Straight on 'til morning
by Te
July 22, 2004

Disclaimers: They belong to so many people who
aren't me that it's not even funny.

Spoilers: Of varying strengths for "Sins of the
Father," "Growing Pains," "Old Wounds," and
"Return of the Joker."

Summary: Three things that might have happened
to Tim Drake.

Ratings Note/Warnings: NC-17. Contains content
some readers might find disturbing.

Author's Note: A direct result of whining to Livia
about having too many bunnies.

Acknowledgments: To Livia, Jack, jamjar, and
LC for audiencing, suggestions, and

from everything that I am

His dad is away a lot, sometimes for days at a time,
sometimes for more than that. He always says it's
business, and his mom used to say that, too, but
sometimes, now, she says other things.

*Most* of the time she doesn't, because she doesn't
say much about his dad at all unless *he* says
something first, and Tim kind of knows that he isn't
supposed to. She's tired all the time, because the
cold she has isn't really getting better, and
sometimes talking about his dad just seems to
make her worse.

He hates it that she's sick, because she can't go
out and do her *own* work (and he's never really
been sure what that is, either, and sometimes he
thinks he should ask, but he's always pretty sure
he shouldn't), and he's kind of hungry.

This isn't the first time they've been short on cash,
so he's used to it, but it's annoying to have to put
things aside for later when he's not full *now*,
and it kind of...

It makes the world sharper, like the knife you
always forget to watch out for at the bottom of
the dishpan. The one you forget about. It's winter,
too, and when it snows he can kind of get a little
lost on the way the snow falls, a little blind from
where it sits on the streets -- at least until it's
dirty again. He runs in the snow until he stops
being cold, and until he's mostly too tired to

He's also pretty sure his mom should be eating
more. The school nurse had done a whole thing
about nutrition, and how if you didn't eat
enough vegetables you could get really sick,
and lose your teeth like the pirates did.

His mom was *already* missing a few teeth,
though she'd just laughed when he asked if it
was because she didn't eat enough vegetables,
and ruffled his hair, and smacked him on the
back, and told him to go play.

She doesn't laugh much anymore, because it
makes her cough.

She says the customers don't like it when she
coughs, so she has to try not laugh too much, so
don't make mommy laugh, Timmy. It seems like.

It doesn't seem like it's *right*. But then, a lot of
things don't. Not the neighborhood they live in,
and not the way Dad sometimes comes home
from his business and *still* doesn't have any
money, and not... he knows he's not supposed
to think about that, because even though he
doesn't tell anyone what he's thinking, they can
always tell.

Usually because he's gotten into a fight.

And it's not like he gets into fights with just anyone.
Just the people who aren't... right. Because you
don't have to pick on people and make their lives
bad just because *you're* upset.

So he makes *them* upset... which makes the
teachers upset, and dammit, Timmy, you know we
don't have time to go to your school every time
you get in trouble so he doesn't do it.

He *tries* not to do it.

Any of it, because the thinking leads to the *doing*,
and he winds up wandering, because he can't get
in trouble for the things he doesn't get *caught*
for, and Gotham is huge, huge.

He's already ten and he still hasn't seen all of it,
even those times when his mom has to stay out
all night and his dad isn't around and he rides the
trains until someone catches him.

Mostly they don't catch him. He's quick and he's
small and almost none of the transit cops look
under *every* seat. People are slower at night.

Most people.

He watches the sky a lot, because *most* people
also think that Batman and Robin are myths, but
he knows better. Back home, there's a batarang --
a *real* batarang -- under his pillow from the
time he actually saw them, and *they* were
fighting the bad people, too, and they won and
they didn't even get *hurt*.

And they left the batarang behind, and sometimes
Tim wishes he could be sure *which* one of them
had thrown it, but it doesn't really matter, because
both of them had to have touched it sometime.

They just had to.

He's not supposed to talk about that, either, because
it makes his dad mad and mom says they never
did anything for them, anyway, and she gets mad,
and when she's mad she coughs and frowns and
goes far away, even if she doesn't leave their
apartment. The sickness makes her go away a
little, too. Just... go, and it scares him so, so bad.

Scares him like he's little kid -- *that* scared --
because sometimes when his dad is gone and his
mom is working, he looks around and he realizes
how easy it would be for them to go away and
never come back.

And he *likes* his home, and the way it smells
like his mom's perfumes, and his little wall of
articles about Batman and Robin, and the way if
he curls up just right, his bed holds him and
cradles him, and he likes other things, too.

It's just that he isn't sure if he'd like it so much if
he was all alone here.

He tries not to think about that, either.

Sometimes it seems like there are too many things
that people either don't *want* him to think
about, or that he doesn't want to think about.
Like maybe his brain is a secret enemy that no
one ever told him about, as scary and bad as...
as the *Joker*. And even though that doesn't really
make any sense, Tim can still *feel* it, and he
wonders if other people are like that.

If their thoughts get in the way, or if maybe other
people can think anything they want.

He thinks that maybe there are places that are
*supposed* to be like that, but a lot of things are
supposed to be true that aren't.

There's a girl at school named Naomi (Tim thinks
it's a pretty name, and sometimes when Naomi
smiles he thinks she's pretty, too, and he's never
ever going to say that), and her mom had
something called pneumonia (he looked it up, but
he doesn't know all the words from the definition
yet), and she said her dad came home early from
his job at the packing plant every day until her
mom was better.

And she was impressed by that -- he could tell -- but
she wasn't all *that* impressed. Like it was just
something dads were supposed to do, as opposed
to Rachel's dad, who had disappeared when they
were in kindergarten and who no one ever saw

As opposed to...

Sometimes when he comes home these days, his
mom is in bed with all the covers pulled up, even
the ones from his bed, so he has to curl in with
her as much as he can, even though it's hard to
sleep there.

Her breathing isn't right.

And he wants to ask when dad is coming home to
help take care of her. But he won't.

"Stevie?" His mom's voice is cracked like ice, like
the plate dad superglued back together, the one
that's still rough on his fingertips when he touches

"It's just me, mom."

"Timmy," she says, and it sounds like a sigh.
"You're a good boy."

The air was always bright

Tim loves the weekends so much that there aren't
even words -- just this sweet, pounding rush all
through him. Thanks to Bruce (and Gray's Anatomy),
he could probably track it through his entire
circulatory system.

The *paff* of Bruce's grapple registers before the
shift in his body, his cape -- like always. He's always
been better at 'watching' the world with his hearing
than anything else, and Bruce hasn't tried very
hard at all to train him out of that.

Too many of the Arkham freaks and geeks can *do*
things with what you see, and Tim's been working
hard to "turn the weakness into healthy suspicion."

He fires his own grapple and follows, watches,

He likes it. He likes the training and he likes the fact
that Bruce does his own. That he could bench a
handful of Tims at once and still thinks he could --
should -- do more. That he thinks Tim could do
the same, and that he's not gonna stop until Tim

It's Friday night and the pretty little private school
Tim Drake  -- ward to Bruce Wayne -- attends is a
memory, an illusion, a curtain ripped through ten
thousand years ago, and he's Robin, *he's*

And he's flying.

They're a little northeast of where they're supposed
to meet Batgirl, and everything's quiet. Not quiet
like the Manor, where you have to concentrate just
to hear the pound of the tide on the rocks below,
but *Gotham* quiet.

Car horns and music and voices that aren't
screaming or crying anymore than they should.
Behind him -- and he could *point*, if he wanted
to -- the signal is still lighting up a cloud, and will
be until the job is done. There's no reason to let
*tonight's* freak -- Riddler, and whoever he'd
conned or paid into working for him -- know
*when* they've gotten the call, or when they
moved to answer it.

Sometimes it's like these guys think it takes an
*hour* for them to answer Gordon's calls, and
they look so *surprised* when he and Batman
show up right away.

Sometimes it really does take an hour, and those
are the nights when he comes home stinking of
other people's -- the wrong people's -- blood and
so many layers of new, old, and older sweat that
he can't tell the difference.

When Bruce looks at him like he can't believe he's
*there*, until Tim makes a point of proving he

Tonight is Friday, and midterms have kept him off
the streets for a *week*, and he's too *primed*
to sweat. Just a shiver all over his skin that makes
him shoot too high and swing too hard, so that
Bruce is a steady hard *presence* next to Babs by
the time Tim tumbles out of the air.

She's been hunting since the word came down
that Riddler escaped, and, by Tim's calculations,
she'd only missed her shot by a couple of hours
before the clues started dropping and the game
show hosts started disappearing.

She's prowling the roof, crackling with all this
energy, all this *fire*, and she's showing her teeth
in something that's only a smile to people who
*think* they know her. Bruce is all folded up in
his cape, waiting, because --

"Sorry, Batman, I should've known the quiz kid
angle was too *easy*, and --"

Tim plants himself on a corner of the roof, balancing
on his toes, digging them into the head of the
gargoyle and waiting, listening. In the beginning
he didn't really get it -- *this*. That almost
guaranteed window of time for one of them to spill
down all the not *quite* necessary things that are
going to lead up to them causing serious physical
damage to people.

It didn't seem right, it didn't seem in *character*.
But he gets it now -- it's about *him*. It's about
what he can learn from Batgirl's mistakes, or
Nightwing's when he works with them.

When he *makes* them.

And it's about the fact that now that *he's* here, they
can *have* hunters on the ground, almost all the
time. They didn't need the signal this time for more
than a chance to rendezvous with Gordon.

And that's... it's wild and scary and so insanely right
to so many parts of him he can't even breathe.
Sometimes they don't *need* Gordon for more than
what he does to keep the heat off their cases. It's
not that Tim doesn't like him -- he's pretty cool for
a cop, and everything Babs says makes him sound
like that sugary little myth of the good father.

It's just that he hated cops before he knew what
they *were*. Back when his mom was healthy and
his dad was flush and his 'uncles' always came
back from jail bigger and badder than when they'd

It doesn't matter that everything they'd ever told
him was lies, and that his whole life before this was
just that -- a *before* picture.

("Emotion can be more powerful than truth. For

And Bruce had given him that Batman look, that
*you*-know-what-I-mean look that's all about the
fact that Tim's got a new way now, a new life and
new set of rules to follow that all make perfect

"Next time," Bruce says to Babs, and every ounce
of his focus is on the skylight on the building
opposite. The *old* building, with old-fashioned
glass that's just glass, that shatters so fast when
Batman's boots hit it that the shards barely
glance off Tim's own.

Fly-specked light globes flying past his cheek too
fast to see, and Babs is smiling now, *really*
smiling, because the guy she's kicking looks *just*
like the description she'd e-mailed to the Cave
about a suspect that she didn't have any *proof*
about, but who she just *knew* was involved.

His back finds Bruce's own fast, perfect like it
always is, and his body doesn't know the moves
behind *every* flex of armored muscle, but it

*He* will.

Shik-clik-clik and his staff is out, extended, spinning,
and the thugs are all the same, the *faces* all the

That one has his dad's cornered-rat snarl and that
one's clever little lock-picking fingers break like
twigs when he gives the staff *just* the right flick,
and --

Bruce ducks, twists, kevlar-lined cape sweeping
over Tim in a rush of black, and they're moving,
dancing through the gunshots that make the air
taste like pepper and *machine*, and the
hostages yell and bleat like *animals*, even after
he breaks off from Batman to knock them safe to
the floor.

"Un*tie* me, kid --"

"Don't just *leave* us here --"

And they're all the same, but that doesn't matter
because it's just right, too. The grin on his face
when he says, "kinda busy now, gimme a sec,"
and the way he knows that the only reason Bruce
*still* has his back to him is because he knows
Tim will do the right things.

Every last one of them.

His own cape is short, but there's enough kevlar
in it to keep the blow-dried game show types
*relatively* safe -- or at least quiet -- and.


As much as he loves the cape -- and it was all he
could do not to *sleep* in it when Bruce first gave
it to him -- he loves being *without* it, too.

Red and black and free and *naked*, and Babs
hears his footsteps and crouches down --

(and he dreamed last night, dreamed his lover
was waiting for him, beckoning him with low,
rumbling voice like the earth, like the *world*, and
all he had to do was strip down, strip down to
the skin and the fat and the perfectly-labeled
muscle and the bone)

-- letting Tim vault over her back into the dimness,
the *gloom*. Because all of these places have
some big, dark place where the bad guys -- try
to -- disappear.

And Riddler...

Oh, sometimes he thinks he might *love* Riddler,
because Nygma's scrawny and weak and he
*never* takes the opportunity to work out when
he gets put away, so once Tim knocks the tricky
little cane out of his hand, it's just cake.

Pure *cake*.

Every kick Bruce has taught him like a flash in his
brain, lighting up the only part of the world that
matters, every pathetic little whimper like the
wrongest, bestest sex, and then it's just him,
and the uppercut no one ever had to teach him,
and every last pound Alfred's cooking and Bruce's
training has put on him.

And Nygma goes down with a gasping, meaty
thud, and if he stands on the guy's neck for a
little *too* long before getting out the cuffs, well,
he had to kick him over onto his side, didn't he?

It's *safer* that way.

And it's all fading a little, sinking back into his veins
and everything else, that low, throbbing hum that
can't decide between celebrating another victory
or being *angry* that there's no one left to punch.

It *might* still be early -- no, his time-sense is
probably completely screwed by the adrenaline.
That's the way it always works, and when he checks
his watch he gets nothing like joy.

Just because *Batman* stays out to patrol until
the world is pink and orange with dawn doesn't
mean *he* can.


And just because he *knows* it's 'yet' doesn't stop
him from *itching*. From... sometimes he spends
a long time looking at the unconscious bad guys
and wondering if his bat-tazer could work like a
defibrillator. Because it's *possible*, right?

But it's too late, anyway, because Bruce says,
"Robin," and it's time to drag Nygma out of the
gloom and back to the rest of his crew. Dead
weight. Bleh.

He gets out just in time to see Babs calmly finishing
the job of releasing the hostages, and equally
calmly smacking one of them hard.

Bruce says, "hm," which tells Tim *all* he needs
to know about whatever the guy had said, and
gives him an excuse to kind of... snicker off some
of the vibrating tension under his skin.

"I'll sue!" The guy says, and Babs rolls her eyes
and then looks at Bruce and becomes *just*
Babs again, just that fast.

"Batman... I... kind of have to."

"We'll finish here," he says, and then she's gone.
Tim likes watching her run. When she's not
running from or to anything in particular, it's like
she's just dancing very quickly in a very specific
direction. He moves closer to the ex-hostages,
just so he can try to catch the smell of her
shampoo over all the cordite.

It's less about strength of sensation than
*contrast* and... yeah. He's hard as a *rock*
under his armor and he needs... really *badly*.

Batman's voice is suddenly high and nasal and
wrong, and when Tim looks over his shoulder
he's talking into one of the unconscious guys'
cell phones. Calling it in, which means they're
leaving --


Now. Thank *God*.

They shoot their grapples and move up and out
through the busted skylight, and Bruce says,

"Autopilot. Four south, two west."

And by the time they get down to Twelfth the
Batmobile is waiting for them, purring and
growling like it can hear everything in Tim's blood.
Like it *understands*.

Tim rolls his head on his neck and hops in, and
Bruce buckles himself in and *looks* at Tim.
There's a pause, and then his nostrils flare just
a little, and Tim's mouth is dry, Tim's mouth is
going to be dry right up until --

Bruce pulls out with a screech of tires and
they're moving, heading for the back roads well
before they *have* to, and then opening up
with the kind of speed that slams Tim back
against the seat like hands. He can't help but
struggle against it, a little. Bruce has both
hands on the wheel.

It feels like a tease.

"Where's Babs going?"

"She didn't say."

Tim rolls his eyes. "I *know* that, but I also
know *you* know."

The corner of Bruce's mouth twitches. "And you

And... okay, fine. It's not like it takes all *that*
much thought. Nightwing wasn't with them
tonight, even though they *all* know that Dick
was spelling Babs on the Nygma hunt. So either
they *didn't* manage to talk about anything
and Dick was back to being angry, or they
*did* and...

Dick was off somewhere preparing for, like, a

"Hunh," he says, and sniffs his gauntlet. Blood.
"You think they'll work it out?"

"Mm," Bruce says.

And that's *all* he's going to get, even though
he's pretty sure Bruce understands them better
than he does. He's known them for so *long*.
He has to know why they're both so...

There has to be a *reason* why they don't just
patrol together, and keep patrolling together
until they're both so revved up that Babs has
to throw Dick over a gargoyle and Dick has to...

He thinks about buckling the extra restraints. The
ones that'll press right up against his jock until
he's hurting. He opens his tunic instead, rubbing
his nipples through his t-shirt and watching
Bruce's mouth tighten and tighten.

They blur through the hologram too fast for Tim's
eyes to register the difference -- again -- and the
canopy pops and the bats screech and there's a
tray with coffee and milk and cookies. The
coffee's hot and the milk's cold and there's no
way that Alfred doesn't pay *just* as much
attention to the police band as they do.

Tim grins and unbuckles his belt, moving up and
out and thinking 'chocolate,' and then Bruce's
fingers are digging in between his collar and
the back of his neck and *yanking*. "Hey --"

Bruce sits him down hard on the Batmobile's
hood, warm and sleek beneath his ass. Tim flips
the tunic the rest of the way off and says,


And Bruce says "yes," and opens Tim's belt and
lifts his shirt and pauses, for just a second,
before planting his palm over Tim's sternum
and shoving.

Down on his back, and the stalactites reach
down and try to scratch him, try to *get* him,
but they can't, because Bruce *has* him,
yanking down his shorts and tights and squeezing
him through the jock before yanking that down,
too. "*Yeah* --"

And he watches Bruce watch him as he scrambles
up further on the hood until he's resting against
the windshield, until he can get plant his boots
and spread his legs, and Bruce moves so *fast*.
One hand -- gauntleted and cool and *hard* --
wrapped around Tim's dick and the other on his
face, petting his mouth before shoving in with
two fingers.

Tim moans around them, tenses and tries not
to thrust into Bruce's fist, into *Batman's* fist,
because his eyes are narrowed and angular and
the white-out lenses just burn right through

*Into* him, and Tim bites Bruce's fingers and --

"Lick them."

Whimpers. Hard. A *lot*. The gauntlet tastes like
plastic and guns and smoke, and the other one
*has* him, thumb rubbing over and over the head
of his dick, and Tim knows he's got about thirty
seconds before it stops being an incredible tease
and *starts* being the thing that's going to get
him off.

He moans when Bruce pulls out and scratches at
the finish on the hood with his own gauntlets,
and he can't really get a good hold so he has to
keep using his feet, the tread on his boots. Keep
*working*, and it just makes it better.

And even better when Bruce says "Tim," like it's
another word for sex, or food, or air, like the
way Tim can't *stop* saying "Bruce."

Here or out there or even upstairs, when they're
just in the study, because Bruce *is*, and he
can't get enough.

He *can't*.

It's an empty place that just keeps getting --

God, *in* him, two fingers. Slick with his own
spit and so hard, harder than anything *should*
be, unless it's Bruce. Unless it's --


And Tim hears himself yell and rocks himself
back on Batman's fingers, again and again, and
coming feels like an afterthought, because he
can't stop. Clawing at the hood and needing
more, so much *more*, and Batman only pulls
out for a terrible, meaningless heartbeat before
he's *in* him, cape falling over them both and
breath hot and humid against the chill of the

"Batman --"

Over him, *in* him, holding him steady and holding
him *still*, and Tim reaches up and wraps his
arms around the cowl.

"*Batman* --"


And everything in him hums and screams for the
more that he's getting.

That's all *his*, from Nygma's blood on his gauntlets
to the scream of bats. From Bruce's soft gasps to
Batman's relentless, perfect rhythm, driving him
back against the windshield and making him choke
on one scream after another.

He's never letting go.

Something in my own place


He hates that voice so, so much. Because it's the
voice of Batman being sad, and every time he's
heard it it's been because something crappy has
happened. Dead people, lost people, no-hope

Bruce uses it all the time now.

And he can mostly ignore it, because the bad stuff
is *over*. Because he's back home at the manor
where he belongs, and his blood tests have tested
clean of toxins the last three times in a row, and
because the Joker is --

Because it's *okay* now, and Bruce *always* takes
longer to figure that stuff out than other people
do. And as soon as he can find wherever Bruce
stored his uniform, Tim can start *helping* Bruce
figure that out.

The Cave is huge and cool and filled with so many
things -- Tim gets distracted. The colors. The green
of the dinosaur and the copper of the penny and
Dick's old suit and the dozen monitors going at
once, and his eyes just skate past them, like he
can't quite take it all in yet.

It's been much too long.

He's going to fix that, too.

He feels Bruce moving behind him as he passes by
the Case again and... stops.

The suit's too... and that's not.

Bruce's hands are on his shoulders. Both of them,
when he hadn't even gotten the two-shoulder job
for his *Dad*, or for *Annie*, and --

"Tim. I was planning to talk to you about this
tomorrow morning."

"I." Tim blinks, and blinks too fast and too much.
"I. I didn't quit."

"No," he says, and tugs on one of Tim's shoulders
until Tim turns to face him. He's crouched down in
front of him, and the cowl is pushed back from his
face and --

"I didn't quit and I'm not --" Tim bites his lip. He
was yelling, and sometimes it's hard *not* to,
but it's not like *yelling* ever helps with Bruce.
So. "Do you think I'm out of shape? I've been
practicing -- I mean. I couldn't do much at the
hospital, they kept *watching* me, but --"

"It's not that." Bruce's eyes are blue and -- and

And the thing is, he has to be careful now.
Sometimes, when he tries to frown, when he
thinks he's *going* to frown, it doesn't come
out that way at all. Sometimes his face does
things it's not supposed to, even though the
toxins are gone, even though there's nothing
like... *that* anywhere but his dreams.

But he can manage it.

It just doesn't matter with Bruce, because Tim
knows Bruce can see him fighting *anyway*.
"I'm *better* now," he says, and he knows it
sounds like pleading.

"Yes you are," Bruce says, and that doesn't
matter, either, because Tim can *hear* the,
"but Gotham isn't. Gotham's *worse*, and I...
I can't let you go out there anymore. It's... I
was wrong to --"

The smile snakes across Tim's face before he can
stop it, the stupid, wrong, too-wide smile that the
muscles of his face are just *trained* for now,
and Bruce winces and Tim swallows it back with a
grunt of effort. "I'm not going to make a mistake
like that again. I went over and *over* it, Bruce.
I know it was just... I know it was like you said,
where sometimes I give the victims too much
credit, and I'm not careful, but I *know* better
now --"

"Tim. I can't risk you getting... hurt again. I can't
let that happen --"

"You didn't *let* this happen, Bruce! You
didn't --"

Bruce's hands tighten on his shoulders, and it's
the same as an order. Tim hisses a breath
between his teeth and stands quiet, stands quiet
and still and *waits* and pretends he can't feel
the laughter trying to bubble up the back of his
throat. Maybe it's just vomit. That happens
sometimes, even now.

And when Bruce strokes his cheek Tim doesn't
flinch, because at least Bruce is still wearing
his gauntlet, and because he'd missed it. He --
"I *missed* you, Bruce. I missed *this*."

Bruce nods, slowly, but his soft, soft eyes don't
change, and holding his face in this position,
keeping it *normal* feels like trying to lift
weights with his *skin*, or something else

But he can do it. He *can*.

"I don't think... you should live here anymore,

No, he can't.


It's not as bad as it could be.

Once upon a time, he'd marked every calendar Alfred
gave him for the weekends when he could go visit
Dick, marked them because he *could*, because
seeing the big blue squares around the dates was
just so...

He didn't have words for it, not good ones. Saying
it was like having Christmas several times a year
assumes one hell of a *lot* about the kind of
Christmases he'd had before he'd gone to live with

And now he lives with Dick.

The thing is, he'd *never* wanted that, even
when... even *before*, because he wanted to live
wherever Batman did, and then he *had*, and
even if sometimes he'd wanted to stay with Dick
for a *little* longer, he'd never wanted to *live*


Dick's loft is nice. Full of light. 'Airy' is what the
magazines would call it, and it is. There's
gymnastics equipment right *there*, and he can
use it anytime he wants to, and there's no Alfred
to periodically box up his GameStation and
*hide* it. It's right there, in front of the TV,
where it belongs.

There's no Alfred.

There's no...

Nightwing keeps his stuff behind a hidden wall.
There's just not enough of it to require a whole
cave. No real trophies or anything.

Dick never opens the wall in front of him.

Dick hasn't opened the wall in a long time. Too

Sometimes he thinks about...

But he doesn't. Because he wouldn't ever steal
from Dick, and borrowing doesn't... he still has
the batarang. The same one he's had from the
beginning. Scratched up and chipped and
recovered from Dumpsters a dozen times and
washed thoroughly *much* more.

He'd gotten over not washing it even *before*.

Sometimes, when Tim can't sleep, he stands in front
of where the wall would open, and he *looks*.
He doesn't touch anything, he doesn't *move*,
but Dick always wakes up anyway, and those are
the nights when they wind up on the couch, and
Dick says,

"I meant it, you know, you *can* talk about it,"
and Tim says,

"I know," and they wind up watching whatever old
movie is showing on cable until dawn.

Sometimes he just stares at the wall anyway,
whether he'd slept the night before or not.

He doesn't have any idea how Dick is...

He doesn't even have a *job*. He writes up book
reviews for fun, sometimes, and he works out,
and he reads and watches television -- except for
the news, only Tim watches the news -- and he
goes to museums and sometimes he goes to
the same stupid playboy events Bruce goes to,
except not the *exact* same ones, because Tim
watches the news, and it's always "Richard
Grayson attended such and such" or "Bruce
Wayne dazzled whatever," never both.

He doesn't have a job, he's a professional rich
guy, and now he's not even *working*.

And sometimes he wants to sneak into Dick's
bedroom in the middle of the night and hit him
with a *lamp*, because how could he... how
could he even --

So most of the time, Tim doesn't say much at
all to Dick, unless Dick says something first,
and how, *exactly*, is this supposed to be
the better choice?

Sometimes the laughs feel right on his face, and
in his voice, and the doctors -- still the damned
*doctors* -- say that it's right, that it's a sign
that he's getting better (he *is* better), but Tim
isn't so sure.

Tim's kind of...

So he does his own stupid, meaningless *shit*,
and Dick's tutoring means that he's almost all
the way caught up with school again -- yay.
And he's playing Moon Raider 2300 when the
door opens.

Dick's back from the store, carrying about six

From experience, Tim knows that at least five of
them are filled with anything and everything any
of the others remember about what he likes, and
that there's probably even --

"There's a few more in the hall, kid. Get 'em for

Tim nods and does it, and they put the groceries
away, everything but what Dick absently snags
out of his hands.

He's not a detective (anymore), but it looks like
Dick's planning on having pasta tonight. Good
enough. Dick doesn't make his own sauce the
way Alfred does, but he always manages to
doctor the stuff in the bottles up so much that
it *tastes* like he does.

Tim checks to make sure that everything
non-pasta-related is put away, and starts to
head back toward the television.

"Shit," Dick says, and he sounds...

Tim pauses and turns. "What is it?"

Dick grins at him ruefully, the look that always
seemed so *subtle* when he was wearing his
mask, but now is huge, huge all the *time*.
"Sorry. I didn't even ask you what *you*
wanted for dinner."

And that's just... Tim's learned that if he bites
the inside of his lip hard enough, he can keep
his face from shifting without his permission
almost all the time. So he does it, and when
he's got it under control, he says, "you don't
have to. All the time." It's your *house*.

Dick shrugs. "Yeah, but --"

"Dick," he says, and he tries to put everything
in it. It's his "I don't want to talk about it" voice,
and Dick should *know* it by now.

"I just want you to be comfortable here, Tim," he
says, and not even biting his lip is enough.

Not even biting the outside.

And then Dick is moving, and he's got one hand
on Tim's shoulder and the other in his hair, and
he's saying "hey," in that soft, soft *voice* that
he hates, hates so damned *much*, the voice
*all* of them use with him, like he's going to

"You don't have to do this. You don't have to
buy my favorite foods and tuck me in at night
and... and fucking not be *Nightwing*. I'm not a
cripple and I'm not *your* cripple." And he's
yelling, and yelling is one of the triggers, the ones
that call the laughter out of where he's stashed it.

*Anywhere* he's stashed it, because sometimes
it doesn't matter, sometimes it comes out no
matter what.

So he bites his lip until he tastes blood and
watches Dick watching *him*, and waits for him
to let go.

"You know, for someone really *invested* in
convincing everyone else that he's better, you're
not doing the best job."

"*Fuck* you," and he slaps Dick's hands away
from him. He tries to.

He couldn't do it *before* and he hasn't had so
much as a spar for a *year*, and sometimes
Tim thinks about the shocks, and how they'd go
on and on, until he was screaming, until the
only reason he knew he was screaming was
that his mouth was open, until he couldn't feel
anything but how *close* the end was.

How close the end would be, if he just gave up.

Sometimes he wishes he'd given up.

He stares at the floor and holds still, waiting for
Dick to loosen his hold on his wrists. When Dick
lets go, Tim lets his hands fall to his sides.

And looks up. Looks Dick in the eye and says,

Dick snorts. "No you're not. You never used to lie
to me."

He never used to have a reason to do it. Tim
crosses his arms over his chest and looks at the
floor again.

"What you *used* to do is laugh --"


"And *talk*. And do this really great impression
of a kid who was *alive*."

"So I fucked up. We *knew* that. That's why...
that's why he fired me."

Dick sighs, long and breathy, and when Tim looks
up again, he's running his fingers back through
his hair. It's getting longer in the front. His hair
was never really practical for what they did --
what they *used* to do. Now it's just wrong.

"Look, Dick, can we not have this conversation?"

"I think we have to." And the look Dick gives him
says 'sorry,' and actually means it.

"Dick --"

"Stop." Dick holds up a hand. "Just... stop a
minute, okay? You've been giving Bruce a run for
his money in the uncommunicative bastard
sweepstakes, and I've been dealing with that,
because..." He shakes his head. "Look, first off,
nobody thinks you're a 'cripple.'"

That's just so funny he thinks he wants to kill
something. Else.

"*Nobody* thinks you fucked up." Dick holds his
hand up again. "Seriously, I asked. You know I
went to the Manor back when you first moved in,
because you keep better tabs on me than...
anyone. Ever."

Tim nods. Waits for it.

"You know Bruce and I... you know we've had a
lot of problems, and this... you. Him benching you
was one of them. *Is* one of them, because his
decision to take Robin away from you didn't have
anything to do with *you*, at all."

Tim blinks. That isn't... "But I messed up. When I
was talking to him. I couldn't... I couldn't keep

Dick nods slowly, and smiles again. "No one can
blame you for *that*. I used to look at you, and
how *happy* you were, and wonder whether
Bruce was drugging your food. How you *ever*
managed to put up with... how *you* managed,
because you were so..." Dick ruffles his hair,
and Tim takes it.

And waits.

"You still are, you know. I believe that. I think
you spend so much time scared of dredging up
some ghost of the Joker --"

"Dick --"

"No, let me. And... okay, no, *don't* let me.
Christ, I have no idea what I'm doing."

Tim hugs himself a little harder. "You didn't have
to take me in."

"I *know* that, okay? I *wanted* to."

"It's okay to change your mind --"

"I haven't changed my freaking *mind*!" Dick's
glaring at him, and he looks... it would be
absolutely, wonderfully, perfectly familiar if Dick
just had his mask on. And then he laughs, and
scrubs his hand back through his hair again. "I
haven't changed my mind, okay? Just... let me try
this again?"

Tim nods.

"Bruce benched you because he's scared.
*Shit*-scared of something happening to you
that you *won't* recover from. He's looking at
you and seeing a *corpse*, and he's blaming
himself -- because that's what he does for
everything but what he *should* be blaming
himself for. And it has *nothing* to do with you."

"But... if he's afraid of me dying, then he's afraid
of me messing up."

"Listen to me." Dick's hands are on his face,
thumbs tracing his cheekbones hard until Tim
meets his eyes again. "Even if you're one hundred
percent perfect every day and every night from
now on, you're still human. There's a bullet with
your name on it, or maybe a knife, or maybe
the freaking car Croc throws at you. Or at Bruce.
Or at me. Or at... at Barbara."

Tim frowns. "But that's... that could happen -- it
could've happened *any* time."

Dick strokes his cheekbones again and smiles a
twisted little thing that Tim knows from the back.
"Funny how he's just figuring that out, hunh?"

"Then why aren't *you* letting me? Since you
know... so *much*."

"Because you're *not* better. Because I haven't
seen you let a smile sit on your face for more
than half a second for over a *year*. Because
you're not ready --"

"Train me."

"-- and because there's nothing you want more
than going back out there and being Robin."

Tim blinks again. "What... are *you* insane? Of
*course* there isn't anything I want more! There
isn't... there's nothing --"

"Listen to me. Please."

"Dick --"

"There's a whole *world* out there. There's... God.
You wouldn't watch anything but CNN if I didn't
steal the remote out of your hands every few days.
You haven't *read* anything but your textbooks
and whatever criminology and abnormal psych
books you can get from the library since you've
been here. You eat whatever I put in front of
you, you go to school, you come home and work
 out until you *pass* out, and then you have
nightmares until you wake up, at which point
you stare at my fucking *suit* like it has all the
answers in the universe.

"And that has to *stop*."

Tim breathes, and keeps breathing. Because he
doesn't want to say... there are a lot of things he
doesn't want to say, and all of them have to do
with the fact that just because Dick apparently
hated his life as Robin and will be bitter until
the day he *dies* is no reason to think that it's
*abnormal* for Tim to want it back.

He doesn't want to say any of that, because
Dick *didn't* have to take him in, and he sure
as hell doesn't have to *keep* him, and he
doesn't have anywhere else to go.

Bruce doesn't even want to *see* him. Bruce...

Suddenly, he can see it, like he did in the
nightmares he *used* to have. When they got
back to the Cave in the boat, and the hatch
opened, and Alfred was there staring at him,
but Bruce didn't make a sound, because
Bruce was dead before he was even *Bruce*,
and there was nothing...

He used to be so scared.

So, so scared.

"Tim? Are you... you're kind of zoning out on

"No, I'm not."

"Okay --"

He *looks* at Dick, just as aware and focused as
he can be, and it makes Dick pause. "I want to be

"I know."

"That's not --" *Good* enough, he doesn't say.
He takes another breath, instead. "Why is it so
important to you that I want... other things?"

Dick gives him another rueful smile and turns to
the cabinets, pulling out the pasta pot and a
saucepan and starting to get things ready for


"Yeah, I know. I'm just figuring out how to say it."

And Tim's just... he's *tired*. Of this. "Just say it."

Dick slams the sauce bottle down hard. Hard
enough that the cap pops, and then he looks back
over his shoulder at Tim. He isn't smiling anymore.
"I used to look at you and see myself when I was
your age. You knew that, right?"

Tim shakes his head.

"Well, I did. I remembered how much fun Bruce
and I used to have, and how happy I used to be,
and I was just waiting for it to all get fucked up
for you, too."

"It didn't."

"Yeah. Heh. I kind of *caught* that. No matter
what bullshit he pulled, or how much bullshit
*I* pulled, or how many times he'd disappear
for a week with the League, or *whatever*. You
never complained. You never even looked like
you *wanted* to complain."

"*I* didn't."

Dick puts the water on to boil. "Caught that,
too. And I figured it out. At least I think I did.
Wanna hear that theory?"

"Do I have a choice?"

Dick's smile is narrow and knowing. "Now
*there's* the bitter ex-Robin I've been waiting
to see."

"Dick --"

"I'm getting there." He chops the garlic and other
vegetables for the sauce with deft quickness,
and there are times when Tim offers to help
cook solely to feel a knife in his hands.

And there are times when he doesn't offer to
help solely because he can't... he doesn't want to.

"When *I* was a kid, before I was Robin, I had
a mom and a dad who loved me. I had a hard,
busy life, but I loved that, too. I got to fly. I
was never hungry, and I had everything I
wanted, pretty much, except for my own
alligator. Funny how my parents thought that
would make a *bad* pet."

Tim grits his teeth, and bites his lip reflexively. He
doesn't actually feel like laughing. "What's your

"Do you really have to ask?"

Tim thinks about throwing the chopping board out
the window. He thinks about how *heavy* the
lamps are. He thinks about gunshots and he
isn't sick. "You're just pointing out that Robin is
the best thing that happened to me. I *knew*
that already. I don't --"

"Tim. *Look* at me. Look at my life, okay?"

"*What* life? You --"

Dick flicks the knife out of his hand, letting it bury
itself in the kitchen wall before grabbing Tim's
shoulders. "That's my *point*. Robin was... I
loved it, and I love Barbara, and I love you, and
I will *always* love Bruce, no matter how much
I want to beat him with a *two-by-four*, and
it was *still* one of the shittiest things that
could have happened to me. Because of who
*I* am.

"And I figured that out, you know? I..." Dick's
eyes are wide, and focused on Tim's, and just a
little desperate. "It was what I wanted when I
was a kid, but there's a *reason* sane people
don't let kids make major life decisions. And I
quit, and I traveled around the world, and I
went to school, and I sat down and asked
myself what I really wanted out of my life, and
then... and then I came right back here and
made myself a new suit."

"Because it was what you *wanted*."

"Because it was the only thing I knew *how* to

Tim narrows his eyes, and looks down at himself,
and feels his stomach lurch, a little, because he
didn't realize he was still hugging himself, and
because he can't actually stop. "I don't. I."

"I look at you, and I realize maybe I wasn't so
wrong in thinking that we'd wind up having a lot
in common." Dick's smile is twitchy and rueful.
"I just picked the wrong things."

"I... I want to be *Robin*," Tim says, *again*,
and there are so many ways to hate yourself.

"I know. I know. And I want to be Nightwing,
because then I don't have to think about anything
but whoever's doing something terrible to
somebody else, and no one can look me in the
eye unless I *let* them, and, when I get home,
I'm always tired enough to sleep through the
night. God, Tim, just..." Dick tugs until Tim lets
go of himself, and then he crouches down and
wraps his arms around Tim and holds on.

His hair smells like shampoo and he's warm,
and he's *Dick*, and it isn't fair that it feels the
same as it always does. Like another part of the
acceptance and home he doesn't *have*

Except he supposedly does.

Tim hugs Dick back because... because he has
to, and breathes him in.

"You think I'm not being Nightwing right now
because I'm trying to protect you. You think
that I think you'll wig out or run away if you see
me with the suit on. I *know* you do, because
I would, too."


"But it's not about you. God, I..." He squeezes
Tim tighter. "I'm trying to figure all this stuff out,
too, okay? I'm... fuck." Dick's laugh is just as
harsh and ugly as anything Tim can manage
these days. "I'm using you just as much as
Bruce *ever* did. More."

That probably shouldn't make Tim feel better.
He knows what Leslie would say. He can see it
on her face, but Leslie isn't always *right*. No
matter what Bruce thinks.

What any of them do.

So he hugs Dick tighter, and feels Dick exhale,
like Tim's done something he needed him to do.
"You want me to... want something more than
I want Robin."

Dick sighs, and strokes his back. "I don't know if
that's even possible. For either of us. But I know
we should probably try to find out."

"And if I still want it?" *Need* it.

Dick cups the back of his head and pulls back until
Tim can see him smiling, and how his eyes are
perfectly serious. "Then I'll *make* you a Robin
suit. Or you could just be Nightwing."

Tim thinks about smiling back. Thinks really,
really hard about it, and (bang!) doesn't.

But he doesn't let go, either.


The tuxedo is new. Tim's grown a whole inch, and the
Dick who'll spend a day walking around in ratty
cut-off sweatpants is, somehow, the same Dick
who'll drag Tim to a tailor and throw rolled-up tape
measures at him when he whines.

Still, he doesn't mind going with Dick to these
functions, not really. It's been long enough that
only half the random, useless people ooze sympathy
at him about his 'terrible ordeal,' (because there's
no one left to contradict the story about Joker
kidnapping Bruce Wayne's ward for money, as
opposed to Joker kidnapping Robin for... that.),
and anyway it's for Dick.

Between the insurance money and how Lucius
has been investing it all these years, the Grayson
Foundation is actually pretty respectable. It's no
Wayne Foundation, but Dick also isn't Bruce.

Dick actually *does* this stuff, every day. And
Tim goes with Dick to the community centers, and
sometimes he stays even when Dick doesn't.

He knows the kids -- better than Dick ever could,
and when he *does* get home, sometimes Dick
is still surrounded by paperwork, barking orders
into the phone or wheedling contributions or
zoning permits out of people.


He hasn't said it to Dick, and he isn't sure how
he'd even start to do it, but it's good to see him
doing something, see him moving, and see him
*finding* something he likes.

Because as much as Tim used to love seeing
Nightwing show up when he was on patrol, he's
had a long time to think about it, and to admit to
himself that it was also always kind of stressful.
Even on those times when Bruce *wasn't* there.

This is... better.

And it's kind of fun to be the poster child for just
how *good* Dick can be for kids, even if he does
spend most of the night trying not to choke on
the smirk behind his face. The smirk looks a lot
like Dick's, but at least it's real, and honest, and
not... that.

And sometimes Leslie comes with Alfred, and
seeing Alfred is always, always good, and Leslie...
well, if sometimes he can't get past the idea that
he was her patient, it's never *her* fault. Tim's
not her patient on nights like these. He's just one
of the kids she knows, and her smiles are neither
professional nor fake.

Her smiles can be... weirdly triumphant, but he
gets that. She thinks she saved him, and that he,
in turn, saved Dick. She thinks she'll save Bruce,
someday, and then no one will ever be violent
except for the crazy people who'll eventually kill
everyone else, or just make them wish they were

Tim toasts her with ginger ale, and mingles, and
thinks about leaping from the balcony and
catching a swing on the curtains, and it doesn't
hurt much, at all, because he knows it's the sort
of thing he would've loved doing before.

It doesn't all have to do with what he doesn't
have, and sometimes, when he wakes up in the
middle of the night...

The night is just the night, and the hidden door is
just another white wall, and he likes artichoke
hearts, and every lemon-flavored candy ever
made, and juggling things that should never be
juggled (like, say, Dick's collection of obsessively
organized CDs), and Humphrey Bogart movies,
and the constant search to find video games loud
and offensive enough to blow out even Dick's

It's a challenge.

He likes a lot of things that have nothing to do
with beating the crap out of people, even people
who sincerely deserve it.

Sometimes he makes lists, and it doesn't matter
how many passwords he puts them behind,
Dick always finds them, and looks at him, and
asks the silent question, which Tim answers
the way he always does: It's not enough.

But he thinks, maybe, that it isn't the point.

Dick's sparring with him again -- *that's* the

At any given time, if he asks the *other* silent
question, Dick will give him the suit that Tim's
not supposed to know has been ready for months --
*that's* the... other point. One of them.

The Joker's in his head, and in his dreams. The city
calls to him with eight million voices. He's never
going to get over it. Not any of it, and he's never
going to be the kid Dick remembers again, and he's
maybe never going to find anything that feels as
good as digging his heel into the neck of some
thug and making him say 'please.'

"Anything interesting?" Dick's grinning at him with
his eyes over a glass of champagne, and his
ponytail is long and sleek. Some debutante or
another has flipped it over his shoulder, so that
it hangs down the right lapel of his suit.

Tim yanks on it. "What do *you* think?"

"I think it's probably cruel and unusual punishment
that I don't let you drink at these things."

Tim nods solemnly, and smiles when Dick laughs.

The point is... the kid he used to be had something
that *was* enough, but that kid doesn't exist
anymore, and so maybe nothing really could be
enough anymore. There's nothing he's scared of
more than putting on the suit and going out and
still having this empty place, this stupid *need*,
this voice in his head that sounds like Bruce's but
doesn't touch him. Doesn't ever. So he hasn't

The *point* is that even if he's never really
*happy* again...

He kind of has to keep trying.