Disclaimers: Not even close to mine.
Spoilers/Timeline: Various old storylines. Takes place just
after ROBIN #120 and before... everything else.
Summary: "You knew I'd long since stopped trusting you to
any -- problematic -- degree."
Ratings Note/Warnings: Sexual content which dovetails
neatly with the content some readers may find disturbing.
Author's Note: Sequel to "Flares
sent out from shore."
Interestingly (or not), could also be read as a prequel to "In
all your glories," though that wasn't my intention. More
notes at the end.
Acknowledgments: To Jack, Jam, and Audrey for audiencing,
encouragement, and helpful suggestions.
The second thing he will never ask Bruce for is this:
A reason -- however irrelevant or mad -- for just why he
had chosen to leave himself out of the running for the great
'which Bat will go evil?' sweepstakes of 2005.
For that -- *lie*. (If it had been entirely a lie, there would've
been no point to it.)
He won't ask for this for precisely the same reason as he
won't ask for the first thing: an apology.
It isn't necessary.
"Have you been sleeping?"
'Nearly as much as usual, in the past few days, anyway,'
isn't an adequate answer. He smiles ruefully at his
stepmother. "Do I have luggage under my eyes?"
"A whole *set*," she says, and cups his chin, tilting his
head into the light.
"Hmm. You just seem... down? Worried?"
I know exactly what my life will be, now, Dana, and it's
terrifying. "I've just been... wondering about college," he
She frowns. Her hand-lotion has a pleasant undertone of
cucumbers. "With *your* grades?"
"It's not --" What is it? Ah, yes, "My guidance counselor is
pushing for a lot of out of state schools." He absolutely is.
"I'm just not sure if I want to go that far, or not."
Dana lets him go and puts her hands on her hips. "And
you're wondering if *that* makes you a wuss."
Interesting assumption. He can work with it. Tim shrugs
and looks down at the floor.
"Uh, huh. I wonder where a certain Miss Brown plans to
attend college," she says, and the wink is in her voice.
"Well, I..." There's no need *not* to trail off.
Dana claps him on the shoulder, as surprisingly hard as
ever. "Don't worry about it, kiddo. You know *we* like to
have you nice and close. And college is different enough...
well. Even if you went to a school on the next block, you'd
wind up surprising yourself by how different your world
looks. Take it from someone who went to school close
enough to home not to have to change *area* codes, eh?"
He almost says, 'noted.' "Got it. Thanks, Dana."
There are... differences, in Bruce, when he pays attention to
(There is a great deal of temptation to ask himself whether
or not he would've noticed those differences... before.)
A certain tension around the jaw. A slightly lower likelihood
of being looked in the eye -- unless he initiates it.
There was -- is -- no need for an apology, because Bruce's
choice of birthday present was, in fact, a present. Meant
'well' to the point where the concept became a laughable
irrelevancy. Bruce's *present* is going to keep him alive,
whether or not he ever puts on the cowl.
Bruce's *present* is, perhaps, the best thing a Batman
could ever give a Robin which didn't involve an internal
combustion engine, and...
And there is, of course, a very nice new bike.
No, there was no *need* for an apology, but Bruce very
obviously feels -- *feels* -- differently -- snide little 'I hope
"My usual route tonight, Bruce?" Just the slightest stress
on -- *that* -- name, and --
Bruce stiffens, almost imperceptibly. Almost. "Yes."
He could -- should -- leave it at that. "I was hoping we
might work together."
*This* stiffening isn't imperceptible at all -- most probably
because there was enough truth in that statement to be
impossible to ignore.
Tim really *would* like a bit more time to study this, after
all. He waits.
"I don't think that will be... necessary, tonight. Tim."
Really. Tim nods at the back of the cowl. "All right."
There was only a half-day at school -- they've barely begun
the year -- but the fact that Dana had seen fit to mention
it aloud at the breakfast table -- and the way his father's
eyebrows had shot up -- means that Tim pretty much has
to beg off spending an afternoon with Ives' and Ives'
GameStation to head home.
He isn't sure what he was expecting -- home repairs had
come to mind -- but a trip to Grant Park isn't it.
Still, it's not especially difficult to steer his parents away
from those areas of the park where the wildlife was still
often very wild, indeed, and Dana had seen fit to use actual
mayonnaise in the potato salad she packed.
A special, artery-clogging-allowed occasion.
He plays catch with his father, with a football he knows
dates back to when his father had been his age. He isn't
sure whether or not it's a hint, but he suspects it might be.
He forces himself to fumble a few times, and lets his father
tell him things about arcs, trajectories, and the importance
of never taking one's eyes away from the action at hand
that Bruce had told him three years ago.
He listens to his father, and watches him, and wonders why
everything seems washed-out, faded like a memory he'd
already half-forgotten --
He shakes it off and enjoys himself.
"So are you gonna tell me what's wrong, or are you just
gonna keep pretending that you're paying attention to all
this fine, vigilante-on-vigilante mackage I'm throwing at
Tim smiles ruefully and covers the hands Steph has on his
shoulder with his own. "Sorry," he says, and scrapes lipstick
off his bottom lip with his teeth. "I'm..."
She tilts -- cocks -- her head at him. "I'm waiting."
"It's just... it's nothing new, Spoiler."
Steph grunts and nods. "You could --" She laughs. "Oh man,
I was totally about to say that you could just talk to
"Yeah, I'm comedy freaking *gold*. Jeez." She shoves him
a little, and then wipes at his mouth with her thumb. "It'll
get better," she says.
"You're probably right."
Talking to Dick isn't, actually, the next best thing to talking
to Bruce, but he's not really here to talk, anyway.
Bludhaven is a chance to use his skills somewhere they're
needed, and --
"A-ha. I *knew* I saw some yellow that didn't belong in the
sky." Dick is grinning at him from where he's hanging --
upside down -- from a fire escape.
"Too bright for air pollution?"
"Among other things, little brother."
Tim smiles back, because he pretty much has to. Bludhaven
is a chance for a lot of things he doesn't normally get to
"Here for a reason?"
Yes and no. Tim shakes his head.
Dick grins a little wider -- something Tim wouldn't have
thought was possible -- flips, and drops. "Then come play."
'Play' boils down to stopping three muggings, five drug
deals, and one barroom brawl. A good night, especially
because he'd managed to side-step the latter's obligatory
flying projectile vomit, for once.
He's *used* to his boots smelling godawful.
It's still a few hours from dawn -- and the need for Tim to
head back to Gotham -- when Dick stops them on a
rooftop with a nod. Dick pulls an energy bar from his boot,
Tim pulls one from his belt, and only the lack of coffee
makes it less than perfect, especially when Dick throws an
arm around Tim's shoulders and pulls them down into a
This close, he can smell the sweat in Dick's hair that means
he's actually human, as opposed to just Nightwing. It is --
and has always been -- like a breath of fresh self-esteem.
Tim smiles ruefully to himself and eats.
"You know, we haven't gotten to talk in a while."
"O mentioned... well, she wasn't exactly clear. She just said
that you might need to talk about *something*, at *some*
point. Feel like narrowing it down?"
He isn't surprised that Oracle knows. And, for a moment,
Tim considers it. The words themselves, after all, are only
words. 'Bruce wants me to be Batman someday,' and 'I
know -- I think I know -- what would make you turn on all
of us' and 'sometimes I'm afraid of all of us' and 'I still don't
"Tim...?" His voice is quiet, both for the fact that they're
masked and out in the world, and because it's an honest,
open invitation. Because it's Dick.
And the words aren't just words. Not with Dick. "I've just
been... thinking about my life. About the suit, you know?"
One of the suits, anyway.
Dick smiles at him, and squeezes his shoulders. "No one
could wear it any better than you do, little brother. No one."
Tim knows his answering smile looks a little sick, but...
"One day," Dick says, laughing a little, "you're actually
going to *believe* me when I say that."
... it works.
He enjoys playing chess with his father.
He remembers being very small, and watching his father
play with his mother, in the years before their relationship
was too fragile to support any game where there could be
winners and losers.
He enjoys it --
"You know, you're just as good at this as your mother
was. Possibly even better." His father smiles, rueful and
pleased and very clearly remembering the same things Tim
is. "Of course, she *taught* you, so I shouldn't be
Some of the same things, anyway. Bruce is the one who
had taught him to play, not very long at all after his mother
had died. Sometimes, Tim still plays with Alfred. Tim smiles.
"She really was very good."
"Yes, she --"
His father snorts, and ruffles his hair.
The bike is really kind of a marvel on a number of levels.
Tim is absolutely sure that there are NASCAR mechanics
who could look at it and never realize a fraction of what it
could do -- not including all of the vigilantism-specific extras.
It's a bike he could take to *school*, if he felt like braving
his father's self-esteem issues around what gifts *he* can
afford to give Tim, now.
If he felt like using the thing more than strictly necessary.
If he felt like dealing with all of the *ramifications* of using
the thing more than strictly necessary.
It's a very nice bike.
Tim bites his lip -- just the inside, he's not *alone* in the
Cave -- and drops into a crouch. There's a scuff-mark he'd
somehow managed to miss after bringing the bike in the
And -- he hadn't heard Bruce approach, but the shadow is
Tim scrubs at the scuffmark and waits.
"It's... not the Redbird."
That... was an entirely pointless statement. Tim turns,
looking back over his shoulder and up. Bruce is suited up
except for the cowl and the belt.
And it was an entirely pointless statement, and it was... it
was an invitation, and --
He realizes, with something very like terror, that he's no
longer angry with Bruce. He could look for the anger -- he
could probably even *find* it -- but. Tim strokes a hand --
deliberately, obviously -- over the compartment stocked
full of tire-piercing shuriken. 'R' shuriken.
He doesn't want to find the anger, again. "It's better," he
says, after much too long. "In some ways."
"Hm." And Bruce doesn't move, or turn away.
"It is, after all, entirely possible that I'll be too *tall* for
"Someday," Bruce says, and the eyebrow he raises makes
it a smile.
Tim smiles back and stands. There are other useless things
he could think of to say, but it would just be a matter of
lengthening this... moment, between them, and perhaps
he shouldn't try.
Bruce... Bruce just keeps looking at him, and Tim is
hopelessly aware of the hand he still has on the bike, and
of the fact that the last time they were this close for quite
this long, they'd been forced to share the same dangerously
small patch of shadow.
It had been for the Mission, which this... isn't.
For a moment, there's something more than a smile in
Bruce's eyes, something more, even, than the precise
*sort* of smile that had been in his eyes the first time Tim
had managed to put him in check.
(His father, ruffling his hair --)
But it's not that. It's *more* than that, and Tim steps back,
barely managing not to knock into the bike -- there hadn't
been very much *room*, and --
And Bruce moves back, himself.
"Patrol," Bruce says, in Batman's voice.
"Yes," Tim says, and watches him put the cowl on.
It's too late.
They don't spend much time kissing before Steph pulls out
the moderately-crushed sandwiches she'd brought for both
of them from home, because Steph has managed to acquire
a split lip from something or other he's theoretically
supposed to discourage her from doing.
That's not why.
Tim sits beside Steph on the ledge and eats. There's
*always* real mayonnaise on Steph's sandwiches, which
leads to sogginess, true, but there are always --
"You're all messed up in your head again, Boy Wonder. My
girlfriend senses are totally tingling."
Compromises. And... how on earth is he supposed to --
"Yes. Really -- yes."
Steph shakes her head and takes another bite of sandwich.
"One day," she says, chewing, "you're gonna drop him like
dirty underwear, and he's not gonna have a *clue* why."
"Screw you, it's a *simile*."
"It's... not a bad simile." For people who are dating.
And Steph is grinning at him. "Like I *don't* get better
grades on my creative writing exercises than you do."
Tim makes a face. "It was just *one* 'B.'"
The width of *this* grin is going to leave blood on her
teeth. "And you are *never* gonna live it down."
Tim snorts. "Noted."
It's four-thirty in the morning, he's in his own bed, and he's
blinking more than a little stupidly at his own dick.
This would almost certainly be amusing if it weren't for the
reasons. He'd had every intention of skipping out on his
usual post-patrol masturbation.
He knows exactly how little he can trust his own
subconscious mind in extremis, and...
There are a lot of things to not think about, or at least save
for his nightmares.
It's just that his *dick* is telling him that there won't even
be any nightmares if he doesn't...
If he could see his own face right now, he'd probably be
able to see some measure of visceral fear. It's almost
certainly problematic to be afraid of your own dick, short of
some metahuman, science, or magic-related foul-up.
Tim would scowl, but anger doesn't seem like a much better
Insomnia, he thinks, may very well be the better part of
"Tch. You're drinking too much coffee --"
"I know," he says, too sharply, and winces. "Sorry, Dana. I
just... bad night."
She frowns at him, eyes narrowed and -- she's practically
frowning *into* him.
Damn. "Sometimes... sometimes, I have nightmares," he
says, making sure the fact that he's not meeting her eyes
looks very, very deliberate.
He can see her blink with his peripheral vision.
He can see her... *assume*.
"Oh," she says, with a soft sympathy which will make him
need to stab himself if it lasts especially long. "I understand."
He goes to school.
He doesn't have a single class with Steph, and neither of
them have done very much at all to 'mix' there, Ives' efforts
to co-ordinate a lunch meeting notwithstanding.
Still, Tim knows her schedule as well as he knows his own,
and it only takes her a few minutes to notice him lurking
on the edges of the athletic fields during her gym class. It's
his lunch period.
He watches her jog to the teacher, and wonders, idly, what
excuse she's giving for needing to abruptly leave class. Only
idly, though -- Steph's gym teacher is young and male, and
Steph is Steph. She's either saying something incredibly
graphic about her menstrual cycle, or feeling very original
The configuration of architecture and indifferent landscaping
means that, for the most part, the eastern side of the
equipment shed is always in shadow. It reeks of cigarettes,
marijuana, and teenaged drama.
And then Steph is there, and it smells like sweat and her
perfume, and he's hugging her before he can think about it.
She smells --
She doesn't smell anything like anyone else, and there's a
selfish, awful part of him which doesn't ever want her in a
uniform made of the same top-notch materials as his own.
It would feel like losing her.
"I don't -- I don't want to talk," he says, against the skin of
her throat. "I just..."
"Wanted a hug? You selfish *bastard*," Steph says, and
squeezes him hard. "God, if you keep doing this kind of
thing, I'm going to get a *tardy* slip. Eventually."
Tim laughs a little helplessly, and just... breathes. Carefully.
If he breathes too deeply, Steph will be just another one
of the scents he can register.
She'll fade into the world, away from him, and --
"God, you had a *rough* night after I left you, didn't you?"
"It's okay. It's over *now*, you know?"
No, it isn't.
Steph squeezes him harder. "And you can do this anytime
you want, anyway."
It's not ever going to be over.
It's one of the unspoken facts of high school existence that
every junior or senior lucky enough to score last period
study hall gets at least three 'free' cuts, so long as they
aren't especially blatant about it.
The train takes him within three miles of the manor. He
jogs the rest of the way.
Cutting through the woods adds an additional three quarters
of a mile, but he can't...
He can't quite stomach the idea of walking in through the
front door, as opposed to slipping in through one of the
access tunnels he'd once helped Alfred and Harold build.
He'd enjoyed it -- the raw physical fact of the labor, and the
way it had felt more meaningful than the strength training
he did as a matter of course.
The way it made the Cave his own, at least in part.
Sometimes, Tim thinks the fourteen year old he used to be
was precisely the same degree of 'too imbecilic to survive'
as the thirteen year old.
Because Bruce has always, always wanted him to be more
However long he's wanted... anything else.
He finds Bruce in the Cave proper, of course -- he would
almost be disappointed if he were aware of *all* of the
motion sensors he'd tripped. Perhaps it would be better
to say Bruce finds him.
He's still wearing most of his Bruce-Wayne uniform, which
looks even more obscene than usual, right now.
Flimsy and -- dishonest. Weak.
Bruce is staring at him openly, staring --
Tim has no idea what expression is on his own face, and
he plans to keep it that way. He's wearing his own
weaknesses, after all.
"Why don't you just -- are you going to *say* it?"
Bruce closes his mouth, and just -- *looks* at him.
No, there's no 'just' about it. Bruce's expression is perfectly,
horribly comprehensible blend of fear, knowledge, and
"Do I have to say anything, Tim?"
Tim closes his eyes. No apologies because they're pointless.
No explanations, because... Tim opens his eyes again.
"You didn't place yourself within the original equation of
my... birthday present."
Bruce raises an eyebrow at him.
Tim snorts. It hurts, a little. "You knew I'd long since
stopped trusting you to any -- problematic -- degree."
Nothing. He is, of course, still stating the obvious. Now
without the benefit of... companionability.
"You --" He closes his eyes again.
This isn't how this -- this sort of *thing* is supposed to go.
"Robin," Bruce says, and there's a hand on his face.
It's exactly the way it's supposed to go for them.
"Open your eyes."
He does, and covers Bruce's hand with his own.
"Do you want --"
"You *actually* have to ask, Bruce?"
Bruce's grip tightens painfully. The amusing thing is that the
pain in his jaw doesn't feel remotely mismatched to the
amusement in Bruce's eyes.
Or perhaps it's just the latest 'painfully unsurprising thing.'
"No," Bruce says, "I don't."
Bruce had begun training him for crossfire situations using
a modified tranquilizer gun and empty darts. He remembers
being quite bad at it in the beginning, even though every
occasion was just like this one:
The movement in sharp, vivid flashes of meaningless time,
the decision set and inexorable within Bruce's eyes, the
sense -- irrational and inescapable -- that this time, he truly
was going to die.
Or at least hurt.
Tim smiles, shivering at the feel of his lips dragging against
Bruce's own. He's just that close. "You know, Bruce..."
"This wouldn't be a fraction as fucked-up as it is if you
hadn't been a rather *good* father to me. Over the years."
The sound Bruce makes is -- thankfully -- indescribable.
And easy enough to swallow into his own mouth.
As these things go.
There's nothing on him his clothes aren't covering.
He checks in the elevator mirror anyway.
He'd checked in the full-length Cave mirror several times
before leaving. Bruce had been --
Bruce had been good enough not to mention that his
healthy paranoia was slipping into neurosis.
Or perhaps he'd just been brooding.
Laughing is --
Laughing gets him a *look* from the operator, but making
the effort not to do something quick, painful, and deniable
to him is like slipping into a beat-up pair of trainers.
Like pulling on his own skin.
By the time he walks into his family's apartment, he's doing
a credible enough impression of someone who had --
only -- had horrible nightmares about his dead mother the
night before that the rueful smile he gives his father feels
perfectly correct on his face.
His stepmother's hug is warm, reasonably welcome, and
not at all vomit-inducing.
His homework is the same intellectual valium as ever, and
he does a great deal of it -- having long-since hacked all of
his teachers' lesson plans for the semester.
The fact that it's his night off makes it all very... easy, really.
Which is good, because he'd planned it precisely that way.
"You don't belong here," he whispers, and then wakes the
rest of the way.
He catalogs the dream automatically -- drowning, very
predictable -- and turns over onto his back.
Bruce is doing a credible job of turning Tim's window into
the featureless black of his nightmare. Tim remembers the
blues and greys quite vividly, but they wouldn't be much
Batman -- Batman is, at this point, the plausible deniability
neither of them are allowed.
"Bruce," Tim says, deliberately, "you don't *belong* here.
And the fact that you've yet to contradict me with
something useful or pointed means --"
"That wasn't -- how I wished it."
Tim snorts, reflexively covering his mouth and nose to
dampen the sound. "Really."
"We don't have to --"
"I don't hate you, Bruce. And I know -- exactly -- how you
feel about me."
Bruce is silent.
"This is where you give me time to place things into
"Hm. Perhaps if you had tossed your clothes *at* me, this
time, I would've been faster on the uptake."
"I don't know, Bruce. I always thought that sort of gesture
was best left singular."
"I hear there's crime to fight out there."
"You don't say," Bruce says, and slips inside, moving
silently across the carpet, but not slowly at all.
The gauntlet on his face -- tracing the mask which isn't,
currently there -- is slick and cold. It isn't, unfortunately,
what's making him shiver.
"Batman," he says, and he knows it sounds like a sigh.
"I have to know something, Robin. I have to hear you
Of course he does. "No, I never *wanted* you to be my
The kiss is soft -- softer and warmer than anything between
them has any right whatsoever to be. "You were always
unique, Tim," Bruce says.
"I'm a rare and precious jewel, Batman," he says, and
makes the kiss significantly sharper, if not colder. "Now,
Bruce, Tim thinks, kisses with significantly less tongue. He
uses his tongue for other things.
Steph pulls out of the kiss with a laughing hum. "Hmm, I
think I know this one. Starts with a 'B,' *feels* like 'giant
Tim shakes his head ruefully, tightening his grip on her hip
to keep her from pulling away entirely. "Not this time,
actually." Not really. Bruce is... an entirely different concern
"Hmmm. Should I be worried? Some other chick with a
fantastic right hook and an even better rack catch your
"That," Tim says, leaning in, "is entirely unlikely."
"You think -- you think I should spend more time with my
"Were you planning on repeating yourself *all* night, Robin?"
It hasn't stopped being disturbing to hear 'Robin,' spoken
in *that* voice. He's not sure it ever will.
Certainly, he doesn't *want* it to. But...
"This is something you seriously feel will be a *good* idea,
"I know you... miss your former teammates --"
Tim growls and stills himself, resisting the urge to step out
of his crouch and pace. "I'm not -- I'm not *asking* you for
some sort of brain-meltingly awkward discussion of my
Bruce's mouth twitches. Once. "Apologies. Reflex."
And when Bruce turns, his face is blamelessly, perfectly
blank -- below the cowl. "You're waiting for me to give
something away that will allow you to analyze, for yourself,
why I might do something so egregiously out of character,
since your happiness has never -- of course -- been a
primary goal of mine."
Tim is absolutely sure that, if he could see the man's eyes
right now, they would practically be *dancing*. Tim bites
the inside of his cheek to keep from smiling back --
obviously. "It's your 'secondary' goals which worry the hell
out of me... B."
"Hm. It's entirely possible the obvious one is no less likely
for *being* obvious."
"'Watch. Analyze. Report.'"
"And prevent... if necessary."
Tim nods. "Noted." This is... better. It was, after all, entirely
possible that his former team-mates' --
It was entirely possible that his friends' lives and abilities
had undergone the same sort of fundamental -- and
potentially dangerous -- shifts his own had. Plausible, even.
He really should've thought of that.
Tim dives off the roof to continue his own patrol, and
begins the new files in his mind.
It's... staggeringly easy to float the idea to his parents. A
few comments from his father along the lines of being
shocked that 'Wayne' remembered he existed, just a bit
of manufactured doubt on his part about being able to
'handle' the responsibility of weekend vocational training,
just *waiting* to be waved off with a demand to have
confidence in himself...
It's all but --
It *is* a fait accompli, and Tim isn't sure why he had ever
thought this sort of thing would stop making him feel like
a particularly large and solid lie in frivolous -- dangerously
thin -- clothes.
He refuses to let his stepmother wash the dishes after
dinner, using the opportunity to scald himself just a little,
*ground* himself a little --
"*Is* everything all right with Steph, Tim?"
It takes much too long for him to make his stepmother's
comment into something other than a non-sequitur.
"I know, this kind of thing can be tough to talk about, but...
well. It wasn't that long ago when you were doing
everything you could to stay close to home."
The benefits of his *particular* reputation. Tim plunges his
hands into the water, completely failing to cut himself open
on any of the steak knives. He has too many calluses for
that. "I... it's not that. Steph's -- Steph and I are as good as
"Yeah?" The skepticism in Dana's voice is the most palpable
thing in Tim's world since the last punch he'd taken, some
sixteen hours before.
Sparring, with Bruce. "Yeah. I don't know. I mean, I'm
scared..." I've been scared for most of my life, Dana. "But
I really think -- I mean, I haven't been to San Francisco
since..." Tim trails off and swallows, deliberately.
After not very long at all, Dana's hand is on his shoulder,
soft and meaningless. "You really are gonna kick some ass,
kiddo. I promise."
Tim smiles, with the same queasy necessity as ever.
In the course of writing this, it occurs to me that, in my
head, ROBIN #120 really should've cut Tim off from
*everything* -- including Bruce's control... and impression
Really, it's trite to use the words 'loss of innocence,' but
I don't think it's inaccurate. Bruce's little birthday present
was a deliberate -- and successful -- attempt to strip Tim
of the ability to love anyone or anything blindly, and
certainly of his ability to love without fear.
A recipe for making the best -- and worst -- Robin ever,
.In all your glories.