To move against myself
by Te
March 1, 2007

Disclaimers: Not even close to mine.

Spoilers/Timeline: Vague and faintly AU-ized ones up
through Infinite Crisis, and then things begin to go awry,
at least in terms of canon.

Summary: Batman needs a Robin, again.

Ratings Note/Warnings: Sexual content which mostly
doesn't dovetail neatly with the content some readers
may find disturbing.

Author's Note: A sequel, of sorts, to All things considered.
Starts off about a day after it, and won't make sense
without it. Neither this nor the other would've happened
without these scans.

Acknowledgments: To Petra, Betty, Katarik, and Jack for
audiencing, encouragement, and making me color inside
the lines.


Tim catches himself packing -- not for the night, or even for
an extended mission, but *packing* -- and has to wonder, a

He doesn't really remember the decision to shut down his
Bludhaven roost, or even the first several steps of same.
Just -- he knows it *is* shut down. He doesn't have to go
to the sub-basement to check, and he doesn't have to hit
his auxiliary storage facility, either.

He'd done it -- he checks his watch -- sometime between
getting back from Gotham and, well, now, but --

It's easy enough to refine. He's not taking all of his clothes
with him -- just the ones which still fit perfectly after the
latest growth spurt -- and he's already nearly done to his

Given time of travel and the set-up of his strictly-work
residences, given the way that he's also sure -- if vague
about the particulars -- that the very-normal-looking trailer
hooked to the very-normal-looking-for-a-young-and-fain
conservative-male sedan is *also* set and ready-to-go…


Well, it's not like he hasn't been doing this sort of thing for
years. It just gets to be routine -- moreso, *natural* -- to
just let his body take over for things his mind has gone
over so many times that it's hard to put into words, like
trying to explain how one goes about tying one's shoes,
or -- something of the sort.

He'd put himself on auto-pilot, and he'll be ready to head
back to Gotham within the next half an hour -- less, if he
didn't feel duty-bound to eat the last few bits of things
which were perishable in this apartment.

Of course, usually when he does this sort of thing he's
thinking about something very specific and complicated,
something which *required* he do everything else on
auto-pilot, but… but.

Well, he *does* need to be back in Gotham, and Bludhaven
*is* quiet enough, and -- ah.

It's entirely possible that he'd just folded in on himself --
the opposite of a tesseract -- over the fact that Bruce had
admitted -- of his own free will -- that he was not yet
recovered enough from the past several weeks' worth of
multiversal headaches to *allow* himself full patrol --

Well, on top of the shock, it was all but a fervent plea -- or
possibly a plea shrouded in threat, and shrouded again in
still another please. Bruce --

Batman needs a Robin, again.

It's enough. It -- it will always be enough, to the point
where thinking about it was simply pointless.


If he's entirely frank with himself, Bruce has to admit that
he would've preferred somewhat more time to dwell on the
question of whether Tim would come -- of *how* Tim
would come to him (manor, or Cave) before he was forced
to dwell on the fact of his presence.

There's a certain sort of vertigo to his appearance, to --

Everything, every detail is perfect, and perfectly terrible.
From the way he jokes casually with Alfred -- carefully
briefed, as best Bruce could -- about how he should've
known his room would be prepared, to the simple, quiet,
expectant smile on his face now, as Bruce forces himself
*into* that room.

Alfred had --

He's not sure, abruptly, when Alfred had found the time to
replace the Kahlo which had been hung in this room with
the Mondrian which had been there… the day Tim moved
in the first time, of course.

Of course. It doesn't matter, not Alfred's rebuke, and not --


Not this manufactured obliviousness. This is Tim, simply
without his most *recent* tragedies.

This is Robin.

"I've made something of a template-route for you, given the
most recent -- most recent changes in the city."

Tim's nod is less curt than simply matter-of-fact. "I expected
you would. Am I on my own for tonight?"

"As of right now," Bruce says, and has to stop himself from
reminding Tim that, of course, things could change once
they were out there. Tim -- Tim knew that well before he
finally took the oath. Just --

Not that long before he looked so similar to *this*, in this
very room --

Tim is also more than accustomed to Bruce turning on his
heel and walking away. It's not a question of not letting
himself meet Tim's eyes in more than glances (glancing
blows) -- he can't.

He -- can't. What Tim had done --

"Bruce, you -- of course you're busy, but it occurred to me --"

"Yes. Tim."

"Should you truly be working alone, right now? I realize that
it's -- well, the *definition* of a good sign that you
acknowledge the fact that you're *not* firing on all cylinders,
Bruce, but -- I'm here for a reason."

He always, always is. "Which is why I plan on delaying --
most of -- my own patrol until we can meet at the new r-
point." A plausible lie, with enough truth. He's going to be
here, becoming enough of himself, again, that he *can* join
Tim. That he can *work* with him.

"Ah -- unless, of course, there's an emergency."

He can -- almost -- feel the particular expression which is
almost certainly on Tim's face at the moment -- that blend
of good-natured chagrin and calculation, sincerity and
suspicion. Tim.

"You know, Bruce, I…"

And Tim's laughter is… it isn't *light*. No one could call it
light. No one -- Tim's laughter has never been light. It's just
that it shouldn't *be*, not here, not now, and not with --
him. "What -- what is it, Tim?"

The hand on his shoulder --

It's not an obscenity save in the desire it fosters within Bruce
to strike, or, at least, tear himself away. It's not even a *lie*.
It would be too easy to believe that Tim --

"You can… talk to me? I think?" The laugh is sharper this
time, but only because it's more rueful. "Look, I just want
you to know -- to *remember* -- that I get it. If not all of it,
then -- enough."

The desire, this time -- nearly as powerful as an upswelling
of *bile* -- is to *remind* Tim that he 'gets' all of it. Every
bit. There is no comfort for either --

"At the very least, we could try to spar it out. Dick would
swear by it, I promise."

"I rather think he wouldn't --" It's too late to cut himself off.

"Hmm. My clever plan to trick you into working things out
by pummeling me into a stain has been foiled. Curses."

"Tim --" Tim is in front of him now, almost certainly
consciously (and what do distinctions like that *mean* for
Tim, now? What *can* they mean?) moving as Robin --
quick and sure. The hand remains on Bruce's shoulder, but
the laughter is gone, entirely.

There is --

There is a measure of reassurance in the fact that Bruce's
first thought coherent enough for the name is to wish he
were in the cowl, if only to meet Robin's eyes. There is --

"Or we can do it this way. Bruce, you're not acting -- your
behavior is problematic, suspicious, and gives me pause
about the wisdom of *allowing* you on the street, tonight.
The Crisis -- we're all dealing with the effects, God I --
is anyone helping Clark with everything?

"Anyway," he says, and shakes his head. "Work it out --
with me or without me." The squeeze is an emphasis, and
when Tim pulls back, finally --

He is himself -- wry and implacable. Of course he's more
worried about Clark than himself. He -- has convinced himself
that there is some possibility of retrieving the -- Kon-El's
self, of course. He is --

He is everything he's done to himself, more or less, less and

"Perhaps," Bruce says, and brushes Tim's hand off his
shoulder precisely as casually as he can't imagine feeling,
"we could -- for the moment -- leave it at the fact that I'm
aware of my own internal disturbance, and that it is
something which needs to be discussed."

Tim raises an eyebrow.


"I --" He shakes his head, and moves away once more from
Bruce's path *away* from him. "It's suddenly so much
easier to *understand* the look Steph would get on her face
when I compared emotional conversations to gastro-
intestinal processes."

Stephanie. He --

He'd -- he does not clutch at the door jamb until it creaks.
He does not.

He needs to know exactly what Tim had programmed *into*
himself. He has the information -- enough of it -- for the --
for Kon-El. But there are Tim's parents to consider, and --


"You know, if it will… start this *particular* ball rolling, I
could mention -- in that offhandedly *sharing* manner
which all the kids love, these days…"


"That I still catch myself picking up the phone to call her,
even though we haven't been dating for…" Tim's smile is
perfect -- and private. "It doesn't feel like a year.
Sometimes it seems… anyway."

"Is she truly so…" Bruce doesn't swallow. "She never
seemed, to me, to be quite so… unforgiving." And, abruptly,
the expression on Tim's face is sharp enough -- he looks,
for a terrifyingly *hopeful* moment, like the young man
who'd willfully put himself to *sleep* for the sake of -- of --

"You never did get a chance to speak with her about her
father, did you…?" Tim shakes his head and laughs again.
"That is and isn't the point. She wants her space away from
the *life* -- and it's better for me, you know, that it wasn't
*you* who convinced her of that --"

Vertigo. "I never could."

"No one could but herself, and I -- anyway. Away from the
life, away from *me*. But that doesn't stop me from
wanting to call."

"I imagine not," Bruce says, and struggles to at least not
*sound* weak. "Tim."

"Right here," he says, though this time he's the one staring
anywhere but at Bruce's own eyes. Because --

Because he misses the young woman who's leading a life
away and apart from him. Who is *alive* -- "We will -- talk.
Another time."

Tim nods.

Bruce -- escapes.


Working in Gotham after an absence is always a bit like
those few times when he and Dick have done their version
of 'playing' on the street. It doesn't matter that Tim's Robin
is not, never was, and never will *be* an acrobat -- and so
doesn't *use* more than 15% of the more spectacular
moves Dick has taught him, offhand and playful -- and it
doesn't matter that there are no soft, forgiving mats between
Gotham tenements.

If Dick is there, and wants to play, there will be death-
defying acts from the not-so-daring young man in the green
tights, and dwelling on it is just another way to attempt

Gotham is too changeable, too *alive* for any return to be
anything *but* educational and terrifying, and all the still-
smoldering gang wars certainly haven't done anything to
*ameliorate* that.

Unless Bruce has come up with something since the last
time he'd asked, none of *them* know how it had started
in the first place -- the people who do are undoubtedly
waiting for the medical examiner's backlog to ease up for
their autopsies -- and, in the end, it only matters to Tim's
sense of symmetry and completion.

*Robin* has other things to worry about.

Tim spends his first mandatory break -- after checking in
with Bruce (and it's both primitive and awful in ways he
*has* no words for that it's not Oracle) -- doing a quick
and dirty repair job on a knife slash in his tights. The wound
beneath it is barely a scratch, but the criminal element
always gains disturbing amounts of confidence when Robin
is mussed.

In another two hours -- assuming he doesn't have to make
a mortifying (and life-saving) call for help -- he won't just
be on these streets for the first time in (it's always) too long,
he'll be on them *with* Bruce. Which is --

He has to admit it to himself -- at least while he inhales the
energy bars the man had formulated himself --

It's a little stressful, in and of itself.

It's not that things between them hadn't improved a lot
since the Fairchild business -- it's all about leaving Tim and
Bruce out of Robin and Batman's business, as much as
possible -- and it's not like he doesn't understand *all* of
where Bruce was coming from with that little birthday

It *shouldn't* be hard to work with someone one knows as
well as Tim knows Bruce *and* Batman, but --

It shouldn't. There was just as little point to holding on to
every little -- or huge -- thing Bruce had done or failed to
keep Batman from doing, to holding on to the *grudges*
as there was to trying to think like a rational human being
when Dick was feeling playful.

In the end, it's even more obvious now than it was yesterday
morning that *something* was messing with the man,
something more than just trying and failing to keep his city
(and his) from falling apart all around them, and he's

If Dick wasn't undercover, *he'd* be here, and -- and Dick
would be wondering what the hell was *taking* Tim so long
to deal with the problem.

Tim tucks the sewing kit away and laughs to himself, and
stares up at the moon while he gives his muscles enough
time and oxygen not to 'go all lactic acidosis on his ass,' as
Steph was -- had been -- wont to say. Maybe she still says
it when she works out, in a gym, just like that normal
teenage girl she's decided she wants to be.

It would've been a good night to be with her, to --

It was a never a *bad* night with her, and maybe he
should've been dealing with the break-up long before now,
but all of his role models tend to be the brooding type,
and --

And he doesn't know, but --

There's something almost *ritualistically* soothing about
letting the cape sweep down around him as he stands,
about firming within himself that he has two -- *just* two --
responsibilities now.

One is back in (below) Bristol, and the other is flying up to
meet him at his swing.


There's a part of him which is, of course, nearly entranced
by the fact that Tim hasn't lost a step. While he can't be
sure about (anything) where Tim *feels* his facility to be in
terms of the moves and skills he had quietly, secretly
taught himself while in the exile imposed by his father --

What had replaced that, within Tim's mind?

There is so much with no place here, in this moment, Bruce
thinks, and gives himself over to the motions, once more:

When he reaches, Tim's forearm is there, limber and ready
for the signal he gives, for the *moment* in the moments
before flight and precision-directed violence.

When he signals, it seems that Tim is already moving for
this wordless order, or this one -- or to counter with his

When Tim chooses to direct their activities -- the phrase
he most often uses, dryly, is 'encounters with the criminal
element' -- for the sake of expedience, as well as for the
sort of practice Bruce has not had to urge him toward since
his sixteenth birthday, his actions and orders are cool,
clear, and edged with a perfection which -- as ever -- leaves
Bruce both proud and afraid.

When he broadcasts -- stealthily -- displeasure with his
own performance, he can be cut off, now, with a *look*.

He has all of the confidence, all of the ever-increasing
*potential* -- in every punch, in every loom affected without
a hint (for the criminal element, in any event) that he is
even aware of his own lack of stature --

He makes his own. He --

He is just the same, only -- as Bruce both deduced and
ordered, perhaps in a moment's fleeting desire to further
damn himself -- even more 'street-ready' than Bruce is,
himself, right now.

Even more 'street-ready' than he was before he had treated
the landscape of his psyche with the same ruthless variety
of care he uses to repair his own -- minor -- wounds.

Batman punches the wall beside the head of a drug dealer
whose attempt at moving 'up' to hitman for his crew he and
Robin had averted, at least for the time being. He begins to
talk -- to Robin.

Tim is fully aware that the punch Bruce had thrown was
not -- precisely -- one of the ones where the armor would
take the brunt of the impact.

Tim -- has been watching him all night.


Bruce hasn't met his eyes for more than a moment -- hasn't
even tried, as near as Tim can tell -- since he's been here.
For the people they are -- if not for the jobs they do -- this
is enough of a message that he isn't ready to actually *let*
Tim in on any of the things which had left him --

It's difficult to say. Bruce had been neither overly cautious
nor overly reckless -- for his own baselines -- tonight. It
was all a matter of potential, really, and everything Tim
has learned, over the years, to *dread*.

They're warning signs, and even though it's not enough that
Bruce knows he's not optimal, even though it could *never*
be enough --

It's not, of course, that Bruce isn't fully capable of taking
care of the physical damage he'd been given -- and given
himself -- tonight, and it's not that he's not in the process
of doing it. There were *some* lessons Bruce had learned
before --

Well, before Tim had even *met* *Steph*.

Still, all Tim has to do is raise an eyebrow to stop Bruce's
protests of his taking over the task of disinfecting, stitching,
and bandaging before they start.

"I don't suppose this is an oblique request for me to take
over your *own* self-maintenance."

Almost before they start. But -- well. "It's been a while since
I've had someone else stitch me. The luxury could drive
me to a life of hedonism."

"You -- I didn't think it was possible, but I believe you've
been spending too much time with Alfred."

If he were Dick, he'd be seizing on that hesitation, and on
the moment's unmistakable *tension* in Bruce's shoulders
which has nothing whatsoever to do with the slash on the
man's arm he's currently taping. *That* knife had been
close-cousins to a machete. Still -- it's not time, yet.

He knows that even better than -- than he thinks he

Something like that. "Perish the thought," he says, instead
of anything else, and gives the small spaces of wound
between tape one last swipe with cotton swab and

Bruce grunts and starts to move away, and it feels -- it feels
both daring and vital to grab the man by his -- bare, this
time -- shoulder, and it feels --

There aren't, actually, words for the feel when Bruce covers
the hand with his own, squeezes it, and says,


"I -- could say something about mixed messages."

When Bruce moves, it's fast and *smooth* enough that
they might as well be on the streets, that -- and all he's
doing is putting the armor right again, dressing again
for --


It's honestly difficult to tell, and never mind all the years of
experience. Tension in a jawline can be a deeply ambiguous
sort of thing -- it would be nice to have Batgirl here playing
interpreter, a bridge between Bat and the rest of the human
race as embodied by Tim --

It's possible -- probable -- she would simply laugh at that,
silent and obvious and disturbingly infectious. She --

Batman has him -- *takes* him by the jaw, and he might
as well be fourteen again, younger.

There's nothing he can read beyond the sense that this,
somehow, all has something to do with *him*, which, of
course, makes it even worse to be stared at like this,
*into* like this.

He should *know* what's going on, or at least *better*.
"I --"

"*Don't*," Bruce says, and it *is* him, and if he's meeting
Tim's eyes from behind the cowl, if he --

There's something like a broken stitch here, a static moment
lost between the sound of Bruce's voice and the memory of
himself -- no. The *fact* of himself, and the fact that he's
moving upstairs in his robe, despite the fact that nothing
has been resolved.

He can hear Bruce lifting below and behind. When he had
been three years (centuries) younger, he would occasionally
time his steps on the stairs to the quiet, controlled clank of
weight on weight, and wonder if even *Bruce* would be
able to turn him into something useful, worthwhile --

Pausing at the top of the stairs is an effort, but *also* a

This -- this is about *him*, and he's right *here*, and
there's just no reason for -- anything. Any of this.

"I trust," Tim says, "that you're aware that it doesn't require
an emergency to wake me up. You have me quite

Bruce doesn't respond -- that's fine.

Tim knows he's been heard.


In retrospect -- and Bruce has learned to loathe the phrase
like little else not directly related to chaos -- he should've
expected --

If not this, then something like it. Something which could
encompass the bald, terrifying reality of a Tim who will take
the breakfast tray from Alfred, and proceed to eat -- while
sitting near -- everything Bruce doesn't, or won't.

The *reality* of a Tim who will -- in a manner which could
not ever be termed truly casual, despite tone and affect --
bring up matters to discuss at random and at will -- the
cars, suggestions for the uniforms, exhibits he planned on
attending at the Grant Museum, commentary on the rest
of their 'social circle.'

Tim. It's --

Bruce is, of course, taking notes. He's learning -- or trying
to -- the limits of the unholy *thing* Tim had done. The --

He had only ever lied to himself, nothing more, and the
worst part of all of it is, of course, the fact that Bruce had
never had an inkling that he could do this. Bruce thinks,
perhaps, that he had been convincing himself that the name,
the *legacy* would protect Tim from… himself?

Is that something Robin could ever do…?

The Case has no answers, but he has only himself to blame
for choosing now to give up on asking. That he had chosen
to return to the manor proper, to pick at the scab of
everything that has been done, that they have done, until he
finds Tim watching a film in one of the parlors which hasn't
seen much use since Dick had been Robin.

He had forgotten that Tim had a taste for movies -- far more
than for literature.

He had forgotten -- movies, for Tim, and never novels.
Candy, never pastries. A powerful engine -- especially when
combined with a carefully, lovingly crafted form. A wit --

"If you join me, I can almost certainly suggest -- even
imply -- that I wouldn't merely take the opportunity to get
you to 'open up' to me again."

"Would it be too forward to hope for a hint, Tim?" A wit he
can't help -- can't --

"You know, I -- I find myself thinking a lot, these days,
about watching this sort of thing on the monitors downstairs
while waiting for you. Waiting for…" Tim's laugh is low and
sharp. "Waiting for a lot of things."

It's a parody of something Bruce had never quite allowed
himself to hope for -- certainly not after how badly he had
treated -- everyone, but perhaps especially Tim, before and
after Bane had broken his back. And it's only a parody
because of what *he* knows. For Tim… "Do you?"

"We could…" Tim rolls his head on his neck, frowns, and
pauses the film.

It is, of course, merely a coincidence that the leading lady
seems to be frozen on the verge of a scream.

"Look, I -- there's only so much I can delude myself on any
given day, Bruce."

He has been awarded quite a lot of practice in not
*seeming* as though he's no longer breathing. He is not --
he isn't so foolish as to imagine that Tim has come back to
himself -- and to Bruce -- so easily. "Is that so?"

Tim grunts, turning his body on the couch so that he can
look up at Bruce, and meet --

It's just that Tim's eyes -- the gaze, knowledge, and
sharpness behind them -- seem so *close* to correct -- and
Bruce isn't sure who he's trying to justify himself to. None
of this -- not even this conversation -- would be possible,
right now, if Tim hadn't -- is it a reward for his capitulation?
Or a punishment for both of them?

"You've made it obvious that -- whatever the problem is, it
has at least a fair amount to do with *me*. I -- should I
even be here? No, that's not the right question. We can't --
we can't *afford* to let something just fester between us,
Bruce. Not anymore."

It takes a moment -- only that, but still. It takes a moment,
because Bruce hadn't let himself realize just how true Tim's
statement has become. A mere handful of weeks ago, Tim
had been the barest *edge* of the 'problem.' Now --

Had he suspected, going into this decision, that he would
force something similar in Bruce?

After all, there is little enough room between them now for --
anything else.

"Bruce -- I really don't think it's too much to ask that you
give me *something* to work with, here."

Of course -- of course, it isn't. Not for Tim's elegant
abomination, and not for the people they are -- both of
them -- supposed to at least try to be, on occasion.
"Perhaps," Bruce says, "we could try to watch a film at the
same time."

Tim's smile is false, but only consciously so, only *correctly*
so, as he gestures to the space beside him. "Should I take
that as confirmation that you used to analyze my film choices
in regards to my fitness for the Mission?"

"You're assuming I've stopped?"

There -- easy. As easy, really, as the way in which Tim's
laugh for Bruce is both true and silent. They have -- truly --
made so very much progress.


Operation: Pretend Tim and Bruce are the sort of people
who can share a home -- as opposed to existing on either
end of one -- is progressing nicely, all things considered.

It's something worth more than a little chagrin, if Tim's
going to be at *all* honest with himself. He's known -- or he
should have known -- for years that it's not all that hard to
come up with things to do which both of them would enjoy.
They have, if anything, even more small, basic things in
common now than they did when the realization that Batman
was *Bruce Wayne* had first caused him to stagger around
in a thrilled variety of shock between bouts of desperate
filming and research.

And, well, even if he offered his supposedly deductive mind
a pass for years of missing that, it's not as though Dick
hadn't been trying -- nearly every chance he *got* (whether
or not they were in the same room or even city at the time) --
to *make* Tim understand that there was one real and
important option between Batman and 'Bruce Wayne.'

More than that -- that *Bruce* was someone he *needed*
to know, if not feel everything for the man that Dick did.

There have been times -- many -- when Tim has wondered
if that is, for Dick, the primary reason for Tim to be *Robin*.
If Dick couldn't drag Bruce back out, then surely -- surely.

Surely Dick is just the sort of optimist who would *keep*
believing Tim could manage it if he just put his back into it,
long after all the times Tim had failed to do so in the past.

Still, there's something to be said for removing -- or
ignoring -- as much of the emotional clutter as possible, not
to even mention the baggage. It's just -- *obvious*.

If he's never particularly been *fond* of spending his meals
alone -- as opposed to often finding it either expedient or
the only option (or both) -- then surely the man who had
spent the past decade -- and then some -- gathering to
himself one of the largest and most stable -- again, all
things considered -- families *in* this life would feel the

The fact that they'll never -- ever -- have anything on the
Arrows is no excuse not to breakfast with Bruce for the
fourth day in a row, however silently --

"Did you have plans for the day, Tim?"

-- or not. For a moment -- before he catches himself -- the
thirteen year old inside him who will always, always be
convinced he'd won the lottery takes over to *smile* --
possibly even *grin* -- at Bruce.

It makes Bruce blink, and shutter himself -- right. Still, if life
hands you lemons, etc., etc.

"I -- not to ignore your question, Bruce, but there's
something I'd like to tell you about. Something -- I'm not
sure whether you already know or *not*, but it doesn't
change the need to -- heh -- share it."

Bruce nods and doesn't -- quite -- look away.

"After my birthday -- present -- I spent a long time ranting
to poor Steph about what a… difficult person you were, and
generally making a whiny ass of myself."

"I never would've guessed --"

Bruce stops at Tim's raised hand, and it feels almost as
horrifyingly *right* here as it does on the street. They are --
now -- equals, and never mind that that shouldn't even be
*possible*. "In any event, one of the benefits of barely
letting her get a word in edgewise -- I wasn't precisely
*surprised* when she dumped me, really -- was that I
talked myself right back to my sticking place."

"Which was?"

"Well -- at the time, I knew -- *knew* -- that Steph was
never going to quit, and that, of course, given time and the
sort of training *I* received… hell, *she* could've been a
good -- good. I."


Another skip, of sorts, though it's not… not really. Tim
laughs and shakes his head. "I could *swear* this wasn't
the first time I've thought of Steph being Robin, and yet…
anyway. Perhaps it's just a matter of too many --
cumulatively -- blows to the head."

"Or a fantasy…?"

"Bruce, really. Not at the breakfast table."

Bruce -- it's not that he pinches the bridge of his nose, it's
just that he seems to want to, very badly.

Alfred would undoubtedly be proud of him. Perhaps Dick,

"In any event, I had convinced myself that I knew everything
there was to know about Steph -- or certainly *enough* of
what I needed to know, and of course there was Dick, and
Barbara, and -- Cassandra, too, *and* all of the other
people with whom our alter egos are not *entirely*
simpatico --

"You didn't need *me*, not in that way, and so I skipped
right over all of those concerns to a nice little -- fantasy --
of, some months from then, stopping by to visit. Perhaps
we'd talk about old times, or you'd let me fiddle with some
of the more deniable vehicles, or -- whatever."

"At the time -- you *wanted* to come back?"

"So it *is* a surprise. A point to my cynical side."

"Or self, as the case may be."

The smile hasn't slipped down from Bruce's eyes, yet, and it
seems far too shaky -- or, perhaps, lacking in determination --
to do so, but it's still a point for *Robin*. And, for that
matter… "It was a wonderful fantasy for the handful of
seconds it lasted. You were -- are, and have been for at
least as long as *I've* known you --"

"As opposed to how long you've *watched* me…"

Tim nods. "You're too much -- *we're* too much wrapped
up in our *less* deniable alter egos for anything like that
fantasy to make any sense. I'd never have been able *to*
come to see you unless some part of me was ready to do
everything possible to take Robin *back*, and -- well. It
was, along with all the good things about being Robin I'd
been, that day, trying very hard to forget --"

"You came back for -- friendship."

"Among," Tim says, and finishes his juice, "other things. I
made a point of clearing up all of the reports you left for
me yesterday, and so, unless you have something else in
mind, I'm almost sure we can eke another 5-8 kilometers
per hour out of the engine on the two-seater, if we were
to put our minds to it."

"Tim --"

"Or I could leave you the sketched-out plans I was doing
last night and I can spend the day convincing Alfred that,
unlike you, I am capable of learning how to cook. Or --
Bruce, just --"

Bruce's hand is over his own before Tim even starts to
stand. And it's --

"It's -- I'm aware that, for whatever tone or affect I'm giving
out at the moment, that what I just said -- was perhaps
better left."

"That's not -- Tim. I need you -- I need you to know
something, as well."

The fact that he wants to just leave his response at a raised
eyebrow -- it's not enough. Tim nods, and waits, and leaves
his hand where it is.

The squeeze is --

Surprising. Among other things.

"Tim, you -- I realize that it must seem like you're -- forcing
yourself on me --"

"I -- you should also realize how very tempting it is to use
this moment to pretend I hadn't, if only to see if you'd treat
me like, say --" A pointed glance to the folded newspaper,
and the society pages within. "A certain Miss

The smile doesn't make it to Bruce's mouth, and the grunted
laugh is brief, and it's still a victory. A -- win. "I realize --
both that and that I've been acting as though you're the
reason that I am… not in optimal condition, at the moment."

"Bruce -- don't tell me that it isn't. Don't -- I haven't been
that young since --"

"Before you started watching? Perhaps," Bruce says, and
squeezes Tim's hand again before pulling away. "I was
hoping we could leave -- the issue -- at 'it's more
complicated than that.'"

This time, he does raise his eyebrow. Even though it seems
petty. "Where 'that' is considered to be defined as 'the
problem as it relates to, specifically, me?'"

Bruce nods -- somewhat more slowly and seriously than
even this deserves.

"I -- I'll deal with that."

"Thank you," Bruce says, and turns back to the last of his
own food. "Shall I meet you in the Cave?"

Tim wants -- too much. "Yes."


Bruce had realized, of course, that he hadn't bought time
with the 'more complicated' as much as he'd bought,
simply *more*.

It's just --

To say there has always been an undercurrent of something
which could only be considered a very specific variety of
'flirting' wouldn't be a lie so much as an implied
overstatement. Could something which generally occurred
once every several weeks -- at most -- truly be considered
any variety of 'always?'

On the other hand, it would also be a lie to find -- or even
tell himself he finds -- Tim's behavior around him to be so
strange, so *wrong* --

The worst lie of all, of course, would be to in any way *let*
himself believe that his motivations -- in either direction --
are in any way lacking in self-interest.

As of now, he is trading heavily on his reputation for being
someone with whom it's 'difficult' to converse, but there is,
of course, a limit beyond which --

"Mm. I…" Tim had appropriated a pair of Alfred's softest
gloves which were still suitable for cleaning sometime before
they began work on the two-seater. Now that they are done
both with the work and the cleaning --

He is not -- precisely -- using the gloves to check the finish.

"You know, Bruce, it seems dangerous."

He -- *can't*. Not always. "What does?"

"Your habit of making it so very rare that those of us
privileged enough to be your partners are allowed to drive
these vehicles."

"How so?" In some ways, Bruce thinks, as he slips below to
give the under-carriage one last check, it seems as though
it would be harder not to do this with Tim, to not, simply,
allow the conversation to progress as it would --

"Well, catastrophe -- varying degrees of same -- seem to be
necessary to the decision process which leads to -- one of
us driving."

To progress as Tim would have it? "Are you suggesting that
you've started to hope for some catastrophe to befall me?"

"Hmm," Tim says, and -- it takes a moment to parse the
sound from merely a quiet, thudding slap to --

That would almost certainly be a wrench -- perhaps the
three-eighths -- slapping against a gloved (but not
gauntleted) palm.

"Certainly, I would feel very guilty," Tim says, presumably
once he's sure Bruce has gotten the point. "Eventually."

Bruce slides out, and *looks* at Tim. It's a moment he can't
truly allow himself to *miss* --

There have been all too few opportunities to study Tim --
this Tim -- without being -- more suspicious, more *obvious*
than he is. The expression on his face, right now, is certainly
no more than a sketch of ironic disapproval. The moment
has already passed, and has now become something --

Something *else*, and he can allow himself at least a
measure of disingenuity, here, at least a moment --

Tim is flirting with him. Tim is -- honestly, openly --

Flirting -- at least in *part* to search for greater clarity on
the issue of 'more complicated.' He --

"It's difficult to be around you," he says, and stops himself --
how can Tim be so wholly himself, so wholly desirable *as*
himself when he isn't even --

"Tell me," Tim says, and very deliberately -- obviously --
takes a half-step away. He is offering space, he is
offering --

"Are you aware of how much --" Bruce stops himself, again,
and stands. He feels himself looming --

He stops, again, and has a fleeting idiot moment to wish
they were sitting, though he's certain that would find its
own ways to be strange, difficult, and uncomfortable.

"It would be very easy -- and certainly enjoyable -- to let
this conversation continue," Bruce says, and settles for the
loom which will allow him to be near enough that Tim
doesn't have to strain in order to meet his eyes.

"Then why don't you?" As he seems very much wont to do.
And what else he might --

"I think I'd rather talk about your parents, however."

It makes Tim recoil, and Bruce will never be --

It's impossible not to feel the sense of betrayal that, even
now, Tim is working to *hide* from him. To feel this --
particular -- pain. However modified it has been for Tim's --
both of their -- convenience.


"You haven't, Tim, and it's not a role I would normally take
for myself…" A lack of proper preparation on both their
parts, really. Bruce has no idea what the lie even is -- though
perhaps Tim had simply assumed it would never come up.

"Please don't pretend that you're -- merely -- worried about
how I'm handling things since my father's suicide. Attempt.
Considering his state, I usually don't bother with that
particular word, but -- honestly, Bruce, just don't try."

It's tempting -- more than -- to boggle at the fact that some
part of Tim, apparently, would've felt better if Jack Drake
had -- for all intents and purposes? -- taken his own life.
However, that sort of confusion would require him to be
somewhat less acquainted with the guilt of people who
survive acts of violence. Better for it to be, at least mostly,
Jack's own fault. "Perhaps I'll feel more comfortable sharing
my own disquietude were you to set me a better example,"
Bruce says, and folds his arms, and leans against the car.

"I *already* -- heh." The pause is deliberate, and deliberately
meant to be noted. Tim tucks Alfred's gloves in the work-
apron -- another of Alfred's possessions -- and crosses his
own arms. "Fine. My ploys have been transparent. That
doesn't mean I haven't been honest with --"

"I don't doubt your sincerity, Tim. Or the altruism behind
your motivations."

"Then *what*?"

"You've never been quite so -- focused in your attempts to --
entice." Never with him, and perhaps never with anyone
save for Kon-El, who almost certainly would've missed --

And the tension is only briefly obvious in Tim's fingers before
he settles himself again. The position is nearly entirely
dissimilar to the ready-positions Tim favors, and yet.

And yet. "You could consider telling me what -- precisely --
you *want*, Tim."

And Tim --

Tim is one of the very few people Bruce has ever known
capable of infusing a look from under his eyelashes with
quite that much raw menace. And if he'd thought it would
work… Bruce is not the person he would've come to for --
this. "I -- I can't believe that it's *only* to test whether my
unease was rooted in attraction to you."

"You are."

"You knew that. It's never been -- it's never had to be
anything but what it is, Tim."

Tim tilts his head to the side, and --

And Bruce knows the truth of the movement -- and the
moment -- by the way Tim's shoulders shift to resettle a
cape which is, of course, not currently there.

"There was -- is? -- some possibility that what your attraction
'had to be' had shifted, recently."

"And you decided that the best way to solve the problem
was to actively attempt to seduce me?"

Tim's smile is small, cold, and entirely for him. "I trust you,
Bruce. The only thing I was truly attempting to seduce you
into was -- the sort of extremity which breeds confession."

Trust -- yes. Tim trusts him very, very much. Just the same,
when Bruce touches his face, there is a moment's --

There's something close to -- but not quite -- a flinch in the
moments before Tim catches Bruce's wrist in his hand and --
squeezes. Lightly. "And, of course, I wouldn't have tried if I
hadn't found all of the potential consequences -- however
ultimately unlikely -- palatable."

And Bruce can't decide if it's something he needed to hear,
or not.

When Tim tugs, Bruce moves his hand. When Tim lets go,
he allows himself a moment to run his fingertips through
the light sweat at Tim's hairline. Exertion and -- something
impossible for his senses to be sure of.


"Desirable," Tim says, as grudgingly honest as Bruce could
have ever --

Ever. He closes his hand into a fist and lets it fall to his side.
"You should leave. Just -- the Cave. Please."

Tim nods, and turns to go.

But not before Bruce can see that Tim's expression has
softened into something terribly sympathetic.


After the third time he catches himself starting to pace his
room like a prison cell, Tim gives up and stalks the manor

It will be -- at least -- another couple of hours before Bruce
decides it's -- *safe* to return up here, and he might
decide to stay in the Cave until it's time for Tim to join him
for patrol.

He *might* decide to send Tim out alone, and --

And he doesn't know. Or rather -- he *still* doesn't know
precisely what it is that he doesn't know. He can't even be
sure if he's closer to asking the right question. But --

Fact: There's something wrong with Bruce, something which
can't be explained by the gross changes to Gotham itself.

Fact: The 'something wrong' is at least moderately due to
Tim, or to Tim's presence.

Fact: While it has nothing to do with the *fact* that Bruce
is attracted to him, it could very well still be *related* to

He just -- he doesn't have any experience in this area. Just --
none. When Ariana had wanted to be with him, she had let
him know. When she stopped wanting to be with him, she
had *also* let him know. The same went -- in *spades* --
for Steph.

It might have nothing at all to do with any of this, it's true,
but his instincts want him to know that he's close --

It could very well be paranoia, or even something as
desperately misplaced as *hope*.

He --

It's true -- he *had* known Bruce was attracted to him, and
he'd even stopped believing that it was more to do with the
intellectual aspects of their relationship than with anything
else. Honestly, long before he came back here, it had
started to be impossible *not* to know it. He had been so --
assiduous, about luring (seducing?) Tim *back* into the
metaphorical fold after the Fairchild business, even though
it was hardly as though Tim had gone very far.

He -- he's important to Bruce, on a number of levels, just
as Bruce is important to him.

Is this -- anything like the frustrations Dick has been dealing
with since before Tim was even in middle school?

The question stops him, a little, in the hall between the east
drawing room and the study which Tim is reasonably sure
hasn't been used -- as opposed to cleaned and aired -- since
Bruce's parents were alive. Parents -- just --

There's too much here, too many *variables*, and there
are so many times when --

"Master Tim…? Is everything quite all right?"

And that, of course, is another variable. The last time Alfred
had seemed quite this cautious around him… Tim laughs
to himself, internally, and -- doesn't pinch the bridge of his
nose. It's not an impression -- he truly finds the gesture
soothing, at times, and *especially* when he's thinking
about Bruce -- but it's still rather hard to do it *near* Alfred
without feeling self-conscious. "Just… I know I have neither
the right nor the reason to have thought that things would
be less complicated if Bruce and I just tried talking about
things more often, but -- I did."

"Ah," Alfred says, and steps further into the hall from one of
the unused bedrooms. "There does, in my experience,
appear to be flaws in that particular line of reasoning when
it comes to Master Bruce."

And there's nothing there but what there should be, nothing
*spoken*, but Tim thinks he'd have to be deafened, or at
least partially lobotomized, to *not* understand that there's
*something* Alfred doesn't, particularly, want to say aloud.
"It's just -- sometimes I find myself wondering what things
would be *like* if there was a way to just… brush away all
of the… I don't know."

"All of the things one finds it easier not to consider, young

"*Exactly*. I -- look, I don't actually want to *whine* at you,
Alfred --"

"If I may, Master Tim?"

A suggestion? *Combined* with an interruption? "Of course,
Alfred. Always, please."

"It has also been my experience that a young man's efforts
to 'simplify' can and will quite often lead to far more
complexity… in the grander scheme of things."

Tim sighs and nods. "You're right, of course. Short-cuts
almost always find ways to eat up more of your time than
they save --"

"Or worse, I believe."

Another interruption? "Alfred…?"

"My… my apologies, Tim. I fear I'm somewhat distracted at
the moment. You shouldn't mind what I say."

And that's -- "Alfred -- is there something -- could I help, in
any --"

"No. I -- I'm afraid you can't, at the moment, young sir.
Please, excuse me."

That's -- right. Were he to push --

Were Alfred to *allow* him to push, he would almost
certainly discover that whatever was bothering *Alfred* had
at least as much to do with him as with anyone else.

He knows that this is where he belongs. He -- he *knows*.
It's just that the feeling seems less rational with almost
every moment he *is* here. Alfred --

No -- one problem at a time. *Bruce* --

Bruce is going to *tell* him what's wrong, if he has to --

What, exactly, is he supposed to *do*? If it were strictly a
matter of Batman's behavior -- Bruce has even started to
manage to leave whatever's bothering him here, as
opposed to letting it make the streets even more dangerous
than they already are.

This has nothing to do with Batman *or* Robin, apparently,
and everything to do with --

There's a part of him -- small, but large *enough* -- which
just wants to know what he's done *wrong*. Bruce should
know by now that he'd fix it, that he'd find a way, if there
was a way to be found. That he'd do everything in his power
to keep *trying* to find it, until *he* was sure there was no
way --

He'd even --

He'd make amends, if there were any to be made, and if
they seemed even *plausibly* welcome.

The fact that all of this -- *all* of it -- is harder precisely
because everything else is going so smoothly --

No, that isn't good enough to describe it. He could -- Tim is
almost, *almost* sure that the primary reason why Bruce
had wanted Tim to leave him alone is that Tim, himself,
hadn't precisely been welcoming of -- of him. Certainly,
Bruce had all but *dared* him to *be* that unwelcoming…

He has to go back. He knows that the answer isn't so simple,
but he's also not…

There are other things worth more than -- or at least as
much as -- answers.


It's possible -- even more than plausible -- that the handful
of words Bruce had heard Tim say but had failed to take *in*
enough to understand had nothing to do with this. He had
come back, he'd wanted to say *something*, he'd --

It takes too long to stop clutching as though Tim were
both more physically imposing and less well-equipped with
functional nerve endings than he is.

It takes too long to *breathe* --

It takes too long to stop kissing Tim, and it takes long
enough that Tim has already wrestled his arms from
between them and wrapped them around Bruce's neck.

The height-difference is too great for comfort, and the fact
that comfort is not what he *wants* of this --

Without the distraction of a kiss, there is only Tim, this Tim
made of potentials and fantasies -- and even his fantasies
are blameless, and free of coddling. Tim could never
coddle himself. He could never be that --

"You didn't have to stop."

He did. He does. Right now, the easiest -- for certain, terrible
definitions -- way to do so is to *lift* Tim, against him and
up. And when Tim begins to use -- mostly -- his peripheral
vision in an attempt to be *sure* where Bruce is carrying
him, it is easier to kiss him again.

If he could only --

If nothing else, he will know the taste of Tim in this moment,
and the feel of all of that precision, care, and ruthlessness
when applied to *this* act. Bruce has desired, yes, but he
has also been so very *curious*. He's nothing like --

When Tim's fingers curl against his scalp and scrape --

When he digs his knees in against Bruce's sides --

When he moans, soft and cut brutally short into Bruce's
mouth --

It isn't enough, but it never can be. And, once Bruce has
the small canister in his hand, he pulls away just enough to
use the spray on Tim without catching himself, as well.

"Bruce, *dammit* --"

He holds his breath as he carries Tim to the gurney, he lays
him down as gently as he can, and he waits.

The last time, it took thirty-seven minutes for Tim to begin
stirring enough to begin responding to the hypnotic cues.
This time, it takes thirty-six and thirty-two seconds.

Tim is adaptable in all things, and in all things --

"Well. I can't say that I blame you for… calling 'time,' Bruce,"
Tim says, and shifts -- sluggishly -- into a position which
would allow him to adjust the gurney.

"Can't you?"

Tim is silent until he can be upright, again, and it's only
fitting. "You -- you have to know I'd develop several new
issues if you chose to have sex with me while I was in…
that condition."

Bruce doesn't close his eyes. "A condition in which you saw
fit to seduce me?"

"There is --" Tim yawns, quiet and quick. "There is an
argument which could be made that I was simply desperate
with the need for you to… well."

And Tim is adaptable enough, of course, to dissemble. "You
will not lie to me, or mislead, or withhold."

"Of course not. That would be far too… what was the word I
used? Ah, yes. Palatable."

It's challenging to avoid looking to Tim's still-impaired
motions for cues, but there's also a particularly terrible sort
of relief inherent to finally being able to meet his eyes
without feeling as though he's *complicit* in the lie. And so
he does.

"You were the only one I could go to for this, Bruce."

"I know."

"I hate you for that, and for other things, as well."

It's a blow, of course. It couldn't be anything else. "I know
that, too. More."

"When I was still in the planning stages, I did consider that
something like this would happen."

"*More*, Tim."

The smile on Tim's face is lazy and more than a little cruel,
if still not particularly well-defined. "I assumed that your
attraction to me was more than minor enough to be --
hobbled, by my actions."

That -- Bruce feels his hands clenching into fists and can't
do anything about it. Not now. "Do you truly believe it
*hasn't* been?"

"That…" Tim doesn't cock his head so much as let it roll --
loll -- to one side. "I did, until this moment. I'm not going
to forget those kisses. Unless, of course, you allow me to."

"Don't forget."

"You're being hasty and letting yourself be -- *ruled* by
emotion, besides --"

"Don't. *Forget*, Tim."

"You -- bastard. I --"

Tim's teeth shut with a click, and his mouth --

The line of it is hard, firm, and implacable. The tension
makes the mild redness of inflammation staggeringly


"And, of course, you know that in order to *keep* those
kisses in my mind, I need to keep everything else. The
hypnotic rationale won't -- can't -- hold."

"So you do have limits, Tim?"

"*Fuck* you."

"Not today. Not…" The laughter which wants to come out
of his mouth is vile, and he doesn't let it. Instead, he plants
his fists to either side of Tim's hips and leans in. "Stephanie
is dead, in large part because I didn't give her all of the
training she needed, and used the first excuse she gave
me to push her aside. Again."

"I don't -- *don't* --"

"Stephanie is dead because I missed you and was afraid of
everything -- everything -- she made me remember."

"She's dead because I didn't come back --"

No. *No* -- "Yes, Tim. Because you chose your father's
wishes over her, over your own wishes and over *mine*."

"She -- how could you let her die without calling me *in*?
You -- your attempts to take care of me, emotionally, are
about as useful as dumping battery acid in a *fishbowl*.
You're dangerous, hyperemotional, ineffectual --"

"Your father is dead because I was too *slow*, Tim," Bruce
says, and swallows bile.

"You -- you should've *known* --"

"He's dead because you're Robin. Because you wanted to
be so badly --"

"It's what -- I always -- god *damn* you --"

"And then there's Kon-El."

"You -- you made me waste *time*. You made me chase
him away, and lie to him, and --"

"I kept him from you. I recognized his influence as one
which could, among other things --"

"You and your *goddamned* Mission. Never fucking mind
that people have needs --"

"Like me?"

"It's too *much*, Bruce. It was then, and it is *now*. I
don't -- I don't fucking -- care. I --"

"You *can't* lie to me. You do care. You care what *I*

"I -- care. The Mission *needs* me. I --"

"I need you more."

"You need me more -- you. Don't do this to me, Bruce.
Don't --"

"I'm not going to lie to you, and you -- you *won't* lie to
yourself. Not anymore."

"I. I was going to break, Bruce. I was going -- it's too much
that they're all gone. You have to. You."

Tim's hands rise and fall again with a small thudding noise.
The second time, he manages to make them stay up, but
the attempt to cover his face is ghastly. Bruce tugs his
hands away again and squeezes them. "I need you."

"And you…" The laugh is soft, and tired. "And you don't
believe you're letting your desires color your reactions
even a little bit?"

"You set an excellent example."

"I say, again, *fuck* you."

Yes. He deserves -- all of this. More.

Including the feel of pulling Tim -- no more artificially pliant
than he was when he was simply lost to his own calculated
Lethe -- close, holding him that way. He is warm, and he
will never be soft, and he will never be --

"You're never going to be anything but yourself," Bruce

"You *loved* it when I was -- when all I could think about
was *being* with you. When I -- oh God, Bruce, it was
so -- it felt so *good* --"

"I," Bruce says, and holds Tim tighter, "can only imagine."


The suitcase is open on the bed, and has been that way for
the last hour. It has, similarly, been half-full for that time

This room --

The room feels more strange now than it had when he'd
arrived a few weeks ago, but then…

It's not enough, somehow, to explain the feeling away with
the fact that he'd all but programmed *himself*, with
Bruce's help, to not feel even close to settled within himself
until he was here.

He --

No one Tim has lost has ever seen this room, or touched
this bed, or known him as he was here. The room is thus
both the safest place he can imagine and one of the most

His father, had Tim ever found a way to express these
thoughts, would've been equally pleased and troubled,
both in ways that shamed him.

Steph would've slapped him, lightly, and told him to find a
*new* place, and one which preferably exposed him to

Kon would've agreed with Steph, but would have gamely
attempted to find a way to *make* this place good for
him -- both of them -- if Tim showed any signs of insisting
on staying here.

Dana --

He doesn't know what she would've said, or done, and it is
highly unlikely that he ever will. It is -- all of it -- what he
deserves. What he's *earned* in this life, and --

And he'd taken it away not only from himself, but from
Bruce. He knows, now, that while the latter hadn't been
conscious, it had certainly been present within his
motivations. Bruce had made sure he'd know that.

He will never forget all the ways Bruce had failed, recently,
to adequately hide that pain -- *his* pain from Tim. Bruce
had made sure of that, too.

It --

It isn't enough.

"What isn't?"

It seems like too much effort, right now, to berate himself
for failing to be aware of Bruce's presence in the doorway
until this moment, because, of course, he'd first have to do
it for speaking aloud. Perhaps he would even have to look
*up* --

Tim laughs, to and for himself, and does so.

"Get out," he says. "Please."

"Tim --"

"If I had wanted a shoulder to cry on, Bruce, I wouldn't
have come to you." The fact that it's painful to say -- that
Tim has to *know*, now, that it's painful for him to say it…
"Just --"

"I won't let you be alone now, Tim."

"Why not? I let *you*. It wasn't even -- especially --
challenging." There's a part of him -- to which he's grateful,
and of which he has always been afraid -- that wants for
nothing right now other than to be able to remember the
effect of and the affect within those words. That *tone*.
It could, after all, prove useful someday.

"I've still had more practice than you at this particular sort
of thing --"

"Then, perhaps, it's time that I learned. Batman."

"You should know that I'll settle -- happily, for certain
definitions of same -- for this."

It's -- of course he will. Bruce *likes* him -- it. Tim doesn't
have to let the smile onto his face just because he knows
he wants to -- he does.

It's not a smile designed to make *Bruce* happy -- Tim is
also aware, right now and forever -- that 'design' is less
than worthless for driving the man away.

"Bruce -- did you expect me to beg?"

"No, Mr. Drake," Bruce says, dry and chill. "I expect you
to -- live."

"I'm never watching another movie with you again."

"I expect you to live with this, and *through* it. Just like
you made me do when I lost Jason. When all of us did."

Tim closes his eyes and lets himself fall back on the bed.
He'll move his legs on eventually. "Ah, so it's payback time.
You're a vindictive sonofabitch."

"You set an *excellent* example, Tim," Bruce says, and,
soon enough, there's the sound of a chair being dragged
closer to the bed, and the smaller sounds and senses of
Bruce sitting down in it. Very close.

Not as close as he could. "I'm rapidly going to run out of
things I have any desire to discuss -- there, I'm done."

"I brought a book to read."

Of course he did. It's been at least two months since he last
reread The Scarlet Pimpernel, after all. "Bruce,
there's a hole in me."

"Hasn't there always been?"

"It was easier to ignore, once," Tim says, and pulls his legs
up, and pushes the suitcase further away, and folds his arms
over his chest. If he moves them lower, he can imagine how
the undertakers would have laid Steph out. Her casket had
been closed. Her -- "She'd be alive if she had dumped me."

"Tim --"

"I think -- perhaps -- that that's something like the point of
at least a great deal of this, Bruce. You're probably the only
person I can't destroy just by being who I am, in one way
or another."

"I'm tempted to make another joke in poor taste. Perhaps
something along the lines of how you've never had enough
faith in your own ingenuity."

"You're right, Bruce. A joke like that would be terrible right
now. I'd probably be tempted to do something like stare at
the ceiling and snipe."

"We can't," Bruce says, and turns a page, "have that."

"I won't let you pull me off patrol… tomorrow night. Not
entirely. You -- need me."


"I won't -- I'll let you know, if there's something else I need
from you."

"All right."

Tim nods, closes his eyes, and lets himself start to cry.

It becomes easier once Bruce turns the next page.