The fire and the ashes of grace
by Te
August 23, 2004

Disclaimers: So very, very far from mine.

Spoilers: None for the books. See Author's Notes.

Summary: Maybe it was supposed to be like this.

Ratings Note: PG-13.

Author's Note: Mary wrote a story called "Spare"
that made my head spin around. This is the result,
and won't make any sense whatsoever unless
you read "Spare" first.

Acknowledgments: To Jack, Rei, and LC for
audiencing and encouragement.


Tim knows it isn't his fault.

He wouldn't be here if it was, for... well, for a lot of

The most *important* of those reasons is personal, of
course. He knew what had to be done before... he
knew what had to be done when Dick was still
*alive*. When they all were. But he hadn't done it,
and it would've been so very easy to just curl in on
himself with the loathing he deserved.

To stay that way.

However, if he *had*, for any longer...

The papers were full of it, of course. Batman's
return. And the editorials had been smirking,
hypocritical things full of the dangers of relying on
vigilante justice even while ripping Batman a new
one for leaving the city in need.

The new Commissioner hasn't said anything about it,
either way, of course.

But it wasn't even Thanksgiving before the signal
started going on regularly again, before...

Tim spent a lot of time telling himself it wasn't his
fault. Because he had to be strong, he had to be

For the new Batman.

And it... it *had* all seemed so simple. He'd known
Jason would put on the suit -- though it isn't the
same, he's not an idiot even if everyone else *is*,
and it *isn't* the same.

Jason *had* to put on the suit, because he hadn't
when Dick and Bruce needed him. He --

He knows it isn't Jason's fault, either.

The truth is, Tim had been wrong about a lot of
things, even with all of his research. He'd been
right the *first* time about how Jason probably
hadn't wanted to go to Smallville, and about just
*who* Jason was staying with there, for that

But he hadn't realized...

Jason is a stocky, muscular boy covered in the kind
of scars that must get him looks when he showers
with the other boys at *his* school. (The school
that will be Tim's, as well, just as soon as he finds
out *just* the right way to couch the matter to
his parents. It would just make *sense*.) They're the
kind of scars that must've taken *precisely* as long
to recover from as all the time away from Gotham
suggested. He shaves every day, not because he's
particularly hairy, but because the hair grows in
white around the scar looping from beneath his
chin to his left ear.

His arms are strong and easily twice as broadly
muscular as Tim's own, but if you look closely, if
you *touch*, you can feel that they used to be
bigger, stronger. There are more scars on his
arms than can easily be counted, and the medical
records on the computers -- he can see Bruce
inputting them, studying them, he *must* have --
talk about the pins in his shoulders.

The shrapnel beneath the skin that's still working
itself out.

He hasn't seen that for himself, yet.

And Jason is watching Tim study him.

There's an easy, comfortable question in his eyes.
Jason doesn't have any problem at all with his...
with anything. It's interesting. "Just thinking," he
says, and Jason nods and reaches for the shampoo
without looking, only frowning a little when he
realizes it's the stuff Tim uses.

"Well, now I know why you always smell like
peaches, dude." He tosses the bottle at Tim.

Tim catches it. "My mother makes the shopping

Jason nods and sluices himself. "And Alfred got
*detailed* info out of you about what brands you
use, because he *does* that."

There's a slightly less easy question there. Tim
knows Jason's worried about Alfred. About what
Alfred thinks of *him*, and thus of Jason's --
*their* -- choices. He knows what Jason wants
to hear.

He knows what he feels like saying, which is
absolutely nothing.

He knows it isn't Jason's fault. He -- He scrubs
his hair a little harder. "I have to leave soon."

Jason nods again and braces his hands against
the tile of the shower. "You did good tonight."
It's not really a stretch, he's just rolling his
shoulders in the joints, a little. If Alfred isn't
already outside the shower with the bandages and
his homemade liniment, he will be soon.

"Thank you," Tim says, and steps out of the

Alfred is a shadow next to the stairs, and nods at
him as he dresses and heads upstairs. "Master



"You *can't* do that. You're only a fifth-class
werewolf, Hudson. My enchanted sword is going
to leave you wounded for at least another two

"Ah, you'd *think* so, my pale, skinny friend, but
you've forgotten I hold the gem of healing."

Ives rolls his eyes. "I miss the games where the
rules didn't *change* every five minutes."

It's a statement of banal profundity, just another
one of those moments when his life away from
the Cave reflects too neatly, too perfectly.

Jason calls it 'secret identity vertigo.' Or rather,
he'd called it that once, and then told Tim about
the conversation he'd had with Dick when *Dick*
had called it that.

He talks about Dick like a much older big brother
of the sort who went off to college before you hit
puberty. He talks about Dick too much.

It isn't his fault.

Tim knows he would, too.

It isn't Tim's fault, either.

It isn't --

"Earth to Drake, come *in*, Drake..." Ives is

Hudson huffs like a small person-shaped bellows.
"Your anachronisms wound me to the very quick,
Sir Ives."

Tim pastes on the smile he's come to think of as
"I'm a normal boy who was probably thinking of
sex" and picks up the dice. "A thousand pardons
to you both, I'm sure."

In his head, Jason is snorting, but it's vague.

The Jason in his head is also just... looking.


"So what's the deal, Robin?"

The body is cold, and only the fact that he's naked
is telling him that the man *used* to be Caucasian.
It's really amazing how much discoloration
strangulation can cause. "I don't think it's the same
killer," he says.

Out of the corner of his eye, he can see Jason folding
the cape around himself. Beneath it, he'll be tapping
the fingers of his left hand against his right arm.
Jason doesn't have anything resembling innate
stillness, but he does a good job of compensating.

"Unless this one made him angry."

"You think anger would be enough to make him
ditch the rope?"

No. He doesn't.

"Because *I* think our guy would just get a little
vicious with it, like that accountant guy down on

According to reports, the funeral home had
suggested the family bury the man in a turtleneck.
Not all of the rope fibers had been removed. Tim

"Which, of course, you knew. Your teaching methods
are..." Jason laughs softly, and Tim feels Jason's eyes
on his back.

The laugh is only cut off by the sound of approaching
police cars. "I have everything I need here, I think,"
Tim says.

Jason nods and gestures toward the car.

Tim fires up the laptop remotely, so that by the time
he's buckled in it's almost finished booting up.

"Am I just driving around, or...?"

Tim frowns at the monitor. It's a useless question.
Jason *knows*... Jason is attempting to make
conversation. "His apartment," Tim says, and winces
internally at his tone.

"Right," Jason says and beats a brief tattoo on the
steering wheel, and doesn't say anything else.

The apartment reveals a drawer-full of letters from
a woman named 'Avery,' and a few incriminating
photographs, which are easy enough to match to
driver's licenses. And hospital records.

Mrs. Avery Williams was checked into Mercy General
by a distraught sister. Whether or not she'll wake up
is an open question.

Mr. Robert Williams won't be especially difficult to
find. It's ugly, sordid, and small, and it's something
the police won't have to worry about.

And it's something that makes Jason refocus in ways
both predictable and comforting. Violence against
women always puts him in precisely the right sort of
mood to leave Tim alone with his thoughts.

When they find Williams doing an admirably thorough
job of trying to scrub off in a bus station bathroom,
Tim returns the favor by waiting outside while
Jason... does what he does.

He wishes it made him more uncomfortable. It doesn't
really fit, after all, with the images he'd had of what
Batman and Robin do, of who they are and who they
should be.

But Batman and Robin are dead.

And maybe this is the way it always should've been.

Maybe if it was --

The soft, meaty sounds slow and fade. Tim takes out
his cell-phone and calls the Commissioner's direct line,
and focuses on keeping his voice low and professional
until the usual song and dance about parents and
law-breaking is done.

In the background, he can hear the water running

Over the phone, Commissioner Essen is sighing.

Tim gives her the address and hangs up.

Behind him, around him, Jason is starting to pace.
Williams must not have put up enough of a fight. But
then, they never really do. Tim tosses the phone
from hand to hand and waits.

"Are we tossing that one, too?" Jason's voice is a
low growl, and only the underlying sullen restlessness
makes it wrong for Batman.

The fact that the accuracy is, at this point, probably
accidental is... is. Tim's not sure. He nods, and on
the next toss Jason snatches the phone out of the
air. There's a crunch of plastic and Tim takes a
breath. "Maybe not the next one," he says,

"It's about *fucking* time she's getting with the
program. I just --"

Tim closes his eyes behind the mask. "Batman."

Jason freezes, and looks at him. The lenses on the
cowl are blank and perfect, but Tim knows Jason's
expression is anything but. There's still a little water
on the cowl from where Jason wiped the blood off.
Tim keeps his own expression as even as possible.

And waits.

Jason takes a deep, shuddery breath, and straightens
visibly. "Let's go."

By the time Tim can see the lights on the
black-and-whites in the rearview displays, Jason

'Calm' isn't the word.

'Quiet' would imply he'd ever been especially loud.

The closest Tim can come to an accurate description
is 'back to something he can deal with.'


There are three messages from Ives on his answering
machine when he slips back in to his window, and
Tim has a moment of panicked irritation before he
remembers that he does, in fact, *always* turn the
ringer on his phone off before slipping out, and that
the cordless is beneath his pillow, besides.

He's calm by the time he plays them back for the
second time. Ives' voice is perfectly normal and
absurdly intimate through the headphones.

The first message reminds him of the party he's
supposed to be attending Saturday afternoon --
tomorrow. The second and third are both
roundabout apologies full of wince-worthy phrases
like "I know you have a lot on your mind, lately."

Which, of course, means that there's nothing short
of emergency that can keep him from going to the

Which means he's back to being irritated. There's a
lot of training he still needs, that they *both* still
need, and he's barely begun working on the sort of
regimens he'd been able to extrapolate from

The panic is back, too.

Tim listens, carefully, until he's absolutely sure that
his parents are, in fact, still gone, and that Mrs. Mac
is sleeping off her mild, Friday-night drunk -- when
he presses his ear to the vent in the baseboard, he
can hear her faintly musical snores -- and then he
sits on the bed, and wraps his arms around his

And shakes.


Jason moves quietly when he wants to, and it's only
his scent and the shifting shadows that alerts Tim to
his presence, looming over him while he does his

The gaze on his back is most probably a critical one,
but the critique has next to nothing to do with him.
Tim knows this. Jason has never actually felt Tim
*had* much room for improvement, beyond things
beyond their control.

Tim isn't growing fast enough for either of them,
and a week ago Tim had overheard a soft argument
between Jason and Alfred about the pros and cons
of carbo-loading. Tim mostly agrees with Alfred on
the matter.

*Growth* hormone, on the other hand...

Well, he's reasonably sure he'll be able to talk his
father into it when they get home, especially if he
and Tim's mother are still fighting. There have
always been any number of ways Tim can use his
physical resemblance to his mother.

Jason crouches beside him and the scent is

It's Sunday, and even though Tim's been here since
a little after four... Jason almost always sleeps in
on Sundays.

Jason smells like the room Tim knows used to belong
to Bruce. Jason --

His hand is light on Tim's shoulder. Warm, even
though Tim's already warmed-up. Tim does another
ten push-ups and moves to sit back on his heels.

"We have to talk," Jason says.

Tim raises an eyebrow.

"I went through the files you brought here."

He'd never tried to hide them. Tim had, after all,
brought them in the beginning. Back when he'd
thought he'd have something to prove to Jason

Jason is staring at the console, and after a moment
he sighs and scrubs a hand back through his hair.
The sweatpants he's wearing are ragged at the
ankles, and tied on. Tim is reasonably sure they're
increasing the lingering scent of dead hero.

"We never talked about this. *Them*. Not really."

"No," Tim says, and knows he could have said it in
a stronger tone.

"And I know you don't want to." There's a small
smile at the corner of Jason's mouth.

Possibly his tone wouldn't have mattered.

"You're doing this for Dick. For..." When Jason does
look at him, his eyes are wide and hard. Focused.
"Did you ever get to speak to him? After the first

Tim feels his hands twitching at his sides and thinks
about moving to the free weights.


"No." His hands are fists, now, and there's nothing
he can do about that.

The smile on Jason's face is much, much closer to
a smirk. "And now you're thinking... what? I'm
going to rag on you for your schoolboy crush? Tell
you it's time for you to get the fuck over it?"

The thing about the beating the Joker had given
Jason is that he never would've been able to go
out in the Robin suit anymore. Not the old one. He
has far, far too many weak spots now.

"For a genius, you're pretty fucking stupid
sometimes," Jason says and stands up, offering
his hand. "Come on."

Tim stares at Jason's hand and breathes. And takes

Jason leads him to the door Tim has extrapolated
leads to the room that used to be Dick's. It's always

Jason opens it, and pushes Tim inside.

The poster over the bed is the one he used to have.
Two of the CDs in the rack are bands Dick
mentioned listening to in an interview he'd clearly
given solely because it was expected of the ward
to Bruce Wayne, billionaire.

Music he'd grown out of, perhaps.

The room doesn't smell like anything, not even
dust. Tim swallows.

"Yeah, I know. He never slept here while... before,"
Jason says, and sits down on Dick's neatly-made
bed. "He never stayed over, at all. Even when he
worked late in Gotham."

"Because of you and Bruce?"

"I thought so, for a while," Jason says, and picks
up a model plane and makes it fly through the air
in small loops. "More because of *him* and Bruce,
though. Dick was pretty pissed off."

Tim forces himself to nod, and not to rip the plane
out of Jason's hands.

"You were, too, I bet."


Jason nods and puts the plane back down, letting
himself fall back on his elbows. His t-shirt rides up,
Bruce's sweats ride down. Two of the scars on his
abdomen are visible, including the one that cuts a
smooth, hairless line beneath his navel. "Here's the
deal. There's no one for you to talk to, about any
of this."

"Except for you."


"I don't want to talk to you. Not..." Not until I can
stop hating you for living. Tim focuses on the CDs.

"Yeah, well... tough. You're good. You're *damned*
good. But you're not good enough to work alone,
and you're not my partner."

Tim bites his lip against the flush he feels rising on
his face.

"Yet. You're not my partner *yet*," Jason says, and
kicks idly at Tim's shins.

"What do you want me to do."

Jason's sigh sounds like it might have been a laugh,
once upon a time, and Tim can see him scrubbing
his hands over his face, out of the corner of his eye.

"Just tell me."

"All right, *Robin*. Think of it as an assignment.
Write me a letter, or just write yourself a speech
where you tell me off for not being good enough
and not being *Dick*, and then deliver that fucker.
Say everything, every nasty little true thing your
freaky little head can come up with.

"Make me cry like the little bitch I am."

Tim bites his lip harder to keep from snorting. "And
then what?"

Jason shrugs and bends a knee up so he can scratch
his calf. "And then who the fuck knows? We both
know I'm just making this up as I go along."

Tim nods and Jason springs up and off the bed, and
walks past him. Tim feels him pausing in the
doorway, but he doesn't say anything else.

He closes the door behind him, and Tim straightens
the covers on Dick's bed.

And then curls up on it, himself.


Alfred is very, very good at disappearing, which
makes perfect sense for a man whose records are
a near perfect blank between signing up for military
service and reappearing in America to take over for
his own father with the Waynes.

There are a lot of secrets in the man's head that
probably have nothing whatsoever to do with the
Cave and everything in it, and, when he'd thought
about it, Tim hadn't been surprised to discover just
how large a role Alfred Pennyworth played in the
continuing successes of the Batman.


Tim has been quietly shadowing him all day, offering
his assistance whenever an opening presented itself,
and being allowed to give it approximately three
times out of five.

Alfred has never been anything less than... *correct*
with him.

That isn't enough, anymore.

He watches Alfred place a lovely, filigreed silver
platter back where it belongs, and doesn't -- quite --
catch what the man does with the rag he was using
to clean the faint tarnish off the thing.

Tim gets ready to follow him to another room, but
Alfred sighs.

His shoulders don't so much slump as give the
impression that they want to do so.

"What did you wish to discuss, Master Timothy?"

He doesn't bother saying anything as useless as 'was
I that obvious,' because, of course, he was. "Your

Alfred turns around, eyebrow raised perfectly. "You
might consider a greater degree of specificity."

"Your thoughts about my place here, your objections
to it, and what I can do to... change them."

"You have a surprising degree of focus on the
brooding thoughts of an old man for --"


The expression on the man's face is a strange one, a
mixture of irritation and fondness and grief. It settles
to a businesslike formality quickly enough. "Very
well. You've undoubtedly discerned that I was not
best pleased by Master Jason's decision to take up
*that* aspect of Master Bruce's legacy."

Tim nods.

"Before your... arrival, I'd allowed myself to harbor
some degree of hope that the countless injuries
Master Jason was coming home with, night after
night, would eventually dissuade him into some
other path."

"I've made him better."

Alfred's look is cold, and shrewd, and direct. "No,
Master Timothy, you've sacrificed your own youth
and health to make him *safer*. In a world where
even two fully-trained adults were not, in fact, safe
enough to *survive*."

Tim acknowledges the rebuke and waits.

"Master Bruce and Master Dick were the sons of my
heart, Miss Barbara the daughter I never expected.
And now they are dead."

"And you feel that Jason and I are being... suicidal?

Alfred's glance flits around the room with something
that probably only looks like distraction before
settling on him again. "'Thoughtless,' would,
perhaps, be the word I'd choose. Your parents are
distressingly careless with you, but have you given
any thought whatsoever to how they would feel
were they confronted with your maimed corpse?"


Alfred's gaze on him isn't distracted, at all, anymore.
"I see. And the friends you've mentioned, once or

"I don't want to hurt anyone, Alfred. But Gotham
needs a Batman."

"And Batman needs a Robin?" The smile on Alfred's
face is humorless. "Yes, Master Jason saw fit to
share that intriguing little quote of yours."

Tim nods slowly. "You believe we don't understand
the selfish aspects of what we're doing."

Alfred plucks a cloth -- a different one -- from his
sleeve, and turns to attack the dust that could not
have had more than a few days to settle on the
breakfront. "Master Timothy, I *choose* to believe
the two of you have failed to understand the selfish
aspects of your lifestyle choices. The alternative is,
quite frankly, terribly depressing."

And disturbing, Tim imagines. "Thank you, Alfred."

When Alfred stiffens, it's immensely obvious.
"You're welcome, Master Timothy."

It's a dismissal, but... but. "I did have one more


"Do you feel I could be... a *better* partner for

Alfred doesn't so much as pause. "Master Dick was
a friend to Master Bruce, and something quite like
a son. Master Jason and Master Bruce..." Alfred
sighs, and moves to wipe briskly at another
portion of the breakfront. "Master Jason loved
Master Bruce quite deeply, as I'm sure is clear to
a young man of your intelligence.

"You, in your turn, have done an admirable job of
keeping Master Jason from coming home with
more scars."

Tim stares at the floor, and breathes.

It... he hadn't, actually, expected a different answer.
He can question -- and has questioned -- the
training Jason had received on the more intellectual
aspects of this work, but his instincts are...

Tim swallows. When he looks up, he sees that Alfred
has slipped on a white glove, and is examining the
drapes. "Thank you, Alfred. Again. Your opinion
means... a great deal. To me."

Alfred pauses, but doesn't turn around. "You're
welcome, Master Timothy. Again."


He gets home from patrol approximately half an
hour before his parents' taxi pulls in to the

When he was younger, he wouldn't bother with
the pretense of sleep.

When he was younger, he'd slip down the stairs in
his pajamas and help his parents unpack. He likes
the way they feel when they return from a trip, the
way a long flight leaves them faintly sweaty and
mussed, so that long after they'd stopped hugging
him he could still smell them on himself, and tuck
that smell under the covers with him until the
morning's shower.

He's a bit too old for that, now, and it's not like
they'll truly be unpacking.

Their flight to Port-au-Prince leaves in another six
hours. If he stays in his room, they will assume
he's sleeping, and... there.

His mother is hushing his father.

If he stays here, ostensibly asleep, he won't
actually see them until they return from Haiti. If
he goes downstairs, they'll be distracted, anyway.

Assuming they don't ask uncomfortable questions
about *why* he isn't asleep.

He takes his cordless off the base and dials a phone
number only three people in the world are actually
aware of.

Jason picks up on the second ring. In the
background, Tim can hear him moving papers
around. Chances are, it's nothing more important
than the homework he has due on Monday.


"Is something... is everything all right?"

No, it isn't, and you *know* that. You -- "I couldn't
sleep. I thought... we could talk."

Jason blows out a breath. "Hey," he says. "Anytime."

Tim closes his eyes, and wraps his free arm around
his knees.

"So," Jason says. "What's up?"


.Miss World.