fucking *wish* --
she'd stop looking at me like I was a corpse waiting to
"I know -- I knew it wasn't a game. I did."
("And this -- fucking *bullshit* about protecting the secret!
Like Batman *couldn't* hypnotize your folks into getting the
fuck over it! Like *you* couldn't!")
"'And where are your priorities, soldier?'"
("You're not a soldier. You're a fucking *pussy*.")
Tim stares at Robin -- Steph -- the mannequin --
There's no mouth on the Jason -- on Jason. It would,
perhaps, be a little more disturbing than everything else
for him to *give* this mannequin a mouth, but all of the
available footage suggested that Steph's lipstick was just
as much a part of the uniform as everything else.
It's there, beneath her boots, but...
"You should have a mouth. I don't think you can argue with
me on that."
He sets to work.
When he's done, he sits down again, and waits.
"It's a couple of things. First... I know -- I guessed -- you
spoke to Batgirl after Bruce benched you. Fired you?
"Whatever you said wasn't enough to make her angry on
your behalf *at* Bruce, but, well, we both know that isn't
saying very much at all."
("He's such -- he's such a fucking *prick*!")
"Oh, I agree. It's just that -- well, I -- you didn't implement
Bruce's little thought exercise for me -- or even against me.
"That was *Bruce*, and it was... it was *for* him, wasn't it?"
("Yeah, well, sometimes being the girl *doesn't* mean
wanting to talk, okay?")
"It's not... I understand, you know. You fell in love with
Robin. You didn't mean to, but you did. That's what I was
always -- it's one of the things I never figured out a way to
say, to you, beyond useless ambiguities about best laid
plans and other...
("Sometimes I just want to find some sodium pentothal,
and, like, give you a triple dose and fucking *interrogate*
you until you either stop being cryptic or start drooling.")
"You *think* you're doing this for someone else, and you
are, when it starts. It's just not how it ends."
("I'm just... oh God, I'm just so sick of fucking *up*.")
"And that's when you realize... you realize that you're a
different person than you'd thought. Than you'd hoped. And
you find yourself doing... things seem like good *ideas*
when they really --"
("Stop making *excuses* --")
"I mean, the thing with Bruce -- should I have told you
("You know, for an honest-to-fucking-god *genius*...")
"Look, just tell me if I should be mad at Bruce? Mad at him,
*too*, I mean, I -- you didn't *talk* to me. I don't know
what he was like with you when you were Robin, I -- But
you -- you could've gone back to being Spoiler, just Spoiler,
if he pissed you off, if he really -- hurt you...
"Oh God, Steph, was I the only one?"
("See, the trick... the trick is to stop believing. Stop setting
yourself *up* for shit like this with people you *know* will
do it to you. Just... just assume you're gonna get fucked --
over -- and... and...")
"Would you tell me... what I should do with the Spoiler
("You know, you've... fuck, you've been in *space*, to
other *planets*. You've got a home -- with your team -- in
fucking *Rhode Island* of all places, and you've been...
you're just everywhere, you know? And I... God, it's stupid
and girly and pathetic, but... but sometimes I worry that
you'll leave me behind, someday, is all.")
"But I couldn't -- you don't --"
("Look, I *said* it was stupid, okay? So drop it.")
Tim pulls the suit back into his lap.
In Gotham, it's the same. It has no right to be --
It isn't, technically, the same. Dick had mentioned that
there had been about a year where most of the police
officers they'd interacted with had been some degree of
hostile, but Tim is reasonably sure he'd remember if there
had been bullets involved.
He really is going to have to alter the suit if he plans to
survive -- most of the shots have been aimed at *him*.
The feeling of familiarity is irrational and impossible to
And it's -- there is a profound lack of room for thought
when one finds oneself in more than three crossfire
situations in one night.
"It would be interesting to measure the increase in 'weapon
discharged' reports --"
"One hundred and twenty-three percent."
Bruce doesn't respond in a very specific way, which is
something he'll have to consider --
At some point when Bruce isn't stripping him of his grapple
and shoving him into the shadow of a water tower.
"Did you come back here to die, Robin?"
Tim blinks. "You're worried about my fitness for the mission
"Answer. The question."
Well, he'd asked for this. He'd... asked, begged, demanded,
considered switching to semaphore...
"Don't say my *name* like that, I --" Tim stops himself,
resists the urge to beat his head against the water tower,
and carefully, calmly, meets Batman's eyes.
Bruce's are hidden again.
"The answer is 'no.' But it would be disingenuous, at best,
to imply that I was sure of this more than, say..." He
checks his internal clock. "Three and a half hours ago."
The blank planes of the face are all Batman. The slick, cool
stroke of the glove over his cheek is, of course, Bruce. "And
so you're not going to ask me to apologize?"
Tim snorts. "Something like that."
He wakes up to find Bruce looming in the direction of his
closet. Which was precisely as predictable as the fact that
Alfred would have, of course, already filled the closet in
Tim's old room with Tim's clothes.
"It's a temporary solution," he says, and begins checking to
make sure he hadn't slept strenuously enough to loosen
any of the fresh bandages.
"She... she kept it this way. When you met her."
"Under the bed, actually. I was going for 'deceptively
"You were trying not to be late for patrol."
Tim rolls his head on his neck and thinks about installing
nastier locks on his door. "That, too."
"Is it --"
"I can't talk about this. With you. Not -- Spoiler."
Bruce turns, finally, but it isn't a question in his eyes.
Which, of course, means he *has* to answer. Tim braces
his elbows on his knees and covers his face with his hands.
"I need it. With me."
Bruce's smile is cold enough to burn. Comforting. "I always
knew you'd never actually leave her."
"Yes, well, I considered suing for rights to exhumation,
having her cremated, and keeping her ashes in a *belt*
"It's not morbid, Robin --"
"*You* don't get to make that call."
They haven't fenced in years. Not with actual swords. It's
something to consider for the next time he feels like having
ill-advised sex with the man. "Bruce..."
"If the material were different, we could probably --"
"It isn't. Bruce, just let me do this in my own --"
"Sometimes I think I built the Case as much to -- limit --
the places where Jason could reach me as to always have
one." And Bruce is still giving him that smile.
"You..." Tim doesn't bother to repress the frown. "First of
all, that goes beyond morbid to Poe-esque. Secondly --
are you seriously demanding payment for all my
Bruce crosses his arms over his chest and leans back
against the wall. Dangerously close to the closet. And
smiles. "Would it help to consider it quid pro quo?"
"I -- the depth of my loathing for you often reaches
Shakespearian levels, Bruce."
"Hmm. And your Literature professors thought you weren't
"Just -- stop. For a moment."
Bruce raises an eyebrow. And stops.
The hell of it is --
It's the same hell. Bruce *will* have a better solution. Tim
yanks on a lock of his own hair hard enough to make his
eyes water enough to get rid of the morning dryness.
There's no smile on his face, this time.
Kon blanches impressively when he finds something entirely
other than socks he can borrow in the fourth drawer of
Tim's dresser in the Tower.
Alfred spends the better part of one afternoon installing a
hidden panel beneath the bed in Tim's room, and the better
part of a week wearing Tim down until he uses it. Batgirl
had, apparently, accepted Alfred's very practical demands
for security -- and neatness -- with far more grace with
regards to the space under her own bed.
Perhaps because -- it -- is only there for those afternoons
when Tim is there to give her reading lessons.
There are small additional storage compartments on each
and every bike -- and several of the cars -- and all of them
are always full.
It's -- all of it -- a compromise, but it's an undeniably
soothing one. This way, the correct suit will always be as
close to safe as he can make her. Even if Bruce does have
the tendency to... monopolize.
Dick hasn't returned entirely, but Nightwing has.
He traces the 'R' on Tim's chest with the same gratifying
possessiveness as ever, and the smile on his face isn't --
entirely -- wrong.
"I can't say I disagree with the color changes, little brother."
The smile turns rueful, and Nightwing doesn't -- quite --
touch the thigh which still isn't one hundred percent.
"Mm," Tim says, and readjusts the 'R.' Slightly.
"It's just that I never would've thought..." Dick squeezes
his shoulder and gives Tim a very soulful look.
Tim waits for it.
"I never would've thought *purple* would work for you, little
"Actually," he says, dutifully, "it's eggplant."
"'Eggplant.' I --" Dick snorts, and scrubs a gauntlet over his
face. "I'm not ever going to get tired of making you say
that. You realize that, don't you?"
"We all make our own fun, Nightwing."
For a while, I just found myself becoming more and more
bitter about "War Games," in that 'and another thing --!'
sort of way which nearly inevitably descends into nitpicking,
drowning the original -- and perfectly valid -- concerns in
As a thought exercise, I decided to pretend I'd been given
an outline of all the things which had to happen during a
certain crossover event. Would it even be possible to make
that work for me?
The answer was 'yes.'
I just pretended that every issue of "War Games" which
had been written by Willingham had, in fact, been written
by Lewis. And what *that* boils down to... is a storyline
which has its essential impetus in ROBIN #120 -- the issue
in which, among other things, Steph and Tim have a long,
serious discussion about what Robin -- and being Robin --
actually means to Tim.
Also... writing this story had the same sort of effect on me
as rereading ALPoD did. The latter made me drastically
re-evaluate Tim's relationship with Dick in a way that I will
never escape. This...
This made me realize -- *remember* -- that Steph is the
best friend Tim ever had. The only one he could
consistently talk to, and be with, and touch, and be touched
by, and by God *talk with*.
Why... she replaced Jason. Heh.