“If you're actually going to hit anything, you'll need to lift your knee up some more.”
Tim stuck the landing on his heel, repositioning himself and resuming his balance. By any means, he'd told Jason. The thrill of the offer overtook any prospects of reconsideration, and Jason had been more than interested in training him personally. But despite any of Jason’s initial expectations, the serious faced teen had decided to let Tim to give his best shot.
Years of training had its benefits as Jason demonstrated, maneuvering himself through set after set of movement, his strikes never precise but forceful. Tim kept his mental notes, repeating the motions Jason had drilled him on – he was going to catch on some way or another. They've started only three weeks ago, however there were already plans to move on the next course of lessons, Jason's plan being to work as efficiently and quickly through whatever he knew. Tim noted the hastiness in his kicks though, unplanned turns, and the occasional twitch in Jason’s shoulder.
Tim's leg stiffened midair, suddenly locked in one of Jason’s too familiar block. Just as Tim had felt it, he was pelted back on to the mat and tried scraping back to on his feet. Right now he didn't need to make contact, could never be quite sure if he was ready to approach Jason's imminent disapproval in his efforts, or reply on mark with equal snark.
“Okay,” Jason chimed, “you really should have seen that one coming.”
And in comparison to anyone else either of them could’ve be fighting, Tim considered himself lucky.
The teen knelt down, grabbing Tim by the forearm and helped prying him back up. Jason rolled his eyes, watching Tim brush himself down and roll his shoulders. There was something too reserved in those eyes – dealing any actual damage was no one's agenda today. The kid just needed some straightening up, that's all. Get a better idea of whatever the hell he was trying to get himself involved in.
“Y'wanna try that from the top again?” Jason asked, eying a pair of scrawny arms. He still didn't have the slightest clue how Tim somehow managed to land that blow on him the last time. Beginners luck, maybe.
Tim grinned, “Yeah, let's do that.”
They had telepathy, an unfathomable amount of super strength, super speed, unbelievable archery skills, and the successor of Bruce Wayne's Flying Grayson fiasco. It was a solid roster, nowhere near the League, or any of their powered affiliations, but better than what the majority had expected. Time had sharpened their skills, and connections founded on the decided stability of their team had given Young Justice a respectable image in the hero community.
Reflecting on the powers that made their team, Jason considered himself damned lucky to land the position he’d been given. Leadership was in Dick's hands now, but that still didn't curve any impressions the rest of the team had shaped among themselves. He was capable, they didn't feel the need to question Bruce's own sense of judgment, however even Dick had been sparse with the details of their newest member.
Trying to distant the prospect of a future life of crime was an honest enough reason to take him in, and Jason could admit it himself. If anyone wanted to ask, he'd answer keep the all the specifics out, although it was obvious there was already a sense of familiarity with Robin. But he wasn't some thirteen year old with entitlement, he had the talent, just needed the focus.
And Tim wasn't anything else but focused. The sort of determination that occasionally ended up catching Jason off guard, and the attention to detail that made their session less tedious than they needed to be. He gave him credit where credit was due, and the first time he had seen Tim's deduction skills as work it was like a delicate piece of machinery. One piece led to another, complied into the larger image, and suddenly made Jason come to some uncomfortable realizations regarding his own skills.
He didn't even have the training. Whatever it was he lacked in physical strength, it was compensated twice over in how straightforward Tim’s approaches got. Only a month ago, Jason had finished a quick patrol of upper Gotham, catching the unexpected flash of a camera in the corner of his eye.
He almost fell off the edge of the rooftop, jerking on his grappling hook and finding ground. Black hair and the camera in both hands, fairly decent clothing, and silently determining whether or not the lighting was enough to make a photo go through. Weird, Jason thought, he hadn’t expected the higher districts to be as populated tonight.
However he didn't hesitate, staring at the teen right in the face, realizing that he probably already knew all of the tricks he could pull off. He'd gotten their names, Jason couldn't even try to start listing what else he might have a clue about. Maybe shoes sizes, impracticable little details like that only a handful would care to arm themselves with. Probably already figured out what kind of engine Alfred had just installed on the Batmobile a few days ago.
It only took some fleeting seconds after he landed to get the teen pinned down, Jason's arm hovering right over his shoulder blade and threatening to strike anytime he pleased. The camera might as well be gone with the impact, but Tim attempted to keep himself as poised as possible. That sort of reaction still got on Jason's nerve during practice, always tensing up the split second he knew a strike was going to hit instead of using that time to his advantage.
“Shut it,” Jason told him, “I don't think you'd want to keep talking right now.”
A disgruntled mutter came from below, the teen giving a vain effort to loosen his hold.
“So you’re - !”
“And that's the reason – just keep quiet, okay?” Jason groaned.
Tim held his breath, Jason whisking him to the side of the alley. The location made enough sense, calling Robin right out in public would attract an unsafe amount of attention. Too many faces that could catch on and obviously both of them weren't ignorant to make that mistake. Jason eased up, releasing the teen and felt the general thinness of his arm. He wasn't going to try anything anytime soon, if he even knew the first thing about Jason, the competition was beyond his league.
The camera hung lifelessly over Tim's chest, the lenses cap scratched up and roughed around the edges. Aimlessly, Tim pried at the device, apparently searching for something it might contain. Jason waited for as long he could, before taking him by the wrist and gave him as solid as a stare as he could manage.
“What's your deal?” He pressed.
Tim replied, “I figured it out. You and Bruce.”
And Tim waited, letting words quietly sink into the air surrounding them.
“Holy shit,” Jason sighed. Now what was he supposed to do with him – he even knew their patrol routes. They've dealt with people who were good, unreasonably intelligent citizens, criminal, and the unpredictable mayhem they dragged behind. He doubt this kid was that capable, maybe an arm of another force, and any moment now he'd be neck high in some maniac's goons.
“What's your name?” Jason asked.
“And how did you -”
“I – The Flying Graysons. When I was a kid. It just sort of clicked when I started paying attention,” Tim answered, fumbling with the camera strap around his neck. It seemed relatively weighted, nothing the average suburban teen was able to afford without any assisted funds. Hardly looked like the kind.
“The entire time?” Jason asked. He already connected to Alfred, relayed the signal to Bruce, let him know something was up. Dick would probably have a word to two about the matter later after getting his kicks.
Tim swallowed, “I uh – have a photo album. Nothing professional, they're all from the press. Since Dick was in the uniform, anyways.”
“So you're sort of fan – are your some amateur or something?” Jason said, “This isn't exactly how to break into that business. Actually I think you kind of missed the point here, if your intention was to get eye to eye”
“Saw you up there I mean – maybe it was just an impulse that I wanted to call. See if you'd really react.”
As if he was treating this as some sort of experiment, Jason thought. This was completely off course now. If he wanted his backstage pass, he'd definitely get this this time.
“And what the hell were you expecting?” Jason replied.
Tim said, “They don't – not that much coverage about your Robin. I met Dick a while back – that’s him as Nightwing, isn't it?”
Jason exhaled, and looked at Tim again. He was a bit shorter, a neater haircut, somehow more prepared for this than Jason was himself.
“Can't leave you hanging around like this with that kind of information,” Jason said dryly, “Been waiting for me to say that one?”
The whirring of a car broke the silence, making Tim straighten his back as if Robin might as well not even be there. The streetlights were still on, barely making any impact with the evening. He wondered if he still would've even come across the kid later in the evening; definitely gave the impression of that sort of dedication. Smart enough to get away with whatever tricks he devised, and precise understanding of how’d they work.
Even if Jason had wanted to avoid the difficulties that would inevitably entail, there wasn't any absolute way of avoiding Tim. The Drakes were a considerably well off family, and amount of infiltration committed in the end almost made Jason regret bringing Tim to Bruce's attention. He could play it off until the rest of the team caught on, if they even managed to. Even Dick wasn't sure what to make of it, keeping silent on the matter until Jason pressed for his opinion.
“Bruce knows how to handle those things, Jason.”
“You didn't think it seemed suspicious?” Jason ended up replying, “Bruce Wayne suddenly galloping over to the Drake residence. I heard your son is friends with one of my protégées, Mr. Drake.”
“Maybe you just make the right impression. At least they have some status; someone completely off the streets really would've seemed that out of place.” The light from the monitors Mal had installed a few days ago bounced off his mask as he worked through their latest database. Jason glanced at some of the passing bits of text, idling in one of the nearby chairs. The rest of the team had returned home for the night, leaving Dick to wrap up any business still left to complete, and Jason begrudgingly accompanying him.
“We're just staying in touch,” Dick said, “But he seemed like a nice kid. Keeping our distance when someone has that kind of knowledge is the exact opposite of what we want to accomplish.”
The clicking of keys filled up the vacant lab, shadows curling up the corners of the walls and Jason perched on his elbow. Investments and information he couldn’t care to take note of, their business back at Gotham was already sizable enough.
“He seems to get along with you,” Dick said offhandedly, “That’s why Bruce chose you, if we’ve been the ones to get involved, he might’ve just closed up. It’s not like the rest of the Drakes know, as far they’re concerned, none us knows what Tim managed to discover.”
“Like they’ll even catch on,” Jason replied, “Every time I’ve dropped by, it’s just Tim and the housemaid. His father’s probably glad his son is finally getting some friends over. That place just seems too big sometimes.”
Dick grinned, “So he’s your friend now?”
Jason drummed his fingers, “Don’t start thinking I’ve been around that long,”
“Maybe you could start making some friends of your own,” Dick replied, eyes glued on the monitors, “Get away from something other than Robin.”
It wasn’t long until Tim started asking his own questions, sitting on the edge of benches while Jason prepared the weights. He wasn’t getting near the cave anytime soon, however Jason had given his best efforts towards providing enough equipment as possible. Dick had assisted when he could, dropping off whatever it was Jason requested for their training as long it was reasonable.
If Tim wanted to learn how to fight, there were just as plenty other opportunities he could’ve taken advantage of. But Robin was already here. Jason never asked about the photographs despite catching glimpses of stacks of albums, or camera lenses on bookshelves. He could wait, or at least until Tim miraculously pried his attention away. Which would at best be no time soon, after witnessing his meticulously obsessive with neatness, even prompting Jason to practice neatness more than he had back at cave.
And Jason would eventually bring it up, after successfully blocking one of Tim’s punches, and tossing him aside for what felt like the hundredth time. Just as hobby, Tim replied halfheartedly, readying his stance for another shot. Jason shrugged, and glanced over his shoulder. The rest of the team would be busy as Mount Justice, probably occupying themselves in one of the new training rooms that were just implemented. He’d have to try them out sometime, if Tim ever decided to skimp out on one of their days.
“So just Batman and uh,” Jason barely dodged one of his kicks, swinging back on to his feet. “just me and Bruce, then?”
“I can list off any of the League’s previous members too,” Tim quickly replied, “It’s all practically public knowledge. I also know about Young Justice, although your rosters have been expanding a lot more nowadays.”
“Dick says we were a lot smaller back in the day,” Jason said. Suddenly he felt a hit against his shoulder, then another at his side where Tim had finally managed to strike. Tim stood in place for a moment, lips stifling trying to withhold a satisfied grin.
Jason shook it off, “Guess that’s a little bit better,”
“How many times now?” Tim said, “Five?”
“At least my effort is going somewhere,” Jason replied, popping his knuckle.
“I think I’m done for today, actually.”
“Not exactly – but we still have some time left. Unless you’re busy, which I’m pretty sure you are, if Young Justice is up to something tonight. I mean…”
Jason sighed. Headquarters always needed one thing done or another, but they could respect other responsibilities. Dick probably wouldn’t have any obligations against it, and if he had set aside the time for visits, he might as well make the most out of them. Tim stared at his feet, rubbing one of his wrists - hadn’t properly wrapped his fists from the looks of it.
“So what’s in mind?”
That’s how the albums ended up open, and how Jason found himself gazing over press photographs of the original Young Justice. Dick was thirteen, and the rest of the team just beginning what he called himself a member of to this day. A select few of the faces were unrecognizable, however they might’ve been mentioned in passing as Tim did his best to explain where he’d gotten each image. Clipped towards the end were the yellowed, fray edged postcards advertising The Haley Circus and boxed photographs of Dick in his original uniform.
Last time Young Justice had gotten involved with the circus, Dick had explained to Jason how he had assisted in making sure their disguises had been accurate to the originals. Jason mentioned his interest, but Dick stated that the mission wasn’t as fresh in his memory as it used to be. Before turning the page, he noticed the bits of dust between the photos and the plastic sleeves, collected and tucked away over a thorough passing of the years.
“Did you take some of these?” Jason asked.
Tim sat on his knees, “A couple, mostly from public appearances. I have more of those from the League than your team, though. The majority of Young Justice’s coverage came from magazines, although it’s like that for most of the other teams nowadays.”
He reached over Jason’s shoulder, flipping through the pages of the album and stopped. Jason scanned over the page, noticing a handful of locations and gave his best effort to recall what he had done there. These were the more current photos, Tim inputted, he didn’t have the time to categorize all of them yet, but some of the angles were actually decent in his opinion.
“You got a shot of Miss Martian fighting?”
Tim replied, “That’s from when Mr. Freeze was downtown.”
It’d been one of their more memorable operations, involving Aquagirl breaking Kid Flash out of ice, Jason’s squadron managing to hold their position until the Gotham Police Department arrived. After that, the rest of the action had been subdued, any of Jason’s expectations for the fighting tossed aside once the League had appeared as expected.
“Some of these are kinda detailed,” Jason said.
“I – those were difficult.”
“How’d you even get that close..?”
Tim coughed and closed the album, setting it aside with the others him and Jason had pried out from the closet shelves. Only one of the books had been completely filled, however the others were sparsely occupied or dully organized. Jason hadn’t even bothered to go over all of them, idly flipping through random pages until Tim occasionally made a comment or two. The old Young Justice’s business was better off being their own, he decided.
“Seems like it’d get boring for you,” Jason said, “no one else around to flash this collection off to.”
“Guess I manage then,” Tim said, “Dad was always kind of busy, anyways. He kept me in all these extracurricular activities when I was a kid, and bought me the camera after he figured out I’ve been buying disposables. Figured it was a hobby I picked up or something.”
Jason whistled, “Not really what I’d call a hobby,”
Tim paused, and replied, “Might as well be something, then.”
“I was never good with the camera,” Jason said, “Bruce or Dick always took the pictures.”
“We have a library anyways,” Tim replied, “and my computer. I don’t stay bored for very long. Do things ever get slow there?”
“With Young Justice?”
“And with Bruce – Batman.”
Jason shook his head, “If I’m bored, they’re definitely not. Always on toes about something or another, not that any of us get away for slacking off,” he got up stretch and continued, “Dick’s pretty big on the whole responsibility gig. And Bruce is a machine.”
Tim said, “Good relationship with the co-workers then?”
“Lagoon Boy’s kind of an asshole,” Jason cracked a smirk. “But guess it could’ve turned out worse. I think a few of them are getting bored with it, though. They’ve been sending us all over the place lately. It’s a little ridiculous sometimes.”
Tim smiled and pulled his knees to his chest as Jason got up. If he wanted any more details regarding the team, Jason was going to do his best to keep as vague as possible. Not that he didn’t expect Tim to eventually tie up all the ends himself. Jason managed gossip when he could, but despite being on an already established team, he never found exclusive information as enticing as some would find.
“Maybe if you get to meet them,” Jason said as plainly as he could, “I’ll say you’re a friend of mine.”
That’s all it took, and he almost instantly locked on to the spark in Tim eye. The unexpected thrill of catching Robin dashing over rooftops in the evening, getting the briefest glimpse of a powered fight in action, or spotting whatever article the Daily Planet would churn out the next day. None of that when Jason first crossed Bruce himself. Tim using their identities to his advantage already excelled in cunning than any heist involving vandalizing the Batmobile. Most of the impractical heists he somehow managed as a kid could’ve done with a more expansive planning period.
“I have to get going,” Jason said reaching for his pocket, “Call from Dick.”
He barely noticed Jason reaching for the door, already familiar with the layout of the house. Or perhaps it was just second nature by now for him to keep track of that, Tim thought. Scrambling up, Tim followed him downstairs, checking through a mental list of what to say. The lighting from the front windows leered down the staircase, somewhere near the transition from evening to the nighttime and uncertain purples.
A new set of locks had been installed, and although Tim had been efficient enough with the previous pair, his fingers tripped at the latch as he fumbled with it. Jason waited patiently, arms crossed, not certain if he was in any hurry himself. Tim watched as Jason waved him off as he made his way down the front steps, a lofty green scent rushing through the door from the greenery outside.
For a moment he expected Jason to speak, add just one more indecisive note of farewell. With the latches unraveled and locked, he was suddenly aware of the sheer consistency of Jason’s visits, uneven sparring, and the unresolved favorability of actually being in his company. He touched his shoulder, patched up with Jason’s dexterity for bruises in such a specific spot; remembering his unexpected bemusement in Tim’s durability with injuries.
“That’s your weak spot, Tim,” Jason pointing at his collarbone. “Gotten enough of those in Gotham to know. Just don’t lie on it or anything.”
Tim brushed over the square bandage and winced.
“Sorry about that,” Jason said as he packed up the first aid kit. Dick had asked, and Jason refused to comment when he took it along today. “Must’ve not been my day, am I right?”
His father didn’t bring up any questions, instead he kept calling Tim a sport over dinner, you’re already looking like those boys from school. Tim smiled, and although truthfully he’d rather not nurse any more misaimed hits, no one else had offered any insight regarding Jason’s visits. Any compliments he got from Robin were sparse and far apart, however he felt the amount of openings Jason gave him had decreased, whatever punches and kicks Tim landed suddenly feeling impervious.
“You’re such a student,” Jason said during one of their training sessions.
“I actually enjoy studying,” Tim fixed the wrappings around his fist after he’d been corrected. He wasn’t going for perfect, but Jason somehow kept insisting.
“Well the when you’re not so academically inclined,” Jason said, “Whenever you get the time – try to get out with everything I’ve been teaching you.”
“Fighting?” Tim asked.
“I mean, you have the potential and like I said,” Jason continued, “No one’s exactly stopping you.”
“You mean – like Robin? I’m nowhere near that, Jason,” Tim replied, “This isn’t an offer, right?”
“No one would let you out,” Jason said, “Not where you stand right now, anyways. Wouldn’t say you don’t have the capacity for it later on, though. You can actually land some nasty hits when you want to.”
Tim winded out a laugh.
“With all those pictures you take,”
“C’mon - Jason...”
“Not that you probably haven’t thought about it.”
“No, I probably won’t consider it again, either.”
“Okay, so now you’ve considered it?”
“You’re having fun aren’t you?”
Tim’s face reddened, and he kept waiting for whenever Jason would decide whether or not he had bandaged his shoulder correctly. When he finished, Jason gave the teen a push and stepped back, an open invitation to strike back whenever he felt ready.
The staff scraped against the asphalt, sending up sparks as Robin twisted on his heel and swung again. This time he landed, sending his target aside. Any moment now the rest of the team would arrive, Nightwing sending Gamma his compliments and briefing them on the next segment of the operation. The distance was nice for a change, in Tim’s opinion, a welcomed relief from Jaime’s and La’gaan’s constant banter.
Despite the difference in their usual lineup, Young Justice had prospered through a rough alteration of founding and newly inducted members. Not to mention an often unforgiving revolving door of former members, simply gone from action or beyond the scope of what could be handled. Tim clutched his weapon, another change in customs – Robin had an entirely new set of tools at his disposal.
The rusted fire escapes gritted beneath his gloves; however Tim made his way along the alley, cautiously edging his way upwards to the location Nightwing had specified. A hasty set of possible outcomes ran through his mind, suddenly taking life as he gazed at his feet.
With metas around his wariness regarding heights went diluted, and despite his experience in Gotham and even alongside its infamous vigilante, a teasing hesitation still emerged from the back of his mind. The chrome of the grappling hook flashed, the next second spiraling to the rooftop as Tim reached for footing.
A twist in the air made Tim reposition himself just as he landed, grappling hook tucked away and batarang in hand. Working independently came natural, a preference drilled into him by countless patrols along the city skyline. The ear piercing scrapping of metal on concrete broke the silent that perched above the streets, the only alarm necessary to what he’d been taught.
The first strike went reflected, flipped overhead and down the side of the building. Dick should’ve contacted him by now, some sort of confirmation of his location, at least a comment or two about the others status. Tim let the following projectile miss, sliding to his right and catching a glimpse of a coal colored metal. It came to a stop in the middle of the rooftop, leaving enough time necessary for Tim to count the seconds in his head. Another habit, admittedly one he developed himself.
“They’ve made you better – that arm used to be just awful,”
A shudder drove down Tim’s spine, planting his feet on to the edge of the roof, eyes peering through the clutter of shapes across. Even with the mask’s vision capabilities, the lower districts of Blüdhaven remained pitched black after sunset, vanishing like shadows once its citizens had receded in the nighttime. Moving forward, Tim extended the staff just as another batarang spun besides his shoulder. In a second he heard it rattle against the fire escape and drop into the alley below, and came to the abrupt realization that his balance had been thrown off.
Tim clawed at the side of the building, finding the escape was out of reach and dangling with his feet pressed against the walls. Overheard he caught a glance of a familiar hue of red, staring down at descend the other would soon make.
“This is kind of a problematic situation, isn’t it?”
“How’s it hanging, Robin?”
Tim rolled his eyes – same tone of voice. Jason pulled off the helmet, placing it side and brought his arm as far as he could. Tim reached back for it, skidding his way against the side of the building back on its rooftop. The blood roared in Tim’s ears, watching the scraped and marked helmet rest in Jason’s arm as he got up.
“Close call,” He said.
Tim dryly replied, “You were purposing attacking me – I’m on duty right now. I honestly rather not have any unnecessary interferences.”
“Well you managed to dodge most of them, really,” Jason started, staring back at Tim through the red mask. It suits him, Tim thought the first time he had recognized Jason in his new identity, although the rest of his impressions didn’t fall nearly a complimentary.
Jason shrugged, and waited for Tim to finish brushing himself off, checking his equipment for any damages until he was satisfied. Same always, meticulous attention to detail, an intensity to iron out the bugs where he could find them.
“Dick has you running his chores for him again?” Jason asked.
Tim gripped the staff, “Busy as ever, if you could imagine.”
The insignia. It wasn’t like Tim didn’t notice, nor could brush off the grimace he’d received a month ago back in Gotham. He had to change it, despite any of Dick’s or Bruce’s dissatisfaction, Robin needed to be solely his alone. He even redesigned the uniform, not a complete deviation of the original, with enough angular black and reds to let them know this was new. It wasn’t a variation, but a replacement, devised with only what Tim had in mind.
Wasn’t the easiest of processes, but Jason got over it after causing making his voice in the matter heard. If Tim ever wanted to ask, raise any form of clarification, Jason ignored him proceeded to agree that he thought Tim really was doing better than he’d expected. Not all of his ties had been severed; some were still remaining, barely clinging through hazardous twists of fate.
“Still can’t get that kick right though,” Jason said.
“Ah – I’m working on it,” Tim managed to reply.
The helmet went on again, the engraved eyes of Red Hood staring at Tim, and his reflection peering back through the finish. He exhaled, his breath a foggy puff quickly disappearing in the air.
“You should keep an eye open – most of them just know as much as you do,” Jason replied.
“I’ll keep that in mind.”
“Work as usual?”
“Not as settled as it used to be.”
Tim reached for his communicator, scanning over it as he saw Jason turn away. Dick’s exasperated voice came in, briefing over as much as could regarding the others status. He listened, peering over the rooftop as if Jason was somehow going to unexpectedly emerge.
The winds swept against Tim’s back, tearing through the alley and making the loose limbs of the fire escape shiver and clink. He was alone again; the buzz of the communicator in one ear, the low sounds of the city in the other. Then the heat settled back, the blinking skyline of Gotham as far away as it could be, casted further than Tim knew he could travel.