While Gotham was certainly not known for having quiet nights, Friday nights were especially bad. The streets filled with people on their way home from work, on their way to parties and events, and because of that, the criminals came out in droves. It was at times like these when the police department didn’t have a break until morning, and the other, less-official protectors of the city were out until dawn.
It was hard not to notice the ruckus that went down in the harbor district that evening. Even if Batman and Robin had been far enough away to miss hearing the gunshots and explosions, the flames that painted the dark sky deep orange could be seen from quite a distance. After parking the Batmobile in an alleyway, Batman and Robin sailed through the sky, firing grappling hooks to soar trough the smog-filled air towards the source of the commotion.
The source of the destruction could have been a lot of possible things – after all, it’s Gotham – but after the dynamic duo climbed across the roof next to the warehouse, they saw none other than the Red Hood systematically tearing the place down.
"Is this Red Hood guy dangerous, B?" Tim asked apprehensively. "Like, do you think he's actually going to try to hurt you?"
"I don't know, Robin," Batman answered gruffly. "He's unpredictable. The Lazarus pit messed with his mind."
"What's the plan going in?"
"Let me engage first. Attack to apprehend. If we can immobilize him long enough to get him back to the Batmobile and to the cave, all the better. But I don't think he will go down easily."
Tim didn’t think so either. If half of the stuff he read about the guy was true, they didn't have an easy night ahead of them. Batman wasn’t usually generous with giving advice, so when he doled out warnings like this, you knew it was serious.
As he was told, Tim stayed in position and watched as his partner dropped down onto the ground, purposely with more than necessary noise so he could draw attention to himself.
Red Hood, after punching a man with his gun in the face, turned his head towards the other. His voice was mocking when he spoke. "Oh, such an honor, the infamous Dark Knight himself." He dramatically bowed. "Did one of these idiots tell on me? Because I haven't seen your calling signal shining up there on this beautiful foggy evening."
Never one to mince words, Batman ignored his sarcastic comments and simply said, "Come home, Hood. Your place isn't on the streets. Your place is with me."
Tim wasn't sure what to expect from Hood, but it sure as hell wasn’t the laughter that came out of him, muffled slightly by the shiny red helmet on his face. "My place isn't on the streets? Hilarious, Bats. Do you forget where I come from? Where I grew up?" He laughed again. "I lived two blocks from here. My next door neighbor was a drug dealer and the guy across the hall spent every weekend in jail. You're so full of shit, B."
Tim pursed his lips, listening to the exchange intently, eyes darting back and forth as if watching a Tennis match. "Jay," Bruce said softly. Tim squinted his eyes, craning to hear the rest of the exchange. Tim had never figured out who the second Robin was; he knew the first was Dick even before he had confronted Batman, because he had seen him do the quadruple midair flip - something only a Flying Grayson could do. He would know; he had been in the audience when Dick's parents had died. And since Bruce Wayne had just adopted the last remaining Grayson right before Robin made his first appearance in Gotham, it was obvious.
But the second Robin. As many photos of him as he had taken, as many news clips as he had poured over, as obsessively researched as he had been, he had never been able to figure out who it was. And Bruce had never told him what the second Robin's real name was, so he had never asked. Bruce wasn't much of a sharer, after all; he was more of a need-to-know-basis kind of guy. Considering what had happened to the second Robin, Tim could understand his lack of enthusiasm in discussing the subject.
The warehouse roared with another explosion, pulling Tim out of his thoughts and making the conversation below him impossible to hear. Tim shielded his eyes against the bright flames and waited for the noise to die down. Once it finally did, he leaned forward and listened intently.
"I'm not your little pet anymore, Bats. I won't roll over just because you happen to find your human side for once," Red Hood snorted, casually pushing the weapon in his hand into the gun holder on his right thigh.
"Is this what you are so keen to continue? Burning Gotham down?" Bruce asked, the slits for his eyes narrowing.
"In my defense, one of these imbeciles started shooting without looking around and they managed to blow up a gas container. All I did was taking out the trash afterwards. Blew my cover, but whatever. Job’s done anyways. My biggest question is, why do you even care? Why are you here?"
Tim edged closer to the duo until the tips of his boots were hanging off the rooftop. He had to get closer, preferably without being spotted.
He waited until Hood's ranting words picked up and he whirled around in anger before he shot his grappling hook and swung across the open air to a lower roof top. Much to his disappointment, he could only hear their conversation marginally better.
"You didn't wait long to replace me, did you, Bats? Hm? How long was it before you had a new little pet trailing after you, licking your boots? Two weeks? A week? A day?" He snorted. "How'd you find this one, hm? Was he stealing your Rolex or was it another orphan charity case? You know, after this one dies, you may as well get them in batches. Go to the orphanage and ask to take home every blue eyed, black-haired boy they have available."
Tim stiffened at his words. Bruce had been so hesitant to accept another sidekick. Hell, Tim had to literally bribe his way into being Robin by telling him he knows his true identity.
Tim had always been obsessed with detective work. And photography. He had been watching Batman and Robin since Robin's first appearance in Gotham. He used to sneak out of his room in the Drake manor at night to track Batman and Robin. He had gotten some pretty incredible pictures. He could have easily made a fortune selling them to magazines and newspapers, but he hadn’t done that. The pictures were just for him.
Robin had been his hero. Still was, if he was being honest. He had met Dick a handful of times, and was still awed by his presence. He was the real deal. The original.
The second Robin, though. He had always been inexplicably drawn to him. Tim knew the very second Dick had given up the Robin mantle and it was taken up by the newcomer. The new Robin was shorter, a little less graceful, and much less restrained. He saw the little differences between them too, as he compared the pictures of both of them. The first Robin was all lean muscle. The second had some bulk to him. Thicker thighs, bigger arms. The first had the body of an acrobat. The second had the body of a fighter. Tim had spent months ogling the pictures he had taken of the boy.
And then, the second Robin had died.
Tim had been devastated. Bats had clearly been too, because he started going on a rampage - he was all fists and heavy boots in situations where, before, he could have done with words alone.
Tim knew it was Bruce, and he showed up at the Wayne manor almost every day to try to keep him company. He told him he was bored and that his parents were out of town (which they were, and he was, but his real purpose was to comfort his grieving neighbor). He watched him deteriorate, the dark circles grow underneath his eyes. But still, he did nothing.
Until one night, to pass the time, he decided to research the name tattooed on his wrist once again. Maybe his soulmate had been sent back to juvenile hall again in his absence. It had been a while since he had been there, after all; he was overdue to be caught by the police at this point. Perhaps he could even distract himself by visiting him in juvie, at least to lay eyes on him for the first time, even if he doesn't reveal that they are soulmates.
So he typed in the name permanently fixed on his wrist - JASON PETER TODD - and his mouth fell open in horror with what he found.
A death certificate.
It was then that he decided to march over to Bruce's house and tell him everything - that he knows he's the Batman, that he knows he needs a Robin, and that he's going to be that Robin whether he wanted him to or not.
Naturally, Bruce didn't want to hear anything about another Robin in the beginning. Even though Tim blackmailed him, he firmly refused, and it took time and a horrible, rushed decision that put his parents into witness protection program to make Bruce accept him as his new partner. The hard work wasn't unfamiliar for Tim and he channeled all his disappointment, regret and bitterness into his training. And he had succeeded. He was now the third Robin.
But the second was standing right in front of him.
Bruce pressed his lips together into a thin line; his appearance showed tension and anger. Tim couldn't decide whether the latter was aimed at himself or at the vigilante in front of him.
"Which reminds me, where is your new puppy?" the man asked with a weird combination of a smirk and a snarl. He dramatically spin around, one gun still in his hand. "Don't tell me you left him at home."
"He is not your replacement," Bruce answered, his voice low and dangerous. "Finish this drama and come home."
Clearly, Red Hood had very different plans for the rest of the night because shrugging he started to back towards the warehouse’s flames, purposely stepping on the arm of a criminal who groaned from the pain. As a response, Hood kicked him in the face before turning his back on Bruce.
"Don't kid yourself, Bats. I never had a home."
Tim watched in shock and awe as he walked right into the fire and disappeared behind the curtain of orange, white and red, leaving immobile bodies and a very, very irritated Batman in his wake.
Tim watched as Batman stood, facing the flaming wreckage in front of him. Tim could practically hear his thought process - follow Jason into the fray, risk causing a fight, or leave the confrontation for another evening and hope to catch Jason in a better mood? Ultimately, the vigilante turned away and Tim saw his shoulders hunch ever so slightly. Tim could read him like an open book. They weren't related, and they hadn't even been close before Tim barged through his door, but Tim could read him. They were very similar beings, after all.
He stalked away from the burning warehouse and towards the direction of the Batmobile. Tim followed in silence, knowing better than to ask questions or interrupt Bruce's brooding. When he was in one of those moods, it was best just to leave him be.
They made their way back to the bat-cave in silence.
There were several reasons why Jason prefers the antihero life over the hero life, and one of them was the fact that he didn't have to be outside on the streets all night, day after day, to be effective. He could do everything in his own time and the bad guys didn't go anywhere. He had also accepted something a long time ago that Bats hadn’t: you can't save everyone. You can't be everywhere, so it was pointless to live your life as if you could. Plus, he took care of the problems a little more permanently than Bats and his revolving door of criminals, which meant he didn't have to keep looking back over his shoulder.
His current target was a drug-dealing mob boss and tonight he was going to deal with him. He was selling drugs to kids, and he had reason to believe he was also running an underage sex trafficking ring. It would be his absolute pleasure to take him out in that permanent way that he was so fond of.
That was the plan anyway, until his cell phone started to ring. He didn't even have to look at the screen to let out an exaggerated sigh. Only a few people knew this number and Jason didn't want to talk to any of them right now. He picked it up nonetheless.
"I'm busy," he said without saying a hello.
"Jaybird," Dick's all-too-cheerful voice called out, seemingly unaffected by his off-putting greeting. "How are you?"
Jason rolled his eyes. "Like I said, Dick. Busy."
Ignoring his protests completely, Dick continued. "Bruce told me you ran into him a couple days ago. Something about a warehouse fire. Are... are you doing okay, baby bird?"
Jason huffed in spite of the slight tug at his heart. "I'm fine."
"You should come over for dinner tomorrow."
Jason had known this was coming from the second he picked up the phone call. "I can't. I'm busy."
"So you keep saying," Dick mused. "Nobody's too busy to eat though. And besides," Jason could hear Dick's smile in his words, "if you don't show up, I'm going to drag Bruce and Alfred over to your safe house and bring dinner to you. They don’t know where you live now, but I’ll make sure they do if I don’t see you at dinner tomorrow."
"Oh, but I would."
Jason paused, and decided to call his bluff. "You don't know where my safehouse is."
"42nd and 1st, apartment 17."
Jason swore under his breath. Damnit. "You know this qualifies as blackmail, right? And blackmail is illegal? Aren't you supposed to be the good guys?"
"We're vigilantes, Jay. Technically, everything we do is illegal. But we do it for the good of the people, just like what I'm doing now. You're one of my people, and I'm doing this for your own good. Come over at 7 tomorrow or I will be ringing your doorbell by 7:15, with Bats and Alf right behind me."
"I don't know how something I don’t want to do can be for my own good," Jason murmured with a small snort. Dick acted like a beloved godmother who nobody asked for and it could drive Jason crazy. On the other hand it was kind of nice that someone beside his best friend gave a damn about him, even if Jason wasn't emotionally healthy enough to admit it. He just hoped Dick could feel it under the constant grumbling.
"Simple. It’s because you don't know what's good for you," the older man answered cheerfully, before his voice turned more careful and soft. "You really okay, Jay? I know it mustn't have been easy to see him."
He didn't have to spell it out. Batman and Robin. The third, to be exact. The kid who so easily filled the absence of his, showing the world that the second Robin could be easily forgotten.
Jason clicked his tongue. "I'm fine. As I said, I'm busy. I have better things to do than keeping track of the newest subject of Bruce's "expendable Robins" project."
"He is nice, you know. I've met him."
Of course he had. Jason wasn't even surprised. However, he felt the annoyance creeping up his nape.
"Wonderful. Just be careful before the love of your life gets jealous."
Jay heard Dick chuckle from the other end of the line. "You know I'd never leave my soulmate. And so does he."
"Yeah, yeah..." Jay grumbled. "Inseparable. Not everyone can be as lucky as you."
"I can help you search, Jay," Dick says gently. "If you'd just tell Bruce the name on your wrist, then -"
"No," Jason snarls. "I am not interested in finding my soulmate. Nobody would want me, anyway. Go pester the new sidekick about this instead."
"I don't know if I should be telling you this, Jay, but... his soulmate died around a year ago. He never even met him."
"...Oh." He felt an involuntary pang in his heart. Stories about lost soulmates always get to him, as much as he doesn't want to admit it. "What was his name?"
"He won't say," Dick said quietly. "He hasn't even told Bruce. He always keeps it bandaged up. It's like he doesn't want to see the name anymore."
Jason felt a momentary stab of sympathy for his replacement. "That's... sad."
A silence held out over the line, until Jason gave in. "Fine. I will be there tomorrow."
"The new kid will be there too."
Jason squeezed his eyes shut and huffed in annoyance. Of course, Dick waited until after he had agreed to go before he told him that. "Fine."
"No spilling blood inside the house."
"I know at least eight ways to kill someone without blood even being involved."
Dick chuckled. "See you tomorrow, Jay."
Jason, as mature as he was, cursed at him in return before ending the call and throwing the phone back onto the desk.
He wasn't sure this whole dinner was a good idea, especially not with the new Robin kid there, but he'd agreed to it. Dick might not act on his threat since he knew how Jason felt about Bruce, but he also knew that the other was very stubborn when it came to family - and Jason happened to be considered as a family member for him.
His gaze wandered towards his right arm, to his wrist which was covered by a glove. He reached there to pull it down a little so the name in black, elegant letters would be seen.
TIMOTHY JACKSON DRAKE.
The name of his soulmate. Maybe he was dead, too? Or maybe he hasn't been born yet. Or he lived somewhere in the world where they didn't use databases based on DNA or fingerprints. Most people who were well-off usually ended up spending a large chunk of cash to find their kids’ soulmate when the kid turned 18. Jason wasn’t one of the lucky few. Before he became Robin, Jason hadn’t had access to any fancy research technology to look for his soulmate, and then after he became Robin he had died before he had gotten the hang of it.
When he died, a lot of things turned upside down. Jason hadn’t bothered to look for his soulmate since his resurrection. He just didn't feel like dealing with another disappointment. Which would hurt more - knowing that your soulmate was dead, or never finding them?
These thoughts followed him all the way to the mansion’s front doorstep the next evening. At seven o’clock on the dot, he rang the doorbell and gave an exaggerated roll of his eyes when the bell chimed out a lengthy tune behind the extravagant door. Rich fucks. Ugh.
Within moments, Alfred was opening the door and giving him a warm smile. “Master Jason,” he greeted. “You came after all. I am pleasantly surprised.”
Jason smiled in spite of himself. He couldn’t stand Bruce, but Alfred was a good guy. “Hey, Alfred. It’s good to see you.”
“You as well, sir. I am glad to have you back at home.”
Alfred guided him through the manor – not that he needed help; he had lived there, but he was happy for the company – and led him to the dining room, where he could smell a wide variety of savory scents. “I gotta say, Alf, I’ve missed your cooking.”
“I shudder to think what you’ve been feeding yourself with, sir. You must allow me to send some leftovers home with you this evening.”
Jason grinned. “As if I could ever say ‘no’ to that.”
Both men turned as they heard voices coming down the stairs off to the right of the dining room.
It took a few seconds to reveal Dick, gesturing agitatedly and explaining something to the kid next to him - who must have been the current Robin. Jason had to admit but the boy was pretty attractive. He had black as coal hair framing his pretty face, light eyes and lithe body. He was also smaller than the other two, probably younger too. His clothes seemed expensive, a crimson cardigan above a black shirt and dark trousers.
A rich kid. He could have been the rip off of Bruce. It helped Jason feel a little better about hating the guy.
Dick flashed a wide smile at him that the younger returned with a grimace. "I'm so happy you made it, man."
"Because you left me so many choices," Jason answered with a mocking smile that the other simply ignored. Instead, Dick turned towards Robin the third.
"I will do the introductions; Ja--"
"You can just call me Red Hood," Jason interrupted him, eye contact meeting Tim's.
Tim stared him down evenly. "Then I'm Robin."
Tim couldn't help but gape at the other man when he first saw him. He had been following Robin's progress since Dick was Robin, so he had seen the man in front of him in the Robin costume countless times (which had admittedly left him hot and sticky between his sheets more times than he was willing to say. Tim was convinced that those green panties had given him a leg fixation). He then saw him in his Red Hood getup, which he was only a little ashamed to admit he liked. The leather and the helmet... it amplified his rough look, and Tim knew what his body looked like underneath.
But seeing his bare face was complete new, and it was... breathtaking.
He had a strong jaw, hard eyes, bite-scarred lips and high cheekbones. Just sharp enough to be beautiful, just rough enough to give a boy vibe. Which he pulled off extraordinarily well. This man could be a model.
He found himself jarred into silence as Dick took him by the arm and guided him towards the newcomer, and when the other man made eye contact with him, he saw something - surprise? - in his eyes, which quickly turned to a cold glare as the his steely blue eyes swept up and down to take in Tim's appearance.
"I will do the introductions; Ja--"
Tim's gaze jumped back to the other man's face as he interrupted, "You can just call me Red Hood."
Tim felt his lower lip begin to stick out in a pout before he bit it to contain his expression. If Hood wants to play tough, he could play tough too. He's Robin; he's in the same league as Nightwing and Red Hood now. He could stand his ground. He put his chin in the air and returned the man's glare.
"Then I'm Robin."
Dick shuffled awkwardly from foot to foot. "Uh, I'm not sure that's-"
"Drop it, Dick. It's fine."
All three boys turned to see Bruce entering the dining room. Tim breathed an involuntary sigh of relief at having backup, while Hood visibly stiffened.
"Ja- ... Hood. It's good to see you."
It wasn't lost on Jason that Bruce had avoided using his secret identity. It sent a hopeful jolt through him, but he quickly suppressed the feeling. In spite of his reservations, he mumbled, "Thanks, B."
Dick was still eyeing him warily and with reprehension, but to tell the truth Jason didn't give a flying fuck. He promised he would be here. Checked. He promised he would stay for the dinner. Will be checked. No one asked him to be nice to the new guy and honestly, why would he? Because he was Robin and once upon a time Jason was one, too? It did so much good for him anyway, getting killed and forgotten, resurrected in a pit. Good times. He couldn't wait to share the experience.
Therefore he ignored the judging stares and he followed Alfred into the diner hall where the long table was already full of glasses, plates, and cutlery.
"Please, have a seat," Alfred gestured toward the table. "I will be serving the first course presently."
Without further question, Bruce walked towards the head of the table to have his usual place, while Dick and Robin chose to sit on the left side. It made Jason's decision very easy: he pulled out a chair on the right.
Then the next minute was filled with awkward silence.
None of them knew what to say and one of them didn't even want to force the whole chit-chatting so he didn't try to think of appropriate topics. In the end, Dick took on the mantle of designated tension-breaker.
"Wally will be joining us as well, if it's not a problem," he said, clearly talking to Jason. "He just has a thing to take care of."
Jason shrugged. "Sure. If I'm not fast enough to get anything to eat, in the worst case, I can get a hamburger on my way back."
Dick rolled his eyes with a bemused grin. "Very funny."
"I was prepared for Master Wallace's arrival," Alfred said while he walked in the room, the first part of the dinner in his hands. "There will be plenty of food for everyone."
At that moment, a blur of yellow and red zipped past Jason, leaving wind in its wake. The blur stopped next to Dick, revealing Wally West in all of his windswept glory, who gave Jason a friendly nod and a "hi" to Tim before turning to Dick.
Wally beamed and leaned downward to kiss his soulmate on the cheek. "How are you today, love? I hope I didn't miss too much of our little get together."
Jason couldn't help but smile a little. Wally had been a fixture in the Wayne household since... well, since forever, it felt like. Since before Jason came into the picture. He had just... always been there. Wally and Dick. Dick and Wally. They had known they were soulmates since two months after they had met. He had heard the story a hundred times - Wally took off his mask after a mission and said, "Ya know what? You should know my real name. We're basically best friends. Wally West, at your service."
Dick had just gasped at him before, much to Batman's chagrin, he pulled off his own mask as well. "Wallace Rudolph West?"
Wally had just blinked back at him owlishly and said, "Hey, how did you know my full-" but Dick had torn off his gloves, revealing the patch of tan skin on his wrist, showing the words WALLACE RUDOLPH WEST in black ink.
Wally just stared before peeling his own glove off in a daze. Without even glancing down at the name permanently fixed there he asked the boy in front of him, "R-Richard? You're Richard John Grayson?"
"You can call me Dick," he had murmured breathlessly.
It hadn't always been perfect though. Jason remembers a brief time, when he was first taken in to the Wayne household, that Wally and Dick had a series of knock-down drag-out fights. It was when Dick was sixteen and Wally was seventeen, and Wally had gotten a girlfriend in spite of knowing Dick was his soulmate.
It had, of course, crushed Dick. Wally hadn't seen it as a big deal; everyone else in his school was dating girls, and none of them were their soulmates, so he figured why not? It's not like he and Dick had formally established themselves as being in a relationship, anyway. They were just... really close best friends. Most people hadn't found their soulmate at that age, so it was normal to date around. They refused to talk to each other for a week, then one night, he heard them fighting – loudly – in the batcave. He had crept down to see if everything was okay.
Hiding in the shadows, he saw them trading forceful blows, screaming at each other, wrestling each other to the ground, until all of a sudden the screaming stopped. Wally had pinned Dick beneath his hips and they were just... staring at each other.
Until... they weren't.
Their lips mashed together, their bodies writhing slightly, hips grinding together with their moans echoing around the cave.
The first time with your soul mate is supposed to be mind-blowing. It's supposed to solidify the bond. It's like nothing you've ever experienced, he’d been told. Jason had heard whispers about it at public school - before he died, of course. His classmates had said that they had heard that sex with your soulmate was absolute heaven. Pure bliss. And once you start initiating sexual contact, the closer you get, the need rises more and more until it's overpowering. And it was true, if both boys' moans were anything to go by.
A second later, a blur had rushed past him and he heard Dick's bedroom door slam. They had been inseparable ever since, and not another word was spoken about either of them seeing anyone else.
Dick beamed back at Wally from his seat at the dinner table and leaned up to kiss him, threading his fingers through his orange locks. His eyes fluttered closed in pleasure.
Around the table, a mix of reactions occurred. Bruce averted his eyes, but also smiled fondly. The replacement just stared off to the side, and Jason wondered what was bothering him so damn much - was he homophobic or something? - until he remembered Dick telling him that his soulmate was dead.
Jason returned his eyes to the duo with a bit of pity in his heart.
Well, at least one member of their little fucked up family had managed to find happiness.
Alfred interrupted his thoughts by bringing in their first course.
Even though the silence was totally broken with the arrival of the redhead, the dinner started off pretty... awkward. There wasn't better word for it. Mostly Dick and Wally talked while Bruce focused on the food and just listened (which wasn't too surprising). However, Jason didn't feel like making himself a third wheel by joining in on the conversation and he was admittedly too busy sending glances towards the kid on the other side of the table.
He seemed... off. Jason was more than sure now that he didn't feel too good in the presence of a perfect soulmate couple, and the younger vigilante could share these feelings.
So, of course he felt it his duty to ruin the idyllic atmosphere. Everyone expected him to be the jerk. Jason would hate to disappoint.
"Not to be that guy, we are all very happy for you, but you do realize you are the only ones in this room who managed to found their soulmate, right?"
Wally's smile fall and he quickly looked at Dick who also seemed a little pale as he looked around. Then angry? Yeah, probably angry. What else is new.
"Hood," Bruce said in a stern voice that may have had some effect on him back in his Robin days, but not now.
"No, seriously," he insisted. A twinge of guilt went through him at the faces his “family” was making at him. Sometimes he would have loved to punch himself in the face. Sometimes. But more than often others did it for him. "You. Alfred. Robin, the third. Me. Although a lot of people question whether I still have some soul left at all, so... we don't have to count me."
"I... We didn't mean to-" Wally started to stay but Dick put his hand on his shoulder to stop him.
"No, Wally, you are not the one who should apologize."
That's it, Jason thought. It was like a weird... race. He knew how this would end. It was just a matter of how long it took to get there. He knew what he should do to stop it before it was too late. Yet he did the exact opposite.
"We'll be here all night if you expect me to apologize first."
"Hood." Bruce seemed actually angry at this point.
“Seriously, B, haven’t you noticed that this is your fucked-up legacy? Dick is the golden child; the one who didn’t screw it all up before it even began. And as for the rest of us? You, who found your soulmate but she’s refusing to play nice. Me, not wanting to find my soulmate because I’m probably too fucked up for one anyway. And shit, your latest little project?” Jason pointed at Tim. “His soulmate is fucking dead.”
Dick and Wally’s jaws dropped in horror and Bruce cried out, “Jason! That’s enough!”
Jason pushed himself out of his seat and stormed out of the manor.
Tim watched Jason’s tense form retreating from the room with his head spinning. His name… is Jason?
The way Bruce had cried out his name – “Jason!” – kept echoing through his head. It hadn’t even registered to him that someone said his name, because he couldn't stop staring at the door where the man – Jason, he now knew – had disappeared a moment ago.
Was it... Was it possible? Jason was a pretty common name, but it couldn't be a coincidence, he reasoned. Perhaps he was just grasping at straws, but he couldn’t abandon this tiny piece of hope.
His chest clenched, but before he could spin deeper into his thoughts, he felt a hand on his shoulder.
Turning around, he faced Dick and his expression full of concern and worry.
"I'm... I'm fine," he answered in a haze. He needed to get out of there. He needed some space to think. "Can I leave?" Tim asked, and Bruce probably assumed he was upset about Hood’s insults, because he let him go with a sympathetic look.
The boy stood up, thanked Alfred for the dinner then fled towards his room upstairs.
Red Hood's name is Jason, his name is Jason, his name is Jason.
He flopped down onto his bed to think. His heart dropped as he remembered another bit of information - he had died.
When did Robin die? Does the date of Robin’s death match with the date of my soulmate’s death?
Tim wracked his brain to remember the timeline of events. Robin had died about a year ago, and he had discovered that his soul mate had died around that same time. Could it be...?
He sat up on his bed suddenly. I need to get to the bat computer. I need to see Bruce's files.
He should have waited until Bruce went out to patrol and there was no chance of interruption, but it seemed like a waste of time. He needed answers, now. He couldn't just sit and wait when the possibility of his soulmate being alive was higher than zero. He had been mourning for a whole year now and it was... he just had to know.
He hoped everyone was still busy downstairs so he could just sneak in the cave, find the file and find the answers. Rationally, he knew that there was a bigger chance of his Jason and Robin-Jason being two different people, but his heart continued to scream at him that there’s a chance that my soulmate is alive! as he snuck down the stairs, skirted the kitchen and half-ran towards the entrance of the cave. Only took a few moments and he sat in the familiar chair in front of the enormous computer and his fingers were flying over the keyboard to pull up the file of the second Robin.
Within minutes, he had gotten into Bruce's encrypted files and had pulled up all of the information he had on the second Robin.
CURRENT ALIAS: Red Hood
PAST ALIASES: Robin
KNOWN ALLIES: Red Arrow, Nightwing
KNOWN ENEMIES: Black Mask, The Joker.
M.O.: Takes special interest in drug dealers who deal to minors, pimps, and pedophiles. Has been known to murder the above without hesitation.
ALIGNMENT: Unpredictable at times. As much as I may disagree with his methods, he does seem to follow a moral code. Classified as lawful neutral.
DATE OF BIRTH: 07/14/1999
DATE OF DEATH: 01/19/2015
DATE OF RESURRECTION: 03/01/2016
REAL NAME: Jason Peter Todd
Tim's heart stopped. He pulled the sleeve of his shirt up to stare at the name on his wrist.
JASON PETER TODD
Without missing a beat, he minimized the window and pulled up the city records of death certificates and typed in the name, pulling up the file he had become so familiar with over the past two years - it featured the mug shot from the first time Jason had been sent to juvenile detention.
JASON PETER TODD
DATE OF BIRTH 07/14/1999
DATE OF DEATH 01/19/2015
Tim clicked from window to window, checking and double checking that the dates matched. He looked it over five, six, seven times more, just to make sure his eyes weren't playing tricks on him.
He was so focused that he didn't hear Bruce approaching him from behind. He jumped as he heard the low baritone voice. "Tim. What are you doing?"
Tim just breathlessly swiveled the chair to the side to make eye contact with Bruce, bare wrist outstretched to reveal the sacred name inscribed there.
Bruce looked from Jason's file pulled up on the giant computer screen to the name etched on the pale, outstretched wrist, and it clicked.
Unshed tears sparkled in Tim's eyes. "He's alive, Bruce. My soulmate is alive."
And while he barely could keep his breathing even, Bruce didn't exactly look happy for him. Not that Bruce ever really looked happy, but his expression seemed rather… troubled. Which made Tim feel the same way, overshadowing the sudden, bright happiness.
The man sighed, taking another look at Tim's wrist and the name. "I know how our society cherishes the bond of soulmates, but it's not always as perfect as you would imagine. Tim, Jason is..."
"What?" the boy asked, his voice sharp and just on this side of defensive. Even though he discovered the identity of his soulmate only a minute ago, Tim already felt very protective. His soulmate was alive. He was alive.
"You saw him tonight," Bruce answered eventually. "He... his death..." Tim watched him shaking his head, clearly having a trouble to put away his own emotions. He finally sighed, resigned. "What do you want to do?"
Tim frowned at Bruce. To him, the answer was clear: he wanted to be with him. He had thought that his chance at love was lost for so long, and now that he knew that his Jason was alive? He couldn't fathom not taking the chance.
But then, Tim paused. What Jason had said at dinner was brought back to the forefront of his mind. He didn't want to find his soulmate. He thought he wouldn't be wanted by his own soulmate. He didn't think he was worthy.
Tim had to tread carefully.
Tim exhaled sharply through his nose. "I want to be with my soulmate. I never thought I'd have a shot at love after finding out he's dead. But now he's back and I'm not giving that up. Make no mistake, I intend to pursue him." He chewed on his bottom lip in concentration. "However. I can see that he’s… flighty. I want to keep it a secret for now."
He knew it wouldn't be easy, but Tim couldn't imagine a better alternative than to fight for his soulmate. Until now he couldn't see his life as bright or joyful. His parents were in witness protection program which meant he couldn't see or talk to them, and sure, he had friends, but until now he thought he would never have his partner in life. He thought he was dead. He could have had relationships, sure, but no one could replace a soulmate. The fact that now Tim had the chance... He didn't want to let it go. No. Even if it takes years, even if he is rejected in the end, he wanted to try at least.
Bruce's face was strangely neutral which meant he didn't let his true emotions show on purpose. "That's probably smart. Are you able to go on with your duties as Robin?"
"Of course," Tim answered. He was professional.
"Good. Now, get out of here. This time I'll overlook that you used the computer without permission."
Tim didn't hesitate; he'd gotten what he came for.
The next morning, Jason woke up to a phone call from Dick. It wasn't entirely unexpected, but he rolled his eyes all the same as he pressed the green "answer" button.
"Before you ask, I'm fine."
A pause from the other end of the line. "I know. You always are. But I want you to be more than fine, Jason."
He laughed at the sheer cheesiness. "I'm more than fine, then. I'm spectacular. Amazing. Perfectly joyful. You happy now?"
Dick chuckled good-naturedly. "Jason. Really. You can level with me. You said some pretty nasty things yesterday. I'm willing to overlook that because I know you only do that when you're feeling cornered. What happened last night?"
Jason internally grumbled at the line of questioning, but had the decency to keep it from coming out as a verbal complaint. He supposed he owes an apology to Dick, probably. Definitely to Wally; he wasn't even technically a part of their fucked up little family - he didn't ask for this. He had always liked Wally, anyways; he had never bothered him in the past. He had always been an energetically goofy neutral party in their family; he'd never crossed Jason, neither before nor after his death.
Maybe he even owed an apology to Bruce and the replacement. But he was far too prideful to admit it out loud.
He sighed. "I'm... sorry, Dick. What I said was uncalled for. You know I didn't mean it."
"I know. That's why I'm not kicking your ass right now."
Jason smiled in spite of himself. Dick probably could kick his ass, but he would never admit it to him. "Tell Wally I'm sorry too. He's never crossed me wrong. He didn't deserve what I said."
"No, he didn't. But he's a very forgiving guy. He isn't holding it against you. As far as he's concerned, it's over and done with."
Jason could sense that there was a 'but' coming. "But?"
"But... we need to talk about Bruce."
Jason sighed and glanced at the clock on his bedside table. "This is far too serious of a conversation to be having before breakfast. Can we meet up at the waffle diner in twenty minutes?"
"You got it."
Jason hung up and tossed his phone across the bed with a groan. What did he get himself into? Dick's guilt bombs are a hundred times more effective in person than over the phone. He suspected that he might get talked into apologizing to Bruce after all.
Twenty two minutes later, Jason walked into the diner and saw Dick's familiar disarming smile across the restaurant, then slid into the booth seat across from him.
"You are late," Dick smirked up at him, clearly pulling his leg. Jason just snorted.
"I needed a shower. You're welcome."
Before they started talking, the always smiling brunette waitress showed up to ask for what they want. Jason liked the girl. She worked part-time here in addition to studying for school and she usually took night shifts and was always nice to Jason. Even when he showed up less than presentable.
He ordered a coffee (lots of coffee and sugar with little milk) and a full breakfast. Dick wanted only a coffee. He probably was awake for a while now.
"So," the older hummed after a careful sip. "What's going on with you?"
Jason still didn't feel like talking about any of this. Sharing his thoughts and emotions wasn't exactly his forte, but Dick never pushed him the way others did. Of course, he expected an answer but he didn't make accusations, he never turned everything against him, he didn't try to... analyze him like he was in fucking Arkham. He wasn't like Bruce.
He took a deep breath. "I... I know I was out of line. But I have a hard time... looking at you and Wally. Sometimes." He saw in Dick eyes that he could talk. There wasn't any judgement there yet Jason felt like swallowing acid as he continued. "I'm tired of being a third wheel and nothing more."
"I swear, Dickie-bird, I'll leave you and I won't care about your begging puppy eyes."
"Sorry, go on," Dick answered with a small smile, raising his mug to his lips. Jason rubbed the back of his neck, sighing.
"The replacement is a constant reminder of that how easily Bruce found someone else." Jason was sure the other wanted to argue with him again, but he held himself back. "I was the second Robin and I never could live up to you. Then I fuckin’ died. There was already a third Robin, Joker still kicking... I had Roy and Kori but then it turned out they are soulmates." Jason was incredibly happy for them. Honestly. They were his best friends and they both deserved to be happy. It just made him feel... "A third wheel again. Then there is you and your speedster. It just... It's not a nice thing to be constantly reminded that you are never gonna be first for anyone, anywhere," he finished, looking down at his plate. Woah. That was a lot of emotion coming out all at once. Jason grimaced. "I make myself sick, fucking Christ."
Jason trailed off and Dick took that as permission to speak. His eyes softened and he frowned gently behind his mug of coffee. "I don't know if it will make you feel any better, but we never intended to make you feel that way. I'm sure Roy and Kori didn't either." He took another careful sip. "I..." he sighed, apparently unsure what to say. He held out one hand to Jason's left wrist. "May I?"
The look on his face conveyed to Jason that he knew what he was asking for and he knew it was perhaps too much to ask of Jason, but he's asking it anyway. He was asking for trust and openness, two things that Jason historically wasn't great with. But for Dick, the only member of the "family" that didn't want to make him to punch things on sight? He would do pretty much anything. He just wasn't ready to admit that out loud.
Actions speak louder than words though. A shallow, shaky sigh escaped his mouth and he lifted his left arm and began to slowly unwrap it. The skin underneath was much more pale than the rest of his skin, having been wrapped up almost 24/7 since he was three and the mark had first appeared. With apprehension in his eyes, he pulled the last of the wrappings off of his arm and held his wrist out towards Dick, feeling more exposed than he would have if he had just stripped down to nothing right there in the middle of the diner.
Gingerly, Dick took his wrist and turned it over to view the name, permanently there in black ink. Jason knew exactly what he would find there; he looked at the name every night. Even if his mark disappeared in that exact second, he would never forget the name inscribed there.
TIMOTHY JACKSON DRAKE
Upon scrolling his eyes through the letters on his wrist, Dick's face went expressionless - or so Jason would have thought, if he hadn't gotten so good at reading Dick's face.
There, for just a moment, was a tiny micro-expression - a slight intake of breath and widening of his eyes. Then, the poker face.
Dick knows something.
After blinking several times, a pointedly blank expression on his face, Dick opened his mouth. "Do you want help finding him?"
"No," Jason said without any hesitation, pulling his arm back to his body protectively and already starting to wrap it up again.
He had much time to think of his soulmate and he gave up on finding him a long time ago. Maybe it was self-pity, maybe it was common sense, but Jason didn't think anyone would need a soulmate so broken, so messed up. What could he offer to anyone? A steady, healthy relationship? No. A clean past and present? Definitely not. Unconditional love and care? He wished. Jason didn't live in a dream world. He knew he was too fucked up to be wanted, and after everything he’s seen... he couldn't go through with it. He couldn't make himself find his soulmate only to be turned away. He couldn't face it. If he lost his soulmate – the one thing in the universe that was just for him - what left for him?
"Thanks for the offer, but I have other things to deal with," he added eventually, focusing on covering up the name. "You have your soulmate, anyway. Concentrate on him."
"He is a big softie," Dick chuckled. "He would love to see you fall in love."
Jason smirked. "I bet he would. Those speedsters are all sappy, joyful bastards. He may as well be wearing frilly pink and a flower crown."
"Now you put a nice imagine into my head," the other replied with a dirty light in his eyes. The younger groaned.
"Ugh, Grayson, get yourself together, jeez."
"Sorry," Dick answered with a wicked smirk. (He didn't sound too sorry.) "Can't help it. Wally is smokin' hot."
Jason allowed himself to share Dick's grin. "Can't disagree with that. And he can vibrate, which would be enough to seal the deal on its own, right?"
Dick's tongue darted out subconsciously to wet his lips. "Yes, it certainly would."
"You're a lucky man, Dick."
Jason's face had taken on that faraway look again. Seeming to notice, Dick cut him off. "I can help you find your soulmate, Jason. I... I know how to find him."
Ignoring the part of himself that longed to ask for help, he shook his head, tossing his shaggy black hair. "I'm violent and unstable. I pushed away my family. Nobody would want me like this."
"I know exactly what and who you are, Jaybird, and I still love you."
"Yeah, but you also love West and he's an idiot, so your vouching for me doesn't mean much."
Dick's mouth tilted up into a smirk, but he didn't rise to the bait. "And if your soulmate wanted you back? Wouldn't you want to take a chance on him?"
Jason paused. It's not like it would ever happen anyway. The odds of finding this soulmate, and of his soulmate actually wanting him in the broken state he was in, were slim. Agreeing with Dick couldn't hurt. Plus, it would get him to shut the fuck up about it. "Yeah. If you actually find my soulmate and he wants me, then sure. I'll play along."
For some reason this made Dick quite happy, if the wide smile was anything to go by. It was rather troubling. Jason didn't understand why this was so important for the man, but he'd learned that it was pointless to try to talk him out of it. Instead, he just turned his attention to his breakfast.
After their breakfast, Dick went straight to the mansion.
He assumed Bruce was still sleeping since he didn't have any urgent Wayne Enterprises matters to attend to, but Tim barely slept. It was kind of scary how the boy was able to stay awake or have only a few hours of sleep even after several days spent vigilante-ing in the city. Bruce and Dick were used to the crazy hours as well, but Tim stood on a whole different level.
Unsurprisingly, after knocking on his door he immediately got an answer to come in.
Tim's room was messy and tidy at the same time. Books and notes covered most of the floor with Tim sitting in the middle while his bed was made, you couldn't see abandoned clothes anywhere and order ruled the table as well.
Tim looked up from his thick leather-bound book to greet him. "Hey."
"Hey. I hope I'm not interrupting anything important," he said, looking around in confusion.
"No, I'm just researching old Arkham records. What's up?" the younger asked, dropping his pencil into the book then closing it.
Dick shuffled from foot to foot, unsure how to even broach the subject. "Uhm... I know this is kind of a touchy subject for you, so I apologize in advance for bringing it up, but... about your soulmate..." How does he even say it? 'By the way, he's not actually dead but he's kind of a murderer and sorta hates you'?
Tim's face dropped into an expressionless state. "You know, don't you? About Jason. And me. Bruce told you. Damnit, I knew he’d open his mouth." He ran a hand through his hair. "Does Jason know?"
Dick shook his head. "Jason doesn't know. And Bruce knows? How?"
"I told him," Tim said hesitantly. "Wait, he didn't tell you? So how do you know about it?"
"Jason showed me his mark."
Tim's eyes flew wide. "You... you saw it?" Dick nodded. "And it... it says my name?"
“I didn’t know your middle name is Jackson," Dick confirmed with a tiny smile.
Tim was floored. All of his fears that he had gotten it wrong could be dismissed. His theory was right. His soulmate was alive.
He let out a shaky breath and his lower lip quivered. "He's alive," he whispered. "It's really him." He looked up at Dick with a huge smile on his face, tears spilling over onto his cheeks. "Dick, he's alive! He's my soulmate, and I'm his!" Throwing his arms around Dick in a crushing hug, he begins to sob and shake in his arms, every bit of emotion he had been holding back bubbling up to the surface.
The bigger man wrapped him up in his arms in return, closing him in an embrace, listening to the small hiccups and happy little laughs while his heart was clenching. Of course he was happy for Tim. The kid already believed that he'd never even meet his soulmate which was one of the cruelest things Dick could imagine. He couldn't see his life without Wally by his side. If they'd never met... or if he'd lost Wally... He'd probably go crazy. Tim ha thought his soulmate was dead, and a moment later, he had his soulmate. Alive. Dick could understand that. But... there was that but.
When Tim calmed down a bit, they settled down onto the floor, their backs against the bed.
"I can't believe it," Tim whispered. "Since yesterday I was... I was imagining scenarios, you know? How I would approach Jason. What I would say. God, I have so many things I want to tell him."
"I get it," the other said with a small smile. He wrung his fingers together in his lap. "Don't misunderstand, I'm happy for you, but... you know that it won't be so easy with Jason? He meant what he said at the dinner. He feels his soulmate is better off without him."
"Well, that's not his place to decide," he answered with a stubborn little frown wrinkling his forehead. It made Dick smile wider. "I know it's not better for me without my soulmate. I was miserable just over the past year, thinking that he was dead. It was like... this emptiness slowly chewed me away. I don't care how hard it will be with him, it's much better than being without him."
"You know what we have to do, then?"
Tim's frown relaxed from his face and was replaced with a small smile. "What?"
With a sparkle in his azure eyes, "You have to woo him."
Tim's smile turned into a full-on smirk as his mind reeled with the possibilities. "And how do I do that?"
"You have to spend time with him without pissing him off. Which is impossible right now, but he will come around. It just takes him a while to warm up to new people."
Tim smiled, hanging onto his every word. "Tell me more. About him. About what he likes, what he doesn't like." His eyes suddenly widened. "What was he like as Robin? God, I wish I could have seen him like you did, Dick. I saw him from afar but that's nothing like being close up! Was he funny like you, or was he more serious? Was he -"
Dick cut him off with a laughed, "Slow down! One question at a time."
Tim looked sheepish but his smile never faded. "Sorry. I just - I'm excited. I have kinda had a crush on him for a long time - on him as Robin, I mean - and it's just mind-blowing to find out that he's my soulmate. Robin is my soulmate!"
His enthusiasm and adoration put a wide, honest smile onto Dick's face. It was kind of sweet, considering that Tim himself was a Robin as well - which wasn't a small thing, yet he seemed to think that Jason was on a whole different level. Plus, he couldn't stop thinking of that how fast Jason's resistance would fade if he heard Tim's words. He never heard anyone talk about him like this before. Jason probably hadn’t either.
"He was like nothing Gotham has seen before," the older answered in the end, making Tim's eyes shine even more. "Of course Gotham was floored when I became Robin, since until that point Batman had always worked alone, but when Jason came into the picture... He was like a tornado, you know? They didn't know what hit them until it was late. You didn't expect that small kid to be that strong and hard and fierce."
Tim basically was beaming next to him, radiating from happiness and more excitement. "He was intense, right? And after his... death," the boy said with mild hesitation, "his absence was… apparent."
That wasn't exactly a nice period of time and if Dick wanted to be honest, he could understand Bruce reluctance to talk about Jason after that. Because yeah, for Jason coming back after a year was like everything had just happened yesterday but for them it was long enough time to start healing. It didn't mean they didn't feel it every day. Especially Bruce. Sure, he definitely couldn't and didn't show it enough, but losing Jason like that almost ruined him completely.
Dick shook his head. He had to get these thoughts out of his head for now.
"What do you think of him now? As Red Hood?" he asked, changing the topic from the sensitive period.
Dick didn't miss the light blush making its way across Tim's cheeks. "I... I think he... grew up nicely," he finished lamely.
"Grew up nicely, huh?" Dick's smirk grew deadly. "What exactly do you mean by that?"
The blush on his face deepened. "I, uh..." he shuffled from foot to foot. "I just... I grew up taking pictures of him. So I first saw him when he was smaller, you know? Not that he's ever been scrawny; he's always been pretty built..." Dick made a face like he was trying not to laugh and Tim frowned. "I'm serious; I've always had the hots for him! The first time I ever touched myself was looking at a picture of him in his Robin costume, oh my god those thighs and whyamItellingyouthisohmygod..." He scratched at the back of his neck, mortified.
Dick had an infuriating twinkle in his eye. "Keep going. Your gushing is adorable."
"Um... yeah. He's always been cute. now that he's grown up, he's fucking sexy, okay? He's a dreamboat. He's a knockout. He's got this bad boy thing going for him, and oh my god Dick, last night was the first time I ever saw him without a mask and he's just gorgeous."
Dick's smirk had relaxed into a gentle smile. "He's certainly turned into a handsome young man."
"Yeah," Tim sighed dreamily. "He has. And he's mine. I can't believe it. I have a soulmate, who is alive, and he's basically my celebrity crush."
At that point the older wasn't able to hold a laugh back. Tim's honest devotion towards Jason was insanely adorable.
"Celebrity crush. Something I've never thought I'd hear regarding Jason." It put more color onto Tim's face but it was rather shyness than embarrassment and Dick was okay with that. "If you are sure about this, I'll help you."
"Really?" the boy blinked at him in surprise.
"Really. I think you could do so much good for him," Dick answered, sinking his hands into the pockets of his pants. "I can't say this for sure, but I feel like Jason is still looking for his place in the world, and with you... I think he could finally find it. As I said, this won't be easy, but Jason is a good guy after you get through his thick layers. And you deserve happiness as well. So if you need me, just call."
With that, Dick left Tim to his thoughts.
His mind was in a whirlwind of emotion as he processed everything Dick had said.
Jason is really my soulmate. He has my name on his wrist, and I have his.
A giggle bubbled up Tim’s throat and he threw himself onto his back, sprawling out against his soft bed sheets. “Oh my god, I have a soulmate,” he whispered feverishly to himself.
The next evening, Tim decided to venture into Red Hood’s territory to observe the man in action. He had spent literal years spying on Batman and Robin and went undetected back then, so he was fairly confident he could do it now. He had years more practice hiding in the shadows than he had when he first started stalking the dynamic duo. He was trained by Batman, for fuck’s sake.
The problem that he ran into, however, is that Jason was too.
He observed from afar as Hood swung through Gotham on his grappling line, taking out thugs as he went along. Jason didn’t kill all of them, and Tim couldn’t quite figure out his reasoning. He spent around an hour and a half following him, trying to figure out the pattern – because surely, there was a pattern; there’s always a pattern – to who Red Hood was killing versus leaving alive but hog-tied for the police to find on one of their sweeps through the city.
At first, Tim was at a loss. Jason must have personally known most of the perps he was dealing with – he even verbally identified a lot of them by name before either shooting them or knocking them out – but Tim struggled to identify the differentiating factor between the ones he shot and the ones he merely incapacitated.
In his his curiosity and his eagerness to get closer however, he must have gotten sloppy, because after Jason shot a thug between the eyes in the back of an alleyway, he called out behind him - “Are you just here to enjoy the show, little birdie, or are you actually going to come out of the shadows at some point tonight?”
Tim couldn’t see his expression from behind the mask, but he had heard honest amusement in his voice. Well, that’s a start – at least he wasn’t angry. So, he decided to play along. He wordlessly dropped from the rooftop to the street, his feet hitting the ground with a quiet thud around fifteen feet away from the other man.
Jason turned towards him, putting his gun away like he hadn't just killed a man a second ago. The still-warm body was slumped at his feet. "There you are, birdie. To what do I owe the pleasure? Gotham is a dangerous city, you know, especially without the big, bad bat as back-up."
Still not hearing any signs of venom in his voice, Tim assumed Jason didn’t mind being followed as much as he would have thought. He couldn’t decide whether it was because he didn’t mind Tim’s company, or he was just pleasantly surprised by the absence of Batman. Either way, Tim was happy that the situation was pretty calm for the time being. He didn’t want to fight the man.
"I was... curious."
"The way you work," Tim said, defaulting to honesty. Couldn’t hurt to be blunt, right? "It's... interesting."
He imagined Jason raising an eyebrow behind his helmet. "Now that's something I don't usually hear. I'm all ears."
“I was, uh…” he scratched the back of his head, mentally kicking himself for showing how nervous he was. “I was trying to figure out your pattern. Who you kill, and who you don’t.”
Jason snorted. “Why? So you can stop me?”
“No,” Tim said carefully. “I just wanted to know why.”
Jason pulled his helmet off and Tim tried to hide the way that his breath hitched at seeing his face again. He shook out his hair, and Tim’s mind flashed back to shampoo commercials where the models over-exaggeratedly shake their hair to show off how gorgeous it looks. This man could be in a Pantene ad. “Y’know, you could have just asked instead of stalking me for the past two hours.”
Ah. So he had known he was there the whole time. I guess I’m not as good at this as I thought.
“Don’t feel bad,” Jason said, as if following his train of thought. “Nobody else would have known you were there.”
“How did you know?”
A slight smirk pulled at the side of his mouth. “You forget – we were trained by the same person.”
Jason turns away and starts lifting his helmet to put it back on his head, but Tim stops him. “Wait!”
He turns back around and allows his helmet to rest against his hip. His eyebrow is raised, but he doesn’t appear angry. Just curious. “What?”
He doesn’t want the conversation to end so soon, so he decides to go for broke. “I used to follow you and Batman around, you know. Back when you were Robin.”
Well. That… wasn’t what he had wanted to say, but… it seems to successfully stop Jason from leaving, so he calls it a win.
Honest surprise fills Jason’s handsome features. “Yeah?”
“Yeah.” Shuffling his feet awkwardly from side to side, he smiled shyly at him. “I would take pictures of you and Batman.” Once he started, he couldn’t stop, so he allowed himself to spill his thoughts out in the open. “I would sneak around on roof tops and in alleyways to find the two of you. I tried to stay out of sight because Bruce knows my parents and I knew he’d recognize me, and then he’d… I dunno, tell my parents or something.” He chuckled. “I got some pretty amazing pictures. I never shared them with anyone, but… I’d like to show you some time. You were a big inspiration of mine when I decided to become Robin.”
Jason’s expression went from surprise to something unreadable. For a moment, Tim’s heart sank, fearing that he had stepped over some sort of unspoken boundary – perhaps he had pushed too much, set the pace too fast and ruined his chance with Jason – but even still, Jason didn't shout or told him to go to hell. He just seemed... a little bit uneasy and confused.
A few thoughts seemed to flicker across his face before he settled on murmuring, "I'm probably not the best role model, kid.” He pulled his helmet over his head, and his expression disappeared.
Tim almost didn't see when the other reached after his hook, getting ready to leave the alley and the other vigilante behind, because he was too focused on Jason, his body language, his movements - everything. He felt like even if he had followed him back then, he knew nothing about it. Probably because this time he didn't look at him as Robin or Red Hood. He looked at him as his soulmate.
"You should go back before Batsy notices you left and gets a brain hemorrhage or something."
"I..." Tim was desperate to figure something out that could make the man stay but he came up with nothing. "We, uh... I could get away sometimes," he offered weakly, forcing himself to not reach after Jason. He couldn't tell him, not yet. "Like, today. I-"
The other interrupted him with a small sigh. "Look, kid. I don't know what your game is here, but the further you are from me, the better for you."
And with that, Jason shot a hook towards the nearest building and left Tim there with the dead thug and his mixed feelings.
The next day, Tim tries again.
Let it never be said that Tim Drake isn’t persistent.
He found Red Hood on the opposite side of his territory as the night before, approaching a brawl between two rival gangs. He gets close enough that he can hear their shouted conversation, but far enough away that he is pretty confident Jason won’t see him amidst the upcoming scuffle.
As he peered over the edge of the building, he saw Jason in the middle of the standoff with a gun pointed towards both sides. “Which one of you is Marcus?”
A pale, bulky thug stepped out of the group. “Who’s askin’?”
Tim could practically feel Jason’s eyes roll behind his mask. As if a single person in Gotham hadn’t heard of the Red Hood. “Quit it with that tough-guy act. You Marcus?”
Tim inched closer and saw the other man’s face twist into a scowl. “And if I am?”
Jason’s voice became quiet – angry. “Did you touch that little girl?”
‘Marcus’ cocked an eyebrow and the trace of a smirk appeared on his face. “And if I did? What’s it to you?”
There was a pregnant pause before Tim’s ears rang from the sound of the gunshot and Marcus slumped to the floor, blood spattering on the ground.
Marcus’s gang sprang into action, whipping out their guns and brass knuckles while their rival gang turned on their heels and ran. Tim watched Jason fighting them off for a mere moment – he seemed to be doing fine – before he jumped down and ran after the opposing gang. He recognized several of their faces on the “Gotham’s Most Wanted” list. Can’t let them get away, after all. Opportunities like this don’t come by often.
He became Robin for a reason. He did want to bring justice, he did want to put down bad guys, he did want to make a difference - learning from the world's greatest detective on the way was definitely a great extra. He could have watched Jason taking those assholes down because it was a sight indeed, but letting the other half of the douchebags go was definitely something out of the question.
He easily decreased the distance jumping from rooftop to rooftop, and with a well-aimed batarang he managed to knock out the guy in the front which caused the others stop immediately, looking around for the source of the danger. They found their answer when Tim swooped down and kicked one of them in the face.
"Grab that little shit!"
His foot connected with a shin while he dodged a fist that aimed at his head. Child’s play. The fighting skills of these guys came from the years on the street and not the advanced combat techniques taught by Batman, so it was almost laughably bad. They had power behind each punch, sure – but that’s it. There were no tactics, no strategy.
But of course, they had strength in numbers.
Someone was able to grab him from behind and yank him off to the ground while he was in midair, and the impact made him lose his breath. Unfortunately, it was enough time for another gang member to punch him in the face and Tim saw stars.
He raised his hand above his head, trying to protect it, but the next hit targeted his stomach.
Blood filled his mouth.
He instinctively squeezed his eyes shut, waiting for the next blow which had never arrived. He heard a pained yelp, and it gave him enough to open his eyes and look up. His lips parted in shock, seeing the familiar figure above him.
Jason stood between him and the gang members who stared at him with suspicion and worry. That became pure fear when Red Hood turned his gun towards them.
"I'm already pretty darn pissed off, so even though you weren’t the ones who touched that little girl, I will blow your fucking brains out if you’re not outta my sight in five seconds.”
It all came out in a gravely growl. Tim's breath hitched. It wasn’t supposed to be this hot, hearing someone threaten someone else’s life. But there he was, seconds after facing almost certain death, and he was popping a boner for his predecessor.
Tim scrambled to his feet as the thugs dashed away, down the alley and out of sight, before Jason turned to him. He couldn’t see his face, but he could have sworn he heard amusement in his voice. “Never pictured you as the damsel in distress type, but I guess we all have our moments.”
Tim blushed violently under his mask. “I, uh… I just thought you… needed the help.” Jason turned around and began to walk away, but Tim stopped him. “Why were you after those men?”
Jason stopped walking, but didn’t turn around. “That man that I shot – he molested a seven year old.”
Tim’s face fell. “He did?”
“Yeah.” Jason turned back and pulled his mask off. “I get that Bats thinks that killing is wrong. And I agree, mostly. But honestly, I just think that some people are beyond redeeming. It’s about weighing the consequences if you let someone live.” Jason’s fierce, pale blue eyes met Tim’s. “If you’re going to take more from the world than you give to it, you shouldn’t be here. I’m just helping to balance the scales.”
It actually didn't sound unreasonable, and this recognition made Tim uneasy. Someone who touched a little girl and didn't even feel bad about it wasn't exactly the type to change. And how did you explain to that little girl who might have been scarred for life that the man who violated her got to walk free on a technicality? And he’d probably do it again, too. On the other hand, Tim felt uncomfortable because yes, Jason worked with a certain code, but too many people already took justice in their own hands. What if one day he crossed a line? Who was he to put life and death on the scales? What made him qualified to decide who lives and dies?
His troubling thoughts must have shown on his face, because Jason chuckled.
"N-not necessarily," the younger stuttered, glancing away. "It's just... There is a reason we don't decide about death sentences. That’s not for us to decide."
"Well, thanks to that reason that asshole was out on the streets, selling drugs and playing with children in his free time," Jason growled, his eyes like steel and fire at the same time. "The society and the system make excuses for these piece of shits. I won't do the same."
Tim wanted to tell him that he understood, he really did, but it felt like everything would have made it only worse. He gulped and got up from the ground. "You, uh... You have any plans now?"
The anger quickly dissipated to give place to surprise on the man's face. He even let out a little laugh. "Are you asking me on a date, little bird?"
“Uh…” Embarrassment showed so clearly on Tim’s face, and he stuttered. “I, uh… I just… want to get to know you better. That’s all. I feel like we maybe started off on the wrong foot?”
Jason raised his eyebrows skeptically. “And why is it so important to you that we get along?”
“I looked up to you,” Tim confessed breathlessly. “I looked up to you when you were Robin, and I still look up to you now. I just… I want to get to know you. I know you don’t get along with the other bats, and that’s fine; I’m not asking you to. I just… I was hoping that maybe we could be friends.” And eventually more, he added silently.
It seemed Jason was considering what the other was saying, but Tim's heart dropped when the huge red helmet got back in its place, hiding the handsome face and beautiful eyes resembling a stormy sky.
"It's flattering, honestly. But I told you, birdie. It's better if you keep away. You are not fucked up yet like the rest of us, and that's something worth protecting. And the best way I can protect it is by staying the hell away from you."
Seeing him leave made Tim's lips turn down. He knew he had to be patient. He remembered Dick's words, he knew Jason was overly defensive and letting him in wasn't something he could reach so fast, but... he kind of hoped at least he'd got a chance at this point. Jason had to see he was trying. He had to.
It drove Tim crazy. Every time he was close to the other, the tattoo on his arm started aching, feeling the closeness of his soulmate. Couldn’t Jason feel that, too?
He took a deep breath then sighed. Maybe he needed a new angle.
The next day, he went to visit Dick for advice.
“…And then he said, ‘You’re not fucked up like the rest of us’. What do I need to do to prove that I’m not this delicate flower that he seems to think I am? Go out and kill someone?”
Dick looked up from his computer screen and swiveled his desk chair so he could face Tim, who was sprawled out on his bed with his head hanging off the side. “You… you aren’t actually considering that, are you?”
“No,” Tim snorted.
He visibly relaxed. “Okay. Good.”
“I just don’t get it,” Tim lamented, staring up at the ceiling. “Does he not swing this way? I mean I’m his soulmate, so he obviously does, but is he in denial?”
“I don’t think so,” Dick said hesitantly. He had spoken to Jason about soulmates recently and he hadn’t seemed to have an issue with the fact that his soulmate is a male, so Dick doubted it. “I think the issue is honestly that he doesn’t think he’s worthy of being with someone else.”
“Well, that’s stupid,” Tim scoffed. “He’s a fucking superhero. He may do some things that Bats disagrees with, but he does it because he believes it’s for Gotham’s greater good. He’s incredible.”
“And he’s easy on the eyes,” Dick teased, to which Tim visibly blushed.
“Yeah, there’s that too. I have the feeling he’s going to be easy to fall in love with,” he admitted. “I just don’t know how to get through to him when he keeps pushing me away all the time.”
"I know it’s irritating, but in his own bizarre little self-destructive way, he’s trying to protect you."
The younger boy huffed, turning on his stomach, folding his arms under himself and resting his chin on them. "I just... I don't know what chance I have without telling him who I am. Like, my real name. And that’s dangerous. I don’t want him to reject me just because I’m his soulmate."
Dick stood up and walked to the bed to sit next to Tim, ruffling his hair. "Don't give up, okay? He has his reasons, but you will get there.”
Tim gave him a one-shouldered shrug. “I hope so.”
“You want some advice?”
Tim blinked up at him eagerly. "Anything. Whatever you’ve got.”
Dick pursed his lips. "Be a little more... aggressive. He needs to be confronted. Don’t tell him who you are yet, but show him you are interested in him for him. Get his attention. He’s stubborn, so you’ll just have to be even more so. Just don't give up on him. If he sees you mean it, he will come around."
“So, I should continue to hunt him down?”
Dick nodded. “Wear him down. Show him you aren’t going to be scared off so easily. If I know him – and I do – he’s going to try to push you away. Don’t allow it. Make it clear to him that you aren’t going anywhere. Show him that you think he’s worth the effort.”
“He is worth the effort,” Tim said with conviction.
Dick smiled. Jason might not be keen on the idea of soulmates, but Tim would be good for him. “Just follow your instincts, then. It’ll work itself out.”
As the following weeks passed, Jason begrudgingly got used to seeing Batman with the replacement during his patrols. He didn’t like it, for a variety of reasons, but it didn’t set him off the way it used to either. Bruce had moved on, and there was nothing that Jason could do about it.
Part of the reason he was getting used to the idea, he supposed, is because of the kid’s uncanny ability to turn up wherever Jason was.
The kid was persistent, he had to give him that. When they happened to meet instead of just seeing each other from the distance, he tried to initiate a conversation, asking Jason about the case he was currently working on, offering his help, or just throwing in small talk.
It was annoying as hell. At first. But after a while of the kid coming around at least every other evening, he started to feel bad for brusquely shutting down the conversation, so he’d indulge him a little. He didn’t know what the kid wanted from him, but it was kind of… nice. The replacement seemed to be honestly curious about him, without expecting anything back besides some attention. Jason sometimes caught himself answering the questions without thinking. He had, against his own will, become used to his presence. The kid had grown on him. It was to the point where, when he wasn’t around, he kind of… missed him.
Not that he’d ever admit it out loud, to anyone, under any circumstances, but still. In the privacy of his own head, he was man enough to admit that the kid was kind of fun to have around.
After several weeks of this, one night on patrol, he wound up collapsed against the rooftop of a brick building by the warehouse district.
He really should have seen it coming. He’d been in enough knife fights to know what to look for, but the thug he was squaring off with hadn’t flashed his steel until it was just about to stick him between the ribs, so all he could do was roll out of the way.
Unfortunately, that particular tactical maneuver took him directly into the middle of a busy intersection and he was promptly hit by a car.
It hadn’t killed him. Obviously. It had barely even hurt at the time. Adrenaline, and everything. One second he was tucking and rolling from a switchblade, and the next, he bounced off the hood of a car and was eating pavement.
Thank god for masks, otherwise that might have been embarrassing.
He huffed out a pained breath when his sensitive back touched the brick wall behind him, his ribs giving signs of strong discomfort. He leaned a little forward to spit blood to the ground next to him before he settled back. Fuck. He even lost his helmet somewhere, not that it could have been useful to him half broken, so only a red domino mask covered his face.
He should have dragged himself to one of his safe house somehow instead of staying in the open like this, but even the closest one was way too far for him right now. He wasn’t sure how far he could walk, with the blinding pain in his side, so grappling hooks were obviously out.
He chuckled. The situation was kind of hilarious, if you could forget the possibility of, you know, dying. What was it that that one poet said? Life is a tragedy for those who feel, and a comedy for those who think? Yeah. Something like that. He should get that tattooed across his forehead, he thought, in the midst of his delirium, because it seemed to sum his life up pretty damn well lately.
The next thing he knew, a shadow was descending upon him. He tensed up and readied himself for a fight, favoring his weak side, but relaxed when he recognized the costume.
“Robin,” he grunted. “What are you doing here?”
“Saving your ass,” the other man curtly replied. “What happened to you?”
He struggled to keep his voice steady. “Little run-in with a mob boss. No big deal.” He knew he shouldn’t be minimizing his injuries – he could have internal bleeding, for all he knows – but the last thing he wanted was his replacement seeing him as weak.
Robin just snorted in response. Apparently, Jason wasn’t a convincing liar. “You are favoring your left side and your breathing is shallow. You’re obviously injured. I’m taking you to my safe house.”
The authoritative tone and the stern expression made Jason recoil and narrow his eyes. Letting himself appear weak in front of the replacement was one thing - letting the kid escort him to safety like some kind of damsel in distress was a completely different. He didn’t like feeling vulnerable, and while he may objectively need help, he sure as hell wasn’t accepting it from him.
However, putting up a resistance wouldn't have lead anywhere. Jason didn't have to agree immediately, though.
"You have a safe house? You must be joking."
The boy in front of him didn't even smile or bat an eye or moved a muscle. Which kind of made Jason look stupid, but come on, this shouldn't have been happening in the first place!
Jason grunted. "Fine. Show the way, little bird."
Robin cocked an eyebrow at him. “Can you even swing from a grappling line in your condition? I’m going to have to carry you.” Jason opened his mouth to argue, but he was cut off. “I don’t want to hear it. This will go much faster if you don’t fight me on this.”
Jason’s jaw stiffened and his bottom lip stuck out – he wasn’t pouting, damnit, he was just angry - but he didn’t object. He reluctantly followed him to the edge of the rooftop and slung a muscular arm over his shoulders. He felt Robin shudder slightly, but didn’t question it, and soon they were swinging across Gotham’s rooftops.
He was mildly impressed by the smaller man’s strength. He might not look like much, but he was able to bear his weight without much of a problem. Perhaps he had been underestimating the younger vigilante.
Not that anyone would ever know about this particularly unfortunate occurrence, since Jason planned to erase the event from his memory and in case of the other running his mouth, well, he would just have to murder him. Plain and simple.
They didn’t stop maneouvering around the city until they got to a quiet neighborhood just outside of Gotham’s southeastern business block, and Jason realized that safe house meant a literal house - kind of surprising, as most of Jason’s safe houses were cheap apartments littered throughout the different neighborhoods in his section of the city. He took in every inch of the exterior with a critical sweep of his gaze. It was a small, beige, with a tiny garden out back. Very understated. The immediate thing that stood out to Jason was that, out of all of the houses that surrounded it, none of them had windows facing Robin’s safe house – only windowless walls. Which was kind of brilliant, actually, because that meant they were free to sneak in and out of windows with a much smaller risk of being seen. Hm. Maybe this kid knew what he was doing after all.
The younger vigilante pressed his thumb to the door handle (thumbprint scanners instead of keys? Jason was struggling not to be impressed) and then helped him limp inside. He quickly took a look around, examining his surroundings and plotting potential escape routes as he did in every unknown environment, but his injuries rewrote his priorities almost immediately and he pretty much fell down onto the old couch as soon as he saw it.
"Fuck..." the older murmured. Every bit of his body was grateful for the ability to just sit down. He knew he had to get his clothes off and check his injuries soon, but he also wanted to enjoy this feeling a little bit.
The kid busied himself with picking up a few scattered things around the living room – a t-shirt slung across the back of the couch, a stack of paper on the kitchen table, a bottle of spirit gum remover from the floor. Once it was tidied up to his satisfaction, he hustled off to what Jason assumed was the bathroom and returned with a box of medical supplies.
“Okay. Time to see what the damage is,” he sighed. Then, he turned red and gritted his teeth as if to steel himself. “T-take your shirt off.”
Jason assumed his nervous stutter was from anxiety of giving another human being medical treatment and didn’t think much of it. He slid off his signature brown leather jacket, unclipped his gun holsters, disarmed and removed his armor and unceremoniously peeled his sweat-slicked t-shirt off his torso. He suddenly felt very cold and exposed, and he searched the room for a distraction.
After much longer than it should have realistically taken – what was he waiting for, a written invitation? - the younger vigilante finally went to work with steady hands, cleaning up his torso of the sweat and blood and began to feel for internal bleeding beneath the bruises. Jason avoided his eye contact.
He allowed his eyes to wander around the living room. It was pretty sparsely decorated, but there were three framed prints on the wall beneath his kitchen table – one of Batman, one of Batman and Dick as Robin in the early days, and one of Batman and himself as Robin. He snorted.
“I can’t believe you actually went out and bought prints of us.”
“I didn’t buy them,” the boy replied quietly. “I took those pictures. Before I became Robin.”
For some reasons this made Jason swallow unwittingly. He remembered the other saying he took photos, but actually seeing one...
He took a better look at the pictures, especially the one with him and Bruce. They were standing on a rooftop, Batman right at the edge and looking down at the street, with Robin next to him. Jason's heart clenched seeing his own carefree, goofy smirk, his proud posture and the way he put his hands on his waist, waiting for crime to happen, for bad guys to catch - to be a hero. He remembered how much he loved those nights, patrolling in the city. It put an unpleasant feeling into his stomach. He had to turn his head away and curl his fingers into a fist.
For a few minutes they weren't talking, only Jason grunted occasionally when the younger found an especially sensitive spot or cleaned another wound.
"If you knew what happened to me," Jason started quietly, looking strictly forward, "Why did you agree to become the next Robin? What did he bribe you with?"
Robin was silent for a moment before chuckling lowly. "He never told you, did he?" Jason's subsequent silence spoke volumes, so he snorted. "Typical Bruce. I'll tell you, then. Okay. Well, here’s the story. Right after you..." his voice trailed off and Jason gave him a pointed look. "Died. After you died, Bruce was a mess. He got violent. He got sloppy. I had known Bruce's secret identity since Dick was Robin, so I watched him. I saw his downward spiral. It worried me." He sighed, running his hands through his hair and looked wistfully at the photos on the wall. "He needed a Robin. So, I trained myself. I watched Bruce from afar. And when I felt like I was ready, I knocked on the front door of the manor and told him I know he's Batman and blackmailed him into making me the next Robin."
Jason was slack-jawed by the end of his speech. This kid's got guts.
"I was never meant to be your replacement, Jason," the boy said quietly. "At first, Bruce wouldn't hear of a new Robin. He refused. But I persisted, because I could see that he needed a Robin to ground him. I had to literally blackmail him, Jay." There was a trace of pleading in his voice. "I never wanted to replace you. I wanted to honor you. I wanted to continue your legacy."
By the end of his monologue, Jason turned back to stare at the dark blue carpet on the floor, trying not to let his emotions gush out like a volcano.
It was true that he didn't really allow Bruce to explain anything to him after everything that had happened. Honestly, the facts seemed enough for Jason to realize how much he actually meant. After the pit and regaining his sanity, Jason couldn't stop thinking anything else but seeing Bruce. Did the man mourn? Did his death have any effect? Was he missed? Then Talia showed him the newspaper with the article about the Joker and Jason just couldn't imagine any acceptable reason for him being still alive. Bruce chose to let him live. Bruce let him walk. Live. Breathe. After everything he'd done. There was nothing that could have changed those facts.
Until now. Knowing that Bruce became a mess after he died... maybe it shouldn't have, but it softened him. Maybe it was fucked-up that he was happy that Bruce was so affected, but it felt... nice. Knowing that Bruce didn't just move on, like Jason was nothing more than a forgettable period in his life.
He might also have misread the other boy. However, his tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth, his throat clenched and his lips suddenly felt too dry. He couldn't force himself to apologize. Yes, he should have given a chance before he started to hate him, but he also had every reason to do so. He did. So instead of apologizing, he settled for self-deprecating.
"I'm not sure I left or had any kind of legacy," he murmured, gripping his knees. "But... thanks. For telling me this."
This was the most he could manage to force out of himself right now. Fuck, he wanted to smoke so bad.
Apparently it was enough, because Jason saw his shoulders relax and heard a small smile in his voice when he finally spoke. "No problem. Any time."
He was just finishing cleaning Jason up when he spoke again. "I don't know you very well yet, but I do know that you're a good person. You seem to think that you changed when you became Red Hood, and maybe you did in a few ways, but not at your core. I remember the happy, overeager kid in green scaly panties," he said with a shy smile. "That kid is still in there. I've seen it over these past few weeks. You're a good man, Hood."
Jason was evenly torn between brushing him off with another self-deprecating joke and punching the guy. Instead, he shifted uneasily. "Look, about that night at the manor... you don't have to call me Hood. You can call me Jason."
When Jason finally tipped his head upwards to look at the other man, he looked taken aback, so he quickly back-pedaled. "If I'm crossing a line or anything-"
"You're not," Robin cut in quickly. "I was just surprised. Of course I will call you that. Jason."
Jason smiled - barely noticeable, but still there. He somehow liked the way his name sounded from the other man's lips. "So. I just told you my name. Now you get to tell me your name.”
Tim had been having a fantastic evening with Jason. Wounds and discussions about death aside, he felt like he was really making progress with him.
And that’s why, when Jason asked to hear his real name, he balked.
"Now you get to tell me your name.”
“Tell me your name,” Jason repeated. “Unless your birth name is actually 'Robin', which in that case, lame."
Tim’s gut instinct was to open his mouth and spill everything – how much he had admired him as Robin, how utterly devastated he was when his soulmate died, how thrilled he was to figure out that his soulmate was alive and it was his childhood crush – but he held back. They had made so much progress. And depending on how he handled these next few minutes, it could all be for nothing.
Tim had known the whole time. He had known, and he had purposely gotten closer to Jason without telling him. He felt guilty about that. He had barged into Jason’s life with ulterior motives. They weren’t necessarily harmful motives, but he still had an agenda that he didn’t share with Jason. And he was well aware that it might piss him off to find out about it.
But, on the other hand… he had honored Jason’s wish of not having his soulmate shoved in his face. He hadn’t forced anything. Other than, you know, his presence in his life, but he wasn’t forcing romance on him or anything, right? He had done everything he could in order to make this as comfortable and acceptable to Jason, and frankly… Tim kind of felt like he deserved this now.
So he licked his lips and simply stated, “My name is Tim.”
Tim watched Jason’s reaction out of the corner of his eye, and he noted, with simultaneous relief and dread, that Jason’s expression went from mild interest, to startled, to pure wonder, and to something else that he couldn’t quite place, before Jason reigned it in and carefully blanked out his expression.
“It’s… nice to meet you, Tim,” he said in the end, leaving Tim somewhat disappointed. But he understood. Even if Jason knew that he was that Tim, he probably wanted to hide his raw feelings for now. He probably wanted to make sure. He understood, he really did.
But at the same time, he just wanted his soulmate to recognize him so badly that it physically hurt.
Jason’s head was reeling. He needed to get out of there, now.
“Well, thanks for uh… fixing me up,” Jason said awkwardly, standing up suddenly. “I should get going. I need to, uh… go talk to Dick about… some recon work he’s been doing for me. Y’know, for a case.” He scratched the back of his head. He had never been a good liar.
Tim looked like he was about to protest, but thankfully, he nodded and offered a small smile after a moment. “Are you sure you’re feeling well enough to leave?”
Jason just waved a hand dismissively. “I’ll be fine. Dick’s favorite safehouse isn’t too far away, and if I know him, that’s where he will be.” Tim opened his mouth and then promptly shut it, frowning, and Jason’s eyes narrowed. “What?”
Tim almost winced as he asked, “It’s just - will you radio me when you get there?”
His gut response was to reject the request – it just felt so domestic - but Tim looked so timid and vulnerable in that moment that it tugged at his heart a little. “Yeah, fine. I’ll radio you.”
Tim’s relieved expression made Jason’s heart jump. “Thanks, Jason.”
To be honest, Jason could have used some sleep and rest, because his side hurt like a bitch and his freshly treated wounds screamed for a little relaxation, but he couldn't stay there and continue the small talk with the boy when his blood pressure hit over the roof and his wrist itched where the soulmate tattoo was.
The kid's name was Tim and Jason was pretty damn sure that it was short for Timothy. It seemed a damn big coincidence, and Jason didn't really believe in coincidences.
He needed a moment to think, and then he needed to talk to Dick, and then he probably needed to kick Dick’s ass.
Getting to Dick's safehouse wasn't exactly easy, but the expression on his adopted brother’s face as Jason almost literally kicked down the door was well worth the pain.
"Jason, what the hell--"
When he slammed the door shut behind him, Dick immediately shut up. He probably sensed the anger that radiated off of Jason in big, dangerous waves, because he also tensed up.
"You knew, didn't you?" Jason barked, gritting his teeth. "You fucking knew, you asshole."
"I knew what?" Dick asked carefully.
"You should have told me when I showed you my tattoo!" His voice shook for a brief moment, and Jason hated himself for it. He didn't want to be emotional, he wanted to be fucking furious. "You fucking knew the moment I showed it to you and you said nothing!"
Dick raised his hands up to his sides, palms facing Jason, in surrender. “I didn’t think you were ready to hear it back then.”
Jason practically growled. “Don’t you think it’s my decision, whether I’m ready to hear about it or not?!”
Dick’s voice was very quiet, so quiet that Jason almost didn’t hear him over his heavy breathing and the sound of his drumming pulse in his ears. “I didn’t want you to push him away. I just thought that…” He sighed deeply. “I thought that if I gave you time to get to know him, you would give him a chance.”
His head was spinning. His heartbeat pounded in his ears. His body hummed with energy, but his head somehow felt very calm. He wanted to stay angry at Dick, but if he was being honest with himself, it was only because giving up his anger meant the necessity to acknowledge the burning voice in the back of his head, saying:
I found my soulmate.
“You should have told me!” Jason halfheartedly seethed.
Dick gave him a tiny smile, as if he saw through his anger immediately. He probably did, damn him. Out of all of the Bats, he was the one who was actually halfway proficient with handling other people's emotions. “You should hear the way he talks about you. He really cares about you, Jason.”
A flicker of irritation went up his spine, because he knew what Dick was trying to do, but it just as quickly faded as his words sunk in. “He… he talks about me?”
Dick nodded with a kind smile, and motioned for him to sit down.
Losing the flame that fired his rage, Jason walked to the couch and plopped down, keeping a little distance between himself and Dick who looked at him curiously. He knew this look. He was waiting for Jason to say something.
A sigh escaped his mouth. "How long has he known?"
"He figured it out after the disastrous dinner," Dick answered with a soft smile. "I think he was almost sure, then you showed me your wrist..."
"And you confirmed it for him," Jason finished. It didn't require a genius to figure it out. "I just don't get it. It seems he was interested in me way before that night. Before we even met."
Dick’s face crumpled in confusion. “What are you talking about?”
Jason grew still, and when he spoke, it was with a slight rasp. “He said he… wanted to continue my legacy. That’s why he became Robin. He didn’t want to replace me. He wanted to honor me.” His voice broke slightly. “It’s like he... looked up to me. Nobody’s… nobody’s ever really done that. For me.”
If Jason wasn’t so desperate for him not to laugh in his face at the concept of someone looking up to him, Dick’s knowing smile would have infuriated him. “He still does, Jason. He admires you.”
Jason was shaking his head wildly. “He doesn’t understand, though! I’m not Robin. I’m not that kid anymore. If he knew what I’m really like now –”
Dick cut him off. “He does.”
Jason glared. “He’s idealizing me.”
A huffed sigh. “How do you know?”
“He knows you have cracks and scars. He knows you’re human. He’s not expecting you to be innocent little Robin anymore. And you know what?”
His glower deepened. “What?”
“He doesn’t expect you to be perfect, either.”
His mouth opened to deliver a sharp retort but his thought was cut off by his comm link crackling in his ear. A timid voice rang through once the static cleared. “Jason?”
He sighed deeply. Speak of the devil. “Yes?”
“Uhm… I’m really sorry to bother you, Jason, but… you didn’t radio me and I was starting to get worried…”
Jason rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands. “I’m sorry, Tim. I forgot. I’m fine. I’m at Dick’s now.”
There was a huff of relief on the other end of the line, which also made Jason swallow dryly. Someone honestly cared about his wellbeing. Not because they needed Jason for something, not because they were forced to, but because they wanted to know if he was alright.
Godammit. He felt his eyes start to sting. Too many feelings for one night.
"That's good. I'm glad," Tim said with a smile in his voice. "Then I won't bother you anymore."
"I..." Jason wanted to say something, but he had no clue what. He just felt like he should say something. anything. "I'll probably lay low in the next few days. So that my injuries heal. But I'll... find you, okay?"
The sudden intake of breath indicated that Jason said something unexpected, maybe even unpleasant? Maybe he read the situation wrong? However, Tim's voice suddenly was tense with suppressed happiness.
"That would be great, Jason. Thank you."
"Yeah, sure," he mumbled. God, he was pathetic. "See you later, baby bird." Before he could swear profusely at realizing that he let out that affectionate little nickname, he turned his comm off.
He didn't have to turn around to know that Dick was grinning like a mad man.
"Aww. You are so adorable, Jaybird."
"Shut the fuck up," the younger grumped, clearly embarrassed. Although he didn't regret what he said. To be honest, he wanted to jump up and go after the boy immediately, and he had to will himself to stay put. He needed to think, gather and calm his thoughts before he faced Tim again.
THIS IS MY FAVORITE CHAPTER SO FAR, AAAAAAAAAAAHHHHH alright here we go!
About twenty minutes after he had radioed Jason to make sure he got to Dick’s safely, Tim received a text from Dick.
Dickiebird (4:23 AM): soooooooo.
Dickiebird (4:24 AM): i take it u told him.
Timbo (4:26 AM): what makes you say that?
Dickiebird (4:26 AM): he almost broke down my door.
Tim snorted in spite of his sudden climbing anxiety, because of course he did.
Timbo (4:27 AM): what did he say?
Timbo (4:28 AM): did he seem… okay? or no?
Dickiebird (4:29 AM): he was pissed.
Timbo (4:29 AM): …
Dickiebird (4:30 AM): OK, that sounded bad. he was pissed at ME for not telling him sooner.
Dickiebird (4:30 AM): SORRY if i gave u a heart attack!!!
Timbo (4:31 AM): yea maybe dont lead with that next time
Dickiebird (4:31 AM): srry. but really. he seemed happy after he got over bein pissed at me
Tim’s heart jumped.
Timbo (4:32 AM): yeah?
Dickiebird (4:32 AM): yea.
Dickiebird (4:32 AM): now go 2 bed. i will call u in the morning n we can talk.
Tim snorted again. Go to bed? After the night he’d had? As if. He still texted back the customary “good night” salutation. Dick used to get on him about not going to bed at a decent time, but he was in his own safe house for the night. What Dick doesn’t know won’t hurt him.
His mind went back to the evening’s events.
The conversation had gone so much better than he could have ever hoped. Jason had promised to come find him! Being avoidant was the other man’s specialty, so Tim was thrilled that he’d promised to seek him out. Tim had always been the one to initiate contact first, so the fact that he was volunteering to be the one to seek him out next… that meant that he wanted to see him, right?
It was also probably a sly way of asking him to give him space and let Jason approach him next, rather than Tim coming to him. Which was fair. Totally fair. Tim could work with that.
Still riding the emotional high of Jason volunteering to find him, his heart skipped as he remembered another detail of their conversation - he called me baby bird!
He had been apprehensive about radioing the other man – he didn’t want to appear needy. But the nickname was a good sign, right? Jason would have told him to fuck off if he had been pissed about Tim calling him, right?
A deep sigh left Tim’s lips. Overthinking everything again. His specialty.
He pushed himself up from his couch and went to the kitchen to pour himself another cup of coffee. It was only 4:30 AM – he may as well make himself useful and get some research done for his cases. It’s not like he’d be able to sleep that night, anyway, with everything that had happened.
The next four days were agonizing and excruciatingly slow for Tim. Of course he had his trainings and patrols with Bruce that helped him turn his brain off for a little while at least, but he could sleep even less than usual and he'd get stuck on his cases; he couldn't concentrate on the things he read and couldn't make the simplest connections because all he could think of was Jason.
He caught himself caressing the tattoo on his wrist each time he talked himself out of calling him. He had to give him space. He had to give him the chance to come to him first. If he pressed now and the other man wasn't ready, he could inadvertently push him away.
It was just horrible to wait, not hearing anything from his soulmate for days.
It started to get to Tim, making him less focused and collected. It was almost like staying under water, counting the seconds and waiting for a sign to rise up and breathe again.
On the fourth night, he was finally able to get to the surface again.
Bruce hadn't been out on patrol yet because he had to attend to an urgent and unexpected Wayne Enterprises council meeting (which had to have been really urgent if they called it together around ten in the evening, but Tim escaped by offering to start patrolling without him; Tim was perfectly content to leave the W.E. business to Bruce whenever possible). This meant Robin slid through the air alone, looking out for police and criminal activity.
He honestly didn't expect Jason to just... be there on one of the rooftops, but Tim immediately felt the heaviness lift up from his chest. The man wore his full Red Hood gear and he looked better. Healthier.
It took him barely ten seconds to get there.
"Hood," he said with an unstoppable smile, little bit out breath as he landed on the roof.
"I told you to call me Jason," the other answered, but there was no heat in his words. "Where did you lose the big Bat?"
“He hasn’t been out yet,” Tim admitted. “He’s stuck at a board meeting. Last minute emergency. A merger or something like that.” Eyes finding the skyline, he sighed. “It’s big news for the company, and Bruce has been teaching me about it so I can hopefully work there someday.”
“Wow,” Jason said, and if Tim wasn’t mistaken, he heard amusement in his voice. “You actually want to work there?”
Tim pursed his lips. He hadn’t really talked with anyone about this, but what the hell – this is his soulmate, after all. “I thought I did, at first,” he admitted. “But now I’m not sure. All of the schmoozing and the half-veiled insults given by passive aggressive executives who feel threatened by me just because of who I am, it’s just…. really hard to take it seriously after…” He waves a hand to vaguely gesture towards the city, loud and expansive and crackling with activity, and finishes lamely “…after everything we’ve seen.”
An awkward silence followed, neither man sure where to go from here. Telling Jason about his reservations about working for Bruce was nice, but that wasn’t what he really wanted to talk about. And he was fairly certain that it wasn’t what Jason wanted to talk about either.
Tim couldn't decide what he should rather do, stay quiet or try to break the silence which was getting suffocating - but in the end he didn't have to choose, because Jason decided for him.
He raised his hands to his helmet and carefully took it off, shaking his head to get his hair in order. Tim suddenly had to swallow the lump in his throat – he had seen Jason remove the helmet many times, but the action never lost its breathtaking quality. The man was absolutely gorgeous. The handsome face, the piercing eyes, the strong jaw. No matter how many times he saw his bare face, he didn’t think he would ever be able to see it without his breath hitching. He was unable to stop staring, even when Jason returned his look.
"I want to... hear your name. From you."
Tim blinked. His brain refused to work, otherwise he wouldn't have answered what he said a moment later. "I-I told you already. It's Tim."
"Your full name," the older corrected. His expression seemed to be anxious and a little bit annoyed, and Tim really didn't want to test his chances or the patience of the other. He licked his suddenly dry lips, giving a weak attempt at calming his heart which aimed to jump out of his chest.
"It's... Timothy. Timothy Jackson Drake."
For a moment, Tim honestly thought Jason was reaching for his gun and his heart stopped, because oh my god, he will shoot me dead, he will shoot me, but the man only reached for his right arm. He rolled up the grey sleeve there, freeing his wrist which was wrapped with bandages. He started rolling down the strips there, until Tim could see black curves on his skin. A name.
He sucked in a breath and before he was even aware of his movements, he tore his gloves off his hands and pulled the sleeves of his uniform up and was unraveling the strips of cloth covering the name on his wrist. As the cloth fell away and fluttered to the concrete of the rooftop beneath his feet, his heart pounded and his wrist felt cold – naked and exposed. But nonetheless, with steel in his eyes, he lifted his wrist upwards and held it out for Jason to see.
Jason Peter Todd.
Jason took two large strides forward, closing the distance between them, and took Tim’s small wrist in his calloused hand. Two fingers traced the black ink down his wrist, gently and then applying comfortable pressure, as if to reassure himself that this was real. That it wasn’t a trick.
Jason’s expression was unreadable. Something flashed across his face as he stared down at Tim’s wrist, reading his name over and over. Tim took in a breath to say something, anything, but Jason beat him to it.
His eyes went cold before he squeezed them shut. “What do you want from me, Tim?”
Tim’s mouth opened before he closed it abruptly, gulping, then hesitantly answered, “I… just… I want you, Jason.”
Jason was shaking his head and Tim started to panic, because no, no, no, this is not how this was supposed to go. “Tim, I’m not… I don’t do relationships, I’m not a good… I’ve done things, Tim,” he said with pleading in his eyes.
“I know,” Tim said softly. “And I want you anyway.”
“I’m not like the rest of you Bats.”
“I'm not asking you to be.”
“I’ve killed people, Tim.”
“I know. I’ve seen you do it,” Tim answered steadily, “and I still want you.”
Jason was silent for a long moment before he whispered, barely audible, “…Why?”
Tim could see his expression, radiating of raw vulnerability and insecurity, things that didn't fit on that handsome face yet Tim couldn't help but feel adoration towards the man. He wanted to wrap his arms around him and do whatever it takes to persuade him that he was worth so damn much. However, he had to put this urge away for now, because Jason was already on the road towards freaking out; he didn't want to give him the last push.
His voice was steady but quiet when he started talking. "I can't tell you how much... I admire and respect you. I know you are not Robin anymore and you are not the kid that you once were. I know your past and present aren't white as snow. I know." He risked a little step towards Jason, and he considered it a win that the other man didn't move away. "I don't want you despite your flaws. I want you with your flaws. I see them and I accept them. I accept you. The way you are. I love that you are impulsive, I love that your instinct is doing whatever it takes to do the right thing. You protect people who no one else cares about. Street kids, homeless people, the most vulnerable. I love that you never give up. I love..." Jason looked so frightened that it made Tim stop and let out a low chuckle. "I'm sorry. Forgive me, it's just... It's just I couldn't even dream about this. Talking with you like this. And you... you are my soulmate." He swallowed a lump in his throat and said with a slight crack in his otherwise-steady voice, “I thought you were dead.”
He had the suspicion he overwhelmed the older a little bit, because he didn't say anything for a very long few seconds, but he didn't leave either. That was something, wasn't it?
"I... I don't know if I can do this," Jason breathed. A million different feelings flew across his face, his fingers curled in and out constantly before he wrapped his hand around his wrist, hiding the tattoo again.
"Jason, I don't want to force you..."
"I fuck up everything, Tim," Jason interrupted, clearly stepping into the freaking out lake with one foot already. "I'm not... I know I'm messed up, okay? You can't possibly want someone like me. I will hurt you. I will make you disappointed. I will make you regret--"
"No," Tim immediately said. "You may hurt me, you may disappoint me, but I will never regret anything regarding you. Stop this, okay? No one is perfect. You, me, Bruce, even Dick. We all have flaws. We all mess up. But we can learn from it, we can forgive and get past it. Please, just... just give me a chance."
Jason was silent for a long time, so long that Tim began to shift uncomfortably from foot to foot. He opened his mouth to speak before snapping it shut, deciding that actions speak louder than words. He had spent too long being passive, too long waiting for something to happen. And now, it was time for him to act.
He took two large strides forward to close the distance between himself and Jason, then stuck his nose in the air, bringing his lips within inches of Jason’s. “I’m going to kiss you,” Tim said, his voice surprisingly steady for how shaky he felt, and he waited for Jason’s reaction – waited for him to push him away, to laugh, to roll his eyes, anything.
When none of those things happened, Tim pushed off onto the tips of his toes and fluttered his eyes closed to brush a chaste kiss to Jason’s lips.
It was barely even a kiss. They hardly even made contact. But it still set Tim’s world on fire.
When he opened his eyes again, Jason was staring down at him in wonder. For a brief moment he feared that Jason would hit him – punch him in the face or put a heavy boot across his chest – but instead, he leaned down to capture Tim’s lips again, pulling away just as quickly.
Tim beamed up at him.
Jason pursed his lips with the hint of a smile. “That wasn’t a ‘yes’.”
“…But… that wasn’t a ‘no’, either,” Tim murmurs after a moment.
Jason looked at Tim for a long minute before his face split into a grin. “…No. No, it… it definitely wasn’t a ‘no’.”
Jason had always been a pragmatic person. It came with being raised in the Narrows. He was well aware of the reality of life – fairytales are bullshit and people only look out for themselves. Daydreaming wasn’t something he often did. He had never fantasized about finding his soulmate. He never imagined a nameless, faceless individual who was out there just for him, never dreamed up scenarios of their first meeting. Especially after he died and was revived. It would have been too cruel to torture himself with a future that would never come true. Instead, he locked the whole idea away in the back of his mind where it couldn’t bother him.
But now, the proverbial Pandora’s Box had been opened.
After saying goodbye to Tim that night, Jason felt weirdly calm. Almost… happy. He caught himself smiling at literally nothing and found himself walking with an extra spring in his step. His chest felt ten pounds lighter.
He blamed Tim.
He also blamed Tim when, two days later, the younger man called him – allegedly for help on an Arkham case – and his stomach gave a joyful jump. Fucking pathetic. Even more pathetic was when he found himself immediately agreeing to meet up with him, even though Jason knew good and well that Tim didn’t need help with some standard Arkham breakout, least of all from him. It was as good of an excuse as any to see Tim, though, and Jason was actually grateful that he had made it easier for him to say yes under the thin guise of helping him with detective work. He wouldn't say out loud, but he appreciated that they didn't rush… whatever this was.
He loathed to admit it, but whenever he saw Tim in his Robin uniform with that little smile of his, all he could think of was walking closer and kiss those lips. Shit, he had it bad. Tim attracted him so damn much and he still felt like he could ruin this boy. It was scary, and Jason was rarely scared nowadays.
But, he was man enough to admit it: he was terrified. He wasn’t used to feeling such a… an attachment… to another person. He had been fairly independent his entire life - growing up on the streets of Gotham will do that to a person - so this new, ambiguous, nebulous thing that he had with his fellow vigilante? It was alarming.
Contrary to popular belief, though, Jason was good with emotions. He knew exactly why he was the way he was. He knew why he pushed people away. He owned it. When you’ve been through the kind of shit he’d been through, you learn to figure yourself out. It’s a survival mechanism.
That is - he was plenty good with emotions when they were in his own head, felt firsthand and put in a dialect that he could easily understand. But when it came to taking those emotions and putting them into words? Taking something as abstract and conceptual as feelings and reducing them down to mere words using the ever-limited power of language? That’s where he would always get lost. His thoughts would become all knotted, his tongue would trip over itself, and he’d work himself into a livid, sputtering mess.
So when he arrived at the front door of Tim’s safehouse (he should have just gone through the window like a normal vigilante, god damnit, now it felt like a date), he was quite literally shaking.
He took a step back from the door and took in a deep, calming breath to center himself and he curled his fingers into a fist, then knocked on the door.
He shifted his backpack to the other shoulder to distract himself, but as soon as the door opened and Jason saw the boy - barefoot, bare-faced, wearing soft pajama pants and a worn white t-shirt, bangs falling into his tired eyes - calmness swept through him. He was the very picture of comfort and domesticity, and it felt like getting a piece of himself back, an itch stopping. It just felt right. He couldn’t even remember what had made him so nervous, it so soothed him.
As Tim met his eyes, a small smile graced his pretty features. “Hi,” he murmured shyly.
And god damn, if that wasn’t the cutest thing Jason had ever seen.
Instead of stepping in through the doorway, Jason stepped flush up against the other man and gently placed his hand behind Tim’s head, leaning in and guiding Tim into a kiss.
For a brief, fleeting moment, Tim stiffened and Jason worried that he had fucked up – but as soon as the thought had crossed his mind, Tim was relaxing into the kiss with a pleased sigh. When Jason broke the kiss and stepped back to give Tim breathing room, the other man opened his eyes slowly, eyebrows raised slightly in an expression of pleasant surprise. “Uh, Jason, what…?”
Jason swallowed, caressing the boy's nape with his thumb. "Just... don't ask. Okay? Just don't."
“Hey, I’m not complaining,” Tim quipped, but the usual confident edge in his voice was gone and one hand was lightly touching his lips as if he was questioning reality itself.
“Good,” Jason grumbled, and pushed past Tim into the cramped apartment, tossing his backpack unceremoniously down on the couch. “So, what did you need help with?”
Tim seemed to snap out of whatever stupor he was in and followed Jason across the threshold. “I, uh… I’m researching past Arkham break-outs to see if there are any consistencies in how they happened. Days of the week, time of day, method of break-out, staff on duty, et cetera. I created an algorithm and once I input all of the data, I’m going to run it to see if there are any outstanding patterns. We can use that information to strengthen any weaknesses in Arhkam security by adding staff, changing security systems, creating additional firewalls, or whatever needs to be done.”
Jason found himself standing slack-jawed in the middle of the meager living room, staring at Tim as he finished his monologue. “Holy shit, Tim. That’s… you must be… really smart,” he finished lamely. Jason wanted to immediately smack himself on the forehead for how unintelligently he had worded the statement, but Tim flushed to the tips of his ears regardless of how eloquently he had spoken.
“I-It’s really not a big deal… I d-don’t even know if it’s going to help,” he mumbled.
"It's a big deal, kid. Do you have any idea how many lives have been ruined by these pieces of shit breaking out of Arkham?" Jason didn't think himself a stupid or simple minded person. He obviously wouldn't win famous awards or could compete with real geniuses, but he had a mind for strategy, for numbers, for investigation, for languages. He got along just fine. But Tim? Jesus, this boy was on a different level. "But since you are diving into all this headfirst like a true Robin, I guess you already know."
"Y-yeah," Tim stuttered, rubbing the back of his head. Even though he was the one who called Jason and invited him over in the first place, he felt exposed. "I mean, I know it's not anyone's fault, per se... it's an interplay of a lot of different factors. But the more we can reduce security risks, the better."
Sparing a moment to observe his surroundings closely for the first time – Tim’s notes tacked up on a corkboard above his desk, three dirty coffee mugs in three different places around the small space, stacks of records on both his kitchen counter and coffee table – Jason found himself impressed. He was working hard on this. In his free time. Just because he thought it was the right thing. Just because he was so fucking intelligent that he could do it. Jason just couldn’t comprehend it.
There was truly nobody else quite like Timothy Jackson Drake. And somehow, it’s his name that’s tattoed on his wrist.
Jason still had mixed feelings about that, but he decided to pull himself back to the present.
"When we take them out and lock them up, we believe those walls will stop them. We believe our job was done the moment we put them behind bars," he said in the end. "So it's kinda on us, too."
This is, fundamentally, Jason’s major beef with Bruce. Because their beliefs differed so drastically. This was why Jason wanted to just put a bullet into every asshole who murdered families for money, who molested kids for fun, who tortured others because they felt like it. They don’t deserve the space they take up in the world. They don’t deserve the ten by ten prison cell. They don’t deserve the oxygen they suck out of the air.
They’d be better off dead and gone, so they couldn’t hurt anyone else.
Not that he wanted to tell Tim this. Not yet, anyway. Instead, he turned towards him with a half grin. "What on earth could I help you with? It seems you are doing just fine without me."
Tim cleared his throat and flushed slightly. “I, uh… I managed to create a program to swipe most of the information straight from their records and put it directly into the algorithm, but their security system must be better than it used to be because I only got about halfway through before I got booted out. I had to hack back in and pull the information out through the source code, and now I need help inputting it all manually.”
Jason, once again, found himself dumbstruck. “Wait. Are you seriously telling me that you hacked a government server for this information? Do you have any idea how illegal this is?”
Tim raised an elegant eyebrow. “Just as illegal as shooting a drug dealer.”
Jason smirked at his audacity. “Fine. Just show me what to do.”
Things get a lil spicy towards the end of the chapter. ;) It's not a very long segment, but if light smut's not your thing, stop reading at "As entertaining as the movie was" and start reading again at "Peering down at him".
Twenty minutes later, Tim and Jason were hunched over two respective laptops, typing in the information by hand. It was slow, tedious work, but Jason found that he didn’t mind much. It was just distracting enough to keep his mind off of his nervousness around Tim, but mindless enough that he and Tim could carry on a lighthearted conversation as they both typed away. A few hours passed in what felt like minutes, and before Jason knew it, Tim stretched out his hunched shoulders and let out a frustrated groan. “I can’t sit still anymore. I have to take a break. Do you want to patrol or something?”
“Not particularly,” Jason admitted with a chuckle. “I have an idea though.” Reaching over to his backpack, he pulled out a bottle and Tim choked.
“You brought alcohol?”
The outburst provoked a smirk from the older boy. “Ever drank before, Timmy?”
“I’m only eighteen!” Jason just cocked an eyebrow at him as if to say, ‘yeah, and?’, and Tim sputtered all over again. “I… I haven’t exactly had time to go to…. to parties and stuff. I’ve been spending all of my free time catching sociopaths and beating up criminals!”
In spite of Tim’s protests, Jason was pulling out two shot glasses and pouring them each a shot of vodka. “And if only the ladies at your school knew that, they’d be all over you. You’d get so much pussy that you wouldn’t know what to do with yourself.”
"How very heteronormative of you," Tim replied dryly. Jason quirked an eyebrow, and Tim stirred in his seat gracelessly. “It’s, uh… I don’t exactly…” He swallowed. “I, ah… ‘pussy’… has never been something I’ve been interested in.”
In spite of himself, Jason chuckled at Tim’s awkwardness. He had figured Tim was at least bisexual, since the universe had assigned a male to be his soulmate, but it was good to know regardless. And anyway, he had been kidding about the ‘pussy’ comment. "You're right. I apologize." A small smile tugged at the corners of Jason’s mouth as lifted up one of the shot glasses towards Tim in a mock-toast. “To continuing the longstanding legacy of non-hetero Robins.”
Tim picked up the glass and examined it for a minute before shrugging as if to say ‘why not?’, and returned Jason’s toast. Jason watched the younger man as he brought the glass to his lips, threw it back – and then promptly spat it out.
Jason couldn’t help it – he laughed. Tim coughed and clutched at his chest, sparing a glare towards Jason out of the corner of his eyes. “What the fuck, Jason? This is awful!”
“Yeah, on second thought, doing a shot of straight vodka might be a little much for your first sip of alcohol,” he drawled. “Do you have any cranberry juice or something? I’ll make you a mixed drink.”
Still coughing slightly, Tim managed to indignantly reply, “No, who the fuck has cranberry juice just laying around?”
Deciding that he likes this side of Tim – the sputtering, swearing, fiery side - Jason grins and hops to his feet. “I’ll raid your kitchen. You stay here and try to catch your breath.”
Even after Jason entered the other room, he could hear the younger cursing and coughing.
He didn't exactly plan on the drinking together part. He brought the vodka because he couldn't guess how their meeting would go and in case he needed it, he could have drunk it on a roof top or something. Although, he didn't mind the change of plans, really. He'd spent way too much time drinking alone and even though he didn't think drinking alone was pathetic... it was a bit pathetic.
In the end, Jason didn't go back with empty hands to Tim who still looked a little bit out of breath.
"Bless your health-conscious heart," he announced with a wide grin, dangling a bottle of orange juice and two glasses before the other. Tim didn't look convinced, but Jason didn't blame him.
Shooting a smirk at Tim, he mixed him up a drink. He didn't want to be a bigger asshole than he already was so he made sure it was less alcohol and more juice. After he finished, he gave the glass to Tim and poured another shot for himself.
"I swear, if this is as bad as the previous one, I will spit it on you.”
"Be my guest."
It evidently wasn't as bad as the previous one. After a careful sip, he hummed. He could still taste the alcohol, but the orange dominated much more. He noticed around his third or fourth sip that Jason was looking at him.
"What?" he asked, his cheeks a bit warmer and probably redder.
"Nothing," Jason smiled, reaching after the vodka. "Just... It's nice to do this. With you."
A small smile tugged at the corners of Tim’s mouth. “Yeah. It is.” They continued sipping in silence for a few moments before Tim speaks up again. “So, you know I’m gay. What… what about you, if you don’t mind me asking?”
He pondered the question while pouring himself another shot. He had become Robin right as he was reaching the age when most people start questioning things, and then, well… crowbar. After his death, he hadn’t had much time to contemplate his romantic inclinations. Even that brief stint with Talia hadn’t answered many of his questions, as he was still half out of his mind from the Lazarus Pit for most of it. After that, he was too busy waging war on Gotham to really ponder whose pants he wanted to get into. Not that he didn’t have his fair share of experience – he had taken both men and women into his bed – but it was more about having a convenient hole to fuck than any sort of mutual attraction. He’d like to imagine that, if he were to take on a romantic partner, it would run a little deeper than a quick orgasm as stress relief.
Even after he had stopped trying to level the whole city, he hadn’t been able to spend much time on himself – he had been purposely avoiding such introspection, as he had never really planned on taking a romantic partner. He had too many other things going on.
He’d be lying if he said that he didn’t occasionally sneak a glance at Dick’s butt, Roy’s arms, and Kori’s rack though.
“I guess… I guess I’m bisexual.”
Tim hummed, but he didn't mention how unsure Jason sounded, which the man was incredibly grateful for. He didn't feel like explaining it further. He sent another shot burning down his throat and cleared his throat before he pulled his leg up over his other thigh and turned towards Tim as much as the position allowed him.
“Why did you want to know?”
Shrugging in poorly feigned nonchalance, Tim mumbled, “I just wanted to see how much competition I have, I guess.”
"You... You don’t need to worry about that," Jason replied quietly, feeling a kind of uneasiness in his stomach at hearing Tim’s self-deprecating tone. "Tim, I... I don't know what this is, between us, I don't know if... I want it to be anything just yet. But you have my name on your arm. You are my soulmate. And whatever that means, you are... You are not like everyone else, okay? You don’t… you don’t have any competition. Not really."
Jason was proud of himself for not breaking the eye contact even though all he wanted to do was repel himself out the window and grapple away into the night. But Tim... Tim deserved better than that. Tim deserved someone who at least tried, even if he was fucked up beyond fixing.
Tim seemed to get it though, because he visibly relaxed - his shoulders dropped half an inch and some of the lines disappeared from his face, a gentle smile replacing them. "Thank you for saying that," he murmured after a minute of silence. "I haven't known you long, but it seems like you would much rather take on the entire roster at Arkham than have a serious heart to heart. So I... I appreciate it. I appreciate you sitting here and doing this. I know it isn't easy."
Jason shrugged noncommittally but felt himself ease up as well, the tension disappearing from his shoulders and posture relaxing. "...Yeah. Well, you know. You deserve it. You deserve... someone who can do... all of that."
He lifted his gaze to meet Tim's, and he found himself flushing deeply as he saw the pink tinge to the other boy's cheeks and realized what he had just said.
Damnit. I said too much. This is what I get for running my fucking mouth. That was the exact kind of sappy shit I wanted to avoid.
But even as he jolted upwards from his spot on the couch and stumbled to his feet, his fight-or-flight instinct kicking in, he couldn't bring himself to regret it. No matter how much he may have just humiliated himself, it brought a smile to Tim's face. And that made it worth it. God damnit. More sappy shit. I need to get out of here.
"Well, it's getting late and I should, uh... get back," he said lamely, avoiding eye contact and rubbing at the back of his neck.
The soft voice calling to him had him turning around, his feet moving before he even told them to. "Yeah?"
Tim's kind expression froze him to the floor. "You don't have to go. It's okay." Jason took a slow, deep breath, trying to process what was happening with his fried brain, and Tim started to stumble over his words. "I-I mean if you feel uncomfortable, you can leave; I'm n-not trying to keep you here against your will or anything, uh..." Gaze dropping to the floor, he rubbed the back of his neck self-consciously. "It's just... we can talk about something else, if you want. You don't have to go."
Talking about emotions may not have been his forte, but reading people was. There was a hidden layer to what Tim was offering. He was asking Jason to stay, sure, but there was something deeper - a lifting of the pressure. A reassurance that he doesn't have to be good at this - not yet at least. In spite of himself, his body drained of its tension and his feet carried him back to the couch. "...Okay. I'll stay."
Tim visibly perked up at that. "We can watch a movie! Did you like Deadpool? I just got it on Blu-Ray."
Jason shrugged. "I've never seen it." Tim went slack-jawed for a moment. Jason finally made eye contact and upon seeing his expression, he held his hands up in mock-surrender. "I've been a little busy, you know?! I was running a criminal empire, and then I was training in Biyalia, and before that, I was dead!"
For a moment, Tim blinked at him as if trying to decide whether he was being serious or not. Seemingly coming to a decision, his eyes narrowed at Jason. "I call bullshit. This movie came out well after you came back from the dead." He easily slid to his feet, walked to the entertainment center at the front of the room and began to shuffle through a few drawers. He plucked the DVD out and put it into the XBOX he had connected to the television. Then, he turned back to Jason. "You can't keep using your death as an excuse for missing out on everything good. We're talking about Deadpool here. This is right up your alley."
And then, he fucking smirked. And hoooo boy, did that shit-eating grin look good on him. There was something about that sexy little smirk that went straight to his heart. And possibly his dick, if the sudden tightness of his pants was any indication.
As soon as they settled back on the couch, Jason reached for the bottle and poured another shot. He needed the alcohol if he was going to deal with this infuriatingly sexy vigilante.
So, he settled back in to watch the movie.
The movie was good. Really good. Jason liked it. He sure hoped his eventual rampageous revenge party wasn't as bloody and over the top as Wade's, though. He knew where his line was. He may cross it a few times, but he knew how far he wanted to take things. It was plenty entertaining to watch a fictional character take out a criminal empire though.
As entertaining as the movie was, though, it wasn’t enough to distract him from the warmth radiating off of Tim, to keep him from thinking about how closely Tim’s body was to his, to stop him from thinking about how easy it would be to pick up his lithe body by his slender little hips and rut him against the wall.
Jason's cock ached.
Tim was his soulmate, right? The kid seemed pretty desperate to form some sort of relationship between them even before Jason had known who he was. He wanted Jason around him even though he knew all of the bad shit about him. The main shit. The getting killed, coming back, wronging others kind of shit. That Jason was complicated and so, so far from perfect. So, it wasn't a bad thing, right? Craving for something more? Wanting to feel passion with him?
Jason blinked and realized that he had missed part of the movie while he was lost in his own head. Apparently it didn't escape Tim's attention either.
"You okay?" the younger asked when Jason shook himself back into reality. A concerned frown pulled his eyebrows together.
Jason didn't answer but turned towards him and put a hand on the other's thigh, watching him carefully. When Tim didn't protest, he leaned close, sliding his other hand up his back to rest behind his neck and cupped his face to slowly bring him in for a kiss. This time it wasn't a chaste, short kiss with closed lips; it was open-mouthed and questioning, holding Tim firm while he sucked his bottom lip between his and gently bit down.
Tim gasped into the kiss, giving Jason room to lick into his mouth. Allowing instinct to overtake him, he lowered his hands to Tim’s waist and gave a gentle tug. Tim slid into his lap easily, parting his knees so sensuously to lay one knee on either side of Jason’s hips. Tim blindly grinded downwards with an adorable whimper and Jason could instantly feel the hardness in Tim’s sweat pants, causing a noticeable tightening in Jason’s.
And the friction. Ohh, the friction. Nothing could compare to this. He’d had plenty of lovers in the past, but this was so unexpectedly different that it took his breath away. This boy, his soulmate, rutting against his lap, their cocks straining and lungs gasping with each roll of their hips.
My soulmate. Right.
Jason groaned – half out of sexual frustration, half out of actual frustration – and pushed a hand against Tim’s (surprisingly toned) chest, pulling off of his mouth with a pop. “Tim. Tim, slow down.”
Peering down at him, the other boy looked absolutely wrecked. Blue eyes, pupils blown; his dark hair, disheveled; his lips, bitten red and parted from panting. “What?” Tim’s voice cracked with impatience. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing, I just… I’m sorry. I know I started this, but I have to stop us for a second. I just – I don’t want to go too fast.”
"I have been chasing you for weeks," Tim whined, his voice tight. "It's not fast at all."
Tim dove back in and attempted to pull Jason into another sloppy makeout session, but Jason was bigger and stronger and easily held him at bay. "That's fair. And believe me, if you were anyone else, I would fuck you right now."
Tim’s expression went from annoyance to hurt-filled, and Jason stumbled over himself to backtrack. “I-I mean, that came out completely wrong, shit.” Tim tried to pull away completely, but Jason dragged him back by his hips and pressed a chaste kiss onto the pouting lips until the smaller settled down again. "You are my soulmate. You. Are. My. Soulmate. You are not a quick fuck. Stop giving me a hard time, okay? I'm trying to respect you and shit."
Tim’s expression relaxed and he snorted, but snuggled against Jason’s wide chest and sighed a little. "Figures you would be a gentleman right now, the one time I don’t want you to be. Are you always so contrary or is this special treatment, just for me?"
Jason smirked, his mouth going right to Tim's chin. "I feel like it turns you on, you little shit."
Seemingly just to be a cheeky little asshole, Tim grinded down into his lap one last time before sliding off. “I guess we can wait,” he said, pointedly ignoring Jason’s comment. “We’ve got nothing but time, after all.”
Jason looked down at Tim’s face and saw the slight blush dusting his cheeks. He looked almost… timid. “Yeah. We’ve got time.”
With that, they went back to watching their movie. And if Jason blushed when Tim took his hand and cuddled against his side, nobody had to know.
Tim had never felt so restless like he did when he couldn't be with Jason. Since their enormous breakthrough, since kissing each other as greeting became a regular thing, Tim couldn't help but feel eager and needy. He knew he still couldn't force Jason to set a pace he didn't feel comfortable with and he honestly didn't want to do anything that might push the man away, but damn was it hard to hold himself back. Especially when he had Bruce by his side and he couldn’t be as openly affectionate as he wanted to be.
He had the other man’s phone number now, but he didn’t want to overwhelm him by calling him all the time. So instead, he mostly stuck to seeing him in person. The hardest moments though, were the ones when he couldn’t see the other at all. He was busy. On patrols with Bruce, during trainings inside the Batcave or when Tim had to study for his online college courses. He managed to persuade Bruce that studying home was the best solution for the problem of sleeping during the day and playing superhero at night, so he had taken only online courses that semester. Reluctantly, Bruce had agreed, but his condition was that Tim's performance remained the same. Which meant Tim had to make sacrifices. He told himself if Jason could see he was responsible like this, maybe he wouldn't be so overprotective of him. He had to prove to Jason, and to Bruce, that he was capable of handling it all on his own.
He’d essentially been on his own for years now, really. His parents, before they went into witness protection, had rarely ever been home to begin with. He was usually just left to fend for himself anyway. It was rather insulting, really, that Bruce didn’t trust him to handle himself.
And on top of all of this, Tim had a lot of thoughts that he needed to sort out. One of which was merely a seed in his mind, not having truly taken root until a chilly November night when Bruce showed up in the Batcave for patrol with a ten year old kid by his side.
Tim was just pulling on his gloves when Bruce breezed through the door, looking every bit as confident and casual as if he didn’t have a complete stranger – and a child, at that – at his side, walking through the physical manifestation of the biggest secret of their lives. The kid was wearing an all-white getup, and the pair strode past him like he wasn’t even there.
They stopped in front of the display case holding Dick’s original Robin outfit. The kid cast a doubtful look towards Bruce. “Father. I am not wearing that on patrol.”
Bruce finally seemed to recognize Tim’s presence in the room, because he looked through the glass of the display case and met Tim’s eyes. “Tim. I’m glad you’re here. This is my son Damian; he’s going to be taking over as Robin.”
Taking over as Robin.
Taking over as Robin.
Taking over as Robin.
Those four words echoed over and over again in his mind until he finally managed to pluck a few words out of his head to form a meager response. “…I’m… excuse me, what?”
Bruce looked at Tim as if he was being exceptionally difficult, and sighed. “This is Damian. He’s my son. He is going to be taking over the Robin mantle. You are free to do as you wish.”
What could possibly be a proper answer to this? Tim stared at Bruce for a long, hard minute, and when the man he respected and admired didn't say it was only an exceptionally late and rather uncharacteristic April's fool joke, his eyes turned to the small boy who – now that he was looking for it – shared many of the same physical characteristics as Bruce. Damian. His son.
When did Bruce become a father? What was happening?!
"I-- But Bruce..."
"Tt." The kid – Damian – clicked his tongue impatiently, walking up to Tim and glaring at him in a frighteningly accurate impersonation of the bat-glare. "Father told me you are exceptionally intelligent. I fear he misled me."
Now that definitely made Tim angry. "How dare you -"
"Enough." Bruce's voice was stern and definite. "I've made my decision. Tim, you can of course stay in the manor and have your access to the cave, but from now on Damian will be with me on patrols as Robin. And you, Damian, if you are as mature as you really claim - behave yourself."
Not that Tim cared too much, since his whole life had fallen apart in the past few minutes, but the petty little part of him appreciated seeing the little shit's pout after being told off.
It didn't help him get his shock under control, though.
Tim’s hands shook with fury. “How can you… when did you…?”
His sputtered half-sentences seemed to fail to sway his mentor, though, because Bruce held up one hand as if to silence him. “You may address any questions you may have with Alfred. He is aware of the situation and he can fill you in. As it is, I am much too busy to talk this out. Damian and I need to prepare for patrol.”
And with that, Bruce turned and walked away.
Tim felt his throat constrict around the words that he wanted to speak – words he could use to convince Bruce to come back, to talk this out, to explain himself. But the words failed to come.
Tim’s heartbeat thrummed painfully in his chest as his thoughts raced. He had always known that he was there merely as a tool. He had been the one to blackmail Bruce into letting him become Robin, after all; Bruce hadn’t even wanted him at first – Bruce had refused to work with him until Tim had threatened to reveal Batman’s identity to the public, and even then, it had taken weeks of training and convincing Bruce that he could handle it before Bruce let him don the Robin suit. But he had hoped that over the course of working with Bruce, of fighting crime side-by-side, of solving some cases before Bruce even could, of becoming partners – he had hoped that he would have proven himself useful. Convinced Bruce he was worthy. Made himself a little less disposable.
He must have been wrong.
His vision started to swim as tears filled his eyes. Before he had even registered what he was doing, he was in front of the door to his room in the manor, throwing it open and grabbing his backpack from his walk-in closet, throwing in clothes and a few of his possessions haphazardly until his tears had stopped falling and he was out his window and swinging through the cold November air.
The further he got from the manor, the easier he could breathe, even if his heart was aching and he felt on the verge of a serious panic attack. It's been a few years since he had the last one, but the feeling was hard to forget.
He didn't know what to do now. He couldn't go to his family - they were still under the FBI's protection, and reaching out to them could endanger their lives. Tim didn't want that.
He could call Dick. Dick would help. Probably even understand – he had once been Robin too, and had been replaced, albeit under slightly different circumstances. But Dick lived with Wally, and he really didn't want to be a burden on the couple - and more than that, he didn’t really want to be around anyone who was so connected to Bruce. He didn’t want to hear Dick try to rationalize Bruce’s behavior. Not tonight. Not after being sent away so cruelly, so suddenly.
When he grew tired of fleeing through the city and his muscles screamed for a break, he stopped on a rooftop and leaned against the emergency exit's wall. Then, he pulled out his phone.
Chewing on his bottom lip before taking the courage to start the call, Tim tried to persuade himself that he wasn't making a mistake. Jason gave him his number because he wanted Tim to be able to contact him easily. Jason wouldn't send him away, too. He wouldn't.
His heartbeat echoed in his ears until the call finally connected.
"Hey, baby bird. What's up?"
The sound of Jason’s voice immediately grounded him enough to un-constrict his throat for a moment. “Jason. I just… needed to talk to you.”
His words must have still warbled though, because he could practically hear Jason’s eyebrows drawing together. “Tim? What’s wrong?”
“He replaced me,” Tim rasped out, and he couldn’t bring himself to say any more.
Jason was silent for a long few moments before Tim could hear cursing on the other end of the line. “That motherfucker.” Tim could hear the sound of rustling fabric and of footsteps in the background before Jason spoke again. “Where are you? I’m picking you up. You’re coming back to my place and we’re going to figure this out.”
Even though Tim knew there was nothing left to ‘figure out’, he felt reassured by the protective surge in his soulmate’s voice. “I’m on the roof of the Montgomery building. Where should I meet you?”
“I will pick you up at the intersection of 2nd and Lincoln. North corner of the building. Wait on the rooftop for me and come down when you see me. I don’t want you exposed out in the middle of-” Jason’s voice was drowned out by the sound of a motorcycle engine.
In spite of his dire situation, his heart skipped a beat and he felt himself start to get flustered. Was Jason about to pick him up on his motorcycle?
Red Hood, THE Red Hood, is about to pick me up on his motorcycle. That sexy red motorcycle that perfectly matches his helmet. Holy fucking shit. This is something straight out of my wildest dreams.
Before he could slip any further into fanboy mode, he cleared his throat. “I didn’t catch the end of that. What was that?”
“I don’t want you on the ground until I get there; you’d be too exposed.”
“I’m in my Robin gear, Jay, I think I’ll be fine.”
He heard Jason chuckle lowly over the sound of the engine. “Fair enough. I’ve seen you in action enough to know that you can handle yourself. See you soon, baby bird.”
Tim decided that he loved the nickname a lot, and it always filled him with warmness. It made him feel special. Special enough to not called by his surname as Jason often referred to Dick by "Grayson", and his boyfriend "West". And right now he definitely needed to feel cared and loved. The mere fact that Jason was on his way to get him already helped him feel less nauseous, less hopeless, less anxious.
Doing as he was told, he seated at the top of the building on the ledge, watching the city, counting the passing seconds between his intakes of breath and breathing out. It grounded him and kept the panic and anxiety at bay that bombarded him until the approaching sound of a motorcycle assailed his ears.
Soon, soon Jason showed up on the corner with that certain beautiful vehicle. Tim wasn't a fanatic but he couldn't help the excitement as he got to his feet to go down.
Jason wore his full gear, but when the younger jumped down from the fire escape, he left his motor and took off the red helmet. His expression was tensed, almost angry, and for a moment Tim was afraid that he had crossed a line with the call - that yet again, he had become a burden and forced himself onto Jason, and his breath hitched - but without saying anything, Jason cupped his face and pressed their foreheads together.
It made Tim sigh softly in relief.
"Come on, little bird," Jason murmured.
And for the next thirty minutes Tim could forget all about the world. He wrapped his arms tightly around Jason's upper body, pressed and buried his face in the Red Hood jacket that smelled like gun powder and steel and leather, like Jason, and he could just... be. Without having to deal with his problems for half an hour, knowing that he was safe and not alone.
All too soon, Jason's motorcycle pulled up to an apartment complex and he maneuvered it into a parking spot in the underground garage.
"It's not much," he said with a hint of self-consciousness. "But it's home."
Tim glanced around as they walked through the hallways of the building. "How many safe houses do you have?"
Jason's eyebrows knit together. "Safe houses?"
"Yeah. Like, this is one, but how many more do you have?"
Jason ran a hand through his hair. "Well... I have six safe houses in total. But this isn't one of them."
Tim stopped in his tracks. "This is... your personal apartment?"
He didn’t get the chance to respond though, because as they rounded the corner, a shorter woman with her flyaway hair pinned up into a tight bun approached the duo. "Jason?"
"Hey Julia," he replied with a warm smile. "What can I do for you? Radiator acting up again?"
The woman wrung her hands together. "No, nothing like that; it's been fine since you fixed it last week. I just..." She tucked a stray strand of hair behind her ear. "I'm going to be late on rent next month. I don't get paid until the third."
Jason just shook his head, expression still warm. "Don't worry about it. You've always gotten your rent check in one way or another. Just concentrate on putting food on the table for Ally and Shay, okay?"
The woman looked relieved and nodded. "Of course, sir. They're my number one priority." And with that, she disappeared through one of the doorways.
Tim turned to Jason, a question already poised on the tip of his tongue, but Jason beat him to it, rubbing the back of his neck sheepishly. "Uh... yeah. I kind of own the whole building."
It had Tim absolutely speechless. Nothing indicated that Jason had a business running - because owning a whole building and giving apartments out for rent was definitely business. Yet the woman they'd just met acted like... they were good friends. And Jason did repair work for her and also didn't mind her being late with the rent.
His thoughts must have appeared on his face, because after Jason wrapped an arm around his shoulder and led him towards the stairs, he started into an explanation quietly.
"I didn't exactly plan it, you know. I was after a gang that used this building as their HQ. I drove them out of the city so this place was left empty. I bought the building with some of the money I snagged in the bust. When I had time and I needed to let off some steam, I came here, and... Did some work. Like painting and shit." They headed up and Tim didn't question where they were going because Jason's smell filled his head and his warmth soaked into him from his closeness and he really didn't want anything more than just stay like this. "I obviously didn't need five floors and over 30 rooms, even if I tend to over-shop cool weapons," he grinned, "so I was like, why not giving them to decent people who needed a place somewhere safe. Julie, the woman you just met, she ran away from her abusing piece of shit husband with her kids. I don't care if she's late with the rent, I don't need the money. I always spend what I get from them on the building anyway. It's... nice to give them a home, you know? I lived on the streets once too, so I know how much it means to actually have a place to lay your head at night."
Throughout Jason’s monologue, a small smile graced Tim’s features. When Jason finished with a self-conscious shuffle, Tim allowed his smile to grow to fill his whole face. “You know, Jason… out of all of the people who know you, I think you’re the only one who doesn’t think you’re a good person.”
Jason flushed. “It doesn’t make up for what I’ve done.”
Tim stopped walking, prompting Jason to stop and turn towards him. He put both hands on Jason’s shoulders.
“You need to stop punishing yourself for that,” he said simply. “We all need to work on that. Even B. As much as I know you hate B, we all have something in common.”
Tim’s expression shifted, and suddenly, it didn’t seem like he was talking about Jason anymore. “To some degree, we’re all stuck in the past.”
They stopped in front of a door and Jason opened it with a key from his pocket and stepped inside. He held it open for Tim, who filed in after him. He began to strip off his armor, unbuckling various attachments and slowly revealing his scars and bruises. “We’re going to talk about this, baby bird. This thing, whatever happened between you and B today. Don’t think you’re getting out of it. But first, let’s get comfortable. I have some clothes you can borrow, then we’re going to have a drink, and then we’re going to talk this out, you and I.”
The younger boy didn't argue. It actually sounded a pretty nice proposition, and he definitely didn't want to pass on the opportunity to be with Jason, be in Jason's home and enjoy everything that Jason was willing to give.
Jason had handed him a pile of clothes and instruction to find his way towards the bathroom where he could change and get a shower if he felt like (he didn't but it definitely felt nice to get the permission), meanwhile Jason disappeared into the kitchen.
The clothes were too big for him, but Tim didn’t mind at all – they were well-worn and soft and just smelled so much like Jason.
By the time Tim made his way back to the living room, the other already placed a mug on the opposite side of the table where he was sitting, which indicated that it was meant for Tim. He sat, wrapped his hands around the mug and tried to calm his heartbeat that was racing at an unnatural speed.
Tim leaned forward and sniffed the steam rising up from the mug.
"This is coffee," he noted with a slight surprise.
"We still have a lot to learn about each other, but I already know this is your favorite beverage, so..." Jason made a small, adorable shrugs, pretending that he didn't care. The younger knew better than to call him out on it though, and it put a smile on his face.
Until his soulmate decided that the small talk was over. "So. What did he do?"
He glanced away. Bit his bottom lip. Stared down into the dark brown liquid. Let out a tired sigh. Then, he took a deep breath and he started to talk.
“Did you… did you know he has a son?”
OOOOOOOOOOH a cliffhanger. :O What happens next? Stay tuned!