When Tim Drake pulls the old school van up to a stop in the gated employee parking lot for the Robinson Park Fire Station and glances out the passenger side window, he blinks because it looks as though everyone on-duty at the company has come out to greet the preschoolers as they scramble to unbuckle their seatbelts and climb over Cassandra “Cass” Cain as she tries to calm them down and keep them from rioting in the seats.
There are eight firefighters standing around in the parking lot, some of whom Tim recognizes as a couple of the parents of the eleven kids squirming and generally raising hell in the backseat. Some of them --like the statuesque red-haired woman standing in the back of the crowd talking to the firehouse chief animatedly-- don’t seem to ring a bell and Tim kicks himself mentally because he’s usually good with faces. He turns the car off with a flick of his wrist and then pulls the old key out of the ignition.
“Are you ready to go in, Cass,” Tim asks, turning around so that he can watch the older teacher untangle little Milagro Reyes from her car seat as the four-year-old wiggles and tries to escape. “You get the Milagro and the twinlets and I’ll get everyone else?”
He shifts a little bit in his seat as he watches the preschoolers chatter excitedly at each other and tries not to look too stressed out. They’ve been on fieldtrips before as a class, but there’s something about the fact that most of the children in the class are related to someone at the firehouse that makes Tim apprehensive. “Are we leaving the bags in the car, or--”
The older woman smiles at him and then reaches to pat over to Tim on the cheek, cutting him off gently. “Don’t worry, Tim,” Cass says, voice soft and confident as she easily pinpoints the source of her aid’s stress. “Roy and everyone are going to help out with the kids unless they get a call out. Everything will be fine and the kids will have fun.”
Tim smiles at his boss and then pushes his own door open so that he can get out of the van and head to the sliding door on the right side of the van. “Are you sure they’ll be one their best behavior,” Tim asks as he unbuckles Lian from her car seat and places her firmly on the ground. Immediately the little girl takes off running in the direction of crowd of firefighters with a happy smile on her round face and as much as Tim should be worried about letting her go like that, both Roy Harper and his younger brother are standing in the front of the crowd. They’ll take care of her if anything happens.
The other children are a lot less rambunctious once they’re out of the car and they huddle around Tim’s legs as Cass comes around with the Wayne Twins and the West Twins walking in front of her and talking softly in their toddler-babble.
“Are you guys ready to go say hi to the firefighters,” Cass asks, kneeling down on the asphalt so that she’s at eyelevel with her preschool class and ignoring the way that dirt must be getting on her comfortable black jeans. She looks at each child in her class with proudness gleaming in her dark eyes for her charges’ good behavior. “If you’re all good, I think we can get them to let us play with the hoses.”
The toddlers cheer and wave their little fists in the air as Cass ruffles heads and then pulls the preschool lead rope out of her bag for them to grasp. They go back to their giggly, excited selves in no time, chubby fingers reaching out to grab hold of the brightly colored loops as they fight amongst themselves over who will get to walk behind Cass at the front of the line.
Cass claps her hands twice to get her students’ attention and then once the preschoolers stop talking and stare up at her with wide eyes, she lays her index finger over her mouth. “Get in line, guys.”
There’s another scramble --a smaller one this time-- and then all of the toddlers square off into an organized line with Helena and Damian Wayne at the head of the line and Jenny Quantum clutching the last loop on the lead with one hand as she looks up at Tim expectantly and holds her left hand up for him to hold before she’s even consider moving forward with the rest of the line.
“You want me to hold your hand,” Tim asks with a small smile curving up his lips, already reaching for Jenny’s gloved hand to hold it tightly. “Are you excited, Jenny?”
The quiet little girl nods and then finally bestows a shy smile upon Tim as Cass finally gets the line moving smoothly. “Yes,” she confesses in a voice that is filled with eagerness. “I like the firefighters.” Jenny’s smile stays firmly on her face, only widening as the small preschool class gets closer to the crowd of adults that are already waving and smiling at the children. “Do you like them too, Mister Tim?”
Tim opens his mouth to show assent, but then the line comes to a halt and he finds himself face to face with one of the most attractive men he’s ever seen in his life. “Oh, definitely,” Tim says, mouth working before his mind catches up to what he’s saying. But Jenny (thankfully) doesn’t notice the way that her teacher’s face starts to pink as he starts to focus more on the tall (dark, and handsome) firefighter standing next to Roy Harper than on the children he’s supposed to be watching.
Cass glances over at Tim, catching her aid’s eyes when he tears his gaze away from the firefighter’s blue eyes and tries to look absolutely innocent. “I think it’s time we do some introductions,” she says in a decisive tone of voice, smiling at Tim when the other teacher blushes and starts to fidget. “Tim, kids: these are the firefighters from Robinson Park and today they’re going to show you how a firehouse works.”
The preschoolers start cheering again and then Tim chances to look at the firefighter that had caught his eye moments before. The tall firefighter is smiling at him, blue eyes seeming to shine with amusement as he holds out one large and callused hand for Tim to shake.
“Jason Todd at your service,” he says with a smile that has no business making Tim’s face go so red as quickly as it does. He takes hold of Tim’s hand and pumps it twice before letting go and then crouching down so that he’s face to face with Jenny. “I do all of the heavy lifting around here and I take care of the company dog.”
Tim gets one, maybe two seconds of silence as Cass’ preschoolers register the fact that there’s a dog at the firehouse. And then the screaming starts and Tim is literally bowled over by ten four-year-olds trying to get to Jason.
It’s not the best way to go about getting the kids excited about a fieldtrip, but Tim can’t bring himself to complain. Not when Jason is handling being the center of their attention so well and Tim is free to stare as much as he likes.
After about two hours of shepherding small children around the firehouse, Tim finally gets some time to talk to Jason without the preschoolers crowding him and asking even more questions. He catches up to the dark-haired firefighter in the massive kitchen in the back of the firehouse and even though he’s a bundle of nerves, he makes himself open his mouth and actually talk to the other man.
“How long have you been a firefighter,” Tim asks as he watches Jason chug a bottle of water as though he’s dying of thirst. “You look like you’re the same age as me…” The sentence trails off into nothingness as a splash of water goes to trickle down the Jason’s skin to darken the front of his white undershirt and Tim finds himself staring with his mouth wide open.
Jason laughs, obviously noticing the expression on Tim’s face, and then pushes one hand through the curls of his dark hair as he smiles at the other man. “You’re what: nineteen or twenty?”
Tim doesn’t have to be near a mirror to know that his face is probably red and splotchy from his blushing. “Oh c’mon, I’m almost twenty-two,” he grits out, fighting the urge to cover his face with his hands so he doesn’t have to look up and see the amusement in Jason’s blue eyes. “I don’t look like that much of a kid do I?”
Jason hesitates to answer at first, making himself busy around the kitchen until Tim’s skin is all but itching from the urge to demand an answer from the bigger man with his biceps and that lone white curl in his hair and…
“--and I’ll be twenty-five next month. How long have you been working with Cass?”
Of course Tim’s mind would wander just in time for him to miss hearing the first half of Jason’s response to his question. Tim can feel his face get even redder when he realizes how much of the conversation he has missed. He starts to toy with the cuff of his sleeve as he tries to collect himself. “It hasn’t been very long,” Tim admits. “It’s only been a year and a half since I got my certificate and when I started working with Cass, most of the kids were almost four already.”
Jason makes an understanding noise. “You look like you’re good with kids,” he says. “They certainly like you as much as they like Cass.” He smiles at Tim and then gestures in the direction of the massive refrigerator. “Do you want something to drink while you wait for the kids to find you?”
“S-sure,” Tim breathes, face flushing even further from the compliment. “And everyone likes Cass. She’s a sweetheart.” He props his back up against the counter next to the sink and tries to play it cool as Jason cracks open a bottle of water for him and then presses it into his hand. “You should see the way the kids look when she’s running late and they think she’s not coming in.”
“Don’t tell me,” Jason, says, leaning against the space of empty counter beside Tim. “They make that face that looks like a sad puppy and then they look like they’re going to cry?” He snickers and then crosses his arms over his chest. “Lian makes that face every time she comes to visit her dads and she has to leave with Mia and Rose.”
Tim almost flinches when Jason’s bare arm brushes against his elbow, but manages to keep from falling all over himself. “You’ve known them long?”
Jason shrugs. “Long enough,” he says with a sheepish smile, “Roy and Dick kinda adopted me into the family since I was so much younger than they were. When I started working here, Roy used to set me up on all of these blind dates. If he has a friend that dates guys, chances are that I dated them when I was younger.”
He nudges Tim with his arm again and beams as though he’s never been more pleased in his life. “Now that Roy has got a bead on you, I’m sure he’ll try to do the same thing with you,” he grins when Tim’s cheeks flare up bright red. “If he mentions some guy named Johnny Storm, just say no. The guy’s alright, but he’s a major glory hound.”
There’s something about being in such close quarters with Jason that makes Tim feel a bit more confident about his fascination with the other man. He puts his hands on his hips and looks up at Jason. “What if I don’t want Roy hooking me up with one of his friends,” he asks softly. “What if I have someone else I want to ask out?”
Jason pauses mid-ribbing and grins at Tim. “You asking me out?”
Tim doesn’t even have to think about his answer. “Yeah.”
“Good,” Jason breathes along with a sigh of relief. “I was beginning to think I’d never figure out if you were interested in me or not.” He returns his hand to his hair and messes the curly strands up as Tim’s eyes fixate on his sheepish smile. “How do you feel about horror movies?”
“I love them,” Tim confesses in a rush of words. “What time do you get off?”
Jason’s eyes sparkle with amusement he reaches out to stroke his fingers over the side of Tim’s left arm where there’s a small smear of dirt above his elbow. “My shift finishes at nine,” he says as Tim shivers against the counter. “Pick me up and I’ll wear something pretty?”
Tim laughs softly. “It’s a date.”