by Te
March 15, 2007

Disclaimers: No one and nothing here is mine.

Spoilers/Timeline: Meant to take place during the "Under the
Hood" storyline. References to that and earlier things.

Summary: He's allowed hope.

Ratings Note: Mostly harmless.

Author's Note: Written for bozaloshtsh for axial_tilt.

Acknowledgments: To Gloss and Betty for lots of help.


Jason --

Finding Jason hadn't been a problem. Given access (finally) to
*all* of Bruce's files on Jason Todd hadn't even played a role,
really -- he'd known from his own observations that 'subtlety'
had neither been a strength nor an interest for his
predecessor. His...


Were he alone right now, Tim would be indulging himself in the
slow rotation of his jaw, which Jason hadn't -- quite -- broken.
Depending on how much growth he can still expect from himself,
Jason may have very well given Tim a date with an oral surgeon
some few short years in the future. He is not alone.

Happily, Jason doesn't seem inclined, at the moment, toward
more -- scheduling.

"So what, exactly -- I know you're good for that, pretender --
am I gonna do with you?"

Of course, Bruce hadn't given him this assignment because
Jason would be difficult for him to *find*...

"I mean, a bird in the hand. And all."

There is a sense of something almost worn to the smile on
Jason's face, and, perhaps predictably, it leads to Tim
wanting -- under. He's only human and it is -- only -- the
mask tonight. "I do have a suggestion. Or two. Jason."

The grunt doesn't seem especially conscious --

"Or did you want me to call you 'Red?'" Tim has to remember
that this isn't -- precisely -- the same boy from either
Bruce's footage or his own. He has to remember that there's
no way to be sure -- at this time -- whether or not Jason
is aware of that.

"You're assuming I wanted you to *call* me, Timbo," he says,
and the knife spins once to the left against his throat.
"You know what they say about assumptions." And once to
the right.

Jason -- this Jason -- knows any number of things which no
human living ever should. That's -- that's *supposed* to be
why they are who they are. The fact that he's never
forgotten that -- he never should have let himself think
Bruce would never forget. He -- not yet. "I think my
feelings are going to start being hurt eventually -- Jay."

"Is that so?"

That twist took a layer of skin. "Well. No one likes being
rejected by an idol."

That twist -- well, he's bleeding. But it's shallow. "Don't
start that," Jason says, flat and serious. Older, perhaps,
than he should be.

They're all older. "Ah. So I'm supposed to just hate and
fear you...? I'm not very good at that sort of thing."
Jason's breath smells like a coffee blend for which Alfred
had almost certainly given him a taste.

The moves he uses to spin Tim around and shove him against
the wall --

They could be Dick's or Talia's or any number of other
people's. They aren't especially unique.

Nor is the feel of -- something, almost certainly the *hilt*
of the knife -- digging in against the bundle of nerves at
the apex of Tim's spine. He could injure himself badly
simply by jerking in shock. (Or fear.) And Jason knows
that *he* knows that. But --

He'd been entirely honest. "I'm infinitely better at being
suspicious of people, their motivations, their emotional
states --"


"Yes. But then -- I suspect everyone in my life of something,
Jason. I would've thought you'd prefer being unique." He
suspects Jason of needing -- something.

"I'm really just an everyday kinda guy. Not like you."

He'd like to know what that 'something' is. Very much.
"'You're not like anyone,'" he quotes, testing, and --

"So you *are* here because you were sent. What's the
message? Or do you just have a sedative ready for me

Anger -- briefly honest. Affect -- flat. Deceptively?
Difficult to be sure, even though Jason hasn't accepted any
of Bruce's... overtures. As of yet. "You didn't precisely
invite me the last time we met, Jason. I'm known for my
politesse, in some circles."

And Jason's laugh is -- abrupt, but not shocking. The
boy in the footage -- all of the footage -- likes being
surprised. He likes not being precisely correct. He --

"I really did prefer the hilt," Tim says, and decides to
do absolutely nothing about the fear in his voice. He
doesn't want Jason to accept Bruce's overtures -- not.
It's not time for that, yet.

"Oh yeah?" Jason's voice may --

Jason is close enough to Tim's ear, now, that his voice
might as well be coming from inside Tim's own head. Tim
is aware that this is both irrational and understandable,
given their -- very recent -- history. Jason is the
only one who has ever beaten him -- *gotten* him -- this
badly, this many times.

"Thought you weren't any good at fear?"

He expects the nightmares to start at any time, assuming
he hasn't simply forgotten some already. "I'm not -- in
the long term. For example, once I had to start seeing
*Bruce* every day--"

"Why do you think you're *getting* a long-term from me?"

Every *day*, and -- he's getting better at contempt,
really. "Because I'm not -- already dead."

Jason -- doesn't kill him.

It was a gamble, of course, but it was one which had to
be taken. It gave Jason the choice of either killing
Tim in a messy fit of pique, threatening like a flustered --
and thus already beaten -- criminal, or simply… remaining
silent. Waiting. "I'm going to take this opportunity to
mention that I really wouldn't mind… a long-term. With

"Why is that?"

A gamble, just like using Bruce's name and hoping for
just this brand of dismissal. This -- sense of
*irrelevance*. This time, Jason's affect isn't flat at
all. His tone is inconclusive. Tim wants --

He still wants under, of course. He still -- well. He
has even less chance now of *getting* it. Jason's face
is a blur of reds and pinks in Tim's peripheral vision.
He has -- nothing but this. All right.

"Because stalking was my hobby before it was my job,
Jason." Because he *is* the message, in a way. "Because
I used to dream of being like you -- I was very, very
young at the time, of course."

"Please tell me I'm not the first person to tell you
that you're unwell. Think of it as the housewarming
gift you forgot to bring on this, your *very* first

"You're not the first, of course. But I didn't forget
a gift, either."

"Hmm," Jason says, and he has precisely enough
confidence in his *own* confidence not to pat Tim down
a second time. "I already know B didn't rig you to
explode, so... what is it?"

What is it like to know you were dead? To know you
were murdered, and to not be entirely sure how it
came to be otherwise? Does he know -- *what* does he
know about death?

Is there anything Tim could tell him...?

"I -- I believe you'll find it in the pocket of my
belt directly south-southeast to the hilt of your --
knife. Ah."

It's not that it's the first time Tim's heard the
sound of a very sharp blade raking down and across
his tunic. It's just that it's the first time it's
been done by someone who knows precisely *where*
he might cut to actually cause damage.

More scars. Permanence. Something to --

"Here," Jason says, and taps.

Something to count on, at long last. "Yes," Tim says.
"Happy sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth
birthdays. I hope you enjoy it."

It, of course, is a thumb drive, with just enough space
to hold just enough information to get Jason… where
Tim needs him to be. And once he's absolutely *sure*
Jason knows what it is...

"It's not from... B. It's from me, because it bothers
me that the information you're using is both old and
stolen from a thief. To be fair, the information R'as
has on the League is still reasonable enough, but
Gotham...? Gotham changes every hour, Jason.

"You should know that."

"And I'm supposed to -- what, exactly?"

The loss of pressure -- if not threat -- is enough of
an invitation for now. Tim turns around and,
deliberately, straightens his cape.

It makes Jason snort.

Good. "You're supposed to be a trifle more efficient
about your agenda, thus making it easier for me to
discern precisely what it is."

When Jason smiles -- nearly poses -- it's tempting to
find the mask irrelevant, and to find its point entirely
moot. "And report back to Daddy?"

Tim has never been very convincing when he shrugs,
whether or not he's being honest. He settles for dipping
his head once before saying, "Should it seem relevant."

"To you."

"To me."

"Hunh," Jason says, and taps the seam of Tim's cape with
the drive. "I admit it. I'm stumped. What *is* the message
Bruce is sending, here?"

Tim lets himself smile. "I'm not sure, but -- I have a

"Oh, *do* go on," Jason says. His impression of a British
accent is atrocious.

As it's meant to be. "Bruce has footage of Dick giving you
a Robin suit which, in retrospect, Dick had to know would
never fit you. By the time you would be tall enough,
you'd also be entirely too broad. That wasn't Dick's point,
of course. The *vantage* point of the footage is one which
that neither you nor Dick knew Bruce was filming, at the

Jason doesn't give him so much as a grunt.

"He likes his -- boys -- to get along, Jason. I imagine
I'm your third bite at the apple, tonight."

"And when I beat you to death I'll have hit core...?"

("I trust you, Tim.")

"I can be resilient," Tim says, and allows all of the twist,
the sourness, the -- he lets it all show.

The motion that leaves the point of the knife just beneath
Tim's eye -- and just under Tim's domino -- is, of course,
Talia's. Knowing Bruce's identity never seemed to be the
point with her.

Tim would very much like to know what having Jason's
allegiance has meant to her, in terms of that particular
obsession. For now -- "Yes?"

"Seems like you can also be *somewhat* resentful. Tim."
There's a question in Jason's voice. It feels... it feels
like possibility, in its own way.

"Perhaps it runs in the family," Tim says, and tugs at the
knife until Jason removes it -- without cutting him, this
time. "I have a favor to ask."

"You can ask."

How long will Jason let the question sit there, if Tim
doesn't choose to answer it right away? Can Tim be sure
what the question is? No, not yet. Not just yet. "Let
'Stephanie Brown,' be one of the first things you study
in -- Daddy's -- files. Then, please, come talk to me. Or
invite me over."

The tic at the corner of Jason's mouth is small, brief,
deniable, and, as far as Tim's concerned, absolute proof
that Jason has heard the name.

Even if he doesn't yet understand the... importance.
Yes, that's the word he wants.

"Didn't plan on staying for tea? I'm hurt," Jason says,
and it's just -- window dressing.

He doesn't stop Tim from moving back toward the window,
and he doesn't stop Tim from pulling his grapple. "I can
only apologize, Jason," Tim says, and takes a moment to
plan his after-jump route. "Perhaps you'll find a way to
forgive me, in time."

Jason doesn't say anything to that, and Tim --

Tim doesn't wait.

Either Jason will take Tim's gift for what it is, take
*Bruce's* for what *it* is, or -- neither.

Tim can't be sure.

But --

He thinks he's still allowed to have hope.

Of a sort.