Tim’s feet were pounding against the pavement. They had only been running for a few minutes but it was one thirty in the morning and Tim felt as though he was going to fall over. He heard Jason close behind him.
If Tim had the time, he’d think about that. How Jason was behind him even though Jason was stronger and faster. How Jason always let Tim go ahead of him in order to protect him. But Tim didn’t have time to spare. He was too busy trying to weave through the streets of Gotham without getting caught by the the person who was following them both.
Adrenaline was pumping through Tim’s veins. He was gripping his camera so tightly but he still thought it was going to slip through his mittens. Another street, then another, turn a corner and-
A large shadow landed in front of Tim and he let out a squeak. He stopped right away and Jason ran into his back.
“We agreed no later than one AM, boys.”
Tim let out a sigh of relief. Bruce’s Batman voice was a whole lot less terrifying when the owner tucked Tim into bed most nights.
“But it’s Christmas vacation!” Jason argued. Tim giggled which distracted both of his family members from their argument. Jason grinned at him and Bruce opened one of his utility containers, only to draw out a long, green scarf.
Tim turned so that he and Jason were back to back. It didn’t take long for who he was looking for to drop right down in front of him.
“Crime takes no vacation.” Dick said in a gruff Batman voice that did not go with his Robin persona at all. It set Tim’s giggles off again and he leaned back into Jason.
“Alfred said that Tim left his scarf…but I see that’s not a problem.” Jason grabbed the scarf from Bruce’s hands and wrapped it around his own neck. Tim had forgotten his scarf but Jason had insisted that he wear his red one instead. It was tied tightly around Tim’s neck and didn’t match his mittens at all but Tim didn’t mind.
“All my children are insane.” Bruce muttered.
Tim felt something warm swoop through him at that. The harshness of a Gotham winter was completely lost on him and instead, he was filled with pride and joy. He watched Dick and Bruce fire off lines as one of Jason’s mitten encased hands covered over his own. Their cheeks weren’t just red because of the wind burn.
Yup, Tim was definitely looking forward to Christmas at the manor.
“Jason…Jason…wake up!” Tim hissed. His feet were lifted off the ground barely an inch or so as he hoisted himself on the bed to lean over the groggy older boy. Jason mumbled something incoherent and grabbed at Tim, who dodged out of the way.
“Sleep. Saturday.” Jason grumbled and hid his head under the pillow. He reached out again to snag Tim, this time catching him under the armpit as he toed too close to the bed. Jason pulled his intruder under the covers and close to him. “Sleep.” He repeated, eyes closed.
Tim only marginally relaxed into Jason’s hold and still continued to squirm around. “But- Jason!” Tim whined before going silent. That’s when Jason knew he was in trouble.
Jason knew he shouldn’t open his eyes. The second he opened his eyes, there were going to be puppy dog eyes staring at him, complete with a pouting face thanks to an upset Timmy.
He was correct.
“Ugh!” Jason rolled over and threw his hand over his eyes with all the drama a twelve year old could muster. “What? What’s so important that you need to wake me up this early on a Saturday?” He turned to look at the clock on his nightstand and groaned even louder. “It’s not even four thirty!” He snuck a peek at Tim. “And when you still have a cold.”
“I don’t! I’m not sick!” Tim slid further under the covers to hide the tell-tale signs of the cold but it was too late.
“Your nose is still bright red.” Jason pointed out.
Tim tried to fold his arms over his chest but it was a pretty difficult task since Jason still had a grip on him. After wiggling around a bit, Tim leaned his head on Jason’s shoulder. If the nose hadn’t given away his cold, his labored breathing would have been Jason’s second clue.
“Are you awake now?”
“Yes, I’m awake. What’s so important?”
“Remember how Babs gave me a television link so I could watch the otters whenever I wanted?”
“Yes…” Jason did remember that. Dick finally stopped flirting with Babs enough so she could work her magic on Tim’s television and Tim had been ecstatic.
“Well, Mr. Freeze is attacking the zoo and I’m worried about the otters.”
“Yes.” Tim confirmed with a nod.
“…is attacking the zoo on a Saturday morning?”
“Is it just to annoy me?”
“Jason. The otters.” And there was the pout again.
“Why were you up in the first place? And why didn’t you wake up Bruce? That whole, you know, Batman thing?”
“Jason.” Tim bit his lip and completely ignored the first question. Even after all these months, he was still a nervous around Bruce. Not all the time or to the extent that he had been originally, but Tim still wasn’t about to wake up their guardian in the middle of the night over otters. Even though Jason and Tim both thought they were a legitimate cause. Tim had actually paced around in his room for nearly ten minutes, over-thinking about adding Bruce into the scenario before he came to wake up Jason.
Jason threw back his covers and gently pushed Tim towards the edge of the bed. “Fine. I’m up. I’m up. Let’s head to Bruce’s room.” He suppressed a chill as his feet hit the cold hardwood floor of his bedroom. The manor didn’t use an excess amount of gas heat, even in the winter. Alfred preferred an abundance of blankets on their beds and fixing roaring fires in whichever room was being used. Tim soon convinced Jason that Alfred’s methods were cozy, rather than stone age.
He pulled on socks and offered a pair to Tim, who wrinkled his nose but put them on, fully aware of how frigid the rest of the manor was in the middle of the night. He didn’t need to get any sicker.
They hadn’t even gotten halfway down the hallway when Tim let out a high-pitched squeak and stopped dead in his tracks, causing a not-quite-awake-yet Jason to bump into his back.
“Bruce!” Tim asked in shock. “You’re awake?” Jason held onto Tim’s shoulders for balance as they both looked up at their guardian. Bruce was dressed in sweats and a plain grey t-shirt, one of the many comfortable clothing items that Alfred kept for him in the cave for after a long night of patrol. He looked as surprised to see the boys as they were to see him even though they had been on their way to his bedroom.
“I was actually just going to bed…” Bruce straightened up and suspiciously examined the two boys in front of him. “You know, because of that whole…Batman…thing…” He explained, confused as to why he had to.
“Right. Right. Um…Jay!” Tim yelped as Jason poked him directly between the shoulder blades.
Jason leaned his head against the spot he had just poked and sleepily ordered: “Tell him.” Tim was pushed forward on account of the weight pressing against his back.
Bruce looked back and forth between the two boys. “Tell me what?”
“Mr. Freeze is attacking the zoo and the otters are in danger.” Tim mumbled, looking anywhere but Bruce and shifting his weight from one foot to the other..
Bruce raised an eyebrow. “Did you have another bad dream?”
“Not a dream.” Tim grumbled and pushed back against Jason, still refusing to meet Bruce’s eyes. Jason lifted his head and glared at Bruce from behind Tim’s back. A sleepy, adorable, nonetheless effective glare. Sighing, Bruce realized that his night was probably only just beginning. He knelt down in front of Tim and placed a heavy hand on his shoulder.
“Tim, are you sure?”
“I saw it on my television.” Tim said earnestly, making eye contact with Bruce. His eyes were pleading for Bruce to believe him and even though Bruce’s body was telling him that he needed sleep, he couldn’t ignore the boys.
He did, however, ignore the ache in his bones as he got off his knee “All right. Back down to the cave.” He placed his other hand on Jason’s shoulder and steered the boys down two floors and into the elevator for the cave. As Jason wheeled over one of the comfier swivel chairs from Dick’s workspace, Bruce picked Tim up and placed him right next to the computer monitor.
“That’s odd. I don’t even have proper visuals on the zoo. You said you saw it on your TV? And why were you watching it so late?”
Tim’s face, red from his cold, turned redder with a tired flush. “I couldn’t sleep and Babs gave me special channels on my television so I could watch the zoo and the otters whenever I wanted.”
Bruce digested this and decided to push off Tim’s admitted insomnia until he solved the reason the boys came to him for in the first place. “So Babs has different cameras.” He mused and pressed a few keys to access the television in Tim’s bedroom.
Sure enough, Babs’ zoo cameras showed chaos and a villain, who indeed looked to be Mr. Freeze. Bruce made a quick decision and pressed a few more keys, alerting certain areas of the manor and setting an alarm. He stretched in front of the console, back cracking as he moved from side to side, well aware that both boys were watching him carefully.
“All right. I’m off again then.”
“But you’re tired!” Tim blurted out. Bruce smiled at him and ruffled his hair. He was rewarded with a smile instead of a flinch. Tim had almost grown used to it. Jason hadn’t, not really yet. It wasn’t anything personal.
“I’ll wake up on the ride there. You boys can stay down here if you want but it’s awfully late and I’ve notified Alfred.” Bruce pointed to the smaller keyboard near the other side of the desk. “I’ll call you and let you know if I need backup, then you can wake up Babs and send her over.”
“K.” Tim said in quiet voice, still and afraid to move because Bruce had been going to bed and now he was going to the zoo after a full night of Batman just to save Tim’s otters and other animals.
“He wouldn’t go if it wasn’t important. Animals are important too, Timmy. And the people who work at the zoo.” Jason whispered so Bruce couldn’t hear him and then, a little louder, “Good luck.”
“Thank you, Jason.” Bruce smiled at him as Jason tugged Tim off the console. The younger boy slid into the chair and snuggled up next to Jason so they could keep an eye on the cameras.
The first thing Bruce did when he came back into the cave two hours after leaving was change back into his sweatpants. He let loose a sigh of relief as he peeled the cowl off his head.
The second thing he did was take a photograph of Tim and Jason. The boys had fallen asleep in the chair facing the console. Tim’s head was on Jason’s shoulder and Jason’s was resting on top of Tim’s. He assumed Alfred must have checked on them at some point because there was a blanket draped over the both of them and neither were tall enough to reach the linen supplies that were kept in the Batcave.
“Bedtime, boys. All the animals and people are safe.”
Tim blinked a few times and looked up to give Bruce a sleepy smile. He stood up on the chair and reached up both of him arms to wrap them around Bruce’s neck. “Thanks Bruce.” He yawned and instead of letting Tim get away from the hug, Bruce placed an arm under him in a carry. He held his other arm out to Jason who let himself be picked up. It was times like these that Bruce felt incredible warmth at the trust given to him by the children in his care. By no means had it been easy, but it was beyond worth it.
“Everyone’s safe?” Tim asked sleepily.
“Yes.” Bruce was silent for a moment, watching as Tim examined him with tired eyes and Jason started to fall asleep again. “But how about this? After I most likely sleep through my morning Wayne meeting, we take a trip to the zoo as the concerned adoptive family of the otters.”
“Really. You both just need to get some sleep from now until then.”
Bruce set both the boys on Tim’s bed, the covers still pushed back from where he had left them earlier in the night. The television was still on too, though muted. He switched it off and quietly shut the door.
Tim whimpered as the curtains to his bedroom were opened, flooding the room with the afternoon sun, reflecting against the bright white of the snow on the grounds of the manor.
“You’re the one who woke me up in the middle of night. Now it’s the middle of the day and I have Alfred’s permission to wake you up.” Jason crossed his arms and smirked.
“Mpmh.” Tim rolled over and covered his head with his stuffed otter. James meowed at him and batted at his owner’s covered head. Tim’s throat felt like sandpaper and he couldn’t stop his hands from shaking. When he woke up a bit more, he realized that his legs were shaking as well, not because of nerves of restlessness, but because Tim was freezing. There was an Alfred-made fire in his room and Tim looked at it, then back at his trembling hands.
“That wasn’t a real word. Come on, Bruce is using his Bruce-ness to gain us access to the zoo while it’s closed for repair from all last night’s damages. Bruce Wayne insists that his kids need to see for themselves that the animals are okay or something.” Jason rolled his eyes but Tim could tell he was secretly impressed by some of the ways that Bruce got things done.
Bypassing most of what Jason said, “Why is it so cold?” Tim asked, teeth chattering.
Closing the curtains halfway, Jason hopped over and onto the bed, looking closely at Tim. “Want me to tell Bruce to postpone? You look worse. I think your cold is coming back.”
“I don’t think it ever left.” Tim mumbled.
Alfred looked on disapprovingly as he bundled up the boys in their winter clothing and shooed them into the car. “The faster Master Bruce gets this trip over with, the faster you two can head back into bed.”
The zoo wasn’t as destroyed as Tim had expected it to be. The real problems stemmed from the exhibits that weren’t able to be fixed before the previous night’s snow courtesy of Mr. Freeze. A few of the animals had to be herded into their indoor areas but the otters refused to stay out of the water, whether or not it was cold. Tim loved their stubborn streaks; it was his favorite part about the species. Though…Tim knew that he didn’t feel good and maybe he was just seeing things but there were more otters than usual and the new one seemed almost…robotic in its movements.
“Jay, look at the otter.” Tim pointed and ignored the fact that his aim was off.
“How are you even looking at anything? You’re about to fall over.” Jason had been paying more attention to Tim than the animals during the trip.
“Look!” Tim insisted and Jason followed his wobbly finger.
His eyes widened. “Oh, wow. I’m sure the zoo keeper is on it. She’s probably just really cold and getting over last night,” Jason tried to convince Tim but he wasn’t even so sure himself. His eyes narrowed at the sight at the wonky otter but they only had another moment before the zoo keeper came out. This was a new zoo employee that Tim didn’t recognize but she was wearing the zoo’s aquatic uniform.
Tim walked over, Jason closely trailing behind him, and politely asked,“Excuse me, miss?”
“Can I help you, Mr. Wayne?”
“Um, Drake, actually.” Tim corrected her, turning his head slightly to see where Bruce was standing but he was discussing something in low voices with Alfred. The keeper didn’t seem chastised by her mistake. “Are the otters okay? One of them doesn’t look good. And I know it’s really cold-“
The woman looked at him with sharp eyes causing Tim to stop talking. “I can assure you that all the animals are being taken care of and that we are doing all we can for those in our care.”
“But when did the zoo get the new otters?” Tim couldn’t help himself.
“Sorry, kid. I’ve got some other enclosures to look after. I hope you and your dad found what you came here for.” Before Tim could refute Bruce being his father, the zookeeper left. In the same moment, Tim sneezed, the power of which sent him right back into Alfred’s legs. He hadn’t even seen Alfred come over to where he and Jason were standing.
“Home and bed for you immediately, Master Tim.”
Tim pouted and sniffled, but accepted Alfred’s offered handkerchief. “Not fair. I just got rid of my cold.”
“Germs don’t play fair, young master,” Alfred told him and shot a sharp look at Jason who was about to roll his eyes and make a smart comment. He quickly snapped his mouth closed. Bruce let out a low laugh, clapped a hand on Jason’s shoulder, and let the way to the car.
“Hello there, Batman.” Bruce said gruffly. He wasn’t insulted that Tim had changed the cat’s name. Certainly not. James meowed at Bruce, clearly not appreciating the use of his old name. Whether Tim awoke due to the meowing or Bruce was unknown but Bruce preferred to blame James.
Tim was piled with blankets and his nightstand was filled with two different types of juice and children’s aspirin. His voice sounded scratchy and his eyes were bleary as he gazed up at his guardian. “Bruce? Where’s Jay?”
Of course his first question was about Jason. This was not a surprise at all. “He’s out on a scavenger hunt with Dick.” Bruce didn’t bother to add that Alfred had had to practically force Jason to leave Tim’s side. He drove him to meet Dick, hoping it would distract Jason, not that anyone really believed that would help.
“He finally agreed to maybe become Robin?” Tim murmured. He was having a hard time keeping his eyes open.
“How did you know about that?” Bruce raised a single eyebrow at Tim and shook his head. “Nevermind. I should have known. Do you want me to call them to come back?”
“No, that’s okay.” Tim curled up in the bed, dragging the comforter and Thomas closer to him. James warily walked around the edge of Tim’s bed, keeping his distance. “I don’t feel good.” He announced to the room, which contained just himself and Bruce.
“I know you don’t. Alfred should be back soon but he assures me that your fever is just a side-effect of your cold not getting better. You should be okay in a couple days.”
Tim hummed something unintelligible but leaned into Bruce’s cool hand, which rested on his forehead. “Where’s Jason?” Tim asked again, eyes closed and nearly asleep.
“He’s out with Dick.”
“Can he come home?”
“I’ll call him now.”
“Thanks…can you stay here, Bruce?”
He smiled even though Tim couldn’t see him and brushed unruly hair off of the flushed forehead. “Sure, I can.”