Bruce cursed under his breath as he staggered along the alleyway. His leg was bleeding way too much. He didn't have bandages. Why hadn't he thought to include bandages in his gear? The criminals hadn't even flinched when he'd shown up. They'd just opened fire. Granted, Bruce had taken them all down, other than the two who'd been on look-out outside, but now he was bleeding from a shot to the thigh and he had no bandages at all.
When he glanced back there wasn't much of a blood trail. Only a few drops here and there. It wasn't going to last. Bruce could feel the blood dribbling out of the wound. His glove, stripped off and shoved down over the wound, was nearly soaked through. Soon he'd start bleeding in earnest. Not to mention that he was shaking from cold that came from shock taking over his system. A warm night in June wasn't going to make him shiver like this.
"Damn it," Bruce panted.
He collapsed into the dark corner created by a garbage dumpster and pulled into the shadows. His breath, he'd catch his breath and then go on.
The voice came from nowhere. When Bruce started, he realized that he must have passed out for a moment because a young man in a dark, cowled uniform was kneeling in front of him. He pulled bandages from the bandoliers crossing his chest, carefully checking under Bruce's glove. A thoughtful nod and then the man started bandaging Bruce's thigh for him.
"Who are you?" Bruce growled as fiercely as he could when he was already shaking from the shock and blood loss.
"It doesn't matter now," the man said. "You'll figure it out eventually."
The cowl hid his eyes, preventing Bruce from identifying him. He sounded young, perhaps eighteen or nineteen, not that much younger than Bruce, but he was startlingly efficient as he bandaged Bruce up. A second pouch on the bandoliers produced a pill that he passed to Bruce.
"It's caffeine," the young man said. "Plus some herbal supplements that encourage alertness and combat shock. Take it."
"Why should I trust you?" Bruce asked even though he thought that he already did trust the younger man.
"I can't tell you," the young man replied. His wry smile was visible under the beaked cowl. "But you are being followed. I can throw them off but only for a short time. You have to get away on your own. This is as much as I can do."
When he stood, it was like watching a tiger stalking its prey or an eagle swooping into attack. He moved as though he'd trained his entire life to fight and kill. The shouts of his pursuers were coming closer, but the young man looked perfectly calm, perfectly at the ready. Bruce swallowed the pill dry, struggling to his feet. The young man caught his elbow and supported Bruce when he swayed.
"Run," the young man said. "And remember, you must be the night. Fade into the shadows. Strike with fear as well as with fists."
"I don't… understand," Bruce admitted. He hesitated despite the voices coming closer by the moment.
"You will," the young man murmured. "Now go!"
Bruce turned and ran. He would have to find out who the young man was so that he could say thank you and possibly request training from him. Whoever he was, he looked to be exactly what Bruce wanted to be eventually.
"I keep finding you after you've been shot."
Bruce jerked, staring at the young man who had just appeared beside him. There was a distinct possibility that he'd teleported because Bruce knew that he hadn't passed out. The young man sighed and pulled out some bandages, pressing them to Bruce's side.
"You're a Meta," Bruce growled.
His Batman suit definitely needed to be enhanced with armor. Up close and in better light, Bruce could see that his young visitor's suit was very well armored. The gunshot he'd taken wasn't serious but it was incredibly painful. He winced as the young man bandaged his wound, wrapping it right around Bruce's suit. He pulled a second roll of something dark, wrapping that overtop the white bandage. Its dark color disguised the bandage quite well.
"No, I'm not," he replied. He smiled at the questioning look on Bruce's face. "It's a special polymerized bandage, coated to resist water and dark to blend in with a uniform."
"Who are you?" Bruce asked, much more curiously this time than last. "I couldn't find any records of you anywhere."
"I'd be surprised if you had," the young man replied.
He looked so amused by the thought that Bruce glowered at him. That just made him laugh as he helped Bruce up and then half carried him back to the Batmobile. To Bruce's surprise and horror he knew exactly how to open it. Bruce grabbed his cape, refusing to let him go when he had so many unanswered questions.
"I need to know who you are," Bruce growled at him.
"Call me… Red," the young man said. He sighed and gently, so gently tugged his cape out of Bruce's fingers. "You really will understand in time. I promise. I do have to go."
Red looked so reluctant to do it that Bruce frowned. Something more was going on. He didn't know yet what it was but there was something much larger going on with Red's rescues of Bruce. The sad smile on Red's lips faded into a tired sigh as he stepped back two paces and then raised one hand in a goodbye wave. Before Bruce could raise his hand or say anything, Red disappeared in a little blip of light that was barely brighter than a firefly's flash.
"Hmm, and he says he's not a Meta," Bruce murmured.
This time he definitely was going to track down who Red was. Between the name and the symbol on his bandoliers it shouldn't be too difficult.
"Master Bruce, I highly recommend returning to bed," Alfred said in the about to pull 'I looked out for you when you were but a child' tone of voice.
"It's just a cold, Alfred," Bruce grumbled. "I'll be fine. I need to work on that antidote."
He wheezed as he settled into the chair by the monitors, entirely too exhausted by the trip from his bedroom down to the Cave. It wasn't just a cold. He was quite certain of that. There was a very high likelihood that he'd been hit by the poison that Ivy had cooked up against those arboretum workers. They were in the hospital with the best treatment that the doctors could provide but all of them were on ventilators. A dozen men and women would die if he didn't succeed in isolating an antidote.
When Bruce pulled up the camera feeds on the arboretum workers one of them was receiving CPR. Alfred sighed and rested his hand on Bruce's shoulder.
"I shall bring you some chicken soup shortly, Master Bruce," Alfred said so gently that Bruce didn't dare meet his eyes. The worry would be too much to bear when he felt this horrible. "Do not exert yourself while I am gone."
"I won't, Alfred," Bruce promised. "I have to do this. I have to."
"Understood," Alfred said. "I shall be right back."
He disappeared back up the stairs to the Manor so silently that he might as well have been a ghost. Bruce focused on the computer, trying to puzzle out the poison Ivy had created so that he could create something to help save the men's lives. As well as his own. Bruce's eyes blurred, crossed, and teared as he fought against coughing until he passed out. His fingers trembled on the keys. Every time he fought off a coughing fit, it felt like the weight on his chest increased by twenty pounds.
'I'm not going to make it in time,' Bruce thought as a possible solution came up on the computer screen. He tried to read it but he couldn't focus his eyes.
"Here," Red said as he wrapped something around Bruce's face. "That's the cure. You'll be fine."
He pressed a button on the little canister attached to the plastic face mask over Bruce's mouth and nose. Cold gas filled the mask and then filled Bruce's lungs. It burned for a moment and then his lungs abruptly felt better. Bruce groaned, collapsing back against his chair. Red typed something into the computer. By the time Bruce managed to get his eyes to focus there was an email with the formula for the cure he'd just created being sent to Commissioner Gordon and the hospital.
"You… figured it out," Bruce panted.
"No, you did," Red said. "I just sent it off. Breathe deeply, Bruce. You'll be off the streets for a couple of days but after that you'll be fine."
"Every time… you come… I'm dying," Bruce observed between deep breaths of the gas. Every breath made him feel better.
"You should work on that," Red commented with enough pain that Bruce frowned at him as he turned away to leave.
He reached out with weak, shaking fingers to capture Red's wrist. Red stopped, turning back to look at Bruce. The cowl hid so much, just as Bruce's cowl would have hid his expression if only he had it on. But there was only the little breathing mask and the cool gas filling Bruce's lungs. After a moment Red sighed and leaned down to press a gentle kiss against Bruce's sweaty forehead. His fingers slipped away from Red's wrist, prompting Red to smile.
"The more you sleep, the quicker you'll heal," Red promised. "Do work on the near death incidents. It'll be the death of you someday and I won't always be there to save you."
Bruce laughed weakly and nodded. Behind Red there was a gasp. When Bruce looked Alfred was staring at Bruce and Red with the fiercest expression he'd ever seen on the older man's face. Red nodded respectfully to Alfred, walking towards the exit to the Cave.
"He'll need to sleep a lot for the next couple of days but he'll survive," Red said to Alfred. "Make sure he gets lots of fluids. Beef broth would be good too."
"I… see," Alfred said. "Thank you for your assistance."
"You're welcome, Alfred," Red said just as he disappeared in another firefly flash of light.
"Robin!" Bruce bellowed as he tried to battle his way across the intersection to where Dick had collapsed under Clayface's assault.
He wasn't going to get there in time. He wasn't. There were too many thugs between him and Dick, between Batman and Robin. It had been such a stupid idea to allow Dick to come out patrolling with him. He wasn't ready yet.
Suddenly Red was there, standing over Robin's fallen form with his staff in his hands. He threw something at Clayface that exploded into sticky goo that expanded into foam that encased Clayface entirely. As Clayface screamed and then was swallowed, Red scooped Dick up, firing his grapple to carry Dick up to one of the other rooftops. Bruce sighed with relief, focusing on taking care of as many of the thugs as he could.
Red swung back down, battling his way to Bruce's side. He was just as fast and vicious as he'd appeared that first encounter before Bruce took up the cowl. Every move was elegant perfection. Every strike was brutally efficient. Where Bruce preferred to knock his opponents out, Red seemed to favor crippling them temporarily. Bruce quickly lost track of the number of broken knees and hands. In less than a minute they had the intersection cleared of combatants.
"Better than last time," Red panted, a wicked grin on his lips. "You're learning. It's quite fascinating to watch."
"You can always help more directly," Bruce offered. "You… would be a valuable addition to the team."
That made Red smile so wryly that Bruce suspected that he was fighting off laughter. "I'll keep that in mind."
"What happened?" Dick said from the rooftop.
He stared down into the intersection at Bruce and Red, eyes like saucers they were so wide. Dick rubbed his head and gingerly stood up before swinging his way down to stand by Bruce's side. Red smiled at him though the smile looked a little panicked, as if he wasn't sure what to make of Dick in his bright Robin uniform with its scaly green panties and pixie boots. Honestly, Bruce still wasn't sure what to make of it. Perhaps he'd be able to talk Dick into a more appropriate uniform soon.
"I have to go," Red said. He looked at Dick, smile less forced this time. "Make sure to take care of him and watch his back."
"You bet I will!" Dick said. "Who are you?"
"It doesn't matter who I am. Just watch out for yourself," Red chuckled. He nodded and then vanished in his customary tiny flash of light.
"Whoa," Dick breathed. "That was so cool!"
Six more encounters, every time when Bruce or Dick or Jason was at risk of losing their life. Bruce cataloged each encounter. He realized very quickly that while the episodes were spaced months to years apart for him, were one long continuous stream for Red. The only things that linked the experiences as far as Bruce could detect were life-threatening risks for Bruce or Robin.
Dick always found Red to be awe inspiring and incredible. When Jason first encountered Red, he responded with suspicion. That didn't stop Jason for being grateful for the last few bandages in Red's bandoliers when he needed them. Nor did it stop Bruce from worrying that Red was going to overextend himself and get killed if he kept appearing.
Accordingly, Bruce worked harder on making sure that he didn't get into any life-threatening situations. It was hard with Gotham being the sort of city it was. Still, Bruce was determined not to risk his friend's life unnecessarily.
None of that mattered on a League mission to another world wracked with war. Bruce fought alongside Diana and Clark, all of them injured and backed against a cliff. Clark had been hit with a beam weapon that had lowered his invulnerability. At the same time Diana had taken a nasty blow that left her with a concussion and a temper that made him worried for the survival of the planet.
"The others should come soon," Diana panted.
"Not soon enough," Clark panted. "I can still hear everything. They're not close enough. They're not going to make it in time."
"Be ready," Bruce growled.
He was down to his last few Batarangs. Bruce pulled them out, preparing for the rush that they could all see coming. As their enemies charged Bruce saw a small flash of light to his right. Red appeared, flinging several flash grenades into the middle of the mob of attackers. It startled Clark but Diana took advantage of the surprise perfectly, hefting a bolder and flinging it at their enemies.
She took out the right side of the charge. Clark quickly copied suit, taking out the left side. Red ran over and stood at Bruce's side.
"How did you get here?" Bruce snapped.
"You needed me," Red replied.
There wasn't any time for more conversation. The remnants of the charge enveloped them. Bruce's focus narrowed to attack and defense. Red was at his back the entire time, as solid as Bruce though he was shorter and more slender. His vicious strikes were very effective against their enemies. Bruce didn't hold back as much as he normally would. There would be no trials for these warriors. It was live or die. Still, Bruce didn't kill those attacking him. He wouldn't, any more than Clark would. They were down to the last handful when Bruce heard Red gasp.
"Red!" Bruce shouted.
He knew that gasp; the pained sound came with metal sliding deep into your flesh. Bruce had made that sound so many times but he had never heard Red make it. In the two seconds that it took to take out the last three warriors and whirl, Red had collapsed to his knees. One hand was clamped around a sword thrust into his stomach. Diana took down the last warrior as Bruce pulled out his bandages and wrapped them around Red's stomach.
Red's cowl had been cut and torn in the battle, revealing a beautiful young man's face. He looked startlingly like Timothy Drake, the newest Robin that Bruce had begun to train, though he was years older. Red winced at the surprise on Bruce's face, turning his face away so that Bruce couldn't see his face properly. Bruce nodded thoughtfully and set to work. Tim barely winced as Bruce eased the sword out. He did wince as Bruce quickly bandaged the wound. Clark stood in the background, watching over them and scanning the battlefield for any signs of their enemies waking up. Once the wound was properly bandaged and the bandage had been covered with film from Bruce's belt, Tim sighed.
"How much longer?" Bruce asked him.
"I don't know," Tim replied with a wry smile that looked pained. "Not much longer, I think. I can't be in the same place as myself."
Bruce nodded thoughtfully, stepping away from Tim. He waved Diana to back off, not acknowledging her disapproving frown. Tim managed to pull himself to his feet but it was obviously almost as much as he could do. When Bruce offered Tim his last bandage Tim smiled and took it.
"Be careful," Tim said.
"You too," Bruce replied. "That's a nasty wound."
Tim didn't have the time to reply before he was swept away. Bruce made a private vow to be sure that he wouldn't be in danger of dying anytime before Tim turned eighteen. Maybe nineteen. It was hard to tell how old he was at his point in the time stream.
"Who was that?" Diana asked.
"An ally," Bruce said. "The best ally I have. He just can't help for long."
Clark and Diana looked at him with confusion on their faces. He was spared from having to answer their questions by the rest of the League finally arriving. Bruce dealt with them, worrying about Tim in the back of his mind. When he got home he had to push Tim harder. He needed to be much better than he was right now. Maybe some special training would help Tim become what he needed to be.
There weren't any more encounters after that. Bruce watched and waited, worrying about Tim and hoping against hope that he would manage to get back to his proper time before the bleeding got too bad. It was hard to remember that for Tim the jumps were continuous. They felt so widely separated to Bruce.
Adding to the strangeness was that Bruce had Tim by his side, but it was the younger Tim, the boy who looked up to Bruce as a father. Bruce wasn't sure when his feelings towards Red had shifted from admiration and worry into something much deeper but at some point over their fragmented relationship he'd come to care for Red. Tim. Every time he looked at Tim he saw that same person, or more accurately the seeds of the person that had rescued him so many times. Bruce didn't feel that he could say anything to Tim about it. He locked the Red file down after he caught Tim systematically reading through all the files, working through them alphabetically.
"Bruce?" Tim asked hesitantly.
"There's a file I can't access," Tim said.
"I know," Bruce said, looking away from his work on the Batmobile to meet Tim's eyes. "I locked it. I'd appreciate it if you didn't try and hack into it. I will want you to read it eventually but not yet. It's… time sensitive."
Tim blinked at Bruce, surprise on his young features. After a moment he nodded that he would leave it alone. To Bruce's relief Tim did leave that one file alone. Whenever Bruce reviewed what Tim had worked with on the computer he found that file untouched. Bruce added to it on a regular basis, recording every detail that he could remember of Red, Tim.
He was eighteen or nineteen years old. Tim wouldn't grow much more than he already had. Bruce used that knowledge to tailor Tim's training so that he would have as much power and reach as possible given his grown physiognomy. The difference in training style made Tim twitchy at times. Every so often Bruce caught Tim measuring himself to see if he'd grown any taller. To his amusement, Tim always asked Alfred to do the measuring even though Alfred's eyes twinkled with laughter as he solemnly marked Tim's height against the wall in the Cave.
"I'm off to the Titans," Tim announced half an hour later.
"Be careful," Bruce warned Tim.
"I will be," Tim promised. "You too. Call if you need help."
Bruce smiled and nodded, seeing the man that would soon exist in Tim's fifteen year old frame. After Tim left, Bruce worked on his case files, gearing up for another night's patrol. He automatically loaded up on bandages and stimulants, power bars and Batarangs. Red's empty bandoliers always hung in Bruce's mind.
Once he was out in Gotham's dark streets, Bruce had little time to think about anything other than staying alive and doing his job. It was a bad night, one full of rapes and murders. None of the Arkham residents escaped. That made little difference to the chaos Bruce had to deal with. The criminals he faced appeared to be auditioning for a place in Arkham if their destructive behavior was anything to judge by.
Red's voice rang out. Bruce dove for the ground immediately, dodging a spray of machine gun fire that would have cut him in half despite his armor. It took a moment to locate the gunman but once Bruce did he took the man down with a well-placed batarang. Unfortunately for Red, for Tim, Bruce was a hair too late. Tim gasped and fell, a bullet buried in his thigh.
"How bad is it?" Bruce asked as he ran over, bandages already out of his pouch so that he could take care of Tim.
"Not good," Tim said through clenched teeth.
His hands were clamped over the bullet wound but blood still seeped under his fingers. Bruce cursed as he applied the bandage and then shoved several more into Tim's hands. His side was bleeding too, the blood on his uniform as bright and fresh as the blood on his leg. That confirmed that the encounters happened one after another for Tim with no time for him to relax or recuperate.
"How long do you have?" Bruce asked.
"No more than another minute and a half," Tim replied. He sounded and looked exhausted.
"Power bar, eat," Bruce said, pressing it into Tim's hand. "Quickly. I have more supplies for your bandoliers. They should fit. The pouches appear to be approximately the same size."
"I designed them that way," Tim said around a bite of the power bar.
He ate as Bruce filled Tim's pouches with all the supplies he could provide. A small capsule of water washed down the last bite of the snack as well as one of Bruce's stimulant pills. As their seconds together ticked away Bruce put his hand on Tim's shoulder. There was so much that he wanted to say but no time to say it.
"Why?" Bruce asked.
Tim smiled a bitter-sweet smile that made him look easily as old as Bruce. "Because you needed me. Because I need you. Because you helped me. Because this is always how it happened. Because."
"Don't charge in next time," Bruce pleaded and didn't feel in the least bit ashamed of showing so much emotion while in the cowl. "Please."
"Do my best," Tim said.
He disappeared out from under Bruce's hand, leaving nothing behind but traces of his blood on the sidewalk. Bruce sighed and stood. He had a riot to deal with. Hopefully there wouldn't be any more close calls tonight.
Traveling through time was a great deal more disorienting than Bruce had expected from his interactions with Red. Of course, now he understood a great deal more about why Tim had done what he had during their past encounters. Once he was back to his own time it was hard to deal with reality. Bruce would have liked to use that sense of temporal disphoria to explain why he didn't come straight back to Gotham but the real reason was that he was afraid to face Tim again.
Any time now Tim would return to the present. He was eighteen. He was Red Robin. The uniform was the same, the age identical and Bruce knew that soon he would risk losing Tim yet again. Tim's wounds were too severe. He wouldn't survive another encounter. Bruce was certain of it.
Once Bruce did finally return to Gotham, nothing seemed to change. Tim had moved out of the Manor and Bruce now had to deal with Damian by his side as Robin rather than Tim. It rankled. Bruce had promised the role to Tim. He'd said that it would never be taken away but as soon as Bruce was gone yet another thing had been taken from the young man that Bruce saw simultaneously as his son and as his partner in virtually every way. It was easier to let Dick keep the cowl and Damian as his sidekick. Both Dick and Damian seemed happy with that arrangement.
"Will you be going out to dinner tonight, Master Bruce?" Alfred asked, startling Bruce out of his darkening thoughts. His eyes took in the business suit that Bruce was still wearing, asking without words if Bruce intended to suit up tonight.
"I intend to, Alfred," Bruce said with a wry smile that probably was entirely too grim. "Brucie has some calls to make. Dick will have to handle the streets tonight."
"Very good, sir," Alfred said.
Alfred turned to go upstairs. There was a firefly flash near the place that the Batmobile was normally parked. Bruce gasped as he bolted to his feet and ran over. Tim wobbled and then slowly collapsed towards the floor, bleeding and battered in his torn uniform. He let out a little whine as Bruce caught him and carefully eased him to the floor.
"Is it over?" Bruce asked, heart pounding because there was too much blood seeping through the bandages.
"I… think so," Tim said, staring at Bruce. "You were… going out… dinner?"
"Yes," Bruce said, sagging a little in relief. "To the benefit at the art museum."
"Done," Tim sighed. "Finally done."
"I have the stretcher, Master Bruce," Alfred said. "If you will be so kind as to lift Master Timothy onto it we can stabilize his condition."
Tim whimpered when Bruce lifted him and carried him to the stretcher. It took an hour to deal with all of Tim's injuries. Only once Alfred pronounced Tim to be stable did Bruce relax. As Tim started to fall asleep with the aid of the painkillers dripping into his veins along with the blood transfusion, Bruce went through the pouches on Tim's bandolier. In the very bottom of one pouch he found a tiny device that was obviously alien manufacture.
"That's how," Tim whispered.
"This?" Bruce asked.
"Yes," Tim said. "You gave it to me. Told me that there was something very important that I had to do. My most important mission."
"I gave it to you?" Bruce repeated in astonishment.
Tim's nod was a tiny thing that barely moved his head. He licked his lips, obviously trying hard to focus on Bruce. "You… visited me. Saved my life. So many times. So many times. I never, never would have survived. Not without you. Different suit but… I think it was today. Today. It all happened today."
He laughed, barely holding onto his awareness. Bruce gently brushed a hair off Tim's forehead. There had to be a mistake. Tim had started it all, not Bruce. But if this was time travel then perhaps it didn't matter who had started it or how. All that mattered was ensuring that his Tim survived in the past as well as in the present.
"How?" Bruce asked, gently patting Tim's cheek. "How did I save you Tim? What were you in danger of dying from?"
"Hunger," Tim whispered. "Loneliness. Abandonment. Fear. Worthlessness. Saved me. You. Saved me."
Tim dropped into drugged slumber. Bruce sighed and stood once he made sure that Tim was going to be okay one more time. His suit was covered in Tim's blood so Bruce went upstairs, stopping in the kitchen where Alfred was making soup for Tim. Bruce nodded thoughtfully.
"Alfred, can you make me three or four sandwiches?" Bruce asked. The little time travel device felt as though it weighed a thousand pounds in his hand.
"Do you have a preference on what sort of sandwiches, Master Bruce?" Alfred asked so calmly that Bruce smiled at him. Someday he would find something that startled Alfred but tonight was obviously not that time.
"Tim's favorites," Bruce said.
Alfred nodded as he pulled bread and sandwich supplies from the refrigerator. By the time Bruce had changed into a clean suit, Alfred had four sandwiches wrapped in plastic for him. Bruce tucked them into his pockets where they would be safe. A quick run down to the Cave allowed Bruce to determine exactly where Tim was at that moment. He copied the Red file over to a zip drive, tucking that into his shirt pocket. Bandages, just to be safe, plus a few small tools that might be helpful for taking care of Tim were added to his pockets as well.
"Baxter and Vine," Bruce murmured, fixing Tim's location in his mind. "He's at Baxter and Vine."
"Master Bruce?" Alfred asked.
He eyed the little alien device in Bruce's hand. Bruce smiled at Alfred while running his finger over the button on the device's face. No matter what this took out of him, Bruce had to do it. He couldn't risk losing Tim before they met. His intentions appeared to show on his face because Alfred sighed and shook his head at Bruce.
"Do be careful, Master Bruce," Alfred said. "Remember that Master Timothy was a very shy young man before he met you."
"I'll remember, Alfred," Bruce promised. "Wish me luck."
"Good luck, Master Bruce, and God speed," Alfred said.
Bruce pushed the button and the now disappeared in a tiny flash of light.
Tim carefully pulled the bowl of soup that Mrs. Mac had prepared for him out of the fridge. It was as big as Tim's whole chest but she had been certain that he'd be able to handle it. All he had to do was get it out of the fridge and up onto the counter. Then he could take some of it from the bowl and use the microwave to heat it up. That would be dinner.
Well, it had been yesterday's lunch and dinner. It would be today's lunch and dinner too. If he was careful and didn't eat too much of it, it might last until tomorrow. Mrs. Mac hadn't been sure when she'd be able to get back to the house. Her daughter was so sick, in the hospital with pneumonia, so Tim had said that he'd be fine. The fact that he didn't really like vegetable beef soup didn't matter. It was food and Tim wasn't allowed to use the stove to make things yet. Mrs. Mac said that a five year old was too young for that.
Mother and Father both had said that Tim was mature enough to take care of himself now. That's why Nanny Julie was gone. The house seemed so quiet without her there. There were servants and guards but the servants who cleaned only worked during the day and the guard only patrolled the grounds during the night. He wasn't allowed in the house or Tim would have asked him to get the soup out for him. Tim shivered at how quiet the house was around him and then gasped as the bowl of soup wobbled in his hands as he pushed it up towards the countertop. It tipped dramatically before slopping over the side.
"Oh no!" Tim gulped.
He tried to correct but the spilled soup made the bowl slippery. It slid out of his hands, crashing to the floor. The bowl bounced once and then shattered into shards that skittered all over the kitchen along with the spreading puddle of soup. Tim wailed, collapsing to his knees.
"I dropped it…" Tim whimpered.
The soup smelled good. He was hungry, hungry enough that the vegetable beef soup seemed like a good idea. Tim sniffled against the tears welling up in his eyes. There wasn't anything else in the house that he could eat. Certainly, there was food but it was in cans or needed to be cooked on the stove. Even the jug of milk in the fridge was too big for Tim to lift. He tried but he couldn't get it out of the slot on the door of the fridge.
"I, I can go to the, the store up the street," Tim said around his tears and gasping sobs. "They, they might let me buy something. I have some pocket cash. It, it will be okay."
He started picking up the broken bits of bowl. No matter how hungry he was, the soup had to be cleaned up. Tim sniffled as he carefully gathered the sharp shards of pottery. A couple of them cut his fingers but Tim didn't care. There was a mess to clean up. It didn't matter if Tim got hurt doing it. After all, it was his fault anyway.
"Here," a man said. "Let me do that."
Tim gasped and whirled to stare up at the tall man with black hair and bright blue eyes. He was in a suit like the ones Father wore to parties but instead of looking at Tim as though he was an annoying child who was nothing but trouble, he looked at Tim with sorrow and so much love in his eyes. As he bent down and took the bits of broken bowl away from Tim, Tim skittered backwards, away from the strange man.
The strange man quickly cleaned up the spilled soup and took out the trash so that the garbage wouldn't smell before Mrs. Mac came back. Then he came and wrapped bandages around the cuts on Tim's fingers. His hands were covered with calluses but he was very gentle as he took care of Tim. Once he was done, Tim's stomach rumbled.
"I thought you might be hungry," the man said so gently that tears started creeping out Tim's eyes again. "Here."
He put three sandwiches on the table next to Tim before giving him one to eat right then. Tim stared at him, unable to stop the tears creeping down his cheeks. The man gently wiped the tears away before going to the fridge and pulling out the milk. Tears blurred Tim's vision as the man poured him a glass of milk before finding Father's abandoned runner's water bottles in the cabinet that was too high for Tim to reach even with the little footstool Mrs. Mac had gotten him. Three of them were filled with milk. The other four were filled with the orange juice that Tim hadn't been able to open because his hands were too weak to get the cap open.
"I can't cook," the man said. "Can you use the microwave, Tim?"
"Yes sir," Tim squeaked, jumping a little that the man knew his name. "Mrs. Mac taught me how. I, I'm not allowed to use the stove though. She says I'm too little. Her daughter has p-neumonia. She's in the hospital. Mrs. Mac taught me how to use the microwave so that she could spend more time with her daughter but she says I'm much too small to use the stove alone."
"You are," the man agreed. "Let's see what's in the cabinets."
He found two cans of fruit cocktail that he put into little Tupperware dishes for Tim. He also found the cans of beans that Mrs. Mac had gotten for making chili. Those went into some more Tupperware dishes. Pretty soon the fridge was full of little containers of food that were just the right size for Tim to eat. The whole time Tim sat with the sandwich in his hands, unable to eat it because of the hiccupping sobs he couldn't quite stop.
"I need you to promise me something," the man said. He came over and knelt in front of Tim. "Can you do that?"
"Yes?" Tim said but it came out more as a question than a statement.
"Call Mrs. Mac before you run out of food, Tim," the man said. He brushed the tears off Tim's cheeks again, one large hand cupping Tim's face like a hug without being one. "Promise me? I can't stay for long. I only have a few minutes and they're almost up. Promise me you'll call her so that you don't starve."
"Her daughter…" Tim whispered as guilt welled up inside of him.
"She cares about you too, Tim," the man said so gently that the tears started creeping down Tim's cheeks again. "Promise? Please?"
"I promise," Tim whispered. "I'll call."
"Thank you," the man said with so much gratitude that Tim had to smile at him.
He stood and opened his mouth to say something. Tim never heard what he wanted to say because there was a tiny flash of light. The man disappeared, leaving Tim with four sandwiches and enough food that Tim should be okay for days. After a moment of staring at the place where the man had been, Tim looks down at the sandwich in his hands.
It was roast beef with mustard on a heavy dark bread that had had the crusts cut off. Tim blinked. He'd never had a roast beef sandwich like that before. After taking a bite Tim decided that it was his favorite sort of sandwich ever. Once he was done eating he decided that he would have to put the other sandwiches into the fridge so that they wouldn't go bad. He wouldn't want the magic man's gift to go to waste.
"Thank you," Tim whispered to the place where the man had disappeared.
"I'm off, Timmy," Mrs. Mac said from the back door. "Will you be all right tonight?"
"Yes, ma'am," Tim said, smiling for her because otherwise she would worry. "I have homework to do."
"All right then, dear," Mrs. Mack said.
Her expression was still unhappy but it wasn't the unhappy that meant that she'd call three or four times over the night. It was the 'no seven year old boy should be so alone' frown. Rather than let her leave with that sort of feeling, Tim gave her the hopeful look that made her laugh.
"Can I make a grilled cheese sandwich tonight?" Tim asked.
She laughed abruptly, the worried look disappearing into her fondly scolding look. "Now, you know you're not big enough to wrestle the frying pan, Timmy. You be good and eat the sandwich and soup I made you."
"Yes ma'am," Tim said brightly with a little almost-giggle-sigh that sent Mrs. Mac out the door with laughter instead of worry.
Tim made a point to stand by the back window and wave as Mrs. Mac drove away. She waved back. Once her car was out of sight Tim sighed. The house was so quiet once she went home. Over the last two years his parents had been home six times. Every time they'd fired one of the servants without replacing them. When he was six there had been six servants, not including Mrs. Mac. Now there was a cleaning service that came in once a week while Tim was at school and an alarm system that had taken the place of the guard who used to wander around the grounds after dark.
It was so quiet with everyone gone.
Sometimes he pretended that he was a ghost haunting an abandoned mansion instead of a real boy who was left alone all the time. At least he did have school work now; before he'd just been left alone to entertain himself. The lessons were too easy but it was something to spend his time on. Tim went upstairs to the attic, poking around among the boxes of things his parents had acquired and then gotten tired of. There were lots of interesting things, statues and blankets and rugs made of many bright colors. He picked one rug that was a little longer than he was tall and carried it down to his room. It was red and blue and green and gold, woven in diamonds and stripes with colorful bars across it.
Tim nodded once it was settled on the floor in front of his bed. The big blue pillow with Japanese sashiko embroidery his mother had bought and then decided didn't match the other cusions made a great backrest when he sat on the floor with his homework. A quilt that his mother had brought back and displayed on the wall for several months got wrapped around his knees so that he wouldn't get cold. It almost felt like they had been gifts purchased just for Tim instead of things cast off and forgotten by his parents. Just like him. Before his parents came back he would have to put everything he'd stolen back where it belonged. Mother and Father would be upset if they knew that Tim had taken them.
"Homework," Tim whispered as his throat tried to seal up from a wave of pure loneliness. "I need to do my homework."
Tears welled up but Tim blinked them away. The last time he'd cried on his homework Mrs. Mac had gotten a call from the teacher that had made her worry about Tim twice as much as normal. Dick wouldn't cry because he was lonely so Tim wouldn't either. Even if he wanted to. Mother and Father wouldn't be home for another two months. He had plenty of time to enjoy the things that they'd left behind. There was school and Mrs. Mac so he'd be fine.
He wouldn't think about the knives that Father had brought home, the ones that were so sharp that they cut through Tim's finger without pain. He wouldn't think about the fact that the cleaners had been in yesterday and thus wouldn't be back for another six days. Mrs. Mac never expected to see him in the morning. She wouldn't look for him until he didn't show up after school for his apple snack. No one from school would care if he didn't show up. Jenny hadn't come to school for three days and no one said a word until Tim asked why she wasn't there. No one would even notice that he was gone.
"Oh," the man from when Tim spilled the soup two years ago said. "That was… your room is much brighter than I expected."
He stared at Tim's stolen blanket and pillow and rug with a surprised expression for a moment. Tim stared back at him, aware that his mouth had dropped open and that his eyes were as wide as saucers. The man chuckled and came over to sit on Tim's stolen rug, wrapping the blanket more firmly around Tim.
"Homework?" he asked.
"I… just finished," Tim whispered. "They're, um, not mine. I stole them. Mother and Father packed them away but I pulled them out. They're… they're pretty."
"They are pretty," the man said, wrapping one arm around Tim. He was warm and strong and the hug felt so good that Tim whimpered a little. It had been so long since anyone had hugged Tim. "You have good taste. The blues all go together wonderfully."
Tim blinked away his tears to look at the things he'd chosen. Despite all the other colors in the items he'd chosen, all of them had blues that went together perfectly. It made Tim blush because he hadn't done it on purpose. It was an accident instead of something he'd done with forethought. The man chuckled and scooped Tim up into his lap, blanket and all.
He smelled like musky aftershave and cedar hangers with something coppery that Tim didn't recognize underlying it. When he rubbed his chin over the top of Tim's head Tim could feel the faintest hints of stubble catching in his hair. Tim cuddled closer, daring to wrap his arms around the man's neck. The hug he got in return made Tim cry for real.
"I'm so lonely," Tim sobbed. "They don't care. They just leave me here and there's no one to play with, no one to talk to. There's only Mrs. Mac. I don't know anyone at school and they all look at me weird if I say anything about home."
"I'm sorry," the man said. "I'm so sorry. It will get better, Tim. It truly will. You'll have friends, the best friends a person could ever ask for. I can't say that your parents will ever love you the way you deserve but it does get better."
"When?" Tim demanded because he wanted, needed, to know. "When?"
"When you're nine you're going to figure out something incredible," the man said with such a wry look that Tim frowned. "I can't tell you what it is but it will make you feel better about this. When you're thirteen, you'll meet Dick Grayson again. He'll become a friend and a brother to you. By the time you're fifteen you'll have a lot of incredible friends, all of whom look up to you as a leader. And when you're eighteen we'll be able to spend time with each other every day."
Tim stared, just stared at the man. Before he'd been so dazed by the sheer fact that there was someone there when there hadn't been a moment earlier but now he really looked at the man's face. Once he did, his identity clicked in Tim's mind. He'd seen the man before, at a party that his parents had dragged him to once while they were in town.
"You're Bruce Wayne," Tim whispered.
"I am," Bruce said, nodding confirmation while smiling approvingly that Tim had figured it out.
"Why… not just be here all the time?" Tim asked. "Am I actually your son or something?"
"No, you're not mine," Bruce said so sadly that Tim had to hug him again. It made Bruce chuckle and pat his back. "I wish you were. I'd take you away from them but that's not what happens, Tim. Will happen. Did happen. It's confusing but that doesn't really matter. All that matters is that you know that things will get better. You're strong, Tim. So very strong. Do what you have to to survive, even if it is borrowing things your parents don't care about anymore."
He leaned into the hug for a long while, enjoying the feeling of being held and wanted. Tim couldn't remember ever feeling wanted before. Eventually he pulled back so that he could stare at Bruce's face. When Tim raised on hand to run his fingers over the faint hints of stubble on Bruce's chin, Bruce turned his head to press a little kiss on Tim's palm. Bruce chuckled when Tim gasped and pulled his hand back, clenching it into a fist on his chest.
"I don't understand," Tim admitted.
"You don't need to," Bruce said. He gently put Tim back on his stolen rug. "In time it will all make sense, I promise."
"Will, will you stay?" Tim begged as he caught Bruce's sleeve in his hands.
"I can't," Bruce said so sadly that Tim felt tears well up again though he tried to blink them away. "You'll need me in the future and if I stay here then I can't be there for you then."
"Can I, can I… watch you? I mean, in the papers and things," Tim asked.
He was already doing that. It was what he usually did every night after his homework was done along with sliding down the hallway on the third floor on one of the stolen carpets. He had to be careful not to run into the walls and knock paintings off but other than that it was a lot of fun after he read through the newspapers.
"Yes," Bruce said, smiling so brightly that Tim felt better about his collection of articles. "You can. The next time I visit I'll look at them if you want."
Tim nodded. He let go of Bruce's sleeve. A moment later Bruce disappeared in a tiny flash of light. When Tim rubbed the spot where Bruce had been sitting, the carpet was warm. He really had been there, talking to Tim and hugging him. This wasn't what his life would always be. In the future he wouldn't be alone. He would have friends. He would have family. Tim would have a real family instead of parents who pretended that they'd never had a son.
When Tim turned back to his completed homework he felt better. Maybe he was lonely right now but at least it wasn't going to be this way forever. There was hope.
Tim panted as he carefully eased himself out onto the roof far enough that he could watch Batman and Robin battling against Two Face. His camera had a new lens that should let him get some good shots despite the darkness. The vantage spot he'd chosen tonight wasn't as good as he preferred. Street lights that illuminated the street below were entirely too close, making his shadows too small for him to move around much. Not that he really wanted to move around too much. The old Victorian was full of dry rot, condemned as unsafe for human habitation years ago. Worse still, the slanted rooftop's shingles were covered and moss that made them desperately slippery, which made it hard for him to stay hidden in his shadows.
Still, Tim got a full roll of film of the fight. Hopefully a few of those shots would turn out well. Once Two Face had been arrested and taken away by the police and Batman and Robin had driven away together to fight other crimes elsewhere, Tim eased carefully out of his hiding spot. During the wait for everyone else to leave, rain had started to fall making the roof even more slippery than it had been before.
"Careful," Tim whispered as he eased across the roof towards the dormer window that he'd crawled through to get out here earlier. "No more slanted roofs. Only flat ones. Just a little further. Come on. You can do this. Just go slowly."
He caught the window frame in one hand, biting his lip as the wind and rain picked up. Tim felt his feet begin slide out from under him as he tried to push the window up enough to slip inside. There was one endless moment of absolute terror where he knew that he was going to slide right off the roof. The fall from the edge of the roof to the sidewalk below was three stories. Tim's heart lurched as his toes finally gave way and slipped out from under him, taking the rest of his body with them.
"Tim!" Bruce gasped.
His flash of light made Tim jerk and lose his grip on the windowsill. Bruce's arms darted out to grab Tim's wrists. He quickly pulled Tim into the old house, clutching Tim to his chest. It took Tim a few moments to realize that Bruce was whispering things under his breath, things like 'too close', 'almost lost you', and 'thank God, thank God'.
"I'm okay," Tim said into Bruce's shoulder.
"Be more careful, Tim," Bruce complained against Tim's wet hair. "A picture isn't worth losing your life over. You have people who will need you soon. You can't take risks like this."
He shook Tim's shoulders gently, staring into Tim's eyes with such earnestness that Tim blushed and dropped his gaze to the camera hanging around his neck. After a moment, Tim raised his eyes to meet Bruce's worried gaze again. Bruce was right. This had been stupidly dangerous. Tim had to do better.
"What should I do?" Tim asked even though he really didn't want to ask the question. "I mean, should I stop taking pictures?"
"Would you?" Bruce asked, clearly amused despite his worry. "I wouldn't expect you to anymore than I would ever stop what I do."
"No, I wouldn't stop. Not really," Tim admitted with a shy smile. "So… what should I do to be safer while I do it?"
"You need to be able to defend yourself, Tim," Bruce said, very serious again. "Take self defense lessons. Learn as much as you can about computers and security systems. There are much safer places to take your pictures if you can get past the security. Honestly, most of the security systems in the poor neighborhoods of Gotham where Batman patrols are bad enough that you shouldn't have many problems with them. It will be a very useful skill for you later in life, as well. Also, when it's pouring?"
"Don't go on slanted roofs?" Tim asked with a little giggle because Bruce was smiling at him encouragingly.
"Exactly," Bruce said, chuckling. "My heart almost stopped when I saw you sliding away. Please don't do that again."
"I won't," Tim promised. "Um, thank you for saving me again. Will… will I see you again? I mean, will I see this you?"
"If you need me, I'll be there," Bruce promised.
Something shivered over Bruce's body. He let Tim go, his smile wry and resigned. Tim closely watched his disappearance this time. The flash was actually more of a shimmer than a flash. It swept out from Bruce's stomach to his fingertips, covering him over the course of about half a second. Then he was gone and only the bright outline of where he'd been remained. That disappeared in the flash that Tim had seen before, leaving Tim alone again.
"I wish I knew how he did that," Tim murmured as he checked to make sure that his camera was okay. "So cool."
Tim headed for the creaking stairs. They'd supported him on the way up. Hopefully they would support him on the way down again. He added another rule to the ones that Bruce had just given him for keeping safe while passing the time until he wasn't alone and lonely anymore. Seven more years until he was eighteen. He could wait that long.
"No more condemned buildings, Tim," Tim murmured to himself as he started down the stairs. "They're just too scary."
The phone rang again. Tim ignored it and curled further into his stolen blankets. They'd come off his father's bed, the striped ones that Dana had gotten for them when she moved in. Even though it hadn't been that long, the scent of his father and step mother was starting to fade, replaced by Tim's scent. Four rings later the answering machine picked up, Jack Drake's voice cheerfully mingling with Dana's as they said that they weren't home but please leave a message because they'd get right back to you.
'Never again,' Tim thought, fighting tears that wanted to well up. He'd cried so much already that he thought that his eyes would never stop being red. It felt like his eyes were hot coals instead of flesh. 'Sure, leave a message but they'll never get back to you.'
"Tim, it's Dick. I know you're there. Come on, Tim. Pick up… Pick up…"
He sounded worried despite the obvious effort to sound cheerful. Tim clutched his blankets tighter. The answering machine kept recording as Dick waited for Tim to pick up the phone. There wasn't a snowball's chance in hell that he would pick the phone up. The last thing that Tim wanted to do right now was deal with Dick's attempts to cheer him up. He'd lost too much, far too much. He couldn't deal with Dick right now. Honestly, he couldn't deal with anything right now.
"Tim, pick up… Please, kiddo… pick up…" Dick's voice got more worried and upset as the recording went on and Tim didn't answer the phone. "I know you can hear me, Tim…"
Dick was probably watching Tim on the monitors that Batman had installed in Tim's house. They were aimed so that his feet were visible but nothing else was which meant that Dick knew that Tim was there. Knowing Dick, he also knew that Tim wasn't asleep. It didn't matter. Tim didn't want to deal with anyone right now. Eventually the answering machine beeped, cutting Dick's call off.
"He does care," Bruce murmured as he sat on the side of Tim's bed to gently rub Tim's back.
Tim started. He'd been curled so tightly into his stolen blankets that he hadn't seen the flash of light when Bruce arrived. Bruce's hand was large and warm in all the ways that the current Bruce wasn't. Most of the time when he was around the current Bruce Tim felt as though he was walking on eggshells with all the things he couldn't talk about. These visits had helped Tim survive but keeping them a secret was one of the hardest things he'd ever had to do, including becoming Robin.
"He doesn't show it the best ways, but he does care," Bruce continued.
"Dick?" Tim asked, completely unsurprised that his voice came out hoarse.
"No, me," Bruce said. "There are reasons he can't show it, Tim."
That was enough to get Tim to poke his head out of the blankets. Bruce's suit was still wet from the rain a couple of years ago. Tim reached out and ran one hand over Bruce's wet sleeve. It was cold. The touch prompted Bruce to pull Tim out of his nest of blankets into a slightly damp hug that made Tim's eyes burn.
"I hate that I can't tell him," Tim whimpered.
"He has things that he can't tell you too," Bruce said. "Everything that he's done has been to try to help you become the strongest person possible, Tim. Granted, not all of it was done in the best way possible but he really does care."
Tim nodded. He'd seen it for all that he couldn't say anything about it. There was something in current Bruce's eyes every time he looked at Tim. Every touch was a controlled thing instead of the openly loving touches that the future Bruce gave Tim so freely. It was as though the current Bruce was afraid of ruining something if he did the wrong thing. Of course, Tim felt the same way about his interactions with the current Bruce. Doing something that changed the outcomes so that future Bruce, the kind, loving, wonderful person who had been there so many times for Tim, was a horrific idea that made Tim shudder.
"I'm afraid," Tim whimpered.
"Of what?" Bruce asked.
"Losing you," Tim admitted. "Changing things so that you, this you, doesn't exist."
Bruce chuckled, rubbing Tim's back twice before making Tim sit back so that they could look each other in the eyes. To Tim's surprise the love in Bruce's eyes was far more possessive than it had been the last time they'd seen each other. He wondered briefly if Bruce had seen the crush that he'd developed but it didn't seem to matter to Bruce.
"It's already happened," Bruce said. "You can't change it. I can't change it. It only looks like it could be changed."
"But I haven't lived that yet," Tim protested. "That doesn't make sense."
"No, it doesn't," Bruce said with a wry smile that told Tim that he'd worried endlessly about it just like Tim did. "But it's still true. There's nothing you could do that would stop me and I know now that there's nothing that I could ever do that would stop you. We are who we are, Tim. Neither of us is likely to change enough to change the path we're on."
That made Tim laugh for the first time in what felt like forever. Bruce's wry smile changed into something far more real even though it was still a tiny thing. Time was ticking by. Soon Bruce would disappear again, leaving Tim alone to deal with the losses and pain. Rather than think about it, Tim threw his arms around Bruce's neck for a fierce hug that Bruce returned with just as much force. Tim had a million questions that he wanted to ask and no time at all to ask them. Instead, he contented himself with memorizing the feeling of Bruce's arms wrapped around him, the warmth seeping through Bruce's damp clothes and the scent that Tim now knew was blood underneath his aftershave and cologne.
"I'll be okay now," Tim said once he let Bruce go.
"I know," Bruce said sadly. "Once this is all over we can talk."
"I'd…" Tim hesitated as the flash of light consumed Bruce, taking him away into the future. "I'd like that. A lot."
Tim sat on the floor in his destroyed bedroom. He hadn't thrown a temper tantrum in years. Having Robin taken away so that Dick could give it to Damian of all people had inspired a rage that had driven him to break almost every piece of furniture in his room. Bruce had promised. He'd promised that Tim would be Robin for as long as he wanted. Dick didn't have the right to take that way, especially not to give it to a violent little child-assassin who had no clue what Bruce really stood for.
"It's not fair," Tim complained as he nudged one painting's broken frame.
"No, it truly isn't and I will be having some harsh words with Dick about it when I get back," Bruce said.
"Bruce!" Tim gasped.
He stared up at Bruce and then bolted to his feet to grab Bruce's arms. It was Bruce. His suit was still damp though not as damp as it had been. There were spots where the fabric had partially dried. Bruce looked as angry as Tim was about the loss of Robin, not that it mattered right at that moment. He'd thought that Bruce was dead. Everyone was so sure that Bruce had been killed by Darkseid.
"How can you be here?" Tim asked, still clinging to Bruce's arms. "You're dead! You died, Bruce. You can't be coming to see me if you're dead."
Bruce laughed and put his hands on Tim's hips. It was far more direct than any of the other touches Bruce had given Tim, either the current (dead!) Bruce or the future one in his damp suit. The directness of the touch calmed Tim better than anything other than perhaps the kisses that Tim had fantasized about but never dared to claim.
"I'm not dead," Bruce said with enough amusement that Tim had to smile back. "Darkseid didn't kill me. I am lost but I'm not dead."
It took a few moments for the connections to fall into place in Tim's brain. He gasped, turning to stare at the portrait that he'd knocked from the wall during his tantrum. That was Bruce, not someone who looked like Bruce but actually Bruce, Bruce gone back in time. Tim gasped, whirling back to stare at Bruce who nodded encouragingly.
"It's not the same thing," Tim said, shaking Bruce's arms slightly. "This, your visits, they're not the same thing."
"Not at all," Bruce agreed. "This will end naturally, of its own accord. Darkseid's attack is… far more sinister."
"You need to be rescued," Tim breathed.
Bruce nodded. His fingers tightened on Tim's hips in a way that suggested the desire to pull Tim into a kiss or at the very least a hug. Tim blinked, suddenly aware that he was nearly eighteen. Even if he'd originally thought of Bruce as his magical fairy godfather, those feelings had long since transmuted into something far more sexual. This was the first time that Tim was certain that Bruce felt the same way about Tim.
"I'll find you," Tim promised. "I will."
"I believe you, Tim," Bruce murmured, eyes hot and almost hopeful as he looked down into Tim's eyes. "I've always believed in you. You… you were what I looked up to when I was starting out."
His hands tightened again before releasing Tim. Bruce stepped back, nodding to Tim as the flash took him away again. Tim let out the breath that he'd been holding. Bruce's statement didn't make sense but it didn't matter right now. All that mattered at this moment was finding proof that would convince everyone else that Bruce was alive and that he needed to be rescued from the past.
"I should have figured that out immediately," Tim muttered as he started gathering up the things he'd need for the trip. "I've been living with time travel since I was tiny, for heaven's sake."
Things seemed different after Bruce returned from his trip through time. He watched Tim more intently, more like the future Bruce that Tim had interacted with for so long. But there was still a sense of distance, wariness about how he talked to Tim. No matter what happened, Bruce didn't seem willing to discuss time travel with Tim. Any time that Tim brought it up, Bruce changed the subject, usually to some new training technique or weapon that he thought Tim should learn to use.
Of course, things had changed on Tim's side as well. The hunt for evidence that Bruce was alive had changed Tim in ways that made him feel as though he'd never be clean, never be whole again. And yet, Tim knew that he was at his strongest now. Going up against Ra's al Ghul and the Council of Spiders had helped Tim become a much better warrior. Getting Kon and Bart back had strengthened his heart.
"I'm still waiting," Tim whispered to the night. The streets around Baxter and Vine were quiet at the moment. His Ducati was parked below, ready for when Tim decided to move on to a part of Gotham that was in need of saving.
"Where are we?" Bruce asked.
Tim whirled and stared. It was future Bruce, the Bruce with the damp suit and ready hugs. That made Tim frown and look around because every time Bruce had appeared before Tim had been either suicidal or in danger of dying. When he looked back, Bruce was frowning too.
"Baxter and Vine," Tim answered. He stepped close to Bruce, studying his face. "Why?"
"Done," Bruce breathed. "I'm done."
"This… this is when it ends?" Tim asked, stunned.
"No, this is when it starts for you," Bruce said with a rare grin that made Tim stare even harder. "I have a file you need to read. It will tell you what you need to do. Do you have full pouches? All the bandages you can carry?"
The urgency in his voice made Tim shiver. He automatically began checking his pouches; taking the bandages and supplies that Bruce gave him. When Bruce insisted that he eat something Tim frowned but followed orders. By the time his bandoliers were completely filled, the power bar consumed and the long-locked Red file was loading up on his PDA, Tim was relatively certain that he knew what was coming.
"You saved me so it's my turn to save you?" Tim asked as he skimmed through the file and then went back and read it more slowly.
"From my point of view you saved me first," Bruce chuckled, "but yes."
"How?" Tim asked. "I assume that there's a method to the jumps through time."
Bruce reached into his pocket and pulled out a little device that looked as though it was alien manufacture. When Tim reached for it, Bruce pulled his hand back a little bit. Tim frowned at him, surprised and then embarrassed because the desire had never been more obvious in Bruce's eyes. His cup was suddenly a problem instead of protection, not that Tim allowed his body to shift position. This was too important for that.
"I need the keys to your Ducati," Bruce said. "I have to get back to the Cave and change my suit."
"Um, how will I get back to base?" Tim asked as he gave Bruce the keys.
"You'll be delivered exactly where you need to be," Bruce promised. "I… I have so many things I want to say, Tim. But… it can wait. It's waited this long. It can wait a little longer."
Tim laughed under his breath and nodded at that. This time when he held his hand out Bruce put the device into his palm. It was tiny though it felt much heavier than it should have for its size. All of the rescues listed in Bruce's Red file were of a very physical nature, explaining why Bruce had insisted that Tim eat and load up his bandoliers. Tim put his PDA away, looking at Bruce, his Bruce, the Bruce that he'd considered to be the real one for years.
"I… think I'm in love with you," Tim admitted, his thumb on the button.
"I think I fell in love with you the first time I saw you," Bruce admitted so wryly that Tim blushed under his cowl. "Don't tell me anything, Tim. Not your name, not where you're from, not anything. And… be careful, Tim. Please be careful."
"I will be," Tim said. "Once I'm gone you better get to your party."
Bruce laughed and nodded. He stepped back only to gasp as Tim caught his arm and pulled him in for a quick kiss that only teased at what Tim wanted someday, once all this time travel was over. It made Bruce groan and pull Tim into a clench that made the kiss transform from something hesitant into the most serious kiss Tim had ever had.
"Go," Bruce murmured against Tim's lips. "Go on. We'll talk once you're home again."
"Yes," Tim agreed.
He pushed the button on the device, bracing himself for whatever came next.
As Tim disappeared in a firefly flash of light, Bruce felt as though he understood Tim's bone-deep relief when he had materialized in the Cave. Being back to his own time, with no more hopping through time to do, was enough to make his knees feel shaky and his head swim for a moment. It had been surreal watching Tim grow from a tiny boy to the young man that had saved Bruce so long ago. For Bruce, it had been such a short amount of time to watch such an incredible transformation.
Bruce shook his head to clear it before going down the fire escape to Tim's Ducati. His helmet was there. It fit well enough that Bruce could wear it, disguising his identity until he could go back out as Brucie. Even Brucie's notorious antics wouldn't cover riding Red Robin's Ducati through Gotham. Fortunately, it was early in the evening and few people were out on the streets to question the oddity. Still, by the time Bruce made it back to the Cave, he wanted nothing more than to stay there holding Tim's hand until he woke up.
He did check that Tim was all right before going upstairs to change into a third suit for the night. The party was the most boring thing that Bruce had endured in quite some time. He got the information he needed from his marks at the party while reinforcing his image as a brainless fool. For once it was difficult to keep up the act.
Bruce's mind was quite firmly on Tim's silent figure lying in the Cave's infirmary.
Or more accurately Bruce's mind was on the million and one questions that he wanted to ask Tim. They ranged from the sorts of games that Tim had played all by himself in his parent's mansion to pictures that Tim wished he'd gotten to whether or not Tim would consent to move back into the Manor. There were so many quiet games that Bruce had played before and after his parents died. He couldn't help but be curious whether they'd done similar things in their childhoods.
Of course he'd seen the pictures that Tim had taken but Bruce had never dared to actually talk to Tim about his photography. There had to be things that he'd wished that he could have captured as well as things he didn't want to. The reasons for each would say so much, tell Bruce so many things about the young man that Bruce had been fascinated with for so long. All of the questions mattered. Hopefully Tim would have questions for Bruce as well.
It wasn't until he was driving home that Bruce realized that he had questions that he wanted to ask tonight, ones that he wanted to ask in a few weeks and others that he wanted to discuss years in the future. There were questions they could discuss in public, ones that were only for the two of them. The most important ones were ones that Bruce would only ask if, hopefully when, they were in bed together. Bruce laughed as he parked his car and then headed straight down to the Cave. He'd spent his whole life silently waiting for the one person he could share his mind with, the one person who would understand the questions and the reasons behind them. How strange that he found that person in a man so much younger than he was.
Tim was still sleeping once Bruce settled by his side on one of the waiting chairs. The meds were obviously starting to wear off. He could see Tim slowly coming back to reality. Bruce held his free hand, gently rubbing a thumb over Tim's knuckles. He smiled as Tim blinked his way to awareness, frowning at the unfamiliar touch combined with the too-familiar pain.
"Welcome home," Bruce murmured once Tim's eyes focused on him.
"You too," Tim said, grinning for an instant. His voice came out hoarse from the sleep, drugs and pain. "I have so many questions for you."
"Me too," Bruce said. "How do you feel?"
"Like I got stabbed and shot while on a trip through time," Tim answered dryly enough that Bruce chuckled. "You?"
"A bit light-headed that it's all over," Bruce admitted. "I've waited so long that it seems odd that there's no more waiting."
That made Tim snort, winch and then gently rub the stab wound in his side. The look in his eyes made it clear that he was somewhat annoyed that they would have to wait for at least part of what they'd both been anticipating. Bruce laughed under his breath, squeezing Tim's hand. He couldn't blame Tim for his impatience. Youth gave him greater stores of that particular emotion, not that Tim was alone in looking forward to spending some time alone in bed. But Bruce could wait for Tim to be ready. He would wait.
"A few days," Tim sighed. "Maybe a week."
"Probably," Bruce said. "We should discuss… preferences, of course."
"Not in the Cave, please," Tim said with such a pained expression that Bruce broke out laughing. Tim's grin only made Bruce laugh harder. "I'm sorry but it would mix in with Dick's stories of his fantasies and actual escapades down here."
"Oh," Bruce said, making a sour face at the sheer thought. "Oh. Oh no. Just. No."
"Exactly," Tim sighed as if he'd heard in entirely too much detail all the things that Dick had done that Bruce had determinedly not allowed himself to be aware of over the years.
They both turned and looked as the Batmobile drove in with Dick at the wheel. As soon as the engine turned off Dick bolted out of the car and ran over to Tim's bedside. Damian followed him considerably more slowly, looking somewhat perplexed behind his mask of smug superiority. Tim's little sigh made Bruce squeeze Tim's hand. They shared a quick amused look before Dick pushed Bruce out of the way.
"Tim!" Dick gasped. "What happened? We didn't hear a thing over the comms!"
"Nothing much," Tim said so dryly that Dick pulled back a little and frowned. "Just a slight stabbing and a gunshot to my thigh. It's not a big deal. Alfred's already taken care of everything. He just insisted that I spend the night down here."
"You're sure?" Dick asked. "I mean, Bruce doesn't usually hover."
"Very true," Damian said, eyeing Bruce suspiciously. "This is quite peculiar behavior, Father."
"Just discussing the mission with Tim," Bruce said.
He knew perfectly well that the smiles that he and Tim exchanged were going to perplex Dick and Damian. Bruce found that he didn't care. From the amusement in Tim's eyes, he didn't care at all either. Their silent conversation made both Dick and Damian stare. Rather than answer the questions that Bruce knew were coming, or allow Dick to pester Tim, Bruce herded the boys into the showers before heading upstairs.
"Get some sleep," Bruce said. "Alfred should be down shortly to check on you."
"You too," Tim said, amusement still dancing in his eyes. "You might want to relock the Red file. It will drive Dick nuts to see that it had been opened and closed again. I'm curious to see how long it will take him to ask."
Bruce laughed all the way to the computer console and then all the way upstairs. He was still laughing under his breath as he crawled into his, for now, empty bed. Dick would get Barbara to help him crack the file eventually but for now it was their secret to share between the two of them.
It took a full week and a half for Tim to be more or less back to normal. Fortunately his armor had stopped the sword thrust from penetrating anything too vital. It still hurt horribly to move or twist but his side healed rapidly under Alfred's expert care. His leg was likely to take a while longer but it was a clean wound with no major damage to either the muscles or the bones of his thigh so it wouldn't be much longer before Tim was able to resume training as normal.
"Would you like to take a walk to stretch your leg out?" Bruce asked after breakfast.
He'd quite obviously waited for everyone else other than Alfred to go do their own things. Tim studied Bruce and then smiled. Maybe this would be their chance to have the conversations that they kept having to put off due to Dick wanting to hug Tim, Damian being Damian and Cass quite clearly seeing what they felt for each other and being disturbed by it.
"Sure," Tim said. "The grounds?"
"Alfred," Bruce said with a mischievous smile that made him look decades younger than his actual years, "we're going on an expedition."
"Very good, Master Bruce," Alfred chuckled. "Do attempt to return before dinner or I shall be forced to send out a hunting party."
That made Bruce laugh under his breath as he promised to return in a timely fashion. Instead of going outside or to the main part of the Manor, Bruce led Tim upstairs by one of the narrow servant staircases that only Alfred ever used. Tim had memorized the layout of the Manor when he moved in but he'd never actually been here before. He found himself grinning with excitement as they climbed, slowly out of respect for Tim's injuries, to the top floor with its many unused, closed-off rooms and attic spaces.
"When I was very little," Bruce murmured once they were up there, "I used to go exploring. The Manor was so big that it was like a whole world full of buried treasures and secret rooms for me to explore. I'd go to one of the wings and just… poke around the rooms, seeing what there was."
"I did that too," Tim said, delighted that they shared the habit. "I'd make up stories about where the decorations came from and who'd brought them to our house."
Bruce nodded; his eyes alight with delight and amusement. "Sometimes I'd lose track of time. Then Father would come looking for me. Frequently, back before they died, Mother would have to come looking for the both of us because Father would find me and then start telling me the real stories of the things I'd found. I thought… that I'd share some of those stories with you. If you like."
"Can we bring some of them back for a while?" Tim asked, thinking of the quilt and rug and floor pillow he'd had the second time Bruce visited.
"Absolutely," Bruce said.
He offered a hand to Tim nervously enough that Tim's heart fluttered as he took it. They spent the next couple of hours exploring one of the attics to see what they could find. There were old chairs and tables, trunks full of clothes that Bruce told him had been saved for preservation and then never passed on. Tim found an old book whose pages were so brittle that he didn't dare open it. The gold letters that identified it had long since worn off, leaving only the faintest hints of embossing to go by. Bruce held Tim in his arms while telling him the story of the book.
"It was my great aunt's," Bruce murmured against Tim's ear. "I remember that she visited a few times when I was very small, only four or five years old. She walked with a cane and always had this book with her. Her hair was dyed so that it always looked blue to me, not black. Her perfume was lilac and tuber rose. I think you can still smell it in the bedroom she always used downstairs. When she died, she left Mother the last of her perfume to remember her by. It was an alcohol based one that would never go bad."
"Did she read it to you?" Tim asked, sure that the book had been read so many times that it was all but memorized just by the binding.
"Oh yes," Bruce chuckled as he inhaled the scent behind Tim's ear. His lips and nose tickled, making Tim squirm a little. "I would have to go and sit with her as she read. Mother was quite insistent about it. I would dress up in one of my little suits, let Mother comb my hair until it was perfectly behaved and then I'd have to sit at attention as she read out loud. It was horrible. I honestly can't remember a thing about the story. I was too eager to get out of her room and run around."
Tim laughed, leaning back into Bruce's arms. When they headed back downstairs the book came with them so that Tim could set it in a place of honor on his dresser. They detoured along the way to explore Bruce's great aunt's usual room. He could smell the lilac and tuber rose once they got there, like olfactory memories of a person and time long gone. Bruce claimed the quilt that was draped over the couch in the room. It was worn and faded but the handmade stitches were still strong.
"It's a beautiful quilt," Tim commented as he helped Bruce arrange it over the foot of his bed.
"I agree," Bruce said. "Not quite like the quilt that you had but close."
"What… are you doing?" Damian asked from the doorway. He sounded disturbed and looked even more so when Tim turned to look.
"Bruce wanted a quilt for his bed so we went… exploring," Tim said.
"If the two of you are going to fornicate I do not wish to know," Damian complained. "I am going to train. Attempt to keep your vastly inappropriate behavior to yourselves."
He turned away before he could see the fury in Bruce's eyes. Tim caught his arm, holding Bruce back. Only once Damian was gone did Tim pull Bruce close for a kiss that began tentative and slowly heated into something that made him wish his leg and side were fully healed.
"We're not exactly being subtle," Tim commented once they let each other's lips go.
"I suppose not," Bruce sighed. "I hate that he's so rude to you."
"Mmmm," Tim hummed, only just realizing what the tone in Damian's voice had been. "He's jealous, Bruce. I have more of you than he's ever been able to claim and he's spent his whole life training to be the perfect heir for you."
"You're not my heir," Bruce protested.
"Do the others know that?" Tim asked. When Bruce couldn't answer the question, Tim nodded. "The rest of the world can't really know but the family should."
"Eventually," Bruce said, pulling Tim close again. "I want you all to myself for a while."
"I can deal with that," Tim chuckled. "Come on. It's nearly time for lunch. Let's get something to eat and then I'll see if I can't figure out what book that was that you hated so much."
Bruce laughed as he pressed another kiss against Tim's lips. They walked into lunch with the others, holding hands despite Tim's nervousness and Bruce's reluctance to share Tim with anyone.
"Um, you know that normally I wouldn't say anything," Dick said to Bruce four days of extreme avoidance behavior later, "but um, are you… I mean, you and Tim seem… closer lately."
Bruce leaned back in his chair to study Dick until he twitched. "That's a good description of it."
The Cave was quiet at this time of day though Bruce knew that Tim would be down shortly. That was why Bruce was there. They'd agreed that it was time for Tim to begin easing back into training again now that his wounds were mostly healed. Of course, Bruce fully intended to help Tim regain the strength and speed he'd lost during his convalescence even though Tim teased him that he'd only distract Tim from focusing on the exercises.
"What's going on, Bruce?" Dick exploded thirty seconds after Bruce stopped talking again. "The two of you are always talking. You act like lovers but as far as I can see neither of you are doing anything. It's, its bizarre! Tim is your son, just like Jason and Damian. How? Why? What?"
"He's not my son," Bruce said sternly enough that Dick flinched and sighed. "And… exactly what happened is hard to explain."
"Time travel is always hard to explain," Tim said from the stairs.
Dick started so badly that he nearly fell over. Tim smirked at that and came over to lean against the back of Bruce's chair. His fingers brushed against the back of Bruce's neck, slightly chilly as Tim's fingers always were. The expression on Dick's face was so perplexed that Bruce took pity on his eldest son.
"You never did crack the Red file, did you?" Bruce asked.
"No," Dick said. "You always said that it was too sensitive to share."
Tim called the file up before Bruce did more than turn to look at the monitors. Dick came over and stood on the other side of Bruce's chair from Tim to read. By the first paragraph he was gasping. Once he'd read to the ending he was silent and a little bit grim. Tim waited patiently. He had yet to add his observations to the files but Bruce wasn't in any hurry to push him on that front. The things that Tim had been rescued from were intensely personal. They had no real place in Batman's archives.
"Time travel?" Dick murmured finally. "Tim was traveling through time to save you? All the way back then? I didn't even recognize the suit when Tim started wearing it. I should have."
"Tim was my inspiration, the living embodiment of what I wanted to be," Bruce commented. He smiled wryly at the shock on Dick's face. "Dick, when I began I had no idea what I was doing. I didn't even have bandages in case I got injured. Tim, or Red as I knew him then, saved my life, gave me direction and was a very visible example of what I could be if I worked hard enough."
It wasn't often that Bruce saw Dick that astonished, that shocked. From the time that Bruce had first met him, Dick had always had a ready quip. The discovery that Tim had saved Bruce from death multiple times before Dick had become a part of his life, that Tim had been the mysterious Red who had saved both Dick and Jason, appeared to have robbed Dick of his quips.
"He traveled through time to key points in my life as well," Tim said when Bruce stopped talking. "He saved me. I never would have survived to adulthood if it weren't for Bruce's visits. Our lives have been linked together for quite a long time."
"Mmm, I think of it like Ouroborus," Bruce mused. "We were caught in the coils for quite a while but eventually escaped together. I don't expect it to make sense from the outside, Dick. It doesn't make a lot of sense from the inside."
"But we are together," Tim interrupted, "and we will be for as long as possible."
That made Dick throw his hands up in the air. The laughter was a little unexpected but at least when Dick looked at the two of them together this time there was a great deal less of the resistance and dismay. It almost looked as though Dick was grudgingly approving, though that might be Bruce allowing his emotions to get the better of him.
"Okay, I'm officially butting out," Dick said. "This is beyond me. You do know that Babs is going to want to review all this, don't you?"
"You're assuming that she hasn't already hacked the file," Tim said. He grinned at Bruce's surprised look. "Bruce, you can't seriously believe that you can keep a secret from her. It's Oracle."
"Point," Bruce laughed. "Ready for some training?"
"Absolutely," Tim replied.
Tim closed down the computer, locking the Red file again. As they headed into the training area, Dick shook his head and went upstairs. One of their family members knew now. It wouldn't be long before the rest did. Dick would find it necessary to talk to them about it as he worked his feelings out. Bruce hoped that it would go well, though he was dreading dealing with Damian's hostility towards Tim. He still hadn't figured out how to explain to his son that Tim was not and never truly had been a son to Bruce. Tim was in a category all his own in Bruce's mind.
Tim slid into Bruce's bed.
They'd waited. Tim had waited. He had seen the impatience in Bruce's eyes but both of them had agreed that it was more important for Tim to be healthy for their first time together than it was to consummate their strange relationship immediately. Honestly, Tim was glad that they'd waited. All the little secrets that Bruce had shared, the tales he'd told and the things they'd done together, had deepened what had been an odd mixture of hero worship and profound lust into something far different.
Still, Tim was done with waiting. Tomorrow he was going to go back out on patrol, by Bruce's side for the first time in ages. There would be other injuries coming their way, as Gotham always had a ready supply of people prepared to attempt to take the family down. Tonight was going to be theirs.
He was relatively certain that Bruce would approve of the idea of staying in together. The text message that Tim had sent was simple, just 'meet me in your room'. It took five entirely too long minutes for Bruce to make his way to his bedroom. When he slipped inside, Bruce was frowning. The frown disappeared into a heated look when he saw Tim under the covers.
"I take it I should lock the door?" Bruce asked.
"I think it would be wise," Tim agreed. "Not that it stops anyone in this family but hopefully it will slow them down a little bit."
"What exactly did you want?" Bruce asked as he came over to sit next to Tim on the bed.
"You," Tim said, biting his lip as the nervousness welled up again. "I… stay here tonight? With me?"
The words came out as a question. Tim hadn't intended it that way but the look in Bruce's eyes was too intense for Tim to be as firm as he wanted to be. He could see all the desire that Bruce had kept leashed for so long, as naked on Bruce's face as Tim was under the covers. When Tim sat up to tug at Bruce's tie with shaking fingers, Bruce shuddered.
"Do you have any idea what you do to me?" Bruce asked in a voice that shook as badly as Tim's fingers.
"Mmm, some idea," Tim chuckled, calming dramatically in response to the proof that Bruce was nervous too. Making Batman's voice wobble that way was wonderfully ego soothing. "You definitely have too many clothes on though."
Bruce laughed and quickly, efficiently, stripped down to his underwear. His daytime suits were carefully designed to hide his physique in the same way that the Bat suit was designed to emphasize it. The man underneath them transcended both. Tim smiled, watching as muscles and scars were revealed. When Bruce joined him under the covers Tim cuddled up and then laughed at Bruce's start of surprise at finding no underwear on Tim.
"Very confident," Bruce murmured while running his fingers over the line of Tim's hip.
"Very impatient," Tim corrected. "I've fantasized about this since I was twelve, you know."
"I think my fantasies have been around a little longer," Bruce chuckled, "but not by much. I've wanted you for so long, Tim."
"Me too," Tim whispered.
There were a thousand and one things that Tim wanted to do with Bruce, everything from simply exploring Bruce's body and kissing every single scar to elaborate BDSM fantasies that Tim rather doubted that he'd ever actually want to live out. Instead of talking about it, Tim moved close and began explore Bruce's bodies with his fingers. He traced the palm of Bruce's hand, exploring the calluses that had fascinated him that first visit. Bruce shuddered under Tim's touch with the effort of holding back.
"I won't break," Tim murmured against the pulse point of Bruce's wrist. "You can touch me, too."
"This… you are so beautiful," Bruce said, stopped and then groaned as Tim scraped his teeth along the edge of a scar that wrapped around Bruce's forearm.
His free hand curled around Tim's hip, pulling them together so that their erections rubbed together. Tim willingly allowed Bruce to roll on top and hold him down with his greater size and weight. To Tim's surprise, there was a wet spot on Bruce's underwear already. As Bruce kissed Tim, Tim hooked his thumbs into Bruce's waistband, slowly tugging the underwear down and out of the way. The waistband caught for a moment on the head of Bruce's erection but then popped downwards, slowly sliding between them until Bruce grumbled against Tim's hips. He shoved them off, kicking one leg until the offending underwear disappeared off the side of the bed.
"Better," Tim chuckled.
"Much," Bruce agreed.
There was a long moment where they stared at each other, held by the past that they'd shared, the differences and similarities between their lives, by everything that pulled them together at the same time as it pushed them apart. Tim broke the impasse by scratching his fingernails along Bruce's sides.
Bruce groaned again and then groaned even more loudly when Tim pushed him to the side so that he could lick and bite his way down Bruce's body. To his surprise, Bruce seemed perfectly content to let Tim take the initiative. Given their age difference, Tim could understand his reasoning, not that it mattered in the least to him. He'd always preferred older lovers to ones his own age. His erection wasn't as large as Tim had expected but it was still bigger than most of the toys or lovers he'd had in the past.
"Lube," Tim murmured as he nuzzled the head of Bruce's erection.
"I want you to prepare me, Bruce," Tim said, looking up at Bruce before licking a stripe up the length of Bruce's erection. "Now."
The grin that Bruce directed at Tim was shaky but very bright. Bruce was as thorough and relentless about the preparation as he was about everything else, though Tim did his best after a couple of minutes to spur Bruce on. Sucking his cock while Bruce finger-fucked him was a wonderful way to get Bruce to whisper shaky things under his breath. The trick with his tongue against the underside of Bruce's erection made Bruce jerk and shudder.
"Too much," Bruce warned the third time Tim did it.
"Mmm, can't have that," Tim laughed while nuzzling Bruce's testicles. "On your back. I want to ride you."
The speed with which Bruce settled on his back and put on a condom was gratifying, but the expression in his eyes made the moment all the more powerful. As Tim slowly allowed himself to sink onto Bruce's erection, Bruce bit his lip. He kept his eyes wide open, as if he was afraid to miss even a moment of this. Tim kissed him once Bruce was fully inside, shivering a little at the intensity of the moment.
"Wanted this so long," Tim whimpered.
"God, Tim…" Bruce groaned.
His hands clamped around Tim's hips, holding them perfectly still as Bruce fought with his control. Tim didn't want more control so he squeezed Bruce, grinning at the way Bruce jumped. A second squeeze made Bruce curse and then thrust up into Tim. The movement prompted Tim to groan and begin rolling his hips. Three thrusts later they found the perfect rhythm together that set of shivers of pleasure and the exact angle to make Tim battle for self-control as hard as Bruce was.
It couldn't last, absolutely could not, but it did as Bruce pulled Tim down for a kiss that switched the angle and let Tim rub against Bruce's belly. Every minute alteration changed things enough that he was able to stave off his orgasm and at the same time the changes appeared to allow Bruce to hold out too.
"Don't want… to end," Tim panted through his too-tight throat what felt like a decade later. "Don't. Don't want it to."
"Mmm, we have all night," Bruce murmured in an equally tight tone.
"True, true, so true," Tim said.
He gave up on control, on making it last. They did have tonight and tomorrow and years to come. Tim wouldn't let Bruce die. He knew that Bruce wouldn't allow him to die either. They were partners in everything from now on and that made it okay to abandon his control. Tim thrust harder against Bruce, sitting up and back so that he could brace his hands behind him on Bruce's thighs. When he let his head drop back Bruce started cursing reverently, as though the sight of Tim repeatedly impaling himself on his erection was more than he could bear.
Bruce's hands clamped onto Tim's hips as he started thrusting up into Tim. It was almost more than Tim could bear, right on that edge between pleasure and pain, but Tim's rising excitement kept him on the right side of that line. Just as Tim reached the edge Bruce froze and groaned so loudly that anyone would have heard him in the hallway. Tim cursed and waited for a moment and then slapped at Bruce's hands so that he could reach his own orgasm before Bruce's erection failed.
"Sorry," Bruce whispered as Tim thrust and ground against him. His hands settled on Tim's nipples to pinch and then pull them.
"Ahhn!" Tim shouted, driven right over the edge by the pleasure-pain combination.
He collapsed on top of Bruce, panting as Bruce chuckled and rubbed his back. It wasn't until Tim got his breath back and had rolled off, allowing Bruce to deal with the condom, that Tim poked his side while raising one eyebrow inquisitively.
"What's so funny?" Tim asked.
"Mmm, I'm going to have to dig out the nipple clamps I have stored away somewhere," Bruce said.
That thought made Tim shudder and crawl right back on top of Bruce though this time it was only for cuddling instead of sex. Tim was young but he wasn't going to be ready for another round right away. Bruce smiled and then laughed at the face Tim made over their sticky bodies.
"A shower might be in order," Bruce said.
"Not a bad thought," Tim agreed. "We could have that conversation about preferences."
Tim matched Bruce's grin with one of his own. They rolled to either side of the bed but joined hands once they met at the foot of it. Bruce strode towards the bathroom, only to stop as Tim tugged on his fingers. He moved into a huge willingly enough that Tim smiled up at him.
"I don't want you to think that I was pressured into this," Tim whispered.
"I know you weren't," Bruce whispered back. "I trust that you'll tell me however firmly you need to if you're uncomfortable with something Tim. You are younger than I am but that doesn't change the fact that you're my partner."
"In everything," Tim whispered against Bruce's lips despite the way their bodies stuck together.
"Everything," Bruce agreed as he deepened it into a kiss that promised sex in the shower, cuddling in bed, long talks, quiet times, crime fighting and anything else that they wanted to do together.
Bruce had put off the talk with his son for as long as possible. Confronting Damian about his treatment of Tim wasn't something that Bruce wanted to do but he couldn't stand for Tim to be angry or upset about it anymore. Finding Damian once he'd decided to have that talk had taken considerably more time than Bruce had expected. His son was exceptionally good at hiding when he chose to; just as good as he was at getting into people's faces when he was upset with them.
Eventually, Tim had volunteered to take Cass and Dick out to lunch to give Bruce the best chance of cornering Damian. Of course, that also gave Tim time to convince both of them that he was happy with their relationship and hadn't been coerced in any way. Bruce was relatively certain that he would talk about his trip through time with them. If they were lucky it would assuage Cass and Dick's worries about what had happened.
"Tt." Damian's shoulders were entirely too tight as he wrapped tape around his hands. "Father. You wish to speak to me?"
He was so controlled that it was hard to remember that Damian was just a boy. "I do, Damian. I object to your treatment of Tim."
If anything, Damian's shoulders went tighter for a moment. When he turned he was glaring, so obviously frustrated that Bruce was tempted to take a step backwards. Tim appeared to be right. Damian was jealous of Tim in ways that Bruce hadn't quite realized.
"Why him?" Damian asked. "Why do you shower him with such attention?"
"I love him," Bruce said as simply as possible.
"Tt!" Damian's expression all but screamed 'why not me?' though he didn't say the words. Instead he glared across the Cave towards the computers. "He is not worthy."
"I care for you as well but he is my lover as well as my love," Bruce said. "You are my son. I have not had the chance to know you, Damian. Your mother kept you from me. And I must admit that I have not made an effort to get to know you, but your interactions with Dick have been such that I felt that I would be intruding."
That clearly startled Damian. Bruce sighed and went to the computers, calling up the records showing Dick and Damian's interactions both before Bruce's return and after. Damian watched with his arms crossed over his chest. When Bruce called up the records that showed his proto-attempts to interact with Damian, it was quite clear that Dick had blocked Bruce repeatedly.
"I… was not aware of that," Damian murmured.
"Dick is very fond of you," Bruce sighed. "I believe he sees you as his son instead of mine. I am loathe to take that away from him, Damian. He is good for you."
"Simpleton," Damian sniffed but his cheeks were red.
Bruce smiled. "Exactly. His nature is the opposite of our nature, Damian. When Dick first came to the Manor he was… light and joy after years of nothing but grief. In the same way, he is bringing light and joy into your life. I know that you have had precious little of that. I do not wish to take it away from you or from him. I have not always done well by those around me but I do try."
"Drake…?" Damian started to ask though he let the sentence trail off.
"I know you hacked the Red file," Bruce said, smiling wryly as the blush on Damian's cheeks intensified. "Tim has been my light, my inspiration for quite some time. It's nothing that society would approve of but we're good for each other in similar ways that Dick is good for you. Perhaps more like the ways that he was good for me when he was young, honestly. I can't imagine Dick ever turning towards you with sexual intent."
"Tt!" Damian's cluck this time was so ferociously disgusted that Bruce laughed under his breath. "I would find it necessary to reunite him with his ancestors if he did such a thing."
"I find myself reassured on that point," Bruce said. He smiled wryly at Damian. "If, when you are older, you do find yourself attracted to someone… less than appropriate according to convention; I do hope that you will discuss it with me. Or at least with Dick. He tends to be shockingly conventional about romance but he does welcome every sort of person."
The way Damian sniffed managed to convey both his thanks and his attempt at pretending that such openness was plebian. When Bruce offered Damian a hand, he studied it for a moment before laying his palm in Bruce's. All Bruce did was gently squeeze Damian's hand but it seemed to convey as much emotion as one of Dick's full-body tackle hugs.
"You truly care for him?" Damian asked after a moment spent staring at their hands.
"Why… What happened with Mother?" Damian asked. It looked like the question he had always wanted to ask but never dared.
"I cared very deeply for her as well, Damian," Bruce sighed. "She is one of three people that I have cared for with that level of intensity. But as with Selina, our goals were too opposite. As attracted as we were to each other, our lives were going in directions that demanded that we conflict. She saw it as well as I did. I am still fond of her but I could never trust her by my side. Her beliefs and goals run counter to my life's work. That is no basis for a relationship."
Damian's thumb rubbed over the back of Bruce's hand as he thought about that. Eventually he sighed and leaned towards Bruce ever so slightly. It was so similar to the move that Bruce would make whenever he wanted a hug but didn't quite dare ask that Bruce automatically pulled Damian into his arms.
"You're my son," Bruce whispered to Damian as he clung to Bruce's shirt. "Tim is my Beloved. Please don't fight so much with him."
Damian grumbled something against Bruce's shoulder before pushing his way out of the hug. His cheeks were flamingly red this time despite his darker skin. Bruce resisted the urge to smile at how adorable he was. The 'tt' was expected, as was the way Damian tugged his clothes back into place.
"I suppose there must be some redeeming characteristics about him for you to bestow that title on him," Damian said so haughtily that Bruce's smile slipped out for a moment. "I believe I shall go practice."
"May I join you?" Bruce asked as he shut the computers down again.
"If you wish to," Damian said, back perfectly straight and so tight that his shoulders had to ache viciously.
"I do wish to," Bruce said.
He smiled at the way Damian relaxed in fits and starts, as if afraid that this moment of acceptance was going to fade. They worked on the weights and then the punching bags for half an hour. Tim, Cass and Dick arrived just as they were switching to the mats for a light spar. When Dick looked worried, Damian sniffed and flipped a hand at him as if to say 'stop being such a fool, Grayson'. Bruce's little smile to Tim reassured him.
"Better" was all that Cass said as she went to change into sparring clothes.
"Cass doesn't approve, necessarily, but she understands," Tim said. "Sparring?"
"Yes," Bruce said. "Perhaps you and Dick can join us?"
"Yeah!" Dick said enthusiastically as he wrapped Damian in a hug that made him cluck his tongue and squirm half-heartedly. "That'd be great! We haven't had a proper free for all in ages."
"Free for all?" Damian asked suspiciously. "What do you mean, Grayson?"
As Dick explained the old game of flag-tag free for all that he'd instituted back when Dick was brand new as Robin, Tim took Bruce's hand. Dick's explanation echoed through the Cave along with Damian's demands for the rules, allowed and forbidden moves, as well as Cass's return with flags for them all. Bruce met Tim's eyes, smiling at the relief he saw there, as well as the challenge.
"No teams," Bruce announced as Dick said that he'd team up with Damian. "We're all on our own on this one."
"Ooooooh," Dick said, beaming. "We might have a chance if you two aren't teaming up."
"Please, you know that Cass is going to win," Tim said, shaking his head at Dick.
"Of course," Cass said so smugly that Bruce had to laugh.
Bruce tucked his two flags into his waistband. Once they were all ready, they spread out to widely separated parts of the Cave, waiting for the word to begin. To his immense amusement, Alfred arrived with a tray of lemonade and snacks for them all. He took it all in perfectly calmly, nodding once.
"I'm grateful to see that you've all worked your issues out," Alfred said. "Do be careful not to break anything while you play, children."
"If you will, Alfred?" Bruce asked.
Alfred inclined his head graciously, walking back to the stairs. Just as he stepped onto the first step he turned and smiled at them all. There was joy and acceptance in his eyes, calm approval of their decision to take the afternoon to play together as a family, as well as the sure knowledge that his medical skills would inevitably be called on by the time they were done. His eyes caught Bruce's first, and then Tim's, who blushed. Dick grinned and Damian clucked his tongue. Cass laughed, bouncing twice on her toes.
"Begin. Do be careful, children. I shall be back down in a while to assess the damage."
Bruce laughed and moved. Years ago he'd dreamed of playing this way. He'd given it up for a very long time, and then treated it solely as training for entirely too long after that. It wasn't this time. It was play and joy and happiness, here with his children and the love of his life. Tim's grin was as bright as Bruce's as he tumbled away from Damian with both of his flags safely tucked into his waistband. Considering how it had all started, Bruce didn't think that he could be any happier with how his and Tim's trips through Ouroborus' coils had gone.