Chapter 1: Prologue
(Exposition - the first section of a piece of music; introduces the melodies and themes)
The baby that is to be named Timothy Jackson Drake was born small and gray. His cry had been a wheeze. He responded to no auditory stimuli. That is because that baby was born small and gray and deaf. The Drakes were astounded. Embarrassed. Upset.
But that baby, the baby that is to be named Timothy Jackson Drake, was also born with music in him. Songs upon songs upon songs.
This, his parents did not know.
(Etude - musical composition written solely to improve technique)
The four-year-old Timmy (to his mother) or Timothy (to his father) had found his grandmother's cello. It was old and smelled of dust.
It was also grossly out of tune. How could his little fingers (that were itching to play songs, so many songs!) play on something so horrendously out of tune?
His mother looked at him and her lips said 'oh my, how cute, that instrument is taller than he is, look dear, I hope he does not hurt himself.' Timmy/Timothy tunes it, the notes vibrating pure and strong in his chest. His fingers were itching. He itched to play. There was so much to play. To put to music.
So that was what little Timothy Jackson Drake did.
(Hymn - a song of praise and honor; most often to honor God)
The child that was Timothy Jackson Drake was then Tim to the world. And the world did know him. He could make men and women cry, he could silence wailing babies. And the boy was only ten. A prodigy, a miracle! God's gift to music! A master cellist!
Many called him the next Beethoven. (The boy would roll his eyes. Beethoven was a pianist. Tim was not a pianist.)
But the boy lacked a hobby. A real hobby anyway. Music, it seemed, had become a chore. The songs that lived with in him, burned and rolled and stretched toward his fingers, were not the songs his parents wanted. They wanted happier songs. Joy songs. Money making songs.
Tim did not have any more joy songs in him. Just tired songs. Sad songs.
Timothy Jackson Drake was tired.
(Vivace - direction to performer to play in a brisk, lively, and spirited manner)
Robin made the songs come back. Elated songs. Happy songs.
That Robin boy was Dick Grayson. Tim's eleven year old memory was perfect, and he remembered. Knew. And took pictures. He felt the song in each image, played the song for each one. Concertos spouted from his cello, filled with red and green and yellow, intermingled with black and blue and silence.
Batman and Robin.
Songs. Tim had more songs to write. To play.
This pleased the parents of Timothy Jackson Drake.
(Modulation - to shift to another key)
Fourteen-and-a-half year old Tim was bolder. He knew. He knew that Nightwing was Robin and Robin was Dick. Confronting had been easy. Dick had understood American Sign Language (but his execution of it had left much to be desired).
Dick. Surprised. A new song for a new face. Dick's voice was bright and smooth and wonderful. Tim could feel it in the vibrations. He wanted to write a song about that too. Bruce's voice was different. New. Special. Another song.
Tim had many songs to write.
More songs when he was Batman's. More songs when he was Robin. More and more and more.
But when Tim was at home, he was still Timothy Jackson Drake.
But his songs sang of Robin. Himself. Batman. Bruce Wayne. Strength. Blackness. Night. Knight.
(Elegy - an instrumental lament with praise for the dead)
The parents of Timothy Jackson Drake were dead. And that was no longer his name. He was then Timothy Jackson Drake-Wayne.
Dick called him Tim. Bruce called him Tim.
Jason Todd called him Pretender.
Pretending had caused the tragedy. The death of his parents. (Strangely, he was not sad. He was not happy either. He was just. Nothing.)
The music was also dead. There was no song. No vibrations. No nothing. Silence. The silence of Death.
The baby that was born Timothy Jackson Drake had been born deaf, but full of music. The man that became Tim Drake-Wayne was still deaf, but silent.
(Toneless - unmusical; without tone)
Tim embodies silence. His cello sits beneath his bed in the silent manor. The manor is like him. Quiet when Bruce is gone. Quiet when Damian is with him. Quiet since Dick is gone. The only time it is not quiet is when Jason Todd is here.
The walls rumble. The floor beneath Tim's bare feet shakes and shivers. He does not want to be here. He does not want to heal. Yet here he is, just the same as Tim.
Or. Not really. Where else would Tim go? He is here because the music of voices that lives here almost reaches the space inside him where the music had once lived. The voices are their own symphony. But they do not make his fingers itch. They do not send his pencil writing music on the back of homework.
So. Jason is different. Here, because it is demanded. Here, because they want him to heal.
Tim isn't sure what he wants for Jason. But right now he wants Jason to be quiet so Tim can focus on his inner emptiness. Listen. Feel. (Because Tim has only ever listened by feeling.) Jason's raving makes it hard. Alfred will be up here soon to fix it. Alfred always comes to fix things. It is his nature, Tim has noticed.
He hopes it is soon. Jason is ruining his focus. (Why is he so loud? Tim does not like loud.)
Tim is now a disciple of silence.
Chapter 2: Chapter 1
Dirty sunlight touches Tim's face, the backpack is a comfortable weight on his shoulders. His eyes scan the crowd of people outside Gotham University. Voices rumble and tug at his skin. He scans the lips of others, seeking words, seeking information. He adjusts the weight of the backpack once more before walking down the sidewalk. Gotham smells dirty. The filtered sunlight bounces off of the windows of skyscrapers and sometimes it is blinding. Tim keeps his eyes on the pavement, picturing his footsteps as ripples in the molecules that comprise the air.
He can't picture sounds, only music. Miss Martian had told him that his thoughts were spoken in a G minor chord (a chord of melancholy or darkness, but she did not know that). He had been born with music in him, his mother had said. It is something he feels (scratch that, used to feel) inside him, a thrumming, and sound would pulse from his fingers like magic. And he could hear every single one, through his skin, reverberating through his chest.
Tim pinches himself with his nails, drawing blood from half-moon marks on his skin. A high C, two Cs above the staff, rings in his head at the stinging. It echoes around his head, allowing for focus as he makes his way home. When the pure C disappears, the emptiness in Tim settles. Silence.
He opens the door to the manor. It's more quiet than it usually is at this time of day. Jason must be done with his daily rage (his rage shakes the walls, the floor, everything. It vibrates Tim, shakes him to the empty spot where his music used to be, starting from his feet and hovering around his silence for minutes at a time).
Tim feels the tingling on the back of his neck as he heads toward the living room. The hairs on his arms stand up. Tim waits. Feels. He kneels quickly, untying his double knotted shoes. He feels the air as Damian leaps over him. The little Robin rolls, turns, and lunges. Tim's shoes are already off by then and he executes a perfect back-handspring.
Damian sneers and Tim reads his lips. "I'll get you tomorrow, Drake."
Tim shrugs. His hands speak for him. "Of course you will." Surprise is always what Damian seeks and when it is blown, he plans for the next day. This has been occurring every day since Tim's "relinquishing" of his mantle. At this point, it is simply routine. Tim likes routine and has since stopped complaining about Damian's attempts on his life (though he seriously doubts that Damian would kill him. He enjoys these too, Alfred says.).
Tim picks up his sneakers and moves toward the stairs. The first time, Damian had caught him by surprise. Intensely by surprise. Tim had been heading up the stairs, shedding his sneakers on the way up and Damian's body slammed him to the stairs, causing them both to slide down and resulting in a miserable fistfight that Alfred had sent both of them to their rooms for.
He deposits his shoes and backpack in the corner of his room near his desk. He straightens he folder there, making the spine edge parallel with the edge of the desk, before he heads back out into the hallway. Alfred will probably like some help with dinner. Dick is coming over tonight, his first real visit since he moved out to be Nightwing again. Damian is thrilled, but would never say so. Jason brushes past him, glancing over his shoulder only to scoff and continue on his way down the stairs.
Tim thinks he sees Jason's lips murmur, "afternoon, Replacement."
There is no inner response. Silence.
Tim slides down the banister, past Damian (who has situated himself on the couch, no doubt waiting for Dick to show up) and Jason (who has turned on the TV and the rising volume is thrumming through the house). Jason's program is one of those true crime shows. They are his guilty pleasure. Damian does not care and who would Tim tell?
Alfred is in the kitchen, organizing dinner supplies, and getting out his cookware. Tim touches Alfred's elbow, tilting his head in the common question of want help for dinner?
Alfred smiles, nods, and gestures to the cookbook on the counter. (Handmade. It contains all of Alfred's recipes. Tim is the only one who has ever seen it, Alfred had told him.) Spinach lasagna tonight? This is something that Tim has never had. His mother never did cook, she had had staff for th—
Tim pinches himself again, harder this time. The C screams a little louder, lasts a little longer. (What is it with him today? He needs to make sure that he gets rid of this memorium-funk of his before patrol tonight. Distractions are unacceptable.)
They work quickly and efficiently. Tim has been helping out with cooking since before he had moved in. He and Alfred stay out of each other's way, sweeping behind one another with little space, but exceptional courtesy. Dinner gets finished more quickly this way. (It gets finished even faster when Alfred decides to play classical music, but today is not that day, not with the television pulsing sound everywhere.)
Dick arrives as Tim sets the table and Alfred puts the finishing touches on everything. Bruce follows him in, as if he had been walking down the street with his eldest son. It is a reasonable conclusion. Bruce had had a meeting with Mr. Fox this afternoon and it had been expected to end in the early evening. They had probably met up with each other on the way home.
Alfred's voice rings (and, yes, different accents vibrate differently) calling everyone to dinner. Tim doesn't want to say that Damian skipped to the table, but he definitely did leap into the seat closest to his most (un)despised enemy. Dick ruffles his hair and Damian basks in it as if it were praise. Jason sits furthest away from Dick, closest to Alfred. Tim gauges his options. He could sit next to Damian. Or. He could sit next to Jason.
Jason makes that choice for him, yanking the chair next to him out from under the table. Tim plops down, takes a moderate amount of food and begins to eat with everyone else.
Except. Everyone's voices mingle, falling into the harmony of ages, the harmony of family. Even Jason's angry growl undertones the symphony that is the Bat-family.
Tim has no voice. No song. Nothing. Pure and total silence in a world full of vibrations and timbre and music. Silence and grief threaten to overwhelm him (what is it with him today, what is it, what is it—).
Hands on his shoulders. The song has stopped. It is just Dick.
"Timmy?" Tim knows the airwaves that bear his name. "You okay?" He knows what that question feels like too.
He nods, noting the way Jason's eyebrow his raised at him. What the fuck is his problem? That is what it says. Tim is a master at reading body language. (It is a self-given title, but he gets a lot of feedback on it, but then, Jason has been hard to read. Bodily, anyway.) He lifts his hands so that everyone can see Tim excuse himself from the table. It is time for an early patrol, his gestures say. Sorry to worry anyone.
Dick looks concerned as he leaves. Damian just watches, unblinking, like a cat (note: speak to Selina about recruiting, or training, or something). Tim needs to get dressed, think, go on patrol.
Tim is surprised to find Jason grabbing his elbow. His grip is kind of rough.
"Are you really okay?" Jason's voice. A rumble. The words vibrate like a secret. A shiver awakens in his silent place. A note. Concert B flat.
Tim pauses. Nods. Tugs his elbow away.
He heads down to the Batcave, leaving Jason behind him (probably shrugging what the fuck ever, not my problem).
(He ignores the not-note. It wasn't one, just a shiver. Nothing. It is the silent place for a reason.)
Chapter 3: Chapter 2
The idea of patrol had been rejected the moment Tim descended into the Batcave. He could not focus and focus is key when swinging from Gotham's rooftops. But he could not stay at the manor either, with his mind so muddled (he had already spaced out once). Besides, now, when his mind wanders , B flat sings and hums within him (but when he tries to grasp that note, it slips away).
He escaped through the Batcave, slipping on the pair of sneakers he leaves down there. This precaution would at least keep up the premise of a patrol.
So it is here that Tim finds himself. Here, a recent secret and an ever deepening shame every time he returns.
Here is The Everyman, one of Gotham's nightclubs (and the only one with a historical literature reference). This affair (and it is one, illicit and disgusting) had started almost exactly one month ago, when Dick had moved out to become Nightwing again.
Stephanie had wanted to go clubbing with him when Dick left. It was supposed to cheer him up. He had stared at the outside of the club then much as he is now. She had called this "starting off small" because this place did a lot of techno remixes of classical songs that Tim would just love (and that is a direct quote).
Tim had hated the press of bodies. But (while the music was not his) it had a thumping pulse. It is that pulse that brought him back the next night. And then one two nights after that. And then the one three nights after (that was the night he actually got on the dance floor, the pulse had been irresistible). And Tim had kept coming back, over and over and over.
It is his shame.
Tim enters the club, his eyes already prepared for darkness. The strobe lights sting when they blaze across his vision, but it doesn't take long to adjust to that either. The pulse of the music is already rushing through him, grabbing at his skin and pulling him to the dance floor, among the smells of sweat and kisses and lust (the smells had also taken getting used to).
Tim listens with his skin. A remix of Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 is pounding from the speakers. ("That boy is the next Beethoven—") Voices are smothered by the pulse and Tim doesn't even have to think about how he has no voice (just his G Minor thought). Even pressed against other dancers (that feel and move and writhe with the vibrations) Tim cannot feel them speak.
Tim is sweating and moving, the music forcing itself into his emptiness, exploding, hiding his G Minor (hiding Tim). Tim is hiding in the songs, blending into vibrations and dancing, until he truly does not know how many songs have passed.
B flat suddenly screams itself into the pulse, undulating and whirling amongst Bach's Fugue in D Minor. It tingles and stings, Tim's skin seeking sound and contact (this is his shame, his wrongness, his filth).
A shockwave pounds him in the middle and heat washes over his face. He stops dancing. The others on the floor begin to move in a wave of fear. Silence settles, cold and hard, the Fugue murmuring around his empty circle. The B flat fades out, carrying for three short moments, high and clear, the tuning note for many things. Tim's lungs expand in gasps, heat from a fire in the north wall of the club drying out his vocal cords.
Two Face emerges from the flames (and he has gone from being Harvey to Two Face so many times that Tim, if his memory weren't what it is, would have lost count by now). The word he spits is Catwoman. Panic grips Tim's stomach and he turns his head, scanning the retreating mob and the few people that are frozen in place. Selina Kyle is one of those people. She is not looking at Two Face, but Tim.
Tim thinks he is going to be sick. He could run. Selina could have mistaken someone else for him, if he leaves now. But innocent people will get hurt if he doesn't stay, as emphasized by one of Two Face's henchmen firing a pistol round into the ceiling.
Selina gestures, running forward. Tim flanks. He isn't in his uniform, but Tim isn't memorable, not since he fell off the musical map a year ago. In this case, he's just a gutsy teenaged boy bringing down a crime lord.
Tim makes sure not to use any moves that Robin uses. But Batman doesn't know Tim knows these attacks. It is a blending of Jason Todd (and Tim remembers every fight with him perfectly) and Batman, Dick and Damian. Justice with violence. Disarming breaks someone's arm, Tim feels it, can picture it in a jagged G sharp. But someone hits him. Tim drops his opponent, sees Selina working on Dent (she is fast, Tim has never noticed before). He shoves against his new attacker. This once lacks a gun which means he is a hand-to-hand combat man.
Tim can tell. He lands blows, scratches Tim's face.
Tim boxes the man's ears and slams his forehead against the henchman's. Blood is oozing from the man's ears as he collapses, but his eardrums will heal. Tim didn't smack his ears that hard. He slips out of the club through the hole that Two Face had blasted into the wall. He needed to be out of here because Batman and Nightwing (or at least one of them) is sure to show up soon.
Selina is in front of him before he can break into a run.
"What are you doing here, kid?" Her lips are lovely. Stephanie wishes for lips like those every night before she goes to sleep. (At least, that's what she told him, anyway.)
"Don't tell Bruce," Tim's hands say, shaking nervously, because he needs to get out of here.
"I assume that means don't tell Daddy Bats." Tim forgets that not everyone understands sign languages. Tim nods. Selina shrugs. "That doesn't answer my question—" Tim slips past her and runs. He doesn't feel her footsteps behind him, so he assumes that she, too, is waiting for Bruce to arrive. He will be sure to ask what set Two Face off this time. Tim can picture her batting her lashes and shrugging off whatever she stole while walking her fingers up his chest.
How did you not know Two Face was out and about, Tim? He can picture Bruce's disappointed rumble. Guilt swallows him up and presses against his insides.
It provokes him to run faster, the sweat cooling on his too-warm skin.
Chapter 4: Chapter 3
Dick's laptop has some of the worst security Jason has ever seen. It's probably his personal laptop, but that doesn't mean he ought to just have a password lock. (And Dick's password is Nighting backwards with no caps. Simple. Baby simple. Replacement-Robin—Tim—has probably already added a modification that if Dick types in a certain word, his computer will crash.)
Because of that piss-poor security, Jason has decided about fifteen minutes ago that he was going to play around with Dick's computer. So here he is. It seemed like the perfect opportunity, since Dick and Bruce and that little runt all went out to see what had gone down with Dent. ("Why hadn't Drake noticed? Isn't he out on patrol?" "Damian, not even Bruce is omnipotent. What makes you think Tim will be?" "Tt.")
It just so happens that at this very moment, Tim has decided to grace the manor with his presence by quietly opening the front door and showing himself. He isn't in his Red Robin getup (Jason's Red Robin getup). He is breathing in heaving gasps and the front of his T-shirt is showing signs of sweat. He hasn't noticed Jason yet, because he's heading for the stairs after he shuts the wooden door behind him.
Jason stands, without thinking, and calls out, "Hey, what are you doing back?"
Tim freezes. Not just a tensing of the shoulders, or a flinch, but he freezes, right the fuck where he is, foot poised to climb the first stair, tension everywhere. Jason wouldn't be surprised if he ran back out the door.
As Jason moves closer, Tim turns around, still oozing tension and discomfort. And he smells. He smells like his sweat and other people's sweat. Jason even catches a whiff of cigarettes and booze. And it's not of the strength that indicated that Tim smoked or drank. But he was definitely crammed in with people who were. And still another smell. The smell of ashes, explosives.
And now Jason has a really good look at him. A bruise is forming on his cheek, deep furrows from someone's nails are on the other one. Dried blood overs around them. There are many bruises on Tim's arms, and one of them is shaped like a human hand. Tim just stands there, letting Jason stare at him, probably because he's already been seen and running would just make whatever-the-fuck he did worse.
Jason raises an eyebrow. Tim's hands make words and thoughts in the air.
"Do not tell Bruce."
"Tell him what? And why? Where the fuck have you been? You're supposed to be with the rest of ou—your hero family. You were supposed to be out on patrol." Shame layers itself over Tim's face. He looks like he might be sick. His hands work again.
"Do not tell Bruce."
"That doesn't tell me why I shouldn't." It doesn't tell him what he shouldn't tell Bruce either.
"Do not tell Bruce."
Tim flinches. His hands move again, "Don't tell Bruce." Then he uses the alphabet to emphasize his request. "P. L. E. A. S. E." Jason sighs, noticing the way that Tim keeps clenching and unclenching his jaw. Jason remembers shattering the left side of that jaw with his fist, feeling the bone crack and splinter beneath his knuckles.
And rage boils in him, just like it did when he found out Bruce replaced him with a deaf kid. Jason clenches his fists. Thinking about it makes him so angry, because, really, Bruce couldn't do better than find some kid who can't even hear orders to replace him? (Then again, Jason could hear orders and he just ignored them. But that's a different point entirely.) Jason has to stuff down his anger.
Tim notices. The nervousness and shame that had been on his face a moment ago have disappeared into careful mask of blankness. It's the face that Jason most often sees. And Tim must have seen the anger in Jason because he has taken a step back, up one stair. Jason reaches out towards him, because it's not like he's going to just fucking sock in him the face.
His fingers wrap around Tim's wrist. Jason is curious. What was he doing out, if not out being a hero?
A note screams, high and clear and loud, in his head. Tim jerks away and dashes up the stairs as if Jason had hit him. And he hadn't hit him. Jason would know and remember if he had hit Tim. (He remembers every confrontation and every punch, from both sides.)
He hears Tim's door open and shut. Then he hears the softer sound of Tim's bathroom door opening and closing. And then the water starts.
Tim is fucking strange.
Jason runs his hand through his hair, heading back to his place on the couch in front of Dick's laptop. He could probably find some really illicit porn for Dick to find. That would be fucking hilarious. Alfred walks by and up the stairs (probably to check on Tim) but not before ruffling Jason's hair, once. Alfred has always been relatively free with small bouts of affection.
It is one of the reasons that he hasn't left yet, burning the manor down behind him.
Jason tries to focus on the project of ruining Dick's computing experiences for the rest of his fucking life. But it isn't panning out the way he would like. That screaming note is still hovering around in the back of his mind (and it hurts, a little bit, as if a headache is starting to form around his temples).
Forty-five minutes go by (and Dick's browser history is trashed) and the hero-family returns triumphant. Alfred is there to greet them.
"Hey, Jason, has Tim come home?" Dick's computer is on the loveseat where he had left it. Jason never touched the thing, as far as anyone is concerned.
"Yeah. He was beat up," and technically he's not telling whatever Tim doesn't want him to tell (even though he doesn't know what it is) "and took a shower and is presumably sitting in the dark doing some shit that the rest of us can only guess at."
Bruce is scowling. He is still scowling when yanks the cowl backwards. Dick looks concerned and Damian just looks pissed and generally unhappy with life as fucking usual. Nothing makes that kid happy (except maybe Dickiebird's return).
"Something the matter?" Jason asks, flopping back on the couch.
"No, just..." Dick trails off.
"Drake is slipping in his patrol duties because the police frequencies were a mass of reports that Two-Face was hunting Catwoman tonight and he missed this information, resulting in damage to a nightclub."
Well. That explains a lot. Tim is slacking. But it didn't even look like he went on patrol tonight. It looked like he got in a street fight. Jason doesn't say anything and the three of them go on their merry happy way to the Batcave to discuss how fucked up in the head Tim is (because Jason can tell, and anyone who thinks Tim is perfectly fine needs to be beaten).
Jason pushes himself off the couch and heads upstairs to his room (even though it's not like there's anything special in there because Alfred found his stash of alcohol again). Tim is in the hallway, standing around like a freakish shadow. Silent like one too.
"They want to talk to me, don't they?" Jason thinks that today is the most they've ever said without punching each other. Or. Signed. Whatthefuckever.
"Probably. What were you doing? Because you were not out patrolling." Tim's eyes move to the floor. There is silence. Tim is probably used to it, but Jason isn't. He taps the toes of his feet against the floor, just for the need of sound.
"Nothing." Tim's hands finally say. "I wasn't doing anything, but I couldn't stay here. The people that were injured are my fault." Jason wants to ask how Tim got his injuries.
And Bruce and Dick hadn't mentioned and injuries.
Tim presses himself closer to the wall, as if he wants to seep into it and hide. Jason should say something. He looks fucking miserable.
"Uh, I'm... sure they won't hate you." Tim looks up, his eyes fixating on his lips. (It's discomforting. But. He does that to everyone. He reads lips, right? So. It makes sense.) "I mean. They won't hate you like. They hate me. You know."
Tim arches an eyebrow. And a wan, self-depreciating smile picks up the corners of his lips.
"They don't hate you," Tim gestures. And then he opens his door and slips into his room. It's like he was never out here, that's how quiet it is. Tim is a shadow.
Jason wonders, for a moment, what it's like to go through life in silence. Jason's always been loud. He has never been a shadow, a spirit, not like Tim.
But the thought makes him uncomfortable and he retreats in his room. He hopes Alfred hasn't found his cigarettes. Jason could really use a smoke.
(But he has. Fuck. He needs to get more. That and alcohol. Especially if he ever runs into Tim like this again. That kid is just so... disconcerting.)
Chapter 5: Chapter 4
The thing people don't understand about Tim is that if you can see it on his face, what he is actually feeling is ten times more intense. Tim's body language works like that. It's a lot of guesswork. And Dick's not quite as perceptive as Tim is in the aspect of body language. But Tim looks miserable now, which means he is tearing himself up on the inside. Saturday morning finds Bruce scolding Tim. He is using his "quietly disappointed voice." Dick had hated that voice when he was Robin. Tim had hated it even more. Dick can tell that now, Tim abhors this voice. (Tim does not handle disappointment well.)
And every moment Bruce continues with his lecture, Tim's eyelids flutter, an indication of his stress. Shame is layering over his features more with every word. Dick doesn't really understand. Tim had just missed the patrol frequency. That's no reason to be that... ashamed. It could be Bruce's tone, of course. Tim's affected by things like that. For a deaf boy, he's very sensitive to tone.
When Bruce is done with his scolding, Tim's eyes move to the carpet. Dick can see his arms working in an apology. He also assumes that he is saying that he will do better next time. But Dick is only guessing at this, because he is staring at Tim's back.
Bruce nods, placing his hand on Tim's shoulder for a half-second before leaving the house. He has another meeting with Lucius Fox.
Tim stands there, in the foyer, dejected and lost. He has always been like that after a lecture. It is him adjusting the new information to his current data. It is also Tim adjusting to the guilt. It's how Tim has been since Dick has known him, even before he collapsed in on himself after his parents died. (My music is gone, Tim's hands had said, I can't find it, it's gone.)
Dick takes Tim's stillness as an invitation to a hug, which Dick freely gives. He hadn't exactly had the opportunity to cuddle with his little brother last night, especially with Damian following him around everywhere (not that Dick minded in particular. It was actually really cute. He'd pinched Damian's baby cheeks for it).
Tim's arms don't encircle him nearly as tight as Dick would have liked, but a hug is a hug when it comes to Tim and Dick will take what he can get. Dick pulls away and hold Tim at arm's length. His face is thinner than it was before Dick had moved out to pursue is solo heroing. He looks more tired too. And his left eye is swelling, presumably from the fight he had gone through as Red Robin last night (Selina had told Bruce that Tim had saved the day, he was just a little late). The nail marks on the cheek that isn't bruised are red and angry.
"Little bird, are you okay?" Tim looks up at him. His brows furrow a little bit, but he nods. "I mean really. If you're tired just. Don't go on patrol as often. There's no need to wear such a guilty face." He pulls Tim into another hug and pets his younger brother's hair. Tim pushes away and trembles. He turns his face away, trying to hide his shame behind his blank-face.
Dick stops him before he does.
Tim's hands work. "I miss you. That is all. A lot. So."
Dick pulls him close for the third time. And he squeezes this time. Hard.
"That's not something to be ashamed of," He knows Tim can feel his voice. He'll get the picture. After so long of being brothers, Tim sort of just understands, in the way that Dick sort of just understands when Tim doesn't use his hands to speak.
Tim shrugs. I know, I'm sorry, the shrug says.
"So how is school?" Dick asks when Tim pulls away and stretches his hands above his head. Dick hears something pop.
Tim shrugs, his bare feet making no noise on the wooden floor of the foyer as he makes his way into (and then out of) the living room toward the library. It's been better and worse. That is what that shrug says. Dick follows after him, though his footsteps aren't as silent. (No one can be as quiet and loud at the same time as Tim.)
Tim gestures, palm outward, as he settles onto his favorite chair in the library. Tim's hiding place is in here (Tim's hiding place had been Dick's hiding place when he had first been brought into this huge and silent house). How is your work going?
"Oh, fine. You know. Baddies and stuff. Haley's circus was in town a few weeks back. I was offered the thing, you know. Inheritance and whatever."
Tim nods. I know. Of course he knows. Tim knows everything that there is to know. (In fact, Tim had probably been worried that Dick wouldn't be in Gotham anymore when he found out. Tim's adorable like that, frets over nothing.)
"I said no."
There is a pause before Tim nods this time. I know.
Tim rocks back and forth on his heels, his eyes wandering. Then he starts to speak with his fingers.
"Before you leave," of course Tim knows that Dick stayed the night because he hadn't really gotten to see him, "you need to tell Jason that you don't hate him."
"You need to tell Jason that you do not hate him. He thinks the family hates him. Fix it." Tim pauses, his hands in the air. It is an indication that he still has more to say. "It is sad that he thinks you hate him. You, who does not hate anyone, not really. And Bruce loves him, he just does not pay attention. And Damian hates everyone. Fix it, please."
"Why don't you tell him?"
Tim looks away. "I did. He did not believe me. His hip cocked out in a stance of defiance, and his eyes flashed in skepticism."
Tim would notice things like that.
Tim looks at him. What are you waiting for is said with a raised eyebrow. Dick ruffles his little brother's hair. It's an irresistible impulse because Tim just cares so much. It's... Dick doesn't have a word for it yet, but Tim is a good person, a great person. So Dick leaves him to sit in his favorite chair (and he catches a glimpse of Tim's shame-face for a split second) and Dick goes to find Jason.
But not before he finds Alfred and asks him to watch over Tim. He's getting thin and tired looking.
(When he looks at Tim, he regrets moving out of the house. Tim does that to him.)
Chapter 6: Chapter 5
Selina has never been to Bruce's home for a social visit. But it has been three days since her encounter with Bruce's (not by blood) progeny and she is curious. (Yes, it killed the cat. But satisfaction brought it back.) She is curious as to why he was at a nightclub (that Robin just hadn't seemed like the type). And why he had looked so stricken to find her there. And why he hadn't wanted Daddy Bats to know.
So here she is on Bruce's doorstep in her clubbing clothes (skintight jeans and a leather top), the sun setting at her back. She is waiting for someone to answer the door.
The heavy door opens and Bruce's butler his there.
"Why, good evening, Miss Kyle. How can I help you?"
"I'm looking for Tim." Alfred's eyebrows go up, but he waves her in.
"One moment," he says before stepping away. Hopefully to go get Tim. Questions are already building up in her throat. And sure enough, Alfred comes back with Tim following quietly behind. He doesn't look as surprised to see her as Alfred did, but he does look positively confused. (Tim is Selina's favorite. He's the most adorable of Batman's brood.) His bruises are yellow-green and his scratches look like they are fighting off infection, but he is still the handsome child that the news says he is (though reporters hardly ever get a good shot at him, and always say that he looks so familiar).
"Ready to go?" She asks, pointing over her shoulder.
Tim pulls a small notebook and pen from his back pocket. He is nothing if not prepared. Go where? He writes. His penmanship is perfect.
"Well, I'm feeling particularly hunted since the attack on the Everyman a couple nights ago. I thought I'd ask for some body-guarding. You were very helpful." Tim's face goes blank. "Besides, Bruce is a bore to take to clubs, I'd imagine. Your predecessor is too angry. The first Robin would have too much fun, not to mention that he doesn't live here anymore. And. The small one is. Well. I'm sure you know."
Tim nods slowly and signs at Alfred. His hands are very delicate when they work like that. Alfred heaves a sigh.
"I shall notify Master Bruce."
"Give him hugs and kisses for me." Selina says with a purr. Alfred clears his throat.
"I will pass along the sentiment, Miss Kyle, but that's the most I can promise." She snickers. Tim steps outside and waves to Alfred. Alfred smiles. It is obvious he has a soft spot for this kid. Maybe he makes it really hard not to have a soft spot for him. After all, he's practically silent, always bashful, hates to disappoint. It's just precious.
And then they are on their way. The streetlights come on, and Gotham comes alive.
"So where do you want to go?" Selina asks. Tim's eyes cut to her lips and he gestures for her to repeat herself. She does. He pulls his notepad out of his pocket.
I thought I was just your bodyguard.
"Oh, little bird, you're not that gullible." His cheeks flush.
Why did you want me to come clubbing with you? Selina had known he wasn't that stupid. At least he doesn't bother to keep up with the charade when he knows it's pointless.
"I doubt your family takes you out." He glances away then back at her mouth. "Especially from the way you almost jumped out of your own skin when I saw you and you saw me. So I took it upon myself to take you clubbing." Because it had looked like something special and forbidden for him. It is something that was impressive.
Tim bites his bottom lip. Selina is almost worried that he will draw blood. Then, he begins to scribble.
A) Are there anymore clubs with classical remixes? B) I go for the pulse. It is my addiction and my shame. Please don't tell my family.
"Ah." The pulse means very little to her. Unless he is referring to the deep bass that permeates every club in existence. "Little bird, if I didn't tell your family before, why would I consider telling them now?" Tim shrugs. He always expects the worst of people. That is not a good thing. Boys his age should be happy, grab the world by the reins, naïve, innocent.
But Gotham does not allow that kind of thing.
Selina has more questions, infinite questions, but she sees the club across the street and points. "That is out destination. Philharmony." Named for the Gotham City Philharmonic. Classical remixes. Just what he requested (and just where she was going to take him anyway). Selina just walks in. Lines mean nothing to her, not in this city. She holds on to Tim's wrist. He is with her and no one messes with the Cat (they get her claws).
When Tim is in there, he is already different. Just being near him causes her skin to tingle. And he slips past her, moving with the music. (It's Chopin.)
He is graceful. Selina had known that Robin One was grace personified but this one is different. She had brought him here to watch and observe, to have some her questions answered. And she is watching. He moves against others as if he isn't even there, just the music and him and wow. The dance floor is a stage and Tim is a show. His eyelids are half-mast and his hips are telling all sorts of truths right now.
She can see the "pulse" moving in him. And anyone he touches seems to feel it too.
Selina is glad she took him out. Because if that boy kept going out like this alone too much longer, someone would grab him and take him away. (She is certain he has no idea how he looks when he dances. Too bad he's so young. Not that Bruce isn't enough for her. He totally is.)
She is sick of watching. She came out not just to satisfy the curious cat in her, but to have fun. So she does. Moves and dances (and, oh, she feels the pulse too, understands, suddenly, what Tim was getting at). For a deaf child, Tim is perceptive, knows sound inside and out. It is. Shocking. (But at this point she doesn't notice much. Just the people around her.)
They are there for a long time. An eternity of sound and people. Lights and smells.
Then Tim touches her. His notepad is in her face (and he is sweaty, his cheeks alight with something).
It is late. We should go, his tight handwriting says.
He obviously does not understand enough about clubbing. But he will, in time. Selina will see to that. But she accommodates (this Robin is fun.)
"How do you hear the pulse?" She asks, walking Tim home. At least to a point. She still had things to ask. (Knowledge is power and satisfaction.)
Tim pushes his hair away from his face. Writes. It is more of something I feel. An explosion. Of something. Inside me. It doesn't ever last long enough, or fill my inner space, as if she knows what that means, but it is enough to keep me returning.
"Tim, honey, do you know how you look when you dance?"
I do not ever really remember dancing. I am more of a music person. She wants to laugh. A deaf boy, a music person. But she doesn't. She thinks he is serious.
"Well, next time I'll tape you. You should see it."
Next time? His eyebrows are hiding in his hair.
"Of course. I need a clubbing friend. You need clubbing." Shame. Sadness. And then his face is careful again. "I can help with that."
Tim looks forward. The fingers holding his notepad twitch as if to crush it. Then he nods. Once. It is a small and brisk thing. Selina thinks that maybe she will understand better if she sees him more. (And this boy changes the atmosphere in a club. What was he before he was Robin, anyway?)
The gate of Wayne Manor looms up before them. Selina holds out her hand, beckoning for the pen. Tim hands it to her, no questions. (Tim trusts her because Bruce trusts her. She likes that.) She writes her phone number in flowing script on his palm.
"Text me. Let me know it's you. Then we can plan trips in advance and you can pick different clothes. You need clubbing clothes." Tim looks at her skeptically, shrugs, and waves goodbye, running up to the house through the open gates. The moon is setting behind Gotham's skyline. They had been out late. It didn't feel long. She blows out a sigh, starting the long walk back to her apartment.
She will have more questions next time. The first one will be about his musical personality.
(She very much likes Tim. He is her favorite of Bruce's brood.)
Chapter 7: Chapter 6
Repeat of three nights ago, more or less. Tim slips in, silent, except for the fact that Jason is once again in the living room and sees him come in. (This time, he is just passing through for a midnight snack in the kitchen.) Tim looks pretty much the same. Ashamed. Sweaty. Guilty. And once again, he tries to move for the stairs. But he notices Jason first this time. He freezes like a fucking deer, his muscles turn to rock, and Jason has to wonder what his problem is.
(Okay, Jason beat him up a few times way back. So what?)
"Why do you always look at me like that?"
Tim bites his lower lip, his eyes focused on Jason's mouth. (Once again, awkward feelings.) "Look at you how? I cannot see my own face."
Jason snorts, and turns to confront Tim. His food can wait. "You look at me like. I don't know. Like I fucked Dick in your bed and forgot to change the sheets. Or something." So that was an odd metaphor. But that is exactly the expression Tim gets whenever he and Jason make any sort of weird eye contact. Tim's right hand flies to his mouth and Jason thinks that maybe he could have said it better. (But he was just being honest.)
Then Tim's shoulders start to tremble (holy fuck I sent the kid into a seizure, not even Alfred will forgive me) and his right arm moves from his mouth to grab onto his left hip. And Jason can see he is laughing. Laughing hard. It's silent except for a small squeak every so often. Tears are forming at the corners of his eyes. He finds this hysterical and Jason finds that... he doesn't know.
What he does know is that he's never seen Tim laugh before. That face that is so empty and careful is turning pink because he has to get breath in gasps.
When he gets his shaking under control, he wipes at his eyes and his hands speak his thoughts. "I do not think that you are Dick's type. Your hair is the wrong color and you do not have Barbara's or Kori'ander's" (Tim has to spell that with one hand) "or Roy's or Wally's sense of humor." Tim sniffs, the tears in his eyes causing him to sniffle as if he were sad, but a smile is still on his face, wide and different (but not bad). Jason doesn't think he has ever seen a smile actually touch Tim's cheeks. "I also do not think that Dick is your type."
Jason frowns. "I have a type?" Tim shrugs, rolling his eyes upward and going through another silent chuckle. This one is not punctuated by squeaks. "Alright then, Chuckles, does that mean Dick is your type?"
Tim stares at him for a moment, his cheeks still pink from his intense bout of laughter. He tilts his head. (Fuck. Those eyes are. Piercing. It's. Weird.) Then he shrugs and his hands say, "I do not think I have a type."
He snickers again before turning around to go upstairs, presumably to shower (because he smells like alcohol and cigarettes and sweat). Jason doesn't grab him this time (it didn't work out so well before) but he does call out. Tim stops. Turns. Tilts his head.
"So. Why do you look at me like that?"
Tim holds his hands up, prepared to speak. But they hover there. Then, "Why do you look at me like you want to rip out my throat?"
Jason doesn't have an answer. Tim seems to guess as much because he puts his hands down to hover limply at his sides.
"...where did you go with Selina?"
And there is goes. Tim's smile and any hint of his laughter are gone. His face is a mask of blankness, long practiced. Jason doesn't know anyone who can make a face into a slate of nothing. But Tim does it like it's second nature (and it probably is, because like Jason had said before, that kid is fucked up in the head something awful, at least as far as Jason can tell).
"I escorted her around the city," Tim's hands say. His hands are telling lies. They go back down to his sides again. The fingers of his left hand are pressing to his palm in a pattern. He's not signing with it, so what the fuck is he doing?
"Bullshit, Timbo." Tim winces. His left hand is still pressing out that odd rhythm. Then he catches it and goes pale. He clenches both hands into fists. Jason looks him over. "Why are you lying?"
Tim's hands come up and for a moment Jason thinks that Tim is going to punch him. But his hands just make words, viciously. "Why do you care? What business is it of yours? A question for a question, Jason." He takes a step back as if he is realizing what his hands are saying, as if they have minds of their own. He clenches his hands into fists again and runs up the stairs. Only instead of silent footsteps, his feet are loud and angry.
Copy and paste from three nights ago. Except totally, totally different. A mindfuck of epic proportions.
And Jason is angry. Jason is pissed off because Tim had assumed that he cared (and he doesn't, not really, after all Tim is his fucking replacement, why the hell would he care about that—). Jason blinks. Turns and kicks the closest thing. And he almost damages a vase (and it's probably a Wayne fucking heirloom, way to go Jason, breaking shit everywhere) but Alfred comes from fucking nowhere and catches it.
(He would apologize for all the cursing, because Alfred obviously knows, but he's too pissed to care.)
"May I inquire as to what has you so angry, Master Jason?" Jason swallows it, his rage and the screams there, because he doesn't want to yell fuck with Alfred around. His looks could make a pastor ashamed to be alive.
"I." He gestures. "And Tim." He gestures a little more. "Ugh!"
"I am afraid, sir, that I have no idea what you are gesturing about."
"Tim is being really fucking—fricking—confusing and he stayed out really late with Catwoman and is lying through is fuc—fricking—teeth about what he did tonight and I know it wasn't just watching her."
Alfred looks at him. "There are things you do not understand about Master Timothy, Master Jason."
"No shit?" He sees Alfred raise a brow. "Sorry, Alf."
"Anyhow, Master Jason, it would probably go better if you did not haze him when you spoke to him. Timothy is very sensitive to tone." For a fucking deaf kid. "Also, it would also help if you did not glare as much as you do. He is also very perceptive with body language, though you, sir, are not exactly subtle."
Jason runs a hand over his face. "Okay."
"Is there are reason you are curious, sir?" Alfred's tone says he knows something Jason doesn't know. Jason doesn't really care to know right now.
"No reason in particular."
Alfred nods. "Very well then. I am going to go see to Master Timothy."
"...do you know where he goes on some nights?"
"Master Jason, what kind of confidante would I be if I told everyone's secrets?" Alfred gives him a small smile. "By the way, do stop bringing alcohol into the house. It is very tedious to throw away." Jason sighs and turns toward the kitchen as Alfred heads upstairs.
"Yes, Master Jason?"
"Uh. Thanks for telling Dick to talk to me the other day. It was. Nice. To finally talk to him." It had been a long time coming and Dick had groveled just the right amount (though Jason knows and Alfred probably knows that he would have forgiven Dickiebird anyway).
Alfred blinks. And then smiles. "Oh, sir, I have not mentioned anything to Master Richard about speaking with you." Then he heads upstairs, his own footfalls much softer than Tim's had been.
Jason blinks, befuddled, as he goes to the kitchen. He pulls a small bag of potato chips from the pantry and a root beer from the fridge (though is hesitant, as they are the Pretender's sodas, but it has beer in the title and Jason thinks that as close as he's getting for awhile).
They don't hate you. That is what Tim's hands had said.
Chapter 8: Chapter 7
Tim has never cut class before. But in the middle of Calculus II, he had just gotten up and left. He is sure Bruce has heard about it by now, but Tim's phone is off (and he had popped the tracer out ages ago) and will stay that way for as long as he can manage. He couldn't focus today. His body is humming with sounds (sounds he never, ever wants to hear ever again).
So it is time for a game of hide-and-seek.
There is no one better at hide-and-seek on this planet than Tim. He has had a lot of practice. An obscene amount of practice. He had been the bane of every boarding school's existence (he had been to almost every single one in Gotham, for his parents were always on business) because he would find a place to hide and stay here. Little Timothy Drake didn't need to eat and could sleep where he was hidden just fine. This game isn't quite on the same scale as those, but he is confident he can hide until the sounds inside him go away.
(Why can't the sounds be music? Why do they have to be—)
"Our boy is deaf, Jack. What do we do?"
"We can always try again."
(How can I be deaf if I can hear music?)
"But it took us so long to have Tim."
"We can try again, you'll see."
(Why don't you love me? I hear things. See? I can hear. Love me. Love me.)
Tim breaks into a run, his backpack bouncing on his shoulders, exhaustion biting at his heels. He should not have stayed out so late with Selina. It has taken a toll on his concentration. (He also should not have yelled at Jason. That guilt had eaten him half the night, and beyond. Tim has one of the worst guilty consciences.)
"Look at what he can do, Jack!"
"I knew our boy was special."
Tim picks the front locks to his hiding place. (He locks the doors back when he gets in.)
Gotham's concert hall is the same as it has always been. Tim is under no illusion that it will always be here, but he likes to consider it a constant. It is empty at this time of day. Empty and dark and full of memories where his parents are not talking. He steps are silent. He cannot even feel the reverberations trembling up his legs. He goes backstage and down a small set of stairs. There is a door that goes under the stage, to the trapdoor were ballerinas have dropped below the stage for many years running. (There's even a pit for an orchestra for ballets and operas.)
Tim enters the cramped hallway that leads to that little space under the stage. He drops his backpack and sits in the corner, basking in the darkness and the silence. Tim remembers his first concert. He had been five years old and his new cello had still been taller than he was. He remembers playing something sad. (He had been having nightmares about the Flying Grayson's before the concert. Falling people, a crying child, sadness and death everywhere. Red.)
When he was ten, he remembers playing happy things. Sort of happy things, anyway. Concerts were starting to eat at his bones. The songs that rolled around in him were not the songs his parents wanted. He had had to think of other things. He skips over that concert, doesn't want to remember the falsehoods that permeated his songs during it.
When he was fourteen, Bruce had come to see him. He had been so happy, so remarkably and completely enthused that he had made a new song, right there, on the spot. (Dick had been with him. Happiness of that magnitude had been foreign to Tim before and since.) A concerto (three movements) for Bruce, Alfred, and Dick. It had gone over beautifully. After the concert, before his parents had come to find him, Dick had grabbed him and spun him around. The praise that rained from his lips had made Tim blush.
Bruce put a hand on his shoulder and squeezed. "Remarkable," Bruce had said. "Absolutely remarkable, Tim." Tim remembers smiling. Remembers his parents simply patting him on the shoulder, planning for their baby's next performance.
Tim presses the fingers of his left hand to his palm, picturing the neck of his cello in his hand. He runs through all the notes, recalling the piece perfectly. He can almost feel the music vibrating in his chest. It doesn't touch his hollow place, hovers around it but not within it. That's fine. (At least when his music abandoned him, it didn't take everything he had ever written.)
Tim lies down, burying his face in his backpack and heaving a sigh. A wavering, small, tinny sounding B flat sings in his mind That note, whatever octave, has become an association with Jason Todd that Tim cannot get out of his head. It had followed him to the Everyman. It had assaulted him when Jason touched him. It has wiggled into his dreams. It hovers and trembles and is almost constantly there.
That B flat is getting perilously close to his silence. Tim doesn't know what to think about that. Tim doesn't want to think about it. (Feels Jason's baritone, angry and mournful, shake and shiver in the air. Feels the baritone even out into a B flat.)
Last night with Selina finally catches up with him, and his eyes slide shut. The B flat fades in and out, the tone goes from tinny to strong and back again. Tim pulls his knees up as close to his chest as they can go, feeling echoes of his old songs tumble through him. His fingers don't tingle with the urge to play (as that would once have done), but memories are better than nothing.
And then the remembers the way the club music forces its way into his silent place and shivers. Remembers when there wasn't a silent place at all. (And that had been the most fabulous thing, to never have silence anywhere, not matter what, even in libraries, he had always had music.)
Tim curls up tighter, around the sphere that was where his songs resided. He feels the hum of his G minor voice—lovemelovemeloveme—fade out of existence. The B flat hums instead—wheredidyougowithSelina?whyareyoulying?—and he feels his breathing even out, putting him on the cusp of sleep.
(Why are you lying?)
Breathe in, breathe out.
(Why are you lying?)
Breathe in. Breathe out.
(Why are you lying?)
Breathe in... Breathe out...
Sleep takes him under, his face pressed against the backpack and B flat humming questions in his dreams.
Chapter 9: Chapter 8
"There you go Mr. Pennyworth. I hope Mr. Wayne finds everything he's looking for here?" Alfred folds up his umbrella and enters the dark concert hall after the owner of the place. The large door is propped open, showing the light drizzle that is coming down in Gotham.
"I'm sure that he will. I will lock up when I leave, sir." The owner of the concert hall nods, smiles, and makes his way home in Gotham's rainy evening. Alfred turns on his flashlight and walks slowly towards the back of the stage. He remembers coming here with Master Bruce and Master Richard to see Master Timothy in concert once. It had been a remarkable thing, the music. It is also one of Master Timothy's happiest memories.
It is why Alfred knows that he is here. Master Richard had had a guess. Master Bruce had probably known, but had opted to stay home and fret instead. Master Jason had been lost in any of the guessing. One of them is going to have to speak to Jason about Tim.
Alfred will concern himself with that later. He finds the little door at the back of the stage and opens it, having to duck a little because of the cramped quarters. At the end of the hall, the yellowish light of the flashlight rains over Master Timothy, who is pressing the fingers of his left hand against the neck of an imaginary cello. With his right hand, he draws a bow against the invisible strings. When the light touches his face, he blinks, trying to hide his emptiness behind one of his other faces.
Alfred says nothing about it, instead taking a seat next to Timothy, standing the flashlight up on its base so that Alfred can see his hands as they fall away from the instrument that isn't there.
"Ollie-ollie-oxen-free, Master Timothy." Tim's lips twitch and his eyes crinkle a little bit. "Might I ask what provoked you to walk out of class today, sir?"
Tim looks away but his hands come up to speak. "I am having one of my... episodes. I am. Upset and I can... feel my parents. Talking to me." His hands are shaking. It hurts Alfred deep inside to see his hands trembling as much as they are. "I could not sit in Calculus today. It was. Too hard." He hands his head a little bit, obscuring his eyes with his hair. "Is everyone mad at me?"
Alfred lays a hand on the boy's shoulder. It causes Timothy to look at him so that he can see what Alfred is saying. "Of course not, sir." How could anyone stay mad at this boy, this child (no matter how old he is), for having a moment of weakness in class? Master Timothy puts his hands down and folds them in his lap. The shadows under his eyes are more prominent in the flashlight's glow. There is more to talk about. More to discuss. Master Bruce and the others can wait a little longer for Timothy's return.
"How was your night with Miss Kyle?"
Timothy does smile, guilty and self-depreciating. "It was fun," his hands are not trembling anymore. But they manage to carry his shame. "It was fun and I like her. She is much nicer than I gave her credit for."
"Yes, Master Bruce knows how to pick them."
Master Timothy's smile becomes genuine. "He does."
"Speaking of relationships, if I may, Master Timothy?" Alfred looks over at him. Timothy looks confused and his hands give the affirmative that he may continue. He will more than likely be surprised with what Alfred is going to say. "When did you incur an interest for Master Jason?" Timothy's face goes from surprised to embarrassed to an expression of denial. An odd chirp squeaks from the back of his throat and he breathes out a heavy sigh from his nose.
"I do not know what you are talking about." Master Timothy's hands are shaking again.
"Lying to me has always proven to be a fruitless endeavor, as it not, sir? Besides, you haven't complained about his noisemaking in seventeen days. You recommended that Master Richard speak to him." Timothy's cheeks turn pink and he blinks rapidly, working his hands to make an excuse that doesn't come. "I only assumed, you see." Alfred looks at him expectantly. They would not be having this conversation at the manor. Alfred is actually quite grateful for this alone time, this opportunity to speak to Timothy.
Timothy trembles a little more. "I. Do not know. I do not know when I realized that I liked his noise or that. That perhaps I may like him more than." Pause. Swallow. "Than I should. It is. Complex and." He shuts his eyes as he writes this in the air. "I do not want to talk about it anymore." Master Timothy puts his hands down and that ends the conversation about Master Jason. He brings up his hands as an afterthought to speak again. "I can carry the umbrella. If you want, Alfred."
Alfred hands Timothy the umbrella and picks up the flashlight. The umbrella is another indication that Master Timothy doesn't want to talk. It is difficult for his to speak with one hand because he has to spell out most of his thoughts with the alphabet, making holding the umbrella a reason that he only has one hand to speak with.
But that is alright. Alfred has asked all the questions that he needed to ask.
The rain is harder on the walk home, but Timothy (while shorter than Alfred) holds the umbrella over them so that the only thing really getting wet is Master Timothy's backpack. He doesn't mind, just keeps walking. Occasionally he will look at a puddle. Alfred thinks that perhaps he wants to splash in one. From what Alfred understands and what Timothy himself has told him, his childhood was a sad thing. No splashing in puddles, no running around outside.
Alfred doesn't like to think about Timothy's childhood (or lack thereof). And as obvious from events today (and events similar to this one) Master Timothy doesn't like thinking about it either.
When they get home, Alfred is unsurprised to see Master Bruce pacing. He stops when Master Timothy follows him in after shaking the rain off of the umbrella. Master Bruce takes Timothy by the wrist and pulls him into a hug. Alfred cannot help but smile.
"If you're going to cut class, the least you could do is tell me," he says after he holds Timothy far enough away from his that he can see Master Bruce's lips.
"I am sorry," Timothy replies. He looks embarrassed by the hug. But happy. It is nice to see.
Master Jason head pops from around the wall and Alfred can see the silent sigh pass between his lips. Then he disappears. Yes, someone does need to talk to Master Jason about Timothy.
It will more than likely end up being Alfred himself.
(He is, after all, the one with the most tact.)
Chapter 10: Chapter 9
Jason's throat stings from his screaming. There are certain times of the day when he just hates it here, hates everything this house is, and the people in it. And he hates Timothy-fucking-Drake who walked into the house twenty minutes ago when Jason was halfway into his scream-fest. He hasn't come upstairs yet. He always waits for Alfred to come up and then go back down before he feels safe enough to climb the stairs.
And Jason hates the fact that he's scared Tim to the point of not wanting to come upstairs. (And it's been three days since he went AWOL from his classes and Alfred brought him home. Tim hasn't even looked at him. At all. It's. Jason is. Confused.)
"Are you done for today, Master Jason?" Alfred enters after Jason made a raspy grunt at his knock. He is carrying a tray of chocolate chip cookies (and yes, Jason likes them, everyone does, so shut the fuck up). And. A CD. One that was obviously not bought, but made.
"Yeah, Alfred, I'm done." He sits up on his bed and points at the CD. "What's that?"
"Oh, just something that we're going to take a listen to, sir." He gestures to an old CD player (arbitrarily old, not old like a record player). He sets the tray down on the floor, close to the player, and puts the CD in. It starts playing something classical and beautiful, a cello at first, alone, then accompanied by—let Jason count for a second, Jesus, don't rush him—three violins and a string bass. Maybe another cello. Alfred points at the place where Jason is supposed to sit across from him, on the floor (this old man isn't old enough to complain about sitting on the floor or something).
Jason does. Protesting just gets him a look that says "I'm Alfred and you will not say no to me, sir." They eat cookies in silence (even Alfred eats a couple) and Jason is listening while milk chases the warm cookies into his stomach. This CD is obviously a recording with high-tech equipment that Bruce snuck it.
This. These songs are beautiful and—
This one. Hits something in him. Because this is sad. And something else. Painful. It's painful to listen to and tears prick and the back of his eyelids.
"This song, Master Jason, is for you. After—what happened." Alfred has always been hesitant about talking about his death.
"What?" Jason is sure he didn't know any cellists that personally so that they would write a song for him when he died. In fact, he doesn't think Bruce knew a cellist of that caliber to write a song for the death of Jason Todd. But then Jason hears not only his own death, but the death of Robin, a death of color.
It's really quite in depth.
"Master Timothy performed this song for you." A sad, small smile tugs at his laughlines. "Against the wishes of his parents, I assure you. He was feeling particularly sad. And this was even before he had asked to be Robin."
Anger stirs in his chest about Tim forcing himself into Robin. But it dies quickly as he processes what Alfred has just said. "...what?"
"Master Timothy is a cellist. A great cellist. He has been a great cellist since he was five years old. Though technically, most people would say it was ten. But it was closer to three. Five is as low as Master Bruce wants to say it was." Well duh, child prodigies who are found out that early (especially prodigies with defects because their parents are trying to cope) usually are fucking misera—oh. Man. (And Jason has assumed that Tim was just some deaf little rich kid who wanted to be Robin because—God, Jason's an asshole.)
"He can't hear, so how can he be a cellist?" This is fucking strange. Ignoring all the previous thoughts of child prodigies, how can a deaf boy hear music?
Alfred thinks for a moment. "Master Timothy felt it, he says. It has—had—lived in him. It was something that, and this is a direct quote, 'itched toward his fingers.' It was his life, his expression. It was how he spoke. A voice, if you will."
The next song is bright. And happy. But. There is something that Jason thinks he can hear. Love me. Love me.
"Past tense?" He's trying not to think about what he's hearing. He doesn't like sympathizing with people he can't stand. Didn't stand. (Ugh, he had been unable to stand him yesterday—or, rather, a couple months ago—or, rather, maybe he had stopped hating him even longer ago that than—fuck.)
"And that, Master Jason, is something you need to discuss with him." Alfred stands and picks up the empty tray. "You can keep the CD. Master Bruce has the sound file on the computer and many copies. He has CDs of every one of Mater Timothy's concerts. I am sure he would give you some if you asked." That's Alfred, trying to patch things up between Jason and Bruce even when he just sort of fucking annihilated everything Jason had once thought was Tim.
And even though Alfred did all that, Jason still has questions. About Tim's music, about Tim's childhood, about that plea that was hidden in that happy music but wasn't so happy at all.
Alfred bows a little and walks out of the room. But he doesn't shut the door behind him. He hears Alfred walk downstairs and doesn't hear Tim come up the stairs until he hears the door of the room next to his open and shut. And then there is more silence. From Tim's room, not from Jason. Because Jason is still listening to Tim's music and holy fuck this kid is good.
Really good. Or. Was good. Past tense?
(His head hurts, throbbing at the temples because Tim was confusing before and now he's just fucking out there.)
Jason smacks the wall because—ah, hell, he thinks he hears Tim flinch—because he wants to.
Jason exits his room, walks the seven and a half feet to Tim's and knocks. It takes exactly fifty-three seconds for Tim to open the door and he looks tired. His cell phone is in his left hand, but he shoves it in his left pocket and holds his hands up.
"What do you need, Jason?"
(Is it weird that he likes the way his name looks in sign language? Because Tim just sort of arbitrarily assigned him a sign name, instead of spelling out Jason all the time, and Jason likes it. ...fuck. He likes it.)
"We need to talk, Babybird."
Might as well get that out there (because yes, he has a nickname for everyone and had given Tim this one he doesn't even know when). Tim's eyebrows go up. But he steps aside and gestures for Jason to enter.
They have a lot to talk about.
Chapter 11: Chapter 10
Tim tucks is feet under him as he sits on the bed. Jason sits across from him, his eyes flitting around the room. Tim can see the words on his face. God, this room is fucking sterile. And it is. Tim cleans it himself. He and Alfred have an unspoken agreement about his room. If Tim isn't in it, then no one else is in it. (It is because his cello is under his bed. It is a secret, an unmentionable.)
"What do you need?" Tim asks, he keeps his hands poised in his lap. Jason had said we need to talk, Babybird (and that nickname makes him bubble a little on the inside), which means that this is going to be a conversation. (Which is okay, sort of. Tim likes the way Jason's voice feels.)
"Alfred showed me your... CD?"
Alfred. Tim doesn't know how to finish that thought. Sick feelings roll around in his stomach because Jason already thinks he was a spoiled rich brat (because why would Talia tell Jason anything flattering about his replacement?) and now he probably thinks that he was a spoiled rich prodigy (but he did call Tim Babybird, so...).
"God, there's that look again. It was good, okay? I'm not here to tell you that your music sucks, or anything. Jesus." Jason looks away. "I. I didn't even know you were. That you could even do that. How do you do that?"
"I do not do that anymore." Tim replies.
Jason scoffs. "Okay, then how did you do it? You. Well, you can't exactly hear."
"It is something that I felt." Tim gestures between them. "I can feel you speaking. You have a baritone voice. I can almost hear it." Tim taps the area over his own solar plexus, "But here is where I feel music. And I know what they sound like. I was born hearing music on the inside." He shrugs a little. "It sounds stupid, but that is how it worked."
"Uh, why the past tense?"
Tim bites his lower lip. "Why are we talking about this?"
"Because I want to know. I didn't before. But I want to. That good enough?" If it were anyone else, it wouldn't be. But it's Jason and—
When did you incur an interest for Master Jason?
"I lost it. I had songs that just. Bubbled up, itched toward my fingers. My parents died. I. It was a car accident." Tim stops. Takes a deep breath. "I had said, 'yes, I enjoy concerts, we can do this one tonight, no problem.' It was a lie. I was." His hands are trembling. He hates it when this happens. "I hated all the concerts and I pretended to like them because." Love me. "Because. And it had been raining. The brakes failed, we hydroplaned, ran into another car, flipped and the front of the car slammed into a tree."
"Tim, you can stop, uhm—"
But he keeps going. He's already started, right? "I got out with just bruises and scratches. I did not even scar. But they died. They died because I said that I enjoyed concerts. When you found out about me and called me Pretender, I." He stops. Swallows. "It hit something. Anyway, after that I. My music was gone. I could no longer feel it or touch it."
I am empty.
"I'm. Sorry." Jason says. He holds one hand out, as if to touch Tim's elbow (when had they gotten this close?) "I'm sorry for. Asking you to talk about it?" The question shivers across his skin, leaving goosebumps to trail behind it. "And I'm sorry. For. Calling you a Pretender. I." Tim knows that Jason doesn't know what to say, but Tim can't read what is on his face. Jason thoughts could range anywhere from holy shit this kid's a basket case to pitypitypity.
"It is not your fault. I was a pretender." Tim smiles. "I am still imitating you. Red Robin, yes?"
"Isn't imitation the sincerest form of flattery, or some shit like that?"
Tim can't help but laugh. He makes that stupid little squeak once (he hates that, it's why he tries to avoid laughing as much as possible). He sees Jason grinning at him. Then it looks like something else enters his mind because he tilts his head and opens his mouth. It takes another moment for him to speak.
"Thank you. By the way. For the, uh, song. It's pretty."
Tim looks away, put holds his hands up towards Jason. "It is not something to thank me for. I felt it, and so I played it."
Jason puts a hand awkwardly on one of Tim's wrists. Tim looks up. "Thanks anyway. Take a compliment once in awhile, Jesus."
"Jesus is a bit much, don't you think?"
"Ha. Ha. Really funny, Babybird."
Tim blinks. "Why Babybird?"
Jason freezes, his muscles tense. Then he swallows. "Well, you've got a sign name for me, right? I feel entitled to a nickname. Problem?"
Tim forces down a chuckle. "Not at all." He checks the time on the clock on the bedside table. "But I am going to help Alfred with dinner. Thank you for. Talking to me." He stands. Jason stands too. Tim shifts his weight to his right foot, holding his hands up. "Are we." He stops. "Are we friends now?"
Jason blinks, once, slowly. Then he nods, just as slowly. "Yeah. We are." He smiles. It's an odd smile, one that Tim cannot readily place.
Tim feels butterflies being a riot in his stomach and walks past Jason out into the hallway. He can feel Jason following in the vibrations on the floor (that is the reason he keeps his feet bare). They turn to face each other. It is awkward. Jason makes it a little more awkward when he holds his hand up, as if to reach forward. Tim tries keep warmth off of his face. He hopes he succeeds.
Jason seems to realize that his hand is hovering and puts it down before waving a goodbye and heading back to his own room. Tim practically rushes downstairs and to the kitchen, where Alfred is already getting to work on dinner. He nods his head in recognition of Tim's arrival and turns back towards the counter where ingredients are laid out.
Tim touches the man's elbow and Alfred looks at him. Tim flutters on the inside.
"Jason and I are friends now," Tim's hands say. (And friends is good, right? It is better than what they were before. It is not. They are not a thing but.) Alfred smiles. "Thank you, Alfred."
"Never a problem, sir. Time to work on dinner, yes?" He turns back to the ingredients. Tim takes his place at Alfred's side. The butterflies flit around, moving from his stomach to his whole body. (The B flat that is Jason rings around his mind.)
Tim stops working with the food for a moment, catching a hum. A hum in his. In the empty circle. A hum that feels like Jason's note, or his voice or—
But then it is gone. And Tim continues his work.
(He is probably just imagining it anyway.)
Chapter 12: Chapter 11
Tim watches Gotham from the top of the GCPD building. The cars leave trails of red light. Office windows constantly light up and go dark. Traffic signals constantly change color. Police lights shine against the metal and glass. The moon, however, is covered by cloud.
And the city thrums. It vibrates. It shakes and shivers with sound a music of its own.
And Tim is jealous. Jealous of Gotham and this city that is alive and trembling with its sound.
Vibrations tickle the edge of his outer ear. Bruce's bass. Are you in position? The words scroll across his lenses from left to right, the black script obscuring his vision for one point seven seconds. Tim tries to ignore it. The message is for Damian, but Tim needs to intercept Batman's frequency when he speaks. He moderate electronics in his domino have been programmed to filter for Batman and certain buzzwords that will send Tim to investigate.
He cannot afford a failure on patrol. Not after the debacle at the Everyman. (And it was a debacle. Bruce hasn't mentioned it since he had scolded Tim, but Damian has made some comments.)
Dispatch, Scarecrow spotted. It appears he is heading toward City Hall. Moving to intercept.
Hold it. Wait for back up. Understand? Scarecrow is dangerous.
Tim pulls his grapple off his belt and fires. City Hall is close enough that he should get there before the GCPD backup does. (In fact, since they are starting at the same place, it is actually kind of a race.) Tim can feel the sirens ripple into the air and buffet his covered skin.
Catching the Scarecrow and getting him back to Arkham would make up for his failure last week. It would. (Tim needs that redemption because it was his own filthy habit that got that club destroyed and people hurt.) His feet tap against the roof of a nondescript building before he leaps again, firing his grappler. He swoops, his cape whipping behind him. He can still feel the sirens.
He hopes that they do not cause the Scarecrow to turn and run. (If he feels outnumbered, he will run.)
Leave Scarecrow. Red Robin is probably on the way. Bruce's words scroll across his vision. Tim lands on another building. Leap, fire, go. He clings to the roof of City Hall, getting his balance before slowly standing. He rappels down the side, searching for Dr. Crane. (He has a specific gait that Tim can place. If he is motivated, has a purpose, he walks a little hunches and the hat of his costume is tilted just so—)
There. Tim has spotted him. He runs through Scarecrow's plausible plans. Frighten the mayor to death. (Too simple.) Contaminate the doorway with Fear Toxin. (Too simple, also, too obvious as it would need to be done by the front entryway.)
But then he passes City Hall. Takes a turn down an alley. And starts a rough jog toward the GCPD building. And Tim gets it. Commissioner Gordon had caught him three months before and had petitioned the mayor for a transfer to a higher security prison, outside of Gotham. Gordon had petitioned for Metropolis. Lex Luthor had said it would show how the Boy Scout hero Superman dealt with Gotham supervillains.
Jonathan Crane had been pissed.
He's going to use fear toxin on Gordon.
And Tim is just sitting here, thinking about it. When he realizes this, he breaks out into a run, grappling above the Scarecrow. (This race is a different race. Tim cannot let anything happen to Gordon. It would kill Barbara, it would kill Bruce. Tim would never be able to live with himself—)
He drops into another alley, adjacent to the GCPD building, Scarecrow turns the corner and Tim leaps from the shadows, bowling Crane over. Tim leaps backwards, but Scarecrow continues to roll, before standing up, narrowing his eyes.
"I did not expect interference from you." His voice feels like nails on a chalkboard feel. It sends chills and goosebumps racing across his skin in an awful way. It makes his stomach twist. Tim gets in a fighting stance. "After all, you do not have the affinity for taunting that Nightwing has, or that Robin has." Scarecrow smiles. "In fact, you do not speak much at all."
Tim's hands twitch to respond. He does not. (No one knows that Red Robin is deaf.)
"Are you afraid to speak?" Scarecrow tilts his head. "Can you scream? I admit, it is something I have been interested in. Many inmates in Arkham are curious." Suddenly Scarecrow moves (Tim is slipping, why is he slipping, he had slept last night—) and he's right before him. Tim punches. It hits.
A needle sinks deeply into his hand. Leather is not Kevlar. He wishes Scarecrow had aimed for the gauntlet.
The plunger is weighted. And sinking. Tim calms his pulse. If he allows himself to panic before the toxin sets in, it will take a harder toll.
"I have no idea how you will react to this." There is a chuckle. Tim clicks his comm three times. Backup necessary. That is what three clicks will translate to. Scarecrow crouches as Tim pulls the needle out. And he gets back in his fighting stance.
—The car swerves, his parents scream—
Tim grabs his head and shudders. He feels Scarecrow laugh—
—Only his parents aren't his parents. Dick is in the car. Bruce. Jason—
Tim collapses to his knees and holds his head in his hands. Calm down, calm down Tim. Calm down.
Concerned words from Barbara slide across his lenses. They fade out before Tim can get to the second word.
—His music, gone, his fingers turning to dust, dying, withering, you are not my son, Tim, how could you fail me, no, Bruce, don't turn on me like they did, no, no, no—
He falls over—
—The car crashes, Dick's body falls on top of him, Bruce's neck snaps—
And Tim is alone. Their bodies are here and he is alone, unscratched, there aren't any scars, why—
Tim screams. It's torn out of him. It pulls at his chest and rips at his throat.
Scarecrow laughs. Tim can feel it through the pavement. But only barely. His own screams are vibrating his body like his music used to, shaking and undoing and—
(I have failed—)
He curls in on himself, trying to claw at the pavement, clam his pulse. He kicks a leg out, feeling Scarecrow's steps through the concrete and tripping him. Tim's throat feels raw.
Words cloud his vision—Red Robin, breathe, it's okay, we're here, Damian, Jason catch the Scarecrow, long range combat, do you understand me, Tim, Tim, Tim—
Tim still screams, nightmares and truths tearing at his mind.
Chapter 13: Chapter 12
Jason runs across the rooftops. Leaps and rolls, flies and falls. It is glorious. (That gloriousness is probably in part to the fact that this is a giant fuck you to Bruce's rule of no going out on patrol.) As long as Jaosn doesn't kill anyone, Bruce won't ever know. Alfred doesn't tell (he has never told, and that is a great feeling, the feeling of trusting someone else). And if he doesn't kill, Bruce might willingly let him out of the house. Might go on patrol with Jason again—
What the fuck do I care if I ever go out on patrol with Daddy Bats, again?
(But he does. Fuck it all, he does.)
Jason didn't bring a comm with him (which means he left his helmet back at home with its built in comm). Comms can be traced by Batman, or by Tim, and Jason can't have that until he gets rid of some cabin fever. Beat the shit out of some drug dealers. Stop a mugging. Something. It doesn't need to be a supervillian. It doesn't even need to be a villain. Jason needs to just beat some motherfucker within an inch of his life and then call the police. Or an ambulance. (Jason has thought this through, because he just wants to go out every once and awhile, goddammit.)
Jason heads in the direction of the GCPD building because, for all that it is an office of the law, a lot of shit happens in the adjacent alleys. (He wonders why the cops never check those alleys first, it's what Jason always does and he usually finds something.) He hears the sirens heading for City Hall and roll his eyes. Of course something is going on a City Hall, why would anyone want a distraction from the GCPD building? The law of Gotham? Hm?
He's about to drop into one of the alleys (there's a mugging, and Jason loves to deal with muggers) when a sound rips through the sirens and he sound of cars and people and Gotham. If it had sounded human, it would have been a scream. But since it doesn't, Jason isn't really sure what, exactly, it's supposed to be. But it scares the piss out of the mugger who runs off down the alley, leaving his victim to sprint out into the streets of Gotham.
Jason turns in the direction of the sound (and it just keeps going, punctuated by a silence before starting back up). He peers over the ledge of a building, into an alley just outside the GCPD building and sees the Scarecrow laughing above a lump of darkness that the scream-thing seems to be coming from. Scarecrow breaks into a run. The lump kicks out, tripping him. Jason drops into the alley.
And holy fuck.
The scream is louder down here and the lump is Tim (and Tim had stopped wearing the cowl awhile ago, it interfered with his feeling or something). Scarecrow is still laughing from his place on the pavement as he begins to stand. Jason is caught. Look at Tim. Go after Scarecrow.
Tim wins out. Jason kneels next to him, his ears ringing with Tim's scream. He's curling in on himself, his fingers trying to dig into the concrete, his back rippling with agony. (And Jason knows that he's been exposed to fear toxin. There is just no way he would be screaming like this without it.)
"Jason." (Again, fuck.) Bruce. "What did you do?" And he doesn't sound angry. Just. Shocked.
Jason turns to glare. (And he sees Damian standing next to Bruce, staring at Tim. He looks terrified.) "I didn't do fucking anything. I found him like this. He's been exposed to fear toxin." And he's still screaming. Only now it's interrupted by pauses of gasps and sobs. Bruce stands a moment (no one's going after Crane) and then nods. He nudges Jason aside and holds to fingers to his comm.
"Red Robin. Breathe. It's okay. We're here. Damian, Jason, catch the Scarecrow. Long range combat. Do you understand me?" Damian is just standing there, so Jason nods for the both of them and grabs the kid's wrist, yanking him in the direction of the GCPD. Damian starts running on his own. Jason lets go.
They find Jonathan Crane waiting for them in the lobby. The guards that stay in the lobby of the GCPD building are all gagged and whimpering behind the desk. Jason can hear them.
Scarecrow tilts his head. "Why hello, Jason Todd, I haven't seen you since you got out of Arkham almost nine months ago. How is your claustrophobia doing? Your fear of death? Fear of rejection?" Jason's going to mess this fucker up. "And the little Robin!" Damian blinks. "Have you overcome your fear of failure? Oh, or the fear of killing others as the source of that failure? Oh, or, Ra's al Ghul? How is that fear coming along, little bird?" He laughs. Jason moves forward, but Damian leaps. He leaps, rolls, and goes feet first. Crane takes it to the chest. (And it was smart to go feet first, his shoes have thick soles.)
Jason catches Crane after moving behind him, and pulls on both arms. He pops the left one out of socket. Scarecrow tenses, untenses, and keeps laughing. (Did he hang out too much with the Joker?)
Damian looks like he's rearing for a really good punch.
"I wonder what Red Robin sees under my toxin! That sound." Will haunt Jason's nightmares. And from Damian's sudden pallor, Jason guesses it will haunt his too. "You know, when you take me back to Arkham, everyone will want to hear about this. The speculation alone will be superb. This is worth being late to my appointment in Gordon's office."
Jason dislocated his other shoulder. Damian twists and jabs his elbow into Scarecrow's face. The man falls unconscious. Jason drops him and allows Damian to tie his wrists and ankles together with twine. The position Damian ties him in looks painful, but Jason doesn't give a fuck.
Bruce steps into the GCPD building cradling Tim, who is writhing in Bruce's arms and kneeing behind a fabric gag. His wrists are bound in front of him and his ankles are bound as well. Tears are streaming down his face. His. Exposed face. His domino is gone.
And there is a patch of skin missing on his cheek, beneath his left eye, trailing blood down his face.
"He ripped off his domino." Bruce says. He sounds tired. Upset. "I had to bind him. He was going for his ears." Bruce hands him to Jason. "It was a quick analyses, but it's another new toxin." He sighs. "We can't sedate him or he will go into shock. Take him home. Both of you. I'll talk with Gordon and get Crane to Arkham."
Damian nods and makes a break for the door. Jason adjust his grip on Tim (and grabs his grappler) before following.
The run home is silent, save for Tim's sobs and miserable sounds.
"What." Damian says in the final stretch, when they can see the manor's lights. "What do you. What do you think he sees?"
Jason doesn't know. Doesn't want to know.
"I don't know."
Damian is silent then.
(Jason wishes Damian would talk a little more. He can still hear the raw, animal scream ringing in his ears.)
Chapter 14: Chapter 13
Damian slowly releases the iron grip he has on his pillow, pushing it away from his chest. He feels as if he is made of stone (but being shaken apart on the inside). He cannot sleep. The cool, blue digital numbers are taunting him with their guiltless 5:11 a.m. Drake's sound is bouncing around inside him, crumbling at the rock that is Damian Wayne.
He eases himself out of bed and moves quietly down the stairs. Perhaps if Pennyworth has made some sort of confection, it will help put his mind to some form of rest.
But Pennyworth is not in the kitchen.
Drake is. And he has yet to change out of his Red Robin costume, though the cape and the boots are nowhere to be seen. Damian hears a whisk scraping on the inside of one of Pennyworth's metal bowls. It sounds frantic. From behind, Damian can see a trembling in Drake's arms. A chocolate cake is sitting on the counter to his left (perfectly decorated and everything).
Damian has the foolish urge to wring his hands.
"Grayson, Drake is going through a phase where he is cleaning everything. Make him stop."
"Oh, let him clean. His last mission must've rattled him. Don't be concerned until he starts going on a baking spree."
He takes two steps into the kitchen. The whisk keeps going. And going. Damian glances around again and sees a tray of cookies on the counter opposite the cake. He now understands what Grayson meant by "baking spree." Two more steps. More whisking.
"Drake, what are you doing." Blast. His questions never sound like questions. He supposes there is room for improvement with inquiries (but he has never needed to make inquiries because demands had always served his purposes better).
Drake flinches and almost drops the whisk. He turns his head, placing the whisk on the edge of the bowl and holding them loosely at his sides. His eyes are wide. Frightened. Then he lifts his hands and holds them ready to say something. It takes a moment.
"Did you need something, Damian?"
"I asked what you were doing."
"I am baking. Would you like something?"
"What are you baking?" He takes Drake's question as an offer and plucks a cookie from the cookie sheet. They are chocolate chip. Damian had actually expected oatmeal-raisin, because Drake is obscenely healthy (and, frankly, Father is too, but Pennyworth will sometimes allow for Damian to sneak sweet things, and shut up, there is nothing wrong with sweets).
Drake looks confused for a moment and dips his finger in the whisking bowl, which is surprisingly unsanitary for him.
"I think I am in the process of baking a pie. I believe this is supposed to be the crust."
Damian takes another cookie. Drake does not protest. He grabs the bowl again and begins whisking again. This time his back is against the edge of the counter. There is a white rectangle of cloth under Drake's eye, covering up his missing patch of skin.
"What did you see on Crane's fear toxin?"
Drake freezes. Shuts his eyes. Puts down the bowl.
"I am still on the fear toxin." Wariness creeps onto his features. "Why do you want to know?"
Damian circles the kitchen, considering the cake and the icing on it. (And then he pictures Drake's face and decides against taking some.)
"I am," Damian pauses and realizes that he's talking to the cake and turns around. "I am. Curious. I was on the toxin. Once. And. I did not." Make the same sound you did. "I did not express my... worries... in the same fashion that you did." The scream-wail shakes his insides again.
Drake scratches at his wrist. "I do not think that it is really any business of yours."
"I." Damian circles the kitchen again. (He feels unbearably restless.) "I am. Concerned. That later, but perhaps not so much later, in life I will kill someone. And that Father will cast me out, withdraw his love, and disdain me. I am bothered by my grandfather. It concerns me that maybe I will one day inherit his awful empire, or that he could seek to inhabit my body." Damian rocks back and forth on his heels. "Perhaps those terms are not. Correct. I am." He swallows. "I am afraid of those things. I am afraid of Grandfather. Of myself. These things."
These things scare me.
Damian finds himself enveloped by a hug that is almost as warm as Grayson's. (Though the arms are thinner—well. Everything his thinner.) It shocks him that he cannot wrap his mind around the fact that Drake his hugging him. It makes him sputter and flail his arms. Drake just squeezes tighter before letting go.
"Bruce will never not love you." Drake's hands are working quickly and with conviction. "Bruce, while occasionally emotionally stunted, knows how love works. It is unconditional. You are precious because you are you. You are talented. Exceptionally so. You have shown remarkable restraint. And your fear of losing that? That indicates that you will not let yourself kill anyone. Because you care." Drake crouches down, grabs Damian's shoulders, and shakes once, before moving his hands again. "Bruce will always love you. Always, always, always. A. L. W. A. Y. S. Forever and ever."
Damian cannot help but blink slowly. His eyes sting and he needs to make them stop.
"I. Thank you."
"I am merely stating facts." He rubs his thumb and index finger together for a moment. "I am still feeling Dick's blood on my clothes. I get flashes of darkness and headlights. I can feel the screeching of tires. I see Bruce's neck snapping. I can see half of Jason's body crushed. I know I am unscathed." He takes a breath. "I am also terrified of losing myself. Without my hands, I would not be able to communicate with anyone. I am silent. I am nothing. And in the silence of the. Of the crash. I needed. I needed to scream. My hands cannot scream. They cannot get people's attention. They cannot call for help."
Damian doesn't know what to say to that.
"That is what scares me. That is what I saw. Am still seeing."
"I am sorry." Damian scowls. Then says, "You are not nothing. I would not seek to kill you if you were nothing. You would not pose a threat."
"Thank you. I appreciate that."
"You appreciate my want to kill you?"
"Well. You would not kill me. Who, then, would you have to attack every day?"
"...Tt." Damian grabs another cookie. "Don't you have a pie crust to finish?"
Drake is still pale and sweat still shines on his face, but his mouth quirks upward. "I do. Would you like to help?"
"...fine. But it is only because I cannot sleep." He joins Drake at the counter. "And this conversation does not leave the kitchen."
"My hands are bound. I will not tell a soul."
As Drake picks up the bowl and whisk, Damian gives him a quick hug. He feels his hair getting ruffled before hearing the whisking start up once more.
(But the whisking does not drown out Drake's horrifying noise.)
Chapter 15: Chapter 14
Dick almost trips over his own feet as he makes his way to the manor's front door. If Killer Croc hadn't been wandering the sewers all night, Dick would have been here sooner. If Killer Croc hadn't been such a high priority, Dick would have come running the minute that sound tore across the police frequency. (But Killer Croc had been on the hunt, and he couldn't have just let him go on the loose like that.)
Dick finds Tim on the couch in the living room (and Damian is on the chair, curled up and asleep), watching The Prince of Egypt. Tim has never been particularly religious, but he adores the soundtrack and has seen this movie so many times, he doesn't even need to use the subtitles anymore. Dick leaps over the back of the couch, landing on the cushion next to his little brother. Tim's eyes flicker over to him and his pupils dilate.
He has to shut his eyes for a moment, and Dick's heart hurts. It hurts even more when he notices the practically untouched piece of chocolate cake on the table and smells the bakery smells that are wafting from the kitchen.
Dick pulls Tim into a hug, cradling him against his chest, burying his face into Tim's hair. His poor little brother.
Tim nudges away from him and his hands say, "You smell bad. Did you just finish patrol?" Sweat is beading on his forehead.
"I did. Killer Croc. Brought him down hard." He touches Tim's face and almost flinches at the heat that stings his fingers. "I. I heard about what happened. Tim, are you okay?" Tim looks at him, his blue eyes bright with fear (this must be one of his stronger, more resilient toxins) and shrugs. But his eyes are terrified. The skin around his mouth is tight.
His entire bodies says what am I supposed to do with all this feeling, help me, someone. Tim is an open book if people would just pay attention.
"What did you see?" Dick folds his hands in his lap. Tim purses his lips and his eyes flicker back to the movie, but Dick pushes his cheek to that Tim is looking back at him. "Tim, what did you see?"
He fidgets and wrings his hands, his eyes trying to find Damian rather than the television and that surprises Dick. Because they do not get along. They have never gotten along. But Tim isn't telling him something, the tension in his shoulders and face is making it obvious. (Tim hates it when he's obvious, so he doesn't mention it.)
"Tim," Dick says, quietly, "talk to me, little brother. Tell me what you saw."
Dick feels Tim tremble under his fingers. It makes him hurt on the inside. His hands work patterns furiously in the air.
"You were dead. Bruce was dead. Jason was dead. I screamed. Because when my parents died, I did not scream. Hands cannot scream. I would not make the same mistake again. You know. You found me after the accident. You came and saw me waiting, curled up and weeping."
Yes. He had. Dick had come the instant he knew (which was pretty instant, because Bruce had bugged Tim's clothes that day) and Tim had been in the backseat, his hands repeating the same words, over and over. My music is gone. I can't find it, it's gone.
Tim swallows. "I did not even mention that they were dead. I was too focused on my emptiness. But I did not do that this time. I screamed. I screamed, so that way everyone would know. Everyone would come save you guys. Everyone." He goes white. "Dick, what would I do without my hands. I cannot speak without my hands. My hands are my music. Dick."
Dick hugs him again. And Tim heaves out a sigh, his shoulders collapsing toward him. He sometimes forgets how small Tim is. He's not tall and lithe like Dick and he's not full of muscle like Jason. Tim is scrawny, fast, smart, but small. Little.
Tim pushes away from him and faces the television again. Dick finds out why when Jason walks through the living room, stopping to stare at the TV.
"Why does it smell like a fucking bakery in here?" Jason says, glancing from Tim, to Dick, to Damian. "And why are we watching Prince of Egypt?"
Tim nudges the piece of cake toward Jason, making eye contact with him. Jason takes it, plopping himself down on the loveseat.
And Tim sort of stares at him. At Jason's eyes, even though Jason isn't looking at him. Tim stares at everyone's lips, because that's how he listens. But Tim is staring at Jason's eyes. That is a sign of. Something. Dick doesn't know. It bothers him that he doesn't know. Because Dick knows all of Tim's body language. It is something he prides himself on.
Tim rubs at his eyes before standing and brushing his fingers against Dick's shoulder and heading up the stairs. He doesn't look behind him as he scales the stairs, silent as a shadow. Small. Quiet. Invisible.
"Did something happen between you and Tim?"
Jason doesn't look away from Ramses' confrontation with Moses. "We're friends now, if that's what you mean."
"No, I." He nibbles on his bottom lip. "Were you there last night? I heard, police radio, but."
"Yeah, I was there, and I don't want to fucking talk about it." Let My People Go starts up. "I don't. Dick. What happened to him? That. I'll never be able to unhear that."
Dick pushes himself off the couch, listening to the scream that tore across his comm unit and how he knew it was Tim.
"And you don't want to talk about it."
"But you just mentioned—"
"And that is the last I'm ever going to talk about it. Ever." Jason points at the television with his fork. "Do you ever feel bad for Ramses?"
"Do you ever feel bad for Ramses."
"Well. No. Not really. He enslaved an entire race—"
"No. His predecessors enslaved an entire race. His little brother came in, his parental figure doted on that brother, and that brother betrays him. Betrays him and spews crazy shit. But Ramses still wants to take him. But his affections are spurned and the only thing he loves dies, or is taken. The little brother usurps him, changing the whole game, ruining his life. Everything he has ever known. Now. Do you feel bad for Ramses?"
"I." He sees Tim and Damian. Tim. Ramses. "Why are you asking?"
Jason looks at him. The gaze pierces deep, skewering him.
"Just wondering if you feel as guilty as I do right now." And Jason turns back to the television, as if he has never admitted to guilt.
Dick has to go home. Has to go home and shower. But. As he leaves, he cannot help feeling that Jason and him had a moment. A moment of what have I done.
He makes a note to text Tim tonight.
(Do you feel bad for Ramses?)
Chapter 16: Chapter 15
The sun is setting as Tim dries his hair with a towel. The nap he had taken a few hours ago had been restless, even though the fear toxin had washed out of his system by then. His dreams had been filled with the feeling of glass raking his throat, the dead eyes of his family. Of his parents. But he had also dreamed of Jason, his baritone trembling through his bones, a B flat trailing behind it, singing in his veins.
Funny how when he wakes up, he cannot feel even the B flat touch his empty place.
Tim kneels down and reaches under his bed, pulling out his cello case and opening. He trails his fingers over the cherry wood, the taunt strings. His cello, bought for him for his first concert, too big to hold in just the right way, but he had managed. (A cello without a cellist, how sad.)
Tim's stomach feels the jerk of the car (the fear toxin is gone)and responds to it hitting the tree.
He almost feels himself tearing at his hair, looking for a head wounds or something that would explain the silence deep within him, the lack of buzzing fingers, the lack of sound. My music is gone. I can't find it, it's gone. Over and over, his hands worked themselves into those words, over and over and over. Not even a whimper had left his throat.
"Timmy," Dick's voice. Tim's fingers stop on the thickest string. Pluck it. "Tim, your parents are dead. Tim. Look at me. Tim."
"They cannot be dead." Pluck again. "They cannot it is—" Pluck. "I did not even notice. I did not. They cannot be." Pluck. "What kind of son am I? Dick. What." Coldness had wrapped around his silence. Icy, deep, and piercing was his regret. It still gnaws at him, ice shards digging into his organs.
His phone vibrates in his pocket, ripping him out of his thoughts. He pulls it out and looks at it.
Selina Kyle: Do you want to go out tonight?
That sounds remarkable. Tim replies in the affirmative.
Selina Kyle: I will be there in fifteen, kitten.
Tim allows himself a small smile at the nickname. Babybird from Jason and now kitten from Selina. Soon, everyone will have a nickname for him. He gently closes his cello case and pushes it back under the bed, easing it under the bedskirt so that it is as hidden as it was before today. He stands, grabbing a hoodie from his closet, putting his small notepad in the hoodie pocket, and heading down stairs.
Jason is watching television, tilting his head back to look at Tim. Those eyes make Tim freeze. Perfect blue green, ocean colors. Jason is worth so many songs.
"Where the fuck are you going, Betty Crocker?" Tim rolls his eyes.
"I am going out."
Tim looks away from Jason for a moment, tapping his fingers against one another, recalling how he had stared at Jason earlier today. It is indecent to stare at someone's eyes so long. Lips are different. They tell what the person wants to tell, much like a voice. But the eyes. The eyes are windows, and Jason never shutters his. He feels so much that. Well. Tim cannot help but feel like that when he stares at Jason's eyes, he is prying.
"I am going out with Selina Kyle. I am not yet sure where we are going." Lie. Lie. Way to lie, Tim. They are going to go clubbing and he has just lied. You just lied.
"Pfft," and Jason grins. Jason grins a lot, now that he and Tim are not at odds so often. It is a nice change. But the smile is still so Jason. "I wonder if Bruce is the jealous type."
Tim rolls his eyes again, this time more theatrically. "Selina is definitely not my type."
"This conversation feels familiar. What was your type again?"
A thin and shaky G minor chord warbles in his brain. Tim sometimes forgets that's what his inner voice sounds like, sometimes. The G minor chord whines out a tinny sounding you.
A blush starts high on Tim's cheeks and he feels it. He feels it and thus feels like a moron. He ducks his head and patterns out, "I do not know what my type is."
"Huh," it is just a breath of sound and Tim looks back up at Jason. He's looking at Tim hard, and connects their eyes. Windows. Tim tries to shutter his, but he knows it isn't working. Jason doesn't drop his gaze when he says, "well, have fun. Don't you have school tomorrow?"
"Thank you, Alfred, but I will be fine," Tim replies, with a small and (he thinks) somewhat sheepish smile before heading out the front door to see Selina walking up the drive, looking as sensuously beautiful as always. When she sees Tim shutting the door behind him, she runs up to him and embraces him. Her hug has almost as much squeeze in it as Dick's hugs do.
He pulls the notepad out of his pocket when she pulls away and begin scribbling.
"I have been hugged a lot today," he writes.
"Well. I heard about what happened," she puts a hand on his shoulder and begins guiding him down the driveway, back toward the city. "Everyone's heard. Crane brags and it gets out."
Shame winds around his spine and digs in deep. "I did not mean to scream, Selina."
He looks at her lips as she speaks. They are turned downward, frowning. "I know, kitten dear. His toxins are horrific. But don't you worry. I'll be looking out for you now too. Bruce can't do everything by himself."
Tim flushes. "I can take care of myself. I was just surprised. It won't happen again."
"Back up, then."
Tim nods, once. He had had no idea that Selina had thought that he was worth concern. Warmth tingles under his sternum, making him think of Jason, which spreads the warmth all the way to his fingertips. Selina is tapping her chin, thoughtfully.
"Kitten?" Tim tilts his head by way of response. "Will you teach me sign language?"
Tim almost drops the notepad. He recovers his composure enough to write, "of course. But why do you need to?"
"I want to. It seems easier than asking you to write all the time. Carpal tunnel and all that."
Tim grins, and he can't help it. It is as if his cheeks are being pulled because no one has ever asked that before. All of the Bat-family knows sign language, even more than one, and his parents had never bothered to learn what he was saying, so he is used to writing stuff down.
"Of course, I will teach you. Of course."
"Well. You'll need to come over sometimes." She looks him over. "And while you're there, I'll pick out some better clubbing clothes for you, because really?"
It's jeans. A T-shirt. And a hoodie. Tim does not understand the problem. But he shrugs and she just sighs.
The club they go to tonight is one he has never been to. It does not play classical remixes, but that does not make it any less exciting.
Or. It wouldn't. If Tim's memories would leave him alone. The bass and rhythm have no hope of getting into his empty place, regardless of the fact that Selina is dancing with him and doing a fabulous job of keeping people off of him (because, she still attests that he dances as if he is begging to be kidnapped, which he is not).
B flat sings in his head, high and beautiful. Tim thinks of Jason.
(And yet the music still does not come closer.)
Chapter 17: Chapter 16
Selina comes out to her living room with a small try, balancing two glasses of warm milk, steam rising towards the ceiling. Except, however, the recipient of the second glass has fallen asleep on her couch. Tim's dark hair is more or less tossed across his face, hiding his eyes and contrasting with his skin. Selina puts the tray down on her lovely coffee table, digging through her purse for her phone.
Gone for not even a minute and the poor boy falls asleep. (Well, he had been dancing rather intensely tonight.)
"Selina," Bruce's voice grabs her attention and holds it. "What can I do for you." It's not spoken like a question, but it is one. Jason Todd got that attitude from his father, that is certain.
"One of your hatchlings has fallen asleep at my apartment. You should probably come and get him. He does go to school, doesn't he?"
She hears Bruce sigh. "I'll be over shortly."
"He'll be here, I'm certain."
Bruce has never been much for hanging up with goodbyes but it still isn't something Selina is used to. She drops her phone back into her purse and picks up one of the glasses of milk, sipping at it. Tim's fingers twitch in his sleep, but his breathing stays perfectly smooth. She cannot help but be curious about the boy. He is the most hidden of all of Bruce's children. Tim thinks he likes it that way.
She sips more of the milk, practicing some of the letters Tim had taught her on the way to her apartment. ("Of course there is time for a lesson. I never sleep much anyway.") She smiles, because this bird is just so adorable. Of course, he says. Doesn't bother to tell her how tired he is.
(It's just precious. She's glad her gushy-mushy-maternal feelings aren't going to waste.)
The knock on her door is soft, but it is absolutely Bruce's knock. (He has come to pick her up before.) She opens the door and waves him in. He's alone, and that surprises her, because Alfred usually takes him most places. Especially places like downtown where she lives.
"Hey there, handsome. Come to get your cargo?" She smiles, tugging up the corners of her lips, an eyebrow raised, because Bruce always manages a smile when her eyebrow goes up. Tonight is no exception, even though he looks more haggard than normal. It was probably last night's patrol. Or it could be just the job.
Tim looks that way too.
"I am here for Tim," Bruce replies, but he does steal a quick kiss, and, while Selina will not admit to it (because she is a strong, independent woman) she does blush a little. Bruce's eyes flicker over to Tim, who has yet to stir on the couch. "He's out cold, isn't he." Also a question, but not asked as one.
"So it would seem." Even breathing. No evidence of nightmares. "He was sort of spacy tonight," if you consider spacy absolutely gorgeous on the dance floor and being completely unaware of it. "Bruce, who was he before you found him?"
It would sound ridiculous of Bruce didn't know what she meant. But he does. Bruce knows these things.
He looks like he is considering his words, chewing over them. He is not one to say things without thinking. Tim may have gotten that from him, but it is more likely that it just developed further under ideal conditions. Selina imagines that Tim has always thought about his words before giving them life.
"I think that is something you need to ask Tim," Bruce says. He says it as if when she asks (because she will, curiosity and cats and all) Tim will actually tell her. He walks past her to the couch, brushing his fingers on her arms, before scooping up Tim. He doesn't even shift. (This makes Bruce's eyebrows go up, hiding in his immaculately styled hair, even this late at night.)
Bruce adjusts Tim's weight in his arms and Tim breathes out a small sigh through his nose, the first reaction at being moved. But then he settles against Bruce as if he had never made a sound at all, sleeping like a child. Which, Selina guesses, he is. It's always easy to forget how young Bruce's boys are. (Especially the one with the truly negative attitude. The small one.)
"What is it that you two do when you are together?"
Selina smiles, a flash of white teeth. "That's something you'll need to ask Tim," she replies. Only she is certain that she sounds like Tim would tell him only if he was hardcore, knocked-on-his-ass drunk. And even then, it's debatable. He is locked up tighter than any safe Selina has ever tried.
Bruce has a small smile on his lips, and he shifts Tim in his arms again. "I suppose so."
"I do have a question though," Selina cocks out her right hip, "if you can answer it. Is Tim interested in anyone? Girlfriend? Boyfriend?"
Bruce's brows furrow. "Not that I'm aware. Is he talking about someone?"
Well, no. He isn't. But the music tonight made him dance like he wanted to be dancing with someone, and it most certainly wasn't anyone in the club.
"No. I was just curious. Female intuition and other things." She plants a kiss on his cheek, leaving a light lipstain on his skin. (The lipstick is a new, light shade of pink that complements the small buckles on her boots and her beaded jewelry.) "Now shoo. He mentioned something about having school in the morning. And Wednesday he's coming here after school to teach me some sign language."
A much bigger smile lights up Bruce's face. It's quite fetching. "That's nice of him. And you. I will see you later Selina. Perhaps Friday?"
She winks. "Whatever works for you, honey." She can't be sure, but Bruce's cheeks could have turned pink as he made his way out of her apartment. She gently shuts the door behind him, carrying the milk back to her kitchen, both of them unfinished. Her phone rings, interrupting her washing of the dishes. The caller ID makes the interruption worth it.
"Selina. What was it you called for?" Oh, Barbara. All business.
"I was wondering what information you could give me on Timothy Drake. Within limits, of course. Common knowledge and things. If you would be so kind."
"Common knowledge. That I can do. Are you ready?"
"Of course. Being the tale of Tim, please. Everyone else in your family seems to know. I'd like to be in on the loop."
"As long as Bruce approves."
Curiosity and dead cats, as they say.
Chapter 18: Chapter 17
Tim keeps glancing at him like Jason's going to bite his goddamn head off, which he isn't. He could swear that the two of them were past this stage, the awkward glances and nervous fidgeting (because he isn't using his hands to speak, and, for some reason, he feels the need to occupy them with some sort of movement).
"You're giving me that look again," Jason says, meeting Tim's eyes on the next glance. The weird thing is, Tim's cheeks go red almost instantly and his hands freeze.
"What look is that?"
"The one that involves dirty sheets."
Tim's shoulders shake with that silent laugh of his. "I am just confused." His slender fingers say. Jason sometimes catches himself picturing Tim with a voice. A voice like cello strings. "As to why you are walking me to school. It is a little too early for you to be awake."
"I hardly ever get out of the house. This was a great opportunity for me." And, besides, like that patrol, it's not like Alfred's going to tell on him. He is just walking Tim to school. Not going out and drinking, or beating people up, or anything. "Besides, who wouldn't want to be in the light of your shining personality, genius boy."
Tim snorts, rolling his eyes to the heavens. "My personality is remarkably flat. I am terribly uninteresting." He shrugs and his hands fall to his sides, as if Jason isn't going to protest and that this is complete and total fact (and it's not, that is something Jason is sure of).
"Oh please. You think I would have terrorized you so much if you were uninteresting?"
"Yes. It was the Robin suit you wanted."
Jason cannot believe they are having this conversation in public. "Wrong. I mean, half-right, but if you weren't you, with your hard smiles and that fucking eyebrow, I wouldn't have been so hell bent on beating the shit out of you." Tim's eyes are focused hard in his lips (Jason still isn't really used to that).
"Well," and there is the color flooding back to his cheeks, "that is flattering. In a weird way." Jason's cheeks warm up a little. "But if I were as interesting as you say, I surely doubt the tabloids would have lost track of Timothy Drake."
"The fuck do you mean," Jason really is confused. They take a left onto 25th Street, and Tim looks as if he's thinking about how best to answer.
"When I attend functions with Bruce," and Tim does, because it's not like the rest of them are willing to go half the time, "people do not ask me about my music, or my parents. They actually talk very little to me, because I do not talk at all. But do you know what they do not know? They do not know that I am the child prodigy, Timothy Jackson Drake." Tim's eyes are blazing, bright and blue. "Because I am flat and uninteresting. A secret." He makes a poofing motion with his hands, as if diffuse the tension he had just added to the conversation.
It is actually more effective than Jason thought it would be.
"So what classes do you take?" Jason asks, keeping away from the family subject. Families are never a good thing to talk about in the Bathouse, come to think of it.
"Calculus, Chemistry, 19th Century English Literature, Environmental Science, Religion and Bioethics, and Anatomy and Physiology II."
"Holy fuck, you are a genius. No music classes?" As soon as it's out of his mouth, Jason thinks that perhaps that may have been a silly question, because he had just said that no one put two and two together when it came to the undoubtedly silent Timothy Jackson Drake-Wayne.
"What could they teach me that I do not already know?" Tim makes a show of flicking his wrist and raises his eyebrows like a high-class, uppercrust, Gotham City snob. He's probably had a lot of exposure to looks like that. (And that's just a guess from the stuff that Tim has told him. Jason's waiting for the stuff that Tim hasn't mentioned yet.)
"Oh ho, look at Mister fucking Talent over here."
Tim smiles. It's a really good look for him, smiling. "I was good at what I did. I am not ashamed to admit it." He shrugs. They turn another corner and Gotham University is looming up, a spacious campus in the middle of an otherwise cramped and dirty city.
"Excuse me!" Both of them stop. Turn. It's the crazy synchronicity that comes from being in the hero business. Tim is working that fucking eyebrow again. But, other than that, his face goes blank and empty. Because the woman before them is none other than reporter Vicki Vale. "Excuse me, but are you Arkham Escapee Jason Todd?"
"Actually, I believe I go by Leonardo Dicaprio now." Tim snorts behind him and Jason wonders how anyone can sound that attractive. (Wait, bullshit,—)
Vicki's eyes narrow. "Well, if you don't mind me asking—"
"I do mind. You know, us celebrities are very private—"
"What are you doing with Timothy Wayne?" It doesn't show on Tim, but Jason can feel him tense up. "Because I don't think Bruce would be very pleased to see you with one of his sons." Rage stings through Jason's veins. (I'm a fucking son of his too, you arrogant bitch.) He feels Tim tense further. But it's not like Tim can say anything, because the media doesn't know about Tim's handicap.
It's not a handicap for him, is it?
"We're friends, Timbo and I." Tim flinches. He hates that nickname.
Vicki looks surprised. Then snickers. "I thought Waynes had better standards?" Jason's about to punch her. Really, he is. What right does this woman have to say—
Tim steps forward. Tim steps forward and shoves her shoulders, not enough to knock her over, but his cheeks are red with fury (long gone is Tim's empty face) and Jason wonders what he would be saying if he spoke. But instead of throwing the punch Jason would have gladly tossed at the woman (and it's not just because she's goddamn Vicki Vale, it's because she's a reporter) he turns, on his heel (and it's really sassy, pretty funny) and takes Jason's hand, yanking him onto Gotham University's campus.
He puffs out an angry breath before looking back at Jason. His hands are moving quickly, making small words and appearing to be nervous fidgeting.
"if she ever says anything like that again, I will hype her up on adrenaline and lock her in a room with nothing to occupy herself. It will be a horrible affair, I assure you. Jason, you are Bruce's son and if anyone says otherwise I will—I will do something awful."
"Hey, Babybird," (This is fucking adorable, him caring and shit) "it's okay. No damage done. Reporters just say shit to start shit, you know how it is. It's my own damn fault for having the balls to walk someone to school in public, during the day."
Tim huffs, like he still wants to be mad but smiles anyway. "I have to get to class. Thank you for the walk." He takes one step backward. Two. "And your personality is something bright. And loud. I can feel it." He points to his solar plexus. "Here." And then he hikes his backpack higher onto his shoulder and walks away, toward whatever building has whatever superhard, genius class he has.
As Jason heads back toward the manor, avoiding the front entrance to the school, he hums. It's just one note, but the note has been ringing in his head for a little while now. (Tim brings out the music in him, what can he say?)
He thinks it's the tuning note. Ah, fuck. What's it called?
Concert B flat.
Chapter 19: Chapter 18
"Happy Tuesday, Timmy!" Dick says, rocking his Nightwing costume on the front porch. Nighttime is sweeping into Gotham behind him, calling the darkness closer with streetlights and police sirens. "I heard about your confrontation today." Tim looks surprised to see him, stepping aside while his hands accuse Dick and Jason of being gossips. "It's not gossip, it's news," Dick replies, following Tim into the kitchen where homework is cluttering up the counter. Jason is nowhere to be seen.
"What are you doing here?" Tim asks, avoiding the topic of Vicki Vale. Well, that's fine. Dick will just bring it up later, as is his style. He has never been easily deterred.
He rocks back and forth on his heels smiling. "I was hoping you would go on patrol with me tonight." He had asked Bruce for permission, of course. That had gone poorly. ("What are you thinking? The fear toxin just cleared his system yesterday and there are certainly going to be residual effects. I forbid it, Dick.") Well. Forbidding things hardly ever works in this family, so Dick is asking Tim himself.
And the question brought a light to Tim's face. A light, a smile, a tilt of the head. Really? these things say to Dick, Patrol with me? But instead of signing anything, he pushes away from the kitchen counter, stacks his homework up (meticulously), and heads in the direction of the Cave.
They haven't been on a patrol together in a long while, which is why Dick had taken awhile getting here. He had needed to refresh himself on Tim's patrol signing, which is reversed and inverted ASL. He runs through it a few more times as his little brother suits up (efficiently, as always). Tim sweeps a hand through his hair (it really is good that he abandoned the cowl), giving the thumbs up that indicates his readiness.
Then, they are out on the rooftops, the wind wrapping around them in an embrace that only heroes know. Tim's hair (that it doesn't seem like he'll ever cut) is being played with. Dick's hair too (thought maybe he does need to cut it soon, Raya and Barbara didn't like is as much as he had hoped...)
It's early for a patrol, but it's dark, so it doesn't matter all that much. Tim perches on one of the gargoyles decorating the Gotham City Bank. Dick squeezes on to the gargoyle next to him, causing Tim to sit and scoot over. With his thin hips, there is enough room for the both of them if they sit horizontally rather than crouching vertically.
"How are you feeling, little brother?" Dick touches the scab peeking out from under Tim's domino.
"I still get flashes and tremors. I feel sick, sometimes." Tim shrugs. "The tremors should stop soon. The flashes will go on for awhile, however."
Dick rubs Tim's shoulders, feeling them heave with a sigh.
"I hear Jason walked you to school today." Tim's muscles tense and he looks away, scanning the buildings and streets beneath them. Dick thinks he might have seen a blush on Tim's cheeks.
I knew it.
"And you defended him to Vicki Vale." Tim still refuses to look at him, but Dick knows that his words are scrolling across Tim's lenses. "Anything you want to talk about? While we're up here, and all. Before pounding the stuffing out of bad guys and things."
At first, Dick thinks that Tim is going to dive off of the gargoyle and swoop into the city, safe from prying questions. (After all, Tim hates prying.)
But his hands begin to work, backwards and inverted, making his thoughts verbal. The form is careful, because Tim cannot take back words.
"I am." Pause. Think. "I am interested in Jason. I. I am." Careful or not, his hands stutter with his thoughts. "I want. I want Jason. I want him to look at me. Really look. I want to." Pause. Think. Swallow. "I want to write songs that I cannot feel yet. And I want to defend him. Always. To people like Vicki Vale." He spells out her name with letters, refusing her the honor of a sign name. Then Tim sits. And he fidgets, nervously, looking at Dick, brows furrowed. He worries his lower lip between his teeth. If he bites much harder, he'll draw blood. (And that'll be really bad for his throat, because it's still probably raw from screaming—don't think about that, duh.)
But oh, Tim has it bad.
Tim continues after a moment. "But we are friends. So. So, that is fine. For me." Dick listens to what Tim doesn't say, in the voice he imagines Tim having (beautiful and resonant). He reads Tim's muscles, his face. I am wanting, says the pursing of his lips. I am needing, his twitching cheek announces. But the fingers. The fingers of his left hand pressing to his palm says the most. The deepest words.
Tim, his precious little brother, is in love. I love him. I love Jason Todd. Unsaid words, said in body language. Tim isn't near as subtle as he thinks he is. Not to Dick, anyhow, and probably not to Alfred. (That man has vision straight to the soul, Dick swears.)
Dick doesn't say anything aloud, of course. The L-word would send Tim into a panic. He would seal himself up, batten down the hatches, run and hide. And then nothing would be accomplished.
Tim needs this, needs these feelings. He is lucky he has Dick around, that's for sure.
"Dick," Bruce's voice on a private frequency. (Ohh, man, Bruce sounds angry—) "where is Tim?"
Dick switches frequencies and smiles, pulling Tim close. "Ready to actually patrol the city, Timmy?"
Tim shrugs, smiles, showing teeth. "You are the one who insisted on talking."
"I'm chatty," he replies with a shrug of his own. "It's part of my charm."
Tim grins, another brief and lovely show of teeth. And then he jumps, the wind ripping at Tim's hair and his cape, looking like a bird as he glides across the city. Red Robin. His precious little brother.
Laughing, Dick jumps after him.
Chapter 20: Chapter 19
Tim watches Selina run through her alphabet as they walk down one of Gotham's streets. She can tear through it to the rhythm of the alphabet song people are taught as children. She can spell names and understand basic words. As a reward for his teaching efforts, Selina's taking him clubbing. (Happiness rolls around inside him, a warm cloud deep inside his body.)
The patrol with Dick had been a successful one. They had caught Bane being up to something, seeking to start unrest in Gotham's underground. So, Tim feels that perhaps he deserves this going out with Selina. Clubbing is his alternative to sealing himself in the Batcave and playing music so loudly that his eye lashes tremble. (And he has been getting the urge to go down to the Batcave lately for that. It may or may not have something to do with Jason.)
A bitter laugh stings his tongue because he has to lie about clubbing but not about hogging the Batcave.
This club is another one that he has never heard of (no pun intended, mind you). The Coliseum blinks in flashing lights upon the brick façade. Tim can feel the bass rumble from the street, rattling his teeth. Selina touches the bouncers shoulder, giving the man a smile and a flutter of lashes. He steps aside nodding to her and Selina takes Tim's wrist to escort him inside.
The flashing lights, as always, take a couple moments to get used to. The writhing mass of people makes the dance floor a living thing, and Selina is taking them right towards it. Adrenaline is racing through his veins (it's stupid, but oh so good). The music forces its way into him, sharp and painful (but he needs it). Selina keeps her hand on his wrist, her hip bumping against his as she sways with the beat.
They stop in the midst of all the other dancers, moving languidly (perfectly). The music makes his skin thrum, vibrating everywhere (except that one place—). Selina stays close to him, shielding and protecting him as he slips into the limbo of vibrations. The hair on his arms and the back of his neck stands on end, sensation blocking out his sense of time and place. (And, somewhere in the back of his mind, he thinks he can understand why Selina keeps such a close eye on him since he forgets where he is for a little while.)
His arm is yanked, shaking Tim out of the music. His eyes flicker around, and he turns, facing the person who has his arm (and it can't be Selina, because she was in front of him—)
Dick's mouth forms his name. "Tim."
Jason is at his shoulder, his eyes looking everywhere but at Tim. His stomach drops, heading for the center of the earth. Selina's hand finds itself at the small of his back. Tim swallows.
"This is where you were," Dick accuses, his voice stopping dead somewhere in the space between himself and Tim. And Tim knows what Dick means. Two-face. This is where you were when Two-face attacked that club.
Dick is squeezing a little too hard on his wrist. But Tim holds his gaze as long as he can. Of course, he looks away first. (Guiltyguiltyguilty.) Dick shoots a glare over Tim's shoulders and he can feel Selina's hand fist at his back. Dick pulls him forward, his lips moving fast and angry, "we're going home, Bruce had been worried about you and he's going to be even more concerned about this."
Jason rushes out ahead of them.
Tim glances over his shoulder, catching a glimpse of Selina.
I-M-S-O-R-R-Y, she spells.
Tim is sorry too.
The set of Dick's shoulders is indicative of how mad he is. Well, Tim reflects, it's not so much anger as hurt.
"I can't believe this," Tim reads from Dick's profile. Jason is ahead of them. "You skipped out on a patrol to go clubbing? I don't. I don't get it Tim. Explain it to me." Dick's eyes focus on him, causing his stomach to jerk, once.
Liar, Tim, you liar. You know where lying gets you?
Cars and trees and rolling.
He doesn't reply. He can't. Won't.
And Dick doesn't ask again. Meaning the entirety of the walk is held in silence. Jason's already in the house by the time Tim makes it to the door. Bruce is already on the couch and Tim is already ready for the lecture. He shucks his shoes, taking his time getting to the living room, preparing to stand for the lecture.
Dick stands off to the left, watching, because he's upset (liarliarliar). Jason has already stomped upstairs and Damian is, presumably, in bed. (He does have an education that Bruce finds important.)
"You were with Selina," Bruce's voice carries the timbre of neutrality, but the undercurrent of shock trembles just beneath the surface. Tim nods. "And this is why you have been skipping patrols or ignoring your duty completely." Tim nods again, staring at the carpet beneath his bare feet, curling his toes. He doesn't catch what Bruce says next, because he cannot see him. But he feels disappointed. Tim glances up to see him saying, "you're grounded. No patrols. No going out. Home, school, and back. Are we clear?"
Tim's throat closes. You liar, you family can't trust you, you liar. He nods before spinning on the ball of his left foot, making his way upstairs.
He grips the edge of his door, considering slamming it.
He gives into his teenaged impulse, slamming the door and rattling the house. He flicks the lock, throwing himself temperamentally to his bed, pressing his palms to his eyes.
Dick and Jason and Bruce and the car and—you liar, Tim.
His family won't forgive him for this. He curls up on his side, a scream rising in his throat. (Remember where lying gets you?) He clamps his teeth around it, locking his jaw. A knock sounds on his door, and it's definitely Dick's knock. Tim wishes he had a shoe to throw at the door. He opts for one of his pillows instead, the scream clogging his windpipe.
The shadow beneath the door hovers, for a moment, before retreating back the way it had come.
His stomach jerks again, reacting to the car accident that won't happen. (Can't ever happen. Not again.)
He presses his palms to his eyes again, imprinting his family on them. Bruce, disappointed. Dick, hurt. Jason, disgusted.
(Your little brother was a closet clubber. Admittedly, it's shameful. But, it could be worse.)
Tim pulls out his phone and texts one thing to one person.
A reply in fifteen-point-three seconds.
I can fix that.
Chapter 21: Chapter 20
Selina stands before Tim, in the foyer of the manor, and looks at him. His posture screams grounded, a repetition of the text. His face indicates he hates it. His eyes say he hasn't been sleeping. And then her green eyes peek over his head to see Dick and Bruce. Damian's probably somewhere. And so is young, irritable Jason. But those two aren't here concern right at the moment.
But she's here for Tim.
She puts a hand on his shoulder and brings him in for a hug.
"Don't you worry, family. I'm just here for lessons and a sleepover." Dick is looking at her like she corrupts people. Selina flashes him her most perfect smile, because it's not like Bruce will kick her out for arriving uninvited.
Speaking of Batman, Bruce's tired eyes ask teenagers, how do I raise them. But Selina ignores the eye-asked question and tugs Tim toward the stairs, assuming that he'll lead to his room. Dick is trying to get his attention. Tim doesn't look behind him, just tugs on his ear (I can't hear you) and climbs the stairs, two at a time, texting while jumping.
Selina's phone vibrates in her pocket.
He has been here since Wednesday. Selina rolls her eyes because she remembers Wednesday. Remembers the confrontation. And she can imagine it hasn't been easy for him to be in a house where everyone just wants him to explain.
Why are you actually here? The next text inquires. He looks over at her as he opens the door to his bedroom.
"I already gave my reasons. You still have things to teach me and I wanted to stay over. I wanted to do eye makeup for you." She shakes her purse. "I brought glitter. It won't even make you look girly. Just. You know. Make your eyes pop."
Tim flushes and smiles and he's so cute. If she ever has a son, she'd want him to be like Tim.
"Okay," Tim flicks his wrist. She knows that sign by now, and he's not protesting about the sleepover, which is excellent. After all, it's not like she would have left anyhow.
She sees that his laptop is open on his bed, the browser opened to YouTube, a music video. She raises a brow. "You sing, kitten?"
Tim shrugs, plopping down on his perfectly made bed. (Come to think of it, his room is a little barren). "I-S-I-G-N-A-L-O-N-G."
"Oh, this I have to see. Show off, little one. Show me what you got." She grins because she knows the boy can dance. Tim rolls his eyes but types into the YouTube search bar, covering it so Selina can't see. And then he taps the space bar, pushing himself out of the chair and holding his hands up.
Selina grins. "Really."
Tim makes a face. But the song starts. "This is the song that reminds me of my trucker hat, that I used to wear not to block out the sun. With a John Deere logo and a stain on the back, from where you laid me out flat and I thought I was done," his hands move, quickly and beautifully.
But his legs get into it too.
"But all these things mean nothin' to me, when I'm with you I've got everything. I could want and I could need, even God he would agree, you and me were meant to be, it's easy to see." Tim's joints pops and lock, and he smiles. "I'll never go out of style on you, nothing really feels the way you do. Nothing in the world could ever make me look this good, when you fit me like you do," he flutters his hand at the end and twirls, moving into the next verse with his whole body.
It's. It's so cute.
Selina learns the chorus on the last go, but she can't quite make her whole body sing like Tim can. It's impressive. Even without a physical voice, his body sings. That makes her wonder how his family missed his clubbing, because she doesn't imagine that he could keep it a secret with an expressive body like that.
Selina laughs afterward. "I didn't know you could pop and lock, kitten!"
Tim smiles bashfully and begins typing out something on his phone before holding it out to her. It made signing more fun. I like it. She hands it back.
"You're good at it! Now, baby, teach me something." One day, she thinks she can make her movements sing without being sensual, give it a voice of its own that says Selina Kyle the way Tim's says Tim Wayne.
Tim and Selina work through ASL for three hours. There are knocks on the door often but Tim never signifies anyone to come in, so no one does. (Selina is really confused about how this family dynamic works, if it works at all.)
"I," Selina says, after working on verbs for the past forty-five minutes, "am going to go ask Alfred for some food. What are you in the mood for?"
Tim signs slowly. Practice for Selina, she guesses. "Grilled cheese sandwich. With bacon." Selina grins and nods (hadn't figured him for a bacon eater, actually) and opens the door to his bedroom, shutting it firmly behind her, catching another Bowling for Soup song coming from his laptop speakers.
"Well hello!" Selina greets Jason, hovering outside what she assumes is his bedroom. His eyes flick from Tim's door to the carpet before resting on Selina. "Getting some air from the hallway, or...?"
"No." Jason replies, in a gruff and rather angry fashion, if Selina were to lodge a complaint. "I was just standing. This is my house, okay."
Selina shrugs and watches Jason's eyes stick back to Tim's door. Oh. Oh. She knows that look. Jason had been attracted to Tim at the club. Oh yes. (And judging by the way Tim kept looking at the shadows under the door when people would knock. Oh. Oh my.)
"Well, enjoy your standing then," and she pointedly looks at Tim's door before making her way down the stairs and to the kitchen. Alfred is nice to her (she really likes that he calls her Miss Kyle, it's very flattering).
"Tuna sandwich and a grilled cheese with bacon, ma'am," Alfred hands her a tray.
"Thank you much, Alfred." She smiles.
"Do tell Master Timothy that there will be cookies down here after eight should the two of you want to watch a movie or the television." Alfred pulls out baking supplies.
"Of course. Thank you Alfred."
"Any time, Miss Kyle." Selina takes the stairs, two at a time, putting the tray on Tim's bed after shutting the door behind her. (There had been no sign of Jason, but his boot prints were in the carpet in front of Tim's door. Oh they've both got it bad, don't they?)
Selina grabs her bag when Tim takes his sandwich.
"Okay," she announces and Tim looks up, quirking an eyebrow. "When we're done, I'm going to do your eye makeup."
Tim nods slowly.
"And you have to promise me that when I teach you to do it, you need to wear it out." Tim makes a face at this but nods after making a big deal out of it.
"Alright," Selina takes her own sandwich and lays the makeup on his nightstand. "You're going to be able to kill with your eyes when I'm done." Tim rolls his eyes (and they are pretty, she'll have to take pictures when she's done).
Then they eat in a comfortable silence. With one of Selina's arms draped over his shoulder.
And Tim leans into her.
(He really is the sweetest thing.)
Chapter 22: Chapter 21
Jason has always been a troubled sleeper and food has always abetted the need for sleep. He creeps down the stairs, his bare feet making no noise (because he's certain that even though Tim is deaf, he'll know where Jason is—).
A thump comes from the living room when Jason is halfway down. (Can't be fucking burglars, this place is rock solid.) He rushes, a little, the last few steps, taking a detour from the straight shot to the kitchen to the living room instead. One of the small reading lamps is on, making Tim a silhouette (Tim, shit) against it.
His fist is pressed to his mouth, and while there's no sound, Jason knows the shape of dry sobs when he sees them (this didn't happen when Selina was here on Friday, so it makes him wonder why it happens here).
Jason flips on the light switch nearest him, bathing the living room and the Tim shadow in warmish yellow light (Jason's pretty sure Alfred changed the lightbulbs from the cold white ones when Jason was here last, before he semi-agreed to "clean up his act" or whatever.) Tim flinches, regardless of the warm or the yellow. (And his eyes are wet. Jason wishes he had just walked by or something—no he doesn't, dude just because—)
"I did not mean to wake you," his hangs are flying with the apology, his eyes cast elsewhere, uncommitted to a reply. Jason stalks over, plopping onto the couch next to him, crushing a red blanket with his behind. Tim curls away, scooting toward the other end of the couch.
(Jason doesn't blame him, not really, because he's got the urge to do the same thing.)
"You didn't wake me," and Tim's eyes are back on his face, gazing at his lips and his eyes, flickering between the two. "I'm hungry so I came to eat and then found you." Jason glances at the bite marks on Tim's hand (probably from when he was shoving his fist in his mouth, if Jason had to place money on a guess). "Nightmare?" He gestures at the bite mark, making sure to keep his hand at a healthy distance.
Tim scowls and that's odd because he doesn't scowl (unless you count that time with Vicki Vale and that was hilarious comedy gold, okay). "It does not matter." He flicks his wrist for emphasis, as if that means it doesn't matter or perhaps leave me alone.
Jason rolls his eyes. This has been going on since Wednesday and it's ridiculous. Every time someone talks to him (barring Damian, which is unbelievably frustrating) he just tugs his ear in I can't hear you and Bruce doesn't quite know what to do with Tim when he's like this because, apparently, his rebellious teen stage is happening late. Dick just wants to cuddle, or something, and that doesn't work either. Damian talks about other things, probably things as far away from Wednesday night as—
A sense memory, the smell of sweat and then the sight of Tim, his hips moving in a way that says we don't lie and Jesus fucking Christ.
Jason swallows. Well. Tim can't shut himself off from the family. Not if Jason isn't allowed to (right, okay, just don't think about the club, yeah? It's not. It's not conducive to helping Tim with his problem).
"Oh cut the shit, Babybird. Tell me what's up."
"No," his hands say in response and when Tim looks at him this time, his face is closed. "No. If. If I disappointed to the point I think I have, then I simply have to cut ties with all of you before you cut ties with me." At this, Jason blinks. He has the urge to sputter—because this is ridiculous—but he doesn't because that will just make Tim shut down even more.
"I think you're severely mistaken," Jason mutters and tries not to make it sound like a laugh. "Severely. Everyone's just fucking worried! I am the one expected to go out clubbing, not you, goodie two shoes."
"Well what else am I supposed to do!" His hands outburst with a small growl of frustration. (Jason if you keep thinking about that growl bad things will happen, really bad things, stop it—) "There is no sound here! There are voices—" his hands stutter and he glances at Jason and away again. "There are voices but there is not any music. I went clubbing—" he looks ashamed and Jason thinks that perhaps he could have been more tactful. "I went clubbing because it forced it's way into me. The music, I mean. It is. It is so."
Glorious is the word Jason thinks he's going for. It was all over his face, the feeling of moving with something, rather than trying to force it.
"It is not the same. But it is something."
His hands fall back into his lap, his outburst exhausted. His face is no longer closed off, just sad. So Jason does what he thinks his best. He holds out his arm (God the way Tim moves) and Tim looks at it, as if it is a snake waiting to bite. And then he scoots closer and he leans. He's warm and perfect and he doesn't fit perfectly but if Jason were to practice—no. Stop that right now.
"One day," Jason tells him and Tim's baby-blues peer up at him through his dark hair, "one day I'll turn the Batcave into a loud music party or something. You can have the Titans over or whatever. Selina maybe. It's better than moving against strangers," (shit that cannot be jealousy, do you hear me?). "And better than smelling of alcohol."
Tim nods slowly, a little smile spreading out across his face.
"You have also been avoiding me. I feel that it is best to let you know I was not the only irritable one."
Jason flushes, and looks up at the ceiling, but he can feel Tim's eyes on his lips and he can feel them tracing a line trying to get at his eyes. "Oh you know. Just. It's nothing. Pit-Angst, as I like to call it. Nothing important."
Tim chuckles, Jason can feel it against him, and there's the little squeak, punctuating one of his laughs and Jason squeezes his lips around the words that are pawing at his teeth. God you were sexy, I had no idea you could be that attractive, you were never that delicious when I was trying to kill you, what has happened, what happened, what has happened to me.
He just tightens his arm for a moment. "Babybird."
There is a nudge.
"I know you've got school in the morning and it's like two-ish. But do you feel like making some food?"
Another nudge and Tim squirms out of his hold, beckoning toward the kitchen. Jason shoves down the analysis of the empty feeling Tim left behind for a later date, after his belly was full. Preferably after he was a dead and rotting corpse. (Oh wait, he's already been one of those, uhm—)
A second time.
Chapter 23: Chapter 22
As we all know, this chapter might be happy, but it never ends up that way. Enjoy the chapter anyway!
Tim adjusts the weight of the backpack on his back, gently touching the practically healed scab from his encounter with Scarecrow. (In all honesty, he doesn’t really remember ripping his domino off.) He steps out into Gotham’s warm afternoon (polluted by smog smells and city sounds) and heaves a sigh. His biceps are sore from an early morning workout, as sleeping has been difficult since his encounter with Jason in the living room. In fact, the humidity currently permeating Gotham’s atmosphere is a pretty accurate representation of how it feels to be in a room with Jason.
When Tim’s sneakers hit the sidewalk outside his university, he stops short, sucking in impossibly damp air and holding his breath. Perhaps he will pass out. And, frankly, that would be a service at this point. He contemplates taking a step backward and going around the campus, but Jason’s head turns at that exact moment that the idea forms, and so Tim stays put.
“Hey,” Jason greets, raising his hand in a salute. “Thought you might like an escort home.”
Tim figures that he really doesn’t have a choice in the matter. He falls into step with Jason, moving his hands suspiciously. “Are you here to take me home so as to make sure I get there and do not go clubbing? Because it is four forty-five and not even I would seek to go to one before the sun sets.” Jason’s eyes follow his gestures, resulting in a derisive scoff.
“That’s totally it, Babybird, because we all know how much I like to run errands for Bruce. Yep, that’s me all over. Page-boy for the bossman.”
Tim raises his hands in an alright, alright kind of way, finding his eyes drawn to Jason’s and contemplating the color. Which is ridiculous. (Of course these feelings aren’t new, Alfred knows it and Tim knows it. He would just rather pretend they aren’t there at all. It seems unlikely his brain will ever agree to such an approach.)
“So why, exactly, are you here?”
“Bored,” rolls out from between his lips and Tim flushes at the imagery. (He’s going to be an engineer, not a poet.) “Besides, Dick wanted to come and I thought I’d rather get out of the house than have Dickiebird go.” Tim shrugs, not mentioning two nights before and allowing any conversation to lapse into silence.
Jason ends up going into the house first, with Tim trailing behind, shedding his sneakers and bending to pick them up, Damian flying over his body and using the wall as leverage for a spring tackle. He misses, as was intended. He gives Damian a small wave, climbing the stairs and slipping into his room, dropping his backpack in its customary place. If he had had a diary, he supposes this would be the part where he asks the Universe when did I fall in love with Jason Todd?
Was it when Scarecrow’s fear toxin put Jason and the rest of his family dead in his mind? Was it when they became friends? Or is it something that has been in Tim’s mind all along, since he started taking shots of Batman and Robin and realized that this Robin was different from the one before? Tim crouches, reaching under his bed for the photo albums he made sure to keep. He sits in the floor, pulling off his socks to feel the rattle of voices in the house.
And he opens it.
He flips through the pictures, each a chronological piece of Batman and Robin’s history through the lens of an overzealous prodigy. Dick liked to leap hands first so he could complete a flip. Jason’s favorite way to leap and land was feet first, dropping into a roll and coming out of it on his hands. Tim flips the page, plucking out a particular photo of Jason before—before the Joker. Before the Joker and before Batman was too late and before the Pit. Before.
This picture is his favorite, a young Jason grinning wide. Tim had almost missed it (why do I never smile like that, why is he so much happier than me) but he brought up his camera just in time, snapping the picture, Jason’s hair blown backwards, his right foot cut off because of Tim’s lack of attention. The yellow cape billows out behind him, Batman just ahead and outside the picture. Nowadays Tim can picture Jason’s eye color, bright beneath the white lenses.
He flips the photo over, seeing the scribbled song in fine-tipped Sharpie on the back. Tim never did manage to make a title for it. Never managed to play it at all, because Jason had died before his next concert and he hadn’t been able to muster up enough happiness to get this song right. He had changed it to a minor key, adding minor keyed children’s nursery rhymes. His parents had hated it.
He slips the photo back into its sleeve, pushing the album back beneath the bed, now turning toward his nightstand, opening the drawer and pulling out his polaroid camera (developing the film had been his favorite part, and he knows there is a darkroom somewhere—). He loops the neckstrap around his neck, descending the stairs, doubletime, finding Jason fiddling with the game systems beneath the TV. Tim pulls up his camera, taking a shot right then, the camera clicking in conformation of the shot.
Jason looks up, confused, his eyebrows hovering in the middle of his forehead, what the fuck plastered in the furrow between them. His mouth turns downwards and Tim clicks another picture, his heart thumping, because this is so much more different than taking pictures in secret.
“What the fuck are you doing?” One eyebrow goes up while the other comes down.
Tim lets the camera hang around his neck for a moment. “I am taking photos for posterity.” Jason scowls a little, pushing himself of the ground and striding over to Tim, holding his hand out for the camera. “If you touch the film I will put dye in your shampoo.”
“Oooh, scary. I’m not going to touch the film,” Jason replies, wiggling his fingers. Tim hands him the camera, barely stifling a small sound in the back of his throat when Jason yanks him over, holding the bulky camera in one hand. “Say cheese,” Jason’s lips tell him. Tim allows himself a smile and the camera clicks the picture. Jason hands back his camera. “There. Posterity.” He goes back to fiddling with the systems and Tim finds that he himself is almost too happy for words.
When he develops the film that night in a darkroom in the Cave, he admires the candid photos of Jason and the one Jason took on his own. His eyes are soft, perhaps not bright like they were in the photo Tim took as a child. And the grin isn’t quite as wide. But his body is turned just slightly inward, toward Tim, and Tim’s own head is tilted just so, a smile on his own face, softer and brighter than any he can remember making after the accident.
He holds the photo up in the redness, two a. m. showing on the analog clock on the wall. He thinks this could be his favorite photo. In fact, he is quite certain that it is.
When did I fall in love with Jason Todd?
(Maybe, and most probably, it has always been this way.)
Tim closes his eyes, and falls asleep, the picture hanging loosely on a line.
And, for once, Tim dreams of happy things.
Chapter 24: Chapter 23
Jason doesn’t know what to think. Or feel. Or do or say or what. Tim hurts him, somewhere in his chest, grabbing at his heart and squeezing with a fist of iron. It hurts like a motherfucker, burns and throbs in that imaginary fist. And all because of that goddamn stupid motherfucking picture. (Why the fuck did I take that? Was I humoring him? Was I humoring myself?)
He’s been taking fleeting glances at Tim (his replacement, for fuck’s sake) whenever they walk by. And he doesn’t want to. It’s. He knows what it is. Knew in the living room. Knew when he took the picture. And it smacks him in the face every time Tim smiles at him.
(“So are we friends now?”)
He swings his legs back and forth from the roof of the Gotham City Bank. The gargoyles are perfect for hiding and even more perfect for throwing up from, at this angle. As sick as Jason feels, it would be a pretty perfect vengeance, though not on anyone in particular, if it just hit some poor, shitfaced moron, because it could be anyone. On a bad day, Jason could be that shitfaced moron—
He pulls a pack of cigarettes from the inbreast pocket of his jacket, his helmet sitting comfortably between his legs (nope, don’t go there Jason, that’s fucking stupid of you, innit?). He lights it, watching the smoke travel upward from the tip, and taking a long drag, puffing out a cloud of toxins toward the sky were all the other airborne shit in this goddamn city ends up. (Is there anything past the smog, do you think? An actual sky? Greener pastures, or whatever?)
He takes another drag. (Sure this’ll kill him, but he’s already died once, right?)
A woosh and a flutter almost startle the cigarette out of his hands, but he manages to keep a grip on it, the gloves helping, he thinks, because he imagines his palms are ridiculously sweaty. Tim quirks his eyebrows at Jason and he can picture the exact look in his eyes (and he fucking hates himself for it, he really does).
“Those will kill you, you know.” Tim points at the cigarettes after he mentions it, his lips twitching because he thought of some lame joke about how Jason already died once, probably. (Then again, Tim’s sense of humor is only morbid when it’s self-depreciating—why do I know that?) Jason flicks the cigarette from his hands after one last pull, watching it fall until he can’t see it anymore. Which is only a distraction for a couple seconds, if even. Tim’s hands start to move again. “And cigarette filters do not degrade very quickly.”
“What are you,” Jason finds himself smiling (and he’s just egging himself on, really, which is really not brilliant, though his mouth doesn’t seem to give a shit), “the fucking Environmental Protection Agency?”
Tim shrugs. “If I enter the field as a chemical engineer or a civil one, I could perhaps get a job with them for land use and protection.”
“Ugh, no, please, I’ll never hear the end of it.”
Tim blinks at him, his posture stiffening as he leans away for a moment. What? Did Jason snark to hard? Because that was pretty goddamn tame if he has to say so—“Are you implying we’ll communicate enough that I will have the time to harass you?”
“I don’t know,” Jason answers quickly, flying over the question with his brain, because no he cannot go there, not now, not with Tim, not—(“For posterity.”) “Maybe.”
It’s weird, the kind of silence that settles there. It’s humid and thick, riddled with tons of things but not actually a sound. Gotham is too far below to get into this bubble of the moment (or whatever) that they’re having. Tim gently peels off the domino, no solvent, and the healing spot drawing Jason’s eyes to it. And Tim locks their eyes together, holding Jason’s gaze right there. The hand grabbing and Jason’s heart squeezes again, almost knocking the breath out of him, painfully.
“I love you.” And then Jason’s breath is gone. It bursts out of him, running towards the smog like his cigarette smoke. Running out of his lungs because Tim just said—Tim just said—Tim just spoke the words with his voice—
The only memory Jason has of Tim’s vocal chords is the terrible scream ripped out of them by Scarecrow. But this is different. It was soft. It was soft and his eyes aren’t wild and panicked. They’re calm. And open. And it’s the most open Jason has ever seen this stupid—fucking Tim and his—
Jason’s thoughts run away from him, double time, falling out of his ears. He stands, almost stumbling off the gargoyle. Tim’s eyes follow his movements, open and earnest.
No. No. Fucking—no—Jason can’t do this. He can’t do this, he abso-fucking-lutely cannot do that. He cannot be a part of this. Jason can do friends. He tries, he thinks, not to taint his friends. If he had many. But he—Tim can’t be a part of Jason. He can’t. He’ll crumble and it’ll be all over and this—no. Nothing can touch this feeling. Nothing can touch what Tim has, it’s not allowed. It’s not Jason’s to have, it shouldn't belong to him. He doesn't deserve something like--. (Jason’s love is ugly and twisted, how is this even love at all—)
“I can’t.” Jason watches Tim’s face crack. (Okay. Good. Just—just keep that feeling and hold it—). “I can’t. Tim I can’t. I fucking can’t—“
“Why not,” his hands speak this time, his cheeks flare up red.
Jason sets his shoulders, pushing them back. His hand rests on his grappling gun at his belt. “You replaced me. Just because we’re—just because I said we’re friends—“ Tim’s face goes smooth. The exact kind of smooth that Jason hates. The practiced mask of Timothy Jackson Drake. Of the boy with music. (Jason can picture this face on a kid at parties, at charities, at concerts.)
“I can’t,” Jason says again, falling backward off of the gargoyle, swinging himself away, far away, as far as he can away from Tim because—he can’t. He can’t. No.
He can’t (stop looking at me like that I can’t, I can’t do it, I can’t—can’t go back to the manor can’t face this can’t face Tim—).
(At least he has a good memory of Tim’s voice now—at least there’s that—for posterity.)
Chapter 25: Chapter 24
Selina rolls the gem around in her hands, its many faces catching watery moonlight as carefully admires her prize. She should feel bad about the theft. She should feel guilty. She should walk right back to the jewelry store and put back the artifact before someone notices it’s gone. But she doesn’t, tucking the sapphire away in a pouch strapped to her thigh. (Not even Batman can train a cat, and somehow she thinks he knows it too.)
She starts into a run, leaping across Gotham’s rooftops, using her whip to compensate for jumps that are just a little too far. The workout leads her within two blocks of her apartment, home free for the evening with her new addition for her collection. But she sees—
Tim. He’s tucked away in the shadow of one of Gotham’s many water towers, legs pulled tight against him, forehead resting on his knees. His cape is pulled as tightly around him as he can manage. And he doesn’t move. In fact, if Selina had been a little more focused on the final stretch toward home, she’s certain she would have missed him entirely.
Selina takes her time approaching him, giving him any opportunity he wants to start or move or greet her. But he stays in place, wrapped and almost invisible, until she kneels down in front of him. Tim’s domino is tossed to the side, resting against one of the tower’s supports.
“Kitten,” she murmurs, wondering if he’ll feel her words through his boots, placing two fingers of one of his wrists.
His head slowly comes up, and she will admit that she’s surprised to find his face dry. She’s even more surprised to find his eyes empty, his face blank. That posture is not one normally associated with calm or empty or whatever it is Tim is.
But Tim just looks at her, eyes going from focused on her face to focused somewhere else before he spells out, “H-E-L-L-O.”
Selina wiggles her fingers, running through her vocabulary to sign back. “What is wrong, Tim?” Tim’s eyes flicker across her hands before his shoulders roll in a what are you talking about gesture. She breathes out through her nose, holding her head still when it would rather shake from side to side because why are the Wayne men so incredibly difficult. Why can’t they all be like Dick? She brushes the thought away (because Bruce is wonderful and Tim is sweet).
Her hand hovers in front of his face for a few moments before he takes her hand and pulls himself up, his cape fluttering around the backs of his knees when he bends to pick up his domino. He doesn’t protest when she tugs his toward her apartment, leaping across rooftops without complaint.
(What would he say? Sorry, Selina, I don’t want to hang out with you? Tim isn’t that kind of kid.)
She pushes open the door to her apartment, waving for Tim to take a seat, feeling comfortable enough to look away only after he takes a seat. His face is still a careful mask, his cape tucked under him like a nest. She pulls out her new prize, laying it on the kitchen counter as she prepares a glass of warm milk for the both of them.
Tim’s focus is already back on her when she enters her small (and cluttered, what’s a collector to do?) living room. He takes the glass of warm milk in his hands, placing the glass on the small table next to the sofa. “You should return that,” Tim’s hands says to her, nodding toward the kitchen. But there is no snarky raise of the eyebrow, no quirk of the lips. (What is wrong with my baby?) But she does appreciate that Tim mentions the gem, that he doesn’t just take it and give it back on his own. Selina likes options, hates being forced into corners, hated being shoved into doing the right thing.
She loves this about the Wayne family. Options.
“I’ll think about it,” she purrs, ruffling Tim’s hair with one hand, sipping her milk with the other. She picks up her cell phone, checking her messages. (Three missed calls, from Bruce, and six messages from—oh.)
Selina is the first text, followed by What do I do. She scrolls through the other four, I might come over. I’ll wait outside. Sorry to bother you. The last one brings a smile to her lips. You should probably put back whatever you’re stealing.
She casts a glance over her shoulder to find Tim sipping at the milk, his gauntlets laid neatly on the table. But his mind is still elsewhere, she can tell, and as she dials Bruce’s number, she can’t help but wonder if Tim’s been ungrounded yet, if he’s hiding his brooding teenaged rebelliousness behind his societal mask.
“Selina,” Bruce’s voice is a growl over the phone. “Have you seen—“
“Tim?” She murmurs quietly into her phone, her back to Tim (just in case this conversation is private, she’d rather him not read her lips). “Because he’s with me.”
An exasperated sigh almost tickles her ear. “He’s still grounded.”
Selina snickers. “Well, it looks like he’s just been out patrolling your city. So he wasn’t out clubbing or any of that sinful stuff, Bruce.”
Another sigh, this one different, though she isn’t quite sure how. “I know you think that this was uncalled for, but he can’t just be shirking his duties while he’s out—“ Selina pulls in her lips to avoid smiling.
“I know. Well, I assure you, we weren’t gallivanting in Gotham’s clubs tonight. I’ll send him home tomorrow, alright?”
It’s cute, really, how Bruce worries so much.
“Alright. Thank you, Selina.”
“Anytime, Daddy Bats,” Bruce snorts at his nickname, the one that’s practically infected Gotham’s underworld.
“Goodnight,” he mutters, and Selina returns the sentiment before ending the call and turning to Tim. Do you want some dinner sits on her tongue, but Tim is curled up on the sofa, his cape pulled around him and the empty glass perched on the end table. Fondness bubbles under her ribcage. She pulls a blanket (fur-lined, stolen from a wealthy Canadian years ago) from the top of her living room cabinet and drapes it across Tim before heading to bed herself.
Three of her cats are already curled up on her comforter, and before she falls asleep, she wonders if this is what it feels like to have a full house.
When the sun creeps through her curtains the next morning, she pushes out of bed, landing lightly on her feet. Her cats are nowhere to be seen as he pads into her living room. Her blanket is folded on the sofa, the glass unseen (probably in the sink or, knowing Tim, already washed).
A note is left on her coffee table (stolen from a museum, it’s a piece from a palace that was almost destroyed in one of the European wars) in Tim’s close script.
Thank you, Selina, for letting me stay the night.
There is nothing else at the end, and, upon a closer look, the handwriting is shaky with—something.
I should have pressed him more, she thinks, folding the note and tucking it into the folds of the blanket. I knew something was wrong.
(But she’ll talk to him later. She’ll see that he’s fine. What kind of mother would she be otherwise?)
Chapter 26: Chapter 25
Dick fidgets, changing his position on the couch every two-to-five minutes, because if he doesn't, he'll start pacing. And he doesn't really have the space to pace the way he wants to without damaging something valuable, some Wayne heirloom, maybe even a precious vase. Alfred would be a combination of pissed-disappointed, and no one in the family wants to put Alfred in that undesirable situation.
But still! Was Dick as strong willed as Tim is now? (Probably, if he had to think about it. After all, he quit being Robin—and oh there is that sting again, taking Robin from Tim—and the sting really isn't fair because Tim was the one that he took it form.)
Tim is impetuous and doesn't follow orders. He is grounded for at least three more days, not counting this traipsing around Gotham which has yet to be added to the grounded count. (Seriously though, was Dick this way? Damian certainly is, but he's ten. Jason is definitely this way—in point of fact, he still hasn't come home either—but he was put in the Pit—though, again, Jason was always that way. Maybe he hasn't grown up. But Tim? Where did Tim get this—)
It's the worry talking. Dick knows it's the worry talking, because of Scarecrow, because Tim is my little brother and I need to protect him because he doesn't protect himself.
Dick checks the grandfather clock. Tim should have gotten out of school by now.
(I should have met him there. I should have walked him.)
He breathes, his spine twisting as he shifts positions again. This could be something else. Is Dick jealous? He could be jealous of Selina. After all, Tim used to come to him with his problems (like the emptiness after the death of his parents—Dick would have taken Tim out, he would have, he thinks—), Tim used to need him way more than he needed anyone else, except maybe barring Alfred and Bruce. But. He doesn't need Dick anymore.
(Is that a sign of growth or of dependence on another person—on Selina?)
Wow, this is not where Dick's thoughts had intended to go. This isn't where Dick had intended to tread into at all. He's just waiting for Tim to get home, after disappearing last night to go out and patrol—
The doorknob rattles as a key slips into the lock, and Dick almost falls over the back of the couch to get to the door. He doesn't make it in time, not to actually open the door, but he is I the doorway when Tim pushes it inward toward him. Tim's eyes cast upward to him, and he tilts his head.
"Were your classes any harder, what with your backpack being here instead of with you?" Dick arches a brow, trying to seem like he's scolding his little brother. But there's something off—something wrong—so Dick's eyebrow doesn't go quite as high as it needs to, and his mouth doesn't manage the frown that would be the perfect shape for a good scolding.
Tim shrugs, looking around Dick, probably seeing if he could squeeze by without getting grabbed. The answer, Dick thought about it already in his waiting, is no. "Classes were classes," Tim signs finally, his eyes falling to gaze at the floor once he gave up the escape idea.
And there it is. Tim's shoulders hunch, just a little, coming up just a bit around his neck. His hands tug absently at opposite sleeves, a subtle substitute for wringing his hands together. But Tim's face is smooth. His forehead is unwrinkled, his eyebrows neutral above his eyelashes, his lips formed around a straight line. And Dick understands that Tim is already cowed by something, smoothed out into perfect Timothy Jackson, son of Jack and Janet Drake. The prodigal son.
Dick sweeps Tim up in a hug (I couldn't have scolded him anyway, he's safe after the patrol, I don't even know where I would have gotten the energy, and he went out working instead of clubbing, it's a good sign, it's a good thing, I'm sorry I thought about getting angry, I'm sorry, Tim, I'm sorry).
Tim arms are flailing during Dick's monologue, but he just buries his face against Tim. And then Tim's arms wind around him, his fingers digging into and pulling on Dick's T-shirt, his body made of tightly wound muscles, a weight in Dick's hands that's more emotion than anything.
(Tim's voice is his body language, it always has been.)
Dick crosses the threshold from the foyer to the living room, plopping himself and Tim back on the couch. But Tim's fingers are effectively claws and he doesn't let go—which hasn't happened since his parents died, which is a really bad sign.
He pries Tim away from him, sitting his brother not away from him, but at enough of a distance that Tim will be able to focus on Dick's lips to see what he's saying. Dick feels the prickle of surprise when Tim's face is still smooth, despite the rock-solidity of the rest of him. Tim's hands lay loosely on his knees, ready for a talk.
Tim's always been really good at feeling the atmosphere of a situation. He's always been an incredible asset to have out in the field because of that. "So," Dick begins, and Tim's eyes glide over to Dick's lips like he'd known they would. "How was patrol last night."
"Uneventful," Tim's hands form the words offhand, but there's tension around the knuckles, the bend in his fingers saying volumes more than his face is managing right now. "There was a mugging that I handled and some surveillance around the GCPD. There is incredible potential for corruption in one of the new officers."
Dick treads carefully, because he can see something in the curve of Tim's neck, the way his head tilts toward the floor, pulled by the weight of something Dick can't see. "Did you see Jason, last night? He hasn't come home either and Bruce is pretty sure he saw him going out on patrol as well."
Dick watches as Tim's eyes move back to his lips and proceed to dilate, as if around Jason's name, to swallow up the way it looks. (I knew it, Dick thinks to himself, I knew it.) But he rolls his lips inward, as if around words, his face cracking around the edges. Tim can't keep his face calm forever. Dick knows that fact really well.
And he watches as Tim's mask falls piece by piece, even as he shakes his head no I didn't seem him, no I didn't. He's lying. That is obvious.
Tim's face crumples, he bends over, and his spine trembles with sounds that Tim refuses to make.
Dick presses close to his little brother's side, thanking his lucky stars that he didn't scold Tim, because this was hovering under the surface, this.
And Tim's hands shake when they form the words "Why am I not worth it? Why?"
Dick doesn't know what he means---or what to say that wouldn't sound like a platitude.
Chapter 27: Chapter 26
The sound shakes his bones, vibrates in his muscles, presses in his vocal cords to the point where Tim knows he probably couldn’t use them if he wanted to. (And he doesn’t not ever. He can picture his words—“I love you”—stupid words, an oozing gelatinous mass, garbled by his deafness, slapping to the ground like deadweight, disgustinghorrifyingterrible.)
The music pushes up through the stone floor, under his skin, trembling between skin and sinew.
Yet there is still a hole in him.
(“Have you seen Jason?”
Tim lifts his hands, pressing the palms to his eyes, the music shaking him to the very edge of his emptiness.
(Love me, love me, someone—just—)
He pulls his palms away from his eyes. They’re dry. So he drops his palms back to the stone floor, the music tingling the skin of his fingers. (And the song now—it feels like Mozart’s “Requiem”—and if this is the right CD, “Lux Aeterna” should be next, with violin sounds that wrench the chest apart—which would be unfortunate, if his chest were not already cracked, ripe for the pickings of—)
Unnecessary details, Tim’s own G-minor voice titters in the back of his mind.
(G-minor, because his actual voice is a phlegmatic mockery of anything resembling the spoken word.)
He breathes out a sigh, holding and releasing the fingers of his left hand against the floor, the cello parts hovering on his fingertips. (But this song isn’t mine—it isn’t mine.)
Damian appears in his vision, his expression a mix between condescension and concern. “What on Earth are you doing?” Tim stares at him, gesturing absently toward the large sound system, normally used for training purposes, the throwing of sounds and the need to prepare for loud explosions. “It appears that you are trying to make everyone else in the world go deaf.”
Tim doesn’t manage a smile, but he does manage to get his hands up, “that would make my life so much easier. No speaking.”
“You do not speak anyway,” Damian points out.
“I love you.”
Tim swallows. “With good reason,” he replies.
“So.” Damian takes a seat, casting his eyes around the cave for something to focus on. “What are you doing that you need to be half clothed for?”
“Feeling,” Tim emphasizes his point by pressing his palms to the floor, the shaking of “Lux Aeterna” rattling around his insides. “You should try it.”
“Ridiculous.” But Damian pulls his own T-shirt over his head (in fact, it’s so large that it looks to be one of Dick’s old ones, or perhaps a shirt of Bruce’s. He places it to the side, stretching out, his back pressed against the cold stone. Tim watches Damian’s eyebrows furrow, his lips pull downward. But he’s focusing.
“How can you discern music from all this—movement.”
“It is easy,” Tim signs back. “Watch me.” (“Lux Aeterna” is having the desired effect, pulling his chest cavity farther open, and reaching in for the heart he had been so eager to give away—like a child—a stupid, stupid child.) Tim begins signing the notes he can feel, using his right hand for the letters, his left for the pitch (thumb up is sharp, obviously, while thumb down is flat). The music bounces against his empty space, but the notes still work their way up his arms, lending themselves to the pace of the music. Damian watches, his eyes following the letters to the best of his ability.
“Impressive,” his lips say, though their curve is begrudging to admit such a thing.
“Elementary,” Tim replies, because he can do banter. That is a function that prevails in the worst times, through the deaths and revivals of friends and family. Damian rolls his eyes, his diaphragm popping out in a scoff. Tim lies back down, feeling the cadence of “Hope Runs Deep” stretching up his arms and spine.
Damian allows himself to lay there awhile, listening to the booming soundtrack of Tim’s life, feeling it rumble in the cave (a void filled with something, while a void of similar magnitude still yawns in Tim—probably always will).
Tim’s eyes are fixated on the ceiling (the bats are probably down cave, as far away from this nuisance as they can get) when Damian’s fingers brush the top of his right hand. Tim turns his head, because for a blissful moment he’d been thinking poor bats and he is brought back to a place where, naturally, Tim is trying to fill holds in him. (More than one now, more than one—)
“Drake,” Damian’s lips work around his name, but the line of them was hard before, and now it isn’t. It’s the little things, he supposes. “Everyone else is tiptoeing around you and your—whatever this is that is going on. I am not so tactful.”
Of course you’re not, Tim thinks, because obviously. When has Damian ever been particularly tactful when it comes to human things like feelings? (Then again, when has Tim, really?)
“I understand that—love is complicated. And that it is sometimes unconditional.” Damian’s eyes flutter uncomfortably and he moves to sit up, pulling Bruce/Dick’s shirt back over his head. He clears his throat, Tim can see, by the way his neck trembles. “But sometimes, one cannot expect love in return. That is—sad. And I, personally find that you can do better than Todd of all people—“
(Tim’s mind flinches because everyone has been asking have you seen Jason and Tim always responds with no but he did and they don’t know it but Tim had chased Jason off—)
“Pay attention,” Damian’s fingers snap in his face, the words on his lips just visible behind his fingers. “I am trying to tell you that—love is okay, even though it might not come to anything. And it is disappointing when love doesn’t—blossom—like you want it to. But. That does not make it worthless.” Damian huffs, his nostrils flaring. “Grayson told me things like this, as if it was relevant to me but I felt that it would be better if you heard it instead. He really does have rather odd priorities.”
Damian pushes himself up from the floor, and steps away slowly with bare feet. “Thank you for sharing your music with me,” he says, “and dinner should be ready soon, if you have been down here long enough to forget the time.”
Damian walks away, the shirt billowing around him, a child in his older brother’s clothes (or his father’s clothes, it really depends on who did the wash, because if Bruce did it, he has the habit of shrinking things—)
Tim rolls, reaching for his own shirt, sitting up to pull if over his head. He rights himself from the floor, shutting off the sound system, blinking absently at where Damian had been laying.
“It is not mine,” Tim signs as an afterthought. “The music is not mine but—thank you. That is flattering.”
Damian doesn’t see the words, just like he didn’t see the cracked mess that is Tim’s chest, the pulsating cancer that is his heart, or the empty holes in him where things ought to go, but are not located.
“But sometimes, one cannot expect love in return.”
Tim swallows, clutches at his shirt, and heads for the stairs.
Chapter 28: Chapter 27
HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO MY BELOVED FRIEND HEARTS. Though it's not her birthday yet. C:
Tim steps off of campus, and sometimes he could swear that the atmosphere changes, from education and camaraderie to bustling with a sinister undertone in an instant. He mentions this to himself—hey, self, did you know about the atmosphere change?—because otherwise he knows his eyes will search for Jason to walk him home (stupid) and he just—he can’t—
What is the point in having a heart if no one will accept it?
(“One cannot expect love in return.”)
Tim tries to hate Damian for being astute, for making a point, for—everything. Tim just wants someone to direct this inner hatred on outside himself, and because Damian talked about the Forbidden Thing—and no one knows, no one quite knows about what had—taken place. No one knows. (Tim intends to keep it that way because—Jason isn’t returning calls—or texts—and that’s fine, that’s okay—Tim would have been okay with what they had—it’s because he spoke isn’t it—because he opened his fat mouth—)
He takes a shuddering breath.
And he walks home.
He takes his time, his feet tapping against the pavement as he walks, brushing by pedestrians who really could not care less about Tim’s feelings. (But he’s used to that. And he sympathizes. He’d rather not care about his feelings either and he wishes he could be one of the pedestrians.)
(“That does not make it worthless.”)
Tim pushes Damian’s voice down to the center of his brain, hidden and obscured by so many other things to think about—and he can wallow and suffer as long as he wants, because as long as Damian’s sit-down with him stays as far away from his front thoughts—because Tim wants to suffer. Because he deserves it, because he isn’t worth it, has never been worth it—
Tim steps into the Manor, sheds his shoes, taking his sneakers into his hands as he heads up the stairs, bending sharply forward as Damian bounces off the wall in the habitual takedown, landing on his hands before flipping back on his feet. Tim takes the stairs, one at a time. (How many days as it been? Six? Seven? Nine?) He takes the last two steps in one leap, heading toward his room (Jason’s door is closed, he isn’t here, so that makes sense—nine days, it’s been nine days since—).
He drops his backpack by the door, tucking his sneakers underneath it, before situating himself on the bed, curled around his emptiness, because for the love of God, he wants to sit and mope for a while. (But Dick has been here since and won’t let him be, and he can’t go into the Cave anymore because Bruce is busy, so yesterday was the last true music day he was allowed—)
His phone vibrates in his pocket.
He twists his wrist to the point of pain to reach the phone, lighting up the screen—and he really is stupid, Tim has always been stupid—and it’s not Jason. Of course it’s not Jason. Jason hasn’t replied to anything—calls, messages, probably emails. It’s Selina.
Selina Kyle: Hello kitten.
Tim places his phone under his pillow. (He’ll reply later, he will, when he’s done moping and hating and lovemelovemeloveme.)
He rolls, his emotions rolling with him, roaring in his ears, despite the silence that permeates his life. And he spots his desk. A twittering B flat, concert, alights a spark behind his eyes. (He won’t cry, he hasn’t cried, crying is for the weak of spirit.)
He had framed the picture—the one for posterity. Because it—it meant so much. Jason wasn’t Robin, anymore. His whole posture is different from his Robin years and it was remarkable. A contrast. The Jason-he-had-worshipped as opposed to the Jason-he-loves. But it’s tucked away in a drawer of that desk, frame and all, because the more he looks at it, the more he hates the word posterity and cameras and—
“That does not make it worthless.”
Tim breathes. He feels himself breathing, unable to hear it. He’s never been able to hear his own breathing.
He remembers—Jason embraced him after Tim was grounded. And he could feel Jason’s breathing too. It is—deafness evens things out. He can’t hear his breathing. Or anyone else’s. But he could feel it, feel Jason’s life, as he does when Dick hugs him, when Damian hugs him (which is not often).
(Jason doesn’t love me. Do I—)
(Does that make me love him any less?)
(Did I—when I followed Batman and Robin—before—did I love them any less?)
“That does not make it worthless.”
Tim’s chest—it is cracked open—it is split, down the middle, his ribs bare for the world to see, exposing the twisted thing that lives there, crushed too many times to even beat properly any more. There isn’t much love in it—and what is, is divided into his family (Dick, Bruce, Damian, Alfred, Steph, Cass, Barbara) and his friends (Kon, Cassie, Bart, Ives). There isn’t much Tim could offer anyway.
But the little he can offer—the little he wants to offer is summarily rejected—and Tim wants love. Wants it. Wanted it from his parents. Wants it from Jason. Wants it like nothing else. And wanting hurts.
But he hurts—he hurts because he knows he won’t love Jason any less. Just like he never loved his parents any less. It will be a constant ache in his broken chest, a suffering of his shriveled and raisened heart.
If he lets it.
“That does not—“
Tim rolls off of the bed, heading toward his desk.
And he opens the drawer.
Curse Damian for his astuteness—for his brilliance. Curse Damian for his ability to approach things with no tact, and do his job properly anyway. Damian is—(my little brother, someone I love regardless of his attitude because—)
Tim pulls the framed picture out of the drawer, of Jason and himself, from not-too-long-ago at all. And he places it on his desk, just so, that the edge of the frame catches sunlight, making the cherrywood frame glow a deep red, colors that define Jason and Tim in different ways.
(I love you, Tim tells the photo, because—I love you sounds—feels so much sweeter than love me. It pulls and it hurts, but it doesn’t yawn—it breathes. It evens. I love you.)
The B flat, concert, a note that has followed him around since Jason was put under house arrest (because we love him—in different ways, maybe, but we all love him and—), twitters again, before it sings, high and bright and lovely.
Tim finds himself a smile, inside, somewhere, and puts it on his face. (It’s jagged, a little sad, but not worthless—)
His insides tremble, with feeling—so much feeling—and then—there is a—(his hand comes to his chest because suddenly he can’t breathe—)
Something slams open, a flood of energy, of sound, working its way from the center of his body toward his head, toward his fingers, toward his toes—Tim opens up, all of him, even the ugly cancerous, disgusting parts of him—
And everything sings. It sings and lifts and there is music, there is music in me I can feel it—
(I love you.
Because I love you.)
Chapter 29: Chapter 28
(Deceptive Cadence: A chord that seems to lead to resolving itself on the final chord, but does not.)
Damian blinks in the direction of the stairwell, obscured from his angle in his father’s plush chair. He thinks Grayson watches as well, using the television as a mirror to see behind him. They are waiting—because Drake went upstairs and has yet to return. Do they need to go check on him? Is there something they need to say? (Damian thinks he has already given all the advice he has in him.)
He considers—almost fretfully, but that’s never something he’d admit to—what other insightful things he could possibly say when the sound of rushed footsteps clamber down the stairs. He twists—sitting up and watching as Tim walks past the entryway to the living room, his pace brisk, a large, fabric cello case strapped on his back.
“Where are you going?” Grayson asks.
“Out,” Tim’s hands reply, and he’s opening the door and gone.
Damian is about to leap over the chair, because this looks like some idiotic getting-rid-of-my-miserable-past moment but Grayson says, “Wait.”
Damian despises it when he speaks authoritatively outside of the suit.
(Encore: A piece of music played at the ending of a recital; in this case, a piece of music played at the revival of a recital)
Barbara answers her door of the Clocktower, knowing it’s Tim who’s there but can’t for the life of her think what he wants. Last she’d heard he was grounded, prohibited from patrolling (which he did anyway, if Gotham’s cameras were any indicator). Last she’d seen, he and Jason had a thing on one of the gargoyles—but the sad part is a lot of security cameras don’t have audio.
“Hey, Tim. Are you alright?” Tim looks down at her as she backs up her chair and nods, slipping the backstraps off of his shoulder, dropping his cello case onto the floor, dragging it gently toward her computer terminal.
“May I use your computer?” He pauses so sign at her, and she silts her head.
“Uh, sure. How’s the family?”
“We are good, I think. Busy.” She has half a mind to ask about Jason, but her curiosity over Tim’s visit wins out over the question—because Lord knows that once emotional territory is breached, the males of the family get the hell out of Dodge. He rolls a chair over from the corner placing it in front of her terminal, before typing in more access codes than she’s seen at one time in ages. ACTIVATE? is sitting on the screen in bright, green letters as Tim unzips his fabric cello case, pulling out the polished instrument and a bow.
“What are you doing?” She asks carefully, watching as Tim attaches the stand at the bottom, rosins the bow, and stretches out the first note, just close enough to the sound equipment of hers to tremble through the hub of the Clocktower.
Barbara doesn’t ask again.
Instead, she watches Tim tune his instrument, watches as he shuts his eyes and breathes, a smile tugging at his lips.
And then he taps the ENTER key with his bow—
And Gotham vibrates with sound.
(Minor: One of the two modes of the tonal system; can be identified by a dark, melancholic mood)
For a moment, Gotham goes silent. The henchman of the Joker blink, frowning, trying to work their radios. The whole city turns into this, a silent place. Televisions cut to black screens, radios quit in the middle of a rant—the only things working are police radios. But those aren’t necessary right now. Because it was only a split second between the silence—
And the concert B flat, singing across the airwaves.
The Clown Prince of Crime himself (he didn’t chose that name, or if he did, he wasn’t in the right mind when he chose it—but is he ever, really? And it’s not like the help is supposed to say anything about it. So they don’t) scowls, looking toward the radio that had been reporting the most recent escapade of the Joker. A good, old-fashioned explosion in the subway. Ah. It’s the classics.
But the note bleeds out, and is followed by a progression of notes, quiet—the key plucking strings in all three of the henchman present. Up and down the notes go before pausing—and sliding together to create a river. Their eyes sting. Their hearts squeeze.
And they think they could hear a voice, if they listened. (What they do not know, of course, is that this note is part of the G-Minor scale—)
Love me, it says. Love me.
And the Joker starts to laugh.
The henchmen take three steps back, watching their boss react to the music on the radio, laughing so hard it looks painful—laughing so hard tears are streaming down his face—
Or maybe—and none of them say this out loud either—maybe he’s crying so hard he’s laughing.
(Motif: Primary theme or subject that is developed)
Pamela Isley listens to the song, leaning against her cell, withering in the red light that saps away her energy. It’s amazing how the guards are running around, trying to figure out what possessed their intercom system. But it’s nice—or—it could be. But her cheeks sting with tears and she wishes she could get to her babies—because her babies love her, right? Of course they do.
She doesn’t need anyone else but her babies.
And she doesn’t think she likes the song on the intercom anymore.
(Key change: The key signature for the piece shifts, changing the overall tone of the work)
Selina has her phone in her hand, wiping her cheeks with the back of her other one, trying to sniffle against the pride in her kitten and the emptiness in her bones.
Love me sings over the radio waves, the television stores, the large television screen in the center of Gotham, a dark mimicry of Time’s Square.
It’s no surprise that Tim really can play beautifully—and that sound on the radio can be nothing but Tim, pulling and pushing at the emotions of the captive audience. (When did he get his music back? She wonders, but it doesn’t matter, not really. It’s just significant that he did.)
“Yes?” Bruce’s voice sounds strained with emotion, and she wonders if this was a bad time.
“Can I—Bruce, can I spend some time with you? Today? Perhaps around now?” Love me, the child in her screams. Somebody love me.
“Of course, Selina,” and his voice gets warm and soft and—
I love you.
There’s a shift in the air around her apartment—around the city. “Okay, be there soon.”
“I look forward to it,” and the line goes dead.
I love you.
And she isn’t sure if she wants to slap Tim or hold him.
(Vibrato: Creating a variation in pitch subtly but adjusting airflow or finger position on a string)
Commissioner Gordon holds his own phone to his ear, looking around the city, feeling the concrete vibrate with sound as a note stretches into resolution before a new line starts up—a deep sound, like a cello, maybe, alone, but creating so much music it feels orchestral.
“Hey, sweetheart,” he says into the receiver, breathing slowly. I love you, the song sings through his ears—and he needs to speak to his daughter. “How are you?” There’s a disparity between the sound outside the phone and the sound on her end.
“I’m good. You okay?”
He shuts his eyes. “I just called to tell you I love you, baby.”
(Capriccio: A quick, improvisational, spirited piece of music)
Bruce can’t help but try on a smile as the music gets light and almost joyful, Dick’s arm around his waist, his hand on Damian’s shoulder. Alfred sits in the armchair, off his feet for the first time in a long time, and they listen. Tim sings, all around Gotham, in a way Damian had never heard before. In a way Bruce doesn’t think he’s ever heard either.
And he’s—he’s so proud. He’s proud of Tim—because Tim grew up and grew without any help from him.
I love you.
Bruce brings his family closer, reminding himself to call Cass and Stephanie as soon as he can.
(Adagio: Restful tempo; at ease)
Jason watches his radio like it’ll let him see Tim—because this is Tim. It has to be. The love me had been screaming through his apartment (long empty since he’d been staying at the Manor; dusting had been a bitch). And now the I love you is pressing lovingly against the walls, stitching Jason back up.
“I love you,” Tim’s voice had said to him. And now his other voice trembles into Jason’s heart, caressing his ribs, rolling around his insides with all the affection of a human touch.
I love you.
Jason swallows against the knives in his throat.
And he says, “I love you too.”
(He’s always a little late to the party, isn’t he?)
A high note sings into the emptiness of the apartment of Jason Todd.
(Virtuoso: A person with notable skill in the performance of music)
Tim draws his bow over the final concert B flat, resting his cheek against the neck of his cello, his face split into a grin so wide it hurts. He can feel another song writhing just under his skin, ready for the ears of patrons—ready for playing. But he shuts off the interference he’d been running on Gotham—and the televisions and radio stations should come back on.
The music embraces him.
Barbara rolls up to him, holding her hands up—and Tim leans the cello against her computer terminal, leaning down so that she can take his face into her hands. She brings him down, placing a kiss on each cheek, her own wet with tears, her lips stretched into a beautiful smile, reminiscent of her days as Batgirl—a familiar sight when she was with the Bird of Prey.
“That was beautiful, Tim,” her lovely lips say.
And he pulls back, his hands bouncing to the rhythm of the music inside him, “I know.”
He looks out of the window of the Clocktower, over the city. Jason’s out there somewhere.
I love you.
(He needs to thank Damian for this.)