Disclaimers: No one and nothing here is mine.
Spoilers: Major ones for "Return of the Joker." Also
references "Growing Pains," and Batman
Adventures: The Lost Years.
Summary: It has become more important than he
ever would have imagined to see the boy.
Ratings Note/Warnings: R. Content some readers may
Author's Note: An AU, taking off on the events of the
flashback in "Return of the Joker." More notes at the
Acknowledgments: To Jack, Livia, and LC for
audiencing and helpful suggestions.
"No," Bruce says, and takes a breath. What he has to
say is important, and...
He doesn't, actually, have words for any of it. "No," he
says again. It's entirely possible he has nothing else to
say at all.
Some reflexes are ingrained. He glares at Leslie before
he can stop himself, and can only manage to lift his
cape and back away in apology. There are no words.
Leslie -- he is not angry with Leslie -- frowns with her
mouth and laughs at him, sharp and amused, with her
eyes. "That won't fly here," she says, and it works the
way it always does.
He lowers his hands, and clenches them into fists at his
sides when they twitch to push back the cowl. There are
"And that's not the important thing, anyway," she says,
and lifts the clipboard between them like a weapon.
It's a conscious act, and he's prepared for it. He's...
The litany of Tim's injuries is clipped and brief, but not
merciful. The Joker had, after all, not intended for the
boy to be permanently damaged, physically.
"... him on more Xanax than I'd normally give a man
*your* size with acute panic disorder. In the room to
his left is Bill. You know Bill -- he's my best orderly.
He has a broken cheekbone, he'll need reconstructive
surgery for his nose, and I have a jar with enough of
his teeth in it to use as a rattle --"
"He didn't mean to do --"
He closes his eyes, behind the cowl. She shouldn't be
able to see it, but she clucks her tongue at him, just
"In the room to his *right* is Evelyn. She has a
broken wrist, and a mild concussion."
Tim hadn't meant to do that, either. He knows it.
Leslie does, too. She is only --
"My point is a simple one, Bruce, and I should not
have to explain it to you."
She doesn't. She... When she starts to lower the
clipboard, her right hand shakes, a little. ("Best time
for a kick," Tim says in his mind, smiling and moving,
Leslie sighs. "Fine. There are favors I can call in, with
the help of your obscene amount of money.
Doctors -- good men and women -- with experience..."
She sighs again, tiredly this time.
There is no one with the experience. No one.
"I could send the boy..."
("Tim. Tim Drake.")
"... now, with a prescription for antibiotics and a
recommendation for mild painkillers and a salve for
his burns. All of which you undoubtedly have
("Funny how you *still* haven't given me a reason to
care about the legal system... Batman.")
"... doesn't *belong* there. He needs *care*, Bruce.
He -- this *life* you chose for him --"
"No," he says, gratified and a bit surprised by how firm
it sounds. How sure.
"Bruce, *listen* to me. There are studies on this, all
of which you've *read*. The Joker had him for three
weeks, the torture was systematic, directed, and
It's strange, or perhaps it simply should be, how her
voice fades into a meaningless grate. She has been
standing between him and the closed door to Tim's
To the room in the clinic, where Tim is...
Where he does not have to be.
He moves, easily, silently, and --
His heart seizes, inside, at the grip on his arm. Leslie.
"God *dammit*, Bruce! If you truly care about this
A flare behind her eyes, and her grip tightens.
"He *killed* a man, Bruce!"
The storm outside neither stops nor strengthens. The
lights do not flicker, and the mug half-filled with cold
coffee on Leslie's desk does not shatter.
Bruce brushes her hand from his arm as gently as he
can, and collects Tim from the room. The boy is as
slight in his arms as he ever was, and his hair... there
are dyes, in the Cave.
If Tim wishes, they can cut it to his scalp. He will
ask, when the boy awakens again. When they're
He holds Tim to his chest with one arm --
"He needs *help*, Bruce, no child can recover from
something like this alone!"
He isn't a child. "He will never be alone, Leslie," he
says, and toggles the switch that will bring the plane
to hover above the clinic. And moves to the window.
"I promise you," he says, firmly.
Leslie is clutching the doorframe, mouth parted to
say... something. He waits, but nothing comes.
"Thank you," he says, after a moment, and leaps.
Tim doesn't make a sound.
He surprises himself by dozing in the chair beside Tim's
bed, but it doesn't last. Not the doze, and not the
The laughter is horrible, and as obscene as the Joker
could've made it.
He reaches for Tim -- carefully -- and does not think of
the endless lengths of film, and the way he hadn't
been able to stop Barbara from setting the haphazard
pile ablaze with a flash grenade.
Only the storm had kept the whole building from going
If Barbara tries again --
"No -- *no*, let *go* of me --"
"Tim. It's me. You're home --"
"Lying -- you -- you're --" The laughter wanders
quickly, crazily up into an octave Tim wouldn't admit to
still being able to reach.
"I'm not lying," he says, carefully, calmly. "Open...
open your eyes, Tim."
Right now, they're squeezed shut so tightly it must be
painful, though perhaps not as much as the rictus his
mouth is pulling into even now, with enough of the
antitoxin in his system to make the boy ill and weak
"Open your eyes," Bruce says again, and squeezes
Tim's shoulders. "You're safe now."
Tim shudders and moans, long and low, the tension
leaving him in nothing resembling calm. When he
opens his eyes, there's a bleakness which is too
"Tim," he says, and forces himself not to smile.
Tim closes his eyes again, and breathes, and, "I don't
believe. I don't believe in you."
He. He has to be strong now. He has to --
"I'm sorry. I'm s-s --" This moan is almost a growl,
animal and ominous. He's going to laugh again. He's --
"You will," Bruce says, quickly. "You *will* believe
The sharp, high note cuts off with a gasp, and Bruce
holds on to the boy's shoulders.
"I *promise* you."
Without opening his eyes, Tim reaches, awkwardly,
to touch Bruce's arms. To...
He's being examined. Tested. The hair on his forearms,
the muscle and scars.
Tim frowns, and doesn't say a word. Just the touches,
increasingly firm. Bruce understands. The Joker
wouldn't have been able to... to *trick* Tim this way.
He pulls away enough to give the boy freedom to
examine his hands. He doesn't ask the boy to open his
The first thing Barbara does when she enters the room
is open the shades, and the windows. The rain has,
finally, slackened, and the breeze is fresh.
Bruce can't decide whether or not it's welcome until
Tim turns toward it in his sleep, and breathes.
The noise he makes is faintly questioning, and Bruce
readies himself to stroke the boy's hair from his
forehead if he wakes.
He hadn't been able to wait to dye it, and Tim had
looked at him with blankly, hollowly accepting eyes in
the shower. He will ask. He --
He doesn't wake up, and Bruce allows himself to
Barbara stands beside his chair, and the restless
scratch of her short nails on the fabric is soothing,
in its way.
He nods, because he can't speak.
Bruce closes his eyes.
"I. You know why."
He does. There are limits to plausible deniability, and
to the moral flexibility of good men. And then there
are places beyond those limits where the concepts
themselves become obscenities.
"*Bruce*," she says, too loud, and he tenses, and
she stops scratching at the chair. "Sorry. I..." A
whisper now. "What are we going to *do*?"
He should ask her what she wishes to do. He
should... they have to be sure, about this, if nothing
"I just don't... you *know*."
He nods, and watches Tim move in his sleep. Away from
the breeze, this time. There are qualities of restlessness.
Degrees of it, and different meanings. He has to learn
"What are *you* going to do?"
That, at least, is a simple question. "Help him."
She sighs, breathy and quiet, and moves to sit lightly on
the bed. She isn't looking at either of them, and Bruce
knows this is deliberate. "And after?"
Laughter and blood and rain and. Laughter. So much...
"You haven't decided. Have you." It isn't a question,
and her expression when she looks at him is cold.
"I..." Bruce looks at Tim, helpless. He has always
had a light snore. His throat is still injured enough
that the sounds are rough, dangerous things.
He sees Barbara nod at the edge of his vision, and
The batarang she pulls out of her purse is old, strange
to his eyes. After a moment, he recognizes the
design: it's one of the ones she'd built for herself,
before becoming one of them. "Barbara --"
"Maybe you don't know. No. Maybe you don't
*remember*." She's still whispering, but it's a gritted
Tim moves, again, and Barbara grabs his wrist, lightly
Bruce shifts --
"But *I* do," she says, and presses the curve of the
batarang against the boy's palm.
"Wh -- I --" Tim jerks awake, moving, and Barbara
tightens her hand on his wrist. "N --"
"It's okay, Tim. It's just me. Just me."
Bruce feels his heart thudding in his chest and watches
the boy stare, eyes widening. She doesn't know. She
has to --
"Just *me*," she says again, sharply, and leans in close.
The horrible rictus twitches at the corners of the boy's
mouth, and the sounds he's making are sharp and
"Barbara, don't --"
"Shut *up*, Bruce," she says, without turning.
"Easy. Easy, kiddo. What's in your hand?"
"A gun --"
"*No*," he repeats, and smiles too wide. "What's in
Bruce doesn't vomit.
"You tell me, Tim," she says, steely and calm. "What
does it *feel* like."
"Heh. Heh heh. Ha --"
"*Tell* me," Tim!"
Tim rears back, showing his teeth and -- he doesn't
And Barbara doesn't move.
"It *feels* like a batarang."
Barbara smiles, and nods. "That's right. That's..."
"Because. Because I'm *Robin*," Tim says, and the
whites of his eyes are showing, too much.
Bruce can't move, and Barbara is heedless. Fearless as
she pulls the boy into her arms, and squeezes.
The boy's hand tightens around the batarang much
too hard, but he only sighs when he starts to bleed.
"Mine was *better*," he says, and Barbara laughs,
and strokes his back.
He finds the dulled batarang he'd left for Tim in the
trash, after one doze or another.
The standard one fares better in the boy's bed. He
sleeps with one hand curled -- correctly -- around it,
and one curled around Barbara's.
It should feel like an irrelevancy -- at best -- to focus
on this, of all things.
There is so little he has given the boy, and the black,
shiny things seem more wrong in his hands than they
ever have before. It scratches at his mind, and won't
let him truly sleep, even when the boy's snores are
even and clear.
He is... he is restless, and, when Barbara comes in with
her textbooks, he cedes her the chair and moves to the
When he's done, the design is brightly, baldly frivolous
and his eyes feel scraped and grainy.
But it flies.
When he returns to the boy's room, the yawn dies in
his throat. Barbara is over him, holding him down so
he can't hurt himself as he thrashes in a nightmare.
One batarang is buried in a wall, the other still
quivering upright in the floor.
"He doesn't want to wake up," Bruce says.
"I *know*," and Barbara rears back away from the
head-butt which would break her nose. "He thinks --
he thinks waking up will be *worse*."
They move as well as they ever have, Barbara shifting
to make room, releasing Tim's right wrist for Bruce to
take. He gives the boy his face, and the scratches are
painful, but not damaging.
Barbara watches him, and does the same.
He only claws her once before starting to touch.
Tim's palm is damp, softened with sweat on Bruce's
cheek. He frowns as he rubs at the stubble.
Bruce should have shaved.
When he says, "Tim," the boy opens his eyes, and
*looks* at him.
A handful of fresh tears slide down over his cheeks,
but he is silent.
"I... I have something. For you."
Tim strokes Bruce's face furiously for long moments,
testing his mouth. His teeth. "Is it my birthday," he
says, cold and dead and -- he frowns. "That. Came
Barbara snorts, and squeezes his wrist when Tim
flinches. "The effort counts, kiddo."
When he looks at her, it's hard to believe that
they've had years. That he calls her 'Babs,' and
periodically replaces the lipstick she wears as Batgirl
with shades ranging from the nightmarish to merely
gauche. His expression is blank, and studying.
She looks right back, and strokes her clawed cheek
against the boy's palm.
After a moment, he nods, and turns back to face him.
He doesn't smile, but.
It's easy to see the smile which *should* be there in
the raise of the boy's eyebrow, the spark which *is*
in his eyes, however banked.
("Whaddaya got, Bruce? Sharing is *caring*.")
He loves this boy, so very much, and it's the only
excuse he has for fumbling when he pulls the small
packet out of his pocket with his free hand, for
squeezing the boy's wrist too hard and --
Barbara helps him unwrap the thing, and makes a
soft, amused noise when she sees what it is.
"What is." Tim frowns, and tugs against the hold Bruce
has on him. He can see the tension in the arm
Barbara's still holding. She releases him immediately,
but Bruce can't.
Tim relaxes just the same, however, and reaches,
eyes widening when he slices his fingers on the curve
of the 'R.'
"There's no dull side," he says, and blinks. "There's...
The look he receives is curious, quietly questioning,
and Bruce has no words to offer.
Tim sucks the blood off his fingertips and reaches
more carefully, lifting it to his face, turning it.
The lamplight catches on the gold, and Tim flinches
at the glare. And tightens his grip.
"A *birdarang*? Where's my *batgirlarang*, Bruce?"
"Birdarang," Tim says, softly. Measuring the word in
his mouth. "I like it." The corners of his mouth twitch,
and Bruce wants the smile so badly it hurts.
"It's. It's yours," Bruce says, lamely.
When Barbara snorts this time, Tim only looks at her.
"Just don't accidentally slash your throat in your sleep,
Tim raises his eyebrow. "What about on purpose?" His
voice is even, and low, and Barbara isn't laughing
Bruce strokes the sardonic curve of the boy's
eyebrow. "It was a joke, Barbara," he says.
Sarah has strict instructions, and follows them to the
letter. No one gets into Bruce Wayne's office without
passing through the sort of psychological security
that would make Alfred nod in approval.
It was necessary for the media to hear that Bruce
Wayne's adopted son had been kidnapped, and then
He will make the boy go through no more than that.
Currently, he's under Bruce's desk with a copy of
The Catcher in the Rye for school and a
Zesti. The desk is large enough that Bruce would
have to kick out, a little, in order to feel him.
He's managed to avoid doing it more than once an
The last time, Tim had caught his ankle in a grip
which spoke volumes about the time and effort the
boy has spent in strength training and held it for
long moments before letting go.
Lucius comes in with paperwork, and they work easily
for the better part of an hour. Long enough that
Bruce is starting to want to toe his shoe off, again.
To... more. He needs...
"Bruce, I know I'm the one who usually scolds you,
but no one would..." Lucius sighs, and scratches
lightly at his mustache.
Bruce wonders if Jim will take his calls.
"You don't have to be here."
"Yes, he does," Tim says from beneath the desk.
Lucius startles, hard. "God! I -- I'd forgotten..." He
looks at Bruce's desk, clearly trying to decide where
to direct his next statement.
Bruce points to northwest corner.
"I'd forgotten you were there, Tim. Sorry about that."
Tim moves, and clutches Bruce's ankle. "It's all right,"
he says. "But Bruce really does need to get his work
Lucius blinks, and swallows, and nods toward the
place Tim no longer is. "Well, I... I suppose you're
("Damned right.") "Hmm," Tim says, and squeezes
Bruce's ankle once more before moving to the
Lucius looks at him for a long moment silently, and
then they go back to working.
When Bruce escorts Lucius out, he isn't surprised
when the man guides him out of the office entirely
and leans in.
"How is he, Bruce? Really."
"It's... a difficult question to answer." In this voice,
and to you.
Lucius frowns. "I just... that boy would tear around
this office like..." He sighs, and frowns, and scratches
at his mustache again. "He didn't make a sound until
just that moment."
Bruce nods, as neutrally as he can.
"Bruce... I know you haven't talked about this with
anyone, and I don't want to presume -- I *wouldn't*."
"I know, Lucius."
Lucius nods, distracted and anxious, and squeezes
Bruce's elbow. "*Is* there anything I can do?"
Bruce will never forget the image of the boy, of *Tim*,
dressed in those... the sound... he covers his face, and
wonders if Tim wonders where he's gone. "You have
"I can't imagine what I would do --"
"Yes," Bruce says, and looks at the man, trying to will
something like the whole of the truth into Lucius' eyes.
"Yes, you *can*."
Lucius looks at him for a long, silent moment, and then
turns toward the half-open door of Bruce's office
before nodding, grimly. "Anything they needed, of
course. Anything I could do."
Bruce squeezes Lucius' bicep to keep from simply
hugging him, and goes back to his desk.
And removes his shoes entirely.
Tim is putting on the weight he'd lost, again, and sleeping
The one is a relief, the other is... difficult. His injuries
*had* been minor, and, before... *before*, he had been
an athlete at the peak of health.
It makes the degrees of his restlessness more difficult to
define and predict.
In retrospect, however, he isn't surprised to see that
Barbara has no such qualms.
Tim's bedroom is nothing like the place for it, but they
are sparring, just the same. They --
It *is* a spar, even without the wide, natural stretch of
Tim's grin, even though he's wearing pajama bottoms
instead of workout clothes or.
Or his suit.
The moves are the same, as are Barbara's taunts and
As is his own...
He's moving around them, carefully and purposefully,
before he can think about it. He catches a lamp before
it can hit the floor, and notes, reflexively, the
dangerous strength of Barbara's right guards.
Once, he'd told her that she'd left herself open too
often on that side. The overcompensation only comes
in when she is agitated.
He knows why she's agitated.
Even on the street, he has never been the most focused
of fighters, the most *serious*.
In training -- *especially* in spars -- he'd only ever
used this degree of focus with *him*, and then only in
the very beginning.
He sympathizes with Barbara's discomfort, but can't
help but *wonder* --
Tim sweeps Barbara's legs nearly perfectly, and she
goes down hard.
*Not* as hard as Tim lands on her, punishing her
quads with his knees and moving for the final strike --
He catches the boy's wrist before he can injure Barbara's
throat, and holds on. The sweat is cool, the skin hot,
the muscles viciously tensed for --
Tim relaxes and stands, waiting and silent.
"Whoo," Barbara breathes, and winces. "Also *ow*,
kid. I knew you had it in you, but *jeez*."
Bruce watches the boy's face, and the stillness there
makes him squeeze, helplessly.
Tim blinks, and seems to come back from somewhere...
from somewhere *else*, quirking his eyebrows in the
smile which isn't a smile at all. "*You* taught me that
She sits up, bracing herself on her elbows, and tosses
her hair back over her shoulders. "Since when do you
Another quirk, and the boy's mouth twitches. "You'd be
Barbara glances at him, and says, deliberately, "I think
you should surprise me *more*, kiddo."
"I..." Tim's mouth twitches almost violently, and his
wrist tenses in Bruce's hand again.
Bruce squeezes. "Let's go. To the Cave."
"All *right*!" Barbara leaps to her feet, kicking out a
little to ease the pain in her thighs, and leads the way.
By his count, Tim has managed to get to three spars out
of five without reflexively using moves which should
only be used on their most dangerous enemies.
Six times out of seven, he pulls those blows himself.
It isn't enough for Dick.
It's something else which shouldn't be a surprise. He
hasn't patrolled since they'd found Tim, but Dick and
Barbara have been more than adequate replacements.
Dick hadn't been *with* them, and Dick hadn't *seen*,
and Bruce can feel the disapproval radiating off the
man as he watches Tim and Barbara spar.
Bruce doesn't have to watch. This is only their second
spar of the night, and Tim only slips, now, when he's
But Dick doesn't have to say anything for Bruce to
know that it isn't enough for him.
"I didn't say anything when Leslie called me. I stood *up*
On the mats, Barbara drops her shoulder to avoid a
punch, and Tim uses it to brace himself as he flips over
her, then jabs at her kidneys. It's a move he learned
from Dick. The sixteenth he's used since the spar
Bruce wonders if Dick knows the boy is doing it on
"I talked to Barbara about it, of course. *She* told me
that you were helping him. That you -- that *we* --
were the only ones who could give the kid what he
("Thanks... for caring about me.") "We're his family,"
Dick snorts, derisive and sharp. "Yeah, *that's*
When Barbara misses Tim with a kick which would've
bruised at least two of the boy's ribs, Tim makes the
sharp, brief sound which is the closest any of them
have heard him come to laughter. And then he drops
into a kick which is approximately eighty percent
capoeira and twenty percent street-fighter. Nearly one
hundred percent Dick, of course.
"God, Bruce, just... *look* at the kid."
He can't do anything else.
"When's the last time you've heard him laugh?"
Before the Joker took him, of course.
"When's the last time you've seen him *smile*?"
He does it in other ways, now.
"And this..." Dick gestures toward the mats.
Barbara has Tim pinned, and holds it for an exact
three-count. Longer than that can be problematic, still.
He rises without pause, however, turns, and bows.
"Again," he says. Barbara urges him on.
"He's pushing himself like... like... Can't you see he's
Bruce doesn't close his eyes, because he doesn't have
the cowl on. He forces himself to meet Dick's eyes.
"When we brought him home, he woke up screaming,
every night --"
"This is what I'm *saying*, Bruce!"
"-- several times a night. You weren't here. Which is
fine -- I needed you elsewhere. *Gotham* did."
"Sometimes, he still wakes up *laughing*. This is...
much worse. However, considering my suspicions
about the chip embedded in his neck which Barbara
only found last *night*, during a *spar*..."
He can't finish. But Dick doesn't make him. Instead, he
holds up a hand. "Okay, I *get* it. He's getting better.
You're taking care of him."
Bruce nods, and doesn't let himself relax. He can hear
"But this -- you're training him to go back out on the
street. You're... I won't ask you to tell me you're not,
because I don't want you to fucking *lie* to me,
Dick shakes his head, eyes narrow and openly,
honestly *confused*. "How can you do this, Bruce?
An easy question. "Tim needs --"
"Tim needs *help*. You got him through the hard part,
but the rest is *harder*. You *know* that. You
*taught* me that, Bruce!"
The psychology of recovery.
It should, perhaps, mean more than the rough, high
cry Tim makes when he catches Barbara's wrist and
throws her. It doesn't.
"This is what Tim needs."
"You selfish -- don't you mean this is what *you*
need, Bruce? How badly does the kid have to get
fucked over before you fucking *cope* with the fact
that this isn't *sane*?"
Dick is correct, of course. He needs this -- almost
precisely *this* -- as badly as he's ever needed
But he's right, too. And the sharp cry when Barbara
slaps Tim's palm in exhilarated congratulations is
just the echo of what he already knows, deep inside.
He owes Dick... so much. Including some effort to
*explain*, but --
"Bruce, come on, *please*."
"We have -- all of us -- have been changing the rules.
For a long time, now, and --"
Bruce closes his eyes, because he has to. "No, not
you, Dick. You have always --"
"Was it self-defense when he killed the Joker, Bruce?"
Long before they'd begun training him, Tim had taught
himself the kind of ruthlessly accurate aim... "He. He
No. *No*. "Would you hold it against him? *That*? You
didn't *see* him, Dick! You didn't see what that
monster had *done* --"
"'They're always people, even when they're monsters.'
That's what you told me, Bruce. That's --"
"It's *not* that simple." He's clutching Dick, now, the
way he hadn't even after Dick had punched him, even
when he knew Dick was going to leave him. He can't
"'Never to kill, always to uphold --'"
"If it had been you, I would do the same thing."
Dick is rigid in his arms, and his mouth twists into
something ugly and dark and entirely, terribly sane. "Let
Bruce shudders, inside, and does. Dick takes a deliberate
step back, and glances toward the mats.
Barbara and Tim are still there, and watching. Bruce can't
read either of their expressions.
"I won't do this, Bruce. I. I won't *go* there with you.
When I agreed to help out with Tim's training, before,
I... I thought maybe, just maybe, we could be *good*
for the kid. Together. That we were still doing
something worth... worth..."
Dick shakes his head.
"I won't --"
"I don't want you to," Tim says, and Bruce watches the
surprise behind Dick's eyes and feels it behind his own.
They have, all of them, taught this boy so *much*.
"Tim. This isn't --" Dick takes a shuddering breath, and
scrubs a hand back from his hair. "You have to believe
that I only want what's --"
"Best for me?" Tim tilts his head, slightly, and the
corners of his mouth twitch. Once.
And then Tim turns to him.
"You started training me, Bruce. You can start again."
The boy stops him with a hand. Pressed to the Bat over
Bruce's chest. "I want to know everything. I *have* to,
"You *don't*," Dick says, and grabs Tim's shoulder. "You
don't have to do *anything*, kid, that's what I'm trying
"Bruce," Tim says, quietly. "Please."
And Bruce takes Tim's hand, and holds on.
Tim squeezes it when Dick's motorcycle starts.
Tim sleeps alone again now, but Bruce is incapable of
closing his door.
Or of leaving his own bedside lamp off.
Tim might come to him, after all -- like now -- and it
has become... more important than Bruce ever
would've imagined to be able to *see* the boy.
His hair is (too) short, but all of it is his own *natural*
black, now. And it will continue to grow.
Bruce shifts aside to allow the boy room to sit on the
bed, and waits.
The hand on his face is almost perfunctory now, a
ritual of familiarity rather than necessity.
After Tim folds his hands in his lap, he takes a deep
breath and says, "Do you remember Annie?"
"The... she was part of Clayface."
Tim nods. "Sometimes I wonder. She was... she
was so much more than *just* Clayface. But I had
time to think about it, you know?"
"Yes," Bruce says, and waits.
"I thought about all of them. Dr. Quinzel. Dr. *Isley*.
Bruce keeps his breathing as steady as he can.
"And I... well, that's the point, isn't it? That they were
all real people, that they all *had* real people inside
them before they went fucking crazy and tried to do...
all of the things they've tried to do."
"I figured it out, you know. Before. I knew why...
why you tried so hard. Because maybe Clayface *didn't*
kill Annie, like I'd thought. Maybe Annie was just the
really wonderful part of Matt Hagen. Maybe he just
had to do anything to get that back, anything he
Bruce sits up and reaches for Tim, meaning to pull
Tim allows it, after a moment, and settles himself half
on Bruce's lap. When he blinks, his eyelashes are a
near-illusory tickle against Bruce's chest. "Anyway, I just.
I just want you to know that I didn't kill the Joker
because I wasn't taking it seriously, or because I didn't
realize he was a real person, too. I know he had a name,
even if we'll never know what it is."
Bruce closes his eyes and holds on. "I know --"
"I killed him because I knew all that, and because I could,
and because it was just the funniest thing that had ever
happened to me. His gun, and he gave it to me, and he
*told* me to pull the trigger."
Bruce's stomach lurches, but he can't let go.
"I did it because, right then, he was the real person who
had hurt me, and hurt you. Who had hurt me *to* hurt
you. He was the real, actual person who would do it
again, and again, and no one would ever be able to stop
him. No one *good*."
"Tim. Don't --"
"And I thought about other things, too. Before, and after.
During... well, frankly, Bruce, during there were freaking
Bruce squeezes his eyes shut. "Go on."
"Dick wants me to be like him. When he doesn't want
me to be like who he thinks *you* should be. Barbara
wants me to be as close as I can get to... to the person
I was before. *You* want... well. You want me, any
way you can have me. Right?"
Bruce strokes the brush of Tim's too-short hair and keeps
his eyes closed.
"It's okay. You don't have to answer, Bruce. Words aren't
what *you* do best, after all."
When Tim shifts, it's an effort to let him go. But he
manages, and, in return, Tim squeezes his hands, and
lets his own wander with a restless, wordless sort of
need over Bruce's knuckles.
"I just want you to know that it's okay. I won't do
anything bad, unless I have to. And I will *always* be
what you need."
"Because that's what *I* need, Bruce."
He can't open his eyes, not even when Tim kisses him
lightly and innocently on the cheek and slides out of
bed. And turns off Bruce's light.
"I believe in you again, Bruce. Do you believe in me?"
"Yes," he says, and the sound of his own voice is
familiar in every terrible way he knows.
His cape is longer now, by his request.
It's more armored, and his belt is larger to accommodate
the extra supplies he carries.
It's been so long since Bruce has heard him laugh, truly
There are other considerations.
Through his scope, he can see them clearly. Tim, and
The smile on Tim's face is one he'd watched the boy
practice at, *work* at until he could manage it without...
When it's just the two of them, Tim almost never
tries -- Bruce understands the quirk of his eyebrows,
and the twitch of his mouth -- but, for Dick, he does.
He can almost see the gleam of the boy's teeth.
He can see, clearly, the way it makes Dick soften, and
When Dick ruffles Tim's hair, Tim spins away -- almost.
Just enough to be turned *toward* Bruce in the moments
before Dick attacks, and they begin a playful spar on
Barbara whistles beside him. "He's good."
"Ten bucks Dick is back in the Cave before Christmas."
Barbara snorts at him. "C'mon, you don't think it'll take
*longer* than that, do you?"
"No," he says, "I don't."
He can feel her looking at him, and, perhaps, searching
He waits, and watches Tim roll out of Dick's loose pin
before Dick can begin tickling him.
"It's no good without family," she says, finally.
"No," he says. "It isn't."
So where did this come from?
1. First and foremost, the fact that I've been so publicly
adamant about how I wouldn't write any more RotJ
stories. I was pretty much doomed.
2. Justice League Adventures #33. I've gone from
thinking 'hunh, interesting to have so much of
comics!Tim creep into toon!Tim's characterization,' to
thinking 'well, okay, there's One True Tim,' to wondering
how the boy from Batman Adventures v2 #9 could
*become* the boy in JL Adventures #33.
3. Canon, man. Time and again in toonverse we see Tim
doing things which would, at the very least, give his
Batfamily pause in comicsverse. In the toons? No
consequences. Whether he's actively trying to kill
Clayface ("Growing Pains"), or going frankly overboard
with the violence (pick the issue *or* the episode. The
things Tim does would maim people for life -- even as
the artists are careful to show every *other* member of
the Batfamily doing the bare minimum).
Dick, bless him, actually calls the kid on this behavior
once or twice. Bruce and Babs? Really don't.
4. The above, combined with my continued inability to
adequately fanwank a reason for Tim's life to go the
way it did in the aftermath of the events in Return of
the Joker. On a metatextual level, no Robin could
continue being Robin after killing a man.
But what to do with the *text* and *subtext* of
characters who see nothing wrong with a boy who has
no respect whatsoever for the criminal justice system
("Cold Comfort"), and, again, repeatedly maims the
Christmas out of 'bad guys?'
How far of a leap would it truly be for toon!Bruce to
*accept* such a terrible thing? And what *about*
After all, Tim tortures and maims and generally wreaks
havoc in front of them all the time. So long as he's
reasonably professional about it (And, truly, pick the
issue or the episode, and I'll say "here is the definition
of relativity.") and doesn't *actively* disobey orders,
his behavior is not just tolerated -- it's *encouraged*.
("Good work," says Bruce, smiling, after Tim decides
to learn and use *black magic* to save the day.)
5. Jack puts it best, I think, when he points out that
Tim is never more accepted than when he fills his
role in the Batfamily as not really a child, and not
really *Robin*, but as an archetype.
The Cheerfully Vicious Boy Wonder, now with extra
ability to get up and cope, no matter what horrible
things happen to him. Try reading Gotham Adventures
#19 back to back sometime with Gotham Adventures
6. Finally (ha! HA!), some minor things. The timeline
has always been more than a bit screwed up. It's really,
really hard for me to believe that Arkham is
decommissioned *that* early on in the timeline -- Tim
would be, at most, 14 when it happens, if I let RotJ
stand. And when Tim is 14... well, Arkham's right there,
according to both the toons *and* the tie-in comics.
But, okay, say I push it forward a *little*. Not much.
After all, JL Adv #33 gives us a Clayface who, for
inexplicable reasons, *isn't* in Arkham.
Maybe, just maybe, by the time Tim is... however old
he's supposed to *be* in that issue, the events in the
RotJ flashback had already occurred.
.AU sequel: The promise